Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World










Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Anya Klauss

Usborne, 2016

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


What do Demeter and Persephone, Finn MacCool and the fish of Maui all have in common?  Well, they are included in this collection of stories from around the world beautifully illustrated by Anya Klauss.

In times long past before the truth was known, many of the things like the sun’s passage across the sky or the formation of the land were a mystery to those observing them so they made up stories to explain the particular phenomenon.  Even though they came from far-flung places and diverse peoples. their common thread was to explain the seemingly inexplicable so that the world made sense to them. Whether it involved giants, mythical beings and creatures, magic or sorcery, each story sought to demystify and through their telling through generations across thousands of years they have endured, even though science may have intervened to expose the truth.

As well as being a wonderful introduction to these sorts of stories and embracing a range of cultures, such myths can also be the entry point into scientific investigations for young and not-so-young scientists.  If Maui did not fish the North Island of New Zealand out of the sea, how did it get there? If the changing of the seasons are not caused by Demeter’s love and loss, how are they formed?  A great way to link literature and science and start our students on their own quests.


The Baker’s Dozen






The Baker's Dozen

The Baker’s Dozen











The Baker’s Dozen

Aaron Shepard

Wendy Edelson

Shepard Publications, 2010

40pp., pbk.


Van Amsterdam the baker was well known for his honesty as well as for his fine Saint Nicholas cookies, which were made of gingerbread and iced just as people imagine St Nicholas to look like. When his made the cookies he weighed his ingredients meticulously and always gave his customers exactly what they paid for — not more, and not less. They were very happy and Van Amsterdam was very successful.

But one day a mysterious old woman in a black shawl came into the shop and demanded that Van Amsterdam give her thirteen biscuits because that was how many were in a ‘baker’s dozen’.  Van Amsterdam refused so the old woman left without her cookies but as she left she told Van Amsterdam “Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again.”

From that day, business went downhill and Van Amsterdam was left almost penniless and with no customers.  Then one night he is visited by St Nicholas in a dream and he learns a lesson about being generous.

This is a retelling of an old tale that goes back into history with the first recorded version being noted in 1896.  Accompanied by exquisite illustrations it brings yet another legend associated with Christmas to life and underscores the need to be unselfish at this time.  It includes a recipe for St Nicholas cookies and a Readers Theatre script  

Something a little different.



Cobweb Christmas – The Tradition of Tinsel






Cobweb Christmas

Cobweb Christmas











Cobweb Christmas- The Tradition of Tinsel

Shirley Climo

Jane Manning

HarperCollins, 2001

32pp., hbk.,



Tante is so little she has to stand on a stool to climb into bed and so old she can’t count all the Christmases she has seen.  She lived at the edge of a pine forest in Germany in a tiny cottage with her canary, her cat and her dog.  Beside the cottage was a barn with a donkey, a goat, a rooster and a hen – so she had all she needed.

Usually Tante wasn’t too fussed about having a spic and span house but at Christmas time when the days were short and the nights long, she cleaned her house from top to bottom and corner to corner sweeping even the tiniest cobwebs and their inhabitants from the rafters.  She would chop down the best Christmas tree she could find and decorated it with sugar cookies and gingerbread and put special presents under it for her animals.  She invited the village children in to see her tree and share its goodies – there was something for everyone including her animals, except the spiders who had all been swept out the door.

But still Tante wasn’t really happy – all her life she had heard about the marvellous things that happened on Christmas Eve like animals talking or bees humming carols. So she sat down to wait for the Christmas magic but soon fell asleep so she never knew whether it happened or not.  She certainly did not hear tiny little voices begging to be let in out of the cold – but Kriss Kringle did so he opened the door a crack and in went all the spiders who had been swept outside.

And the next morning Tante woke to find that Christmas magic had really happened…

Based on an old European folktale, Shirley Climo and Jane Manning have brought this story to the 21st century in a superb retelling with charming illustrations.  Tinsel – originally shiny strands of brass or copper – has been part of traditional Christmas decorations since the end of the 19th century as people tried to bring light and sparkle into their homes at a dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Anyone who has seen a cobweb dipped in dew in the early morning and gleaming as the sun catches it can easily make the connection between the spiders’ work and the sparkly loops of foil we use today.

