Monday, December 04, 2006

Australian Summery Picture Book Recommendation

At the Beach
Roland Harvey
Paperback $14.95

It seems like only a heart's blink ago that I was writing about the first day of spring and now look. It's summer and it has been for days and I quite forgot to think of it because it feels like it's been summer for months.

I love Australia's summery Christmas (though I've never experienced a wintry one). I love that we give board shorts and beach towels for presents and that we eat outside and have prawns and chilled sparkling wines (preferably red for me). I love the long lead up, with barbecues and picnics, even though it's kid of exhausting. As a kid it marked the beginning of a long summer holiday, and that was part of its broke up a few days before Christmas and then was out till late February in Tasmania. I associate that hot dusty gum tree smell with Christmas.

I also think of a loved kid's book, Roland Harvey's Book of Christmas which I used to pore over every year, with it's songs, recipes and best of all, descriptions of how kids all over the world celebrated Christmas. Experiencing a northern hemisphere Christmas somewhere where they take Christmas very seriously is on my list of things to do, perhaps in a few years when the girls are old enough to appreciate the differences. Every year Roland Harvey used to put out a calendar with stickers and funny comments and his unique style of illustration. We'd buy it through school from the Ashton Scholastic book clubs and it would come towards the end of the school year, I remember afternoons studying it when it arrived and it was that sort of late term vibe, with the summer drifting in through the open classroom windows and even the teacher wants to skive off and blow dandelions.

Now Fred loves one of his books too, At the Beach: Postcards from Crabby Spit. Crabby Spit comes to life in this Australian story about a family caravanning holiday.

The endpages show a detailed map of Crabby Spit in blue ink and this image alone is one to spend hours over. Fred is particularly fond of maps so this is an effective entry into the story for her. On the title page we meet the family as they say their goodbyes to Grandma. 'Don't forget to write,' she says and write they do, the story is told as a series of lively and distinctive postcards to Grandma. The story takes place in a beachside caravan park and its surrounds, very Australian in feel. It's a lovely narrative about family and this particular type of chaotic holiday, culminating in a frenzied party on the beach attended by young and old, complete with campfire.
'It was so cool with the sea sloshing and the music jumping. I made up a dance and my head stayed still and my body danced around. My dad was being funny and he's done his back. Love from Henry Dear Grandma I stayed up late and there was a very big fire. I found a crab. And there were dolphins swimming in the sea. love. Frankie'
These are kids to love: busy, exploratory, active, playful, funny, serious, creative and interested in the world around them. There's cricket on the beach and bmx riding, canoeing, a big treasure filled market, snorkelling, sailing, surfing...and sunken treasure, pirates, caves, wierd lights and ufos, leafy seadragons, mosquitos, fish and chips for tea and scrabble in the annexe.

Martin and I both find his illustrations utterly compelling. My favourite in this book is the underwater scene, where the surface view is crowded up into the top of the page and the rest is the vast depths of the sea, complete with sharks, which thrill Frederique. There's a strong sense of a fragile yet resilient seascape and a sense of a respectful relationship between the natural environment and the joyful human world, noted if nothing else in the clean environs of the beach. There's a finding game to play with the book too, the artist at the beginning of the book loses all his belongings in the story and at the end you're invited to go back and find them (look for the cheeky dog). The game makes this book the perfect travel companion, since there's different ways to 'read' it. It also means you really immerse yourself in the world of the illustrations and seriously it's the kind of book where you feel that if you lean in close enough you might just fall's such a fully realised and evocative world. I want to go to Crabby Spit for MY next holiday!
At the Beach is published by Allen & Unwin and is being released in paperback for Christmas. There's also a companion scheduled for publication in March 2007
called In the Bush NOTE: I misread the Pub details for In the Bush, it is out now in hardback, where the same family go camping in Wombat Flat.

I'd recommend At the Beach for ages 3-8...I know this is a very broad range but I think it works for different ages because you can read it in so many different ways and the older you are the deeper you can dig in to it. Frederique began really enjoying it at 3 though she's only just getting into the postcard format now, though we did sit and flick through the pages and explore Crabby Spit when she was 2.

Other Australian Beach Holiday Picture Books We Love:
Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen (In our experience Pamela Allen can be hit and miss - I don't enjoy her Mr Magee books at all and I often thinks she wins CBC Awards over other deserving books - but this comes close to being a perfect picture book in terms of rhythm and structure.)
Greetings from Sandy Beach by Bob Graham (Much much loved, Bob Graham is my hero.)
Magic Beach by Alison Lester (beautiful, see below for Fred's opinion of Alison Lester.)
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (Her collages are sensational and Fred doesn't mind the worthiness of her themes, though sometimes I wish she'd let her pictures speak for themselves which is why I love the textless Window and Belonging so much. I would also buy her books for artistic teenagers.)
Are We There Yet Alison Lester (we haven't read this yet but it's on the list and Fred so far loves every Alison Lester book she's met. And me too.)


  1. We love Alison Lester too Pen - have you read Our Farm? She captures my childhood in a jar :) We haven't read Are We There Yet, the book, but I bought the CD for the boys and they *love* it - they recite whole sections to each other and fall about giggling. If you'd like to borrow it for Fred LMK xxxx

  2. Anonymous3:27 PM

    We love Bob Graham too - have you read The Adventures of Buffy? A story of a very cool dog who can juggle and tapdance.

    I am going to look for At the Beach next time I'm at the shops. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous9:48 PM

    I also love where the Forest meets the Sea. I bought it from the oppy even before Grace came along. Not that she'll be still long enough for me to read to her for more than a minute and a half, although she does look at books by herself. I guess we just have to keep offering to read to her at various times during the day until we find one that works.

    I think I'm going to take note of your recommendations for my post Christmas book splurge at a proper book shop. I read the Alison Lester Are We There Yet? at a book shop and thought a) when Grace is a bit older and b) I definintely want to go on big long central Australian road trip with Grace & G when she's 8ish. It's so on my list of things to do.