Our copy of Oscar’s Half Birthday has “Happy Birthday Max – look on the verandah for the rest of your presents - Love, Mum & Dad” written inside. For the life of me I can’t remember what the rest of the present was, neither can Max. But every so often someone claims it’s their half birthday and so they are in need of a cake!
In the story, Oscar is six months old – and it’s the perfect day for a half birthday and a picnic with a cake! So the family gets ready. They take tuna sandwiches and the cake - and Oscar’s sister Millie wears her fairy wings. They walk across to a park in the city where they enjoy the countryside and settle in for their picnic.
But Oscar is just so adorable that in no time, people from all over the park are admiring his ‘cute little smile’ and so on. The whole hillside joins in singing happy birthday and eventually the exhausted family goes home to a bath, dinner and a bit of dancing for Mum and Dad.
This is a lovely family doing simple life enhancing things: making memories, cementing friendships, sharing with their community, learning together, living life. It’s a joy.
There’s great significance in moments and days like these – they’re hard to carve out of life sometimes, but so very worthwhile. This is a story to remind us that:
- family holds the greatest joys,
- simple is almost always best,
- little acts of service mean a lot,
- strangers can become friends through sharing experiences,
- ritual matters in families,
- Mums and Dads matter in little lives,
- little lives matter to Mums and Dads.
The story is also about the value of celebrating. Celebrations are one of the things that bind the human family – we may be celebrating different things, but we all know the feeling that goes with celebration. Here, the other picnickers celebrate right along with Oscar and his family – just because they can. And I suspect that the more we share our celebrations, the less we’re likely to find things to argue about.
Of course, this story will appeal to children who have recently had a new baby join their family, but we bought it for Max, our youngest, when he turned seven. Seven may seem like the outer reaches for a picture book like this one but we think it was just what he needed at the time – a book that slowed down life, and valued little people.
Oscar's Half Birthday was written by Bob Graham
(You might notice that I’ve been fairly liberal with the categories on this one – that’s because it’s such a child friendly book that it can cement and teach a really wide variety of ides – it’s non-confrontational and will feel familiar to many children, but it has a lot to say. For example, I’ve included Racism because the family in the story is mixed-race, and Pets because they have a little dog that they consider and care for throughout the story.)
… Edna inspects the cellar. It is full of good things: …”You can never have too much summer,” says Edna.
One of the great meals of my life was beef stew, potatoes and green beans – but the potatoes were tiny and new and dug that morning, and the beans were picked from a trellis in my mother’s garden moments before they were lightly steamed and served. I can still taste them.
Of course there’s a tremendous movement for local, organic foods happening now, and it’s a very good thing. It means I can buy my fruit and veg from farmers at the farmer markets and eat what is in season – but I still haven’t found beans quite as delicious as those.
This is a harvest story and it follows a young girl and her family through a year of harvests. They start with strawberries and end with pecans and walnuts. And what a bounty they have in between.
The story is loosely based around the childhood of Edna Lewis – a remarkable American chef who was known for Southern cooking. (A google search will yield a whole slew of her recipes and they look fantastic.)
She was famous for saying: “As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn't think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.”
And that’s the essence of Bring me some Apples… - it’s about capturing the very best flavours as the seasons provide them.
We’re a long way from the time when children would pick berries and gather nuts so that their family could eat and store them, but this story will still resonate with today’s child. As Edna works her way through the year harvesting and savouring the various produce, she's reminded of simple traditional rhymes – the sort that modern children might also love to learn and recite at dinner.
I do love the watercolour illustrations – they’re full of promise and life, as a harvest should be.
Edna in this story is a most appealing child and a wonderful role model showing the value of contributing, of work, of simple pleasures, and of preparation.
This story will help to teach all of those things but will also be helpful in reinforcing:
- A love for good and healthy food.
- Simplicity in life and in eating.
- The importance of food sustainability – a hot topic at the moment.
- An interest in food preparation – leading to self reliance.
- An appreciation for those who bring our food to us.
- An interest in new foods.
There are a few recipes in the back of the book that ‘represent the kind of dishes Edna Lewis loved’ but I confess this book always leave me wishing for green beans straight off the vine.
Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie was written and illustrated by ROBBIN GOURLEY
PS I’ve included Racism in the categories because Edna is African-American – and although the book doesn’t mention or deal with racism, it is nonetheless helpful in an ongoing conversation about racism since persons of colour are only rarely found in picture books.
