Archive | July 2016

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection







Charlie and the Chocolate Factory






Roald Dahl

Puffin, 2016

pbk., RRP $A16.99

On September 13, 1916 one of the greatest children’s authors of all time was born and in just 43 days there will be great celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.  There are many events planned, particularly in the UK but to mark the occasion here, Penguin Random House have relaunched a number of his most popular books, bringing the works of this word wizard into the world of a new generation.

Originally written in 1964 and already over 50 years old, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is arguably the best-known of Dahl’s creations having been made into a movie in both 1971 (under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and in 2005. It was also converted to an opera The Golden Ticket in 2010 and a musical in 2013.  It is the story of poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket who wins one of five golden tickets (along with Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregard) to visit the mysterious, magical chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willie Wonka and the adventures that befall them. 

Matilda is the story of child genius Matilda Wormwood who loves to read and study but who is regarded by her ignorant, self-absorbed family as a freak and a scab.  This does not deter her in any way for she is smart enough to see them for what they are.  It also features the lovely Miss Honey and the frightening, stereotypical principal Miss Trunchbull who has her own reasons for being so nasty that the children live in fear of her.  This has also been made into both a movie and a musical. (Tickets to the Brisbane production of this are part of the Readathon prize)

In 1982, Dahl wrote The BFG introducing us to Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, a host of very unfriendly giants and his wonderful way with words that speak directly to his audience.  Few children would not know what a whizzpopper is and be able to explain its cause and effect  particularly after the release of the movie that was such a hit in the recent school holidays.

Dahl’s writing career spanned five decades and during that time he brought love and laughter, mystery, mayhem and magic into the lives of millions – telling stories that engage adults as much as children.  These three are just a tiny portion of those he wrote and having been translated into 55 languages, there would be few who would not know of his genius and had a little light brought into their lives because of it.  Publishers Penguin Random House have launched a readathon competition to celebrate this milestone but for me, it will be about sharing my favourite story (George’s Marvellous Medicine) with Miss 5 whom I know is going to make a reading friend for life

Meet… Nellie Melba

Meet... Nellie Melba

Meet… Nellie Melba









Meet… Nellie Melba

Janeen Brian

Claire Murphy

Random House Australia, 2016

32pp., hbk., $24.99


Many of us, and our students, will have tasted the traditional dessert consisting of vanilla ice cream, sugary peaches, and raspberry sauce and known as Peach Melba.  It was created by famous French chef Auguste Escoffier to honour his friendship with the world-renowned opera singer Dame Nellie Melba who wowed the world with her singing as the 19th century turned over into the 20th.  But while her name is now featured on restaurant menus around the world, her life began very differently.

Helen ‘Nellie’ Porter Mitchell  was one of those children whose lives are incomplete without music.  When she wasn’t playing the piano, she loved to sing and wherever she went she either whistled or hummed.  But in the mid-19th century it wasn’t proper for girls to sing in public and so her father restricted her to singing for friends, church and charities, even though Nellie had bigger dreams than that.  But even without her father’s rules, she would have had limited opportunities because Edison was yet to invent the means to record sound and with Australia’s isolation, opera companies did not visit. 

After the death of her mother and sister, she moved to Queensland with her father where she married and had a son.  But her singing was always her primary love and she returned to Melbourne determined to carve a career for herself, despite her lack of money and freedom. She persuaded her husband to move to England with her when her father took a job there, but her success was not instant.  It was not until she auditioned for Madame Mathilde Marchesi in Paris that her talent was recognised and the career of Australia’s first renowned opera singer, the “Australian nightingale” began to flourish… Drawing on her home town for her stage name, Nellie Melba soon became a household name in high society in huge demand. Through determination, her dreams had come true.

But she did not forget her roots and was determined that everyone, regardless of income or status, should be able to hear her so when she toured Australia the ticket prices were the same for everyone.  She brought opera to people who would never had heard it otherwise.

In this latest addition to this fantastic series which brings the lives of those who shaped Australia to life for young readers, Janeen Brian has captured the essence of Melba perfectly portraying a young girl with a dream and the determination to achieve it.  Right from the beginning when Nellie’s father tells her to stop whistling because she “sounds like a tomboy”, she hits on humming as a compromise.  Unlike others of her time, being married and having a family is not enough for her and she is a single mum at a time when such a status is totally shunned and her divorce in 1900 would have sent lesser women into hiding. Against such odds, made even greater by the rigid society of the times, she perseveres and triumphs – a role model in resilience that stands tall for today’s young girls.

