Archive | September 2016

small things

Small Things

Small Things










small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99



Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…


Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.


Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline 13 11 14

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off

The Great Dragon Bake-Off










The Great Dragon Bake-Off

Nicola O’Byrne

Bloomsbury, 2016

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



Flamie Oliver was a dragon – and especially enormous, terrifying dragon.  So enormous and terrifying, in fact, that he was invited to the Ferocious Dragon Academy, a special school for dragons who were very, very, good at being very, very bad.  But Flamie had a secret – he was very, very bad at being very, very bad BUT he was very, very, good at baking.  

He loved pastries and breads and cupcakes and cakes and was an expert at creating the most delicious treats.  He spent so much time practising and perfecting his creations that he forgot to practise his dastardly dragon skills and when the finals day he came, he was not ready.  While his classmates Heston Blowitall, Scaly Berry and Paul firewood performed their death-defying deeds, which pleased Miss Puffitup immensely, Flamie failed.  And so the only way to graduate is for Flamie to kidnap a princess and eat her!

Flamie had no problem kidnapiong the princess, but how do you eat something like that?  Which are the best flavour combinations to make her palatable? How can Flamie get out of this pickle? what did he do that means he is the star of Miss Puffitup’s Brilliant Baking Academy?

Cooking shows abound on television and while their target audience may not be the same as that for this book, nevertheless young listeners and readers will delight in the humour and understand the conundrum that Flamie has – and their parents and carers sharing the story with them will appreciate the clever play on both the names but also the inspiration, the Great British Bake-Off. While the illustrations and the dastardly deeds seem to confirm the stereotype that little ones have of dragons, it is Flamie’s difference that is at the core of the story.  Even though he keeps his passion and skills a secret at first, it is these which come to the fore and are celebrated and he and his young audience learn that it takes all kinds and it’s OK to be different.  Having the courage to be yourself is the most important trait of all.

Full of fun and colour, action and movement this is another winner from Nicola O’Byrne who also gave us the fabulous Use Your Imagination and illustrated the tender  My Little Star.  And to keep the enjoyment going there is a postcard and an activity pack to download.



The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon









The Cow Tripped over the Moon

Tony Wilson

Laura Wood

Scholastic Press, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $24.99



Hey diddle diddle

You all know the riddle

A cow jumps over the moon.

It happened, all right,

On a crisp, cloudless night

On the second-last Friday in June.

But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.

As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moan soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.

But what they don’t say in the songs from that day

Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.

It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…

And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.

The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”.  She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred.  Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed.  Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…

It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards.  As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days.  By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed.  They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.

But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.

“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.”  Steptember, 2016

Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births.  Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth.  It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.

But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.

There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember.  Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.

Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book.  I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.

Chosen as the feature book for National Simultaneous Storytime 2017 .

Grandpa’s Big Adventure

Grandpa's Big Adventure

Grandpa’s Big Adventure











Grandpa’s Big Adventure

Paul Newman

Tom Jellett

Penguin Viking, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


“I’m afraid of the water . . . but Grandpa loves it, and he’s teaching me to swim”

And to help him overcome his fears, Grandpa tells him all about his biggest adventure -the time he swam around the world.  Covered in grease which drove Grandma crazy, holding a big plastic bag to keep things dry and taking sweets to eat and tea to drink, Grandpa swam all day long but rested at night because that’s when you bump into things.  Dealing with sharks, dining with the Prince of Wales and trying to beat the fish to the answers to the quiz shows on television, Grandpa had all sorts of tales to tell as they go up and down the pool, getting better and better without really knowing it. Distraction is a very effective way to overcome fear!

This is a wonderful story that is such a great example of the tall tales that grandpas are allowed to tell their grandchildren without being discredited.  Tom Jellett’s illustrations turn the text into a truly believable adventure and highlight the clever word play which adds humour and fun to this extraordinary feat.  

Little ones will enjoy it and will be asking their grandpas what they did when they were young.  It would be a tall tale indeed to beat this one – unless it was about going to the moon.

