The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the Willows









The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame

Robert Ingpen

Walker, 2017

64pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Bored with his annual spring cleaning, Mole leaves his underground home to explore his surroundings and discovers a small community of other creatures living on the riverbank of a gentle English river. His first new friend is Rat, and after a long lazy afternoon boating down the river, Rat invites Mole to live with him.  And then the adventures begin as he meets Toad of Toad Hall and Badger.

This children’s classic first published in 1908 has remained in print in many guises for 110 years as well as being converted to other media including  stage, film  and television. Now, an abridged version beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen is available for another generation to enjoy the adventures of these four friends in Edwardian England. 

Whether read aloud as a bedtime story, a perfect vehicle for introducing young listeners to the concept of “chapter books” where the same characters feature in a complete story in each chapter, or as a foray into longer books by the newly independent reader, timid Mole, friendly Water Rat, imperious Badger and mischievous Toad will find a new set of fans as yet another generation follows their fun and frolics.

Ingpen himself has an impressive body of work including a range of children’s classics, his work was launched with the release of Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy in 1974, and as the only Australian illustrator to have won the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, his portfolio would make an excellent introduction for studying illustration in children’s picture books.  

Storm Boy

Storm Boy

“I just want to make pictures that help get messages across and tell stories and, if children are involved, I want to be able to have them maintain their natural imagination for as long as possible.”

An exquisite addition to a personal or a library’s collection.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa's Island: Kira Dreaming

Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming









Pippa’s Island: Kira Dreaming

Belinda Murrell

Random House, 2018

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Life could hardly be more different for Pippa.  From a seemingly happy family living in a Victorian terrace house in London to a caravan in her grandparents’ backyard on a tropical island off the Australian coast.  Forced to make changes when her husband decided to work in Switzerland without them, Pippa’s mother has uprooted the family to a totally new environment where she is now running the increasingly popular Beach Shack Cafe created from an old, abandoned boat shed – a huge contrast to being a stockbroker in London!.

Pippa has a new puppy called Summer, is learning to surf, has settled into school and now has a group of friends – Meg, Cici and Charlie- and they call themselves the Sassy Sisters. 

This, the third in this series for independent readers, focuses on Kira Cove Public School’s talent quest.and while her friends are excited about performing, Pippa is very nervous. Singing to an audience is not what she likes.  After a disastrous audition the girls get a second chance, but can Pippa find a way to smash her stage fright before the VIP concert?

Meanwhile, at the Beach Shack Cafe a mysterious visitor is causing havoc when backs are turned. When Pippa finds a clue, she is determined to track down the mischievous cafe thief.

This series was going to be in Miss 11’s Santa’s Sack but when that got too full, I decided to hold it back till that time in the holidays when there is a lull in the excitement – in her case, wedged between Christmas and a new bike and going on Scout camp.  And it was a great decision because as soon as I gave it to her she was off to read it and has now read all three books in 48 hours and demanding to know when the next one is coming out.  She tells me she loves them because the story “sounds just like me and my friends and the things we do.”  I could rave on about the quality of Murrell’s writing and the way she portrays the characters, but surely there is no better review than a big thumbs up and huge anticipation from one for whom the story was written!

If you don’t have this series in your collection, then put it at the top of your to-buy list and let your girls have at it. 

Pete the Cat – Meet Pete

Pete The Cat: Meet Pete

Pete The Cat: Meet Pete








Pete The Cat: Meet Pete

James Dean

HarperCollins, 2017

18pp., board book., RRP $A12.99


From posts sent to a US teacher librarian network, Pete the Cat is one of the most popular characters for preschoolers and now our youngsters can meet him and his friends in this new tabbed board book.  With each character having its own tab, little fingers can easily turn to the page that they are seeking – a very early manifestation of the role of an index in the information literacy process!

With a strong emphasis on songs and music and a myriad of online resources to enrich and enhance the child’s experience, this little cat is sure to become a favourite here too. 

The Wolf, the Duck and The Mouse

The Wolf, the Duck and The Mouse

The Wolf, the Duck and The Mouse












The Wolf, the Duck and The Mouse

Mac Barnett

Jon Klassen

Walker Books, 2017

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


When the wolf swallows the mouse, Mouse is very surprised to find that his cries of woe wake Duck who is safely ensconced in bed and trying to sleep.  Because it is dark in the wolf’s tummy, the difference between daylight and darkness can’t be discerned but when Duck discovers it is morning he declares it is breakfast time and produces the first of many surprises for Mouse.

