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.


I was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen










I was Only Nineteen

John Schuman

Craig Smith

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



The Snow Sister

The Snow Sister

The Snow Sister










The Snow Sister

Emma Carroll

Julian de Narvaez

Faber Children’s. 2015

128pp., pbk., RRP $A 14.99



It is Christmas Eve in Victorian England and Pearl Granger has just got into trouble for using her sister’s beautiful red and gold paisley shawl to adorn the “snow sister” she has made to honour and remember her sister Agnes who died from fever three years ago.  Since her death, Christmas has meant little to the family so Pearl is more concerned about the scolding she is going to get but it will be worth it because each year she builds herself a snow sister and each year she misses Agnes a little less.  Living in poverty means there is not a lot of extras for Christmas – even taking the two pieces of coal for her snow sister’s eyes means that the fire will burn a little lower that night despite the blizzard that is approaching.

As she trudges inside to face her due, she is met by the postman whose sack is weighed down by “these new Christmas cards” and he gives her a letter that she is to give her father immediately.  It is a letter that would seem to change the Grangers’ lives forever as Pa has been summoned to a solicitor’s office in Bath to hear the reading of his rich brother’s will – a will of which he is the ‘main beneficiary”.  Imagining new wealth beyond their dreams,  Pearl is sent to beg some more credit from Nobel’s Grocery so the family can have the ingredients for their first Christmas pudding since Agnes died but a series of circumstances see her getting to see the rich side of life that she fantasises about and helps her understand that all may not be what it seems.  Life is not necessarily about how many sugar plums you can eat.

As it cover hints, this is a poignant, heart-warming short story, beautifully written and illustrated with monochrome pictures evocative of the period, that not only paints a picture of the poor in Victorian England but also teaches lessons about the true meaning of Christmas and the power and importance of family love.  The rich–poor, upstairs-downstairs nature of society where wealth determines status is very apparent and readers will engage with Pearl’s almost Cinderella-like character in comparison to the snooty, spoiled Lockwood girls.

This would be a wonderful choice for a family read-aloud over a few nights or for the newly independent reader who is looking for more than a picture book story about Christmas.  Reviews of other books by Emma Carroll have suggested that she is an author on the rise and if  The Snow Sister is a sample of the quality of her writing, she is one I will look for again.  Definitely one for the Christmas collection.














Christine Bongers

Woolshed Press/ Random House 2014

pbk, 328pp., RRP $18.99

9780857983763 (pbk)

9780857983770 (ebk)

For the three years since her mother’s death from cancer, Kat and her dad, Jimmy, have lived a very private life, keeping themselves and their business to themselves, fearing another intervention from the authorities which will split them apart again.  Each night Jimmy goes out to play gigs in Brisbane’s bars and clubs and then backs up with the early morning shift at a local bakery struggling to meet the mortgage on the house that his wife loved, but also leaving Kat home alone at just 14.  One night, Kat wakes up to find an intruder standing over her bed, his hand on her leg and it is only her blood-curdling scream and the arrival of the hated woman-next-door with a softball bat that prevents the attack going any further.

However, this event is just part of a traumatic experience for Kat as it is the catalyst for an unravelling of her life as she believes it to be with all the fervour, tunnel-vision perspective and sense of rightness that 14-year olds have.  Born from a real incident happening to the author’s daughter who was eventually able to get over her guilt and start exploring the what-ifs, this is an intriguing tale of revisit and reborn.  Kat has been shaped by her past and her interpretation of events and is trapped within it, and it is only when she is offered the choice of staying with her neighbour, whom she hates so much she will not even pass her house, or having a guard dog which she fears as a victim of a savage attack that she is forced to find an escape route from the cocoon she has spun around herself and Jimmy. It is not an easy journey and in travelling it she has to confront fears and situation that challenge her beliefs, which, while making her very vulnerable also make her stronger.   

Intruder is a story that will be adored by those on the transition between childhood and adolescence.  It has just enough suspense to keep turning the page, but not enough to terrify; its characters are diverse, realistic, memorable and recognisable and show that we all need a little bit of everyone to enrich our lives; and the plot, while very plausible, is not so close-to-home that the reader will fear being alone or turning the light off.  While I’m not a fan of one-size-fits-all, I acknowledge that this story would have great value as a small-group read, perhaps as a book club, where readers can discuss its layers, explore the what-ifs, and perhaps not only gain some insight into that typical tunnel-vision of the age group, but perhaps develop some safety strategies as well. Teaching notes are available.

Christine Bongers’ two previous titles – Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson – have both featured in the CBCA awards lists which gives an indication of the quality of her story-telling and ability to reach her target audience well. 

Please note that this is a book for senior primary/YA readers.  It has been included here because it is a CBCA shortlisted book for 2015.