Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown

 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown










Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown

Jeff Kinney

Puffin Books, 2018 

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Lots of kids live on Greg Hoffley’s street, but because it is partly on the flat and partly on the hill, loyalties are fiercely divided and any peace is an uneasy truce. Those on the flat think they own the street, refusing to let those from higher up play there, but then the tables are turned when it snows and those from down below want to come uphill to enjoy sledding.  “if you live on Surrey Street, you’re either a HILL kid or a NON-hill kid and there’s no switching sides.”

After a miserable week of bitterly cold days which have been a trial for Greg as he had to face walking to school while other friends’ parents drive past; indoor recesses where people sneeze their germs over him; worrying about frostbite because he is so skinny; navigating perilous footpaths and a host of other dangers that made his life more than difficult, his life is made more miserable because he’s in trouble for not digging the driveway clear, even though he did have it done but because he tried to renege on the deal he had made with some neighbourhood kids, they piled all the snow back again! So when the weekend comes and he’s looking forward to a lie-in and playing a few video games, he’s dismayed to discover that his mother decides he needs to spend the day outside being active, and even locks the door so he can’t come back inside.

And that’s when the conflict starts… but the end result is a great lesson in dealing with differences, problem solving,  strategising, co-operating, knowing when to compromise, all life skills that are so important.

Greg Hoffley has a legion of fans as his popularity grows from when we first met him more than 10 years ago  and this 13th book in the series will not only delight them but also garner him a lot more as new readers learn about this young lad who struggles to fit in with his peers in middle school (Years 5-8 in the USA) and his loyal best friend Rowley Jefferson.  With their first-person narrative that echoes the voice and thoughts of so many boys like Greg, their cartoon drawings and humour, this addition to the series is available in paperback, hardback, audio book and ebook so regardless of the format that most appeals to a young reader, they can access it.  

This is one of those books that even reluctant readers will want to have because to be talking about it will mean being part of the “in-crowd”, important for those who otherwise struggle to belong.




The Puffin Book of Summer Stories: Eight favourite Australian picture books

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories










The Puffin Book of Summer Stories

Puffin, 2018

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


Even though it’s only November, it feels like summer is here already so this compilation of eight of the best of Australia’s summer stories of recent years is the perfect accompaniment to the bedtime read-together ritual.

Featuring eight favourites…

Summer by June Factor and Alison Lester
Max by Marc Martin 
Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen
Castles by Allan Baillie and Caroline Magerl 
My Hippopotamus is on our Caravan Roof Getting Sunburnt by Hazel Edwards and Deborah Niland
Seadog by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellett
There’s a Sea in My Bedroom by Margaret Wild and Jane Tanner, and 
Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton and Laura Wood

each is unabridged and complete with the original illustrations, providing a diversity of stories and artwork each linked by the common theme of summer, being outdoors and having fun. Some stories may be familiar favourites already, others will be new but each will be enjoyed as the long hot days roll on. 

One to share in those last days of term as the holidays loom and everyone is anticipating being by the beach or anywhere but in a hot classroom, or a great Christmas gift for a reasonable price –  eight books for little more than the cost of one! 

Sage Cookson’s Stormy Weather

Sage Cookson's Stormy Weather

Sage Cookson’s Stormy Weather









Sage Cookson’s Stormy Weather

Sally Murphy

Celeste Hume

New Frontier, 2018

56pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Sage Cookson is a ten-year-old whose parents, Ginger and Basil, travel Australia and the world sharing their knowledge of food and cooking with their massive television audience through their show The Cookson’s Cook On, and lucky Sage gets to go with them. While they are sampling the food, learning new cooking techniques, Sage has a lifestyle that others might envy.

In this new addition to the series, the Cooksons are off to Townsville but there is a cyclone looming and Sage is quite concerned about their safety.  Even though it is the perfect opportunity to research a weather phenomenon as part of the schoolwork she has been given to do, nevertheless the grey skies, stormy seas and increasing wind are frightening, particularly when they have to evacuate their hotel rooms for the safety of the makeshift shelter downstairs.

