Archive | June 2016

What Could it Be? Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes

What Could it Be? Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes

What Could it Be? Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes









What Could it Be? Exploring the Imaginative World of Shapes

Sally Fawcett

EK Books, 2016

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


Western Australian teacher Sally Fawcett has created this wonderful picture book that explores the everyday 2D shapes that even very young children recognise from their early-morning television experiences, encouraging the reader to find them not only in the stunning illustrations but also in their own environment.

Using repetitive text, rhyme and rhythm she invites the young reader to not only be more perceptive but also to use their imaginations, encouraging them to look more closely and think more carefully.  There are circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, hexagons, ovals, and  octagons everywhere, both natural and man-made, that, after sharing the book, makes the urge to go on a shape-walk around the home, classroom or school irresistible. Digital cameras make the ‘collection’ of shapes so easy these days and there are plenty of apps that will help you turn the photos into a captioned book written by the students that can be read again and again. 

As well as that there are all sorts of ideas available which include the opportunity for children to upload their own artworks.

This is another interactive book that invites input from the reader and takes them on a journey through their imagination.  As well as being perfect for early childhood, it’s also great for those learning English for the first time as they learn our words for shapes and colours but can then extend their observations at their own level.

Big Bug Log

Big Bug Log

Big Bug Log










Big Bug Log

Sebastien Braun

Nosy Crow, 2016

16pp., board book, $A14.99


Bugsy Bug is going to visit his grandma.  She lives somewhere in the Big Bug Log but Bugsy is not sure how to get there so the reader has to help him.  Solving clues to find the right doors, lifting flaps, following directions, trails and mazes, escaping from the scary spider, through the log he travels until he reaches safety, this is an interactive read perfect for the parent and very young child to enjoy together.

The shape of the cover with its cutout says, “Explore me!” and the bright colourful pictures are enticing. There is much to discover and discuss in their fine detail as the child seeks to solve the clues.  While there needs to be an adult to read the commentary and clues, the child will delight in looking for things like the bee in the bow tie, using their finger to follow snail trails and so on, all of which reinforce the left-to-right direction of reading and the delight of story. 

The benefits of having children enjoy stories from a very young age are well documented but having those stories being interactive and demanding input from the listener is a bonus.  This is much more than a story about Bugsy getting to Grandma’s house – it demands the child’s attention and input, all the while consolidating that subliminal message that stories are not only fun but that the child and the activity are worth the attention of the adult sharing it with them.  This is not a disembodied voice encouraging them to tap this or swipe that – this is someone who cares about them making the time to get involved and help them solve Bugsy’s problem.

Perfect for preschool and even younger and a wonderful opportunity to create some original artwork, a map of the log, and to team with some early non fiction about bugs!

My Dog Dash

My Dog Dash

  My Dog Dash










My Dog Dash

Nicki Greenberg

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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


“My dog Dash wasn’t very well behaved at puppy school…”  But even though it took a while he got the hang of the commands especially “Sit” and Stay!” “Fetch” is problematic though.  Just like every dog, Dash loves to explore the wonders and beauty of the park – each leaf, every flower, every stick – so a walk can be slow-going.  He steals food, wrecks the garden and even chews through books! And like most puppies, he slobbers a bit, leaves puddles and makes a mess which makes mum cranky so he hides for a while until he thinks he’s forgiven.. But when he goes missing one dark night, the whole family is involved in the search… Perhaps he’s not such a nuisance after all.

From the creator of The Naughtiest Reindeer  comes this delightful, whimsical, hilarious story that is not what you would expect!  If you were ever looking for a need for children to look at the detail in the illustrations or trying to persuade parents that pictures can tell more than the text, then this is it.   If you read this interview with Nicki Greenberg  you will be treated to her quirky sense of humour and understand how she can create such perfect books for children that will engage them again and again and again.

This is such a fun book to be shared for the joy of sharing and hearing, and could be the answer for all those children who want puppies.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade











Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade

Kate and Jol Temple

Jon Foye

Allen & Unwin, 2016

160pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



It all starts in History Week when Jimmy Cook discovers three things…

  1. Captain Cook was the greatest explorer that ever lived.
  2. Captain Cook is his great grandfather 32 times removed
  3. Third grade is going to be the best year of his life.

