Oliver Jeffers, pub. HarperCollins Children’s Books
Visually stunning, Begin Again (How We Got Here and Where We Might Go. Our Human Story. So Far) defies easy categorization, though it is framed as an adult picture book. The artwork is bold and beautiful, with striking neon pink highlights and charming little details which pop out on subsequent readings (spot the space rodent)!
Fans of Jeffers’ previous picture books including The Way Back Home; Lost and Found; and Here We Are will already know that his texts work on many levels, the stories and pictures appealing to young children, whilst also nudging us to think about the way we live our lives. Begin Again takes this to the next level; instead of wrapping up big questions in cosy stories, it asks them head on, albeit in an accessible, easily understood way. Themes of conservation are evident, but as part of fundamental questions about who we are and who we want to be, how we define ourselves and how we treat others. If this all sounds a bit heavy, the overriding message of the story is one of hope. Jeffers sees art as an agent for change and believes that we can reframe our own stories. In his fascinating author’s note at the end of the book, he says “I have come to believe that people are all, simply, a collection of stories. Those we are told, those told about us, but mostly those we tell both to others and ourselves.”
So, who would enjoy this book? As an adult picture book, some might be concerned about it being beyond the understanding of children. But if this book asks us to ask big questions of ourselves, surely there is no demographic more questioning, more curious, and more invested in the future of our planet than young people?
Cori Doerrfeld, pub. Scallywag Press
This beautifully illustrated picture book will help young children talk about their worries and feelings. That’s the message that comes across loud and clear. Finn doesn’t want to talk about his worries, he wants to stay beneath the duvet in his room but slowly his grandfather draws him outside and shows him that you must look further than that which you can see on the surface. That everything has something happening ‘beneath’ it. As he does so Finn starts to look at the beautiful world around him and begins to open up to his grandfather.
“Sometimes beneath what looks perfectly still…so much can be swirling around.” Grandfather says as he points to a boat on the water. As we turn the page there is a beautiful illustration of a mother and son fishing from the other side of the boat, with all sorts of fish swimming beneath the surface of the water.
As Grandfather walks through the forest pointing out wildlife and nature all around, Finn slowly emerges from beneath his blanket, looking at the plants, animals and even the people that they pass. The illustrations are beautiful and perfectly complement the words on the page. One such example is the page with a picture of a small boy crying. We see his hungry tummy through his jumper. We can immediately understand what is wrong and why he is crying. His Father offers him an apple and a drink. With this and many more images this is a beautiful book to help children talk about their feelings.
Ashling Kwok, illus. Arielle Li, pub. EK Books
Butterfly Girl is a pleasant inspiring read which would make a good addition to your nature themed library. Olivia is a little girl of primary school age who lives in the countryside enjoying the space and wildlife around her especially all the butterflies. The initial illustration shows her having a picnic by herself and being swarmed by a kaleidoscope of butterflies, they even sit on her head and her teacup! Then we see a big sign saying, ‘Olivia’s Butterfly Garden’ and we are told the butterflies are her only friends. She does not appear lonely or unhappy, she has a space of her own and a purpose. She dances with the butterflies, sings to them, builds them houses and maintains their habitat.
When she moves to the city with her family her world (and the illustrations) become grey and miserable. Living in the middle of a tower block she calls for her friends, the butterflies, but unlike every other time, they don’t come when she calls. So, she builds a new butterfly garden on her balcony, she “colour[s] her world” which by itself is still not enough to attract the butterflies but it inspires neighbours to do the same and soon the grey concrete block of flats is a riot of colour and bursting with plants.
Finally, Olivia is surrounded by her butterflies as well as her new human friends, now she “has more friends than she could have ever imagined.” This simple story, with very sparse text and charming pastel-toned illustrations created by two relatively new names to the children’s literature world celebrates not just nature and community but also an individual nurturing their passion.
Natalie McChrystal Plimmer
Count the Stars
Raewyn Caisley, illus. Gabriel Evans, pub. Walker Books
What a refreshing treat this book offers! As a true lover of picturebooks I’m rarely disappointed. However, it’s an absolute joy to find a book that has such a unique theme.
