Russell Smith: Holly the Holstein

Illustrated by Milan Samadder

I have a dear friend who lives in Warrnambool, a regional city on the south-west coast of Victoria in Australia, and who works for a major dairy manufacturer. My friend is one of many hundreds who rely on this industry to provide work and income security for their families. Indeed, the milk I buy comes all the way from Warrnambool to Melbourne, and the cheese and yoghurt too. How it arrives in our local supermarket is not something I think about, but I should. Our resources are precious, our food is important, and we should respect the effort that farmers and growers make to provide for our communities.

This picture book is about Holly the black and white Holstein cow, born and bred in far north Queensland in the care of Farmer Col and his wife. Farmer Col is actually Colin Daley, he runs “Ourway Holsteins” just outside Millaa Millaa in Queensland.  Nearby is Mt. Bartle Frere and these places form the backdrop to the story.

If you listen to the audio version, Russell and members of his family provide the voices of all the characters in the book. It’s written in rhyming prose, making it easy to remember while we simultaneously learn about the twice daily milking routine of the cows, the food they eat and where they graze.

One day, Holly is chosen by Farmer Col to go to the local farm show. While she is there, Holly discovers all the varied products that are made using her milk. On display in the dairy cabinets are milk, yoghurt, butter, and cheese. Holly is delighted to see her face on all the items and is proud to be the ambassador for Hollyvale dairy products.

The following day at the show, the judges deem Holly to be the best Holstein cow in the competition. Holly comes home from her adventures with a spring in her step, a medal around her neck and a garland atop her head. She has discovered her worth, her value and her contribution to the wider community.

This picture book is a valuable educational resource for young children, helping them to understand the connection between the food we purchase at supermarkets and markets, and the production of it on farms and agricultural estates.

Most importantly, any profits made from the sale of this picture book will be donated to the NSW Mid Coast Dairy Advancement Group to support the 150 dairy farmers whose livelihoods were devastated by the floods in March 2021.

You can view this picture book on YouTube.

You can also purchase this picture book in a PDF format or as a book, just type in the title online and follow the prompts.

I can recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the concept of how food is grown and produced:

Milly the Cow Gives Milk
by Deborah Chancellor
Illustrated by Julia Groves

Bee-bim-Bop! by Linda Sue Park Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee

What You Eat by Valorie Fisher

Grandpa Cacao
by Elizabeth Zunon

Eating the Alphabet
by Lois Ehlert

Pancakes, Pancakes!
by Eric Carle

Before We Eat by Pat Brisson Illustrated by Mary Azarian

The Ugly Vegetables
by Grace Lin

How Did That Get In
My Lunchbox?
by Chris Butterworth
Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti

Compost Stew
by Mary McKenna Siddals Illustrated by Ashley Wolff

It’s Milking Time
by Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrated by Steve Johnson
& Lou Fancher

The Little Red Hen
by Paul Galdone

Look Inside Food by Emily Bone

In the Garden
by Emma Giuliani

Maisy Grows a Garden
by Lucy Cousins

The Milk Makers
by Gail Gibbons

Sally Morgan: The River

Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2021

Sally Morgan is a descendant of the Palyku people from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr is an award-winning artist who has collaborated with Sally on a previous picture book, Little Bird’s Day. Johnny, a Yolŋu man, lives in East Arnhem Land with other members of the Ganalbingu clan, and strives to use painting, song, and dance as mediums for others to learn more about Aboriginal culture.

In this picture book, we are invited to wander along the riverbank and use our eyes to look and our ears to listen as we encounter the animals living there. We see green ants crawling, goannas running, turtles peeping, kangaroos jumping and snakes sliding. We hear frogs croaking, fish splashing, emus calling, and crocodiles chomping. The rhythm of the text reminds me of Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s picture book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  In a similar way, the repetition of the questions and the answering prose in The River makes this an easy story to remember and read, even for the very young.

The illustrations use a limited colour palette of cerulean blue, dusty browns, and muted oranges and reds, giving the reader a sense of being under the wide-open Australian sky and standing near the muddy riverbank, watching and listening to the sights and sounds of that unique environment.

