Squishy McFluff the Invisible Cat: Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Secret Santa









Squishy McFluff, the Invisible Cat: Secret Santa

Pip Jones

Ellie Okstad

Faber and Faber, 2015

pbk, 80pp., RRP $A12.99



Squishy McFluff is so sweet, you’ll be smitten.
Such a clever and funny invisible kitten!

Imagine the fun of having a cat that only you can see, especially when it is really good at inventing great things to do like playing hide-and-seek at which he is world champion.  This is Ava’s luck.   She has a big imagination and is happiest when she’s playing with her cat, even though it can lead to trouble – which is exactly what happens in this latest addition to this series.

It’s nearly Christmas and Ava and Squishy are very excited.  But there are still preparations to be made, like buying the last minute things which means going into town where all is decorations and celebrations.  The trouble begins when Ava spots the wonky star at the top of the Christmas tree… The next day it is time to wrap the presents and when Mum says to wrap EVERYTHING, she is taken at her word… For someone who was trying to be good through all of December, this might not have a pretty ending for Ava, but she has one special thing she wants so she writes Santa a letter.

Young children will love this series from this English author as it holds many laughs and just a little bit of naughty. Written in rhyme it bounces along and Ella Okstad’s limited-palette illustrations are charming, capturing the essence of the text perfectly.

For those who can’t get enough of him, there’s a website with extra information and more fun and games at

This is something a little bit different to offer those just getting started on their independent reading journey who need a bit of support through short chapters, larger font and uncomplicated vocabulary – I think they will be eagerly awaiting the next adventure.  Perfect for putting aside for this year’s Christmas Countdown.

Meet… Sidney Nolan

Meet...Sidney Nolan

Meet…Sidney Nolan










Meet… Sidney Nolan

Yvonne Mes

Sandra Eterovic

Random House Australia, 2015

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


I recently evaluated the 759 section of an established primary school library collection, the section that could be best described as ‘painters and their paintings’.  While there was a solid representation of those European artists that could be expected, there was nothing relating to our Australian painters, particularly those of the 20th century.  So I was delighted to see that the latest in the Meet… series, that collection of biographies about iconic Australians for primary students, addressed the life and times of Sir Sidney Nolan.  Its focus is the story behind the distinctive Ned Kelly paintings (available via Scootle MO12591).

As a boy in Victoria, Nolan loved to listen to the stories about Ned Kelly told to him by his grandfather who was a police officer at the time.  It inspired his imagination in many ways and so when circumstances of World War II had him on the run rather like the Kelly gang, an idea was sparked and an signature series of images was created.  And from that grew a new and different way to show this country’s amazing landscape making his style and works instantly recognisable, both in Australia and beyond.  There is now a permanent display of his works at the Canberra Museum and Gallery and together with the tools available on that site, this new addition to this series is perfect for enabling younger students to begin to learn about the legacy of this great Australian.


Silver Shoes (series)

Silver Shoes

Silver Shoes










Broadway Baby



Lights, Camera, Dance



Samantha-Ellen Bound

Random House, 2015

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


Broadway Baby and Lights, Camera, Action are the latest additions to the Silver Shoes series which follows the early dancing days of a group of friends at the Silver Shoes Dance Studio.  Each girl has her favourite genre and this time it is the turn of Ellie and Ashley to shine again. Since her success in And All That Jazz, Ellie has been taking singing lessons and now she is determined to wow them in a Broadway musical and become a ‘triple threat” – one who can act, dance and sing.  However, her strength is jazz ballet not tap dancing and there are those who are better than she also auditioning.

Meanwhile, in Lights, Camera, Action hip-hop lover Ashley is now inspired by reggae and is desperate to impress an agent looking for the star of his next music video.  But, as with the others in this series, there are those who are determined to be better than the heroine so like Ellie, Ashley has to dig deep into her inner self to persevere and test herself. 

Dancing remains one of the most popular sports for Australian children and so it’s no wonder that this series has been a hit with so many of the young girls I know.  Once again, the author’s expertise shines through and while the key focus is on the dancing element, she still holds a mirror to the life of this age group who are branching out into new ventures and friendships as they try out new independence.  Each reader sees herself as the lead character on the stage but can also relate to the challenges that have to be faced to get there. 

I know these will be snapped up as soon as they appear – here’s hoping there are more in the pipeline!

