My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things










My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

224pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


The sub-title for this new publication from Dorling Kindersley is “for little learners who want to know everything” and that is very apt.  This is the perfect introduction to non fiction and the purpose of encyclopedias for our youngest readers.

There are sections devoted to the planet, places, animals, people, themselves and “other very important things”.  Each topic within each section has a double page spread that is a mix of clear, colourful pictures, text and “white space” that presents the basic information in a way that speaks directly to the child and in language that they can understand.  For example, they can learn that if they were to drive a car straight up it would only take about an hour to reach space and on the way they would pass through five layers of air called the atmosphere.  Accompanying the car is a kid-friendly diagram that shows the different layers with a sentence about each and pictures of the things that ascend to each layer.  

There is such a body of research now that clearly shows the importance of print in the development of research skills and those who have a solid foundation of skills in that medium are better able to use online sources much more effectively and efficiently later so it is no surprise that I am a fan of this book.  When Miss 4 asks, “Where does the sun go at night?” it’s so easy to say, “Let’s have a look in our book to see if we can find out.”  It reinforces the ideas that we can get information from books and with the index at the back, it is a quick and easy exercise.  The structure mimics that of encyclopedia for older readers (although it is not in alphabetical order) so right from get-go they are learning to locate information using contents, an index, page numbers, headings and captions.

It is also perfect for those who prefer non fiction – and in this one the text is accessible so they can do more than just look at the pictures – and even suits those who like to be seen with the heaviest, thickest books (although its size is just fine for Miss 5 to manage independently).  

For a few years, voluminous encyclopedias went out of fashion – and often out of home and school libraries because of the wonder and speed of the Internet.  But thankfully, print versions are making a comeback as we now understand that technology does not provide all the answers; that connectivity and accessibility can be an issue; that what is available is not necessarily at the child’s level of understanding; and that print comes free of advertisements and other distractions.  And a one-off cost can be cheaper than an annual subscription, particularly for basic information that doesn’t change.  

In 2015 I gave a presentation at SLANZA in Christchurch called Information Literacy for Littlies (building on the theme of “From the ground up”) .  Many were surprised that we can help very young children begin to develop their information literacy skills from preschool. My Encyclopedia of Very Important Things is a perfect resource to support this.

Parents and grandparents will love to pop this into the Christmas stocking.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

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…

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You

I Just Couldn't Wait to Meet You

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You









I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You

Kate Ritchie

Hannah Somerville

Penguin Random House, 2016

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


When the author discovered she was pregnant, typically she was very excited and so she began to write about her feelings as she waited for the time to pass.  The result is this gentle story-in-rhyme that mirrors the thoughts and feelings of most expectant parents and their families.  Who will this new little life be?  And what will their life be like?  It traces the things that are done during that nine months from ultrasounds to decorating the nursery, tracking a common journey that very young readers first asking about where they came from will love to know about. It might even reassure parents-in-waiting that anxiety is as normal as anticipation.

Even though this is Ms Ritchie’s story, it is a universal one and Hannah Somerville’s illustrations using such a soft palette take it beyond the personal so it becomes almost a lullaby of love that would serve very well as Baby’s first favourite shared each night.  There is so much evidence that even our very youngest children are aware of the harsh realities of life, the differences between their lives and that of their peers, so to have such an affirmation of being loved and wanted and cherished should bring enormous comfort and reassurance.

There is a place and a need for this sort of book and Ms Ritchie has fulfilled it well. 

The Eagle Inside

The Eagle Inside

The Eagle Inside










The Eagle Inside

Jack Manning Bancroft

Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Hare 2015

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


It is Jimmy the honeyeater’s first day at flying school and just like all new students he is somewhat anxious.  Would there be other small birds?  Would they sip nectar like him or would they be worm eaters? As he approaches the school he is surrounded by birds of all sorts and sizes- all much bigger than he is.  Full of fear and doubt already, his anxiety is increased when Cockatoo almost crashes into him and immediately blames Jimmy. “No one bumps into me and gets away with it” screeches Cockatoo who demands Jimmy’s lunch. The other birds laugh at him and Jimmy feels so humiliated he huddles at the bottom of the tree and cries.  School is not a place for him.

