Tag Archives: Australian picture books

Celebrating NAIDOC Week – Readilearn

This week, from 2 – 9 July, is NAIDOC Week in Australia with celebrations occurring all around the country. The purpose of the week is to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Islander Peoples and acknowledge their contributions to our country. The acronym NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

The theme of this year’s celebration is Our Languages Matter. When Europeans first arrived in Australia a little more than 200 years ago, more than 250 Indigenous languages were in use across the land. As the languages were spoken, not written, many of these languages have been erased. Fewer than half that number remain, and many of the young people are no longer familiar with the language of their ancestors.

According to the NAIDOC website,

“The 2017 theme – Our Languages Matter – aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.”

This article in the Conversation provides a little more information about Australian Indigenous languages and the Dreaming.

By now, NAIDOC Week celebrations are almost over, and most Australian school children are enjoying their mid-year break. However, many teachers will be looking for ways to share the celebrations with their students when school resumes. As any time is a good time to incorporate learning about Indigenous culture and history, in this post, I provide links

Continue reading: Celebrating NAIDOC Week – Readilearn

Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the S.T.E.M. push

Curiosity, questioning and science are recurring themes on my blog. How could a post entitled “Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the  S.T.E.M. push” not appeal to me? While I don’t think I’ve written about dead chooks, yet, when I was six I was the best chicken catcher in the family and I definitely saw a few chooks running around with their heads chopped off!
In this post Sheryl Gwyther talks about the awakening of her scientific questioning at age four when seeing a similar a spectacle. The transcript of a talk delivered to other authors “Children are born scientists … It’s called curiosity” (my words exactly!) is included in the post. Sheryl urges authors to include science in their writing for children and suggests three rules for doing so:
Never be didactic
Create characters that children can connect with
While she doesn’t say it in so many words, I think the message of keeping the science accurate is implied. (I have questioned the inaccuracy in The Very Hungry Caterpillar in previous posts.)
Sheryl’s closing paragraphs motivate and inspire writers. She says,
“We have the opportunity, the passion and hopefully, the commitment to reach out to young Australian children through stories about the wonder of science, and the responsibility for their future custody of this planet.
Great stories, cleverly laced with scientific understanding not didactic waffle.
Great stories to make them feel and think, and question.
Great stories – for the sake of their future on this planet.”

Some of the authors from my celebration of Australian picture book series are doing just that:
Kim Michelle Toft
Narelle Oliver
Jeannie Baker
Please read Sheryl’s post in its entirety. She offers much good advice and inspiration. You can find out more about Sheryl by following these links:
Sheryl Gwyther SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor Queensland Public Profile
Author webpage
Author blog

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A celebration of Australian picture books #4 — Narelle Oliver

This post is the fourth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox and Kim Michelle Toft.

Narelle Oliver

In this post I introduce you to Narelle Oliver, a Brisbane-based author and illustrator. There is much to explore on Narelle’s site, including: information about her writing process and tips for would-be picture book authors; the research involved in creating her books, many of which are about nature; and illustration techniques that involve the use of linocut printing and rubbing, and other assorted media.

Narelle conducts workshops for children and adults. She visits schools to share with children the wonder of her books and talks to them about her writing and illustrating processes. When she visited “my” school she brought along first thoughts and illustrations for, and a dummy book of, The Very Blue Thingamajig, plus a soft toy prototype – and we all wanted one! She also brought a fox from the museum and talked about illustrating Fox and fine feathers. She read to the children, involved them in activities and gave them an experience of linocut printing. It was fascinating for both children and teachers.

Narelle talks about her workshops and sessions in this video.

While you can find a complete list of Narelle’s books here, I will share those I have on my bookshelf (in no particular order).

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The Very Blue Thingamajig is as story about difference and acceptance told in a fun way involving mathematical concepts of patterns, counting and days of the week. The colourful illustrations made using hand-coloured linocuts are appealing, and children love to find the little bird who provides a secondary story throughout the book. On Narelle’s fun page you can colour and decorate your own thingamajig.

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Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie is a gorgeous tale of three little murmels who are washed out to sea in an arkel and arrive on a foreign shore where they are not welcomed by the resident snigs. They are imprisoned until when, the arkel is repaired, they are to leave. At night a young snig releases the murmels who teach the snig to have fun. In the end the murmels are accepted and stay happily in Snigdom with the snigs, learning from and enjoying each other’s company. This book is illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts.

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Fox and fine feathers is a story of friendship, of looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. The attention to detail in these linocut illustrations coloured with pencils and pastels is amazing and accurately depicts the five creatures and the forest setting. Narelle has supported the story with information about the birds, their habitat and the dangers imposed by the feral fox, which is now a serious threat, along with other feral animals, to native species in Australia.

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Narelle Oliver Collection of three stories: Leaf Tail, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay and The Hunt.

