Olivia’s Voice

Olivia's Voice

Olivia’s Voice









Olivia’s Voice

Mike Lucas

Jennifer Harrison

Midnight Sun, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


Imagine waking to a world of silence – no traffic, no sirens, no strident voices; no birdsong, no waves crashing no children laughing.   That is Olivia’s world.  But despite the lack of sound, it is still a beautiful world for her as she sees the patterns and movement of the life in the gum tree outside her window; smells the tasty fragrance of hot toast with butter;  feels the soft warmth of her mother’s cheek against hers as they hug; and embraces life at school just like every child. 

In this charming journey through Olivia’s day she shows us that there is still a beautiful, wondrous world to be explored even if it doesn’t have a sound accompaniment, teaching the reader to observe, enjoy and appreciate what they do have rather than mourning what they haven’t.  Through photograph-like illustrations and first-person text, we see the joy Olivia finds in life and hear her voice so loudly that we can share her curiosity, her wonder and her contentment with what is rather than what isn’t.  

Children with hearing impairments are part of the fabric of a classroom and they have so much more to teach us than just to look at them when we speak.  Opportunities abound in this book to help our students walk a mile in Olivia’s shoes – through artwork, through music, through games and every other aspect as we encourage them to consider a world without a particular sense. Learning only occurs when we reflect on new information and situations and assimilate them into what we already know, so this would be the perfect book to encourage the children to engage with reflecting on three things that have changed their day each day, encouraging gratitude and empathy and perhaps understanding themselves and their circumstances better. Obstacles are just opportunities for us to learn, grow and know ourselves better.

Stunning, evocative, thought-provoking.





Henry and the Yeti

Henry and the Yeti

Henry and the Yeti










Henry and the Yeti

Russell Ayto

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



Henry loves yetis. In fact he is so passionate about them that he is determined to prove their existence by finding one.  Even though others, including the principal, laugh at him and demand evidence when he finds one, Henry remains determined and packs all the equipment he needs for his expedition, especially his camera, and sets off.  It’s an arduous journey out of the city, across an ocean, up a hill, over a river, through a dense forest and up and down several mountains but Henry doesn’t lose his faith – although it does waver a bit.  

But then his luck turns and he has a lovely time playing (and taking lots of photos).  Soon it is time to return home but when he unpacks his bag there is no camera.  So no one believes him until…

This is a story for young readers about believing in yourself and following your dreams, even if they are not quite as grand as proving that yetis exist.  With unique illustrations that bring both Henry and his dream to life even in their minimalist style, it encourages determination, perseverance and resilience.  

As a read-aloud for younger students, it is absorbing and entertaining as they predict whether Henry will achieve his dream and how he will cope with the loss of his camera, but it has wider appeal as it would be a great starting point for those goal-setting sessions that we encourage students to undertake at the beginning of each term.  Ask the students if Henry’s goal was to find a yeti what did he need to know about them and do to make success more likely. Similarly, having identified their own goal – which might not be quite so ambitious but nevertheless just as personally important -what do they need to know and do to achieve it?  Who do they need to seek assistance from; what do they need to have or learn; what are the steps they need to achieve along the way – all those questions that we as teachers ask when putting together our professional learning plans can be applied to students too.

Another book that looks simplistic on the surface but which has much more than meets the eye!

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else










Somewhere Else

Gus Gordon

Viking, 2016

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


Some birds fly north; some birds fly south; some birds take the bus… but George Laurent doesn’t go anywhere.  It seems he is too busy baking his scrumptious pastries to be able to explore the world.  Even when his world-travelling customers try to tempt him with descriptions of a sunrise over the Andes, or Paris by night, even the Alaskan tundra in autumn, George always has an excuse – even the ironing is more important!!

But come the bleak, cold days when all his feathered friends have disappeared to warmer parts and George is left alone, his only remaining friend Pascal Lombard drops in looking for somewhere warm for winter.  He is puzzled that George has not gone with the others, and slowly he manages to eke out the truth – George Laurent, baker extraordinaire, does not know how to fly.  When it was flying lesson day all those years ago he had been doing something else and since then he had just made excuses not to – even though he really would have liked to have been able to go somewhere else.

