Stripes in the Forest

Stripes in the Forest

Stripes in the Forest










Stripes in the Forest

Aleesah Darlinson

Shane McGrath

Big Sky, 2016

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


Stripes in the forest, stealth in the shadows.

The last female thylacine tracks through the forests of Tasmania, lands this top predator once owned and roamed at will.  But now she watches the strange creatures who are invading the land with their firesticks as they hunt and kill, not caring about the impact they are having on the environment and its creatures.  She finds a mate and pups are born, but life becomes ever more precarious.  Will she be the last of her kind?

The fate of the thylacine (aka the Tasmanian Tiger)  has been an enigma since the last one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936, just two months after protection was finally granted in a bid to save them from extinction.  Did the pups in this story survive?  Were there more to be born? Even today, there are questions being asked and talk of genetic resurrection.

Darlinson brings to light the possible story of the final female in this story for younger readers who want to know more about this intriguing creature while McGrath’s illustrations help them imagine a different Tasmania, one that is full of menace and fear as European settlement continues to encroach on the indigenous inhabitants.

While Australia has lost 27 mammal, seven frog and 24 bird species to extinction since the first European settlement in 1788, and another 506 species are considered endangered, vulnerable or threatened, the thylacine is the one that has captured the imagination and is the perfect introduction to investigating the concept of extinction and human impact on the environment. Unlike the dinosaurs which were wiped out by a natural disaster, extinction and endangerment is now linked directly to human habitation so using Stripes in the Forest as a starting point to ask why the men were intent on shooting every thylacine they saw and then investigating what happens to both fauna and flora when such an important part of the food chain is gone can be  a key part in creating awareness of the need to nurture our environment for our youngest readers.  A perfect example of using fiction to lead into an investigation that will go way beyond just the initial reading of the story.

Experience has shown that there is great interest in the thylacine but not a lot written for younger readers so this is a must-have for the collection.

Teachers’ notes fitting the Australian Curriculum can be found here


Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Bill Baillie

Bill Baillie











Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Ellis Rowan

NLA Publishing, 2018

104pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In the harsh, hot Western Australian desert, several hundred miles inland from Perth lies the town of Goongarrie, where, at the turn of last century, Tabitha, a painter, came to paint the wonders of the landscape and its inhabitants.  Despite its remoteness there were people there and each day they brought her “curious plants and queer beasts” to examine and paint.  

Among those “queer beasts” was a little creature – naked, five inches (12.5 cm) long at most, long legs with a strange eyelet mouth that had been attached to a teat in its mother’s pouch before she was killed in the sharp teeth of a deadly trap. Looking like he had given up and decided to die, it felt the warm, comforting hands of Tabitha around him and in that moment both were determined that he would live.  Bill Baillie’s life and adventures with this itinerant painter had begun!

And what a life it was – becoming famous and known as ‘Master Bill Baillie of Goongarrie” he travelled everywhere with Tabitha for the rest of his life, his energy unbounded, his curiosity unsated,  especially at night time which was his day, and his love for her unequalled. Getting into precarious situations, dodging a host of bilby enemies who wanted to eat him and travelling on trains and boats and wagons from Perth to Melbourne, Bill Baillie was Tabitha’s constant companion until his inevitable, sad death in her arms just two years later. 

“Tabitha’ is actually Ellis Rowan herself who was determined “to find and paint every wildflower on the continent”, and she initially wrote this story in 1908 at a time when having a native creature for a pet was considered a curiosity rather than a concern.  Using remarkable skill that keeps the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about these almost mythical creatures, Stephanie Owen Reeder has abridged the original using more accessible vocabulary and shorter chapters while omitting none of the drama of this curious relationship.  Rowan’s descriptions of the environment as viewed through the eyes of a painter are exquisite and the reader is transported to that vast lonely landscape with its brilliant colours and on-the-surface desolation brought to life.  Many of the original illustrations by Rowan and Hans Praetorius have been left in while others from the NLA’s collection of bilby paintings have also been included.

As is usual with NLA publications, the story is complemented by  several pages of further information, all based on the library’s relevant collections including the Rowan collection itself.  

Bilbies are an endearing but endangered species brought to our attention as the Australian symbol of Easter to raise awareness of the damage done to the environment by the introduced wild rabbits so the release of the charming story is fitting, with Easter on the horizon.
















