Alison Binks: 9 things to remember (and one to forget)

Illustrated by the author

Published by Berbay Publishing, Kew East, Victoria, 2021

In the busyness of life, we should be mindful of all those things that are easy to overlook and take for granted, to be still for a moment and think about the small but mighty truths that surround us in our shared world.

In this picture book, we are urged to raise our levels of consciousness and be aware of the complex and connected wonders of life. Whittled down to nine things, we are taken on a slow moving and thoughtful journey to familiar places to look again and see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

If you sleep outside remember that birds wake up very early to sing. Except for the big, swooping kind who’ve been hunting all night. They are just going to sleep.

Remember to watch a pelican as it flies low to the water, never touching the silky waves. Remember to think of the moon pulling the tides in and out as you jump the frothy surf. Remember that there are frogs living deep in the ground waiting patiently for rain even when the ground is hard and dry. Remember that trees can live for more years than we can and be so wide that it takes many hands to reach all the way around them. Remember that the night-time stars can help travellers find their way home.

And the one thing to forget? Your shoes of course, because we all need to take them off sometimes and revel in the feeling of the good green grass beneath our feet.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which encourage us to stop, think and be mindful about the wonderful natural world around us:

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Mark Hearld

Bee by Britta Teckentrup

The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook by Shirley Hughes

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

My Country by Dorothea Mackellar Illustrated by Andrew McLean

Maisy’s Nature Walk
by Lucy Cousins

Caterpillar Butterfly
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Grandpa’s Gift by Fiona Lumbers

We Are the Gardeners
by Joanna Gaines and kids
Illustrated by Julianna Swaney

Today We Have No Plans
by Jane Godwin
Illustrated by Anna Walker

In The Park by Clare Beaton

The Rainy Day by Anne Milbourne Illustrated by Sarah Gill

Here and Now by Julia Denos Illustrated by E.B. Goodale

Now by Antoinette Portis

Life by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Quiet by Tomi dePaola

Perfect by Danny Parker
Illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Outside In by Deborah Underwood Illustrated by Cindy Derby

Slow Down, World by Tai Snaith

When the Sakura Bloom
by Narisa Togo

Lynley Dodd: A Dragon in a Wagon

Illustrated by the author

First published by Puffin, 1988

Today is one of those days for lying down on the grass and looking up at the clouds and imagining what all the shapes could be. I can’t remember the last time I did that. Lynley Dodd’s little board book has nudged me in that direction this afternoon and I find myself looking out of the window and letting my mind wander around wishes and things that might be. 

In this little board book, Susie Fogg has taken Sam her dog for a walk along Jackson’s Stream. While she is there, with the lead in her hand and the grass and trees all around, her mind wanders and she wishes and imagines just what it might be like if Sam was something more than a dog.

“Sam,” she said,

You’re very good,

you never bark or bite.

The holes you dig

are not TOO big,

and you’re always home

at night.

But just this once

it might be fun

if you changed from dog,” she said.

“To something HUGE

or something FIERCE

or something ODD

instead.”

After these lively, bouncing, rhyming words we follow Susie and all her various imaginative transformations of Sam. He is a dragon in a wagon, a bat with a hat, a whale in a pail, a chimp with a limp, a shark in the dark and more!

But after tripping over a mossy log, Susie is glad to find her beloved Sam right there beside her. After all, we could wish our lives away and never truly appreciate what we have already.

Lynley Dodd is best known for her award-winning picture books about Hairy Maclary and his friends: Slinky Malinki, Scarface Claw, Schnitzel von Krumm and others. From New Zealand, her picture books have been loved and celebrated around the world and have sold millions of copies.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore using your imagination, making wishes, and asking yourself the intriguing “What if…?” question:

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Illustrated by Felicia Bond

All I Said Was
by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Ross Collins

A Bear-y Tale
by Anthony Browne

Captain Jack and the Pirates
by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis

Gerald the Lion by Jessica Souhami

I Am A Tiger by Karl Newson Illustrated by Ross Collins

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet
by Dr Seuss, Theo LeSieg Illustrated by Barney Tobey

Imagine by Alison Lester

Would You Rather
by John Burningham

If I Had a Raptor
by George O’Connor

Not Just a Book
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross

Journey by Aaron Becker

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino

My Elephant by Petr Horacek

If I Had a Unicorn
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Alex Barrow

If I Had an Octopus
by Gabby Dawnay
Illustrated by Alex Barrow

Philip Bunting: Wild About Dads

Illustrated by the author

Published by Little Hare, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2020

If you know someone who is about to become a father, or if you are thinking about your own father, or even if you are wondering about what attributes make a father particularly good in that role, then pick up this book, buy it or borrow it, and enjoy reflecting on all the shapes, sizes and ways of being a dad.

There is a lot to be learnt from animals in the wild and the way they naturally and inherently behave. Philip Bunting has picked out a few species and highlighted the best behaviours that fathers can model.

Did you know that gorilla dads teach their babies how to find food, play and look after each other? A desert dwelling sandgrouse makes a big effort to keep his offspring well hydrated by dropping water into their mouths from his water-soaked feathers. The giant water bug has the responsibility of carrying the eggs, laid on top of his back by his dear lady, for weeks until they hatch. Flamingo fathers regurgitate food for their baby chicks, sounds gross, but not if you are the baby flamingo chick! The Australian magpie is well known for defending the nest of his young by swooping on anyone or anything that comes too close. Chinstrap penguin fathers have even been known to team up and incubate abandoned eggs, help them hatch and grow into maturity.

The lesson we learn from all these examples is that dads can come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments, and skills. All of them show their children how to live, by action and deed. Whether you are a father, mother, grandmother, grandfather, sister or brother, in a family of any description, we can all benefit from this simple concept, that sometimes our love is better expressed by doing than by saying.

Most animals in this picture book have their own page and colour palette, and some lucky ones are illustrated across a double page spread. All critters are easily identifiable, the text is short but informative, and there are a few humorous asides on some pages, making it hugely accessible and interesting for younger and older readers.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for some of my favourite picture books about fathers:

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Guess How Much I Love You
by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram

I Love My Daddy
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Emma Dodd

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me
by Eric Carle

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by John Schoenherr

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?
by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Barbara Firth

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand Illustrated by Tony Fucile

The Big Honey Hunt
by Stan & Jan Berenstain

My Dad is Brilliant
by Nick Butterworth

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too
by Anna Dewdney

My Dad Used to be So Cool
by Keith Negley

Father Bear Comes Home
by Else Holmelund Minarik Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

My Daddy is a Giant by Carl Norac Illustrated by Ingrid Godon

My Dad by Anthony Browne

Molly and Her Dad by Jan Ormerod Illustrated by Carol Thompson

Now One Foot, Now the Other
by Tomie dePaola

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

My Dad by Jeanette Rowe

Sam and his Dad by Serge Bloch

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

Fluffles by Vita Murrow
Illustrated by Rachel Qiuqi

Windcatcher by Diana Jackson Hill Illustrated by Craig Smith

The Only Ones Left
by Sarah Kendell

Last: The Story of a White Rhino
by Nicola Davies

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