Tag Archives: Glenda Millard

Picture Books in the Eye of the Beholder

To begin my journey towards becoming a published picture book author, I became an avid (perhaps compulsive) reader of the genre. Yes, it has definitely helped having two young daughters around as an excuse for my weekly loitering in the kids’ section of the library. Anyway, I also began writing formal reviews around 18 months ago, in the hopes that studying these beauties would ingrain some wisdom and impart a whole bunch of amazing writing skills. Well, let’s see if some of it is getting through! These are my findings on what makes for a successful picture book. What features do you look for?

1. Front Cover / Title.
imageCan you judge a book by its cover? I say, if it’s love at first sight, then YES! I’m drawn to immediate eye-catching qualities, and those covers that reflect a glimpse of the adventure that awaits inside. Titles, too, should be catchy, humorous, thought-provoking and/or teasers! Think ‘Pig the Pug’ (Aaron Blabey) with his adorably ugly, bulgy-eyed, squashed face that so boldly graces its bright red cover, and a title that intices the reader to find out more. On the opposite spectrum ‘I Don’t Like Koala’ (Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso) poses dramatic impact with its simplicity of a boy throwing a toy across a white background. With these examples, the visual expressions paired with the interesting titles say it all.

2. Opening / Closing Lines.
The opening line MUST win you over from the outset. I love those that grab your curiosity by the horns on first inspection. And the closing line… It should encapsulate everything explored, challenged, and triumphed. Really, the pair should work together; the story is like fastening a bracelet with its hook (opening) and its clasp (closing), and all the jewels and charms inbetween.
One of my favourites would have to be ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ (Eric Carle):
Opening – ‘In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.’
Closing – ‘…he was a beautiful butterfly!’

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3. Re-readable Story.
imageRe-reading the books allows you to get the most out of the experience. But with kids, if it doesn’t grab them the first time, then you’ve got no chance of a repeat reading. Stories with humour, suspense, imagination, emotion and depth, thought-provoking sub-plots and surprising secret details, as well as plays with words, are winners when they still grab you upon second, third or one hundreth reading. ‘Scary Night’ (Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King) is a great example of a book that evokes excitement, interactivity and curiosity in its plot and language, with little elements in the drawings that encourage hours of perusal.

4. Relatable Characters.
imageWe connect with characters who show different facets of human nature and overcome internal and external struggles in pleasing, fascinating ways and with universal appeal. For instance, parents and children can relate to the everyday challenges seen with the lovable, strong-willed Alfie in ‘Hurry Up Alfie’ (Anna Walker), as well as those that open our eyes to a world beyond our own, such as the generous Bridie in ‘Bridie’s Boots’ (Phil Cummings and Sara Acton), and the diverse cultures seen in ‘An Aussie Year’ (Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling).

5. A Unique Idea.
How clever are these creators to come up with something that is like nothing we’ve seen before?! I’m thinking of heartwarming stories that explore relationships in difficult circumstances (‘When I see Grandma’, Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom), interactive language and unique artistic media (‘I’m a Dirty Dinosaur’, Janeen Brian and Ann James), and inventive ways to be hilarious (‘My Dad Thinks He’s Funny’, Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett).

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6. Language.
The language and the illustrations work together in tandem with their ability to tantalise, entertain, interest and arouse emotion. Whether it’s rhythmic, alliterated, repetitive, or questioning, every word, every meter, every refrain needs to be exact. A couple of picture books in this class are the poetic ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ (Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King), and the exquisite ‘Teacup’ (Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley).

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

Image from Itty Bitty Book Van.

7. Illustrations.
imageThese are the driving force of the humble ‘picture’ book. Children’s book artists are completely brilliant with their mind-blowing ability to create captivating, striking, expressive, textured, detailed and varied images, with their clever use of colours and movement. Too many to name, and each with their own unique styles, here are some of my personal favourites: Freya Blackwood, Anna Walker, Matt Ottley, Shaun Tan, Bob Graham, Gus Gordon, Alison Lester, Bruce Whatley, Andrew Joyner, Peter Carnavas and Renée Treml.

What do you think makes for a successful picture book? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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More Books to Light Up Our World

Our literary professionals are awe-inspiring. Their ability to write, illustrate and market these books to foster a love of reading and learning throughout the nation, and the world, is remarkable. The potential they have in capturing young people’s hearts and minds is nothing short of extraordinary. Having some of these wonderful books celebrated and acknowledged in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards is certainly a positive sign of their credibility.

