For me, the perfect picture book combines an original idea with inventive storytelling and captivating illustration. Danny Blue's Really Excellent Dream ticks all of those boxes — in fact, it's so awesome that it's a book I wish I'd published myself!
Danny Blue lives in a rather blue world. He has blueberries for breakfast, eaten from a blue bowl with a blue spoon. Danny's full name is Daniel Periwinkle Blue, his favourite movie is The Blues Brothers, his favourite animal is the blue-tongued lizard. His father, Mr Blue, makes paint colours — they're all blue. You get the picture …
Then one night, Danny has a dream, about a blue whale, except that it's NOT BLUE! He tries to tell his dad about it but he actually has no words to describe it. But he can't forget about it, because it was such a Really Excellent Dream! So Danny sets about creating that extraordinary colour that was not blue.
Quirky humour leaps off every single page of this inspired book! My daughter and I both absolutely adore it. Max Landrak's word play is sensational (Danny riffs on his blues guitar, inspiration hits him like a bolt from the blue!) and his illustrations are packed with character. This is his first picture book — I hope there are many more to come.
I am a huge fan of Brené Brown's work. For anyone not familiar with her, she's a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame. She looks deep into the human spirit in her research and then responds by writing books that, for me, capture the essence of what it means to be truly human. I also highly recommend her TED talk on the power of vulnerability — it's been watched over 31 million times and is an internet phenomenon.
Her latest book is called Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. The publisher's blurb describes it as: 'A timely and important new book that challenges everything we think we know about cultivating true belonging in our communities, organizations, and culture …'
I'd describe it as essential reading in this time of political, racial and gender turmoil. Everywhere I look at the moment, people seem to be hurling abuse at anyone who doesn't share their particular viewpoint. There's little room left for rational debate or even basic respect. Social media now means that hurtful, degrading, insulting and downright vile comments can be dashed off in seconds with the writer never having to come face to face with their victim. We urgently need to come together, to find a way to be true to our beliefs and ideals without fostering division and hatred along the way.
Braving the Wilderness offers us a blueprint for how to do just that. It's certainly not an easy path that Brené Brown outlines, but I think it's an important one, and one that I intend to embrace to the best of my ability. She bases the book around the acronym 'BRAVING':
B - Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you're not clear about what's OK and what's not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.
R - Reliability. You do what you say you'll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don't over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
A - Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
V - Vault. You don't share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.
I - Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practise your values rather than simply professing them.
N - Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
G - Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.
In isolation, this might seem a bit idealistic, but Brené Brown's gift is the way she combines her research findings with real-life examples and case studies to make the theoretical completely practical. She also writes with warmth, humour and in a thoroughly down-to-earth style that is wonderfully 'real' and enjoyable.
As anyone who listens to the news or reads the papers will have seen, this is apparently the 'worst Australian flu season on record'. My family and I can vouch for that.
First, my husband went down … as if he'd been hit by a truck … which then reversed back over him. It's probably the sickest he's been since we've been married and for five days he was little more than an uncommunicative aching ball of misery.
Next, my daughter succumbed. It was the cough that brought her to her knees, with night after night of interrupted sleep leaving us all bleary-eyed and brain-dead.
And then the flu turned its sights on me. But, I have refused to go down without a fight. So far, I have resisted the raging temperature, rattling lungs and streaming snot that crippled my husband and daughter. Instead, I've endured a week of feeling pretty average that I'm hopeful will not develop further.
So, what has got us through the past fortnight? Books. Propped up in bed or curled up on couches, we've all turned to good books to perk us up. The husband has burned through Inheritors of the Earth: How nature is thriving in an age of extinction, which I will be reading next. The daughter has devoured books 3 and 4 in the Wings of Fire series. And I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow.
With a cover quote promising that 'readers will feel as though Harry Potter is meeting Alice in Wonderland', I had high expectations for this book and I haven't been disappointed. It's the debut novel for Australian author Jessica Townsend, and the book has already been sold in 28 territories, with film rights pre-empted by 20th Century Fox. While I'm still about 100 pages from the end, so far it's a wonderfully entertaining piece of world-building with endearing characters and an engrossing storyline. Look out for it online and in bookstores from October.
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