The picture book version of Sadako, illustrated by Ed Young, is particularly beautiful and touching. It's the story of Sadako, a young girl who was a baby living in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bomb.
Sadako is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of the radiation, which is heartbreaking, but it is the tenderness of the way Sadako and her family and her community react that makes this a story that changes lives for the better. Ages child to adult.
This is the story now known as The Christmas Truce: the remarkable Christmas when soldiers across the trenches in World War 1 stopped fighting and started singing carols together, and eventually playing soccer together.
An especially lovely way to spend Christmas Eve with older children. (And the very best part – the soldiers had to be transferred before the war could begin again since they refused to fight each other.) Ages pre-teen to adult.
Devastatingly large scale tragedy can be overwhelming, but sometimes simply doing what we can because we know that real people are suffering can provide remarkable solace.
This is the story of a small African village that decides to send the best support they can to the suffering people in America following the September 11 terrorist attacks. They send 14 cows, an incredibly generous gift financially but also a symbol of solidarity and an indication of their capacity to see the real people behind the numbers. Ages child to adult.
As the author notes, this is a ‘what if’ story. It seems that the story itself is a legend – but what if it were true?
- What if we stood in solidarity instead of division when injustice occurs?
- What if the powerful cared for the disenfranchised?
- What if we took risks for another’s safety?
Ages child to adult.
Fiction inspired by the life of Zhu Xiao-Mei, renowned pianist, this is a wonderful reminder of the potentially life saving power of beauty - in this case the beauty of music. It's quite intense, set during the Cultural Revolution in China -and there are anxious moments that alert us to the amazing capacity that some people find to continue seeking for good.
A humbling story. Ages pre-teen to adult.
These are also wonderful and of the same ilk . . .
"Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives ..... most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku.
Hank is a good dog – and Hank knows it. Still, it might be hard for an onlooker to tell. Our dog Scott is a good dog too - and he knows it too. But sometimes it’s even hard for me to tell! Hank reminded me of Scott - and the house where Hank lives is quite like ours, so this story resonated with me. I think it will for most dog owners . . .Read More
With so very many heartbreaking images from Ukraine, Gaza and Iraq on our airwaves, and in print, we thought it might be helpful to provide a small collection of favourite stories that help to develop a narrative around war.
Talking about war is important in times when war is prevalent and proximate, if only through our televisions. But it also
There's an overwhelming sense of 'if only' when you reach the end of this book .... If only … children really could lead the world to peace. If only … all the walls – real and metaphorical – could come tumbling down with ‘no trumpets needed, as they had been once in Jericho, only the laughter of children.’ If only … we could heal the wounds of war. The Kites are Flying is the story of a Palestinian boy and his Israeli friend, a girl ...Read More
Have you ever felt …lost …or perhaps just out of place ...in need of home? Ahh, but have you ever felt …found…in the perfect place …completely at home?
In this thoroughly appealing story, a boy and a penguin move from being lost to being found. Ostensibly it's just the penguin that is actually lost, but eventually it becomes clear that the boy is lost without the penguin too.Read More
These books will bring it on. Every time!
So maybe this won’t be quite so funny for fastidious housekeepers, but it was really funny at our house. Because it all seemed so believable. It was entirely possible that I would lose a sausage behind a chest and leave it there to gather dust for months at a time. read the full post here
Because, between us all, we’d done so many of the things that were categorised as disgusting, dangerous or mean, these books made us laugh everytime. And then there was the unthinkable things that we had never done, and would never do, that were lumped into the same category – so funny. read the full post here
It’s the absurdity that appeals here – two famous artists consumed with pride and jealousy – and acting ridiculously as a result. It’s funny stuff – and while we’re laughing at Pigasso and Mootisse, we’re really laughing at ourselves and our own petty jealousies. read the full post here
Art that is created for picture books is amazing stuff – it’s diverse, it’s accessible, it’s designed to help tell a story and it’s right there in front of us. To gaze on, ponder, critique, adore or wonder at.
Art created as a stand alone piece of art is a different story, pardon the pun. In this month’s top 5 we’ve identified five (actually six - again) books designed for children to view and appreciate and talk about the paintings and art works of the masters.
Let’s start with Quentin Blake’s Tell Me A Picture.
Quentin Blake selected 26 works of art from the National Gallery (in England) that tell a story. And then he illustrated the facing pages in and around the art works, with children and adults discussing the works and the stories that might come from them. It’s a delightful book – great and varied choices of artists and works - and lots of fun to read and talk about.
