Christoph Niemann

Greenwillow, 2016

352pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99



What can you do with a word?  For me drawing and writing are very closely related. Both a word and a picture have the power to express extremely complex thoughts and emotions with amazing simplicity. Think of the word “love,” or a drawing of a smiling face. Being able to understand words and images opens the door to knowledge, communication, and connection to people all over the world.”

What originated as a set of cards for the New York City Department of Education to inspire children to learn English in a playful way has evolved into a most unusual book that takes more than 300 of the words we use often and interprets them in simple line drawings that require the reader to look closely to match meaning and picture. The illustration of the meaning is not always literal so that it has to be teased out and talked about, enhancing the reader’s understanding of it. Niemann makes connections between the word and emotions, cause and effect, actions, opposites, comparisons  and whatever else he feels will best express the richness of its meaning in an entertaining way that will teach and endure.  It is the relationship between the word and its illustration that is the key to explaining its meaning, rather than just a set of graphemes and a tangible object.  In fact many of the words that are included are not nouns or verbs but other parts of speech that can be tricky to explain. (He has even added a pictorial explanation for the common parts of speech at the end that should really help students remember them!)  Others such as scintilla and Brobdingnagian rely on their juxtaposition to enhance their meaning and add to the humour while homophones are depicted with their multiple meanings. And the toast that ALWAYS falls jam-side down is the perfect definition  



As much fun as this book is in and of itself, it is also a perfect springboard for getting students to try their hand at their own pictorial explanations for those words that trip them up.  There are many applications in the teaching day to have students interpret words through graphics and let them broaden their understanding of how our language works.

What looks like a simple book at first glance is full of promise and potential as a teaching tool.

Colour Your Own Medieval Alphabet

Colour Your Own Medieval Alphabet

Colour Your Own Medieval Alphabet








Colour Your Own Medieval Alphabet

British Library

Pavilion. 2016

56pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


Before the age of printing made books more accessible to the general populace, texts were painstakingly produced by hand in monasteries by monks who were among the few literate people in a community.  Artists known as illuminators embellished a text made by a scribe with a colourful, highly decorative capital letter often gilded with gold leaf so it appeared to be filled with light.  Such books were priceless and became treasured objects.

From its collection of texts, most of which are 500 years old,  the British Library has selected 26 examples, each representing a letter of the alphabet and each annotated with the origin of the original, and transformed them into intricate outlines perfect for those who enjoy the challenge of colouring in.  There are samples from medieval charters and seals, historical and literary manuscripts, from Virgil to Chaucer and Royal Statutes to the Book of Psalms and the endpapers have reproductions of the originals so there is a choice to try to duplicate the original or create something new.

While there are many benefits of colouring in for children that centre around the development of hand-eye co-ordination and spatial awareness, it is becoming a favoured occupation by those who are older for the therapeutic qualities particularly promoting mindfulness and reducing stress.  

Although photocopying of the images for multiple use in a makerspace environment would be a breach of copyright, nevertheless each page could be given to individuals in need of a break, Printed on quality paper they would make a colourful display which could spark an investigation into the origin and history of the written word, the history and origin of the process of illuminations or even life in the Middle Ages generally, particularly the role of religion which is such a driving force for many, even today.  The current anti-Islamic fervour which seems to be building around the world has very deep roots!

It could also become the ubiquitous alphabet chart found in primary libraries or even become the signage for the fiction section.  Imagine the boost to a child’s self-esteem when they see their work put to such a useful purpose!

This books offers more than just a shoosh-and-colour activity to fill in time. It has the potential to take the students on a journey into our past.

The Gobbledygook and the Scribbledynoodle

The Gobbledygook and the Scribbledynoodle

The Gobbledygook and the Scribbledynoodle









The Gobbledygook and the Scribbledynoodle

Justin Clarke & Arthur Baysting

Tom Jellett

Penguin Viking, 2016

32pp., hbk. RRP $A19.99


Look! Look! It’s the Gobbledygook!
He’s reading his favourite mon-story book.