The River  is a wonderful introduction to Australian wildlife and an invitation for young readers to use their eyes and ears when they are immersed in their own neighbourhoods, backyards, and parkland environments. There are sights and sounds all around us, birds calling, crickets chirping, owls hooting, kookaburras laughing, and magpies singing. So, take a moment today, go outside and look and listen!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which focus on Australian wildlife:

Australian Baby Animals
by Frane Lessac

My Big Book of Australian Animals
by Roger Priddy

An A to Z Story of Australian Animals
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

A is for Australian Animals
by Frane Lessac

A – Z of Australian Animals by Jennifer Cossins

An Australian ABC of Animals by Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Bird’s Day
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Hello, Australia!
by Megan McKean

Rod Campbell’s Aussie Animals by Rod Campbell

Koalas eat gum leaves.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Emu by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Kookaburras love to laugh.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Dingo by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Edwina the Emu
by Sheena Knowles
Illustrated by Rod Clement

Olga the Brolga by Rod Clement

Possum Magic by Mem Fox Illustrated by Julie Vivas

Diary of a Wombat
by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Pouch! by David Ezra Stein

Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa by Margaret Wild Illustrated by Kerry Argent

Bilby by Edel Wignell
Illustrated by Mark Jackson

Hop Up! Wriggle Over!
by Elizabeth Honey

When We Go Walkabout by Rhoda & Alfred Lalara

Can You Find Me?
by Gordon Winch
Illustrated by
Patrick Shirvington

Wombat Stew
by Marcia K. Vaughan Illustrated by Pamela Lofts

Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie
by May Gibbs

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall

One Potoroo by Penny Jaye Illustrated by Alicia Rogerson

Jumping Joeys by Sarah Allen

Frané Lessac: Australia Under the Sea

Illustrated by the author

Published by Walker Books Australia, NSW, 2020

This picture book is a wonderful introduction to marine wildlife in Australia, focussing on those creatures that make their home around our spectacular coral reefs.

The front cover invites the reader in with its beautiful sea-green blue and colourful illustrations of sea creatures in their natural habitat. A short introduction about what a coral reef is and how it is made sets the scene for a counting journey from one through to twelve.

We learn about giant whale sharks, shy dugongs, orange clownfish, stripy sea snakes, spotted rays and many more. Each marine animal is illustrated on a double page spread and accompanied by one or two concise sentences that give the reader some amazing facts which is not overwhelming for pre-schoolers.

At the end of the book, Lessac has concluded with a simple but profound statement about why we should protect this wonderful treasure of the deep:

Coral reefs are important because they keep the sea healthy. A healthy reef means a healthy sea. A healthy sea means a healthy planet.

One final page sets out all the creatures from one through to twelve, so that younger readers can identify the marine animals, count them individually and then go back to the front double page spread and play a game of I-Spy. It’s very clever!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore marine wildlife, ocean habitats and the many wonders of the sea:

Where is Little Fish?
by Lucy Cousins

In the Sea by David Elliott Illustrated by Holly Meade

Ocean by Britta Teckentrup

The Silver Sea by children at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melb with Alison Lester & Jane Godwin

Under the Sea by Anna Milbourne Illustrated by Cathy Shimmen

Fabulous Fishes
by Susan Stockdale

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

A Swim through the Sea
by Kristin Joy Pratt

Tiddler by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Over in the Ocean In a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jeanette Canyon

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Commotion in the Ocean
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by David Wojtowycz

If you want to see a whale
by Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Flip Flap Ocean by Axel Scheffler

Australian Sea Life by Matt Chun

Coco the Fish with Hands
by Aleesah Darlison
Illustrated by Mel Matthews

Meet the Oceans by Caryl Hart Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

Jenni Desmond: The Polar Bear

Illustrated by the author

Published by Enchanted Lion Books, NY, 2016

We bought a polar bear many years ago for our seven-year-old daughter. It was creamy white, as long as the width of a single bed, as cuddly as my daughter and so soft. Over the years, Snowy has been a pillow, a listener, an observer, a comfort, and a companion. Even today, more grey than creamy, there is something majestic about Snowy as he rests quietly at the end of the bed, his familiar place in our home for more than 20 years.

It’s sad to think that during those years, the real polar bears of this world have been fighting for survival whilst being hunted for sport and commercial interests. The most imminent threat for them is climate change and the effects of early melting of snow and ice in the Arctic during summer and the later freezing during autumn. These trends affect their ability to hunt, the availability of food and the time it takes for them to put on enough weight to survive the summer months going into winter.