My favourite: Nameless and Friendless by Emily Mary Osborn.
A is for Art is a series of photographs of abstract pieces prepared by Stephen T Johnson.
Each one relates to a letter of the alphabet and the letter is hidden within the work – there’s abundance on each page and an alliterated verse to help you know what to look for.
Here’s an example: The letter N page is titled Nocturne and the verse reads, “Number nineteen is next to the letter N; nearby, the number nine neighbors a Naples yellow number ninety-nine.”
A really enjoyable way to spend an afternoon – this is also great for kids who are a little older and who still need to work on sounds etc.
I Spy Numbers in Art by Lucy Micklethwait is one of a large series.
This one is a counting book as well as an art book. Each page shows a famous artwork and the facing page says simply, “I spy one fly’…or … ‘two eyes’…etc up to… ‘twenty angels.’
The art works are well known, although there will probably be a couple of new pieces for most people. They allow for lots of discussion besides the counting and they’re beautiful pieces.
I Spy an Alphabet in Art from the same series by Lucy Micklethwait is very much along the same lines – this time the facing page says, “I spy with my little eye something beginning with …” And there’s plenty to look for on each page. The series of books includes books with paintings about children, shapes, animals, dogs, cats and so on.
I really like that each piece of art is given a page of its own so there’s plenty of white space around the works.
The Art Book for Children and The Art Book for Children Two are a bit more of a guided tour through the art world. I can tell that ours were well loved – the pages are gritty from dirty little fingers turning them often.
The books take a wider approach to art and include photographs of sculptures and installations. Each art work is accompanied by a brief story about the work, a few thought provoking questions, a couple of tips for things to look for and often ideas about producing something inspired by the work. Both books cover a very broad range of genres and span a large timeline.
So which books were most loved? Stephen T Johnson's A is for Art and Quentin Blake’s Tell me a Picture are winners at our house. But I've sometimes taken the whole lot (along with a few others) to groups of children and I can never guess which will be most appealing. All of them are well worn, that’s for certain.
I’m not sure that I can credit these books alone, but they all impacted in some way on Peet’s interest in art and art curation. And they also impacted on some of my less artistically driven children.
There’s a certain confidence that comes to children when they go to galleries and art shows if they are familiar with a wide range of artistic genres . . .
. . . and I think these books help a lot with that. I hope you find one or two that really speak to you.
I confess that I am not a big fan of the whole hero culture that we seem to have going. Too often the ‘heroes’ aren’t heroic and are anything but role model material. But Peaceful Heroes is a collection of super short biographies of people who have impacted the world positively and peacefully.
I think you’ll have heard of most of them – but there are probably some new names in the list too. For the most part they are people born without special privilege who worked at great risk to bring a bit more good into the world.
The first peaceful hero is my personal hero and ultimate role model - Jesus of Nazareth. Peaceful Heroes is careful to note that different people have different beliefs about Jesus, and it does a really nice job of respecting all beliefs (including atheists and agnostics).
Others on the list include Sojourner Truth, Corrie Ten Boom (another personal favourite), Martin Luther King Jr, and William Feehan (a New York City firefighter who died rescuing people on 9/11).
There are 14 peaceful heroes in all, and their biographies stand alone, so one biography can be read at a time, as the mood or need strikes. It’s a great selection of heroes in varying circumstances and times.
I also like that the selections are not without controversy – as the book itself says in the biography of Clara Barton: “Most heroes, peaceful or non-peaceful, have both fans and enemies. What their fans call heroism, their enemies might call troublemaking.”
This is great starting off point to talk about what makes a hero and to try to understand how any of the Peaceful Heroes might also be considered a trouble-maker by someone else – and then to think about which way we personally lean.
The book doesn’t assume prior knowledge, making it great for younger people who may not have heard of the historical circumstances that surround the various heroes. For example, in Corrie Ten Boom’s biography there’s a very short and simple explanation of Nazi Germany and who Hitler was.
All of which is not to suggest that the book doesn’t take a moral stance – it is absolutely aligned with peaceful actions and solutions and it calls an evil act an evil act. There is a clear delineation between the Peaceful Heroes and the evil they are fighting against – which is great, especially for children in the 6 -12 age group who often search for black and white constructions.
