A quarterly round-up of the best new picture books
Picture book devotee Bronte Coates shares some of her favourite titles to be released in the first three months of 2018.
Go Go and the Silver Shoes by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker
This tender story is sure to tug at your heartstrings. Go Go is used to wearing her brother’s hand-me-downs. Our ingenuous heroine has even developed little ways to put her unique touch on them. When she gets a brand-new pair of the Most Beautiful Shoes Ever, she can’t resist wearing them everywhere, including on an unfortunate adventure to the creek. In a surprising twist, the lost little shoe leads to a happy development, and perhaps even a new friend.
Jane Goodwin has a light touch as she explores the hazards of childhood, such as tricky school politics, feeling cranky and life in a big family. I’m a longtime admirer of Anna Walker’s whimsical style, and here she is as wonderful as ever, creating small visual details that enliven the tale.
For ages 3+.
Islandborn by Junot Díaz & Leo Espinosa
Junot Díaz is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, and I recommend his two story collections (Drown and This Is How You Lose Her) to others all the time. Still, I was nervous about the author’s first foray into picture books. It’s not easy to ‘cross forms’, and in my experience, a lot of writers aren’t successful at making the leap. In the end, I needn’t have worried – I loved Islandborn so much I bought a copy for myself.
When Lola’s teacher asks the class to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, Lola is concerned as she left The Island when she was a baby and can’t remember anything about it. But when the memories of her friends and family combine with her imagination, something extraordinary emerges. Leo Espinosa’s wildly muralistic artwork is a pleasure to pore over, featuring everything Lola dreams up – from blanket bats, to mangoes sweet enough to make you cry. This gorgeous, thoughtful and affecting tale also makes space for fearful memories of ‘the Monster’ (a likely reference to dictator Rafael Trujillo), and I was brought close to tears on a few occasions.
For ages 5+.
Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett
Here is another fantastic tale about the power of imagination, this time from a first-time Australian author-illustrator. Albert is a terribly ordinary boy, from head to toe, and his life is terribly ordinary too. Even his birthdays are uneventful with no games and definitely no piñatas! Until one year, he makes a wish and Grandma Z roars into town on her motorcycle. Cue a crackling, zany and utterly un ordinary birthday romp with the small boy, and his awesomely imposing grandmother.
Grandma Z is a handsome object in its own right. Daniel Gray-Barnett uses hues of burnt orange and sky blue to stunning effect, and I loved the slightly retro detailing of his illustrations. I’m already excited to see what he creates next.
For ages 3+ (also, cool grandmas).
Hats of Faith by Medeia Cohan & Sarah Walsh
This very excellent board book celebrates the shared custom of head covering by persons of different religious beliefs. Medeia Cohan gives the correct language (along with helpful phonetic pronunciations) to describe each new kind of covering, exploring Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Rastafarian faiths. All nine coverings are depicted in colourful detail by artist Sarah Walsh who has a vibrant, modern style that
Hats of Faith uses a simple premise to encourage an understanding of difference and empathy. For older children, this book can also work as a great conversation-starter, and the book’s website has lots of extra information to explore.
For ages 1+.
Kookaburras Love to Laugh by Laura Bunting & Philip Bunting
Kookaburras Love to Laugh is the second picture book from husband-and-wife team, Philip and Laura Bunting. I’m a big fan of their skewed sense of humour, their eminently readable text, and delightfully expressive characters, all of which come into play in this latest work too.
Here is the story of a serious kookaburra – and this conceit alone is enough to get me smiling. Sick of loud companions and their constant laughter, our stern and peace-loving hero flies off to find a new flock. Of course, none of them are quite what’s needed, and the bird’s return home has a heartfelt twist that kids will enjoy. The Buntings get the the balance between text and image just right and this book makes for a great read-aloud, with lots of smart visual details to exclaim over.
For ages 2+.
The Hole Story by Kelly Canby
I absolutely adore this clever tale from Western Australian author-illustrator Kelly Canby. When Charlie discovers a hole on the ground, he’s awfully pleased to have one all of his own. He places it in his pocket and immediately learns, that this might not be the best place for it after all… And so, he sets off to find out what is the best place. Does a donut maker want it? (Nope.) Would it be helpful on a ship? (Nope.) The arachnid and reptile store? (Definitely nope.) All the while, Charlie is followed be the hole’s original owner, a rabbit who is anxiously waiting for its return.