Pascal, who believes he has a knack for solving tricky problems, is determined to teach George how to fly but it is not until they see a picture in a newspaper…

This is an engaging tale which will resonate with many children – having a zillion reasons for not doing something you can’t but are expected to be able to do.  As a teacher I was a master at detecting avoidance behaviour because I lived it at home with my son, so as soon as I started reading I knew there was an underlying issue.  But astute readers may well pick it up in the clues in the amazing illustrations which use a variety of media, particularly collage.  From the carefully selected advertisements of old styles of luggage on the endpapers, Gus Gordon has skilfully used pieces of print from all sorts of sources to add depth, mystery and humour to the exquisite illustrations. Every time you read it there is more to peruse and ponder.

Time to get out the atlas and discover the places that George’s friends went and maybe even investigate the concept of animal (and human) migration.  Why are they always on the move? We can tell the seasons where I live by the variety of birdlife that is present so perhaps it’s time to do an inventory of the local birdlife over time – perfect real-life context for data collection and interpretation. Or perhaps a physiological investigation into how most birds fly but some can’t and how this has been translated into human flight. Then there is the philosophical question about “no place like home” as George and Pascal discover something familiar is missing from their travels. Some children might even learn from George and seek help to find pathways around their own difficulties.

I love picture books that seem to be written for one age group but with some consideration can transcend all ages, offering the prefect reason to return to them again and again apart from just being an absorbing story.  A CBCA Notable for 2017, I was surprised this did not make the shortlist.


History Mysteries: Lasseter’s Gold

Lasseter's Gold

Lasseter’s Gold







Lasseter’s Gold

Mark Greenwood

Puffin, 2017

88pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


In the 1930s as the Great Depression held Australia in its grip and people desperately wanted something to hope for, Harold Lasseter walked into the office of the president of the Australian Workers’ Union with a tale to tell that remains one of Australia’s greatest mysteries to this day.

He told Mr Bailey of a magnificent gold reef  that in 1897 he had discovered in the harsh, inhospitable and inaccessible country that is the desert lands where South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory meet.  But he lacked the money, manpower and equipment to return to it to exploit it although if the AWU were to back him…

Historian and author Mark Greenwood has taken his fascination with this subject that he first wrote about in The Legend of Lasseter’s Reef and turned it into another episode in this wonderful History Mysteries series, bringing the story of Harold Lasseter and his legendary reef to yet another generation of readers.  Was Lasseter genuine – or a conman? Where are the three hills that look like “ladies wearing sunbonnets”, “a group of Dickens women in Dombey and Sons”?,  Is there still a rich reef of gold waiting to be discovered – even explorer Dick Smith won’t divulge what he discovered!  If it is there, should it be explored and exploited or should the mystery be forever consigned to Australian folklore?

Accompanied by archival photos, a timeline, links to further information and references to his friendship with Lasseter’s son Bob who believes his father’s story and has made several expeditions to reveal the truth, this is just the sort of tale that will grip young readers encouraging them to look backwards as well as forwards and discover the stories of this country.


Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines










Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines

Prue & Kerry Mason

Tom Jellett

Walker Books, 2017

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


Those of us of a certain vintage will remember a film from a few decades ago called Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines  (or if not the film, at least the earworm of its title tune).  The subtitle was How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes and the film focused on a fictional 1910 competition, when Lord Rawnsley, an English press magnate, offered £10,000 (about $A2 000 000 today) to the winner of the Daily Post air race from London to Paris, to prove that Britain was “number one in the air”.  Set less than a decade after the Wright brothers made that famous first flight at Kittyhawk in 1903 it offered a look at those early days of aviation and the costs and risks involved for those who live in an era when air travel is taken for granted.

But while the focus of flight was centred overseas, Australia was producing its own heroes who were also thinking about how humans could fly – people like Dr William Bland whose drawings of an Atomic Ship were displayed in the Crystal Palace in London in 1854 and Lawrence Hargrave who experimented with box kites to investigate the concept of wings in 1894 and whose work led to that iconic flight of Orville and Wilbur.

