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Margaret Wild

Fiona the Pig by Leigh Hobbs & Too Many Pears! by Jackie French, illus. Bruce Whatley

March 2004, no. 259

Where would the picture book industry be without animals? Talking or non-speaking, cute or obnoxious, mischievously alive or poignantly dying, animal characters can be utilised to teach life lessons, and to make complex issues accessible and less confronting for young children. Add humour, passion and strong original writing, and you have a winner.

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Swans are said to mate for life and The Stone Swan builds on the love and anguish of such a relationship as the focus for a lesson in environmental responsibility. A pair of swans, lagging behind the rest of their flight, take solitary refuge in a wetland adjacent to a new housing estate, unaware that it is targeted for ‘development’. The cygnets hatch as the water levels subside and the male swan becomes trapped in a tangle of exposed rubbish and plastic twine. He is near death from exhaustion when a child from the nearby estate finds and frees him. But the peril is not over, for a causeway is being built across the wetland, isolating the swan family from the rest of the flock. The male manages to climb to the top of the roadway, but he will not go on without his mate and she will not leave without her babies. The story ends as she and her young, now fully fledged, fly off to join the flock on their annual migration while the human child witnesses her last farewell to the swan-shaped stone that has appeared on the causeway. Bell’s sombre illustrations in ink and watercolour reinforce the tragic mood of the story. A final page provides background information and references for this timely picture book that could be used effectively in primary school ecology studies.

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A pile of picture books to savour – what better start to the year? Experienced authors and artists are met again, and new favourites are found, in these eight books.

Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood, wonderful book makers in their own right, make a special team in The Treasure Box (Viking, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9780670073658). A boy and his fathe ...

Good picture books stimulate a child’s imagination. Nick Bland and Stephen Michael King celebrate creativity in The Magnificent Tree (Scholastic, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781742832951). Bonny and Pops enjoy sharing ideas and making things together. Bonny’s inventions are ‘simple, clever and properly made’, while Pops’s creations are ‘big, brave and brilliant with bits sticking out’. Determined to attract the attention of the birds flying overhead, each comes up with a different but equally satisfying solution. King’s bulbous-nosed cartoon characters, minimalist backgrounds, and organic machinery interact with Bland’s thoughtful text to present a gently reassuring tale about intergenerational friendship and creative problem-solving.

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