Tomie DePaola: The Knight and the Dragon

Illustrated by the author

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1980

I just love this story about a knight in a castle and a dragon in a cave. With very few words, we are drawn into a story about destiny, expectations, life choices, success and failure, accepting good advice and thinking outside the box.

Because if you are a knight, then you should fight a dragon. Right?

And if you are a dragon, then you should fight a knight. Right?

Well, they both do their best to fulfil their roles. The knight goes to the library to borrow a book about fighting dragons and the dragon digs around in his cave for a book on how to fight knights. The knight builds up his collection of armoury and weaponry. The dragon practices his tail swishing, snarling, and fire-breathing.

The day of the contest arrives and despite their polite introductions, a bit of jousting, a lot of running and many attempts to topple each other, the knight ends up in a tree and the dragon ends up in a pond.

The princess librarian just happens to be passing by and saves the day with a couple of different books: an outdoor cookbook for the dragon (what better use could there be for his fiery breath?) and a manual for building barbeques for the knight (his building skills could really be put to good use there!).

And so, what began as a contest between two enemies becomes a partnership between two friends!

The illustrations in this story are gorgeous and because there are so few words, it gives the reader lots of scope for improvisation and storytelling. The dragon is not really that scary and the knight always has a smile even when he is sharpening his sword. I like the idea that we do not always have to become what we are expected to be. Sometimes, life can present you with different pathways and it’s okay to be different, step out into a new way of living and do what you never imagined!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more recommendations for stories which feature dragons:

The Paper Bag Princess
by Robert Munsch
Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

Puff the Magic Dragon
by Peter Yarrow
and Lenny Lipton
Illustrated by Eric Puybaret

The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

Again! by Emily Gravett

Eric Carle’s Dragons
by Eric Carle
Compiled by Laura Whipple

King Jack and the Dragon
by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The Trouble with Dragons
by Debi Gliori

Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg
by Debi Gliori

That’s Not My Dragon…
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

George, the Dragon
and the Princess
by Chris Wormell

Boy by Phil Cummings
Illustrated by Shane Devries

Let’s Find Zog
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Dragon! by Maggie Hutchings Illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

A Dragon in a Wagon
by Lynley Dodd

Dragon Post by Emma Yarlett

Argus by Michelle Knudsen Illustrated by Andrea Wesson

Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen Illustrated by Derek Anderson

The Boy Who Painted Dragons by Demi

The Knight Who Couldn’t Fight
by Helen Docherty
Illustrated by Thomas Docherty

The Worst Princess
by Anna Kemp
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Ellie’s Dragon by Bob Graham

William Bee: Stanley’s Library

Illustrated by the author

Published by Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House, 2021

Stanley would have to be my favourite hamster, and to find him in his library van driving to the village green delivering books to all and sundry, just makes me love him even more!

We open the book to find that Stanley’s library is getting ready for another busy day. It’s 9.45am and the shelves need some tidying up. Take some time to read the titles –  in the horror section there are books about cats, snakes, and owls. I guess if you are a hamster, that’s understandable. Of course, there is a whole shelf dedicated to the wonders of cheese, all books bound in that cheesy, orangy, rindy yellow. Stanley can’t help looking at a cheese book, I get that…if it’s your favourite topic, books are like magnets!

Finally, the van is loaded up and Stanley is on his way to the village green. The hamster patrons who arrive are coming to borrow and return books, and Stanley knows them all. Myrtle loves books about cheese and Hattie loves motorbikes. Stanley has a surprise for Hattie and passes on to her The Big Book of Twisty Roads – how thoughtful! Shamus loves sailing, and Stanley has the latest book for him, Lots of Knots.

Back at the library, there is a special story time, Agatha Mouse has come to read her new book, First Mouse in Space. Everyone arrives in their fancy costumes. It must be good because Stanley takes a copy home and can’t stop reading it, in the bath and in bed!

This is a delightful story about the joys of reading, the value of libraries and the importance of librarians. The illustrations are bold and bright, cute and endearing. There is gentle humour in the details to make the older reader smile and the younger reader to appreciate.

(If you would like to read more about Stanley and his adventures, there are many more titles to choose from as he explores the world around him from numbers, shapes and colours to being a farmer, builder and postman.)