Comfortable in the library and using his best book-reading manners that he learned in The Gobbledygook is Eating a Book, the Gobbledygook is enjoying exploring his favourite book, whispering the quiet words, shouting the loud ones and making up those he doesn’t know (just like real-life early readers).  But when one of the monsters jumps right out of the book and begins to scribble all over the books the Gobbledygook is very distressed. While the Scribbledynoodle takes notice when it is told that it should not draw on the books, it then takes to drawing on everything else in the library – the walls, the shelves, even the librarian – until the Gobbledygook and his friend escort it outside.  And there it teaches them that there are pictures in many more places than a book. Clouds, rainbows, puddles and snail trails all have their own kind of pictorial magic with the day (and the story) ending in peeking ‘at the pictures we dream in our sleep.”

This is a wonderful romp in rhyme for young readers who will delight in its tongue-twisting words, fast pace, crazy ideas and bright, colourful pictures.  Even though the Gobbledygook is a monster with big teeth and even bigger feet, he’s not one that will scare them and you can just hear the oohs and ahs as they see the destruction that the Scribbledynoodle causes.  Even though they are young THEY know better and will delight in telling the adult reader so.  But they will be pleased that instead of the Scribbledynoodle being in BIG trouble, it gets redirected and through the kindness of the Gobbledygook and his friend, it not only makes new friends but shows them important things too.  The children will be on their way outside to see if they can see an elephant’s bum in the clouds! But they will also look at the colours, shapes and patterns in nature with new eyes, perhaps getting inspiration for their own drawings.

This is “a magnificent, magical, colourful doodle of a day in the life of a Scribbledynoodle”. which will go from first-read to favourite very quickly!


Junior Illustrated English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Junior Illustrated English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Junior Illustrated English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Junior Illustrated English Dictionary and Thesaurus

Felicity Brooks

Nikki Dyson

Usborne, 2016

480pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


This new release from Usborne, who are masters at putting together quality education resources, comes in perfect time for sharing with parents who are looking for something special for the Christmas stocking for that between-group who are a little old for toys but not quite ready for all the trappings of being a young adult.  Grandparents will LOVE it as a suggestion!

With so many thesauri and dictionaries on the market for this age group, there has to be a point of difference to make a new one stand out and having seen and used so many over my 40+ years of teaching, it’s hard to think what that might be.  However, Usborne have discovered it – scattered throughout the 480 pages amongst the 6000+ words are text boxes with all sorts of information about the words including spelling tips, word families, word origins and so on- each of which helps the child build their vocabulary and their knowledge of how words and English work so they can build on what they know to be even more proficient.  There are explanations about the s/z conflict in British and American English as well as things like the t/-ed endings and who uses which.  (Australian standards use ‘t’ but either is acceptable where there is a choice and the context and meaning is not changed).

There is a comprehensive “how to” introductory section which explains the features and layout of the book including how to use a dictionary generally, the different word classes such as nouns, adjectives and verbs and links to further explanations, activities and games for both the dictionary and the thesaurus which will extend the user’s knowledge and skills even further.In between the dictionary and thesaurus sections are pages about how to make plurals, and prefixes and suffixes, all serving to make this more than just a word finder. The plentiful, colourful illustrations are really useful and would serve someone learning English for the first time very well, particularly older students who prefer something a little more grown-up than basic alphabet books.

If you are looking for a new class set of this sort of reference text for the library, this one really deserves serious consideration – in the meantime, this copy will find its way to Miss Almost-Year-5.  It will be the perfect present for her.


Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Did You Take the B from My _ook?

Beck & Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2016

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


Did you take the B from my _ook, or my _ed, _ull, or even my _utterfly???

Following on from the hilarity of This is a Ball, Beck and Matt Stanton have created another delightful romp for preschoolers focusing on what happens when their favourite letter ‘B” is removed from some of their favourite words.

