Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia












Thomas & Friends Character Encyclopedia

Julia March & Rona Skene

DK Publishing, 2018

180oo., hbk., RRP $A129.99


One might wonder if the Reverend Wilbert Awdrey  ever thought that the stories about trains that he created in 1943 to amuse his son Christopher while he recovered from measles would still be creating such interest and joy all these years later.  While there are photos of him with the realisation of his creations not long before his death in 1997, 20 years on the characters and stories about them are as popular as ever.

Now, in this new release from DK, little ones are able to learn more about the Island of Sodor, its trusty railway system run by The Fat Controller and each of the steam engines he is in charge of, each with the common goal of being Really Useful.  There is the Steam Team comprising Thomas the Tank Engine,   Edward the Blue Engine, Henry the Green Engine, Gordon the Big Engine, James the Red Engine, Percy the Small Engine,Toby the Tram Engine and Emily the Stirling Single Engine as well as Harold the Helicopter, Sir Topham Hatt, and all the other steam engines, diesels, vehicles, and characters from Sodor.

Each has its own entry describing where they fit in, what they do and a lot of other information and photographs that will make them come alive for the young reader.  

Not only would this be a great addition to the home library of the young Thomas fan who can begin to relate to books as being sources of information as well as imagination using both the contents and index to find their favourites, but at this time of the year with thousands of littlies starting big school for the first time, it is a familiar link between the familiarity of home and preschool and this new, often overwhelming world that they are venturing into.  A display of Family Favourites featuring all those familiar faces was a top priority for the first few weeks of school and this one, with its cute little Thomas that rolls along the top of the book, would be the perfect addition.

All The Way Home




All The Way Home

All The Way Home











All The Way Home

Debi Gliori

Bloomsbury, 2017

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


Father Penguin has a secret, one that Mother Penguin can never know but which he tells Little One…

When penguin eggs are laid, the mothers go out to sea fishing leaving the fathers to huddle together to keep the eggs warmed balanced on their feet.  But they don’t eat and Father Penguin was very hungry.  He had had nothing to eat at all  – not a thing – and so he gradually makes his way to the outside of the Dad Huddle when suddenly a huge gust of Antarctic wind plucks him and his precious egg off the ice…

And the adventure begins.  Faced with a foreign environment, unfriendly creatures and a desperation to be home before Mother Penguin discovers him gone, he is beginning to get very worried.  Then help arrives from an unexpected source,  the Special Air Navigation Transport Authority …

Debi Gliori always tells a fine tale and illustrates it beautifully in a style that is so appealing to young readers and this one is no different.  Littlies will love being in on Father Penguin’s secret -there is nothing like feeling you are a special confidante – and they will have fun speculating whether Baby can keep the secret.  After all, he does tell his mum that they have had an adventure and brave Daddy flew them home. And everyone knows penguins can’t fly!! Did it really happen or is Father Penguin just a really good storyteller?

Something a little different for the Christmas Countdown but completely charming.

Little i

Little i

Little i










Little i

Michael Hall

Greenwillow Books, 2017

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


The alphabet letters were quite happy being what they were until one day Little i’s dot fell off.  It rolled down a hill, tumbled over a cliff and splashed into the sea.  Little i felt weird and the other letters felt confused because now Little i looked like a number and you can’t make words with numbers.  

So Little i decided to find his dot and starts off on an adventure that takes him to some interesting places. His question mark boat takes him across the seas until he finds an island that has a remarkable sea passage that passes a spectacular exclamation point waterfall, through the cold dark parenthesis tunnel (with asterisk gems), through the field of lovely comma sprouts, across the spine-chilling hyphen bridge to the very edge of the land where his dot completes his journey like a full stop at the end of a sentence.  But when Little i puts his dot back on he feels strange, setting his quest and his story up for an imaginative and fun end.

