I am Enough by Grace Byers

“I am enough” by Grace Byers

Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

Balzer + Bray publishers

2018

ISBN 9780062667120

Reviewed by Cath Young

“I am enough” by Grace Byers is a series of powerful statements describing and celebrating the purpose and value of each child. It uses similes based on children’s experiences and activities to make connections between these and positive character traits, such as “Like the moon, I’m here to dream, like the student, here to learn”.  

The pulsating rhythm of the text leads the reader, or listener, through a series of possible experiences of self, or life. It then guides them towards the idea that “I’m not meant to be like you: you’re not meant to be like me” and culminates with the logical conclusion that therefore, everyone should “say together, I am enough”.

It tackles common childhood challenges such as losing a race and coping with difference.  The text is gender neutral however the illustrations are all of young primary school aged girls, suggesting a theme of female empowerment based not in competition but in companionship.

The illustrations, as noted in the book, are acrylic paintings overlaid on simple digital chalk drawings. The simple chalk lines indicate place, such as a park or bedroom, while the acrylic paintings of the characters are beautifully detailed and three dimensional.  Many cultural backgrounds are represented in the illustrations, mostly indicated by variations in skin tone and hair, and occasionally by dress. The illustrator has also taken care to vary the height, shape and weight of all the characters and has included one young girl in a wheelchair. As such, it is possible that many female readers will find a point of reference for themselves and/or their friends.   

“It’s Big Sister Time” by Nandini Ahuja

It’s Big Sister Time by Nadini Ahuja

Illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

Harper Collins Publishers

New York 2021

IBSN: 9780062884381

Ages 2 – 4 years

Review by Cath Young

“It’s Big Sister Time” by Nadini Ahuja focuses on the growing acceptance and inclusion of a new baby in the family, by an older sibling. The story is told in first person from the point of view of the big sister. It begins humourously, as she accepts the permanence of the baby, asking her Mum how long the baby will be staying with them. Gradually, with some prompting and support from her parents, the big sister learns to adapt to the new situation and begins to thrive. There are inevitable setbacks to the growing relationship which may be recognisable to the reader, such as when the baby knocks over a tower of blocks built by the big sister.  The reader is left in no doubt about the Big Sister’s initial lack of enthusiasm for the new addition, as a list of complaints about Baby is drawn up.  But the Big Sister takes on board the job of teaching Baby the “house rules” and in doing so makes space for the baby and renegotiates her own boundaries and role within the family. By the conclusion of the book the Big Sister describes the Baby and herself as “a team”.

There are many points within the story where carers or parents could stop and discuss similarities in their own families, such as when Baby makes a mess or needs to be included in family movie night, which requires the Big Sister to adjust her expectations. In the case of the movie night the big sister decides that she can now hold the baby instead of the popcorn, ensuring that she can still sit in the middle of Mum and Dad, thus retaining her importance within the family.

Through the colourful and culturally inclusive illustrations of Catalina Echeverri the reader can see the baby grow from new-born to toddler as the Big Sister grows into her role within a culturally blended family. The culturally blended family is represented by a variety of skin tones. The cartoon-like people, drawn with exaggerated eyes, could be interpreted by the reader to reflect their own backgrounds.   The faces are simplistic, but their expressive eyebrows, lips and eyes depict a wide range of emotion, which would serve as reference points for discussion between parent/carer and child as the reader observes the big sister’s reactions to various situations in the story.

The smaller size square hardcover format allows for portability and would stand up to the occasional bite of a baby sibling.

