Mister Fairy by Morgane de Cadier and Florian Pigé

Mister Fairy

Morgane de Cadier (author) and Florian Pigé (illustrator)
Red Comet Press: 2021
ISBN: 9781636550008
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Mister Fairy isn’t a morning fairy or a cleaning fairy or even a healing fairy, but he does have a magical gift to share.

Mister Fairy is a quirky, heart-warming story about finding and appreciating one’s gifts and the joy they bring to everyone. In the forest, Mister Fairy’s talents are not obvious but when he moves outside the forest it becomes clear that his powers of fun and frivolity have always been there, helping the forest creatures. Mister Fairy’s journey of discovery is reassuring for readers who may struggle to see their own unique qualities. The story’s resolution may help readers on their own journey of discovery as it suggests that by experiencing new people and places we can gain perspective in order to perceive our talents; a practical action that readers can try for themselves. Also, the array of fairy gifts mentioned in the text offers opportunities for caregivers to draw attention to all the different ways people (and fairies) contribute to the world.

The artwork for Mister Fairy is superb and will be particularly pleasing for readers who like fantasy and fairies without the gender stereotypes. Mister Fairy is a hilariously grumpy-looking elephant-like fairy who inhabits a forest filled with other whimsical animal-shaped fairies. The forest is full of rich muted colours and is contrasted effectively with the cold greys and browns of the human city, drawing attention, as the story progresses, to Mister Fairy’s latent gift for injecting colour and fun into the world. The animal-fairies’ world is never garish and always reminiscent of the natural world which gives the story a wonderful hint of possibility—could these creatures be the ‘true’ fairies at the bottom of our gardens?

Mister Fairy is a fun story to read with children and provides a gentle reminder to look deep for the gifts that are always there, however familiar or different they may be.

Frank’s Red Hat by Sean E Avery

Frank’s Red Hat

Sean E Avery
Walker Books: 2022
ISBN: 9781760654283
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Frank the penguin is full of ideas but not all of them are good ones, so the other penguins are nervous when Frank knits a red hat, but should they be?

Frank’s Red Hat is a wickedly funny and poignant story about being different. Frank’s knitting ostensibly leads to trouble, but he persists and stays true to his passion with some interesting results. The humour is devilish and therefore perhaps for older preschool and school aged children but will definitely make most kids laugh out loud. The outcome is reassuring—Frank finds his tribe—but also realistic; one’s tribe isn’t always made up of the creatures one expects.

The artwork for Frank’s Red Hat is splendid. The tonal variation and different textures in Sean E Avery’s icy landscapes convey the cold and colourless nature of the world Frank struggles in while at the same time providing lots of interest for readers to explore. These landscapes draw attention to Frank’s experimental knitting and some of its hilarious results. Frank and the creatures who live around him are also wonderfully expressive, with their bulging eyes and flapping arms. Lastly, the unusual array of red hats adorning the end pages is sure to spark interest.

Frank’s Red Hat is a must for any child or adult who struggles to fit in. It is also an important book for everyone else, who may, after reading it, want to rethink their approach to the Franks of this world

Wild for Winnie by Laura Marx Fitzgerald and Jenny LØvlie

Wild for Winnie

Laura Marx Fitzgerald (author)
Jenny LØvlie (illustrator)
ISBN: 9780593111819
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A new girl called Winnie is joining the class and sometimes she howls like hyena or kicks like a kangaroo or chomps like a piranha. So, it’s time for everyone to get a bit wild …

Wild for Winnie tells the story of Winnie’s first week at a new school. Winnie experiences sensory processing challenges and her behaviour is affected as a result. Different behaviours that Winnie and her peers may find distressing are explored through analogy with various wild animals. With guided play, however, Winnie and her new classmates are taught ways to channel challenging sensory experiences into activities that benefit the whole class.

The story is told by a classmate (though the reader is not told which one) and this child-centred perspective is brought out thoughtfully in the illustrations. While the text never rebukes Winnie, the illustrations do allow the kids in Winnie’s class to express their surprise, pain, fear and enjoyment making this an excellent book for exploring emotions with young children. Moreover, not all the children experience Winnie’s behaviour in the same way; this is particularly useful for talking to kids with sensory processing challenges about the different responses and experiences of children around them.

The illustrations use muted bright colours which convey all the brightness of an early learning space but remain low-key and not too overwhelming. Winnie’s wild behaviour is conveyed through her body movements and also various animals that shadow her in the artwork. This creates some humour that kids are sure to enjoy! Hints in the text remind readers that Winnie’s ‘wild nature’ is not unique and the final spread draws attention to the different wild tendencies of the classmates on a particular day, making sure no kid is singled out.

