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

Charles Santoso: Happy Hippo

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia, NSW, 2020

You have probably heard that the grass grows greener on the other side of the fence, and you may have also been cautioned to be careful what you wish for. In a world where upended turtles can grant you nine wishes, it would be wise to keep these nuggets of wisdom in mind.

While looking at his reflection in a pond one day, Hippo wishes that there was quite a lot more to what he could see there. I can relate to that! Our reflections don’t always add up to the sum of who we think we are or how we would like to look. When Turtle grants Hippo nine wishes, Hippo eagerly makes the first change and adds a vibrant green shell to his back. Soon, there’s a gorgeous yellow mane, then a handsome long neck, throw in a handy terrific trunk and many more clever and useful additions…and you have a problem! Hippo has gone too far, and he finally realises that all these wonderful attributes on one body are too much trouble. Hippo just wants to be himself again. Fortunately for Hippo, he has one wish left, but what will he do with it?

This is an easy story for younger readers, the illustrations are bright, cute and enhance the text. The story has multiple themes that might help begin a discussion about what it means to be you, appreciating strengths and weaknesses in yourself and others, acceptance and self-love, being open to change and imagining what could be different in your life.

Here are a few more suggestions about picture books where animals take on the characteristics of other animals and become all mixed up. As well, I have included a few stories where animals change as they grow and even become more than what they thought they could ever be:

Crocopotamus by Mary Murphy

Giraffes Can’t Dance
by Giles Andreae
Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

The Mixed-Up Chameleon
by Eric Carle

Now You See Me Now You Don’t
by Patricia Hegarty
Illustrated by Jonny Lambert

A Colour of His Own by Leo Lionni

The Ugly Duckling by Jerry Pinkney

Picken by Mary Murphy

Cock-A-Doodle Moooo!
by Keith DuQuette

Animals with Tiny Cat
by Viviane Schwarz

Peter H. Reynolds: Be You!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scholastic Australia, NSW, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different by Lucy Brader
Illustrated by Nancy Bevington

I Love Me by Sally Morgan Illustrated by Ambelin Kwaymullina

The Mixed-Up Chameleon
by Eric Carle

You Matter by Christian Robinson

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

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

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

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

How to be a Lion by Ed Vere

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
by Dr Seuss

Who am I? by Philip Bunting