Some of the values and lessons available from the Peaceful Heroes include:
Jesus of Nazareth – pick a value, any value – but the biography in the book focuses on kindness to enemies
Mahatma Gandhi – peace, equality and independence
Ginetta Sagan – courage and fairness
Abdul Ghaffar Khan – justice and non-violence
Paul Rusesabagina – standing against authority and ignoring racial vilification
While this is a brilliant book for children from, say, 6 years upwards, it makes a very nice coffee table book for an adult household too – the art is striking and lends a wonderful connectivity to the varied stories – it’s a book that will lead to many interesting thoughts and discussions, and hopefully some new (and perhaps more worthy) heroes.
And perhaps most importantly, it may lead to thoughts about the personal peaceful heroes in our lives: parents, friends, neighbours, community and church leaders and countless others who through small peaceful acts earn the title ‘hero’ from someone.
Snippet “One thing is for certain: In any war, innocent people are going to get hurt - people who are just going about their daily lives.”
Have you ever had to wait for something you really wanted or even needed – and has that waiting felt like it would never end?
The baba (father) in this story tells his little girl about a time when he was a child living in Morocco. There was a drought and his family was running out of food and so they ate less and less each day. Eventually the gnawing hunger pervaded all of his thoughts and his mother came up with a way to distract him – from his own hunger and from the other worries in his life.
It was her way of making the waiting a little easier and it worked brilliantly. (It’s a clever and loving solution – but I’m trying not to give away too much of the story!)
This is lovely look at a boy’s life in Morocco and at his life as a grown man and father. There are lovely connections between the two worlds – couscous for dinner, a parent who goes away to work, a child who is hungry, a parent who finds a way to calm the child till it’s time to eat, and both stories culminate in a shared family meal.
The simplicity of life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco appears charming and peaceful but the continuing drought has a profound impact and while there is still peace and love, there is also concern and hardship. Quite a nice lesson that peace and love can in fact exist side by side with concern and hardship.
There are quite a lot of words in this story, but the pictures provide some prompts and the font is clear and large – making it ideal for beginning readers to read to themselves. It’s also lovely for when you have a bit of extra time for at bedtime.
The rather naïve style of the illustrations matches very nicely with the homey telling and evokes Morocco in a way that is clear but not intrusive of the story.
The Butter Man will help to nourish ideas like:
it’s alright to have to wait sometimes – and sometimes it’s inescapable
families matter – in good times or bad
even really significant problems can be made less impactful when we think of others
there is value in delayed gratification sometimes
it’s hard to beat simple pleasures or simple foods
across time and cultures, there is more that connects us than separates us
These are some of the key ideas I hope to settle in the hearts and minds of my children – and myself.
This is also great to read in times of drought – to see the impact of drought and to remember how insulated many of us are from the vagaries of life. Or when families have to spend time apart for a greater cause. Or when you’re having couscous for dinner!
By Elizabeth and Ali Alalou Illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli
Snippet “But even as we sat around the steaming platter with our spoons held high, we had to wait just one minute more. Just long enough to say our blessing.”
I mentioned to my adult children that I was going to do a top 5 on ‘poo’ books, and Terence the Toilet was the first book they each thought of!
When you’re a ‘bog-standard’ toilet, chances are there are magazines left in the bathroom with you – magazines that show ‘exotic bathrooms in exotic places all over the world’. And that can leave you feeling restless and unsatisfied. That’s what happened to Terence – and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most of us have felt that way too after leafing through the magazines left in the bathroom.
Terence decides it’s time to see the world and so off he goes – to Wall Street, Paris, the African Plains and even more places. Everywhere he goes he meets other toilets who are leading fascinating lives, but still he feels restless. So he goes in search of a guru toilet.
Eventually he finds the wise guru toilet – who turns out to be a hole in the ground, having shed all his worldly goods and cares. The guru’s advice to Terence: ‘The only journey you need to take is the journey within.’ That’s all it takes – Terence is transformed – into a second hole in the ground.
I don’t like giving away too much of a story – especially when it builds as carefully as this one does – but this is an out of print book so you’ll need to find a second hand copy or a library copy. That's why I wanted to make the whole story fairly clear. It’s such a good one, so funny and so important at the same time.
The ‘funny’ comes from the juxtaposition of a toilet into the troubled thoughts of modern western society and from the drawings that somehow manage to give Terence - and the other toilets he meets - distinct personalities.
