Hope Lenzen reviews four new Aotearoa picture books on a variety of topics. They include a story based on the real life of a suburban sheep, two non-fiction reads to help kids understand big emotions and body safety, and a charmingly illustrated whimsical story.
Elvie the Sheep, by Colleen Brown, illustrated by Emma Lay
‘Elvie the sheep lived at the back of the Pollock’s home in Kilbirnie, in Wellington, New Zealand. She really did go for walks to the local park with Mrs Pollock and she really did hang out with the hens in the backyard. This story is about her first adventure.’
Colleen Brown’s latest is a beautifully illustrated take on the real-life story of Elvie the sheep from Wellington. The prose didn’t particularly stand out to me, but the images are stunning and really bring out the best in this story. So much so that I feel more of the storytelling could have been done through the illustrations instead of the text—it would have made for a more enjoyable reading experience in my opinion.
I loved that the end papers were made up of a ‘where is Elvie?’-style map—they were really fun and added to the quirkiness of the whole book—and I’m not going to lie, it took me longer than I expected to find Elvie. However, I do wish the back end papers were different from the front so kids had another activity to do once they finished the story.
The book has a real ‘Kiwi’ feel to it and I can imagine kids getting a real kick out of a tale about a sheep living in a backyard; parents, prepare to be asked for a sheep this Christmas!
Elvie the Sheep
By Colleen Brown
Illustrated by Emma Lay
Published by The CopyPress
There’s a T-Rex in my Tummy by Kellie Dawson, illustrated by Sarah Healey
‘Sometimes when I lay in bed I get a little worried, my tummy starts to twist and turn and gets in quite a flurry. It twists and turns and loops-the-loop, it really makes me frown. It feels like there’s a T-Rex in there jumping up and down. There’s a T-Rex in My Tummy is a delightful story that helps children navigate feelings of stress and anxiety.’
As someone who often feels anxious and wonders how people feel after I leave a room, I found this story to be a wonderful representation of the sensations and thought processes behind those emotions. Paired with fun, hand-drawn-like illustrations, this story is a good way to approach the topic of anxiety and teach young children how to deal with those big feelings.
There was just the right amount of words on each page and the rhyming didn’t feel forced or odd; I found myself really getting into the story while I was reading it. Having different and diverse main characters on every page was a great choice because almost any child can pick up this story and see themselves reflected back.
I find that a lot of children’s books at the moment are very heavy-handed on the ‘message’ they are trying to get across but this one hits the mark—it falls into the category of obvious but not overwhelming—and I really enjoyed it.
There’s a T-Rex in my Tummy
By Kellie Dawson
Illustrated by Sarah Healey
My Body My Taonga: Body Safety with Rāwiri and Ruby, by Rosalind Harrison, illustrated by Suzanne Simpson
‘Rāwiri and Ruby are learning about privacy and instincts, how to spot unsafe behaviour and how to get help should they ever need to. Using child-friendly language and the ‘Stop Walk Talk’ strategy, these two young friends educate and empower tamariki with the important life skill of body safety.’
My Body My Taonga: Body Safety with Rāwiri and Ruby follows two children as they learn about consent and how to spot unsafe behaviour from both children and adults alike. Throughout the story, Rāwiri and Ruby discuss and show examples of these kinds of behaviours and what you should do if you ever find yourself in one of these scary situations. The examples are paired with colourful and fun illustrations, which are clearly meant to lighten the heaviness of these topics, but I don’t think it was pulled off as well as I would have liked.
The book is recommended to be read only a couple of pages at a time and I can definitely see why; it is not the kind of book that a child could consume in one go. Some of the examples come across as a bit adult because I don’t hear a child’s voice while I read them. However, this is a topic that kids wouldn’t usually have the words or the knowledge to talk about, so with that in mind, I think it does a good job of what it set out to do.
My Body My Taonga: Body Safety with Rāwiri and Ruby
By Rosalind Harrison
Illustrated by Suzanne Simpson
Published by The CopyPress
Mending the Moon by Emma Pearl, illustrated by Sara Ugolotti
‘When the moon falls to Earth and shatters on the mountains like breaking glass, Luna knows she and Poppa must mend it. Without the moon, the oceans will stop moving and the earth will start to wobble. But fixing it won’t be easy, even with bears, deer, elk, frogs, and all the other forest creatures helping to find the shards and puzzle them back into one piece. How will they stick the pieces together? And then how will they get the moon back into the sky?’
This is an enchanting story of a little girl, her grandpa and their animal friends putting the moon back together after it’s shattered into pieces. It’s whimsical and cute and accompanied by delightful illustrations that really reinforce the fantasy elements of the story.
I found it to be an overall easy and fun read, albeit a little wordy. Though the long sections of text were separated by lively images, but these sometimes left the pages looking cluttered and busy. The story reminded me of Disney movies—all the woodland creatures gathering around to help the feisty young girl complete her mission—and so I think it’ll be a hit with young children (they’ll definitely be drawn to the illustrations!).
Mending the Moon
By Emma Pearl
Illustrated by Sara Ugolotti
Published by Page Street Kids
Hope Lenzen is an avid reader who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) with her cat, Rosie. By day she works for NZ publisher Bateman Books, and by night you'll find her curled up with a book and a cup of tea.