Archive | February 2016

Socks, Sandbags and Leeches: Letters to My Anzac Dad

Socks, Sandbags and Leeches: Letters to My Anzac Dad

Socks, Sandbags and Leeches: Letters to My Anzac Dad











Socks, Sandbags and Leeches: Letters to My Anzac Dad

Pauline Deeves

NLA Publishing, 2016

96pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


February 1st, 1915 and 11-year-old Ivy writes the first of 20 letters to her dad who has enlisted in the army and is in camp in Egypt.  She tells him that Uncle Bill and Cousin Joe have also signed up because there is not much work on the farm because of the drought “And they could use the six bob a day”.  They also believe the war will be over by Christmas.

But we know it wasn’t and through this series of letters to her father, we learn a little about what life was like at home during this tumultuous time.  From Ivy and her mother having to move to live with Aunt Hilda in two rooms that are so small that Ivy has to sleep on a swag under the kitchen table because their landlord keeps putting the rent up right through to the end of the war when Ivy has to give up her job in the bank so a returned serviceman can be employed, we follow this personal account of a little girl growing up very quickly as war impinges on life at home.  Skilfully woven into the letters are stories that were big news at the time, like the “Nazi invasion” of Broken Hill; rising prices and the constant call for donations towards the war effort; and the propaganda about victory at Gallipoli when it was anything but; the Cheer Up campaign; the clergy delivering death notices; the debates and competitions for memorials that are not part of the factual accounts our students are usually required to read or view. 

These days there is a trend for parents to shield their children from world events but in 1915 every child knew what was going on and was expected to contribute in some way. Ivy’s young cousin Albert is expected to run the farm with his mother and while retired teachers have returned to the schools, time is taken away from the curriculum for the children to do their war work – knitting socks, sewing sandbags and rolling bandages. Even wading into the pond and letting leeches attach themselves to your legs is seen as a contribution and hospitals pay five shillings for 100! 

Interspersed in scrapbook fashion are photos, posters, postcards, letters, newspaper articles and all sorts of other items from the National Library’s collection of World War I documents which become real as Ivy references their impact in her letters.  Attitudes of the times are apparent as she describes the half-hour she took off to play cricket in the park with her friends juxtaposed with a poster with the heading “Give Us A Hand Old Sport” and an article from a newspaper from a cricket captain who believes that those fit enough to play sport are fit enough to enlist.

Accompanied by a glossary which explains some of the words that are no longer the vernacular, as well as an explanation of each of the illustrations used, this is a most intriguing, engaging account of the war through the eyes of one who is the age of its intended audience.  Because of its format it is a personal and reflective account of a time in our history that much has been written about but is nevertheless, scarcely understood by children of that age today.

A must-have, in my opinion.

The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles

The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles

The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles












The Selected Adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles

S.A. Wakefield

Desmond Digby

HarperCollins, 2016

215pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99



Deep in the Australian bush, in rubbish heaps along dusty roadsides live the Bottersnikes. They are extremely lazy and so rather than building nests, digging burrows or even looking for hollows in trees for shelter, they just cover up with the detritus of the rubbish heaps that are so often found along country roads. Much of the time they just sleep, blending into the landscape with their green wrinkly skin, cheese-grater noses and long pointed ears that go red when they are angry.  But should something need doing, they would rather spend their time trying to catch the cheerful Gumbles to do it for them than do it themselves.

The Gumbles are polite, always ready to lend a hand but also rather naïve so they are perfect prey for the indolent Bottersnikes.

The adventures begin when one morning when a thistle growing through his watering can wakes the King of the Bottersnikes but instead of just pulling it out, he roars for someone to open the door of a nearby rusting car so he can move into that. Being who they are the Gumbles who were passing by agree to help, and the King realises that they could be very useful servants in the future.  So he orders the other Bottersnikes, who have been woken by his roaring to grab them.  And when they do, they discover that Gumbles can be squashed into any shape without being hurt, even flattened to pancake thinness, but they can’t return to their regular shape without help.  By squishing them into the empty cans that are lying around, they can be kept as slaves, on hand for whenever there is something that needs doing!

Trapped and forced to work for these odious creatures was not what the Gumbles had planned but unable to get out of the cans, their future looks sealed.  But the King did not see a little Gumble – Tinkingumble, a wise little creature who has ‘tinks’ which come to him with the sound of a spoon tapping a glass, who was fiddling with a can-opener and worked out how to free his friends.  So when the Bottersnikes went to sleep for the night, the Gumbles escaped although their giggling nearly thwarted their plans. 

