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.
Catharina Valckx (author), Anthony Shugaar (translator)
Gecko Press: 2022
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.
“Jeremy worried about the wind” by Pamela Butchart is a story about a boy consumed by worries who, with the help of his friend, faces his greatest worry and is transformed by it. The list of Jeremy’s worries presented at the beginning of the book is humorous and provides an opportunity for the reader to compare their own worries to those of Jeremy’s. The story itself provides an opportunity to talk with children about the nature of irrational fears and how to overcome them.
The turning point for Jeremy comes when he meets a new friend, Maggie. Unlike Jeremy, Maggie is carefree and unintentionally introduces Jeremy to all sorts of dangerous activities, such as eating crackers. In return Jeremy endeavours to keep Maggie safe. The climax of the book occurs when Jeremy faces his greatest fear, (the wind), in order to save his friend. He is blown away and taken on a series of dangerous adventures, which are explored in text-less comic book style illustrations. This allows the reader to interpret and perhaps even create their own dialogue to accompany Jeremy’s adventures. Upon his return it is clear that Jeremy has overcome his fears as he wants to do it all again. The tone of the text is whimsical and humorous, with meandering sentences leading to punchy jokes.
The illustrations by Kate Hindly, focus on the eyes and expressions of the characters, which are oversized compared to their bodies and match the comical tone of the text. The colour palate is muted but still lively, and the full page comic book style section of the book captures Jeremy’s adventures in detail.
Elyse Shellie (author) and Evie Barrow (Illustrator)
New Frontier Publishing: 2022
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).
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.
Davina Bell (author) and Allison Colpoys (illustrator)
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.
“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.
Kristen Schroeder (author) and Hilary Jean Tapper (illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
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.
Addressed to your own wildling, this laugh-out-loud picture book takes you through a wild first day of school from waking up to home time. It contains loads of hilarious dos and don’ts with some very sage advice as well.
The Wild Guide to Starting School has a grown-up, modern feel; it treats kids like the growing-up people they are becoming and will soon need to be. The jokes are age appropriate and quite sophisticated; they make kids work for the laughs by investigating the illustrations. Great practice for school! There is some plain, good advice like smile and ask questions when trying to make friends. Most page spreads also provide great conversation starters for discussing how kids might handle aspects of their own first days at school. For example, the drop-off spread shows a cast of Australian animals giving their characteristic goodbyes. Dingoes do the ‘smell you later’, Bilbies do the ‘Bil-Bye’. While this is obviously intended to provoke laughter, there’s a real conversation to be had here about how families should approach those anxious moments before the bell rings and this book is excellent at facilitating those conversations.
The artwork for The Wild Guide to Starting School is, as indicated above, a key component of the humour that is on every page. The wildlings are a group of colourful Australian animals that you follow throughout the course of the book as they navigate different aspects of the first day differently. The animal characters are set against a fairly beige background—often brown, sometimes lined. This feels appropriate; schools are institutions and while they can be colourful, students often bring that colour.
The Wild Guide to Starting School is designed for kids; it’s focused on the belly laughs with the occasional piece of advice you really do need. It should tick all the caregiver boxes because every page is a conversation starter that can help you figure out what your little wildling needs to know or needs to plan with you.
Scott takes his bear, Buttons, to school to help him feel brave. When Buttons goes missing and the school bully strikes again, Scott must find his brave before he can find his bear.
A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a humorous and encouraging story about bullying which provides a good example of standing up for yourself in a positive way. Put to the test by Duncan’s bullying behaviour (e.g., name-calling, snatching treats, destroying class work), Scott struggles without his bear to help him feel brave. Scott does have allies—his friend Rosie and eventually his teacher — but ultimately it is the stirring of feelings caused by the loss of his bear that helps Scott use powerful words to put an end to the bullying without physical aggression. The key tips for managing a bully (e.g., using ‘I statements’, being aware of bodily feelings and sensations to manage emotions, telling a trusted adult) are all woven seamlessly into the story and provide great prompts for parents wishing to discuss how to manage bullies in real-life situations.
The artwork for A Boy, his Bear and a Bully makes the most of a hint in the text that the key drama all takes place on a dress-up day. The main protagonists are dressed in a dinosaur, karate and unicorn outfit; even the teacher has bunny ears and monster feet. These costumes lighten the mood and bring a lot of laughter to a subject that can be tricky to talk about. The costumes are also used astutely by the artist to enhance our understanding of the characters and the emotions involved with bullying and asserting oneself.
A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a wonderful addition for any kid’s library that can help parent-kid teams discuss a challenging topic while having a good laugh.
Lu Fraser (author) and Sarah Massini (Illustrator)
Reviewed by Viv Young
The lonely little Witchling needs one last ingredient to magic up a friend. She finds that ingredient in Lily’s bedroom but soon discovers that she may not need a friendship spell after all.
The Witchling’s Wish is a magical tale that stresses the role of kindness and empathy in forging friendships. The message about friendship is straightforward and doesn’t attempt to teach in specific ways but rather by example, leaving plenty of room to discuss what empathic friendship might look like in different scenarios.
While The Witchling’s Wish is an inspiring book about friendship it is also a great tale for kids excited by magic. The witchling’s misty mountain home, her wobbly broom and interesting concoctions create a wondrous world and the hypnotic rhyming text match the magical aura of the illustrations perfectly.
The artwork sets the whole story on a moonlit night but the dark and lonely mountain home of the Witchling is always offset by bright lime green and rosy red highlights, underscoring the Witchling’s good-natured demeanour. The warm colours of Lily’s room do set up a contrast with the home of the Witchling, yet the colours of their different worlds interweave quite literally as their paths cross, conveying a wonderful sense of connection.
The Witchling’s Wish is a heart-warming tale about making friends that brings out the magic of empathy and kindness.
A young girl announces to her Mum on the first day of school that she will find a best friend. Her Mum expresses doubt but this little girl knows exactly how to spot one.
How to Spot a Best Friend is a light-hearted yet wise guide to friendship. Told in the first person, the girl protagonist explains to her mum the difference between a friend and a best friend. For example, a friend lends you a crayon, but a best friend lends you their ‘brand-new, extra-sharp green crayon’ even when you have a lot of leaves to colour in. By contrasting good and excellent examples of friendship, Bea Birdsong keeps the text positive and inspiring while dealing with a topic that can often be fraught for young people. Indeed, the text touches on bullying, competition and jealousy which may be useful for parents who wish to guide their children about what true friendship looks like. Moreover, while the title indicates a best friend the illustrations show the girl protagonist being helped by many best friends of various genders, cultural backgrounds and abilities, which may help parents discuss issues surrounding cliquish behaviour too.
Besides adding this inclusive idea of multiple best friends to the text, the artwork for How to Spot a Best Friend draws out the gentle humour of the text, playing up fun references to, for example, zombie games. The bold and colourful spreads match the upbeat tone of the book while taking every opportunity to reinforce its subtle messages. For example, astute use of body language in the bullying scene imbue the otherwise cheery colours with the necessary gravity to match the subject matter.
The simple premise of this excellent picture book belies its complex and thought-provoking approach to childhood friendship. It is a fantastic resource for all parents and children looking to contemplate friendship and what it should involve.
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.