It’s not always easy to keep kids reading over the summer holidays. But research shows that those who stop reading over these long breaks from school are actually at risk of seeing their reading ability drop during this period. This is called the “summer slide”.
But there are simple ways to prevent this from happening. Reading just four or five books over the summer can stop the slide.
Reading regularly also helps to develop a child’s language and comprehension, enhance listening and speaking skills, and help with the understanding of narrative and story. Reading to your child during pre-school years has even been shown to boost their literacy levels.
Children are, unsurprisingly, more likely to read when they find a story interesting and engaging. With this in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of great new books that have been published this year that are sure to keep kids engaged in reading over the summer break.
1. Hello Little Babies by Alison Lester
(Harper Collins Publishers, 2016) Ages: 0 - 3 years
Cameos of babies’ lives and their families feature in ordinary but universal scenes starring babies as they sleep, play, eat and explore life.
The short, familiar text, such as “Zane rubs corn in his hair” and “Vikram yawns and stretches”, is perfect for parents to read aloud. Lester is at her finest in capturing the minutia of the ordinary and rendering it memorable.
Further reading: Lester’s 48-page colouring-in book, Wonderful World, featuring characters and scenes from her books Imagine, Magic Beach and others, is the perfect companion.
Parents might collect Lester’s books and join in a game of “find the characters” appearing in the colouring book.
2. Who sank the boat? And other stories by Pamela Allen
(Penguin, 2016) Ages: 1 - 5 yrs
Here’s a treasure trove of nine familiar favourites by a creator who excels in the art of simplicity, humour, playful images and universally loved stories including Grandpa and Thomas and Belinda. Allen’s jaunty language is perfect for reciting and performance by pre-schoolers.
Parents will enjoy performing words and actions and talking about the subtle character-building ideas, such as being kind to others and working together.
3. One Minute Till Bedtime written by Kenn Nesbitt, illustrations by Christoph Niemann
(Little Brown, 2016) Ages: 3 and up
These 60-second poems are perfect bedtime reading. Five countries, including Australia, feature in these 132 selections, each evoking strong emotions. Included are abecedarian, pantonums and haiku poems, plus others. The illustrations are minimalist and clever, ensuring imaginations are engaged.
Australia’s poems by Kathryn Apel, Mark Carthew, Sophie Masson and others add to the international flavour. Parents prepare for a rollicking read aloud and discussion of other kinds of poetry than those here.
4. Welcome to Country written by Aunty Joy Murphy, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
(Black Dog Books, 2016) Ages: 5 and up
Welcome to country ceremonies are an important part of major events. They signify cultural greetings by Aboriginal elders who grant permission for visitors to enter their traditional lands.
This stunningly illustrated book has a deep yet simple text, which introduces its central concept through poetic language and earthy, evocative landscapes of blended colours and shapes of people and landscapes.
“We are part of the land and the land is part of us” reminds us to respectfully share cultural traditions. Parents might collect a range of picture books by Aboriginal creators for children, comparing illustration styles and discussing the meaning underlying traditional stories.
5. The Sisters Saint-Claire written by Carlie Gibson, illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie
(Crows Nest, NSW : Allen & Unwin, 2016) Ages: 7 and up
Gibson’s debut, gem-like story offers likeable characters, a tasty dilemma and a satisfying ending. Appealing ingredients include a family of four French mice who adore food, family and fashion, intricately detailed illustrations, lavish banquets of French food and a text in delectable rhythm and rhyme.
Adults and child can explore places in the world, locate these on maps, and share cultural diversity.
Further reading: Similar in whimsical detail, but featuring enchanting rabbit characters, is the trio of books by Kate Knapp about Ruby Red Shoes. Ruby’s adventures to distant places are told in entrancing prose and feature detailed, whimsical illustrations.
6. Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks by Gina M Newton
(National Library of Australia, 2016) Ages: 8 and up
Australia is home to over 110,000 species of animals and here in Newton’s large, lavishly designed book are 120 - most existing only in Australia. The beautifully designed layout conveys information so jam-packed that readers will return again and again.
Basic and iconic information include slang, sports, places to visit, and lots of food. Adults reading this book (and the one below) with children might want to talk about the importance of looking after the environment.
Further reading: Tania McCartney’s book, Australia illustrated, in a similar large and inviting format, offers fascinating titbits about all Australian states and territories.
7. Artie and the Grime Wave by Richard Roxburgh
(Allen & Urwin, 2016) Ages: 8 and up
Artie and his best friend Bumshoe discover a cave-of-possibly-stolen-stuff, then match wits and defeat our shady characters including fang-toothed Funnel-web and the dastardly Mayor Grime.
High-appeal ingredients abound in this mystery-adventure: a struggling underdog; good-hearted friends; moments of bravery; slightly dangerous baddies and a rip-roaring pace. The quirky line illustrations perfectly capture inventions like the “super snotter” and shady characters in zany, slightly dark, line illustrations.
Parents might compare this work with other popular humorous authors and illustrators such as Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton with their Magic Tree House series.
8. Radio Rescue written by Jane Jolly, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
(National Library of Australia, 2016) Age: 9 and up
Two masters of story and illustration combine their art to reveal a fascinating piece of Australian history — how “the world burst open” with the invention of the pedal radio. The facts are astonishing, but the human story adds great appeal.
Young Jim and his mum and dad love station life but long for human contact, and worry about disaster striking. Jane Jolley’s text is simple with appealing repetition perfect for reading aloud.
Robert Ingpen’s signature soft pencil sketches and luminous foldouts are unforgettable. Parents might find other books about significant inventions and innovations in our world such as transportation and the Internet, and talk how these have changed our lives.
9. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
(Allen & Urwin, 2016) Ages: 10 and up
Shaun Tan’s 15 short stories explore unique, perplexing and sophisticated ideas with unforgettable images. One story centres on Eric, tiny in size but large in heart. He leaves behind an unforgettable gift for his human friends. Another story features satirically decorated missiles in front yards. Tan puts a twist in this tale, prodding the reader to think. A family with little money creates a richly imaginative attic retreat.
Parents will enjoy reading Tan’s crisp proud aloud and luxuriate in his mesmerising illustrations, then discussing the many layers of his work. Then, as a family, put together the accompanying Shaun Tan 750-piece puzzle.
10. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
(NSW : Hachette, 2016) Ages: 12 and up
Occasionally a book leaves an indelible impression, irrevocably changing one’s worldview. This is one of those books.
Ten-year-old Subhi is a refugee, born in a permanent Australian detention centre. Though he knows no other life, his imagination soars and offers comfort. When he meets a young girl from the other side of the fence, their lives change forever. Family members loved and lost weave throughout this story. The prose is lyrical, and there are light moments. Read this book as a family and explore injustices, hope and love.
You might also like “A love and feel for place : Australian illustrated children’s books - in pictures” by Leigh Hobbs.
• All the books listed were published in 2016 and reflect Australia’s rich and diverse creative talent.