The Big Flood

The Big Flood

The Big Flood









Juliet Nearly a Vet: The Big Flood

Rebecca Johnson

Kyla May

Puffin, 2016

84pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Juliet and her best friend Chelsea love animals, and Juliet KNOWS she will be a vet.  Problem is, she’s only ten years old so she has a bit of time before she can go to university and start the study.  But she’s getting a head start by helping her mum in her veterinary practice, keeping her vet diary meticulously and making sure her emergency kit is always on hand. Chelsea is also an animal fanatic but her dream is to be a world famous trainer and groomer. 

In this, the 11th in this series, Juliet and Chelsea are involved in rescuing a variety of creatures after rain has deluged the land and left it flooded.  The first task is to get their neighbours’ alpacas to higher ground and while the cria goes willingly on the boat, its hembre (mother) is a little more hesitant.  Once that task is complete, they head for home but Juliet is sure she spots movement on an island and wants to stop. However, her mother is anxious to get back to the surgery in case neighbours have brought in any emergencies and so Juliet is left frustrated.

She is determined to confirm what she saw and so with the help of Chelsea and her dad (who is afraid of animals, particularly mice) she sets off in Chelsea’s brother’s canoe to investigate.  And sure enough, there is a whole menagerie there including mice, lizards, stick insects and an echidna who is struggling to breathe.

This is a series that is loved by young girls who love animals and who are independent readers. The combination of strong, independent girls who are “clever, almost grownups” and animals mixed with a touch of humour is  unbeatable. It’s written by Rebecca Johnson who is the author of so many of those delightful junior non-fiction titles photographed and published by Steve Parish, and illustrated with cute pictures by Kyla May.  Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Juliet’s vet diary which actually include some interesting facts such as those about the alpacas and which could be a model for the other Juliets in the offing.  There’s also a quiz at the end of the book that enhances the learning.

All the books in the series are listed here. If your library doesn’t have them they are a worthwhile investment because they tick so many boxes for the Year 2-4 reader.

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens










Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

R. A. Spratt

Random House, 2016

240pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  But right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend the school.

And so, in this the fifth episode in the series, Friday is well-known to all at the school , either having got them into trouble or out of it at some stage.  

Unfortunately, things do not start well for our heroine as she is immediately suspicious when the father of Ian Wainscott, best described as her frenemy arrives, declares he has been cleared of all charges and wants to whisk Ian off to the Cayman Islands.  Using her knowledge of remarkable things, Friday not only proves the papers he is waving are frauds but she works out why he wants Ian so desperately.  Thus Ian is not only once again reminded of his father’s lack of love for him but it’s done in front of his friends.  So he sets out to get revenge and Friday becomes the butt of numerous pranks that actually put her in danger.

Throw in a decidedly dodgy art teacher who has a huge tax debt and no income, someone mysteriously defacing the school’s artworks with graffiti, a new PE teacher who thinks he can break Friday’s will and the ever-present Melanie whose droll comments add so much humour to the situation and here is another great tale for those who are independent readers and who are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary heroine.  Throughout the story Friday finds herself embroiled in a number of incidents, all of which she solves with her incredible knowledge and logic, and all of which eventually contribute to the big picture in some way.

This is a series that is best read in sequence as one book leads to another and the last few pages of this one set the scene for Danger Ahead which will be released in January 2017. Independent readers from Yr 3+ will love it.

Copy Cat

Copy Cat

Copy Cat










Copy Cat

Ali Pye

Nosy Crow, 2016

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


Bella loves Anna so much that she wants to be just like her – so much so that she copies everything Anna does.  Whether it’s playing with the hula hoop, being a ballerina or a pirate, Bella is right there being Anna’s mirror.  But trouble erupts when Anna decides to be a princess and Bella copies her as usual, but there is just one crown…  Anna gets very cross and tells Bella to stop copying her and goes off to play be herself. 

At first Bella is sad because she has no one to copy and no one to play with – and then she discovers a skipping rope in her toybox.  And as she practises and practises, Chloe looks on wishing she could skip too.

“It’s easy!” said Bella.  “Just copy me!” 

And then Anna comes looking for Bella…

Even though this story stars three cats, it could quite easily focus on three children in the playground so well does it reflect the different dynamics of friendships and activities as they ebb and flow.  Told with a lot of repetitive text that invites the young reader to join in, it not only engages them that but also opens up opportunities to talk about friendships and how to make and maintain them.  The eye-catching, colourful illustrations add an extra dimension to this well-told tale that is perfect for early childhood readers who enjoy something a little different. 

