Claire Saxby: Great White Shark

Illustrated by Cindy Lane

Published by Walker Books Australia, NSW, 2021

Cute and cuddly. Not the first words that come to mind when I think of sharks. There are all those teeth for a start. Then, there is its triangular dorsal fin skimming through the water and the ominous intent with which it seems to seek its prey – the shark demands respect and terror in equal parts.

The cover of this picture book doesn’t shy away from the image of what a shark is, even though most of us have probably never encountered one, unless of course we have been safe behind glass.

The end papers are particularly haunting. As you open the book, there is a shark swimming directly towards the reader, silently navigating the sun- kissed ocean, poised, and focussed, spiderwebs of sunlight shimmering along its body.  When you finish reading the book, the shark is swimming away, almost as if it has been released in the knowledge that the reader knows more about what it is. To be known is to be loved, after all.

And in between the end papers, there is much to learn about the shark. Where it lives, how big it can grow, how many years it can live, how it finds food, what it most likes to eat, how pups are birthed, and whether it is a solitary creature or not.

The main text is beautifully poetic and descriptive, but on each page, there is also a short paragraph using smaller text with more information. Together, these words, coupled with the evocative illustrations, give the reader a complete picture of the shark, its lifestyle and habitat.

Claire Saxby lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has written other picture books which focus on Australian animals: Big Red Kangaroo and Emu (with Graham Byrne as illustrator), Koala (with Julie Vivas as illustrator) and Dingo (with Tanny Harricks as illustrator). They provide a great introduction to these animals and their habitats, perfect for enquiring minds!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-6 years and below are more picture books which feature sharks, a mixture of fact, fiction and fun:

Commotion in the Ocean
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by David Wojtowycz

Shark in the Park!
by Nick Sharratt

Shark in the Dark!
by Nick Sharratt

Shark in the Park
on a Windy Day!
by Nick Sharratt

Surprising Sharks
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by James Croft

All About Shark
by Jim Arnosky

Swallow the Leader
by Danna Smith
Illustrated by Kevin Sherry

Hark a Shark! by Bonnie Worth Illustrated by Aristides Ruiz
& Joe Mathieu

Sharks by Gail Gibbons

Lovely Beasts by Kate Gardner Illustrated by Heidi Smith

Smart About Sharks
by Owen Davey

Beneath the Waves
by Lily Murray
Illustrated by Helen Ahpornsiri

I’m a Shark by Bob Shea

If Sharks Disappeared
by Lily Williams

The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist
Illustrated by Julia Gorton

Swimming with Sharks
by Heather Lang
Illustrated by Jordi Solano

Layn Marlow: Noah’s Seal

Illustrated by the author

Published by Oxford University Press, UK, 2021

This is a lovely story about waiting, dreaming, hoping and a special seal, of course!

Young Noah is with his Nana at the edge of the wild blue sea. He is waiting for the seals to come closer to the shore. Nana is busy mending the boat and she is not sure the seals will visit this part of the coast. That doesn’t stop Noah from hoping.

While waiting for his Nana, little Noah starts to dig in the golden sand, and gradually the sandy mound begins to take the shape of a beautiful seal. With a pat here and a stroke there, with shells for its dappled back, spiky sea grass for its whiskers and glossy pebbles for its eyes, the seal stretches out to face the ocean with a contented smile upon its face.

A sudden storm blows in across the ocean, Nana and Noah must take shelter in the boat and leave the golden sandy seal to face the wind and rain alone. But when the storm blows over, the seal is gone. Noah hopes it has swum to safety in the waves.

Nana is not so sure and kindly promises a ride in the boat another time to look for frolicking seals but, just as they turn to leave, Noah spots a familiar shape on a rock close to shore. What could it be?

