Little Dog and the Christmas Wish






Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Little Dog and the Christmas Wish










Little Dog and the Christmas Wish

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog Books, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Kids' Book Review

Credit: Kids’ Book Review



The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon









The Cow Tripped over the Moon

Tony Wilson

Laura Wood

Scholastic Press, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $24.99



Hey diddle diddle

You all know the riddle

A cow jumps over the moon.

It happened, all right,

On a crisp, cloudless night

On the second-last Friday in June.

But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.

As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moan soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.

But what they don’t say in the songs from that day

Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.

It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…

And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.

The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”.  She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred.  Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed.  Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…

It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards.  As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days.  By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed.  They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.

But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.

“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.”  Steptember, 2016

Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births.  Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth.  It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.

But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.

There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember.  Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.

Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book.  I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.


Where’s Jessie?

Where's Jessie?

Where’s Jessie?









Where’s Jessie?

Janeen Brian

Anne Spudvilas

NLA Publishing, 2015

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


Strange things are happening to Bertie, Jessie’s beloved teddy bear.  One minute he is in Jessie’s arms as she sits on her trunk at the start of the family’s move into the unknown territory of the Outback and the next he is bundled into a squishy, smelly box!  There is no room for him in the family’s cart and poor Bertie is bewildered.  Even moreso when he is bumped along – badoumph, badoumph, badoumph –  as part of the cargo on the camel train. 

Night brings starlit skies and cold air rather than the warmth of Jessie’s arms as the cameleers shelter around their desert fire.

“Where’s Jessie?”

One of the camel drivers takes him up onto the camel but in a fierce sandstorm which whistles and screams and stings, Bertie topples off unnoticed – and then his real adventures begin.  Will he ever find his beloved Jessie again?

Author Janeen Brian first met Bertie in an exhibition of toys, books and games in Kapunda, South Australia.  Being rather old, he was a bit battered and bruised and looked like he had a story to tell – which he did.  The information on the accompanying card said that he’d been sent as a gift to little Jessie May Allchurch who lived at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs and after a lot of research, Brian discovered Bertie’s real story was full of riches and she needed to let him have one more adventure.

Told through Bertie’s voice and feelings it is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story that evokes all the emotions of being separated from a loved one. Bertie is frightened and bewildered at being alone, scared by the unknown noises and strange creatures as Brian openly acknowledges those feelings that readers have, almost giving them permission to experience and express them.  They are real and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Accompanied by illustrations that are full of the colour of the outback and rich in detail in a landscape often viewed as a vast nothingness, Bertie’s aloneness and apprehension become palpable and the reader is willing for a happy ending.

I adore these stories from NLA Publishing which combine the great imaginations of our foremost authors and illustrators with real-life objects and pictures of the NLA’s collection to tell the stories of our past and our heritage. They bring the past to life suggesting that everything in a library, a gallery or a museum has its story to tell and it is just up to us to take the time for our imaginations to roam and to gather the information to discover that story and add a little more to our own.  As always, there are pages of background information showing that this, like others I’ve reviewed recently, are very much part of Australia: Story Country.

Australian Kids through the Years

Australian Kids through the Years

Australian Kids through the Years












Australian Kids through the Years

Tania McCartney

Andrew Joyner

NLA Publishing, 2015

56pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99



“For tens of thousands of years, our first people lived in harmony with the land.  When Europeans arrived in the late 1700s, things changed forever.  Now, children of many cultures and backgrounds are born in Australia or come here and make it their home.  The way Australian kids live – the things they do and wear, the food they eat, the books they read and the games they play – have changed over time.  Come on a journey through the years with our Australian kids.”

In this exquisite book by Tania McCartney and Andrew Joyner, middle and upper primary students are given an overview of Australian history through the children who lived it.  Starting with Kiah who lives on the land with her clan gathering plants and moving with the seasons, through to Meg who is the daughter of a convict, Chi who lives in a tent on the goldfields all the way through to Isabella and Jackson, children of today, we learn about the unique aspects of life through the ages through “simple” text and double-page spreads of drawings with each element labelled to make it explicit.  Each spread also has text boxes about what was eaten, played, read and watched by the children of the time.

In addition, there are extra pages that show the illustrations held in the National Library of Australia that inspired the drawings and the text as well as information about the paintings themselves, all of which can be accessed through the NLA”s catalog.

