It's time to support our local children's literature community, as authors and illustrators emerge from the trauma of COVID lockdowns and lost opportunities with a bevy of fabulous new picture books.
Seree's Story (Walker Books, $26.99) by local author Irma Gold is a richly evocative picture book that tells the heartrending tale of a baby Asian elephant named Seree, who is taken from her mother in the jungle and forced to work in a circus. Gold is an Ambassador for the Save Elephant Foundation, and her storytelling comes straight from the heart. Her powerful text is beautifully crafted and highly emotive.
Wayne Harris' hand-drawn illustrations are full of sculptural elephants and textural landscapes. The luminosity of the images in the scenes where Seree and her mother are together is in striking contrast to the dark atmospherics of the scenes where the two are separated. Colour returns when Seree is chained and forced to work for the circus, but this is a bright unnatural light full of dark shadows.
Seree never forgets her mother and her life in the jungle, and there is great joy when she's finally rescued and reunited with her mother - a fittingly heart-warming ending. A final page with information on the plight of Asian elephants completes this stunningly beautiful book with its important message.
The Great Book-Swapping Machine (NLA Publishing, $24.99) by Canberra author Emma Allen is a wonderfully imaginative picture book that celebrates the importance of libraries and community. Allen has a winning way with words and is able to evoke a strong emotional response in the reader.
What would you do if a strange object landed out of the blue near your house? Make it into a book-swapping machine, of course. This is just what book nerds Fabio and Leila do when a 'thing' that looks like a combination between a UFO and a spider lands in Fabio's outback backyard. Allen has created a sentient machine that responds to what is going on around it, and there are familiar echoes of ET meets Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing in the storyline.
Lisa Coutts' colourful cartoon-style illustrations are full of fabulous details and visual humour, especially her depiction of the Space Agency inspectors. She has created the ultimate street library, where visitors come and go, and books are swapped, read, discussed and loved.
The Great Book-Swapping Machine ends with information about the history of books and libraries of all shapes and sizes, including the National Library of Australia. This is an engaging celebration of the imagination, books, libraries, friendship and the importance of community.
Camp Canberra (Wild Dog Books, $24.99), by Krys Saclier and illustrated by award-winning newspaper cartoonist Cathy Wilcox, portrays an annual school camp to Canberra with both humour and insight.
As all good school camps should, it starts with an itinerary and a rollcall and ends with a quiz. The endpapers feature maps of Canberra showing the national institutions and other places that the "smart and excellent students of Mount Mayhem Primary School" visit. In between, there are reports written by the kids and teachers of what they did each day. The reports are full of interesting information about the institutions, interspersed with often humorous child-centric observations.
Wilcox's illustrations are a clever mix of photographs of the national institution buildings, including both exterior and interior shots, with cartoon-style illustrations of the children superimposed on the images. This celebration of Canberra's culturally significant places is sure to appeal to kids who are about to visit, kids who have already visited, and those unlucky ones who missed out on their trip to Canberra during the COVID lockdown years.
In the second book in the Plume series by Tania McCartney - Plume: Global Nibbler (Hardie Grant Explore, $24.99) - the charming and exuberant Plume is off on a culinary adventure, exploring the world in search of tasty treats to tempt the jaded palates of his fellow penguins.
Ever the individual, Plume is happy to try anything, but the other penguins are loath to stray far from their familiar diet of fish, fish and fish. So Plume sets off on the Albatross Express, travelling the word to try to find delicacies that will tempt their tastebuds. He flies all the way from Japan to Argentina, sampling food in exotic places like Ethiopia and Morocco along the way.
McCartney's illustrations are a cornucopia of deliciousness as she introduces both Plume and her readers to some fabulous taste sensations, as well as the people who produce them, the clothes they wear and the places they cook in. There are details galore, along with lots of visual humour. Who knew that penguin faces could be so expressive!
McCartney's designer eye is evident on every page, with a plethora of patterns and textures. Even the text is exuberantly and colourfully written! This series of books is shaping up to be a wonderful window on the world for children to treasure and enjoy.
Local author Nicole Godwin collaborated with Wiradjuri man Duncan Smith to create the anthemic text for We Are Australians (Wild Dog Books, $24.99). The eye-catching cover, with its brightly coloured portrait of a child's face, is a stunning introduction to this sublimely designed book, with its powerful message about what it truly means to be a citizen of Australia.
This visually striking book has a very distinctive design aesthetic. There are dot-painting-patterned endpapers and a strong colour palette of black pages with large ochre-and-white text. And the brilliant artwork of Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung artist Jandamarra Cadd - which features Fauvist, dot-painting and super-realistic portraits - is particularly engaging. The illustrations were not created specifically for this book but were instead curated to complement the text.
Godwin and Smith's text is lyrical, meaningful, expressive and heartfelt. It deals with important concepts of community, belonging and the celebration of our First Nation's people, along with an exploration of our rights and responsibilities as citizens. It encourages respect for both people and Country, and for listening to the many voices that make up this multicultural land. A useful 'Citizens of Australia Timeline' completes this stunning and important book.
Gentle watercolour illustrations of a moose in a moonlit snowy landscape feature in author-illustrator Susannah Crispe's delightful bedtime tale Under the Moonlight (Lothian, $24.99). The storytelling starts and ends on the endpapers, as Moose settles down in the silver birch forest for a winter's nap. He's awakened by howling wolves and is soon totally spooked by the noises in the night. As he staggers around the forest, trying hard to be brave, Moose finally finds solace when he befriends a tiny mouse who also needs a reassuring cuddle.
Crispe's engaging rhyming text rolls off the tongue, while her images are beautifully paced, with variations in perspective, layout and framing that add to the visual interest and provide both dramatic and comedic moments. And the frightened Moose, with his highly expressive body language, is a totally endearing character. This is the first picture book that Crispe has both written and illustrated. Let's hope there are many more from both her and the many other creatives who call Canberra home.
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