Picture Book Highlights from Scholastic
Scary Bird by Michel Streich
Grump! by Jonathan Bentley
Two picture books recently published by Scholastic Australia offer important messages in compelling ways. They both use animal characters and telling humour. With verve and insight, both books share scenarios children that will no doubt encounter.
Scary Bird by Michel Streich
Michel Streich’s illustrations have appeared in Australian Geographic, Meanjin, The Big Issue, The Australian Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald. He relocated to Australia in 2000 from Germany via London.
Michel’s work has an eye-catching, well-designed minimalist aesthetic. His two picture books I am familiar with – Scary Bird and Grumpy Little King – have a distinctive, highly appealing style. Their covers leap into the visual radar.
The bold yellow cover of Scary Bird attracts immediate attention with a benign-looking spotted bird perched on a horizontal strip. Unusually but pertinently, he is looking left. Often a titular character looks to the right, ready to enter the story.
The tale begins visually with the new bird being introduced to the aviary. The new bird does look a bit different from the others because he has spots but his orange colour is not dissimilar from their yellow and peach. The other birds are very unsettled, regard the bird as scary and wish it would fly back to where it came from. Their reaction here is comical, even though it reflects unfortunate human response to other humans who are new or look different.
The new bird does what they do: eating, cleaning himself and resting but they feel threatened, “Where is he going to live? He’s gobbling up all our food! … He doesn’t even chirp our language.” The scary bird misses his old home where everyone looked and acted like him but “One day, the scary bird’s luck changed.”
Acceptance of the scary bird is reassuring until another new “TERRIFYING” green bird with orange spots arrives and the others again fly into a panic. Fortunately the cycle of suspicion and hostility is quicker to change this time.
The illustrations wisely focus on the characters and actions of the idiosyncratic birds with few well-judged extra details. They are created with digital and traditional tools.
Grump by Jonathan Bentley
I am appreciating Jonathan Bentley’s picture books the more I see of them. He puts an unexpected slant on the tales he illustrates for other authors as well his own words, elevating their potential for both contemplation and enjoyment.
His standout works that I have seen include Ella and the Ocean (written by Lian Tanner), Things My Pa Told Me (written by Anthony Bertini), The Second Sky (written by Patrick Guest) and Sky Yellow Kite (written by Janet A. Holmes).
Grump! is a clever satire in rhyming text. “Donald the Grump was bossy and mean, the grumpiest teddy the world has seen! He’d argue, he’d cheat. He’d blame … and he’d shout – ‘I AM THE BEST!’ while stomping about. And yes, a cat lived on top of his head. Just why? Who knows?! The cat never said.”
Donald the Grump pushes the other toys aside as he builds the best tower out of blocks, all the while with a furry golden cat sitting on his head like a toupee.
He shouts that he’s the winner and the greatest but rages and accuses the others of being jealous when his tower crashes down. The cat becomes a voice of authority, telling the teddy bear to improve his behaviour. The cat moves on but no other animal covers Donald’s head as well and the grumpy teddy begs him to return.
This multilayered book is illustrated in pencil and watercolour, with scanned textures.
Both Scary Bird and Grump! can be read multiple times with new discoveries unfolding. They are both fun, thought-provoking gifts for children and their families.