Kindness and Compassion: Tales of Humanity

Australian’s don’t need much guidance in the arts of kindness and compassion. The outpouring for generosity and empathy from around the nation, indeed throughout the world in recent times, is heart-swelling. As are these next few picture books which define thankfulness, humility, acceptance and understanding. Rediscover the joy in shared humanity.

There are so many things to love about this charming picture book, Three: kombis, dogs, animals, fragrant gardens, raindrops…It is another masterpiece by master storyteller and artist, Stephen Michael King  and is imbued with the kind of tenderness that makes big kids weep and little ones smile with joy. The most miraculous thing about Three’s story, apart from his tenacious and spirited outlook on life, is that it took several page turns in before I realised that this adorable little butterscotch-orange and white dog only has three legs. This is shown in the pictures of course but King’s narrative is so engaging, Three’s missing appendage is easy to overlook. This was a surprising realisation for me and a powerful statement about the accession of acceptance.

Three survives on his own in a bustling metropolis surrounded by a multitude of other multi-legged creatures. He is content with his lot in life and grateful for all his legs and where they are capable of carrying him, that is until one day they take him far out into the countryside where he encounters even more curiously-legged creatures including one who shares her biscuits and heart with him. The friendship that blossoms between Three and Fern exemplifies love, acceptance and thankfulness, depicted in King’s bewitchingly beautiful narrative and illustrative style. The counting conundrums are an added bonus boosting this to picture book to highly recommended.

Title: Three
Author: Stephen Michael King
Illustrator: Stephen Michael King
Publisher: Scholastic Press, $24.99
Publication Date: November 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781760664053
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book

Buy the Book: Booktopia, Boomerang Books

Ella & Mrs Gooseberry: Discovering What Love Looks Like
Ella’s next-door neighbour, Mrs Gooseberry has lost her love. That love was her husband of many years but to Ella it represents a more intangible thing, a thing that makes Mrs Gooseberry grumpy and reclusive. Ella wonders what love looks and feels like. She finds the answers she is looking for from her family and teachers until she has gathered enough understanding to hatch an idea and give Mrs Gooseberry reason to laugh and love again.

This honey-sweet story is dripping with tenderness but in a comfortably confined way thanks to Vikki Conley’s affectionate narrative and Pratley’s pastel infused watercolour illustrations. It subtly addresses the benefit of exercising empathy towards our fellow neighbours especially those who may be living alone, thus encouraging caring within the community. Small selfless actions can result in monumental changes; an excellent notion for discussion within both classroom and home environments. 

Title: Ella & Mrs Gooseberry: Discovering What Love Looks Like
Author: Vikki Conley
Illustrator: Penelope Pratley
Publisher: EK Books, $24.99
Publication Date: August 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781925335255
For ages: 4 – 8
Type: Picture Book

Buy the Book: EK Books, Boomerang Books

The Gift
In the heart of Rosie’s colourless, concrete city of high-rises and uniformity huddles an old house with an abandoned, weed-infested garden. Rosie is certain a heart beats within the forlorn house but that that heart must belong to an old belligerent woman. Each day, Rosie observes the house and its unseen occupant as she reminisces about her mother; her silly songs, crazy creations and the way she saw beauty in everything. Rosie misses her mother who is no longer in her life. Being seconded to her apartment home, Rosie also misses growing her beloved courtyard plants with her mother. Her pensive yearnings germinate one day into an idea after she remembers one of her mother’s aphorisms: if you look long and hard enough, you’ll see the beauty in everything.

Over the course of months, Rosie regularly leaves her neighbour a gift; a sometimes small, sometimes tall prickly weed on her front veranda. Each time she does so, the weed is collected and displayed in a beautiful vase in her neighbour’s window, until one day, Rosie plucks up the courage to visit in person with her last weed gift. She finds Mrs Green inside bestowing cups of tea; not quite the formidable old crone she expected. An understanding and friendship grows between the two faster than you can say ‘beanstalk’, until Rosie finally remembers to show Mrs Green her final gift.

The Gift is a compelling, uplifting story of patience, overcoming grief, accepting loss, and venturing forward. It’s a tale of reaching out and healing and again, of the positive impact individuals can have on their community. Outstanding premise, superbly illustrated, Speechley’s creations are highly recommended.

Title: The Gift
Author: Michael Speechly
Illustrator: Michael Speechly
Publisher: Puffin, $24.99
Publication Date: September 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9780143788980
For ages: 3+
Type: Picture Book

Buy the Book: Readings Books, Boomerang Books

Tilly is a little girl, living in a large old house bubbling with activity and life. In fact, her brothers and sisters fill it with so much boisterousness and clutter, there is barely any room for Tilly. So it is hardly surprising that Tilly’s favourite most sacred place is the step on the entrance to her top floor bedroom, a secret step because of a broken floorboard that only she knows exists. Within this hiding place, Tilly ensconces her most treasured things: a silver ball, drawings, sweets and four little wooden dolls. In this way, Tilly is able to preserve peace and privacy that is until summer home renovations result in newly carpeted floors. Her secret step is imprisoned under a sea of sandy softness, trapped and unreachable.

