Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover










Fancy Nancy: Saturday Night Sleepover

Jane O’Connor

Robin Preiss Glasser

HarperCollins, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Fancy Nancy’s mum has won a weekend at a resort , and sadly for Nancy, children are not included.  So she and little sister JoJo are going to have a sleepover at Mrs DeVine’s.  Even though both girls love Mrs DeVine, this is Jo Jo’s first sleepover and she is a little nervous.

Being a good big sister, Nancy is determined to help JoJo overcome her nerves and help her through this experience, rehearsing it, making her a survival kit and  showing her the photo album of the sleepover she had recently.  Mrs DeVine is also an expert at sleepovers and has much fun planned and in the end, it isn’t JoJo who has trouble going to sleep.

This is a series that will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are big sisters.  Lavishly illustrated including a sparkling, glittery cover, it has all the things that little girls love as they take early steps into reading series and learning to carry characters through a number of stories.  She has her own website and even her own YouTube channel where all the stories are read.

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Barney and the Secret of the Whales









Barney and the Secret of the Whales

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



It is Sydney in 1791 and Barney and Elsie have settled into their lives with the Reverend and Mrs Johnson as the fledgling colony tries to establish itself.  The Third Fleet has arrived and Captain Melvill is a guest at dinner.  Little does Barney know that this will change his life for Melvill is in command of the Britannia, a whaling ship and intent on sailing into southern waters to plunder its riches now their human cargo has been safely delivered.

With a promise of earning enough money to buy stock for land he hopes to be awarded in time, particularly after the Johnsons have made it clear they will return to England, Barney is enticed to join Melville’s crew for the journey south.  But the dream is shattered almost the minute he steps on deck and he is dismayed to discover that this is not a one-off experience – he is indentured for three years!  Assigned to being up the mast as the lookout, Barney soon spots whales and he and the reader are plunged into the gruesome details of the hunt, the capture and the destruction of a magnificent creature.  Because he is the one who gave the alert of its presence, Barney holds himself responsible for its death and wonders if he can really do this for another three years.  

The second in the Secret Histories series and sequel to Birrung, the Secret Friend, this is another engrossing and engaging read from master historical storyteller, Jackie French.  In the notes at the back she makes it clear that distasteful as they may be to the modern reader, whaling and sealing were the two industries which sustained our nation in those early years and enabled it to diversify so that other products like wool could take over.  

Written for readers the same age as Barney, it traces Barney’s story through his own voice and his discovery of himself – a landlubber rather than a seaman – with a clarity that many of his age would not have today. At its most basic level  there is scope for comparing the life of a child of Barney’s era and circumstance to one of a 12 year old in Australia in the 21st century and even to track the events that have occurred to bring about the changes.    What do today’s children think those of the 23rd century might think about their lives?

French has not glossed over the details of the fate of the whale but viewed through Barney’s perspective which is sympathetic to the whale’s ordeal, it is perhaps a more gentle account than the reality and may well raise issues about how humans treat animals and why they do or did.  There is an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast the perception and treatment of whales in the 18th and 19th centuries and their consequences  to the current situation where they are revered. 

As usual, Jackie French has crafted a tale that is a perfect standalone read as well as being an opportunity to dig deeper, behind and beyond the words.  Teaching notes are available.

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)

Ellyse Perry (series)






Pocket Rocket

Magic Feet

Winning Touch

Double Time

Sherryl Clark with Ellyse Perry

Random House Australia, 2016

145pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

With the Southern Stars and the Women’s Big Bash League now getting greater coverage on prime time, mainstream television, the name of Ellyse Perry is becoming one that is widely known and recognised.  So it is pleasing to see a series of stories that focuses on her sporting career from the choices she had to make at high school through to her current success becoming a part of the literature available to newly independent readers.  While there have been other series of this ilk such as Glenn Maxwell and Billy Slater there have been very few focusing on the prowess of Australia’s female sports stars.  Ellyse who plays both soccer and cricket at the elite level is a wonderful focal point for inspiring young girls to continue their sport after they leave primary school and she shows that with care and good choices, you can do all that you want. Boys will also enjoy reading about one of Australia’s leading lights.

