The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea by Renée Treml

Renée Treml’s Sherlock Bones series is one of my go-to suggestions for kids who like books like The Bad Guys and Dog Man. It’s a fun and fact-filled series about a bird skeleton who solves mysteries in a natural history museum. Renée has now brought her humour and fantastic illustrations to her new series of graphic novels for younger readers. The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea bursts on to shelves this month with the first two books, It’s Owl Good and Squeals on Wheels.

Ollie is an owl who wears glasses. He’s worried about what others will think of him wearing glasses, because owls are known for their powerful vision. Maybe they can help Ollie to disguise his true identity, like his superhero idol, Super Owl. Without his glasses though Ollie can’t see properly, and he ends up tripping over Bea’s feet. Bea is a rabbit with huge feet, but she thinks that they’re no good for anything. Ollie and Bea will help each other to find their inner superhero, and become best friends in the process.

In Squeals on Wheels, Ollie is ready to go roller skating but Bea keeps making up excuses why she can’t go. Ollie wants to help Bea to find her skates, and even gets the super team to help. Bea admits that she is worried about looking silly, but with a little help from Ollie and his ridiculous costumes, Bea gives it a go.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea is a totally adorable and absolutely hilarious graphic novel series for younger readers. The stories are simple, but fun, making them perfect for newly independent readers. The illustrations are cute and the characters are super expressive. The panels are sparse but colourful, which makes the stories easy to follow for younger readers. Renée’s humour shines through in both the pun-filled text and the illustrations. I love a good pun and there are plenty of them in these stories to keep readers laughing out loud.

Kids will find Ollie and Bea really relatable because they deal with real worries with fun and humour. Whether it’s worrying about being teased because of wearing glasses or worrying about looking silly on roller skates, Ollie and Bea are there for each other and try to help each other feel better. I especially love Ollie’s support and encouragement in Squeals on Wheels. I really like the way that Ollie and Bea interact with the reader at different parts too. It really makes the reader feel like part of the story.

Sandra Nobes has done a wonderful job of the cover design of the series. These covers will certainly grab kids’ attention, especially Ollie in his bright wig and underpants on the cover of Squeals on Wheels.

If you know kids who love the Elephant and Piggie or Monkey and Cake stories you need to get them The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea. They’ll be hooked from the first chapter. I hope that this is the first two of many Ollie and Bea books.

My Elephant is Blue by Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka

When a child is full of worries it can be tricky for them to process how they feel and explain it to those around them. This is where picture books that focus on mental health are hugely valuable. They can explain to a child how they are feeling, using words and images, and show them some ways that they can shake off that feeling and start to feel happy. Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka’s latest picture book, My Elephant is Blue, is about a child and and the big, heavy feelings that take over their life.

The child in the story wakes up one day to find an elephant sitting on their chest. It’s so heavy that it is difficult for them to breath or talk. The elephant, called Blue, is very comfortable sitting on the child and doesn’t want to move. Mum and Dad are worried and do what they can to help, including reading lots of books about elephants and calling an elephant specialist. The child’s sister even tries to help push the elephant off, but nothing helps. Dad suggests that exercise might help, so the child and Blue go for a walk around the block. This is just the start of getting the elephant to move, and with some nice family time, Blue starts to change colour. Together, they discover that they quite like other colours too.

My Elephant is Blue is a magnificent picture book about mental health, that is bursting with empathy and positivity. This is the kind of book that every family should have on their bookshelves, for those days when anyone feels a little blue. We all have those days and it’s good to remind ourselves that they don’t last, and that by doing things we enjoy, we can have a brighter day. This is a book that is great for so many ages, whether you’re reading it to preschoolers or intermediate-age children. The concept is simple enough for younger children to understand, but it will also resonate with older children (and adults).

Vasanti Unka’s illustrations are delightful. For most of the book her illustrations are quite subtle and sparse, but as the child starts to become happier, the illustrations are busier, brighter and more colourful. They become more full of life, especially on the page with the picnic. Vasanti captures the emotions of the child perfectly, using facial expressions that the youngest readers will understand.

One of my favourite things about this book is that the child is gender neutral. Melinda hasn’t used any pronouns or given the child a name, and Vasanti has drawn them so that they could be any gender. This makes the story really accessible to all children. I want to thank Melinda and Vasanti hugely for this.

Cat Taylor has done a wonderful job of the design, especially the front cover. Blue the elephant has been raised on the front and back covers, so you can feel the groves and bumps of his skin. This little touch makes the book really tactile, and I love running my hands over it. You just know that kids will love this too.

My Elephant is Blue is a must-have for schools and families. It will create some good conversations and help children to understand their emotions. It will also give them some strategies to try when they are feeling blue. It will help children to become more empathetic, as it will help them to understand how others feel.

My Elephant is Blue is due for release in NZ on Monday 17 May.

Crabapple Trouble by Kaeti Vandorn

Crabapple Trouble is the graphic novel about an anxious apple girl that you didn’t know you needed. At first glance, this book looks like a super cute story but it’s actually so much more, and I totally love it!

Callaway is a girl who also happens to be an apple. She lives in a place with lots of other fruit and vegetable people and fairies. Everyone is responsible for growing their own crop and Callaway worries that her crabapples aren’t good enough. With the Produce Competition coming up at the Summertime Fair Callaway really starts to worry, so much so that she literally loses her head. It pops off and rolls away, bumping into a fairy called Thistle. Callaway and Thistle work together to help sort out not only Callaway’s problem but those of others around them too. Thistle just needs to take a nap first.

Crabapple Trouble is a bright, cheerful story about friendship, worries and figuring out who you are. It is such a relatable story for kids and adults alike, who will see themselves in Callaway and Clementine. Kaeti Vandorn has brought her experiences as a kid to the story and shows kids that they don’t have to be exactly the same as everyone else. I especially love the end of the story as I can totally relate to it. I’d never heard of the term ‘awfulizing’ (to imagine something to be as bad as it can possibly be) but I’m sure we’ve all done it at some stage (either as kids or adults).

Kaeti’s illustrations are so vibrant and full of joy. Some pages are an explosion of colour! They will certainly appeal to younger readers. I loved looking at the illustrations with all the characters, trying to pick out the different fruits and vegetables. Kaeti’s characters are quite simple but very expressive. As a bonus at the back of the book you can learn how to draw Callaway and create your own fruit and vegetable characters.

Crabapple Trouble is one of my favourite graphic novels for younger readers of 2020. This is Kaeti’s first printed graphic novel and I certainly hope we see more of her stories. I know Crabapple Trouble will be a hit with the kids at my school.