Digger by Mike Dumbleton

Published: March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen & Unwin
Illustrator: Robin Cowcher
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The poignant story of a toy kangaroo that goes to war with a young man who doesn’t come back.

When her brother, James, went to war, Annie stitched the name Digger onto her toy kangaroo and gave him to James as a farewell present.
‘A Digger for a digger,’ she said, hugging her brother.
‘I’ll keep him safe,’ James promised.

Digger is the story of one toy kangaroo, one Australian soldier and two girls, in two countries on opposite sides of a world at war. It’s a quiet reminder of the casualties of war, and a tribute to the French schoolchildren who once tended the graves of Australian soldiers who died on the Western Front in the heroic battle for Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918.

I think these kinds of picture books are absolutely fantastic. Based off true stories, photographs, or personal family histories are beautifully pure and honest, even if they are a bit heartbreaking. From reading the dedication alone I teared up.

Crowcher’s illustrations are roughly sketched but beautiful watercolours that match the tone of this story incredibly well. The subdued colours and the outlines capture the story without needing to be finely detailed. They express beauty and peace, and show the chaos of the battlefront without ever needing to show anything traumatic.

Digger’s point of view conveys a lot of the actual conflict, his experience of the noises and the sensations. But Dumpleton doesn’t stick with this perspective as it shifts from Annie, the James, to Collette on the other side of the world. This was incredibly clever because it flows seamlessly and fits in not only with history, but with engaging storytelling.

Even though you may know the outcome, it remains a touching story because it is based on truth. It is based on these boys who went to fight in a war, who were far from home, found care in unexpected places, and the importance memories of home were.

There is nothing explicitly mentioned about injury or death, but the implications are there through other characters. I really liked this approach because it actually felt more impactful to have a different soldier bring Digger to be sent home, to have a simple sentence saying James had given instructions that had to be passed on. It felt real, it felt suitable, and it was heartbreaking.

This is a timeless book because while it focuses on WWI, it still is about soldiers who fought for this country and who are still fighting, as well as those who never got to come home.

You can purchase Digger via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Easter Bunny’s Helpers by Anne Mangan

Published: 1st March 2013Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 HarperCollins Australia
Illustrator: Tamsin Ainslie
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

From the author of TRUE BLUE SANTA and THE GREATEST MOTHER’S DAY OF ALL, comes a delightful Australian book for Easter.

The Easter Bunny needs help delivering the Easter eggs this year and who better to help him than some Australian animals?

This story puts an Australian touch to Easter and highlights all the wonderful things you can do during Easter time. The Easter Bunny is looking for helpers and each of the Australian animals do their best to try and impress.

The narrative is told in basic rhyme, easy to pick up the rhythm and keep it going, even if you pause to look at the fantastic illustrations from Ainslie. It is a bit wordy but nothing too complicated. I think the rhyme might have benefited from better formatting because some lines felt a bit long.

Each animal uses their skills to help the bunny. I found it so adorable than both koala and kangaroo use their pouches to carry eggs. It is expected of a kangaroo in pop culture but I was impressed Ainslie included koala’s as well.

The illustrations are lovely oil paintings, cute representations of our national animals. There is a lot of detail in the scenes but it’s also focused enough on the story that there are no extra, unnecessary distractions.

The story is sweet and the wonderful message about helping out is clear but not openly directed to the reader. It’s a cute book for the holiday with a great Australian focus that can show off our unique wildlife.

You can purchase The Easter Bunny’s Helpers via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

I Wanted a Giant Chocolate Egg but all I Got Was this Stupid Book by Merv Lamington

Published: February 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Affirm Press
Illustrator: Makoto Koji
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

I wanted a giant chocolate egg but all I got was this stupid book. You too? I know just who’s to blame for this outrage. Come on, let’s go find the Easter Bunny…

Join an Easter egg hunt of a different kind in this journey from disappointment to elation. The perfect (non-edible*) gift for any kid who’s ever felt that the Easter Bunny could have done better.