When we think of Australian aviation heroes we tend to think of Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler and perhaps Nancy Bird Walton but in this book  the experiments and exploits of a number of other great aviators are brought to life adding to our incredible story of innovation and invention.  Written by authors who bought their own vintage aeroplane in 2000 and wanted to know its history, it brings to life the lives of those pioneers through imagined diary entries,  easily written facts and numerous archival photos and illustrations in a way that makes them accessible to young readers with a thirst to know more.  Fascinating reads within themselves, each story makes the reader want to investigate further – why were the long-distance, record-breaking flights so important to Australia?  Why were women not allowed to fly until 1927 and who broke the barriers?  Who is Deborah Wardley and why do girls owe so much to her? There are so many more heroes than the ten covered in this collection – offering students the opportunity to add another chapter to the timeline, or to investigate flight itself, including how the technical difficulties were understood and overcome without the aid of computers.

The best non fiction doesn’t tell us all the answers – it poses questions that make us want to investigate further.  Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines certainly does that. Could well be among those nominated for the CBCA awards next year.


The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart

The  Dragon with the Chocolate Heart

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart











The  Dragon with the Chocolate Heart

Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury USA, 2017

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Bored with being confined to the cavern on the mountain and faced with another 30 years of the same until her scales are hardened, baby dragon Aventurine squeezes through a secret exit to take herself off to find the world and a human to eat.  As she wanders down the mountain because she damaged her wings in her escape, her sensitive nose not only picks up the smell of a human but also of something else, utterly delicious and tantalising – and dangerous…

For the human is a food mage and in order to protect himself from being Aventurine’s dinner he tempts her to try his delicious chocolate drink.  Suddenly, instead of being a fearsome dragon with glittering silver and red scales towering over the human, Aventurine finds herself transformed into a little girl with tiny, blunt teeth, no fire, and not a single claw to use in battle, prostrate in front of this now gloating tall man who leaves her to her own devices.  

Trying to stand but failing, Aventurine tries to crawl back up the mountain to her family but when her Grandfather doesn’t recognise her as he flies overhead and indeed, shoots a warning burst of fire in her direction, she realises she will have to try to make her way to the city to find a life and satisfy her insatiable craving for chocolate.

But how can a penniless, naive girl with the thoughts and heart of a dragon survive the betrayal, deception, trickery and unknown ways of humans in a large busy city obsessed with money, class and position?

Suitable for a read-aloud or a read-alone for an independent reader, this is a unique, intriguing tale with a strong female protagonist who learns a lot about herself as both a human and a dragon as she navigates the unfamiliar world of Drachenberg. For those who like adventure tinged with fantasy this is something new.

Sage Cookson (series)

Sage Cookson

Sage Cookson







Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape



Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth



Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise



Sage Cookson’s Singapore Sensation


Sally Murphy

New Frontier, 2017

56pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Sage Cookson is a ten-year-old whose parents, Ginger and Basil, travel Australia and the world, and lucky Sally gets to go with them. While they are sampling the food, learning new cooking techniques and then sharing their new knowledge with their massive television audience through their show The Cookson’s Cook On, Sage has a lifestyle that others might envy.

However, in each episode she gets into a scrape that she needs to get out of.  In the first book, Sweet Escape  there are problems with a famous chocolatier while in Ring of Truth she is accused of stealing a treasured ring. Her friend Lucy travels with her to Crystal Bay in  Fishy Surprise but the return of an old adversary causes issues and in Singapore Sensation things go wrong when a lady with pink hair starts to stalk them.

This new series for newly independent younger readers combines the author’s love of television cooking shows and mysteries, so that in each new addition something goes wrong and Sage has to solve the problem.  Despite the glamorous backdrops of each story, food is the focus so all the budding Junior Masterchefs can enjoy reading about cooking, trying the recipes which are included and then visiting Sage’s website  for more.  With four books in the series so far, Sage is going to appeal to a range of young readers who will be able to follow her adventures without having to wait for the next one. Perfect for the upcoming cooler days when reading is the best thing to do.

Captain McGrew Wants You for his Crew!

Captain McGrew Wants You for his Crew!

Captain McGrew Wants You for his Crew!










Captain McGrew Wants You for his Crew!

