Corrinne Averiss: Love

Illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman

Published by Words & Pictures, The Quarto Group, 2020

There is a story in our family about a time when I did not pick up my daughter from primary school. It wasn’t an end of school day pick up at 3.30pm with all the other mums and dads. On this day, it was close to midnight and a chartered bus was delivering children home from school camp. I had waited up sitting on our couch and made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes just for a minute. I woke suddenly to the phone ringing with a concerned teacher on the other end of the line. By the time I got to the school, my daughter was the only child left, standing alone and tearful in the dark, with a teacher by her side.

These moments stay with us. Separation and anxiety are real fears for everyone.

This beautifully illustrated picture book helps young readers to visualise love like a piece of string, connecting us to our family and friends, even when they are not close. Like a warm scarf or a shining light, the strings of love connecting us to those we cherish can envelop us, make us feel safe and help us endure moments of anxiety.

When young Tess goes to school for the first time, she is worried that the string of love connecting herself to her mother will not stretch far enough without breaking. A kind teacher reassures Tess that her mother will return, and a new friend talks about his string of love connecting him to a parent who has died. Tess discovers that everyone has connections that unite them to others, even when they are far apart.

But what happens when Mummy is late to pick Tess up from school and she is left in the classroom with her teacher after all the other children have gone home? Can strings that have been broken, be reconnected again?

The illustrations in this picture book are endearing and heartfelt. I can highly recommend this story for young readers 4-6 years, especially for those who are starting school for the first time and feel anxious about taking the first step. Below are more picture books which explore the concepts of separation and anxiety, love and connectedness:

Ten Beautiful Things
by Molly Beth Griffin
Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga

Starting School by Jane Goodwin Illustrated by Anne Walker

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

I Am Absolutely Too Small for School by Lauren Child

Lucy and Tom Go to School
by Shirley Hughes

Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn Illustrations by Ruth E. Harper
and Nancy M. Leak

Come to School Too,
Blue Kangaroo!
by Emma Chichester Clark

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Maddie’s First Day
by Penny Matthews
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

The Pigeon HAS to go to School!
by Mo Willems

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous
by Keith Calabrese
Illustrated by Juana Medina

Llama Llama Misses Mama
by Anna Dewdney

The Red Thread by Grace Lin

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

Lauren Child: The Goody

Illustrated by the author

Published by Orchard Books, Hachette Children’s Group, 2020

I have read this picture book many times now and I still don’t know where to start. It’s not that I don’t like it, because I actually love it. And it’s not that I don’t have any thoughts about it, because I probably have too many, long after reading it.

Chirton Krauss (what a name!) is the main character and he is the very goodest goody. He is obliging, always eating his broccoli, even though it is his least favourite food. He has good manners, never picking his nose, even when he knows for sure that no-one is looking. He is kind, cleaning out the rabbit’s hutch once a week, even though his sister Myrtle should do it every other week.

Chirton’s parents are so happy with him, that they give him a Goody Badge. Now everyone knows and can never forget that Chirton is a goody. And then in red letters, like a commentary, we read:

If people have decided you are good, do not disappoint them by being bad.

So instead of this feeling of lightness that being good should bring, there is now an unsettling undercurrent of doubt. Where does goodness come from and should we continue being good for our own benefit or because of the expectations of others?

Myrtle, Chirton’s sister, seems to have things all worked out and is riding the wave of life on the back of her brother’s goodness. Myrtle is not invited to parties because she is not a good child, she isn’t made to eat vegetables she doesn’t like, and she is not expected to do her share of the cleaning of the rabbit’s hutch. And in red letters, we are informed:

That is lucky, isn’t it?

So instead of accepting the status quo, we are now thinking that life can be unfair for those who least deserve it.

When Chirton discovers his sister staying up late one night eating choco puffs and watching TV, simply because the babysitter can’t convince Myrtle to go to bed, it feels like that is one straw too many for a Goody to accept. Chirton finally asks himself:

What is so GOOD about being a Goody?

So, you see, the story is complicated, and it is not even finished! It throws up questions about why we do what we do, how our behaviour impacts others, why expectations are so hard to live up to, what is fair and what is not fair, and that sometimes you can be kind and nice just because it feels good when you are kind and nice. And the world needs more people who are trying to be good, don’t you think?