Click here for a review of the first two in the series

Click here for a review of the first two in the series

Click here for a review of others in the series

Click here for a review of others in the series



Lola’s Toybox: The Patchwork Picnic

Lola's Toybox

Lola’s Toybox







Lola’s Toybox: The Patchwork Picnic

Danny Parker

Guy Shield

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2015

85pp., pbk., RRP $A12.95


Lola was never allowed in the shed – it was too messy and too dangerous And it had spiders.  So when her mum decides to clean it out and invites the children to choose what they want to keep, she is amazed.  Hidden under a sheet and cover in dust she discovers a very old wooden toybox marked with the word Timberfields.  But older brother Nick also wants the box and as he comes into Lola’s room to demand it, she hides inside pulling the lid down only to find it fills with light and begins to shake.  When it stops, Lola climbs out and discovers herself on a beautiful hillside and her Buddy, her learn-to-dress clown and favourite toy who had been in the box with her can talk and, with a little practise of rusty limbs, can walk and move!

Buddy knows all about this place where the toybox (now a picnic hamper) has taken them.  “The Kingdom is where toys come when they are not being played with by their children,” he tells Lola.  “And there are lots of different lands in the kingdom.”

So begins a new series from the author of Tree and Parachute that will appeal to young girls who are making the transition from structured home readers.  In each episode, Lola and Buddy face a particular problem that has Lola having to decide the best way forward for all because as the only human, only she has the logic and emotions to seek a win-win solution.  The problems that she faces in The Kingdom reflect those that the readers may face in their own world and so as Lola works her way through them, the thoughts and skills she brings to the situation can be taken on board by the reader. The series is as much about empowering the reader to be more independent as it is to tell an engaging story. In The Patchwork Picnic Lola has to resolve a dispute at the teddy bears’ picnic between the soft toys and The Plastic Prince and his army of plastic toys who while already ruling Nevercalm are determined to take over The Kingdom. But before she is trusted she has to pass a test…. 

Described by the publisher as “imaginative fantasy”, there are three others in the series – On the Story Sea, The Treasure Trove and The Plastic Palace.  All will offer young girls a good solid read that they will enjoy.

Star of the Week

Star of the Week

Star of the Week











The Star of the Week

Sally Rippin

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2015

42pp., pbk., RRP $A7.95



This is the final in the very popular Hey Jack series written for those very young readers who are stepping between “home readers” and “chapter books.” The best friend of Billie B. Brown now has a 20-book series deliberately written for boys who don’t identify with action heroes or spies.

As with the others in the series, Rippin takes a situation that her target audience can relate to and explores it in an imaginative and engaging read.  This time, Jack is named “Star of the Week”., a much sought-after accolade but he’s not sure he can carry the responsibilities of the role particularly as his primary duty will be to introduce soccer star Tim Little at the impending school assembly and he is full of nerves and excitement.  But then he discovers Aaron crying in the boys’ bathroom because his dog has died and he has a brainwave that might cheer his friend up.  It means he won’t get to meet the famous sportsman but…

Rippin says she was inspired by Dr Seuss, Richard Scarry and Joyce Lancaster Brisley (Milly-Molly-Mandy series) when it came to writing both Hey Jack and Billie B. Brown and she was determined they “would begin in second person, contain the language of a school reader and stick to the simplest day to day occurrences of a six to eight year old,” so they would be accessible and appeal to the reluctant reader. She tried them out on her own son, massaging them based on his responses and eventually bringing two series that have been the starting point for so many to fruition. In an interview, she says that she wanted her readers to be someone “who is ready to try their first chapter book. Someone who wants to read about a character they can relate to and who could, very possibly, become their very best friend.”

Having watched both family members and students immerse themselves in both Hey Jack and Billie B. Brown and make enormous steps in their competence and confidence, I think she has hit the mark


Once Tashi Met A Dragon

Once Tashi Met A Dragon










Once Tashi Met a Dragon

Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg

Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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







Tashi and the Golden Jawbone

Tashi and the Giant Squid

Tashi and the Big Scoop

Tashi and the Magic Carpet

Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg
Allen & Unwin, 2015
64pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

It was with great delight, but not surprise, that when I returned to working in a primary school library after a protracted absence I discovered that the favourite series amongst the students in Year 2 – the ones who are just starting their independent reading journey – was Tashi. Every day they asked for new stories or put existing ones on reserve. So they are going to be very excited to know that there is not one, not two, but five new additions to the adventures of this delightful little character who is so clever, resourceful and brave as he confronts fearsome opponents set on destroying his village and his peace.

