Lynley Dodd: The Nickle Nackle Tree

Illustrated by the author

Published by Penguin Random House, New Zealand, 2016

You might be more familiar with Lynley Dodd’s wonderful series of picture books about that most loveable shaggy dog called Hairy Maclary and equally adventurous and mischievous cat Slinky Malinki, but here is another sort of tale that involves neither four-legged creature.

The Nickle Nackle Tree can be found in the Manglemunching Forest, it’s full of berries that are as red as red can be and a jumbly jam of birds. How delightful it is to read those rhythmic, opening lines and then discover a whole host of other birds with weird and wonderful names. Have you seen a Ballyhoo bird? What about the Tittle Tattle birds? Or the haughty Huffpuff birds? The colourful, bright illustrations match the descriptive names too, the grouchy Grudge birds don’t look happy at all with their purple feathers, red hawk-nosed beaks and grumpy eyes.

Listening recently to a podcast called The Stubborn Light of Things by Melissa Harrison, author and naturalist, she describes the arrival of the tiny chiffchaff birds to the gentle Suffolk countryside. I had never heard of the chiffchaff bird and looked it up, as one can, on the internet. Not only could I see it, but I could also play the unique song it chirrups and learn about its long migration from Africa.

Lynley Dodd’s whimsically descriptive names for the birds in her picture book brought the chiffchaff bird to mind and made me smile to think that it could also have been included, scratching, itching, and chafing after its long flight!

Other authors like Roald Dahl, Edward Lear, and Dr Seuss have written books and verse with made-up nonsense words. The sound of silly words, the chanting of nonsense rhymes, the conviviality of sharing a secret language, can make a lasting impression on young readers.

I can highly recommend The Nickle Nackle Tree for children 3-8 years, they will love it and learn to count at the same time! Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the silly side of language:

There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
by Dr Seuss

Michael Rosen’s Book of Nonsense by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Claire Mackie

Froodle by Antoinette Portis

The Owl and the Pussycat and other nonsense verse
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

The Quangle Wangle’s Hat
by Edward Lear
Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The Bippolo Seed and other Lost Stories by Dr Seuss

Yertle the Turtle and other stories by Dr Seuss

Mog in the Dark by Judith Kerr

I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew by Dr Seuss

The Roald Dahl Treasury
by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alice in Wonderland
Retold by Jane Werner Illustrated by
Walt Disney Studio

Fungus the Bogeyman
by Raymond Briggs

Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook
by Shel Silverstein

How Do You Wokka-Wokka?
by Elizabeth Bleumle
Illustrated by Randy Cecil

Flip Flap Dinosaurs
by Axel Scheffler

A Children’s Treasury of Milligan by Spike Milligan

Alpha Bugs by David Carter

The Smeds and the Smoos
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Art of Words
by Robert Vescio
Illustrated by Joanna Bartel

Kate Gordon: Amira’s Magpie

Illustrated by Krista Brennan

Published by Wombat Books, 2021

You can be lucky in life when wild creatures freely come to you. A butterfly might land on your shoulder and rest for just a moment, an echidna might shuffle and snuffle close to your feet looking for food, a rosella might come to the seed bowl you have on the balcony table and feed from it, knowing you are just there. And when we see these creatures up close, it’s hard not to wonder what they are thinking as they go about their business, are we communicating, is there a connection, will they come back?

In this picture book, we meet Amira and she has a magpie that comes to her railing just outside the door, and she has a beautiful description for it:

“His eyes are black pearls. The white on his feathers makes her think, perhaps, he has daubed his wings with paint, to write messages in the sky, love letters to her, because she is his friend.”

The illustrations are soft, mostly black and white and grey, and on one page we see the magpie’s eye magnified, as if it is really seeing Amira and her dreams and hopes. Amira wants to imagine her beautiful magpie soaring through the skies and flying all the way to her home and her grandfather. Amira wants to imagine her grandfather recognising the magpie as a messenger from Amira herself, letting him know that she is okay, that she is growing, that she is thinking of him and can’t wait to see him again one day.

But for the moment, these are all dreams because it seems that Amira is far from her homeland and that her days are closed in by wire fences and dark shadows of detention. So for now, Amira’s favourite colour will be blue, she will dream that her magpie is free and that it will fly back and forth between her homeland and here, singing a song of hope and freedom.

