Archive | March 2016

Something Wonderful

Something Wonderful

Something Wonderful










Something Wonderful

Raewyn Caisley

Karen Blair

Viking, 2016

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


Sam lives in the country – way out in the country where the air is fresh and clean and he and his dog have room to run and chase feathers, climb trees, spin around on the Hills Hoist and build things from all sorts of old stuff lying around.  Pulling things apart and putting them back together is what he loves best – so much so that he sometimes forgets his chores like feeding the chooks, collecting the eggs and making sure the goat is in its paddock.  This frustrates his dad who thinks he should be more focused, but his mum understands and knows that his distractedness mean a brain is very busy at work.  For all that he seems to be playing, Sam is learning, learning, learning…

One day while chasing a shadow across the paddocks it starts to rain and after momentarily stopping to think whether a raindrop is round, Sam makes a dash for shelter in the shed.  And in the shed are all the bits and pieces that Sam needs to make …something wonderful.

Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair have once again combined to create something wonderful, their first since the delightful Hello from Nowhere .  The book is dedicated to the real-life Sam who now “works at a famous university in Europe, where he is trying to work out what is in-between the smallest things” and demonstrates that his mum was right – all that pulling apart and putting together, the curiosity, the wondering of it all was just the lead up to what he is doing now.  So even though not all tinkerers will end up at “a famous university” those makerspaces we offer in city libraries could just be the breeding ground for a new Sam as they play and plan and dream… Just as Sam learns about pulling and pushing and pulleys (in the most hilarious way ever) so too could one of our students albeit it in a more artificial situation.

Karen Blair’s illustrations are superb – you can feel the wind in your face and breathe the fresh country air, sense dad’s frustration and Sam’s sense of wonder – they are as wonderful as that which Sam creates. The final textless page and endpapers are divine!

Threaded throughout the joy in this story (which shines through like a mother’s love) is a powerful message about the importance of play and discovery.  THIS is what childhood is about – not academic competition and grades and being ICT savvy.  Academic things should just be the means to an end – the vehicle on which children can make their own discoveries as they explore and explain and not only make sense of their world but make it better. 

A very serious contender for my favourite book for a while.

Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Batman: Character Encyclopedia











Batman: Character Encyclopedia

Matthew K. Manning

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

208pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



We are definitely in the Age of the Super Hero as books and movies about characters from long-ago comics light up the eyes of our younger readers, particularly the boys.  The reserve list for anything of that nature was long in my library last year.

Batman, aka  the “Caped Crusader”, the “Dark Knight“, and the “World’s Greatest Detective” was first introduced to the world via Bob Kane, Bill Finger and DC Comics in May, 1939 – before the outbreak of World War II – and is as popular today as ever. After witnessing the murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne, has declared war and revenge on criminals and using his Batman alter ego and his supporters Robin, police commissioner Jim Gordon and his butler Alfred Pennyworth, he goes forth to fight crime particularly his arch-enemy The Joker, using his intellect, his wealth and his physical abilities rather than any super-powers. His dream is to create “a better, brighter Gotham City”.  This creates a huge scope for writers to produce multiple stories of his escapades which have enthralled audiences for generations.

Throughout this time, many characters have passed through his life and in this newly-published encyclopedia, the reader is introduced to 200 of these through thumbnail sketches, “Vital Stats” and vivid illustrations. Each is designated with a ‘hero’, ‘rogue’, ‘ally’ or ‘neutral’ icon and there is a brief indication of what happened to them in the end. Each character has their own page and the reading is easy making this a wonderful way to capture those who are more entranced with film rather than text and who may be thinking that books have little to offer them. They might even be encouraged to talk about their particular favourite and write or draw a page for a new encyclopedia about super heroes.

For those who still like to teach children how to use encyclopedia, it has all the regular attributes including a contents page and full index (including bolded entries) and because the entries are not in the traditional alphabetical order of encyclopedic format, the reader has to use these to navigate the text. Great, subtle practice – a bit like eating vegetables disguised as drinks or cakes!

I can see this being as popular as all the other super hero titles on the shelves.