This is the 7th in this series for young, newly independent readers who like adventure and cooking together.  As well as a yummy recipe for mango cheesecake dessert cups included, there is also Sage’s website with more recipes and activities to explore.


At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane










At the End of Holyrood Lane

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2018

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


Flick lives at the end of Holyrood Lane in a little house beneath the beech woods, spending most of her days in the sunshine dancing with the butterflies and playing with her unicorn toy and long, rainbow ribbon.  But sometimes a storm hits – storms so violent and loud and scary that she has to hide because even her rainbow ribbon and her unicorn cannot give her comfort.  She is very good at hiding but the storms make her feel very small and they are so loud her ears hurt and her heart throbs.  

One day, the storm is so fearsome and lasts so long that there is nowhere for Flick to hide and so she flees.  But it follows her, almost swallowing her in its fury, until “sodden and shaken” she stops, gathers all her courage and asks for help.  She is gathered into the arms of someone with a large umbrella under which she shelters, and even though the storm continues to rumble and grumble for a while, finally it leaves.  Finally the sun comes out.  

Flick is still scared of storms and flinches if the rumbling starts, but while it might rain a bit the storms have gone for good.  

While a fear of thunderstorms is common for many children, and even telling them it’s just the clouds bashing together doesn’t soothe, in this case the thunderstorm is a clever metaphor for what is happening in the house under the beech trees.  Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnson, the couple behind the poignant story of The Fix-It Man, have teamed up again to bring us a book that uses the analogy of weather to explore the issue of domestic violence and its impact on the children in the family who are so often invisible as the storm’s fury strikes, often without warning. Sadly, this is an all-too common happening in the lives of those in our care but so rarely touched on in children’s literature, particularly picture books for the young.  While we often hear the phrase that school is a “safe haven” for many children, there is much that goes on beyond school hours that we are not privy to, and unless a situation directly impacts a child in the class such as being removed into foster care, we really do not know the extent of the problem or the damage it causes. 

Sharing At the End of Holyrood Lane as a class story may offer an opportunity to allow children to discuss those things they are scared of, their own personal “storms” and perhaps Flick’s courage in asking for help  might inspire another little one to disclose something that will bring them respite too.  Children need to know they are not alone and it’s OK to ask for help – that there is hope for the sun to shine again and there will be a chance to dance with the butterflies.  

With its soft, supportive illustrations that encapsulate and extend the sensitive, subtle text superbly, and endorsed by a number of agencies concerned about the children caught in the middle of domestic violence such as Act for Kids, RizeUp, Paradise Kids , and Think Equal, this is a conversation starter that may bring a lot of comfort,help and hope to the children in our care. 

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud

Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud










Ivy and the Lonely Raincloud

Katie Harnett

Flying Eye Books, 2017

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


It is summer and the hot sun has scared away all the clouds, leaving one little raincloud sad and lonely.  With his friends gone he decides to find another friend but no one is interested in having a raincloud anywhere near their beautiful sunny day.

Then far below he spies a little girl, one whose body language suggests she is as lonely as he is, although he discovers it’s because she is so grumpy.  But when he also discovers the reason she is such a cranky-pants he realises he is able to help her and so a new friendship is formed…

With its retro palette and style this book explores emotions and feelings in a different way – why does no one want to be friends with the raincloud?  Is it okay for Ivy to be grumpy?  Is rain always such a bad thing? How does the weather affect our mood – and our plans?

Using the pictures as clues and cures, young children might be able to predict the reason for her mood and even how the raincloud can help her, sparking discussions about how we need the rain and its impact on our lives.  Little ones will begin to understand the balance that is needed to keep the planet on an even keel.

Storm Whale

Storm Whale

Storm Whale











Storm Whale

Sarah Brennan

Jane Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


Bleak was the day and the wind whipped down when I and my sisters walked to town …

Surrounded by seabirds being buffeted every which way, wild waves  crashing on the shore and bitten by a chill wind that blew their skirts high, turned their legs blue and made their hair fly like a brumby’s tail, three sisters make their way to the beach undaunted by nature’s fury.  In fact they are delighting in it.  But that soon turns to anguish when they spot a whale stranded on the high tide line.  

