Children’s Book Tuesdays :: Strong Girls

Hi! Welcome to the first of the Children’s Book Tuesdays link up {first Tuesday of every month}. Hopefully this becomes a thing!

What children’s books have you been reading/writing/loving/quoting?

We’ve been reading lots of books by, or about strong girls. And I think of it because I have two daughters, and although {or maybe regardless of the fact that} they have a penchant for tutus and princess dresses, they are both very strong.

One is physically strong, with a deep voice. She has the will of a… something that has a strong will. She is so determined and powerful. Suffice to say, she dresses up as Pippi Longstocking every day she’s not being a princess.

The other is strong in mind and character. She too will usually get her way using sheer negotiation skills alone. Strong, wilful daughters are wonderful things.

Incidentally, or maybe it’s completely intentional, but we’ve come across lots of strong female characters lately.

When Tara Moss launched her book Speaking Out recently, she flagged the fact there are still significantly more male than female protagonists in books.

But there are of course lots of strong female protagonists. A few we’ve been reading…

Pippi Longstocking


Pippi has to be our all time favourite girl or anything character. She is so unique, and funny, and independent… and strong! Pippi lives alone in Villa Villekulla. She is the daughter of an angel, and a sea captain, who was blown to sea by the wind. Pippi returned to Villa Villekulla with a bag of gold, a horse and a monkey. Pippi’s neighbours, Tommy and Annika, think Pippi is the best thing that’s ever happened to them.

Apart from being able to lift a horse, cook a hundred cookies and throw bullies into trees, Pippi is strong in herself. She visits her neighbours for a coffee party, and while the ladies talk of their maids, Pippi chips in with her own ludicrous stories, undeterred by polite murmurs to behave herself. Pippi goes to school, but entirely on her own terms. And when it doesn’t suit her, she leaves. Pippi could be a nightmare of a child from a parent’s point of view. Luckily, Pippi doesn’t have parents. So she gets to be the sweetest and coolest friend Tommy and Annika could ever have.

I am secretly glad my three-year-old has finally ditched Elsa as her role model, and is pursuing Pippi dreams…

Princess Sue

the worst princess

We came across the funniest picture book in our local Dutch library recently, called The Worst Princess, by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilivie.

Princess Sue {in a tower near you} is hanging out for her prince. She’s read the books, she knows the score, she’s grown her plaits down to the floor. She really needs to get some air, to see the world and cut her hair.

The prince turns out to be a twit, who locks her in his tower. Sue combats the boring and dreary life of a princess, by befriending a dragon to blow down the tower and set the princely shorts alight.

We have this one memorised…


how i live now

Daisy from How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is a fifteen year old from Manhattan, who is sent to live with cousins she has never met in England. Daisy falls in love with a new life {and a person}, and feels happiness and belonging she’s never experienced before. That is until the war breaks out…

Daisy is courageous in a way you can’t imagine is possible for a fifteen year old. But maybe war would do that to a person. She’s brittle, witty, and passionate. And so brave.

This book is for older kids. YA.

Hazel Edwards


Hazel Edwards is the narrator and protagonist of The Fault In Our Stars, a romantic YA tragedy by genius John Green.

Hazel has terminal cancer. But that’s not a spoiler. In the first scene is in support group, and meets Augustus. Together, Hazel and Augustus have the quip and the wit to outsmart cancer.

Knowing you are dying must be the hardest battle. Hazel has all the resources to face it head on.

I have The Hunger Games too sitting in my to-be-read stack. I am sure Katniss would be perfect for this list.

What strong female protagonists have you been reading?

Link up your children’s book blog posts here, or join us on social media #ChildrensBookTuesdays

Thursday Talk & Tea With Gus Gordon

Gus Gordon’s book Herman and Rosie fell into our hands last year, and we fell in love immediately. After reading I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! which Gus illustrated for Jill Esbaum, I was curious to know what inspires Gus, how he works etc. He’s sharing some insight with us today for Thursday Talk. Lucky us!

Gus Gordon

Hi Gus. Welcome to the Sunshine House! Australia (and the world) fell in love with your book ‘Herman and Rosie’ , which won the Honour Book award last year. Can you tell us where the idea for this story came from?

For a long time I had wanted to write an urban tale. I really enjoyed, as a child, the whole ‘city mouse, country mouse’ story – the juxtaposition of two worlds. In many ways I was just waiting for the right idea to come along. Then one day, for some reason that can’t be explained (nor should even be attempted), I drew in my sketchbook, an illustration of a suited crocodile playing a musical instrument on a rooftop in the moonlight.

I like those drawings that beg you to ask questions – that are intriguing. ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘Why is he in a suit?’ ‘Does he have a job?’ ‘What does he do?’ etc. It’s a weird thing asking one of your sketches ‘what are you all about?’ but that’s how it goes. You keep drawing until you figure it out.

