Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination by Coral Vass and Nicky Johnson

Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination

Coral Vass (author) and Nicky Johnston (illustrator)

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539144

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination tells the surprising story of the architect who designed, arguably, the most famous building in Australia—the Sydney Opera House. It focuses especially on Jorn’s creative engagement with the natural world and the disparate range of responses to his creativity. While Jorn always has supporters, especially in his parents, even from an early age he suffers criticism, yet persists.

Picture books emphasising resilience are increasingly popular and Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination is a fantastic addition to this corpus because of its subtlety and its basis in fact. Jorn’s resilience in the face of quite public disapproval is an uplifting story for anyone—young or old—with its emphasis on believing in oneself and one’s talents.  While the story is a wonderful vehicle for discussing resilience, it is also a fascinating biography suitable for young children and useful for parents or teachers wishing to explore a key Australian architectural monument. The end pages include a timeline of Jorn Utzon’s career that provides additional facts. The dedication to Jorn and his family also draws attention to the ‘real’ people behind the story, potentially creating an interesting topic of conversation for kids starting to think about history, fiction and non-fiction. 

The artwork for Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination makes fascinating use of brown and grey shades in spreads that deal both with Jorn’s design work and the media response to it. This strategic use of sepia tones conveys a sense of memory and nostalgia appropriate to the subject matter and useful for discussing time and history with young children. The colours are otherwise light and bright; they draw out the fun and joy that Jorn’s young imagination brings to himself, his parents and the world. The text emphasises the way in which Jorn’s environment and everyday life spark his imagination but leaves open the influences on his finished architectural work. The illustrations run with this open-ended narrative, creating opportunities for children to ponder the natural influences on the artist and to consider what forms and shapes may be worth noticing in their own environment.

Jorn’s Magnificent Imagination is a moving account of a tumultuous creative career that may well inspire young readers to believe in and forge their own creative connection with the world around them.

The Little Book of Hopes by Elyse Shellie and Evie Barrow

The Little Book of Hopes

Elyse Shellie (author) and Evie Barrow (Illustrator)

New Frontier Publishing: 2022

ISBN: 9781922326478

Age: 0+

Reviewed by Viv Young

The Little Book of Hopes expresses the hopes of a parent for a child with a particular focus on the growth of the child’s emotional and ethical wellbeing. There are those hopes for how a child will interact with others (e.g.: ‘I hope that you’ll invite kids of ALL spots and stripes to play’) and also hopes that nurture an adventurous sense of self (e.g.: ‘I hope that you’ll find wonder in big things and in small …’). This combination balances guidance with encouragement and fun. All the parent’s hopes for the future culminate in one special desire to see the child happy to be themselves.

The artwork for The Little Book of Hopes is brimming with bright colours. The pencil work gives these colours a soft texture that radiates warmth and tenderness. Many spreads are accented with yellow and this imbues the whole story with that timeless quality of a long summer. While the book begins and ends with an image of a father and baby, the spreads feature the kids on the back and front cover and therefore portray diversity in culture, skin/hair colour and ability. The scenes of play are full of detail and spirit; some are even wondrous, such as the magnificent treehouse with spiral steps.  

The Little Book of Hopes is a thoughtful and encouraging story for children of all ages. It is also a unique ‘baby book’, perfect for new parents who are imagining their child’s bright future. Indeed the gentle rhyme makes it lovely to read aloud as a bedtime book. The teaching notes may help both parents and teachers explore some of the text and its real-world significance (e.g.: inclusivity).

Violin and Cello by Catherine Greer, Joanna Bartel and Alexander Lau

Violin and Cello

Catherine Greer (author) and Joanna Bartel (illustrator) and Alexander Lau (music)

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539274

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Teacher notes and resources for this book are available on the EK Books website

In a tall apartment tower two young musicians are learning to play their instruments—a violin and a cello. They form a ‘mystery friendship’ by sending paper planes to each other with music written on them, but will they become ‘real’ friends?

Reading this unique picture book with young kids starting to learn an instrument is a lovely way to inspire and encourage. Without any didactic moments, it portrays the dedication and practice that is necessary to learn an instrument, moreover, the scores the young musicians send to each other are reproduced in the book, providing an exciting and practical component to the story for children learning either the violin or cello. For kids learning a different instrument, the story provides an enticing prompt to compose music for themselves and with friends. Violin and Cello is also a delightful story for any child with its themes of friendship. Indeed, it can help parents encourage kids to find friends with common interests and to be patient as friendships develop gradually over time.

