8 Amazing Picture Books for Christmas

There are so many wonderful picture books being published at the moment, but I’ve selected a variety to review that would make great Christmas presents.



Unknown The Lion and The Bird by international bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc is the tender story of the unlikely friendship between a lion dressed in denim and a bird with a broken wing.

One autumn day, a lion finds a wounded bird in his garden. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Then one day spring arrives, and so too do the other birds. Will Lion and Bird have to say goodbye to the friendship for the summer?

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 7.34.23 amThis moving story is so relevant in today’s times when the world is full of vulnerable people like refugees who have been damaged by circumstances, and are looking for a safe haven and a new life.

As well as compelling text, this book is beautifully presented in hardback with the pictures left to tell the story on some pages.

It’s no wonder that The Lion and The Bird has been published in 15 countries across the world.

It’s a beautiful book that can be shared at leisure, and it features themes of friendship, waiting and change.

The Lion and The Bird is published in Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland by Book Island.


In this contemporary fairytale, a young boy and escaped blue bird free their country from the rule of tyrannical despots.

This picture book for children aged five-years plus, explores ideas of freedom and justice and meets the demand for more culturally diverse picture books in an increasingly multicultural society.


Every illustration by Mattias De Leeuw is a work of art in this book.

It compliments the lyrical text by Laila Koubaa.

At the door, he breathed in the sweet smell of Jasmine. The front of the house was like one big flower. 

The richness in both the text and illustrations make this book an enticing read. It is beautifully translated into English by David Colmer.

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird is another wonderful book for opening young minds to the world around them. It is also published by Book Island.



Australian Kids through the Years is a wonderful book written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

It takes readers on a leisurely tour through history starting with Australia’s first children, through the 1800s, 1900s and into modern times.

There are so many fascinating facts in here about things like the way children lived, how they dressed, how they did their hair, what they ate, what they did for fun and what they read.

This book is a feast of fabulous illustrations and easy to follow text with interesting language and information that young readers can pore over for hours.

Unknown-1At the back is a summary of the years, and National Library references for all the illustrations.

Adult readers will also be able to reminisce as they meander through history in these colourful and lively snapshots of Australia’s past.

Australian Kids through the Years is a great way to bring history into both the family and the classroom.

Australian Kids through the Years is published by the National Library of Australia.


9781760067229_COVERI’ll admit upfront that I’m biased about these beautiful books because they were written by my crit buddy, Alison Reynolds, and I have watched their progress from initial idea to finished product.

But right from the start, I was drawn to the two compelling characters and their special friendship. Bree is a feisty little girl who likes to get her own way, but who has a good heart and is able to recognise her own faults. Pickle is a gentle, slow moving and very large bear who admires those qualities in his friend that he doesn’t possess himself.

In The Decorating Disaster, all about teamwork, Pickle and Bree have very different ideas about how the home they share should be decorated, and this leads to humour and disaster, but also some important revelations.

Even though they are the very best of friends, Pickle and Bree are very different, but they soon realise that some jobs like hanging wallpaper and painting, just aren’t supposed to be done alone.

At the end of this adventure are some tips on teamwork that both teachers and parents/guardians will find helpful to share with young readers.

In The Birthday Party Cake, all about welcoming differences, it’s Jason’s Birthday and Pickle is planning a special bear surprise for his friend. But when Bree decides to lend a hand, her idea of a perfect party is not what Pickle had in mind. But can Pickle and Bree find a way to save Jason’s birthday?

This adventure carries tips at the back for welcoming differences and considering the feelings and wishes of others.

9781760067236_COVERPickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are wonderfully illustrated by Mikki Butterley whose humorous pictures are a perfect match for the rollicking text.

They are great for reading in schools and homes to introduce children to concepts like sharing, accepting others and getting along.

Two more Pickle & Bree’s Guides to Good Deeds are coming soon.

They are published by The Five Mile Press.


Bertie Bear was going on a long journey. He didn’t realise it would be on a camel! And he never imagined he would be having adventures of his own, far away from Jessie.

UnknownThis delightful story of a real bear’s outback camel and train journey has been cleverly woven into a work of fiction by Janeen Brian.

The rhythmic text along with Anne Spudvilas‘ stunning illustrations introduce young readers to the vibrant colours of the outback and its characters.

I also like the way the story is told from the lost toy’s point of view.

