ABC Mindful Me

ABC Mindful Me

ABC Mindful Me









ABC Mindful Me

Christiane Engel

Quarto US, 2018

36pp., board book, RRP $A19.99


“Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment” and in this book the creator takes a journey through the alphabet stopping at each letter to link it to an activity or concept that will enable younger readers to be more in touch with the here and now and where they are.  

From Awareness to Zen children are encouraged to learn about being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy as they learn how to limit and manage stress and anxiety through rhyming text and bold pictures which feature a diversity of children.  There are also instructions to make some of the suggestions like a thankfulness tree and a mandala.

With mindfulness such a part of the curriculum these days, this could  almost be the basis of a semester’s program as each child creates their own book showing what the concept for each letter means for them.

Oma’s Buttons

Oma's Buttons

Oma’s Buttons









Oma’s Buttons

Tania Ingram

Jennifer Harrison

Penguin Viking, 2018

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


Ruthie loved going to visit her Oma and doing all the wonderful things that grandmothers and their grandchildren do together – baking, singing, playing … One day she discovers a small tin under Oma’s bed – a small tin which holds BIG memories!  For in it were lots of buttons, each one representing a special person in Oma’s life.

And so Ruthie learns about the people who had passed through Oma’s life, each one special and significant like the red button that was from her mother’s apron because she loved to bake; the little wooden button from her father who taught her how to be brave; the blue button from the suit Opa was wearing on the day he proposed…   Even Ruthie is in there through the green button off her first dress. 

Fascinated she listens to all the stories , until she finds a beautiful button at the bottom of the tin – from Oma’s favourite coat and so Ruthie asks if she can have it to remind her of Oma.  That button goes with her everywhere that day, even to the park where it slips through a hole in the pocket in her jacket and is lost forever.  Ruthie is devastated but then Oma shows her the best memory button in the world…

This is a most beautiful book dedicated to the author’s mother-in-law who  was born in a displaced persons camp in Kematen, after her family had to flee the occupation in WWII and whose early experience as a refugee gave her an appreciation of family traditions and holding onto the memories of those we love.  Her button tin inspired the story and the love between her mother-in-law and her daughter shines through on every page as the story and memories of each button is shared and celebrated, clearly based on real events.   

Jennifer Harrison’s stunning illustrations are so photograph-like that each person comes to life so the reader not only feels they know them better but is also transported back to memories of their own special people – a grandmother who made porridge and served it with brown sugar as the familiar fanfare heralded the 8.00am news and taught me to make the traditional Kiwi favourites like pavlova; a grandfather who walked miles with us over the beaches and rocks of one of the southernmost towns in the world and who taught me to love the eternal, restless sea; a father returned from being a POW in World War II determined his kids would be brought up in peace and who taught me to look for the silver lining in everyone; a mother who insisted on keeping her hard-fought for career and who taught me to follow my dreams

Sadly, all are gone now as is my Nanna’s button tin, lost in international moves and the passing decades – but the memories are rich and alive. 

Tania Ingram and Jennifer Harrison have written an important book that will encourage reminiscing, perhaps even an investigation into why families are who they are for we all belong to someone, somewhere and we are all loved.  One to be treasured as much as the buttons.

Rescue & Jessica: A life-changing friendship

Rescue & Jessica

Rescue & Jessica










Rescue & Jessica

Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Scott Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Rescue thought he would grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog – after all, that’s what his family does.  However, his handler thinks he would be better as an assistance dog and Rescue is worried that he wouldn’t be any good at that.  He did not want to let anyone down.

Meanwhile, Jessica has had to have one of her legs amputated and will need either a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair to be mobile.  This is not what she thought her life would be like and she worried about whether she will be able to manage the changes.  And then she and Rescue are teamed up…

Based on the true story of a young woman injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, just five years ago, this is a story of how Jessica and Rescue manage the unexpected changes in their lives and how they rescued each other.  Five years on, it is not only a tribute to assistance dogs the world over,  it also highlights the struggles of those who survive these disastrous events and continue to cope long after the headlines have moved on – in this case, more than 260.  

As well as the personal story of Jessica and Rescue, it also highlights the resilience, the perseverance, and the continuing hard work that it takes to go forward from such a life-changing event including those that do not make world headlines. The cause of Jessica’s unhealthy legs is not disclosed within the story and so there are many children who, sadly, can relate to the realisation that life as they know it has changed and life as they had dreamed is irrevocably altered.   Divorce, family break-ups,illness,  car accidents, deaths… these (and more) are part of the fabric of our students’ lives that they may be dealing with in silence and while they might not require an assistance dog, we need to be mindful of their struggles. Sharing this story and discussing Jessica’s feelings of despair and hope, taking one step at a time, one day at a time may help them progress just a little further.
