But then Eagle takes him under his wing and Jimmy (and the other birds) learn a lot of lessons about self-belief, individuality and the eagle inside. 

In his dedication to this book, the author writes. “If you have ever felt alone, undervalued or doubted yourself, this book is for you.  No matter what people say, you can be what you want if you are willing to believe in yourself and back it up with hard work, hard work and more hard work.”  This is a story for everyone who has ever felt intimidated by situation or circumstance, showing that we all have our strengths and an eagle inside.  It’s perfect for the preschooler about to journey on to “big school” but also a reaffirmation for those about to start any new journey into an unknown word.

Renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft has interpreted her son’s words in her distinctive style full of colour, pattern and movement which put Jimmy’s tiny size perfectly in perspective, not only emphasising the reasons for his concerns but how we all feel when we are intimidated if not humiliated. The natural symbiosis between mother and son is evident in the relationship between the text and illustrations and it is no wonder that Ms Bancroft has been nominated for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Awards for 2016!

An early contender for the next CBCA Picture Book of the Year nomination, in my opinion!

Thunderstorm Dancing

Thunderstorm Dancing

Thunderstorm Dancing









Thunderstorm Dancing

Katrina Germein

Judy Watson

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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


A day at the beach.  The sky darkens and the sea turns a sinister shade of green.  Thunder rumbles.  Shh. Listen.  What can you hear?  It’s coming closer. Time to pack up.  Can you feel it?  It’s ominous and a bit scary.  Sit beside me. 

In a paucity of words accompanied by the most evocative pictures, a storm brews out to sea, rumbles in and hits with powerful fury.  But instead of letting the fear take over, Daddy makes the fierce into fun as he encourages his family to be the storm.  He is the wind whizzing and blowing, howling and growing, making trees whoosh! making seas swoosh!  Tommy is the clouds and Poppy the thunder, Lachie is the lightning and Mummy the rain – everyone swirling and swishing into the most outrageous cacophony of sound and exuberance of movement taking the storm on at its own game.  Making it fun and not frightening.  Until it passes and all is calm and safe and Granny brings the sun and the last page is the most beautiful of all.

With its fantastic vocabulary, rhyme, rhythm and repetition the story is the storm full of the most amazing and inspiring energy – you just want to get up and move and make noise and join in the fun.  It is a joyous celebration of something that can be scary and intimidating and is the perfect example of how careful colour choice and the use of line and expression are integral to creating mood and atmosphere. Just like a storm, it builds to a crescendo and then suddenly there is peace and serenity until…  Even without yet having read it to my Year 2 audience, I can hear it in my head and know they are going to adore this and it will add so much to what they have been learning about setting, characters and plot.   

But apart from that it’s just a rollicking good read that encourages us to embrace our fears, stare them in the face and poke fun at them by making ourselves their master.


A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Don’t Think about Purple Elephants

Don't Think about Purple Elephants

Don’t Think about Purple Elephants









Don’t Think about Purple Elephants

Susan Whelan

Gwyneth Jones

EK Books, 2015

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


Sophie is just like lots of other girls her age. She goes to school and learns lots of interesting things and plays with her friends; she enjoys doing home things on the weekend and riding her bike and looking at the clouds – but when night time comes she starts to worry.  Each night she gets the what-ifs and lies awake worrying about them.  What if there is no milk so she can’t have cereal for breakfast?  What if her favourite shirt was still in the wash and she couldn’t wear it on the weekend?  Her worrying made it so hard for her to relax and go to sleep that she was often so tired in the mornings she couldn’t do the things she loved to do.  And no matter how her family tried to help her, it didn’t work until…

While its subject matter is serious, this is a whimsical approach that acknowledges that many children suffer from anxiety as Sophie does, often at night when the lights are out and no one notices without diminishing the worry or trivialising the concerns. This is a clever, well-written book that brings the problem out into the light and helps children understand that they aren’t on their own. It provides a wonderful opportunity to open up a conversation and the imaginative solution for Sophia’s concerns will delight everyone. You wonder what a teacher would do if a student wrote, “I wish my teacher knew I think about purple elephants at night.”

The colourful illustrations are full of fun and fancy and capture the carefree life of a child and then dramatically change to monochrome as night creeps in, offering the chance to explore how colour can depict mood and how we, as readers, can often predict the tone of a story from the palette used.