This a wonderful story about hope when days are dark and the future is unclear, Amira, with her black and white cape and soft blue hijab, bravely faces her confinement by holding on to her dreams.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore what it means to be a refugee, seek asylum, hope for a better future and hold on to your dreams:

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

The Wooden Camel
by Wanuri Kahiu
Illustrated by Manuela Adreani

Mia’s Story by Michael Foreman

Spirit of Hope by Bob Graham

The Garden of Hope
by Isabel Otter
Illustrated by Katie Rewse

The Happiness Box
by Mark Greenwood
Illustrated by Andrew McLean

Greta Thunberg
by Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Anke Weckmann

Little Lion by Saroo Brierley Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Little Mole Finds Hope
by Glenys Nellist
Illustrated by Sally Garland

Lost and Found Cat
by Doug Kuntz and Amy Shrodes Illustrated by Sue Cornelison

Reach for the Stars by Serge Bloch

The Lion and the Bird
by Marianne Dubuc

The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin Illustrated by Anne Spudvilas

Ziba Came on a Boat
by Liz Lofthouse
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Four Feet, Two Sandals
by Karen Lynn Williams
and Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Doug Chayka

Refugees and Migrants
by Ceri Roberts
Illustrated by Hanane Kai

My Name is not Refugee
by Kate Milner

The Day War Came
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Running with the Horses
by Alison Lester

Room on our Rock
by Kate and Jol Temple
Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Gleam and Glow by Eve Bunting Illustrated by Peter Sylvada

Claire Saxby: Kookaburra

Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Kookaburra  by Claire Saxby at Abbey's Bookshop,

Published by Walker Books, NSW, 2020

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:

I See a Kookaburra by Steve Jenkins Illustrated by Robin Page

Cheeky Kookaburra
by Rebecca Johnson
Illustrated by Steve Parish

Kookaburra Kookaburra
by Bridget Farmer

Kookaburras Love to Laugh
by Laura and Philip Bunting

Who is Laughing?
by Eva-Marie Welsh

The Butterfly Garden
by Michael Torres
Illustrated by Fern Martins

Kookoo Kookaburra
by Gregg Dreise

Jeremy by Chris Faille
Illustrated by Danny Snell

My Mum’s Special Secret
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Story of Kurri Kurri the Kookaburra by Leslie Rees Illustrated by Margaret Senior

We All Sleep by
Ezekiel Kwaymullina
and Sally Morgan

Kookaburra School by Jill Morris Illustrated by Heather Gall

Backyard Birds by Helen Milroy

Corinne Fenton: One Lone Swallow

Illustrated by Owen Swan

Published by New Frontier Publishing, NSW, 2020

I have been fortunate to visit Italy and stay a few days in Florence. Standing on the rooftop of the hotel one night, we saw great plumes of birds weaving, swirling and soaring in the dusky, velvet afternoon sky. The birds were flying swiftly, and as one, with choreographed elegance over rooftops, dome and piazzas. They reminded me of the great shoals of fish in the ocean, but these birds were pirouetting not in the deep water, but gracefully flying in the autumnal air.

Corinne Fenton’s picture book about one lone swallow has taken me straight back to that magical moment. Beginning with the peel of bells, one lone swallow embarks on a search for her mate who has not returned to their shared nest. Over Brunelleschi’s dome, through cobblestoned streets, under bridges, through arches and over piazzas, the lone swallow searches for him. Finally, at the feet of the massive statue of David, the swallow finds him tangled in shoemaker’s twine. But can she save him before danger arrives?

Using a limited colour palette of browns, greys, purples and blues, Owen Swan has evoked the magic of Italy in this beautifully illustrated picture book. The story itself is elegant and poetic, giving the reader an insight into the drama that can beset a bird, or anyone, on any given day. The lone swallow’s bravery, persistence and ingenuity in this story makes the ending a happy one.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years and below are more suggestions for my favourite picture books about birds:

The Story About Ping
by Marjorie Flack
Illustrated by Kurt Wiese

Birds by Kevin Henkes
Illustrated by Laura Dronzek

White Owl, Barn Owl
by Nicola Davies

A Nest is Noisy by
Dianne Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Bluebird by Bob Staake

Bring on the Birds
by Susan Stockdale

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Laura Carlin

Angleo by David Macaulay

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares

Silly Birds by Gregg Dreise

Bird to Bird by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Wayne Harris

There is a Bird on Your Head
by Mo Willems

The Go-Away Bird
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Catherine Rayner

