Archive | January 2015

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda










And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle

Bruce Whatley

Allen & Unwin 2015

hbk., 32pp., $A24.99



Is there a more haunting tune about World War I than Eric Bogle’s classic And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Beginning with

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack, and I lived the free life of a rover

From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, well I waltzed my Matilda all over

it tells the story of a young man, almost any young man of 1915 in Australia, who took up arms to fight in the war at a time when Australia was trying to meet its quota for Britain and to not fight for King and Country branded you a coward.

They gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun, and they marched me away to the war.

Throughout the song and the journey, from the ship departing, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the hospital for the wounded and the arrival of “the crippled, the wounded, the maimed…the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane” at Circular Quay there is the poignant refrain of the band playing Waltzing Matilda, the iconic song that many believe should be our national anthem as it connects us in a way like no other. And finally, as an old man, he sits on his porch and watches the parade with his comrades passing before him and he knows that soon, as more old men disappear, “Someday no one will march there at all”. But how proud and amazed would those who came home -and those who didn’t-  be to see that this is not a forgotten war, they are not forgotten heroes and rather than no one marching, each year the crowds at the annual commemorations wherever they are get larger.

However, the most provocative stanza is   

And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore

They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war

And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”

And I ask myself the same question.”

Written in 1971 at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, many were wondering that aloud and as the centenary of April 25, 1915 looms large, we may well all ask ourselves the same question again.

With superb illustrations by Bruce Whatley that show every emotion of the text –drawn with his left hand because he has discovered he draws “with much more emotion” with that hand –using the restrained palette that one associates with Gallipoli,  this is a book that has to be in your library’s collection as it will be a song known by everyone before this year is done.  However, this is so much more than one of Australia’s leading illustrators putting pictures to an iconic tune. There are teachers’ notes  that provide many ideas for exploring the content, its imagery and its images and publishers Allen & Unwin have released a book trailer that encapsulates it perfectly. The lyrics and music are available in the ABC song books of 1983 (Time to Sing) and 1989 (The Sing Book).

A memorable contribution to the collection of books on this topic. 

Lyka’s Adventure: Lyka and the Secret Forest

Lyka's Adventure

Lyka’s Adventure











Lyka’s Adventure: Lyka and the Secret Forest

Atley Loughridge

Penguin, 2014



Planet Ahmee is dying, and there’s only one robot with a heart big enough to rescue it. Lyka, lovable friend to all living creatures, sets off across the galaxy on a quest to find the answers about the natural world that will save her home from the deadly disaster that is climate change. Leaving behind everything she knows and loves, Lyka must travel through space to the strange and wild land of the scientist who created her . . . planet Earth! In a high-octane race against time, she will cross all seven continents to find hidden symbols and unlock the knowledge they represent. Will she make it before Ahmee collapses and Lyka’s fellow robots are lost in space forever?

But this is not just a storybook.  Created by Lance Weiler, it is a multi-modal experience featuring not just the book but also a plush toy that has a special pocket in its heart for the reader to insert their smartphone to download and activate an app that unlocks a lot more to accompany the story including  extra story content, activities, and sneak peeks into Lyka’s world..  (The app can be downloaded without the toy – an activation code is included in the introductory pages of the book.) There are also websites – and – and the concept is explained at

However, it is much more than a gadget-driven, short-lived experience because it has been deliberately created in a partnership between Penguin Books Australia and Connected Sparks to support the Australian Curriculum Sustainability cross-curriculum priority.  Lyka travels across the Australia addressing key environmental issues using science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).  Penguin have developed a range of resources to support this learning and there will be a series of eight chapter books which have all been reviewed by scientists and science teachers plus the Cloud Institute for Sustainability in Education. 

This may herald the future face of children’s reading = and their expectations of it.  Multi-modal and multi-media that engages them through real-life issues and interactivity, introducing 6-10 year olds to their world in a unique way.  

Five Children on the Western Front


Five Children on the Western Front

Five Children on the Western Front










Five Children on the Western Front

Kate Saunders

Allen & Unwin, 2014

hbk., 340pp., RRP $A19.99


In this new title, author Kate Saunders has resurrected the Pemberton family that E. Nesbit introduced readers to in 1902 in the classic Five Children and It and its sequels.  But now the children have grown up – Cyril is off to fight, Anthea is at art college, Robert is a Cambridge scholar Jane is at high school., Lamb is now 11 and there is a young sister Edie.  They are back at the White House where they first found the Psammead but when Edie and Lamb find him in the gravel pit he is not the strong, robust character that they have heard so much about.  He is as vain and grumpy as ever but there is something wrong with his magic, so the success of wish-granting is somewhat sporadic.  To keep himself safe and well he comes to live with the children in a sand-filled bathtub in the attic and Edie and Lamb take care of him.

