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