Dippy’s Big Day Out

Dippy's Big Day Out

Dippy’s Big Day Out










Dippy’s Big Day Out

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2019

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


All Dippy wants to do is fill his tummy and find a soft place to sleep.  But it seems that that is a bit tricky when you are a diprotodon, a kind of giant wombat the size of a rhinoceros!   No matter what he does or where he lies down, it seems Dippy is doomed to be hungry and wide awake.  Beds that are nests, snacks that attack, it’s a bit bewildering until…

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have developed an idea from Ben Smith Whatley and teamed up once again to introduce young readers to the world of megafauna, huge creatures that evolved from the dinosaurs and roamed Australia up until about 50 000 years ago. Not surprisingly, given her well-known love of wombats, Jackie has focused this story on their ancestors, the diprotodon, but even though this initially appears to be a story for the very young, it opens up so many areas to explore that it could be for any age.

Combining minimal text with illustrations that contain so much action, this is a great introduction to the genre of ‘faction” where a fictional story is based on so much fact that the lines are blurred and it becomes an information text as much as a imaginary one, meeting many of the Australian Curriculum outcomes in the process. Whatley has painted a very different Australia to that which we are used to, which has to spark questions about climate change and what happened to these ginormous creatures. And are there lessons we can learn because we no longer have diprotodons in our landscape? Is its descendant, the wombat, likely to follow in its footsteps? Put May 11 aside to celebrate Hairy Nosed Wombat Day as a focus for endangered and extinct species!

Given the fascination that young children have for dinosaurs, it is surprising that there are so few stories, or even resources, about these other prehistoric beasts and so, this is a must-have in any collection.

Excellent teachers’ notes (written by me) exploring the riches of this book are available both on the publishers’ website  and their Teachers Hub , demonstrating that what might be considered a book for preschoolers actually has a much wider application, making it a model of its genre..



The Extraordinary Life of …(series)

The Extraordinary Life of ...(series)

The Extraordinary Life of …(series)








The Extraordinary Life of …(series)

Michelle Obama

Dr Sheila Kanani


Malala Yousafzai

Rita Petralucci


Stephen Hawking

Esther Mols


Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Stephen Hawking …all contemporary heroes who have contributed much more than the average person to making the world a better place and who are the three initial subjects of a new series from Puffin called The Extraordinary Life of…  To be joined in June by Neil Armstrong, Anne Frank and Katherine Johnson, then later in the year by Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole,  this is a new series of biographies for young independent readers introducing them to those who have shaped their world.

Done with a monochromatic theme with lots of line drawings it combines the essential information of each person’s life with significant quotes that encapsulate their philosophy for doing what they do. 

“When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is”.  Malala Yousafzai

“You too can reach your dreams and then your job is to reach back and to help someone just like you, do the same thing. ”  Michelle Obama

“I am happy if I have added something to the understanding of our universe. ” Stephen Hawking.

Three different people doing different things but with a common philosophy that focuses on humanity as a whole.

Written in a style and format that fosters a desire to continue reading rather than dipping and delving to find facts, this series is a way to introduce young readers to biography as a genre and its focus on people whose names may well be familiar to the audience will draw in those who might not yet be aware of this type of non fiction. Thus they are not only learning about the person in focus but discovering a new genre that will open up new reading pathways and perhaps inspire them. While our collections abound with biographies, they might not appeal to young readers so a series that captures the current desire for short bursts of information presented in a non-traditional way deserves serious consideration for adding to your collection. 




DK Life Stories (series)

DK Life Stories

DK Life Stories









DK Life Stories


Diane Bailey


Albert Einstein

Wil Mara


Helen Keller

Libby Romero


Katherine Johnson

Ebony Joy Wilkins


128pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99

At last the people with the power of the purse strings are beginning to realise that not everything is available online, and what is there is unlikely to be at a reading level accessible to our developing readers, and publishers are responding to the resurgence in demand for quality non fiction resources in print format.  While DK have continued to produce quality print materials throughout this misguided era of everything having to be screen-based, their new Life Stories series, biographies for younger readers, is a welcome addition to a genre that can be the entry point to a world of inspiration for a new generation.

Currently comprising about a dozen  titles, including most of the usual subjects found in this sort of series, the one that caught my eye was that of Katherine Johnson, she who is now the famed NASA mathematician and one of the subjects of the best-selling book and movie Hidden Figures. Miss 12 was just awarded her school’s Science and Technology prize for her work in coding and so this is just perfect for inspiring her to maintain her passion and continue to break down barriers as she moves on to high school.  