Canby’s illustrations have an energetic, tactile sensibility with lots of appeal, and here she has crafted a visually rich piece of storytelling. While the words follow Charlie, the rabbit’s tale is revealed entirely in images, adding a satisfying look-and-find layer to the book. Canby recently illustrated Jaclyn Moriarty’s first middle fiction book, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, and it’s also worth seeking out.
For ages 3+.
They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki
Jillian Tamaki creates awesome graphic novels for older readers, such as SuperMutant Magic Academy and This One Summer, and I was very interested to see what she would create with her first picture book. As it turns out, They Say Blue is breathtakingly enchanting.
As a young girl examines the world around her, she playfully reflects on the multitude of colours and the changing weather patterns. Her thoughts flow naturally and you can’t help being entranced by her vision of the world, poetic, wide-ranging and highly imaginative. This is a book filled with wonder. I keep returning to one page where the girl transforms into a tree, and waits through the seasons. Tamaki has always displayed a talent for capturing motion in her comics, and it’s put to good use here. You’ll swear you can almost see the characters moving.
For ages 3+.
The Silver Sea by Alison Lester, Jane Godwin & children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
Powerhouse picture book duo Jane Godwin and Alison Lester have teamed up with patients at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne to create the dazzling and magical The Silver Sea. You can watch an interesting video about the making of the book here.
The story itself is simple – a boy and girl go on a dreamy adventure under the sea, meeting all kinds of weird, colourful creatures – but the final result is remarkable. The lilting language is ideal for bedtime reading and the sumptious artwork joyously blends the children’s colourful and unique drawings with Lester’s recognisable figures. This book is a brilliant example of what community collaboration can achieve.
For ages 18 months+.
Alfred’s War by Rachel Bin Salleh & Samantha Fry
Every year sees a swell of new stories about ANZAC Day and Alfred’s War is my pick of 2018’s crop. When Alfred, an Australian Indigenous soldier, returns home from WWI he is not recognised for his service. Unlike his fellow soldiers, he is not honoured for his contributions, nor awarded government support. It’s a poignant story, one rooted in truth, and a damning critique of Australian history.
Rachel Bin Salleh skilfully renders some tough subjects events accessible for young readers, without ever ignoring the reality of Alfred’s situation. The beautiful images from first-time illustrator Samantha Fry also help to soften the sharper edges of this tale, and the book’s final pages also provide powerful context for an important conversation.
For ages 4+.
Wait! by Beck Stanton & Matt Stanton
Learning to be patient is a difficult feat for all ages and the Stantons press all of the buttons. Expect text such as: ‘Do you want to go to the moon? Sneeze in front of the queen? Give a polar bear a cuddle? Well, too bad. You can’t do anything fun until this book is over.’ Agh. My skin is prickling by just imagining how enjoyably frustrating this book is going to be for your children.
For ages 4+.
Plus, even more picture book recommendations…
Staying with board books, there’s also a stylish lift-the-flap from French-Swedish designer élo, Surprising Birds, and a witty take on homophones from Janik Coat, Llamaphones. And In the City I See is the third title in Magabala Books’s terrific Young Art series, which showcases young Indigenous artists. The book’s creator, Tori-Jay Mordey, is just 23 and definitely a talent to keep an eye on.
Another new author-illustrator to watch is Lizzy Stewart. Juniper Jupiter is just her second picture book and it’s a funny, spirited tale of friendship, with special appeal for dog lovers. Or, there’s also a new work from a more established illustrator that I’ve followed for a while – Robin Cowcher provides the evocative art for Mike Dumbleton’s emotional tale of WWI, Digger.
The past three months have seen the arrival of some truly lovely, sensitive stories about being yourself – you can read a great post on exactly this topic here. My favourites include Robinson by Peter Sís, in which a young boy dresses up as Robinson Crusoe, and Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, in which Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela learns why her name is so very long. There’s also a lovable bear having an identity crisis in A Bear is a Bear (except when he’s not) from Karl Newson and illustrator Anuska Allepuz – this one has great rhyming language for a read aloud.
The beloved Little People, Big Dreams series has added two more mini-biographies to their listing, on Ella Fitzgerald and Ada Lovelace respectively. I’ve also enjoyed two wonderfully weird and imaginative picture books about storytelling: Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt and Deb Pilutti, and My Worst Book Ever! by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman.
And while I’m not a big fan of the recent trend that sees celebrities writing picture books, I was impressed by Fearne Cotton’s Yoga Babies, which is fun and sometimes silly with cute illustrations from Sheena Dempsey.