He also discovers that he and said Captain Cook have three things in common…

  1. They share the same name
  2. They are both great explorers
  3. They both look good in a tricorn hat.

Discovering these things is almost as good as the escape of the class’s pet ambystona mexicanum (axolotl) and helps the younger James Cook discover there is more to history than that discovered so far on  His interest wanes fractionally when Ms Fennel insists that each student keeps a diary of Cook.  Jimmy is having none of this “sitting down with a fluffy purple pen and drawing rainbows that smile and flowers with tears.”  Diaries are definitely girl things and Captain James Cook would never have done that as he bravely explored the high seas, but he changes his mind when Ms Fennel points out that a ‘boy diary’ is called a log, and Captain James most definitely kept one of those. 

So for the next six weeks Jimmy Cook keeps a log, starting with a note of the weather and an inventory of his pockets, as all logs do. He shares his excitement at having to dress as Captain Cook and his bitter disappointment when he discovers that the local museum does not have HM Bark Endeavour but just an old nail.  But it his discovery that Cook died a violent death in Hawaii, a land surely still inhabited by savages who need to be tamed that provide the impetus for him to get to Hawaii himself, and the discovery that a cereal company is offering an all-expenses paid trip there to the person who collects the most coupons could be his means to get there.

This is a rollicking, fast-moving story full of typical Year 3 thoughts and humour that will carry the reader along, eager to discover whether Jimmy beats his rival Alice Toolie in the coupon collection stakes and whether he does make it to Hawaii to tame the savage beasts who killed his hero and great grandfather (32x removed).  With the diary entries keeping chapters short and interspersed with graphics that could have been drawn by Jimmy himself, it has broad appeal for younger readers who will see themselves in the story somewhere.  It has its serious moments, particularly when Jimmy does work experience as a Town Crier helping Bernie the homeless man sell The Big Deal, but all in all, it’s an engaging read that will inspire our younger boys to keep reading. 

They can discover more on YouTube at and look forward to Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot.

Fizz the Police Dog (series)

Fizz the Police Dog

   Fizz the Police Dog












Fizz and the Police Dog Tryouts


Fizz and the Dog Academy  Rescue


Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief


Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper


Lesley Gibbes

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin. 2016

80pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Fizz is now a grown up dog, no longer a puppy, and he is very determined that he wants to be a brave, clever, fast police dog.  The only problem is that he is not a German Shepherd – he’s a small cute ball of white, fizzy, fuzzy fur!  Not exactly the right look for a police dog. In fact he’s a Bolognese and comes from a long line of champion show dogs and is expected to follow the family tradition.  Or at the very least a lapdog, a handbag dog or a companion dog like his brothers and sisters.

But Fizz is determined, even moreso when his friend Tom tells him it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog and shows him an advertisement for the upcoming police dog tryouts. All Fizz has to do was show up and pass three tests.   But when he arrives at the police station he is somewhat daunted for there are many dogs waiting and all of them much bigger.  His courage and confidence take a deep dive. When Amadeus who comes from a long line of police dogs and who has been practising for a long time, arrives with his ‘henchmen’ and starts to bully him and suggests he goes to the Miss Fluffy Puppy tryouts, Fizz really starts to worry and doubt.  But from deep within, his determination rises and he stands up to Amadeus and refuses to give in.

And so the day begins, with Amadeus bullying Fizz at every opportunity trying to prove that he will be the next City Police Dog, not some little thing that looks like a powder puff.  First up is the Bark Test, then the Scare Test and then the Chase-and-Catch Test.  How will Fizz ever compete against all those other dogs?  But being a police dog isn’t all about being the fiercest, angriest, loudest dog in the pack – it’s about being smart and fearless and resilient. But sometimes even that’s not enough.  Amadeus becomes the City Police Dog and Fizz becomes…

This is a new series for younger almost-independent readers that will have wide appeal to those who like animal stories, adventure and fun.   There are now four in the series which follow Fizz through his Academy training to become a dog detective and on to his first cases, one of which involves his sister Crystal. With short chapters and such an engaging character, the text demonstrates the author’s long experience as a primary school teacher as well as the owner of some feisty little dogs (who may have wanted to be police dogs too.)  Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment – who wouldn’t quiver in the face of Amadeus?  You need to look what happens when you line the spines up in order!  Clever!

Series offer many benefits for readers – not the least of which is encouraging the child to keep reading – and to find one that is so appealing to both boys and girls and is well written and appropriately illustrated is gold.  The test for me is whether I can hear myself reading it aloud to children as I read it silently to myself, and this definitely met that criterion.  Now to find some kids to share it with…

For those of you near Avalon in Sydney, Lesley Gibbes will be reading and signing copies of the books at the Avalon Community Library on July 7 at 10.30am.  RSVP to the library.