This is a work of fiction, but the real Bertie makes a ‘star appearance’ at the back of the book.

Where’s Jessie? is published by the National Library of Australia.



UnknownI love Craig Smith‘s work so I was so excited when I heard a picture book was about to be released that he had both written and illustrated – and I wasn’t disappointed.

Remarkably Rexy also just happens to feature one of my favourite animals, a cat.

Rexy is a typical cat, but he’s also a bit of a dancer, and quite proud of himself because he’s always being praised for his good looks and talent.

But his perfect existence is shattered when Towser the barking dog next door escapes.

Unknown-1The text is hilarious and Craig’s vibrant illustrations are beautiful.

Remarkably Rexy is so much fun for cat lovers of all ages. It also has a link to a free audio reading.

Remarkably Rexy is published by Allen & Unwin.


This hilarious book written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave) is one of my favourite picture books this year because it’s so relatable.

“Come on Daddy. It’s time for bed.”

“But I’m not tired,” says Daddy.

How can a little girl put her daddy to bed when he doesn’t want to go?

imagesTime for Bed Daddy is so funny because it’s a complete role reversal, and so much fun at bedtime.

I remember how hard it was to get my kids to bed when they were small, and how tensions often rose.

This book is a great tool for turning bedtime into a playful occasion that’s fun for everyone.

Time for Bed Daddy  is published by University of Queensland Press.



Tuesday Tips – More About Picture Books

Im a Dirty DinosaurThis week I continue the picture book tips theme with some great tips from Ann James and Jane Tanner for illustrating and creating picture books.


Ann James at work

I attended a workshop they were taking at the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and they were both so generous with their time – talking and answering questions for nearly double their scheduled one hour.

As Ann pointed out, illustrators are different from many other kinds of artists in that they are narrative artists – they must love story – and they must be in love with the story they are illustrating.


According to Ann, a picture book illustrator needs the following:

  1. Must be an interpreter – Often an illustrator is required to interpret someone else’s text or story concept. Visual language is different from textual language and an illustrator must bring the two together.
  2. Ability to collaborate – An illustrator may be required to collaborate with an author, editor and sales and marketing staff. They need to be able to work closely and harmoniously with others.
  3. Art skills – Illustrators come from many backgrounds including teaching, fine art, architecture and literature. What they have in common are their skills as an artist and their love for story.
  4. Patience and Drive – Picture books can take one to two years to illustrate. For this reason, illustrators need to choose books where the story really connects with them – the story has to drive you to keep going during the long period of the illustration process.
  5. Child centred – As an illustrator you need to find the inner child in you.
  6. Start broad – Don’t narrow your options.

An illustrator needs to love working with story, children and art.

A book is like a stage. People come in and go out – and they are there to act out the story.


Authors need to give the illustrator space.

According to Jane Tanner, “Sometimes authors have pictures in their head, but they have to give the illustrator space. The text has to be the start of the process not the finish.”

Of the relationship between an author and illustrator, Ann says, “A picture book is a dance between two people.”


One of the difficulties I find with illustration is creating characters that are visually consistent on every page.

Ride With MeJane’s tip – “Channel the character – so you feel you are the character.”


Jane Tanner talks a young fan through the illustration process

Ann’s tip – “Draw the character over and over again.”  Ann says she keeps drawing her character in all sorts of situations and poses until they feel right.

Get into your character like an actor would – using expression and body language and movement.

We all see the world differently – some artists look for tone and shade in the subject they are drawing, others are drawn to shape and some to contours. Ann says that’s how she works – she sees the edges of things.

Both Jane and Ann agreed that one of the most important things for an illustrator is to be true to yourself.

You can find out more about Ann at the Books Illustrated website.IMAG3280  IMAG3283

Details of Jane’s books can be found at her website.

Next Tuesday at DeeScribe Writing, Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie will be here with more great tips on writing and illustrating picture books – and there are prizes to win on their blog tour to celebrate the release of their new picture book, The Littlest Bushranger.

Till then, happy writing and illustrating:)


Janeen Brian’s Tips on Researching & Writing – Part Two

Today, Janeen Brian is back at Tuesday Writing Tips to talk more about the research process involved with her two camel books, Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes.

Can you tell us about the most moving camel story you uncovered when you were doing the research for Hoosh?

More than a story, I think it was an attitude that moved me.

Whose story was it and why did it move you?