With bold shapes and colours, this is one of those books that seems really simple on the surface but then you wonder what sort of mind could make such a story. But then he did write Red, A Crayon’s Story.  Not only is it clever it is brilliant, so rich in so much for the very young reader. Little i feels incomplete without his dot and that he doesn’t really belong in the alphabet, just as some children feel adrift if they haven’t got their mum, a special friend or a favourite toy by their side and so talking about Little i’s story may help them realise that they can not only survive without that security blanket but be even better for being brave enough to leave it behind.  Self-confidence in who we are is such a critical part of growing up.

It is also wonderful for those who are just beginning to understand that words are constructed from letters – Hall shows this by having the letters in the words do their talking; distinguishing between letters and numerals; and maybe starting to wonder what the other marks on the page are. There is a myriad of talking and teaching opportunities as the children demonstrate their knowledge of those initial concepts about print that are part of early kindergarten assessments.  Yet, whatever level the child is at for looking at the technicalities and tools of language, overall and throughout there is an engaging story and a satisfying finish which have to be at the core of anything we share with little ones if they are to love stories and reading and all that they offer.

If this were Australian, I’d be looking for it during Awards Season 2018!  

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby









Pea Pod Lullaby

Glenda Millard

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


I am the lullaby

You are the melody

Sing me

It starts like a gentle lullaby, perhaps a story you would share with your very youngest children to help them slip into sleep at the end of a long happy day.  But turn the page and a different story emerges from this remarkable collaboration between author and illustrator that grew as a special project at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in NSW.

The first hint that this is not a traditional lullaby comes when you turn the page and you are confronted by the image of a baby being passed into a tiny boat despite the stormy sea, safe into the arms of a young boy, while high on the rugged, isolated cliff barbed wire tangles it way down, clearly designed to prevent such departures. Yet despite this ominous scenery, the words evoke a feeling of trust, safety and comfort…

I am the small green pea

You are the tender pod 

Hold me.

This message of security and belief that there will be protection threads throughout the rest of the story in its gentle, lyrical text and despite the pictures portraying a somewhat different, more threatening story, the inclusion of the red bird constantly with them and appearing somewhat like the dove from Noah’s Ark towards the end of the journey is reassuring.  

The symbolism is strong  – a polar bear found floating on a fridge is taken on board and returned to its family with the help of the whales, the boat expanding to accommodate all shows that this is a story about the planet, not just its people – and all the while the little peapod boat sails on towards it destination regardless of the sea’s moods, just as love carries us all through life. While the final stanza – I am the castaway, you are the journeys end. welcome me – might suggest the story is over, the final pages and the endpapers show that this is a bigger story than that of the family in that little boat. 

While the family in the boat give a focus to those who find literally launching themselves into and onto the great unknown a better prospect than staying where they are, this is about that uniquely human emotion of hope – the family believe they will reach a better destination and they will be welcomed with warmth and compassion and even in their midst of their own struggle they find the wherewithal to help others, just as they hope they would be helped.

There are teachers’ notes available that take this so much deeper than any review can, but don’t be surprised to see this amongst the CBCA Book of the Year winners in 2018.

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros










Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Meg McKinlay

Leila Rudge

Walker Books, Australia, 2017

3299., hbk., RRP $A24.99



While her family and friends wallowed in the mud and bathed in the sun and did all the other things that rhinoceroses do, the little rhinoceros gazed at the boats sailing past on the nearby river and dreamed…

“Don’t you wish that you could see the world?” she asked the others.

But they were not dreamers  or adventurers – they had everything that a rhinoceros needs right there and told the little rhinoceros so.  “You belong here”, they told her. 

However that didn’t stop the little rhinoceros dreaming and one day she began to put her plans in action.  First, she gathered the things she needed to make a boat blocking out the negative comments of the older rhinoceroses, and one day all the mud-wallowing, grass-grazing, tree-scratching, sun-bathing rhinoceroses gathered in alarm as they watched her sail out of sight…

As soon as I picked up this story it resonated with me.  It could have been the story of my mum who watched the ships leave Bluff, her home town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand, headed not just for the vast oceans of the world but also the Antarctic.  And her heart was captured, her hope stirred and her determination to follow in their wake cemented.  Despite all the comments about where she belonged, what she as a child of the 1940s should be doing, the belief that Antarctica was a men-only domain, she “built her own boat” and in 1968 she sailed south too – the first female journalist to do so, a trailblazer for women in both Antarctic exploration and journalism.  Its publication on the 3rd  anniversary of her death is particularly poignant.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Others will write about the literary and artistic merits of this book – I just adore it because of its power to show that stick-in-the-muds can stay stuck; nay-sayers can be ignored and that dreams can come true.  This is one I will be sharing over and over with my grandchildren who were privileged to know their great-gran and to be inspired by her.


