Feathers for Phoebe (mini book)

Feathers for Phoebe

Feathers for Phoebe










Feathers for Phoebe

Rod Clement

HarperCollins, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Phoebe is a small grey bird and she doesn’t like it one bit.  Surrounded by the most colourful, exotic birds she feels she is inferior and so desperately wants to be more like them. So with the help of Zelda who runs the most popular beauty salon in the forest she begins a transformation.  But no matter what she adds, no one notices her and stops to admire her.  Even when she is totally transformed and unrecognisable from the small grey Phoebe, no one seems to notice. 

Zelda tells her that sometimes “feathers are not enough” and she needs more – a song, a sound and some moves. So Phoebe spends the day practising until she has the perfect moves for the perfect grooves.  The all-new singing, dancing Phoebe is ready to show herself to the world…

When Miss 10 started school this was the National Simultaneous Storytime of the Year pick and she loved it.  It was a family favourite for months and no bedtime session was complete without reading it.  It’s colour, it’s movement, it’s humour and it’s message about being yourself really appealed to her -as it did to thousands of other children – and sparked endless sessions of creating new feathers for headbands and dressing up in the gaudiest of fabrics and having fun being whoever her imagination decided, but each evening off came the regalia and she got into her ordinary pyjamas, happy to be herself and having her favourite story read yet again.

Now Miss 10 is an independent reader and she reads this book to Miss 5 who is not quite there yet.  But how wonderful it is to have this mini-book version that is just the right size to fit Miss 5’s hands so having heard the story so often already will be reading it for herself very soon.  Christmas stocking sorted!!!

Jack and Mia

Jack and Mia

Jack and Mia










Jack and Mia

Robert Vescio

Claire Richards

Wombat Books, 2016

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


Before Mia moved in next door, Jack was lonely.  But Mia brought rainbows, jungles, concerts and lots and lots of giggles.  Even their mums thought they  were “two sides of the one coin” and “fit together like a puzzle.”  Mia’s amazing imagination took them on adventures that Jack had never dreamed of and when they both got sick at the same time, they were each given a book about making and doing, make-believe and play that allowed them to continue the fun from their beds.  

When they were better they kept using their books, snipping, gluing, taping and  tying a magnificent cardboard castle.  They each wore crowns and royal robes and ruled over their kingdom with wisdom and kindness.  They were as close as the materials that held that castle together.  Until one day Mia moves far away with her family and Jack is back into the isolation and desolation that he felt before Mia entered his life.  Nothing was the same any more.

Across the sea, Mia had also given up.  She was missing Jack just as much.  But then Jack found Mia’s book in his toybox and… 

There is nothing like the deep friendships forged in childhood where there are no distractions beyond deciding what today’s fun will be about.  Jack and Mia is a charming story that focuses on such a friendship and how it can continue even after separation has intervened. It will resonate with children who have moved away from familiar surroundings and friends and show them that there are plenty of ways of keeping in touch to relive old memories and make new ones. The technology of today gives them so much more than that of previous generations and the world can come to you with just a few clicks.

The illustrations enrich the storyline as Jack and Mia do not share the same skin colour but neither notice – it’s all about who each child is, how they connect and the fun that can be had when kids get together, just as it is in any playground. In fact, I’d proffer that the readers will not even notice the difference.  Racism and all that it entails is very definitely a concept learned from adults.

Heartwarming and positive. 

The Cranky Ballerina

The Cranky Ballerina

The Cranky Ballerina











The Cranky Ballerina

Elise Gravel

Katherine Tegan Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Ada does not look forward to weekends, particularly Saturdays, because Saturday is ballet day and she HATES ballet.  Her leotard is too tight and her tutu too itchy and as for the moves she is forced to do and practise and practise…as she says, “Arabesques are GROTESQUE”. As for pirouettes – well! Even with her little monster sidekick who tries to offer support and encouragement, she just doesn’t like it. For Ada, it is definitely NOT a case of “practice makes perfect”. 

But one Saturday morning when she is trying to please Miss Pointy she pirouettes right out the door and into a whole new world, one where she fits perfectly.

Across the world, Saturday mornings see young girls and boys going off to do things like ballet and music and sport and so on because their parents think they should, or they should enjoy them or the parents are reliving their dreams, but how many are like Ada and have no aptitude or passion for the activity?  Many were the freezing mornings I cycled many miles to piano lessons thinking of excuses for not having practised until my long-suffering teacher told my mum she was wasting her money. Based on the creator’s one disastrous attempt at ballet when she was four, this story will resonate with those whose abilities, talents and interests lie beyond those that they are expected to do.  