Oh, Albert

Oh, Albert

Oh, Albert









Oh, Albert

Davina Bell

Sara Acton

Penguin Viking 2016

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


Albert is one of those dogs – a lovable golden labrador puppy with a voracious appetite for everything, regardless of whether it is ‘official’ dog food or not.  Each day, when no one is around he finds something that grabs his attention and as is the manner of dogs, explores it by eating it.  Taste is not an issue – pink ribbons, red flags, white cords, green swim goggles, a black bike helmet – they are all part of Albert’s diet, much to the family’s frustration and threats.  Until on Saturday he eats something dogs should NEVER  eat – chocolate!

As they sit at the vet hoping he will pull through, the family begin to realise what Albert means to them and regret their hasty comments.  But whether Albert pulls through and whether he learns his lesson is an ending for the reader to discover…

This is a captivating story that is so full of riches, not the least of which is how Albert would feel if he were human and all he heard were negative remarks.  Because each double spread only shows the times when Albert’s appetite has got him into trouble you wonder if that is the only time this busy family with their pilates, ballet, swimming, school, bike-riding and so on notice him.  Is he doing this stuff for the attention he craves? Do we only notice and attend to the things our children,our students or our pets do wrong, rather than acknowledging the 99% of the time they bring us love and joy? are we so busy being busy that we forget why we had the children or got the pet in the first place? Do we only stop to reflect when there is a crisis? Hmmm…

Davina Bell’s text is perfect for engaging the young reader in early-reading behaviours.  It has a repetitive refrain that encourages the child to join in (and consolidate their knowledge of the days of the week) and Sara Acton’s pictures invite prediction of not only what Albert will eat but how that will impact on the ‘victim’.  Focusing on the essential storyline with white space instead of extraneous detail, little people will be able to read this to themselves easily, able to work out what happens as they turn each page – but hearing the words will add so much more to the experience that they will want it over and over.  It will move from first-read to familiar to favourite very quickly. It is a cumulative story so each episode leads into the next in a way that is really cohesive so there is also the opportunity to talk about cause and effect.  If you leave your swimming goggles where Albert can eat them, how will you cope at swimming the next day?

But mostly this is a story of the unconditional love we have for our pets and readers, adult and child, will be able to put themselves into the story sparking memories that can be shared and drawn. . Maybe everyone and everything will get an extra hug today.

Miss 5 is going through a ‘dog phase’ and this is one she is going to adore.


The Big Flood

The Big Flood

The Big Flood









Juliet Nearly a Vet: The Big Flood

Rebecca Johnson

Kyla May

Puffin, 2016

84pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Juliet and her best friend Chelsea love animals, and Juliet KNOWS she will be a vet.  Problem is, she’s only ten years old so she has a bit of time before she can go to university and start the study.  But she’s getting a head start by helping her mum in her veterinary practice, keeping her vet diary meticulously and making sure her emergency kit is always on hand. Chelsea is also an animal fanatic but her dream is to be a world famous trainer and groomer. 

In this, the 11th in this series, Juliet and Chelsea are involved in rescuing a variety of creatures after rain has deluged the land and left it flooded.  The first task is to get their neighbours’ alpacas to higher ground and while the cria goes willingly on the boat, its hembre (mother) is a little more hesitant.  Once that task is complete, they head for home but Juliet is sure she spots movement on an island and wants to stop. However, her mother is anxious to get back to the surgery in case neighbours have brought in any emergencies and so Juliet is left frustrated.

She is determined to confirm what she saw and so with the help of Chelsea and her dad (who is afraid of animals, particularly mice) she sets off in Chelsea’s brother’s canoe to investigate.  And sure enough, there is a whole menagerie there including mice, lizards, stick insects and an echidna who is struggling to breathe.

This is a series that is loved by young girls who love animals and who are independent readers. The combination of strong, independent girls who are “clever, almost grownups” and animals mixed with a touch of humour is  unbeatable. It’s written by Rebecca Johnson who is the author of so many of those delightful junior non-fiction titles photographed and published by Steve Parish, and illustrated with cute pictures by Kyla May.  Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Juliet’s vet diary which actually include some interesting facts such as those about the alpacas and which could be a model for the other Juliets in the offing.  There’s also a quiz at the end of the book that enhances the learning.