Explaining that on the ‘outside’ there was always the danger of being swallowed, but now that that has happened Duck has no intention of being eaten and so has set up home in the ‘belly of the beast.'”You would be surprised what you can find inside of a wolf”.

But their celebrations give the wolf a bellyache and his howls attract the attention of a hunter…

Despite the limited colour palette, there is much that is included in Klassen’s illustrations that those attuned to looking for detail will enjoy and which will make the ending not only surprising but appropriate.

This story has a fable/fairytale quality that is enhanced by both the choice of characters and the language they use, and its conclusion cements that.  While primarily for younger readers, it also has a place in the library of those a bit older as the underlying message that it is those who are flexible who will flourish in a world and time of change is so relevant.

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue




The Princess and the Christmas Rescue

The Princess and the Christmas Rescue












The Princess and the Christmas Rescue

Caryl Hart

Sarah Warburton

Nosy Crow, 2017

32pp., hbk. RRP $A24.99


Kept in her beautiful palace at the top of the world by parents who fear for her safety because of what lives in the surrounding forest, Princess Eliza is lonely  But even though she is stuck inside all day with no one to play with, she is resourceful and she figures out how to make almost anything with a few bits of wood and some string — including her own toys! But her parents think that her mechanical inclinations aren’t suited to a princess, and tell her she’d be better off devoting her time to searching for a friend.

But not being allowed to go out into the world makes that a tricky thing, and even drawing on her fairytales doesn’t help – the gingerbread man skedaddles, the frog she kisses doesn’t turn into a prince and even dangling her long hair out the window brings no visitors. But as she sits at the window she smells smoke drifting over the trees and is determined to find out who is making it and she slips out into the forest.  As a huge shaggy shape looms up out of the snow she is frightened but it turns out to be a friendly deer who carries to his master’s house where she finds elves who are overworked and despondent because  Santa has the flu and they’re unlikely to finish all the orders before Christmas Eve.

But Eliza knows just what to do – at last all that time spent with paper and paperclips, scissors and glue comes in very handy… but can she save Christmas?

Recommended by A Mighty Girl for being a story that empowers girls and encourages them to be “smart, confident and courageous” this certainly meets these criteria.  From defying her parents and going into the forest, demonstrating her inventive intelligence in an elves-and-shoemaker kind of way to save Christmas and yet still keeping her feet on the ground (sort of), this is a story that will appeal to girls everywhere and help take the sting from the word ‘princess’ that it has acquired over the last decade or so. Being clever, imaginative and inventive is not restricted to boys! And it could well be the springboard for kickstarting some problem-solving as Makerspaces need new life breathed into them at the beginning of 2018.  Students could brainstorm the other sorts of problems that Santa might encounter as he tries to meet everyone’s requests and then they could invent something to solve them.  

A joyful, fun story that will be a permanent part of my Christmas Countdown.

What Do You Wish For?

What Do You Wish For?

What Do You Wish For?









What Do You Wish For?

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Viking 2015

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


Each year the children in Ruby’s street put on a Christmas show with songs and costumes and real curtains during the party in the park at the end of the street.  Before that they decorate the big tree and each writes a Christmas wish to hang in it. Everyone has a wish but Ruby knows that the wish deep inside her is too big to put on a small piece of paper.  What could it be?

This is a charming story that reminds us of the warmth of Christmas traditions, the magic of wishes and a child’s timeless dreams – the patchwork of events and activities that make the memories for when they are older.  It reminds us as adults that no matter how old, tired, jaded, it’s-Christmas-again-already? we get, it is a most magical time for our children and the things we do will be taken on through their lives to their children.  They DESERVE our time to make it special for them, and if that’s the only thing we can give them then that is the biggest gift of all. To know that we are willing to pause our busy lives to bring some magic to theirs is often all they want – just like Ruby.

Ori’s Christmas




Ori’s Christmas

Ori’s Christmas








Ori’s Christmas

Anne Helen Donnelly

Self-published, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Christmas is coming and Ori the Octopus wants to celebrate Christmas with his friends.  But each friend has a request for what should be done or otherwise they will not attend.  Singing Christmas carols, taking photographs, wrapping presents, a Christmas tree, a hot lunch… all the common Christmas traditions are requested. But when the day comes and Ori has organised all that has been asked, each creature finds that they can’t do everything and all looks gloomy.  Until…

Bright, colourful illustrations accompany this original story which offers lots of opportunities for the little ones to join in with actions and comments about the special things their families always do at Christmas that would need to be included if they had been invited.