Starting by introducing the sound and the noise it makes, it continues with some single words which are then combined into a series of hilarious sentences that just beg for the child to interact and supply the missing letter.  Look! The _eetle is wearing the _lue _oots, jumping on the _ed and _ouncing the _all with the _ulls!”  Someone has stolen the “b’ and only the child can fix it! At the bottom of each page there is a commentary between the writer and the reader, openly inviting them to join in so there is even more fun to be had.

Like its counterpart This is a Ball, this book has a much wider audience than a first glance would suggest and a much wider application than fun between parent and child as a bedtime read. With such an emphasis, rightly or wrongly, on phonics in early reading instruction these days this is a perfect way to introduce this sound and all the others, in a  way that plays with language and makes it fun so the desire to be a reader is enhanced.  It could spark a host of class books based on favourite letters or those that start the children’s names so they explore its sound, the words that start with it and then put them together in crazy sentences that can then be illustrated.  There might even be a discussion about how those letters not chosen might feel and a joint construction made as a model prior to their creating their own.  The Bruna-esque illustrations are perfect with their entire focus being the particular word or sentence in focus and provide an easy-to-emulate model.

Those learning our language for the first time would delight in it, particularly those who are a bit older and who want something more than a traditional alphabet book and posters of words starting with a particular phoneme. There would be so much engagement that the learning would be natural and meaningful and go deeper than other more traditional strategies.

Both this and This is a Ball seem such simple concepts for a book that you wonder why they haven’t been done before – but it takes creators who have a real understanding of just what it takes to engage a child in reading so they are bouncing about and demanding more to pull it off so successfully.

Look forward to many more…

Have a look for yourself!




Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia

Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia

Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia










Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia

Caroline Bingham

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

600pp., pbk., RRP $A59.99


A few years ago, perhaps in an effort to be seen as a cutting-edge, digital-age facility, many libraries weeded their reference collections, disposing of almanacs, atlases and encyclopedias in the belief that “everything was now available on the Internet”.  True, some of those multi-volume sets did take up precious shelf space even though they were seldom consulted but were retained because of the expense of acquiring or replacing them.  Those who sent them to new homes (or the skip) were seen as brave and even now there are libraries where one can find these sets taking pride of place despite being years out of date.

But gradually there came a realisation that not everything was available on the Internet and what was there was not necessarily accessible physically or intellectually to those requiring it at their point of need.  In addition, research started to emerge about the differences between reading print and digital material with strong evidence that those who read, evaluate, interpret and use online information best do so because they have a solid foundation of traditional print-based skills. But it is tricky to help our newest readers develop those skills if we no longer have that traditional collection of print-based resources to offer them.

So this updated, 25th anniversary edition of the iconic Children’s Illustrated Encyclopedia is going to be a welcome addition to many school and home libraries.  It is hard to imagine that it is more than a quarter of a century since Dorling Kindersley (DK) revolutionised the presentation of non fiction to cater for the needs of younger readers with clear headings, smaller chunks of information, clear, coloured illustrations and the use of white space which decluttered the page and allowed the reader to feel more in control rather than overwhelmed.  With indices, glossaries, quick-fact boxes and a host of other features DK pioneered this new-look non fiction which made all sorts of topics accessible to the youngest readers who could learn much just from browsing the pictures even if they couldn’t read the words yet.

This 8th edition of the 1991 original covers nearly 400 topics, arranged in the traditional alphabetical format, offering full or double-page spreads on those things that young readers want to investigate as well as new things that will catch their eye as they navigate through it.  One of the common arguments raised against the cost of and access to online encyclopedias is that they have a particular bias towards their country of publication, but this one does not appear to favour anywhere over another.  Australia has the same amount of space as the United States; England has no more than New Zealand. 

Each topic is presented in that clear DK style and does what an encyclopedia is supposed to do – offer an overview of each featured topic that can be further explored in more in-depth texts if desired. There is both a full index and gazetteer, critical for developing effective search terms and location skills, as well as a full list of acknowledgements so we can demonstrate the ethical use of information and illustrations. 