It seems that in his ancient past, the Psammead (aka Sammy) had been somewhat of a tyrant and despot and only if he repents his acts (which he continues to justify and has no contrition) will he be restored to health.  Saunders’ exploration of that through Professor Jimmy’s research and what happens to the children shows parallels to what is happening in the world in 1914.  Through occasional wishes that work, the children visit the Western Front seeing the conditions which Cyril, and later Robert, are enduring as well as Anthea who becomes a nurse’s aide.  It begins with a 1905 prologue in which the Psammead transports Cyril, Robert, Anthea, Jane and the Lamb 25 years into the future. For the astute reader what is revealed (and concealed) sets the rest of the story up   – “I wish I had more time to look at the photographs of us in the future,” Anthea said thoughtfully…”I saw a couple of pictures of ladies who looked a bit like Mother…But I didn’t see any grown-up men …I wonder why not.”

Even though it is a lengthy book, it’s suitable for newly independent readers, particularly those who have enjoyed Five Children and It, and it gives an insight into how the war impacted on families left at home.  Some of the things they do and say are very British upper class but on the whole this is a successful reincarnation that really helps today’s readers understand what went on in a gentle way and much more effectively than facts, figures and statistics. While the violence is not graphic, those with any understanding of what went on in France can fill in the gaps.  It brings the saga of the Psammead to a close and even though he has shown himself to be a rather unlikeable character in the past, his redemption is complete in the final scenes. 

Such is the quality of the book it has been awarded the Costa children’s book award which honours some of the most outstanding books of the year written by authors based in the UK and Ireland   A very worthy addition to your collection of World War 1 related books.

Our Australian Girl (series)

Our Australian Girl

Our Australian Girl









Pearlie the Spy

Gabrielle Wang

Lucia Masciullo

Puffin Books, 2014

pbk., 128pp., RRP $A14.95



Daisy in the Mansion

Michelle Hamer

Lucia Masciullo

Puffin Books, 2014

pbk., 128pp., RRP $A14.95



Our Australian Girl is a series which features “a girl like me in a time gone by” which tells each girl’s story in a mini-series of several books. The series itself aims “to encourage a new generation to discover our history and culture in all its diversity, and to celebrate the independence of spirit that we treasure as Australians”.

Joining Grace, Letty, Poppy, Rose, Nellie, Alice, Lina and Ruby who have each featured in previous stories are Pearlie and Daisy and soon, Marly.

Pearlie’s story is set in Darwin in 1941 and the war is changing Pearlie’s life every day. Darwin is full of soldiers, there’s a spy on the loose, and people are turning against Pearlie’s best friend, Naoko, just because she’s Japanese.

For Daisy it’s 1930.  She lives on a farm, where she loves riding her horse, Jimmy, through the paddocks. Times are tough, and when her father loses his job, Daisy and her little sister, Flora, are sent to Melbourne to live with their aunt and uncle. Daisy must leave behind everyone she loves for a city she’s never seen, and even her wildest daydreams can’t prepare her for the new life that awaits her.

Each book contains extra pages with information about the time in which the girls lived, providing a deeper context for the setting.  Historical fiction is a great way to take students out of their world into new ones and this series is proving a popular way of doing that. I know many Yr 3+ students who eagerly await the next installment. When I reviewed the early stories in the series a couple of years ago I predicted it would be a hit and it has proved to be so. 

The website provides a lot of information about the other characters who feature in the series, as well as reviews, activities, author information and extracts to entice.

The Tinklers Three: The Perfect Pet


The Tinklers Three: A Perfect Pet

The Tinklers Three: A Perfect Pet











The Tinklers Three – The Perfect Pet

M.C. Badger

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2014

pbk., 80pp., RRP $A12.95


Meet The Tinklers – three children, Marcus, Mila and Turtle, who live by themselves in a high-rise apartment while their parents travel as circus performers- their father is a tightrope walker, and their mother rides a white horse.  Marcus is eight, is level-headed and wants to be an inventor.  Mila is ten, loves ice cream and can’t wait to join the circus. Turtle is three, believes she is a turtle and wants to be a shark when she grows up.  All three believe they do not need an adult to look after them and have developed a strategy of standing next to a likely adult should someone start looking for their parents.

