Julia Donaldson: The Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2021

Caterpillars, cocoons, butterflies, and moths. The transformative process of being one thing and becoming something else is one of the miracles of life. And in this story, that’s not the only surprise waiting in store for the reader. Filled with bright, beautiful colours and catchy singsong chanting rhymes, four very different caterpillars discover that what you are today, is not necessarily what you will be all your life!

The star of this story is a dandelion-loving, brown, fluffy, and very ordinary looking woolly bear caterpillar. When the dandelions she loves to eat are pulled up by the gardener, the woolly bear caterpillar must crawl off to search for some new ones.

On the way she encounters a stunning sycamore caterpillar who boasts about her gorgeous coat of red and yellow. A bit further on, there is a vapourer caterpillar proudly showing off tufts of yellow hair all along its purple and red body. Lastly, on the boughs of a towering poplar tree, a puss moth caterpillar sings about the weird, wonderful, and strange red markings covering its face.

Poor woolly bear caterpillar. She has been teased and taunted about her plain brown looks. The other caterpillars are sure that when they become moths, they will be even more beautiful and colourful than they are now.

Distracted by some newly found dandelion leaves, the little woolly bear caterpillar tries to cheer herself up. After all, there is not much you can do to change the way you look, but you can be master of your own thoughts!

Snug in their cocoons, the caterpillars begin their transformation. Some weeks go by, and the moths begin to hatch one by one. The teasing caterpillars have emerged quite plain, but the woolly bear caterpillar is dazzling with her blue spots, stripy body and tiger patterned wings. It’s a vindicating moment and the other moths sing their praises of her!

Julia Donaldson uses wonderful rhythm and rhyme in this story, making it a joy to read. The illustrations are radiant and colourful, complementing the text and enhancing the narrative. There is even a small non-fiction booklet attached to the inside back cover by Michael Blencowe, All About Caterpillars and Moths, which has more information about moths and caterpillars, their body parts and habitats.  

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature the amazing caterpillar and glorious butterflies and moths:

Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr.
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

I’m Not a Worm!
by Scott Tulloch

Caterpillar Butterfly
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

My Butterfly Bouquet
by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Hannah Peck

Fuzzy Doodle
by Melinda Szymanik
Illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Waiting for Wings
by Lois Ehlert

Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar
by Clare Jarrett

The Butterfly
by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Cathy Shimmen

Caterpillar Dreams
by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross

Caterpillar and Butterfly
by Ambelin Kwaymullina

First Nature Caterpillar
by Harriet Evans
Illustrated by Bryony Clarkson

Caterpillar and Bean
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Cora Caterpillar
by Barry Tranter
Illustrated by Emma Tranter

Miss Caterpillar’s Colours
by Stuart Lynch

Caterpillar Dreams
by Clive McFarland

Goodnight Sleepy Caterpillar
by Patricia Hegarty
Illustrated by Thomas Elliott

An Extraordinary
Ordinary Moth
by Karlin Gray
Illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

Moth by Isabel Thomas Illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Odile Weulersse: Nasreddine

Illustrated by Rébecca Dautremer

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, US, 2021

There are many roads to take in life, many people who will give you advice, and many others who will tell what to think and how to act. One of the wonderful benefits of reading is that you can learn about what other people do in difficult situations, how they make decisions and figure out a way forward.

Nasreddine is at the centre of this folk tale from the Middle East, which helps us understand what to do when faced with criticism, ridicule, and advice from others about how to conduct ourselves in life. It is a tender story about a father teaching his son this lesson, and it happens on the way to the market…and isn’t that where we learn most of our lessons? We leave our front door and head out into the world, and if we are lucky, we have someone beside us, to help us think and make wise decisions.

We encounter Nesreddine enjoying a moment of peace sitting on a carpet in the shade of the palm tree drinking camel’s milk with cinnamon in it. His father asks him to get their donkey ready for a trip to the market. They load up the donkey with baskets of dates and off they go. Mustafa sits atop the donkey too and Nasreddine walks happily behind with his slippers in his hand, so they don’t get muddy.