From such a rich life that spanned 69 years and a wealth of material available, Brian has picked those elements that show that spirit that drove her on to do and achieve that which was an innate part of her and woven them into a very readable story that makes the reader want to keep reading to find out how she conquered the obstacles. It’s a story of dreams, hope and strength of mind and character that will lift any reader up.  Claire Murphy has captured the author’s words well, particularly when she contrasts Nellie’s father’s perspective with Nellie’s dream.

Made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her fundraising efforts during World War I, Nellie’s contribution to Australia was so significant she is commemorated on the current $100 note..  It also makes her a worthy subject for this series and very definitely an important chapter in Australia: Story Country.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock










Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Robert Favretto

David Eustace

Ford Street, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781925272253 (hbk)

9781925272260 (pbk)

Deep in the Black Forest nestles the village of Schoenwald, frozen in time – but a somewhat chaotic time for there were no clocks and people did things when they felt like it (or remembered) rather than according to hands making a particular pattern on a numbered face.  One day a weary cuckoo lands in a pine tree and is dismayed to see the disorder and disarray in the village and so the next morning, and every morning after that, this natural time-keeper for Nature sang out.  What a difference this regular greeting made.  Until one night a huge storm brought the cuckoo’s pine tree crashing down and the cuckoo was blown off the mountain and way down into the valley…

Superbly illustrated in a calm palette and with intricate detail (including a hidden egg on each page)  that draw the reader into this isolated village in a beautiful part of the world, this is a perfect story for introducing children to the concept of time and the need to have some order and continuity in our lives.  Little ones will have lots of fun imagining what would happen at home or school if everyone could do what they liked when they liked and I can imagine two contrasting murals being created with each child contributing a vignette.  Having explored the world of no-time, they could then be introduced to the vocabulary of time – before, after, during, now, then, soon, morning, afternoon, evening, night, dusk, dawn, first, next, last – and the skills of sequencing.  Those wanting greater challenges could explore how and why the day is divided into the chunks it is; time zones; time pieces;  what they can achieve in a given period of time… Time is the most abstract concept to teach but it is the one that is most prevalent in our lives.  To have such a unique story and such stunning illustrations to kickstart its investigation is such a gift.

Students could also have lots of fun enacting a storm (complete with sound effects) so fierce that the cuckoo was blown away as well as predicting what will happen to the village.  How could the problem be solved? what role might Franz, the village craftsmen have in that?

The sound of the cuckoo might be unfamiliar to some so they could listen to it and discuss why it might be preferable to that of a rooster as a wake-up sound.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’ as well as setting up a bird-watching station and identifying the common and seasonal birds which visit the school playground.  And of course, there is always the old favourite round, Within the Shady Thicket

Maths, science, history, music and English outcomes could all be explored in this one title.

Further teaching notes are available.


Macavity’s Not There

Macavity's Not There

Macavity’s Not There











Macavity’s Not There

T. S. Eliot

Arthur Robins

Faber & Faber, 2016

16pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


In 1939, T.S. Eliot wrote his iconic Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats which became the foundation for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. Within that collection, is a poem which begins

Macavity’s a mystery cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw…

For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime–Macavity’s not there!

 It goes on…

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in

 Drawing on those two lines as the starting point and the constant refrain of the original of “Macavity’s not there” , Arthur Robins has again relied on the poem to create a wonderful lift-the-flap book encouraging young children to investigate just where this elusive cat might be.  Is he in the bedroom? The bathroom? Perhaps the kitchen? Maybe the rabbit hutch?  Ahhh- there he is!  Why didn’t we think of there in the first place?

Using very distinctive illustrations, Robins brings Macavity to life just as he did in his 2014 version of the original poem by T.S. Eliot.  But as well as engaging the young listener is the fun of discovering Macavity’s whereabouts, enticing them to suggest other places to look before turning the page, it’s a wonderful opportunity to explore language associated with cats – perhaps based on their observations of their own.  Are they always sweet, playful fluffy kittens or can they be mischievous, cunning, aloof, even fierce?  Using the cover picture, which words would they use to describe Macavity?  Can you take a photo of a cat they know and surround it with vocabulary?  Can you do a comparison chart between their cat, Macavity and other cats in literature?