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell,

Far from the peace of the ocean deep

Where ancient fugitives find their sleep.

Swept by the tide to its farthest reach,

Left with the kelp on the hard wet beach…

Dark as a demon, dull of eye

Waiting in silence to drift…or die

All day the girls battle to keep the whale alive, unperturbed by the weather and the waves soaking them to the skin.  But as dark rolls in and the driving rain sends them home, they have to leave the whale to its fate.  Even the cosy warmth of the fire doesn’t warm their hearts and their night is restless but dream-filled as the storm rages on.  Next morning they hasten back to the beach and discover a miracle…

Written in the most poetic language and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations, Storm Whale took me right back to my childhood in a seaside town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand – next stop Antarctica- and brought back haunting memories of storms with wild winds that crashed the waves onto the rocks and made for the most exciting times.  While whales abounded, they didn’t become stranded on that part of the coastline although it was common on beaches not too far distant.  This is a story that not only paints a different picture of the seaside as the benign summer holiday playground of many of our students but brings to life the fury and magnificence of Nature and the insignificance of even those as mighty as whales in her power.   

The rhyming text suggest the ceaseless rhythm of the ocean and indeed, life itself, while both words and pictures give a subtle but strong message of respect and the need to appreciate, value and conserve.  

A most moving book that will touch the reader on many levels.

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman









The Most Perfect Snowman

Chris Britt

Balzer & Bray, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Built in the first flurry of winter snow, Drift was the loneliest of snowmen.  With his stick arms, small mouth and coal eyes he stood forlorn and forgotten amongst the bare winter trees.  He dreamed of having a smart scarf, warm gloves and a long orange carrot nose like the other snowmen so he could join in their banter, their fashion parades, snowball fights and other fun stuff.  But he was too plain and different to be included, so his days were spent swooshing and sliding through the woods, stopping and standing in the shadows to watch the others at play.

Then one day some children gave Drift all that he wanted – a fluffy blue hat, warm mittens, a soft scarf and even a long orange carrot nose.  Suddenly the other snowmen found him acceptable now that he had his new accessories and watched as he played all afternoon with his new friends.  But that night a blizzard blew and Drift lost his smart new clothes and no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find them. All he had left were his scarf and his long orange carrot nose.  Then he heard a tiny voice – a little bunny was lost in the snow, frightened and shivery cold.  Drift knows he can save the bunny by wrapping it in his soft scarf and giving it his long orange carrot nose but can he bear to part with them? Can he go back to being that plain snowman with skinny stick eyes, a small nose and coal eyes?

As winter begins to grip southern Australia and some parts are seeing early snowfalls, this is a charming story about what it means to be “perfect” and whether it is about looking a particular way or having the right things or whether it runs deeper than that. What is the meaning of the old adage “Clothes maketh the man” and is it true?  Are we more visible and therefore perhaps more powerful because of our external appearance?

It also raises the concepts of selfishness and selflessness and whether even giving just a little can make any difference.  Do we need to be applauded and rewarded for doing something kind or should it be enough to within that we have made a difference?  Do we have to be the person giving the boldest and brightest present at birthday parties or is it the phone call saying thank you afterwards that is most remembered?

The soft palette echo the gentleness of both the story and its message but this is more than just a story to welcome winter.


Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire










Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Neridah McMullin

Andrew McLean

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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


Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and psyche.  Even though we know they are a necessary part of the life cycle of the indigenous flora, we still brace ourselves each summer hoping that we won’t be affected by one that season.  When they do strike though, news reports are cluttered with statistics of acreage burnt, homes and buildings destroyed, and too often, lives lost.  Seldom do we hear of the wildlife that is caught up in them, those that can’t clamber into a car and head to safety, although occasionally there are tragic photos of fields of dead sheep or heart-warming ones of a firey giving a koala a drink from his water bottle.  