All is well until a passing vizier shouts out that only a lazy man would sit on top of the donkey and let his son walk behind him in the mud.

Nesreddine is ashamed by the comments, so the next time he and his father go to market, Nesreddine makes sure to be the one on the donkey with his father walking behind. Alas, some women see them and comment that young people do not show their elders any respect and that fathers have no authority over their sons.

You can see the pattern! No matter how they ride to market, someone always has something critical to say, and they do not always say it kindly. Mustafa allows his son the time to listen and make changes to the way they ride to market, but in the end, common sense prevails. Young Nesreddine must learn the difference between good advice and bad, listen to his own heart and learn from his mistakes.

For most of us, these lessons take a lifetime, and can sometimes they can be learnt more easily when told as a story. I can highly recommend this picture book for children 6-8 years old and below are more suggestions for picture books that use fables, and traditional and modern stories to teach valuable life lessons:

Aesop’s Fables
by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by
Emma Chichester Clark

The Boy Who Cried Wolf
by Tony Ross

Mice, Morals, &
Monkey Business
by Christopher Wormell

Caps for Sale
by Esphyr Slobodkina

Six Crows by Leo Lionni

Brian Wildsmith’s Favourite Fables by Brian Wildsmith

Lion and Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

The Little Red Hen
by Diane Muldrow
Illustrated by J.P. Miller

The Tortoise and the Hare
by Bruce Whatley

The North Wind and the Sun
by Brian Wildsmith

The Lion Inside
by Rachel Bright
Illustrated by Jim Field

The Hungry Coat by Demi

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
by Simms Taback

The Ugly Duckling
by Hans Christian Anderson Illustrated by Bernadette Watts

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Pig the Fibber by Aaron Blabey

SumoKitty by David Biedrzycki

Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley by Colin Thompson Illustrated by Amy Lissiat

Fiona’s Little Lie
by Rosemary Wells

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

The Emperor’s New Clothes
by Demi

Inside Outside: Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui

Illustrated by the authors

Published by Candlewick Studio, 2017

This is a creative picture book that explores the idea of being inside and being outside. You would think that this is a straightforward concept, but the illustrations are thought provoking, making the reader reassess their perspective and really look at the images to make sense of what they are seeing.

The book itself is oversized and wordless. Each double page spread has an image on the left that illustrates an interior, the opposing page places that interior image in its wider outside context.

My favourite double page spread shows a four-poster bed, with pillows scattered on the floor, and torn curtains. Some of the torn curtains have been made into a rope that is dangling outside a narrow window. All this is illustrated on the left-hand page. On the right-hand page, we see a castle nestled on a hilltop, pennants waving in the breeze, surrounded by mountains and a river. At first, you wonder how the images are connected but, looking closer, there is the curtain-rope dangling out of a high window in the castle, unnoticed by a guard. In the meandering yellow river below, a small maiden with long flowing golden hair is wading through the water to reach the bank on the other side. Yes, it’s a snapshot of Rapunzel making her escape and without a prince to save her!

There are many other cleverly illustrated images: the chaos of a cabin inside a yacht that is navigating rough ocean waves; a figure in a tent warming his hands by a fire inside the belly of a whale; a driver in a cab at the head of a long road-train winding its way through a barren landscape; the vibrating heart of a person who is bungee-jumping off a very tall bridge. In the final image, there is an old man looking out of the window at the night sky from inside his house. On the page opposite, you can see that only one house in a row of many houses has a light shining in the window. It must be his house and his light we are seeing, a silent viewer of the vast inky sky while everyone else sleeps.

