Archive | November 2020

How To Make A Bird

How To Make A Bird

How To Make A Bird











How To Make A Bird

Meg McKinlay

Matt Ottley

Walker, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99


“To make a bird you will need a lot of very tiny bones.  They will be smaller than you imagine, some so tiny they are barely there, And they will be hollow, these hundreds of bones – so light that when they rest in your palm you will hardly feel them.”

So begins a haunting, almost ethereal, picture book that takes the reader through the process of how a bird is made – particularly timely for me as I watch our resident Father and Mother Magpie patiently raise this season’s twins.  Like them, the girl is also patient and extremely careful as she patiently adds all the other elements like the feathers (saving the longest for the wings and the tail) and a heart that will beat sure and steady to carry the bird across oceans and continents at the end of a long winter, eyes, beak , claws and a song to sing.  But just the physical stuff is not enough – it is having the courage to let go of what you have made so it can find its place in the world that is the final piece of the jigsaw.

This is a stunning book, beautifully illustrated in a soft, calming palette that emphasises the care and the patience needed to create anything, and it could be an allegory for any creative process.  First you have to have the mechanical, physical elements and the know-how of how they fit together, but it is having the faith to let others see and test your creation and offer feedback that takes it from being an object to something more. Just as the little girl sets her bird free to explore the wild blue yonder so that it can truly reach its potential as a bird, so have McKinlay and Ottley set their creations off into the unknown to be explored, accepted, appreciated or not.  Just as we encourage our kids to take what they know and be brave enough to transform it and test it in new situations.   Just as we raise our own children and our students the best we know how, we have to give them that ultimate freedom of independence and making their own way in the world.  Are we able to relinquish our control and just let go?

This is a story that can work on many levels for many ages.  It can help a little person understand how birds can defy gravity and fly even when they cannot  but it can also work on that allegorical level of knowing you have done all you can and taking that leap of faith. Comprehensive teachers’ notes demonstrate how it can be used across the ages, stages and curriculum.

It would not surprise me to see this among the award winners in the future. 

Pages & Co (series)

Pages & Co (series)

Pages & Co (series)














Tilly and the Bookwanderers 



Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales



Tilly and the Map of Stories


HarperCollins, 2018-2020

400+pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99



“From outside on the busy north London high street, Pages & Co looked like an entirely normal bookshop. but once inside it didn’t quite make sense how everything fitted inside its ordinary walls. The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different direction.  A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched into difficult-to-reach corners.  Tall arched windows above made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and danced on the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature- could often be found dozing in the warmest spots.  During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but at is was October, a fire was roaring there…”

Does this not conjure up every booklover’s dream of a magical place, a bookstore where magic and mysteries, adventures and escapades beckon?  And for it to be the home of Tilly who prefers the company of book characters to the people in real life and, although not having been outside London, is a seasoned traveller within the pages of the books that abound on the shelves just shouts that this is going to be a series for booklovers and readers that will deliver all that is expected and more.

But what if your favourite characters could not only come out of the books and have real-life conversations with you but could also take you back into the book to have your very own adventure within the story? Tilly discovers that this is part of her relationship with her books and that, unlike other series where it is a secret power, this one is shared by her family,  There is much more to her grandfather and grandmother and the family’s history and lives than she ever imagined. Bookwandering is what this family does, and it might explain the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the absence of her father.

Created for independent readers or perfect for classroom read-alouds, this is a series that really needs to be read from the first one in order so that the subsequent adventures have context but it will have the book lover hooked from the start, regardless of their age, and wishing they too could bookwander into the magical, mystical world of their favourite characters.  I just loved it!!! Once your students know about it they will be queuing up!


Wreck This Picture Book

Wreck This Picture Book

Wreck This Picture Book











Wreck This Picture Book

Keri Smith

Puffin, 2020

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Wreck This Picture Book seems like an odd title for a book, conjuring up images of scissors, crayons and sticky fingers working their worst. But rather it is an invitation to the reader to not treat a book as a holy grail to be placed under glass or left on the shelf untouched.

“A book becomes more beautiful and alive when it is explored regularly” changing each time the reader reads it because the reader themselves, has changed.  Yesterday’s read might have been in a peaceful calm place with the reader in a tranquil mood; today’s read the exact opposite. To be totally engaged with the story requires being totally engaged with the container it is in so we are encouraged to use all our senses to explore the book from listening to the sounds it makes to taking a deep sniff of its unique smell to leaving a secret message for the next reader.  Because it is what we bring to a book – our beliefs, attitudes, understandings and emotions – that bring it alive for us and make it memorable, or not. 

This book shows our readers that reading is not a passive activity that just involves decoding lines of text, but is one that requires involvement, reading between and beyond the lines not just along them and making connections and conversations.  It inspires you to think about how you read as well as what you read, and see that to-be-read pile as an opportunity for adventures a=plenty.