  • Leaf Tail, Narelle’s first picture book, illustrated by beautiful linocuts, tells the story of a leaf tail gecko and the importance of camouflage to survival in the Queensland forest.
  • The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, also illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts, tells of a squabble between five different birds, each professing its own beak to be the best. Finally clever pelican holds a contest that enables the birds to see that each beak is best in its own way. As well as a delightful story about wildlife, it also provides a springboard into discussions about, and appreciation of, differences.
  • The Hunt is another beautifully illustrated wildlife story of camouflage and survival. The story is supported with information about its setting and the workings of animal camouflage and disguise. There are also black and white drawings showing where to find the animals camouflaged in each illustration. It is fun to see if all the animals can be found without referring to the guide.

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Home, referred to in a previous post Home or away, is perhaps a favourite if only because it is based on a true story of a pair of peregrine falcons that nested at the top of a 27-storey building in the city of Brisbane. The birds, named Frodo and Frieda, fascinated a city and, for a while, had their own reality show “Frodocam”. The story, beautifully illustrated using a combination of media including linocut rubbings, collage, photographs, pencil, pastels and watercolours, tells of the adaptation of wildlife to new landscapes and environments.

Each of these books can be appreciated for its story or used as a springboard for discussion. The illustrations appeal to adults and children alike for the attention to detail and accurate representation of wildlife. The addition of supporting information encourages an appreciation for wildlife and their habitats and develops an awareness of the need for their protection. They would be a wonderful addition to any book collection and be much appreciated as gifts.

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A celebration of Australian picture books #1

Recently my friend Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark: Navigating the Unchartered Waters of Parenting and Life, shared a series of posts about first lines (paragraphs, sentences and pages). She discussed the importance of hooking the reader and shared some of her favourite first lines from a variety of genres. When she shared picture books I was inspired to share some by our many wonderful Australian authors and illustrators.

These are just some of the Australian picture books I quickly located on my shelves:

Australian picture books

I own multiple titles of some authors’ work, and of others’ I own but one or two. Sadly, there are many whose work I don’t own. There are too many wonderful books to share in just one post so I have decided to write a series with a post dedicated to each author of whose work I own multiple titles, including Mem Fox, Narelle Oliver, Jeannie Baker and Kim Michelle Toft (and I might sneak in New Zealander Pamela Allen).

In this post I share some lovely books, their first lines (according to Sarah’s definition) and tell you a little about why they are on my shelves.

For this series I have commandeered “celebration” as a collective noun for Australian picture books so it is fitting that the first I share is A Compendium of Collective Nouns by Jennifer Skelly.

A Compendium of Collective Nouns

This delightful little book was a gift from my grandchildren (chosen by their mother). In the introduction Jennifer asks, “Do you remember laughing when you first learned that a group of crows is called a murder? Or a group of owls is called a parliament?” Like me, Jennifer has always been interested in collective nouns but, unlike me, she has published a collection of them. Her beautiful drawings illustrate collections such as “a crash of rhinoceroses”, “a flamboyance of flamingos” and “a wisdom of wombats”, but who ever heard of “a rabble of butterflies”?

While there are a number of Hippopotamus on the Roof books I have only the original, There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards (illustrated by Deborah Niland).

There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake

It begins,

“Our roof leaks.




My Daddy says there’s a hole in our roof.

I know why there’s a hole.

There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake.”

The copy on my shelf actually belongs to Bec. Her dad bought it for her on a trip back home to Belfast in 1990. He went all the way to Belfast and brought her back an Australian picture book! A good one though.

In this video Hazel Edward talks about the original idea for the book, other contributing ideas and changes as well as the the important relationship between author and reader. She also reads the book.

Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan (illustrated by Pamela Lofts) is a favourite.

Wombat Stew

It begins,

“One day, on the banks of a billabong, a very clever dingo caught a wombat …

and decided to make  …

Wombat stew,

Wombat stew,

Gooey, brewy,

Yummy, chewy,

Wombat stew!”

The amusing story tells how the animals trick the dingo and save wombat from his fate. It is a great book to read aloud with its rhythmic language and repetition of the song “Wombat stew” with slight word changes each time. Children enthusiastically join in with the reading and love acting it out. One year I wrote a play with my year one class and they performed it for the school and their parents. It was a lot of fun.

Little Bat

Little Bat by Tania Cox (illustrated by Andrew McLean) begins

“Little Bat was nervous.

She’d never done this before.”

With the encouragement of her mother and other animal friends, Little Bat discovers that she can fly. I like the story’s positive message that if you try you can succeed. Books with this theme were always popular and inspired lots of discussion in my classroom.

When I saw When the Wind Changed by Ruth Park (illustrated by Deborah Niland) in a bookstore, I had to have it for my bookshelf! When I was a child I, like Josh, must have been good at making faces, because my mother was always telling me that if the wind changed I’d stay like that. Well, I don’t think that happened to me, but it did to Josh! The book begins

“There was this boy named Josh.

He could do lots of things.

There was one thing he could do best of all.

He could make faces.”

Of course one day the inevitable happens! Fortunately the story has a happy ending, for Josh anyway – I’m not so sure about Dad!

Are you familiar with any of these books? Have you seen them in bookstores near you? What books by Australian authors have you read?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.