The illustrations are very expressive – even the youngest non-reader can tell that this is a story about an unhappy child who seems to have a permanent scowl and for all their apparent simplicity, the feelings of Miss Pointy and the other girls are very obvious.  With a predominantly gentle colour scheme, lime greens and bright reds punctuate Ada’s discomfort along with speech bubbles and onomatopoeia giving it a fast pace that will encourage young readers to read it for themselves independently without much trouble. The final page is perfect.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Sharing this with a class could enable a discussion about the sorts of things that the students do on weekends and their feelings about those activities.  There may be a number of Adas uncovered who will be grateful for having their feelings legitimised and perhaps even have the courage to talk to their parents about what they would really like to be doing and lerning.

Just the Way We Are

Just the Way We Are

Just the Way We Are











Just the Way We Are

Jessica Shirvington

Claire Robertson

ABC Books, 2016

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



Families come in all sorts of shapes and Anna, Chiara, Henry , Izzy and Jack lovingly introduce the reader to theirs.  Anna’s family includes her grandfather who does wonderful things with her after school; Chiara has two dads while Henry lives in one house with his mum and his brother and his dad lives in another house.  Izzy is loved by her foster family and there’s only Jack and his mum in his family.  

But despite the different configurations there are several things that are all the same – each family does the same sorts of things and enjoys them, each family is full of love and hugs and each family is perfect just the way it is. 

With its pastel colours and gentle illustrations, this book is an affirmation of all the different types of families that our children live in and encounter through their friendships and that as long as there is plenty of love and hugs and fun, each family is just the right shape for it.  The call for greater diversity of the characters in the stories our children enjoy, both in print and onscreen, is starting to be heard and so it is not only delightful but also important that books like this feature predominantly in our library collections – both school and home.  Children have the right and the need to be able to see themselves and their situations reflected in the stories they enjoy so their lives are just as normal as others and marginalisation (and bullying) is minimised.  

Using the children’s thumbnail sketches of their families in this book as a role model would be a wonderful way to explore the different shapes of families in the classroom and demonstrate that the common thread of love is the most important of all.

small things

Small Things

Small Things










small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99



Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…


Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.


Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

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My Feelings

My Feelings

My Feelings









My Feelings

Sarah Jennings

Bloomsbury 2016

14pp., board book, RRP $A12.99


Helping children understand and cope with their feelings in an appropriate way is such an important part of helping them grow and be able to socialise effectively.  So this deceptively simple book is such a gift for the early childhood teacher or the parents of little ones.

It explores the feelings of happiness, sadness, anxiety, grumpiness, excitement, fear and shyness in a way that will really help the reader come to grips with all the emotions that fill their day.  Each page has a tab that shows its focus feeling and starts with “When you feel…” so it talks directly to the child.  Each page validates the feeling  (so it’s OK to be shy) and then offers some suggestions for managing it. So if you are excited you can jump up and down or tell a friend; while if you’re grumpy you can do something you love, huff and puff or imagine a jelly bath!! Several times “Tell someone” is the suggestion which is great advice but it’s balanced with actions that the child can do not only to overcome the immediate situation but also build their strategies and resilience. 

John Joseph  has written much about how our emotions colour and shape our responses to a given situation, particularly the effect that the chemicals that are whizzing around our brains at the time have on us…”Depending on the extent of the situation, the capacity of sensory information and rational thinking to get processed is weakened, severely in extreme cases. Each particular emotion activates a series of memories and physical responses, inhibiting the flow of some chemicals and creating surges with others.”  He talks about the “emotional rooms’ – blue, green, orange and red – what happens in each and how how we manage that not only shapes the moment but also the ultimate effect on our personality. “Those who spend hours on end in a negative Orange Room find it difficult to break depressing thought patters. Those who move into Red with little provocation are unpredictable, prone to violence and struggle to make and sustain relationships with others.”

While that may seem a bit deep and meaningful for a board book written for toddlers, it demonstrates the importance of helping little ones learn about their emotions – positive and negative – and how they can manage them, self-soothe and self-calm healthily and move on.  This book is a first-step in that process and an integral part of any investigation about ‘Being Me” and “Being a Friend’. Let them talk and illustrate about when they feel happy, excited, scared or what they worry about and then brainstorm the sorts of things they can do to help them manage those feelings appropriately.  Help them learn that different situations often require different responses. It could even serve as a lead-in to your Protective Behaviours / or other personal safety program you use in your school.