The Tree

The Tree

The Tree











The Tree

Graeme Base

Puffin, 2020

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


This is the story of a cow, a duck and a very big tree that has Cow’s favourite mooberries growing on its branches and Duck’s favourite mushquacks growling amongst its roots.  So Cow builds herself a castle high in the tree and pulls up the drawbridge so no one can get in, and Duck digs deep amongst the roots and secures his domain with a secret key.  They forget each other, each content in their own “fiefdom” and all appears well until one night a massive storm upends everything. Suddenly they rediscover each other and the jealousy and selfishness begins…

Whether it is a classic like Animalia or Uno’s Garden, a tale like The Last King of Angkor Wat or Moonfishor something for the younger readers like The Amazing Monster Detectoscope or Bumblebunnies, Graeme Base can be guaranteed to give the reader the most exquisitely illustrated story that has more layers than the bed in The Princess and the Pea!  This new story is no exception with so much to discover in the pictures and so much to discuss in the words., encapsulated in the final masterful illustration. For the tree is so much more than a home to a selfish cow and a greedy duck and the reader can spend hours getting lost in the worlds of it branches, trunk and roots, knowing that one cannot survive without the other and so it becomes a symbol for harmony, co-operation and sharing. But, sturdy and steadfast as it may seem, it is not indestructible .However, from its demise something just as precious emerges offering the one thing that keeps life going – hope for a better future.

Graeme Base has created such a fabulous body of work since he first gave us My Grandma Lives in Gooligulch   that, in my opinion, he is one of Australia’s master storytellers who deserves a very special place in our history of children’s literature. 

One for all ages.


Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather

Australia's Wild Weird Wonderful Weather

Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather












Australia’s Wild Weird Wonderful Weather

Stephanie Owen Reeder

Tania McCartney

NLA, 2020

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


According to my Facebook memories, 12 months ago it was snowing heavily here in the Snowy Mountains while there were 95 bushfires raging in the north of NSW, and we, ourselves, were evacuated just a few weeks later because of fires that had ignited here. The talk and news were constantly about the “worst drought in memory”, the heat and the continual and spreading threat of those fires.  And just as we thought that it would never end and we were doomed to breathing smoke-laden air forever, the rains came and places devastated by flames were now threatened with floods!

Regardless of the time of year, the weather in Australia is always a reliable topic of conversation and now two of my favourite creators have teamed together to offer an explanation for the phenomena for our younger readers.  Beginning with an explanation of whatever is weather, their combined writing and drawing talents have been used to explore the various elements of the weather, particularly in Australia so there is a greater understanding of the why, where, when and how of that which has such a bearing on our lives so that it is more than listening to the brief forecast on television or the BOM site. or being fascinated by the rain radars.  Living in the bush as I do, my favourite pages were Bush Forecasting that explain some of the behaviours and characteristics that we have come to notice and learn as the weather changes. Black cockatoos are always a welcome sign here.

Both Stephanie and Tania have drawn deeply on the resources of the National Library of Australia (luckily for them, it’s in their neighbourhood) and being a NLA publication the support materials for further exploration are very detailed. Even moreso though, is the module written to support the book as part of the NLA’s digital classroom   Aligned with the Australian Curriculum: Humanities and Social Sciences (Geography), and Science for Year 4, 5 and 6 students, it adopts an inquiry-based learning approach to develop students’ understanding of geographical and scientific processes relating to weather, environments, people and systems.

What more could you want?

The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book

The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book

The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book











The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book

Jennifer Cossins

Lothian Children’s, 2020

64pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


There may be only 26 letters in the alphabet but in this 64 page book there are more than 400 featured as Jennifer Cossins, creator of The Ultimate Animal Counting Book, introduces young readers to some of the creatures that inhabit this planet.  

Some are familiar and some not-so, but each is labelled and many have a sentence or two offering unique information about them which curious readers may wish to explore further. For example, unlike other big cats, snow leopards cannot roar. I wonder why! 



A peek inside....

A peek inside….

This is a dip-and-delve book that just calls for the reader to try to list as many creatures as they know starting with a particular letter before they turn to page to find what Cossins has included (or not)!  Who knew that there were at least 14 that started with Q?  My tally stopped at four – quetzal, quail, quoll and a quokka!

This is the perfect companion to her other offerings, including A-Z of Endangered Animals which was an Honour Book in the CBCA Eve Pownall Awards in 2017 and one that will have young readers poring over the pages as they discover new creatures to add to their knowledge bank. 



Tree Beings

Tree Beings

Tree Beings











Tree Beings

Raymond Huber

Sandra Severgnini

EK Books, 2020

96pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Look closely at the cover of this book.  Look closely at the bark of the tree and the gaps and spaces in between the branches and roots.  For there you will start to discover the purpose of this book, its importance to the planet and why so many people are passionate about their preservation, particularly those whose stories are told within. 

