John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia






John Williamson's Christmas in Australia

John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia










John Williamson’s Christmas in Australia

John Williamson

Mitch Vane

Penguin 2014

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


Christmas in Australia – time for families to get together and of, course, the perfect family photo for posterity.  But getting everyone together at the same time is not as easy as it sounds.

This is an hilarious, rollicking tune, probably known to every Australian school student, brought to life in picture book format through the talents of Mitch Vane.  As families gather together as the big day draws closer, no doubt its scenarios will be played out in real life in many backyards and children will be heard singing the song.

A must-have in any Christmas collection and for sending overseas to those who want to know about a summer Christmas as well.


Emily’s Bush Christmas






Emily's Bush Christmas

Emily’s Bush Christmas









Emily’s Bush Christmas

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2015

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


It’s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully and all the animals are doing the things they do best – the kangaroos are bouncing, the echidnas are prickly, the emus are peckish, koalas are relaxing and the bats and wombats are just hanging about.  The Shaggy Gully chorus are sharing their Christmas carols  – the cockatoos and kookaburras are giving it their all while Emily tries to keep in tune with her tuba.  Suddenly the ambiance is shattered by a ghastly groan coming up from the creek.

“ooooogggggghhhhhh! I’m mad and I’m mean! I’m the BUNYIP ooooogggggghhhhhh!.”

In response, Emily Emu’s tuba echoes the same ghastly sound! The bunyip’s’ moan makes her tuba groan. But Emily decides that everyone, including bunyips, should be happy at Christmas and so she sets about trying to change the bunyip’s mood.  But no matter what she and her friends do, the bunyip stays mad and mean!  Until he discovers Emily’s tuba…

You just know that a Christmas story from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley is going to be Australian and it’s going to be good.  And so it is with this tale which is uniquely Australian and which will bring a smile to the face of little ones (and bunyips.) They will love to see what their favourite creatures get up to in the bush on this special day – even Ringo the Dingo is there – as Jackie always weaves a wonderful story that is worth reading over and over, especially if you play them this sound clip so they can hear the sound of the tuba and why it is so perfect for a bunyip!  

This team always produces the best – and this is no exception.

All I Want for Christmas is You






All I Want for Christmas Is You

All I Want for Christmas Is You

All I Want for Christmas Is You

Mariah Carey

Colleen Madden

Doubleday, 2015

32pp., hbk.


It is more than 20 years since Mariah Carey wrote and released the song in 1994 but it wasn’t until  December 2015, that he song peaked at 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it its highest peak since its original release. Now it is one of the most iconic tunes of the season.  

So it seems fitting that it become a picture book with bright. bold pictures, all the lyrics and a special twist at the end that makes it particularly suitable for young readers although the clues are there in the pictures from the beginning.  The little girl’s wish is clear for the astute to find because she manages to drop her hint into every part of the Christmas preparations.  Making cookies and decorations, hanging stockings, even out playing in the snow she clings to her dream.  Then,   amidst all the presents for all the family, there is one special gift … one that so many little ones wish for!!!

This is an interpretation that will make this a favourite in your family too – and you will have an earworm for the rest of the day!




Christmas Songbook






Christmas Songbook

Christmas Songbook











Christmas Songbook

Sam Taplin

Richard Johnson

Usborne, 2016

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In certain countries and to certain generations, the images of carol singers going door to door at this time of the year sharing their music is not far from the mind.  More recently, the school-based Carols by Candlelight was always a sign that the festive season was here as neighbourhoods joined together to herald this fun time in song, sentiment and a sausage sizzle.  Classes practised those traditional songs in preparation for the annual Christmas concert and there were few who did not know all the verses of Away in a Manger and Silent Night.

So to find a new illustrated  volume of these well-known tunes arranged for voice, piano and guitar is a delight as yet a new Christmas season is here and another generation needs to know the music that binds this time.  Some are very familiar, others not so, but each is presented on a clear double page spread with all the verses and music as well as an illustration that makes this more than just a book of sheet music.  Even the extra original verses of  Jingle Bells – nothing to with Batman or even a rusty Holden ute – are there right alongside I Saw Three Ships, the first song my sea-loving grandfather ever taught me!

Vision Australia’s Carols by Candlelight at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl remains one of the most  watched television broadcasts on Christmas Eve – how wonderful if our children could fully participate because the tunes are familiar and the words are known!

A perfect addition to both your privet and professional collection.