Follow Your Feelings: Max And Worry by Kitty Black

Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry

 by Kitty Black

Illustrated by Jess Rose

Affirm Press 2021

Victoria. Australia

ISBN:9781922419729

Age range 4-6years

“Follow Your Feelings: Max and Worry” by Kitty Black is a story about a little boy, Max, who is very anxious about his Maths work. In the story Max’s worry and self-talk is externalized and represented as an anxious Meercat, who interrupts Max’s thoughts and encourages him to avoid the situation which is causing him concern.   Some bodily manifestations of anxiety are described, such as nail biting and stomach churning and, as pointed out in the notes at the end of the book, these could be good springboards for discussion about a child’s own physical experiences of anxiety.   Although the topic is a serious one there are moments of levity in the book, such as when Max throws his work away having, folded it into a paper aeroplane, and both Worry and Max appear to think they’ve solved the problem only to have the paper plane fly back to them.  Worry’s prioritizing about what might happen if Max makes a mistake are similarly humourous, seeming to escalate from “The world explodes-KaPow” to “people might look at you”.

As a result of the overwhelming presence and consequences of Worry, Max and his parents end up in the Principal’s office, which is a pivotal point in the story and underlines the importance of thoughtful caring adults, whose patience and wisdom encourage Max to just “try your best”.  Though not explicitly stated in the book his parents have obviously given Max a few strategies to try along with a hug, as the next day we see Max “take a deep breath”, ask for help and counteract some of Worry’s thoughts with his own such as “Other kids get things wrong…I’ve seen it”.

As Max faces his anxiety he transforms it. The character of Worry disappears and is replaced with a calm looking housecat called “Resilience”, thus supporting the main theme of the book; that in facing our worries, and with appropriate scaffolding and support, we develop resilience.

The full-colour Illustrations by Jess Rose are bold and colourful. Max has an oversized cartoon-like head which draws attention to his facial expressions. The Meerkat and Housecat are both a fanciful purple colour, contrasting nicely with Max’s orange hair, and supporting the notion that “Worry the Meerkat”, although very real to Max, exists inside his experience rather than belonging to the “real” world.  Apart from a couple of other children, we see only the legs of other characters such as the teacher and parents. This highlights the fact that the story is entirely from Max’s point of view and illustrates how isolating his experience is. We never know what his classmates or Teacher might make of Max’s plight, or even if they are aware of it. 

The book contains a parent’s page outlining the author’s underpinning ideas about worry and anxiety and may be a useful guide to parents or carers wishing to discuss the story with their children. There is another “Follow your Feelings” book titled “Lucy and Sad” and you can find out more about the author on her website.

When I’m Feeling Happy by Trace Maroney

When I’m Feeling Happy

By Trace Moroney

The Five Mile Press

Australia 2005

ISBN 9781741245035

ages 0-4

“When I’m Feeling Happy” by Trace Moroney, describes the feeling of happiness, and the experiences associated with it, as it pertains to one cute, non-gender specific, rabbit character.  It is written in first person with the rabbit’s experience front and centre of the story. The rabbit describes what happens in his body when he feels happy, for example, “I feel bouncy” and “My face feels smiley”. This could be a significant talking point for the reader/listener as they consider what various emotions feel like in their own body. The occasions which the rabbit associates with feelings of happiness mostly stem from experiences of connection with family and friends, such as baking cookies with Grandma or camping and talking with Dad. Towards the end of the story the rabbit identifies how the experience of happiness is beneficial to their life, such as helping them have more patience and being able to feel kind and caring towards others.   It finishes with the rabbit’s gaze directed toward the reader, stating confidently that they feel good about themselves, and in doing so the feeling of happiness is directly related to this positive self-concept.  The prose is simple and direct, with occasional repetition and exaggerated words and sounds, giving ample clues as to how the text could be spoken aloud in order to convey the energy and positivity of the rabbit character.

The illustrations are bright and colourful with a slightly soft texture to their appearance.  The paper itself is embossed which makes it a multisensory reading experience, with the potential to run fingers over the outlines of the illustrations. The front cover features a delightfully furry texture on the face of the rabbit. There are a few beautiful full-colour pages within the book.  In line with the text, the rabbit is dressed in a non-gender specific green jumper and jeans

The final page of the book is dedicated to background notes for parents. On this page psychologists Bill Hallan and Dr Crag Olsson have outlined the link between self-esteem, self-knowledge and trust in one’s own emotional experience. They give hints for how parents can foster happiness and self-esteem.  There are ten “feelings books” created by Trace Moroney. The other books in the series are “Jealous”, “Disappointed”, “Love”, “Scared”, “Angry”, “Sad”, “Kind” and “Lonely”.