Wild for Winnie is a sensitive, empathetic treatment of challenges many children experience with lots of real-world advice woven into the illustrations and text. It is useful for kids managing sensory processing challenges as well as kids who may have friends that behave like Winnie. Make sure you look closely at the end pages for a list of practical tips for parents and caregivers to try for different types of behaviour.

Easy Peasy by Ky Garvey and Amy Calautti

Easy Peasy

Ky Garvey (author) and Amy Calautti (illustrator)

EK Books: 2023

ISBN: 9781922539441

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

When Ruby is given shiny, red roller-skates for her birthday she is sure that learning to skate will be easy peasy, but it’s not!

Easy Peasy is an upbeat, high-energy story that conveys the thrill of roller-skating while also touching on some important themes like persistence, resilience and learning to learn. The author has a gentle and genuine voice. The heights of Ruby’s excitement, her initial instinct to give up when it is hard and her desire to roller-skate all by herself, without instruction, will be familiar to many readers. Ruby’s independent approach may make learning to roller skate tricky, but she is well supported to achieve her goals; Dad’s persistent yet kind attempts to offer instruction model a laid-back and patient style of parenting that many kids will appreciate. The positive and exciting outcome of the story sees Ruby manage a busy roller-skating rink filled with kids and music, making this an encouraging book for young readers finding it hard to meet those challenges close to their own hearts.

The artwork for Easy Peasy is super bright and fun, making sure the themes of persistence, resilience and learning are always child friendly and appealing. The psychedelic rainbow stripe rolling over the end pages is repeated at key stages in the book to underscore Ruby’s wibbly, wobbly moments on the roller skates and her eventual success. It is fun to spot and makes the challenges and achievements stand out.  Ruby’s enticing pair of red, sparkly roller-skates also feature on every page, making it easy to follow the central character, her highs and lows. Lastly, Kids will have a ball spotting Ruby’s pet bird (unmentioned in the text) who is as keen as Ruby to learn a new skill!

Lisette’s Lie by Catharina Valckx

Lisette’s Lie

Catharina Valckx (author), Anthony Shugaar (translator)
Gecko Press: 2022
ISBN: 9781776574407
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Good friends, Lisette and Bobbi, are trying out a ‘big lie’ about going to the mountains. Unexpectedly, their friend Popof decides to join them and they have a fabulous day on a kind of mountain. But will Lisette’s mum believe what she did?

This quirky story about lying treats a serious topic with a light touch and in so doing is thought-provoking and accessible for young children. The author treats lying in an age-appropriate fashion, bringing out the innocent way in which children often go about lying and why. Nevertheless, the potential for trouble in Popof’s decision to join Lisette and Bobbi and the question of whether their adventure will be believed gives children plenty of opportunities to think about the challenges that lying can create without being censorious.

The artwork for Lisette’s Lie brings out all the innocence of the lie itself. The button eyed bird (Lisette) and her small froggy companion (Bobbi) are sweet and also hilarious as they enjoy their day around the ‘mountain’. The backgrounds are muted pinks, greys and mauves that allow the bright patches of colour to distinguish key characters and their movements throughout the day.  A particular treat is the polka dot endpages that foreground the fun that is to be had reading this beautiful story about a tricky topic.

Review of Big Feelings by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

Big Feelings

Alexandra Penfold (author) and Suzanne Kaufman (illustrator)

Bloomsbury: 2021

ISBN: 9781526639769

Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A group of children negotiate conflict, disappointment and differing perspectives as they play in their local park.

Big feelings is an uplifting and practical exploration of children’s play and their big feelings. As the child characters explore their local park and experience various problems with each other and their environment their big feelings come and go. There is a recurring set of questions ‘How can I help? What can we do?’ woven (with a few variations) into the playful rhyming text that can help children consider how best to navigate conflict, such as co-operation and looking at things from a different perspective. There is also validating recognition of the range of big feelings that such conflict can create.

The child characters, not identified in the text, are beautifully rendered in the illustrations. There are lots of bright, messy colours that capture play and its ups and downs. The range of expressions on the children’s faces help explore all the emotions mentioned in the text and add great humour too. The end pages present portraits of the children featured throughout the story and are a wonderful resource for parents wishing to talk about specific emotions, moreover, they show a variety of children from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Big Feelings is a visually enticing resource for families that uses up-to-date language and attitudes to explore emotions with young children in a fun and reassuring way.

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.