Enough Love? by Maggie Hutchings and Evie Barrow

Enough Love?

Maggie Hutchings (author) and Evie Barrow (illustrator)
Affirm Press: 2021
ISBN: 9781922400833
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

After Willa’s parents get divorced her family keeps getting bigger until Willa’s had enough! But can you ever have enough love?

Enough Love? is told in the first person by a young girl who is part of an expanding blended family. She tells her story by enumerating and drawing the additions to her family—human, feathered and furred. The animal additions provide gentle humour and the process of counting family members feels particularly realistic, picking up on that interest in sorting and numbers that so many young children enjoy. Sometimes Willa mentions explicitly how she is feeling (happy, sad, mad), but the overall emphasis is on continuing connection with her parents, her parents’ new partners and her siblings.

The warm, bright tones of the artwork for Enough Love? implicitly create a sense of fun, love and belonging. The illustrations combine the styles of artist and character—on the one hand there are the pencil drawings depicting Willa and her expanding family and on the other, Willa’s own crayon drawings of her family. Sometimes the crayon drawings start to take over the page. This happens especially at moments of high emotion and focuses the reader on the child’s experience, conveying her feelings simply and forcefully. For parents wishing to discuss emotions the use of symbolism, expressive facial expressions and body language also provide cues for conversations about feelings.

Enough Love? treats its child protagonist with respect and shows her getting used to her loving blended family with all the humour, highs and lows one might expect.

See our review lists for other books depicting rainbow families and discussing divorce.

The Great Realisation by Tomos Roberts

The Great Realisation by Tomos Roberts

With art by Nomoco

Harper Collins Children’s books 2020

ISBN: 9781460759806

Age range 4+

Reviewed by Cath Young

The Great Realisation by Tomos Robertson is a poem that in part explains the adult world, its structure and flaws, and the upheaval caused by the 2020 pandemic in a way that children can understand.    It is bound to prompt many thoughtful questions from young listeners. Some of these may make adults uncomfortable, for this is an expose` of greed and disconnection, the darkest verse exploring the concept that leaders “taught us why its best not to upset the lobbies- more convenient to die”.  But ultimately it is a hopeful tale, a little like The Lorax, of humanity saving itself and the world. As such it looks back on the year of 2020 as a year in which change was born from suffering.  It promotes a vision of the future where the earth is cared for and regenerates, and families and communities are reconnected.  It has a timeless rhythmic tone, like a lullaby, with a first-person narrator whose poetic monologue is punctuated by questions from the child he is reading to.

The illustrations are simple, dreamy watercolours. Pictures of cities and people seem to emerge from splashes of colour and are further defined by simple lines.

There is a short film to accompany the book on youtube.  It has a shot which some young viewers may find disturbing, that of a large dead fish washed up on the ocean, with plastic washing around it.  But it provides another way of understanding the text and older children may also like to engage with this film and find it a useful springboard for discussions about the changes they witnessed in 2020.

Some Boys by Nelly Thomas

Some Boys by Nelly Thomas

Illustrated by Sarah Dunk

Publisher: Some Kids’ Books 2018

(in conjunction with Piccolo Nero)

ISBN 9781760640897

Age range 0-7

Reviewed by Cath Young

Some Boys by Nelly Thomas is a brief manifesto which challenges the gender stereotypes for boys and encourages them to express themselves however they want to out in the world. It is fast paced and fun.  Repetition within the text recalls childhood chants, culminating in the very affirming position of “All kids can be whoever they want!”   It tackles the way boys look, what they wear, how they do their hair, what toys they play with and what emotions they express.   It affirms all ways of being by comparing the different way boys may present themselves or behave. As such boys are presented equally positively whether they wear shirts or skirts, play with dolls or diggers, are gentle or rough, or are sad or mad.   The book also briefly embraces the complexity of the human experience by announcing that lots of boys are, “Sad, mad, shy, funny, nice and naughty all at the same time!”

The full-page illustrations are bright, simplified drawings of children at play.  Children from a variety of racial backgrounds are depicted in the illustrations. The illustrations are also positively inclusive of both able-bodied children and children with a disability or illness, for example one scene shows a boy in a wheelchair playing basketball, and another a boy with an oxygen tube baking a cake.  The font forms part of the vehicle for communication about difference. Specific words are highlighted through size and colour and add meaning and energy to the page.