This story is a wonderful reminder of long, hot summer days, spending time with a beloved grandparent, dreaming of wild creatures in the watery depths of the sea, imagining them come to life, and hoping for something extraordinary to happen on ordinary days. We have made and decorated mermaids on the beach, how I wish they could have come to life on the sandy seashore. We are never too old to dream!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature seals:

Seal at the Wheel
by Lesley Sims
Illustrated by David Semple

See What a Seal Can Do
by Chris Butterworth Illustrated by Kate Nelms

Sammy the Seal by Syd Hoff

The Singing Seal
by Merv Lamington
Illustrated by Allison Langton

S is for Seal by DK Publishing Illustrated by Jean Claude

Seal Surfer by Michael Foreman

Little Seal
by Benedict Blathwayt

The Storm Seal by Judy Waite Illustrated by Neil Reed

The Seal Children
by Jackie Morris

And for older children:

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal
by Judith Kerr

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

Gabby Dawnay: If I had an Octopus

Illustrated by Alex Barrow

Published by Thames & Hudson, London, 2021

Anything with eight legs is bound to capture the imagination. Octopuses are one of the marvels of the animal world with a swathe of fascinating features to amaze, impress and scare us, just a little bit.

The front cover of this picture book is very inviting. The cute little girl reminds me a bit of Madeleine with her blue dress and jaunty yellow hat. One half of the smiling orange octopus has four tentacles that curl around her and if you check out the back cover, the rest of its body curls around the blurb. Not scary at all.

The opening lines require some mental gymnastics as you replace pictures with words, which is great for young ones who cannot yet read because they can jump in with their own general knowledge and fill in the textual gaps.

The rhyming text bounces along quite merrily making it easy to learn that an octopus can do amazing things, like squeeze into tiny spaces, squirt black ink, camouflage itself, and that it has three hearts. Of course, it can do other things too, like cook, paint, play the drums and ball games, but perhaps that would be the start of another conversation sorting through fact from fiction.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more picture books which feature this amazing creature, some are fun, some are fictional, who knew there were so many?

Octopuses: One to Ten
by Ellen Jackson
Illustrated by Robin Page

Fourteen Animals That Are Definitely Not an Octopus
by Gabe Pyle

No Place for an Octopus
by Claire Zorn

An Octopus Came for Tea
by Nadia Mulara

Octopus Socktopus
by Nick Sharratt

Could an Octopus Climb a Skyscraper?
by Camilla de la Bedoyere Illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff

Emile by Tomi Ungerer

Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Leo and the Octopus
by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Chris Nixon

The Mermaid by Jan Brett

Miss Kraken by Nicki Greenberg

O is for Octopus by DK Publishing Illustrated by Kaja Kajfez

Octopus Shocktopus!
by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Steve Lenton

Thank you, Octopus
by Darren Farrell

Do You Really Want to
Meet an Octopus?
by Cari Meister
Illustrated by Daniele Fabbri

Oswald by Dan Yaccarino

Melissa’s Octopus and
Other Unsuitable Pets
by Charlotte Voake

An Octopus Followed Me Home
by Dan Yaccarino

Wiggle Like An Octopus
by Harriet Ziefert
Illustrated by Simms Taback

The Octopus’s Garden
by Dr Mark Norman

Octopants by Suzy Senior

Claire Saxby: Iceberg

Illustrated by Jess Racklyeft

Published by Allen & Unwin, NSW, 2021

Like many unique environments, the flora and fauna of that southern, icy and ever- changing continent of Antarctica is threatened by pollution, global warming and climate change. This picture book helps us to understand what we might lose if sea ice continues to diminish across this vast and seemingly uninhabitable land.

Following the life cycle of an iceberg as it shears off a glacier in spring, we are encouraged to look closely at what appears to be, at first glance, an empty continent.  As summer nears, animals appear underwater and on shore: leopard seals, penguins, krill, terns, cormorants, humpback whales, squid and orca. All of them dependant on one another and the ice that surrounds them, for food and a place to rest, eat, mate and reproduce.

