Debi Gliori: The Boy and the Moonimal

Illustrated by the author

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, UK, 2021

This is a story about Moonimal, a little blue rabbit with three floppy ears, who is found one day on a shelf inside a shop full of wonderful knick-knacks. The Boy and Moonimal are inseparable. They have exploring adventures together, they pretend to be doctor and patient, and even fly into space and back again in their cardboard rocket. It feels like they will be together forever.

One day, deep in the woods, with autumnal leaves littering the ground, the young Boy trips, breaks his glasses and can’t find his beloved blue rabbit anywhere. Turning the page, Moonimal begins to tell the tale of what happens next.

Moonimal waits and waits, hoping to be found again. Instead, some woodland rabbits, who are small and grey, with two floppy ears each, find Moonimal and take him back to their underground burrows. Time passes.

In a meadow one day, Moonimal gets snatched up by a hunting owl and dropped into a cold rushing river. Swept away by the strong currents, Moonimal is found downstream by grazing deer and he stays with the herd for many more years.

Until one day, danger comes again! A dog appears suddenly, scattering the reindeer, and in their haste to flee, Moonimal gets left behind. The dog proudly picks up Moonimal in his jaw to present to his owner. Could this be the end, or has the story come full circle?

This is a gently crafted story of hope when all seems lost. Something similar happened to us many years ago when our two-year-old daughter lost her favourite teddy. We looked everywhere for it. We asked everyone we knew to look for it. I even tried to buy a new one, ringing up stores and asking friends and family to keep searching. I remember days and nights full of tears and longing. Time passed, the ache of loss eased, and my daughter discovered other favourite toys. But do you know what? A friend turned up on our doorstep about six months later, with the lost teddy in her hands!

I expected my daughter to be overjoyed, and she was, but there was another overriding emotion, cautious reserve. If teddy was lost once, then he could be lost again. It was sad to see this understanding in my daughter’s eyes, because sometimes in life, that’s just the way it is. It was my daughter’s first experience of loss and grief, sadly not the last, and one of the many lessons to learn in life.

I can highly recommend this picture for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the experience of losing a beloved toy:

The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams
Illustrated by Sarah Massini

Little Bear Lost by Jane Hissey

Good Dog by Cori Doerrfeld

The Lost Toys by Irina Hale

Nothing by Mick Inkpen

Clown by Quentin Blake

The Lost Property Office
by Emily Rand

Arno and his Horse by Jane Godwin Illustrated by Felicita Sala

Red Ted and the Lost Things
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

The Everywhere Bear
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Rebecca Cob

Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo?
by Emma Chichester Clark

Lost in Little Bear’s Room
by Else Holmelund Minarik Illustrated by David T. Wenzel

The Sea Saw by Tom Percival

Float by Daniel Miyares

Elmer and the Lost Teddy
by David McKee

This is the Bear and the Scary Night by Sarah Hayes
Illustrated by Helen Craig

Where’s Teddy? by Rod Campbell

Where’s My Teddy?
by Jez Alborough

Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton Illustrated by Laura Wood

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Olivia and the Missing Toy
by Ian Falconer

I Lost My Bear by Jules Feiffer

The Teddy Bear by David McPhail

Bun Bun Button by Patricia Polacco

Hannah Carmona: Anita and the Dragons

Illustrated by Anna Cunha

Published by Lantana Publishing Ltd, UK, 2021

In the early 1950s, when my father was 17 years old, he left his small village at the foot of the northern mountains in Italy and ventured alone by boat to Australia. I can’t imagine the kind of bravery that takes. To leave all that is known and loved and take steps towards all that is unknown and unseen, is a lesson in understanding oneself and finding courage to face whatever dragons come your way. For my father, everything was new: the language, the food, the culture, the work, the people and the place. But despite the hardships and the challenges, he made a life for himself here, taking the best values from his home in Italy and his home in Australia to forge something good for his long life.

Anita, in this story, is leaving her village in the Dominican Republic and travelling with her family to America. She refers to the planes that will take her away as the dragons which look like large, winged beasts. Anita is a brave and feisty princesa in her village but as she thinks about what the future will look like and what she will be leaving behind, she compares the reality of what she has with the opportunities that are yet to come. Hot water, reliable electricity, and fancy restaurants all sound exciting, but Anita’s abuela is not coming and no longer will Anita breathe the salty air or dance in the blue waves in the spicy heat of the day. No longer will she be the adored princesa, the centre of life in her village.

As Anita and her family board the mighty plane, humming in readiness for departure, she cries aloud all the thoughts that are unspoken but threatening to overwhelm everyone:

“I won’t let this horrible beast take me away from everything I love! What if I hate it? What if I’m lonely? What if I get scared? What if I’m sad? What if I’m NOT brave at all?”

