Catharina Valckx

Gecko Press, 2019 

144pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Zanzibar the crow cooks a fine mushroom omelette, but when Achille Le Blah a lizard reporter for the Voices of the Forest knocks at his door wanting to write an article about a remarkable person, Zanzibar begins to think he is very ordinary. The lizard seems to doubt that Zanzibar has any special qualities worth writing about and  Zanzibar thinks that to be remarkable, and be worthy of an article in the newspaper, he must achieve something incredible, an extraordinary feat. So he decides that’s what he’ll do. But first he needs to find a camel…

A quirky story for newly independent readers written by an author who has been nominated four times for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, this tale celebrates both believing in yourself and the support and encouragement of friends. But even though Zanzibar as a crow is unique and that should be enough, he still thinks he needs to be better than he is and so his single-mindedness to achieve the task he sets himself and the co-operation of those he knows and meets to help him combine to create an entertaining story that also helps the reader appreciate the simple, everyday things as well as the exotic. 

Something a bit different to engage those who like their stories to be off the beaten track. 

Unicorn Academy (series)

Unicorn Academy (series)

Unicorn Academy (series)











Unicorn Academy (series)

Julie Sykes

Lucy Truman

Nosy Crow, 2019

112pp., pbk, RRP $A12.99


Imagine a school where you meet your own unicorn and have amazing adventures together! That’s what happens for the girls at Unicorn Academy on beautiful Unicorn Island. There are 12 books in the series  (some still to be released), the latest being Ariana And Whisper.

Written for younger independent readers, the series appeals to those for whom unicorns remain a fascination and who dream of having their own one day, a fascination that shows no signs of abating.  Such series are very popular with younger readers just starting their reading journey through novels as they associate with and invest themselves in the characters, putting themselves in their shoes and truly immersing themselves in the experiences.  They form relationships with them that mean they are eager to read and re-read each one in the series, honing their skills and understandings of reading as they do so. So this is a series that will have a strong following because it features all those characteristics that hook these emerging readers in.  Worth the investment, not just for themselves but the reading pathways  that keen readers will then follow.

The Curse Of The School Rabbit

The Curse Of The School Rabbit

The Curse Of The School Rabbit










The Curse Of The School Rabbit

Judith Kerr

HarperCollins, 2019

80pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Ever since it peed on him in Miss Bennett’s Year 2 class, Tommy has hated Snowflake the school rabbit.  And now it has come to stay because his sister Angie is in Miss Bennett’s class and Snowflake needs a home while Miss Bennett goes to look after her mother.But because Angie is so little, Tommy has the task of looking after Snowflake and while the extra pocket money will be handy because he thinks if he wants a new bike he will have to buy it, this is not a task he is savouring.  And so the trouble starts… dangerous dogs bale him up in the park when he is walking the rabbit; his out-of-work-actor father misses out on a job because Snowflake pees on someone important, Angie gets really sick, Snowflake goes missing… There really is a curse!

Written and illustrated during the final year of her life – Kerr died in May 2019 aged 95 – this is an engaging story for the newly-independent reader from the author of classics such as the Mog the Forgetful Cat series andWhen Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,  It shows she still had all the imagination and wit that she had when she first wrote The Tiger Who Came to Tea in 1968 and will probably gain her a whole new legion of fans.

You can read more about her work in this obituary

Baaa Baa Black Sheep, The Fleeced Fleece (Nursery Crimes: Case 1)

Baaa Baa Black Sheep, The Fleeced Fleece

Baaa Baa Black Sheep, The Fleeced Fleece









Baaa Baa Black Sheep, The Fleeced Fleece

John Barwick

Dave Atze

Big Sky, 2019

120pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Sheep go to a lot of trouble to grow their wool to keep themselves warm, but as soon as it gets to a certain length the farmer shears it off and sells it, often making a lot of money for it, particularly if it is black like Baaa Baa’s. Surrounded by high fences, spotlights and video cameras so neither she nor her wool could be stolen, Baaa Baa was fed the best food and was shorn twice a year whereas her lighter cousins were only shorn once. Once shorn the wool was stored in a closely-monitored control centre with television surveillance so it is certainly precious. So when Farmer Fred sells one of the three precious bags to the local headmaster, another to Dame Horrida and the third to Theodore Thumpnose, the local bully, when he could have got much for it at the wool market, suspicions are raised….

This is the first of seven stories investigating the crimes in the nursery rhymes that little ones hear so often. Told in an interesting style where the narrator and an imaginary reader engage in a conversation, as  though the narrator is anticipating the questions a real reader might ask, it is engaging and different and designed to appeal to the newly-independent reader who is ready to move on but would still benefit from the familiarity of known characters.  It is reminiscent of the fractured fairytale format where something well-known is turned on its head and examined more closely, told from a different perspective and raises issues that might not otherwise have been thought about. 