Using accessible text, photographs and the usual DK production quality, this series tells the stories behind the celebrities bringing them alive for students who now understand that their world is much larger and older than they are and that many have gone before as pioneers, often against incredible odds, so that they can enjoy the life they do.  Perhaps others would eventually have done what Katherine Johnson did, but for Miss 12 who has the self-doubt and mood swings so typical of her age group, it is Katherine’s story of resilience and determination that is as important as her achievements, just as it is for all the others featured in this series, so it is inspirational on many levels.  When she feels overwhelmed, hopefully she will draw on Katherine’s story to find the courage to take the next step.

That sort of engagement doesn’t come from reading a dispassionate fact-and-figures webpage and so this book in particular and the series in general will be a superb addition to both private and school libraries this year.   


47 Degrees

47 Degrees

47 Degrees








47 Degrees

Justin D’Ath

Puffin, 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Saturday, February 7, 2009 and Victoria wakes to a weather forecast of 47 degrees in Melbourne with strengthening northerly winds, part of the pattern of the previous few days as a heatwave crawls across the state. In the tiny community of Flowerdale,  Zeelie’s dad is enacting the family’s bushfire survival plan to stay and defend their home even though her mum and young brother are in the Emergency Department of a Melbourne hospital because Lachy has fallen off Zeelie’s horse Rimu.

Zeelie’s not sure her dad has made the right decision but even though there is a lot of smoke in the air her dad is convinced that his precautions are just that – precautions, and wherever the fire is, they will be safe. But when Zeelie goes next door to find Atticus, the old dog they are minding for absent neighbours who has wandered home and discovers small fires already started by embers, her fear rises particularly for the welfare of her horse Rimu. And when the generator fails and there is no longer electricity for the water pumps, it is clearly time to leave… but what about Mum and Lachy and Rimu?

Based solidly on his own experiences during those Black Saturday bushfires, Justin D’Ath has woven a tale that could be the story of any one of our students or children who has experienced the very real horror of bushfires.  At a time when adults are frantically busy trying to keep everyone and everything safe, and reassuring their children with what they want them to hear, there is not time to put themselves in their child’s shoes and see the events through their eyes.  When her dad asks her to pack suitcases, Zeelie packs her mum’s wedding dress and evening gowns rather than the more practical things;  she is angry at her mum because she has taken the vehicle with the towbar because she didn’t have enough petrol in hers so Rimu will be left to his own devices … kids focus on the details while the adults are dealing with the big picture and providing an insight into the child’s thinking and fears is what D’Ath has done so skilfully. Because he experienced many of the events that Zeelie does, the story has a unique authenticity and the reader feels the heat, smells the smoke, visualises the flames and empathises with the fear as Zeelie and her dad try all sorts of routes to get to Melbourne, only to be turned back towards the danger because even greater danger lies ahead.  D’Ath deals with the less-than-happy parts sensitively, acknowledging rather than ignoring them, and helping readers deal with the fact that not all things have a sugar-coated happy ending.  

As the 10th anniversary of one of this country’s greatest natural disasters when  173 people died and over 2000 homes were destroyed approaches, this is not only account of the an event that had an impact well beyond those who were caught up in it but also an insight into the what-did-happens and the what-ifs of those who have experienced similar events, providing us with an inkling of the trauma that many of our students might have faced and are still dealing with, critical as the milestone memory will generate a lot of media that could bring a wave of flashbacks and other psychological issues.

However, it is also a story of hope for them because 10 years on Justin is still able to write stories for them despite losing everything himself, and while the immediate future might be bleak, unknown and scary there is clear air coming and because Australians step up in an extraordinary way at these times, they will be OK. 














Mike Lucas

Jennifer Harrison

Midnight Sun, 2018 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Once, creatures of all shapes and sizes wandered this empty land. They had horns and wings, scales and feathers. They lived in vibrant forests, desert plains and icy tundras. But where are they now?

This is an evocative picture book, lyrically written and sublimely illustrated, that introduces young children to a host of the creatures that have inhabited this planet over the millennia but which have now disappeared, often because of the impact of humans on their habitat or a desire to own what they offered.  But this book goes further than the extinction of its creatures for it warns that humans with their cities and all that they consume will also disappear.

“The humans learned about their past.  But they didn’t learn  enough from it.” 

But there is also hope that perhaps once the humans have gone, the creatures will emerge again. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The recent criticism against the students who chose to display their anger through a national strike about the inaction of governments and corporates towards climate change really angered me. Rather than asking themselves why the students felt compelled to take this action, those self-styled “social commentators” and politicians just demonstrated their ignorance about what our students are concerned about, what they are learning in schools through curricula that they, the politicians, have put in place, and the emphasis placed on transferring what has been learned into action. As well as ignorance, they also showed their arrogance in thinking that they know better and are the only ones with “solutions” to fix things.  