More than 30% of the planet is covered with forest providing clean air, pure water, shelter and employment for both people and animals but the rate of deforestation and degradation is alarming and changing the planet irrevocably.  With a foreword by Dr Jane Goodall , and a focus on four big ideas…

  • Trees give life to the planet.
  • Trees can help save us from climate change.
  • Trees are like beings.
  • Trees need our help and protection.

our children will learn about the value of trees and how essential they are to the healthy life and biodiversity of the planet. As well as understanding how trees give the Earth life, how they ‘talk’ and why they are our best allies in the fight to slow down climate change, readers will meet some of those who have devoted their lives to bringing attention to the plight of the forests and their preservation, the eccentric British professor who travelled the world for seventy years telling people how trees can save us. Written for independent readers in a style that draws them in and keeps them reading, and beautifully illustrated with diagrams, vignettes, close-ups all botanically correct, this is a stunning book that will be eye-opening to many. Trees are so much more than a home for a bird.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

And for those who want more, there is this clip from Gardening Australia that opens up even more understanding.

In a world where students are so aware of climate change, where they have seen the destruction of our bush from the Summer of Fire, where “environment” and “sustainability” are words that even our youngest know and understand and want to act on, this is a book for all ages that will offer yet another avenue of awareness that will allow them to make a difference. Maybe they will be inspired like the 9-year-old-boy who has a plan to plant a trillion trees to save the planet and start their own project!



Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew










Pirate Stew

Neil Gaiman

Chris Riddell

Bloomsbury, 2020

48pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Their parents are having a night out and so have hired a babysitter, but he is not your regular carer.

His hair was grey. His face was scarred.

Right leg a peg, left hand a hook.

He grinned a grin and said, “my card.”

It read

Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook.

Soon joined by others, each the quintessential stereotype of a pirate crew member, they set about feeding the children but it is no ordinary food they concoct.  They make pirate stew.

But rather than joining in the fun and games as all sorts of things are thrown into the pit, the children remain dubious, if not worried, , because if they eat the stew they will become pirates too. But nevertheless, a night of adventures lies ahead which gets even more interesting when their parents arrive home and hungry, devour the children’s bowls of uneaten pirate stew!

This is the most delightful tale from an author absolutely dedicated to getting children to read through entertaining stories, and so richly illustrated that it is impossible to summarise it in a few lines for a review.  Starting with two children who faces show what they think of their parents having a night out and who do not embrace the possibilities of having a pirate cook for a babysitter,  Gaiman’s rollicking rhyme and Riddell’s detailed illustrations offer an adventure that can be and demands to be read again and again and again. Just what was in those doughnuts?  The twist in the ending is unexpected and sets up a whole lot of opportunities for asking “what if…”.

Here’s a taste…

A wonderful opportunity for children and parents to find their treasure…. 


Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Combat Wombat to the Rescue










Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Gina Newton

Tiffanee Daley

Ford Street, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Combat Wombat, Wildlife Warrior of the Bush is fast asleep when he is woken by the other creatures, wanting to play. But there is no time to play because Combat Wombat’s super-sensitive nose, ears and paws have picked up some unmistakable signals – there is a bushfire on its way.  Quickly organising  his friends to be in charge of certain elements of safety, Combat Wombat leads them to Billabong Island where they will be safe.  Even though there are significant obstacles on the way he uses his special talents to overcome these until he gets to the river’s edge.  All the others can get across the water, but wombats are not built for leaping, flying or swimming.  Can he trust Bingo Dingo to get him there safely?

This is a story for younger readers that puts the plight of wildlife during a bushfire firmly in focus, particularly relevant given the events of last summer.  By using their special talents and working together, the creatures keep themselves safe, a lesson that goes beyond this particular situation. Much of the story is told in the artwork which is unique and Tiffanee Daley has shared her technique in this video.

Teachers’ notes offer a variety of ideas about how to use this book in the classroom with little ones but I believe they will enjoy it just for its own sake. I did.

Yorick and Bones

Yorick and Bones

Yorick and Bones










Yorick and Bones

Jeremy Tankard

Hermione Tankard

HarperCollins, 2020

144pp., pbk., RRP $A34.99


This is an hilarious story about a skeleton who is roused from his death when a hot dog vendor collides with a witch causing a potion she’s carrying to spill from her hands and seep into Yorick’s grave. He awakens, surprised to find he has slept so long that he has lost his memory until a dog digs him up. All that Yorick wants is a sausage and someone to share it with but while he finds the sausage easily enough, finding a friend is a harder task. 

Subtitled “The lost graphic novel by William Shakespeare”, this is a graphic novel for the upper end of the readership of this blog because the text has been written in Shakespeare’s language and iambic pentameter rhythm, making it one for those independent enough to cope with that.  At the same time, it may well capture older readers’ imagination, particularly those familiar with Shakespeare’s works as there are references that have been cleverly adapted throughout. 

Something different to offer those who declare that they have ‘read everything”.