Once Tashi Met a Dragon is a picture book beautifully illustrated in colour by Kim Gamble that is just delightful. In it, Tashi finally meets the dragon that he has heard stories about forever. Usually it lives on the mountain in a palace of gold and each year it sends the rains so that the villagers can thrive. But this year, the rains haven’t come and only one person is brave enough to venture forth to find out why…

The other stories –Tashi and the Golden Jawbone, Tashi and the Giant Squid, Tashi and the Big Scoop and Tashi and the Magic Carpet – have been inspired by the original stories created by Anna Fienberg and her mother, but are the novelisations of episodes from the popular television series on ABC3. True to the original story concept, these have coloured computer-generated images created by Flying Bark. Rather than having two stories in the one book as the original print series does, these are augmented with 20 pages of puzzles, games and activities providing extra fun and encouraging greater understanding.

Back in the days when I was co-ordinating Read Around Australia I ran a book rap based on all the Tashi novels published at the time. Small groups of students selected one story and had to write a synopsis and then pose a series of questions that would challenge the thinking of other students around Australia who had to answer them. What they discovered was that each story threw up a number of ethical questions that could be discussed and debated and so they became so much more than an introduction to fantasy and an easy read. Now a whole new audience can discover the magic meaning.

For a complete list of all the original Tashi books as well as more fun and games go to or you can check out the new look, including a trailer at


Trick-Stars series

Trick-Stars series











Triple Magic


Summer Spell


Second Chance


Saving Destiny


Chasing Dreams


Princess of the Sands


Karen Wood

Allen & Unwin, 2015

112pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Identical triplets Ruby, Lexie and Kit Trickett dream of leaving Windara Farm performing spectacular tricks on their beautiful gypsy cob horses. It’s a dream that’s a far cry from the vegetable-growing district around Kulnara where the girls live on their grandfather’s farm.  But their horses Tinker, Kismet and Featherfoot are workhorses and Grampy is not a wealthy man.  However things change when Ruby climbs into the loft to look for some old horse rugs to keep the horses clean and discovers a mysterious trunk.  Its lid is painted blue with gold stars and a silver moon and there is a hand-painted picture of a horse with two riders standing on its back – very much like her dream. And written on the lid is “Gallius and Levinia Trickett”, her grandparents.

Ruby doesn’t know it but this discovery unleashes family histories and secrets that become the impetus for this new series written for newly independent readers from about 7-10.  Mix dreams, sadness, and intrigue with horses, acrobatics, magic and characters that appeal and there is a formula for a series that will appeal to girls who love reading and horses. There are six in the collection (Chasing Dreams and Princess of the Sands are published this month) each building on the previous episode. I predict they will be warmly welcomed and eagerly read as young ladies put themselves in the saddle alongside Ruby, Lexie and Kit and share the dream with them.


Samurai vs Ninja (series)

Samurai vs Ninja

Samurai vs Ninja






Samurai vs Ninja (series)

Nick Falk

Tony Flowers

Random House Australia, 2015

pbk., 96pp., RRP $A9.99


The Battle for the Golden Egg


The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure


Day of the Dreadful Undead


Curse of the Oni


The publishers’ blurb for this series says, “In the Edo Period of Japan, two teams fight for supremacy – the serious samurai and the scheming ninjas. To determine who is the best, a deadly contest is held. The prize is the Golden Egg, the most magnificent treasure in all of Japan. But when the ninjas cheat, the samurai will stop at nothing to get revenge. Tighten your topknot and sharpen your sword – the Samurai vs Ninja battle is about to begin!”  And so begins another action-packed series from this talented pairing of Nick Falk and Tony Flowers who brought us both Saurus Street and Billy is a Dragon.

This series is set 300 years ago when the serious Samurai with their smooth, straight kamishimo and tight topknots lived in a castle on the tip of the Mountain of the Tiger’s Claw and the silly Ninja with their ripped and wrinkled shinobi shozoku and looped and lose obi lived in a castle at the tip of the neighbouring Mountain of the Dragon’s Claw.  Because the Samurai practise the ancient art of Nodo no Kingyo (the Way of the Thirsty Goldfish) and the Ninja, the ancient art of Mink-u-i-Buta (the Way of the Ugly Pig) the scene is set for conflict – and it is not long before it begins.  The Samurai challenge the Ninja to a contest – and through crazy characters with even crazier ideas the reader is taken on an hilarious but suspenseful adventure.  Despite the traditional honour and fairness normally associated with these protagonists, the reader sees a totally different side of them that provide many LOL moments!

