Our Dog Benji

Our Dog Benji

Our Dog Benji








Our Dog Benji

Pete Carter

James Henderson

EK Books, 2017

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


Benji is a dog that eats anything and everything – no matter what, he has a go at it and even sits in front of the fridge each morning in the hope that it has exploded overnight.  Hus young master is not so adventurous – like many of his age he takes his time with new tastes and flavours and can be quite a fussy eater.  But he decides to follow Benji’s example and be a little more adventurous as he sees that these foods don’t kill Benji – although they might make his tummy rumble and cause a smell that no one can stand, not even Benji.  But there is one thing neither of them will eat…

Told with humour and colourful detailed pictures, this is a charming story for under-5s who aren’t quite sure when something unfamiliar appears on their plate.  But it is also an opportunity to talk to them about the things a dog should never eat and should never be given particularly pig products, milk, onions and chocolate because they are toxic to them.   Taking care of a pet is more than a daily walk and a brush every now and then.

Given the new research that shows the food that toddlers eat has a profound effect on their lives long-term particularly their likelihood of being overweight or obese, any books that start conversations with them about nutrition  and what they and their pets need to be healthy and active has to be a winner.  Thumbs up for this one.

Dog Stories

Dog Stories

Dog Stories











Dog Stories


Jules Faber

Random House Australia, 2016

185pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


What happens when you ask leading authors such as Nick Falk, Sofie Laguna, Tristan Bancks, Jacqueline Harvey, George Ivanoff, Aleesah Darlinson and half a dozen others to write a short story featuring a dog? You get a volume of twelve stories starring magic dogs, invisible dogs, hacker dogs, and all sorts of others that will keep dog lovers reading for a long time.

There are stories about Bad Buster, The Dog Kisser, Susie the Wonderdog, The Dog who Forgot and even The Magic Piddle that will appeal to the newly independent reader with their larger font and manageable word count, and illustrated by Jules Faber.  The quality of the authors mean the quality of the story is guaranteed and even though they are brief, the reader is still left feeling satisfied that they have been entertained and perhaps even seek out other works by the authors.

With summer holidays here and children looking for something to read that doesn’t need too much effort and concentration, short stories are the answer. They can be the bridge between formal instructional texts and fully independent reading of self-selected novels so their value should never be underestimated.  So if you have a dog-lover who is looking for something short but satisfying, this is the ideal solution.

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish






Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish










Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog Books, 2014

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


Little Dog and Jonathan are the best of friends.  But trouble strikes when a massive thunderstorm hits while Jonathan and his mother go shopping on Christmas Eve leaving Little Dog at home, alone.  Even though he does not like thunder and lightning, Little Dog need to protect Jonathan so he squeezes under the gate to find him.  

At first the smells and sights are familiar but it is not long before Little Dog is in new territory.  But even so and even though the thunderstorm is still raging, he continues on  his search.  When he sees the open door of the baker’s cart he jumps in and the old Clydesdale clip clops along, taking Little Dog into town where everything, everywhere and everyone is strange.  As hard as he looks he cannot find Jonathan. And still the rain and thunder and lightning continue. Even when he finds shelter and the busker invites him to go home with him, Little Dog knows he needs to find Jonathan. And so his search continues…

This is a most poignant story about that special bond between a dog and its human friend that will resonate with every child and adult who has one.  There is something about the loyalty and love that is so strong. Set in Melbourne in the 1950s, it is nostalgic, even sentimental, as the soft palette, watercolour illustrations take the reader back into a gentler, slower time where Christmas is not so frenetic.  Illustrator Robin Cowcher was shortlisted for the CBCA Crichton Award for New Illustrators in 2015.

In 2014 this book was the focus of the Christmas window display in Myer, Melbourne, the 60th anniversary of this much loved, Melbourne tradition, a rare honour afforded to only the best of books! (And the author’s new book, One Christmas Eve, is the focus of the 2016 windows.)

Something a little different, a little more like the Christmas stories of yesteryear for the Christmas Countdown.

Credit: Kids' Book Review

Credit: Kids’ Book Review



Pig the Elf






Pig the Elf

Pig the Elf










Pig the Elf

Aaron Blabey

Scholastic, 2016

24pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99


Pig the Elf knows about Christmas – or at least, what he considers the most important part.  So he has written Santa the longest list of things that he wants and, dressed in his elf suit, is determined to stay up and ensure that Santa delivers everything on it.  Even when his friend Trevor begs him to come to bed because he knows Santa doesn’t come till everyone is asleep, Pig refuses and settles down to wait.