Mark Sperring

Ed Eaves

Bloomsbury, 2017

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


Despite it being centuries since pirates ruled the seas of the Caribbean, they still hold a fascination for young readers, many of whom see themselves in the role of the swashbuckling buccaneer.  So in this rollicking story-in-rhyme, author Mark Sperring has created a job description for prospective applicants which illustrator Ed Eaves has interpreted in the boldest, brightest colours populated with regular girls and boys that young readers will recognise.

All the well-known tasks of pulling up the anchor, climbing the rigging, peering from the crow’s nest for land, digging deep holes for burying and retrieving treasure, waiting on the fat, demanding Captain McGrew deliberately suggesting that this might not be the romantic life stories have portrayed in other books, particularly as this time the ‘heroes’ are the crew not the captain. Having to sploosh the deck, batten the hatches and fire the cannons while all around a fierce storm rages might dampen enthusiasm, but if it doesn’t then there is always the thought of octopus stew, endless dishwashing and even walking the plank to discourage the most hardy.  If the constant tiredness and navigating through the night are the deal-breakers then there is always Norman the Knight…

Every stereotypical aspect of life on the high seas is addressed in this engaging tale which will feed the imagination and perhaps inspire the life-plan of our young readers for the long-term, but in the short-term they will enjoy its rhyme and rhythm, its vibrancy and action and learn that stories can take them anywhere they want to go. And just what might a job description for a knave look like?  Maybe it might be better to stay a kid for a while.

The Leaky Story

The Leaky Story

The Leaky Story









The Leaky Story

Devon Sillet

Anil Tortop

EK Books, 2017

32pp., hbk., 2017

The Blossburn family are engaged in their usual activities – parents engrossed in a television program while J.J. is playing with toys on the mat.  No one is taking any notice of the books on the shelves, least of all the one that is slowly swelling as it demands to be read.  Only when it swells so much that it falls over and the letters start to spill out with the drip-drips becoming plop-plops does J.J. notice and try to stem the flood.  In fact it is not until the plop-plops become a splish-splash and the living room starts to look like an aquarium as all sorts of sea creatures invade it and swamp their recliner chairs that Mr and Mrs even start to notice that something might be amiss.  But their attention is grabbed when pirates sail through and challenge them that the fun really begins.
Young children will love this concept as they willingly suspend their reality and let their imaginations take over.  Canberra-based author Devon Sillet was awarded the Australian Postgraduate Award for her research into speculative fiction for young adults and it seems that this is a great example of the “what-if’ story starter.  What if your favourite story came to life right there in your living room?  Can you imagine the responses the children could draw, just as Anil Tortop has done with Sillet’s words in such a colourful, fun way?  Let them tell you about as book they have bought or borrowed that they just couldn’t wait to read and what it would be like if it came true right there in their home. A great way to start their writing careers.
Or even if they all started with the same story – an intriguing way to introduce the concept that even with the same information we all perceive and interpret things differently because of our previous experiences and understandings. Similarly,  they might like to turn the story around and talk about how 17th century pirates would feel in a 21st century home.
The final page is very satisfying as the Blossburns have all discovered the magic of words and the adventures they can take them on – what will they have happen in their living room next? What adventure would the children like to have?

You Choose …flip me

You Choose - Flip Me

You Choose – Flip Me










You Choose…Flip Me

Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars/Night of the Creepy Carnival


Super Sports Spectacular/Trapped in the Games Grid


George Ivanoff

Random House, 2017

pbk., RRP $A19.99

Remember the frustration of finishing a book in a series that you have really enjoyed but you need to go to the library or the bookstore to track down the next one?  Or worse, still, wait for it to be written and published?  The solution seems to be having two books in one as with the new packaging of George Ivanoff’s very popular You Choose series.  Now our students can have all the fun of following pathways through one book and when they are done with that, slip them over to read through another immediately.  No waiting,  No cooling of enthusiasm. Just more reading.

For a couple of decades at least, the choose-your-own-adventure stories have been popular, particularly with boys, as they like the interactivity and the gaming nature of them.  So to be able to serve them up two at a time to aficionados not only encourages them to keep reading but also shows them that the library DOES have stuff that meets their interests and needs.  That has to be good.