Building their language and broadening their concepts about cats will be a great bridge to sharing the Robins’ version of the original and then travelling on to his Mr Mistofolees  and Skimbleshanks  so they can savour the beauty of the rhyme and rhythm of Eliot’s creations, marvel at his ability to tell a story and paint a picture in so few words and maybe even enjoy a performance of Cats. At the very least, they will be introduced to some superb poetry that may linger with them throughout their lives, as it has with me!

Little Why

Little Why

Little Why











Little Why

Jonny Lambert

Little Tiger Press, 2016

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



Tucked in the back, in-between the legs of the elder elephants, Little Why is supposed to walk in line and stay out of harm’s way.  But it is a big, new world out there with lots of new things to see.  Things such as Wildebeest’s spiny-spiky special horns.

“Wow!” he gasps.  I need some spiny-spiky special horns like those!.  I would look super-duper scary!  I would charge this way and that.  Could I have some spiny-spiky special horns?”

“No”, he is told and ordered back into line.  But it’s hard to stay in line when you spot a giraffe with long-lofty leggy legs that would be good for reaching the highest leaves, or a cheetah with speedy-spotty, fuzzy fur or a crocodile with a snippy-snazzy snout!  Even a near miss doesn’t stop him but he does stay in line, even though he has the sulks…

This is a charming variation on a common theme of stories for little children – that they are special and perfect just the way they are – but Little Why with his constant asking of “Why?’ is so resonant of a young pre-schooler that is has instant appeal.  And who hasn’t fallen in love with images of baby elephants waddling in and out of their parents’ legs as they take their first steps.  The illustrations are detailed and their collage-like structure gives them texture and depth, with the expressions bringing the animals and text to life. There is also the added detail of two little insects to discover on each page as well as Little Why’s constant companion, a little blue bird who keeps a careful eye on him. Little ones will appreciate the perspective of Little Why looking up at the world, just as they do.

This is another story that, as well as having having that oft-used theme that is essential to a healthy self-esteem and sense of self-worth , has the sort of language, rhythm and repetition that little listeners love and delight in exploring for themselves. 

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake










Penelope Perfect: The Truly Terrible Mistake

Chrissie Perry

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.95


Penelope Kingston (aka Penelope Perfect) has made a terrible mistake.  When she answered the questions on the maths test, she missed five of them on the back of the page!!  Not only does that mean she might not get an A  on her report card (and thus the admiration and another $20 from her absent father) but she has also received the same mark as Joanna, the “naughty girl’ in the class who is much more adept at blowing spitballs than academics.  Penelope is devastated, especially when Ms Pike refuses to let her take the test again!

But she sees a way to redeem her grades (which seem to be her motivation and on which her entire self-worth is based) through excelling in the drama competition instead.  In fact she has already written a play that will put them ahead of the other groups, but then her drama teacher Mr Salmon mixes up the groups and instead of her usual crew, Penelope now has Joanna in her group – and Joanna most definitely has her own ideas!

Penelope turns to her beloved grandfather for advice – as she often does, particularly when she feels the loud, bossy, angry twin of her Gemini personality rising – and he gives her the cryptic message to “colour outside the lines”.  So will she be able to work as a team member and shine in the play or will her wilfulness and need to be perfect (in her eyes) destroy all her relationships? Is even her new best friend Bob deserting her?

Girls from Years 2-6 will be able to empathise with the plights of the characters in this story, whether they are a Penelope, a Joanna, or a peace-maker Bob.  Personally, I would have liked to have seen Penelope get a greater understanding of the reasons behind Joanna’s behaviours, but perhaps that just me with my adult-teacher hat on, and not seeing things through the eyes of Miss 10 who was eager to re-read the series and then devoured this new one on her recent visit.  I reviewed the first three earlier this year and it says a lot about how they resonated with Miss Now-10 that as she dug through the pile of new books on her bed, that this was her first choice to read. 

Reading series plays an important part in the reading development of our students because they have already internalised much about the characters and the setting so they can devote their attention to more complex plots so to have another one that appeals to those in-between readers to add to the collection is a bonus.  Miss 10 and I did have a discussion about whether Penelope should measure her worth in grades and whether that was the only reason her dad loved her, as well as what she thought about Joanna and whether there were ‘Joannas’ in her class and how she might reach out to them, which is the beauty of us both usually reading the same books, but even without that shared-reading element, this is a series I can recommend.

