‘The Right Word; Roget and His Thesaurus’ by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans Publishing) This brand new book is really gorgeous; a fascinating topic beautifully illustrated. It’s about the concept and history of the Thesaurus (meaning ‘treasure house’ in Greek); just how did the Thesaurus come about? We learn about the intriguing Peter Roget (apparently pronounced ‘Roh-zhay’), his childhood in Switzerland, how he started writing lists at the age of 8, his appreciation of Linnaeus’ science books, his various documentation of lists and how the book was finally published when Roget was 73. Sweet illustrates each page with collages of water colours, vintage papers, book covers, type drawers, old botanicals, mixed media and a copy of an original page from Roget’s book which all combine to bring the story alive. Throughout the books are fun reminders of the Thesaurus with descriptions of the stages in Roget’s life such as ‘married with children; amour, woo, smitten, love, bachelor, groom, maiden, bride, marriage, husband, wife, honour, respect, revere’ then when he had children; ‘daughter, son, child, seed, shoot, sprout, the apple of one’s eye’. This book is a joyful reminder of why we are enchanted by this fascinating idea of writing groups of words, synonyms and related concepts that can be used by everyone.
‘Emu’ by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne (Walker Books) My last encounter with this huge flightless Australian bird was at our local zoo when an emu put his head into my mum’s picnic basket she was carrying on the crook of her arm and then swallowed a banana whole. OK, so I didn’t know many things about this intriguing bird – they lay green eggs, the male bird raising the fledglings, the male sits on the nest for six to eight weeks rarely leaving for food or drink, the babies are born with a striped appearance, at 40km per hour they can outrun most predators and when chased emus zigzag to confuse potential attackers. Saxby breaks up the text with different fonts to make reading appealingly ‘bite-size’. Byrne’s stunning drawings created with twigs dipped in ink, simulating a feathery texture and using a muted colour palette are really beautiful. His images are a homage to the sparse, dry, but majestic Australian bush.
‘What’s Your Favourite Animal?’ by Eric Carle and Friends (Walker Books) I do love Carle’s work! This book includes work by Carle and thirteen other fabulous illustrators such as Lucy Cousins (of ‘Maisy’ fame), Rosemary Wells (‘Max & Ruby’) and Tom Lichtenheld (‘Exclamation Mark!’) describing why they have a favourite animal and then illustrating them in their own style. A biography and childhood photo of each artist at the back of the book explains a little more about each illustrator and their work. All royalties from this book are donated to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which was founded in Massachusetts, USA in 2002. Thank you to my friend, Megan, who shares my love of children’s picture books and who recommended this book to me.
‘Every Day is Malala Day’ by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International (Allen & Unwin) A brief description of this brave Pakistani girl’s plight and decisions introduces us to the clear, strong message about every child’s right to an education. Shot in 2012 for going to school, parts of Malala’s speech to the United Nations’ Youth Assembly in 2013 are included in the book. In 2013 500 young people ‘took over’ the UN for the first time. They produced a short film depicting girls from all over the world writing to Malala. McCarney worked with Jen Albaugh to turn the video into this book combining it with photographs Plan has collected from Peru, Niger, El Salvador, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Nepal, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Myanmar, Liberia, Philippines, Cameroon, Kenya, India, China, Paraguay, Uganda, Germany and the United States about the need and right for girls to be educated. Thank you to my friend, Sue, who introduced me to the plight of Malala. The book is dedicated to the other 65 million girls in the world who are neither in primary school or secondary school. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Plan’s Because I am a Girl Fund.
Read the interview with Eric Carle here.
‘Gallipoli’ by Kerry Greenwood, illustrated by Annie White (Scholastic) The Lone Pine image on the cover speaks a thousand words. Commemorating the bravery and mate ship of the ANZAC members of the Australian Light Horse heading off to war 100 years ago through the voice of two soldiers, Greenwood has a respectful and reflective voice. One of the main soldiers is ‘Bluey’, ‘a soldier with red hair’ who is Greenwood’s father. White uses a combination of empathetic water colours in the form of black and white photos and full coloured images of locations to create a feeling of both the during the war and in retrospect through the family’s photo albums. Legends such a Simpson and his Donkey, the Roses of No Man’s Land and mateship during very trying times are represented. A respectful reminder; lest we forget.
