Feathers for Phoebe (mini book)

Feathers for Phoebe

Feathers for Phoebe










Feathers for Phoebe

Rod Clement

HarperCollins, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Phoebe is a small grey bird and she doesn’t like it one bit.  Surrounded by the most colourful, exotic birds she feels she is inferior and so desperately wants to be more like them. So with the help of Zelda who runs the most popular beauty salon in the forest she begins a transformation.  But no matter what she adds, no one notices her and stops to admire her.  Even when she is totally transformed and unrecognisable from the small grey Phoebe, no one seems to notice. 

Zelda tells her that sometimes “feathers are not enough” and she needs more – a song, a sound and some moves. So Phoebe spends the day practising until she has the perfect moves for the perfect grooves.  The all-new singing, dancing Phoebe is ready to show herself to the world…

When Miss 10 started school this was the National Simultaneous Storytime of the Year pick and she loved it.  It was a family favourite for months and no bedtime session was complete without reading it.  It’s colour, it’s movement, it’s humour and it’s message about being yourself really appealed to her -as it did to thousands of other children – and sparked endless sessions of creating new feathers for headbands and dressing up in the gaudiest of fabrics and having fun being whoever her imagination decided, but each evening off came the regalia and she got into her ordinary pyjamas, happy to be herself and having her favourite story read yet again.

Now Miss 10 is an independent reader and she reads this book to Miss 5 who is not quite there yet.  But how wonderful it is to have this mini-book version that is just the right size to fit Miss 5’s hands so having heard the story so often already will be reading it for herself very soon.  Christmas stocking sorted!!!














Juliette MacIver

Terri Rose Baynton

ABC Books, 2016

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


In a jungle full of jaguars, monkeys and parrots the last thing you expect to find is a penguin.  But there she is – Gwendolyn, the only penguin in the entire jungle, and she loves it all – the humidity, the glorious. colourful flowers and all the jungle creatures. .  She is such a novelty that she is friends with all the creatures and her positive personality always shines through.  When Jaguar complains that it is too hot, she tells him of the ice and snow in Antarctica; when Monkey complains that the bananas are too squishy she tells him there are no trees in Antarctica let alone banana trees; and when Parrot complains that he cannot find a wife despite his magnificent colours she tells him of the black and white colour scheme of Antarctica.  

Even though all this wise advice makes her friends feel good, it starts to make Gwendolyn yearn for her natural home, a place she has never been to.  And so off she goes on a long, arduous journey eventually arriving exhausted but happy to be there and to meet other penguins and to find her own identity.  There is much fun to be had sliding and diving but…

This is a clever story that explores the concepts of being different, being positive and making the most of things written in a context that will appeal to young readers – although their adult helpers might have to be quick off the mark when the child inevitably asks, “How did she get to be in the jungle? ”  Her constant encouragement to have her friends look on the bright side  could become a refrain for the children when things get a bit tough for them as they ask themselves, “What would Gwendolyn do?” and having sought a solution, move on.  Building the foundations of resilience.

Baynton’s illustrations are clear and detailed and there is much to discover in them as the book is shared while her portrayal of Gwendolyn is endearing.  Young children might like to follow these instructions  to draw Gwendolyn and then use collage or other techniques to place her in either her jungle home or her Antarctic one.  

Colours of Australia

Colours of Australia

Colours of Australia











Colours of Australia

Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Hare, 2016

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


That eerie time just before dawn as the sky lightens and the stars are fading rapidly.

That split second of sunrise as the shards of light spread new life on the landscape.

That changing palette of oranges and yellows as the sun marches across the zenith on its inexorable journey , textures are in sharp relief and stones shelter and slumber.

That sheltered, filtered coolness as a few rays reach down through the canopy to the soft, sensitive plants on the forest floor.

Those subtle changes as the day draws to a close in a hush of blue, indigo and violet as gentle showers fall and sometimes thunder rumbles.

That all-consuming blackness of night as the sun takes its rest and only shadows remain.

