Book Bites: Picture Books to Soothe and Comfort
The coupling of these two picture books may at first glance seem peculiar but spend time with each and you’ll soon appreciate their shared affinity. Both are exquisite examples of tender hearted story telling relaying huge-hearted subject matter in ways young readers can easily embrace. Both are illustrated with a gentle hand and soothing colour palette. I urge you to explore more…
Penny Harrison has hit her stride with this glorious picture book showcasing hope. At least this was the main message for me. So many children’s books attempt to broadcast the notion of ‘hanging on’ and ‘feeling hopeful’. We tell children regularly that they are special and unique. Sometimes, we even reward mediocrity in an effort to level their ‘feelings’ playing fields thus doing their self-esteems a terrible disservice. This book rejects all that in favour of acknowledging a child’s desire to dream without boundaries; to harness unicorns and sail around Mars for example. Of course children know inherently that soaring like an eagle may involve some logistical improbabilities but that does not stop them from wishing it. Meantime time Harrison redirects their wild desires towards other extraordinary events, those that bellow and trumpet and blaze and boom all around us loud and bold and beautiful. It’s a marvellous celebration of all that is amazing in our worlds.
The coin is then flipped with the question, ‘But what of the ordinary, everyday thing?’ As a reminder to stop and smell the roses, this experience escorts young readers on a journey of life’s gentle, stirring moments, the tiny things easily overlooked, that occur each day. The most simple of sensations like the feeling of the kiss of a cheeky cool breeze. The ordinary things. The moments that belong to everyone and there for all of us.
Katie Wilson’s divine water colour illustrations engulf each page with soft luminous detail, beautifully complementing Harrison’s gentle verse. Nature is the main feature of each spread and aphorism with the subtle inclusion of young people to remind us that we are all part of something grander and bigger and that it is fine to seek the extraordinary as long as we remember where to look for it. From its foil decorated cover to its last uplifting promise, Extraordinary! is in fact, just that; a perfect administration for recognising miniscule marvels.
Author: Penny Harrison
Illustrator: Katie Wilson
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, $24.99
Publication Date: February 2020
For ages: 3 – 6
Type: Picture Book
Her experience is time-lined by an old pear tree that grows at the bottom of her garden. It’s a magnificent specimen, tall and sturdy and abuzz with life. It’s a hideout, a sanctuary, a stalwart, obliging play mate, that grows suddenly empty and forlorn when Anna becomes ill.
Anna’s decent into despair and sickness coincides with the onset of winter and is strikingly portrayed by a dramatic change in the landscape as dense, foreboding clouds roll in and the rains begin. The metaphoric link between the cold heartless storms and Anna’s feelings of dread and loneliness is at once stunning and crippling. Then one day daffodils flood the flower beds, the sun reappears and with it Anna’s health and hope.
As she recovers, so does the pear tree from its winter hiatus. It blooms and fruits; providing shelter and sustenance for Anna’s spirit until one fine summer’s day, Anna celebrates another miracle.
The symbolism of the pear is thoughtfully explained at the end of this story but even without it, the colours and lavish detail of Deb Hudson’s illustrations along with Shurety’s lilting prose enrich and elevate what could have been a morose storyline but is instead full of quiet assurances and positivity. There is plenty of room for individual interpretation and discussion with ample opportunities for young readers to connect with the palpable joie de vivre that for the most part, fills this book. It is not only a joyful celebration of life but demonstrates the transitions and cycles of rejuvenation, endurance and growth. We may not be immortal but the Pear of Hope is something we can treasure indefinitely. Utterly exquisite and inspiring, Pear of Hope is a beautifully crafted tale capable of uplifting and guiding children through confusing and daunting experiences not least of which serious illness.
Pear of Hope
Author: Wenda Shurety
Illustrator: Deb Hudson
Publisher: EK Books, $24.99
Publication Date: May 2021
For ages: 4 – 8
Type: Picture Book