In a different sketchbook around the same time, I had drawn a deer playing records in her apartment. It wasn’t long before I decided that the two characters should be in the same story, as music (something I am hugely passionate about) seemed to be the important link. Pretty quickly I realised that the two of them were unhappy, lonely in fact, which in itself is a fascinating idea – that they could conceivably be lonely surrounded by so many. This premise became the motivation behind the central narrative and music was a way of connecting the two.

Herman and Rosie Gus Gordon

How did your creative journey begin, and how did you end up where you are now?

That’s kind of a big question but I guess it all began with my mother who was incredibly encouraging and also quite a good artist in her own right. I was a compulsive drawer as a child and I also enjoyed writing stories – anything that involved using my imagination and I was up for it. Basically I was a huge daydreamer.

After school and some years in the wilderness chasing cows, I moved to Sydney and started drawing cartoons for magazines and newspapers. It wasn’t until I was offered my first children’s book to illustrate (about 18 years ago!) that I really decided what I wanted to do. I had forgotten all about children’s books – specifically books with pictures in them, and all of a sudden I was excited. For whatever reason it seemed to suit me.

I began to focus all my attention on illustrating books with the aim of eventually writing them. Throw a bunch of dumb luck in there too.

I am Cow Hear Me Moo!

Detail from “I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!”

What are you working on now? What’s next on the horizon for you?

I am currently working on a book about Drop Bears by James Roy. I have also written and just storyboarded my new book, which may be about a duck. As far as the future is concerned, I am more than happy to continue telling my own stories and perhaps choosing to illustrate the odd story that moves me by someone else.

Where do you work? Can you describe your studio, or favourite place to sit and be creative in?

I work from home in a studio that used to be a garage a long time ago. It has a lot of natural light coming in which is nice. I have two main workspaces. One is a long desk where my computer, scanner and printer sit. It has a long bookshelf above it where my precious book finds live. The other workspace is an architect’s desk where I draw, paint, create messily and daydream a good deal of the day.

An old miner’s ‘trouble light’ I bought in Paris recently hangs above it. There is also room in the studio for a large corkboard (where I work out if my stories are making any sense), a list board full of deadlines, a layout table and my collage shelves. It’s a good space.

Gus Gordon's work space

What inspires you?

Geez, all kinds of things. Here are some in no particular order: travel, children’s drawings, Badgers, positive people, good music, vintage engravings, old advertisements, postcards, interesting collage, Serge Bloch, Richard Scarry, JJ Sempé, William Steig, George Booth, Leigh Hobbs, Jim Henson, Middle Earth, New York city, France, dark woods, the ocean, cheese, clever friends, my wife, our kids. I’ve probably missed something really important.

What’s your favourite children’s book?

That’s an unfair question. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame would have to go close though. Harry The Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham is another great one. It does everything right – picture book perfection.

Have you got any tips or secrets you can share with people interested in illustration, or writing their own book?

I don’t have any secrets. It’s mainly hard work and if you love what you do you’ll do that anyway. Having said that, here are a few things I’ve learned.

–       Write for yourself

–       Read a ton/draw a ton

–       Surround yourself with ambitious, positive people

–       Plan your day, month, year (otherwise it won’t happen)

–       Teach yourself to approach problems from another angle

–       If you love it, stick at it (learn to be stubborn)

Gus Gordon

If you would like to know more about Gus, and see his great work, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook. He is also on Twitter. 

For more tales from the sunshine house, book ideas and imaginative activities, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is full of sunny goodness.

The Dawn Chorus, by Suzanne Barton {Giveaway!}

This is a truly gorgeous debut by UK author and illustrator, Suzanne Barton ~ The Dawn Chorus. 

The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton, Bloomsbury The Dawn Chorus is the story of a little bird called Peep who longs to join the dawn chorus.

The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton, Bloomsbury

the dawn chorus_suzanne-barton2

the dawn chorus_suzanne-barton3 Peep does his best to audition for the dawn chorus, but it’s harder than he realises.

the dawn chorus_suzanne-barton4 Then Peep makes a discovery, which changes everything.

the dawn chorus_suzanne-barton5 Your littlies will love this story, and you probably will too.

You can follow Suzanne Barton on Instagram. 

I have a copy for one lucky duck. Enter below, and I will let you know next Wednesday. x

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more tales from the sunshine house, visit me over at Facebook. You can also sign up for my monthly newsletter, where I occasionally run giveaways for subscribers, and update you with the latest sunshine news.

Why it’s good to be different

I was never under the illusion that I was cool. Although part of me longed to belong to the cool gang at school, the larger part of me was proud of who I was, and the fact that I was different.