And in the meantime here are a couple of clips I know you will enjoy…


I was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen










I was Only Nineteen

John Schuman

Craig Smith

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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


The banner across the top of the cover of this book says, “The iconic song about the Vietnam War that helped change a nation” and indeed, anyone who has heard the original with the haunting voice of John Schuman as the lead singer of Redgum will find that echoing in their head as they “read” this picture book version of the song that brought the realities of the war to a generation. If you are unfamiliar with it, it’s available on You Tube

While, for the first time in history, war was brought into the family living room through the immediacy of television news programs, it was the personalising of what was happening through the lyrics of this song that not only provided a real insight but which has also endured.  In fact, along with the picture of the little girl running naked from her village after it had been destroyed with napalm bombs it would be one of the most-recalled memories of that time.  Its refrain and final line, “God help me, I was only nineteen” encapsulates it all. Both the words and the sensitive, evocative images of Craig Smith show that war is the antithesis of the great adventure that these soldiers’ ancestors thought that it would be as they hastened to answer the call of 1914 and which will be in our thoughts as we move towards the commemoration of ANZAC Day.

But this is much more than another picture book about Australia’s war effort to support the national history curriculum.

As one of those who was very much involved in the events of the time and worked towards the big-picture objectives of not only having Australia and New Zealand troops out of Vietnam because we were against the “all-the-way-with-LBJ” policies of the prevailing governments but also against sending young men to war who, in their own country could not vote or legally have a beer, we did not consider or understand the effects our actions would have on those young men when they eventually came home, mentally and physically wounded, and to have served in Vietnam was a secret and a shame.  There were no parades or celebrations – you might talk about it with your mates to keep you sane but that was all. There was no respect from the public and each soldier was somehow held personally responsible for the events which we saw each night.  (If you, as an adult, want a greater understanding, read Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard and Smoky Joe’s Café by Bryce Courtenay.)

And so we have the situation today that many of our students have grandparents who are perhaps not as they should be and cannot explain why. They saw and did things that no 19-year-olds should ever have to and it is their experiences, their illnesses, their PTSD, their suicides that have changed the way we now view our serving forces and how they are treated and supported when they come home.  The picture books and television shows always stereotype Grandpa as being loving and jovial and every child deserves such a person – the production of this book might help them understand why theirs is not. It has an important role to play in helping our little ones understand.

If just the lyrics or the clip of the original “I was Only 19” were the only ones used in a study of the Vietnam War, the story would not be complete.  It is through Craig Smith’s final illustrations of the young soldier now a grandfather with his grandson ducking from a chopper, then sharing an ice cream and finally marching on ANZAC Day together that are critical because they show that while he is still troubled by his experiences, he has survived and 40 years on society has moved on to a new and different attitude.  For that we have to thank the continued and sustained efforts of all those Vietnam Vets who would not let us forget. We salute you now as we should have then.

For those who see this as a teaching opportunity, there are teachers’ notes are available.


Republished in honour of the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan.  August 18, 1966



Meet… Nellie Melba

Meet... Nellie Melba

Meet… Nellie Melba









Meet… Nellie Melba

Janeen Brian

Claire Murphy

Random House Australia, 2016

32pp., hbk., $24.99


Many of us, and our students, will have tasted the traditional dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream, sugary peaches, and raspberry sauce and known as Peach Melba.  It was created by famous French chef Auguste Escoffier to honour his friendship with the world-renowned opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who wowed the world with her singing as the 19th century turned over into the 20th.  But while her name is now featured on restaurant menus around the world, her life began very differently.

Helen ‘Nellie’ Porter Mitchell  was one of those children whose lives are incomplete without music.  When she wasn’t playing the piano, she loved to sing and wherever she went she either whistled or hummed.  But in the mid-19th century it wasn’t proper for girls to sing in public and so her father restricted her to singing for friends, church and charities, even though Nellie had bigger dreams than that.  But even without her father’s rules, she would have had limited opportunities because Edison was yet to invent the means to record sound and with Australia’s isolation, opera companies did not visit. 

After the death of her mother and sister, she moved to Queensland with her father where she married and had a son.  But her singing was always her primary love and she returned to Melbourne determined to carve a career for herself, despite her lack of money and freedom. She persuaded her husband to move to England with her when her father took a job there, but her success was not instant.  It was not until she auditioned for Madame Mathilde Marchesi in Paris that her talent was recognised and the career of Australia’s first renowned opera singer, the “Australian nightingale” began to flourish… Drawing on her home town for her stage name, Nellie Melba soon became a household name in high society in huge demand. Through determination, her dreams had come true.