When the editor proposed I write an information book about camels, I agreed, because of my respect for the animals and their ability to adapt to the harshest living conditions.

By the time I had finished researching and writing, that respect and amazement for the camel had deepened. However, it now went hand-in-hand with the original trainers and owners who first brought camels to Australia – the Afghans, as they were commonly called, although the men who crossed the oceans in the 1800s, living in the holds of ships with their animals came from many countries including India, Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.

Cameleer's memorabilia

For months on end, these hardy men trekked the long, lonely stretches of sandy, rugged terrain. They were separated from their wives and families back in their homeland, and to a large extent, ostracised by Anglo-Europeans because of cultural and religious differences. However, those same settlers relied entirely on camel transportation to bring them the goods they so desperately needed. No corner shop to be seen! Prior to cars and trucks, camels carried every item needed for everyday life, from windmills to roofing iron, schoolbooks to sugar and wool bales to wire.

My respect for those early camel men and their animals will always remain with me.

You took over 1500 hours to research and write this book? Why did it take so long? Is there anything you would do differently next time?

Although I made an outline of what I wanted to research, I probably over-researched in my need to feel more confident with the material. The topic also grew as I discovered more unexpected information. And because I had never tackled such a book before, I was treading new ground in both sourcing and noting.


However, nothing is ever straightforward. Verifying one small piece of information alone took six hours. In 1866, a steamer carrying the first load of camels arrived in South Australia. But was the steamer called the Blackwall or the Blackwell? It was written both ways in many books and newspapers. I finally validated it as the Blackwall through carrying out a number of searches at various maritime museums.

I believe you collected 36 folders of information for the book. Where are they now? Do you have any tips on how to store research information?

I have culled some notes but the majority of research still lies in folders in large, rollaway plastic tubs in my office. It would need another review to decide on what else to cull and what to save. A librarian has told me that special material, ie primary sources, documents or photographs should be stored in acid-free plastic sleeves.

When you were researching for Columbia Sneezes did you find a camel that was allergic to sand?

No. That was purely a tale.

Do camels really do what Columbia does to stop the sand getting in his nose?

Yes, they do.

Where did you get this research from?

That was one of those aha! moments. The original resolution of the rhyming picture-book story wasn’t working. I had tried many different versions during the editing stage when suddenly a piece of random research from my information book, Hoosh! popped into my head and neatly solved the problem.

Inspiration for Columbia Sneezes

Did the research inspire the idea for the book?

In a way it did. Whilst in Alice Springs at The Voyages Camel Cup race, I bought a small soft-toy, rainbow coloured camel. Back home, I set it on top of my printer and whenever I felt exhausted or frustrated with the project, I’d look at the little camel and somehow find the energy to keep going. One day, my young grandson and I made up a story using the little camel as a character. He was a sneezy camel, and several years later I used that story as a basis for Columbia Sneezes!

Do you have any other tips for us about the research process?

These days, the internet offers greater access than ever to research, but use it widely because often the material isn’t validated and can vary. However, it’s a great tool to lead you towards both primary and secondary sources. Similarly, read widely because information in books can vary as well.

Cross-referencing is good because often particular errors can otherwise simply be passed on. Oral transcriptions, available from libraries, are a great source of real life information, often triggering story ideas as well as giving first-hand knowledge or attitudes of the person, or of the time. The same with diaries. Much information can be gleaned too from studying every aspect of a photograph. And, importantly, be aware of people’s time, and be prepared to thank them.

Thanks so much for visiting DeeScribe writing and sharing your fascinating experiences with us, Janeen.

If you want to know more about camels, research and writing, check out Janeen’s fabulous blog at http://janeenjottings.blogspot.com/ where she’s going to have more great tips and tales.


Tuesday Writing Tip – CAMELS, RESEARCH AND ROAD TRIPS with Janeen Brian

Today, I’m pleased to welcome to Tuesday Writing Tips, good writer friend and researcher extraordinaire, Janeen Brian.

Those of you who know me and my website will know that I have a thing for camels so I couldn’t resist the chance to chat with Janeen about how she wrote her two wonderful camel books, Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes.

Janeen is a diligent researcher and spent over 1500 hours researching and writing Hoosh and collected 36 files of information.

Janeen, you travelled to Alice Springs to see The Voyages Camel Cup to research this book? How important do you think it is to do field research when you are writing a book like Hoosh?

