Sonya Hartnett: Blue Flower

Illustrated by Gabriel Evans

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2021

This is a very gentle, honest, and thoughtful picture book about not fitting in and what that feels like. It’s good to be reminded that, for some of us, life is full of challenges.

For the young girl in this story, some days just getting out of bed doesn’t feel like a good option, and making friends is not easy. Going to school requires more stamina and grit than she can imagine and feeling that her best is never enough can haunt all the hours of her day. Sometimes, all she wishes for is to be rescued from the place she should be and taken back to her comfortable home, cuddled up in bed under soft doonas with her beautiful tabby cat, quiet and peaceful. That wonderful place where the world can be shut away behind a closed door and all the failings, mistakes and challenges never faced or bravely tackled.

But life isn’t like that, even when you feel like you don’t fit in.

In this story, her mother gets to the heart of the matter. She understands the pull of hiding away and staying behind closed doors. She also acknowledges that being different can be life-changing and wonderful if you accept it:

“Being different isn’t easy, until you decide it’s a good thing to be.”

As the young girl thinks about this and wanders outside with her beloved cat Piccolo, she sees that many things in nature are different: birds, trees, clouds, and flowers. In a field of yellow flowers, there are a few blue ones too, and realisation dawns:

“No one wants everything to be the same. Things being different is what makes the world wonderful.”

So, let’s celebrate the things that makes us different and not hide our talents and gifts under doonas and behind closed doors, let’s allow all of our differences to make life more wonderful and a little easier for those of us who struggle with it.

The text by Sonya Hartnett makes this story easily accessible and the illustrations by Gabriel Evans beautifully reflect the emotional journey of figuring out how to find your place in the world. I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for books that explore the idea of being and feeling different:

Colour Me
by Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Illustrated by Moira Court

The Glump and the Peeble
by Wendy Meddour
Illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown

Max by Bob Graham

All About Families
by Felicity Brooks
Illustrated by Mar Ferrero

All Bodies are Good Bodies
by Charlotte Barkla
Illustrated by Erica Salcedo

All Except Winston
by Rochelle Brunton
Illustrated by Nicoletta Bertelle

All Sorts by Pippa Goodhart Illustrated by Emily Rand

Brian The Brave by Paul Stewart Illustrated by Jane Porter

Egg by Sue Hendra
Illustrated by Paul Linnet

Hugo: The Boy with
the curious mark
by Yohann Devezy
Illustrated by Manuela Adreani

I Feel…Different by D.J.Corchin

My Friend Fred by Frances Watts Illustrated by A.Yi

Be Exactly Who You Are
by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

Chee-Kee: A Panda in Bearland
by Sujean Rim

Edward the Emu
by Sheena Knowles
Illustrated b y Rod Clement

How To Be a Lion by Ed Vere

The Story of Ferdinand
by Munro Leaf
Illustrated by Robert Lawson

Rufus by Tomi Ungerer

Antoinette by Kelly DiPucchio Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Elmer by David McKee

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Peter H. Reynolds: Be You!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Australia, NSW, 2020

When my oldest daughter left home at 18 years old, I remember thinking to myself that there were so many things I had yet to tell her. Up until then, life had been full of learning experiences, but so much of it had been busy with the clutter of ordinary day to day living. Eating, sleeping, school, friendships, activities, family…the things that fill our days and calendars. I felt like I had focussed on the small things and not so much on the big things.

This picture book by Peter H. Reynolds starts at the beginning where we all start, babies in a world which we must learn to navigate. But instead of moulding ourselves to fit the world, he encourages us right from the start, to stay true and be ourselves, ready to embrace attributes which will carry us through life.

Each double spread explores a different inspirational quality: be adventurous, be connected, be different, be persistent, be kind, be understanding, be brave. Each precept is accompanied by a short paragraph and an illustration as an example of what it could look like.

I think my favorite spread is Be Brave: Try new things. Take a deep breath and plunge forward into new experiences. It gets easier every time you try. The illustration shows us a young boy peering over the edge of a diving board. You do need to be brave to take that leap into the unknown.

This is an uplifting picture book that reminds us to be the best person we can be as we go out into the world every day and gives us the vocabulary to start a conversation with a small someone you love.

I can highly recommend it for children 2-6 years and below are more suggestions about picture books which explore the themes of self-esteem, self-acceptance, persistence and individuality:

Different by Lucy Brader
Illustrated by Nancy Bevington

I Love Me by Sally Morgan Illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Mixed-Up Chameleon
by Eric Carle

You Matter by Christian Robinson

What We’ll Build: plans for our together future by Oliver Jeffers

Today I’m Strong
by Nadiya Hussain
Illustrated by Ella Bailey

The Proudest Blue
by Ibtihaj Muhammed with S.K.Ali Illustrated by Hatem Aly

Why am I me? by Paige Britt Illustrations by Selina Alko
and Sean Qualls

How to be a Lion by Ed Vere

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
by Dr Seuss

Who am I? by Philip Bunting

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

Margaret Wild: Pink!

Illustrated by Judith Rossell

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books, Australia, 2020

A.A.Milne once said, “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”

How hard it is to accept that universal truth! Our differences define us, but they can also keep us separate. The colour of our skin, whether we are very tall or very short, too skinny or too large, too shy or too loud, the language we speak and the land we come from, are just some of the things that can contrive to make us unique. Can we be different and still fit in, can we still be part of the whole and retain our uniqueness?

In this story we are introduced to Pink. She is a small dinosaur, born the colour pink to very green dinosaur parents. Wonderfully, they love her just the same, her colour making no difference, in fact, they believe it makes Pink more beautiful, pretty and sweet.

But as Pink grows, she begins to realise that being pink can have its disadvantages.

Especially when playing hide-and-seek. Everyone can see her because, unlike all the other dinosaurs who are brown or green or blue, Pink cannot hide in the undergrowth of the forest. This makes Pink sad. Her mum has good advice however: “Try being happy with who you are.”

One dark afternoon when Pink is playing with her friends in the forest, they realise they are lost. How will they find their way home? Pink uses her wits and her colour to come up with a plan that will save them all.

I think we all need to be reminded that being who you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses, is part of the wonderful package of you. The things that make you different, also make you unique. There is no one else like you and isn’t that just marvellous?

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and here are more suggestions for stories that explore the idea of individualism and being different:

The Day You Begin by
Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by
Rafael Lopez
I Love Me by
Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Ambelin Kwaymullina
Thelma the Unicorn by
Aaron Blabey
Stellaluna by
Janell Cannon
Chrysanthemum
by Kevin Henkes
The Smeds and the Smoos
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by
Axel Scheffler
Whoever You Are
by Mem Fox
Illustrated by
Leslie Staub
Same, but little bit diff’rent
by Kylie Dunstan