Tag Archives: Lesley Gibbes

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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Books Light Up Our World – Picture Book Reviews and Activities

Book Week is hosted annually by the Children’s Book Council of Australia and this year marks the 70th anniversary celebration in honour of the inspirational work of Australian authors and illustrators. By promoting books we, as parents, educators, writers, children’s literacy advocates, are encouraging children to read and inherit a love of books, and a love of learning.

In 2015, Book Week will run from August 22nd – 28th with the brilliant theme of ‘Books Light Up Our World’. Over two posts I will provide descriptions of picture books I love and related educational activities, including some of the shortlisted titles in the running to win in the CBCA’s Book of the Year Awards, plus a few extra goodies you might like to explore. Enjoy!

 

Scary Night is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Scary Night is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Scary Night, Lesley Gibbes (author), Stephen Michael King (illus.), Working Title Press, 2014.

Review – This book can’t light up your world more with its complete darkness, under the pale moonlight! An utterly spooky yet courageous story of Pig with a parcel, Hare with a Hat and Cat with a cake traipsing through perilous forests, crocodile-infested waters, cemetaries and bat caves to a most mysterious destination. Gloriously animated illustrations and rollicking, rhythmic text have already sparked the curiosity and delight of many young (and old) readers across the country.

imageEducational Activity –  Language, Arts.

Draw and cut out character pictures or silhouettes and attach to sticks to create your own stick or shadow puppets. Retell or recreate the story for dramatic play. Create a mural background for stick puppets, or shine a torch as you action your shadow puppets against the wall.

For more Scary Night teaching notes please click here.

 

Go To Sleep, Jessie! is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Go To Sleep, Jessie! is shortlisted in the Early Childhood category.

Go To Sleep, Jessie!, Libby Gleeson (author), Freya Blackwood (illus.), Little Hare, 2015.

ReviewGo To Sleep, Jessie! will light a fire in your heart. It’s such a sweet and gentle story of a little girl feeling the angst as her baby sister has trouble settling down to sleep. Gleeson skillfully masters the raw emotions of these girls (and their parents) in this all-too-familiar situation. Equally so, Blackwood’s illustrations capture this light and shade perfectly both viscerally and literally in her colour palette. A completely warming and enlightening story of sisterly love.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Arts.

Design and make a dreamcatcher to soothe baby to sleep. The patterns in your design also create pretty patterns when the light shines through! Sing lullabies to help calm your little brother or sister for bedtime.

Find instructions from Laughing Kids Learn here.

 

imageSummer Rain, Ros Moriarty (author), Balarinji (illus.), Allen and Unwin, 2015.

Review – This book lights up a beautiful serenade of native Australian animals across the stunning landscapes of the Northern Territory. From the dry morning sun the land awakes to bounding kangaroos, turtles and lizards, and when the summer rain splatters on the dusty earth, flowers burst and leaves dance, brolgas strut and dugongs dive. The vivid and striking Indigenous illustrations and poetic language certainly emanate joy and energy to light a glimmer in any readers’ eyes.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Art, Nature.

Create a poster / mural divided into Dry Season and Wet Season with painted scenes and animals in bright colours. Write descriptive sentences about the scenes using verbs and adjectives. For example, “…the sun beats with steamy heat.” “Wattles burst in fuzzy gold.” Discuss the differences between Dry and Wet seasons. How would each feel / affect the animals?

 

imageDigby’s Moon Mission, Renee Price (author), Anil Tortop (illus.), Create It Kids, 2014.

Review – A young, curious boy sets out on an adventurous mission to illuminate a moon that appears only a sliver of its former self. With a team of gourmet chefs (his friends), a glorious catapult contraption and a trusty measuring tape, Digby plumps up the moon in the most creative, and comical, way. The wonderfully whimsical and energetic illustrations beautifully compliment this ingenious story with all its teachable moments and themes referencing time, measurement, moon phases, rhyming words, friendship and working together. An absolute delight for preschoolers that will, just like the real moon, light up their world.

imageEducational ActivityLanguage, Science, Art.

Create eight (or four) phases of the moon by cutting out the shapes separately on black cards. Phases include new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, third quarter/half, waning crescent. Hang up the moon phases on a window or around a lamp to see them glow. Discuss and label the different phases and their shapes. Monitor the moon each night and record it in a diary.

More reviews and lessons here

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Read about Jenny Graham’s experience at a presentation by CBCA judges on these prestigious awards here.

 

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