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure

LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure








LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – City


LEGO: Build Your Own Adventure – Star Wars


Dorling Kindersley, 2016

Kit including hbk book and LEGO pieces, RRP $A39.99

An unusual review today but one deliberately chosen to alert you to a new series of books published by Dorling Kindersley and released here through Penguin.  Given the buzzword of the moment in school libraries is ‘makerspaces’ and there are constant requests to the forums I belong to for ideas about activities that can be offered, especially those which enhance the library experience as well as the design, make, appraise process, this series offers a wide-ranging solution.

While we are all familiar with the regular box of Lego bricks and paper instructions for making what’s inside (instructions which always get damaged or lost), the instructions for these creations come in a hardcover book with the LEGO pieces in a separate container which can be opened out to form the foundation of the adventures. They are enclosed in a sturdy slipcase which makes for easy storage. The box also has a pictorial list of its contents so putting them back should be easy. 

Each comes with a mini-figure and a vehicle related to the theme – City has a fireman and a firetruck while Star Wars has a rebel pilot and Y-Wing Starfighter – and the makers are encouraged to build them from the supplied bricks following the very clear, full-colour numbered instructions.  Then, within the book there are suggestions for building further adventures using their own bricks to create their own story.  Each is divided into chapters with clear pictures of the models that could be built to enhance the telling although instructions are not given because builders might not have the precise bricks used.  For example, in City which features Ed the firefighter there are clear pictures to build the fire station environment as well as suggestions for uniform lockers, a town map and a tool bench.  Each chapter then features a cityscape with a range of related suggestions for getting the imagination and creativity into top gear.

For those new to LEGO there is a pictorial ‘glossary’ identifying terminology with examples so budding builders can hunt through their existing LEGO collection to find the sorts of pieces they will need, as well as five pre-build checks which would make a handy poster to display in the makerspace.

  1. Organise your bricks into colours and types
  2. Be creative and substitute other bricks if you don’t have the exact one in the plan
  3. Research what you want to build by finding pictures on it in books or online
  4. Have fun and if something isn’t what you thought it would be, change it to something else
  5. Make a model stable to house the creations

While each of the books in the series would be perfect for an individual LEGO fan, their appeal for the library collection is that there are plenty of ideas and opportunities for groups of builders to collaborate and negotiate to build an entire scene that could then be photographed and used as an individual story stimulus, allowing each to create and achieve at their own level.

Whether your library or school has an existing LEGO collection or is just starting to acquire one, this series is an excellent starting point to giving its place in the makerspace and the curriculum focus and purpose, not just for the thinking and building processes involved but also those essential people skills of collaborating, negotiating, making suggestions tactfully, offering feedback and being a team member.   

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection







Charlie and the Chocolate Factory






Roald Dahl

Puffin, 2016

pbk., RRP $A16.99

On September 13, 1916 one of the greatest children’s authors of all time was born and in just 43 days there will be great celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.  There are many events planned, particularly in the UK but to mark the occasion here, Penguin Random House have relaunched a number of his most popular books, bringing the works of this word wizard into the world of a new generation.

Originally written in 1964 and already over 50 years old, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is arguably the best-known of Dahl’s creations having been made into a movie in both 1971 (under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and in 2005. It was also converted to an opera The Golden Ticket in 2010 and a musical in 2013.  It is the story of poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket who wins one of five golden tickets (along with Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregard) to visit the mysterious, magical chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willie Wonka and the adventures that befall them. 

Matilda is the story of child genius Matilda Wormwood who loves to read and study but who is regarded by her ignorant, self-absorbed family as a freak and a scab.  This does not deter her in any way for she is smart enough to see them for what they are.  It also features the lovely Miss Honey and the frightening, stereotypical principal Miss Trunchbull who has her own reasons for being so nasty that the children live in fear of her.  This has also been made into both a movie and a musical. (Tickets to the Brisbane production of this are part of the Readathon prize)

In 1982, Dahl wrote The BFG introducing us to Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, a host of very unfriendly giants and his wonderful way with words that speak directly to his audience.  Few children would not know what a whizzpopper is and be able to explain its cause and effect  particularly after the release of the movie that was such a hit in the recent school holidays.

