Star Wars: The Original Trilogy: A Graphic Novel

Star Wars

Star Wars











Star Wars: The Original Trilogy: A Graphic Novel

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

208pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A long time ago in a galaxy far far away – well it was actually 1977 and the world was very different then – George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars movies and such was its impact that almost 40 years on those who saw it then are still fans and every day it gathers a new cohort, young and not-so-young.  Such was the success of the original, plans for more were made and in 1980 it was followed by The Empire Strikes Back and in 1983, The Return of the Jedi.

Since then there have been prequels and sequels and a massive merchandising franchise that it holds the Guinness World Records title for the “most successful film merchandising franchise. With the 40th anniversary clearly in sight this is only going to grow and so the release of a graphic novel -the preferred book format of so many- is sure to build a whole new legion of fans.  

Containing the three original films, now dubbed Episodes IV, V and VI this release will appeal to those who are already devotees (so many of my family and friends have asked for the review copies) as well as gather new ones.  For those in school libraries it will add another dimension to your Star Wars collections of both fiction and fact which never seem to stay on the shelf and always have a long reserve list, in my experience. Now the core of the phenomenon is accessible to even the most reluctant reader or new English speaker in print format and that alone, makes it a must-have.

And a certain Christmas stocking is sorted for me!

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

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor's Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions










Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Clever Trevor’s name is not really Trevor.  It’s Stuart.  But nothing rhymes with “Stuart” and because he is so clever – he invented and built the Rabbit Brain Booster out of his dad’s old computer and a car battery – his friends have renamed him Trevor.  

But for all his cleverness Trevor was still failing at school, especially this year with Mr Schmedric.  Nothing Trevor submitted for his assignments met Mr Schmedric’s expectations – but then Mr Schmedric was one of those teachers who thought there was only one way to do anything.  He won’t accept Trevor’s inventions as acceptable solutions for assignments and bullies him mercilessly. He is the epitome of a nightmare teacher – and thankfully one that no student will ever meet.  

So you can imagine Trevor’s shock when he discovers that Mr Schmedric is not only confiscating his projects but he was selling them… and making a lot of money, which he makes sure Trevor knows about.  So Trevor and his friends hatch a plot to get their own back, but Mr Schmedric is smarter than they give him credit for.  When he threatens to make Stuart repeat his class next year, they have to come up with a new plan…

This is another very funny book-length cartoon from the talented Andrew Weldon.  We first met Clever Trevor as a friend of Steven, The Kid with the Amazing Head,  and now he comes into his own.  It is an engaging tale which brings up all sorts of issues about the ethical use of information and ideas as well as the concept of power.  Can authority be misused?  Is it possible for the underdog to win? Can brains overcome brawn?

Younger readers, particularly the boys and those who are reluctant readers, will enjoy this story in its very accessible format and will be eagerly awaiting a new adventure from this talented creator. And in the meantime they can use the makerspace to create their own great invention!

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head










The Kid with the Amazing Head

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

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


Steven wakes up one morning to find that he can make his head do anything he wants.  He can look like other people,  He can shove a piano up his nose. He could have a hundred eyes or look like other people.  He could even turn his ears into sails to make travel faster!  

But will he use this unique ability for good or for evil?  Will be and his friends Clever Trevor and  Small Paul catch bank robbers or be bank robbers?  

Mostly, Steven uses his power to amuse and amaze but one day the friends see a Missing Persons poster for Claire Blairey, daughter of Mary Blairey who was the inventor of the very popular Hairy Mary’s Scary Fairies and that give the three boys an idea…

Andrew Weldon is a cartoonists whose work has been in many well-known newspapers and is now carried over into this new book that is going to appeal to newly-independent readers who like stories about weird and wacky characters that are an integral mix of text and illustration.  If the concept alone isn’t funny enough there is a lot more humour embedded in the cartoons as the story unfolds and this encourages the reader to pay close attention to both.

I think this will be one of those books that takes off with the Year 1-4 boys and will be in hot demand (along with Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions).