Wash Your Hands, Mr Panda by Steve Antony

Wash your Hands, Mr Panda

By Steve Antony

Hodder and Stoughton

Great Britain 2021

ISBN: 9781444948264

Age range 2 to 4years.

“Wash Your Hands, Mr Panda”, written and illustrated by Steve Antony, is an explanation of why handwashing is important, couched in a simple situational story. Mr Panda has brought a box full of donuts for his animal friends, and he and his side kick penguin require their friends to wash their hands before eating them. This takes the form of a call and response structure, with Mr Panda asking each animal in turn, “Have your washed your hands?” Each animal responds with a “NO, Mr Panda, but…”  What follows is a list of the other parts of their body that they have washed. Particularly amusing is the hippo’s response, “No, Mr Panda, but my bottom is squeaky clean”. After this roll call Mr Panda goes on to explain about the existence of germs and why washing with soap and water is important. It’s a light-hearted approach to hygiene, in which the character of Mr Panda is a parental figure and the animals could represent children. Readers of all ages might therefore be able to relate to at least one of the characters in the book. In the final page of the book the animals are all freshly clean and enjoying the donuts.

The full page illustrations are simple form and line caricatures of cuddly and cute animals such as a lemur, a mouse, a rabbit and the aforementioned animals.  The mostly black and white animal illustrations really pop on a background of teal. The colourful donuts look especially fun and appealing in this mix.

Some Stuff by Elizabeth Ring

SOME STUFF by Elizabeth Ring

Illustrated by Anne Canevari Green

The Millbrook Press Inc 1995

ISBN 1562944665

Age range 3-7

“Some Stuff” by Elizabeth Ring is the story of Lenore, a girl with lots of toys but no one to play with.  She meets a new boy, Jerome, from next door and in her excitement overwhelms him. She thrusts toys at him until he is literally buried beneath them.  The budding new friendship is almost lost but, just in the nick of time, Lenore remembers to ask her new friend for his opinion on what would be fun and suggests that they just go outside and play in the sun.  

This is essentially a short social story about how to share, not only toys, but ideas. It also addresses the need to make space for another person.  The book is a monologue, in Lenore’s voice, and the syncopated rhyming structure makes for a comic and pacy read.

The two characters in the book are Caucasian, primary school aged children, and the setting is a middle-class leafy neighbourhood and suburban house.  The illustrations by Anne Canevari Green are richly detailed coloured pencil drawings, with a cartoon like quality to the figures. There is a focus on facial expressions such as worry, boredom, anger, happiness and sadness.  These could be great talking points for parents and their children as they follow the progress of the friendship in the book.

Fun Resource: Inkless Tales

Inkless Tales is a fun reading/writing/information site for ages two to middle primary school. It has stories, poems, music, games, printables, writing prompts and more. Children can submit their own stories and questions to the creator, Elisabeth Williams Bushey. The site pages contain a lot of information and children may need assistance to navigate each one depending upon their own literacy and computer literacy levels. This youtube video gives a brief introduction. While the stories seemed to be pitched to younger readers, the science, craft and writing activities may be enjoyed by older primary aged children as well.

New Fun Resource – The Spaghetti Club

The Spaghetti Book Club is a resource where children can read book reviews written by other children. Children can search for reviews based on their interests. Schools and teachers can subscribe to allow their students the opportunity to submit reviews. The administration provides scaffolding which assists all children to cover the necessary elements they require for publication. Children are also encouraged to submit a drawing with their review, so the site itself is peppered with colourful children’s drawings. This site has been added to our Fun Resources page.

Want to Play Trucks by Ann Stott and Bob Graham

Want to play trucks?