Why Crocodiles Smile

Why Crocodiles Smile

Why Crocodiles Smile










Why Crocodiles Smile: Cric Croc discovers nature’s wonders

Anthony W Buirchell

Laila Savolainen

Cric Croc Enterprises, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95



Young children are warned from an early age to “never smile at a crocodile” but what if the crocodile smiles at you?

Cric the Crocodile has spent a week with his family in the Daintree region of Far North Queensland but he is puzzled because all the crocodiles he met smiled all the time. So his dad Crisis explains why.

The bull Crocodile was a sneaky beast

It was looking around for a scrumptious feast

With big yellow eyes it searched around

Looking for food from the watery ground.

And as those big yellow eyes alighted on a possible meal, it smiled with anticipation. But the creatures – cassowaries, brolgas, cormorants, barramundi and a host of other beautiful creatures indigenous to the area- were smarter that Crocodile and took themselves out of harm’s way very quickly.  Until an unwary Pelican came by…

Like its predecessors the story is told in rhyme as young readers are introduced to a range of Australia’s unique but less familiar creatures.  Beautiful drawings by Pickawoowoo illustrator, Laila Savolainen bring the text to life with their accuracy and spectacular colour palettes as well as inspiring interest in the flora and fauna of a part of Australia that would be unfamiliar to many.  It also introduces the concept of the food chain – after all, the crocodile does have to eat – and perhaps an investigation into the mechanisms that Mother Nature provides so that creatures do not become easy prey.

A worthy addition to the library’s collection of books for younger readers that introduce them to the amazing wonders of this country. 

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring










Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Hannah Barnaby

Andrew Joyner

HarperCollins Children’s, 2017

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


Garcia the Rabbit and Colette the Fox cannot agree on where they want to go exploring – Garcia is fixated on space while Colette wants to see the sea.  With no agreement in sight they agree to go their separate ways.  Garcia builds a snazzy, silver rocket while Colette makes a gold and glorious submarine.  Packing peanut butter sandwiches, a notebook, a pen and their lucky charms, each heads off on their own adventure. 

But is exploring new and exciting places all that much fun when you don’t have your best friend by your side?

Cleverly written and illustrated so that each character remains connected despite their physical separation, this is a charming story of friendship and compromise that will appeal to a broad range – those who love the sea and those who love space.  Is there a middle ground and how can it be reached? A great way to introduce the art of negotiation and seeking win-win solutions while younger children can have fun contributing to murals of what each friend saw on their travels.    

Rose’s Red Boots

Rose's Red Boots

Rose’s Red Boots










Rose’s Red Boots

Maura Finn

Karen Erasmus

New Frontier, 2017

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


It’s a perfect Autumn day with fairy-floss clouds and a gentle breeze – ideal for pulling on your red boots, taking your dog and heading off to the open spaces to fly a kite.  

So that’s exactly what Rose and Banjo do – her little red boots marching, marching, marching merrily on their way. 

And what’s Autumn without playing in the leaves so your little red boots can be crunching, crunching, crunching to hear that crunching sound?

Rose and Banjo have a wonderful time exploring the sights and sounds of this season, all the time experiencing the sensations through those little red boots.  And when that beautiful blue sky turns threatening and rain and thunder and lightning shatter the idyll, they are still there to go racing, racing, racing…

Miss 6 adored this story as she has little red boots that she loves to pull on and go exploring and we had lots of fun investigating all the sorts of actions and sounds her boots could make on a particularly cold frosty morning.  Her favourite was the creaking, squeaking, creaking as she stomped on the ice in a frozen-solid puddle watching it splinter and crack as her boots sank into the muddy water beneath. That was closely followed by the thunking, clunking as she kicked them off ready to come into the warm for hot pikelets and jam!