Maddie, the little girl in the story, loves maths with all its shapes, patterns and numbers. She sees them everywhere! There’s symmetry in her garden, fractions in both her piano lessons and her kitchen, moonlit parallel lines that fall through her blinds; numbers and patterns are all around her. However, Maddie’s love of all things mathematical sets her apart from her peers leaving her feeling different and alone. That is until Priya starts at her school and Dad organises a night-time playdate for the two girls. A trip to the observatory finds Maddie and Priya faced with an unfathomable number of stars, far too many to count. It’s there, beneath the stary sky, that Maddie finds the perfect friend, one who shares her passion.
This book is recommended for readers aged between 5 and 10, although I think it could easily stretch beyond that range either way. Accompanied by the stunning illustrations of Australian illustrator Gabriel Evans, Raewyn Caisley’s incredible story has so many layers to unpick that you could read this book time after time and still find something new to discuss. Perfect for introducing basic mathematical vocabulary to children and wonderful for discussing the concept of infinity, it also provides the opportunity to talk about feelings, friendships, helping others and following your passions.
Count the Stars is a beautifully written, gentle story. An absolute must for anyone who has a love of maths, or of any subject in fact, and who has ever felt a little different because of it. Its many layered themes make it simply perfect for primary school libraries. In fact, I’ve already ordered a second copy for just that purpose!
Gina Kaminski Saves the Wolf
Craig Barr-Green, illus. Francis Martin, pub. Little Tiger
Oh my goodness! I love this picture book. Gina Kaminski Saves the Wolf is a genius retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a confident, empowering, autistic child leading us through. Simply put, every child can be the hero of their own story.
Craig Barr-Green writes the story from Gina’s Kaminski’s viewpoint, in first person, and it brings us even closer to Gina as a result, following her plan to subvert the story of Red Riding Hood and save the wolf. And don’t worry – if you wonder why Gina wants to save the wolf – she explains herself and her plan very clearly: there are Three Big Mistakes in the original story…but I won’t give those away here! As well as allowing the reader to follow Gina’s distinctive narrative lead, Barr-Green also makes use of pictorial emoji language as a way for Gina to describe how characters in the story make her feel. From start to finish, Gina Kaminski Saves the Wolf is empowering and inclusive, with a good dollop of magic thrown in. Francis Martin’s illustration style is a heavy, pencil style with bright colours added that make the pages ‘pop,’ and it works brilliantly. Martin makes amazing use of the space on a page, the white background is never wasted, the characters and colour-popping objects are framed and held by the pages perfectly. The wolf, with its stark, black coat and tufty hairs sticking out appears a little confused and most non-threatening– but Gina soon finds a better home for him, which was her plan all along.
This book truly had me hooked from the start, I love a good retelling and this one is brilliant. It does all that I would want a retelling to do by challenging the traditional narratives we are told and subverting the story we know so well.
You will love this picture book if you like Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red, and also Rapunzel – she too subverts those traditional narratives. And Look Up by Nathan Bryon, with the determined Rocket - a character, like Gina - who empowers her audience. Ideal for 3+, great reading at bedtime or anytime. A brilliant story that also promotes inclusivity and understanding. Don’t pass Gina by!
Perry Emerson, illus. Hoang Giang, pub. Little Tiger
Imperfectly Perfect is a gorgeously written picture book with a very important message, and that is to cherish the beauty in imperfection. Starting the story with an accidently ripped book and a subsequent sibling argument, Perry Emerson takes us on a journey with a little girl called Maria, as she learns that unique beauty can flourish from something seemingly flawed. Emerson writes in a gentle, meditative style which is perfect for bedtime and for leading the reader through this uplifting story. The ripped book that Maria tapes back together is not the only thing Imperfectly Perfect in this tale; there’s also sibling arguments and love; the unexpected beauty of nature and a glimpse at the truth of aging. A story of how, things may break, fracture, wrinkle – shall we say change? - but then create something more beautiful, more telling, of more interest even of what went before.
