The Nutcracker






The Nutcracker

Emma Goldhawk

Lisa Evans

Five Mile Press, 2010

32pp., hbk


Written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann as Nussknacker und Mausekönig, The Nutcracker is another classic iconic story of the Christmas season.

The story of Maria Stahlbaum, her care of the nutcracker after it is broken by her brother and her adventures that happen when it comes alive at midnight including the battles with the Mouse King has been told in many interpretations over the years, including in dance after Tchaikovsky put it to music.

This version, retold by Emma Goldhawk and lavishly illustrated by Lisa Evans, is an abridged version of the original that is perfect for introducing young readers to the story.  Its large, embossed, pages draw the reader into to the world of toys that Maria is transported to, especially the Land of Sweets where every little girl’s dream of being the Sugar Plum Fairy begin.

If you are planning to introduce your little ones to the ballet through the Australian Ballet’s Storytime Ballet (which I can recommend from personal experience) this is the perfect introduction to the story.



Dance With Me

Dance with Me

Dance with Me










Dance with Me

Penny Harrison

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


The ballerina lived in a little wooden box and every day she stood straight and tall and danced for the little girl who would laugh and clap her hands and dance like the ballerina herself.  But as the years passed, the little girl grew up and the ballerina danced for her less and less, until, eventually, she danced no longer.  

So one day she jumped down from her box, skipped out the windowsill to find a new dance partner.  But the bee in the flowers was too busy; the turtle on the seashore wasn’t a dancer; and the leopard on the island wanted her for his lunch! So the ballerina hurried home to her box and danced one last time for the little girl.  But sadly, it was not enough and the lid was closed and the box stored away for many years.  Until one day another little girl opened the lid…

This is a poignant story about growing up and the treasured keepsakes we grow beyond as we do so.  For while it is the story of the ballerina wanting to do what she loves, it is also the story of those things that we always think of when we think of our childhood and which we know we will pass on to our own children in the hope they will get similar joy.  Gwynneth Jones’s illustrations are charming – gentle pastels while the ballerina is happy dancing for the girl and a bolder palette as she gets bolder – and feed right into the vision we have when we think about musical boxes with their magic tucked inside.

A great opportunity to talk about memories with our children as well as what they love enough to want to keep for their children, creating bonds across generations.  

Bizzy Bear Spooky House

Bizzy Bear Spooky House

Bizzy Bear Spooky House








Bizzy Bear Spooky House

Benji Davies

Nosy Crow, 2016

10pp., board book., RRP $A9.99


“The ever-intrepid Bizzy Bear has come for a visit to a super-spooky Halloween house. As he climbs the rickety stairs and walks the cobwebby corridors, all sorts of creepy characters appear from doors and hidey holes. Bizzy, naturally, remains undaunted – but where could he be going and what will he find there?”

This is a delightful board book perfect for the very young who will enjoy the rhyming text and the interactivity of the things to discover on the pages.  Discovering what’s hiding behind the chair, who’s behind the door and predicting why they are all getting together will delight them for ages.  Although there is little text, there is great detail in the colourful illustrations which will enrich and enhance the child’s vocabulary as they make their collection of spooky things.

I predict it will become a favourite as they will be able to tell themselves the story very easily. 

Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself

Introducing Teddy

Introducing Teddy









Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself

Jessica Walton

Dougal Macpherson

Bloomsbury, 2016

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



Errol and his teddy, Thomas, are best friends.  They do everything together and go everywhere together.  Riding the bike, planting the veges, eating sandwiches in the treehouse, and having tea parties indoors when it is raining. 

But one day Thomas seems incredibly sad and nothing Errol can do can cheer him up – not even playing on the swings in the park. 

“What’s wrong, Thomas. Talk to me,” said Errol.

“If I tell you,” said Thomas, you might not be my friend any more.”

“I will always be your friend, Thomas.”

Thomas the teddy took a deep breath.  “I need to be myself, Errol.  In my heart. I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.  I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.”

Does this revelation affect Errol’s friendship with his teddy?  Not at all. It’s their friendship that matters.  Neither does it bother their friend Ava, who scoots by and joins in the fun of the park.  And at the very next tea party Errol and Tilly have a lovely time with Ava and her robot.