Despite the unanswered questions, despite the anxiety and not knowing what is ahead, the family bravely face the dragon of the air and whatever adventures await them on the other side of this momentous flight.

This is a story of courage and bravery during immigration, the rending of a heart torn between the known and the unknown and the emotional and physical upheaval of leaving one’s country for another. The illustrations are tender, and imbued with soft colours, creating a sense of place and helping the reader to visualise the bonds that tie us to our family and our home.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more stories that explore the idea of immigration, moving house and home, and what that might feel like in different situations:

Migrant by Maxine Trottier Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn Illustrated by Barbara L.Gibson

The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

I Dream of Popo
by Livia Blackburne
Illustrated by Julia Kuo

I’m an Immigrant too! by Mem Fox Illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Bui

The Dress and the Girl
by Camille Andros
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Bad Bye, Good Bye
by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Jonathan Bean

The Matchbox Diary
by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields
by Mark Wilson

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Color of Home
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

All the Way to America
by Dan Yaccarino

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I’m New Here
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Waves: for those who come across the sea by Donna Rawlins Illustrated by Heather Potter
and Mark Jackson

Nicola Davies: Ride the Wind

Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Published by Walker Books, 2020

The title of this picture book and the soaring wingspan of the bird on the front cover suggests that this story is all about an albatross. And it is. But it is also a tender story about a father and son, grieving the loss of wife and mother, and learning to live with her absence in their lives.

We meet Javier, his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, on the choppy seas sailing the Magdalena off the coast of their hometown, catching fish and whatever else might get caught up in their nets. Tomas has changed since the death of his wife, and we learn from the things he says and they way he says it, that this change has not been for the better.

One afternoon, an albatross gets caught up in the fishing nets and is thrown aside on the deck of the boat while Tomas and Felipe sort through the catch. Javier, a boy with a big heart, keeps the bird safely wrapped in a tarpaulin and hides it until the boat makes it back to the shore. Once there, with the help of other people in the village, and without his father’s knowledge, Javier creates a makeshift home for the albatross.

In the old storeroom behind the house, the albatross settles and grows strong again in Javier’s old play pen. During this time, we begin to understand why Javier feels compelled to help the injured bird. Like the albatross leaving its partner in search of food, Javier’s mother left home to travel to the city for work, but she never came back. Javier needs to help this albatross find its way back. He knows it won’t bring his mother home again, but he understands the nature of waiting and wanting.

When Tomas finds out that Javier has rescued and hidden the albatross, his father is so angry that he does something unforgivable. Javier responds in the only way that makes sense to him. Suddenly, father and son must face their own worst fears and make brave choices about what it means to love and be loved.

This is a dramatic story brought to vivid life by the intimate connection between text and illustration. Rubbino’s drawings are brilliant and evoke all the emotions and pathos of the story. I can highly recommend it for children 4-8 years and anyone who loves a good story about albatrosses.

For me, however, this story is a gateway to understanding that we all grieve in different ways, and that communicating how we feel can be hard, even with the people that we love the most. 

Below are more suggestions for picture books about fathers and sons, a relationship that is precious, but not always easy. Fortunately, most of the books that are my favourites positively celebrate the wonderful bond that can be shared between fathers and sons:

Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig

On My Daddy’s Shoulders
by Peter Lawson

My Dad Used to Be so Cool
by Keith Negley

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by David McKean

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

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

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

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

When You Were Small
by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Boy From Mars
by Simon James

The Deer Watch
by Pat Lowery Collins
Illustrated by David Slonim

Hello, Jimmy! by Anna Walker

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

No Kind of Superman
by Danny Parker
Illustrated by Matt Ottley

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Phi

Spot Loves His Daddy by Eric Hill

Why I Love Footy
by Michael Wagner
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Rachel Bright: Slug in Love

Illustrated by Nadia Shireen

Published by Simon & Schuster, Great Britain, 2021

This is a bright and cheerful story about finding love, taking chances, and following your heart. Who would have thought that a story about all of that could be imagined featuring a slug named Doug in need of a hug?

I’m in the garden almost every day, discovering slugs and snails under pots and in pots and slithering towards pots…they are squelchy, icky, slimy and yucky! So, I can understand Doug’s problem. Who would want to hug something like that?

But, one day, close to the white daisies and just over the log, there is a snail called Gail, who is just as grimy, icky, squelchy, and yucky as Doug. And she is gorgeous, with her red lips, red eyeglasses and leopard print shell. Gail looks like a perfect match for Doug…but is she?