Dahl’s writing career spanned five decades and during that time he brought love and laughter, mystery, mayhem and magic into the lives of millions – telling stories that engage adults as much as children.  These three are just a tiny portion of those he wrote and having been translated into 55 languages, there would be few who would not know of his genius and had a little light brought into their lives because of it.  Publishers Penguin Random House have launched a readathon competition to celebrate this milestone but for me, it will be about sharing my favourite story (George’s Marvellous Medicine) with Miss 5 whom I know is going to make a reading friend for life

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake










Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Chrissie Perry

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95


Penelope Kingston (aka Penelope Perfect) has made a terrible mistake.  When she answered the questions on the maths test, she missed five of them on the back of the page!!  Not only does that mean she might not get an A  on her report card (and thus the admiration and another $20 from her absent father) but she has also received the same mark as Joanna, the “naughty girl’ in the class who is much more adept at blowing spitballs than academics.  Penelope is devastated, especially when Ms Pike refuses to let her take the test again!

But she sees a way to redeem her grades (which seem to be her motivation and on which her entire self-worth is based) through excelling in the drama competition instead.  In fact she has already written a play that will put them ahead of the other groups, but then her drama teacher Mr Salmon mixes up the groups and instead of her usual crew, Penelope now has Joanna in her group – and Joanna most definitely has her own ideas!

Penelope turns to her beloved grandfather for advice – as she often does, particularly when she feels the loud, bossy, angry twin of her Gemini personality rising – and he gives her the cryptic message to “colour outside the lines”.  So will she be able to work as a team member and shine in the play or will her wilfulness and need to be perfect (in her eyes) destroy all her relationships? Is even her new best friend Bob deserting her?

Girls from Years 2-6 will be able to empathise with the plights of the characters in this story, whether they are a Penelope, a Joanna, or a peace-maker Bob.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Penelope get a greater understanding of the reasons behind Joanna’s behaviours, but perhaps that just me with my adult-teacher hat on, and not seeing things through the eyes of Miss 10 who was eager to re-read the series and then devoured this new one on her recent visit.  I reviewed the first three earlier this year and it says a lot about how they resonated with Miss Now-10 that as she dug through the pile of new books on her bed, that this was her first choice to read. 

Reading series plays an important part in the reading development of our students because they have already internalised much about the characters and the setting so they can devote their attention to more complex plots so to have another one that appeals to those in-between readers to add to the collection is a bonus.  Miss 10 and I did have a discussion about whether Penelope should measure her worth in grades and whether that was the only reason her dad loved her, as well as what she thought about Joanna and whether there were ‘Joannas’ in her class and how she might reach out to them, which is the beauty of us both usually reading the same books, but even without that shared-reading element, this is a series I can recommend.

The Other Christy

The Other Christy

The Other Christy











The Other Christy

Oliver Phommavanh

Puffin, 2016

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



For the last three years at Cabravale Primary, Christy Ung has been in the same class as Christie Owens.  Even though they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different.  Loud, brash, attention-seeking it girl Christie Owens is the opposite of shy, quiet, friendless Cambodian Christy – so much so that she has been dubbed “The Other Christy’.

All Christy wants is to have a friend, someone to bake treats for, someone who doesn’t see her as a ‘spare Christy’ and calls her anything but ‘The Other Christy’. But it doesn’t happen.  If her class were the solar system, Christie Owens would be the sun, her friends the planets, and Christy is Pluto.  She views herself as a meteorite floating around the school, spending her time in the Quiet Quad with the other meteorites who find it tricky to make friends for one reason or another.

She is made to feel even more isolated when she is the only person in the class who doesn’t receive an invitation to Christie’s party but even though her own birthday is just a week later she doesn’t feel she can invite people to her home because her Grandpa whom she lives with has a germ phobia and most of Christy’s home time is spent cleaning.  However, her dead mother’s sister has married an Australian and lives nearby so Christy is able to escape some times, learning to bake the most scrumptious treats.  It is Christy’s baking skills that bring a huge change in her life as she takes her birthday cake into school – a triple chocolate cheesecake that sets off a chain of events that Christy could not have foreseen.  Not only does she start to build friendships (although she doesn’t recognise them at the time) Christie becomes her BFF!  But, as is the way of friendships with this age group it has to survive and overcome several hurdles as both girls learn a lot about themselves and others on the way.

This is an engaging and entertaining read that reflects so much of what happens in Year 5 and 6 as friendships wax and wane, ebb and flow, include and exclude, as the children gradually move into adolescence and independence wanting to branch out on their own but needing the safety and solace of family.  Christy’s home life, built on a very different life in Cambodia that is gradually revealed, echoes that of many of our students who come here unable to speak English and having to overcome that as well as the cultural changes, let alone making friends in a situation where friendships were cemented in Kindergarten. 