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the world of libraries and the books within them:

The Library Book
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Ian Morris

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp

Library Lion
by Michelle Knudsen
Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Curious George Visits the Library by Margaret & H.A. Rey
Illustrated by Martha Weston

Maisy Goes to the Library
by Lucy Cousins

Otto, the Book Bear
by Katie Cleminson

Luna Loves Library Day
by Joseph Coelho
Illustrated by Fiona Lumbers

A Library Book for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Find Spot at the Library
by Eric Hill

The Detective Dog
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Moose’s Book Bus
by Inga Moore

The Children Who Loved Books
by Peter Carnavas

Lucy’s Book
by Natalie Jane Prior
Illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

Book! Book! Book!
by Deborah Bruss
Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
by William Joyce
Illustrated by Joe Bluhm

Wild About Books
by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Marc Brown

The Not So Quiet Library
by Zachariah Ohora

Library Babies by Puck Illustrated by Violet Lemay

Dear Librarian
by Lydia Sigwarth
Illustrated by Romina Galotta

Alison Lester: Noni the Pony counts to a million

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2021

This is a wonderful counting and rhyming story featuring Noni the pony and her friends as they cavort and play by the grassy shoreline.

Beginning with Noni standing under one tree, we follow her watching two friends dance by the sea. Along the way, we meet three speckled hens, four laughing cows, five hopping wallabies, six wood-swallows swooping through the sky and many more friendly creatures.

Counting all the way up to 10, the next big number is found on Helga who has dozens of spots on her coat, and then on to Harry who has hundreds of spots all over his shaggy body.

Along the road in the dark of night, thousands of cars shine their headlights and finally under millions of stars, Noni and her friends fall fast asleep.

The numbers are highlighted in different colours in the text, and the simple rhymes make this easy to read to young children. The illustrations predominately use various hues of blues and greens which is soothing to look at and helps with the continuity of the story. All the creatures are easy to spot and a great introduction to the joys of counting.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that teach us all about numbers:

How Do Dinosaurs
Count to Ten?
by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

Ten Little Monkeys
Jumping on the Bed
Illustrated by Tina Freeman

Counting our Blessings
by Emma Dodd

When the Moon Smiled
by Petr Horacek

Counting with Tiny Cat
by Viviane Schwarz

One was Johnny
by Maurice Sendak

Ten Little Dogs by Ruth Brown

Anno’s Counting Book
by Mitsumasa Anno

Mouse Count
by Ellen Stoll Walsh

One Yellow Sun
by Michael Arndt

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees?
by Gordon Winch
Illustrated by
Patrick Shirvington

One Blue Shoe by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Jane Reiseger

One Gorilla by Anthony Browne

One Keen Koala by Mem Fox Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Let’s Count Goats! by Mem Fox Illustrated by Jan Thomas

Bear Counts by Karma Wilson Illustrated by Jane Chapman

123 Dream by Kim Krans

Counting Crocodiles
by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

My Very First Book of Numbers
by Eric Carle

123 of Australian Animals
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Alfie’s Numbers
by Shirley Hughes

Julia Donaldson: The Christmas Pine

Illustrated by Victoria Sandøy

Published by Alison Green Books, UK, 2021

As Christmas approaches, we look forward to the traditions of this Yuletide season. Stockings hanging on the mantlepiece, tinsel and paper chains decorating the house, gingerbread, and fruit mince tarts in the pantry. Some traditions may be unique to your family, some are unique to whole countries. This story is based on a special tradition that has been continuing for over 70 years between Norway and Britain.

Every year, from the snowy, white landscape of Norway, a spruce tree is chosen to be cut down and sent to the city of London. There, in Trafalgar Square, it is decorated with lights and baubles, a symbol of Christmas and a thankyou from one nation to another for special deeds performed during WWII.

This picture book illustrates the poem created by Julia Donaldson to remember the time when Britain sheltered the King of Norway during the second world war.

From the point of view of the tree, we read about how this Queen of the Forest, a Norwegian spruce tree, is chosen, nurtured, felled, and sent via ship and over land to London.

