Patricia Hegarty: Home

Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

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:

Home by Jeannie Baker

Let’s Go Home by Cynthia Rylant Illustrated by
Wendy Anderson Halperin

A House in the Woods
by Inga Moore

Mouse House by John Burningham

Minerva Louise
by Janet Morgan Stoeke

Two Homes by Claire Masurel Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

Home by Carson Ellis

The Colour of Home
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

Nest by Jorey Hurley

If You Lived Here by Giles Laroche

This Is Our House by Hyewon Yum

Welcome Home, Bear by Il Sung Na

No Place Like Home
by Ronojoy Ghosh

The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

Red House, Blue House,
Green House by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Jane Reiseger

A House for Hermit Crab
by Eric Carle

This is Our House
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Bob Graham

My Very First Book of Animal Homes by Eric Carle

Julia Donaldson: Counting Creatures

Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2020

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:

Animalphabet
Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai

The Gruffalo
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Gruffalo’s Child
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Stick Man
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

A Squash and a Squeeze
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Where’s My Mom?
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Paper Dolls
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

The Ugly Five
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Smeds and the Smoos Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Magic Paintbrush
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

The Further Adventures of The Owl and the Pussy-cat
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

The Everywhere Bear
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Night Monkey Day Monkey Illustrated by Lucy Richards

The Go-Away Bird
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner

The Detective Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

The Hospital Dog
Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Room on the Broom
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Snail and the Whale
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

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.

From Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum, first published 2004 by Macmillan Children’s Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers International Limited. Text copyright © Julia Donaldson 2004

Charles Santoso: Happy Hippo

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia, NSW, 2020

You have probably heard that the grass grows greener on the other side of the fence, and you may have also been cautioned to be careful what you wish for. In a world where upended turtles can grant you nine wishes, it would be wise to keep these nuggets of wisdom in mind.

While looking at his reflection in a pond one day, Hippo wishes that there was quite a lot more to what he could see there. I can relate to that! Our reflections don’t always add up to the sum of who we think we are or how we would like to look. When Turtle grants Hippo nine wishes, Hippo eagerly makes the first change and adds a vibrant green shell to his back. Soon, there’s a gorgeous yellow mane, then a handsome long neck, throw in a handy terrific trunk and many more clever and useful additions…and you have a problem! Hippo has gone too far, and he finally realises that all these wonderful attributes on one body are too much trouble. Hippo just wants to be himself again. Fortunately for Hippo, he has one wish left, but what will he do with it?

This is an easy story for younger readers, the illustrations are bright, cute and enhance the text. The story has multiple themes that might help begin a discussion about what it means to be you, appreciating strengths and weaknesses in yourself and others, acceptance and self-love, being open to change and imagining what could be different in your life.

Here are a few more suggestions about picture books where animals take on the characteristics of other animals and become all mixed up. As well, I have included a few stories where animals change as they grow and even become more than what they thought they could ever be:

Crocopotamus by Mary Murphy

Giraffes Can’t Dance
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

The Mixed-Up Chameleon
by Eric Carle

Now You See Me Now You Don’t
by Patricia Hegarty
Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

A Colour of His Own by Leo Lionni

The Ugly Duckling by Jerry Pinkney

Picken by Mary Murphy

Cock-A-Doodle Moooo!
by Keith DuQuette

Animals with Tiny Cat
by Viviane Schwarz

Kes Gray: Oi Aardvark!

Illustrated by Jim Field

I love Kes Gray’s picture books. I always read them with a smile, a giggle and no small amount of wonder. How does he come up with all those words that rhyme?

What does rhyme with aardvark? Hmmm, think about it…

Cardshark! And there is the shark, a smiling mouth full of teeth and nifty fins holding playing cards. Riding on top, the aardvark is there too, diving gear on and cards in hand.

In this picture book, Frog has a “New Alphabetty Botty Book” to fill with creatures from A to Z. Frog’s task is to get them to sit somewhere that rhymes with their name. Cat and Dog have done this before, and they are not sure it can be done again. Frog is optimistic he can do it.

For young children, the illustrations are funny and ridiculous. Have you ever seen a donkey sit on a long key? For young readers, the rhyming text helps to ease their way in pronouncing unfamiliar words, like jays sitting on maize and mosquitos sitting on burritos.

There are a few books in this series, some are written with Claire Gray, and all of them in partnership with illustrator Jim Field.

I can highly recommend them for children 2-6 years. I guarantee you will close the book with a smile. Below are more books in this series:

Oi Cat!

Oi Dog!

Oi Duck-Billed Platypus!

Oi Puupies!