Tony Flowers

NLA Publishing, 2016

68pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Look at your school population.  Are all the children native English speakers?  Or is there a mix of languages almost as diverse as the children themselves?  In my Collection Policy for the school I was recently working in under the heading Purpose and Role of the Collection I included the clause “provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with a diversity of appeal and the presentation of different points of view including those that reflect the lives of students in relation to their culture, ethnicity, language, religion and beliefs, community and family structure, sexual orientation and any other consideration” and this new publication from the National Library of Australia fits the language aspect of this perfectly.

Superbly illustrated in cartoon style by Tony Flowers and presented in a clear uncomplicated layout, we meet twelve Australian children, each of whom speaks a different language including Kala Lagaw Ya from Badu Island in the Torres Strait; Kaurna from Tarntanya in Adelaide; and Murrinhpatha from Wadeye in the Northern Territory as well as the more common languages of Italian, Thai, Korean, Greek , Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Chinese.  Even the Lebanese version of Arabic is included and there is a pronunciation guide at the back of the book to assist the reader but which have been dovetailed to meet needs rather than being a linguistic reference.

Each child has two double spreads so as well as introducing the reader to the word for ‘hello’ in each language, each then shares a little of their life including favourite foods, special days, costumes, musical instruments, games and activities and how to count to ten and each of these is then highlighted at the back of the book with photos available in the NLA.   

As much as the children I was working with last year loved to practise and share their new skills in English, their faces always lit up when they discovered a resource written in their own language or which was about their own country.  They were so happy to see something familiar amongst the unfamiliar and loved to show it to their friends and then take it home to share with their families.  So this wonderful resource is sure to strike a chord with so many of those in our care.  Apart from the familiarity it also demonstrates that we acknowledge and value their origins by having resources for them available.  Seeing yourself in a book is such an affirmation of who you are.

There are so many opportunities within the Australian Curriculum and within the calendar to investigate and celebrate the origins of the children in our classes that this book could be in use all year.  There are comprehensive teaching notes which include how to make some of the items featured by the children   but I can envisage it being a pivotal text for this year’s Book Week theme – Australia: Story Country.  Make it model for the children to tell their story by producing a poster and display for the library to be hung in honour of their country’s national day.  This was one of the most popular displays that attracted so much interest from parents and teachers as much as from the students.  They really valued the recognition.

Make Harmony Day  every day!

The Big Fish

The Big Fish

The Big Fish









The Big Fish

Pamela Allen

Penguin, 2016

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99


Once upon a time a little old man, a little old woman, a small boy and a small girl went to spend the day by the river. The little old man took out his fishing line, put some bait on his hook, and cast it into the river because, like everyone who goes fishing, his dream was to catch a really big fish.

I wish, I wish,

Oh, how I wish

I could catch a big fish!

 It’s not long before there is a tug on his line, so strong that he nearly falls in and he has to call on the little old woman to help him.  But even together they are not strong enough so the little old woman calls to the small boy… Will the old man and his family land the catch – and just what is on the end of the line anyway?

This is a delightful story reminiscent of the traditional tale of The Enormous Turnip and with its repetitive refrain and cumulative language it has a rhythm that will draw the young listener in so that soon they will be engaging with the language as well as the story.  And with a few simple necklace-type signs to designate their roles, they will be clamouring to be involved in a re-enactment of it immersing themselves even more so that it becomes a treasure trove of riches for drama and a language study.

Students will love to tell their own tales of going fishing and the tips and tricks they can pass on to their friends.  They could make a class map of favourite fishing spots – river, lake, sea, waterhole – and investigate the sorts of fish that inhabit them that they might catch. The class expert could explain the parts of a fishing rod and the different types of lures that are used and why as well as explaining the procedure of getting a fishing line ready for use or what to do with their catch once they have landed it.  Speculating and illustrating what is on the end of the old man’s line offers huge scope for the imagination and because the author doesn’t disclose what it is, no one can be wrong so the smug chorus of “I was right!” that usually accompanies predictive questions is avoided.

There is a range of “the mechanics of language” that could be explored from understanding the word ‘tug” and how the author shows its meaning through its repetition to examining the various fonts and how they add to both the meaning and the reading of the story.  Even the use of speech bubbles and exclamation marks and the cumulative language structure can be discussed to help develop their understanding of book language and the conventions used to make it more like speech. Throughout, Allen uses words like ‘tug’, ‘pull’ and ‘haul’ so there could be an introduction to the concept of synonyms and a challenge to find as many words that could be used to replace ‘got’ as possible.