The Humanities and Social Sciences strand of the Australian Curriculum (v8.1) for Year 2 “extends contexts for study beyond the personal to the community and to near and distant places that students are familiar with or aware of, exploring connections between the past and present and between people and places.” Students go beyond their immediate families and experiences to begin developing the concept of history and how the lives of people have changed over time;how they are both similar and different to people in the past and how they are connected to places near and far.  This is the perfect book to support this and could be effectively accompanied by the This House series of Learning Objects accessible through Scootle

It is ideal not only for the information it contains in its text, pictures and layout but also because of its origins in those paintings which fits the investigation of How has technology affected daily life over time and the connections between people in different places?” Will people of the future rely on paintings to know what our life was like?  If everything today is recorded in digital format, how will this be accessed when technology moves ever onward?  Has this sort of progression already happened? What is the role of print and tangible objects in preserving and passing on our stories?

A must-have in multiple copies in my opinion.  

Adelaide’s Secret World

Adelaide's Secret World

Adelaide’s Secret World











Adelaide’s Secret World

Elise Hurst

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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



Adelaide lives alone in a large city, sitting quietly at her window recalling the bustling life and the friendships that once were when people lived and worked in the neighbourhood, but now strangely silent as each individual hurries off after their own pursuits.  Hidden behind her red curtain, Adelaide is invisible to those scurrying along the streets, lonely and isolated despite being in the midst of so much movement and motion. It is indeed, a secret world. She amuses herself by turning her observations into artworks, making up stories to go with each character- those like her who are “the still ones, the quiet ones, those who dance and dream alone”. Capturing each in the clean, clear glass bubble of a terrarium, each discrete and disconnected from the other just as they are in real life.  But one day she is restless and she goes out – only to be caught in a thunderstorm which changes not only her life forever, but also those of those she sees each day.  The red curtain that has hidden her starts to unravel and becomes the thread that binds…

This is an enchanting, almost mystical story about being alone and lonely and having the courage to act when the opportunity arises to find the kindred spirit that each of us is looking for.  It matters not that, in this case, Adelaide is a rabbit and her soulmate is a fox – that just strengthens the message that opposites attract and the one we thought we could not be friends with, is actually the right one for us. 

The beautiful illustrations mirror the mood of the story perfectly – they are subdued and misty with soft-edges that suggest that blurry look of times past and times future as they lack clarity, but are sharp, bright and in focus in the here and now. Calm and turmoil are juxtaposed in colour, line and movement and are the perfect complement to the text, both the physical and internal storms that Adelaide has to weather.

On the surface this is a picture book about being lonely and then not, but it is such a universal story that contains so many metaphors both within and without that every reading reveals new layers.  Hurst writes, “The rain soaked windows glittered like a jewellery box.” In my opinion, this is a treasure chest with so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet











The Cleo Stories: A Friend and a Pet

Libby Gleeson

Freya Blackwood

Allen & Unwin, 2015

64pp. hbk., RRP $A16.99


It’s a rainy day and the gloom matches Cleo’s mood. She’s lonely and bored and is amusing herself by counting the raindrops sliding down the window pane.  Intent on counting to a zillion, she only interrupts her task when it is lunchtime.  By the time she has finished the rain has almost stopped so that puts an end to that and with all her friends otherwise occupied it looks like it is going to be a l-o-n-g afternoon.  Her mother suggests she clean her room and although that doesn’t appeal, something she spies on her way to do it, does.  But once again Cleo gets into strife.  However every cloud has a silver lining and while Cleo is scrubbing her hands to get the mascara off she sees her reflection in a puddle and that gives her an idea… and she finds a friend!

In the second story in the book, Cleo has fallen in love with her friend Nick’s new puppy, Peanut.  She would desperately like a puppy too but dad is adamant that that won’t be happening because of the cost and the amount of looking after they need.  Even when the puppy pees on her dress her determination remains and she tries the age-old art of pester power, but still to no avail.  Even Uncle Tom can’t help her this time and she is even more despondent when the children at school talk about their pets and she has nothing to say. But after an altercation with her dad about the snails in the garden, she has an idea… and gets a pet that costs nothing and is easy to look after.

Readers first met free-spirited Cleopatra Miranda McCann in the first book The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present which won the CBCA Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers in 2015 so they will be delighted that she is back with all her imagination and determination to seek solutions to her problems.  Gleeson has a knack of writing about events that will resonate with her target audience and Blackwood’s illustrations, based on her own daughter, contain much to explore while complementing the text perfectly. Newly independent readers, particularly girls, will be very happy to make Cleo’s acquaintance again and learn from her.















Danny Parker

Freya Blackwood

Little Hare, 2015

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


Remember the good old days before mobile phones and tablets became ubiquitous?  When children spent their time outdoors making their own fun and didn’t have time to complain about being bored?  Or that the battery was flat or their credit had run out?  Well in this beautiful story-in-rhyme inspired by the author’s daughter, Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood take us back to that time when hours stretch endlessly on a perfect day just waiting to be filled with imagination and fun.

