Nicola Davies: Ride the Wind

Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Published by Walker Books, 2020

The title of this picture book and the soaring wingspan of the bird on the front cover suggests that this story is all about an albatross. And it is. But it is also a tender story about a father and son, grieving the loss of wife and mother, and learning to live with her absence in their lives.

We meet Javier, his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, on the choppy seas sailing the Magdalena off the coast of their hometown, catching fish and whatever else might get caught up in their nets. Tomas has changed since the death of his wife, and we learn from the things he says and they way he says it, that this change has not been for the better.

One afternoon, an albatross gets caught up in the fishing nets and is thrown aside on the deck of the boat while Tomas and Felipe sort through the catch. Javier, a boy with a big heart, keeps the bird safely wrapped in a tarpaulin and hides it until the boat makes it back to the shore. Once there, with the help of other people in the village, and without his father’s knowledge, Javier creates a makeshift home for the albatross.

In the old storeroom behind the house, the albatross settles and grows strong again in Javier’s old play pen. During this time, we begin to understand why Javier feels compelled to help the injured bird. Like the albatross leaving its partner in search of food, Javier’s mother left home to travel to the city for work, but she never came back. Javier needs to help this albatross find its way back. He knows it won’t bring his mother home again, but he understands the nature of waiting and wanting.

When Tomas finds out that Javier has rescued and hidden the albatross, his father is so angry that he does something unforgivable. Javier responds in the only way that makes sense to him. Suddenly, father and son must face their own worst fears and make brave choices about what it means to love and be loved.

This is a dramatic story brought to vivid life by the intimate connection between text and illustration. Rubbino’s drawings are brilliant and evoke all the emotions and pathos of the story. I can highly recommend it for children 4-8 years and anyone who loves a good story about albatrosses.

For me, however, this story is a gateway to understanding that we all grieve in different ways, and that communicating how we feel can be hard, even with the people that we love the most. 

Below are more suggestions for picture books about fathers and sons, a relationship that is precious, but not always easy. Fortunately, most of the books that are my favourites positively celebrate the wonderful bond that can be shared between fathers and sons:

Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig

On My Daddy’s Shoulders
by Peter Lawson

My Dad Used to Be so Cool
by Keith Negley

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by David McKean

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

When You Were Small
by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Boy From Mars
by Simon James

The Deer Watch
by Pat Lowery Collins
Illustrated by David Slonim

Hello, Jimmy! by Anna Walker

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

No Kind of Superman
by Danny Parker
Illustrated by Matt Ottley

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Phi

Spot Loves His Daddy by Eric Hill

Why I Love Footy
by Michael Wagner
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Rachel Bright: Slug in Love

Illustrated by Nadia Shireen

Published by Simon & Schuster, Great Britain, 2021

This is a bright and cheerful story about finding love, taking chances, and following your heart. Who would have thought that a story about all of that could be imagined featuring a slug named Doug in need of a hug?

I’m in the garden almost every day, discovering slugs and snails under pots and in pots and slithering towards pots…they are squelchy, icky, slimy and yucky! So, I can understand Doug’s problem. Who would want to hug something like that?

But, one day, close to the white daisies and just over the log, there is a snail called Gail, who is just as grimy, icky, squelchy, and yucky as Doug. And she is gorgeous, with her red lips, red eyeglasses and leopard print shell. Gail looks like a perfect match for Doug…but is she?

There is a lesson here for everyone. Finding love can be hard, and sometimes the partner that you think will suit you best, is not the one that makes your heart sing. Sometimes, love surprises you most when you least expect it. The path of life and love is not always straightforward, but when it works out, we can be like Doug:

 he found his bug and now he’s super duper snug!