In high school, the one thing my group of friends and I had in common was that we all identified as being different from other people. We wore our individuality like a badge of honour – did crazy things, wore crazy clothes…Not one of us was interested in conforming to the status quo. We were more interested in jumping out the classroom window during Maths class, and running around in the fresh snow.

Sunshine Girl and I were sent a beautiful book from Bloomsbury on Monday called Marmaduke The Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine, illustrated by Ed Eaves. It’s a tale of embracing difference, and being proud of who you are. Marmaduke, the very different dragon with overly large ears and sparkly wings, befriends Meg, a very different princess who wears sneakers and break dances.

marmaduke the very different dragon marmaduke the very different dragon1 marmaduke the very different dragon

The story obviously left an imprint on my little sunshine girl. On Tuesday, she dressed in a new blue floral dress and gold belt. She insisted on wearing it to ballet class.

“But all the other girls wear pink tutus and leotards. Are you sure you want to wear this dress?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said. “I like being different. Like Marmaduke. Being different is good.”

Being different

Being different seems to be the theme of the week. My friend Josefa Pete posted this on her Facebook page this week.

It's okay to be different

It’s tempting to conform – to feel safe in the comfort of being like everyone else. You need guts to march to your own beat – to  look, sound, think and dress differently. It takes imagination. Luckily, my girl has guts and imagination, and I can’t wait to see the special type of different she will become.

Do your kids embrace difference?

Would love to see you over at my Facebook community sometime…

Meet children’s author and illustrator, Anna Pignataro

One of the most exciting moments of my journey towards having my first children’s book published has been discovering that the publisher, Margrete Lamond from Little Hare asked Anna Pignataro to illustrate Too Busy Sleeping, and Anna said yes!

You may know Anna’s books Always and Forever, or the Princess and Fairy series. Anna has illustrated over 60 books, and written many of those. 

I haven’t met Anna in person yet, but we had a little chat over email, and I would love to share our conversation with you here. The images are from B Is For Bedtime, illustrated by Anna and written by Margaret Hamilton, which will be released in March this year by Little Hare. These illustrations are in the style of those that will be created by Anna for my own book, Too Busy Sleeping.

Meet Anna Pignataro…

I suppose the journey begins in childhood when I dreamed of illustrating fairytales.  I have always loved books and art and spent most of my childhood and growing years drawing.  I studied Fine Art and Design for seven years on a scholarship and then travelled extensively through Europe and England.  On my return I put together a folio of illustrations of my own and sent them out to various publishers.  I was very lucky.  Allen and Unwin contacted me immediately and I had my first picture book contract.  From that first book I won the Crichton Award and really I have been in work ever since.  After years of illustrating I was given the chance to write my own story, Always, with Scholastic and so have now created over sixty books for children.  Always has been in print since 2006 and is being re-released as a board book this year.  I am published in seventeen countries and my work is translated in eleven languages.  My journey continues and my work is ever evolving.

B Is For Bedtime by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro

The most wonderful thing about what I do is that it allows me be a child forever and I love that it transports me to other imaginary worlds of my own.

B Is For Bedtime by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro

I am constantly trying to be better and I find that my worst critic is me. It’s challenging when there’s so much technology out there and I have to keep up with it. It’s also challenging that there is never enough paper to write down and draw all the ideas I have in my head!

B Is For Bedtime by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro

My greatest inspiration is nature – I love trees especially.  I am inspired by windy days, rain, people I meet, old movies…  I usually start with a sketch of a character or a few words or sentences that I think sound haunting or timeless.  I have books full of ideas and often I will have to stop the car and pull over and type into my phone an idea that’s popped into my head. I have also dreamed of some of my characters or ideas.

I always start with pencil drawings or ink drawings – colour comes later. I love doing detailed black and white drawings but unfortunately they are not as popular in picture books as colour.  My favourite medium is watercolour and now I tend to use more collage.

B Is For Bedtime by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro

My best work is done in my studio at home all alone and quiet.

B is for Bedtime is a really lovely A B C book with a difference.  I used vintage material, felt and pencil with watercolour and made a lot of the ‘things’ in it myself, like the blanket.  It was great fun to work on.  It has a funny little dog throughout the narrative that almost has a life of his own.  It’s a very sweet, calm book perfect for bedtime.

B Is For Bedtime by Margaret Hamilton and Anna Pignataro

I am very excited to be working on two very different books right now. The first is a book about a little panda and a mother panda and their journey together.  The other is Beauty and the Beast which is a dream come true for me.  I am also working on several large paintings and I hope to put together an exhibition in the not too distant future.  They are quite different to my watercolours and five times the size!

Anna Pignataro

You can visit Anna Pignataro’s website here to see more examples of her work.

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