Without written words to navigate the images, there is a lot to talk about! Not only is the reader encouraged to pay attention to the details in the illustrations, but they are also required to understand the connection between the images. This introduces the concepts of perspective and opposites, as well as narrative comprehension, so important for reading as children progress to chapter books and longer stories.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which focus on the theme of opposites:

Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Aregui

Before & After by Jean Jullien

Opposites by Sandra Boynton

Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd

Hard and Soft by Sian Smith

Opposites by Eric Carle

Animal Opposites
by Petr Horacek

Up Cat Down Cat by Steve Light

The Happy Yellow Box
by David A. Carter

The Hueys in What’s the Opposite? by Oliver Jeffers

Big Dog…Little Dog
by P.D. Eastman

Maisy Big, Maisy Small
by Lucy Cousins

Up & Down
by Britta Teckentrup

What’s Up, What’s Down?
by Lola Schaefer
Illustrated by Barbara Bash

Kipper’s Book of Opposites
by Mick Inkpen

Opposites Abstract
by Mo Willems

Megan Madison & Jessica Ralli: Our Skin, a First Conversation About Race

Illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Published by Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2021

“Young children notice a lot – including skin color, race, and even injustice and racism. It can be hard to find the right words to answer their questions or start a conversation about race. But when we talk about it, children often come to their own conclusions, which can include bias and stereotypes because of the world we live in. Simple conversations can help them make sense of their world and even recognise and speak up about injustice. This book is a good place to start or continue the conversation. It’s okay to take a break, leave something out for now, or weave in stories of your own.”

By Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli

The above quote is from the first page of this wonderful book which explores the idea of racism and how we can begin to talk about it with young people.

Despite the complexity of the topic, the text is simple, clear, and concise and begins with the most basic of questions: what colour is your skin?

It encourages the reader to look about themselves and recognise differences in skin colour amongst family, friends, and neighbours. It reinforces the beauty of our skin and its importance for our bodies. It explains why some people have darker or lighter skin because of varying levels of melanin. It provides a vocabulary to use when talking about people of colour, and lists words used in the wider world to describe groups of people who are not white.

But best of all, it explains what the colour of someone’s skin can’t tell you about a person. It can’t tell you how a person feels, what they are thinking, what they know and like. From here, it’s a small step to reflecting upon how people of colour have been unfairly treated in history, how racism has been pervasive in societies and how it has gone on, unnoticed and unchecked.

In our personal lives, racism can be expressed in the ways we exclude people based on the way they look or talk, it can be in the ways we address people or label them, and whether we do this on purpose or by mistake.

So, what can we do? We can be more aware in our relationships, we can march in protest, we can speak up, we can teach, help, learn, and listen. We can start the conversation with young people, educate them and ourselves, and actively participate in anti-racist efforts.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and adults too, and below are more suggestions for picture books which look at the issue of racism and being different in creative ways:

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

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

The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas Illustrated by Lesley Harker

The Stone Thrower
by Jael Ealey Richardson
Illustrated by Matt James

Someone New
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Elmer by David McKee

One of These is Not Like the Others by Barney Saltzberg

Chocolate Me! Taye Diggs Illustrated by Shane Evans

Amazing Grace
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Caroline Binch

Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Mixed: A Colorful Story
by Arree Chung

Strictly No Elephants
by Lisa Mantchev
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

The Same but Different Too
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

Imagine a Wolf: What Do You See? by Lucky Platt

James Catchpole: What Happened to You?

Illustrated by Karen George

Published by Faber, Bloomsbury House, 2021

The title of this picture book caught my eye because it reminded of another book by the same title that was written earlier this year by Dr. Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey. Through in-depth conversations, they explore how childhood trauma and difficult experiences can inform and explain the way we behave as adults.

This picture book is written by James Catchpole who is an amputee himself, and there is a great photo of him at the very back of the book holding one of his daughters on a sunny day at the beach. James has one prosthetic leg, and in writing this picture book, he has given us all some sound advice about the do’s and don’t’s when it comes to asking, what happened to you?

In the story, we meet little Joe who has only one leg. He is having a great time imagining himself as a swash-buckling pirate on the high seas fighting off imaginary sharks and crocodiles. Some kids come along to join in the fun and instantly notice Joe’s missing leg.

They all want to know what happened, but for Joe, this is the last thing he wants to talk about, not today and probably not tomorrow either. So, Joe asks them to guess. The kids come up with some imaginative ideas, but not the real reason why Joe only has one leg. And after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter.

The pirate game begins again and before long, the missing leg is not important anymore, and neither is the reason as to why it’s not there.

