Picture Book Love: Harriet Gets Carried Away

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima, Simon & Schuster US 2018

Harriet loved costumes. She loved them so much, she wore them all the time! On the day of her own dress-up party she went shopping for supplies with her dads (while dressed as a penguin, of course) and got carried away – *actually* carried away, by penguins!

This is an absolutely adorable story that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. It highlights the magic of getting ‘carried away’ and is ultimately about belonging. The purple-toned illustrations with their touches of yellow suit both the urban and Antarctic settings, and lend the book a unique feel. I love everything about the design of this book, from the hot-air balloon endpapers, to the different cover under the dust jacket (Harriet in all different costumes – cute!).

Aesthetics aside, the story is so well constructed and full of memorable one-liners, with a very satisfying ending. It also has one of my favourite lines discovered in recent picture book readings:

Harriet was almost out of ideas
when one emerged from the sea.

Perfection!

 

5 favourite recent reads

On top – cute pop-up ‘Once Upon a Rhinoceros’ bookmark found in Melbourne bookstore The Younger Sun!

Favourite recent reads include my fortuitous footpath find, a (lost? abandoned? manifested!?) review copy of Nevermoor by hype-worthy debut author Jessica Townsend. I tore through this middle grade fantasy, with its enchanting world and characters reminiscent of children’s classics, from shades of Willy Wonka in the eccentric Jupiter North, to a giant cat with an Alice in Wonderland feel. Despite these perhaps subliminal influences, Nevermoor still feels totally unique and fresh. I fell in love with the shape-shifting wonders of the Hotel Deucalion, and the plucky protagonist Morrigan Crow, a cursed girl doomed to die until she’s whisked away to Nevermoor, with a chance to join an exclusive society if she passes a series of trials. It’s a magical ride, with everything from suspense to wry humour, and the writing is simply amazing.

 

In adult fiction, I’ve read and recommend Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary and The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan. The Gulf is a raw, realistic story about fractured families, domestic violence and survival. Teenage Skye will do anything to protect little brother Ben from their situation (think a bleak town, their mum’s loser/dealer boyfriend, constant threat) resulting in a desperate need for cash and escape. It’s a riveting read, and so well crafted – heartbreaking and hopeful.

 

Bridget Crack is historical fiction set in 1800s Hobart, about a convict servant who finds herself caught up with a bushranger group on the run. A key descriptor here could be ‘harsh’, from the treatment of convict women stuck in a cycle of servitude and abuse, to the unforgiving Tasmanian bush landscape so vividly depicted. I have a feeling both of these books will fare well in next year’s literary awards. Fingers crossed for Stella Prize nominations!

As for picture books, there have been two standouts from the ever-growing, library card-maxing stack. One is Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, about an adventurous little rhino with a yearning to see the world beyond her muddy riverbank home. She’s strong and brave enough to dismiss the others’ negativity and take matters into her own hands. Super inspiring – loved it (and bought it, as it definitely transcends a library lend!).

The other is Feathers by Phil Cummings and Phil Lesnie, a beautiful story about a bird that flies across war-torn scenes, fleeing families, and treacherous floods and storms. It loses feathers along the way, offering hope to those who find them. It’s a deep and moving picture book, multi-layered and lyrical. These are two of the most special picture books I’ve come across this year (these two, plus Anna Walker’s Florette).

Picture book love: Gaston

Gaston

 

A favourite spread from Gaston

Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson, published by Simon and Schuster UK, 2015.

When Mrs Poodle gives birth to four adorable puppies, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La and Gaston, one is a little different to the rest. And as he grows, it’s undeniable that Gaston is a different breed. But that doesn’t stop him from trying super hard to fit in, and to succeed at everything he’s taught. When the family meet Mrs Bulldog and her puppies Rocky, Ricky, Bruno and Antoinette, Antoinette looks suspiciously poodle-like. It seems there’s been a puppy mix-up!

What happens next offers valuable lessons around not judging by appearances, belonging and acceptance. It’s also an interesting look at nature vs. nurture, with Antoinette preferring to be ‘tough’ like the bulldogs, and Gaston to be ‘tender’ like the other poodles. The overarching messages are woven through in a way they don’t feel too didactic, though, with fun, sparkly language and a wonderfully bossy omniscient narrator who insists we see each family of pups several times each. In addition to the writing, I love the illustrations in this book, from the still visible brushstrokes to the striking retro style. There’s a follow-up title, Antoinette, that I now must track down!

Bookish Highlights: March 2017

Under the Love Umbrella

Inside Under the Love Umbrella – look how gorgeous!

Picture Book Love

Some picture book reading highlights this month include the absolutely gorgeous Florette by Anna Walker – the charming story of Mae who moves to the city and pines for her old garden, then comes up with the perfect solution while on a walk. It’s inspired by the creator’s time in Paris, the illustrations are stunning, the prose is sparse yet touching, the endpapers are lush and jungle-y and it’s perfect in every way! Anna Walker is a firm favourite, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Also on my picture book radar this month were two more Australian titles, Under the Love Umbrella (by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys) with its swoonworthy neon illustrations (seriously – this book will have to win all the illustration awards, amazing!), and the poignant One Photo (Ross Watkins and Liz Anelli) about memory and loss, with the most touching ending.