In this visually stunning new book by one of our nation’s leading indigenous artists, the colours of the day stride through the pages capturing and encapsulating the patterns, the moods and the moments of what we so often take for granted, or just don’t see.  Bancroft always brings the beauty of nature into focus in her paintings and her evocative text, leaving an impact that forces us to look around and start to view what she sees – perfection in the natural shape, lines and layers of the landscape – through a new lens. Even if we do not have the talent to interpret the landscape and tell its story in the wonderful way of Bancroft, at the very least we can drink in this book and look with new eyes and better understand the connection to the land that our indigenous people enjoy and celebrate so well.

She has used the colours of her homeland west of Grafton, NSW as her inspiration but are they the same colours  that would be seen in other parts of Australia?  Are we united by them or is the landscape different but no less beautiful?  Have you students observe and paint what they see during the course of the day to discover the answer. 

As always from this creator, superb.

The Crayons’ Book of Numbers

The Crayons' Book of Numbers

The Crayons’ Book of Numbers










The Crayons’ Book of Numbers

Drew Daywalt

Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins 2016

18pp., board book., RRP $A16.99


In 2013 Daywalt and Jeffers introduced us to a most unlikely set of heroes, or at least a set that they probably didn’t realise would become so popular they would become a series.  But that is what has happened to Duncan’s seemingly innocuous packet of crayons.  From the day they refused to be stereotyped any longer in The Day the Crayons Quit to their second adventure when they came home even crankier than ever in The Day the Crayons Came Home their stories and individuality have delighted young readers.  Now they are the stars of a number of board books for the very youngest readers beginning with getting them to count them as they find them.  Typically though, each crayon does not come quietly – there’s a comment from each one of them as they are discovered.

This is a lovely book for a parent-child exploration helping the littlest one learn numbers and colours at the same time and just delight in the joy of these clever, quirky characters.  Why can’t dinosaurs be pink? Why are red and blue so tired and worn out?  What else could green do apart from colour in crocodiles?  Lots to chat about and speculate on.


Just the Way We Are

Just the Way We Are

Just the Way We Are











Just the Way We Are

Jessica Shirvington

Claire Robertson

ABC Books, 2016

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



Families come in all sorts of shapes and Anna, Chiara, Henry , Izzy and Jack lovingly introduce the reader to theirs.  Anna’s family includes her grandfather who does wonderful things with her after school; Chiara has two dads while Henry lives in one house with his mum and his brother and his dad lives in another house.  Izzy is loved by her foster family and there’s only Jack and his mum in his family.  

But despite the different configurations there are several things that are all the same – each family does the same sorts of things and enjoys them, each family is full of love and hugs and each family is perfect just the way it is. 

With its pastel colours and gentle illustrations, this book is an affirmation of all the different types of families that our children live in and encounter through their friendships and that as long as there is plenty of love and hugs and fun, each family is just the right shape for it.  The call for greater diversity of the characters in the stories our children enjoy, both in print and onscreen, is starting to be heard and so it is not only delightful but also important that books like this feature predominantly in our library collections – both school and home.  Children have the right and the need to be able to see themselves and their situations reflected in the stories they enjoy so their lives are just as normal as others and marginalisation (and bullying) is minimised.  

Using the children’s thumbnail sketches of their families in this book as a role model would be a wonderful way to explore the different shapes of families in the classroom and demonstrate that the common thread of love is the most important of all.

Australia: Illustrated

Australia: Illustrated

Australia: Illustrated










Australia: Illustrated

Tania McCartney

EK Books, 2016

96pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Perhaps this is the time and place to have a disclaimer that I am an unabashed Tania McCartney fan.  Not just for her wonderful way with words and her exquisite illustrations but because no matter how often the topic of a text has been presented before, she always finds a way to present it in a unique way that totally engages her audience and makes them want to keep turning the pages. 

A prime example is This is Captain Cook in which the story of the explorer is presented in a way like no other that not only entertains but educates and is likely to have teachers and students begging to do a similar production.  Australian Kids Through the Years looks at Australian history through the perspective of children’s lives of the times and An Aussie Year  is the perfect accompaniment to Harmony Day and all those other times we celebrate the diversity of the children in our care and in our classes.

So it is no wonder I was excited to receive her latest book Australia: Illustrated.

Again, there have been many books that try to explore and explain what it is that makes this country unique; what it is that encapsulates the Australian identity; and what it is that deserves our attention and pride. So why another one?  What is its point of difference that will make it stand out and demand to be on shelves in libraries, classes and homes?