There is a lesson here for everyone. Finding love can be hard, and sometimes the partner that you think will suit you best, is not the one that makes your heart sing. Sometimes, love surprises you most when you least expect it. The path of life and love is not always straightforward, but when it works out, we can be like Doug:

 he found his bug and now he’s super duper snug!

This is a picture book that can be easily read and understood by a child learning to read and, at the same time, appeal to adults who might be doing the reading for the fourth or fifth time! Like Jon Klassen and Mo Willems, Rachel Bright has created a story that is satisfying, humorous and instructive on many levels.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and adults of any age. Below are more of my favourite picture books about icky, squishy, squelchy snails:

Snail Trail by Ruth Brown

Slow Snail by Mary Murphy

The Biggest House in the World
by Leo Lionni

Snail Trail by Jo Saxton

The Snail House by Allan Ahlberg Illustrated by Gillian Tyler

Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen Illustrated by Tudor Humphries

Snail, Where Are You?
by Tomi Ungerer

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes

Norman, the Slug with the Silly Shell by Sue Hendra

The Legend of the Golden Snail
by Graeme Base

Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor

Where Do You Live Snail?
by Petr Horacek

Pip and Posy: The Friendly Snail
by Axel Scheffler

Little Spiral by Pat Simmons Illustrated by Patrick Shirvington

Snail and Turtle are Friends
by Stephen Michael King

Snail by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Julia Donaldson: The Hospital Dog

Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, Pan Macmillan, 2020

Dogs make wonderful pets. Some dogs are so wonderful, they become therapists!

We have friends who own two Havanese dogs, Josh and Viva. They are so well loved and hard working. Anne brings them with her when she visits residents in aged care facilities, nursing homes and respite care. They have little jackets to wear on these special visiting days. That way, everyone knows they have unique jobs to do. Sometimes just their presence is enough to bring a smile on someone’s face for the first time that day. Other times, the dogs’ exuberance is just the thing that encourages someone to go for a walk or get out of bed. Often, all a person needs is the unconditional acceptance of their little bodies being close and two hearts beating together. The residents will say to Anne, “Don’t come visiting again, unless you bring Josh and Viva with you!”

This picture book is all about a Dalmatian called Dot and her owner Rose, “with rings on her fingers and specs on her nose”. Rose takes Dot to all the sick children in Wallaby Ward and there we see how Dot can change the way people feel in one afternoon. Whether it’s calming someone’s anxiety or relieving the boredom of being cooped up and immobile, Dot seems to know just what to do. And Dot doesn’t just help the children who are sick, she also seems to sense that doctors and mothers need attention and care too.

One afternoon Dot does something very brave. In a moment, the tables have turned, and Dot is the one who needs to be patted, stroked, and cared for. The children of Wallaby Ward come to the rescue in the best way possible.

Julia Donaldson tells this story with so much love, bubbliness, and rhythm. The illustrations superbly compliment the text, with extraordinary details on every page. It’s as if Sara Ogilvie has taken her notepad to the hospital ward and sketched everyone and everything she saw. There are crutches leaning up against the wall, hand sanitizers, tea trolleys, pigeons, stethoscopes and all the paraphernalia of life to be seen on these pages. It’s comforting and familiar. I feel like I know Rose and Dot, they could be my neighbours…I wish they were!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years, it’s a sensitive introduction to the importance and relevance of pet therapy and how it can be used in a hospital setting. Below are more picture book suggestions that explore what it is like to feel unwell and going to hospital:

A Sick Day for Amos McGee
by Philip C. Stead
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Do I Have to Go to the Hospital?
by Pat Thomas

Clifford Visits the Hospital by Norman Bridwell

Maisy Goes to the Hospital
by Lucy Cousins

Curious George
Goes to the Hospital
by Margret Rey & H.A. Rey

Franklin Goes to the Hospital
by Paulette Bourgeois
Illustrated by Brenda Clark

I Broke My Trunk! by Mo Willems

Nurse Clementine by Simon James

Llama Llama Home with Mama
by Anna Dewdney

The Sniffles for Bear
by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

Get Well Soon, Spot by Eric Hill

Betsy Goes to the Doctor
by Helen Stephens

Next Door’s Dog is a Therapy Dog by Gina Dawson
Illustrated by Vivienne da Silva

Taking Care of Mama Rabbit
by Anita Lobel

The Berenstain Bears
Go to the Doctor
by Stan & Jan Berenstain

I Don’t Want to go to the Hospital Tony Ross

I’m Really Ever So Not Well
by Lauren Child

Simon James: The Boy From Mars

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books, London, 2017

Sometimes it’s hard to face reality. Especially if your reality is scary, unpleasant, uncomfortable or just too difficult to put into words. Sometimes all you want to do is fly away and leave the problems far behind. Maybe you will come back and face them another day, or maybe not. Sometimes it feels like you should sort the mess on your own but no-one else understands how you feel or how to help you.