Cleverly illustrated by David Atze that takes it out of the realm of the usual cutsie graphics of nursery rhymes, this is fun and perfect for those who like something out of left-field.

Girl Geeks (series)

Girl Geeks (series)

Girl Geeks (series)









The Hackathon


Game On


Alex Miles

Puffin Books, 2019

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

From the Girl Geek Academy website…

What would the internet look like if there were more women building it?

  • By the age of 6, children classify jobs as male and female.
  • By the age of 8, they are limiting aspirations
  • By 13 many of them have already ruled out career options that don’t fit with gender stereotypes.
  • By ages 16-17 60% of girls aspire to stereotypically ‘female’ jobs.

So the mission of the Girl Geek Academy is to increase the number of women and girls in tech, games, making, robotics, 3D printing, aviation, drones and space by teaching one million women
to learn technology by 2025. Launched by five women with the aim of making girls in STEM and IT the norm, they are developing a series of initiatives aimed at those from five years old up to mature women, one of which is this new series of books that put geek girls in the spotlight and in charge.  They show that technology is fun and girls are awesome, with each focusing on each of the girls, Hamsa, Eve, Niki and Maggie and their particular talents – hacker, hipster or hustler. With characters that young girls such as my Miss 13 will recognise, they take everyday situations that arise in schools and show how the girls use their strengths to solve them, demonstrating that being a ‘geek girl’ is as normal as being any other sort of girl.  It’s just one part of who they are.

As well as this new series (four in the pipeline so far) there are many other programs and resources available on the academy website to support and enable the development of digital technologies in the school and across the curriculum so this is both a series and a website that could and should be promoted widely to staff and students.  So often, geeks don’t see the library as having anything for them, particularly when there is still such an emphasis on books and reading, so this is yet another way to reach out to that long tail – all those potential patrons that a library has but who don’t use the facility because they don’t believe it has anything to offer them.

Well-written, illustrated and as perfect for the newly-independent reader as it is for those whose appetite for reading is never sated, this is a series with a difference and with huge potential. 














Ursula Dubosarsky

Andrew Joyner

Allen & Unwin, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


While Pender is playing in the bush near his home, he hears a gunshot and to his dismay he discovers a mother kangaroo taking her last breath.  But as her eyes glaze, he notices movement in her pouch and Pender finds himself with no choice but to take care of the baby joey he names Brindabella.  With his artistic, somewhat reclusive father, they raise Brindabella and even though Pender knows she will one day need to return to the bush he puts that way to the back of his mind, until the day her natural instincts become too much for her and Brindabella leaves…

With the narrative switching between Pender and Brindabella’s perspectives, this is a sensitively written novel for young independent readers that explores the relationship between people and animals. Why do Pertelote the chook, Billy-Bob the dog and Ricky the cat stay with Pender and his father while Brindabella has a compelling need to leave? Confronting, even emotional in parts, Dubosarsky brings the Australian bush alive so all the senses are engaged and the reader is there with Pender, opening opportunities for lots of sensory responses that confirm, compare and contrast Pender’s home with that of the reader themselves.

Shortlisted for the 2019 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, this is a story that I know Miss 8 is going to adore particularly because she loves to roam our bush block and we have our own share of Brindabellas, but for those not as fortunate, there are teachers’ notes and activities that will help to bring it into the realm of city kids. Download them from the home site.

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja









Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Kylie Howarth

Walker Books, 2019 

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


New to the realm of supportive novels for newly independent readers is this title from graphic designer cum author Kylie Howarth. 

Using the popular superhero theme as its foundation, this is a series with a difference because as well as being entertaining, it also teaches those young readers about the ocean environment and its inhabitants.  Bodhi’s parents are right into the underwater world – his dad is a marine biologist and his mum an underwater photographer – and they travel the world together to explore what really happens beneath the surface. But Bodhi isn’t into this world as much as they are, preferring dry land but then he discovers he has magical powers…

Each book is set in a different oceanic environment where Fish Kid befriends an amazing marine creature. As he bonds with his new animal friend, he discovers a new fish power. Every chapter contains a rollicking fiction romp (with illustrations to match) plus a focused nonfiction animal fact box (with more realistic illustrations). In this, his family are in the Galapagos Islands and he finds himself stuck on the boat with the captain’s daughter Emely, who likes to play pranks on him, although the innocent looking green smoothie with its secret ingredients would make even the reader have the same reaction as Bodhi. 

