A Pet for Petunia

Text: Paul Schmid
Illustrations: Paul Schmid

Publication Date: 2011

A Pet for Petunia captures the determined young mind who may sometimes, (and adoringly), indulge in their own ideas and endeavours.

Petunia a vibrant little girl is set on convincing her parents to allow her a real pet skunk, despite their differing opinion.

Petunia delivers strong claims as to how she would care for her pet, which would most likely convince us if Schmid hadn’t cleverly accompanied them with illustrations showing her aloof care for her toy skunk.

Even so, her voice indeed takes the stage; to the point that we don’t see her parents faces, yet only hear their defensive rebuttals.

Petunia’s spirited personality is complimented by her larger than life facial expressions. Further, the differing font styles are not only expressive of her mood but clever in aiding the pre- reader to follow the text with the tone of the story teller.

Schmidt’s crayon illustrations with whimsical dabs of purple and yellow water colour also reflect Petunia’s fun personality and how quickly her ideas can fleet.

For example, Petunia says that she has a perfectly awesome pet…”until she sees that absolutely, totally, major sweet porcupine!”

A pet for Petunia is comedic, yet flavoured with opportunities to share the responsibilities of keeping pets, and the importance in learning the habits and needs of a pet before taking one on.

I loved Petunia’s ability to laugh at her own behaviour. After discovering a skunk’s stink, she reflects later and laughs to herself, “Skunks are …so..AWESOME!!…Awesomely STINKY!”

This book is both sensible and silly and I can’t wait to enjoy more of Paul Schmid’s work!

Thank you Paul Schmid 🙂

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The Man who Could Call Down Owls

Text: Eve Bunting
Illustrations: Charles Mikolaycak

Publication Date: 1984
Despite the dark element in this good versus evil fable, an uplifting message still shines.

A stranger’s cruel actions towards a kind Owl Man are sure to alarm the young reader. The stranger’s desire to possess the Owl Man’s ability is scary, however does ask the reader to think about what may provoke such negative behaviour in any human.

Although I wish for good to prevail for all characters, it is difficult not to rejoice in the victory the owls have in attacking the stranger, recognising him as foe, despite his attempt to disguise himself in the Owl Man’s white cloak and willow wand.   We  are equally satisfied when the Owls’ recognise the young boy who emulates the Owl Man, as a friend.

This story left me feeling fulfilled with its notion of connectedness between the animal and human world, and the natural acts of kindness and love exchanged to protect each other, even though the story alludes  to the supernatural.  Bunting cleverly shows us that the ‘magic’ is simply this unique bond; that which allows the Owl man to heal the Owls, and that which draws the Owls to him.

The dramatic tone of the story is  enriched by Mikolaycak’s powerful black and white pencil illustrations, highlighted with a blue border;  marking a  mood which can only be felt by the reader.

An interesting exploration with children  may be to look at black and white art in other picture books. How does the use of colour affect the mood of the story and the reader? What different media is used?

Some titles in black and white to explore:


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Text: Mildred Kantrowitz
Illustrations: Emily A.McCully

Publication Date: 1972
Maxie is a sensitive account of an elderly lady who lives with her orange cat and canary, yet feels alone. Who fills her day with routine and ritual yet feels a sense of meaningless.

Maxie is  unaware of how her  daily actions and sounds affect the  lives and functionality of  the people in her neighbourhood. Her decision to stop, and retreat into her bed, puts their lives into disarray.

When the neighbours barrage into her house, her spirits lift and she returns to her routines which she now feels  have meaning.

“Maxie listened and thought about how many people were being touched by these sounds – her sounds”.

Kantrowitz’s glimpse at depression and one’s sense of worth is a deep issue to explore.

How would Maxie feel  if nobody heard her sounds?  Who could tell Maxie how important she is? What else could make Maxie feel special when she is alone? McCully’s emotive illustrations powerfully depict Maxie’s sadness.

Kantrowitz reminds us of  the importance of  showing appreciation to others and the power of kindness.

It is the little things that count, people need people.

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Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Text: William Steig
William Steig

Publication Date: 1969

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is perfect in it’s literature, illustrations and messages.  It is obvious why this delightful picture book won the Caldecott medal in 1970.

Sylvester Duncan, pebble collector, finds one which allows all his wishes to come true! Ironically the ony wish he truly desires, seems impossible.

 Upon a frightful meeting with a  lion, Sylvester wishes himself into a rock  and thus, the magic pebble is left outside himself.  How will he ever be his donkey self again, and reunite with his family?

The remainder of the story is the aftermath of this encounter. As Sylvester’s fate unravels, we witness the misfortunes of fortune….and vice versa.  The reader experiences sadness at his parents loss,  and poor Sylvester’s internal roller coaster of  fear, frustration, grief and loneliness. The pertinence  of his being inside a rock captures this intensity, highlighting his feelings of  being helpless, unheard and alone. Similarly, this  may touch the young reader who may be accustomed to such  feelings when communication and language are misunderstood.

Steig has not only captured a depth of emotion with this tender story, but also a colourful wit with  his characters and illustrations (despite its controversy and ban for the  anthropomorphic pigs dressed in police attire).

A wise message for any age reader: appreciate everything that you have,  and be careful what you wish for.

…but really, for now what more could they wish for? They all had all that they wanted”.


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The Long, Blue Blazer

Text: Jeanne Willis
Illustrations: Susan Varley

The Long Blue Blazer is narrated by an unnamed young girl who reminisces about her brief encounter with the mysterious boy Wilson.

I loved the girl’s detached narrative – she makes no assumptions and doesn’t tell the reader what to think. It prompts us to look to the illustrations for clues. 

Why doesn’t Wilson want to take off his blazer? The obvious answer is that it makes him feel safe – he needs the emotional security. But this is contradicted by the fact that he is a strong and confident character who has the  emotional independence to make his own decisions and challenge authority. 

This is a thought-provoking book that prompts both an emotional and a creative response from young readers. Does Wilson really have a home?  Where does he come from? How did the teacher know that he was coming? How would it feel to have nowhere to sleep? Do we all have our own secrets?

Is Wilson an alien, or just alienated?

Regardless of the interpretation, this magical realist gem leaves room for young readers to wonder.

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