Archive | May 2014

Billy is a Dragon (series)

Billy is a Dragon

Billy is a Dragon






Billy is a Dragon: First Bite


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Billy is a Dragon: Werewolves Beware


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Billy is a Dragon: Shadow Sifter


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Billy is a Dragon: Eaten Alive


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Nick Falk

Tony Flowers

Random House 2014

pbk., RRP $A12.99


Billy’s life changes the day he walks into Benny’s Pet Shop because they are having special discounts for 10th birthday presents for boys named Billy.  Billy already has Bertha, an ageing bulldog whom he loves very much, so he thinks about a fish or a parrot.  But Benny leads him towards the lizards, and even though Billy knows both his mum and sister are terrified of them, he is captivated by one which Benny tells him is called the dragON lizard.  Determined to know what it feels like he sticks his finger in the cage … and it bites him.  With a painfully swollen finger which keeps swelling, they head home and eventually Billy goes to bed nursing it as it continues to swell and thinking of his upcoming birthday party.  Next morning, while his finger no longer hurts, he’s amazed to discover it has turned green and grown an enormous black claw!  And that’s just the start of it… even though Billy might find being a dragon protects him from bullies, teachers and his sister Becky, when his parents decide that dragons belong in a zoo he has to make a critical decision as well as an agonising discovery.  Is he a Shifter who can change shape or a Plain who stays stuck as he is?

Written at a fast clip, interspersed with eye-catching fonts to emphasise the mood and the meaning, this is a new series from the creators of Saurus Street written to capture the imaginations of those on the cusp of being independent readers and moving onto novels. Billy’s adventures will appeal to all those who can think of better ways to spend their days than being at school, secretly wishing the teacher would disappear in a puff of smoke – which is almost what happens when he sets her hair on fire as he morphs into a dragon in the classroom. And his new persona is very helpful when dealing with bullies. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that?  With the continuing popularity of characters with super powers and creatures from the realm of fantasy, the series is a great introduction to a new genre that ventures beyond the more traditional witches and wizards.

Tony Flowers’ quirky illustrations are more than just decoration – they are an integral part of the story that teach as much as they tell. There are different types – margin images, standard graphics which explain the words and set the mood, and then there are those that Flowers terms “lore” that expand on the mythology of the world tht Billy lives in.  While they have a cartoon-like appearance, their detail not only enriches and enhances the message of the story but also provide a model for the reader to produce their own. THe artist has tapped into his imagination,  as well as offering an opportunity for the reader to get inside theirs. For example, just what does a bully look like on the inside?  How else would you explain the characteristics of a shifter or a squiff?  How empowering it would be for a child to dissect their own fears in such a way. Perhaps there is even an outlet for the writers and drawers in the class to co-produce their own story about being a dragon, or persuading the principal that such a creature would be an asset to the school.

Series are a perfect way to support the developing reader as they already bring their knowledge of the characters and circumstances to the sequels, providing a familiarity that helps them cross the bridge to independence just that bit more easily. This series (with two more episodes due in June) are sure to capture the attention and imagination of a clientele who can be hard to engage.


A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The Stone Lion

The Stone Lion

The Stone Lion









The Stone Lion 

Margaret Wild

Ritva Voutila

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., RRP $A24.99


The stone lion crouched on his pedestal guarding the entrance to the town’s library. Lifelike in size and appearance, he was “so real, so fierce and cold that small children scuttled past at the sight of him” and in stark contrast to the warm, inviting environment that the concept of a library portrays.  Only Sara, homeless and alone, weeping gently and cuddling a small bundle that is her baby brother snuggled into his paws,  while Ben the librarian leaned against him at lunchtime while he ate his sandwiches and read, laughing occasionally.  Even though the gargoyle perched on the portico above his pedestal explains Sara’s distress and Ben’s delight, the stone lion has no understanding of such feelings.  He just wants to come alive so he can run and prowl and leap – to just move. He imagines himself strolling along the street in front of the library and running in the park across the road.

“Sometimes, stone animals are granted a chance to become warm, breathing creatures” the gargoyle tells him, “But it is for a very short time only, and they must desire it greatly, with a generous heart.” Even though the lion does desire it greatly with no apparent ability to feel, it seems like a dream that will be unfulfilled. Then winter comes and it hits hard. Snow falls and lies deep, and once again Sara comes to the lion’s feet, sinking onto the steps and going limp.  A snowflake falls on the baby’s nose and he wails, waving a tiny fist, and a stab of pity pierces the lion’s heart.

This is a picture book for all ages with many levels of complexity.

Accompanied by evocative pictures created with oil pastels on grey velour paper which portray the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this story is a mixture of fantasy, fairy tale and fable.  The lion at the end of the story is not the lion of the beginning, much like the key characters in The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince opening the way for in-depth and comparative studies of these texts. How can a single act of kindness make such a difference to so many? Teaching notes are available. 


