We’re All Wonders

We're All Wonders

We’re All Wonders











We’re All Wonders

R.J. Palacio

Puffin, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Wonder is the unforgettable story of August Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face that has touched readers all over the world as it became an instant classic, used widely for one-school-one read projects and spread through word-of-mouth recommendations.  Now Palacio has transformed the core message of that book into a picture book that transcends ages with its powerful theme.

Even though he does ordinary things like riding a bike, eating ice cream and playing ball, Auggie is not an ordinary kid because he does not look like all the other kids in his class.  He knows this and he knows they point and laugh and call him names which hurt his feelings.  But he and his dog Daisy have a remarkable strategy for dealing with things when they get tough… And it certainly puts the hurt into perspective.

Even though he knows he can’t change the ways he looks, perhaps he can change the way people see.

Echoing the cover of the original, Palacio has depicted Auggie has a one-eyed child wearing a bright red t-shirt which stands out like a beacon against the more muted tones of the illustrations, somewhat like Auggie himself standing out amongst the masses. And for someone with no face, Palacio has nevertheless managed to convey a whole range of emotions in the illustrations and text. Every word does a job. 

In a book full of messages about belonging and acceptance perhaps the strongest one is Auggie’s inner strength.  Yes his feelings are hurt but he has learned through his family’s love and acceptance of him as he is that he has the strength to endure, maybe even overcome the insults and prejudices.  Even though he needs time out to heal, he has the resilience to come back stronger than ever.  He knows he is a wonder, he is unique – but then, aren’t we all?

Those who have not read the novel do not need to do so in order to connect to this book (although this one may well inspire them to seek it out) because it’s message is more important than the character.  Every one of us is an Auggie in some way – try being a red-head with freckles and glasses in the 50s when Marilyn Monroe-types were the role models – so every one of us could be the central character.  Written sensitively and with a light hand, particularly when it comes to Auggie’s solution, this book should be at the core of any program focusing on mindfulness, well-being, inclusivity, acceptance of others and being enough just as we are.  Perhaps this book will, indeed, bring Auggie’s hope of changing how people see to fruition.


Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee









Little Chicken Chickabee

Janeen Brian

Danny Snell

Raising Literacy Australia, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.90


Crickle, scratch, crackle, hatch – four little chicks pop from their eggs of proud Mother Hen.  Each one cheeps as expected except for Number 4 who says, “Chickabee.”  This startles Mother Hen and the other chicks who insist that “Cheep” is right and “Chickabee” is not.  But Little Chicken is not deterred and goes off to see the world.  However, she finds that even the other farm animals insist that chickens say “Cheep” not “Chickabee” although when Little Chicken challenges them, they have no real reason why not.  

Showing amazing resilience, Little Chicken knows that while “Chickabee” might be different, it is right for her and regardless of the sound she makes, she is still a chicken.  Even when her brothers and sisters reject her again, she has the courage to go back into the world and this time she meets different things that make different sounds which bring her joy,  And then she meets a pig…

This is a charming story about difference, resilience, courage and perseverance and how these can lead to friendships, even unexpected ones. Beautifully illustrated by Danny Snell, this story works on so many levels.  It would be a great read for classes early in this 2017 school year as new groups of children come together and learn about each other while even younger ones will enjoy joining in with the fabulous noises like rankety tankety, sticketty-stackety and flippety-flappity as they learn the sorts of things that are found on a farm.

Given the trend throughout the world towards convention and conservatism and an expectation that everyone will fit the same mould and be legislated or bullied into doing so, Little Chicken could be a role model for little people that it is OK to be different and that no one is alone in their difference.  


Artie and the Grime Wave

Artie and the Grime Wave

Artie and the Grime Wave











Artie and the Grime Wave

Richard Roxburgh

Allen & Unwin 2016

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


When bully Nate Grime and his sidekick Wart throw Artie’s only pair of shoes over the overhead wires, they start off a chain of events that not only brings down the Mayor of the town but also provides for a hair-raising crazy adventure that will appeal to boys in those mid-late primary years.