This is a story worth tracking down to add to your Christmas collection – well-written and adding just a bit more to the story of this special time it will be one to read every Christmas Countdown.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock










Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Robert Favretto

David Eustace

Ford Street, 2016

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

9781925272253 (hbk)

9781925272260 (pbk)

Deep in the Black Forest nestles the village of Schoenwald, frozen in time – but a somewhat chaotic time for there were no clocks and people did things when they felt like it (or remembered) rather than according to hands making a particular pattern on a numbered face.  One day a weary cuckoo lands in a pine tree and is dismayed to see the disorder and disarray in the village and so the next morning, and every morning after that, this natural time-keeper for Nature sang out.  What a difference this regular greeting made.  Until one night a huge storm brought the cuckoo’s pine tree crashing down and the cuckoo was blown off the mountain and way down into the valley…

Superbly illustrated in a calm palette and with intricate detail (including a hidden egg on each page)  that draw the reader into this isolated village in a beautiful part of the world, this is a perfect story for introducing children to the concept of time and the need to have some order and continuity in our lives.  Little ones will have lots of fun imagining what would happen at home or school if everyone could do what they liked when they liked and I can imagine two contrasting murals being created with each child contributing a vignette.  Having explored the world of no-time, they could then be introduced to the vocabulary of time – before, after, during, now, then, soon, morning, afternoon, evening, night, dusk, dawn, first, next, last – and the skills of sequencing.  Those wanting greater challenges could explore how and why the day is divided into the chunks it is; time zones; time pieces;  what they can achieve in a given period of time… Time is the most abstract concept to teach but it is the one that is most prevalent in our lives.  To have such a unique story and such stunning illustrations to kickstart its investigation is such a gift.

Students could also have lots of fun enacting a storm (complete with sound effects) so fierce that the cuckoo was blown away as well as predicting what will happen to the village.  How could the problem be solved? what role might Franz, the village craftsmen have in that?

The sound of the cuckoo might be unfamiliar to some so they could listen to it and discuss why it might be preferable to that of a rooster as a wake-up sound.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’ as well as setting up a bird-watching station and identifying the common and seasonal birds which visit the school playground.  And of course, there is always the old favourite round, Within the Shady Thicket

Maths, science, history, music and English outcomes could all be explored in this one title.

Further teaching notes are available.


I Don’t Like Cheese

I Don't Like Cheese

I Don’t Like Cheese










I don’t like cheese

Hannah Chandler

Lauren Merrick

Exisle Publishing, 2014

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



What do you do if you’re a mouse and you don’t like cheese?  Do you starve to death?  Or are you lucky like Mike and live in the house where the Walker family lives and daughter Ashley brings you a special treat for dinner each night?  No matter what type of cheese Mike’s mum gave him, he refused to eat it.  Instead he waited patiently each night for Ashley to bring him something yummy for his dinner And each night it was a taste from somewhere different- meat pie and tomato sauce from Australia on Monday; tacos on Tuesday; sushi on Wednesday… As well as the food there was also a little something from the featured country so Mike could have a little culture with his cuisine.

But on Friday night, along with his French croissants and crème brulée there was a note from Ashley telling Mike that she is going on holiday and won’t be able to leave him his dinner.  What will Mike do?

This is an appealing story that immediately brought to mind the amazing celebrations a local school has just had for Harmony Day where the children got to sample food from so many different countries, dress in their national costumes and participate in dance, craft and other activities.  It would be the perfect story to include in those, but it would also make an ideal platform for investigating just how broad the Australian diet is and the influence that the cuisine of so many places has on it. 

It was written by Hannah Chandler when she was just 11 years old in response to a challenge from the school principal as she tried to tempt fussy eaters.  From being bound and put into the school’s library collection word spread and this charming professional picture book is the result.  So it could also be used as inspiration for all the budding writers in your school. 



