Be A Friend

Be A Friend

Be A Friend










Be A Friend

Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, 2016

40pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Dennis was an ordinary who liked doing ordinary boy things – BUT instead of talking about them like other boys he expressed himself differently. His hero was the great mime artist Marcel Marceau  and like his hero with his white face and top hat, Dennis would mime what he wanted to say.  While other children climbed trees, Dennis was happy to be a tree.   But trees get lonely and as the other children played happily, Dennis looked on wistfully, feeling invisible, as though he were standing behind a wall t . .. until the day he kicked an imaginary ball and a little girl called Joy caught it.

The blurb on the back of the book says it is “a heart-warming celebration of individuality, imagination and the power of friendship” and that is spot on.  This is a subtle but powerful exploration of children who are different from the “norm”, who literally and figuratively don’t have a voice and who feel invisible because of that difference.  It’s not that the other children are cruel or unkind but they are busy being children and don’t always see beyond their own horizons, let alone have time to understand Dennis and his special needs.  Even though Joy is like Dennis in that she, too, does not speak, the power of friendship that exists between two children can open new worlds for not just them but others around them too.

Yoon’s illustrations are exquisite – a dotted red line captures Dennis’s actions so the reader knows what is happening and the final illustration using the imaginary skipping rope and all the other children running to join in the game is perfect.

While the storyline focuses on Dennis who doesn’t speak, it could apply to anyone who feels different such as a child new to the country with no English or someone with a physical disability or an emotional need – it will resonate with anyone who feels marginalised and who would just like a friend. But just as it is their story, so it can be a story for one of those “ordinary” children.  As educators we must never under-estimate the value of teaching children how to make friends and be friends – it is a skill that will take them far beyond the first few days of Kindergarten.

Making and being friends is the theme of so many stories for young children that you wonder if there could ever be a new slant on it.  Be A Friend has found it.

Grandma Wombat

Grandma Wombat

Grandma Wombat









Grandma Wombat

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



Grandma Wombat is like most wombats – and a lot of grandmas!  She likes to spend her day relaxing – scratching, eating, sleeping and occasionally baby-sitting. She solves problems like there being no carrots and thinks that, unlike the kangaroos who bounce around her, her grandson is polite, well-mannered and even, better behaved.  

But while she is sleeping, Grandson Wombat is NOT!  Oh no!  He’s off having his own adventures because, to him, kangaroos are playmates and their wombat-size pouches and their big bouncy legs are perfect for taking a wombat to places where a wombat has never before ventured.  Grandson Wombat is a master at hitching a ride wherever he sees one but on the back of a skydiver might be a jump too far!

Once again, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have created a wonderful adventure for little people that is just bursting with the joy of life and the fun of the perfect marriage of text and illustrations that will make them want to read it over and over and over again.  And perhaps think up their own adventures for next time they go to visit their grandma…


Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Beck & Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Did you take the B from my _ook, or my _ed, _ull, or even my _utterfly???

Following on from the hilarity of This is a Ball, Beck and Matt Stanton have created another delightful romp for preschoolers focusing on what happens when their favourite letter ‘B” is removed from some of their favourite words.

Starting by introducing the sound and the noise it makes, it continues with some single words which are then combined into a series of hilarious sentences that just beg for the child to interact and supply the missing letter.  Look! The _eetle is wearing the _lue _oots, jumping on the _ed and _ouncing the _all with the _ulls!”  Someone has stolen the “b’ and only the child can fix it! At the bottom of each page there is a commentary between the writer and the reader, openly inviting them to join in so there is even more fun to be had.

Like its counterpart This is a Ball, this book has a much wider audience than a first glance would suggest and a much wider application than fun between parent and child as a bedtime read. With such an emphasis, rightly or wrongly, on phonics in early reading instruction these days this is a perfect way to introduce this sound and all the others, in a  way that plays with language and makes it fun so the desire to be a reader is enhanced.  It could spark a host of class books based on favourite letters or those that start the children’s names so they explore its sound, the words that start with it and then put them together in crazy sentences that can then be illustrated.  There might even be a discussion about how those letters not chosen might feel and a joint construction made as a model prior to their creating their own.  The Bruna-esque illustrations are perfect with their entire focus being the particular word or sentence in focus and provide an easy-to-emulate model.