If trees could have thoughts, I would like to think that it was happy indeed to have given its life for this special commemoration in 2020. Julia Donaldson’s gentle rhyming prose is beautifully illustrated by Victoria Sandøy, a celebrated Norwegian artist, and together they make this a picture book to keep and treasure.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature Christmas trees:

Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry

Maisy’s Christmas Tree
by Lucy Cousins

The Christmas Eve Tree
by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton

Oh, Christmas Tree!
by Sue Hendra
Illustrated by Paul Linnet

The Christmas Tree Ship
by Carol Crane
Illustrated by Chris Ellison

Pip and Posy: The Christmas Tree by Axel Scheffler

The Christmas Tree Who
Loved Trains
by Annie Silvestro
Illustrated by Paola Zakimi

The Christmas Tree
by Jessica Courtney-Tickle

The Last Christmas Tree
by Stephen Krensky
Illustrated by Pascal Campion

The Missing Christmas Tree
by Wilbert Awdry
Illustrated by Tommy Stubbs

Christmas Farm
by Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Barry Root

An Aussie Christmas Gum Tree by Jackie Hosking
Illustrated by
Nathaniel Eckstrom

The Little Fir Tree
based on the story
by Hans Christian Anderson
Illustrated by Christopher Corr

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht Illustrated by Jarvis

The Year of the
Perfect Christmas Tree
by Gloria Houston
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Night Tree by Eve Bunting Illustrated by Ted Rand

Julia Donaldson: The Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2021

Caterpillars, cocoons, butterflies, and moths. The transformative process of being one thing and becoming something else is one of the miracles of life. And in this story, that’s not the only surprise waiting in store for the reader. Filled with bright, beautiful colours and catchy singsong chanting rhymes, four very different caterpillars discover that what you are today, is not necessarily what you will be all your life!

The star of this story is a dandelion-loving, brown, fluffy, and very ordinary looking woolly bear caterpillar. When the dandelions she loves to eat are pulled up by the gardener, the woolly bear caterpillar must crawl off to search for some new ones.

On the way she encounters a stunning sycamore caterpillar who boasts about her gorgeous coat of red and yellow. A bit further on, there is a vapourer caterpillar proudly showing off tufts of yellow hair all along its purple and red body. Lastly, on the boughs of a towering poplar tree, a puss moth caterpillar sings about the weird, wonderful, and strange red markings covering its face.

Poor woolly bear caterpillar. She has been teased and taunted about her plain brown looks. The other caterpillars are sure that when they become moths, they will be even more beautiful and colourful than they are now.

Distracted by some newly found dandelion leaves, the little woolly bear caterpillar tries to cheer herself up. After all, there is not much you can do to change the way you look, but you can be master of your own thoughts!

Snug in their cocoons, the caterpillars begin their transformation. Some weeks go by, and the moths begin to hatch one by one. The teasing caterpillars have emerged quite plain, but the woolly bear caterpillar is dazzling with her blue spots, stripy body and tiger patterned wings. It’s a vindicating moment and the other moths sing their praises of her!

Julia Donaldson uses wonderful rhythm and rhyme in this story, making it a joy to read. The illustrations are radiant and colourful, complementing the text and enhancing the narrative. There is even a small non-fiction booklet attached to the inside back cover by Michael Blencowe, All About Caterpillars and Moths, which has more information about moths and caterpillars, their body parts and habitats.  

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature the amazing caterpillar and glorious butterflies and moths:

Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr.
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

I’m Not a Worm!
by Scott Tulloch

Caterpillar Butterfly
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

My Butterfly Bouquet
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Hannah Peck

Fuzzy Doodle
by Melinda Szymanik
Illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Waiting for Wings
by Lois Ehlert

Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar
by Clare Jarrett

The Butterfly
by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Cathy Shimmen

Caterpillar Dreams
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross

Caterpillar and Butterfly
by Ambelin Kwaymullina

First Nature Caterpillar
by Harriet Evans
Illustrated by Bryony Clarkson

Caterpillar and Bean
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Cora Caterpillar
by Barry Tranter
Illustrated by Emma Tranter

Miss Caterpillar’s Colours
by Stuart Lynch

Caterpillar Dreams
by Clive McFarland

Goodnight Sleepy Caterpillar
by Patricia Hegarty
Illustrated by Thomas Elliott

An Extraordinary
Ordinary Moth
by Karlin Gray
Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

Moth by Isabel Thomas Illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Odile Weulersse: Nasreddine

Illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, US, 2021

There are many roads to take in life, many people who will give you advice, and many others who will tell what to think and how to act. One of the wonderful benefits of reading is that you can learn about what other people do in difficult situations, how they make decisions and figure out a way forward.