Three-thirty comes and at last there is a strange noise – “And who should appear down the chimney with swag, but a portly old gent with a lumpy red bag.”

But it is very clear to Pig that he has been short-changed.  The pile of presents is much smaller than it should be and he shouts at Santa, “HEY! I asked for MORE!” And as Santa heads back to the chimney, Pug nips him on his big red rosy bum – and doesn’t let go!!!

Show a child a book with Pig on the cover and you will have the most excited, engaged, entranced audience as they settle down for another hilarious adventure with this crazy dog who is rapidly becoming one of the nation’s favourite characters of little people.  And this Christmas addition to the series is no different.  With its rhyme, rhythm, humour and slightly risque storyline which resonates with every child who has ever wanted to stay awake to see Santa (or at least hear the reindeer on the roof) but not quite succeeded, Pig the Pug is their hero.  They will demand it again and again and thankfully, it’s one of those stories that will keep the reader amused over and over again too.  

Aaron Blabey, who is now an established favourite with littlies who don’t usually remember the authors of stories, really knows how to craft a tale for this age group that not only entertains over and over and over but teaches them about the joy of picture books where the fun can be repeated just by picking the book up whenever you want to. Australian parents, teachers (and teacher librarians) are so lucky he is one of ours!

And to add to the magic there is an official colouring-in activity waiting to be printed and completed, just perfect for turning into a special Christmas card. 

Miss 5 is going to squeal when she finds this in her Santa Sack!
















Colin Thompson

ABC Books, 2016

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


Stanley is not the world’s most attractive dog – he looks like he has been built out of very old, very weathered, very strong bricks and even though he looks dangerous from a distance, he was really as soft as a pillow.  Stanley loves four things – his bed, his dinner, his red rubber ball and Gerald, his human. Unlike Stanley who looked like he had been built from bricks, Gerald looks like he has been created from carefully crafted paper, folded and glued together and rather than looking dangerous, he looked as “harmless as a postage stamp.”  Gerald loves his mum, Stanley and Lego.

Most days Stanley walks Gerald to school but on the whole he was quite lonely at times as Gerald and his mum were all the family in the house, and while he loved them, they never came to sleep in his bed with him.  So when Gerald took Stanley and his red ball to the park and Stanley got to play with other dogs, he loved it.  When Gerald threw the  ball all the dogs would chase it, but they always stood back and let Stanley fetch it.  Until the day a fluffy little thing called Lulu caught it and refused to give it back…an event that will change his life forever!

Colin Thompson, author of the fabulous Fearless, has created another doggy character that children will love and resonate with giving them hope that even though they might feel lonely and be the only one in a single-parent family, things can change.  With his vivid words-and-pictures descriptions of both Stanley and Gerald (with lots of wonderful similes to explore) there is a strong message about not judging things on their appearance and the juxtaposition of the soft, fluffy Lulu  standing up to the tough-looking Stanley is just one example.  

This story has many layers so will appeal to many age groups, but overall it’s just about love and the power of hope and a red rubber ball.

Very useful teachers notes are available.


Oh, Albert

Oh, Albert

Oh, Albert









Oh, Albert

Davina Bell

Sara Acton

Penguin Viking 2016

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


Albert is one of those dogs – a lovable golden labrador puppy with a voracious appetite for everything, regardless of whether it is ‘official’ dog food or not.  Each day, when no one is around he finds something that grabs his attention and as is the manner of dogs, explores it by eating it.  Taste is not an issue – pink ribbons, red flags, white cords, green swim goggles, a black bike helmet – they are all part of Albert’s diet, much to the family’s frustration and threats.  Until on Saturday he eats something dogs should NEVER  eat – chocolate!

As they sit at the vet hoping he will pull through, the family begin to realise what Albert means to them and regret their hasty comments.  But whether Albert pulls through and whether he learns his lesson is an ending for the reader to discover…

This is a captivating story that is so full of riches, not the least of which is how Albert would feel if he were human and all he heard were negative remarks.  Because each double spread only shows the times when Albert’s appetite has got him into trouble you wonder if that is the only time this busy family with their pilates, ballet, swimming, school, bike-riding and so on notice him.  Is he doing this stuff for the attention he craves? Do we only notice and attend to the things our children,our students or our pets do wrong, rather than acknowledging the 99% of the time they bring us love and joy? are we so busy being busy that we forget why we had the children or got the pet in the first place? Do we only stop to reflect when there is a crisis? Hmmm…

Davina Bell’s text is perfect for engaging the young reader in early-reading behaviours.  It has a repetitive refrain that encourages the child to join in (and consolidate their knowledge of the days of the week) and Sara Acton’s pictures invite prediction of not only what Albert will eat but how that will impact on the ‘victim’.  Focusing on the essential storyline with white space instead of extraneous detail, little people will be able to read this to themselves easily, able to work out what happens as they turn each page – but hearing the words will add so much more to the experience that they will want it over and over.  It will move from first-read to familiar to favourite very quickly. It is a cumulative story so each episode leads into the next in a way that is really cohesive so there is also the opportunity to talk about cause and effect.  If you leave your swimming goggles where Albert can eat them, how will you cope at swimming the next day?