(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99


DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015



Go Go and the Silver Shoes

GoGo and the Silver Shoes

Go Go and the Silver Shoes









Go Go and the Silver Shoes

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Penguin Viking, 2018

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


When all your clothes are the hand-me-downs from your three wild brothers,  it is important to make the most of what you have.  Even though they were fourth-hand, Go Go had a knack for making them interesting and wore them proudly even if “friends” like Annabelle made unkind comments.  

And when the only new things you get are your knickers and sneakers, then it is especially important to choose the most beautiful you can find.  So when Go Go chose a pair of silver sneakers that sparkled in the sun she wore them everywhere.  She loved them and was so proud of them, even if they were a bit big to last longer.  But disaster struck the day the family went on a picnic and while Go Go and her brothers were having an adventure down through the rocks in the river, one of the precious shoes is lost.  Go Go is heartbroken and very cross as her mum points out that perhaps she should have worn older shoes that day.  

But undeterred and despite her brothers’ suggestions for what she could do with the remaining shoe, Go Go is determined to wear it still – even if it means teaming it with an odd shoe and facing the jeers of Annabelle.  This is a decision that leads to an unexpected friendship as both Go Go and the lost shoe have their own journeys to make…

There is so much to love about this story… as the grandmother of one who never wears matching socks and is so unaffected by a need to be trendy, I love Go Go’s independence and confidence in creating her own style and being a bit different; as one who grew up in the middle of eight boys (all but one cousins), I love that she is me 50+ years ago and all the memories that evokes; and I love Anna Walker’s illustrations that are so subtle and detailed and tell a story of their own.  And I love the ending… you just never know where or how lasting friendships are going to happen.  From its sparkly cover to its stunning endpages, this is a unique story that had me enthralled to the end.

So many will identify with Go Go  and draw strength and confidence from her independence and ability to get to the nub of what being a child is about without all the frills and fripperies. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing

Kate and The Thing











Kate and The Thing

Heidi Cooper Smith

Wombat Books, 2018

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99


Kate is about to start her first day at a new school, and like thousands of other kids who have to face the same experience, she is feeling anxious and reluctant.  But then a mysterious white Thing comes into her life and helps her set the fear aside temporarily as it shows her the beauty in the colour of the autumn leaves and the joy in the sound of the sidewalk buskers.  All through her first day and the days following, Kate has the Thing by her side, giving her courage and confidence to hang in there, take each new event one step at a time and gradually stepping back so she can go it alone.  

Then one day she spots a new boy, sitting forlornly and lonely on a bench, a Thing next to his side that he hasn’t yet seen…

Every child who has faced being new at somewhere or something will relate to and empathise with Kate.  The feelings of having to step into the unknown and even the uncomfortable will be familiar and they will relate to having The Thing, or Some Thing giving them invisible support to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the walk is mastered, giving great scope for exploring feelings and emotions and building vocabulary.

This story offers a couple of lines of investigation – before and after.  While Kate has The Thing to support her, it’s helpful to teach students how to prepare for new situations by having them envisage what might go wrong and having some strategies to deal with these if indeed they happen.  Knowing that even if the worst comes to the worst you have some action you can take can often give an added boost of confidence. 

At the other end of the spectrum, as teachers many of us will have had new students starting in our classes over the past couple of weeks as new terms start around the states.  So perhaps this is a time to check up on them and see how they are settling in, that no one is slipping through the cracks in the busyness that is the start of the school year.

Heidi Cooper Smith has written a story that everyone can relate to  and which can offer a springboard to more than just the story of Kate and her Thing.


First Day

First Day

First Day









First Day

Andrew Daddo

Jonathan Bentley

ABC Books, 2014

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


It’s a day like no other – the first day of school.  Together mother and daughter get ready  – waking early, having a special breakfast of pancakes and fruit salad, getting dressed,  new shoes, washing and scrubbing, packing bags – all the routines that will become familiar as the novelty wears off and school becomes the place you go to every day.  

But while this is a theme that has been done in so many ways in so many stories, this one has a particular twist that will not only heighten its appeal to parents but also give pause for thought.  Is it only the child who is encountering new environments and experiences?

Daddo has a knack for taking the unusual within the usual and turning it into a story while Bentley’s illustrations are just perfect.  

One for both preschool and school libraries that can be used to provoke discussion on those transition days, encourage new friendships and perhaps even initiate a follow-up, catch-up, how-are-you-coping meeting that can help overcome anxiety and isolation in the community.


Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog










Bobby the Plain-Faced Cattle Dog

Amy Curran

Pink Coffee Publishing, 2018

48pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95


Bobby was the last of Peggy’s litter of Australian cattle dogs to find a new home – some of his brothers and sisters had  already moved to new homes – but he was OK with that because he was just a puppy.  His mother consoled him and told him not to worry because he would find friends and “be accepted by others.”  Because Booby was different.  Instead of having the regular markings and patches of his breed, his face was plain.