We never do find out why Joe has one leg, because sometimes we just need to accept that we will not know the answer, that the question is not polite to ask and that maybe that person just does not want to explain it for the one hundredth time.

The illustrations perfectly complement the text, the children are endearing, their emotions are clearly expressed and, in the end, you applaud their maturity and good sense!

I can highly recommend this book for children 3-8 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the theme of disability, the sort you can see and the sort you can’t see:

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan Illustrated by Christiane Kromer

Hello, Goodbye Dog
by Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Patrice Barton

Looking Out for Sarah
by Glenna Lang

Thankyou, Mr Falke
by Patricia Polacco

Just Ask! by Sonia Sotomayor Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

When Charley Met Emma
by Amy Webb
Illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard

Understanding Sam and Asperger’s Syndrome
by Clarabelle van Niekerk Illustrated by Liezl Venter

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt Illustrated by Sean Qualls
& Selina Alko

Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Don’t Call Me Special
by Pat Thomas

The Black Book of Colours
by Menena Cottin
Illustrated by Rosana Faria

The Adventures of Mighty Owen
by Emma Roehrs
Illustrated by Owen Roehrs

The Five of Us by Quentin Blake

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett Illustrated by Adelina Lirius

Leo and the Octopus
by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Chris Nixon

A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey Illustrated by Mika Song

Frida Khalo
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Gee Fan Eng

Stevie Wonder
by Ma Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Melissa Lee Johnson

Boo’s Beard by Rose Mannering Illustrated by Bethany Straker

Waiting for Hugo
by Amanda Niland
Illustrated by Claire Richards

One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly Illustrated by Sally Heinrich

Mama Zooms
by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

And for the adults:

Growing Up Disabled in Australia Edited by Carly Findlay

What Happened to You?
by Bruce Perry with Oprah Winfrey

Matt De La Peña: Milo Imagines the World

Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, 2021

“What begins as a slow, distant glow grows and grows into a tired train that clatters down the tracks. A cool rush of wind quiets into a screech of steel and when the doors slide open, Milo slips aboard.”

I love the emotive, poetic language of this picture book. I feel like I am with Milo in the underground railway station, feeling that breeze that comes before the train arrives and hearing that screech as it slows approaching the platform.

I admire Milo’s imagination and the way he observes everyone and everything around him in the train carriage. A whiskered man with a face of concentration, a woman in a wedding dress whose face is made out of light, and a dog whose face he can’t see at all, but he can see that pink tongue peeking out amongst the whiskers.

We are not sure where Milo and his big sister are going, but we know that this is a trip they take together once a month on Sundays. We know that Milo has mixed emotions: confusion, love and worry.  To help cope and keep himself from bursting, he observes and draws and imagines.

Milo imagines where that whiskered man might live, perhaps in a high-rise apartment with cats and rats and parakeets. Milo draws all these ideas on his notepad and tries to show his big sister, but she is too absorbed in her phone to take much notice.

At one stop, the woman in the wedding dress steps onto the platform while street performers play a wedding march tune. Milo imagines and draws a beautiful ceremony in a grand cathedral, after which the happy couple fly away in a colourful hot air balloon.

Soon a boy who looks quite different to Milo boards the train with his dad. Milo imagines what this boy’s life might be like: horse drawn carriages, castles, guards and servants fill his notepad. A life very different from Milo’s experiences, but something that he can still imagine.

A group of girls jump on board at the next stop and start break dancing in the carriage to collect a few coins. Milo imagines them dancing in all the carriages, being looked at there with smiles and interest. He also imagines what life is like for them outside the carriage, being observed in department stores and in well-to-do neighbourhoods. There are no smiles now, just suspicion and intolerance.

Milo then tries to imagine what people see when they look at him. Small, brown skin, glasses perched on his nose. Can people see him at school, at home, in his aunty’s apartment?

Finally, the train brings them to their stop. We walk with Milo and his big sister to a place where there is a metal detector and guards. The other boy on the train is there too, with his dad. Milo did not imagine this and he is surprised. Maybe, you can’t really imagine what a person’s life is like when you look at them. So, Milo re-imagines the people on the train that he observed and puts them in a different setting, gives them different lives.