While they do escape successfully and free themselves of the cans, which they neatly put in an official rubbish bin, the Bottersnikes are now aware of them and their potential and so the book comprises a series of discrete, complete stories of Bottersnikes vs Gumbles that have delighted the children I’ve read them to over the years.  The stories are a wonderful springboard for environmental studies focusing on understanding the effect of our actions on the environment and how we manage and protect resources as well as an excellent basis for collaborative mural-making project as the children create their own Bottersnikes using Wakefield’s description and junk materials and Gumbles by stuffing and stitching pieces of old stockings. Each day we collected the rubbish scattered in the playground and added it to the mural and after just one week we had a powerful statement to present to the rest of the school that had a significant impact on the litter problem.  

With a recent television series and movie (have a sneak peek) which give great scope for exploring the interpretation of the same story through different media, this story, which has been out of print for some time, is now firmly back into the lives of our younger readers. 

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt

We're Going on an Egg Hunt

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt









We’re Going on an Egg Hunt

Laura Hughes

Bloomsbury, 2016

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



Just in time for Easter comes this charming lift-the-flap story of the Easter Bunnies as they set off on an egg hunt to the familiar rhythm and pattern of similar stories.  They have 10 eggs to find but have to get through the farm and the lambs, the chicks, the bees and the ducks safely to gather them.  Then just as they find the largest one of all, there is a nasty surprise waiting for them…

Miss 4½ did enjoy this story.  She loved that she knew the pattern and could join in as we read it and the interactivity of lifting the flaps to discover things apart from eggs added to the intrigue.  The climax brought just the right amount of suspense and she loved the ending, although she wondered if there would be eggs for children this year because the bunnies ate them all.

She is very much in that ‘reading-like behaviour’ stage of her progress in being a reader – started Kindergarten this year well-prepared and full of expectations – and I wasn’t surprised to peek in and see her successfully retelling the story to herself several times, and even though she knew what was coming she delighted in it each time.  That has to be a thumbs-up!

Annabel’s Dance

Annabel's Dance

Annabel’s Dance









Annabel’s Dance

Diane Jackson Hill

Lois Bury

Wombat Books, 2016

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99



High in the mountains lived a mob of sheep – ordinary sheep with wool the colour of whipped cream growing in neat tight crinkles.  With them lived Annabel who was the colour of a mud puddle and whose wool was straight and spiky.  She couldn’t just stand and nibble grass all day – her legs went every which way, she flipped head over heels, she was always wriggling and jiggling.  She was picky with her food because the grass prickled her tongue , she hid at shearing time and loud noises hurt her ears. No matter how hard she tried, Annabel just didn’t fit into the mob and they shuffled her to the outside. 

“Hazy mazy, oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy,” she’d tell herself whenever she felt alone or was trying to be brave.

Because she hid every time it was shearing time, for six years her wool grew and grew and grew. But even though it kept her warm and protected her from bumps, she couldn’t see or hear very well and one day…

Annabel is super-sensitive to the world around her and even when Farmer Shanks tries to help her, she can’t cope and makes a dash for the mountainside.  But he is determined  and calls in extra help, gives her headphones to block out the sound of the shearing machine and even puts a bucket of strawberry clover nearby so she can imagine herself still out on the mountainside. 

Annabel is like those students we have who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, whose sensitivities are so heightened they can’t cope with being touched or hearing loud noises, yet all they would like to do is be part of the mob. To belong. But instead of their differences being accepted and their needs catered for, they are shunned and left to themselves until eventually there is a catastrophe. 

This is a humourous but poignant story that can be read on its surface level as being about an eccentric sheep or it can be explored more deeply to talk about how we, as people, are all unique each with our special needs and preferences.  But some differences are not through choice and we need to be more tolerant and more inclusive, make allowances and reach out to help those who are struggling or marginalised through no fault of their own – just as Farmer Shanks did.  There are many Annabels in our classrooms as there are many more children on the spectrum than those who qualify for special assistance so, as teachers, we need to vary our practices, help the child develop physical or mental strategies to cope, and inform the other students so they understand what is happening.  Indeed, under federal legislation, we are obligated to do so but the crux of this book is that it puts us in Annabel’s world in a way few others stories do and gives some insight into a world that is too noisy and smelly and busy for some.  