Even though it is heavy for little muscles, it would be a wonderful and affordable way to introduce students to those essential, traditional skills that are going to provide the platform for more sophisticated use of non fiction resources, print or online, in the future.  And being just one volume, it won’t take up the real estate of those older, more traditional sets. Parents and grandparents will be pleased to know that there is something with which they are familiar appearing on the shelves, and many will find their birthday or Christmas gift problem solved.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sitting comfortably?

  Are you sitting comfortably?










Are you sitting comfortably?

Leigh Hodgkinson

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., hbk. RRP $A25.99


Hello there!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sure?

Have you found the perfect snuggle-up-and-lose-yourself-in-a-book place?

Or is it buzz-buzzy, or growly, itchy, fuzzy? Perhaps there are hoots or giant stomping boots or maybe even…it’s hot, cold or up a tree!  The little chap in this book is not doing so well in finding the perfect place to sit and read his book, which is all he wants to do, but in the end he discovers it doesn’t really matter where you sit, there is something much more important!

This is a delightful story that will charm young readers with its rhyming language that is so much fun on the tongue and quirky pictures that are so critical to the text.  The range of chairs and their ‘accompaniments’ will spark their imagination and there is such scope for talking about what different sorts of chairs might attract as well as favourite places to read.  Having the children then draw a chair, decorate it and talk about who might also like it would be a great extension activity offering personal input and ownership that would make this more than a one-off read.  Or perhaps a chair is not their favourite spot to read.  Have them talk to you about where is and maybe bring in a photo of them in their special spot. Seeing others read always validates the time they spend doing it.

And really, what could be more important than a comfy place to read your book?  The answer will spark even more discussions about reading and the magic it provides.

The author was the art director on the popular Charlie and Lola series and her eye for design, detail, pattern and colour shines through in every picture.  It is easy to see that she had the illustrations in her mind’s eye as she crafted the text, such is the seamless marriage between the two.

The muted palette of its cover might not catch the eye but open it up and there’s a magical world in there! Perfect for busy teacher librarians who want to know a little more about those in their care.

Baxter’s Book

Baxter's Book

Baxter’s Book











Baxter’s Book

Hrefna Bragadottir

Nosy Crow, 2016

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



Baxter adores books.  Books about scary wolves, brave lions, cuddly bears, cute little rabbits… He loves stories so much his greatest wish is to be in a one too.  As he comes out of the bookstore laden with new purchases he spots a sign for an audition to be in a storybook.  This is his dream come true!  He is SO excited but when he joins the very long line of characters waiting to show their talents, he realises all have been in storybooks before – except him.  But he is convinced of his talents – he can sing, dance, act and do gymnastics – so goes forth undaunted onto the stage as the first performer.  Imagine his disappointment when the judges dismiss him because they just don’t know what he is.  He’s not a scary wolf, a brave lion, a cuddly bear, a cute rabbit or even a hungry crocodile and when he tries to be like them, he fails.  Why is being himself not enough?

This debut picture book from Icelandic author Hrefna Bragadottir is quite charming with its lovable main character (who is a totally original concept) who is prepared to follow his dream but finds himself not accepted because he’s different and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a storybook character.  As a story in itself, with soft pastel pictures that take the edge off his rejection, it is a stand-alone but there is greater depth here than just a single read because it raises all sorts of questions about stereotypes – are wolves always scary and rabbits always cute? – as well as being true to oneself, tolerating difference and all those other relationship issues young children encounter when they step into the bigger world of preschool or big school for the first time.  Venturing into the unknown always raises some questions of self-doubt and when things don’t go as anticipated there can be all sorts of ramifications.  The heart-warming ending to the story will bring reassurance and recognition and Baxter will never be an oddity again!