This is a picture book that can be easily read and understood by a child learning to read and, at the same time, appeal to adults who might be doing the reading for the fourth or fifth time! Like Jon Klassen and Mo Willems, Rachel Bright has created a story that is satisfying, humorous and instructive on many levels.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-8 years and adults of any age. Below are more of my favourite picture books about icky, squishy, squelchy snails:

Snail Trail by Ruth Brown

Slow Snail by Mary Murphy

The Biggest House in the World
by Leo Lionni

Snail Trail by Jo Saxton

The Snail House by Allan Ahlberg Illustrated by Gillian Tyler

Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen Illustrated by Tudor Humphries

Snail, Where Are You?
by Tomi Ungerer

The Snail and the Whale
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes

Norman, the Slug with the Silly Shell by Sue Hendra

The Legend of the Golden Snail
by Graeme Base

Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor

Where Do You Live Snail?
by Petr Horacek

Pip and Posy: The Friendly Snail
by Axel Scheffler

Little Spiral by Pat Simmons Illustrated by Patrick Shirvington

Snail and Turtle are Friends
by Stephen Michael King

Snail by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells

Rachel Rooney: The Worrying Worries

Illustrated by Zehra Hicks

Published by Affirm Press, South Melbourne, 2020

I don’t think I have met anyone who doesn’t worry about something. After all, there is plenty to worry about as we travel through life. Once the worry begins, it can be hard to keep problems in perspective and ultimately, the worry can be overwhelming.

Rachel Rooney has presented this complex issue that afflicts so many of us inside a gentle rhyming story about a small boy who traps a Worry in his net one day and decides to keep it close as a pet. Initially this seems like a great idea and they go everywhere together. As time goes by however the Worry pet becomes larger, more annoying, more itchy, more invasive and begins to feast upon the boy’s tears, sad thoughts and scary dreams. One day, the small boy realises that he can no longer live with this big Worry.

This is a great realisation.

What does he do? He goes to see the Worry Expert.

Her considered advice is to learn to live with the worry to minimize its negative affect in his life. Meditation, positive thoughts, yoga, dancing, exercising, having fun are all ways in which he (and we) can begin to achieve this.

I love the way that the Worry has been illustrated, it is like a small purple thumbprint with stick arms and legs. It is not scary or threatening, but benignly sits close to the small boy in everything he does. As it gets larger, you can see how much space it takes up and the purple thumbprint becomes more like a messy blob. When the Worry diminishes, it tries to thwart the different therapeutic techniques the small boy tries with his Worry Expert, but under her constancy and watchfulness, the Worry just becomes smaller and smaller.

This picture book, with its sensitive illustrations, validates the idea that sometimes we need professional help to overcome our problems. Together, the words and pictures provide a useful tool to begin asking the question, how are you today?

I can highly recommend this book for children 4-6 years and below are more recommendations for picture books that focus on worry and anxiety:

Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew Illustrated by Sean Julian

What’s Worrying You?
by Molly Potter
Illustrated by Sarah Jennings

The Don’t Worry Book by Todd Parr

The Huge Bag of Worries
by Virginia Ironside
Illustrated by Frank Rodgers

Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

Worries Go Away by Kes Gray Illustrated by Lee Wildish

The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright Illustrated by Chris Chatterten

Charlie Star by Terry Milne

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous
by Keith Calabrese
Illustrated by Juana Medina

Whimsy’s Heavy Things
by Julie Kraulis

Eric Makes a Splash
by Emily MacKenzie

Jill Murphy: Just One of Those Days

Illustrated by the author

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2020

I love everything about the Bear family. Jill Murphy captures the familiar routines, trials and joys of parenthood with just the right language and rich illustrations.

I was hooked by the first page in Just One of Those Days because I remember how squeezy it was in bed with not only one child, but three…and how long the nights could be when you didn’t get enough sleep and still had to face the day ahead.

To make things worse, as you turn the page in the story, it is raining outside and so many layers of clothing have to be put on before heading out. My favourite colour illustration is the look between Mr Bear and Mrs Bear as they venture out to work and Nursery…it speaks of love and teamwork and support for each other. So that when it is just one of those days, everyone knows they are bound together in this journey, and able to get through all the things that can go awry.

I did laugh when Baby Bear could not drink out of his favourite red cup at Nursery. Unfortunately, Someone Else got it and as we all know, water does not taste as good in the green cup. My daughter had a favourite cup and a favourite seat at the table…it did not bode well for anyone if that cup ended up in Someone Else’s hands or that seat held up Someone Else’s bottom!

And I did smile when they all arrived home at the end of the workday and Mrs Bear put on her comfy pyjamas…I do that too! Pyjamas and pizza, and a surprise for Baby Bear from Mr Bear, which makes the story complete.

This picture book is like a warm hug and helps me to believe in the wonderful restorative power of the family where everyone plays their part, despite not having enough sleep and everything that can and does go wrong.

