Minnie’s Diner – A Multiplying Menu
written by Dayle Ann Dodds, illustrated by John Manders
About: Minnie’s Diner is conveniently located near to the McFay farm, full of hungry boys. Each one is double the size of the next – and places double the order! Bouncy rhyming text sets up a story based purely on the idea of doubling and exponential increase. And it’s funny. We happened to acquire this book at the time that Kid 6 was beginning to work on the idea of doubling, and it fit in perfectly. It’s also an introduction to powers of 2, should you be needing reinforcement on that concept.
The Unbreakable Code, written by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner.
About:In World War II, the Americans needed a code that couldn’t be broken by the Japanese – and they recruited a group of Navaho to develop one. This book tells the story of the Navajo code talkers, put together out of interviews with many of the surviving code talkers, and framed in fiction as a grandfather telling his grandson not to be afraid to move to a new home. It’s an important part of American and WWII history, a discussion of how codes, languages and alphabets intertwine, and a clear portrait of what advantages cultural differences can bring to a multicultural society. It also tells clearly and effectively of the sadnesses of war, the punishments applied to Native Americans who tried to hold onto their culture and some of the barriers they faced to acceptance. The reading level is quite high and the themes quite strong, so I’d put this book at at age level of say 5-10 years old, despite it being a picture book with stunning illustrations.
Positive indigenous contribution to society
Central characters are Native American
War descriptions effective but without undue emphasis on the terrible
Places the code talkers in cultural and historical context
Talks about language and codes and how the code was developed
The Magic Dictionary, written and illustrated by Bruce Whatley.
About: A boy gets a magic dictionary for his birthday. Every word he looks up comes to life around him in some way. Bruce Whatley’s son first came up with the idea, and Bruce turned it into a book. We’ve got quite a few books illustrated by Bruce in this house, and this one has less whimsy in the method of art than others – but the picture concepts and story well and truly make up for that. Kid 7 has been asking for a magic dictionary for their birthday ever since they got this book as a Kid 5, and has been willing to read through a couple of picture dictionaries just to check and see if they happen to be magic ones.
About: This is a sweet little kids’ tale, about loneliness and finding a friend, set within the context of nomadic Aboriginal culture. David Hardy is Aboriginal, and also Disney-animation-trained, so the illustrations have that 2D cartoon cuteness and impishness to them that really works. At first I had misgivings about Disneyfying Aboriginal folk, but then I figured Disney does that to everyone so I’d probably rather have the representation than the lack of it. And it’s grown on me.
Lead is POC, Aboriginal, traditional culture
Emotionally expressive illustrations
Australian landscape and colours
Rhyming text, limited number of words on a page for early readers.
Mermaid Queen. Written by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.
About: Annette Kellerman lived in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century. She learnt to swim when sports were unseemly for women, invented water ballet, and eventually became an international swimming star of sea, stage, pool and, as time went on, movies. In the process she designed her own swimming suits, challenged US law and became part of fashion history as well. She’s one of those once-household-names that’s been forgotten this many decades on. She’s great to read about. Her story is told simply, it’s easy to follow, and there are solid author’s notes at the back of the book that you can use to look up or go into more detail on some of the events in her story.
Bravery, courage and persistence
Vividly and rhythmically illustrated with hints of Art Nouveau styling
Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.
Nature observation skills
Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
The Princess Who Saved Herself
by Pak, Coulton, Miyazawa, Kholline, Bowland.
About: Jonathon Coulton wrote a song called The Princess Who Saved Herself, and made it freely available online for people to use to mix, fanvid, play with, rework. My kids loved the Youtube vids. One of the results was this book, somewhere on the dividing line between picture book and graphic novel. The text is a blend of the song lyrics and new words that connect the story into a more solid unit. The Princess – a pan-ethnic everygirl – is powerful in and of herself, saves herself and others too, and makes a few mistakes along the way but rebounds with resilience, learns and makes things better after.
Strong independent girl protagonist
Conflict resolution strategies
Acknowledging the consequences of your mistakes and trying to fix them
About: A slow, very peaceful story that poetically describes the slow change from end of day to beginning of night, sometimes with words and sometimes just with pictures. The illustrations are magical, with house, forest, stream, ocean and sky blending and shifting. This was often one of our bedtime books, beloved by Kids 2-5. It’s got a few flaws in the science, but if you consider it poetry and metaphor you’re fine.
Describes the change from day to night
Metaphor for the settling and going to sleep process
Peaceful and poetic
Encourages stillness, listening, looking, just being present.
Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan.
About: A simple little child’s tale with a little bit of silly to it. It’s not an Aboriginal fable or Dreamtime myth, or a morality tale of any type, just a story with animals and stars and the Moon in it. There’s not too much text on any one page, or at all, just enough to lay out the story in support of Morgan’s glorious-as-always illustrations. And what text there is is simple enough that a beginner reader can attempt to make their way through it with some help.
An Aboriginal take on the typical genre of animal and nature characters
Authors and illustrator are both Aboriginal
It’s not a traditional myth or legend or tale (I fully support the idea that Indigenous people are more than just what they were at the point of colonisation and that they don’t need to stay in that box).
Text is suitable for an early reader with assistance.
About: It’s okay to be different – to look different, to do different things, to come from different places, and Todd Parr illustrates this with bold, bright pictures and plenty of silly. Physical differences, having and expressing your emotions, doing totally random things just because. They’re all OK. I like the way useful social and emotional pointers are slipped in amongst the hilarity.
Social and emotional pointers
Hilarity in text and pictures
Promotes acknowledgement and acceptance of diversity
Small number of words on each page, big and easy to read.