Nasreddine is at the centre of this folk tale from the Middle East, which helps us understand what to do when faced with criticism, ridicule, and advice from others about how to conduct ourselves in life. It is a tender story about a father teaching his son this lesson, and it happens on the way to the market…and isn’t that where we learn most of our lessons? We leave our front door and head out into the world, and if we are lucky, we have someone beside us, to help us think and make wise decisions.

We encounter Nesreddine enjoying a moment of peace sitting on a carpet in the shade of the palm tree drinking camel’s milk with cinnamon in it. His father asks him to get their donkey ready for a trip to the market. They load up the donkey with baskets of dates and off they go. Mustafa sits atop the donkey too and Nasreddine walks happily behind with his slippers in his hand, so they don’t get muddy.

All is well until a passing vizier shouts out that only a lazy man would sit on top of the donkey and let his son walk behind him in the mud.

Nesreddine is ashamed by the comments, so the next time he and his father go to market, Nesreddine makes sure to be the one on the donkey with his father walking behind. Alas, some women see them and comment that young people do not show their elders any respect and that fathers have no authority over their sons.

You can see the pattern! No matter how they ride to market, someone always has something critical to say, and they do not always say it kindly. Mustafa allows his son the time to listen and make changes to the way they ride to market, but in the end, common sense prevails. Young Nesreddine must learn the difference between good advice and bad, listen to his own heart and learn from his mistakes.

For most of us, these lessons take a lifetime, and can sometimes they can be learnt more easily when told as a story. I can highly recommend this picture book for children 6-8 years old and below are more suggestions for picture books that use fables, and traditional and modern stories to teach valuable life lessons:

Aesop’s Fables
by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by
Emma Chichester Clark

The Boy Who Cried Wolf
by Tony Ross

Mice, Morals, &
Monkey Business
by Christopher Wormell

Caps for Sale
by Esphyr Slobodkina

Six Crows by Leo Lionni

Brian Wildsmith’s Favourite Fables by Brian Wildsmith

Lion and Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

The Little Red Hen
by Diane Muldrow
Illustrated by J.P. Miller

The Tortoise and the Hare
by Bruce Whatley

The North Wind and the Sun
by Brian Wildsmith

The Lion Inside
by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Jim Field

The Hungry Coat by Demi

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
by Simms Taback

The Ugly Duckling
by Hans Christian Anderson Illustrated by Bernadette Watts

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

SumoKitty by David Biedrzycki

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Colin Thompson Illustrated by Amy Lissiat

Fiona’s Little Lie
by Rosemary Wells

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

The Emperor’s New Clothes
by Demi

Nancy Rose: Oakley the Squirrel, The Search for Z

Photographed by the author

Published by Workman Publishing, New York, 2021

Nancy Rose has created a charming story about Oakley the Squirrel searching for Z in this very cute alphabet adventure. Nancy is a retired high school guidance counsellor and lives in Nova Scotia, Cananda. She makes her own props and sets using recycled and natural materials, as well as self-hardening clay, icy pole sticks and whatever she can find in her craft supply cupboards and in nature.

Luring wild squirrels onto her sets with peanuts, Nancy captures them in many different poses and creates her stories around their antics. Sometimes there is competition for the peanuts from blue jays, chickadees, and chipmunks in her backyard, but the squirrels are her favourite posers.

In this story, little Oakley is searching for the letter Z and we begin the hunt with Oakley admiring his acorns, and going on to look beneath his bed, claw through the closet, dig through the drawers and examine the easel.

There are wonderful props to enhance the search: handmade wooden tables and chairs, a hand sewn yellow mackintosh and matching hat, as well as a washing machine and ironing board. Tiny quilts, a swing set, a collection of musical instruments and a grand fireplace with mantel all provide gorgeous and interesting settings for the squirrels to explore.

The search is all so tiring for a little squirrel and on the final page we see Oakley having a well-earned sleep, his beautiful bushy tail resting on his back, his eyes closed and a series of colourful Z’s issuing from his nose…too cute!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature squirrels and other publications from Nancy Rose.

(If you would like to read more about the author, I recommend looking up BookPage on the internet, Nancy Rose was interviewed by Hilli Levin on Nov 10, 2014 – there are some great photos and personal anecdotes included in the article.)