Jill Murphy has also written about the Large family…Five Minutes Peace is another favourite for me. It’s all a mother craves some days!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-6 years and below there are more titles in both series to enjoy:

Mother Knows Best

Whatever Next!

Peace at Last

Five Minute’s Peace

All In One Piece

A Piece of Cake

A Quiet Night In

Mr Large In Charge

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

Elizabeth Honey: That’s not a daffodil!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen and Unwin, NSW, 2011

Daffodils are the great heralders of spring. Like soft, yellow, downy chickens they speak of new life and hope. How something so colourful and beautiful can grow from an unassuming flaky brown bulb is one of the wonderful mysteries of life.

When Mr Yilmaz from next door gives young Tom his very first daffodil bulb, Tom thinks it is an onion. From a certain point of view, he could be quite right.

With the daffodil in the pot, every stage of its growth can be witnessed. For a long time, nothing happens. Tom is uncertain that anything will happen. With water and a bit of sunshine, a small green shoot eventually appears. To Tom, it resembles a green beak. As it grows, it starts to look more like a hand with five fingers waving in the breeze. After a few more weeks, it appears like a yellow streetlight. After months of waiting, a glorious golden yellow trumpet finally emerges.

There are so many lessons to take away from this simple story.

There is the constant friendship of Mr Yilmaz next door. He gives the gift of patience and steadfastness to young Tom when he hands over the daffodil. Patience for waiting; it takes time to grow something. Steadfastness in friendship; being there in times of doubt and growth.

There is the idea that what you and I see when we look at same thing together will not always be the same. Mr Yilmaz saw a bulb, young Tom saw an onion. Sometimes it is a gift to share a tried and true experience with someone who has never had it. Your perspective can be altered and enriched by someone else’s point of view.

There is the idea of nurturing. Plants grow with earth, water, light and time. People grow with love, encouragement and friendship. But we also need the earth, water, light and time. These are wonderful truths for young readers to contemplate.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-8 years.

For further reading I have chosen titles that explore the concept of perception, seeing a part of something and seeing the whole of something can make a world of difference!

Seven Blind Mice
by Ed Young
I See , I See by
Robert Henderson
I am NOT an Elephant
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins
Brenda is a Sheep
by Morag Hood
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel
The Black Rabbit by
Philippa Leathers
I am a Tiger by
Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins

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

Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson: Respect

Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2020

A few days ago I was encouraged by my daughter to listen to an On Being podcast hosted by Krista Tippett. In early July, Krista had interviewed Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, and Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist, not many weeks after George Floyd had been killed. Whilst I had difficulty grasping some of the concepts discussed, I was left with one kernel of truth: the colour of my skin has given me many more advantages and benefits in my own life than I have hitherto been unaware of and, sadly, have failed to recognise and acknowledge.

At the end of her huband’s presidency, Michelle Obama released her book Becoming, and she also does not shy away from the fact that being a person of colour has had an impact upon everything she has achieved and not achieved in her remarkable and inspirational life.

In the light of this, I came across this very special picture book written by Fay Muir and Sue Lawson and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. Fay is a Boonwurrung Elder and Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of coastal Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania. Sue grew up on a farm in Western Victoria.

Respect is the theme and it encompasses everything: respect for the stories we share, songs we sing, elders from whom we gain insight, ancestors who inform our history, the earth we inhabit, our family, each other and ourselves. The illustrations complement the text and evoke the colours of Australia, as well as showcasing the unique wonder of Aboriginal art and culture. The idea I take away with me from this picture book is that no matter who you are, where you have come from, whatever colour your skin is, whether you are animal or human, respect is the cornerstone of society and harmonious life.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years old and encourage you to look for more titles by Aboriginal authors and illustrators. I have also included Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu in the list below and recommend it for children 10 years old and above.

Backyard Birds by
Helen Milroy
Little Bird’s Day by
Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
Why I Love Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Colours of Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Clever Crow by
Nina Lawrence
Illustrated by
Bronwyn Bancroft
By the children of Gununa
with Alison Lester and
Elizabeth Honey
Found by
Bruce Pascoe
Illustrated by
Charmaine Ledden-Lewis
Young Dark Emu:
A Truer History
by Bruce Pascoe
Family by Aunty Fay Muir
and Sue Lawson
Illustrated by
Jasmine Seymour

Bonny Becker: A Birthday for Bear

Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

Published by Walker Books, London, 2012

If there were two characters that I would most like to host for tea it would be Bear and Mouse from this series by Bonny Becker.

