Archive | September 2015

You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus

You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus

You Can’t Take an Elephant on the Bus









You can’t take an elephant on the bus

Patrick Cleveland-Peck

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2015

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


You can’t take an elephant on a bus and you shouldn’t put a monkey in a shopping trolley or take a tiger on a train ride.  Because if you do, they will cause havoc and this delightful rhyming story explores the hazards they create.  In fact there is a problem with every mode of transport for these exotic creatures except…

This is a fun-filled story that will have even the gloomiest child laughing out loud and wanting to suggest new ideas.  If you can’t ask a whale to ride a bike, then what would work – or not?  With quirky illustrations that are as funny as the text and a rich vocabulary that has been carefully crafted – the pig’s trotters totter – this is a surefire winner for young readers who are learning about the fun to be had in stories.  

Meet… Weary Dunlop

Meet... Weary Dunlop

Meet… Weary Dunlop









Meet… Weary Dunlop

Claire Saxby

Jeremy Lord

Random House Australia, 2015

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


Standing in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a statue of a man in a suit, a red poppy in his lapel and a hat in his hand.  It’s a statue that hundreds of thousands of children have seen, glanced at and moved on without knowing the significance of the man it is a tribute to.  Yet this is a person who played a very important role in helping their grandfathers and great-grandfathers stay alive as they endured the horrors of being held prisoners of war by the Japanese Imperial Forces in World War II.

As a child born before the outbreak of World War I, Ernest Edward Dunlop lived an idyllic life in the country in Victoria but he was always going to be too big for a small country town.  A smart student and expert sportsman he earned his nickname of Weary in a convoluted word play and while many of his companions stayed in and around the district, the outbreak of World War II found him working as a surgeon in London.  He immediately joined the Australian Army Medical Corps and in 1942 he was in Java in charge of a military hospital when it fell to the Japanese and he, along with many others, was taken prisoner.  

Put in charge of British and Australian prisoners working on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway being built so Japanese troops could be moved overland instead of by sea, he did what he could to barter, cajole and negotiate with his captors for food, medicine and shelter for ‘his’ men.  Even when it meant personal punishment he always protected his men, often taking great risks to ensure their survival.  He made do with what he had, usually woefully inadequate, forced to be invent and creative, and always, always with the welfare of his fellow prisoners at heart.  As they were starved and punished, he understood the importance of morale and organised concerts and pantomimes to lift spirits as well as encouraging others to keep diaries, draw, paint and photograph the camp and the conditions.  They made grim reading after the war ended.

This is the latest in the Meet… series, and, in my opinion, one of the best.  Sensitively written and illustrated for those who have not seen the film footage of what really happened, it puts a human face on a conflict that did much to shape Australia and her post-war attitudes.  There is enough information to satisfy the curious with two or three of Dunlop’s escapades adding a lightness to such a dark topic, yet at the same time there is enough to tempt a more serious reader into a deeper investigation.  Australia has many war heroes apart from John Simpson Kirkpatrick. Having read this, perhaps the children who visit the AWM will spend a little more time at that statue, pondering the extraordinary depths and determination of the human spirit.

There are now eight titles in this series which is a must-have in school libraries as it brings the lives of our heroes and history-makers to life through accessible, illustrated texts in a way that brings the biography genre to life.  They add an extra layer to an historical study and the accompanying teachers’ notes open up new ideas for exploration.  They tell a story rather than just providing clumps of facts and figures, which is not only suitable for newly-independent readers but also for those for whom English is a struggle. As well as supporting the history strand of the Australian Curriculum, they also provide a model for younger students for writing a biography providing a purpose for reading and research.


Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop statue at the Australian War Memorial ART90407

Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop statue at the Australian War Memorial


Bear and Duck

Bear and Duck

Bear and Duck











Bear and Duck

Katy Hudson

HarperCollins, 2015

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



Life for Bear is not easy.  Even though he is big and furry, sleeps all winter and gets to eat lots of honey, he’s over it.  He was bored with sleeping all winter, hated having to wear a hot furry coat in summer and sick of the angry bees who stung him as he tried to take their honey.  He needed a change.  So he decided to become a duck.  And he tried really hard, especially after Mother Duck gave him the rule book that he had to follow.  Even when things didn’t quite work out the way they were supposed to. 

This is a story that will resonate with all young readers who have ever wished they could be something or someone else.  Through its words and gentle watercolour-and-ink pictures, gently laced with humour, and endearing characters, it shows that we each have our own talents and gifts and that these are unique to who we are.  And even if we think that being something else is a good idea, sometimes it’s just best to be ourselves because being ourselves is enough.

This is the debut picture book from this author/illustrator that could start discussions about accepting ourselves for who we are as well as accepting others for who they are – the ingredients necessary for being a good friend.













Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2015

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Once Morris Gleitzman wrote a novel about Felix, a young Jewish boy growing up in the 1930s in a Catholic orphanage in the German mountains.  But Felix had two secrets – firstly he was not an orphan, and secondly he was not Catholic.  He was Jewish in a time when to be so was very dangerous. His parents, who were booksellers, told him they were leaving him there so they could find more books and they would send a message when they were coming to collect him.  One day, when Felix found a whole carrot in his soup he took that as the sign and he runs away from the orphanage, not realising the danger he is putting himself in as the power of the Nazi regime sweeps the world.

 Then Gleitzman wrote a sequel which begins with Felix, now 10, and his companion Zelda, 6, fleeing from a rail carriage bound for a death-camp.  Taken in by Genia, a Polish farmer’s wife, they are in constant danger of being exposed and being shot.

 Two more sequels followed – Now and After (described by Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Christopher Bantick as “one of the finest children’s novels written in the past 25 years”) and now we have Soon.

Felix is 13 and is still in hiding with the drunken Gabriek in the rubble and ruins of a destroyed city in Poland.  While the war is over, it is no longer the Nazis who are the enemy but the Polish patriots determined to rid their country of anyone, man, woman or child, who is not of pure Polish extraction. As the Soviet Red Army prepares to dominate and control the proud Polish people, Gogol and his ilk are determined that it will not happen.  ‘Poland has been crawling with vermin for centuries. Germans, Austrians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians.  Now we’re cleaning them up.” 

Felix has a much simpler ambition – “Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated. And they were. I hoped the war would be over. And it was. I hoped we would be safe. But we aren’t.”

Eking the most meagre survival from Gabriek’s ability to mend things, Felix is determined not to lose his humanity using his most rudimentary medical skills to help those in need while trying to avoid the partisans and the gangs and all the others whose only motive and purpose is survival.  Finding himself with a tiny baby to look after and unable to get help from the Allied teams trying to deal with millions of desperate and displaced people, he agrees to join Anya’s gang in exchange for food and warmth for the infant and finds himself in a whole new world of grown-up behaviour that no child should.

In this series, Gleitzman has tackled the most confronting of issues in the world’s recent history and despite the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence and the death that was the reality of the times it is essential that older children know these stories for they are the stories of their grandparents and their great-grandparents and are at the root of today’s multicultural Australia. Yet Gleitzman writes in a masterful way that not only exposes the truth, affects the reader and enables them to understand but still allows them to be  engrossed in the story. The fate of Felix drives them to turn the page.  Every event, and there are some that parents and teachers need to know may be quite disturbing, has its place and its purpose not only in the telling of Felix’s story but also in the understanding of the world today as we continue to see conflict across the world, refugees fleeing and perhaps even being in our own classrooms.