Pocket Rocket and Magic Feet are available now just in time for the Christmas stocking and Winning Touch and Double Time will be available in early January ready for the long January days after the excitement of Christmas is over and our children are looking for something new.



Was Not Me

Was Not Me

Was Not Me










Was Not Me

Shannon Horsfall

HarperCollins 2016

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


When there is a big mess in the house, Not Me is the cause.  When the bathroom is flooded after battles fought with tough pirates, Not Me is responsible.  When the garden is trashed because masses of monkeys have been chased away, it’s Not Me’s fault.  And when the bed breaks because it’s been used by a circus tumbler, Not Me has done it again.

This is a funny and familiar story about a little boy and his invisible twin brother Not Me whom he holds accountable whenever something that is done that makes his mum cross.  Young readers will resonate with its invisible friend theme but they will also like the ending which exposes the real culprit. As well as the rhyming text which invites the reader to join in with “Not ME”, the pictures cleverly incorporate the leg of Not Me running off to the next page to cause some more mischief and inviting us to tag along.  And although we don’t see mum looking cross and cranky, we do see the little boy looking very sheepish and remorseful and you just know that he will own up to the devilment because mums ALWAYS know!

A charming debut story for this new author-illustrator. 


Dance With Me

Dance with Me

Dance with Me










Dance with Me

Penny Harrison

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


The ballerina lived in a little wooden box and every day she stood straight and tall and danced for the little girl who would laugh and clap her hands and dance like the ballerina herself.  But as the years passed, the little girl grew up and the ballerina danced for her less and less, until, eventually, she danced no longer.  

So one day she jumped down from her box, skipped out the windowsill to find a new dance partner.  But the bee in the flowers was too busy; the turtle on the seashore wasn’t a dancer; and the leopard on the island wanted her for his lunch! So the ballerina hurried home to her box and danced one last time for the little girl.  But sadly, it was not enough and the lid was closed and the box stored away for many years.  Until one day another little girl opened the lid…

This is a poignant story about growing up and the treasured keepsakes we grow beyond as we do so.  For while it is the story of the ballerina wanting to do what she loves, it is also the story of those things that we always think of when we think of our childhood and which we know we will pass on to our own children in the hope they will get similar joy.  Gwynneth Jones’s illustrations are charming – gentle pastels while the ballerina is happy dancing for the girl and a bolder palette as she gets bolder – and feed right into the vision we have when we think about musical boxes with their magic tucked inside.

A great opportunity to talk about memories with our children as well as what they love enough to want to keep for their children, creating bonds across generations.  

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

My Feelings

My Feelings

My Feelings









My Feelings

Sarah Jennings

Bloomsbury 2016

14pp., board book, RRP $A12.99


Helping children understand and cope with their feelings in an appropriate way is such an important part of helping them grow and be able to socialise effectively.  So this deceptively simple book is such a gift for the early childhood teacher or the parents of little ones.

It explores the feelings of happiness, sadness, anxiety, grumpiness, excitement, fear and shyness in a way that will really help the reader come to grips with all the emotions that fill their day.  Each page has a tab that shows its focus feeling and starts with “When you feel…” so it talks directly to the child.  Each page validates the feeling  (so it’s OK to be shy) and then offers some suggestions for managing it. So if you are excited you can jump up and down or tell a friend; while if you’re grumpy you can do something you love, huff and puff or imagine a jelly bath!! Several times “Tell someone” is the suggestion which is great advice but it’s balanced with actions that the child can do not only to overcome the immediate situation but also build their strategies and resilience. 