But mostly this is a story of the unconditional love we have for our pets and readers, adult and child, will be able to put themselves into the story sparking memories that can be shared and drawn. . Maybe everyone and everything will get an extra hug today.

Miss 5 is going through a ‘dog phase’ and this is one she is going to adore.


Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Tricia Oktober

Ford Street, 2014

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


Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar are five dachshunds who live in a beautiful garden owned by a lady who collects plants and dogs.  Theirs is a peaceful, placid life with each having its own personality and spending their days literally living a dog’s life.  Even the magpies are not afraid to come and look for worms as the dogs snooze in the sun.  

But one day, the owner brings another dog home – one called Butterfly, one who is not like the long, low, smooth dachshunds.  Rather this one has longer legs, short ears and a squashed in face. And she isn’t even the same gingery colour – she is white with black bits here and there.  But this doesn’t bother Oscar who is very affectionate – to him this newcomer is just another puppy who needs to be kept warm and safe at night; who needs her face washed after dinner because she is such a messy eater; and who needs to learn that shredding teddies and pulling plants out of the garden are not the right things to do.

Everything is fine in the household until one night Butterfly sees another dog outside, one that barks when she does and growls right back at her.  The other dogs come to her rescue and make enough noise to scare anything away but the new dog just stands there barking right back at them. Night after night the new dog comes to the window and nothing Butterfly can do scares it away.  She gets more and more scared until something has to be done – so the owner puts a mirror where Butterfly can see her reflection, but suddenly it seems that outside dog had come inside and Butterfly is even more terrified.  When she finally realises that she is seeing herself for the first time, she calms down a little – until she realises that she isn’t long and sleek like Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar.  She is very different  so instead of being scared, she is now unhappy and feels very alone and isolated. Nothing cheers her up until…

Tricia Oktober always writes the most charming stories that are illustrated with her exquisite, lifelike drawings and Butterfly and Oscar is no exception.  Given that it is dedicated to her dogs, all eight of them, suggests that this story might be based on real life and it is the mark of a true storyteller that they can take an ordinary event like a dog seeing its reflection for the first time and turn it into a book that enchants and teaches through its gentle message that each of us is different but it’s not what we look like that counts but what we do.  However, while we are loved for who we are, sometimes being the newcomer can make us feel like an outsider and that no one will accept us.  There are excellent teaching notes  which will help students not only empathise with these feelings if they haven’t experienced them but also help them understand that difference is not always negative and how they can reach out to someone and bring them into the circle.

Miss 5 is going through a “dog phase”  – she is going to love having this in her collection if I overcome my love of Tricia Oktober’s work and actually let her have it!

Blue the Builder’s Dog

Blue the Builder's Dog

Blue the Builder’s Dog









Blue the Builder’s Dog

Jen Storer

Andrew Joyner

Penguin, 2016

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



Blue is a builder’s dog – an ordinary builder’s dog that can be found on almost any building site in this country.  He rides in the ute to work, guards the tools, greets the subbies and signs the concrete slabs.  (Oops!)  He samples sausage rolls at smoko, cleans up the lunchtime pies and pasties and does all the things a builder’s dog is supposed to do.  He is mates with the whole team.  

But Blue does not have a hard hat, he is not allowed up high (even though he liked to go there) and the Big Boss does not take his advice.

He is also not allowed to sleep in the house with the builder.  He is consigned to the shed – which is NO place for a Working Dog of his stature and importance-and this makes him cranky.  All he wants was his own kennel – not even a flash one, just one with a hidey-hole for old bones, a swinging door with his name and maybe a periscope. So he decides to build his own and quits the building team. Instead of going to work, he stays home to build his own kennel. The result is not quite like the plan he had in his head and probably wouldn’t meet the Big Boss’s standards, but nevertheless it is a grand home worthy of a Working Dog.  That night he snuggles in happily content and unconcerned that the builder has gone out.  Until a huge storm comes…

Jen Storer and Andrew Joyner have created a funny but touching story that will appeal to readers of all ages.  Everyone will recognise Blue (some may even know him) and empathise with his need to have a place of his own.  They will laugh at his building skills but be sad as he huddles on the doormat in the rain waiting for the builder to come home.  And they will delight in the ending which so clearly demonstrates how important it is to be part of a team.  They might even like to try their hand at designing the perfect kennel for Blue and maybe even build it if you have a makerspace.