The Truth According to Arthur

The Truth According to Arthur

The Truth According to Arthur










The Truth According to Arthur

Tim Hopgood

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2016

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


What do you do when you know you’ve done the wrong thing and you know you’re going to be in BIG TROUBLE when mum finds out?

Arthur has ridden his big brother’s bike, which he knows he not allowed to do, and he’s bumped into his mother’s car and left a big blue mark on it.  He and Truth are not best buddies right now because he is afraid of what will happen when his mum finds out.  So when his friend Noah asks him what happened, Arthur bends Truth just a little.  Noah tells him he thinks Arthur’s mum will be really cross which is not what Arthur wants to hear so when his friend Lula asked him, he stretches Truth instead.  But that didn’t work either so he tries covering Truth up, disguising it, even hiding it – but no matter what he did, Truth just kept popping up in his face.  Even ignoring it wasn’t very successful – and then Arthur hears his mum calling him!  Uh-oh!

We know little children tend to fib because they are afraid of the consequences of their actions but often the fibs get them into more strife.  This is a fresh look at this common predicament that will help Arthur and the children understand that no matter what they try to do, Truth is going to pop up anyway and often telling the truth immediately and taking responsibility is much more rewarding.  The torment of having the lie discovered is not worth the agony of waiting for it to be so.

With its distinctive illustrations and close-to-home storyline, young children will relate to this tale very well. Before the ending is revealed –will Arthur tell the truth or not – the reader is asked to predict what Arthur will do and then challenged to consider what they would do so it offers a superb opportunity to reflect and discuss both options and consequences. A unique book with lots of scope to delve deeper.

Wolfish Stew

Wolfish Stew

Wolfish Stew










Wolfish Stew

Suzi Moore

Erica Salcedo

Bloomsbury, 2016

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



There once was a rabbit whose name was Grey

And he went to the woods to pick berries one day.

With a basket in had he skipped along

As he skipped down the path, he sang this song.

“I must stick to the path, I must stay on the trail.

I must always look out for the BIG BUSHY TAIL.’

But Grey is so busy looking for the big bushy tail he forgets to look for the wolf’s other bits – his knees, his snout and his feet!

This is a catchy story-in-rhyme that will entertain and engage young readers as they follow Grey through the woods and try to spot the wolf and warn the carefree rabbit that there is danger nearby.  Wolves, woods and vulnerable creatures have been the source of children’s stories since the days of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs and there seems to be no end to their mean, sneaky, cunning ways.  Very young readers soon learn that if there is a wolf in the story then that means trouble for the hero and they will delight in trying to spot Blue in the colourful, detailed pictures and shout out the warnings to Grey, just as the narrator does. Tension rises when a knife and fork are spotted and the wolf’s intention is made very clear.

Young children love stories where the hero and villain are obvious, they can take sides to cheer them on, warn them of danger and celebrate when good triumphs over evil – especially when it comes in a superbly-crafted surprise ending as it does in this story.  Older minds might question whether the wolf was just doing what wolves do, and through an examination of similar tales, investigate whether wolves deserve the bad rap they have but younger ones will just love the way they can interact and enjoy this rollicking story-in-rhyme.

The greatest gift we can give our little ones is the pleasure and wonderment of story through engaging plots, stunning illustrations and a joyful use of language.  Wolfish Stew meets all those criteria.

The Other Christy

The Other Christy

The Other Christy











The Other Christy

Oliver Phommavanh

Puffin, 2016

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99



For the last three years at Cabravale Primary, Christy Ung has been in the same class as Christie Owens.  Even though they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different.  Loud, brash, attention-seeking it girl Christie Owens is the opposite of shy, quiet, friendless Cambodian Christy – so much so that she has been dubbed “The Other Christy’.

All Christy wants is to have a friend, someone to bake treats for, someone who doesn’t see her as a ‘spare Christy’ and calls her anything but ‘The Other Christy’. But it doesn’t happen.  If her class were the solar system, Christie Owens would be the sun, her friends the planets, and Christy is Pluto.  She views herself as a meteorite floating around the school, spending her time in the Quiet Quad with the other meteorites who find it tricky to make friends for one reason or another.