Unicorn Think's He's Pretty Great

Raining cupcake endpapers! From Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

On the lighter side, I also enjoyed library find Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, by American author/illustrator Bob Shea. A goat is jealous of the new unicorn in town, with his fantastical feats like making it rain cupcakes. Then unicorn discovers something goat can do – make his own cheese! Competitiveness and mayhem ensue until the two team up. I love the quirk factor this book brings in major doses – so much fun!

Then there was P. Crumble’s The Cat Wants Custard, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, who I enjoyed hearing speak at the SCBWI conference last year. I love the attitude-laden voice of this cat who will stop at nothing for a bowl of creamy custard – until he actually tastes it, that is! This book has become a series, so I can’t wait to read the other titles!

And speaking of cats with attitude, there was the super cute I Don’t Know What To Call My Cat by Simon Philip and Ella Bailey. A difficult to please cat arrives on a girl’s doorstep one day, and doesn’t suit any of the names she comes up with. Then it leaves! I won’t ruin the ending for you, but let’s just say it gets a very suitable name in the end. A fun ‘extra’ is the pictures of all the cats on the front and back covers, each with names appropriate for their appearance.

The Secret Science of Magic

New YA

Other reads beyond non-stop PBs included new YA novel, The Secret Science of Magic, by Melissa Keil. The story features Sophia, a science whiz and Joshua, a magic lover and slacker, navigating their last year of school and Josh’s longstanding crush on Sophia. Sophia turns to logic and science to explain everything, especially when things seem out of her control. The book is told via both character’s points of view, with non-stop smart and sassy dialogue. The entire time I had my fingers crossed for them! I have a review of this book coming up on BuzzWords’ blog sometime soonish.

Adult fiction

Then there were my latest book club reads – The Dry by Jane Harper, and Relativity by Antonia Hayes. Both by Australian authors, both incredible. The Dry is a rural crime page turner and I was hooked from the start. Based in the fictional country town of Kiewarra, a city-based cop has returned to investigate the supposed murder-suicide of an old high school friend. Secrets from the past unravel the further he digs, and it’s lots of fun trying to guess the culprit. Addictive!

Relativity feels so raw and real, with the author drawing on her own situation where her child suffered from shaken baby syndrome at the hands of a partner. The aftermath is completely compelling and heartbreaking, but with many moments of warmth and hope throughout. I loved the familiar Sydney setting too, with real-life landmarks around Glebe and the city.

Picture book love: latest from the library

Here are four stand-out picture books from the current mountain of library loans (actually, the mountain is more like a river, cascading over every surface of the house!):

 

Teacup

Teacup (written by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Scholastic Press, 2015)

A hauntingly beautiful story with a wonderful message of hope, Teacup follows the boat journey of a lone boy. Where he’s from or where he’s going isn’t stated, giving it a fable-like quality, though I see it as an age-appropriate introduction to the plight of refugees.  The illustrations veer from dreamlike pastels to dark tones, mimicking moments of hope and dangerous encounters. The idea of the teacup holding earth from home and the new life it provides is truly magical.

 

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade

The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade (written by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys, Scribe Publications, 2015)

This is a repeat borrow – I absolutely love this book and this clever pairing, and can’t wait to read their second book together, Under the Love Umbrella. The blue and orange toned illustrations have a striking, retro feel, and the emotional journey of Alfie (who doesn’t feel brave enough to be Captain Starfish in a school parade) is so realistic and relatable. It’s a wonderful book to share with children to show they’re not alone – anxieties about seemingly small things are so very real – and from a writer’s point of view it’s a fabulous mentor text.

 

Seagull

Seagull (written and illustrated by Danny Snell, Working Title Press, 2015)

Seagull’s freedom to fly is at stake as he becomes tangled in some rubbish on the beach. No one seems to be able to help despite their efforts, until a small but kind gesture is just enough to set Seagull free. This is a gentle yet touching book with some important themes, from caring for the environment to noticing and helping those in need. The changing colours of the sky reflect the story arc – a beautiful touch.

 

The Cloudspotter

The Cloudspotter (written and illustrated by Tom McLaughlin, Bloomsbury UK, 2015)

Franklin is a loner with a big imagination, and, you guessed it, spots all manner of things in the clouds. Actually, not just things but ‘adventures in the sky’ (love!). When Scruffy Dog comes along and joins in the fun, Franklin is far from impressed and plots to get rid of him. But cloudspotting is a lonely affair, and perhaps two cloudspotters are better than one! So full of charm and fun, with vibrant illustrations, The Cloudspotter is for dreamers of all ages.

Picture Book Love: Pandora

 

Pandora

 

Pandora, written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2016

Pandora is one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve come across this year.

