Published by Little Tiger Kids, Great Britain, 2020
“All of us need a place to rest –
A cave, a warren, a pond, a nest…
Wherever we may choose to roam,
We need a place to call our home.”
Writing about this picture book today is especially meaningful. A few suburbs away my daughter and her partner are busily packing up boxes and heaving them into a moving truck which will take all their belongings and hopes for the future to a new home. It will be their own home, after years of renting and the excitement of this new phase in their lives, along with the responsibility of the mortgage, is palpable.
They say that “home is where the heart is” and for myself I feel that this is true. The walls, the roof, the people who inhabit the space, the atmosphere, the belongings, the events, the memorabilia, the warmth, and cosiness…all combine to give us an emotive connection to the space we live in. Whether we are animals or humans, these shelters enable us to thrive, create, and rest.
In this picture book, we meet a family of bears waking up from their winter den hibernation and venturing out into a world that is showing the first signs of spring. Almost all the pages have cut-outs, so you can peek through trees and branches to catch a glimpse of owls, squirrels, and beavers as they go about the business of making their homes. Rabbits in warrens, birds in nests, wolves in dens – this is a wonderful introduction to animals and their homes. Teckentrup’s illustrations vividly bring to life the creativity and wonder of home-making, the place that keeps us safe.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for books which explore the idea of home, whether you are animal or human:
The title of this picture book and the soaring wingspan of the bird on the front cover suggests that this story is all about an albatross. And it is. But it is also a tender story about a father and son, grieving the loss of wife and mother, and learning to live with her absence in their lives.
We meet Javier, his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, on the choppy seas sailing the Magdalena off the coast of their hometown, catching fish and whatever else might get caught up in their nets. Tomas has changed since the death of his wife, and we learn from the things he says and they way he says it, that this change has not been for the better.
One afternoon, an albatross gets caught up in the fishing nets and is thrown aside on the deck of the boat while Tomas and Felipe sort through the catch. Javier, a boy with a big heart, keeps the bird safely wrapped in a tarpaulin and hides it until the boat makes it back to the shore. Once there, with the help of other people in the village, and without his father’s knowledge, Javier creates a makeshift home for the albatross.
In the old storeroom behind the house, the albatross settles and grows strong again in Javier’s old play pen. During this time, we begin to understand why Javier feels compelled to help the injured bird. Like the albatross leaving its partner in search of food, Javier’s mother left home to travel to the city for work, but she never came back. Javier needs to help this albatross find its way back. He knows it won’t bring his mother home again, but he understands the nature of waiting and wanting.
When Tomas finds out that Javier has rescued and hidden the albatross, his father is so angry that he does something unforgivable. Javier responds in the only way that makes sense to him. Suddenly, father and son must face their own worst fears and make brave choices about what it means to love and be loved.
This is a dramatic story brought to vivid life by the intimate connection between text and illustration. Rubbino’s drawings are brilliant and evoke all the emotions and pathos of the story. I can highly recommend it for children 4-8 years and anyone who loves a good story about albatrosses.
For me, however, this story is a gateway to understanding that we all grieve in different ways, and that communicating how we feel can be hard, even with the people that we love the most.
Below are more suggestions for picture books about fathers and sons, a relationship that is precious, but not always easy. Fortunately, most of the books that are my favourites positively celebrate the wonderful bond that can be shared between fathers and sons:
Published by Simon & Schuster, Great Britain, 2021
This is a bright and cheerful story about finding love, taking chances, and following your heart. Who would have thought that a story about all of that could be imagined featuring a slug named Doug in need of a hug?
I’m in the garden almost every day, discovering slugs and snails under pots and in pots and slithering towards pots…they are squelchy, icky, slimy and yucky! So, I can understand Doug’s problem. Who would want to hug something like that?
But, one day, close to the white daisies and just over the log, there is a snail called Gail, who is just as grimy, icky, squelchy, and yucky as Doug. And she is gorgeous, with her red lips, red eyeglasses and leopard print shell. Gail looks like a perfect match for Doug…but is she?
There is a lesson here for everyone. Finding love can be hard, and sometimes the partner that you think will suit you best, is not the one that makes your heart sing. Sometimes, love surprises you most when you least expect it. The path of life and love is not always straightforward, but when it works out, we can be like Doug:
he found his bug and now he’s super duper snug!
This is a picture book that can be easily read and understood by a child learning to read and, at the same time, appeal to adults who might be doing the reading for the fourth or fifth time! Like Jon Klassen and Mo Willems, Rachel Bright has created a story that is satisfying, humorous and instructive on many levels.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and adults of any age. Below are more of my favourite picture books about icky, squishy, squelchy snails:
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan, 2020
Dogs make wonderful pets. Some dogs are so wonderful, they become therapists!
We have friends who own two Havanese dogs, Josh and Viva. They are so well loved and hard working. Anne brings them with her when she visits residents in aged care facilities, nursing homes and respite care. They have little jackets to wear on these special visiting days. That way, everyone knows they have unique jobs to do. Sometimes just their presence is enough to bring a smile on someone’s face for the first time that day. Other times, the dogs’ exuberance is just the thing that encourages someone to go for a walk or get out of bed. Often, all a person needs is the unconditional acceptance of their little bodies being close and two hearts beating together. The residents will say to Anne, “Don’t come visiting again, unless you bring Josh and Viva with you!”