Those learning our language for the first time would delight in it, particularly those who are a bit older and who want something more than a traditional alphabet book and posters of words starting with a particular phoneme. There would be so much engagement that the learning would be natural and meaningful and go deeper than other more traditional strategies.

Both this and This is a Ball seem such simple concepts for a book that you wonder why they haven’t been done before – but it takes creators who have a real understanding of just what it takes to engage a child in reading so they are bouncing about and demanding more to pull it off so successfully.

Look forward to many more…

Have a look for yourself!




The Everything Princess Book

The Everything Princess Book

The Everything Princess Book

The Everything Princess Book

Barbara Beery

Brooke Jorden

Michele Robbins

David Miles

Rebecca Sorge

Bloomsbury, 2016

160pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


This book is exactly what the title says – it is all to do with princesses and royalty from stories to recipes, games and activities, things to make and how to be a princess. Richly illustrated,  it begins with half a dozen traditional stories of princesses from around the world and then moves on to a section bursting with all sorts of recipes fir for a secret garden tea party, a cottage picnic and a pink princess party .  There are tips for serving the food, correct table manners and etiquette including how to wave and curtsey and even a guide to the members of the Royal household.  In fact there is little about being a princess that is not covered.

Going through a ‘princess stage’ is almost a rite of passage for little girls, enhanced by Disney’s adaptations of many of the traditional fairy tales, and there was always a big demand for anything of this nature in the school I was in last year, particularly with those girls who were learning English as another language and who saw this as a way into the language of the playground.  This would be like a bible for them as the stories and concepts are already familiar so as well as speaking the ‘same language’ they can now read it too.

With is lavish hardcover protecting its spiral bound contents, it is attractive and would be one to recommend to grandparents looking for something special for the Christmas stocking.

The Arty Book

The Arty Book

The Arty Book










The Arty Book

Nikalas Catlow & David Sinden

Bloomsbury, 2016

160pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99



Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of Australia. The study commenced in 2004 with two cohorts – families with 4-5 year old children and families with 0-1 year old infants. Among its findings is that many children under 12 are spending a third of their waking hours in front of a screen of some sort and this is having, and will continue to have, ramifications on their physical, social and emotional well-being.  Experts say that there are two keys ways of reducing this amount – being a role model so not being on a screen all the time ourselves, and making sure that other activities have priority so that screen time is restricted to what little time might be left over in the day.

With the school holidays happening or fast approaching in Australia, The Arty Book could be part of the solution to providing alternatives to endless television or computer gaming. 

While it is somewhat similar to the activity books of old that we remember, this one is much more upmarket, interactive and appealing to an older audience.  It’s key character is a cartoon-like character called Arty with quirky curly hair and distinctive red glasses and users are invited to participate in all sorts of activities to make Arty unique so their own creativity is to the fore.  This is not a colour-in-the-lines or connect-the-dots book.  They can change Arty to what they want him to look like as they are presented with just his trademark glasses; make Arty badges; even use their feet to make  Footprint Arty.  Each page has a new suggestion that encourages them to customise the Arty artworks so they are imaginative and personal . They also take the child into new areas of art they might not have explored before so there is scope for new explorations like collage and spatter painting, 

Parents and grandparents who are looking for something engaging that will be more appealing than a screen would love to know about this book – especially if the school library were to host an after-holidays display of Arty drawings seeking the most imaginative, original and unique as the centrepiece of a collection of art-technique books and a Makerspace challenge to create a 3D Arty. There might even be a storyfest with Arty, based on one of the drawings, as the central character!  A great opportunity to embrace so many areas of the curriculum.  

From little things…















Adam Wallace

Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95


“I began as a tiny spark in the dry grass.  All I wanted was a friend.”

And soon enough a friend comes along. Wind. Together they play and as Wind whistles and picks him up, Spark begins to grow and fly.  Skipping and sprinting through the bush, chasing animals and tickling trees, Spark is enjoying the power and wants to go faster, be bigger – and Wind is happy to oblige, So Spark grows ever larger feeding on the bush until…it is not fun anymore.  But Wind will not stop and together they tear through forests, fly over rivers, raze homes and the clouds’ tears just sizzle on their back.  Then, eventually, Wind hears Spark’s pleas and stops.  Turns.  And together they slink home through the destruction and devastation and end as they began.