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it could be the starting point for long talks about what being good means and that could be applied to children and adults alike. Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of good and bad behaviour:

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller Illustrated by Jen Hill

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst
Illustrated by Ray Cruz

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!
by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Words Are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

Don’t Want To Go!
by Shirley Hughes

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
by Todd Parr

Leonardo the Terrible Monster
by Mo Willems

Should I Share My Ice Cream?
by Mo Willems

What Have You Done, Davy?
by Brigitte Weninger
Illustrated by Eve Tharlet

No, David! by David Shannon

Erandi’s Braids
by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

When Mum Turned Into A Monster by Joanna Harrison

Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten
by Bob Graham

The Elephant and the Bad Baby
by Elfrida Vipont
Illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Because Amelia Smiled
by David Ezra Stein

Captain Sir Tom Moore: One Hundred Steps

Illustrated by Adam Larkum

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, London, 2020

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeve

This wonderful picture book is about Tom Moore and his pledge to walk 100 lengths of his garden before his 100th birthday to raise funds for all the NHS health workers in the UK. I remember seeing him on TV being knighted by the Queen and thinking that here were two people facing each other, similar in age, having witnessed and lived through almost 100 years of world history. One was royalty and the other an ordinary individual. Both, in their own ways, making and leaving their marks on the world.

Simply by walking, and declaring his intent to raise money, Tom Moore garnered the attention of the world, and reinforced the idea that you are never too old to have an adventure, make a difference and be the change that you would like to see.

In this picture book, the story of Tom’s life is told humbly, and with a sense of humour, and reflects a time gone by when the world was quite a different place. We learn about his love of cooking with his beloved mum and Tom’s passion for racing and riding motorbikes. Tom was 19 when WWII was declared, and he was sent to Burma when he joined up. Fortunately, Tom came home from the war and met Pamela, together they began the next stage of life’s adventures and soon had children of their own. There were many ups and downs, but family and love sustained him through it all. Even in his 90s, Tom made the trip to see Mt Everest, a long-held dream that finally became a reality for him.

Adam Larkum has illustrated this story with gentle humour and grace, enhancing the text and giving us an almost photographic glimpse of the world that Tom knew and lived. Scattered through the story are Tom’s pearls of wisdom:

“The first step is always the hardest, but unless you take that first step, you’ll never finish.”

You can do and be anything you want.”

“For those finding it difficult: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away. Remember that tomorrow will be a good day.”

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below I have suggested other picture book biographies that have inspired me:

The Watcher by Jeanette Winter

On a Beam of Light
by Jennifer Berne
Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Born to Fly by Beverley McWilliams Illustrated by Timothy Ide

Wednesday is Jim Day
by Catherine McLeod
Illustrated by Andrea Radley

So She Did: the Story of Mary Wirth by Simi Genziuk
Illustrated by Renee Treml

Miss Franklin by Libby Hathorn Illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Anne Frank by
Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Svetlana Dorosheva

The Little Stowaway by Vicki Bennett
Illustrated by Tull Suwannakit

Ada’s Ideas by Fiona Robinson

What Miss Mitchell Saw
by Hayley Barrett
Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look Illustrated by Meilo So

Marco Polo by Demi

Marie Curie by Demi

Ned Kelly by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Frane Lessac

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Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Jill Murphy: Just One of Those Days

Illustrated by the author

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2020

I love everything about the Bear family. Jill Murphy captures the familiar routines, trials and joys of parenthood with just the right language and rich illustrations.

I was hooked by the first page in Just One of Those Days because I remember how squeezy it was in bed with not only one child, but three…and how long the nights could be when you didn’t get enough sleep and still had to face the day ahead.

To make things worse, as you turn the page in the story, it is raining outside and so many layers of clothing have to be put on before heading out. My favourite colour illustration is the look between Mr Bear and Mrs Bear as they venture out to work and Nursery…it speaks of love and teamwork and support for each other. So that when it is just one of those days, everyone knows they are bound together in this journey, and able to get through all the things that can go awry.

I did laugh when Baby Bear could not drink out of his favourite red cup at Nursery. Unfortunately, Someone Else got it and as we all know, water does not taste as good in the green cup. My daughter had a favourite cup and a favourite seat at the table…it did not bode well for anyone if that cup ended up in Someone Else’s hands or that seat held up Someone Else’s bottom!

And I did smile when they all arrived home at the end of the workday and Mrs Bear put on her comfy pyjamas…I do that too! Pyjamas and pizza, and a surprise for Baby Bear from Mr Bear, which makes the story complete.