Arno and his Horse by Jane Godwin and Felicita Sala

Arno and his Horse

Jane Godwin (author) and Felicita Sala (illustrator)
Scribble: 2021
ISBN: 9781925849486
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Arno has lost the wooden horse his grandfather made for him. With his friends, Arno searches the countryside, but he still can’t find the horse.

The story begins like a mystery with Arno and his friends searching far and wide for the missing toy. The setting for their search is the Australian countryside, rendered dramatically with dark orange scrub and twisting gums. The artwork and rhythmic rhyming text work together to make this first part of the story feel adventurous and fun.

The mood does shift but only a little as the connection between the toy horse and Arno’s grandfather is revealed. The text deals lightly with the loss Arno has experienced; the grandfather’s illness is mentioned explicitly, but his death is only implied. The story does not dwell on this loss but rather turns to the profound connection between the boy and his grandfather that enables Arno to locate the wooden horse.

Arno and his Horse explores the role objects play in evoking memories and connecting people gently and powerfully. The artwork, which renders the Australian landscape so effectively, is full of contrasts between cool greens and deep oranges, curves and straight lines; it provides wonderful opportunities to explore the spectrum of feelings surrounding loss that includes those positive emotions such as love and attachment.

For other titles about loss see our Review List.

Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M.Sanchez

Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez

Pictures by Jess Golden

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company 2018

ISBN: 9780807565469

Age range 4-6 years.

Reviewed by Cath Young

Pilar’s Worries by Victoria M. Sanchez is the story of a young girl who learns how to deal with her anxiety as she auditions for a Ballet.  It presents the complex character of Pilar with empathy and deals with her anxiety in a realistic way.  Pilar does not suddenly learn how to feel less anxious, even about Ballet, which she loves.  However, with support from her Mother and friend, Sebastian, she auditions despite her worries and allows her dancing to assume the important role it plays in her life.   Other than an occasional reminder to “breathe”, Pilar’s Mother, her Teacher and Sebastian, accept Pilar as she is.  They allow her to make her own decisions about whether or not to audition and do not teach techniques for dealing with anxiety but rather offer some validation and reflections along the way such as, “If you decide to audition you will feel scared. But usually when you are doing what you love the good feelings are so big that the bad feelings become small.” 

The book describes the physical manifestations of anxiety which children and parents may be able to discuss, such as butterflies in the stomach, tension, heart racing and hot, prickly skin.  There is some humour in the book, courtesy of the character of Sabastian, who also feels nervous before the auditions and shares with Pilar that he “want(s) to barf!”  Pilar’s classmates react positively to Sebastian’s announcement that both he and Pilar are going to be snowflakes in the upcoming production.  The acceptance of a male ballet dancer in the class is a subtle, but important device in underscoring the idea of societal acceptance of varying expressions of individuality and gender.  

The full-page illustrations by Jess Golden are rendered in mostly pastel colours, which supports the gentle tone of the text. The figures are simply drawn, with a pencil like outline. Attention is paid to the expressions on Pilar’s face which would allow for discussion between reader and listener.

The book includes a short list of selected resources about childhood anxiety.

Littlelight by Kelly Canby

Littlelight

Kelly Canby
Fremantle Press: 2020
ISBN: 9781925815764
Age: 4+
CBCA Notable Book 2021

Reviewed by Viv Young

Bricks are going missing from the town of Littlelight and letting in all the different sounds, smells and stories of the northern, southern, eastern and western peoples. The mayor is stirring up the people towards anger and hostility, but the sounds, smells, and stories are stirring up something else.

Littlelight is a hopeful tale that encourages readers to think about the benefits multiculturalism brings to all peoples. It treats lightly but effectively the issue of mob mentality and also leadership—the mayor stirs up the people towards anger and the people do follow his lead but only to a point. This aspect of the book could be useful for parents talking about how to respond to racism in the community and the importance of questioning those in positions of power.

The illustrations for Littlelight use dramatic two-tone spreads, contrasting the mayor’s dull grey city with the colour of each vibrant culture beyond the walls. The hues of these places are almost fluorescent — they glow as if the process of enlightenment is taking place on the page as the townspeople come to understand how they benefit from the differences they are encountering. While there is no violence in the story, the facial expressions of the characters convey aggressive anger powerfully and are a useful way to talk about what intolerance looks like and how it might feel for those who experience it.

Littlelight reads like a fairy-tale; this timeless quality gives it an authority and a gravity that suits its serious subject matter, while the resolution and artwork keep it always optimistic.