Hoang Giang’s illustrations are gently expressive, reflecting the events of the Maria’s world wonderfully, but also the colour palate is warm and soothing, and as a reader you are drawn in. The colour yellow, or maybe it’s gold - the colour that fills in all cracks in this story be it a broken bowl, pavement or lightening in the sky - is present on every page, which is a lovely subtle way to thread each page together. Like one long strand of golden glue. The book warmed my heart as this is a story that we as adults must have heard in some form during our lives – it’s such a lovely reminder of the importance of how we learn and grow, how to see and appreciate the unique beauty in the world around us and how precious that is.
Ideal for 3+, a great story to share between grown up and child, and brilliant to turn to when these very events need to be guided through – probably a regular occurrence for most of us as we all know breakages and arguments can happen every day - as does aging!
The Magic of Me!
Ben Cort, pub. Hodder Children’s Books
The hero of this picture book imagines all the different ways that he can face the day. He can be brave; curious; creative; inventive, and caring. In fact, he can be anything that his imagination will allow.
In a world that is full of computers and facts, it is so good to have the ability to just dream about what you can potentially achieve during the day. Young children need to be reminded that the world is full of these wonders and that they can use their imagination to take them to different places and situations.
The story is told in rhyme, which really adds to the pace and flow of the text. There is also a range of emphasis in the words used, which helps a narrator when reading to a group of children. In fact, reading to yourself, you can feel the range of language and the impact it is likely to have on an audience.
Ben Cort has a very recognisable style of illustration; it is full of energy, colour and humour and there is a lot of detail which the audience can spend time investigating. I have a particular fondness for the tiger on the cover, but the dragon is also a favourite. Above all, this is a book that encourages the young reader to be proud of who they are and what they might achieve, both during the day, but also in the future. It is a lovely read for reception and beyond.
Sandra Severgnini, pub. EK Books
Young readers are taken on an underwater adventure while discovering a colourful array of sea creatures in the charming Meet Mim from award-winning author-illustrator Sandra Severgnini.
Through a unique reading experience, children get a glimpse of a mysterious creature on each page while trying to guess exactly what it is. Clever clues and lovely alliteration pull readers through the story and keep them turning pages to find out just what the fascinating animal could be. The satisfying ending introduces readers to a little-known sea creature and ties together all of the previous scenes beautifully. The lovely illustrations include adorable details – like a fish seeing its own reflection in a bubble – that will bring a smile to readers. On follow-up readings, children can take a closer look at the sandy, seabed scenes to find hints of what’s to come and discover just how the crafty creature disguises itself each time.
I thoroughly enjoyed the unique reading experience of Meet Mim. It was a fun guessing game that kept me intrigued through the book and piqued my curiosity about this curious creature. The story inspired me to want to learn more. Luckily, the publisher, EK Books, offers a comprehensive document, Teaching Notes and Resources, that includes plenty of additional information and activities to be used by educators for furthering learning. Overall, Meet Mim is a wonderful book to introduce children to the wonders of the sea and especially its crafty protagonist.
The Most Famous Rhinoceros
Dianne Hofmeyr, illus. Simona Mulazzani, pub. Otter Barry Books
Princess Beatrix is excited to meet the amazing one-horned creature that has been sent as a gift to her father, the King of Portugal. Could it be a unicorn she wonders? All too soon we, and Beatrix learn that the new animal is not a unicorn – it’s a rhinoceros called Genda. We learn that Genda has travelled all the way from India, and Beatrix immediately loves him. She becomes Genda’s friend and protector, determined to persuade her father the King that this wild creature should be returned to his jungle home.
This is a beautifully written book. Beatrix is an interesting character, she isn’t your typical princess, with her wild hair and amazing collection of wild animals. When she is given a Rhinoceros as a gift, she is disappointed to start with (well she was expecting a unicorn!), but it's not long before she falls in love with it. When her brothers start to squabble, as brothers so, about the animals, the king announces a battle between Genda and an Elephant. Terrified, Beatrix realises that the best place for the Rhino is back in the wild. But that means saying goodbye…
Animal lovers will applaud Beatrix’s caring attitude and desire to have her father’s ‘gift’ returned to his wild home. Simona Mulazzani’s richly wonderful illustrations beautifully capture the period in which the events are set, making the telling even more poignant. This story is based on a true story. Genda is remembered today because of printmaker Albrecht Durer. In 1515 he drew a sketch of what he thought Genda looked like, and those who hadn’t had the chance to meet Genda got to know him through these drawings. To this day if you visit the Vatican and look up you will find a print of Genda.