However, it is not all gloom and doom as throughout each of the books, Felix maintains his humanity, his humour and his hope.  He transforms from that young naïve little boy seeing a carrot in his soup as a sign to a compassionate, caring young man, older and wiser than his years as he begins to understand the causes and consequences of war.  Ceasefires and victories are just the beginning…

Whether this is the final in this compelling series remains to be seen.  Perhaps there is room for another episode entitled Perhaps…


Star of the Week

Star of the Week

Star of the Week











The Star of the Week

Sally Rippin

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2015

42pp., pbk., RRP $A7.95



This is the final in the very popular Hey Jack series written for those very young readers who are stepping between “home readers” and “chapter books.” The best friend of Billie B. Brown now has a 20-book series deliberately written for boys who don’t identify with action heroes or spies.

As with the others in the series, Rippin takes a situation that her target audience can relate to and explores it in an imaginative and engaging read.  This time, Jack is named “Star of the Week”., a much sought-after accolade but he’s not sure he can carry the responsibilities of the role particularly as his primary duty will be to introduce soccer star Tim Little at the impending school assembly and he is full of nerves and excitement.  But then he discovers Aaron crying in the boys’ bathroom because his dog has died and he has a brainwave that might cheer his friend up.  It means he won’t get to meet the famous sportsman but…

Rippin says she was inspired by Dr Seuss, Richard Scarry and Joyce Lancaster Brisley (Milly-Molly-Mandy series) when it came to writing both Hey Jack and Billie B. Brown and she was determined they “would begin in second person, contain the language of a school reader and stick to the simplest day to day occurrences of a six to eight year old,” so they would be accessible and appeal to the reluctant reader. She tried them out on her own son, massaging them based on his responses and eventually bringing two series that have been the starting point for so many to fruition. In an interview, she says that she wanted her readers to be someone “who is ready to try their first chapter book. Someone who wants to read about a character they can relate to and who could, very possibly, become their very best friend.”

Having watched both family members and students immerse themselves in both Hey Jack and Billie B. Brown and make enormous steps in their competence and confidence, I think she has hit the mark


Once Tashi Met A Dragon

Once Tashi Met A Dragon










Once Tashi Met a Dragon

Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg

Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2015

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







Tashi and the Golden Jawbone

Tashi and the Giant Squid

Tashi and the Big Scoop

Tashi and the Magic Carpet

Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg
Allen & Unwin, 2015
64pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

It was with great delight, but not surprise, that when I returned to working in a primary school library after a protracted absence I discovered that the favourite series amongst the students in Year 2 – the ones who are just starting their independent reading journey – was Tashi. Every day they asked for new stories or put existing ones on reserve. So they are going to be very excited to know that there is not one, not two, but five new additions to the adventures of this delightful little character who is so clever, resourceful and brave as he confronts fearsome opponents set on destroying his village and his peace.

Once Tashi Met a Dragon is a picture book beautifully illustrated in colour by Kim Gamble that is just delightful. In it, Tashi finally meets the dragon that he has heard stories about forever. Usually it lives on the mountain in a palace of gold and each year it sends the rains so that the villagers can thrive. But this year, the rains haven’t come and only one person is brave enough to venture forth to find out why…

The other stories –Tashi and the Golden Jawbone, Tashi and the Giant Squid, Tashi and the Big Scoop and Tashi and the Magic Carpet – have been inspired by the original stories created by Anna Fienberg and her mother, but are the novelisations of episodes from the popular television series on ABC3. True to the original story concept, these have coloured computer-generated images created by Flying Bark. Rather than having two stories in the one book as the original print series does, these are augmented with 20 pages of puzzles, games and activities providing extra fun and encouraging greater understanding.

Back in the days when I was co-ordinating Read Around Australia I ran a book rap based on all the Tashi novels published at the time. Small groups of students selected one story and had to write a synopsis and then pose a series of questions that would challenge the thinking of other students around Australia who had to answer them. What they discovered was that each story threw up a number of ethical questions that could be discussed and debated and so they became so much more than an introduction to fantasy and an easy read. Now a whole new audience can discover the magic meaning.

For a complete list of all the original Tashi books as well as more fun and games go to or you can check out the new look, including a trailer at