This picture book is all about a Dalmatian called Dot and her owner Rose, “with rings on her fingers and specs on her nose”. Rose takes Dot to all the sick children in Wallaby Ward and there we see how Dot can change the way people feel in one afternoon. Whether it’s calming someone’s anxiety or relieving the boredom of being cooped up and immobile, Dot seems to know just what to do. And Dot doesn’t just help the children who are sick, she also seems to sense that doctors and mothers need attention and care too.
One afternoon Dot does something very brave. In a moment, the tables have turned, and Dot is the one who needs to be patted, stroked, and cared for. The children of Wallaby Ward come to the rescue in the best way possible.
Julia Donaldson tells this story with so much love, bubbliness, and rhythm. The illustrations superbly compliment the text, with extraordinary details on every page. It’s as if Sara Ogilvie has taken her notepad to the hospital ward and sketched everyone and everything she saw. There are crutches leaning up against the wall, hand sanitizers, tea trolleys, pigeons, stethoscopes and all the paraphernalia of life to be seen on these pages. It’s comforting and familiar. I feel like I know Rose and Dot, they could be my neighbours…I wish they were!
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years, it’s a sensitive introduction to the importance and relevance of pet therapy and how it can be used in a hospital setting. Below are more picture book suggestions that explore what it is like to feel unwell and going to hospital:
Like many unique environments, the flora and fauna of that southern, icy and ever- changing continent of Antarctica is threatened by pollution, global warming and climate change. This picture book helps us to understand what we might lose if sea ice continues to diminish across this vast and seemingly uninhabitable land.
Following the life cycle of an iceberg as it shears off a glacier in spring, we are encouraged to look closely at what appears to be, at first glance, an empty continent. As summer nears, animals appear underwater and on shore: leopard seals, penguins, krill, terns, cormorants, humpback whales, squid and orca. All of them dependant on one another and the ice that surrounds them, for food and a place to rest, eat, mate and reproduce.
The illustrations in this picture book have been made using a combination of water colour, acrylic paint, collage, pencil, ink and digital aids. It is wonderful to see so many different shades of blue. The central pages fold outwards to a double spread revealing some of the creatures living in the ocean. Unfolding it, helps us to reflect upon the immensity of this continent, which is almost twice the size of Australia, by that feeling that it is almost too big to hold on your lap!
Accompanying the illustrations, the text is informative, thoughtful and expressed with poetic clarity. For younger readers, visual imagery is captured with creative descriptions:
Terns wheel overhead. Blue-eyed cormorant too, their wingspans wider than outstretched arms….
Penguins dive deep for fish. Seals dive deeper to twitch-whisker hunt.
For older readers, there are enough hints in the text to embark upon their own research and investigate some of the complexities of this fragile ecosystem:
The iceberg is flat-topped, sharp and angular and carries ancient weather in its layers of ice-clothing; a coat for each year volcanoes blew and black ash fell like snow.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that delve into the problems of global warming and climate change:
This is a glorious picture book. There are so many ways to enjoy it, there are so many things you can learn from it, there is so much to visually feast upon.
From the first page and first flap, we are drawn into a magical world of flora and fauna, created from paint, ink, leaves, sticks, fruit, vegetables, collage and Photoshop.
It’s a counting and rhyming book, beginning with a mother bat and her one baby and the constant question, “Who has more babies than that?”
It’s an information book, did you know that owls have babies called owlets? And do you know the names of all the creatures featured?
It’s an interactive book, every page has at least one flap and sometimes more, opening up to the side, or down or up the page. There are also smaller cut-outs that you can use to peek through to the next page or look back at the page you have just turned.
It’s a seek-and-find book, where are all those little spiderlings that you missed when you read the book for the first time?
A companion to Animalphabet, also written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai, these are treasure books that could be read again and again.
I highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below I have more of my favorite stories by Julia Donaldson, and one of my favourite poems written by her:
I Opened A Book….
I opened a book and in I strode Now nobody can find me. I’ve left my chair, my house, my road, My town and my world behind me.
I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring, I’ve swallowed the magic potion. I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king And dived in a bottomless ocean.
I opened a book and made some friends. I shared their tears and laughter And followed their road with its bumps and bends To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came. The cloak can no longer hide me. My chair and my house are just the same, But I have a book inside me.
Magpies and kookaburras are my favourite birds. Why?
Because they sing!
There is something about their song that brings me joy, knowing that they are calling to one another, conversing and living in their environments and following the familiar rhythms of the seasons.
This picture book about kookaburras has been beautifully illustrated by Tannya Harricks using oil paints. You just want to touch the pages, because the medium is so tactile even on glossy paper. Deep green gum leaves, rough brown tree bark, fanned feathers and brilliant blue sky all combine to place you right in the middle of the Australian bush.