Full of action, adventure and humour, and all the techniques proven perfect for supporting those transitioning to longer novels, this series also includes fact boxes about the various creatures encountered and draws on the author’s personal knowledge of the world under the waves enriching the reader’s understanding and awakening an awareness to protect it. 

Although I haven’t dived the Galapagos Islands, this book took me right back to my experiences on the Great Barrier Reef and for that, this is one destined for Miss 8 so she can share the wonder her grandmother, grandfather and father still have.  Perhaps she, too, will be tempted like Bodhi.













Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2019

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. 

When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. 

Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. 

What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?

Whatever decisions are made will change their lives forever.

With the rise and spread of nationalist, right-wing conservative governments around the globe, xenophobia is alive and well in communities and countries around the world. In Australia it is always a hot topic particularly around election time and especially since former prime minister John Howard declared, “It’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people, taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” in an election speech just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001.

Having just had another federal election with the rhetoric of asylum seekers, detention centres and people’s rights claiming a lot of media space and votes, this new book from Tristan Bancks is very timely. In it, through the students in the Reading Superstars class and their teacher Miss Aston, he asks the questions that need to be considered about the plight of refugees, particularly as much of what the children say is the echo of their parents’ perspectives. Bancks says he has tried to tell the story as “a human one, rather than a political one” and he has achieved this as the reader becomes very invested in the plights of Simi and Dan and constantly wonders what would they do if they were either of those characters.

In my opinion, the greatest power of this book is in the hands of a class teacher reading it aloud and discussing the issues as Miss Aston does while she and her charges are in lockdown. That way, a range of points of view can be explored and explained, taking the story to a whole new level, rather than being an individual read that throws up questions but for which the reader doesn’t seek answers. And that teacher should be prepared to answer the inevitable, “What would you do if you were Miss Aston?”

Books for this age group are rarely the focus of reviews on this blog, but I believe that this is such an essential read as part of any study about migration and refugees, it deserves all the publicity it can get. Superb.



Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Fabio The World's Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express












Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Laura James

Emily Fox

Bloomsbury, 2019

128pp/. pbk., RRP $A12.99


In a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives the world’s greatest flamingo detective. His name is Fabio. He’s not tall or strong, but slight and pink. And he’s very, very clever.

It’s the height of summer and Fabio and his associate Gilbert are taking a relaxing holiday journey on the fastest train in the world! But no sooner does the conductor call ‘All aboard’ than a very expensive ruby necklace disappears and the great detective is back on the case!

This is the second book in the hilarious illustrated mystery series by the author of PiratePug, and it is perfect for newly independent readers who require a larger font. short chapters and illustrations to support their reading.  The second in the series  – the first is The Case of the Missing Hippo ,  the third Peril at Lizard Lake will be available in the new year – it introduces young readers to the mystery genre as Fabio tries to discover who stole the necklace with slightly offbeat characters. Can they solve the mystery before Fabio?

Mr Walker (series)

Mr Walker (series)

Mr Walker (series)







Mr Walker Gets the Inside Scoop


Mr Walker and the Dessert Delight


Mr Walker Braves the Night


Mr Walker and the Perfect Mess


Jess Black

Sara Acton

Puffin Books, 2019

96pp., hbk. RRP $A14.99

We first met Mr Walker, the lovable labrador who is the ambassador for Guide Dogs Australia at the Park Hyatt hotel in Melbourne in The Tales of Mr Walkera CBCA Notable Book for 2019. And now he is back in four separate stories this time, continuing his adventures as he meets and greets the guests and managing to get himself into mischief at the same time.

In Mr Walker and the Dessert Delight, there’s a special anniversary celebration happening at the hotel and everyone is excited – especially Mr Walker! A famous chef is flown in for the event, and although she is all smiles and sweet delights, Chef Remy is none too pleased about sharing his kitchen. Mr Walker smells trouble . . . big trouble indeed, while it’s all systems go as the staff prepare for the arrival of an important reviewer in Mr Walker Gets the Inside Scoop.

Jess Black creates two more wonderful stories out of his antics in the other two books which are due in August and all are accompanied by the delightful artworks of Sara Acton who captures him perfectly, together making a fabulous series of stories that will capture the hearts and minds of newly independent readers, especially those who love stories about dogs. 

While the stories themselves are developed from actual events, the author has put the familiar disclaimer about the names, characters and so forth not bearing any relation to anyone real so this could be an opportunity to discuss with readers why authors should do this and the need for them to respect other’s privacy if they are writing or telling stories.  It’s OK to write this but not that… 

Destined to be an in-demand series in your library…