Crestfallen and dismayed, Tilly tries to conjure a way to rescue her special things but eventually realises the futility of her desires. This acknowledgement sparks a reborn desire and soon, Tilly is collecting new treasures, secreting them in a new hiding spot. Although she never quite forgets those she had to abandon, Tilly learns how to move on and cherish future wonders just as fiercely. Godwin’s moving prose coupled with Walker’s elegant illustrations elevates this story of the significance of small special things, dealing with loss and grief and the importance of letting go to the sublime.

Title: Tilly
Author: Jane Godwin
Illustrator: Anna Walker
Publisher: Scholastic Press, $24.99
Publication Date: October 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781760663728
For ages: 3 – 8
Type: Picture Book

Buy the Book: Boomerang Books, Readings

Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Arabella is little girl fond of prettiness and pink born into a well-to-do family which, by royal decree, allows her one new wish each year. Imagine! She wishes up all manner of wonderful things such as pink puppies and real-life faeries. It appears life could not be any more perfect for Arabella until one day something she did not wish for arrives; Master Archibald Vermillion Remington XV – or Avery for short. Arabella’s new baby brother is the opposite of calm and quiet whose supreme pleasure is annoying Arabella.

When her next wish is due, Arabella wishes for a magic pencil. Because anything she draws with her magic pencil becomes real, Arabella sets out to decorate her world with the surreal and bizarre. It’s a spectacular and stupendous masterpiece until Avery hurls himself through her land of sparkles and whipped cream, destroying it as only a baby brother can. Enraged beyond words, Arabella charges after Avery with her magic pencil and …erases him! A world without Avery is quiet and calm and orderly just as she always desired, however as show dramatically by Hyde’s sepia-toned illustrations, it is also utterly devoid of colour and joy. Arabella is surprised to discover how much she misses Avery and endeavours to restore her brother to everything he was supposed to be with the aid of her magic pencil…and her love-infused memories of him.

Arabella…is a whimsical interpretation of  age old tale of sibling rivalry and finding tolerance for new family members. Liking new additions simply because you are related to them does not come easily for some youngsters. Books like these are capital for fostering kindness and compassion especially in the absence of magic pencils!  

Title: Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Author: Stephanie Ward
Illustrator: Shaney Hyde
Publisher: EK Books, $24.99
Publication Date: September 2019
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781925820010
For ages: 3 – 8
Type: Picture Books

Buy the Book: EK Books, Boomerang Books



Norah Colvin said…
There is something appealing about all of these books, Dimity. Thank you for sharing them. The one that I'll read first is 'Three'. It reminds me of my daughter's three-legged dog, which must be the most wonderful dog in the whole wide world.
DimbutNice said…
Thank you, Norah. Wonderful choice! Three is so very poignant yet pulsing with strength. I also thought The Gift was superb.
Stephanie said…
I've got a lot of new picture books on my To Be Read list, thanks to this post! What a beautiful collection. I'm humbled to be included among them with Arabella. Thank you :)
DimbutNice said…
She deserves to be among these, Stephanie. What a joyful and unique look at the power of the pen! :-)
Manish Desai said…
I am struggling with the act in the book - Gift by Michael Speechly. Why did Rosie give weeds for many days and then finally garden of flowers? Why not flower from day 1? And if her own garden had weeds, why give it to others? Maybe she saw beauty in weeds as is message of her mother? And if that is so, why in end the garden is full of flowers instead of weeds?

Nevertheless, the illustrations are vintage like stunning.

Whenever I read a picture book and even if there is a critique comment taking on the literal meaning of the book, I always see the idea of book and have never disliked the book. I always get what the author wanted to do. This is first time I am not sure. Maybe I saw this time on very surface level. I hope I can see deep. I am not happy with myself till then.

Hope you can respond to the questions.
Manish Desai said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manish Desai said…
In 'Ella & Mrs Gooseberry' review, I like how you mention that love is intangible in way it is felt within and still can be described through gestures and words like teacher at dance school. Interesting that for love to happen, care also has to happen and cat is tangible form which could be taken care. But for the idea she hatches, she prepares and gains enough understanding before the execution of idea as you mentioned.
DimbutNice said…
Dear Manish,
Thank you for visiting here. It is a real treat for me to know you care so much about the hearts of these great stories. Regarding The Gift, I was truly touched and moved by this one. The artwork as you point out is unique and stirring, the edgy vintage feel of it perfectly suited to the storyline of loss and the jaggeredness of life, I feel.

I think the act of Rosie giving the hermit-styled lady flowers represents the need to connect and move on. Weeds are resilient plants, often surviving where others of a more beautiful yet delicate nature cannot, as you would know. Rosie collected these weeds from where they were abundant, on Mrs Green's verandah, the ramshackled garden and perhaps, metaphorically from her heart where weeds of despair no doubt were taking over following the loss of her mother.

By the sharing of these weeds, kindness and desire grows into love and hope and thus the weeds symbolically transform into flowers. Friendship, compassion and understanding bloom, the garden is restored and the notion of 'finding beauty everywhere' perpetuates.

