Animals and children’s books seem to go together as naturally as wine and cheese (mmm, must be Friday!) My kids have always loved stories about animals: from the earliest E-is-for-Elephant alphabet guides, through to colourful junior zoology, and on to chapter books about pony-loving bffs. Today I have 3 beautiful brand new picture books and a cool app for tiny techies up for review – all with an animal theme.
My First Animalia by Graeme Base
RRP $19.95, Penguin, released in Australia 23 October 2013
The original Animalia was released in 1986 and instantly became a classic. Its lush illustrations show animals getting up to all kinds of mischief in complex alphabetically-themed scenarios. Turn to the letter C to discover crafty crimson cats carefully catching crusty crayfish, for example. If you look really carefully at the highly detailed imagery, you might also spot a camera…a cactus…a castle! Keep searching and you’ll realise almost everything carefully stashed in the background starts with a C. Animalia provides the most wonderful way to play with language, increase vocabulary, pay attention to detail and simply while away time with your children. This new edition has been reformatted for the very young, with an emphasis on letter recognition and basic vocabulary. The illustrations are slightly cut down from the original versions, but essentially the same creative masterpieces, and the pages retain their elaborate tongue twisters. Try saying ‘meticulous mice monitoring mysterious mathematical messages’ in a hurry!
Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox & Emma Quay
RRP $24.99, Penguin, released in Australia 23 October 2013
Mem Fox is one of Australia’s best loved children’s writers, with books like Possum Magic, Koala Lou and Where’s the Green Sheep? on the must-read list for every Aussie child. Baby Bedtime is a sweet, gentle bedtime read for the very young. For me, it doesn’t have the stand out qualities of other Fox classics, but it’s nonetheless a lyrical lullaby that celebrates the love between parent and child. An elephant (who could be a mummy or a daddy) goes through the evening ritual of turning off lights, drawing curtains and reading a book, all the while chatting to their bub about how much they’d love to keep snuggling if it wasn’t bed time. “I could nibble on your nose…I could stroke your silky hair…I could gaze at you all night…but there comes a time for sleeping, and our sleepy time is now.” The illustrations are in muted blues and browns, giving the whole thing a dreamy quality, perfect for reading in bed at the end of a busy day.
Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
RRP $24.95, Little Hare, out now
Another one from an award-winning author and accomplished illustrator, Banjo and Ruby Red is a sophisticated picture book that took me a couple of reads to fully appreciate. Banjo is a hard-working farm dog and Ruby is a haughty chicken. They share a sort of cheeky love-hate friendship, barking and squarking at each other in playful antagonism as the farm ticks along around them. One day, Banjo notices Ruby Red is not in her usual spot perched on the wood stack. He searches everywhere, eventually finding her lying still on the ground. He carries her back to his kennel and watches over her as she recovers. The narrative raises questions about friendship and loyalty, finally showing the affection these two farmyard friends have for each other, despite their daily schedule of teasing and trickery. The illustrations are beautiful and the conclusion is sweet and joyful, however my children found the lead up a little scary (they presumed Ruby had died and were distressed for a good few pages!). I think these kinds of slightly challenging children’s books are a welcome tonic to some of the run-of-the-mill fluff available for young readers, but give this one a read yourself first if you have very sensitive children.
Who Lives Here? (App for i devices)
RRP $2.99, Puffin Books, out now at the App Store
Puffin Books have been publishing the best in children’s books for as long as I can remember, but this is their first foray into the app market. Who Lives Here? is a colourful, interactive, educational app for very young children which serves as the modern equivalent of a pop-up book. Players move through 8 unique animal environments (the jungle, the sea, the farm and so on) playing a guessing game about who lives where. A giraffe in the ocean? Oops, wrong choice! An octopus? Well done! Children can learn the sights and sounds of the animal kingdom along with basic vocabulary by interacting with the simple graphics. The animals in each scenario move and make sounds, and a tilt-screen feature allows kids to play around with the landscape. This app was a hit with my 2 year old and seems to be aimed at that very early market. A good one for keeping toddlers busy at a cafe, for example, if you’re willing to hand over your phone!
I thank the publishers kindly for my review copies of these titles. All opinions are, as always, my own.