The Secret Life of Squirrels:
A Love Story by Nancy Rose

The Secret Life of Squirrels
by Nancy Rose

The Secret Life of Squirrels: Back to School by Nancy Rose

Merry Christmas, Squirrels!
by Nancy Rose

The Busy Little Squirrel
by Nancy Tafuri

Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith

Ol’ Mama Squirrel
by David Ezra Stein

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin
by Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes
by Beatrix Potter

Nuts to You! by Lois Ehlert

The Meanest Squirrel I
Ever Met by Gene Zion
Illustrated by Margaret
Bloy Graham

I’m Sticking With You
by Smriti Halls
Illustrated by Steve Small

Cyril and Pat by Emily Gravett

Little Squirrel
by Britta Teckentrup

The Squirrels who Squabbled
by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Jim Field

The Leaf Thief
by Alice Hemming
Illustrated by Nicola Slater

The Perfect Guest
by Paula Metcalf

A First Book of Nature
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Mark Hearld

Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Owen Swan

Who Stole the Hazelnuts?
by Marcus Pfister

Sorrel and the Sleepover
by Corrinne Averiss
Illustrated by Susan Varley

Jon Agee: Little Santa

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scallywag Press Ltd, Great Britain, 2021

Have you ever wondered how Santa became the jolly Santa Claus who climbs down chimneys and leaves presents in stockings at the end of our beds at Christmas time? Have you ever considered whether he had siblings or parents? Have you spent any time thinking about whether Santa enjoys his job, and just how did he get those elves and reindeer to help with Christmas gift deliveries?

No? That’s okay, Jon Agee has provided all the answers in this wonderfully creative and imaginative picture book about Santa.

We meet Santa as a young boy sitting at the family table in the North Pole, surrounded by his family, mum and dad and six siblings. He’s the only one in a red onesie, so there is every chance that you will recognise him!

All is not well; it seems that everybody except Santa finds life in the North Pole hard work, and they would all like to leave and live somewhere warmer…like Florida. On the eve of their leave taking, a blizzard traps everyone in the house under a huge snowdrift. What can they do?

Fortunately, little Santa has mastered the skill of shimmying up and down chimneys, so he volunteers to set out and find food, snowshoes, and help.

On the way, Santa makes some new friends (you can guess who they might be) and rescues his family. The new friends make a big difference to life in the North Pole, and we are left with one satisfying version as to how the legend of Santa Claus may have come to pass!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books about Santa and Christmas:

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Britta Teckentrup

Emily Brown and
Father Christmas
by Cressida Cowell
Illustrated by Neal Layton

Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

I Love You, Father Christmas
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Emma Dodd

Tea and Sugar Christmas
by Jane Jolly
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The Night Before Christmas
Illustrated by Jan Brett

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Tailor of Gloucester
by Beatrix Potter

Father Christmas
by Raymond Briggs

The Story of Holly & Ivy
by Rumer Godden
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Dear Santa by Rod Campbell

Where’s Santa Claus?
by Ingela P. Arrhenius

Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr

The Christmas Bear
by Ian Whybrow
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Merry Christmas to You,
Blue Kangaroo!
by Emma Chichester Clark

Minerva Louise on
Christmas Eve
by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Christmas Wombat
by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Dear Father Christmas
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Rosie Reeve

Lucy & Tom’s Christmas
by Shirley Hughes

The Legend of the Poinsettia
by Tomie dePaola

Olivia Helps with Christmas
by Ian Falconer

A Christmas for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

How to Hide a Lion at Christmas
by Helen Stephens

Cat in the Manger
by Michael Foreman

Inside Outside: Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui

Illustrated by the authors

Published by Candlewick Studio, 2017

This is a creative picture book that explores the idea of being inside and being outside. You would think that this is a straightforward concept, but the illustrations are thought provoking, making the reader reassess their perspective and really look at the images to make sense of what they are seeing.

The book itself is oversized and wordless. Each double page spread has an image on the left that illustrates an interior, the opposing page places that interior image in its wider outside context.