The illustrations in this picture book have been made using a combination of water colour, acrylic paint, collage, pencil, ink and digital aids. It is wonderful to see so many different shades of blue. The central pages fold outwards to a double spread revealing some of the creatures living in the ocean. Unfolding it, helps us to reflect upon the immensity of this continent, which is almost twice the size of Australia, by that feeling that it is almost too big to hold on your lap!

Accompanying the illustrations, the text is informative, thoughtful and expressed with poetic clarity. For younger readers, visual imagery is captured with creative descriptions:

Terns wheel overhead. Blue-eyed cormorant too, their wingspans wider than outstretched arms….

Penguins dive deep for fish. Seals dive deeper to twitch-whisker hunt.

For older readers, there are enough hints in the text to embark upon their own research and investigate some of the complexities of this fragile ecosystem:

The iceberg is flat-topped, sharp and angular and carries ancient weather in its layers of ice-clothing; a coat for each year volcanoes blew and black ash fell like snow.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books that delve into the problems of global warming and climate change:

Where’s the Elephant? by Barroux

The Great Kapok Tree
by Lynne Cherry

The Tantrum that Saved the World by Megan Herbert
Illustrated by Michael E. Mann

The Lazy Friend by Ronan Badel

10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh

The Trouble With Dragons
by Debi Gliori

Stand up! Speak Up!
by Andrew Joyner

Window by Jeannie Baker

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish
by Michael Foreman

Greta Thunberg
by Isabel Sanchez Vegara
Illustrated by Anke Weckmann

One World by Michael Foreman

Curious George Plants a Tree by Margret & H.A. Rey

Mallee Sky by Jodi Toering Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

A Little Paper Caper
by Oliver Jeffers

The Polar Bear in Sydney Harbour by Beck & Robin Feiner

Who Makes a Forest?
by Sally Nicholls
Illustrated by Carolina Rabei

The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le

The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean by Deborah Diesen Illustrated by Dan Hanna

John Canty: Heads and Tails Underwater

Illustrated by the author

Published by Berbay Publishing, Kew East, Vic, 3102

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”
 Mem Fox, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

John Canty is a Melbourne based artist, designer and writer, with a flair for adapting nineteenth century artwork into pictures that can be appreciated by young and older readers.

Each underwater creature is hinted at with clues in the text and a partial drawing of its body. This gives you time to think about what it could be, begin a discussion about the clues and then have a guess, turn the page and see if you are right!

As a tool for learning, it’s masterful. For young readers, the first reading gives them information and insight. The second reading tests their memory skills. The third reading begins to cement their knowledge and embed three new facts about each creature into their minds. This information can be used in the future as they learn more about the sea and the animals that live in it, and they have a visual memory to support it. I love the illustration of the whale and that it takes four pages to contain its image, and it doesn’t even quite do that, because it is just so big!

John Canty introduces us to creatures that are familiar, such as a crab, eel, octopus, sea star, sting ray, turtle, whale and more. The illustrations are beautifully crafted on each page, uncomplicated and embellished with watercolour.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and suggest that you look out for these titles by the author:

Heads and Tails
Heads and Tails – Insects

Lucy Cousins: Hooray for Fish!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Candlewick Press, 2005

In this big, bright and colourful picture book, Little Fish introduces us to all her fishy friends in the deep blue sea. The text is easy to read aloud and encourages young readers to look for colours, shapes, numbers and names. There are fat fish and thin fish, scary and hairy fish, some that curl and whirl, and others that go round and round. The text is rhythmic, repetitive and descriptive on backgrounds of blues, greens and purples. The illustrations of the fish are vibrant and mesmerising. I especially love the ending when Little Fish finds the fish that she loves best, even more than all the rest, it’s Mama Fish of course, kiss, kiss, kiss!

Lucy Cousins is a prolific picture book author and illustrator and is best known for creating Maisy Mouse. These books are a great resource for pre-school children to learn more about the world around them. Maisy goes to more places than I do! You can find her travelling to the museum, the airport, the library, the hospital, the movies and going on a vacation or camping…and that list is not exhaustive. These books introduce young readers to experiences they have not had yet or help them reflect upon experiences they have already had.