In this adventure, the 4th in the series, they have decided to get a pet.  Mila, who likes to make up rules, says they have fulfilled the requirements of being good, eating extra ice cream every day and standing on one leg when brushing their teeth.  So the time has come.  But agreeing on just which sort of pet to get becomes an issue until Mila’s eyes light on something most unusual. As she says when she sees all the other usual offerings, “These pets are OK for other people … but we are the Tinklers and we need something different.”  She persuades the others and the pet shop owner and so off they go.  But things don’t work out quite as planned and the pet has to be set free.  How will their desire for a pet that is perfect be solved?

This is a new series by Ms Badger which starts with ‘A very good idea,’ ‘The coolest pool’ and ‘An excellent invention’ written for the newly independent reader who is ready for novels but still needs the support of short chapters, a larger font and imaginative illustrations.  The concept of a family free to do as they choose without parental constraints or responsibilities (like who pays for their apartment) will appeal to young readers and they will love its quirkiness and humour as their imaginations take them to a similar situation. 

If you are looking for a new series to introduce students to, this could be it.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Tank Boys

Tank Boys

Tank Boys











Tank Boys

Stephen Dando Collins

Random House 2014

pbk., 290pp., RRP $A17.99


Set in the dying days of World War 1 in the battlefields of Villers-Bretonneux, France, Tank Boys is the story of three young lads – Frankie Pickles and Taz Dutton from Australia and Richard Rix from Germany – and how the events of April 1918 bring them inexorably together. All three of them, either by fate or by choice, have found themselves on the front line instead of still being in school. Frankie deliberately lied about his age so he could join ‘the big adventure’; Taz feels guilty about staying home after his two brothers have already sacrificed their lives, and Richard is there because his grandfather didn’t bother to fix an error on official documents. But regardless of their reasons each is called on to do what would be thought unthinkable for today’s 16 year-olds and each is forever change because of that.  It’s a story of friendship and relationships built on respect  and understanding through common experiences.

A skilfully woven mixture of fact and fiction, of characters and real people, this story tells of the first ever tank-versus-tank battle and how the mighty Mephisto, the massive German panzer A7V tank, has come to be on display at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. Told from both sides of the events, it tells of life in the trenches, the deadly perils of bombardments and mustard gas and constant shelling for Frankie and Taz, and it tells of life in an elite tank division for Richard.  Starting out as separate chapters but becoming closer and closer as their fates seem destined to meet until all three are literally on the same page, this was an engrossing account of a battle that we are only just starting to learn and teach about in schools, showing that World War I was about more than the events at Gallipoli in 1915.  It is realistic but not gory and it’s quite possible to empathise with all three boys. It personalises the cold facts of the history texts.

Written by the author of Caesar the War Dog and made more compelling by the evidence that the events really did take place, this is a book that will particularly engage boys from Year 4 and beyond, especially as the events of World War I are brought more and more into focus as the centenary commemorations become more widespread.  If I were on class, I’d earmark as my read-aloud novel for that time.

Simpson’s Donkey: A wartime journey to Gallipoli and beyond

Simpson's Donkey

Simpson’s Donkey









Simpson’s Donkey: A wartime journey to Gallipoli and beyond

Peter Stanley

Michelle Dawson

Pier 9, 2011

pbk; 159pp ; RRP $A14.99


The story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli is one that all Australian children grow up with, but how did the donkeys get to Gallipoli in the first place?  This story beautifully told  by Peter Stanley offers some answers.  It follows the life of Sevilen, a donkey born on the island of Lemnos, who, through the actions of a variety of masters, including Simpson, has a remarkable journey through the eastern Mediterranean region during the First World War. Told as though it is his autobiography, Sevilen’s story gives us a unique insight into the theatres of war at that time as he encounters Australians, New Zealanders, Greeks, Turks, Britons, Arabs and Indians. 

The author has had a long association with the Australian War Memorial as the Principal Historian and is now the Director of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia, so his credentials as an historian are impeccable and his ability as a storyteller, engaging.  It is book of World War I that will capture the imagination and empathy of middle to upper primary students in a way that seldom happens.  It would be a perfect read-aloud as schools focus on the upcoming centenary of ANZAC Day as well as offering yet another example of how man is dependent on animals in so many ways.