*Note: this book is not made of chocolate. Sorry.

With an author named Merv Lamington I don’t know how much more Australian he could be. The story is good, funny, interactive, and a decent plot. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it was fun. It would certainly entertain children with the humour and antics, not to mention the hunt for the Easter Bunny.

The narrator addresses the reader originally, or some off page character who provides hints and clues for the search for the elusive bunny. The hunt then starts all over town looking at clues the Easter bunny has left behind, running into friends who are enjoying their chocolate eggs to varying degrees of success.

I enjoyed the inception Koji creates with his book within a book, the illustrations matching their larger counterparts. The colours are vibrant and the focus is on the key characters, the background getting generic attention if any. The thick bold outlines and humorous expressions bring the story to life and give the narrative an additional layer beyond childish complaints.

This is the ideal book for kids who are unable to have chocolate or who didn’t get any Easter eggs and feel hard done by. It also helps explain rules about chocolate and dogs and with a few punny jokes in there you can’t help but laugh at.

You can purchase I Wanted a Giant Chocolate Egg but all I Got Was this Stupid Book via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

The Great Garden Mystery by Renee Treml

Published: 1st September 2014 by Random House AustraliaGoodreads badge
Publisher:
 Random House Australia
Illustrator: Renee Treml
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

Someone is stealing the beetroots, who could that somebody be? Join us in the garden and we’ll unravel this mystery. A mix of clever Australian animals examine the clues, but can they catch the thief before he strikes again?

Filled with a great range of native Australian animals, as well as a few introduced ones, this story explores the great mystery that has come to the garden. The rabbit and the fox mingle with the koala and the possum over who has eaten all the beetroot. What I thought was creative was how Treml has made it entertaining as well as educational, each animal using their natural abilities or features as a means to exonerate themselves.

The story is told in rhyme, but not such intense rhyme that you sing it, it reads like a regular story with casual rhymes to finish off the page. Treml’s illustrations are vibrant on different coloured backgrounds with beautifully realistic sketches of the animals in and around the garden.

In the end I found it a bit harsh that the suspect is chosen because she ran away. This doesn’t get resolved so I’m hoping there is an unwritten sequel where the poor creature isn’t accused anymore, forced to flee her home at being accused of a crime she didn’t commit. The true culprit is revealed only to the reader and it does make for a cheeky ending I’ll admit.

You can purchase The Great Garden Mystery via the following

QBD

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen

Published: 1st October 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Walker Books Australia
Illustrator: James Foley
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★  – 1 Star

“My dead bunny’s name is Brad;
his odour is extremely bad.
He visits me when I’m in bed,
but Bradley wasn’t always dead …” 

A hilarious rhyming tale about a zombie bunny who comes back to visit his owner.

I hated myself for liking the end of the book. It does get funny at the end, but I kinda hated the rest of it. I could not fathom how and why this book had ever been allowed to be made because it is gross and creepy and weird. I don’t understand who would like this book and while I will admit to appreciating the rhyme, and the casual morbidity, I also read it as quickly as possibly because I didn’t want to look at the pictures or read the story for longer than necessary.

The story didn’t have a funny tone to it that could make light of anything that was happening, and certainly the dark black pages and eerie green colours didn’t help in the slightest. You certainly wouldn’t read it to a child who had actually lost their rabbit because who would want to deal with those nightmares? But maybe, knowing how kids love the gross and creepy stuff it might have appeal to some of them…I guess.

I just can’t stop being perplexed by this book. Why does it exist and why would any one write this, or publish it? I know many people enjoy this, and maybe you need the right tone or humour injected into reading it, but I couldn’t muster up that humour because my own confusion about its existence blocked everything else.

I picked it up because I needed to know what it was about, but my goodness, I have no desire to pick it up again.

You can purchase My Dead Bunny via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

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