The artwork for Violin and Cello is full of the kind of detail kids love to investigate; over the apartment building the reader sees the intriguing roofs of different kinds of buildings, then there is all the clutter in rooms and gardens as well. The brown and grey scenes of city and apartment life seem cheery dotted with all the bright, warm colours used to portray people, clothes, belongings and plants. The busyness and colour of the artworks convey all the happiness and joy that a home filled with music brings to a family.

Violin and Cello is a unique story about friendship and music that can encourage young musicians or inspires those yet to start playing.  

Too Many Bubbles by Christine Peck and Mags Deroma (authors) and Mags Deroma (illustrator)

Too Many Bubbles: A Story of Mindfulness

Christine Peck and Mags Deroma (authors) and Mags Deroma (illustrator)

Sourcebooks: 2021

ISBN: 9781728235905

Ages: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Izzy’s thought bubbles keep ‘pop, pop, popping up’ until there is no room left for Izzy, but she knows some useful ways to make room for herself and her thoughts.

Too Many Bubbles follows Izzy, a small grey mouse, on her quest for a quieter mind. Izzy’s journey begins with a single ‘sort of grumpy’ thought that multiplies and becomes oppressive. The idea of busy and cumulative thoughts is otherwise kept quite general, making this story a good one for lots of different children and their various thoughts and emotions. There is also an overall practical focus in this mindfulness book. For instance, the reader is asked to help Izzy by gently blowing on her thoughts, thus beginning one of the approaches to mindfulness—breathing—that is discussed at the back of the book. Several other practical tips to help kids practise mindfulness are also discussed here.

The artwork for Too Many Bubbles uses bright, block colours and white space to great effect. The white space, for example, helps to focus the reader’s attention both on the first grumpy thought bubble and then the oppressive cumulation of thoughts as they fill the white page and obscure Izzy herself. The choice of colours is thought-provoking—they are bright colours, primarily in warm shades of red, orange and yellow but there are also some cool tones. For this reader they were a useful reminder that busy thoughts may range around the full gamut of emotions. Overall, the bright colours feel fun and cheerful; they may attract some boisterous young children who are otherwise repelled by books on calm topics.

Too Many Bubbles is a gentle, practical introduction to mindfulness with bright, lively illustrations likely to interest young children.

Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys

Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day

Davina Bell (author) and Allison Colpoys (illustrator)

Scribble: 2021

ISBN: 9781925849462

Reviewed by Viv Young

With lyrical, rhyming text the story of two girls and their day of questionable choices unfolds but don’t worry, they’ll be fine; tomorrow is a brand-new day.

The illustrations for this fabulous book about mistakes and moving on from them follows two female friends as they navigate a tricky day. The text works with the images but simultaneously addresses the audience, thereby encouraging all kids to identify with the challenges and emotions explored in the story. The central characters variously act impulsively, push, pull faces, chuck tantrums and fail to share as the difficulties they encounter and their feelings about them snowball throughout the course of the day. Most kids should, therefore, be able to recognise aspects of their own challenging days in the pages somewhere, if not the overall tendency for bad days to get worse. The fact that the friends fall out and make up again is also useful for parents looking for books about friendship, both its up and downs.

While bad days aren’t usually all that fun to talk about, Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys bring out the humour in ‘bad’ behaviour, moreover they empathise with the emotions at the heart of it all (‘You were tired! Worried. Scared’). With guidance, this empathy can help kids make important connections between feelings and poor decision making. This approach can also help kids feel understood too. The resolution of the story is uplifting as the two characters find ways to make up with those who they have hurt. There is also the overall feeling of acceptance and focus on the future that helpfully puts mistakes in their place as things everyone experiences and that we can all move on from.

The artwork for Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is bursting with colour and this matches both the positive treatment of mistake-making and the chaos that sometimes leads to mistakes. The exaggerated expressions of the two central characters are fantastic for exploring a range of emotions with young kids. Moreover, various spreads interpret the open-ended text and lead to lots of humour and opportunities for kids to follow the pictures and work out what happened to encourage certain feelings. The end pages are worth pondering with young ones. They are a mass of great swirling rainbows, intertwined and confusing. For this reader they encapsulated the messiness of mistakes and self-acceptance that this book celebrates so sweetly.

One of several recent books that speaks to a growth mindset, Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day is an intelligent and fun story that normalises making mistakes and moving on from them.

Grub by Sandra Severgnini

Grub

Sandra Severgnini
EK Books: 2022
ISBN: 9781922539267
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Grub knows he will soon transform but what will he become? A ladybird, a butterfly, a cicada? He asks his forest friends, but no-one seems to have the answer.