Lesley Gibbes

Michelle Dawson

Working Title Press, 2017

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


Under the shadow of the great harbour bridge a little southern right whale is born.  For weeks it stays and plays with its mother getting stronger for the long journey south to the Antarctic waters, delighting the people of Sydney who hadn’t seen a pair like this for many years.  But one day a ferry’s motor startles Fluke and he dives deep to the bottom of the water where it is dark and murky and he can no longer hear his mother calling.  

The people of Sydney begin an anxious search for him knowing that without her protection he will be easy prey for a shark…

Based on actual events, this is a charming story illustrated in a palette as soft and gentle as both the text and the events themselves.  Like the humpbacks that are so prevalent down the Humpback Highway at the moment, southern right whales – so-called because early whalers believed them to be the ‘right’ whale to catch because they were large, slow-moving, rich in oil and blubber and floated when they were killed – were hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century and so the appearance of mum and bub in the harbour brought both joy and hope.  The endpapers provide a thumbnail sketch of these wonderful creatures, adding an extra dimension to the book.

Now that whale-hunting has taken on a whole new meaning  and with seeing a whale in the wild on many bucket lists making it a sustainable tourist industry for many little coastal towns, learning about them through stories like Fluke can only bring a greater awareness and help to guarantee their revival and survival. The whalers  were an important part of our coastal history and settlement, making them an important part of the history curriculum but unlike a generation ago, their activities can now be scrutinised through several lenses as students discuss and debate the “rightness” of their endeavours. The use of books like Fluke would bring another perspective to a webquest.

Teachers’ notes are available 

Loved it.














Sandra Dieckmann

Flying Eye Books, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99



Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore…

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, a creature unlike anything the other animals  had seen, they fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous particularly when it began to collect leaves. They nicknamed him Leaf and desperately wanted him to leave because no one should live in fear.  Then one day Leaf burst through the forest covered in leaves and leapt off the hill with a giant roar.  Perhaps inspired by the crow’s feathers that helped it fly to freedom he has turned the leaves into wings, but sadly they lifted him but briefly and he tumbled into the lake. 

A meeting of the other creatures was held and attitudes started to soften, but like many such meetings, the only outcome was an agreement to disagree and nothing was done. But when Leaf tried to fly again a few days later, this time landing in the ocean realisation dawned and  things begin to change…

There is a quote on the dedication page of this book…

“Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught in life.” -Friedrich Schiller

And so it is with this book which is one of those that resonates more and more with each reading.  Accompanied by the most stunning, memorable artwork which is rich in colour, pattern and details, on the surface it is a tale about a polar bear who wants to go home.  But what is the message behind the polar bear arriving on a shard of iceberg in the first place? Climate change? Refugee? And what can we learn about and from the forest creatures’ automatic fear and distrust of this unfamiliar, different animal in their midst? Or is the whole a metaphor for a child or adult with a terminal illness who wants to die but who must endure the intervention of science and medicine before finding release? The dedication suggests this…

While the polar bear is the subject, the story is told very much from an objective observer’s eye, a narrator that states the facts and actions without emotion,even though there is so much emotion embedded in the illustrations. An intriguing book that makes the reader ponder.


Rescue Ark

Rescue Ark

Rescue Ark











The Rescue Ark

Susan Hall

Naomi Zouwer

NLA Publishing, 2014

36pp., pbk., RRP $A18.99



The animals went in two by two,

Hurrah, Hurrah,

The animals went in two by two,

Hurrah, Hurrah,

The possums and the potoroos

Were yawning and getting ready to snooze,

And they all snuggled into the ark

To find a safe place to be.


The children are so distressed at the waste and rubbish littering the ground, the polluted land and the dry rivers which threatened that habitats of Australia’s creatures that they built an ark to rescue them. Then they travelled around Australia to find the creatures that needed their help most.  From the orange-bellied parrot of Victoria to the Spectacled Flying Fox of Queensland to the Gove Crow Butterfly to the native bee of Western Australia, the most endangered of our creatures get on board, all of whom are looking for a safe place to be.  Each is listed as ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or “vulnerable’ according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act  and each has their story and situation described in the pages at the end with illustrations from the  NLA collection and other publications.