Artie only has one pair of shoes because after his dad, a trapeze artist, died a few years previously, his mother has been so deep on grief that she has confined herself to the couch all but abandoning Artie and his angry older sister, Lola.  His best mate Bumshoe – (real name Alex Baumschule) suggests that they find paperbark trees to make new shoes from so Artie not only avoids his mother’s anger but can also go to school.  It is while they are searching for the trees that they discover a cave full of possibly-stolen-stuff and its sinister guardians Mary, Funnel Web and Mr Budgie.

Populated with a number of eccentric characters who all become part of Artie and Bumshoe’s attempts to get the truth out as they search for Gladys Unpronounceable-enko’s tortoise Gareth which has disappeared and desperately avoid the clutches of the ruthless gang, Roxburgh has written and illustrated a rambunctious romp that pits the skinny, awkward kid and his overweight mate against bullies, mean teachers and desperate gangsters that many readers will put themselves in the hero’s shoes.  In fact Roxburgh says, “”My oldest boy started to hit an age where I was conscious I was finding the books I was reading him as entertaining and amusing as he was,” … ”I thought I could write to that world, I could locate myself in that neck of woods and deal with that immature adventurous sense of play.

Because of his public profile, Roxburgh and his book received a lot of publicity when it was released in October 2016 and I was keen to see if the writing actually lived up to the hype.  Pleased to record that it kept me reading to the end and that I could ‘see’ young boys particularly enjoying it and recommending it to their peers.  A great start to the 2017 reading seasons.

small things

Small Things

Small Things










small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99



Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…


Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.


Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline 13 11 14

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!

Frankie the Blankie

Frankie the Blankie

Frankie the Blankie










Frankie the Blankie

Jennifer Sattler

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., board book, RRP $A11.99



Doris the Gorilla carried her bright purple blankie Frankie everywhere.  She loved it dearly and it was always with her giving her comfort and keeping her from being lonely. But one day  Rhinoceros tells her that only babies have blankies and Doris feels really embarrassed.  So she devises all sorts of ways that she can keep it with her so it is anything but a blankie – it’s a bandage, a hankie, a hat… But each solution has its downfalls until Lemur makes a suggestion and suddenly not only are Doris and Frankie reunited but they are the talk of the jungle!

Blankies are such important accessories for so many of our youngest listeners that this story will resonate with them.  The solid storyline will keep them engaged as they make suggestions about what Doris can to to keep her blankie without seeming to still be a baby (very important for toddlers) and the vibrant animation-like illustrations will attract their attention, taking them right into the jungle with Doris and at her level. How do they think she felt when Rhinoceros bullied her and why did she listen to him. What could she have done? Some food for thought as they start to interact with children beyond their siblings.  They might even re-think what they do with their own blankie.

This is one to share with the parents of preschoolers who are looking for something new to share with their littlies and encourage a love of reading.  

Stuff Happens: Dale

Stuff Happens: Dale

Stuff Happens: Dale











Stuff Happens: Dale

Adrian Beck

Puffin, 2016

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


Despite what Prince Harry has done for the reputation of redheads, being a redhead can still be a beacon for teasing and even bullying in schools.  It seems nothing has changed since the 50s when I was at school with my bright red hair, freckles AND glasses!  And so it is for Dale.  He has heard it all over the years – Ranga, Blue, Carrots, Carrot-top, Strawbs, Sauce – it seems there are more names for redheads than there are shades of auburn.  So it’s the last straw when Perfect Pupil Dan, lead in the school play that Dale has a non-speaking role as a monkey, taunts him.  What starts as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ quickly makes its way back to cracks about his red hair and Dale has had enough. 

At break he sits in the No Hat, No Play zone, his hat pulled tightly down to hide not only his hair but himself.  And it is there that the idea for payback is born.  And when he fails to bleach his hair with lemons (I could have told him it wouldn’t work and neither does pure household bleach) the concept of getting his own back and embarrassing Dan grows and grows, and takes shape when he discovers an unexpected ally in Dan’s best friend Boaz. 

But once the plan is hatched and put into action, both have second thoughts.  Should the efforts of the whole cast be overshadowed by their need to embarrass Dan publicly?  Is it too late to stop?