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat










Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat

Emily MacKenzie

Bloomsbury, 2016

3299., pbk., RRP $A15.99



Stanley LOVES to knit. He knocks up pom-poms at breakfast time, whips up bobble hats at bath time. He even knits in his sleep! And what does Stanley do with his wonderful woollies? He gives them to his friends of course – balaclavas for bunnies, neckwarmers for giraffes and much more. All of his friends sport one of his creations – even the monkeys have woolly onesies!    One day Stanley sees a poster for a knitting competition inviting entrants to submit their wackiest woolly wonders.  And so Stanley begins to knit…and knit…and knit!  No one knows what it is he is creating  but trouble strikes when he runs out of wool.  Suddenly his friends find their precious gifts being unravelled as Stanley continues on his ques, leaving them cold and unhappy. 

But when all is revealed on the day of the competition when amongst they knitted dragons and cakes and dinosaurs and toadstools they discover…

This is a quirky story full of colour and light and love from a Scottish author/illustrator who has combined her love of knitting and drawing.  It will appeal to young readers who can let their imaginations go wild as they consider what sort of garments they might make for Stanley’s friends.    

This is Captain Cook

This is Captain Cook

This is Captain Cook










This is Captain Cook

Tania McCartney

Christina Booth

NLA Publishing, 2015

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



Miss Batt’s class have been studying Captain Cook and instead of the usual posters and PowerPoint shows, they have turned what they have learned into a play to be presented to their parents as living history. 

The story opens with all the usual flurry of such events as the audience greets each other and gets ready to be entertained, while the children sort themselves out on stage.  The first scene is of Captain Cook’s childhood, and there are the usual latecomers, those with nerves, the “hi dads” and one frightened chook – all resonant with anyone who has produced or attended a school play.  As we follow Cook’s life and adventures through the voice of the narrator, the actions of the children and some very clever props, there is much for the reader to learn about this remarkable man.  And throughout, the chook (who has now escaped the arms of its keeper) is causing concern for the stage hands and humour for the reader.  Its encounters with the kiwi, the kangaroo and the penguin are priceless and as it becomes more and more agitated the audience who have been patiently watching their offsprings’ performances become a little distracted. 

This is the most unique way of presenting old material in a new light that I’ve seen for a long time.  There have been dozens of books about Captain Cook because of his place in our history, and yet McCartney and Booth have created something new and interesting that will engage the audience as well as teach them and perhaps even have them clamouring to produce something similar as they delve deeper into his life.  Even though the text itself is written in a style reflecting that of a narrator so there is little embellishment on the basic facts (apart from Cook’s love of shiny buttons), the details in the illustrations bring the story to life. Unlike some pictures books, there has clearly been a close collaboration between autor and illustrator as characters, props, movement, speech bubbles and, of course, the chook add animation and understanding so that even the very young (or those just learning our language and history) will begin to get a sense of who this man was.  For it is a story about the man – the mariner, the father and the adventurer – and not that of the impact that such exploration had on the lives of indigenous peoples.  That is a discussion for an audience much older than the one intended for this book.

However, it could serve as a model for understanding what a biography is, the sort of information that that genre contains, the range of sources that can be used to gather it and check its veracity,  and even a model for the children to write their own play about someone else. Such an approach would incorporate many strands of the curriculum, differentiating it so each has something to offer and show students that history need not be dull and boring.    

It is also the perfect introduction to the National Library of Australia’s collection of artefacts relating to Cook, his journeys and his life and there are pages at the back that show some of what is available in the library and online. Teaching notes are available.


Definitely one for the collection.

The Matilda Saga (series)

The Matilda Saga

The Matilda Saga

A Waltz for Matilda


The Girl from Snowy River


The Road to Gundagai


 To Love a Sunburnt Country


The Ghost by the Billabong


Jackie French

Angus & Robertson, 2010-2015


Over the years I have read hundreds, if not thousands of books –some borrowed, most bought.  Of those thousands, there are three that I clearly remember getting – Cherry Ames Student Nurse, the first I ever bought for myself and which took weeks of saving precious pocket money till I had the necessary 2/6; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which came in a library collection and I wondered who on earth would read a book with that title; and A Waltz for Matilda which I saw and seized in a department store while buying books (which I subsequently forgot to buy)  for a baby shower, The title, the topic and the author just gripped me and I don’t recall being as impatient for the next in the series since I lined up in the cold Canberra winter awaiting the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.