Notes for parents and teachers as well as some cut-out decorations that can be coloured and hung are included. Something different for very young readers.

A Very Quacky Christmas




A Very Quacky Christmas

A Very Quacky Christmas










A Very Quacky Christmas

Frances Watts

Ann James

ABC Books, 2017

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


Sebastian Tortoise is bamboozled by Samantha Duck’s Christmas preparations.  As she winds tinsel around the reeds, hangs baubles and her Christmas stocking on a branch, and sings “We wish you a quacky Christmas” while making a long list so she can give presents to all the animals in the world, he keeps telling her that Christmas is not for animals.  But she convinces him to help her by pointing out that Christmas is about giving and sharing and that they can make all the gift themselves by getting the other animals on the farm to help. 

To his surprise, the animals love the idea and each helps in their own way keeping Samantha and   Sebastian very busy.  But having made all the presents, delivering them on Christmas Eve becomes problematic – perhaps Christmas is not for animals after all.

This is a gentle story for younger children that celebrates the joy of sharing and giving, belief and perseverance and offers another perspective of the meaning of Christmas for little ones. Is Christmas just about receiving presents?  Do presents have to be store-bought, big, bright and shiny to be worthwhile?  What could they make by themselves or with a sibling or friend to give to others? Perhaps children could draw a name out of a hat and make just one present for that child as part of the STEM curriculum so each gets something and the pressure put on parents to provide presents for everyone that is becoming a common expectation can be abolished.  

Even though Sebastian was so sceptical he agreed  to help Samantha and he is the one encouraged to keep trying when all seems lost so explore the concept of friendship and how teamwork can often achieve the impossible. 

Unlike many books with a Christmas theme, this one is as rich in ideas to explore as Santa’s sack while still maintaining the charm and the delight of the season. 

Teachers notes are available but for me,  the story stands alone as a must-have addition to that special time of the Christmas Countdown at bedtime.     


Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise




Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise










Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise

Mark Carthew

Simon Prescott

New Frontier, 2017

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


On the first of December Marigold Mouse found a rather large box at the front of her house.  As she struggled to lift it inside branches and baubles fell out fueling her curiosity. But a letter from her mother soon solved the mystery – it was the family Christmas tree with all the traditional decorations that had been on it and held so much love and so many memories for Marigold’s family. 

Seeing her friend Marvin Mouse looking a little lonely and forlorn next door, she invites him in to help her to decorate the tree. And as they work together memories are unwrapped and revisited and shared as the tree begins to take shape until everything is complete and it lights up the night.

Told in gentle rhyme, this story is not only about the tradition of putting up the tree and reliving memories but also about sharing the times with those we love or who are feeling not-so as the festive time draws now.  It’s lovable characters, recognisable story line and bright illustrations will really appeal to youngsters on the Christmas Countdown and perhaps inspire them to think more deeply of the significance of those special decorations.

Unicorn Princesses (Series)

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses










Unicorn Princesses (series)

Sunbeam’s Shine


Flash’s Dash


Emily Bliss

Bloomsbury, 2017

128pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Unicorns are Cressida Jenkins’s favourite thing so when she meets one in the woods behind her house, one who needs her help and invites her to the Rainbow Realm, her greatest wish comes true.  

In Sunbeam’s Shine a blundering wizard-lizard casts a spell that accidentally robs Princess Sunbeam of her magic yellow sapphire. Without it, she loses her powers–the ability to create light and heat. The only way to reverse the spell is for a human girl who believes in unicorns to find the yellow sapphire and reunite Sunbeam with her gemstone. Sunbeam ventures into the human world and enlists Cressida’s help.

In Flash’s Dash, the annual Thunder Dash is approaching, and Princess Flash has opened the race to non-unicorns for the first time ever! Cressida is the first human girl invited to participate, but Ernest the wizard-lizard accidentally casts a spell that covers the race track in sticky, pink goo! 

Is Cressida able to help her new friends out?

Judging by requests by students and parents in forums I belong to, unicorns are the in thing of young girls and so a new series about them will be very popular, particularly one that is designed to be read independently by emerging readers or read aloud to those not quite there yet.  Illustrated and with a heroine who probably personifies the inner wishes of the reader to have their own special unicorn,  it is a light read that encourages them to find the magic in stories and they will be looking for the next additions to the series.