There is an interview with the creator about his cartooning career on ABC Rollercoaster which may be inspirational and aspirational for those who are constantly doodling.













Trace Balla

Allen & Unwin, 2016

80pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



Uncle Egg and Clancy are spending a lazy, languid afternoon on the Glenelg (Bugara) River which flows through the area we call The Grampians but which is known to its indigenous peoples as Gariwerd.  Clancy muses on where all the water is coming from and Uncle Egg suggests that they should find out.  But this adventure will be different to the previous one in Rivertime  where they took a canoe to the river’s mouth.  This time they will be heading upstream so they will have to walk and rockhop.  And this time, Clancy is much more enthusiastic, even prepared to walk to school in new boots every day so he can prepare for the journey.

Their journey begins at Budja Budja (Halls Gap), sleeping in a tent under the stars amongst the motorhomes, caravans and pop-tops, already suggesting an underlying theme of being at one with the world rather than manipulating it.  And just as in Rivertime, through detailed text and illustration in graphic novel format, we share Clancy’s journey, learning as he learns about the river’s story, its flora and fauna, its secret ways of enabling its ancient custodians to survive, and the prehistoric mountains it passes through.  It is an intimate account of his journey, not so much his self-realisation this time as it was in Rivertime but one of resilience, perseverance, self-reliance, respect and trust, particularly when Egg’s backpack falls into a ravine and Clancy is stranded halfway up the cliff.  He learns about the power and the gift of silence and solitude and the surprises and secrets Nature is willing to show us if we take the time to look and listen, and about his place in the universe.  Even when Egg rejoins him and while they are not lost –“just going a different way”- there are lessons to learn and gradually the relationship becomes one of two equals regardless of age, sharing something unique that teaches them more than they ever imagined. Going with the flow rather than the plan.

This really is a story about the journey being as important as the destination.

“That’s just it.

I’m not going anywhere, or trying to find anything. I’m just being here.”

And that message of enjoying the moment we are in is perhaps the most important of all. 

There is an interview with Trace Balla on the CBCA Reading Time site  which explains the authenticity of the story and how she enables the reader to be embraced by the serenity and beauty just as Egg and Clancy are.  In my review of Rivertime I wrote, “ It’s not just the story of Clancy and Egg and their journey, but a calming, almost meditative, read for the reader. The format of the comic strip with individual panels not only reflects the pace of the dogged, uphill climb but also ensures the reader slows down to enjoy the surroundings just as Clancy and Egg do. Often when we pick up a picture book we just skim read it just as we can “skim read” our daily lives because we don’t think we have time to delve deeper and really appreciate and value what we have, but as you get into this story it drags you in, just as it did Clancy, until you become absorbed and oblivious to the distractions around you.”  And so it is with Rockhopping.  It’s a book that deserves every minute you put into reading it but ensure you have lots of minutes so you can savour it to its core.

The epitome of Australia: Story Country.

Freddy Tangles (series)

Freddy Tangles

Freddy Tangles











Freddy Tangles: Champ or Chicken


Freddy Tangles: Legend or Loser



Jack Brand

Tom Jellett

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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


In this new series for boys who are independent readers Brand and Jellett introduce Freddy Tangles who is an ordinary boy to whom extraordinary things happen.  Even though the events themselves are ordinary, if there is something that can go wrong then it will happen to Freddy and this makes for some really funny adventures that will appeal to those who like Big Nate and Tom Gates. Freddy is at that age that boys go through where they are awkward, accident-prone and tongue tied and so his audience will relate to him and perhaps gain some comfort in recognising themselves in him.

Freddy is a likeable lad, bold on the outside but not quite so on the inside with a group of friends like Blocker from Russia who has a quirky way of giving good advice, Scabs who is also accident prone and Tabby, a smart, straight-talking girl whom Freddy is gradually realising is a girl.  As the titles of each book suggest, Freddy encounters a major issue in each story and he has to take the actions that decide whether he is a loser or a legend, a chicken or a champ.