Miss Mae’s Saturday

Miss Mae's Saturday
Miss Mae’s Saturday

Miss Mae’s Saturday

Justine Flynn


Random House Australia, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


It is a well-known fact, perhaps even a universal truth, that grandmas are the BEST.  And Miss Mae’s grandma is no exception.  Each Saturday she comes to visit and off they go to the ballet and the zoo and all those other wonderful places that grandmas take their granddaughters.  But THIS Saturday is different.  Grandma comes, as usual, but the weather is wet and nasty and not nice for being outdoors.  Miss Mae is disappointed and even moreso when all that Grandma brings is a large cardboard box and it’s EMPTY!  What use is an empty cardboard box?

Well, as well as being awesome, grandmas are also wise.  It comes with our advancing years and experience and Miss Mae’s grandma is no different.  She knows that a cardboard box can become anything and take you anywhere if you fill it with your imagination, rather than stuff.  And so Miss Mae and her grandma set off around the world on the most exciting adventure…  In fact, it’s so good that when they get home, Miss Mae can’t wait for another wet Saturday!

With this weekend’s weather forecast for the eastern states, could this story be better timed?  Even if it’s not possible for grandma to visit, how much fun is a cardboard box?  Even babies know that boxes and wrapping are often more fun than the contents! 

This book needs to be tucked into your teacher’s toolbox (or into a large cardboard box) to be brought out when the weekend forecast is not for sunny, play-outside weather.  Spark the children’s imagination by asking them where the box is going to take them this weekend and have them draw and talk about their adventures.  I can envisage the most exciting wall display of the responses!  And if like Miss Mae’s grandma, you suggest the destination – perhaps a country or a time period about to be the focus of a formal study – and have the students write what they know already then you have a wonderful way of setting a pre-test without anxiety or angst.

Imagination, and grandmas, are magical.

Meet… Don Bradman

Meet...Don Bradman

Meet…Don Bradman









Meet…Don Bradman

Coral Vass

Brad Howe

Random House Australia, 2016

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


The latest in this excellent series of biographies for younger readers focuses on Don Bradman who is regarded by so many as Australia’s greatest cricketer – so much so that there was a question about him in the first version of the test that those aspiring to be Australian citizens have to answer. 

Born in Cootamundra on August 27 1908, Bradman spent his early years practising his batting by hitting a golf ball with a cricket wicket against the family’s rainwater tank.  As it bounced off the curves of the sides in all directions, he hit it again and again and again.  (The noise must have driven those round him nuts!)  At the age of 12 he went to Sydney with his dad to see an Ashes match and there the dream was born … one day he would play on that ground.  By then, the family was living in Bowral, NSW and he was the scorer for the local senior team, sometimes even playing for them.

But when he turned 14 and left school he was too old for the school team and too young for the senior team so he turned to tennis instead.  But cricket was his love and as soon as he was old enough he returned to it … continuing the journey that would make him a household name even for non-cricket loving people and have him named by the Wisden Cricketers Almanack (the cricketers bible) as the greatest cricketer of the 20th century.

This is the 10th title 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. Telling the story of an ordinary person whose story and legacy live on well after their death, each adds an extra layer to an historical study and the accompanying teachers’ notes  open up new ideas for exploration.  Each tells a story rather than just providing clumps of facts and figures, and is suitable for newly-independent readers as well as for those for whom English is a struggle. They also provide a model for younger students for writing a biography providing a purpose for reading and research and demonstrate a story of courage, persistence, resilience and perseverance showing the reader that these are the qualities needed for success.

The question about Bradman may have been replaced in the citizenship test but nevertheless, his name is one that is soon learned by every aspiring cricketer and one whose record they would love to emulate.


The Lost Sapphire

The Lost Sapphire

  The Lost Sapphire










The Lost Sapphire

Belinda Murrell

Random House Australia, 2016

315pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Fourteen-year-old Marli is mightily miffed that instead of spending her summer holidays on the Brisbane beaches with her friends, she is having to spend them with her Dad in Melbourne while her mother takes up a temporary lecturing post at Cambridge University in England.  What will there be to do in a city she doesn’t know with a dad she hardly sees and who works such long hours, and where she knows no one else apart from her ageing grandfather Didi?  How can she miss out on the parties, picnics, movies and beach trips that her Brisbane school mates would be enjoying? Spending time with her dad on a construction site in Melbourne wasn’t her idea of how the long school break should be spent.