There are now twelve books in the very popular Stuff Happens series, each written by a leading Australian author who has a sound track record of writing stories that boys enjoy.  What appeals most is that each takes a very ordinary situation that everyone can relate to and builds a story from it that is both engaging and entertaining as well as thought-provoking.  Each is also a great demonstration in writing about what you know – taking an ordinary everyday event and building it into a story with ordinary, everyday characters whom readers relate to. So often we tend to act first and think later, but the stories follow through on the consequences of the actions (or their potential) and perhaps give real-life readers pause for thought before they take that last step.

This is a series that really appeals to boys – it didn’t stay on the shelves, if it even got there as episodes were eagerly pounced on as soon as they were returned  – and getting them enjoying reading with such quality stories is a match made in heaven.

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

Elephant Man











Elephant Man

Mariangela Di Fiore

Hilde Hodnefjeld

Translated by Rosie Hedger

Allen & Unwin, 2016

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


The publishers’ blurb says it best…

“’Gather round – prepare to be amazed! A sight so very gruesome that you simply won’t believe it. Ladies and gentlemen – THE ELEPHANT MAN!’

Joseph doesn’t look like other people. His skin is thick and lumpy, his limbs are oddly shaped, and his head has a big bony bump. People call him Elephant Man and scream in terror when they see him. But inside, Joseph longs for a friend to understand him.

As Joseph is bullied and rejected at every turn, his situation grows more and more desperate. But a meeting with a kind doctor holds the hope to change his life

Based on the famous true story of Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man is a powerful tale about being different, finding happiness in even the hardest circumstances, and discovering beauty inside everyone. The unforgettable true story of one young man’s immense courage and his unbreakable spirit.”

This is a heart-breaking but uplifting story of a young man so badly deformed that he was sent to one of the infamous workhouses of 19th century England at a time when any disability – physical or mental, visible or invisible – was treated with such suspicion that the only solution by ‘genteel society’ was to lock the sufferers away.  “Out of sight, out of mind” would summarise the concept well.  Seeking to escape, Joseph found that exhibiting himself in a human oddities show had more appeal than the life he was living – a sad indictment of the times, indeed. But out of the inhumanity comes Frederick Treves who changes Joseph’s life…

Merrick’s life has been the subject of books, films, plays and documentaries so that over 100 years on, it is still a fascination. This picture book, based on fact but ficitionalised by the inclusion of thoughts and conversations, and cleverly sprinkled with original photos and documents, might seem to have little place in the collection of a primary school of the 21st century. But it’s value is far-reaching for all Joseph really wanted was to be accepted for who he was inside, not his external appearance; as a person first and a person with an illness last.  Extreme example it may be, but what a discussion starter for body image, racism, religious perspectives and all those other characteristics that judgements are made on.  Older students might even examine Hitler’s view of ‘Aryan supremacy’ or Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise.

The book also stands as a testament to how far we have come in our perception and treatment of those who are not “perfect” in a very short time in human history.  As we mark the centenary of World War I, students are reading of those who returned disabled and “shell-shocked”, often shunned by society and certainly with little social support as attitudes did not change.  Indeed, the biggest turnaround was in 1981 in the UN-declared  International Year of Disabled Persons and there was a global spotlight on each nation having a plan of action for “equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities.”  From looking at something as basic as entry into public buildings we now have federal government legislation Disabled Standards for Education  which demands that we adapt our environments and our teaching for inclusivity.   While there is still much to do, gradually we are getting there and it is the understanding, tolerance and idealism of our young that will continue the march.  We should do these things because they are the right thing to do not because we are compelled by legislation.  

Elephant Man is not a gratuitous story about some freak-show oddity – it is a story about a man whose message reaches out across time to teach us so much about belonging, compassion and identity.  There is more information about Joseph Merrick at

Paper Planes

Paper Planes

Paper Planes










Paper Planes

Steve Worland

Puffin, 2015

pbk., 208pp., RRP $A16.99




The beige town of Waleup sits in the beige landscape of rural Western Australia and generally life goes on there in a beige kind of blur. Life for Dylan is fairly beige too, particularly since his mother died and his father has sunk into a deep depression, often not rousing himself from the couch for days on end.  The one thing that brings Dylan alive is Clive – a large bird of prey that he feeds a rasher of bacon each day on his way to school.  That is until a student teacher comes to town and initiates a paper plane flying competition.

