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  • Children's & YA Literature

Books From Down Under

By Skye Deiter and Carolyn Angus
 | Jul 29, 2019

In this week’s column we feature books that originated “down under.” Included are picture books and the latest titles in chapter book series that are full of fun for younger readers and a retelling of fairy tales and a realistic novel for older readers by authors and illustrators from Australia and New Zealand.

Ages 4–8

Don’t Call Me Bear! Aaron Blabey. 2019. Scholastic.

Don't Call Me Bear!Warren, a koala tired of being called a koala bear, points out on a Chart of Common Marsupials that koalas are related to possums, kangaroos, wombats, and Tasmanian devils and makes it clear that bears are not native to Australia. Aaron Blabey’s clever mixed-media cartoon artwork shows Warren becoming increasingly more annoyed about being the only mammal in the bush that gets misnamed. Finally, he’s had enough when a kangaroo tells him, “You may not be a bear, mate, but you look like one.” Warren shouts out an angry “SHOOSH!” and walks away in disgust—while the kangaroo, an emu, and a platypus look on and comment that he’s such a cute little bear and that bears are great. Aaron Blabey lives in New South Wales.
—CA

The Last Peach. Gus Gordon. 2019. Roaring Brook.

The Last Peach“Oh my, now THAT is a fine peach!” declares an insect. “Yes, indeed, the finest!” says another. The two agree it’s the most beautiful peach they have seen all summer and that they must eat it at once. When a praying mantis comes along and says they can’t eat it because it’s the last peach of the season and another insect warns that it’s lovely on the outside but probably rotten on the inside, they aren’t sure what to do. They argue fiercely, each declaring why it’s theirs to eat alone before agreeing that the peach is too beautiful to eat. With a “Goodbye, peach” and “Goodbye, peach. We love you,” they depart. The final spread of Gus Gordon’s beautifully composed collage artwork reveals an unexpected surprise ending to this sunny tale written entirely in dialogue. Gus Gordon lives in New South Wales.
—CA

Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey (Noni the Pony #3). Alison Lester. 2019. Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster.

Noni the PonyAs they roam the hills near their home on a farm on Waratah Bay, Noni the Pony and pals Coco (a cat) and Dave (a dog) meet a lost wallaby joey. Trying to locate the joey’s family, they question Koala, Wombat, Platypus, Emu, Echidna, Possum, Goanna, and Quoll. “No one has spotted the wallaby mob, / and Joey’s small sniffle becomes a big sob.” Noni invites the joey to stay with them, and upon returning home, they happily discover the wallaby family, looking for Joe. The pairing of colorful mixed-media illustrations and a text of rhyming couplets make this new adventure of Noni the Pony a great read-aloud for introducing Australian animals as well as a gentle story about friendship and kindness. Alison Lester lives in Victoria.
—CA

Oink. David Elliot. 2019. Gecko.

OinkThis charming, nearly wordless tale with expressive softly colored watercolor-and-pencil illustrations begins on the subtitle page with a pig stepping out of his pants. Once he’s climbed into the tub, he closes his eyes and relaxes—until there’s a “Knock! Knock!” Pig frowns as a lamb in a swimsuit splashes into the tub with her toy boat. With more knocks at the door, Pig’s peaceful bath is disturbed by a cow and a donkey, more splashing, and lots of excited maas, moos, and hee haws! Wavy lines rising from the water in the tub and the surprised looks on the faces of the animals in the next illustration show how Pig solves the problem of overcrowding. One by one the intruders depart in a huff, and Pig is once again alone and enjoying his bath. “Oooiiinnnkk.” David Elliot lives on New Zealand’s South Island.
—CA

Sadie and the Silver Shoes. Jane Godwin. Ill. Anna Walker. 2019. Candlewick.

Sadie and the Silver ShoesSadie, used to hand-me-down clothing from her three older brothers, loves getting to pick out new shoes of her very own. One day, she chooses a pair of sparkly, silver shoes. “These are absolutely my most favorite shoes.” When one of her beloved shoes gets lost in the creek, Sadie refuses to part with the remaining shoe and decides to continue wearing it—even if it means having mismatched shoes. Ellie, a new student at Sadie’s school offers an unexpected twist to the story (and a friendship) when she recognizes Sadie’s lone silver shoe. Anna Walker’s cheery watercolor and collage artwork brings Sadie and the other characters to life as the story unfolds. Jane Godwin and Anna Walker live in Victoria.
—SD

The Second Sky. Patrick Guest. Ill. Jonathan Bentley. 2019. Eerdmans.