Simon James addresses some of these issues in The Boy From Mars.

Young Stanley has to say goodbye to his mum, who is leaving for work and will not be home overnight, and he is feeling a bit lost with this idea. The first thing Stanley does is run out to the garden and climb into a big box that is his spaceship and zoom off to Mars. Fortunately, Stanley comes back, but he is not Stanley anymore. He is a Martian! And this particular Martian does not behave quite like the other boys on Earth.

Martians don’t wash their hands before dinner, they don’t eat vegetables, but they do love ice cream. Martians don’t wash their teeth before bed, but they do keep their helmets on in bed. This particular Martian doesn’t behave so well at school either. Dad is a bit worried about what mum will think when she arrives home. Of course, mum does come home and the first question she asks is whether this little Martian has been good.

What can the Martian do? Jump back in the spaceship, go to Mars and bring back Stanley!

This is a wonderful story that explores what it is like to miss someone. We all have different ways of coping with this feeling. Fortunately for Stanley, his family allowed him the space and time to work it out.

The illustrations are tender and poignant, filled with all the details of life at home, making it very accessible and familiar.

Did you know that Simon James trained as a policeman after leaving school? Fortunately for us, he was asked to leave after penguin drawings were discovered in his notebooks!

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years, and here are more of my favourite books by Simon James:

Mr Scruff
Dear Greenpeace
Nurse Clementine
Sally and the Limpet
REX
George Flies South

Polly Dunbar: Red Red Red

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books 2019

If you have ever witnessed, endured and tried to placate a young person having a meltdown, or tantrum, then you know that it can be a frightening, despairing and vulnerable experience. That feeling of seeing red, being surrounded by circles of red, and being in the middle of a vortex of red hot anger can be overwhelming. The front cover of Dunbar’s picture book beautifully and honestly illustrates that feeling. There are red crayon swirls completely encircling an unhappy shouting and yelling child who maybe 2 or 3 years old. How did the child get to this point?

Well, it started with one thing going wrong, the biscuit jar was out of reach. There was a fall, and a bump on the head, twisted pants and socks that don’t stay up…little things that add up and add up, until suddenly it seems like nothing is going right. We have all had days like that.

Fortunately, there is a mum in this story who steps in and confronts those red hot feelings with soothing words of wisdom. Just count, mum says. And breath, deeply, until those confusing and hot feelings subside. It’s mindfulness for the young and even for those not so young. We should all do a little more deep breathing and sighing in our day. Focus on the air going in and out, nurturing and sustaining our lives every moment of every day.

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years, and here are some of my recommendations for other picture books that explore emotions:

The Colour of Happy
by Laura Baker
Breathing Makes it Better
by Christopher Willard and
Wendy O’Leary
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings
by Jo Witek
When Sadness Comes to Call
by Eva Eland
How Do You Feel?
by Anthony Browne
The Rabbit Listened by
Cori Doerrfeld

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Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

I Am Angry by Michael Rosen Illustrated by Robert Starling

Grumpy Days by Sue deGennaro

Why Do We Cry? by Fran Pintadera Illustrated by Ana Sender

Julie Paschkis: Where Lily Isn’t

Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2020

This is a beautifully tender book that explores how it feels to lose a beloved pet.

David Whyte, poet and philosopher, has spoken about the empty space that a loved one can leave behind upon their death and he referred to it as “the shape of your own absence”. It’s a haunting thought, that sense that a physical being can leave behind a hollowness that you can almost feel. Paschkis has elegantly described how this absence feels for a young girl who has lost her dog Lily, taking us to all the places that Lily isn’t. Lily is not under the table waiting for scraps, not barking at the door when the mail arrives, not pushing and pulling on the lead, not rolling over waiting for her belly to be rubbed. As the young girl journeys through her day without her pet being a part of it, the observations become sadder and more poignant.

As I neared the end of the book on my first reading, I expected to see the young girl embrace a new puppy, something to fill the absence. Instead, we see her at the table drawing her memories and recognising that the love she had for Lily will forever remain in her heart. And I think that ending is more real, because we can’t always replace what is lost and sometimes we just have to hold on to the memories and keep them in our heart.

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years old and here are other titles that explore the themes of loss, grief and death:

The Heart and the Bottle
by Oliver Jeffers
The Rabbit Listened
by Cori Doerrfeld
The Scar by
Charlotte Moundlic
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec