This is Banjo Paterson

This is Banjo Paterson

This is Banjo Paterson










This is Banjo Paterson

Tania McCartney

Christina Booth

NLA Publishing, 2017

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


The final verse of one of Australia’s most iconic poems reads…

And down by Kosciuszko, where the pine-clad ridges raise

Their torn and ragged battlements on high,

Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze

At midnight in the clear and frosty sky,

And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway

To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,

The man from Snowy River is a household word today,

And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

But what is also “a household word today” is the name of the man who wrote those words – A. B. (Banjo) Paterson.

In this brand new book, written and illustrated especially for younger readers, Tania McCartney and Christina Booth tell the story of a man whose legacy of stories of life in the Australian bush told in rich, evocative language and distinctive rhyme and rhythm lives on more than 150 years since his birth. 

Born on February 17 1864 and named Andrew Barton Paterson he was known to his family and friends as Barty, the eldest of seven children in a typical rural Australian family of the time.  He grew up with a deep love of horses, particularly one called Banjo, and even when he moved to the city to attend high school and later become a journalist and a war correspondent, he never lost his love of the bush.

There is more than a hint of truth in the words of Clancy of the Overflow…

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy

Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,

And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city

Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all…

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy

Like to take a turn at droving, where the seasons come and go…

But the focus of this book is not Paterson’s poems but his life, particularly that of his childhood and the influences and circumstances that shaped him, his writing and his subsequent place in our literature, history and hearts. Tania has drawn on a plethora of rich research material, much of it held in the National Library of Australia, to present this story so that even this year’s Kindy kids who may well be learning the words of Waltzing Matilda for the very first time, can be inspired to not only know about the person who wrote them but also to see that they weren’t created overnight by a grown-up who just decided to write them,. Instead it was the stuff of the poet’s childhood and the things he learned as he grew up that made him able to write so richly, and maybe they can acknowledge their own talents and build on them. Perhaps, even at their young age they are good at words or drawing or making things and they can follow that passion now – they don’t have to wait to be a grown-up.

“Even children in early education need to be exposed to inspiring and life-altering stories of real life people that once so deeply affected–and continue to do so–our lives, our history and where we are going.” (McCartney, 2017)

What sets this book apart from others on the same topic and with a similar audience is the parallel visual storyline that accompanies it in Christina’s watercolour illustrations.  These are not just mere depictions of Paterson’s life that add a visual element to the words – these add extra layers to the words by showing kids of the 21st century playing in the backyard and doing the modern-day equivalent of what Banjo would have done in his time. Drawing on their own childhoods (and that of nearly every other child in the world), McCartney and Booth went back to the world of dress-ups, role-play and story-telling, further underlining the concept that this is as much a story of the reader’s life and dreams as it is that of Paterson’s.  Immediately there is a connection not just between prose and illustration but also between creators and reader, a connection that is vital to engage the mind and the imagination and the what-if.  (You can read more of the thinking behind the illustrations here.)

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The first collaboration between McCartney and Booth was This is Captain Cook and I venture to say that this will be as well-received and as successful. As well as the factual material and excerpts from poems that are included at the back (as is common with books published by the National Library), Tania is currently running a virtual launch of the book on her blog where the backstory of the book’s creation is being told.  Day 6 includes links to some great resources as well as comprehensive teachers’ notes linked to the K-3 Australian Curriculum  There is also a free real-life launch at the NLA in Canberra on February 11  or for those not near the national capital you can join Tania on Periscope on Friday 17 February at 1pm AEDST, where she will be chatting about the book live from the National Library, and showing various priceless Banjo Paterson items, along with original artwork by Christina Booth!


And, as an added extra, for those of you are fans of Paterson and his work there is the Banjo Paterson Australian Poetry Festival in Orange, NSW from February 16-26, 2017 or you can visit his childhood home.