In my opinion field study is vital. I can’t imagine how else I would’ve been able to research the topic of camels in the outback of Australia with any veracity if I hadn’t had some field experience. I was able to come face-to-face with my subject matter and in doing so, gained far more knowledge and awareness as well as discovering unexpected information. Aspects of my field study included experiencing the Camel Cup race, interviewing camel breeders and handlers, viewing museums that highlighted camels as part of Australia’s early development, and riding a camel.

Afghan mind-mapping

Why is it important?

How can you write convincingly about a broad, information topic if you don’t have some vital experience? We often research prior to, or during the writing of fiction, but since my topic was huge and encompassed many features of camels, I knew I had to research at ‘grass roots’ level as much as possible. Prior to writing Hoosh! I knew nothing about camels and so, in my research, I gathered more information than was necessary – somewhat similar to writing fiction where we create more detail background for our characters than will ever turn up in the final draft.

There was another important reason for field study in researching this book. Apart from providing current and accurate information, I also wanted it to carry a ‘narrative tone’. For that to ring true I needed two things; a sense of the anecdotal and the use of the five senses. I needed to experience the landscape and climate, touch the type of herbage eaten by camels, smell their aroma, drink the milk and listen to their sounds and those of their trainers. I couldn’t have written Hoosh! simply by researching from written material, be it books, primary resources or the internet.

What was the most fascinating piece of research you found when writing this book – the fact that you had been looking for – that sent a tingle down your spine?

As you can imagine, there were many! But I think the most fascinating piece of research was the discovery that up until the 1950s, police patrolled vast stretches of the outback by camel. It had never crossed my mind that areas that spanned hundreds of thousands of square miles/kilometres would’ve needed policing. And of course, in that rugged terrain, camels were ideal vehicles.

Can you tell us where and how you found it?

It was a case of pure serendipity. By chance I was one day flicking through the pages of an Adelaide newspaper. I came across the obituaries page where several people of note were cited. One, in particular, caught my eye. It was for Max Homes, and the obituary stated he was one of the last South Australian outback police officers to patrol by camel.

Farina 1928 camel trade in its primeThat was an eye-opener for me and I quickly scanned the report, especially looking for names of any descendents. Close to the end, it mentioned that later in his life Max moved ‘to Christies Beach to live with a son.’ My heart beat as I checked the phone book. Sure enough there was the same surname, an address and phone number. I made contact and to my amazement, the grown-up son not only handed me his father’s journal that contained newspaper clippings of his police life in the outback but also told me with affection of his pet camel when he was a boy. From that wonderful experience, came a whole, new, unexpected chapter topic.

What was the most difficult part of researching for this book?

Apart from striving for information accuracy, I’d say sourcing the photographs, because it was all up to me.

Why was it hard?

To begin with, I’d done little research of this nature. Sourcing photographs was time-consuming, fraught with copyright problems and potentially costly, since I was paying upfront.

How did you overcome it?

I made hundreds of phone calls seeking help with visual material. I checked the internet searching for names of people who had some connection with camels or the camel industry. I contacted tourist offices that were willing to provide certain photographs gratis or for a minimal cost. As much as possible I used my own photographs and spread the word to friends and acquaintances, hoping it would bring some rewards. In many instances it did, however not all photographs offered could be used, either because they lacked reproduction quality or the information about them was scant. Those with potential I either made copies of, or if I did need to keep the originals for some purpose, I had to protect them for many month and return them safely. Once a camel handler in northern South Australia gave me a bunch of old photos in an envelope, giving me permission to use any of them. Naturally I was thrilled, until I discovered copies in books etc. Alarm bells rang. The handler was unable to remember how he came upon the photos in the first place, but assured me he didn’t mind which ones I used for the book! I, however, was pale at the thought of copyright problems and spent countless hours checking numerous sources for duplication, and/or extra information.

How important is it to verify your sources? How do you do this?

In that particular instance, I trawled through books, internet sites and photographs cited in various state and territory library archives.

Thanks Dee, for your great, explorative questions. I enjoyed revisiting Hoosh!, Columbia and camels. Thank you so much for hosting me and I hope one day you get your wish and have your own camel!

Janeen will be back here on Thursday with more great tips and information on how she researched both Hoosh and Columbia Sneezes. Hope you can join us then.

If you want to know more about camels, research and writing, check out Janeen’s fabulous blog at http://janeenjottings.blogspot.com/ where she’s going to have more great tips and tales.