In this book, based on real events that emerged from the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, we are taken to Tarnpirr Farm in Narbethong in north-east Victoria where trainer Alan Evett tried desperately to save the horses in his care. With expensive thoroughbreds to save, Evett had no choice but to set retired favourite Fabish and the seven young horses he led free from their paddock to fend for themselves while he cared for those he hustled into the stables.  All around the fire raged, Evett working tirelessly on spot fires and keeping the horse calm, while outside…

Thankfully, the fire dragon passed over the top of the building even though it ate everything else in its path and when morning came, Evett emerged to a scene of utter desolation.   Although he had saved the life of the racehorses. Evett feared he would never see his old mate Fabish again.  Climbing into an old ute that had somehow escaped too, he drove out through the paddocks to be met by more devastation and disaster.  Standing in the smoke-filled ruins of what had been his landscape and livelihood he mourned for Fabish and the yearlings until…

Together McMullin and McLean have brought to life not only the story of Fabish and all the other horses like him, but also the sights, sounds and the smells of a fire that once experienced can never be forgotten. Through carefully chosen vocabulary and evocative pictures the reader is drawn into the story hoping for a good outcome. The fire dragon is indiscriminate when it attacks and young children are often caught up in it just as grown-ups are, and their questions are often about the animals and how they survived.  In the aftermath when adults are busy doing the adult things they must, the children are often left wondering and so to have an uplifting story like this that not only demonstrates the determination and courage of those like Alan Evett who put their charges’ welfare before their own but also has a happy ending can go some way to alleviate their fear that everything is destroyed.

Sensitive in its approach, even those children who can remember the fires will relate to it although some discretion might be needed if there have been recent fires in your area because even though it is heart-warming we must be conscious of the memories it might evoke. For those who want to know more, Fabish was honoured a year later at the Healesville Picnic Races  and while Evett died not long after, his heroic story and that of Fabish are becoming more widely known as this book is shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

A story for horse lovers as well as those exploring the impact of bushfires on the landscape.  

Fabish and his yearlings, picture courtesy Racing Victoria Ltd.

Fabish and his yearlings

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain












Home in the Rain

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2016

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


It is time for Mum and Francie to head home from Grandma’s. Despite the fact that it is bucketing down rain and the highway is crowded with buses, oil tankers, trucks and other cars they feel safe and secure in their little red car – as safe and secure as the baby tucked away in mum’s womb.

As the rain continues to tumble soaking everything in its path – good for the mouse obscured from the kestrel’s view but not so good for Marcus out fishing with his dad with the water dribbling down his neck- Mum pulls into the picnic spot to have the lunch Grandma has prepared. As they sit their breaths fog up the window, and, cloistered in this intimate environment, like all children, Francie cannot resist writing her name on the window.  After she writes her own, she writes Mum and Daddy but there is a window left, waiting for the name of the new sister due soon.  But what will it be?

With his gentle, detailed, watercolour-wash illustrations and carefully chosen text, once again Bob Graham has taken the most ordinary of situations and crafted a touching, memorable story that brings beauty to the mundane, something from very little. The climax of the story where Mum chooses the baby’s name comes in a dirty, busy petrol station – the antithesis of where such a memorable moment is likely to occur, although Graham finds the beauty as Francie splashes in the rainbows of the oil-water puddles.

Our names are our most personal possession and children are always curious to find out why their parents chose the names they did so this is the perfect opportunity for them to investigate how they came to be called what they are.  It is also an opportunity to compare the various reasons as well as investigate popular names, collect data and share what they learn.

At the same time there is much to talk about being caught in the rain. where the rain comes from, how it makes you feel and why windows clog up. Further afield, they can look to the impact of the rain on the landscape – why has Graham introduced the rabbit, the mouse, the kestrel, the ducks, the fishermen, Marcus, even the two men who have had a bingle in the car?  

As is typical in his books, Graham has included so much with more to be discovered and considered each time it is shared.  Shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Picture Book of the Year award, this is one that will be hard to beat.