Some sunshine and something to nibble

Some space with enough room to scribble

An apron and bowls for mixing

Some glue, and some things that need fixing…

Parker’s gentle words and Blackwood’s reflective illustrations take the reader back to a free, idyllic childhood that is easy to recapture as the children indulge in simple pleasures like flying a kite, going to the beach or just staring through the window at a stormy sky and letting their imagination run wild. Enjoying it as much as the children is the cat who accompanies them everywhere keeping careful watch and making the most of opportunities to snatch a treat or a cuddle.

Young readers will delight in recognising themselves in the story as they recall and recount days where they have done similar simple things like building a cubby from chairs and a sheet while, at the same time, getting ideas for new activities from the things that surround them. Learning about their neighbourhood will add a depth to their understanding of it and may even spark a new interest that leads them down new pathways.

Although on the surface this appears to be a book for younger readers, it could be the catalyst for the best times ever. Perfect for this time of the year when the holidays seem to stretch endlessly on now the excitement of Christmas is over, Perfect should inspire lots of activities that get the children into the fresh air and enjoying what’s on offer for free.  Once they start the range of escapades on offer will become apparent and they won’t want to go back to school!  Creating a plan and a budget and involving the children in the decision-making will engage them and develop life skills that will stand them in good stead next holidays!  They might even have so much to do that they start a list for next time!

So share the story, pack an adventure backpack and begin the explorations.

It’s also perfect for the story-in-rhyme item in the Share-a-Story guide.

Suri’s Wall

Suri's Wall

Suri’s Wall










Suri’s Wall

Lucy Estela

Matt Ottley

Penguin 2015

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


Suri lived a lonely life.  As if being isolated from the outside world in a citadel with a high wall and a guard on the gate wasn’t enough, being much taller than the other children has made them suspicious of her and she is shunned by them. She is so tall that she even has dinner at a special table and sleeps in a special bed. Her heart aches for their company but instead she has only the wall with its stones and mortar which gave her warmth when she touched them.  She even loved the iron gate!

Every month Suri measured herself against the wall until one day she discovered she was taller than it!  She could see over the top!  Not only that, she feels a tugging on her hand and as the feeling spread through her body, she discovers one of the children holding her hand begging her to tell her what she can see over the wall. 

 *Can you see, Suri?  Are you tall enough?”

“Yes, Eva, I can.”
“What’s there? What can you see?”

”What can I see?” Suri looked out over the wall.  “Oh, it’s beautiful, let me tell you all about it.”

As she tells the children of the beautiful sights she can see, they are entranced by her words.  Suddenly, the walls in Suri’s life are destroyed and at long last she is one of the children.  They were no longer afraid of her and she was no longer lonely.  And so the days go on and on and Suri entrances the children with stories of what she can see. 

But what Suri sees and what she tells the children are two different things… and even though she knows that they will find out that it’s not the rosy, dream-filled picture she has described, it will not be today that they discover the reality. Despite the war-torn town below, Suri tells the children what she knows they want to hear not what she can see.  Not only does it keep their spirits up, but ensures their friendship for a little longr.

Accompanied by stunning exquisite illustrations that capture Suri’s imagination, the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this is a most sensitive story about being different and being lonely. Within the wall, the palette is muted, almost gloomy but Suri’s visions are a riot of colour and joy. We don’t learn why the children are kept behind the wall but there are suggestions of children in detention centres in Australia peeking through, isolated through no fault of their own and desperately wondering what life is like on the other side of the fences that keep them confined.  But throughout there is a thread of hope, that the innate goodness of the human spirit will prevail as the children get to keep their innocence for a little longer.

This is a picture book for older children rather than the very young because those with a little more experience will appreciate the underlying story better, perhaps even understand that physical walls are not the only things that imprison us.  Just being different can be isolating in itself and hopefully something will crack the wall and open the heart.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Lara of Newtown

Lara of Newtown

Lara of Newtown











Lara of Newtown

Chris McKimmie

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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


When Misty’s owner becomes too old to look after, Misty is left wrapped in a basket and left like an abandoned baby on a restaurant doorstep in a busy street in Newtown, Sydney.   While she was well-cared for during the day, at night she was put in a cage and waited for the long night to pass.  All Misty wanted was a new home and to be loved as she had been.  One day her dreams came true and she was presented as a pet to Noni Nice of Pymble.  But when Misty did cat things like eating the budgie, she soon found herself back out on the street again having to fend for herself.  Until she was found by the Kafoopses who rename her Lara… Is this the home that she has been looking for?