Young readers will delight in identifying the characters they know like the three little pigs, but there’s also scope to investigate other stories that feature the creatures – perhaps make lists and displays to inspire wider reading – and compare and contrast each character with the stereotype.  Character analysis in preschool!!!  For those a little older it could lead to discussions about preconceptions and misconceptions we have about people and start to break down some of the barriers that are already in place even at this age.

Baxter’s Book is a perfect example of children learning about life through literature and why we need to keep sharing such wonderful stories.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Any Questions?

Any Questions?

Any Questions?











Any Questions?

Marie-Louise Gay

Allen & Unwin, 2015

hbk., 60pp., RRP $A19.99



For the students, an author visit to their school is often better than a visit from Santa because instead of just once a year, they get to revisit the warm, fuzzy feelings every time they pick up a work by the author. 

For the author, it might not be so memorable but the authors I know say it is always fun and often inspirational.  Take the visits that Marie-Louise Gay has made.  She knows she is going to get a barrage of questions, questions she hears each time from each audience like “What inspired you to write this book?” and “Where do your ideas come from?’ and “Where does a story start?”

It is this last one that has inspired this unique book from this talented author/illustrator.  Where does a story start.  “A story always starts on a blank white page… and if you stare long enough at a blank piece of paper, anything can happen…”  A white page could become a snowstorm, old yellowish paper might take you back to the time of the dinosaurs and purple paper could put you in the middle of a thunderstorm.  Or sometimes a story will start with words and ideas floating around, captured, recorded, saved or discarded.  And so it begins to build… who lives in this setting and what might happen to them?

Capturing the beginnings of a story in text and graphics helped by those children who were asking the questions, Ms Gay takes the reader on a journey through the imaginative process that is as creative as her ideas.  Then having taken those ideas and shaken them and turned them upside-down she discovers that her central character is a shy, young giant with birds nesting in his hair.  And for a few pages she tells his story until something happens and the story is turned over to the children to continue as a collaborative effort.  Then she steps in again to finish it.  Except the children don’t want it to end and are inspired to write another one.

This is a most intriguing book that invites the reader’s imagination and interaction.  Text and illustrations are integral, particularly the words of the children and this might make it tricky to share as a whole-class read-aloud but it is perfect to share with a small group about to start on the writing process.  Young writers often sort out their ideas by drawing first and the concept of letting the colour of the paper suggest the setting is inspirational, particularly if you are focusing on the meanings of words like setting, characters and plot.  Have a brainstorm session of possibilities with various sheets of coloured paper, have them draw the setting then think about the characters that would fit into it and from there develop the story.  It works! It brought those ideas to life in a way that breathed life into my explanations and allowed them to explore them in a really practical way.

This book will excite teachers as much as it inspires their budding writers.  There is a queue of reservations for it!


Bears Don’t Read

Bears Don't Read

Bears Don’t Read









Bears Don’t Read

Emma Chichester Clark

HarperCollins, 2014

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


Bear is not like the other grizzly bears in the woods.  While they are perfectly happy doing bear things like fishing, Bear is bored. 

“Oh, life is lovely,” he thought. “Tra-la-la and all that!  But is this it?” he wondered.  “Is this all there is?”

Then one day, Bear discovers a book.  And inside it were pictures of bears just like him, but there were also a lot of words and even Bear knew that they meant something, even the tiny ones.  But what?  So he decides to go into the town to find out, to find someone who will teach him to read.  But instead of being greeted by a band of willing helpers, he is met by people fleeing and the police riot squad!  Until he meets Clementine…

As well as being a charming story, this book celebrates Bear’s determination and acknowledges that reading is not an easy task, something the target audience will be able to empathise with. Clementine’s patience mirrors that of the early childhood teacher and the ending is delightful.  Even though bears are depicted and fierce and scary, the illustrations are soft and gentle supporting the words to show a different side of this species.   Emma Chichester Clark has a distinctive style that has seen her win many awards for her illustrations and this is another superb example.