This is another title from this independent publisher that is not afraid to tell stories that many children resonate with and seek solace from.  Teachers notes and a sneak peek are available.

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne's Book of Precepts

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts











365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts

R.J. Palacio

Corgi, 2014

pbk., 432pp., RRP $A19.99


 In his masterpiece Wonder, the must-read book for everyone from Year 4 onwards, we were introduced to Augie Pullman and his remarkable English teacher Mr Browne who helped him overcome all the obstacles that a seriously-deformed child entering school after years of home-schooling could expect.   Guiding his students through their essay-writing, Mr Browne shares precepts – inspirational sayings that stretch beyond the essay to life in general – which help to change not only Augie’s thinking but those of his classmates. 

Based on the belief that we should “Teach him then the sayings of the past, so that he may become a good example for the children…no one is born wise” (The Maxims of Ptahhotep, 2200BC) it seems very appropriate that on January 1, 2015 I begin my reviews by reviewing this wonderful book which has something for everyone for every day of the year.  Filled with thoughts ranging from contributors as diverse as Gandhi and Harry Styles, Milton and Carl Sandberg it is such a positive guide.  Many of the contributions have come from children who sent their thoughts to Palacio and their insight and wisdom remind me of a poem written by my Years 4, 5, and 6 classes as the old century bowed out and the new one ticked over.  Based on John Marsden’s book of the same name, it is as relevant on the first day of 2015 as it was on the first day of 2000.

A Prayer for the 21st Century

May we all have a safe journey

And may our journeys take us to where we want to go.

May we be forgiven for the wrong turns we have taken.

May we all have a place in our hearts for each other.

May those who live in darkness, find their way into the sun.

May the blind be able to see, the deaf be able to hear,

And those who can’t walk, run.

May our earth stay beautiful, the seas filled with fish, the gardens filled with flowers and the sky filled with sunlight.

May the pins stay in the grenades.

May the guns remain unused.

May the bombs stay unexploded.

May the wars end.

May the unlucky have some luck

And the lucky realise the luck they have,

May everyone’s nightmares end.

May everyone’s dreams come true.

May we all share the joy of loving and living.

May every thought be free, every problem solved.

May the worst turn out to be good.

May there be lots of fun and laughter, especially for the children.

May friendship be plentiful.

May we all think of others before we think of ourselves.

May we all live with knowledge, understanding, respect, tolerance and harmony.

May we all share the joy and love of our family and friends.

May we be not forgotten and may we not forget others.

May the angels not lift us up early.

May the world live on in peace forever.

Beginning with an introduction about his collection of precepts, Mr Browne offers the one that stopped him in his tracks as the thought for today, January 1.  “We carry within us the wonders we seek around us”

How wonderful for us as teachers and teacher librarians to be in a position to help so many children understand that everything comes from within, they can make their own dreams come true and realise their potential.  To have such influence is a privilege and a gift.

Every day our social media feeds are bombarded by memes with words of wisdom – here is a collected volume of them that we can have on our desks and on our classroom walls. As contributor Clare says, “Your life is your story.  Go write it.”



The 12 Days of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas









The 12 Days of Christmas

Robert Sabuda

Little Simon, 2006



“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

There’s really nothing new about the words of this familiar Christmas song, first published in England in 1780.  There are countless print versions of it and versions for various countries “straight” and parody alike.  But what sets this interpretation apart is its incredible illustrations for they are remarkably crafted pop-ups.  Meticulously cut and folded so they pop up perfectly as the page is opened, they reveal the magic of the song in a way like no other.  “Paper engineering” is a more accurate descriptor of Sabuda’s skills and from the partridge with the pears through to the magnificent Christmas tree at the end, complete with lights that work, you enter a world of magic and marvel.  Crafted mainly in white card with the occasional addition of silver they are just extraordinary and his imaginative way of getting all the characters into the illustration is amazing. Just look at “eleven ladies dancing”!

A peek inside..

A peek inside..

Even though this is an expensive purchase in relation to other Christmas books, it’s an investment as revealing each page could become part of an annual Christmas tradition and part of your Christmas Countdown of reading Christmas stories.