The publication of Vanishing at this time is very timely and it should be an essential element of any study focusing on sustainability of the landscape so that, regardless of their age, they can “learn  enough from it”.  Enough for them to continue asking questions, to examine their own beliefs and practices, to encourage others to think about the then as well as the now, to take the action they did and to maintain it until the changes are stopped if not reversed, and to not give into a future of doom and gloom.  To show those who were of a similar mindset when they were students, that there are more important things than those that they now worship, particularly in a country that is among those with the worst rate of animal species extinction in the world.

A comparison of the front and back end-pages should be enough to pique the interest but further teaching notes are available here.

Midnight at the Library

Midnight at the Library

Midnight at the Library










Midnight at the Library

Ursula Dubosarsky

Ron Brooks

NLA Publishing, 2018

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A long time ago a boy looked out of a window and wondered about the world. And as he thought and wondered, his head filled with words and they came out of his head, down his arm, into his hand and into his fingers and onto the page… Over time and place that little book was opened and loved, given and taken, closed and lost, found and forgotten as it journeyed until it is now waiting to be discovered in a library.

In this beautifully written and stunningly illustrated story by the familiar team of Dubosarsky and Brooks, young readers are introduced to the concept of a book and its critical place in society as the purveyor of stories that tell us about who and what has gone before, the roots of who we are as a nation and indeed, as people.  And just as this little book lives on in the library to tell its seekers its stories, young readers can imagine what story they could write today to be discovered and revered years and generations hence. 

As well as telling the story of the book, Dubosarsky and Brooks also celebrate the importance of libraries as the safe havens of the written word, a concept also explored on the final pages as some of the books, as magical as that in the story,  that are available to be explored at the National Library of Australia are highlighted.

Apart from just being a wonderful read, the potential to use this book across the curriculum is almost endless as students consider the role of the written word, the history of its communication, the changes in format, the types of books and stories on offer and the need for a common set of symbols, syntax and semantics to make our message understood regardless of the language we speak.

Formal teachers’ notes are available but for me, this has so much more potential than just satisfying some AC outcomes. It’s all wrapped up in the universal wonder of story.





Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence











Sonam and the Silence

Eddie Ayres

Ronak Taher

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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


When Sonam turns seven, she is deemed no longer a child and her big brother orders her to cover her hair and begin to work. But the streets of Kabul and its market are too loud and scary for Sonam, the cacophony making a storm in her head and so she runs.  As she runs, she hears a strange sound and follows it, finding an old man with milky eyes and a curved spine in a garden of mulberry and pomegranate trees.  In his arms he is cradling a rubat, making music that Sonam has never heard before because in Taliban Afghanistan music has been banned.  

The music captures Sonam’s heart and each day she visits the old man, learning to play the rubat that he has given her – the one he played as a child.  But when her brother hears her humming and investigates further, he takes Sonam’s rubat forbidding her to sing or play again.  And as the noise builds in her head again, and the roar of gunfire and rockets is so close, she becomes withdrawn and her heart shrinks.  Until one day, she knows she just has to go back to the pomegranate garden…

This is “a lyrical fable-like story by the well-known musician, author and broadcaster Eddie Ayres, about the irrepressible power of music.” Based on his own experiences in Afghanistan and a young girl he knew there, he challenges the reader to think what a world without music would be like, particularly as it is often the key connection between peoples with no other common language. But as Sonam discovers, even if there is no audible external sound, there is still music.  

Illustrated by Iranian-Australian visual artist Ronak Taher using sombre colours and many layers and textures, which offer uplifting features like Sonam floating above the noise and chaos of the city, this is a thought-provoking story about how other children live in other parts of the world, and, indeed, how some of those in our classes have lived. While music has now been allowed in Afghanistan, the six years that the silence reigned must have been devastating for those for whom music is as essential as food. Readers are challenged to consider what their life would be like if something they held dear was banned, and if others prevented them from indulging in it because of the dangers such behaviour could invite.  Ayres suggest an Australia without sport, but what about a country without books? As with no music, how would the stories be told and continued?

As Christmas draws closer and the hype escalates, this is a book to share and consider those whose lives are very different and for whom joy comes from something other than a brightly wrapped present. 














Tania McCartney

HarperCollins, 2018

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


On January 17, 1977 “in a land far away, where fairies, pixies and elves live deep in the woods,” a baby girl was born. To her parents she was Mamie, but to generations of Australians she is May Gibbs, creator of the iconic literary characters the Gumnut Babies. In this centenary year of the publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Tania  McCartney has created this stunning tribute to Mamie’s life, tracing the early years of the little girl with the big imagination who could draw as soon as she could walk, staged home-made musicals and who became fascinated with the Australian bush and its creatures after her family moved to Adelaide and then Perth when she was just a few years old.