Deceptively simple but highly effective.

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Butterfly and Oscar

Tricia Oktober

Ford Street, 2014

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


Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar are five dachshunds who live in a beautiful garden owned by a lady who collects plants and dogs.  Theirs is a peaceful, placid life with each having its own personality and spending their days literally living a dog’s life.  Even the magpies are not afraid to come and look for worms as the dogs snooze in the sun.  

But one day, the owner brings another dog home – one called Butterfly, one who is not like the long, low, smooth dachshunds.  Rather this one has longer legs, short ears and a squashed in face. And she isn’t even the same gingery colour – she is white with black bits here and there.  But this doesn’t bother Oscar who is very affectionate – to him this newcomer is just another puppy who needs to be kept warm and safe at night; who needs her face washed after dinner because she is such a messy eater; and who needs to learn that shredding teddies and pulling plants out of the garden are not the right things to do.

Everything is fine in the household until one night Butterfly sees another dog outside, one that barks when she does and growls right back at her.  The other dogs come to her rescue and make enough noise to scare anything away but the new dog just stands there barking right back at them. Night after night the new dog comes to the window and nothing Butterfly can do scares it away.  She gets more and more scared until something has to be done – so the owner puts a mirror where Butterfly can see her reflection, but suddenly it seems that outside dog had come inside and Butterfly is even more terrified.  When she finally realises that she is seeing herself for the first time, she calms down a little – until she realises that she isn’t long and sleek like Old Dog, Mousie, Polly, Isa Blue and Oscar.  She is very different  so instead of being scared, she is now unhappy and feels very alone and isolated. Nothing cheers her up until…

Tricia Oktober always writes the most charming stories that are illustrated with her exquisite, lifelike drawings and Butterfly and Oscar is no exception.  Given that it is dedicated to her dogs, all eight of them, suggests that this story might be based on real life and it is the mark of a true storyteller that they can take an ordinary event like a dog seeing its reflection for the first time and turn it into a book that enchants and teaches through its gentle message that each of us is different but it’s not what we look like that counts but what we do.  However, while we are loved for who we are, sometimes being the newcomer can make us feel like an outsider and that no one will accept us.  There are excellent teaching notes  which will help students not only empathise with these feelings if they haven’t experienced them but also help them understand that difference is not always negative and how they can reach out to someone and bring them into the circle.

Miss 5 is going through a “dog phase”  – she is going to love having this in her collection if I overcome my love of Tricia Oktober’s work and actually let her have it!

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee










The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

Deborah Abela

Random House Australia, 2016

232pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Things have been tough in the tiny town of Yungabilla, and particularly so for the Wimple family since mum gave up her teaching job to homeschool Boo because of his asthma and Dad lost his as a journalist when the local newspaper closed down and he’s now got his own handyman business. But they are a close-knit family with Dad’s eternal optimism steering them through the roughest times, Mum’s patience and calming influence keeping everyone on track and Nanna Flo’s pragmatism keeping them grounded Every Friday night they gather around the television to watch The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee with India Wimple successfully spelling every word along with the contestants.  So when host Philomena Spright looks straight down the camera lens exhorting children to enter the new series, India feels she is speaking directly to her.

Which is all very well because spelling really tricky words is not India’s problem – it’s her shyness and the family’s pecuniary problems that are bigger hurdles.  When she was younger and had the starring role in the school play, she was all set to go but just as she stepped on stage she saw a couple of people leaving and realised it was her mum and dad hurrying her young brother Boo outside to deal with another major asthma attack.  She lost her lines and her confidence in public at that moment but gained a loud voice in her head that constantly fuels her self-doubt and her fear that it would happen again. It pops up all the time suggesting that it’s impossible for one as ordinary as her to achieve a dream  So, at first she tells her family that she can’t enter and despite their protestations she sticks to her decisions.  But that night she sees Dad smile, something that is rare these days, so so that she can see that smile again, she agrees to have a go.

And so the scene is set for a most heart-warming, spirit-lifting story of a family and a community getting together to overcome all sorts of obstacles and hardships to make the dream come true.  This is not just about India- the whole town needs this, if only to prove that kids from the back of beyond are just as clever and polished as city kids and their own children can have the future they want.