Jenni Desmond has written and illustrated this gorgeous picture book about polar bears. We begin reading about these endangered animals through the eyes of a young girl as she picks this picture book off the shelf and begins to imagine herself in the polar bear’s world.

We learn about their Arctic habitat, how the polar bears spend their days, what they like to eat and how their bodies keep them insulated from freezing temperatures. Did you know that while the coat of a polar bear can be yellow or grey, the colour of its skin is black?

Adult male polar bears can weigh around 1,000 pounds. To help us understand how heavy that is, there is a wonderful two page spread with illustrations of twenty children around 7 years old. If you were to pile them up, that’s how heavy an adult polar bear could be.

There is so much more to learn: hunting techniques, life span, extraordinary sense of smell and sight, as well as how a polar bear manages motherhood, its life span in the wild, and how you can figure out its age from counting the rings inside its tooth!

The final page shows our young reader curled up with a mother polar bear and her cubs, it reminded me so much of my daughter with her bear.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature polar bears, some fictional, some humorous and some full of facts to amaze the most curious minds:

Polar Bear, Polar Beat, What Do You Hear by Eric Carle

Where Bear? by Sophy Henn

Love Matters Most by Mij Kelly Illustrated by Gerry Turley

No Place Like Home
by Ronojoy Ghosh

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett

The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour by Robin & Beck Feiner

The Very Hungry Bear
by Nick Bland

A Splendid Friend, Indeed
by Suzanne Bloom

Virgil & Owen by Paulette Bogan

A Polar Bear in the Snow
by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Shawn Harris

If Polar Bears Disappeared
by Lily Williams

The Rainbow Bear
by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

That’s Not My Polar Bear
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Lily and the Polar Bears
by Jion Sheibani

Little Polar Bear by Hans de Beer

Polar Bear’s Underwear
by Tupera Tupera

Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears by Jessica Olien

Ice Bear: in the steps of the polar bear by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Gary Blythe

Sea Bear by Lindsay Moore

The Bear Report by Thyra Heder

Roly Poly by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Jane Dyer

Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis Illustrated by Jarvis

Polar Bears by Mark Newman

Little Bear Dreams by Paul Schmid

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:

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

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

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

Katrina Germain: Let’s Go Strolling

Illustrated by Danny Snell

Published by Little Book Press, 2018

One of the great pleasures of life is going for a walk. Whether you do it in company or alone, with music or without, in the sunshine or rain, all rugged up with coat and hat or cool and easy in shorts and t-shirt, there is something special about slowing down and following the rhythm of your own footsteps. The minutiae of the things around us call out for our attention as we wander by: blades of green grass, hovering butterflies, waving wattle on sturdy branches, lengthening shadows, busy birds and the different textures of bark on trees. We breathe more deeply and feel more connected to the world around us.

Let’s Go Strolling takes us on a walking expedition following a young dad and his small daughter. There is the wonderful routine of just getting out the door. Check the weather, yes, the sun is out. Shoes, bag, hat, teddy, tick! Into the stroller, out the door, let’s go! There is so much to see and name: a pussy cat, blue letterbox, butterfly, aeroplane, a cloudy sky, traffic lights, a mother duck and her babies.

Two big double page spreads wordlessly announce their arrival in the park and look, there’s mum with the little girl’s older brother. Together they explore the simple wonders of being outside: playing in the sand, swishing through the grass, catching the falling leaves, discovering a spider’s web and bird’s nest, counting rocks and resting quietly with mum. Soon, it’s time to go home and we notice all those things we saw on the way to the park, but this time in reverse!

When you read this story aloud, there is a gentle rhythm and rhyme to the words, much like the rhythm and rhyme of walking! This simple experience makes a great learning experience too. A trip to the park enriches vocabulary, relationship and sensory awareness.

The illustrations are simple and uncluttered, making it easy for young readers to match the text to the picture. And there is green grass everywhere, even on the end pages!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that explore the joys of walking:

I Went Walking by
Sue Williams
Illustrated by
Julie Vivas
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by
Helen Oxenbury
Rosie’s Walk by
Pat Hutchins
Mr. Grumpy’s Outing
by John Burningham
Maisy’s Nature Walk
by Lucy Cousins
When We Go Walkabout
by Rhoda Lalara
Illustrated by
Alfred Lalara
A Walk in London by
Salvatore Rubbino
A Walk in Paris by
Salvatore Rubbino