Five Children and It

Five Children and It

Five Children and It










Five Children and It

E. Nesbit

Puffin Classics, 2008

pbk., 250pp



In this time of making New Year’s resolutions, it’s worthwhile revisiting this classic from 1902 with its strong message of “Be careful what you wish for.”


Cyril (Squirrel), Anthea (Panther), Jane (Pussy), Robert and the baby known as Lamb move to a new house in the Kent countryside set between a chalk quarry and a gravel pit.  As in all such stories, it is not long before their mother and father are out of the picture and the children are left in the care of Martha the maid who has much to do including caring for Lamb, and so the children are left to their own devices for the summer.

Exploring the gravel pit, they discover the Psammead, a sand-fairy of prehistoric times left stranded when the seas retreated.  The Psammead’s job is to grant wishes, one a day, and so the children take advantage of this.  But after a couple of disasters when they wish themselves to be “as beautiful as the day” and rich beyond dreams they learn that sometimes when wishes come true, they can lead you into a whole lot of trouble…

This is the original story from the author of The Railway Children and despite its rather pedantic manner and cautionary advice as the author inserts herself into the story, it is nevertheless an engaging read that will capture the imagination of those who are ready for a longer novel set in another time.  The fact that this book remains in print and C.S. Lewis has credited her with influencing his series about Narnia is testament to its popularity and quality. 

Nesbit wrote two other books about the children – The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet –but it is their reappearance together with the Psammead in a new novel Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders that is revitalising interest in the original. But that is another review for another day.  Right now, Miss 8 has been waiting for me to finish this one.  She will be delighted I have.

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne's Book of Precepts

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts











365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne’s Book of Precepts

R.J. Palacio

Corgi, 2014

pbk., 432pp., RRP $A19.99


 In his masterpiece Wonder, the must-read book for everyone from Year 4 onwards, we were introduced to Augie Pullman and his remarkable English teacher Mr Browne who helped him overcome all the obstacles that a seriously-deformed child entering school after years of home-schooling could expect.   Guiding his students through their essay-writing, Mr Browne shares precepts – inspirational sayings that stretch beyond the essay to life in general – which help to change not only Augie’s thinking but those of his classmates. 

Based on the belief that we should “Teach him then the sayings of the past, so that he may become a good example for the children…no one is born wise” (The Maxims of Ptahhotep, 2200BC) it seems very appropriate that on January 1, 2015 I begin my reviews by reviewing this wonderful book which has something for everyone for every day of the year.  Filled with thoughts ranging from contributors as diverse as Gandhi and Harry Styles, Milton and Carl Sandberg it is such a positive guide.  Many of the contributions have come from children who sent their thoughts to Palacio and their insight and wisdom remind me of a poem written by my Years 4, 5, and 6 classes as the old century bowed out and the new one ticked over.  Based on John Marsden’s book of the same name, it is as relevant on the first day of 2015 as it was on the first day of 2000.

A Prayer for the 21st Century

May we all have a safe journey

And may our journeys take us to where we want to go.

May we be forgiven for the wrong turns we have taken.

May we all have a place in our hearts for each other.

May those who live in darkness, find their way into the sun.

May the blind be able to see, the deaf be able to hear,

And those who can’t walk, run.

May our earth stay beautiful, the seas filled with fish, the gardens filled with flowers and the sky filled with sunlight.

May the pins stay in the grenades.

May the guns remain unused.

May the bombs stay unexploded.

May the wars end.

May the unlucky have some luck

And the lucky realise the luck they have,

May everyone’s nightmares end.

May everyone’s dreams come true.

May we all share the joy of loving and living.

May every thought be free, every problem solved.

May the worst turn out to be good.

May there be lots of fun and laughter, especially for the children.

May friendship be plentiful.

May we all think of others before we think of ourselves.

May we all live with knowledge, understanding, respect, tolerance and harmony.

May we all share the joy and love of our family and friends.

May we be not forgotten and may we not forget others.

May the angels not lift us up early.

May the world live on in peace forever.

Beginning with an introduction about his collection of precepts, Mr Browne offers the one that stopped him in his tracks as the thought for today, January 1.  “We carry within us the wonders we seek around us”

How wonderful for us as teachers and teacher librarians to be in a position to help so many children understand that everything comes from within, they can make their own dreams come true and realise their potential.  To have such influence is a privilege and a gift.

Every day our social media feeds are bombarded by memes with words of wisdom – here is a collected volume of them that we can have on our desks and on our classroom walls. As contributor Clare says, “Your life is your story.  Go write it.”