Meet…The Flying Doctors

Meet...The Flying Doctors

Meet…The Flying Doctors









Meet…The Flying Doctors

George Ivanoff

Ben Wood

Random House, Australia, 2016

32pp., hbk.,  RRP$A24.99


In 1911 John Flynn went to work on a mission more than 500 kilometres from Adelaide, the beginning of a journey for which thousands of people have been grateful for over the decades since then.  In what is still a remote area, Flynn was greatly disturbed by the lack of medical facilities beyond the metropolitan areas . Not satisfied with patients being treated by those with a rudimentary knowledge of first aid with support being sent in Morse code over the telegraph system, while doctors could take weeks to reach them using whatever transport was available.  Flynn knew there had to be a better way and so began his quest to find a solution.

Flight seemed the obvious answer but in those days both planes and pilots were hard to come by and it took 10 years of campaigning before his first plane was ready for service.  In 1928, his dream came true – he formed the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service using  a single-engine plane on loan from QANTAS< aptly named Victory.  Immediately there was a difference – 50 missions and 255 patients treated in a year.  

But they were not out of the woods yet – in fact they were a bit lost over desert landscapes navigating by landmarks because there were no radios in the planes. Even though it meant that they could only fly at night in extreme emergencies,  nevertheless the pilots put their craft down in the most amazing places and with Alf Traegar’s invention of the pedal radio in 1929 at last the people of the outback started to get the services they needed.

In 1955 the name was changed to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and one of Australia’s most iconic institutions  has gone from strength to strength now servicing rural and remote areas from 23 bases scattered around the country. 

The story of the RFDS is one that every child should know – from those in the cities where medical services on tap can be taken for granted to those in the Outback where lives depend on it daily.  It is a rich and rewarding story of success and Ivanoff has managed to cram so much information into just 32 pages while still keeping it personal and connected to its child audience.  Wood’s illustrations emphasise the isolation and enormity of the landscape adding weight to the extent of the issue and the importance of its solution.

As always with this series, there is a timeline at the back that encapsulates the milestones.

Meet… is one of the most significant series of biographies written for young Australian readers as they are introduced to the diverse and critical contributions that have been made by individuals to the development of this nation. including Ned Kelly, Captain CookMary McKillop, Douglas Mawson , The ANZACs , Nancy Bird Walton, Banjo Paterson, Weary Dunlop, Sidney Nolan , Don Bradman and Nellie Melba. In my opinion, John Flynn’s story is one of the most important.

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)






Pocket Rocket

Magic Feet

Winning Touch

Double Time

Sherryl Clark with Ellyse Perry

Random House Australia, 2016

145pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

With the Southern Stars and the Women’s Big Bash League now getting greater coverage on prime time, mainstream television, the name of Ellyse Perry is becoming one that is widely known and recognised.  So it is pleasing to see a series of stories that focuses on her sporting career from the choices she had to make at high school through to her current success becoming a part of the literature available to newly independent readers.  While there have been other series of this ilk such as Glenn Maxwell and Billy Slater there have been very few focusing on the prowess of Australia’s female sports stars.  Ellyse who plays both soccer and cricket at the elite level is a wonderful focal point for inspiring young girls to continue their sport after they leave primary school and she shows that with care and good choices, you can do all that you want. Boys will also enjoy reading about one of Australia’s leading lights.

Pocket Rocket and Magic Feet are available now just in time for the Christmas stocking and Winning Touch and Double Time will be available in early January ready for the long January days after the excitement of Christmas is over and our children are looking for something new.



I was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen










I was Only Nineteen

John Schuman

Craig Smith

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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


The banner across the top of the cover of this book says, “The iconic song about the Vietnam War that helped change a nation” and indeed, anyone who has heard the original with the haunting voice of John Schuman as the lead singer of Redgum will find that echoing in their head as they “read” this picture book version of the song that brought the realities of the war to a generation. If you are unfamiliar with it, it’s available on You Tube

While, for the first time in history, war was brought into the family living room through the immediacy of television news programs, it was the personalising of what was happening through the lyrics of this song that not only provided a real insight but which has also endured.  In fact, along with the picture of the little girl running naked from her village after it had been destroyed with napalm bombs it would be one of the most-recalled memories of that time.  Its refrain and final line, “God help me, I was only nineteen” encapsulates it all. Both the words and the sensitive, evocative images of Craig Smith show that war is the antithesis of the great adventure that these soldiers’ ancestors thought that it would be as they hastened to answer the call of 1914 and which will be in our thoughts as we move towards the commemoration of ANZAC Day.

But this is much more than another picture book about Australia’s war effort to support the national history curriculum.

As one of those who was very much involved in the events of the time and worked towards the big-picture objectives of not only having Australia and New Zealand troops out of Vietnam because we were against the “all-the-way-with-LBJ” policies of the prevailing governments but also against sending young men to war who, in their own country could not vote or legally have a beer, we did not consider or understand the effects our actions would have on those young men when they eventually came home, mentally and physically wounded, and to have served in Vietnam was a secret and a shame.  There were no parades or celebrations – you might talk about it with your mates to keep you sane but that was all. There was no respect from the public and each soldier was somehow held personally responsible for the events which we saw each night.  (If you, as an adult, want a greater understanding, read Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard and Smoky Joe’s Café by Bryce Courtenay.)

And so we have the situation today that many of our students have grandparents who are perhaps not as they should be and cannot explain why. They saw and did things that no 19-year-olds should ever have to and it is their experiences, their illnesses, their PTSD, their suicides that have changed the way we now view our serving forces and how they are treated and supported when they come home.  The picture books and television shows always stereotype Grandpa as being loving and jovial and every child deserves such a person – the production of this book might help them understand why theirs is not. It has an important role to play in helping our little ones understand.

If just the lyrics or the clip of the original “I was Only 19” were the only ones used in a study of the Vietnam War, the story would not be complete.  It is through Craig Smith’s final illustrations of the young soldier now a grandfather with his grandson ducking from a chopper, then sharing an ice cream and finally marching on ANZAC Day together that are critical because they show that while he is still troubled by his experiences, he has survived and 40 years on society has moved on to a new and different attitude.  For that we have to thank the continued and sustained efforts of all those Vietnam Vets who would not let us forget. We salute you now as we should have then.

For those who see this as a teaching opportunity, there are teachers’ notes are available.


Republished in honour of the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan.  August 18, 1966



Meet… Nellie Melba

Meet... Nellie Melba

Meet… Nellie Melba









Meet… Nellie Melba

Janeen Brian

Claire Murphy

Random House Australia, 2016

32pp., hbk., $24.99


Many of us, and our students, will have tasted the traditional dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream, sugary peaches, and raspberry sauce and known as Peach Melba.  It was created by famous French chef Auguste Escoffier to honour his friendship with the world-renowned opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who wowed the world with her singing as the 19th century turned over into the 20th.  But while her name is now featured on restaurant menus around the world, her life began very differently.

Helen ‘Nellie’ Porter Mitchell  was one of those children whose lives are incomplete without music.  When she wasn’t playing the piano, she loved to sing and wherever she went she either whistled or hummed.  But in the mid-19th century it wasn’t proper for girls to sing in public and so her father restricted her to singing for friends, church and charities, even though Nellie had bigger dreams than that.  But even without her father’s rules, she would have had limited opportunities because Edison was yet to invent the means to record sound and with Australia’s isolation, opera companies did not visit. 

After the death of her mother and sister, she moved to Queensland with her father where she married and had a son.  But her singing was always her primary love and she returned to Melbourne determined to carve a career for herself, despite her lack of money and freedom. She persuaded her husband to move to England with her when her father took a job there, but her success was not instant.  It was not until she auditioned for Madame Mathilde Marchesi in Paris that her talent was recognised and the career of Australia’s first renowned opera singer, the “Australian nightingale” began to flourish… Drawing on her home town for her stage name, Nellie Melba soon became a household name in high society in huge demand. Through determination, her dreams had come true.

But she did not forget her roots and was determined that everyone, regardless of income or status, should be able to hear her so when she toured Australia the ticket prices were the same for everyone.  She brought opera to people who would never had heard it otherwise.

In this latest addition to this fantastic series which brings the lives of those who shaped Australia to life for young readers, Janeen Brian has captured the essence of Melba perfectly portraying a young girl with a dream and the determination to achieve it.  Right from the beginning when Nellie’s father tells her to stop whistling because she “sounds like a tomboy”, she hits on humming as a compromise.  Unlike others of her time, being married and having a family is not enough for her and she is a single mum at a time when such a status is totally shunned and her divorce in 1900 would have sent lesser women into hiding. Against such odds, made even greater by the rigid society of the times, she perseveres and triumphs – a role model in resilience that stands tall for today’s young girls.

From such a rich life that spanned 69 years and a wealth of material available, Brian has picked those elements that show that spirit that drove her on to do and achieve that which was an innate part of her and woven them into a very readable story that makes the reader want to keep reading to find out how she conquered the obstacles. It’s a story of dreams, hope and strength of mind and character that will lift any reader up.  Claire Murphy has captured the author’s words well, particularly when she contrasts Nellie’s father’s perspective with Nellie’s dream.

Made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her fundraising efforts during World War I, Nellie’s contribution to Australia was so significant she is commemorated on the current $100 note..  It also makes her a worthy subject for this series and very definitely an important chapter in Australia: Story Country.

Meet… Don Bradman

Meet...Don Bradman

Meet…Don Bradman









Meet…Don Bradman

Coral Vass

Brad Howe

Random House Australia, 2016

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


The latest in this excellent series of biographies for younger readers focuses on Don Bradman who is regarded by so many as Australia’s greatest cricketer – so much so that there was a question about him in the first version of the test that those aspiring to be Australian citizens have to answer. 

Born in Cootamundra on August 27 1908, Bradman spent his early years practising his batting by hitting a golf ball with a cricket wicket against the family’s rainwater tank.  As it bounced off the curves of the sides in all directions, he hit it again and again and again.  (The noise must have driven those round him nuts!)  At the age of 12 he went to Sydney with his dad to see an Ashes match and there the dream was born … one day he would play on that ground.  By then, the family was living in Bowral, NSW and he was the scorer for the local senior team, sometimes even playing for them.

But when he turned 14 and left school he was too old for the school team and too young for the senior team so he turned to tennis instead.  But cricket was his love and as soon as he was old enough he returned to it … continuing the journey that would make him a household name even for non-cricket loving people and have him named by the Wisden Cricketers Almanack (the cricketers bible) as the greatest cricketer of the 20th century.

This is the 10th title in this series which is a must-have in school libraries as it brings the lives of our heroes and history-makers to life through accessible, illustrated texts in a way that brings the biography genre to life. Telling the story of an ordinary person whose story and legacy live on well after their death, each adds an extra layer to an historical study and the accompanying teachers’ notes  open up new ideas for exploration.  Each tells a story rather than just providing clumps of facts and figures, and is suitable for newly-independent readers as well as for those for whom English is a struggle. They also provide a model for younger students for writing a biography providing a purpose for reading and research and demonstrate a story of courage, persistence, resilience and perseverance showing the reader that these are the qualities needed for success.

The question about Bradman may have been replaced in the citizenship test but nevertheless, his name is one that is soon learned by every aspiring cricketer and one whose record they would love to emulate.


Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Batman: Character Encyclopedia











Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Matthew K. Manning

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

208pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



We are definitely in the Age of the Super Hero as books and movies about characters from long-ago comics light up the eyes of our younger readers, particularly the boys.  The reserve list for anything of that nature was long in my library last year.

Batman, aka  the “Caped Crusader”, the “Dark Knight“, and the “World’s Greatest Detective” was first introduced to the world via Bob Kane, Bill Finger and DC Comics in May, 1939 – before the outbreak of World War II – and is as popular today as ever. After witnessing the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne, has declared war and revenge on criminals and using his Batman alter ego and his supporters Robin, police commissioner Jim Gordon and his butler Alfred Pennyworth, he goes forth to fight crime particularly his arch-enemy The Joker, using his intellect, his wealth and his physical abilities rather than any super-powers. His dream is to create “a better, brighter Gotham City”.  This creates a huge scope for writers to produce multiple stories of his escapades which have enthralled audiences for generations.

Throughout this time, many characters have passed through his life and in this newly-published encyclopedia, the reader is introduced to 200 of these through thumbnail sketches, “Vital Stats” and vivid illustrations. Each is designated with a ‘hero’, ‘rogue’, ‘ally’ or ‘neutral’ icon and there is a brief indication of what happened to them in the end. Each character has their own page and the reading is easy making this a wonderful way to capture those who are more entranced with film rather than text and who may be thinking that books have little to offer them. They might even be encouraged to talk about their particular favourite and write or draw a page for a new encyclopedia about super heroes.

For those who still like to teach children how to use encyclopedia, it has all the regular attributes including a contents page and full index (including bolded entries) and because the entries are not in the traditional alphabetical order of encyclopedic format, the reader has to use these to navigate the text. Great, subtle practice – a bit like eating vegetables disguised as drinks or cakes!

I can see this being as popular as all the other super hero titles on the shelves.

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy










Me, Teddy

Chris McKimmie

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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


“I am Teddy.  This is my scrap book.  It’s about me growing up from a little, tiny puppy with a body head and big brown melty eyes to a big black Labrador weighing 40 kilos (since I have been on a diet).  This is me, Teddy”.

Teddy rules the roost at the author’s house – in fact, Chris admits he comes a distant third after Teddy and  his partner Jackie – and this is his story.  From the time he devoured everything in sight, including one of Armin Greder’s Birkenstock sandals so he had to walkhop, walkhop all the way home to patiently waiting for Chris and Jackie to come home, Teddy tells his story in a style clearly inherited from his owners.  While there is his own commentary in continuous text, each page has a feast of pictures, comments and captions in scrapbook style that bring Teddy’s life to light.  And each read offers something new to discover. There is so much to find that it’s like a treasure hunt and young readers will delight in comparing Teddy’s ‘experiences’ to that of dogs that they might know.  While I personally understand the taking over of the bed and the forlorn look whenever I leave, I can’t share the macadamia nuts in the park episode – funny as it is.

As with many of his other stories, Me, Teddy is a collaboration from all of McKimmie’s family including his children and grandchildren and uses a rich variety of media that stretches from the front cover to the last, including the endpapers and even the publication page.  This adds so much interest and humour to the story and undoubtedly would encourage students to reflect on their own pet’s life and perhaps record it in a similar fashion. An introduction to writing an autobiography or a memoir perhaps, and certainly a heads-up to be more observant of those who fill our lives. The collaboration between family members  in deciding what is included could also serve as a model as the children could imagine the conversations and how discussions could be settled through negotiation rather than confrontation.

Over the years, McKimmie had written a number of books, all of which are very distinctive and several of which have been shortlisted for the CBCA awards, but this one has to be my favourite so far.  Perhaps it’s  because I’m a “dog person” but I found it so joyful and uplifting and so very different from his previous title, Lara of Newtown  In the meantime, I need to take my Ebony for a walk – she who clearly believes she is a chook just like the three she plays with every day. Now that would make for an interesting scrapbook page.

True Stories of Polar Adventures

True Stories of Polar Adventures

True Stories of Polar Adventures











True Stories of Polar Adventures

Paul Dowswell

Usborne, 2015

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



One of the first places on this planet little children get to know about is the North Pole, that legendary, mythical home of Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus.  Marked by a red and white striped pole and inhabited by the man himself and his wife, industrious elves and magical reindeer, it is a place of mystery, intrigue and imagination.