A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Jam for Nana

Jam for Nana

Jam for Nana









Jam for Nana

Deborah Reilly

Lisa Stewart

Random House, 2014

hbk, RRP $A19.99


When Nana makes pancakes, Granddaughter spreads the jam.  She smooths it right out to the edges to make the pancake look like a giant orange sun.  But today’s jam is not like the jam that Nana remembers.  That jam tasted like the sun, not just looked like it.  She could count the apricots and feel the warmth of a hundred summers.  Granddaughter really wants to give Nana that sensation again but when it becomes clear that it’s impossible to travel back to Nana’s childhood, she comes up with another idea…

The bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter is really special – I know because I have four of them – and this delightful story with its gentle pastel-toned illustrations is an example of it. It shows the love and connection that is so common but doesn’t stereotype the grandmother as an elderly lady with a bun spending her days knitting. Coupled with other books in the library’s collection, it would add another layer of the diversity of grandmothers, who they are and what they do, providing a great foundation for exploring the early childhood Australian Curriculum history concepts about family members, where they fit in the structure of the family and their history.  Today’s grandmothers might not make their own jam but this story would be a great way to tap into what their lives were like as granddaughters and what they recall their grandmothers doing that is not done now, as well as those family traditions that are continued. Maybe they could speculate on those things they do now and the memories and moments they’ve had with their grandmothers that they might pass on to their own grandchildren.

Jam for Nana is about so much more than having real jam on pancakes – it is the key to a door that will open a myriad of memories and strengthen the bonds between the generations for those lucky enough to have a family history that can still be told.



The Amazing A-Z Thing

The Amazing A-Z Thing

The Amazing A-Z Thing











The Amazing A to Z Thing

Sally Morgan

Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Hare, 2014

hbk., RRP $A24.95


Anteater had something amazing to show her friends, so she invited Bilby to have a look.  “It will make you gasp in astonishment”. She said.  But Bilby was too busy resting.  “Show Chuditch,” he said.  So Anteater did, telling Chuditch that she has something that will make her squeal with happiness.  But Chuditch was too busy smiling at herself in the water.  “Show Dingo,” she said.  And so it goes on with Anteater visiting all the animals of the alphabet, each time appealing to a different emotion but always getting the same response. Everyone was too busy until Anteater decided to look at it herself and began to gasp and giggle and hoot and laugh and shout and dance.

This book is a masterful merging of two extraordinary talents – the storytelling of Sally Morgan who takes the concept of an alphabet book to a whole new level and the artistry of Bronwyn Bancroft whose traditional indigenous illustrations add such colour and character.

The very best picture books are those that have many layers and which, even though they might have an apparent target audience, have the capacity to be used across the ages.  This book is one of those.  As well as reinforcing the letters and order of the alphabet, and exploring the gamut of emotions, not the least of which is perseverance, the reader is also introduced to a host of Australian creatures, familiar and not-so.  Who knew that a chuditch was a quoll from Western Australia or that Velvet Worms existed when Australia was part of Gondwana and they’re not really worms at all? And there are another 24 creatures to investigate.  And that’s just the text.  Bancroft’s use of colour and pattern, shape and line provide a whole new tangent to explore.

Anteater may have an amazing thing – but this is an amazing book.

The Hairy -Nosed Wombats Find A New Home

The Hairy -Nosed Wombats Find A New Home

The Hairy -Nosed Wombats Find A New Home











The Hairy-Nosed Wombats Find A New Home

Jackie French

Sue deGennaro

HarperCollins Australia, 2014

hbk, 32pp., RRP $A24.99


Not so long ago, there were only 176 Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats left in the entire world! And because their home was at risk of flood and fire meaning they would be gone forever, they had to find a new home.  But where would that home be?  The one they had was just right (except for the threat of flood and fire) and it was going to be tricky to find one that had tasty grass and was safe and secure enough for them to have babies. So five brave wombats went on a wondrous wombat adventure to find that new home…

Rarer than the giant panda, the northern hairy-nosed wombat has been critically endangered for many years, with their numbers dropping to just 35 ten years ago when drought crippled much of Australia, even though they were in a protected, secluded and exclusive environment.  When the rains did come, their numbers had increased to 176 by 2010 but fire and flood still threatened their special home and so a new one had to be found again. This is the story of their plight, their move and the joy of a baby being seen in March 2011 and it is Jackie French displaying two of her passions – storytelling based on detailed research and wombats. Even though the wombats’ plight is pared down to its basic thread, she has woven a wonderful account that introduces the very youngest reader to the predicament of these creatures and shows that species can be saved by providing a safe place to live with good food and water.  (The full story underpinning the events is provided at the end.)  It’s an introduction to how we all need to share our planet and that our lives are so much richer when we do.

Jackie’s words are powerful, but they are made even moreso by Sue deGennaro who has translated them into the most divine pictures using a whimsy which brings the characters to life – why wouldn’t a hairy-nosed wombat have a magnificent moustache and be delighted when the girls arrive? And why wouldn’t they arrive in a bus with all the modern accoutrements to setting up home?  Or parachute in to a ready-made environment?  Using watercolour to draw the wombats and collage to dress them (the story of that is told too) Ms deGennaro has created the perfect accompaniment that kept Miss 3 and Miss 7 totally engaged and wanting to know more. It went from a first-read to a favourite immediately and each time we shared this story, there was more to see and each time we understood a little bit more of what it all meant. And the freezing cold day gave us the perfect excuse to stay indoors and draw and dress our own wombats! Miss 7 even remembered that when she was just Miss 4, she got to snuggle a baby wombat because a close friend raises orphans for a wildlife foundation.   and the week before she and I had been making pouches for the new orphans who sadly, continue to arrive.

Released in time for Hairy Nosed Wombat Day on May 11, Jackie is donating the proceeds of this book to enable further research. However, in alignment with the theme of the book that we can all make a difference, there are a range of resources for schools available (even a recipe for hairy-nose truffles).

A peek inside...

A peek inside…