In 1894, Matilda is forced to flee the slums of Sydney and goes in search of the father she always knew she had and in her heart of hearts, knows he is alive somewhere. But he is not the man whom her mother described and she has hardly found him when tragedy strikes – the inspiration for the infamous poem of Banjo Paterson – and she is on her own, a city girl in the middle of a drought, the shearers’ strike, bushfire and floods,  impending war and very little support from her neighbours but totally determined not to return to a life of virtual slavery, poverty and despair.  With a love and respect for others who are different, a love and respect not shared by her neighbours, Matilda grows into an independent, self-sufficient young woman learning some hard and harsh lessons about trust and humanity as she does. 


Whether at the core of the story or on the periphery, Matilda is at the heart of this series which follows the lives of key residents of the Gibbers Creek community as it moves inexorably into the 20th century, through Federation, World War 1, the Depression, World War 2 and in the latest addition, the late 60s where Australia is involved in the Vietnam War while holding its breath to see if man can successfully walk on the moon and come home. Her humanity permeates every story. Each episode is not only a gripping read but brings the lives and times alive as only Jackie French can.  Populated with strong female characters, it gives the women and children a voice that they did not have and through her passion for history and meticulous research (and in the latest one, her personal experience and that of her friends), Jackie opens up these times for inspection and consideration.  While these days its seems that ‘feminism’ is on a par with that other f-word, this series clearly demonstrates why there was a need for change and the factors and conditions that drove it.  The polio and thalidomide epidemics, women working beyond marriage, and for equal pay, are things that have happened in my lifetime and that of the grandmothers of the students reading these stories.  To fail to understand and acknowledge why females have the life they do today does those who came before paving the way at great cost a disservice.


This is not a series to give a reader who merely wants “something to read”, to skim over to meet an arbitrary reading requirement; this is a series to provoke thought, deliberation and reflection because like so many others that Jackie has written, it is the story of this nation.  She crafts history – the good, the bad and the ugly – into story in a unique way that leaves the reader well satisfied that the time spent reading has been more than worthwhile.  It is a series for older readers who are ready to learn more than the facts; to delve deeper into what happened and to cope with some of the more confrontational aspects such as the treatment of women in internment camps by the Japanese.  Even though I bought the series for my primary library, it was in the Senior Fiction collection and while those who read it adored it, they still wanted to discuss and clarify what they had read. It inspired some fabulous conversations around a table at lunchtime as they wanted me to recall what it was like being a teen in the 60s, the conflict about the morality of the Vietnam War and the wonder as we held our breath on July 21, 1969.


Even though in A Ghost by the Billabong, Matilda is 87 and is enduring the lingering death of her beloved Tommy, the families and their stories are so intertwined that even though she must also pass, the saga will continue with “one or just possibly two” books, and I , for one can’t wait.  For me, this series is like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge – when you get to the end you just want to go back and start it again.


Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear












Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Lindsay Mattick

Sophie Blackall

Little Brown, 2015

56pp., hbk



Cole asks his mother for a bedtime story – a true one about a bear.  And it just so happens that Lindsay Mattick is the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian vet who, in 1914, was conscripted to join the war effort to look after the soldiers’ horses. On his way to the training ground far from his native Winnipeg, the train pulls into a station and Harry spies a baby bear on a rope held by a trapper who is unlikely to raise him and love him as Harry did all animals.  After a lot of thought, twenty dollars changes hands and Harry finds himself back on the train with the bear cub and a lot of curious mates and one astonished colonel.  But the bear whom Harry has named Winnie after his home town, wins over the troops and she soon establishes herself as the regiment’s mascot. 

Winnie travels with the soldiers to England, but when it is time for them to embark for France, Harry knows Winnie can not go.  So he leaves Winnie at The London Zoo where she is loved by hundreds of children including a certain little boy named Christopher Robin Milne – and from there a whole other story begins.

2016 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, this is a charming story that has that intimacy of a story shared between mother and child. Beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall with meticulously researched details in muted watercolour and ink colours which reflect the mood and emotions, it also contains photos of Harry with Winnie and other memorabilia that demonstrate the authenticity of the tale.    The conversations between the narrator and her son which are interspersed throughout the story not only add to its reality but also make it more than just a non-fiction recount.  With its undertones of A. A. Milne’s writing, and the final pages that trace the lineage of Harry Colebourne to Cole, this is a very personal account that is as engaging as it is interesting. Because she is telling the story to her own young son, there are several occasions where she chooses her words very carefully so he will not be upset and this then makes it suitable as a read-aloud for even the youngest of listeners. 

