The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope










The Garden of Hope

Isabel Otter

Katie Rewse

Little Tiger, 2018 

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


“Things had changed since Mum had been gone.  The house was untidy. Maya, Dad and Pip were a bit of a mess.  And the garden had become wild and overgrown. “

Each of them was sad and anxious, trying to help each other as best they could. One day, Dad tells Maya that whenever her mother was feeling anxious, she would plant some seeds because she knew that by the time they had grown, the worries would have faded. They were her “seeds of hope”.

So Maya decides to try her mother’s remedy, starting with planting sunflowers which were her mother’s favourite.  And gradually a transformation occurred – the garden started to flourish and Maya and her father started to heal. Despite the darkness and sadness, there was still beauty and hope in the world.

This is a charming story with illustrations as gentle as the text, that offer a wonderful strategy to help anyone, young or old, to deal with grief. Sometimes when we are overwhelmed by our emotions it is hard to see that time will pass – rather each minute seems to drag into an hour – so having something as simple as planting seeds, something  that could be done in almost any situation, and watching the progress of the flowers can not only offer distraction but also shows that there is movement in time, that some some peace of mind is possible and there can be unexpected rewards.  For Maya, the new garden brings not only beauty but bees and butterflies and other little creatures who find a home and sustenance because of her efforts.  And because gardening can be a solo or a shared activity that healing can help more than just the seed-sower. 

Children love to plant things and watch them grow, and many schools have established gardens, particularly kitchen gardens which supply the school canteen.  But how wonderful would it be to also have a flower bed, one where a troubled or grieving child can go to potter and seek tranquility and calm as they literally “smell the roses”.

This is a gentle, understated story that would be perfect to share with any little one suffering loss or heartache.



The Day War Came

The Day War Came

The Day War Came








The Day War Came

Nicola Davies

Rebecca Cobb

Walker, 2018

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


It started as an ordinary day- there were flowers on the window sill, her father sang to her baby brother, her mother made her breakfast, kissed her nose and walked with her to school,  School was ordinary too – she learned about volcanoes, how tadpoles turned to frogs and she drew a picture of a bird.

But then, just after lunch war came.  The devastation and desperation was complete.  The only salvation was to run – through fields, roads,and mountains in the cold and the mud and the rain; riding on trucks, buses, even a leaky boat and eventually up a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand. 

But war had come to this nation too – not the bombs-and-bullets type of war but one where hearts and minds are closed to those seeking refuge – until there is one act of kindness that changes both thinking and lives…

It is tragic enough that here in Australia some think it is OK to  put desperate children in detention, children who have suffered more than the decision-makers can ever imagine; but to know that Australia is not alone in this as evident by the recent policies of the US administration and that this poem was inspired by UK government refusing sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees in 2016 is heart-breaking and head-shaking.  How has humanity become so selfish it can’t give succour to a child?

Told through the eyes of the child it not only puts a face to all the children displaced by adult motives but also makes the stories and plight of these children accessible to young readers – readers who might be like the little boy in the story and start a groundswell of change.  It is a book that cannot be shared in isolation – it needs a conversation that focuses on the girl’s emotions and feelings; her resilience and determination; and the big question “what if this were you?” (and some of our students may well be able to tell us because it has been them.) 

In a world that seems to be driven by economics rather than empathy this is a book that might start to change things, if now now then perhaps for the future.  Perhaps it is time for another make-love-not-war generation, despite the current protagonists being the products of the previous one. 

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha










A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker

Candlewick Press, 2018 

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Just before the family leaves on a holiday at the beach, they bury their beloved dog.  As Sascha grieves and dusk falls, she takes her bucket to the ocean’s edge to collect stones to take home to cover the bare mound that is her dog’s grave.  Among those she picks up is one that is particularly bright and shiny and as she looks up to the stars she begins to wonder and trace the stone’s journey to its resting place on the shore.  From a meteor that hurls itself to Earth in the time of the dinosaurs to being picked up by Sascha and eventually placed on her dog’s grave,  it has a long and fascinating history that reveals itself in a series of stunning illustrations in this wordless text, traveling through time and across lands. 