But she did not forget her roots and was determined that everyone, regardless of income or status, should be able to hear her so when she toured Australia the ticket prices were the same for everyone.  She brought opera to people who would never had heard it otherwise.

In this latest addition to this fantastic series which brings the lives of those who shaped Australia to life for young readers, Janeen Brian has captured the essence of Melba perfectly portraying a young girl with a dream and the determination to achieve it.  Right from the beginning when Nellie’s father tells her to stop whistling because she “sounds like a tomboy”, she hits on humming as a compromise.  Unlike others of her time, being married and having a family is not enough for her and she is a single mum at a time when such a status is totally shunned and her divorce in 1900 would have sent lesser women into hiding. Against such odds, made even greater by the rigid society of the times, she perseveres and triumphs – a role model in resilience that stands tall for today’s young girls.

From such a rich life that spanned 69 years and a wealth of material available, Brian has picked those elements that show that spirit that drove her on to do and achieve that which was an innate part of her and woven them into a very readable story that makes the reader want to keep reading to find out how she conquered the obstacles. It’s a story of dreams, hope and strength of mind and character that will lift any reader up.  Claire Murphy has captured the author’s words well, particularly when she contrasts Nellie’s father’s perspective with Nellie’s dream.

Made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her fundraising efforts during World War I, Nellie’s contribution to Australia was so significant she is commemorated on the current $100 note..  It also makes her a worthy subject for this series and very definitely an important chapter in Australia: Story Country.

Old MacDonald’s Things That Go

Old MacDonald's Things That Go

Old MacDonald’s Things That Go









Old MacDonald’s Things That Go

Jane Clarke

Miggy Blanco

Nosy Crow, 2016

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



This is a lively, quirky version of the traditional rhyme Old MacDonald had a Farm, except this time instead of exploring farm animals and the noises they make, it focuses on vehicles.  Cars, tractors, combine harvesters … all feature in this hilarious romp which have the farm animals helping out and having the most extraordinary fun. 

As with the original, it’s the rhyme, rhythm and repetition and the opportunity to join in with the noises that will make this a favourite while the big, bright, bold, hilarious illustrations add to the fun.  They are full of vignettes and detail that there are new things to discover and discuss with each reading.  Everything about this book invites the reader to join in and have fun too, from the first page where he’s armed with his banjo and all the creatures are joining in through to the delightful end!

Perfect for pre-schoolers as well as children who are learning English as their second language.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Emilia Mouse

Emilia Mouse

Emilia Mouse









Emilia Mouse

Elizabeth Hardy

Sophie Norsa

Little Steps, 2015

hbk, 32pp., RRP $A24.95



Emilia Mouse lives in the attic, as many mice do.  But she is not a shy little mouse hiding in the dark in the dust or taking shelter behind the skirting board.  She is a brave, bold mouse on the lookout for adventure.  So when she climbs on some boxes and finds a whole orchestra of musical instruments, her eyes open in wonder and her heart fills.  Especially as there is a trumpet waiting to be blown. 

So dusting off the cobwebs

She held the trumpet tight

And with the deepest breath

Blew and blew with all her might


Emilia was startled;

The trumpet blast was loud,

Yet she knew the sound that she had made

Would always please a crowd.

But Emilia’s music playing also woke two very cranky cats who were very keen to see who had disturbed their sleep.  And while Emilia may be adventurous she finds there is a fine line between adventure and stupid when she challenges the cats and finds herself about to be a cat  snack. Her solution is ingenious and has the most amusing consequences which not only make the reader smile but also demonstrate the power of music as a universal language. 

This is a delightful story that is totally unique in its concept.  The author, Elizabeth Hardy, is a retired music teacher so the rhythm and rhyme of the language of the book come very naturally and really contribute to both the subject and the understanding of the story.  How else would you tell a music-based story?  The illustrations are by Sophie Norsa who has been nominated for a Crichton Award (for Yellow Dress Day) and, like Emilia, they are bold and brassy and a perfect fit for the text.  Mem Fox always emphasises the need to read aloud to our youngsters so they can learn the rhythms of our language so this is perfect for that but it also would be excellent for sharing with those who are learning English as another language. Cats, mice and musical instruments are common to all, the story will appeal to all ages and there are lots of opportunities for discussion about the wisdom of Emilia’s actions, unlikely consequences, making friends and so forth.