The publisher’s blurb for this book says it is “a ground-breaking children’s book about gender identity and friendship’ and indeed it is for if you have ever tried to find stories about this topic for young people, you will know they are few and far between.  In fact, anything that touches on gender diversity is scarce and yet it is an area that needs and deserves attention.  Written in response to a personal need, its Australian author has really highlighted that gender orientation should not be that which defines us, and for kids, it isn’t.  Being a friend is much more important.  Having witnessed the transition of a girl to a boy first-hand, what was very evident was that the other students just accepted the child for who he was.  There was no fuss or bother, teasing or bullying.  Perhaps this was because of the way both the parents and the school handled the matter, but it was very apparent, that as with any form of discrimination, it is the adult generation that finds things hard to accept and imposes sanctions.  Just like Errol, the existing friendship was stronger and more important than anything else.

Through a wonderful marriage of text and illustrations, Walton and Macpherson have explored this concept perfectly – the repositioning of the bow tie to hair ribbon is just exquisite.

However, while I believe that this book and others like it have a place in the school library collection, there are those who are likely to object and therefore it would be prudent to make sure that your Collection Policy includes a statement such as “no resource in the general collection will be shelved, labelled or displayed in a way that discriminates or marginalises a user on the grounds of ability, culture, ethnicity, religion sexual orientation, or any other consideration”.  It would also be prudent to talk to your exec so they are in the loop as they are usually the go-to people when parents complain.  (For more information on this go to The Tricky Topics Hat )

“Inclusivity” and “diversity” have to be more than just buzzwords in the current educational jargon, and we need more writers like Jessica Walton to enable us to ensure that all our students are able to read about themselves in the resources we offer them.


My Family is a Zoo

My Family is a Zoo

My Family is a Zoo











My Family is a Zoo

K. A. Gerrard

Emma Dodd

Bloomsbury, 2016

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


Imagine if all your family’s favourite animal toys came alive and then they were all put into the family car to go on a special journey.  So your dad’s elephant, your bear, your sister’s whale… – even your uncle’s penguin – are all in together, squished in, strapped on, smooshed up and not a complaint amongst them. It must be a special destination or celebration. There’s no mention of mum at all although there are a couple of unattached polar bears that might give a clue.

This is a fun, colourful story-in-rhyme that will appeal to pre-schoolers and make them laugh out loud.  They will enjoy the rhyme and the rhythm as well as watching the car get more and more crowded.  Perhaps it’s a good thing the family gets to their destination when they do.  Because all the familiar family members are mentioned this would be a great starting point to explore the concept of family and how its members are related as well as where they fit in the scheme of things.  Some may choose to investigate their immediate family tree and compare the structure, people and numbers in their families to those of their friends and the book family. If every family is different, what is the thread that makes them a family?  Others might like to do an in-class survey to find out if teddies are the most popular toys, graph the results and talk about their findings.     

Simple on the surface but like all good stories, one read is not enough because there is always more to explore. 

Where’s Jessie?

Where's Jessie?

Where’s Jessie?









Where’s Jessie?

Janeen Brian

Anne Spudvilas

NLA Publishing, 2015

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Strange things are happening to Bertie, Jessie’s beloved teddy bear.  One minute he is in Jessie’s arms as she sits on her trunk at the start of the family’s move into the unknown territory of the Outback and the next he is bundled into a squishy, smelly box!  There is no room for him in the family’s cart and poor Bertie is bewildered.  Even moreso when he is bumped along – badoumph, badoumph, badoumph –  as part of the cargo on the camel train. 

Night brings starlit skies and cold air rather than the warmth of Jessie’s arms as the cameleers shelter around their desert fire.

“Where’s Jessie?”

One of the camel drivers takes him up onto the camel but in a fierce sandstorm which whistles and screams and stings, Bertie topples off unnoticed – and then his real adventures begin.  Will he ever find his beloved Jessie again?

Author Janeen Brian first met Bertie in an exhibition of toys, books and games in Kapunda, South Australia.  Being rather old, he was a bit battered and bruised and looked like he had a story to tell – which he did.  The information on the accompanying card said that he’d been sent as a gift to little Jessie May Allchurch who lived at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs and after a lot of research, Brian discovered Bertie’s real story was full of riches and she needed to let him have one more adventure.

Told through Bertie’s voice and feelings it is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story that evokes all the emotions of being separated from a loved one. Bertie is frightened and bewildered at being alone, scared by the unknown noises and strange creatures as Brian openly acknowledges those feelings that readers have, almost giving them permission to experience and express them.  They are real and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Accompanied by illustrations that are full of the colour of the outback and rich in detail in a landscape often viewed as a vast nothingness, Bertie’s aloneness and apprehension become palpable and the reader is willing for a happy ending.