And to his mother, in prison, Milo gives the best picture of all: a home, a cat on the windowsill, a green tree, a front door, and a mother, daughter and son enjoying the day in each other’s company, eating ice cream.

There are a lot of ideas and thoughts packed into this picture book. I can highly recommend it for children 6-8 years, to begin discussions about prejudice, racism, perceptions, assumptions, empathy, and all the ways you can use your imagination. Below are some suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of racism, prejudice and preconceived notions about the people we encounter in life:

The Same But Different Too
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoet

You Matter by Christian Robinson

Nana Akua Goes to School
by Tricia Elam Walker
Illustrated by April Harrison

Where Are You From?
by Yamile Saied Mendez
Illustrated by Jaime Kim

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated by Kerascoet

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

Say Something!
by Peter H. Reynolds

All Are Welcome
by Alexandra Penfold
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

Black is a Rainbow Color
by Angela Joy
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Shu Lin’s Grandpa
by Matt Goodfellow
Illustrated by Yu Rong

Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Room on our Rock
by Kate & Jol Temple
Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

Rosa Parks by Lisbeth Kaiser Illustrated by Marta Antelo

Mary Anning by
Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara Illustrated by Popy Matigot

Diamonds by Armin Greder

Jane Godwin: Mumma, Dadda, No, Mine, More!

Illustrated by Jane Massey

Published by Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2021

We live in houses full of stuff but when we go away for holidays, we take just a suitcase or two crammed with the essentials for pared down living. When we are small, we live in a world full of language, sentences, and expressions but we manage to communicate just the same with only a handful of words in our repertoire. Often our first utterances are mumma, dadda, no, mine and more. So, it’s wonderful to see these essential words in a picture book, being used in different situations, with various intonations and meanings, but absolutely understood by parent and child.

Mumma, dadda, no, mine and more are repeated on almost every page, beginning at the start of a typical day in the life of a family and ending at bedtime. The illustrations show us all that is familiar, mum combing her hair, dad brushing his teeth, baby refusing to put clothes, and wanting more toast for breakfast. Cleverly observed moments in a day of the life of a toddler reveal all the times when those five words need to be spoken, sometimes to confirm that the parents are present, other times to refuse to cooperate, and sometimes to insist on ownership!

Very young children will be able to engage with the text and pictures, and perhaps see themselves in some of the situations: not wanting to get in the bath and then not wanting to get out, not wanting to go up the playground slide but choosing the swing instead, tired for bed and wanting one last hug from mum and dad.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 1-3 years and below I have suggested more picture books which use few or no words to tell a story. Wordless picture books are wonderful for increasing vocabulary, starting discussions, developing comprehension, asking questions, and telling the story differently each time you read it, here are some of my favourites:

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Play by Jez Alborough

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Moonlight by Jan Omerod

Sunshine by Jan Omerod

Float by Daniel Miyares

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

Good Night, Gorilla
by Peggy Rathmann

Have You Seen My Duckling?
by Nancy Tafuri

Journey by Aaron Becker

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee

The Lion and the Mouse
by Jerry Pinkney

Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

Eating Out by Helen Oxenbury

Before After
by Anne-Margot Ramstein Illustrated by Matthias Aregui

Awake Beautiful Child
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal Illustrated by Gracia Lam

The Chicken Thief
by Beatrice Rodriguez

No, David! by David Shannon

Fetch by Jorey Hurley

Stop, Go, Yes, No! by Mike Twohy

Footpath Flowers
by JonArno Lawson
Illustrated by Sydney Smith

Little Fox in the Forest
by Stephanie Graegin

Mopoke. by Philip Bunting

One Fox by Kate Read

Again! by Emily Gravett

Big Box Little Box by Caryl Hart Illustrated by Edward Underwood

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

Amy McQuire: Day Break

Illustrated by Matt Chun

Published by Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2021

I remember sitting at the kitchen table the day before Australia Day this year and asking my daughter how she would be spending that annual holiday. Her response was to go to work as usual and take the holiday any other day but that one. It made me pause for a moment and think again about what I had gained at the expense of what others had lost. When we reflect upon Australia Day from the perspective of those whose land this has belonged to for so many tens of thousands of years, then our response to it must also be challenged.