The story also lends itself to the mathematics of size, order and position particularly through the illustrations and the re-enactment, offering lots of opportunities for the students to be physically involved as they position themselves according to height or age or gender.

Pamela Allen is one of the mainstay authors of literature for the very young and she never fails to deliver the most wonderful stories that are perfectly illustrated so that the marriage between text and illustration is seamless.  Even our very early readers can tell themselves this story without having to have heard it let alone read it for themselves. Miss Just-Turned-Five is going to love sharing this with Grandad, an ardent but not always successful fisherman, as they snuggle up for their bedtime story soon.

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy










Me, Teddy

Chris McKimmie

Allen & Unwin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


“I am Teddy.  This is my scrap book.  It’s about me growing up from a little, tiny puppy with a body head and big brown melty eyes to a big black Labrador weighing 40 kilos (since I have been on a diet).  This is me, Teddy”.

Teddy rules the roost at the author’s house – in fact, Chris admits he comes a distant third after Teddy and  his partner Jackie – and this is his story.  From the time he devoured everything in sight, including one of Armin Greder’s Birkenstock sandals so he had to walkhop, walkhop all the way home to patiently waiting for Chris and Jackie to come home, Teddy tells his story in a style clearly inherited from his owners.  While there is his own commentary in continuous text, each page has a feast of pictures, comments and captions in scrapbook style that bring Teddy’s life to light.  And each read offers something new to discover. There is so much to find that it’s like a treasure hunt and young readers will delight in comparing Teddy’s ‘experiences’ to that of dogs that they might know.  While I personally understand the taking over of the bed and the forlorn look whenever I leave, I can’t share the macadamia nuts in the park episode – funny as it is.

As with many of his other stories, Me, Teddy is a collaboration from all of McKimmie’s family including his children and grandchildren and uses a rich variety of media that stretches from the front cover to the last, including the endpapers and even the publication page.  This adds so much interest and humour to the story and undoubtedly would encourage students to reflect on their own pet’s life and perhaps record it in a similar fashion. An introduction to writing an autobiography or a memoir perhaps, and certainly a heads-up to be more observant of those who fill our lives. The collaboration between family members  in deciding what is included could also serve as a model as the children could imagine the conversations and how discussions could be settled through negotiation rather than confrontation.

Over the years, McKimmie had written a number of books, all of which are very distinctive and several of which have been shortlisted for the CBCA awards, but this one has to be my favourite so far.  Perhaps it’s  because I’m a “dog person” but I found it so joyful and uplifting and so very different from his previous title, Lara of Newtown  In the meantime, I need to take my Ebony for a walk – she who clearly believes she is a chook just like the three she plays with every day. Now that would make for an interesting scrapbook page.
















Manja Stojic

Pavilion, 2016

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



On the African savannah the animals are waiting for the rains as the soil cracks from the hot, dry, unending sun.  Porcupine can smell the rain; Zebra can see the lightning and Baboon can hear the thunder.  Rhino feels the first drops and Lion can taste it.  It rains and rains and rains but even after it stops it continues to bring comfort to the animals -until the whole cycle starts again…

As the vegetation of south-east Australia withers beneath an unrelenting heatwave and that of central regions flourishes under record rains, this is a most timely story to share with young readers learning about the cycle of weather and its impact on the environment.  Using simple, cumulative language and big, bold type and pictures that encourage young listeners to join in, it introduces them to a climate that might be very different from that which they experience as well as encouraging them to think about how we are as dependent on rain as those on the African savannah. 

By focusing on how the animals use their senses to predict the rain, it also offers an opportunity to explore how animals more common to them use their senses – such as a dog’s dependence on smell – as well as how humans use theirs. 

In her debut book for children, Stojic has used colour very well to contrast the dry, cracked, sunburnt landscape with that after the rains have fallen.  For those where rain brings such a change to the landscape, this could encourage some interesting before/after artwork from children with the focus on colour and hot and cool tones. For those who are ready, there could also be a focus on adjectives  as Stojic has carefully chosen her words to depict that which can’t be shown in pictures.