“Big, beautiful, and diverse” are the words McCartney uses to describe Australia, and they are the very words that could describe this book.  It is big and it is fat (criteria important to some of our junior readers); it is beautiful with colour, iconic illustrations and few words; and it’s diverse with its focus on a range of topics that don’t usually feature in these sorts of texts.  Each page is a vibrant explosion of colour and movement that celebrate our places and people in quirky ways like the Sydney Opera House portrayed as being made of chook feathers and little people running around trying to catch the chooks to get their feathers!

Beginning with an overview of the country as a whole, focusing on everything from our native and endangered animals to bush tucker, iconic foods, sports, weather and precious rocks, even our particular brand of English, it then moves on to examine each state and territory and their unique entities and emblems.  And yes, both Tasmania and the ACT feature as prominently as the bigger states. But this is not a whole lot of facts and figures accompanying the sorts of staid photos seen on calendars for tourists… each page is just bursting with cartoon-like illustrations and  few-word captions.  It is peopled with children – many modelled on those whom McCartney knows and who unwrap the miscellany of heritage that makes us so every child will find themselves somewhere -and so it is not too serious her love of words and zany humour is everywhere. Just check out the page featuring the Snowy Mountains in NSW!


Readers will adore looking at places they have been to or things they are familiar with – listen for the chorus of “I’ve been there”” when they see the BIG page – as well finding places and things they want to do or try.  Astute teachers might ask why a particular person or item has been included as well as seeking suggestions for things the students would include if they were to design a page or add to an existing one.  (They would have to research their suggestion so they could defend its inclusion.)

This is a superb book for examining the Australian identity and answering “What makes me Australian?” It works for all ages because of its format, including those who are learning English for the first time.  it would have suited this year’s CBCA Book Week theme Australia: Story Country perfectly as every illustration has a story behind it just waiting for the children to discover it. Younger students can just look at the pictures and use those to work out the words while older students may well be attracted to a particular illustration and want to find out more.  

For those of you in and around Canberra there is a launch of the book at Harry Hartog’s in Woden on  Saturday the 5th of November at 11am but for those who can’t get to that, there is a virtual launch with all sorts of activities from  24th to 31st of October 


Definitely one for the collection and one to promote to your teaching colleagues.  

Be A Friend

Be A Friend

Be A Friend










Be A Friend

Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, 2016

40pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Dennis was an ordinary who liked doing ordinary boy things – BUT instead of talking about them like other boys he expressed himself differently. His hero was the great mime artist Marcel Marceau  and like his hero with his white face and top hat, Dennis would mime what he wanted to say.  While other children climbed trees, Dennis was happy to be a tree.   But trees get lonely and as the other children played happily, Dennis looked on wistfully, feeling invisible, as though he were standing behind a wall t . .. until the day he kicked an imaginary ball and a little girl called Joy caught it.

The blurb on the back of the book says it is “a heart-warming celebration of individuality, imagination and the power of friendship” and that is spot on.  This is a subtle but powerful exploration of children who are different from the “norm”, who literally and figuratively don’t have a voice and who feel invisible because of that difference.  It’s not that the other children are cruel or unkind but they are busy being children and don’t always see beyond their own horizons, let alone have time to understand Dennis and his special needs.  Even though Joy is like Dennis in that she, too, does not speak, the power of friendship that exists between two children can open new worlds for not just them but others around them too.

Yoon’s illustrations are exquisite – a dotted red line captures Dennis’s actions so the reader knows what is happening and the final illustration using the imaginary skipping rope and all the other children running to join in the game is perfect.

While the storyline focuses on Dennis who doesn’t speak, it could apply to anyone who feels different such as a child new to the country with no English or someone with a physical disability or an emotional need – it will resonate with anyone who feels marginalised and who would just like a friend. But just as it is their story, so it can be a story for one of those “ordinary” children.  As educators we must never under-estimate the value of teaching children how to make friends and be friends – it is a skill that will take them far beyond the first few days of Kindergarten.

Making and being friends is the theme of so many stories for young children that you wonder if there could ever be a new slant on it.  Be A Friend has found it.