Day Break confronts this uncomfortable truth and tells the story of how one family from three different generations approaches Australia Day.

At school, a young girl learns that January 26 marks the day “that white men discovered our country.” At home, her father tells her that his ancestors were already here for many thousands of years. And Nan says that they will not be celebrating the day by sleeping in or eating fish and chips or going to the beach, instead they will be going back to Country and remembering those who died and lost everything when British settlers came to this land.  

Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander mother and journalist from Rockhampton in Queensland and in this picture book she has written a narrative not only for her two young children, but for all Aboriginal children so that they can see themselves and their place in Australian history.

The story is a gentle but forceful reminder of what happened more than 200 years ago, the survival of the Indigenous people and their continuing fight for recognition as custodians and owners of this land in the past, present and future.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4 years and above, and below are more suggestions for picture books which help us to understand Country and what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia:

My Culture and Me
by Gregg Dreise

I Saw, We Saw
by Yolnu Students of
Nhulunbuy Primary School,
with Ann James and Ann Haddon

Took the Children Away
by Archie Roach
Illustrations by Ruby Hunter

Welcome to Country
by Aunty Joy Murphy
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Sea Country
by Aunty Patsy Cameron
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Family
by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

My People by Eddie Betts

Coming Home to Country
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Wilam: a Birrarung Story
by Aunty Joy Murphy
and Andrew Kelly
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Walking in Gagudju Country: exploring the Monsoon Forest
by Diane Lucas and Ben Tyler Illustrated by Emma Long

Baby Business by Jasmine Seymour

Finding Our Heart: a story about the Uluru Statement
for young Australians
by Thomas Mayor
Illustrated by Blak Douglas

Cooee Mittigar:
a story of Darug Songlines
by Jasmine Seymour
Illustrated by
Leanne Mulgo Watson

Sorry Day by Coral Vass
Illustrated by Dub Leffler

My Story by Shirley Purdie

Main Abija: My Grandad
by Karen Rogers

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

Philip Bunting: Who Am I?

Illustrated by the author

Published by Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia, 2020

I wish someone had given me this book to read when my children were young and wondering about concepts that were difficult to explain. Asking simple questions and giving thoughtful responses, Philip Bunting tackles some of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves at any age, starting with: Who am I?

This picture book begins and ends with rainbow end papers, and in the middle we discover that human beings are more than just their names or the stuff they own or their gender. We are even more than the colour of our skin or the way we think and feel. All of us are just people, one of many “pootling around” on a vast earth orbiting a sun in an infinite universe.

That could be scary for some, but ultimately our uniqueness, individuality and humanity can be the stuff that helps us to connect with one another, across all the things that outwardly make us feel different.

Each question is posed on a different coloured background on the left page with a corresponding answer underneath. On the page opposite there is an illustration to help explain the idea. As always with Philip Bunting, there is gentle humour in the text, with a “humourless jellyfish” appearing on the skeleton page and a note in the small print about guts and stuff suggesting that the bladder is not the organ of consciousness!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it’s a thoughtful introduction for discussions which promote philosophical ideas about identity, self-love, self-perception and inclusivity. Below are more suggested picture book reads that cover similar themes, both humorously and seriously:

Avocado Asks by Momoko Abe

Be More Bernard by Simon Philip Illustrated by Kate Hindley

I am NOT an Elephant
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Ross Collins

I Am Enough by Grace Byers Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

We’re All Wonders by R.J.Palacio

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont Illustrated by David Catrow

It’s Okay to be Different
by Todd Parr

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Thelma the Unicorn
by Aaron Blabey

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox Illustrated by Leslie Staub

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival

10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert Illustrated by Rex Ray

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt Illustrated by Selina Alko
and Sean Qualls

Mary Wears What She Wants
by Keith Negley

Neither by Airlie Anderson

The Boy Who Tried to
Shrink His Name
by Sandhya Parappukkaran Illustrated by Michelle Pereira