Bear is fastidious, overbearing, grumpy and crotchety about almost everything.

Mouse is eternally optimistic, bright-eyed, cheeky and persistent about being Bear’s best friend.

Together they are an odd couple, but very endearing.

In A Birthday for Bear, we learn that it is Bear’s birthday and that he is not at all interested in celebrating it. Mouse has other plans however and we see him try every trick in the book to encourage Bear to change his mind. Mouse writes his own invitation to the party, but that doesn’t work. He disguises himself as a delivery man with three red party balloons and gets shooed off the porch. He dresses up as postman and delivers a birthday card, but Bear will not be moved. Mouse even drops down the chimney as Santa with a present but Bear only notices all the ash making a mess over the hearth. It seems like the final straw. But is it?

Kady MacDonald Denton does a masterful job illustrating Bear and Mouse. On any given page, Bear is illustrated in various poses with a range of emotions. He can be outraged, frustrated, huffy, curious, surprised, contrite, sneaky and delighted. Mouse is a tiny, energetic, indefatigable and ever-present creature that constantly picks and pulls at Bear’s privacy and never seems to give up despite the many setbacks he endures. Fortunately, there is always a happy ending and whilst Bear may sometimes forget that he has a wonderful friend, Mouse never tires of making sure Bear knows it.

There are many books in this series by Bonny Becker and whilst they do not need to be read in order, I highly recommend that you read all of them! They would be most suitable for children aged 4-8 years:

A Visitor for Bear
A Library Book for Bear
A Bedtime for Bear
The Sniffles for Bear
A Christmas for Bear

Matt James: The Funeral

Illustrated by the author

Published by Affirm Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, 2019

We have all been to funerals. Perhaps you remember going to a funeral when you were young. I have been too many times, it hurts to say goodbye to someone you once loved and who once lived their experienced-filled life. Funerals can be sad occasions, but every death makes you think more about life. And depending on your age, you can experience that loss in different ways, ask different questions, and accept or not accept what has happened.

It is unusual for a picture book to delve into the experience of going to a funeral service, but I think this one beautifully and tenderly captures the sorrow and joy of the occasion.

Norma, a young girl, is happy to have the day off from school and she knows she will meet up with her younger favourite cousin Ray at the church. Did you know that the word FUNERAL has FUN in it? The juxtaposition of the sorrow and sadness of the adults in the illustrations is very cleverly balanced by the joy of being young. My favourite spread is when Norma, sitting in the church pew during the long service, sticks her head in her mother’s handbag, and inhales the scents of her mother. When the organ plays its “swirling song”, rainbows come out of the pipes. Triangle sandwiches are eagerly eaten after the service and finally the children can be let out of church and into the gardens and graveyard beyond. Norma cartwheels over the green, green grass and with Ray they look for frogs and fish in the small pond. On the journey home, Norma reflects that Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral. I felt the same way when my father and father-in-law passed away. If only they could have been present with us and seen all those people gathered in the church, how amazed they would have been and how much they would have enjoyed the occasion.

Matt James has deftly portrayed a singular event from two perspectives. We see the adults doing their grown-up duties and we see the young ones doing their best to be part of something that they sort of do and don’t understand. What the young ones teach us however is this: we have life, we are alive, live it to the fullest today.

I can highly recommend this book for children 5-10 years. The illustrations are complex, but not overwhelming, the colours are vibrant but not sombre, and they enhance the text with pathos and insight. Painted with acrylic, Matt James has also used twine, cardboard, masking tape and scroll-sawn masonite to create his amazing artwork.

Here are more suggestions for further reading on the topic of grief and loss:

Old Pig by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Ron Brooks
Goodbye Mousie by
Robie H. Harris
Illustrated by
Jan Ormerod
Goodbye Mog
by Judith Kerr
Her Mother’s Face
by Roddy Doyle
Illustrated by
Freya Blackwood
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book
by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by
Quentin Blake

Lifetimes by
Bryan Mellonie
Illustrated by
Robert Ingpen
Sammy in the Sky
by Barbara Walsh
Illustrated by
Jamie Wyeth