What seems a simple book on the surface has a depth that makes it more than a one-off read-aloud.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…



Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding














Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Rosie Dickins

Shaw Nielsen

Usborne, 2015

16pp., board book, RRP $A19.99



Among the stated outcomes of the Digital Technologies strand of the Australian Curriculum for students in Foundation to Year 2 are the ability to “recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose” and “follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems”.   So right from their first years of formal schooling, our students are expected to be able to understand the parts of a computer, use software and begin to mainuplate the devices to meet their needs. 

This book with its myriad of flaps to lift and explore is perfect for introducing this age group to what computers are and how they work.  Starting with “What’s a computer?” and an explanation of what coding is, it moves on to show how computers think including lots of interactive activities that encourage the reader to participate and thus gain a better understanding of the focus topic.  For example, the binary code is explained and then the reader is challenged to convert decimal numbers to binary with the answers under the flaps.  Pictures via pixels are explained and so are colours.  There’s even a treasure map to help Pixel the Pirate hunt for treasure while  teaching about writing instructions and flow charts. The flaps reveal answers, explanations and things to think about ensuring that the reader is actively engaged in their learning.

The more I delved into this book the more I went back to my early days of learning to program a turtle using Logo and even earlier still to when we bought books with the coding for games in them and we put these into our basic computers which ran on audio tapes!  This book encourages kids to explore and use Scratch which is so highly recommended by my computer guru colleagues and just continues on with so much inof and fun that I’m surprised it hasn’t been written before! 

But even if you buy multiple copies of this for your students, you should also consider buying it for those teachers who feel daunted by the requirements of the curriculum because apart from helping them understand the technical aspects of computers and coding, it offers a myriad of ideas for supporting the learning within the classroom using activities that don’t require a device.  You might also like to scour your TR section for all those books about encouraging logical thinking and problem solving that were so common a few years ago because they are all grist to the mill, and also return to the basics of the information literacy process of

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • What do I already know?
  • What more do I need to find out?
  • Where can I find that information?

So even if writing a million-dollar-making app is beyond the reach of many nevertheless they will have had lots of scaffolding and experience in thinking logically, posing and answering questions and solving problems – which all the futurists says are the essential foundation skills for the future.


True Stories of Polar Adventures

True Stories of Polar Adventures

True Stories of Polar Adventures











True Stories of Polar Adventures

Paul Dowswell

Usborne, 2015

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



One of the first places on this planet little children get to know about is the North Pole, that legendary, mythical home of Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus.  Marked by a red and white striped pole and inhabited by the man himself and his wife, industrious elves and magical reindeer, it is a place of mystery, intrigue and imagination.

It is hard to believe that just over a century ago that that was exactly the aura that shrouded this place as expedition after expedition tried to uncover its secrets for over 500 years.  Perhaps that is why it was designated as Santa’s home – it was so remote and unattainable that no one would ever discover the truth.  From Sir Edward Willoughby’s unsuccessful attempt to find the northeast passage in 1553 until the still-disputed claims of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary in 1908 it, with its southern equivalent, was considered to be the Holy Grail of exploration.

This book, written for middle-upper primary readers, contains the stories of some of the most intrepid Arctic and Antarctic explorers – those who succeeded and those who didn’t; those who went for the adventure and those who went for other reasons – and introduces a new generation to the hardships, trials and tribulations of what such a short time ago was the last bastion of exploration before the age of flight and radio let alone satellites and GPS.

Included are the stories of Roald Amundsen, the first to the South Pole and who beat my own personal hero Sir Robert Falcon Scott by five weeks, but whose story is often over-shadowed by that of Scott’s because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Scott and his companions.  As I re-read the stories of the conquerors of the south, once again I realised the impact that their journeys have had on my own life all these years later as my mother was determined to visit Scott’s Hut (and did so in 1968 as the first female journalist to go south) and Scott’s story The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard was as familiar to me as The Famous Five!


Illustrated with maps of the various expeditions but sadly no photos, True Stories of Polar Adventures could serve as just the introduction to the exploration of these unique, hostile lands and spark an interest in what it is that drives people to put their life on the line to go where none has gone before and to delve deeper into these tales of “hardihood, endurance and courage”. This is but a taster of an extraordinary smorgasbord of adventure stories linked by the most hostile environments on the planet.