Capitalising on the craze for things Japanese as manga-type stories permeate through to our youngest readers, this is an energetic, fast-moving series that will capture the imaginations of younger readers who are ready for independent reading but still need the support of short text and illustrations which are integral to that text.  Falk and Flowers seem to feed off each other in a symbiotic relationship that knows exactly what their audience wants and how to give it to them and offer stories that are going to maintain that zest for reading as the transition from instructional reader to free choice is made.  With chapters finishing at just the right time and the book finishing on a cliff-hanger that sets up the next episode, the books make perfect read-alouds which will have their listeners demanding more and scurrying to the library looking for the next in the series.  

Mouse Mansion

Mouse Mansion: Sam & Julia at the circus

Mouse Mansion: Sam & Julia at the circus











Mouse Mansion: Sam & Julia at the circus

Karina Schaapman

Allen & Unwin, 2014

hbk., 60pp., RRP $A24.99


Sam and Julia are two mice who live in Mouse Mansion, but there their similarities stop.  Julia lives in a tiny apartment with her mum with no other relatives and she is super nosy and very naughty. Sam, on the other hand, lives in the middle of the mansion with all his relatives (and there are many) and he is super shy and very obedient.  However when Julia is bored and goes looking for adventures he goes with her and can be quite daring. But they are the best of friends and share everything. 

One day, while out on an errand for Julia’s mum, they spot a man putting up circus posters.  They help him out and discover that the circus is looking for someone to sew and cook for it.  Julia’s mum applies for the job and so begins an adventure that none of them will ever forget.  But despite the fun and excitement of the circus, Julia misses seeing and playing with Sam and their friendship is stretched.  Julia really misses him and even though she has Enrico to get into mischief with, it is Sam that she misses most. 

This is essentially a novel for young readers presented in picture book format and when you see the stunning pictures you understand why.  Creator Karina Schaapman created a real mouse mansion standing three metres high and two metres wide with over 100 rooms to be the setting for her books. The mansion is made from cardboard boxes and papier-mache, and it has more than a hundred rooms, corridors and outdoor spaces. For the interior, Karina used vintage fabrics from the fifties, sixties and seventies plus various types of waste material.   For this, the third in the series, she also created a complete miniature circus based on posters, photos and letters she had of the Circus Roberti, the circus in the story.  Placed amongst these models are exquisitely created little mice and the whole has been photographed by Japp Vliegenthart.  From the enticing endpapers to the magnificent central three-page spreads, the illustrations are just breathtaking in their detail and take the enraptured reader into the world of Sam and Julia and the circus.  Even without the text it would be a masterpiece. You can find out more about the mansion and even get some tips for building your own.

While the story itself is a great read-aloud about the power of friendship and what we can learn from others for the very young, or an endearing read-alone for the emerging independent reader, it has endless scope for those looking at how books are illustrated and how illustrations add context, depth and understanding to words.


You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One

You wouldn't want to be in the trenches in World War One

You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One












You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One

Alex Woolf

David Antram

Book House 2014

pbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.99


Subtitled “A hole you’d rather not be in” this is an ideal introduction for younger students to World War I.  The reader is given the persona of one Tommy Atkins, an underage but enthusiastic English lad determined to do his bit for King and Country and then in a chatty commentary which is filled with facts and accompanied by appealing cartoon-esque illustrations is led through the process from joining up to training to being in the trenches on the Western Front.  Life in the trenches is exposed for what it was – rats and lice, bully beef, bread and biscuits, cold and wet and being under fire.

While remaining factually true the presentation is one that tells what happened but without the gory bits, the parts that we as adults know but kids don’t have to yet. For example, Tommy is wounded at Messines but the next part is about being back in England with family.  Scattered throughout are handy hints such as “To detect enemy tunnelling, drive a stick into the ground and hold the other end between teeth to feel any vibrations.” 

This is an ideal addition to your WWI/ANZAC collection, just right for the reader who wants to know what happened but for whom fiction doesn’t appeal.  While the guide age group is Years 5-8, a mutre student in Yr 3+ would find it an engaging read.