The Second SkyFrom the moment he hatches, Gilbert the penguin longs to fly with the other birds. Despite many failed attempts and his family’s discouragement, Gilbert refuses to give up, telling himself he just needs more feathers. The perseverant penguin eventually discovers his ability to “fly” while swimming in the sea. “Gilbert tucked his wings and did a perfect dive. Then he spread his wings …and flew.” Patrick Guest’s placement and sizing of some text imitates Gilbert’s ups and downs while Jonathan Bentley’s beautiful artwork captures the changing perspectives of the young penguin—first from inside his hatching egg, to his flapping and fumbling in motion scenes, and finally, to his discovery of the second “sky” waiting for him below the water. Patrick Guest lives in Victoria, Australia; Jonathan Bentley lives in Queensland.
—SD  

Steve Goes to Carnival. Joshua Button & Robyn Wells. 2019. Candlewick.

Steve Goes to the CarnivalSteve, a gorilla, is on a quest to find where his zookeeper friend, Antonio, who shares Steve’s love for jazz, goes when he leaves the zoo. The adventure leads Steve, under the disguise of a yellow hat, through the city of Rio during Carnival. Joshua Button and Robyn Wells use black and colored inks in bold and fine lines and acrylics to create textured, bold illustrations which highlight colorful Carnival. Their collaboration also captures Rio de Janeiro’s culture by incorporating traditional architecture and city sights (like yellow trams and favelas) in evocative double-page spreads and by mixing Brazilian Portuguese words into the text. Back matter includes notes about Button and Wells’ creative process and a glossary of Brazilian Portuguese terms used. Joshua Button and Robyn Wells live in Western Australia.
—SD

Triple Treats (Little Lunch #1). Danny Katz. Ill. Mitch Vane. 2019. Candlewick Entertainment/Candlewick.

Little LunchA lot can happen during the 15 minutes of little lunch (snack time at morning recess), and there’s fun to be had while reading the three short stories in this new chapter book series based on a popular Australian TV show. In “The Snack Shop,” Rory, who has forgotten his little lunch once again, does the unthinkable and goes off school grounds to the Snack Shop—and everyone in Mrs. Gonsha’s class ends up in “VERY. BIG. TROUBLE!” In “Grandparents Day,” Battie, who feels responsible for ruining the day, ends up delivering a funny and entertaining speech that makes it the best Grandparents Day ever. “YA-YA!” In “The Cake Sale,” Melanie’s plan to sell slices of cake to raise money for homeless puppies gets some competition from the boys, and a glorious food fight breaks out at little lunch. Danny Katz and Mitch Vane live in Victoria.
—CA

Ages 9–11

The 104-Story Treehouse (Treehouse Adventures #8). Andy Griffith. Ill. Terry Denton. 2019. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.

The 104-Story TreehouseThis eighth installment of the popular Treehouse series reacquaints readers with Andy and Terry and previews the many levels of their now 104-story treehouse. Amidst Andy’s suffering from a toothache, the writing duo must finish a new book for their agent, Mr. Big Nose…or else! Terry proposes buying a Joke Writer 2000 to get the job done, which leads the pair on a wildly imaginative adventure featuring a never-ending staircase, a money-making machine that also dispenses honey, bun-fighting bears, and unreasonably priced shops. Readers will delight in the absurdity of the book’s premise and find added humor in the jokes printed in question-answer format at the bottom of pages. Andy Griffith and Terry Denton live in Victoria.
—SD

Ages 12–14

Vasilisa the Wise: And Other Tales of Brave Young Women. Kate Forsyth. Ill. Lorena Carrington. 2019. Kane Miller.

Vasilia Wise copyThis collection includes seven old tales (six from the oral tradition and one literary fairy tale) about brave, clever, resourceful, and independent young women. The language of Kate Forsyth’s feminist retellings is fresh and enchanting, and photographic artist Lorena Carrington’s intricately detailed digital-collage silhouette artwork (full-page illustrations and spot art) beautifully capture the mood of the tales. Each tale is prefaced by a note on its provenance and followed by notes from Forsyth and Carrington on their connection to the story and the creative process they used in writing and illustrating it. Kate Forsyth lives in New South Wales; Lorena Carrington lives in Victoria.
—CA

Ages 15+

How It Feels to Float. Helena Fox. 2019. Dial/Penguin.

How It Feels to FloatAlthough her father died when she was 7, he remains a visible presence in the life of 17-year-old Biz, who keeps his appearance and conversations with her hidden from others. After she is alienated from her friends because of what happens at a beach party while she is drunk, her depression and panic attacks increase as even her father “disappears.” Biz drops out of school, reluctantly begins treatment, becomes interested in photography, and makes a new friend, Jasper. She sets out from her home in Wollongong with Jasper and her camera on a trip to places in Australia where her father had lived to “find” him and ends up hospitalized for dissociative disorders. The lyrical first-person narrative of this beautifully crafted YA novel about mental illness is compelling and ends on a realistically hopeful note.
Helena Fox lives in New South Wales.
—CA

Skye Deiter is an elementary classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a recent graduate from Pennsylvania State Harrisburg’s Masters in Literacy Education Program. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on 
Literacy Daily

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