Phommavanh says he has drawn on his experiences as a teacher and it is clear he was a very observant one as the dynamics of the relationships could be duplicated in almost any school in the country.   It is touching, sensitive and wholly realistic but mostly, it offers hope for those, who, like Christy, want nothing more than to have someone they can call a friend. It’s about staying true to yourself and your beliefs and trusting that who you are is enough. 

This Girl That Girl

This Girl That Girl

This Girl That Girl









This Girl That Girl

Charlotte Lance

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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


This is this girl, and that is that girl. This girl likes to do things like this, and that girl likes to do things like that. Neighbours who are so different  – one demure, the other eccentric; one tidy, the other messy; one domesticated; one not so much. And each has a dad who is the opposite to who they are and each lives in a house that is not what you would expect. Miss Prim and Proper lives in a wacky colourful house complete with slides and rope bridges and a falling-down fence, while Miss Wild and Free lives in an orderly, symmetrical home reminiscent of a formal English mansion enclosed by a walled garden.  Are they SO different that they can never be friends – or are the similarities that unite stronger that the differences which divide?  The answer comes when both dads decide to build a treehouse – with the help of their respective daughters…

Vignettes on each page provide insights into the characters of each girl (and the patience of their fathers) and no doubt readers will recognise themselves in some of them and wish they could be like one or the other.

Author and illustrator Charlotte Lance says that the story was inspired by her two sons who are so different but regardless, they each get to where they need to be even if the route is different.  But before I read the publisher’s blurb, as I read the story I was thinking that they were one and the same girl, each with an inner personality trying to break through.  Did Miss Prim and Proper really, deep within, want to be Miss Wild and Free and vice versa? Or were they two separate girls determined to break free of their fathers’ influence by being the opposite of them?  Perhaps those questions are way too deep for the intended audience of young readers but I do like books that pose such philosophical questions that can be explored and take the reader’s thinking to a deeper level. 

Perhaps it’s just a fun story told in minimal text but maximum colour and movement about how personalities and talents can combine to produce a similar outcome – that despite the particular pathway we take, co-operation, collaboration and determination will deliver us to our destination.  And that there is no right way or wrong way, no better or worse – just different. The ultimate message is the total love between father and daughter and their unquestioning acceptance of each other for who they are, even if it’s not quite the same as them.  That has to be good.

Fizz the Police Dog (series)

Fizz the Police Dog

   Fizz the Police Dog












Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts


Fizz and the Dog Academy  Rescue


Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief


Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper


Lesley Gibbes

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin. 2016

80pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Fizz is now a grown up dog, no longer a puppy, and he is very determined that he wants to be a brave, clever, fast police dog.  The only problem is that he is not a German Shepherd – he’s a small cute ball of white, fizzy, fuzzy fur!  Not exactly the right look for a police dog. In fact he’s a Bolognese and comes from a long line of champion show dogs and is expected to follow the family tradition.  Or at the very least a lapdog, a handbag dog or a companion dog like his brothers and sisters.

But Fizz is determined, even moreso when his friend Tom tells him it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog and shows him an advertisement for the upcoming police dog tryouts. All Fizz has to do was show up and pass three tests.   But when he arrives at the police station he is somewhat daunted for there are many dogs waiting and all of them much bigger.  His courage and confidence take a deep dive. When Amadeus who comes from a long line of police dogs and who has been practising for a long time, arrives with his ‘henchmen’ and starts to bully him and suggests he goes to the Miss Fluffy Puppy tryouts, Fizz really starts to worry and doubt.  But from deep within, his determination rises and he stands up to Amadeus and refuses to give in.

And so the day begins, with Amadeus bullying Fizz at every opportunity trying to prove that he will be the next City Police Dog, not some little thing that looks like a powder puff.  First up is the Bark Test, then the Scare Test and then the Chase-and-Catch Test.  How will Fizz ever compete against all those other dogs?  But being a police dog isn’t all about being the fiercest, angriest, loudest dog in the pack – it’s about being smart and fearless and resilient. But sometimes even that’s not enough.  Amadeus becomes the City Police Dog and Fizz becomes…

This is a new series for younger almost-independent readers that will have wide appeal to those who like animal stories, adventure and fun.   There are now four in the series which follow Fizz through his Academy training to become a dog detective and on to his first cases, one of which involves his sister Crystal. With short chapters and such an engaging character, the text demonstrates the author’s long experience as a primary school teacher as well as the owner of some feisty little dogs (who may have wanted to be police dogs too.)  Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment – who wouldn’t quiver in the face of Amadeus?  You need to look what happens when you line the spines up in order!  Clever!