Grub is a fascinating introduction to animals that have a lifecycle involving metamorphosis. The story is gentle and thought-provoking, following Grub on his journey for answers as he approaches the next stage of his lifecycle. It may well resonate with kids thinking about what they will be when they grow up! There are also some super interesting facts about the beetle Grub transforms into at the back of the book that provide extra interest for budding entomologists. 

The artwork for Grub is stunning. A bird’s eye view of the forest begins the story and beckons readers into a new and tiny world, often forgotten. In subsequent spreads the luscious forest provides a rich backdrop for Grub and his friends with variegated greens and browns. Other spreads are often full of white space so kids can pour over the detail of the insects themselves. The expressions on some of the insects are a delight— full of individuality—especially Grub after his transformation!

Grub is an uplifting story through which kids can explore a world which, though often ignored or forgotten, is full of interest and potential.

One Book Was All It Took by Wenda Shurety and Amy Calautti

One Book Was All It Took

Wenda Shurety (author) and Amy Calautti (Illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
ISBN: 9781922539137
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

When Violet searches for a new book to read she starts a chain reaction that delivers a whole library!

This humorous light-hearted ode to the local library is full of fun for kids. Through the comical illustrations and hints in the text, kids can follow the serendipitous chain of events that lead to the building of the library. This aspect of the story makes One Book Was All It Took a fun first book about actions and consequences with no didactic overtone. Violet’s interest in books and desire for a library also supports parents and teachers wanting to instil a love of literature in their young kids. 

The artwork for One Book Was All It Took uses lots of contrasting bright, clean colours. The cartoon style figures bend and stretch their way across the pages as they take part in the chain of events that lead to the building of the library and in this way create a lot of humour. The chain of events is only partly narrated, and readers need to look closely at the illustrations to put the different parts of the story together. This extra reader-work means that the theme of action-consequence is strong and fulfilling. Lastly, rainbows are used at key moments in the text. These are visually appealing and invite readers to ponder their symbolic meaning. For this reader the rainbow invoked the magic of reading and the excitement of discovering a new and favourite book.

On Book Was All It Took takes a fresh and funny approach to the familiar library and literacy theme. It also encourages young minds to think about the consequences of their actions in a light-hearted way.

Daddy’s Rainbow by Lucy Rowland and Becky Cameron

Daddy’s Rainbow

Lucy Rowland (author) and Becky Cameron (illustrator)
Bloomsbury: 2022
ISBN: 9781526615770
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Erin’s Dad always encourages her to enjoy the magic of colours around her but when he becomes sick and passes away, Erin’s world becomes grey until she finds a way to remember her Dad.

Daddy’s Rainbow is a sensitive story about grief and loss for young children that convincingly portrays the loss of a parent from the child’s experience. The treatment of the father’s illness and death is subtle and focused on the experience of Erin—Daddy is ‘poorly’, there is the hospital, handholding, hugs and then quiet. This account of illness and death is moving and feels authentic, moreover its subtlety allows readers to explore what is happening to a degree they feel comfortable with. Daddy’s illness and death is also not the key focus but rather Erin’s joyful relationship with her father and the excitement of his passion for colours. After Daddy’s passing, the memory of this passion brings the family together. While Erin initiates the memory of colour, her mum then takes the lead. This conclusion provides a reassuring message for children; adults in their life can help them with their grief.  

Colour is a key part of the story in Daddy’s Rainbow and Becky Cameron’s illustrations make the most of it. Key scenes use contrasting greys and bright colour, light and dark shades that draw attention to the magic of colour in the story. The use of water colours enhances the story at every turn—rainy and snowy weather feature in the text and the watercolours portray these scenes in a striking manner. Lastly, the chosen medium (watercolour) seems to encourage readers to fully appreciate the vivid yet elusive nature of memory itself.

Daddy’s Rainbow is a poignant story that can help young children and their families explore a challenging topic. 

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.

Freddy the Not-Teddy by Kristen Schroeder and Hilary Jean Tapper

Freddy the Not-Teddy

Kristen Schroeder (author) and Hilary Jean Tapper (illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
ISBN: 9781922539090
Age: 4+

Review by Viv Young

Jonah’s soft toy is a Freddy, not a teddy, so, when Jonah’s teacher announces a teddy bear’s picnic at school Jonah must decide whether or not to take his beloved friend.