Told in a way that engages and enchants, rather than a litany of sterile facts – “she skipped and rode through shimmering bushland where smooth grey trees dipped their blossoms-heavy branches, and birds gathered to trill and chatter” –  McCartney not only brings the world of May Gibbs to life but also puts dreams in the head of any young child with an imagination. May Gibbs was just an ordinary little girl who did wonderful things as she grew up, so why not them?

Mamie also introduces young readers to the genre of biography and the concept of the stories behind the stories.  Instead of the usual  dispassionate collection of dates and milestones that are soon forgotten, we see the person and how her eventual legacy was shaped by the very ordinary days and deeds of her childhood and circumstances.  Perhaps other important people have a similar story to tell too.

Just as Gibbs had her distinctive style, so does McCartney and it is this modern interpretation that is such a big part of the appeal of this book.  This is not a stodgy piece of close-formatted text with deadpan pictures in a dull retro palette – it is as fresh and alive as Mamie herself was, full of plans and actions just like so many little girls today, finishing at what was really just the beginning.  

Aspirational and inspirational.

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

The Upside-Down History of Down Under

The Upside-Down History of Down Under











The Upside-Down History of Down Under

Alison Lloyd

Terry Denton

Puffin Books, 2018

304pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



“The story of Australia starts with a piece of land that went for a swim. About 200 million years ago it floated away from Africa. Very   very   slowly.  It was home to dinosaurs and giant animals, then the first Australians showed up.  And for a long time this wild and wonderful land was a mystery to the rest of the world.  Until the English decided it would make the best jail ever.”

When you read a blurb like that on the back of a book, you know you have got something somewhat different from the usual collection of Australian history books populating your 994 section, and indeed, different it is.  Spanning that time when the ancient continents split till Federation in 1901, this book tells the history of this continent in a quirky way with a narrative that speaks to the reader in short chapters with engaging headings and lots of the sorts of illustrations that are so uniquely Terry Denton.  It tells stories that are unfamiliar, challenges some long-held beliefs, and explores that which helped shaped 2018 Australia in a way that not only captures the imagination but makes the reader want to delve deeper.

Imagine, for instance, starting a study of the crossing of the Blue Mountains, with the sentence, “In 1813, three British gentlemen, Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth, took four of their servants and four of their dogs out for a long mountain walk.” Or exploring the whaling industry under the title “How Australia got stinking rich”. 

So many of our students groan at the thought of studying history, seeing it as having no relevance to their personal lives, and having been exposed to the “If it’s Year 5, it’s the Gold Rush” version of the curriculum, dry, dull and done-to-death. But if that same topic was embedded in a geological study of the formation of the gold, as alluded to in All that Glitters is Gold and followed up with the meaning of “golden soil and wealth for toil” it may well spark greater interest. 

Why is gold so valued that people left all they knew and loved in a quest to find it? Why did the NSW government try to hide Edmund Hargreaves’ discovery? How was the Australian 2018 way of life shaped by those who were grubbing in the dirt 160 years ago?

This book is excellent for being the appetiser for the main meal – offering tasty tidbits that tantalise the tongue and make the reader want to indulge further.  It’s a way of serving our history to our students which, in the hands of a skilful cook or even a dedicated diner, will open new worlds and new understandings that shows the broad spread of what has gone before. 

To add to the experience, there is a wealth of support materials available on the author’s website.

I Went Trick-or-Treating

I Went Trick-or-Treating

I Went Trick-or-Treating










I Went Trick-or-Treating

Paul Howard

Bloomsbury, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


I went trick-or-treating and I scared… a naughty, warty toad, a sliding, gliding ghost, a howling, growling wolf and some super silly skeletons…

When a brother and sister go trick-or-treating, they compete to see who can scare the creepiest creatures. As they try to remember each hair-raising encounter, everything escalates – until they get the biggest fright of all! 

Young children love the rhythm of repetitive, cumulative text and the challenge of trying to remember all the items in a list, so this is the perfect book for those who enjoy Hallowe’en and the custom of trick or treating. If participation is the sign of an engaged audience then this will be right up there. Along with the well-chosen language that rhymes and slips off the tongue because of its alliteration, the bright bold pictures are just perfect for the age group and the sibling rivalry will resonate with most! even talking about what scares them will add to the experience.

As the event continues to gather momentum in Australia, it is also an opportunity to look past “the Americanisation” and explore its origins dating back to pagan times then All Hallows Eve as the night before the Christian festival of All Saints Day. Each of the symbols in the story and those associated with this time of year has an interesting story behind it, so this is a chance to help our young readers pose questions and then try to discover the answers.  While some schools do not like students delving into the paranormal, this is a great opportunity to indulge in all the crafts that are associated with this topic as students seek different ways to display their new knowledge. So much more than candy and fancy dress!