Oi Frog!

Frog on a Log?

Dog on a Frog?

Kate Gardner: Lovely Beasts, The Surprising Truth

Illustrated by Heidi Smith

Published by Balzer and Bray, HarperCollins Publishers, 2018

There is an old saying that suggests there are two sides to every story. Usually we see one side very clearly. It takes some imagination, humility and empathy to be open to the possibility of seeing and acknowledging the other side.  

This picture book gives us the opportunity to recognise and name with one word our first assumption about an animal we think we know. Turning the page, we discover that there is another aspect to their nature that we may not have considered.

Yes, spiders are creepy, but they are also crafty, spinning intricate webs that are simultaneously fragile and strong.

Yes, sharks have mouths full of razor-sharp teeth and inspire awe and fear, but did you know that they are also guardians of the ocean helping to maintain the health and biodiversity of life within its watery depths?

Yes, rhinos look tough and indestructible, but they are also vulnerable because their populations are constantly being threatened by poaching and loss of habitat.

The illustrations in this picture book are gorgeous. Having one black and white image with one word on a double page spread makes a powerful statement about what we assume to be true about that animal. Turning the page to see that same animal in soft colours and with an opposing descriptor is surprising and humbling.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it provides a wonderful basis for discussion about the animals depicted and also challenges the biases and assumptions we unwittingly carry and occasionally promote!

Below are more suggestions for picture books that open our eyes to the wonder and contradictions found in the animal world:

The Ugly Five by
Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by
Axel Scheffler
What Do You Do With
a Tail Like This?
by Steve Jenkins
Illustrated by
Robin Page
Yucky Worms by
Vivian French
Illustrated by
Jessica Ahlberg
A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by
Sylvia Long
The Animal Awards
by Martin Jenkins
illustrated by
Tor Freeman
Mister Seahorse
by Eric Carle
Funny Faces by
Dr Mark Norman
Funny Families by
Dr Mark Norman

Alex Beard: Crocodile Tears

Illustrated by the author

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, London, 2011

David Attenborough recently celebrated his 94th birthday and for one whose life has been all about the conservation, protection and exploration of the natural world and its biodiversity, it would seem remiss not to quote him saying something both wise and wonderful when reviewing a picture book that considers these themes:

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependant on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.”

Alex Beard has also travelled extensively to some of the most remote places on earth, painting and reflecting on the interconnections between environments, wildlife and people. Crocodile Tears is the third book in the Tales from the Watering Hole series which also includes The Jungle Grapevine and Monkey See Monkey Draw. Proceeds from the sale of Crocodile Tears go to the Shompole Community Trust, which is a land and animal reserve in Kenya overseen by the Maasai people.

The setting for this story is Africa, near the Mburu River. Rhino and Tickbird are coming to the river to drink and want to know why crocodile is crying, but they are afraid to approach a mouth full of teeth, so who can they ask? Off they go to explore the African plains looking for animals that might know the answer.

What I most admire about the way the story unfolds is that each creature who is asked and does not know the answer, suggests another creature by describing something remarkable and unique about them. The Golden Eagle recommends asking the Elephant whose trumpeting can be heard for miles; the Elephant suggests asking the tree frogs whose song is so beautiful; the tree frog proposes asking the butterfly whose wing patterns are so dazzling. And there are many more encounters just like this.

The animals however are proving difficult to find, and that message is often repeated. Could it be that is why the crocodile is crying? Perhaps it is because all the animals are disappearing.

Finally, after a humorous encounter with an ostrich, Rhino and Tickbird find their courage and ask Crocodile why he is crying. The answer is very clever.

“I’m crying because it is hot in the sun and the tears keep my eyes moist and healthy. It’s one of the things crocodiles do. But, since you asked Black Rhino, it could be because I am going to miss you.”

Well, if you are like me, I thought the message was about extinction.

But no, the crocodile actually eats Rhino!

Not to worry, crocodile spits Rhino out again!

But…the message is about extinction. Some of the animals mentioned in the picture book are critically endangered. Their habitats are under threat, they are at risk of poaching and hunting, and sometimes cannot find enough food.

A glossary at the end of the book gives some insight into these problems and there is a small paragraph with an accompanying photo giving the reader information about habitat, population numbers and conservation efforts.