The stunning illustrations capture the sights and sounds of Autumn perfectly and little people will enjoy not only recognising those they are familiar with but also anticipating what they can do the next time they pull their own little red boots on.   Both text and illustrations reinforce the idea that the journey is as important as the destination and there is fun and wonder to be had everywhere. The refrain encourages them to join in predicting what sound or action the boots will make as they extend their vocabulary and really engage with the story.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of Autumn being a time to wrap up in coats and hats and boots and go scrunching in the leaves, they might like to think about what their little red boots would do. while those who can relate might think about what the little red boots might do and see if the story were written in winter .

A great introduction to exploring the changing of the seasons.



Town Mouse, Country Mouse

Town Mouse, Country Mouse

Town Mouse, Country Mouse









Town Mouse, Country Mouse

Richard Jones

Libby Walden

Caterpillar, 2017

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


Living in a bustling town is exhausting for a little mouse and she dreams of a quiet place in the country.  So she writes to her country cousin to see if she can visit for a while, swapping homes so they each have a holiday..  Country Mouse is very excited because he has always wanted to be “a mouse about town.” But things are not quite as wonderful as they expect and neither is sorry when their holiday is over and it’s time to go HOME.

This traditional fable from Aesop has been retold in rhyme, bringing its powerful message of what it means to be home and to belong to a new generation.  Cleverly illustrated with a gentle palette and strategic cutouts it’s a story that has endured over time because of its timeless message of “the grass always seems greener” .  Little ones can have fun imagining what it might be like to live the life of their hero or in another place, but then also reflect on the things they would miss if they were really able to make the swap.

A classic.

A Canadian Year – Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids

A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada's Kids

A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids









A Canadian Year -Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids

Tania McCartney

Tina Snerling

EK, 2017

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


Continuing this fabulous series which includes A Kiwi Year , An Aussie Year and a host of others, young children are introduced to the children of Canada.  There is Chloe, who speaks both French and English; Oki who is Inuit, Ava who is of Chinese heritage; Liam of Scottish heritage and Noah whose dream is to place ice hockey for the Vancouver Canucks – kids just like those found in every classroom in Australia but whose lives are subtly different because of their geographic location.  Whoever heard of it being -30° in January and instead of being at the beach kids are skiing, skating and sledding?  And as we currently shiver through early winter and another Big Wet, it’s hard to imagine there are children on summer vacation for two months, kayaking, salmon fishing in the ocean, swimming, camping in the wilderness and visiting Santa’s Summer House just outside Toronto.  If nothing else, and there is SO much more, students will learn about the seasons being somewhat different in the northern hemisphere.

Offered as vignettes for each month, young children learn that there are places beyond their immediate horizons and there are kids who do things that are a bit different but overall, despite the timeframe, they enjoy and do the same things as kids everywhere so there is more that binds than divides. 

Intercultural understanding is a mandated part of the Australian Curriculum so that students “understand how personal, group and national identities are shaped, and the variable and changing nature of culture” and this series is the perfect way to start this with young children whose concepts of the world are just developing. 

As usual, there is the is a double-page spread featuring intriguing facts and figures which just invite comparisons with Australia – if ‘Canada” comes from ‘kanata’ meaning village, where does “Australia” come from? If Canada is the world’s second-largest country, what is the largest?  What’s the difference between large as in area and large as in population? While teachers’ notes are available, the children themselves will generate enough questions to drive their own investigations. 

Why not use it as a model for a class calendar, highlighting the important events of each child’s life in each month visually exploring the unity and the diversity and promoting an important bond of belonging and acceptance so that lives and heritage are celebrated.  Create a wall display for each month and invite the children to contribute to it, and then compare what is happening with other children in other parts of the world using this series as the key resource.