Remarkably, Dylan folds a paper plane in the way his mother taught him that flies further than anyone else’s although because it is wind-assisted he cannot claim a record.  However, it does open up opportunities for him to compete in the Australian junior flying competition (and perhaps even a shot at the World Championships in Tokyo) giving him a focus and an interest that he has not had for some time.  But Dylan has many battles to overcome – his father’s inability to support him; a rich-kid bully who thinks winning is everything; the costs of getting to Sydney and Tokyo- and he learns as much about himself and other people as he does about flight.  But Dylan is not alone and with the support of his fabulous 90 year-old grandfather and the current world champ Kimi, he pushes on towards his dream.

This is the novel of the highly-successful film Paper Planes that captured the imaginations of so many during the recent school holidays and because of the huge potential for learning about science, technology, engineering and maths from paper planes I purchased my own copy.  Although there is a difference between writing a screenplay and a novel, nevertheless it was an engaging read that I think many who have seen the movie will enjoy.  It offers huge scope to collaborate with classroom-based teachers to explore a wide range of curriculum areas and for that alone, it should be in your collection.  I even found myself seeking out the greatest, addictive time-waster of 10 years ago where I once ranked in the top 100 000 in the world!

Even if you don’t want to organise a competiton in your school, your students will be really pleased they can now enjoy this story in print as well as on the screen.

Being Jack

Being Jack









Being Jack

Susanne Gervay

HarperCollins, 2014


pbk., 167pp., RRP $A14.99






Jack’s back!!! In the final episode of this contemporary realistic fiction for younger readers that includes I am Jack, Super Jack and Always Jack, Jack is back along with his Mum who has beaten cancer, sister Sammy, Rob his surf-crazy stepdad, Nanna of the purple undies, best friend Anna and Christopher from the Tran Bakery, as well as Ponto his potato/onion experiment which may one day feed the world – or not.


For an almost-13 year-old, Jack has dealt with some really big issues in his life – being bullied, his mum’s illness, her remarriage – but there is one more mountain to climb.  Jack’s last memory of his dad is his back as walks down the street saying he’s not coming back and for Jack to be good.  Jack can’t quite bring himself to see Rob as his dad now, and as he sees his friends interacting with their dads he starts to wonder about where his is. But how will wanting to find him affect his mum and his relationship with Rob?  With the help of Nanna he starts to search, but when he does find him the reunion is not all that he wants it to be. 


“I thought you’d call one day, Jack.”


“I thought you’d call one day, Dad.”


Intertwined with his search Jack also finds himself in the centre of a bullying pack again – this time it’s his close friend Christopher who bears the brunt of it via social media – and Jack has to use all the understanding and skills he has learned when he was the victim to bring about justice and a resolution.  All the time, he is learning as much about himself, his relationships with family and friends and his place within them as he is about the world around him. And you just know that as he celebrates his thirteenth birthday he is going to have the knowledge and resilience to get through his teens safely.


Gervay has created such a realistic family and such endearing characters that they could be any reader’s family and that adds immensely to the appeal because it is so easy to empathise and put yourself in Jack’s shoes and try to make the right decisions.  If you had the evidence against your arch enemy that Jack does, would you consult them about using it before you did?  This is just one of the dilemmas that Jack faces which really just hold up a mirror to the real life issues that we all have to face at times.  Jack’s uncertainty, anxiety and desire are part and parcel of the life of our students and for them to be able to read about themselves in such a well-written and entertaining way will not only help them feel they are normal but also help them understand that books and reading are for them.


This is a series that needs to be in every collection and promoted to staff and students alike as must-reads. Written with a blend of humour and drama, they have such powerful messages about survival wrapped up in such a well-crafted series that you just know this has come from real life.