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).

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.

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.

The Wild Guide to Starting School by Laura and Philip Buntings

The Wild Guide to Starting School

Laura and Philip Bunting

Scholastic: 9781761126284

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

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.

The Witchling’s Wish by Lu Fraser and Sarah Massini

The Witchling’s Wish

Lu Fraser (author) and Sarah Massini (Illustrator)

Bloomsbury: 2021

ISBN: 9781408899953

Age: 3+

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. 

How to Spot a Best Friend by Bea Birdsong and Lucy Fleming

How to Spot a Best Friend

Bea Birdsong and Lucy Fleming

Penguin: 2021

ISBN: 9780593179277

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

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.