Christmas is just around the corner and this year the selection of gifts on my list is based on some of my favourite Australian authors of picture books for children, as they make special and very significant Christmas presents.
They support the acquisition of language, develop the imagination, challenge thinking, provide opportunities for discussion, support children in making connections and meaning of the world, encourage new ideas and enhance values and concepts.
Graeme Base’s Animalia takes children on an eye-catching literary journey from A to Z. ‘Ingenious iguanas improvising an intricate impromptu on impossibly impractical instruments.’
The scope of visual imagery and intent is awe-inspiring. Base has woven his magic in the design, colour and textual nuances in his impressions of the appearances and personalities of the animals.
He has portrayed a fantasy world and coloured it with delicious humour that has enormous charm for children. Discovering a tantalising variety of obvious and hidden pictures for each letter is exciting and stimulating.
Children can have fun as they discuss the illustrations building on their vocabulary, enriching their communication and making connections between spoken and written language.
As children describe and uncover the attributes of the animals, and make associations between objects and words, they are actively engaged in the acquisition of language.
Graham Base writes;
‘Within the pages of this book
You may discover, if you look
Beyond the spell of written words,
A hidden land of beasts and birds.’
Alison Lester’s Imagine, also explores the world of animals and transports children to a variety of natural habitats. Here they can locate all the different indigenous animals that live in diverse geographical settings.
Alison Lester’s masterful technique of presenting children in real life situations and then not only relocating them into the animal’s environments, but inviting them to actively participate and interact with the animals is inventive and takes the readers into the heart of the book.
Nurturing children’s imagination is a powerful bequest to give.
Children respond to the joy of being safely conveyed metaphorically to new experiences and places in the world where imagination is given the wings to fly.
‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere’*
Scenes from the jungle, ocean, arctic, countryside, dinosaur age, safari and the Australian bush at night offer children the chance to learn and imagine being part of these distinct domains.
The key at the back of the book provides black outlines of the animals and accompanying lists of the animals displayed so that children can identify and learn the names of the various animals.
In 1993 Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award, Picture Books category and was a joint winner of The Australian Psychological Society’s biannual Children’s Peace Literature Award.
The Children’s Peace Literature Award ‘encourages the dissemination of information related to peaceful means of resolving conflict and promoting peace at the global, local and interpersonal level.’
This simple book challenges preconceived ideas about Rose’s ‘frightening’ neighbour Mr Wintergarten. Rose sensitively confronts the stories about Mr Wintergarten, his character, his sombre house and his ferocious pets through personal contact and gifts of ‘flowers and hot fairy cakes.’
The enchanting illustrations are further clues to the story with Rose’s house colourfully brightened by the sun while dull neutral tones mask Mr Wintergarten’s house next door. This is an exquisite tale of testing and investigating stereotype thinking.
Jeannie Baker’s Window is a wordless picture book looking through the same windows over a period of twenty four years and observing the environmental destruction that occurs across the views.
In the Author’s Note she writes;
“We are changing the face of our world at an alarming and increasing pace.’
When viewing Window, children have the opportunity to explore and discuss the devastating changes that affect our earth. Each child will be immersed in their own interpretation of Jeannie Baker’s delicate, detailed and fascinating collages.
They will be motivated to react, ask questions and learn about how they can respond and make a difference to environmental issues.
Supporting children in making connections and meaning of the world is encouragingly depicted and described at a national level in Mem Fox’s I’m Australian Too, and at an international level in her touching and tender picture book Whoever You Are.
Australia’s multicultural heritage is honoured in I’m Australian Too from the original inhabitants of the country, through countries of origin as far away as Ireland, Italy, Greece, England, Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.
This book offers acceptance, hope and the pride we have in being a diverse nation.
‘Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.’
Whoever You Are, is a poignant reminder that although children across the world are different in many ways there ‘hearts are just the same.’ This celebration of diversity acknowledges the commonalities of being human.
New ideas and knowledge about the oldest living culture in the world graphically unfold in the highly respected Aboriginal Elder Aunty Joy Murphy’s multi-award winning picture book Welcome to Country.
The wondrous traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People are beautifully illustrated in the paintings of indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy. The language of respect and belonging to the land is generously shared with invitations ‘to take a leaf from the branches of the white river gum.’
The Aboriginal cultural ceremony of Welcome to Country represents for readers of all ages the unique way this Aboriginal community has in the past and continues in the present to welcome yannabil (visitors). The Elders (liwiks) give permission “to enter onto their traditional lands.’
This extraordinary book gives insight into the landscape and culture of the Wurundjeri People. It resonates with their connection to land and community.
Aaron Blabey’s joyful picture book Thelma the Unicorn enhances concepts about valuing self and the comfort of self-acceptance. It’s a wonderful reminder of being careful about what we wish for as the consequences can be unexpected and deliver unsettling outcomes.
‘Oh, it was fun … but I’d rather just be me.’
At Christmas, fill the world of the children you love with picture books! Wishing you all peace, health and happiness over the festive season!
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018