Upside Down Friday / The Art of Words

Upside Down Friday
Lana Spasevski and Nicky Johnston
EK Books

Unlike his mum little Hugo monkey hates Fridays. That’s the day when his usual routine changes. Consequently he walks to school with a sad face, butterflies in his tummy and a rapidly beating heart as he anticipates spending his time doing sport. 

On this particular Friday though things turn out a whole lot better that expected thanks to Maddison who announces that she’s Hugo’s buddy for the day. She goes on to give him a bright red balloon 

and tell him that just like Hugo she didn’t like Upside Down Fridays and later she reassures him that ‘after a while, it will feel the right way up.” And those kind words make all the difference … 

A sweet story for the very young about the power of friendship.

The Art of Words
Robert Vescio and Joanna Bartel
EK Books

Author Robert Vescio and illustrator Joanna Bartel present an exploration of the playful possibilities of words and their power to generate a variety of emotions, feelings and ideas. 

We see two children (accompanied by a dog) reading, relaxing, climbing, gardening and much more as they snip, 

squash, expand and collect words, weaving them together (along with some punctuation), and creating stories to bring magic, joy and excitement.

The art is a delight and a wonderfully imagined presentation of the author’s engaging narrative.

Into the Wild / Poppy Goes Wild

Into the Wild
Robert Vescio and Mel Armstrong
New Frontier Publishing

Young Roman has an adventurous spirit and a love of nature that often take him to new places where he makes exciting discoveries. They might be hidden away, mysterious, wonderfully wild or all of those. He needs to keep his senses alert ready for new sights, sounds and tactile experiences.

Sometimes though in the vast, wild depths of the natural world, Roman feels that despite the wonders he’s discovered something is missing; he longs to be able to share his excitement and enthusiasm.
And then unexpectedly he comes upon something that might just satisfy that longing – something interesting and rare …

Since the start of this pandemic and especially during lockdown, more and more of us, wherever we are, have been discovering (or rediscovering) the joys of the natural world. Equally, most of us have been longing to be able to share some of the pleasure with other people, not merely virtually but in the flesh. So, this story of Robert Vescio’s with its illustrations by Mel Armstrong is a smashing portrayal of the marvels of the natural world and friendship – especially when experienced together.

Poppy Goes Wild
Nick Powell and Becca Hall
Little Steps Publishing

TV producer Nick Powell has written this story of rewilding wherein he tells how young Poppy in partnership with her grandad embark on a scheme to return his farmland to the way nature intended it to be. The way it was some fifty years back when wildflowers grew in abundance and native animals such as hares and field mice, otters, insects and birds including peregrine falcons and soaring skylarks thrived.

As Poppy’s Grandad reminisces, she and readers learn of the dramatic changes that have happened due to such things as wetland drainage, intensive farming resulting in habitat loss, and the use of harmful pesticides. “We thought we were doing the right thing,“ Grandad tells her.

Poppy’s great enthusiasm for doing what some of the farmers she’s read about are trying, reignites her grandad’s love of the natural world and project ‘rewilding’ is agreed on. Every weekend and during school holidays Poppy intends to work on the plan but their first task is to identify areas for nature to replenish itself. Then comes providing the best conditions for this to happen.

As the work gets under way, Poppy realises that it’s more than a two-person task. She enlists the help of her classmates from the town near the farm

and over the next few months great headway is made. But, as the story ends, the wonderful restorative transformation work goes on.

An inspiring, uplifting, hopeful story that presents many of the environmental challenges we face at the moment with so many of our species declining alarmingly thanks to the destabilising effects on ecosystems of human activity. In addition there are other themes – collaboration and the wonderful camaraderie between Poppy and Grandad that exemplifies intergenerational relationships.

Becca Hall’s painterly, carefully detailed, illustrations are simply gorgeous. Her colour palette is aglow with the sun’s warmth as well as evoking that inner warmth and exhilaration so many of us feel when immersed in nature.

Nick Powell hopes the book will inspire youngsters to do all they can to look after wildlife, while in a foreword, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef, writer and broadcaster, urges us all to be part of the re-wilding movement in whatever way we can. One truly hopes that, inspired by Poppy et al. both young and not so young will respond to their rallying call.

Under the Same Sky / Little Puggle’s Song

Under the Same Sky
Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Two young children living on opposite sides of the world yearn for friendship.
The boy resides in a city, the girl in a rural area yet it’s he who uses metaphors of the natural world to express his longing – “We are like the sky and sea … always apart. Never touching.’

As he stares out through the window one night, there’s a pigeon sitting on the ledge and that gives him an idea.

Creativity takes over as, with its help the lad finds a way to bridge that seemingly impossible distance and light up the world of the little girl.

The gentle, softly spoken words of the boy demonstrate how with imagination and determination true friendship can endure against the odds and across the miles. Not only does he touch the heart of the one he reaches out to but also that of the reader. The inherent tenderness of the text is reflected in Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolours, which provide a perfect complement to Robert Vescio’s narrative.

Little Puggle’s Song
Vikki Conley and Hélène Magisson
New Frontier Publishing

Puggle the echidna longs to sing but no matter how he tries there’s only silence. Deep down he knows that echidnas can’t sing, nor even make a sound;

but is there perhaps a way he can become a part of the bush choir that has been asked to sing a welcome song for the emu chicks that are soon to hatch.

As the days pass Puggle can merely look on as the other animals under the leadership of Brown Feather, practise their rendition.

Then on the night before the special performance he hears the news – Brown Feather is sick. Can he possibly save the day?

Lyrically told, Vikki Conley’s heartfelt story of determination and fulfilling your dreams reads aloud well and with Hélène Magisson’s beautifully painted scenes of the fauna and flora of the Australian bush, this picture book will introduce Australian wildlife to youngsters outside the antipodes.