Peace On Earth
Smriti Halls, illus. David Litchfield, pub. Walker Books
A dreamy cover, full moon shining brightly with friends sitting together encapsulating what Peace on Earth really means. This beautifully illustrated book by award winning author and artist David Litchfield, coupled with the enchanting verse of the critically acclaimed children's author Smriti Halls, creates a magical space for diving deeply into the inner and outer landscapes of the selves we inhabit. It encourages us to see what it is inside us that can help us to create the Peace we seek here on Earth.
The story opens with evocative words, chosen to guide the reader to an understanding of the meaning of peace in a human life which coexists symbiotically with nature:
"Peace on Earth…GOOD WILL TO ALL!
From rivers deep to mountains tall,
A wave to neighbours near and far,
A wish upon a morning star."
As we move through this versified tale, beautiful and alluring illustrations draw our senses to engage with the emotions of the characters. We follow them through general feelings of goodwill to others, through negative emotions before coming to forgiveness and gratitude again. All the while we are drawing in the hope that dawns within and shines outside.
This picturebook would make a lovely night-time story for children aged 7-11 and the illustrations can be utilised as artwork for ruminations upon the meaning of human life. It is a really beautiful book that uses straightforward language and forms it into poetry. It's easy to understand the profound messages it presents. I'd certainly give it a 5/5 and recommend you pick it up.
We Went to Find a Woolly Mammoth
Catherine Cawthorne, illus. Aysha Awwad, pub. Hodder Children’s Books
Have you ever seen a woolly mammoth? Well in this delightfully funny and fascinating story we join a group of children on an expedition to find one of these creatures. We know from certain films that they were alive during the ice age, but where can these intrepid explorers find them?
They have a checklist of what to look for and are wearing their boots and thick coats, so hopefully they are prepared. The children meet a huge range of animals, from sabre-toothed cats to giant armadillos as they wander through the landscape, but they never seem to be able to find the elusive Woolly Mammoth. Finally, they come across a creature that ticks all the attributes on their list; yes, it is a mammoth, or rather a group of four. So, our band can go home and snuggle in front of the fire.
This is a wonderful look into the imagination of children and their adults, as they turn a walk through nature into something far more adventurous which involves learning about the ice age and its inhabitants. The illustrations are full of detail and the creatures are recognisable, although thankfully not as fierce as they would have been in real life! The book works at several levels; firstly, it is a look the ice age for the very young reader, then it links to the fact that many of our present-day animals can be traced back to these ancestors. Finally, this inspires KS1 children to look at the world around them and feel the connections they can form with a distant past.
Wolf and Bear
Kate Rolfe, pub. Two Hoots (imprint of Macmillan Children’s Books)
More and more schools are using books to help children understand the world around them. This includes difficult subjects such as feelings and relationships. They have a way of making children understand and usually they can explain things better than adults!
Wolf and Bear does this and more. It is a heartfelt story about a playful young wolf and her best friend, Bear. The two best friends always play together, whether it's paddling in the stream, skidding in the snow, or tumbling in the falling leaves. But sometimes Bear feels sad and wants to be alone …
This is such a beautiful story. It tells the story of two friends who are completely different characters. Not only that but as you get further into the story you start to see that Bear struggles with low moods. Of course, Bear isn't able to find a way to explain this to Wolf and as a result Wolf begins to feel lonely. She also feels sad, feeling that she has done something wrong and upset Bear. Wolf finds comfort in singing to herself and the sound travels through the woods. Bear hears the sounds and it makes him feel a bit happier so he follows it to its source – Wolf! From that moment on Wolf sings to Bear whenever his friend needs it.
This book shows us that we don’t have to do much to be a good friend and that it’s the simple things in life that can make someone happy. A touching story told with empathy and emotion. This is a book for our times that will help parents to be able to discuss feelings of loneliness or low mood with their children. The author has a sensitivity for the subject and demonstrates beautifully how important good friends are. A must for school libraries.