And then there are the various situations Terence finds himself in. For example - he “lunched with the sophisticated bidets of Parisian hotels and learnt all about the history of butt rinsing etiquette…then he ventured even further afield to the parched African plains to see the roaming portaloo tribes he had heard so much about…’
Terence the Toilet is funny and memorable but it also has a lot to say – things like:
there’s nothing wrong with a ‘bog-standard’ life…
... but if you want another life it’s available to anyone – even a toilet!
perhaps contentment isn’t found in the high life after all
vastly different lives have much in common – the Wall Street toilets and the pygmy toilets of the Amazon are still both toilets
it’s probably not a good idea to take some aspects of life too seriously
it’s worth the struggle to keep searching to find the contentment you’re looking for
And it is really good for a laugh! Keep an eye out for it.
By Ann Louise Stubbs
Snippet: ‘Please, oh wise guru toilet, I have travelled so far, I have seen so many places, but I still do not know where I belong! Where should I go next?!!’
Wanna hear a joke?
There was once a family of moles who decided to go for a walk in the sunshine. First there was Daddy Mole, then Mummy Mole, then Sister Mole, then Brother Mole, then Baby Mole – all walking in a line with their noses to the ground.
Suddenly Daddy Mole stopped and said, “I smell honey – do you smell honey Mummy Mole?”
Mummy Mole sniffed the air and said, “I do smell honey – do you smell honey Sister Mole?”
Sister Mole sniffed the air then said, “I do smell honey – do you smell Brother Mole?” . . .Read More
Kissed by the Moon is more a lullaby with pictures than a story book. The perfect ‘snuggle down to sleep’ book. In it, a baby grows and moves through early life to the tune of beautifully worded wishes from a loving adult.
The illustrations are classic Alison Lester (the little house on the title page is almost the same as the ‘welcome home’ house in The Journey Home – one of my favourite houses ever). There’s a fairy floss sunset over a peaceful bay, a riotous flower garden, loyal pets playing on an ocean shore line, Australian animals peeking out of a forest and so much more to enjoy.
The words read like lyrics or like a cheerful prayer. There is a certain lilt to them when read aloud. And they’ll bring an internal sigh of longing from any adult because they do indeed represent many of our very best wishes for our babies.
If I had to choose a favourite I suppose it would be ‘May you grow sleepy at sunset, sing to the stars, and drift into dreams.’ But that might be my subconscious talking since none of my babies could sleep at night!
At the end of a weary day or a joyful one, this little book will probably come out again and again. I bought it as a welcome present for my new grandson William – it suits his family and some of my fondest wishes for him are right there too.
Kissed by the Moon is lovely for:
- New Parents or parents-to-be
- Babies and toddler who need gentle words and soothing tones to settle to sleep
- Children who have behaved badly and need to sit closely with someone they love and have kind words spoken to them
- Australian ex-pat families who want to remember the beauty in Australia
- Teens and young adults embarking on new adventures - because we wish the same for them.
By Alison Lester
Snippet: “May you, my baby, follow the rivers, wander the mountains, and walk in the wild.”
Vesuvius is a problem solver – and Rome has a big problem – a poo problem. No one knows what to do with all the poo. It’s so bad that ‘Some people even dropped it into other people’s pockets when they weren’t looking.” (Now if that line doesn’t bring at least a grimacy smirk to your face I don’t know what will.)
Because poo is such a problem, it’s also a “forbiddenus wordus’, which leads to a whole slew of hilarious euphemisms like ‘huge daffodil’ and ‘cola cube’. Aside from all the usual uses for a poo book, this one does a great job of teaching how and when and why to use a euphamism . . .Read More
This very first day - the first day of September - is National Wattle Day. So wattle we do after that? Apart from enjoying the most beautiful weather imaginable, here's a few ideas:
- 7 September - Fathers Day thanks Dad! And thanks Luther Vandross for this very beautiful 'Dance With My Father' song.
- 7 September - National Threatened Species Day
- 14 September - National Bilby Day
- 16 September - International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer
- 21 September - International Day of Peace (World Peace Day)
- 22 September - World Carfree Day
And here's an incredibly pretty all-ages book to celebrate the beauty of Springtime - it's a perennial favourite - you can read the full post here.
We have quite a collection of princess-and-the-pea stories – mainly because Alec (our second son) was called Princess for quite a few years after a camp where he slept on a whole pile of mattresses.
This one is great. Prince Henrik needs to find a proper princess to be his wife. Trouble is, he wants a wife who likes hockey and camping. These are difficult qualities to find in a real princess and when he looks at his sister-in-law, who passed the infamous pea test, he’s not so sure that’s the best way to choose a princess. Henrik decides to adjust the pea test to suit him!
Potential princesses fail the test miserably . . .Read More