Freddy the Not-Teddy is a gentle and fun story that provides many opportunities to talk with young children about difference, belonging and being true to yourself. Jonah ultimately chooses to include Freddy in his school picnic, but he does struggle with Freddy’s difference. As Jonah seeks to make Freddy like a teddy bear, enlists the support of a ‘real’ bear and confronts the confusion of his school friends, readers can explore what the ‘risks’ are in doing something different and also appreciate Jonah’s bravery as he decides what is right for him. The subtle teasing of the children also enables Jonah’s character to model good techniques for dealing with hurtful remarks; a quick-thinking kid, Jonah uses humour to disarm Freddy’s critics. The uncertainty of Freddy’s identity (is he a funky duck, a peculiar platypus or something else?) provides lots of laughs and, through the illustrations, insight into the adventures Freddy and Jonah have had together. The reader feels genuinely worried about whether Jonah will be able to stand by his peculiar and loveable soft toy.

The artwork for Freddy the Not-teddy uses pastel colours with lots of warm yellows and oranges that convey the warmth of Jonah’s relationship with Freddy beautifully. These colours and the watercolour medium give the story a timeless quality that suits the themes of the book, given their perennial relevance. Don’t forget to draw your young reader’s attention to the beautiful endpapers that are filled with lots of different ‘not teddies’ (penguins, platypuses, chickens and ducks). These creatures all have a nursery feel and may be a reminder to many readers, young and old, of those toys that mean so much and are so often not teddies.

Get Ready, Mama! by Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li

Get Ready, Mama!

Sharon Giltrow and Arielle Li

EK Books: 2022

ISBN: 9781922539083

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young girl provides instructions for getting a reluctant mum out of bed and ready for work in the morning.

This humorous story will have both kids and parents laughing out loud as it parodies the many strategies parents use to hurry their kids along in the morning. The role reversal is perfect for discussing routines with school age children as it gives them insight into the stages of getting ready that parents need to think about while keeping the mood light and entertaining. It’s also a great reminder for parents not to sweat the small stuff. The child in this story is parenting in the way we’d all like to on our best days—calmly waiting for her mum to finish on the toilet, turning the tv off when it distracts, allowing mum to wear her dancing shoes with just a little sigh. Parents can learn a lot from the wise child-parent in this story.

With its rich muted browns, oranges and purples, the artwork for Get Ready, Mama! feels like a great big morning hug when the sun isn’t quite up. The warm colours draw attention to the love and caring that lies behind the getting ready routine, even in its tricky moments. The illustrations use body language and facial expressions to capture the different pre-occupations of Mama and child. For example, Mama is smelling a flower while the child is busy shooing the puppy out the back door.  These details work seamlessly with the text to create wonderful humour but are also useful to discuss with kids who may not always be aware of what parents are doing in the morning.

Get Ready, Mama! is an entertaining way to think about routines from a different perspective and may help both parents and kids see the morning hustle and bustle in a new light.

The Seed of Doubt by Irena Brignull and Richard Jones

The Seed of Doubt

Irena Brignull and Richard Jones

Walker Books: 2021

ISBN: 9781406389425

Age: 4+

Review by Viv Young

A young boy dreams big dreams about what he will do when he grows up. When he plants a seed that grows into an unusually tall tree, climbing the tree becomes one of those dreams until the boy loses confidence.

The Seed of Doubt is suitable for a wide range of ages to mull over and there is plenty to think about with this fascinating picture book. The story deals most clearly with feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. The boy’s changing interaction with the seed he plants —from initial excitement to disappointment and lack of confidence—may mirror the experience of many children who find tree climbing alluring yet also challenging. The only overt advice for managing self-doubt is to believe in oneself and not give up. This advice is articulated by the father who encourages the child but is also taken on board by the child who reiterates his father’s words at a key juncture. There is perhaps though some implicit advice in the child’s physical contact with the tree, namely the potential role nature can play in restoring and healing.

Indeed, while the story is focused on emotions and overcoming fears, it raises interesting questions about nature and its capacity to both overwhelm and inspire. The boy’s physical contact with the tree ultimately leads to healing and inspiration but for older children who frequently encounter information about environmental crises the tree’s unsettling size and impact on the boy may be especially interesting to explore.

The artwork for The Seed of Doubt is stunning. Sprawling landscapes convey a sense of the wonder of nature, as do the many scenes in which the tree doesn’t quite fit on the page. The background colours are often muted greens, blues, greys and browns, which feel authentic for the natural settings, while touches of very bright colour draw attention to the brilliance of the tree and the exciting views the boy sees from it.

The Seed of Doubt is a book for all ages that is slightly unsettling at times but rewarding in its hopeful and awe-inspiring presentation of nature. The fact that tree climbing is often something of a rite of passage into older childhood and greater physical capacity may make this book particularly relatable for many children.