Milly and the Mulberry Tree by Vikki Conley and Deb Hudson

Milly and the Mulberry Tree

Vikki Conley & Deb Hudson

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539120

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

After Milly and her father plant a mulberry tree, her life becomes linked to the love and belonging she finds within and under its branches.

Milly and the Mulberry Tree touches on a variety of themes, such as belonging, family, nature and exploration, that can help parents nurture their child’s developing sense of self. The tender scene showing Milly and her father planting the mulberry tree and her desire to be under the tree at key life moments like her wedding invite readers to think about how nature is involved in our sense of belonging and how it strengthens our sense of connection with other people. While family and love are key themes which lend this story a fairy tale quality, Milly’s personal interests are equally important. Her childhood passion for mulberries and silkworms leads believably to an interest in silk and fashion which in turn lead to travel. This dual focus on family and career feels well rounded and appropriate for this generation of young children.

The illustrations for Milly and the Mulberry Tree are full of the pinks and purples characteristic of the mulberry. These deep warm colours complement the heart-warming text. They also provide a striking contrast with the bright green leaves of the tree that is so central to the story. The artwork’s stylised flowers, floral end pages and depiction of patterned cloth are visually enticing and enhance the interest in fashion that is developed in the story.

Few picture books follow the course of a child’s life into adulthood; Milly and the Mulberry Tree provides a rare opportunity to encourage children to imagine their own futures and ponder where their own childhood interests might lead them.  

We Feel Happy! A Fantastic First Book of Feelings! by Katie Abey

We Feel Happy: A Fantastic First Book of Feelings!

Katie Abey

Bloomsbury: 2022

ISBN: 9781526619914

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

We Feel Happy! encourages children to explore the rainbow of emotions we all feel by investigating the antics of a host of colourful, quirky critters.

The reassuring introduction to We Feel Happy! emphasises the wide range of potential emotions and asserts that it’s okay to feel them all. The whole-page spreads that follow begin with a statement alerting readers to the emotion the animals on that page are feeling and asks a question that prompts readers to investigate the illustrations (e.g.: ‘We feel calm. What are the animals doing to feel calm?’). Speech bubbles sometimes explain what the animals are doing or thinking or present dialogue between the animals that helps readers work out what’s going on. Occasionally, an animal states that they don’t know how they are feeling, which may help take the pressure off for kids who find identifying emotions challenging. A monkey in the right-hand corner always asks the reader about their own experience of that particular feeling and occasionally gives tips about how to manage emotions like fear (e.g.: by thinking of something happy instead). This approach gives children plenty to do while talking about a subject that can sometimes be fraught. There are also some helpful hints for parents and teachers to provide even more practical and fun ways to explore feelings (e.g. making a happy recipe or a worry jar).

The colour palette for We Feel Happy! is super bright and bold! The almost fluorescent front cover is sure to attract attention. Then there’s the thick icy-pole stripes on the end pages that invite you into the book and of course the animals. With a pink unicorn, a rainbow dog, a cat with a polka-dot tie and many more fabulous creatures, most kids should find at least one animal to identify with. The busyness of the spreads draws the reader in and encourages the reader to follow the animals around the page and throughout the book.  

We Feel Happy! is a clever resource for families looking for a practical book about emotions that will engage children again and again.

It’s Okay to Feel this Way by Sara Biviano

It’s Okay to Feel this Way

Sara Biviano

Starfish Bay Publishing: 2021

ISBN: 9781760361105

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

‘It’s okay to feel this way’ is the reassuring refrain running through this upbeat, colourful book about the broad range of emotions everyone experiences. Most pages explore one feeling but each feeling is carefully paired, so that emotions generally seen as more positive or less positive are discussed one after the other. This clever approach helps to reinforce and elaborate the message, presented early on in the text, that emotions ‘visit’ us but don’t stay forever.

The artwork for It’s Okay to Feel this Way is full of bright, clean colours. Some pages also utilise plenty of white space to highlight the key recurring text that ‘it’s okay to feel this way’. The illustrations both mimic the naïve style of young children and at some points incorporate the finger-painting style and scratchy texta work of preschool children. This approach matches the upbeat tone of the book and also gives it a sense of familiarity for young readers, perhaps even encouraging them to explore how they might feel through their own drawings. The occasional incorporation of photographic images (e.g. grass, a crochet flower) into the mixed media artworks also provides wonderful opportunities for small children to practise pointing and to explore the images thoroughly.

It’s Okay to Feel this Way is a comforting first emotions book to enjoy with even very small children.

Return of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald

Return of the Underwear Dragon

Scott Rothman (text) and Pete Oswald (illustrations)

Random House: 2021

ISBN: 9780593119921

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Sir Cole is looking for an assistant. Luckily, she turns up just in time to help Cole with a frustrated Underwear Dragon who’s learning to read.

Return of the Underwear Dragon is a fun adventure-filled tale that engages with the theme of learning challenges. Sir Cole is a cool and clever knight whose teaching techniques put his reluctant scaly student at his ease; he accepts the underwear dragon’s attempts at subterfuge, takes it slowly, adapts learning to the dragon’s needs and adds in a special underwear reward. Young Sir Cole’s calm approach imagines kids in a position of authority and control which may help some early readers look at the experience of learning in a new light. The dragon’s sometimes explosive responses may also help readers explore the challenges of learning; the Underwear Dragon feels all the feelings you might expect—frustration, fatigue, anger and a desire to learn.

The artwork for Return of the Underwear Dragon is hilarious. The dragon is full of expression—cute and awkward one minute, ready to blow the next. For those kids already interested in castles and knights, the mingling of modern and medieval in text and illustrations is sure to provoke laughter. The dark muddy palette makes for a grim medieval setting overall and allows the touches of colour to highlight key characters, scenes and humour.

The Return of the Underwear Dragon is an entertaining read for any child but for kids struggling with expectations at school and especially with reading, it’s cathartic—full of fun to help the giggles bubble over while learning to learn.