Just Ducks! by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Make Way for the Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

On the Wing by David Elliott Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

The Lion and Bird
by Marianne Dubuc

Alexander’s Outing
by Pamela Allen

Michel Streich: Scary Bird

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Press, NSW, 2020

My father emigrated to Australia in the early 1950s at the tender age of 17, leaving his small Italian village and family behind. He came to Melbourne, not knowing much about the language or the country, but prepared to blend together the best of what he brought with him and what he would find here. Learning the language was hard and making a life for himself even harder. Time and work and marriage softened the differences, until it was difficult to tell if he was more Australian or more Italian, but perhaps he just became a better version of both.

In this picture book, we see a small orange bird with green polka dots peeking nervously out of a closed box. An anonymous hand places it into a bird cage and the other birds completely freak out, they are not happy to make room for the scary newcomer. They worry about the lack of space, the food that will need to be shared, and the language they can’t understand.

A marauding mouse shares a little morsel of wisdom while pinching some bird seed, Hey, birdbrains! Don’t you know you’re ALL exotic birds?

And then the breakthrough happens. One soft pink bird with a curly tail decides to be a friend and the acculturation begins, stories are shared, accents are accepted and customs are admired. Before anyone knows it, the orange green polka dotted bird is part of the group, but what happens when the next scary bird comes along?

This a very clever story about acceptance, diversity, cultural norms and friendship. Being a newcomer is daunting for everyone, whether you are making a new country your home or starting kindergarten. Perhaps not so subtly, this story embraces the idea that when we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, the more harmonious all our lives can be.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years and below are suggestions for picture books that explore the themes of migration, fitting in and belief in the value of being you!

I’m New Here
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

The Littlest Yak by Lu Fraser Illustrated by Kate Hindley

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Strictly No Elephants
by Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio Illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Be You! by Peter H. Reynolds

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates

Josephine Wants to Dance
by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

We Are Together
by Britta Teckentrup

My Name is Lizzie Flynn
by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields
by Mark Wilson

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

Sarah Allen: Busy Beaks

Illustrated by the author

See the source image

Published by Affirm Press, South Melbourne, 2020

Over the past few months, I have had the unexpected joy of leaving seeds for three magpies that visit my backyard. Most mornings I find them foraging for food in the garden, and it is almost like they are waiting for the lady of the house to get up and notice them. When the magpies hear the click of the back door being opened, they wing their way to the balustrade and start singing. What a privilege it is to hear them and gain their trust in this new relationship.

In the early days, we kept our distance, but lately the magpies have been edging closer and closer. When they are so near, it is hard not to miss those long, sharp beaks. When they fly over my head or hop beside me as we wander down to the feeding dish together, I wonder about their connection to each other, how they manage to survive the elements and just what they are trying to communicate to me and each other.

All birds have beaks, but not all beaks are the same! Sarah Allen recently published a beautifully illustrated picture book about Australian birds and their beaks. Gentle rhyming text introduces the reader to something significant about that bird: cockatoos screech, magpies warble, swans bob for food, lorikeets gather in mobs, fairy wrens strut their beautiful tails, brolgas dance and leap.

Twenty-five Australian birds are illustrated, and their species named. At the back of the book, a small paragraph about each bird gives the reader more detail about their habits and habitats. The drawings are instantly recognizable and a helpful guide for anyone interested in doing a bit of bird spotting in their own backyard, at the beach, in forests, or water reserves. The endpapers are covered in bird nests…it is not clear which egg belongs to which bird, but if you are curious, there is nothing to stop you discovering that information for yourself. Silver spoons are highly overrated.

I can happily recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below is a long list of other picture books about birds. I have so many favourites, it was hard to know which ones to leave out!

Kookaburra Kookaburra
by Bridget Farmer

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Windcatcher by Diane Jackson Hill Illustrated by Craig Smith

George Flies South by Simon James

Circle by Jeannie Baker

Nest by Jorey Hurley

A Busy Day for Birds
by Lucy Cousins

I Spy in the Sky by Edward Gibbs

Olga the Brolga by Rod Clement

That’s Not My Robin…
by Fiona Watt

Edwina the Emu
by Sheena Knowles
Illustrated by Rod Clement

Liarbird by Laura Bunting

Waddle Giggle Gargle!
by Pamela Allen

Birds by Carme Lemniscates