My favourite double page spread shows a four-poster bed, with pillows scattered on the floor, and torn curtains. Some of the torn curtains have been made into a rope that is dangling outside a narrow window. All this is illustrated on the left-hand page. On the right-hand page, we see a castle nestled on a hilltop, pennants waving in the breeze, surrounded by mountains and a river. At first, you wonder how the images are connected but, looking closer, there is the curtain-rope dangling out of a high window in the castle, unnoticed by a guard. In the meandering yellow river below, a small maiden with long flowing golden hair is wading through the water to reach the bank on the other side. Yes, it’s a snapshot of Rapunzel making her escape and without a prince to save her!

There are many other cleverly illustrated images: the chaos of a cabin inside a yacht that is navigating rough ocean waves; a figure in a tent warming his hands by a fire inside the belly of a whale; a driver in a cab at the head of a long road-train winding its way through a barren landscape; the vibrating heart of a person who is bungee-jumping off a very tall bridge. In the final image, there is an old man looking out of the window at the night sky from inside his house. On the page opposite, you can see that only one house in a row of many houses has a light shining in the window. It must be his house and his light we are seeing, a silent viewer of the vast inky sky while everyone else sleeps.

Without written words to navigate the images, there is a lot to talk about! Not only is the reader encouraged to pay attention to the details in the illustrations, but they are also required to understand the connection between the images. This introduces the concepts of perspective and opposites, as well as narrative comprehension, so important for reading as children progress to chapter books and longer stories.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which focus on the theme of opposites:

Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Aregui

Before & After by Jean Jullien

Opposites by Sandra Boynton

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

Hard and Soft by Sian Smith

Opposites by Eric Carle

Animal Opposites
by Petr Horacek

Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light

The Happy Yellow Box
by David A. Carter

The Hueys in What’s the Opposite? by Oliver Jeffers

Big Dog…Little Dog
by P.D. Eastman

Maisy Big, Maisy Small
by Lucy Cousins

Up & Down
by Britta Teckentrup

What’s Up, What’s Down?
by Lola Schaefer
Illustrated by Barbara Bash

Kipper’s Book of Opposites
by Mick Inkpen

Opposites Abstract
by Mo Willems

Megan Madison & Jessica Ralli: Our Skin, a First Conversation About Race

Illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Published by Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2021

“Young children notice a lot – including skin color, race, and even injustice and racism. It can be hard to find the right words to answer their questions or start a conversation about race. But when we talk about it, children often come to their own conclusions, which can include bias and stereotypes because of the world we live in. Simple conversations can help them make sense of their world and even recognise and speak up about injustice. This book is a good place to start or continue the conversation. It’s okay to take a break, leave something out for now, or weave in stories of your own.”

By Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli

The above quote is from the first page of this wonderful book which explores the idea of racism and how we can begin to talk about it with young people.

Despite the complexity of the topic, the text is simple, clear, and concise and begins with the most basic of questions: what colour is your skin?

It encourages the reader to look about themselves and recognise differences in skin colour amongst family, friends, and neighbours. It reinforces the beauty of our skin and its importance for our bodies. It explains why some people have darker or lighter skin because of varying levels of melanin. It provides a vocabulary to use when talking about people of colour, and lists words used in the wider world to describe groups of people who are not white.

But best of all, it explains what the colour of someone’s skin can’t tell you about a person. It can’t tell you how a person feels, what they are thinking, what they know and like. From here, it’s a small step to reflecting upon how people of colour have been unfairly treated in history, how racism has been pervasive in societies and how it has gone on, unnoticed and unchecked.

In our personal lives, racism can be expressed in the ways we exclude people based on the way they look or talk, it can be in the ways we address people or label them, and whether we do this on purpose or by mistake.

So, what can we do? We can be more aware in our relationships, we can march in protest, we can speak up, we can teach, help, learn, and listen. We can start the conversation with young people, educate them and ourselves, and actively participate in anti-racist efforts.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and adults too, and below are more suggestions for picture books which look at the issue of racism and being different in creative ways:

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali
Illustrated by Hatem Aly

The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas Illustrated by Lesley Harker

The Stone Thrower
by Jael Ealey Richardson
Illustrated by Matt James

Someone New
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Elmer by David McKee

One of These is Not Like the Others by Barney Saltzberg

Chocolate Me! Taye Diggs Illustrated by Shane Evans

Amazing Grace
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Caroline Binch

Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Mixed: A Colorful Story
by Arree Chung

Strictly No Elephants
by Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Same but Different Too
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

Imagine a Wolf: What Do You See? by Lucky Platt