Quentin Blake’s A Christmas Carol

Quentin Blake's A Christmas Carol

Quentin Blake’s A Christmas Carol














Quentin Blake’s A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens

Quentin Blake

HarperCollins 2016

144pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99



A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is one of the most enduring Christmas stories of all time.  It has been described as “the book that defines the Christmas spirit” as Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited miser, is visited by three ghosts one Christmas Eve. They show Scrooge the true value of Christmas: charity, good humour and love for his fellow man and turn his attitude around. 

Since its publication in 1843, it has been available in many different editions and formats that it would seem superfluous for there to be yet another one.  But – while this one is an unabridged version it has been illustrated by Quentin Blake and that is the special drawcard.  When Miss 9 was here recently, she saw it in the pile and immediately recognised his unique style through her familiarity with the Roald Dahl stories she loves and sat down to read it, even though Christmas was well past.

Suddenly the story that I’ve had in a leather-bound, tissue-paper tome given to my grandmother over 100 years ago became accessible to this current generation of the family.  When there were questions to be asked because at that stage she was unfamiliar with the England it was set in, we had fun exploring the answers and her reading repertoire expanded to historical fiction! Now, as her school studies open up the world of the England that spawned the First Fleet and Australia’s early European settlers, she has a basic understanding that is making it all make so much more sense to her.

Last Christmas I was in a school library and I instituted the Christmas Countdown which involved a guest reader sharing a new Christmas-based book each day, an activity which proved to be a very popular lunchtime focus.  But this version of this classic, read as a chapter or two a day, would prove a worthy alternative.  Or you could suggest it to a teacher to share with their class on a similar basis.  Christmas is abound with stories to share but there is a reason that A Christmas Carol has stood the test of time.  Well-written and now perfectly illustrated in a style that is familiar to many, there is a whole new generation able to appreciate it. 



Rescue Ark

Rescue Ark

Rescue Ark











The Rescue Ark

Susan Hall

Naomi Zouwer

NLA Publishing, 2014

36pp., pbk., RRP $A18.99



The animals went in two by two,

Hurrah, Hurrah,

The animals went in two by two,

Hurrah, Hurrah,

The possums and the potoroos

Were yawning and getting ready to snooze,

And they all snuggled into the ark

To find a safe place to be.


The children are so distressed at the waste and rubbish littering the ground, the polluted land and the dry rivers which threatened that habitats of Australia’s creatures that they built an ark to rescue them. Then they travelled around Australia to find the creatures that needed their help most.  From the orange-bellied parrot of Victoria to the Spectacled Flying Fox of Queensland to the Gove Crow Butterfly to the native bee of Western Australia, the most endangered of our creatures get on board, all of whom are looking for a safe place to be.  Each is listed as ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or “vulnerable’ according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act  and each has their story and situation described in the pages at the end with illustrations from the  NLA collection and other publications.

Using the familiar rhyme and rhythm of the well-known children’s song, and beginning with a map of the ark’s destinations around Australia and then a series of clever collages, readers are introduced to some of Australia’s lesser-known creatures and how they are suffering because of human impact on the landscape – a powerful way to inspire a new generation to be more aware and to right the wrongs of previous ones.  With Clean Up Australia Day as strong now as it was when it began in 1989 (7092 sites were officially registered for this year’s clean up on March 5) there is clearly an awareness that there is a need to do better if our children’s children are to see these unique creatures.

The good news is that in the story the ark sails the seas “for many a day” but eventually can return to our shores because the children have achieved their goal of making the land safe for them again.

This is not just a book for pre-schoolers – it has great scope for introducing elements of the Australian Curriculum focusing on human impact on the environment and sustainability.  While most are familiar with kangaroos, koalas and our other unique iconic wildlife, telling the stories of the less visible is critical if we are to improve our conservation record.  Australia has more than one million known species and a huge proportion of these are endemic to our shores, yet “Australia has the highest loss of mammal species anywhere in the world”.   So even though this book was published in 2014 it remains very relevant not only as a springboard to an investigation and community action but also as a model for the students to create their own version of the rhyme or to design a partition in the ark that would meet the needs of their chosen creature.

Teaching notes, including blackline masters of the creatures, are available.