This picture book is like a warm hug and helps me to believe in the wonderful restorative power of the family where everyone plays their part, despite not having enough sleep and everything that can and does go wrong.

Jill Murphy has also written about the Large family…Five Minutes Peace is another favourite for me. It’s all a mother craves some days!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years and below there are more titles in both series to enjoy:

Mother Knows Best

Whatever Next!

Peace at Last

Five Minute’s Peace

All In One Piece

A Piece of Cake

A Quiet Night In

Mr Large In Charge

Deborah Underwood: Ducks!

Illustrated by T.L.McBeth

Published by Henry Holt and Company, Godwin Books, 2020

We are introduced to a little family of ducks in this simple but clever story by Deborah Underwood. One duck is more adventurous than the rest and gets distracted by a hovering butterfly and wanders off, following the butterfly in a daydream. By the time Duck returns to the pond, the others have disappeared!

There is a moment of shock and surprise, what will Duck do next?

Duck starts looking for clues that might help him find his family and we begin the rollercoaster ride of high hopes and dashed hopes as each new lead proves false.

Duck can hear squawking in the park, could that be his family calling him? No, it’s just a brass band playing.

There are webbed footprints on the path, could that be the footprints of his family? No, it’s just a boy with flippers on his feet.

There are feathers falling from the sky, could they be the feathers of his family? No, some children are having a pillow fight and feathers are flying everywhere.

All these false leads are humorously illustrated, and Duck’s emotions range from optimism to you-have-got-to-be-kidding. There are only two words used in the whole story and they appear as capital letters and express their own emotions! DUCKS? and NO DUCKS! The illustrations use only three colours and this simple combination of text and art works brilliantly together all the way to the happy ending.

I can highly recommend this story for children 2 – 4 years, it is easy to read, easy to understand and can help start a conversation about how it might feel to be lost, relying on yourself when there is a problem and persevering to find solutions in tricky situations.

Below are more picture book recommendations for stories which explore the idea of being lost:

Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey
by Alison Lester

Lost and Found
by Oliver Jeffers

Mini Rabbit is NOT LOST
by John Bond

Stick Man by
Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Little Owl Lost
by Chris Haughton

Puffin Peter
by Petr Horacek

Bunny my Honey
by Anita Jeram

Found. by Jeff Newman
Illustrated by Larry Day

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

Brenna Maloney: Philomena’s New Glasses

Photographs by Chuck Kennedy

Published by Viking, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2017

A dear friend introduced me to Philomena and her sisters recently, what a cute little trio of guinea pigs! I have shared this story with young readers and much older ones and everyone, without exception, has finished the book with a smile.

My favourite is Nora Jane. She is not the oldest, that’s Philomena. She is not the largest, that’s Audrey. Nora Jane is completely herself, prepared to follow her sisters’ adventures in acquiring glasses, bags and dresses whether she needs all this stuff or not. But enough is enough. Does she really need a bag when her arms are too short to carry one, or glasses when she can see perfectly well without them?

Nora Jane is even prepared to squeeze herself into a dress just like her trendy sisters, but she soon discovers that the dress makes her armpits itch!

There is nothing like a sisterly conversation, sharing the truth, and talking about the things that are really bothering you, to get the problem sorted.

And just when you think the problems are sorted, your sister can still surprise you!

The final page is very cleverly staged and convinces me that Nora Jane is one sassy, unique and endearing character.

Chuck Kennedy has done a remarkable job getting these real-life guinea pigs to pose for photo shoots. It was also comforting to read that:

“No stunt doubles were used in the making of this book. Each guinea pig performed her own stunts, including hefty purse lifting, snug dress wearing, and even extensive kale eating.”

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years and up to 88 years, my mother was giggling all the way through her first read. Below are more suggestions for further reading about the joys and tribulations of having a sister:

My Sister by
Joanna Young
The Seven Chinese Sisters
by Kathy Tucker
Illustrated by
Grace Lin
The Proudest Blue by
Ibtihaj Muhammad
with S.K.Ali
Illustrated by
Hatem Aly
Flo & Wendell by
William Wegman
I’ll Always Be Older Than You
by Jane Godwin
Illustrated by
Sara Acton
Whatever Happened to
My Sister by
Simona Ciraolo

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

Matt James: The Funeral

Illustrated by the author

Published by Affirm Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, 2019

We have all been to funerals. Perhaps you remember going to a funeral when you were young. I have been too many times, it hurts to say goodbye to someone you once loved and who once lived their experienced-filled life. Funerals can be sad occasions, but every death makes you think more about life. And depending on your age, you can experience that loss in different ways, ask different questions, and accept or not accept what has happened.