I adore these stories from NLA Publishing which combine the great imaginations of our foremost authors and illustrators with real-life objects and pictures of the NLA’s collection to tell the stories of our past and our heritage. They bring the past to life suggesting that everything in a library, a gallery or a museum has its story to tell and it is just up to us to take the time for our imaginations to roam and to gather the information to discover that story and add a little more to our own.  As always, there are pages of background information showing that this, like others I’ve reviewed recently, are very much part of Australia: Story Country.

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.

Anzac Ted

Anzac Ted

Anzac Ted









Anzac Ted

Belinda Landsberry

Exisle Publishing, 2014

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



Anzac Ted’s a scary bear

And I can tell you why.

He’s missing bits, his tummy splits,

He only has one eye.


His fur is torn and dirty

And he hasn’t any clothes.

He doesn’t hear with just one ear;

He should have two of those.


His head is kind of wobbly

And his legs are rather slow.

Perhaps it’s due to one or two

Encounters with a foe!

So begins an enchanting story-in-rhyme about a very special teddy bear – one that doesn’t win prizes in the toy show and sometimes makes the other children cry when he turns up for Show’n’Tell.  He isn’t shiny and new and he can’t change into something else and the other kids in the class just ridicule him.  But Anzac Ted has a story – a story that no other child’s toy has about why is he so old and torn and how brave he has been.

With a gentle touch on both text and illustration, newcomer Belinda Landsberry has crafted a delightful story about a bear who has seen better (or worse) days that is just perfect to introduce the youngest children to the stories of ANZAC and why there is such a focus on this special day on the calendar.  With a clever shift of colour tone between now and then, there is a seamless transition between the two eras of Anzac Ted’s life tied together with the love and reverence with which he has been passed down through the family and clearly will continue to be so. The unconditional love of the boy for his teddy is obvious and it remains constant despite the opinions of his peers.  Perhaps if his story were told, Ted would have all the votes at the toy show. But really, some heroes don’t want, need or get medals or accolades. 

On my Pinterest board Remembering Gallipoli  I’ve pinned over 150 titles of books about World War I for the primary-aged student and Anzac Ted is one of just a handful suitable for sharing and exploring with the K-2 brigade to help them understand.  It offers just a broad overview from a family perspective – Grandpa Jack leaves home and even though he’s 21, his wife pops his childhood teddy is his case … “For luck.” She said, “take Anzac Ted. I know he’ll bring you home.”  And even though we think of soldiers as being big and brave and daring, there are times when they are lonely and afraid and Anzac Ted brings them comfort and courage. There are teachers’ notes written by the author, herself a primary school teacher.

This is a must-have in your collection.


Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories

Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories

Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories









Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas Stories

Andrew Grey (illustrator)

Based on the Winnie-the-Pooh works by A.A. Milne & E.H. Shepard

Chirpy Bird/ Hardie Grant Egmont 2014

hbk., RRP $@4.95


This is a collection of three Christmas stories starring Pooh, Piglet, and all the other favourite characters brought to life by A. A. Milne.

In the first, Pooh’s Snowy Day, Pooh and Piglet decide to build Eeyore a new house.  But something goes awry, as usual.  In the second, Pooh’s Christmas Adventure, Pooh find himself snowed in.  He uses his honey pot to dig himself out and then realises he is out of honey.  Perhaps his friends will have some.  But they too are snowed in and so it becomes a very busy afternoon, culminating in them all building a magnificent snowman.  The third story in the collection is Pooh’s Christmas Letters. Pooh is stumping home through the snow from Christopher Robin’s house, humming a little hum, when he has an idea.  Next day, Piglet, Christopher Robin, Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Eeyore and Owl all receive mysterious letters telling them to go to the North Pole at luncheon.  Piglet is very worried that Pooh has been kidnapped by Hostile Animals or a Heffalump so they all go to see Rabbit for advice. But Rabbit also has a letter, and, appointing himself in charge, he leads them off to the North Pole where they find …

Illustrator Andrew Grey has captured the essence of Shepard’s original illustrations and this colourful interpretation is a wonderful way to introduce yet another generation to the timeless tales of this delightful bear and his friends.  Perfect for being one of the traditions of the Christmas season.