Following on from my previous ‘Books Light Up Our World’ reviews and activities list, here are a few more to discover to help celebrate a love for reading.

 

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Fire, Jackie French (author), Bruce Whatley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2014.

Review – Literally lighting a world before our eyes, burning through our hearts is the highly evocative and devastating story of loss, courage and regrowth following a natural disaster. With French’s mesmerising poetry that simply takes your breath away, paired with Whatley’s grippingly haunting, bleeding and volcanic spreads, ‘Fire‘ engulfes the land, and our emotions. From pain comes strength, and we are uplifted by the human spirit, the power of love and the rebirth of a new dawn.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage.

Acrostic Poem. Use the word BUSHFIRE (or your choice) to write a poem (acrostic or other), utilising symbolic language representing the events in the story.

For more Fire teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Picture Book of the Year.

The Duck and the Darklings, Glenda Millard (author), Stephen Michael King, (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

Review – This book is sure to strike up a spark in your heart. From total desolation comes a story of hope and triumph, with an exposion of warmth. Living in the land of Dark, Peterboy brings the dazzle and glimmer to his Grandpapa’s eyes with a treasured scrap of wonderfulness; a downy-hearted duck called Idaduck. As Grandpapa restores Idaduck’s health, his glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories) is also restored, and in consequence, their world becomes strangely bright once more. Captivating, poetic text and striking, bold illustrations make ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ an award-winning book of depth, wonder, radiance and immense significance.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science.

Light up a room with your very own homemade candle. Materials include wax flakes, pre-waxed candle wicks, container for candle, crayons, essential oils (optional). For instructions please click on She Knows.

For more The Duck and the Darklings teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Pig the Pug, Aaron Blabey (author, illus.), Scholastic, 2014.

Review – Well, what can we say about this little pug? I’m sure you all know the story well… A greedy, selfish, bulgy-eyed, maniacal dog who refuses to share nothing but insults with his flatmate sausage dog, Trevor. How does this book coincide with the theme of ‘Books Light Up Our World’? Let’s see. Pig steals all the limelight. He has a flash of craziness in his eyes. The highlight of the story is his utter misfortune, involving a bright, sunlit window and the reference to the phrase ‘when pigs can fly’. And the fact that through the darkness of Pig’s heart there is a little glimmer of hope that he has learnt a lesson… Aaron Blabey’s hysterical rhyming text and eminently vivacious illustrations definitely fire up its readers with the inexplicable placing of a soft spot for our furry friend (or foe).

 

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Art

Help Pig the Pug to fly! Design and construct a straw rocket that can propel Pig through the air. Draw and cut out a picture of Pig the Pug. Roll up a strip of paper to fit long-ways, stick it at the back of the picture and fit over a straw, sticking down the top end. Blow through the straw and watch Pig fly!

For more Pig the Pug teaching notes please click here.

 

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

Shortlisted Early Childhood Book of the Year.

A House of Her Own, Jenny Hughes (author), Jonathan Bentley (illus.), Little Hare Books, 2014.

Review – Audrey requests the most extraordinary favour of her happy-go-lucky father, which if anyone received would certainly light up their world. When Audrey proclaims that she is too small for her current abode, a house high up in the backyard tree sounds perfect! Her handy dad fulfills all her wishes, from the marvellous spiral staircase, an over-hanging snorkelling tub, a spot for sipping tea and a comfy blue bed. It’s spectacular, but all that independence and responsibility is perhaps more than Audrey can handle. Was building Audrey’s heavenly, light-filled tree house the most brilliant idea afterall? Endearing dialogue between Audrey and her accommodating dad, and breathtaking, vibrant illustrations make ‘A House of Her Own’ an energetic and sunny book of love, dedication and achieving magnificent heights.

image image imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Technology.

Design and construct your own magnificent tree house filled with light using a box, paper rolls, textas, egg cartons, pipe cleaners, other craft materials. Use a torch and/or mirror to glow or reflect light. Discuss your own needs and create places to bathe, cook, sleep, entertain, and of course, a spiral staircase! Write labels on a diagram and/or a sentence explaining how this house of your own is your ideal dwelling.

 

Have you created or seen fantastic book ideas for a book that you love?

Look out for the announcement of the 2015 Winning Books of the Year from the CBCA tomorrow!

Which book are you tipping for a win?

 

 

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