Our Village in the Sky


Our Village in the Sky

Our Village in the Sky










Our Village in the Sky

Janeen Brian

Anne Spudvilas

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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


‘Our village sits above the great river, nestled in the Himalayan mountains. This is what we do on summer days when school is closed for holiday time, in our village in the sky.’ 

Written as a series of narrative poems which merge seamlessly together, this is the story of a day in the life of the children in a remote Buddhist village showing how ordinary, everyday chores are turned into games and fun. There is Drummer Boy who makes music on the container that he has to take t the village water pipe.  There is Washer Girl whose job is to launder her brother’s trousers, dreaming as she soaps, squeezes, rubs and rinses.  Washer Boy ensures that the lamas have clean bed linen and robes while Herd Boy tends the goats and chases after runaways. .  Each child has work to do and each does it as part of the family and the community, without the distractions of modern technology or even toys.  But, nevertheless there is plenty of joy and fun … “A ladder lying down makes no sense. But a seesaw does.”  Five stones make the traditional game of knucklebones. 

With beautiful imagery and evocative language, Janeen Brian has captured the joy of life in summer in the high alps, so different from the white, cold and frozen of winter.  Anne Spudvilas’s soft, gentle, water-colour images are the perfect accompaniment as they complement the gentle, peace-loving life that we associate with these people.  Simply drawn they capture the friendliness and and happiness of the children, and coupled with the colour choice they evoke a feeling of warmth and contentment.

This is a life very different to that lived by most Australian children where for most, getting water is as simple as turning on a tap, so it is a perfect introduction to a compare and contrast investigation as students examine their lives, their roles and responsibilities in their families, the way they entertain themselves and then  relate it to that of the children in the story. It would also be a wonderful introduction to narrative poetry and free verse and the use of imagery to convey a message and an atmosphere. “Sometimes my fingers flutter like small, brown  butterflies and the sound is their heartbeat.”

The best picture books are more than just a story – they are a symbiosis of text and illustration that offers many layers of meaning and response.  This is one such book.

To explore if further, teachers’ notes are available at and there is a QR link to listen to poems read aloud.

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon










Gezani and the Tricky Baboon

Valanga Khoza

Sally Rippin

Ford Street, 2014

hbk., 32pp., $A22.95


Gezani lives somewhere in the middle of Africa with his mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, and his twelve brothers and sisters. One day his grandfather asks him to take a bunch of bananas to his cousins on the hill.  Feeling very grown up, Gezani sets off but it is not long before he meets Baboon.  Baboon is hungry and le loves bananas, but Gezani will not let him carry them.  He is on an important, trusted mission.  But Baboon is wily and he tricks Gezani into fetching him some water.  When Gezani comes back Baboon has eaten all the bananas. Gezani is laughed at and humiliated by the villagers when he returns and confesses to his grandfather, so he determines to get Baboon back by playing a trick on him.

This is a multi-layered book that could spark lots of investigations such as cautionary tales, stories from other countries, comparing and contrasting lifestyles and so on.  But its outstanding feature for me is the characterisation of Gezani. In just 32 pages, Valanga Khoza takes us on a journey through Gezani’s emotions that really bring him alive.  Using guide questions such as “How is Gezani feeling?” and “What do you think he is thinking now?” students can get to know him and empathise with his situation.  Follow-up questions such as “How would you be feeling?” and “What would you do?” might also help them understand the universality of the story.  This sort of thing happens to kids everywhere, even though it probably isn’t a baboon and bananas causing the angst. Mapping his feelings and actions could also help them understand the setup of a story – setting, task, complication and resolution – as each signals a distinct change in his thoughts and feelings.

Sally Rippin’s bold illustrations also offer insight – is the baboon tricky or scary – and the double page spread where Grandfather learns that Gezani has been tricked is an excellent illustration of perspective depicting power. 

All in all, this is so much more than a story about an African boy, a baboon and some bananas.  A Year 4 boy who selected it for a read-and-respond task was engrossed in it for almost an hour!