John Joseph  has written much about how our emotions colour and shape our responses to a given situation, particularly the effect that the chemicals that are whizzing around our brains at the time have on us…”Depending on the extent of the situation, the capacity of sensory information and rational thinking to get processed is weakened, severely in extreme cases. Each particular emotion activates a series of memories and physical responses, inhibiting the flow of some chemicals and creating surges with others.”  He talks about the “emotional rooms’ – blue, green, orange and red – what happens in each and how how we manage that not only shapes the moment but also the ultimate effect on our personality. “Those who spend hours on end in a negative Orange Room find it difficult to break depressing thought patters. Those who move into Red with little provocation are unpredictable, prone to violence and struggle to make and sustain relationships with others.”

While that may seem a bit deep and meaningful for a board book written for toddlers, it demonstrates the importance of helping little ones learn about their emotions – positive and negative – and how they can manage them, self-soothe and self-calm healthily and move on.  This book is a first-step in that process and an integral part of any investigation about ‘Being Me” and “Being a Friend’. Let them talk and illustrate about when they feel happy, excited, scared or what they worry about and then brainstorm the sorts of things they can do to help them manage those feelings appropriately.  Help them learn that different situations often require different responses. It could even serve as a lead-in to your Protective Behaviours / or other personal safety program you use in your school.

Deceptively simple but highly effective.

Frankie the Blankie

Frankie the Blankie

Frankie the Blankie










Frankie the Blankie

Jennifer Sattler

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., board book, RRP $A11.99



Doris the Gorilla carried her bright purple blankie Frankie everywhere.  She loved it dearly and it was always with her giving her comfort and keeping her from being lonely. But one day  Rhinoceros tells her that only babies have blankies and Doris feels really embarrassed.  So she devises all sorts of ways that she can keep it with her so it is anything but a blankie – it’s a bandage, a hankie, a hat… But each solution has its downfalls until Lemur makes a suggestion and suddenly not only are Doris and Frankie reunited but they are the talk of the jungle!

Blankies are such important accessories for so many of our youngest listeners that this story will resonate with them.  The solid storyline will keep them engaged as they make suggestions about what Doris can to to keep her blankie without seeming to still be a baby (very important for toddlers) and the vibrant animation-like illustrations will attract their attention, taking them right into the jungle with Doris and at her level. How do they think she felt when Rhinoceros bullied her and why did she listen to him. What could she have done? Some food for thought as they start to interact with children beyond their siblings.  They might even re-think what they do with their own blankie.

This is one to share with the parents of preschoolers who are looking for something new to share with their littlies and encourage a love of reading.  

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. 

Little Why

Little Why

Little Why











Little Why

Jonny Lambert

Little Tiger Press, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99



Tucked in the back, in-between the legs of the elder elephants, Little Why is supposed to walk in line and stay out of harm’s way.  But it is a big, new world out there with lots of new things to see.  Things such as Wildebeest’s spiny-spiky special horns.

“Wow!” he gasps.  I need some spiny-spiky special horns like those!.  I would look super-duper scary!  I would charge this way and that.  Could I have some spiny-spiky special horns?”

“No”, he is told and ordered back into line.  But it’s hard to stay in line when you spot a giraffe with long-lofty leggy legs that would be good for reaching the highest leaves, or a cheetah with speedy-spotty, fuzzy fur or a crocodile with a snippy-snazzy snout!  Even a near miss doesn’t stop him but he does stay in line, even though he has the sulks…

This is a charming variation on a common theme of stories for little children – that they are special and perfect just the way they are – but Little Why with his constant asking of “Why?’ is so resonant of a young pre-schooler that is has instant appeal.  And who hasn’t fallen in love with images of baby elephants waddling in and out of their parents’ legs as they take their first steps.  The illustrations are detailed and their collage-like structure gives them texture and depth, with the expressions bringing the animals and text to life. There is also the added detail of two little insects to discover on each page as well as Little Why’s constant companion, a little blue bird who keeps a careful eye on him. Little ones will appreciate the perspective of Little Why looking up at the world, just as they do.

This is another story that, as well as having having that oft-used theme that is essential to a healthy self-esteem and sense of self-worth , has the sort of language, rhythm and repetition that little listeners love and delight in exploring for themselves.