It is an uplifting story that needs to be read just for the fun of it with the perfect pictures emphasising the quality of the text.  Andrew Joyner has drawn the iconic Blue and captured the personalities and conditions on the building site with great detail and humour so well while Jen Storer has taken a situation  that is played out across Australia everywhere every day and turned it into an engaging tale that is just delightful.  One of those true picture books where the marriage between text and illustration is so synergistic that it touches something within and becomes a read-it-again-and-again favourite.

Snooze with Hairy Maclary

Snooze with Hairy Maclary

Snooze with Hairy Maclary









Snooze with Hairy Maclary

Dame Lynley Dodd

Puffin. 2016

16pp., board book., RRP $A17.99


Everyone’s sleepy,
in need of a snooze.
What place do they go to?
Which spot do they choose?
After some frolicsome fun, Hairy and his gang are ready for a nap. But where will they choose to sleep? Horatio Morse, Barnaby Potts, Schnitzel von Krumm and all the rest of Hairy Maclary’s friends each have their favourite spot to sleep when it’s time for a nap.  And in this superb touch-and-feel book young readers will delight in exploring them.

When we were in New Zealand last year, my family decided they would go to Hobbiton but I chose to find the sculpture of Hairy Maclary and friends in Tauranga instead.  Despite the pouring rain, I was determined to pay my respects to this favourite creature of my childhood and I was not disappointed.  

No child should go through childhood without meeting this wonderful little dog and his mates.  They just bring such joy and this new tale is the perfect introduction. 



Fizz the Police Dog (series)

Fizz the Police Dog

   Fizz the Police Dog












Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts


Fizz and the Dog Academy  Rescue


Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief


Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper


Lesley Gibbes

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin. 2016

80pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Fizz is now a grown up dog, no longer a puppy, and he is very determined that he wants to be a brave, clever, fast police dog.  The only problem is that he is not a German Shepherd – he’s a small cute ball of white, fizzy, fuzzy fur!  Not exactly the right look for a police dog. In fact he’s a Bolognese and comes from a long line of champion show dogs and is expected to follow the family tradition.  Or at the very least a lapdog, a handbag dog or a companion dog like his brothers and sisters.

But Fizz is determined, even moreso when his friend Tom tells him it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog and shows him an advertisement for the upcoming police dog tryouts. All Fizz has to do was show up and pass three tests.   But when he arrives at the police station he is somewhat daunted for there are many dogs waiting and all of them much bigger.  His courage and confidence take a deep dive. When Amadeus who comes from a long line of police dogs and who has been practising for a long time, arrives with his ‘henchmen’ and starts to bully him and suggests he goes to the Miss Fluffy Puppy tryouts, Fizz really starts to worry and doubt.  But from deep within, his determination rises and he stands up to Amadeus and refuses to give in.

And so the day begins, with Amadeus bullying Fizz at every opportunity trying to prove that he will be the next City Police Dog, not some little thing that looks like a powder puff.  First up is the Bark Test, then the Scare Test and then the Chase-and-Catch Test.  How will Fizz ever compete against all those other dogs?  But being a police dog isn’t all about being the fiercest, angriest, loudest dog in the pack – it’s about being smart and fearless and resilient. But sometimes even that’s not enough.  Amadeus becomes the City Police Dog and Fizz becomes…

This is a new series for younger almost-independent readers that will have wide appeal to those who like animal stories, adventure and fun.   There are now four in the series which follow Fizz through his Academy training to become a dog detective and on to his first cases, one of which involves his sister Crystal. With short chapters and such an engaging character, the text demonstrates the author’s long experience as a primary school teacher as well as the owner of some feisty little dogs (who may have wanted to be police dogs too.)  Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment – who wouldn’t quiver in the face of Amadeus?  You need to look what happens when you line the spines up in order!  Clever!

Series offer many benefits for readers – not the least of which is encouraging the child to keep reading – and to find one that is so appealing to both boys and girls and is well written and appropriately illustrated is gold.  The test for me is whether I can hear myself reading it aloud to children as I read it silently to myself, and this definitely met that criterion.  Now to find some kids to share it with…

For those of you near Avalon in Sydney, Lesley Gibbes will be reading and signing copies of the books at the Avalon Community Library on July 7 at 10.30am.  RSVP to the library.