As the centenary of World War 1 continues, there are many stories commemorating the contribution that a whole range of creatures made to the conflict, but this one with its direct ties to the beloved character of Winnie-the-Pooh which all children know, is one that will linger in the mind for a long time.  A first-class addition to your collection commemorating World War 1, and, if you are lucky, you might also be able to pair it with the movie A Bear Named Winnie with Stephen Fry and Michael Fassender. 

Lulu Bell

Lulu Bell

 Lulu Bell










Lulu Bell’s Fantastic Holiday Fun



Lulu Bell’s Amazing Animal Adventures



Belinda Murrell

Serena Geddes

Random House, 2016

pbk., RRP $A19.99


Have your newly independent readers discovered this series about Lulu Bell who is just eight and the practical one in a family that includes her six-year-old sister Rosie, who loves wearing angel wings and sparkly shoes; her three-year-old brother Gus who always wears his superhero suit; her dad, a busy vet and her mum, an artist- not to mention a menagerie of pets.  Based on the author’s own experiences of growing up in a vet hospital, this series has an authenticity that really appeals to its target audience, particularly as that is the age when so many of them dream of living the life themselves and they relate to the characters, particularly strong, level-headed Lulu.

These two additions to the series are collections of four favourite stories bound up in one volume – perfect for those like Miss 9 who has been reading them since their inception and who just want to keep reading and not have to wait for the next title. Each story is complete and Serena Geddes bring the characters and the incidents to life.

Lulu Bell’s Amazing Animal Adventures includes  Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort Lulu Bell and the Tiger Cub, and  Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party while Lulu Bell’s Fantastic Holiday Fun includes  Lulu Bell and the Koala Joey Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle Lulu Bell and the Pirate Fun  and Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup. 

Each of these has been reviewed individually on this blog  (search for Murrell) and if you want to see the complete series then it is available on the publisher’s website,  Knowing how popular it had been since they were first released when Miss 9 was only 7,  I bought the series late last year for the library I was working in and it was immediately a great success. Word spread like wildfire because Belinda Murrell has a real storyteller’s knack of being able to create something wonderful out of something that most see as just ordinary life and it is this that appeals to the readers because they can connect the text to themselves (or their dreams) very easily.  This is a series about ordinary people doing regular things, grounded in reality and perfect for those who want that sort of read.

Australian Kids through the Years

Australian Kids through the Years

Australian Kids through the Years












Australian Kids through the Years

Tania McCartney

Andrew Joyner

NLA Publishing, 2015

56pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99



“For tens of thousands of years, our first people lived in harmony with the land.  When Europeans arrived in the late 1700s, things changed forever.  Now, children of many cultures and backgrounds are born in Australia or come here and make it their home.  The way Australian kids live – the things they do and wear, the food they eat, the books they read and the games they play – have changed over time.  Come on a journey through the years with our Australian kids.”

In this exquisite book by Tania McCartney and Andrew Joyner, middle and upper primary students are given an overview of Australian history through the children who lived it.  Starting with Kiah who lives on the land with her clan gathering plants and moving with the seasons, through to Meg who is the daughter of a convict, Chi who lives in a tent on the goldfields all the way through to Isabella and Jackson, children of today, we learn about the unique aspects of life through the ages through “simple” text and double-page spreads of drawings with each element labelled to make it explicit.  Each spread also has text boxes about what was eaten, played, read and watched by the children of the time.

In addition, there are extra pages that show the illustrations held in the National Library of Australia that inspired the drawings and the text as well as information about the paintings themselves, all of which can be accessed through the NLA”s catalog.

The Humanities and Social Sciences strand of the Australian Curriculum (v8.1) for Year 2 “extends contexts for study beyond the personal to the community and to near and distant places that students are familiar with or aware of, exploring connections between the past and present and between people and places.” Students go beyond their immediate families and experiences to begin developing the concept of history and how the lives of people have changed over time;how they are both similar and different to people in the past and how they are connected to places near and far.  This is the perfect book to support this and could be effectively accompanied by the This House series of Learning Objects accessible through Scootle

It is ideal not only for the information it contains in its text, pictures and layout but also because of its origins in those paintings which fits the investigation of How has technology affected daily life over time and the connections between people in different places?” Will people of the future rely on paintings to know what our life was like?  If everything today is recorded in digital format, how will this be accessed when technology moves ever onward?  Has this sort of progression already happened? What is the role of print and tangible objects in preserving and passing on our stories?

A must-have in multiple copies in my opinion.