It is unusual for a picture book to delve into the experience of going to a funeral service, but I think this one beautifully and tenderly captures the sorrow and joy of the occasion.

Norma, a young girl, is happy to have the day off from school and she knows she will meet up with her younger favourite cousin Ray at the church. Did you know that the word FUNERAL has FUN in it? The juxtaposition of the sorrow and sadness of the adults in the illustrations is very cleverly balanced by the joy of being young. My favourite spread is when Norma, sitting in the church pew during the long service, sticks her head in her mother’s handbag, and inhales the scents of her mother. When the organ plays its “swirling song”, rainbows come out of the pipes. Triangle sandwiches are eagerly eaten after the service and finally the children can be let out of church and into the gardens and graveyard beyond. Norma cartwheels over the green, green grass and with Ray they look for frogs and fish in the small pond. On the journey home, Norma reflects that Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral. I felt the same way when my father and father-in-law passed away. If only they could have been present with us and seen all those people gathered in the church, how amazed they would have been and how much they would have enjoyed the occasion.

Matt James has deftly portrayed a singular event from two perspectives. We see the adults doing their grown-up duties and we see the young ones doing their best to be part of something that they sort of do and don’t understand. What the young ones teach us however is this: we have life, we are alive, live it to the fullest today.

I can highly recommend this book for children 5-10 years. The illustrations are complex, but not overwhelming, the colours are vibrant but not sombre, and they enhance the text with pathos and insight. Painted with acrylic, Matt James has also used twine, cardboard, masking tape and scroll-sawn masonite to create his amazing artwork.

Here are more suggestions for further reading on the topic of grief and loss:

Old Pig by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Ron Brooks
Goodbye Mousie by
Robie H. Harris
Illustrated by
Jan Ormerod
Goodbye Mog
by Judith Kerr
Her Mother’s Face
by Roddy Doyle
Illustrated by
Freya Blackwood
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by
Quentin Blake

Lifetimes by
Bryan Mellonie
Illustrated by
Robert Ingpen
Sammy in the Sky
by Barbara Walsh
Illustrated by
Jamie Wyeth

Lorna Scobie: Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Children’s Books, 2020

We all make assumptions. About many things. It could be about a person or a place or even what a particular food might taste like because of its colour. We might make assumptions about someone’s behaviour or even an animal’s behaviour. We could assume that most cats like to chase mice, most dogs like to chase cats, and probably most foxes like to eat chickens and sometimes even rabbits. Sometimes we don’t even know what our assumptions are until they are challenged.

In this picture book we meet a young rabbit who assumes that he is the only one in the litter and he loves it that way. There is no need to share anything. He can have his own flower patch, his own stack of juicy carrots, his own private bedroom. Until one day he is joined by one sibling, and another and another and even another, and more again. Lost are all the privileges of being the only one.

Enter the fox next door who has declared his love of having rabbits for company.

And what do we assume? I think we assume the worst.

So, when the young rabbit asks the fox very kindly to take care of all those extra rabbits, we all take in a sharp breath. We think we know what is going to happen.

Yes, the young rabbit gets back his own flower patch, his own stack of juicy carrots and his own cosy bedroom, but the assumption he made about how he would feel when that happened was not what he thought. He misses his siblings and wants to be where they have gone.

So, into the fox’s den the young rabbit happily hops….and what do you assume will happen once he is inside?

Well, I can’t tell you…you will just have to read it yourself!

But remember, never assume because you may be wrong, but you could be right!

I can highly recommend this book for children 4-8 years old,  the illustrations cleverly aid the storyline and build tension to the very last page.

If you would like to read more books about foxes and rabbits, not necessarily in the same story and the list is not exhaustive (never assume!), here are some of my favourites:

I Want a Bunny! by
Tony Ross
The ABC Bunny by
Wanda Gag
Bunny Cakes by
Rosemary Wells
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
by Mo Willems
A Mouse Called Julian by
Joe Todd-Stanton
One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller
by Kate Read
Rosie’s Walk by
Pat Hutchins
The Very Sleepy Bear
by Nick Bland