But, perhaps most important of all, although Sascha continues to miss her dog terribly, she begins to understand that nothing is truly lost – everything, even a stone and a dog, has a history and a legacy and is but one piece in the jigsaw that is both our own and the planet’s story.  We are more than what is happening to us in the moment – all that has gone before has shaped us and what we do now will change us for the future. 

Described by one reviewer as the “young person’s Shaun Tan”, this story has so many layers to explore and ponder with each visit – Becker’s decision to not add text means the reader has to impose their own meaning for a wonderful opportunity to reflect and consider and wonder. Against the background of the muted palette, the gold of the stone stands out like a thread weaving its way through a carpet, just as our own individual stories while being but one strand of a much larger tale, nevertheless stand out for us.

The Dream Bird

The Dream Bird

The Dream Bird










The Dream Bird

Aleesah Darlison

Emma Middleton

Wombat Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


George was a day child – he loved to run and play in the sunshine and light.  But it was a different story at night time when it was time to snuggle down and sleep.  No matter what he did, he could not sleep.  Even following the suggestions of his family like counting 100 sheep backwards and drinking hot milk did not work. 

Deciding to try something new, he crept into Gran’s room but her bed is cold without her cuddles to make it cosy.  But as he slips forlornly to the floor, she slips into the room and tells him a story about a magical bird that will help him sleep and have the nicest of dreams…

This is a most intriguing story, one that has many layers.  Certainly, on the surface, it celebrates the power of the bedtime story as an essential part of the nighttime routine and it also opens up discussions about the importance of sleep and the ways we can help ourselves drift off.  But what is Grandma’s secret?  Is she alive?  Did she die in her sleep making George scared that that will happen to him?  Is it her “ghost” telling the story of the Dream Bird?  

The contrast in the illustrations between George the day child and George the night child using the softest palette and increasingly ethereal lines, the transition between the two parts of the story is perfect, and even though Grandma is the youngest looking grandma on the planet (probably appropriate given George’s age), it all goes towards making this another Darlinson delight that will entertain as much as it intrigues. 

Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel











Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99


In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.


NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)

Visiting You – a journey of love

Visiting You

Visiting You – a journey of love









Visiting You – a journey of love

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Andrea Edmonds

EK Books, 2018

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

There are many ways to visit Hope Meadows.  But whether you go by train, bus, tram or ferry, there is always someone sharing the journey with you.  And whether that is a scruffy, gruff man who is so tall he can touch the roof without stretching who lives apart from his daughter; a gruff and grouchy old man with hair like white fairy floss and a big round nose whose wife has died;  a grouchy and cross girl with hair as black as night and  ring through her nose whose grandfather no longer remembers her; or a woman as big as a bear with tattoos down her arms whose son may not recover from a motorcycle accident; each has the same purpose and a similar story to tell – the loss of someone they loved dearly, whom they miss terribly and who brought joy and love to their lives.  Each of them love and miss their family member just as much as the little girl loves and misses her dad, and while his journey has reached its final destination, this love continues and brings joy.
Undeterred by outward appearances, the little girl asks each the same question – Who are you visiting? – and in return discovers that love is what binds us together regardless of how we present ourselves to the world.  Rather than focusing on physical differences, it is the common humanity of the community and the need to give and receive love that binds us.  This commonality is echoed through the repetitive style of the text and illustrations which feature a pathway of love that connects the memories of each person.
This focus on our similarities rather than our differences is a familiar theme of many stories for children, but Visiting You stands out as it looks beneath the surface to our emotions and helps us understand that really, all you need is love. That will carry you through the most trying situations. It offers an opportunity for the reader to reflect on those whom they love and the memories they would share if something were to happen to that person, perhaps even create a class journey of love so they can be reassured that there is someone in their life who loves them as much as they love in return. 


The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool










The Whirlpool

Emily Larkin

Helene Magisson

Wombat Books, 2017

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


Life is lovely for Polar Bear Cub.  He has a happy, loving family where he is safe and protected.  He has friends and dreams for the future. Each day is better than the last and he is in charge of his life.  Even the stars shine just for him.

But suddenly all that is snatched away.  Without warning, darkness descends and there is no family or friends.  No hopes and dreams. Loneliness is his only companion – not even the stars are there for him.

