Corrinne Averiss: Love

Illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman

Published by Words & Pictures, The Quarto Group, 2020

There is a story in our family about a time when I did not pick up my daughter from primary school. It wasn’t an end of school day pick up at 3.30pm with all the other mums and dads. On this day, it was close to midnight and a chartered bus was delivering children home from school camp. I had waited up sitting on our couch and made the fatal mistake of closing my eyes just for a minute. I woke suddenly to the phone ringing with a concerned teacher on the other end of the line. By the time I got to the school, my daughter was the only child left, standing alone and tearful in the dark, with a teacher by her side.

These moments stay with us. Separation and anxiety are real fears for everyone.

This beautifully illustrated picture book helps young readers to visualise love like a piece of string, connecting us to our family and friends, even when they are not close. Like a warm scarf or a shining light, the strings of love connecting us to those we cherish can envelop us, make us feel safe and help us endure moments of anxiety.

When young Tess goes to school for the first time, she is worried that the string of love connecting herself to her mother will not stretch far enough without breaking. A kind teacher reassures Tess that her mother will return, and a new friend talks about his string of love connecting him to a parent who has died. Tess discovers that everyone has connections that unite them to others, even when they are far apart.

But what happens when Mummy is late to pick Tess up from school and she is left in the classroom with her teacher after all the other children have gone home? Can strings that have been broken, be reconnected again?

The illustrations in this picture book are endearing and heartfelt. I can highly recommend this story for young readers 4-6 years, especially for those who are starting school for the first time and feel anxious about taking the first step. Below are more picture books which explore the concepts of separation and anxiety, love and connectedness:

Ten Beautiful Things
by Molly Beth Griffin
Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga

Starting School by Jane Goodwin Illustrated by Anne Walker

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

I Am Absolutely Too Small for School by Lauren Child

Lucy and Tom Go to School
by Shirley Hughes

Jessica’s Box by Peter Carnavas

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn Illustrations by Ruth E. Harper
and Nancy M. Leak

Come to School Too,
Blue Kangaroo!
by Emma Chichester Clark

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Maddie’s First Day
by Penny Matthews
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

The Pigeon HAS to go to School!
by Mo Willems

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

Llama Llama Misses Mama
by Anna Dewdney

The Red Thread by Grace Lin

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

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Bear and Rat by Christopher Cheng Illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Anna Walker: Hello Jimmy!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2020

Depression, loneliness, separation and divorce, can be difficult topics to tackle in picture books. Depending on your experiences, the story can validate how you feel or help you to understand how someone else might be behaving, especially if that someone else is a person you love. Sometimes people can withdraw from life and relationships, making it hard to be the one who is on the outside of that formidable barrier.

How to help, how to respond, how to show compassion and empathy can be challenging. The road to recovery is not always straightforward. There can be many twists and turns, big backward steps and tiny steps forward. Sometimes it is hard to articulate just exactly how you feel through it all.

Anna Walker has dedicated this picture book to her brother, someone she loves who has been through the experience of separation from his partner. In the story, we meet young Jack visiting his dad who seems lonely and sad, the house is quiet and the normal routines are not what they used to be. Jack and his dad are finding it hard to make meaningful connections in this new way of being together.

That all changes with the arrival of a very loud, green, feathery and unexpected visitor!  Jimmy the parrot is found on the doorstep after a storm, and his presence shakes up everything. Suddenly Jack’s dad comes alive, the house is noisy with squawking and Jimmy’s antics bring neighbours in to see the clever parrot.

It’s great for Jack’s dad, but Jack doesn’t like surprises and he doesn’t like Jimmy. The parrot’s arrival hasn’t changed the way he and his dad connect. In fact, it seems to have made Jack seem even more invisible. One night, Jack leaves his bedroom window open and Jimmy flies away.

This is a pivotal moment for Jack. On the one hand, he feels a sense of release because Jimmy is no longer a distracting presence in the house. On the other hand, he also feels guilty because that green, noisy and provocative bird seemed to be the catalyst for his dad’s happiness and interest in life again…and now it is gone.

The rescue mission doesn’t bring Jimmy back, but it does make father and son realise just how much they mean to each other, with or without a cheeky parrot in their lives!

There are lovely, intimate details in the artwork of this story: toasters, socks, newspapers, pots and pans, stray power cords, the messiness of home. There is also tenderness in the tale of how change can affect us and those we love.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below there are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of depression, loneliness, loss and separation:

Love Waves by Rosemary Wells

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic Illustrated by Olivier Tallec

The Colour Thief by
Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by Polly Peters

Thank Goodness for Bob by Matthew Morgan

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

The Cloud by Hannah Cumming

Emily’s Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly
Illustrated by Lisa Brown

Two Homes by Claire Masurel Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

Two Nests by Laurence Anholt Illustrated by Jim Coplestone

Ride the Wind by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino