Up, Up and Away

Up, Up and Away

Up, Up and Away










Up, Up and Away

Tom McLaughlin

Bloomsbury, 2016

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


Orson loves to make things and he is always tinkering and experimenting.  His latest idea is the most ambitious yet, but what does it take to build your very own planet?  Can it be made with

  • A cup full of rocks
  • A dash of water
  • A sprinkling of metal
  • A lot of nothingness
  • A big bang …

BOOM! He has it – a tiny planet with rings around it, right there in his bedroom! But it seems that BUILDING a planet is the easy bit; taking care of it is a different thing altogether. Over time, Orson realises that his planet needs to be free and that sometimes you have to let go of the things that you love the most …

This is a quirky story that will appeal to the dreamers as Orson realises his dream after a lot of reading and research. Those with an innate need to invent and make will empathise with Orson’s need as well as his dilemma when he realises what he must do.  But there is a deeper message here. When Orson tries to keep his planet happy by taking it to the movies but it doesn’t respond, he undertakes even more reading to find out what it really needed – thereby posing a big question for the reader.  What DOES our planet need to keep it happy?  What can we do to make sure that it is?  

With its deceptively simple text and storyline and charming pictures, this book has the potential to spark an important investigation into all aspects of the environment and its sustainability.

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor's Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions










Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Clever Trevor’s name is not really Trevor.  It’s Stuart.  But nothing rhymes with “Stuart” and because he is so clever – he invented and built the Rabbit Brain Booster out of his dad’s old computer and a car battery – his friends have renamed him Trevor.  

But for all his cleverness Trevor was still failing at school, especially this year with Mr Schmedric.  Nothing Trevor submitted for his assignments met Mr Schmedric’s expectations – but then Mr Schmedric was one of those teachers who thought there was only one way to do anything.  He won’t accept Trevor’s inventions as acceptable solutions for assignments and bullies him mercilessly. He is the epitome of a nightmare teacher – and thankfully one that no student will ever meet.  

So you can imagine Trevor’s shock when he discovers that Mr Schmedric is not only confiscating his projects but he was selling them… and making a lot of money, which he makes sure Trevor knows about.  So Trevor and his friends hatch a plot to get their own back, but Mr Schmedric is smarter than they give him credit for.  When he threatens to make Stuart repeat his class next year, they have to come up with a new plan…

This is another very funny book-length cartoon from the talented Andrew Weldon.  We first met Clever Trevor as a friend of Steven, The Kid with the Amazing Head,  and now he comes into his own.  It is an engaging tale which brings up all sorts of issues about the ethical use of information and ideas as well as the concept of power.  Can authority be misused?  Is it possible for the underdog to win? Can brains overcome brawn?

Younger readers, particularly the boys and those who are reluctant readers, will enjoy this story in its very accessible format and will be eagerly awaiting a new adventure from this talented creator. And in the meantime they can use the makerspace to create their own great invention!

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head










The Kid with the Amazing Head

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

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


Steven wakes up one morning to find that he can make his head do anything he wants.  He can look like other people,  He can shove a piano up his nose. He could have a hundred eyes or look like other people.  He could even turn his ears into sails to make travel faster!  

But will he use this unique ability for good or for evil?  Will be and his friends Clever Trevor and  Small Paul catch bank robbers or be bank robbers?  

Mostly, Steven uses his power to amuse and amaze but one day the friends see a Missing Persons poster for Claire Blairey, daughter of Mary Blairey who was the inventor of the very popular Hairy Mary’s Scary Fairies and that give the three boys an idea…

Andrew Weldon is a cartoonists whose work has been in many well-known newspapers and is now carried over into this new book that is going to appeal to newly-independent readers who like stories about weird and wacky characters that are an integral mix of text and illustration.  If the concept alone isn’t funny enough there is a lot more humour embedded in the cartoons as the story unfolds and this encourages the reader to pay close attention to both.

I think this will be one of those books that takes off with the Year 1-4 boys and will be in hot demand (along with Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions).

There is an interview with the creator about his cartooning career on ABC Rollercoaster which may be inspirational and aspirational for those who are constantly doodling.

Tashi and the Wicked Magician

Tashi and the Wicked Magician

Tashi and the Wicked Magician











Tashi and the Wicked Magician

Anna Fienberg & Barbara Fienberg

Geoff Kelly & Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2016

96pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


The only thing that spreads faster than a cold through a primary school is the news that there is a new Tashi book out and the library has a copy!

In this new paperback addition to the series, Tashi – that magical little chap who has big adventures – features in five new stories and confronts fearsome opponents set on destroying his village and his peace.  This time there’s a  magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

Originally published in hardback format in 2014, this is a timeless series that continually appeals to those newly independent readers who are stepping out into the world of fantasy.  The stories are short, the illustrations colourful and the characters are clearly good or evil.

Back in the days when I was co-ordinating Read Around Australia I ran a book rap based on all the Tashi novels published at the time. Small groups of students selected one story and had to write a synopsis and then pose a series of questions that would challenge the thinking of other students around Australia who had to answer them.  What they discovered was that each story threw up a number of ethical questions that could be discussed and debated and so they became so much more than an introduction to fantasy and an easy read.  These new stories are similar – is saving the greedy Baron’s treasure a worthy cause worth risking your life for? 

If you want to capitalise on the fascination for Tashi,  then check out A Flight of Fantasy, a unit of work based on the series and available for free through the National Digital Learning Resources Network.  Log into your Scootle account and search for R11582.  It’s written for Years 5/6 but can easily be adapted for younger students.

Many will be familiar with Tashi through the series screened on the ABC – they will be delighted to know they can meet him again and share his adventures in the world of print.  He even has his own website.  

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure








LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – City


LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – Star Wars


Dorling Kindersley, 2016

Kit including hbk book and LEGO pieces, RRP $A39.99

An unusual review today but one deliberately chosen to alert you to a new series of books published by Dorling Kindersley and released here through Penguin.  Given the buzzword of the moment in school libraries is ‘makerspaces’ and there are constant requests to the forums I belong to for ideas about activities that can be offered, especially those which enhance the library experience as well as the design, make, appraise process, this series offers a wide-ranging solution.

While we are all familiar with the regular box of Lego bricks and paper instructions for making what’s inside (instructions which always get damaged or lost), the instructions for these creations come in a hardcover book with the LEGO pieces in a separate container which can be opened out to form the foundation of the adventures. They are enclosed in a sturdy slipcase which makes for easy storage. The box also has a pictorial list of its contents so putting them back should be easy. 

Each comes with a mini-figure and a vehicle related to the theme – City has a fireman and a firetruck while Star Wars has a rebel pilot and Y-Wing Starfighter – and the makers are encouraged to build them from the supplied bricks following the very clear, full-colour numbered instructions.  Then, within the book there are suggestions for building further adventures using their own bricks to create their own story.  Each is divided into chapters with clear pictures of the models that could be built to enhance the telling although instructions are not given because builders might not have the precise bricks used.  For example, in City which features Ed the firefighter there are clear pictures to build the fire station environment as well as suggestions for uniform lockers, a town map and a tool bench.  Each chapter then features a cityscape with a range of related suggestions for getting the imagination and creativity into top gear.

For those new to LEGO there is a pictorial ‘glossary’ identifying terminology with examples so budding builders can hunt through their existing LEGO collection to find the sorts of pieces they will need, as well as five pre-build checks which would make a handy poster to display in the makerspace.

  1. Organise your bricks into colours and types
  2. Be creative and substitute other bricks if you don’t have the exact one in the plan
  3. Research what you want to build by finding pictures on it in books or online
  4. Have fun and if something isn’t what you thought it would be, change it to something else
  5. Make a model stable to house the creations

While each of the books in the series would be perfect for an individual LEGO fan, their appeal for the library collection is that there are plenty of ideas and opportunities for groups of builders to collaborate and negotiate to build an entire scene that could then be photographed and used as an individual story stimulus, allowing each to create and achieve at their own level.

Whether your library or school has an existing LEGO collection or is just starting to acquire one, this series is an excellent starting point to giving its place in the makerspace and the curriculum focus and purpose, not just for the thinking and building processes involved but also those essential people skills of collaborating, negotiating, making suggestions tactfully, offering feedback and being a team member.   

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Toad Delight

Toad Delight

Toad Delight








Toad Delight

Morris Gleitzman

Puffin, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


He’s back!!!!  That ugly, poisonous, gentle-hearted cane toad Limpy is back!!!  In his fifth adventure just in time to be introduced to a whole new generation of newly independent readers who just want a light-hearted read full of fun about Australia’s public enemy #1.

After doing his usual morning rounds of saying goodbye to his relatives that have been squished flat as a placemat by cars and baked as hard as a pizza in the sun, Limpy goes to check on his cousin Goliath to try to stop him getting himself killed by threatening traffic.  But this morning Goliath is not at his normal spot in the swamp sharpening sticks to wave at cars and trucks and yelling obscenities at them –  this morning he is sitting on a mound of freshly picked waterlilies, his arm around a penguin-like creature that turns out to be a child’s backpack.  And there the trouble begins.

Goliath has fallen in love and when the owner of the backpack takes it away from him, he is so distraught and heart-broken he is determined to find ‘Penny’ again, even if it means venturing into the city.  In the meantime, Limpy has decided that the reason that humans don’t like cane toads is because they see them as greedy and mean and he is on his own quest to persuade both his relatives to change their ways and for humans to form a different perception.  So when there is an opportunity for the two of them to get to the city, albeit with a camera crew for a television show, they don’t hesitate.  What they don’t realise until it is almost too late, is that this television crew is from a culinary show specialising in unusual ingredients and their next big thing is going to be battered cane toad buttocks…

Gleitzman is a master storyteller and it is hard to grasp that the author who introduced us to the sombre story of Felix in the series Once, Now, Then and Soon is also the creator of this crazy, humorous, mad series about a cane toad with a squashed right leg (that predicts the weather) who has delighted readers since we first met him in 1999 in Toad Rage when he tried (and failed) to have cane toads become the mascots for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.  Since then, thousands and thousands of children have followed his madcap adventures, always pushing the good side of the species, through Toad Heaven, Toad Away and Toad Surprise. Toad Delight is just as much fun and begs to be shared aloud and read alone but not before a meal.  (Perhaps not immediately after it, either.) 

With its Olympic theme, now might be a prime opportunity to introduce new audiences to Limpy through Toad Rage and then tantalise them with Toad Delight as the next course. 

No child should complete primary school without knowing this endearing little character and his loving rellies.


Morris Gleitzman promotes Toad Delight in Canberra

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection







Charlie and the Chocolate Factory






Roald Dahl

Puffin, 2016

pbk., RRP $A16.99

On September 13, 1916 one of the greatest children’s authors of all time was born and in just 43 days there will be great celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.  There are many events planned, particularly in the UK but to mark the occasion here, Penguin Random House have relaunched a number of his most popular books, bringing the works of this word wizard into the world of a new generation.

Originally written in 1964 and already over 50 years old, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is arguably the best-known of Dahl’s creations having been made into a movie in both 1971 (under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and in 2005. It was also converted to an opera The Golden Ticket in 2010 and a musical in 2013.  It is the story of poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket who wins one of five golden tickets (along with Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregard) to visit the mysterious, magical chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willie Wonka and the adventures that befall them. 

Matilda is the story of child genius Matilda Wormwood who loves to read and study but who is regarded by her ignorant, self-absorbed family as a freak and a scab.  This does not deter her in any way for she is smart enough to see them for what they are.  It also features the lovely Miss Honey and the frightening, stereotypical principal Miss Trunchbull who has her own reasons for being so nasty that the children live in fear of her.  This has also been made into both a movie and a musical. (Tickets to the Brisbane production of this are part of the Readathon prize)

In 1982, Dahl wrote The BFG introducing us to Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, a host of very unfriendly giants and his wonderful way with words that speak directly to his audience.  Few children would not know what a whizzpopper is and be able to explain its cause and effect  particularly after the release of the movie that was such a hit in the recent school holidays.

Dahl’s writing career spanned five decades and during that time he brought love and laughter, mystery, mayhem and magic into the lives of millions – telling stories that engage adults as much as children.  These three are just a tiny portion of those he wrote and having been translated into 55 languages, there would be few who would not know of his genius and had a little light brought into their lives because of it.  Publishers Penguin Random House have launched a readathon competition to celebrate this milestone but for me, it will be about sharing my favourite story (George’s Marvellous Medicine) with Miss 5 whom I know is going to make a reading friend for life

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade











Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Kate and Jol Temple

Jon Foye

Allen & Unwin, 2016

160pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



It all starts in History Week when Jimmy Cook discovers three things…

  1. Captain Cook was the greatest explorer that ever lived.
  2. Captain Cook is his great grandfather 32 times removed
  3. Third grade is going to be the best year of his life.

He also discovers that he and said Captain Cook have three things in common…

  1. They share the same name
  2. They are both great explorers
  3. They both look good in a tricorn hat.

Discovering these things is almost as good as the escape of the class’s pet ambystona mexicanum (axolotl) and helps the younger James Cook discover there is more to history than that discovered so far on  His interest wanes fractionally when Ms Fennel insists that each student keeps a diary of Cook.  Jimmy is having none of this “sitting down with a fluffy purple pen and drawing rainbows that smile and flowers with tears.”  Diaries are definitely girl things and Captain James Cook would never have done that as he bravely explored the high seas, but he changes his mind when Ms Fennel points out that a ‘boy diary’ is called a log, and Captain James most definitely kept one of those. 

So for the next six weeks Jimmy Cook keeps a log, starting with a note of the weather and an inventory of his pockets, as all logs do. He shares his excitement at having to dress as Captain Cook and his bitter disappointment when he discovers that the local museum does not have HM Bark Endeavour but just an old nail.  But it his discovery that Cook died a violent death in Hawaii, a land surely still inhabited by savages who need to be tamed that provide the impetus for him to get to Hawaii himself, and the discovery that a cereal company is offering an all-expenses paid trip there to the person who collects the most coupons could be his means to get there.

This is a rollicking, fast-moving story full of typical Year 3 thoughts and humour that will carry the reader along, eager to discover whether Jimmy beats his rival Alice Toolie in the coupon collection stakes and whether he does make it to Hawaii to tame the savage beasts who killed his hero and great grandfather (32x removed).  With the diary entries keeping chapters short and interspersed with graphics that could have been drawn by Jimmy himself, it has broad appeal for younger readers who will see themselves in the story somewhere.  It has its serious moments, particularly when Jimmy does work experience as a Town Crier helping Bernie the homeless man sell The Big Deal, but all in all, it’s an engaging read that will inspire our younger boys to keep reading. 

They can discover more on YouTube at and look forward to Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot.

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.

Stuff Happens: Luke

Stuff Happens: Luke

Stuff Happens: Luke











Stuff Happens: Luke

James Valentine

Puffin Books, 2016

120pp/. pbk., RRP $A9.99



Every now and then everyone gets scared – that’s normal.  But when even the mere thought of something like a spider, being shut in a small space, going into the outdoors, the calendar showing Friday the 13th totally freaks you out, then that’s a phobia.  And Luke has the most common phobia of all – glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. He can talk normally with his mates, his family, even his teacher in informal situations but ask him to speak in front of a crowd, even his classmates, and he freezes.  The words just don’t come at all. 

As the summer holidays come to an end and Year 5 looms, he is freaking out that he will be in 5H, Miss Hobbie’s class, because everyone knows that Term 2 is Speech Term and the whole focus is on preparing a speech for the class in the final week.  And his panic continues as his name is called for 5H, even though it is just Day One of Term One. Before he knows it Term Two arrives and as he expected, it’s Speech Term.  Even though his classmates know of his phobia and accept it as part of his being Luke, he labels himself a loser because of it and he is unable to overcome his fear.  He can’t even think of a topic, such is his mindblock. When Miss Hobbie learns of his condition from Perfect Pupil Dan, she sets out to help him suggesting he talk about phobias generally thinking that it will help Luke understand is condition and that it is very common. But it is his Dad, the one with his own YouTube channel, who comes up with the ultimate solution. Yet, when the big day comes Luke faints – even understanding that he has a phobia and being able to be word-perfect with his speech does not negate it.  Even fainting does not deter Miss Hobbie from insisting her deliver so while Luke doesn’t overcome his fear, he finds a solution that not only works for him but leads him down a new pathway, one that will build a stronger relationship with his dad.

Each year students across Australia participate in public speaking assignments whether they are comfortable like Dan or fearful like Luke.  There is an expectation that it is something that comes easily to kids who talk all the time anyway, and it will help them learn to articulate their thoughts in formal situations, use their voices and body language effectively, and boost their confidence in themselves.  But what if there are those like Luke?  What if this expectation of having to speak, let alone compete, starts to grip them months before the actual delivery date?  Teachers who seem to be comfortable in speaking to large groups because it is such a part of what we do, can learn as much from this new book in this terrific series as Luke does. 

So often boys see their fears and inabilities as weaknesses.  They look at the Dans of the world who seem to be so confident and so able and compare themselves, find they don’t measure up and label themselves losers affecting their self-esteem and self-confidence that it often becomes a downward spiral sometimes with disastrous consequences as they hit their teens.  The facts and statistics for suicide in Australia are scary and while we are not in the top 25 countries, nevertheless there are nearly 8 deaths each day because of it.  While reading Stuff Happens is not necessarily going to impact on that rate, the stories that are told are important for boys to see that no one is an all-macho hero like their comic-book favourites or even the peers they have put on a pedestal, that everyone has at least one Achilles heel and that the things that worry and scare them also worry and scare their friends. They are not alone. 

Susannah McFarlane, the series editor, has created something akin to the Men’s Shed for boys with this collection of stories that are so modern and so relevant.  World-class authors who create stories about the everyday things and write them in an unpatronising way that speaks directly to the reader, helping them to understand that not being able to do this or fearing that have to have an impact.  It’s OK to not be “perfect” and with each story ending on such a hopeful note for the future, young readers are encouraged to seek  their own solutions.  No wonder this series is so popular with my boy readers.