I can highly recommend this book for children 4-8 years, it can help young readers begin to understand the complex nature of conservation and how people can play a vital role in the protection of animal species. Here are more suggestions for further reading:

Where Did They Go?
by Emily Bornoff
Chooks in Dinner Suits
by Diane Jackson Hill
Illustrated by
Craig Smith
Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
by Rohan Cleave
and Coral Tulloch
Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by
Vicky White
The Boy and the Whale
by Mordicai Gerstein
Anna & Samia: the True Story of Saving a Black Rhino by
Paul Meisel
Shark Lady by
Jess Keating
Illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens

John Canty: Heads and Tails Underwater

Illustrated by the author

Published by Berbay Publishing, Kew East, Vic, 3102

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”
 Mem Fox, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

John Canty is a Melbourne based artist, designer and writer, with a flair for adapting nineteenth century artwork into pictures that can be appreciated by young and older readers.

Each underwater creature is hinted at with clues in the text and a partial drawing of its body. This gives you time to think about what it could be, begin a discussion about the clues and then have a guess, turn the page and see if you are right!

As a tool for learning, it’s masterful. For young readers, the first reading gives them information and insight. The second reading tests their memory skills. The third reading begins to cement their knowledge and embed three new facts about each creature into their minds. This information can be used in the future as they learn more about the sea and the animals that live in it, and they have a visual memory to support it. I love the illustration of the whale and that it takes four pages to contain its image, and it doesn’t even quite do that, because it is just so big!

John Canty introduces us to creatures that are familiar, such as a crab, eel, octopus, sea star, sting ray, turtle, whale and more. The illustrations are beautifully crafted on each page, uncomplicated and embellished with watercolour.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and suggest that you look out for these titles by the author:

Heads and Tails
Heads and Tails – Insects

Moira Court: Antarctica

Illustrated by the author

Published by Fremantle Press, WA, 2019

“I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.” (Ernest Shackleton)

It’s quite sobering to think that we live on a great ball in the sky, but equally remarkable that people have ventured to its far-flung axes. Shackleton was in the deep cold south searching for the pole more than one hundred years ago and knighted for his exploratory adventures on his return home. Whilst I will most likely remain unknighted in my lifetime, there are other ways to travel and learn about our freezing polar regions and feel honour-bound in the process.

Moira Court has authored and illustrated a simple yet evocative counting journey through the icy cold world of Antarctica. Using a mixture of printmaking techniques and collage we are introduced to ten creatures who thrive and endure in the freezing south. The language used is rich in imagery and I particularly like the double adjectives in every sentence. These adjectives rhyme as well and add a gentle humour to the animals portrayed. Can you just imagine “two courtly, portly emperor penguins waddling across the polar plains”? We are also introduced to orcas, whales, elephant seals, krill and snow petrels and you can learn more about them at the end of the book.

There is also a double spread with information about the South Pole itself. I did not know that there is more than one pole! My favourites are the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and the Southern Pole of Cold, and not forgetting the Ceremonial South Pole, around which scientists have been known to scamper whilst only clad in a pair of shoes!

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years. Here are more suggestions for picture books that explore the coldest places on earth, with a bias towards penguins, because who can resist them?

Sophie Scott Goes South
by Alison Lester
Mum for Sale
by Zanni Louise
Illustrated by
Philip Bunting
Lost and Found by
Oliver Jeffers
Penguin Problems
by Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
The Emperor’s Egg by
Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by
Jane Chapman
When Grandad Was a Penguin
by Morag Hood
Penguin by Polly Dunbar

Laura Knowles: It Starts with a Seed

Illustrated by Jennie Webber

See the source image

Published by Words and Pictures, US, 2017

There are many books on the market that explore the theme of plant growth from seed to tree, but I have chosen this book because of its simple yet concise language and the expressive drawings that accompany the text. Each page explores the development of one seed with gentle rhyme and observation, helping the reader to understand how one tree can become home and habitat to many creatures, big and small. As well, the author explores the idea that a tree, grown from a seed, can throw its own seeds and that they can begin life all over again, an everlasting circle of life. The tree described in this picture book is a sycamore tree and at the end of the book, its life cycle is illustrated, with annotated facts, on a large pull out page.

Whilst many of us wouldn’t plant a sycamore tree in our backyard (they can grow to over 100 feet), there are many seeds that you can plant for almost instant pleasure. So, grab your little person and head off to the nursery, pick up a packet of sunflower seeds for a splash of colour or spinach seedlings for adding to your plate, some potting mix, a few containers, a watering can, some liquid plant food and watch the amazing transformation…and don’t forget to keep watering!

This book would be suitable for children 2-8 years old and if you would like to read more about seeds, here are some of my favorites:

A Seed is Sleepy
by Dianna Aston,
illustrated by Sylvia Long
See the source image
Seeds Move! by
Robin Page
See the source image
The Tiny Seed by
Eric Carle