Nonfiction picture books allow children to learn about the world around them in an interesting, entertaining and engaging way. Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths (CSIRO Publishing, $24.99) by Julie Murphy is an excellent example of narrative nonfiction, where storytelling through text and illustrations engages the reader while also imparting information.
Ben Clifford's realistic images of the endangered mountain pygmy-possum and bogong moth are eye-catchingly beautiful. His images are matched by Murphy's lyrical prose. She draws the reader into the world of these tiny creatures, following a female pygmy-possum as she hunts for food to fatten up before the harsh alpine winter sets in so she can hibernate, find a mate and produce joeys.
Unique to the Australian Alps, the mountain pygmy-possum's main source of food is the nutrient-rich bogong moth. But human habitation and climate change are adversely affecting both the hunter and the hunted. Bogong moths are being distracted from their yearly migration to the mountains by the lure of artificial lights in towns and cities along the way.
The narrative in Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths centres on whether the moths will make it to the mountains and provide the food that the female pygmy-possum needs to survive. Murphy interweaves a wealth of information into the narrative, as well as suggestions for how we can help to protect both of these wonderful creatures that are an important part of the ecosystem of Australia's alpine areas.
Extra information is included at the back of the book, including about the Lights Off for Moths program. It also features the "tunnels of love" that are being built under the roads and trails in ski villages to ensure that male pygmy-possums can safely reach the females during the breeding season. This beautifully produced, written and illustrated book will entrance and inform budding naturalists and animal lovers alike.
Rusty, the Rainbow Bird (Penguin, $19.99) is the third in the Endangered Animal Tales series of narrative nonfiction picture books by Aleesah Darlison and Mel Matthews. The colourful cartoon-style illustrations have great child appeal, while the interactive text is perfectly pitched at a young audience.
Rusty, the heroic Gouldian finch, loves to stand out in a crowd. That's not hard to do when your feathers are a stunning combination of rainbow colours, just like something in a children's colouring-in book. There's romance, drama and solace in Rusty's story as he and his mate Olive meet, raise their chicks and survive a raging bushfire.
Short "Fact!" sections on each double-page spread provide insights into the habits of the Gouldian finch, while a page at the end of the book provides a map of Australia showing where they live, as well as extra information on these stunning birds. Sharing Rusty, the Rainbow Bird is a charming way to introduce the very young to one of our most vulnerable creatures.
From the appealing front cover, to the striking endpapers and eye-catching internal design elements, Wiradjuri Country (NLA Publishing, $24.99) by Wiradjuri man Larry Brandy is a beautifully produced non-fiction picture book. It documents and celebrates Wiradjuri Country - which covers a significant part of central and southern New South Wales - and the wonders that it holds. The book takes a close look at the main geographical areas, featuring rivers, woodlands, grasslands, rocky outcrops and even the sky that stretches above them.
The flora and fauna covered include platypus and river red gums, possums and silver wattle, emus and spinifex, and bogong moths and grass trees. Wiradjuri names for the creatures and plants are highlighted, along with "Deadly Facts" about some of the animals that live there and retellings of Dreaming stories from each geographical area. These include "Tiddalik the Giant Frog" and "Waawii the Rainbow Serpent".
Wiradjuri Country includes an index of translated Wiradjuri words and a reference list. It's a fascinating book bursting with interesting information that will amaze, entertain and inform.
Like Wiradjuri Country, Somebody's Land: Welcome to Our Country (Allen & Unwin. 24 pp. $24.99), by Adnyamathanha and Narungga man and community leader Adam Goodes and his co-author Ellie Laing, provides an important Indigenous perspective about the place that we all call home. Somebody's Land is the first title in the five-book Welcome to Our Country picture-book series, which is designed as a conversation starter to help young children understand and acknowledge Country and the rich culture of our First Nations people. It's also a very personal plea for understanding, acceptance and healing, underpinned by hope.
It traces the lives of the people who have lived on, farmed and nurtured the Australian continent for thousands of years. The text is both engaging and hard-hitting, with a distinctly poetical resonance that features two refrains: "For thousands of years, Aboriginal people lived in the land we now call Australia" and "When the white people came, they called the land Terra Nullius. They said it was nobody's land. But it was somebody's land." And the final double-page spread of Somebody's Land brings the story full-circle, taking the reader back to the present.
Somebody's Land takes the reader into the lives of Aboriginal people as they build shelters, hunt on and farm the land, share their stories and celebrate Country. The enchanting illustrations of Barkinji man and film-animator David Hardy bring a reassuringly familiar Disneyesque charm to the book, while providing both humour and gravitas to the story he is telling. This is an important book to share with the young people in your life.
Books about science aimed at kids should be entertaining as well as informative, and this is certainly the case with the cleverly titled Ouch! Tales of Gravity (Allen & Unwin, $24.99), which explores the effect of gravity on our lives, as well as what life might be like without it. The front-cover image takes its inspiration from Sir Isaac Newton and that pesky apple that dropped from a tree. The apple theme is carried through into the stunning endpapers. Inside the book, the colourful cartoon-style illustrations are full of visual humour and child appeal, as they explore how gravity works, both in our daily lives and from a more universal perspective.
This is a difficult scientific concept to explain, but both author Kate Simpson and illustrator Andy Hardiman do it with wit, wisdom and an entertaining interactivity that directly engages the young reader while inviting them to think about complex ideas.
The book begins by taking us through history, showing that people were aware of gravity - and saying "Ouch!" - well before Isaac Newton sat under that apple tree. Images and text work in tandem, showing the reader what would happen to us without gravity, exploring the concept of the "force of gravity", showing how gravity varies depending on where you are in space and what it's like to be gravity free, and examining how humans have overcome gravity.
The story of gravity ends on a humorous note, and information pages at the end of Ouch! Tales of Gravity provide extra facts about gravity, as well as a fun experiment for budding scientists. Like the other titles featured here, this is a perfect picture book for curious kids.
- Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder is a Canberra-based author. Her latest picture book is Ghostie (Windy Hollow Books).