In the same way, Hooray for Fish, introduces young children to the natural world and all the wonders in it, without even dipping their toes in the water!

A companion volume to Hooray for Fish! is Hooray for Birds! Similar in size and colourful vibrancy, we are encouraged to imagine ourselves as busy birds and fly, peck, hop, swim, swoop, waddle and even lay an egg as we go about our busy day.

I can highly recommend these titles by Lucy Cousins, especially for children 0-5 years, they provide a solid foundation to learning and help start a discussion with your child about situations and creatures they will encounter in life!

Hooray for Birds!
Maisy’s Wonderful
Weather Book
Maisy Goes to Hospital
Maisy Goes Camping
Maisy’s First Clock
Noah’s Ark

Moira Court: Antarctica

Illustrated by the author

Published by Fremantle Press, WA, 2019

“I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.” (Ernest Shackleton)

It’s quite sobering to think that we live on a great ball in the sky, but equally remarkable that people have ventured to its far-flung axes. Shackleton was in the deep cold south searching for the pole more than one hundred years ago and knighted for his exploratory adventures on his return home. Whilst I will most likely remain unknighted in my lifetime, there are other ways to travel and learn about our freezing polar regions and feel honour-bound in the process.

Moira Court has authored and illustrated a simple yet evocative counting journey through the icy cold world of Antarctica. Using a mixture of printmaking techniques and collage we are introduced to ten creatures who thrive and endure in the freezing south. The language used is rich in imagery and I particularly like the double adjectives in every sentence. These adjectives rhyme as well and add a gentle humour to the animals portrayed. Can you just imagine “two courtly, portly emperor penguins waddling across the polar plains”? We are also introduced to orcas, whales, elephant seals, krill and snow petrels and you can learn more about them at the end of the book.

There is also a double spread with information about the South Pole itself. I did not know that there is more than one pole! My favourites are the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and the Southern Pole of Cold, and not forgetting the Ceremonial South Pole, around which scientists have been known to scamper whilst only clad in a pair of shoes!

I can highly recommend this book for children 2-8 years. Here are more suggestions for picture books that explore the coldest places on earth, with a bias towards penguins, because who can resist them?

Sophie Scott Goes South
by Alison Lester
Mum for Sale
by Zanni Louise
Illustrated by
Philip Bunting
Lost and Found by
Oliver Jeffers
Penguin Problems
by Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
The Emperor’s Egg by
Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by
Jane Chapman
When Grandad Was a Penguin
by Morag Hood
Penguin by Polly Dunbar

Sophie Blackall: Hello Lighthouse

Illustrated by the author

Published by Orchard Books, 2019

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live and work in a lighthouse?

If you have, then this is the book for you. The illustrations are exquisitely detailed, you can see the minutiae of everyday life inside a light house over the seasons of the year. Sprinkled in between the pages are gems of information, like letters really being sent in bottles and visitors being winched from a swaying tender in a bosun’s chair to the lighthouse itself, all the while over rough and turbulent seas. Many of the drawings are illustrated from different perspectives: some from above, some in fog, some in roped circles and one in a pull out spread that captures the isolation of the lighthouse in glorious sunset colors. At the end of the story, the author tells us more about lighthouses, their function in days gone by, the faithful and constant maintenance of the lightkeepers, the hardships and loneliness that had to be endured. And how that all changed with the introduction of electric lights and automated machinery around the turn of the century.

So, why not grab your favourite person, head out to the coast and find a lighthouse to explore! While you are there, think about those brave men and women who lived and worked inside them, devoting their lives to be beacons of safety for sailors all around the world.

This book was the winner of the Caldecott Medal in 2019 and I would highly recommend it for children aged between 5-10 years old.

If you like this book, here is another favorite of mine by Sophie Blackall, telling the story of the inspirational beginnings of that famous bear, Winnie the Pooh.

Finding Winnie by
Lindsay Mattick
Illustrated by
Sophie Blackall