Liberally illustrated in cartoon style, but with more text than a graphic novel, this series has the potential to be the next big thing with the age group.  It will be interesting to see how my middle-school boys respond to it.

Samurai vs Ninja (series)

Samurai vs Ninja

Samurai vs Ninja






Samurai vs Ninja (series)

Nick Falk

Tony Flowers

Random House Australia, 2015

pbk., 96pp., RRP $A9.99


The Battle for the Golden Egg


The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure


Day of the Dreadful Undead


Curse of the Oni


The publishers’ blurb for this series says, “In the Edo Period of Japan, two teams fight for supremacy – the serious samurai and the scheming ninjas. To determine who is the best, a deadly contest is held. The prize is the Golden Egg, the most magnificent treasure in all of Japan. But when the ninjas cheat, the samurai will stop at nothing to get revenge. Tighten your topknot and sharpen your sword – the Samurai vs Ninja battle is about to begin!”  And so begins another action-packed series from this talented pairing of Nick Falk and Tony Flowers who brought us both Saurus Street and Billy is a Dragon.

This series is set 300 years ago when the serious Samurai with their smooth, straight kamishimo and tight topknots lived in a castle on the tip of the Mountain of the Tiger’s Claw and the silly Ninja with their ripped and wrinkled shinobi shozoku and looped and lose obi lived in a castle at the tip of the neighbouring Mountain of the Dragon’s Claw.  Because the Samurai practise the ancient art of Nodo no Kingyo (the Way of the Thirsty Goldfish) and the Ninja, the ancient art of Mink-u-i-Buta (the Way of the Ugly Pig) the scene is set for conflict – and it is not long before it begins.  The Samurai challenge the Ninja to a contest – and through crazy characters with even crazier ideas the reader is taken on an hilarious but suspenseful adventure.  Despite the traditional honour and fairness normally associated with these protagonists, the reader sees a totally different side of them that provide many LOL moments!

Capitalising on the craze for things Japanese as manga-type stories permeate through to our youngest readers, this is an energetic, fast-moving series that will capture the imaginations of younger readers who are ready for independent reading but still need the support of short text and illustrations which are integral to that text.  Falk and Flowers seem to feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship that knows exactly what their audience wants and how to give it to them and offer stories that are going to maintain that zest for reading as the transition from instructional reader to free choice is made.  With chapters finishing at just the right time and the book finishing on a cliff-hanger that sets up the next episode, the books make perfect read-alouds which will have their listeners demanding more and scurrying to the library looking for the next in the series.  

The Big Book of Old Tom

The Big Book of Old Tom

The Big Book of Old Tom












The Big Book of Old Tom

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2014

pbk., 460pp., RRP $A19.99


“Angela Throgmorton lived alone and liked it that way. One day, while doing some light dusting, she heard a knock at the door.  There, on her front step, was a baby monster.  Angela was curious so she carried him in…and brought him up”.  And so begins one of the most enduring series that has captivated younger readers since 1992.  In a few lines of pen-and-ink, Leigh Hobbs created a most captivating cat, Old Tom, and in this bumper book, five of his most iconic adventures are drawn together.  There is the original “Old Tom” (whom the author himself describes as “more like an Australian cattle dog, or blue heeler, perhaps with a touch of Tasmanian devil, than he is a cat”) as well as “Old Tom at the Beach”, “Old Tom Goes to Mars”, “Old Tom’s Guide to Being Good” and “A Friend for Old Tom”.

With a few lines of text on each page and the real story being told through the dramatic movement and emotion of the pictures, this series captivated my reluctant readers right from the start and all these years on, still does.  A graphic novel, before the term had been widely adopted, Leigh Hobbs has captured what it is that readers of this age like without going down the toilet-humour path.  Here is boldness, determination, courage, resilience and humour all packaged in a cat who changes Angela Throgmorton’s safe, predictable life for ever. Even though Old Tom drives her crazy at times, she loves him. 

If your younger readers haven’t met Old Tom yet, then they must.  He is one of those literary characters that will be remembered most fondly by parents who will be delighted to see their own children bringing him home in their library bags.