‘The Little Penguins of Manly Wharf’ by Felicity Pulman (Enviroprint) I first saw this book at a Children’s Book Council of Australia function last month. The Fairy Penguins are the only breeding colony found in an international city (Sydney, Australia). Written in the voice of a child, we learn about the National Parks and Wildlife Service volunteers; what they are doing and what challenges they face to protect this colony of penguins. Photos of the penguins and their personalities are described along with history of the area and facts about the colony and penguins in general. Illustrated with beautiful photos, this book has definitely inspired me to take a visit, but to keep off the beach and not to shine my torch! All proceeds of this book go towards helping protect the Little Penguins of Manly Wharf.
‘Alphabetical Sydney’ by Hilary Bell, illustrated by Antonia Pesenti (NewSouth Publishing) My friend, Adrienne, brought my attention to this fun and lively celebration of Sydney, Australia. I love Pesenti’s combination of white and clean, clear colours that represent the gorgeous Sydney light. Smiling as I read familiar names such as North Curl Curl, Potts Point, Woolloomooloo, with Luna Park (‘A’ for amusement park), ‘B’ for bats (which fly over our home), ‘C’ for the deafening sound of cicadas and shells I collected as a child, ‘E’ for Easter Show, ‘J’ for the miraculous Jacarandas (‘purple trees!’ a German friend of mine once commented), ‘K’ for kookaburras (or kookie – burras as our American exchange student thought they were called), this book really shows what Sydney is all about. I have given this book to many locals, expats and foreigners as a momento of our beloved city. Each recipient has loved the gift and the memories or discoveries made – I especially loved my American friend, Vivian’s comment when she read the book I sent her ‘I hope that Pascal’s Jubes are for real’ – Vivian, yes, they are! This book, designed by Natalie Winter and Antonia Pesenti, was shortlisted in the Best Designed Children’s Illustrated Book section for the Australian Book Design Awards 2014.
Visit the Alphabetical Sydney tumblr here.
‘Sophie Scott Goes South’ by Alison Lester (Viking; Penguin) A long-term fan of the talented Lester, I loved listening to her speak earlier this year as one of the Australian Children’s Laureates. This book is the result of Lester’s six week voyage to Mawson station in the Antarctic as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow aboard the ‘Aurora Australia’. Written in the form of a diary and beautifully illustrated with a combination of photos, collages of postal stamps, Lester’s drawings of the ship, crew, required clothing, iceberg shapes, seals, transport and accommodation on the ice as well as beautiful drawings by children who responded to her stories, we are steeped in interesting information. History, a glossary and maps help orientate us in this intriguing area of the world. A percentage of the book’s royalties go to the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
‘The Art Treasure Hunt; I Spy With My Little Eye’ by Doris Kutschbach (Prestel) OK, so I love art. This gem of a book has double-page speads of luscious paintings with a list of things to find in each artwork. So you are plunged into the detail of stunning reproductions to find a monkey and a man playing music in Seurat’s ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte’, different colours in Robert Deaunay’s ‘The Joy of Life’, a number of children’s games in Pieter Brughel the Elders’ ‘Children’s Games’, flags and umbrellas in Hokusai’s woodblock prints, an assortment of fish in Egyptian paintings and various fruit in Dutch sill lives. How divine! A description of each painting at the back of the book completes this visual feast.
Read my interview with Doris Kutschbach here.
‘Animals Marco Polo Saw; An Adventure on the Silk Road’ by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini (Chronicle Books) I spied this beautiful book in a small children’s bookshop a few months ago and thought what a great concept for a book and what superb illustrations! The story is of Marco Polo setting off in 1271 with his father and uncle from Italy to Cathay (today’s China) and the fascinating animals he met along the way. From silkworms to make silk, mountain goats and bears in Turkey, Zebu oxen in Persia (today’s Iran), colourful parrots, pelicans and elephants along the river leading to the Persian Gulf, Persian lions, snow leopards and porcupines in Badakhshan (today’s Tajikistan), yak, camels in the Gobi desert and the pure white horses of the Mongolians, we travel with Polo across a beautifully illustrated map to bring this section of history to life.