Series offer many benefits for readers – not the least of which is encouraging the child to keep reading – and to find one that is so appealing to both boys and girls and is well written and appropriately illustrated is gold.  The test for me is whether I can hear myself reading it aloud to children as I read it silently to myself, and this definitely met that criterion.  Now to find some kids to share it with…

For those of you near Avalon in Sydney, Lesley Gibbes will be reading and signing copies of the books at the Avalon Community Library on July 7 at 10.30am.  RSVP to the library.

The Lost Sapphire

The Lost Sapphire

  The Lost Sapphire










The Lost Sapphire

Belinda Murrell

Random House Australia, 2016

315pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Fourteen-year-old Marli is mightily miffed that instead of spending her summer holidays on the Brisbane beaches with her friends, she is having to spend them with her Dad in Melbourne while her mother takes up a temporary lecturing post at Cambridge University in England.  What will there be to do in a city she doesn’t know with a dad she hardly sees and who works such long hours, and where she knows no one else apart from her ageing grandfather Didi?  How can she miss out on the parties, picnics, movies and beach trips that her Brisbane school mates would be enjoying? Spending time with her dad on a construction site in Melbourne wasn’t her idea of how the long school break should be spent.

But within 24 hours life changes for Marli because her grandfather has some astonishing news.  They have inherited an abandoned mansion – one that has been in the government’s hands for 90 years but with no funds for its upkeep, is about to be handed back to the family.  Riversleigh sits on the banks of the Yarra in peaceful, leafy Hawthorn – just across the river from bustling, crowded Richmond where Marli is staying – and was owned by her great, great grandfather who disowned his daughters for not sticking to traditional ways in the 1920s. Even though it is derelict, boarded up and its gardens overgrown its former beauty remains apparent and Marli is immediately captivated.  She is determined to find out more.

Monday morning comes and bored already, Marli decides to cycle back to Riversleigh for another look… not knowing she is cycling into her family history and a fascinating adventure with a boy named Luca that not only keeps her intrigued for the whole holidays but makes her want to live in Melbourne.  How do an iron key on a faded velvet ribbon, a hatbox beautifully decorated with peacocks, and an old camera bring about such change? What is the significance of the sapphire ring?

This sixth story in Belinda Murrell’s timeslip series takes the reader into the life of Melbourne in the 1920s as we meet the privileged Violet and Imogen trying to stay afloat after the loss of their brothers in World War 1 and the subsequent death of their mother from grief; their distant, traditional, patriarchal father who owns Hamilton’s Gloves and is very much a symbol of the upper class clinging to old values and old ways; Sally the maid and her family who live in the slums of Richmond and epitomise the working class of the time; and the enigmatic Nikolai, a Russian émigré, now chauffeur, who has his own secret story to tell. And in cahoots with her is Luca, the young lad from the Italian family in the apartments built next door whose connections to Riversleigh are as strong as Marli’s and who also has a story to tell.  

Slipping easily between then and now, and weaving all the threads into a seamless tapestry tied together by the beautiful blue wren whose family would seem to be as tied to the house as that of the other characters, this is a story of different ways of life in different times that are so intricately bound by the decisions and actions of a distant generation, the reader is prompted to reflect on what was done 100 years ago that continues to shape their own life now. How has society changed so that we have the juxtaposition of Violet’s increasing distance from her father against Marli’s increasing closeness with hers?    How does Violet’s determination to break free of the old rules enable Marli to enjoy her present day freedoms?

I savoured this book and didn’t want it to end – as I have with all the titles in the series.  So much so that I’m going to buy the collection for Miss Nearly 12 who now has the background knowledge of this country’s history to be able to explore it further through the lives of the modern characters who will resonate with her and take her back into the childhoods of those who have gone before.

Whether she is writing for a younger audience in her wonderful Lulu Bell series or for the Year 5+ age group, Belinda Murrell has the ability to craft fascinating stories that engage even old readers like me. Even though it is beyond the parameters of the age group I usually review for, this is such a great series that it needs to be known.  If the girls in your care have not yet met her, introduce them now!