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

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off










The Great Dragon Bake-Off

Nicola O’Byrne

Bloomsbury, 2016

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



Flamie Oliver was a dragon – and especially enormous, terrifying dragon.  So enormous and terrifying, in fact, that he was invited to the Ferocious Dragon Academy, a special school for dragons who were very, very, good at being very, very bad.  But Flamie had a secret – he was very, very bad at being very, very bad BUT he was very, very, good at baking.  

He loved pastries and breads and cupcakes and cakes and was an expert at creating the most delicious treats.  He spent so much time practising and perfecting his creations that he forgot to practise his dastardly dragon skills and when the finals day he came, he was not ready.  While his classmates Heston Blowitall, Scaly Berry and Paul firewood performed their death-defying deeds, which pleased Miss Puffitup immensely, Flamie failed.  And so the only way to graduate is for Flamie to kidnap a princess and eat her!

Flamie had no problem kidnapiong the princess, but how do you eat something like that?  Which are the best flavour combinations to make her palatable? How can Flamie get out of this pickle? what did he do that means he is the star of Miss Puffitup’s Brilliant Baking Academy?

Cooking shows abound on television and while their target audience may not be the same as that for this book, nevertheless young listeners and readers will delight in the humour and understand the conundrum that Flamie has – and their parents and carers sharing the story with them will appreciate the clever play on both the names but also the inspiration, the Great British Bake-Off. While the illustrations and the dastardly deeds seem to confirm the stereotype that little ones have of dragons, it is Flamie’s difference that is at the core of the story.  Even though he keeps his passion and skills a secret at first, it is these which come to the fore and are celebrated and he and his young audience learn that it takes all kinds and it’s OK to be different.  Having the courage to be yourself is the most important trait of all.

Full of fun and colour, action and movement this is another winner from Nicola O’Byrne who also gave us the fabulous Use Your Imagination and illustrated the tender  My Little Star.  And to keep the enjoyment going there is a postcard and an activity pack to download.



Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Tricia Oktober

Ford Street, 2014

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95


Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar are five dachshunds who live in a beautiful garden owned by a lady who collects plants and dogs.  Theirs is a peaceful, placid life with each having its own personality and spending their days literally living a dog’s life.  Even the magpies are not afraid to come and look for worms as the dogs snooze in the sun.  

But one day, the owner brings another dog home – one called Butterfly, one who is not like the long, low, smooth dachshunds.  Rather this one has longer legs, short ears and a squashed in face. And she isn’t even the same gingery colour – she is white with black bits here and there.  But this doesn’t bother Oscar who is very affectionate – to him this newcomer is just another puppy who needs to be kept warm and safe at night; who needs her face washed after dinner because she is such a messy eater; and who needs to learn that shredding teddies and pulling plants out of the garden are not the right things to do.

Everything is fine in the household until one night Butterfly sees another dog outside, one that barks when she does and growls right back at her.  The other dogs come to her rescue and make enough noise to scare anything away but the new dog just stands there barking right back at them. Night after night the new dog comes to the window and nothing Butterfly can do scares it away.  She gets more and more scared until something has to be done – so the owner puts a mirror where Butterfly can see her reflection, but suddenly it seems that outside dog had come inside and Butterfly is even more terrified.  When she finally realises that she is seeing herself for the first time, she calms down a little – until she realises that she isn’t long and sleek like Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar.  She is very different  so instead of being scared, she is now unhappy and feels very alone and isolated. Nothing cheers her up until…

Tricia Oktober always writes the most charming stories that are illustrated with her exquisite, lifelike drawings and Butterfly and Oscar is no exception.  Given that it is dedicated to her dogs, all eight of them, suggests that this story might be based on real life and it is the mark of a true storyteller that they can take an ordinary event like a dog seeing its reflection for the first time and turn it into a book that enchants and teaches through its gentle message that each of us is different but it’s not what we look like that counts but what we do.  However, while we are loved for who we are, sometimes being the newcomer can make us feel like an outsider and that no one will accept us.  There are excellent teaching notes  which will help students not only empathise with these feelings if they haven’t experienced them but also help them understand that difference is not always negative and how they can reach out to someone and bring them into the circle.

Miss 5 is going through a “dog phase”  – she is going to love having this in her collection if I overcome my love of Tricia Oktober’s work and actually let her have it!