Every Australian summer fire dragons race out of the bushland and across the grasslands consuming all in their path with their insatiable appetites. Not content with destroying the vegetation and the creatures that live within it, the dragons devour everything in their paths, totally indiscriminate of their diet and vanquished only when they meet a greater force of water or an opposing wind. They leave behind a smoking, desolate landscape and  lives that will be forever shaped by their hungry tongues and never-full stomachs.

And as summer approaches every year, the one certainty that embraces this vast country is that somewhere, someone’s life will be affected by fire and that will include our children. Whether they and their homes are directly impacted or it’s the ominous curl of smoke or an orange glow on a distant horizon or a six-o’clock news report; whether it’s a local blaze or one that makes international news like those that raced through the Canberra region in 2003 or the Victorian Black Saturday fires of 2009, the tentacles of a fire reach far beyond its jaws.

Like those children, the author’s life has been touched and tinged by the dragon and from that experience in 1983 when the Ash Wednesday fires devoured so much of south-eastern Australia has come this remarkable picture book that tells the story from the fire’s point of view. Through personification, a first-person perspective and superb illustrations that give life to the text as Wind did to Spark, Wallace and Plant bring the fire to life – something that has no control over its journey or its destiny, focusing on the here and now rather than reflecting on the aftermath and the afterwards as most stories with such a focus do.

What we, as educators can do, is to take a step backwards rather than forwards and get our students to consider where did Spark come from.  Was it born of lightning?  Or an accident?  Or deliberate?

Since the 1970s the risk of bushfires in Australia has increased and while ABS statistics suggest that lightning is the predominant cause particularly in remote areas, other sources say “Human-caused ignitions are by far the most prevalent” in more populous areas. Therefore as the bushfire season rapidly approaches and there is a greater fuel load as there has been above-average rainfall, this book would be the perfect springboard for a fire-awareness program with our students – how to prevent fires from starting and what to do if they threaten. Encourage them to bring up the need for a bushfire survival plan at the family dinner table, even for those who live in the city because as Canberra children can attest, being in a suburb is not necessarily a safety blanket.

This is a powerful book that will not only resonate with many readers but which can also play an important role in keeping those in our care safe.

Teachers’ notes are available.

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

The Tale of Miss Kitty-in-Boots

The Tale of  Kitty-in-Boots










The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots

Beatrix Potter

Quentin Blake

Frederick Warne, 2016

72pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


By day, Miss Catherine St Quintin appeared to be a very serious, well-behaved black cat who answered to “Kitty” whenever the kind old lady who owned her called her.  The old lady saw a “Kitty” with all the pleasant connotations that that name brings to mind but Miss Catherine St Quintin led a double life.

Becaue by night, when she was supposedly locked in the wash-house, Kitty was not curled up in her basket dreaming sweet dreams until morning. For she was not the purring, nuzzling, gentle cat her owner believed her to be.  Known to her more common cat friends as “Q” and “Squintums”, she would leap out the laundry window to be replaced by Winkiepeeps, another black cat who would wait inside until Kitty came home just in case the old lady checked her, while she went hunting dressed in her coat and boots and carrying an air rifle.  A female lookalike of Puss-in-Boots.

This particular night she collects her gun from her friend Cheesebox, determined to join Slimmy Jimmy and John Stoat-Ferret as they hunt for rabbits.  However, she decides to hunt for mice instead, but being a rather unreliable and careless shooter, that is not is not very fruitful only managing to shoot Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s bundle of washing and some sticks and stones that weren’t mice at all.  Sheep and crows seem a better target until they send her scurrying behind a wall in fright and she gets a big surprise when she fires at something coming out of a hole.  Unexpectedly she has met up with Slimmy Jimmy and John Stoat-Ferret who take her gun off her.  But she refuses to hand over the pellets and so a rather adventurous night involving the ferrets, Peter Rabbit, Mr Tod the Fox and Mrs Tiggy-Winkles begins.  Suffice to say, it’s enough to put  Miss Catherine St Quintin off hunting for ever.