Using the familiar rhyme and rhythm of the well-known children’s song, and beginning with a map of the ark’s destinations around Australia and then a series of clever collages, readers are introduced to some of Australia’s lesser-known creatures and how they are suffering because of human impact on the landscape – a powerful way to inspire a new generation to be more aware and to right the wrongs of previous ones.  With Clean Up Australia Day as strong now as it was when it began in 1989 (7092 sites were officially registered for this year’s clean up on March 5) there is clearly an awareness that there is a need to do better if our children’s children are to see these unique creatures.

The good news is that in the story the ark sails the seas “for many a day” but eventually can return to our shores because the children have achieved their goal of making the land safe for them again.

This is not just a book for pre-schoolers – it has great scope for introducing elements of the Australian Curriculum focusing on human impact on the environment and sustainability.  While most are familiar with kangaroos, koalas and our other unique iconic wildlife, telling the stories of the less visible is critical if we are to improve our conservation record.  Australia has more than one million known species and a huge proportion of these are endemic to our shores, yet “Australia has the highest loss of mammal species anywhere in the world”.   So even though this book was published in 2014 it remains very relevant not only as a springboard to an investigation and community action but also as a model for the students to create their own version of the rhyme or to design a partition in the ark that would meet the needs of their chosen creature.

Teaching notes, including blackline masters of the creatures, are available. 


Our Class Tiger

Our Class Tiger

Our Class Tiger











Our Class Tiger

Aleesah Darlinson

Oxford University Press, 2014

24pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99



Class 3M has adopted a tiger cub living in a sanctuary on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.  Berhaga was rescued after his mother had been shot when he was just five months old and the children do all sorts of fund-raising to get the money needed to send to the World Wildlife Fund each month so he can continue to be supported until he is old enough to be transferred to a national park. 

Accompanied by stunning photographs the students of 3M explain the adoption as well as retelling the story of Berhaga’s development.  Fascinating facts about tigers are interspersed with the “speech bubble” text providing a unique insight into  one of the world’s most endangered creatures and helping the young reader understand why such magnificent animals need to be protected for the future.

Apart from its important context which fits in perfectly with a sustainability theme, it is a model of a non fiction book for young students with all the essential elements that we teach students about at that age. Features such as contents, headings, captions, a glossary and an index are all there to help students understand the cues and clues of navigating an information text.  It could also be used as inspiration for a class to write their own book providing a platform for their continued development in the information literacy process giving them both a context to put it into practice and a product to display their learning.  

Ms Darlison was awarded the 2015 Environment Award for Children’s Literature and the inaugural Puggle Award (Children’s Choice Award) from the Wilderness Society for Our Class Tiger and it is richly deserved.

Augustus and His Smile

Augustus and His Smile

Augustus and His Smile










Augustus and his Smile

Catherine Rayner

Little Tiger, 2014

pbk., RRP $A14.99


Augustus the tiger has lost his smile.  So, after doing a huge tigery stretch he sets off to find it.  Under bushes, to the tops of the tallest trees, scaling the crests of the highest mountains and down to the bottom of the deepest oceans– but still he could not find his smile.  He even pranced and paraded through the longest desert without success.  And then it started to rain.  Augustus danced and raced as the raindrops bounced and flew, and he splashed in puddles when suddenly…

This is an excellent book for young readers, not just because of its engaging text and illustrations.  It is full of movement, textual and visual, that beg the children to emulate as well as emphasising the meaning of those common positional prepositions. It also encourages them to look closely at the pictures because Augustus’s face changes as his quest continues – as does his tail. The pictures in picture books are not just decorations – they add so much more to the words.  As Augustus learns that he carries his smile with him – it would come whenever he was happy – readers can also learn this and talk about the things that make them happy and bring their smile out. 

The addition of some important tiger facts at the end is a bonus – a first step in learning about this amazing, critically endangered species.

Catherine Rayner spent many hours at the Edinburgh Zoo sketching tigers so she could get Augustus just right and she has already won the Kate Greenaway Medal for her work. The UK Daily Telegraph said, “Catherine Rayner has a marvellous gift for capturing the souls of animals in a few, rich washes of colour” and this is very evident in her depiction of Augustus.  He is just charming.   Such is the power of this story it has been translated into Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Simplified Chinese, Czech, Farsi, French, Haitian-Creole, Hindi, Irish, Lithuanian, Panjabi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovakian, Somali, Spanish, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh.


A peek inside...

A peek inside…