Sabuda continues to enchant with a range of other books and Christmas cards and he reflects the spirit of this time of giving by offering instructions for some designs as well as answering questions about the construction of the books.  In fact his website is a treasure trove that could well come in handy when the thrill of Christmas has passed and the long summer break seems endless.



Celia and Nonna

Celia and Nonna

Celia and Nonna











Celia and Nonna

Victoria Lane

Kayleen West

Ford Street, 2014

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


pbk., RRP $A14.95


Celia has the most wonderful relationship with her nonna, and her most favourite thing is having a sleepover at Nonna’s house.  Together they bake and fill the kitchen with delicious smells, and Celia has her own special cupboard full of her jigsaws, colouring books and felts.  Best of all is when Nonna reads her a bedtime story – or two or eight or nine…  But as time passes, Celia notices that Nonna is getting forgetful, so much so that Nonna is in danger and so she has to move to a hostel.  Instead of her familiar house with its tumbled garden, kitchen, and its special cupboard, Nonna now just has a room with bare grey walls, a tiny bookshelf and a funny smell.  And NO special cupboard.  But Celia has an idea…

This story will really resonate with so many young children, my own grandchildren included, as they come to terms with their nonnas and great-nonnas having to move from familiar surroundings to assisted care facilities.  Gone are the things that make it a special place and instead there are other old people, funny smells and blank walls.  Even though my grandchildren coped with that quite well, as Celia does, because GreatGran was still Great Gran and Nonna is still Nonna, it’s hard to be quiet and still  so you don’t disturb others.  Nearly as hard as it is for Great Gran and Nonna to be confined to such a small space where there is only room for a tiny bookshelf and a few special things.  Celia’s solution is both clever and poignant and makes the transition to a new way of life so much easier for both her and Nonna.  Miss 8 did a similar thing!

Victoria Lane has hit on a topic that will be the story for many of the children in our care and I know Miss 8 and Miss 3 not only empathised with Celia but also got a lot of comfort in knowing that they weren’t the only ones dealing with these changed circumstances that really bring old age into such a clear focus for them.  It can be scary to see so many old folk, especially those needing so much assistance, and hard for them to understand what’s happening, but if books like this can encourage them to continue to visit and celebrate their special times, then we will have a compassionate generation to look after us.  Accompanied by the most gorgeous pictures from which love just oozes out, this book touched my heart and that of a friend in similar circumstances.  You can read her review at

A must-have if you know of children who are facing these big changes and who need a little support to deal with them… 

Hasel and Rose

Hasel and Rose

Hasel and Rose









Hasel and Rose

Carolyn Magerl

Penguin/Viking 2014

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A24.00


“Rose was a new face in a new street. And there was a new town right outside her window.”  What, for some, might be the start of a new adventure filled with anticipation and excitement, for Rose is a descent into loneliness and apprehension. Rose looked out her windows to the stars and wished. But the wish thing which has no name did not come.  It did not make it’s away across country sweeping along the powerlines on the great poles that stride across the land; it did not come swept by stormy winds on a parachute.  Nothing could bring peace and joy to Rosie’s heart until…

The publisher’s blurb says, “A magical story of hope and new beginnings for anyone who’s ever loved and lost. Hasel and Rose celebrates the power of imagination and resilience, even when things seem too hard,” and it would be difficult to express the theme of this story better. When parents make a decision to move away from all that is familiar, there are many worries and what-ifs that haunt children, often too big for them to articulate and so nothing brings comfort, particularly with the natural impatience of the young.  But this story, written by someone who, herself, has experienced dislocation of the familiar and friendly many times and accompanied by her own evocative hand-coloured etchings which add so much atmosphere and tension, offers confirmation that sometimes all it takes is time, and new journeys can happen around any corner.

The journey of the evolution of Hasel and Rose is told by the author on her website and it, in itself, is a remarkable piece of writing  because it helps to answer that question that children always ask authors …”Where do you get your ideas from?”  Like many stories, it evolved over a long period of time, an idea tickling the edges of the mind until it found a purpose and a pathway to become more.  Its crafting and development is as much of a journey as Hasel’s, and that in itself is a most valuable lesson for students and their teachers to learn.  Great stories cannot be written to order and a timetable, but need to be nurtured and nourished and allowed to flourish in their own time…just as Rosie did.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…