Ann Stott (author) Bob Graham (illustrator)
Walker Books 2018
ISBN: 9780763681739
Age group: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Two boys—Jack and Alex—are playing in the sandpit at a local playground while their mums chat on a bench and a baby sleeps in a stroller.  It soon becomes apparent that while ‘Jack likes trucks. Alex likes dolls’.

This hilarious story about good friends negotiating difference is full of wisdom and kindness. It presents conflict and its resolution and with lots of cues for discussion. The dialogue is realistic (‘I like…,’ ‘You can’t…’) and easy to follow. But for this reader the most refreshing part of the story is the way in which the creators avoid stereotypes; Jack is a noisy boisterous kid but he’s also capable of thinking through problems, Alex is quieter, even a little dreamy, but just as assertive as his friend when the situation calls for it.

Bob Graham’s award-winning artworks make this wonderful story sparkle from the very start as he sets the scene before the text of the story begins. His knack for capturing gestures and expressions is on display in every spread and perfects the characterisation of every character, even the mums absorbed in their own conversation! The light bright colours of the world Bob Graham creates convey all the hope and happiness that childhood should be about.

This is a fantastic first book for talking positively with kids about difference and friendship.

Jelly-Boy by Nicole Godwin and Christopher Nielsen

Jelly-Boy

Nicole Godwin (author) and Christopher Nielsen (illustrator)
Walker Books: 2020
ISBN: 9781760651237
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young jelly fish falls in love with a plastic bag she mistakes for a jelly-boy and follows it into the deep ocean currents.

Jelly-Boy is an imaginative exploration of water pollution from the perspective of ocean creatures. The plot takes its cue from tales of star-crossed lovers—the jelly-girl’s family don’t like this dangerous and different ‘jelly-boy’ yet she follows him anyway. While this may sound serious, when applied to a jelly fish and a plastic bag its humour is clear from the outset. There is, however, a serious undercurrent to this story. The danger to which the text refers is from the perspective of the jelly-fish who do not really understand what this jelly-boy is, but for readers the danger is the water pollution conveyed with great subtlety and force in the illustrations. The tension between text and image is what makes this book particularly powerful—it conveys all the innocence and trust of the animal world as well as the danger pollution poses to it.

The artwork for Jelly-Boy delivers the straightforward message about water pollution and is visually compelling. Each page is alive with colour, pattern and texture, reflecting the great beauty of the ocean world in danger. The repetitive shapes also help the reader to empathise with the jelly-girl and her confusion about jelly-boy—the plastic bag while recognisable is reminiscent of the creatures around it.

Jelly-Boy never mentions water pollution explicitly and that is its great strength—by viewing water pollution from the perspective of the creatures who suffer from it Godwin and Nielsen have managed to create a humorous and deeply moving story.  

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.

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.

I saw Peter and Pete saw me by Maggie Hutchings and Evie Barrow

I saw Pete and Pete saw Me

Maggie Hutchings (author) and Evie Barrow (illustrator)
Affirm Press: 2020
ISBN: 9781925972825
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young child notices a homeless man named Pete and they connect through chalk drawings.

I saw Pete and Pete saw Me explores the wonderful gift children have for seeing people without prejudice. It portrays moments of connection between Pete and the young child narrator, before Pete’s situation results in sickness as the weather turns cold. The ending is ultimately optimistic, but the difficulty and injustice of Pete’s circumstances are made clear, often through the stark if simple speech of the child character.

The artwork for I saw Pete and Pete saw Me uses pencil markings to great effect, capturing for example the scruffiness of Pete and his dog as well as the young child’s scribbled drawing of a house. Several pages contain vignettes that allow readers to perceive the different (and kind) interactions that Pete has with others in the community and the use of dark tones helps convey the child’s deep sense of concern for Pete. The overall palette is, however, light and bright, moreover,  the symbolic use of yellow underscores the hopeful message which stays with the reader long after you’ve turned the last page.

This is a poignant read and one worth exploring with any child ready to ask questions about the homelessness they see around them.