It is hard to believe that just over a century ago that that was exactly the aura that shrouded this place as expedition after expedition tried to uncover its secrets for over 500 years.  Perhaps that is why it was designated as Santa’s home – it was so remote and unattainable that no one would ever discover the truth.  From Sir Edward Willoughby’s unsuccessful attempt to find the northeast passage in 1553 until the still-disputed claims of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary in 1908 it, with its southern equivalent, was considered to be the Holy Grail of exploration.

This book, written for middle-upper primary readers, contains the stories of some of the most intrepid Arctic and Antarctic explorers – those who succeeded and those who didn’t; those who went for the adventure and those who went for other reasons – and introduces a new generation to the hardships, trials and tribulations of what such a short time ago was the last bastion of exploration before the age of flight and radio let alone satellites and GPS.

Included are the stories of Roald Amundsen, the first to the South Pole and who beat my own personal hero Sir Robert Falcon Scott by five weeks, but whose story is often over-shadowed by that of Scott’s because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Scott and his companions.  As I re-read the stories of the conquerors of the south, once again I realised the impact that their journeys have had on my own life all these years later as my mother was determined to visit Scott’s Hut (and did so in 1968 as the first female journalist to go south) and Scott’s story The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard was as familiar to me as The Famous Five!


Illustrated with maps of the various expeditions but sadly no photos, True Stories of Polar Adventures could serve as just the introduction to the exploration of these unique, hostile lands and spark an interest in what it is that drives people to put their life on the line to go where none has gone before and to delve deeper into these tales of “hardihood, endurance and courage”. This is but a taster of an extraordinary smorgasbord of adventure stories linked by the most hostile environments on the planet.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear












Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Lindsay Mattick

Sophie Blackall

Little Brown, 2015

56pp., hbk



Cole asks his mother for a bedtime story – a true one about a bear.  And it just so happens that Lindsay Mattick is the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian vet who, in 1914, was conscripted to join the war effort to look after the soldiers’ horses. On his way to the training ground far from his native Winnipeg, the train pulls into a station and Harry spies a baby bear on a rope held by a trapper who is unlikely to raise him and love him as Harry did all animals.  After a lot of thought, twenty dollars changes hands and Harry finds himself back on the train with the bear cub and a lot of curious mates and one astonished colonel.  But the bear whom Harry has named Winnie after his home town, wins over the troops and she soon establishes herself as the regiment’s mascot. 

Winnie travels with the soldiers to England, but when it is time for them to embark for France, Harry knows Winnie can not go.  So he leaves Winnie at The London Zoo where she is loved by hundreds of children including a certain little boy named Christopher Robin Milne – and from there a whole other story begins.

2016 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, this is a charming story that has that intimacy of a story shared between mother and child. Beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall with meticulously researched details in muted watercolour and ink colours which reflect the mood and emotions, it also contains photos of Harry with Winnie and other memorabilia that demonstrate the authenticity of the tale.    The conversations between the narrator and her son which are interspersed throughout the story not only add to its reality but also make it more than just a non-fiction recount.  With its undertones of A. A. Milne’s writing, and the final pages that trace the lineage of Harry Colebourne to Cole, this is a very personal account that is as engaging as it is interesting. Because she is telling the story to her own young son, there are several occasions where she chooses her words very carefully so he will not be upset and this then makes it suitable as a read-aloud for even the youngest of listeners. 

As the centenary of World War 1 continues, there are many stories commemorating the contribution that a whole range of creatures made to the conflict, but this one with its direct ties to the beloved character of Winnie-the-Pooh which all children know, is one that will linger in the mind for a long time.  A first-class addition to your collection commemorating World War 1, and, if you are lucky, you might also be able to pair it with the movie A Bear Named Winnie with Stephen Fry and Michael Fassender.