But within 24 hours life changes for Marli because her grandfather has some astonishing news.  They have inherited an abandoned mansion – one that has been in the government’s hands for 90 years but with no funds for its upkeep, is about to be handed back to the family.  Riversleigh sits on the banks of the Yarra in peaceful, leafy Hawthorn – just across the river from bustling, crowded Richmond where Marli is staying – and was owned by her great, great grandfather who disowned his daughters for not sticking to traditional ways in the 1920s. Even though it is derelict, boarded up and its gardens overgrown its former beauty remains apparent and Marli is immediately captivated.  She is determined to find out more.

Monday morning comes and bored already, Marli decides to cycle back to Riversleigh for another look… not knowing she is cycling into her family history and a fascinating adventure with a boy named Luca that not only keeps her intrigued for the whole holidays but makes her want to live in Melbourne.  How do an iron key on a faded velvet ribbon, a hatbox beautifully decorated with peacocks, and an old camera bring about such change? What is the significance of the sapphire ring?

This sixth story in Belinda Murrell’s timeslip series takes the reader into the life of Melbourne in the 1920s as we meet the privileged Violet and Imogen trying to stay afloat after the loss of their brothers in World War 1 and the subsequent death of their mother from grief; their distant, traditional, patriarchal father who owns Hamilton’s Gloves and is very much a symbol of the upper class clinging to old values and old ways; Sally the maid and her family who live in the slums of Richmond and epitomise the working class of the time; and the enigmatic Nikolai, a Russian émigré, now chauffeur, who has his own secret story to tell. And in cahoots with her is Luca, the young lad from the Italian family in the apartments built next door whose connections to Riversleigh are as strong as Marli’s and who also has a story to tell.  

Slipping easily between then and now, and weaving all the threads into a seamless tapestry tied together by the beautiful blue wren whose family would seem to be as tied to the house as that of the other characters, this is a story of different ways of life in different times that are so intricately bound by the decisions and actions of a distant generation, the reader is prompted to reflect on what was done 100 years ago that continues to shape their own life now. How has society changed so that we have the juxtaposition of Violet’s increasing distance from her father against Marli’s increasing closeness with hers?    How does Violet’s determination to break free of the old rules enable Marli to enjoy her present day freedoms?

I savoured this book and didn’t want it to end – as I have with all the titles in the series.  So much so that I’m going to buy the collection for Miss Nearly 12 who now has the background knowledge of this country’s history to be able to explore it further through the lives of the modern characters who will resonate with her and take her back into the childhoods of those who have gone before.

Whether she is writing for a younger audience in her wonderful Lulu Bell series or for the Year 5+ age group, Belinda Murrell has the ability to craft fascinating stories that engage even old readers like me. Even though it is beyond the parameters of the age group I usually review for, this is such a great series that it needs to be known.  If the girls in your care have not yet met her, introduce them now!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sitting comfortably?

  Are you sitting comfortably?










Are you sitting comfortably?

Leigh Hodgkinson

Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., hbk. RRP $A25.99


Hello there!

Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sure?

Have you found the perfect snuggle-up-and-lose-yourself-in-a-book place?

Or is it buzz-buzzy, or growly, itchy, fuzzy? Perhaps there are hoots or giant stomping boots or maybe even…it’s hot, cold or up a tree!  The little chap in this book is not doing so well in finding the perfect place to sit and read his book, which is all he wants to do, but in the end he discovers it doesn’t really matter where you sit, there is something much more important!

This is a delightful story that will charm young readers with its rhyming language that is so much fun on the tongue and quirky pictures that are so critical to the text.  The range of chairs and their ‘accompaniments’ will spark their imagination and there is such scope for talking about what different sorts of chairs might attract as well as favourite places to read.  Having the children then draw a chair, decorate it and talk about who might also like it would be a great extension activity offering personal input and ownership that would make this more than a one-off read.  Or perhaps a chair is not their favourite spot to read.  Have them talk to you about where is and maybe bring in a photo of them in their special spot. Seeing others read always validates the time they spend doing it.

And really, what could be more important than a comfy place to read your book?  The answer will spark even more discussions about reading and the magic it provides.

The author was the art director on the popular Charlie and Lola series and her eye for design, detail, pattern and colour shines through in every picture.  It is easy to see that she had the illustrations in her mind’s eye as she crafted the text, such is the seamless marriage between the two.

The muted palette of its cover might not catch the eye but open it up and there’s a magical world in there! Perfect for busy teacher librarians who want to know a little more about those in their care.