I can see and hear myself sharing this story and that, to me, is the hallmark of a great picture book.

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda










And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle

Bruce Whatley

Allen & Unwin 2015

hbk., 32pp., $A24.99



Is there a more haunting tune about World War I than Eric Bogle’s classic And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Beginning with

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack, and I lived the free life of a rover

From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, well I waltzed my Matilda all over

it tells the story of a young man, almost any young man of 1915 in Australia, who took up arms to fight in the war at a time when Australia was trying to meet its quota for Britain and to not fight for King and Country branded you a coward.

They gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun, and they marched me away to the war.

Throughout the song and the journey, from the ship departing, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the hospital for the wounded and the arrival of “the crippled, the wounded, the maimed…the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane” at Circular Quay there is the poignant refrain of the band playing Waltzing Matilda, the iconic song that many believe should be our national anthem as it connects us in a way like no other. And finally, as an old man, he sits on his porch and watches the parade with his comrades passing before him and he knows that soon, as more old men disappear, “Someday no one will march there at all”. But how proud and amazed would those who came home -and those who didn’t-  be to see that this is not a forgotten war, they are not forgotten heroes and rather than no one marching, each year the crowds at the annual commemorations wherever they are get larger.

However, the most provocative stanza is   

And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore

They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war

And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”

And I ask myself the same question.”

Written in 1971 at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, many were wondering that aloud and as the centenary of April 25, 1915 looms large, we may well all ask ourselves the same question again.

With superb illustrations by Bruce Whatley that show every emotion of the text –drawn with his left hand because he has discovered he draws “with much more emotion” with that hand –using the restrained palette that one associates with Gallipoli,  this is a book that has to be in your library’s collection as it will be a song known by everyone before this year is done.  However, this is so much more than one of Australia’s leading illustrators putting pictures to an iconic tune. There are teachers’ notes  that provide many ideas for exploring the content, its imagery and its images and publishers Allen & Unwin have released a book trailer that encapsulates it perfectly. The lyrics and music are available in the ABC song books of 1983 (Time to Sing) and 1989 (The Sing Book).

A memorable contribution to the collection of books on this topic. 

Let’s Play

Let's Play

Let’s Play











Let’s Play

Gabriel Alborozo

Allen & Unwin, 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A22.99



It’s been a strange week – one of those ones where something you rarely think about keeps popping up in front of you.  No one on this planet could ever describe me as musical – when that talent was given out I was not only not behind the door, but I wasn’t even in the room  – but for the third time in three days there has been something significant about music that has caught my attention.  Firstly, this poster from The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra  about the importance of music in a child’s life came through my FB feed and I had to share it with my teaching colleagues, all of whom are talented enough to act on it.

Why music?

Why music?


Then there was a news report about research about the effect of music on literacy learning and today, the review book on top of my pile is called Let’s Play and is a delightful introduction to the instruments of the orchestra by Gabriel Alborozo.  I’m certain the elves were in my office last night and moved it up because clearly it was meant to be the next one!

In Let’s Play a group of very young children are introduced to the orchestra by a man who looks like the epitome of a stern conductor but who actually is much gentler than that as he isn’t bothered by the children moving and clinging to him as he takes them on a journey through the percussion section, the brass, strings and woodwind, and, finally, the piano and harp. His love and passion is clear and the children are just as fascinated as each gets to try one of the instruments.   However, this is not a dry, factual, encyclopaedic explanation.  As they go to each section, there’s a comment to each musician that adds an element of humour and individuality and the superb illustrations which tell the real story and lift it into the realm of the special and unique. While the conductor and the children are line drawings, the instrument is in colour and each page has the sound it makes interpreted in shape and colour, until the whole becomes joined in a celebration of both colour and sound which is “Magnifico!” 

There are so many reasons this book should be in your collection – it’s the perfect textual extension to Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf as well as the many online sites which enable students to hear the sounds as they see the instruments.  (My favourite has always been Energy in the Air: Sounds of the Orchestra created by two young boys for the Thinkquest Jr project but there are many others.) It is also the perfect stimulus to having the students interpret the sounds of the instruments and musical pieces into their own art pieces, which might then lead on to their thinking about the sorts of instruments or compositions which might accompany pieces of literature. 

While it’s clear the target audience for the text is early childhood, in the hands of an imaginative teacher it could be used throughout the school.  A treasure indeed.