Children & young adult books highlights for June

We loved Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie and this month he’s teamed up with Jill Esbaum for a new picture book: I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! Esbaum uses lively rhyme to tell a ‘power of positive thinking’ yarn about Nadine, a cow, whose bravery rests on the philosophy that if she says she’s brave out loud, and if other people believe she’s brave, then she is - no matter what fears might lurk underneath. Gus Gordon’s fun illustrations work intimately with the text to create that ideal balance.

The illustrations are king in Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City, which uses highly detailed pen and ink throughout to create lots of familiar scenes with very unexpected features. This is food for the imagination and such a visual treat, with a very simple sort of lullaby running all the way through. Perhaps it’s like an older children’s version of Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester. Another beautifully simple lullaby picture book to check out is May The Stars Drip Down.

The latest addition to the non-fiction picture book Meet… series is Meet Douglas Mawson. Each book in the series uses a different author/illustrator team to provide an introduction to figures who’ve made an extraordinary impact on Australian life. These are great for school or home.

A real treat for slightly older readers is Jim’s Lion by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon. This story of using visualisation to confront your deepest fears is very powerful and has a classic, universal feel to it. Readers from around 8 will get something out of it as will adults; it’s a beautiful object.

My favourite for this month is Figgy in the World by Australian newcomer Tamsin Janu. Rather like Katrina Nannestad’s character Inge Maria in The Girl Who Brought Mischief (shortlisted for this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize), Figgy is a young character that we could all learn from. She’s positive, brave and very funny on her quest to travel from Ghana to America to get the best medicine for her beloved grandmother.

Bravery, loyalty and even humour are also plentiful in Morris Gleitzman’s moving story, Loyal Creatures, about a teenage boy and his horse during WW1. Our reviewer, Athina Clarke, suggests having a box of tissues for this one.

I was fascinated by Anne Frank as a young girl (rather like one of the characters in Stay Well Soon, another highly recommended novel from our shortlist). Out this month is a collection of first-person survival stories called Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis, which highlights the network of incredibly brave people who hid children during the war.

Another important collection this month is Remembered by Heart, which contains 15 stories of life in Aboriginal communities, by writers such as Sally Morgan (see also Dreamers and Going Bush with Grandpa), Bronwyn Bancroft (The Amazing A-Z Things and Why I Love Australia), and Kim Scott (Miles Franklin winner for That Deadman Dance).

image-city-inside-pageIllustration from Imagine a City by Elise Hurst

Our young adult book of the month is the Text prize winner, The Minnow by Diana Sweeney, about a teenager whose family died during a flood, and who is now pregnant by a much older ‘family friend’. Although she has a few people looking out for her in the living community, the way she survives and rebuilds her life has a great deal to do with her inner resources, talking to her unborn child (the minnow) and beloved dead grandfather. This is an unusual book by a new Australian author and it’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

Pip Harry, an Australian author whose debut, I’ll Tell You Mine (a young adult novel set in a boarding school) was out in 2012, has come up with a very solid second book in Head of the River. The author drew on her own experience as a schoolgirl rower to write a story about extreme pressure on sibling teens who are training for a crucial race, while dealing with the usual raft of issues concerning family, relationships and self-doubt.

Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time.