She is made to feel even more isolated when she is the only person in the class who doesn’t receive an invitation to Christie’s party but even though her own birthday is just a week later she doesn’t feel she can invite people to her home because her Grandpa whom she lives with has a germ phobia and most of Christy’s home time is spent cleaning.  However, her dead mother’s sister has married an Australian and lives nearby so Christy is able to escape some times, learning to bake the most scrumptious treats.  It is Christy’s baking skills that bring a huge change in her life as she takes her birthday cake into school – a triple chocolate cheesecake that sets off a chain of events that Christy could not have foreseen.  Not only does she start to build friendships (although she doesn’t recognise them at the time) Christie becomes her BFF!  But, as is the way of friendships with this age group it has to survive and overcome several hurdles as both girls learn a lot about themselves and others on the way.

This is an engaging and entertaining read that reflects so much of what happens in Year 5 and 6 as friendships wax and wane, ebb and flow, include and exclude, as the children gradually move into adolescence and independence wanting to branch out on their own but needing the safety and solace of family.  Christy’s home life, built on a very different life in Cambodia that is gradually revealed, echoes that of many of our students who come here unable to speak English and having to overcome that as well as the cultural changes, let alone making friends in a situation where friendships were cemented in Kindergarten. 

Phommavanh says he has drawn on his experiences as a teacher and it is clear he was a very observant one as the dynamics of the relationships could be duplicated in almost any school in the country.   It is touching, sensitive and wholly realistic but mostly, it offers hope for those, who, like Christy, want nothing more than to have someone they can call a friend. It’s about staying true to yourself and your beliefs and trusting that who you are is enough. 













Trace Balla

Allen & Unwin, 2016

80pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99



Uncle Egg and Clancy are spending a lazy, languid afternoon on the Glenelg (Bugara) River which flows through the area we call The Grampians but which is known to its indigenous peoples as Gariwerd.  Clancy muses on where all the water is coming from and Uncle Egg suggests that they should find out.  But this adventure will be different to the previous one in Rivertime  where they took a canoe to the river’s mouth.  This time they will be heading upstream so they will have to walk and rockhop.  And this time, Clancy is much more enthusiastic, even prepared to walk to school in new boots every day so he can prepare for the journey.

Their journey begins at Budja Budja (Halls Gap), sleeping in a tent under the stars amongst the motorhomes, caravans and pop-tops, already suggesting an underlying theme of being at one with the world rather than manipulating it.  And just as in Rivertime, through detailed text and illustration in graphic novel format, we share Clancy’s journey, learning as he learns about the river’s story, its flora and fauna, its secret ways of enabling its ancient custodians to survive, and the prehistoric mountains it passes through.  It is an intimate account of his journey, not so much his self-realisation this time as it was in Rivertime but one of resilience, perseverance, self-reliance, respect and trust, particularly when Egg’s backpack falls into a ravine and Clancy is stranded halfway up the cliff.  He learns about the power and the gift of silence and solitude and the surprises and secrets Nature is willing to show us if we take the time to look and listen, and about his place in the universe.  Even when Egg rejoins him and while they are not lost –“just going a different way”- there are lessons to learn and gradually the relationship becomes one of two equals regardless of age, sharing something unique that teaches them more than they ever imagined. Going with the flow rather than the plan.

This really is a story about the journey being as important as the destination.

“That’s just it.

I’m not going anywhere, or trying to find anything. I’m just being here.”

And that message of enjoying the moment we are in is perhaps the most important of all. 

There is an interview with Trace Balla on the CBCA Reading Time site  which explains the authenticity of the story and how she enables the reader to be embraced by the serenity and beauty just as Egg and Clancy are.  In my review of Rivertime I wrote, “ It’s not just the story of Clancy and Egg and their journey, but a calming, almost meditative, read for the reader. The format of the comic strip with individual panels not only reflects the pace of the dogged, uphill climb but also ensures the reader slows down to enjoy the surroundings just as Clancy and Egg do. Often when we pick up a picture book we just skim read it just as we can “skim read” our daily lives because we don’t think we have time to delve deeper and really appreciate and value what we have, but as you get into this story it drags you in, just as it did Clancy, until you become absorbed and oblivious to the distractions around you.”  And so it is with Rockhopping.  It’s a book that deserves every minute you put into reading it but ensure you have lots of minutes so you can savour it to its core.

The epitome of Australia: Story Country.