The story of this story is as interesting as the tale itself.  Potter completed the text in 1914 and created just one illustration but the outbreak of World War I and other events meant she never completed the rest.  Thus the story went unpublished in her lifetime.  Undiscovered until Penguin Random House editor Jo Hanks found it in the Potter archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013 and with  Quentin Blake accepting the invitation to illustrate it, it has just been published to coincide with what would have been Potter’s 150th birthday.

Fans of her works will be thrilled to share just one more adventure from this prolific creator and delight in the appearance of an older, more portly Peter Rabbit who has lost none of his smarts and wily ways as well as other favourite characters from her other books.

The only illustration that Potter completed for the book,

The only illustration for the book that Potter completed

To honour Beatrix Potter’s 150th birthday the UK has released a commemorative stamp collection.















Graeme Base

Penguin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Thirty years ago in 1986 an armoured armadillo avoiding an angry alligator appeared from the pen of one of Australia’s most iconic illustrators.  It was followed by beautiful blue butterflies basking by a babbling brook and a host of other creatures including eight enormous elephants expertly eating Easter eggs; horrible hairy hogs hurrying homeward on heavily harnessed horses; meticulous mice monitoring mysterious mathematical messages; and even zany zebras zigzagging in zinc zeppelins.  

For this was the magical, mystical, marvellous Animalia – an alliterative alphabet book  and which, after selling more than three million copies worldwide and spawning a television series, is now celebrating its 30th birthday and a whole new audience is set to wonder at its creativity, its detail, its colour and try to spot the tiny Graeme on each page.  It is indeed a feast of vivid visual literacy. And underneath the familiar dust cover which so cleverly hints at what is inside is a glamorous golden cover AND a fabulous poster of the lazy lions lounging in the local library.  (Great role models for reading!!!)

Since Animalia’s  original publication we have come to associate Graeme Base with intriguing stories woven around the most scintillating illustrations  and if this is your first introduction to his work, you will be on the lookout for his other works.

Congratulations Graeme – thank you for bringing us these superb creatures and creating such riches for our young readers. 



small things

Small Things

Small Things










small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99



Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…


Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.


Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline 13 11 14

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off










The Great Dragon Bake-Off

Nicola O’Byrne

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99



Flamie Oliver was a dragon – and especially enormous, terrifying dragon.  So enormous and terrifying, in fact, that he was invited to the Ferocious Dragon Academy, a special school for dragons who were very, very, good at being very, very bad.  But Flamie had a secret – he was very, very bad at being very, very bad BUT he was very, very, good at baking.  

He loved pastries and breads and cupcakes and cakes and was an expert at creating the most delicious treats.  He spent so much time practising and perfecting his creations that he forgot to practise his dastardly dragon skills and when the finals day he came, he was not ready.  While his classmates Heston Blowitall, Scaly Berry and Paul firewood performed their death-defying deeds, which pleased Miss Puffitup immensely, Flamie failed.  And so the only way to graduate is for Flamie to kidnap a princess and eat her!

Flamie had no problem kidnapiong the princess, but how do you eat something like that?  Which are the best flavour combinations to make her palatable? How can Flamie get out of this pickle? what did he do that means he is the star of Miss Puffitup’s Brilliant Baking Academy?

Cooking shows abound on television and while their target audience may not be the same as that for this book, nevertheless young listeners and readers will delight in the humour and understand the conundrum that Flamie has – and their parents and carers sharing the story with them will appreciate the clever play on both the names but also the inspiration, the Great British Bake-Off. While the illustrations and the dastardly deeds seem to confirm the stereotype that little ones have of dragons, it is Flamie’s difference that is at the core of the story.  Even though he keeps his passion and skills a secret at first, it is these which come to the fore and are celebrated and he and his young audience learn that it takes all kinds and it’s OK to be different.  Having the courage to be yourself is the most important trait of all.

Full of fun and colour, action and movement this is another winner from Nicola O’Byrne who also gave us the fabulous Use Your Imagination and illustrated the tender  My Little Star.  And to keep the enjoyment going there is a postcard and an activity pack to download.