He didn’t know he was a bit different until the other cattle dogs at his new home, when a farmer finally came to claim him, wouldn’t play with him and this saddened him  In fact it wasn’t until he befriended Mother Duck and she had him look in a pool of still water that he noticed the difference.  Was he going to spend his life being different and alone? It would seem so until something happens that makes Bobby a hero and finally he is accepted for who he is inside rather than what he looks like.

Based on a real dog and his experiences with other dogs, this story has a strong message of being accepted for who we are rather than what we look like.

Bullying, in all its facets, is certainly at the top of the agenda in these weeks following the suicide of Amy “Dolly’ Everett and there are calls from all quarters for it to be addressed, with the brunt of the expectations falling squarely on the shoulders of schools.  While the other dogs don’t nip or bite or otherwise abuse Bobby in what is the overt form of bullying, excluding him because of his looks is just as damaging and it makes a good discussion starter to raise the issue with young children so they can understand that bullying can take many forms and each can have unforeseen and unseen consequences.

Written for young, almost independent readers, this is the first in a proposed series that is designed to teach young children to look beyond exteriors because “It’s what on the inside that counts.”  There are teachers’ notes available as well as a plush toy that will give the story extra meaning.





Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias











Perfect Petunias

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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


Loppy LAC is very worried about not doing his homework well enough. He is always focusing on what he hasn’t done rather than what he has, and he becomes very frustrated. So, his friend Curly teaches him about how petunias grow — in lots of different, imperfect directions that we can’t control! Loppy learns that by trying to control whether he makes mistakes or not it’s as if he’s always trying to grow ‘perfect’ petunias.  Sometimes he just needs to accept that things go a certain way and to change his definition of ‘perfect’ to mean trying his absolute best.

This is the third in a series to help Loppy the LAC (Little Anxious Creature) deal with his anxieties. in this case not being satisfied with anything that he sees as being less than perfect. Children like Loppy are present in every class, either being afraid to start something in case it is not perfect on the first attempt or giving up in tears, frustration and even anger, so a story and strategies that help them focus on the things that they have done well rather than the ‘mistakes’ they have made can go a long way towards helping them accept themselves, their activities and other people with all their imperfections. Helping them to see the glass half-full, the silver lining, the rainbow rather than the rain can lay the foundations for strong mental and emotional health in the future. Developing a mantra of “I can” rather than “I can’t” is so important if they are to take risks to try new things that will open up so many new worlds to them.

Another one for your mindfulness collection and if you want to be able to help children understand how we must make mistakes to learn then watch this TED talk – The Benefits of Failure.

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems










Penguin Problems

Jory John

Lane Smith

Walker Books,  2016

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


Poor Mortimer.  His life really is difficult.  It’s so hard living in the Antarctic when you don’t like snow, the light is too bright, you have to swim in the ocean which is too dark and it smells salty, you sink like a stupid rock and there are lots of things that want you to be their dinner.  And when you are on land you have to waddle and you look silly when you waddle, and that’s just the beginning.  Try looking like everyone else and not being able to find your parents… Is there no end to the problems that penguins have?  Every day seems to be a “terrible, horrible, no good very bad day” and then a  walrus tapping him on the shoulder. Is this day going to have a very bad ending too?

Apart from being very funny even though Mortimer himself is so serious and makes sure he gets the last word, this is an important book in the armoury of the mindfulness collection and even moreso with the issue of children’s mental health attracting official attention so teachers in all sectors can detect and determine students’ problems early. Mortimer is definitely a pessimist who can see no joy in anything and as teachers, we are all aware of the child in our class who has a similar outlook.  While one story alone is not going to turn this around – as the final page in the story suggests – nevertheless we can help children start to count their blessings, look for positive validation in themselves and offer genuine affirmation to others. 

Perhaps the author deliberately chose a penguin as his protagonist because of their stark “black-and-whiteness” where life is either good or bad and Lane through her illustration style not only softens the edges of Mortimer but also his surroundings so that there is the possibility of some light getting through.  If we are teaching our students to be critical readers and ask, “What is the author’s purpose for writing ?” ;”What does the author want me to know from reading this story?” and “How is the message being conveyed?” then this would be an excellent tool as we try to get them to examine  issues of objectivity and accuracy in other resources.

Right from the get-go with no title on the front cover (it is on the back, though) and the inner flap setting Mortimer’s tone, the reader knows this story is going to be different. A search online will reveal a range of resources to support it, but as with all quality picture books, it stands alone as an entertaining story first and foremost whether its underlying message is explored or not.