All the books in the series are listed here. If your library doesn’t have them they are a worthwhile investment because they tick so many boxes for the Year 2-4 reader.

Look and Learn Fun

Look and Learn Fun

Look and Learn Fun


Look and Learn Fun





Bloomsbury, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

These are two of a series of activity and sticker books designed to help young children learn and consolidate the basic understandings of literacy and numeracy.  

While they do focus on those early childhood concepts and offer a range of activities for the child to complete, they do demand a certain level of fine motor skill development so that lines can be traced and small shapes coloured. While many of the activities are prescriptive there is stil the opportunity for some personal input and creativity Even though Miss 5 knows her colours and shapes, she still found them challenging and engaging and perfect for a wet afternoon when she was confined to bed with a nasty lurgy.  

Worth popping in the Santa sack.  

Australian Maths Dictionary

Australian Maths Dictionary

Australian Maths Dictionary











Australian Maths Dictionary

Judith de Klerk

Dorling Kindersley, 2016

128pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Maths has always been a critical subject that is embedded in every aspect of life, not just a regular timeslot in the class timetable..  It is receiving an even greater focus as the buzzword of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) sweeps across the curriculum.  Mastery of it is built on a spiral where one thing leads to another and another and another and if a basic is missed it can be difficult to fill the gap and the foundation can become shaky.

It is also, arguably, the subject that perplexes parents the most if it is sent home as a homework task because there is a perception that the way things are done now are not methods they are familiar with and the end result is frustration and a feeling of failure for both child and parent. The temptation to convince themselves they are no good at maths is so easy.

How much easier things would be if students had access to a maths dictionary in the same way they have access to a word dictionary; if they had access to a ready reference where they could look up a particular term and discover just what it is.  For example, what’s a scalene triangle and how is it different from an isosceles or equilateral one? If the problem tells the solver to ‘deduct’, what does that mean?  And what on earth is a “mixed number”?

This new publication from Dorling Kindersley is set out like a dictionary with clear definitions and diagrams and should be a must in every home and desk or tote tray.  While it doesn’t share particular processes, it does explain over 400 terms used in primary school mathematics and thus offers invaluable support to both children and parents in their quest to understand and master basic concepts, because not everything is possible on the calculator.  You need to have an idea of what you’re doing so you know the calculator is telling you the truth.  And it’s much quicker to access it than searching the Internet.

Definitely a publication to let teachers, parents and students know about.

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor's Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions










Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Andrew Weldon

Puffin, 2016

100pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Clever Trevor’s name is not really Trevor.  It’s Stuart.  But nothing rhymes with “Stuart” and because he is so clever – he invented and built the Rabbit Brain Booster out of his dad’s old computer and a car battery – his friends have renamed him Trevor.  

But for all his cleverness Trevor was still failing at school, especially this year with Mr Schmedric.  Nothing Trevor submitted for his assignments met Mr Schmedric’s expectations – but then Mr Schmedric was one of those teachers who thought there was only one way to do anything.  He won’t accept Trevor’s inventions as acceptable solutions for assignments and bullies him mercilessly. He is the epitome of a nightmare teacher – and thankfully one that no student will ever meet.  

So you can imagine Trevor’s shock when he discovers that Mr Schmedric is not only confiscating his projects but he was selling them… and making a lot of money, which he makes sure Trevor knows about.  So Trevor and his friends hatch a plot to get their own back, but Mr Schmedric is smarter than they give him credit for.  When he threatens to make Stuart repeat his class next year, they have to come up with a new plan…

This is another very funny book-length cartoon from the talented Andrew Weldon.  We first met Clever Trevor as a friend of Steven, The Kid with the Amazing Head,  and now he comes into his own.  It is an engaging tale which brings up all sorts of issues about the ethical use of information and ideas as well as the concept of power.  Can authority be misused?  Is it possible for the underdog to win? Can brains overcome brawn?

Younger readers, particularly the boys and those who are reluctant readers, will enjoy this story in its very accessible format and will be eagerly awaiting a new adventure from this talented creator. And in the meantime they can use the makerspace to create their own great invention!