Born from a uni assignment of using words and pictures together to make meaning, this is an unusual story because as the text speaks directly to the reader, it is the pictures of Polar Bear Cub that provide such a graphic interpretation of what they are saying, even though there is no reference to him in the words themselves. Together, they give depth and understanding to a situation that many of our children find themselves in when disaster and catastrophe strike their lives and all that is familiar is gone. Even its title is symbolic of the range of emotions that are within us, sometimes raging out of control but always eventually calming to a manageable level.

To children, some things – such as the coming of Santa Claus – seem to take forever, while to adults the time passes in a flash.  Similarly, to a child darkness lasts forever with no hope of light and their emotions are intense.  This book is written “for kids to know that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions. It’s okay to feel lonely, sad or uncertain – but these times don’t have to last. ”  

The well-being, particularly the mental health, of our students is receiving more and more focus in our curriculum as mindfulness programs are seen as crucial to a student’s success in other areas so this is an timely addition to that collection of resources to initiate discussions and provide support.

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man









The Fix-It Man

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2017

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


Dads can fix anything – that’s what dads do.  Kites, kennels, teapots – whatever is needed.  He can even cobble together a rug made of rainbows and old hugs for mum – but he can’t fix mum.  Not even with his special peach and honey brew.  Even the doctors and lots of rest can’t fix mum. Not even all the love in the world.  

And no matter how hard they try, little girls can’t mend broken hearts – not hers, not dad’s and not Tiger’s.  Well, not with stick tape or glue or needle and thread..  But dad has one more special thing up his sleeve  and together they start to mend.

This is a poignant story of loss and one that will resonate with many children who have lost a parent or other loved one.  With its gentle text and soft palette, even though it is sad it is not gloomy because the love between this family oozes from the page and from that, the hope is tangible. And the threads that bind the family are stronger and more enduring than nails, glue, sticky-tape or any other kind of man-made adhesive or fastening.

Grief is a natural part of life and while we might like to protect our children from it, nevertheless it happens and we often struggle helping them to cope with their loss.  This book allows conversations to start and explores the way it is an emotion that we each express and deal with in our own way.  Dad’s lap is cosy and warm but his face is crumpled and wet; pieces spill out from Tiger’s heart and little girls try to do what they can to paper over the cracks – but they are too wide. But together…

Whether shared as a 1:1 or as a class, it offers children the opportunity to talk about losses in their life and to learn that they are not alone in feeling lonely, lost, scared and even betrayed but there is love and it does get easier.

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

One Photo

One Photo

One Photo











One Photo

Ross Watkins

Liz Anelli

Penguin, 2016

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


One day dad came home with an old camera – the type that used film and you took it to get developed and you had real photos in your hand to keep.  Then he spends his time taking photos of things around the house.  Not the usual things that people photograph but odd everyday things like his cereal bowl and coffee cup.  Things that he didn’t want to forget as though he thought he was in danger that he would.

He got the photos developed and stuck them on the window in his study.  He used more and more rolls and took more and more photos, but he didn’t seem to want to take any of his family.  This upset them terribly.  “Aren’t we worth remembering?” they asked.

And then the camera was gone.  And so was Dad. For ever.  But one day the camera turns up in the post.  There is still a film in it and when they get it developed, there is just one photo. And finally his family understands the purpose and significance of all those other photos.

This is a most poignant story, one of the most unusual I’ve read in a long time.  And yet it is a story of many of our students, one that may be hard for them to articulate.  In the gentle drawings and soft palette it traces a father’s way of dealing with a terminal illness, one which affects his mind and memory but in a way that is filled with love and tenderness.  The endpapers are intriguing as they juxtapose two different types of photos – one set full of people shots, the other not.  Those of us old enough to remember “real” photos will be taken back to the days of  photo albums and the pleasure they give as they are dragged out so memories can be revisited and recalled, where only one or two photos were taken for posterity rather than the plethora taken today as though we live through the photo rather than the event, even though we might not look at the photo again. Photos were private memories not public trophies  And we will understand what Dad was trying to do and why the old-fashioned camera was so important.  It could open up a whole new world for students who may be scrambling to find such memories in a few years as technology moves inexorably onwards.

One Photo is different.  It’s sad and moving and yet offers hope for those who might be left behind – memories don’t have to fade.