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

Hollis Kurman: Hello! A Counting Book of Kindnesses

Illustrated by Barroux

Published by Otter-Barry Books, Great Britain, 2020

I really love the profound simplicity of this picture book. It reminds me of that old acronym KISS…Keep It Simple Stupid. How often do we find ourselves tied up in knots over difficult issues and delicate emotions? Sometimes we just need to peel back the layers of heavy expectations, cultural norms and complex legalities. Sometimes we just need to be human, show empathy, put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, try to imagine what their journey is like and be kind.

On one level, this picture book is a counting journey, exploring how numbers can be found in everyone’s everyday life and that is a simple connection we all share and experience, despite religion, culture or geography.

On another level, this picture book is a poetic unravelling of how kindness works, reminding and teaching us processes that we may have forgotten, infrequently practised or never been taught.

It starts with a family fleeing their homeland because it has become too scary to live there anymore. Starting with one boat, we follow their journey across the seas and into a new land, relying on the kindness of strangers and friends to help them adapt to a new life.

Meals provide sustenance and give energy, beds allow rest and warmth, books are the gateway to learning and knowledge, gifts suggest that you are in someone’s thoughts and speak of generous hearts, and finally friendship…sharing a journey is so much better when you add others to your life.

The evocative illustrations beautifully enhance the sparse text and at the end we are encouraged to reflect on how we can be kind to one another and to realise there are many millions of children who have become refugees, running away from war and persecution. On the end paper at the back of the picture book, there are the names and contact details of organisations that help refugees and migrants.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, and below I have included more suggestions about picture books which explore the themes of empathy and kindness:

We’re All Wonders by R.J.Palacio

I Am Human by Susan Verde Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

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

My Name is Not Refugee
by Kate Milner

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

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated by Kerascoet

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt De La Pena
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Day War Came
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

Yaffa and Fatima: Shalom, Salaam by Fawzia Gilani-Williams Illustrated by Chiara Fedele

Mark Wilson: Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields

Illustrated by the author

Published by Hachette Australia, 2019

I had a conversation with my daughter this morning about the chance developments of chosen pathways in our lives. She was reflecting on the good fortune of being involved in her current project and having acquired the skills to do it based on all the previous things she had said “yes” to in her life. Being open to new experiences, taking a risk, speaking to a stranger, applying for a new job, moving to a new home, making the most of once-in-a-life-time opportunities all combine to give us a set of skills, a mindset and a will to squeeze the juice out of life and lead us on to paths that we never expected to find ourselves trekking.

Mark Wilson takes us to the goldfields in Ballarat in his latest picture book. I wish I had learnt Australian history this way. It begins with a daughter and father, newly arrived from London, pushing a barrow holding all their meagre belongings, trudging to Ballarat. It had taken 9 months for the ship to make the long journey from England to Australia and now, without wife or mother, they face an uncertain future in a new land. Of course, they are not the first people to arrive and the Ballarat fields stretching out before them are teeming with prospectors, all searching for those elusive nuggets of gold.

A chance encounter with Chen, a young Chinese boy who is about 16 years old, sets the course for their lives. He welcomes them to his camp and offers them their first hot mug of tea. Chen’s bravery is remarkable. He has travelled to Australia on his own to make his fortune so that he can return to China with enough money to bring his family here.

The story goes on to include the racism many Chinese men and women experienced in the 1800s, the hefty fees required to buy mining licences and tools, the police and soldiers harshly enforcing the law, the hardships endured by the prospectors when food and money ran out, and the miners banding together to fight against the licence fees, voting rights and land ownership. History records this as the fight at the Eureka Stockade in 1854, a terrible battle where many more miners died than soldiers and police. It is also the beginning of Peter Lalor’s rise to fame and prominence.

It sounds like a lot to include in a picture book, but Mark Wilson has done it marvellously in words and pictures. The best part is that this story was inspired by the real-life adventures of Catherine Martin and her husband Pan Ah Shin who met on the goldfields of Ballarat. A chance encounter that altered the course of their lives and the lives of those who came after them. There is a wonderful photo of some of their descendants at the back of the book with more information about the Eureka Rebellion.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 5-10 years, and below I have included other picture books which explore the lives of early settlers and their impact upon the land and the indigenous people they encountered:

My Name is Lizzie Flynn:
A Story of the Rajah Quilt
by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

Once by Kate Forsyth
Illustrated by Krista Brennan

Meet…Captain Cook by Rae Murdie Illustrated by Chris Nixon

Meet…Banjo Patterson
by Kristin Weidenbach
Illustrated by
James Gulliver Hancock

Meet…Ned Kelly
by Janeen Brian
Illustrated by Matt Adams

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

William Bligh: a stormy story of tempestuous times
by Michael Sedunary
Illustrated by Bern Emmerichs

The Unlikely Story of
Bennelong and Phillip
by Michael Sedunary
Illustrated by Ben Emmerichs

Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women
Who Shaped History
by Pamela Freeman
Illustrated by Sophie Beer

Mike Dumbleton: Anisa’s Alphabet

Illustrated by Hannah Sommerville

Published by Midnight Sun Publishing Pty Ltd, 2020

With few words, many pictures and the alphabet, Mike Dumbleton has taken us on the journey of young Anisa Alidurahn, a refugee fleeing from her homeland with her family. Each letter frames the next step, the next hope and the next feeling as we travel with Anisa, helping us to understand what it might be like to leave all that we love behind. From happy home, to a tent city, to a boat that is overcrowded and sinking, to detention, we journey with Anisa and enter her uncertain world.

The language is simple, evocative and hopeful despite the helplessness of the many challenges that face Anisa and her family. As such, it is an excellent resource to introduce this sensitive and sometimes disturbing topic to younger readers.

If you like this book, look out for these titles by the same author:

See the source image
Meet…Douglas Mawson
Illustrated by Snip Green
See the source image
Passing On
Illustrated by
Terry Denton
See the source image
Downsized
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

If you would like to read more picture books about refugees, here are some of my favorite titles:

See the source image
What is a Refugee?
by Elise Gravel
See the source image
Whoever You Are by
Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
See the source image
My Two Blankets by
Irena Kobald
Illustrated by
Freya Blackwood
See the source image
The Little Refugee by
Anh Do
and Suzanne Do
Illustrated by
Bruce Whatley