Counting, Kindness & Courage in Picture Books

Picture Books from Walker Books Australia

Ten Little Figs by Rhian Williams & Nathaniel Eckstrom

Bear in Space by Deborah Abela & Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

The Biscuit Maker by Sue Lawson & Liz Anelli

To the Bridge: The Journey of Lennie and Ginger Mick by Corinne Fenton & Andrew McLean

Ten Little Figs by Rhian Williams & Nathaniel Eckstrom

Figs are delicious and it is exciting to see them featured in this counting book for young children, particularly as these are native Australian sandpaper figs.

“10 little figs are on my tree. I love figs and they’re all for me.” The child character carries a ladder ready to pick the figs but a flying fox swoops in and steals one. “9 little figs are on my tree. I love figs and they’re just for me.” But a leaf-curling spider takes the next fig. The child is thwarted by birds, insects and animals (all Australian natives) as the remaining figs are counted backwards from 10 to 1. Young readers will hope the child character gets to taste even one fig.

The repetition of the counting structure where the child anticipates eating each fig but is foiled, and the two similar refrains (shown above as quotes) create a sense of the order and stability intrinsically needed by young children. The author and illustrator have skilfully surrounded these sequences with an appealing array of animals and colourful double-page spreads featuring space and perspective to produce an atmosphere of exuberance and excitement where anything could happen. In the positive conclusion, the quandary is resolved with a father’s care and help. Adventure is best within a place of safety for the young.

Bear in Space by Deborah Abela & Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Bear in Space is a consummately thoughtful and poignant story about a young introvert. “Bear was different. While the other bears liked to run and shout, Bear preferred the quiet. When Bear told them stories, they laughed. When he said he wasn’t being funny, they laughed even more. Sometimes they stared, or called him names. Most of the time, they left him alone.”

Bear copes and escapes by reading about space. He loves facts about space, even though others aren’t interested. He particularly loves the fact that space is quiet. He is creative and imaginative and uses these gifts to find a way into space. His time there is enhanced by another child, Panda, who shares his traits and interests and challenges him to a race home, where the other children finally recognise and value some of what makes him special.

Deb Abela’s words are simple but full of understanding and feeling. Marjorie Crosby-Fairall’s illustrations exude uplifting warmth and imaginative possibility. Books, as well as like-minded friends, are affirmed in this empowering make-believe that recognises that many children are quiet and thrive on times of quietness.  These children can easily be overlooked but all children are equally valuable, and introverted children should be appreciated and accepted. With perhaps only a little extra effort, a safe space and place can, and should, be found for them.

The Biscuit Maker by Sue Lawson & Liz Anelli

The Biscuit Maker is a heart-warming story about community and inter-age and other friendships. Collaborators Sue Lawson and Liz Anelli are dynamos, producing a constant stream of quality picture books.

Elderly Benedict Stanley lives with his cat, Audrey Mae, in Mavin Road. They try to interact with their neighbours, who are an unforced showcase of diversity, but everyone seems to be too busy, preoccupied or ‘closed-off’ to respond. Benedict appears to be lonely although he puts on a brave face as he looks outwards from his veranda and garden.

When young Rory engages by patting Audrey Mae, Benedict reciprocates by cooking biscuits for him. “Each morning after that, Benedict and Audrey Mae deliver biscuits along Mavin Road. Shortbread when triplets arrive home, choc-chip to welcome new neighbours and ghosts and ghouls for Halloween.” Anonymously, they make and deliver biscuits for all the special occasions in the street and the neighbours only know that someone kind must be behind the treats. When Benedict falls ill, everyone wonders what has happened to the (still unknown) biscuit maker. Fortunately, Rory recognises Audrey Mae prowling alone and is able to unite Benedict with the recipients of his thoughtfulness.

The Biscuit Maker is a generously written and illustrated work. Detailed patterns and pages full of mixed media art replicate the big-hearted ethos of this story.

Loneliness can be alleviated when someone reaches out and cares for others. This book reminds us that the impact of kindness on a community, even by one person, can be life changing.

To the Bridge: The Journey of Lennie and Ginger Mick by Corinne Fenton & Andrew McLean

Corinne Fenton has taken on the mantle of transforming little known episodes in Australian history into timeless tales of indomitability and spirit. Many of her picture books also feature animals.

Andrew McLean is a master of Australian landscape. Many of his illustrations are peopled by characters who seem to naturally inhabit the land and historical period. His pencil and watercolour work is evocative. It welcomes and draws the reader into the scene.

In To the Bridge, these collaborators bring to life the story of nine-year-old Lennie and his extraordinary 600 mile trip on his horse Ginger Mick. In 1932 they travelled from Lennie’s home in country Leongatha to cross the newly completed Sydney Harbour Bridge. This picture book is the perfect medium to introduce young readers to another tale of Australian history and its inspiring people – young and old.

(Lennie’s story is also told in Lennie the Legend Solo to Sydney by Pony: by Stephanie Owen Reeder, published by NLA. These two books are excellent companion reads.)

Find and enjoy these quality picture books at Walker Books Australia or in good bookstores and libraries.

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