It’s a sparse and emotional tale about a sweet little fox called Pandora, who lives alone and repairs lost and broken things. One day a bird falls from the sky, and Pandora looks after it until it’s well enough to fly. The bird then brings back gifts each time it returns, except one day, it doesn’t come back.

Pandora is so beautifully written and illustrated, and (spoiler-ish alert) ultimately so uplifting. It’s about kindness, preservation and hope. Not only are the contents divine, but the cover is actually coated in a silk-like fabric, the perfect touch for such a special book. Love, love, love. I can’t stop re-reading it.

Recent reads – October 2016

Some recent reads from the ever-growing book stack:

Memoir

The Hate Race

 

I powered through Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race (and think you should too!). A memoir about growing up in the whitewashed Sydney ‘burbs of the 80s and 90s – a heartbreaking look at racism and its effects (with the best pop culture references – Lucy’s party on Degrassi!).

You'll Grow Out Of It

 

A fun, New Yorky, zeitgeisty book of essays by Jessi Klein (head writer of Inside Amy Schumer), spanning all the things (life/love/gender). If you zipped through the other recent memoirs of smart, funny ladies (Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham et al), You’ll Grow Out Of It will likely resonate.

Adult fiction

The Girls

Atmospheric, moody, menacing – The Girls paints a picture of an isolated (and quite frankly, feral) California ranch, where floaty girls flock around its leader, Russell. Loosely based on the followers of Charles Manson, and unputdownable.

YA

Becoming Aurora

The debut YA novel of Queensland author Elizabeth Kasmer, Becoming Aurora is a powerful tale of a girl who has lost her way. Aurora is running with the wrong crowd, and after they vandalise a restaurant in a race-related turf war she’s sentenced to community service. Her interactions with ex-boxer Jack who she tends to in a nursing home, and her burgeoning relationship with Essam are woven beautifully together, culminating in a truly touching ending. I loved this.

 

Picture books

They All Saw A Cat

They All Saw A Cat is a buzzworthy debut by Brendan Wenzel, presenting the vastly different perspectives of a cast of creatures.  For more, see my review for Buzz Words here.

 

Captain Sneer

A rollicking, rhyming tale of a boastful pirate, Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a fun picture book to read aloud. Author Penny has been super busy with readings around Sydney as well as popping up in all the kidlit internety places – in character, no less! And Gabriel Evans’ illustrations are so detailed and clever.

 

Molly & Mae

I keep re-reading this new release by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood, who last teamed up on another gorgeous picture book, Perfect. Molly & Mae tells a tale of the ups and downs of friendship via the backdrop of a train journey. Stunning.

On the reading pile

February reads

 

The reading pile of late includes:

Lonely Planet South India & Kerala – for trip planning in progress! Yes, there are travel apps and e-books and travel sites galore for such things, but I still have an enormous place in my heart for ‘real’ travel guidebooks. Something about flipping through the pages instead of scrolling down a screen… not to mention bookshelf appeal. Kerala’s mix of tropical backwaters, spice trade history and mountainous tea plantations sound amazing – I can’t get there fast enough.

Withering-By-Sea – a captivating middle grade read that I was lucky enough to win from a recent NSW Writer’s Centre giveaway. Australian author Judith Rossell has created a beautifully written Victorian-era adventure story featuring an orphan named Stella, who lives in a seaside hotel with three awful aunts. It’s full of intrigue and a little dark – story perfection for my inner 10 year old.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert’s guide to ‘creative living beyond fear’. I’ve yet to crack this open but I’m anticipating a mega dose of inspiration and motivation…

SCBWI Bulletin – a quarterly mini-mag issued by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. This is a major children’s writing body with branches all over that I recently joined. With articles on everything from editing, characterisation, meditation for writers and the ins and outs of critique groups, it’s a great little membership perk.

Finding Monkey Moon – a beautiful picture book by Elizabeth Pulford and Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books) that is right up my heartfelt/emotionally driven PB alley. It’s about a little boy’s search for his lost favourite toy, and ultimately about bravery as he has to search deep into a dark park to find it.

Reading pile aside… we now have a rotating reading shelf (bookshop/library style) thanks to the best roadside rescue of all time!!! The kids’ current reads and library loans can now be easily seen and obsessed over. Here it is:

Rotating shelf

Happy reading!

Picture book love: The Rabbits

The Rabbits

 

The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan, Lothian Books, 1998

A sparsely narrated yet immensely powerful text, The Rabbits depicts a long ago invasion echoing white settlement of Australia. It emphasises the differences of an unrelenting stream of rabbits arriving by ship to a desert-like land, with those already inhabiting it depicted as kangaroo-like creatures. The rabbits’ unstoppable nature is stated in a clear, matter of fact tone, yet Tan’s complex illustrations delve deeper into their dominance and their impact. The grey-toned industrial scenes and use of black space in many of the later pages depict a harshness, as though colour has been replaced. The final statement and image offers little in the way of hope. A haunting, thought-provoking book that breaks the children-only boundaries of the perceived picture book audience.