The text is simple, but informative too. With almost poetic language, we follow the life of a kookaburra and her mate, as they search for food, find a nest, defend their territory and lay eggs. Accompanying the story, each page has italicised text with extra facts about kookaburras, explaining in more detail why the birds behave as they do, how they choose a nest, how they defend their territory and what they like to eat.
At the end of the book, there is more information for older readers about where you would find kookaburras in Australia, how many species there are and how long it takes for baby kookaburras (chicks) to mature and leave the nest.
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and all bird enthusiasts. Below are more suggestions for picture books about kookaburras:
Published by Words & Pictures, The Quarto Group, 2020
There is a story in our family about a time when I did not pick up my daughter from primary school. It wasn’t an end of school day pick up at 3.30pm with all the other mums and dads. On this day, it was close to midnight and a chartered bus was delivering children home from school camp. I had waited up sitting on our couch and made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes just for a minute. I woke suddenly to the phone ringing with a concerned teacher on the other end of the line. By the time I got to the school, my daughter was the only child left, standing alone and tearful in the dark, with a teacher by her side.
These moments stay with us. Separation and anxiety are real fears for everyone.
This beautifully illustrated picture book helps young readers to visualise love like a piece of string, connecting us to our family and friends, even when they are not close. Like a warm scarf or a shining light, the strings of love connecting us to those we cherish can envelop us, make us feel safe and help us endure moments of anxiety.
When young Tess goes to school for the first time, she is worried that the string of love connecting herself to her mother will not stretch far enough without breaking. A kind teacher reassures Tess that her mother will return, and a new friend talks about his string of love connecting him to a parent who has died. Tess discovers that everyone has connections that unite them to others, even when they are far apart.
But what happens when Mummy is late to pick Tess up from school and she is left in the classroom with her teacher after all the other children have gone home? Can strings that have been broken, be reconnected again?
The illustrations in this picture book are endearing and heartfelt. I can highly recommend this story for young readers 4-6 years, especially for those who are starting school for the first time and feel anxious about taking the first step. Below are more picture books which explore the concepts of separation and anxiety, love and connectedness:
Published by Orchard Books, Hachette Children’s Group, 2020
I have read this picture book many times now and I still don’t know where to start. It’s not that I don’t like it, because I actually love it. And it’s not that I don’t have any thoughts about it, because I probably have too many, long after reading it.
Chirton Krauss (what a name!) is the main character and he is the very goodest goody. He is obliging, always eating his broccoli, even though it is his least favourite food. He has good manners, never picking his nose, even when he knows for sure that no-one is looking. He is kind, cleaning out the rabbit’s hutch once a week, even though his sister Myrtle should do it every other week.
Chirton’s parents are so happy with him, that they give him a Goody Badge. Now everyone knows and can never forget that Chirton is a goody. And then in red letters, like a commentary, we read:
If people have decided you are good, do not disappoint them by being bad.
So instead of this feeling of lightness that being good should bring, there is now an unsettling undercurrent of doubt. Where does goodness come from and should we continue being good for our own benefit or because of the expectations of others?
Myrtle, Chirton’s sister, seems to have things all worked out and is riding the wave of life on the back of her brother’s goodness. Myrtle is not invited to parties because she is not a good child, she isn’t made to eat vegetables she doesn’t like, and she is not expected to do her share of the cleaning of the rabbit’s hutch. And in red letters, we are informed:
That is lucky, isn’t it?
So instead of accepting the status quo, we are now thinking that life can be unfair for those who least deserve it.
When Chirton discovers his sister staying up late one night eating choco puffs and watching TV, simply because the babysitter can’t convince Myrtle to go to bed, it feels like that is one straw too many for a Goody to accept. Chirton finally asks himself:
What is so GOOD about being a Goody?
So, you see, the story is complicated, and it is not even finished! It throws up questions about why we do what we do, how our behaviour impacts others, why expectations are so hard to live up to, what is fair and what is not fair, and that sometimes you can be kind and nice just because it feels good when you are kind and nice. And the world needs more people who are trying to be good, don’t you think?
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it could be the starting point for long talks about what being good means and that could be applied to children and adults alike. Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of good and bad behaviour:
Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2020
The engaging cover of this picture book just begs you to pick it up, and when you do, the story begins dramatically with no end papers to rustle through. Magoo, the silliest dogoo, is already into mischief on the first page. Lapping up eggs that are just waiting to be eaten, chewing teddy bears that should only be cuddled, scratching up doors that are barring his way in, drinking toilet water in the bowl…well, why not? It’s a pretty colour of blue! Like a cheeky toddler, Magoo manages to cause mayhem and mischief everywhere he goes, in the most endearing way.
Each time Magoo does something he shouldn’t, his adult owners show him what he can do. But being good is never quite as fun! The repeated refrain, “No, Magoo. This is for you,” is easy to learn and young readers will delight in yelling it out when Magoo is especially naughty.
The gentle rhyming text, the thick glossy paper, the wonderful illustrations and the charming character of Magoo himself all combine to make this an easy, breezy read. The end of the story is a happy one too, there is finally a YES for cheeky Magoo!
I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more of my favorite picture books featuring dogs: