Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Celebrate Easter with a Bilby!

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever favourite children's books are Guess How Much I Love YouA Bit LostHowl's Moving CastleA Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls, and Winnie-the-Pooh. 

With Easter fast approaching, our thoughts are rapidly turning to chocolate - chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, and, of course, chocolate bilbies! They've been associated with Easter in Australia for a long time, though their popularity really began in the nineties.

For those of us who want a little less sugar this Easter, bilbies are still a lovely way to celebrate.

In Bilby Secrets, one of the books in our non-fiction Nature Storybooks series, author Edel Wignell and illustrator Mark Jackson explore the journey a bilby takes from birth through adulthood. It's a marvellous example of a non-fiction picture book which teaches through story.

A beautiful narrative non-fiction book which follows the life of a bilby, an Australian marsupial. The story depicts a young bilby's birth, habitat, behaviour and diet. When Baby Bilby is born, he's as long as your little toe. He crawls into his mother's warm pouch, where he feeds and grows. Baby Bilby is soon ready to leave the safety of the burrow. He follows his mother closely, sniffs the night air, and hops into the moonlight for his first desert adventure.

Rather than providing readers with a textbook-like list of dry facts, Bilby Secrets introduces a bilby's habits and survival secrets through story; a short factual explanation of why Baby Bilby behaves as he does adds depth to the story, in the same way understanding character motivations add depth to a novel. And facts are presented in easy to relate to ways - "When Baby Bilby is born, he's as long as your little toe".  Whenever I read that line to my son, he looks at his little toe in wonder, trying to imagine a baby that small. Illustrations enhance the story, while also adding a layer of factual detail - what a bilby burrow looks like, the sort of environment a bilby lives in, and more.

One of the things I love about Bilby Secrets and narrative non-fiction picture books in general is how they open up a world of discussion - the fact that a baby bilby is the size of a little toe easily segues to a chat about the size of other baby animals. Are baby kangaroos that small? Are piglets that small? (Yes and no respectively; marsupial babies are little-toe size while placental or eutherian babies are not.) And that discussion leads to another, about marsupials, which may lead to another about mammals and so on and so forth. It's a kind of guided learning, without pressure, that's suited to children of all ages - even one year olds can explore the idea of a bilby with a book such as this, especially when cuddled up with a loved one.

Looking for more narrative non-fiction? Take a look at the rest of our Nature Storybook series, and keep an eye out for Big Red Kangaroo, out later this year.

Credits: Text © 2011 Edel Wignell, Illustrations © 2011 Mark Jackson. All rights reserved.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Illustrated Fiction - "Princess Betony and the Unicorn"

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever favourite children's books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl's Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls, and Winnie-the-Pooh.

One of the many things I've come to love about picture books is that even within the general umbrella of "picture book", no two are the same. What I define as a picture book - quite simply any book with photos, illustration, or art work which enhance the story - is often quite different to how others define the genre. In other words, for me, Princess Betony and the Unicorn is as much a picture book as an enchanting story for older readers.

Princess Betony's mother is a dryad and misses the Wild Magic of the Dark Forest. When the princess sees her mother running into the Dark Forest, Betony is worried she will never return. Humans are forbidden to enter the Forest. Betony doesn't care. She has to find her mother, no matter what. But first she must catch a unicorn!

Sampled here are two pages from the first chapter of Princess Betony and the Unicorn. The prose is longer than anything in a "regulation" picture book; the text makes what is happening quite clear. And yet the illustration of Lady Pineal and Princess Betony is striking, so much so that I cannot imagine reading the passage without it.

As an adult, I'm quite adept at forming mental images to accompany the words I read; many of us are adept at this from a young age, particularly if lucky enough to come from a family of readers. And yet, illustrations such as these allow us a sort of shared viewpoint, so that when I read a book like Princess Betony with my son, we see the same gorgeous illustrations, and can more easily understand one another when talking about the story. Besides, who could resist this picture of Lady Pineal grasping her nose so determinedly?

There are many reasons for illustrated story books, chapter books, even young adult and adult books. We'll be exploring a few of these over the course of We Believe in Picture Books. Right now, though, I'm off to read Princess Betony and the Unicorn again; after all, the next volume, Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg, is out now!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

We Believe in Picture Books is Here!


A tender hug. A joyous laugh. A lesson learned. The world of picture books is important for children everywhere. We all have fond memories of books we grew up with and books we have shared with others. You can be transported into the world of picture books through the innovative illustrations or completely captivated by the carefully crafted language; picture books offer a form of entertainment and education that no other medium can match. This is why we believe in picture books 

Every week, we'll be posting about our love of picture books, with videos, internal spreads, interviews, and more. We hope you'll join us as we explore the wonderful world of picture books.

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