Much has to be done to help India build her confidence and self-belief, just as much has to be done to find the money to get her to the heats and the final.  There are all sorts of contestants including the super-confident as well as  pushy parents to contend with, without even thinking of words that most of her age won’t have heard of, let alone use or understand (even when they are in a sentence!) It’s a story that we’re seeing playing on television all day at the moment, as our Olympic competitors from all sorts of backgrounds, overcome all the odds and realise their dream of being an Olympian. Even the contestants in the tremendously popular television program The Great Australian Spelling Bee will now come to life and be more like the real kids they know.  And while for Olympian, television contestant and India alike the prize is the goal, it’s also about the journey and what they learn along the way that is the most important.

This is an inspirational story that would make a great read-aloud and a wonderful read-alone at any time but particularly at this time or at the beginning of the year as we encounter students with all sorts of concerns about what hurdles they will have to leap as a new phase unfolds and fears have to be faced. Striving for a dream, using the support of those around you, taking one step at a time, believing in yourself and allowing obstacles to become opportunities is a  message that our young need to hear, especially when they seem to be surrounded by ‘instant success” and live in a world of ‘instant gratification’. 

Adding to the story is the introduction of each chapter… a particular word is featured, it’s definition and part of speech and just like in the competition it is used in a sentence.  This prepares the reader for what is to come, building personal vocabulary and understanding in the best way as we read on to see how it plays out.  Daunting, valorous, imperious, calamitous and skulduggery all come to life!

Deborah Abela has written a most profound book, very different from much that is available to younger readers today, and created not only an engaging, what-happens-next story but one built around a family who will be readily recognisable by readers.  If Miss 10 were to adopt India Wimple as her role model, I would be more than happy.

Copy Cat

Copy Cat

Copy Cat










Copy Cat

Ali Pye

Nosy Crow, 2016

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


Bella loves Anna so much that she wants to be just like her – so much so that she copies everything Anna does.  Whether it’s playing with the hula hoop, being a ballerina or a pirate, Bella is right there being Anna’s mirror.  But trouble erupts when Anna decides to be a princess and Bella copies her as usual, but there is just one crown…  Anna gets very cross and tells Bella to stop copying her and goes off to play be herself. 

At first Bella is sad because she has no one to copy and no one to play with – and then she discovers a skipping rope in her toybox.  And as she practises and practises, Chloe looks on wishing she could skip too.

“It’s easy!” said Bella.  “Just copy me!” 

And then Anna comes looking for Bella…

Even though this story stars three cats, it could quite easily focus on three children in the playground so well does it reflect the different dynamics of friendships and activities as they ebb and flow.  Told with a lot of repetitive text that invites the young reader to join in, it not only engages them that but also opens up opportunities to talk about friendships and how to make and maintain them.  The eye-catching, colourful illustrations add an extra dimension to this well-told tale that is perfect for early childhood readers who enjoy something a little different. 

Little Why

Little Why

Little Why











Little Why

Jonny Lambert

Little Tiger Press, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99



Tucked in the back, in-between the legs of the elder elephants, Little Why is supposed to walk in line and stay out of harm’s way.  But it is a big, new world out there with lots of new things to see.  Things such as Wildebeest’s spiny-spiky special horns.

“Wow!” he gasps.  I need some spiny-spiky special horns like those!.  I would look super-duper scary!  I would charge this way and that.  Could I have some spiny-spiky special horns?”

“No”, he is told and ordered back into line.  But it’s hard to stay in line when you spot a giraffe with long-lofty leggy legs that would be good for reaching the highest leaves, or a cheetah with speedy-spotty, fuzzy fur or a crocodile with a snippy-snazzy snout!  Even a near miss doesn’t stop him but he does stay in line, even though he has the sulks…

This is a charming variation on a common theme of stories for little children – that they are special and perfect just the way they are – but Little Why with his constant asking of “Why?’ is so resonant of a young pre-schooler that is has instant appeal.  And who hasn’t fallen in love with images of baby elephants waddling in and out of their parents’ legs as they take their first steps.  The illustrations are detailed and their collage-like structure gives them texture and depth, with the expressions bringing the animals and text to life. There is also the added detail of two little insects to discover on each page as well as Little Why’s constant companion, a little blue bird who keeps a careful eye on him. Little ones will appreciate the perspective of Little Why looking up at the world, just as they do.

This is another story that, as well as having having that oft-used theme that is essential to a healthy self-esteem and sense of self-worth , has the sort of language, rhythm and repetition that little listeners love and delight in exploring for themselves.