Based on a true story, this is an inspiring tale about the power of community and what can happen when you open your arms to the world.
At a time when we are being asked to socially distance, the art of communicating with others becomes even more important, especially for young children. This is particularly so in difficult circumstances such as natural disasters. After our experiences during the events of the recent Black Summer, The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare (Lothian. 32 pp. $19.99) is a timely tome. Polly Marsden's reassuring and practical text encourages children to have informed conversations about preparing for and coping with bushfires.
Interactive, inviting and child-friendly, The Bushfire Book provides children with an introduction to the how and why of bushfire behaviour, the effects they have on the environment, how bushfires make people feel and how we can cope with them. As well as presenting scientific facts and historical information, Marsden also introduces children to the people who work to keep us safe from bushfires: meteorologists, emergency services personnel, Indigenous rangers and firefighters.
Illustrator Chris Nixon uses a palette of ochres and yellows, complemented by the grey-green hues of the Australian bush, in this graphically sophisticated book, with its stylised images of people, animals and both the natural and built environments. A flame-haired child appears on each page, accompanying children as they explore the wide range of information provided. With its list of relevant website addresses at the back of the book and a "How to Be Bushfire Smart" pull-out poster, The Bushfire Book is an important tool for preparing children for bushfire seasons to come.
On a lighter note, the eponymous main character in Ivy Bird (Windy Hollow Books. 32 pp. $25.99) delights in communicating with the birdlife around her. Tania McCartney's jaunty text is peppered with bird references - from the early bird catching the worm, to getting your ducks in a row, and feathering your nest - as it follows a day in the life of an exuberant young twitcher.
Jess Racklyeft's vibrant illustrations, with their peacock colour-palette and naive style, seamlessly capture Ivy's daily interactions with both her family and the birds she is so fascinated by. The illustrations also feature a number of colourful bird portraits by Racklyeft's six-year-old daughter. To finish off this celebration of all things avian, a double-page spread at the end of the book provides interesting titbits of information about some of the birds that feature, ranging from familiar backyard creatures such as magpies, robins, lorikeets and rosellas, to exotic hummingbirds, flamingos and peacocks.
Bedtime, Daddy! (EK Books. 32 pp. $24.99) by Sharon Giltrow and Katrin Dreiling explores the communications between a child and an adult as they negotiate the night-time rituals of going to bed. This delightfully child-centric manual on bedtime etiquette follows Baby Bear's attempts to get his reluctant Daddy off to sleep. All bases are covered: initial resistance, slow-motion walking, silly dressing, errant toothpaste, drawn-out toilet stops, just-one-more-book storytelling, extravagant and endless excuses, marauding monsters and door dramas.
Giltrow's humorous text is enchantingly interpreted by Dreiling's nuanced illustrations of the interactions between Daddy Bear and his very determined son. There's visual humour aplenty, from the pineapple logo on Daddy's laptop to his vestigial tail poking out of a too-small pair of dinosaur pyjamas. Daddy's overacting is award-worthy as he comes up with all the usual excuses for not going to sleep, as is Baby Bear's highly original way of dealing with monsters. This hilariously entertaining book is a must-read for anyone with a reluctant sleeper!
The power of good communication is also explored in Small Town (Puffin. 32 pp. $24.99) by Phillip Gwynne and Tony Flowers. "Gong Gong" - so good they named it twice - is a small town with a shrinking population, as families move away for jobs and better amenities. Soon, young Milly won't have enough friends left to have a proper girls' basketball team.
However, Milly is not one to mope. When she learns about the number of refugees eager to start a new life somewhere safe and welcoming, Milly realises that she has something to offer - a town full of empty houses and shops, and sports teams and schools desperately in need of more children. So Milly not only writes a letter but, helped by groovy Granny Mac, makes a video to tempt refugees to come and live in her town. Soon Gong Gong is a thriving hub once more, and Milly has more than enough eager basketball players on her team.
Based on the true story of a small town in regional Victoria, this is an inspiring tale about the power of community and what can happen when you open your arms to the world. Flowers' deft water-colour illustrations complement Gwynne's sympathetic retelling of this important story, and capture Milly's infectious enthusiasm and the way the town rallies around their new residents.
Gus Gordon also deals with more traditional methods of communication in his tender and whimsical tale Finding Franois (Puffin Books. 40 pp. $24.99). In a French city, Alice Bonnet lives with her Grandma in a house brimming with books, baking, bottles, buttons and love. On their weekly trips to the park - which include food, flowers and Grandma's friends - young Alice yearns for someone her own age to talk to.
But Alice has a plan involving a bottle, the "ancient" art of letter writing and the predictability of ocean currents. Luckily for Alice, her plan works, and her message-in-a-bottle finds its way to another lonely lost soul - Franois Poulin, who lives in a lighthouse with his Papa. Long-distance relationships are never easy, and sometimes life - and even death - get in the way of happy-ever-after endings. But, luckily, this is a life-affirming book imbued with hope.
Gordon's charming water-colour illustrations feature expressive anthropomorphised characters and collaged black-and-white images from vintage French sales catalogues. He also creates visual interest by varying the layout of his images, creating everything from gentle domestic vignettes to dramatic double-page-spreads. The result is a scrapbook vibe that suits the old-fashioned means of communication he is championing, while heightening the emotional impact of the storytelling.
Gus Gordon has a quirky sense of humour and the ability to create three-dimensional child characters whose experiences resonate with readers. There is sadness as well as joy in this sensitively crafted meditation on love, loss and letter writing. Finding Franois is an endearing book that encourages us to examine the important things in life and to assess the ways in which we communicate. It is, indeed, a book for our times - a contemplation on communicating with others against the odds.
- Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder is a Canberra-based author, illustrator, editor and reviewer. Her latest picture book is Australia's Wild, Weird, Wonderful Weather (NLA Publishing).