At least this is my take on it. Perhaps it is reading too much into it, but I am drawn to the symbolism in picture books and thus this is the interpretation that springs from this one. I hope that helps a little.

Please visit again. I love hearing other points of view. Stories after all are so wonderfully subjective and meaningful,

Manish Desai said…
Author Michael's parents said to him, "all you have to do is pull out one weed a day. Once you put that weed out, the other plants will take over and eventually after 365 days, you won't have any weeds at all and they won't be able to grow." Author really loved that as a concept of a metaphor.

I received one advice from my closest friend, "Never assume" One of seemingly easy lesson to sound and yet so hard to master. So I wondered why Rosie assumed that the women is old and not only old but belligerent lady. Rosie's dream also confirmed that she knew that her gifts would not be cherished. Yet with her assumption on, and after having that dream (which speaks the subconscious), she does continue to gift weeds. And then when she meets the lady, she is not old but young like flower opening up to Rosie. So I wondered was it that Rosie knew that the lady is not old but she is just assuming it and therefore weeds as gift but secretly knowing that lady must be someone like her who has some great loss. And therefore Rosie was shedding her assumptions and coming close to her belief that Mrs Green would be like her in Heart and she deserves a garden full of flowers? And the weeds are outgrown in Mrs Green's outside (Verandah) space and so they need to removed just as they to be removed from their internal spaces (Heart and thoughts)?

And then I wondered that even I am assuming! When you assume, you judge. And that is what my friend wanted to say. Do not assume and start judging. Do not assume thoughts of other person. Because I had then assumed something which could have been not the case. And since this book is picture book for children, I wanted to know that there must be some hidden message behind gifting of weeds every single day and then suddenly the whole bloom.

And now I read your thoughts which see weeds as resilient plants which have way of growing when others could not survive. Just like unwanted thoughts have way of lingering deep within but at same time peaceful thoughts having a less space and time to stay within.
Now interesting thing is that since this clarity is subconsciously there in Rosie, she is seeing weeds as way to connect and thus they become act of kindness instead of seeing it as outlandish act as I assumed (but secretly not assuming but wanting to see her kind Heart), you see it as seed of kindness. "Kindness grows into love". hmmm .. Desire into hope.

notion of 'finding beauty everywhere' perpetuates. I think Rosie's mother's message was that finding beauty everywhere does not always mean not to change anything and just keep on seeing beauty in everything without any action, but acting such that where your focus is to bring out beauty of Heart and transforming things.

I like even if you are reading too much into your interpretations and making me do so too, because I somehow cannot dislike efforts of any picture book's story and such an endearing character in Rosie.

I think it is still the sadness interleaved with complexity of Rosie's Heart and yet clarity and purpose in actions, which is pulling me to the story. To believe and see beauty in the story. May be the book wants me to see/create/find beauty everywhere and know that to do that, one can use weeds within as act of connecting and growing a garden within. Even after writing this much, I am still confused :)

A lot confused.

DimbutNice said…
Aha! It is easy to confuse ones understanding in an effort to gain something from it. Here I take a different yet not utterly dismissive path, for sometimes it is the very questions themselves that a story raises that are the answers. In otherwords, whatever it makes you feel and observe and ponder is correct. I try to adopt this concept as a reader but as a purveyor of stories as well, I enjoy manifesting as many 'layers' of conjecture as possible within my tales, even if they are for children, for children are often the most observant and open to new ideas and notions, their emotions more accessible and authentic than we life-weary grown ups.
Manish Desai said…
You said please visit again and I am again visiting like Rosie because as you said, True.. Stories after all are so wonderfully subjective and meaningful. And understanding each other's subjectivity is what makes one see the richness of soul.

Maybe Rosie just wants to connect and deliberately imagines the lady to be old so that she feels that even if she is old it should not be barrier for connection. On other side Mrs Green also responds secretly to connect by hiding herself and yet displaying the weeds in pots at the window. Mrs Green also secretly wishes to remove all barriers. Rosie imagined things at extreme end and through odd ways of thinking so that nothing under the sky should be barrier for connecting. I think she had carefully thought about her mystery gift. I wonder if the boon make should have been 'Mystery Gift' but perhaps that would have lessened the effect of element of mystery.

Manish Desai said…
Hmm.. manifestation of many layers within a story also allows one to revisit the book again and again even if one grows up and the revisit is not the life-weary ones, because one now again begins to see fresh. That is the gift of the book. Not just this book but any such layered book. To make us see fresh and see like a child again and again. For now, 'I have Fix It Man' and 'At the End of Holyrood Lane' of yours with me which will continue to make me see more for life long.
DimbutNice said…
Yes, yes, Yes! My heart swells. I too have books, stories, transformative moments within them that I cherish and draw from...many times over.
Manish Desai said…
Sahi! .. we say here

(very true)

Popular posts from this blog

Discussions on Diaspora: A personal insight

Happy Release Day! This Is My Dad

Review: My Shadow Is Pink