Author-illustrator Chris McKimmie is gaining a reputation for creating quirky picture books that have many layers to them which is why they appeal to a wide audience.  Lara of Newtown is no exception.  Written from Lara’s perspective, the reader is drawn into the world of the abandoned cat and what it feels like to be so alone and unwanted. Even though McKimmie draws a bleak picture of life on the streets, nevertheless throughout there is always a glimmer of hope that this story will have a happy ending.  There are some very clever lines that give it an adult appeal too – look for the Bob Dylan reference – as well as a number of clever references in the details in the artworks like the low-flying plane being part of Duck Airlines.    

As well as McKimmie’s iconic illustrative style, there are a number of other illustrations interspersed throughout which are creations of the children in McKimmie’s life that add another layer, all of which are acknowledged on the publication page.  Even Misty/Lara is based on a drawing by a four-year-old. This approach, along with the random choices of font for the text lighten the theme of the story and add a touch of humour. Busy pages reflect the frenetic pace of parts of the story while those where Lara is alone and down are more subdued and empty.  There is a very clever meeting of visual effects mirroring mood and emotion.

On occasion McKimmie has created stories that some younger readers need help to interpret to appreciate fully, but even on just the surface level Lara of Newtown is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever had a pet as well as giving pause to ponder the stories of those we know are unwanted for whatever reason.  It could lead to interesting discussions about the morality of abandoning them, the annual message of ensuring pets are wanted before you give them as gifts, perhaps even the compulsory neutering of pets. Over and above that there is the theme of identity and the need to belong and to be loved that is very human.  Food for thought.  













Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2015

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Once Morris Gleitzman wrote a novel about Felix, a young Jewish boy growing up in the 1930s in a Catholic orphanage in the German mountains.  But Felix had two secrets – firstly he was not an orphan, and secondly he was not Catholic.  He was Jewish in a time when to be so was very dangerous. His parents, who were booksellers, told him they were leaving him there so they could find more books and they would send a message when they were coming to collect him.  One day, when Felix found a whole carrot in his soup he took that as the sign and he runs away from the orphanage, not realising the danger he is putting himself in as the power of the Nazi regime sweeps the world.

 Then Gleitzman wrote a sequel which begins with Felix, now 10, and his companion Zelda, 6, fleeing from a rail carriage bound for a death-camp.  Taken in by Genia, a Polish farmer’s wife, they are in constant danger of being exposed and being shot.

 Two more sequels followed – Now and After (described by Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Christopher Bantick as “one of the finest children’s novels written in the past 25 years”) and now we have Soon.

Felix is 13 and is still in hiding with the drunken Gabriek in the rubble and ruins of a destroyed city in Poland.  While the war is over, it is no longer the Nazis who are the enemy but the Polish patriots determined to rid their country of anyone, man, woman or child, who is not of pure Polish extraction. As the Soviet Red Army prepares to dominate and control the proud Polish people, Gogol and his ilk are determined that it will not happen.  ‘Poland has been crawling with vermin for centuries. Germans, Austrians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians.  Now we’re cleaning them up.” 

Felix has a much simpler ambition – “Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated. And they were. I hoped the war would be over. And it was. I hoped we would be safe. But we aren’t.”

Eking the most meagre survival from Gabriek’s ability to mend things, Felix is determined not to lose his humanity using his most rudimentary medical skills to help those in need while trying to avoid the partisans and the gangs and all the others whose only motive and purpose is survival.  Finding himself with a tiny baby to look after and unable to get help from the Allied teams trying to deal with millions of desperate and displaced people, he agrees to join Anya’s gang in exchange for food and warmth for the infant and finds himself in a whole new world of grown-up behaviour that no child should.

In this series, Gleitzman has tackled the most confronting of issues in the world’s recent history and despite the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence and the death that was the reality of the times it is essential that older children know these stories for they are the stories of their grandparents and their great-grandparents and are at the root of today’s multicultural Australia. Yet Gleitzman writes in a masterful way that not only exposes the truth, affects the reader and enables them to understand but still allows them to be  engrossed in the story. The fate of Felix drives them to turn the page.  Every event, and there are some that parents and teachers need to know may be quite disturbing, has its place and its purpose not only in the telling of Felix’s story but also in the understanding of the world today as we continue to see conflict across the world, refugees fleeing and perhaps even being in our own classrooms.

However, it is not all gloom and doom as throughout each of the books, Felix maintains his humanity, his humour and his hope.  He transforms from that young naïve little boy seeing a carrot in his soup as a sign to a compassionate, caring young man, older and wiser than his years as he begins to understand the causes and consequences of war.  Ceasefires and victories are just the beginning…

Whether this is the final in this compelling series remains to be seen.  Perhaps there is room for another episode entitled Perhaps…