Archive | February 2022

On The Origin of Species

On The Origin of Species

On The Origin of Species











On The Origin of Species

Sabrina Radeva & Charles Darwin

Puffin, 2022

56pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


On The Origin of Species has been the definitive explanation of the theory of evolution since it was first published in 1859. 

Pulling together Charles Darwin’s observations from his travels around the world and his groundbreaking – and controversial – explanation of how species form, develop and change over hundreds of thousands of years, On The Origin of Species is as relevant and important now as it ever was.

So, this first ever picture-book retelling of  Darwin’s work  through stylish illustrations and a simple, easy-to-understand text brings evolution to the younger generation. Interspersed with relevant quotes from Darwin himself, and accompanied by many illustrations, this is a sample explanation demonstrating its ease of access…

“For most of human history, many people believed that everything in the world was created all at once. They thought that plants. animals. and people were always the same as they were now. But there were a few clever and curious scientists [such as Georges-Louis de Buffon and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck] who challenged this idea… ” But it was the travels and studies of Charles Darwin whose work and theories have endured. “In his book, Darwin explains that species are groups of living things that look alike and can have babies together,  But even if they belong to the same species, no two animals are exactly the same.”  

Even for those who have different beliefs about life’s first beginnings, this is a must-have in the school library’s collection if we are to provide students with a variety of viewpoints, and it is the perfect adjunct to those books that I’ve reviewed so far this year that may have created a curiosity about this planet and its inhabitants…

Our Country: Ancient Wonders

BANG! The Story of How Life on Earth Began

Australian Backyard Naturalist 

Earth is Big

We are One: How the World Adds Up

Australian Backyard Explorer

The History of Everywhere

The Amazing Meals of Martha Maloney

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

Atlas of Amazing Migrations

Ouch! Tales of Gravity

The Same But Different

It also helps them understand all those books that have the “same but different” theme – having explored this work, they will understand the why that underpins the message. It encourages them to develop their own powers of observation and thus the discoveries they make so as well as comprehensive teachers’ notes , the endpapers also offer an immediate challenge. As well as the narrative, the book also includes an appendix (unusual in a primary-school text), a glossary and other elements that underpin the development of information literacy skills. 

 While, for some, this book may raise more questions than it answers, it is nevertheless an important addition to the library’s collection as we cater for those with a deep-seated curiosity about where they have come from. 

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow











An Eagle in the Snow

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

HarperCollins, 2016

272pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


November, 1940. Coventry has been bombed by the Germans and Barney and his mother have been left with nothing so they are on the train to London on their way to family and shelter in Cornwall.   But just as a neatly-dressed stranger enters their compartment, a lone Messerschmitt 109 begins strafing the train.  The engine driver makes a desperate dash to an upcoming tunnel, eventually stopping the train safely inside. 

But Barney is terrified of darkness and with no lights he can feel his panic rising.  The stranger has a box of matches but there are just five in it, and so, to distract Barney he lights one and begins to tell him a story…

There are two taglines on the front cover of this book, the first being “One moment that could have saved the world from war.”  And that is the story that the stranger tells Barney and his Ma.  An extraordinary tale based on the true story of Henry James Tandey, VC, DCM, MM, the most highly decorated private in the British Army in World War I, Morpurgo wrote the story after hearing of Tandey’s exploits and, like most of his stories, was compelled to  write it so that the unimaginable courage shown by those who have gone before becomes real for those of us who come after.

Which leads to the second tagline, this one from Jackie French- “Brilliant. Historical fiction at its most magnificent.” Because if there is an historical fiction novel with either Jackie French’s or Michael Morpurgo’s name on it then you know that not only are you in for a meticulously researched, intriguing read but that you will be changed for having read. And so it is  with this story.  Tagged as “the man who could have stopped World War II” Tandey’s story is woven into a narrative that reaches deep into the soul of anyone with direct ties to the carnage of the 39-45 conflict and makes them wonder how their own life might have been different if their father/uncle/brother/friend had not had to spend their youth in the hell that was Europe at the time. 

But this is not a facts-and-figures biography, although there is a brief synopsis of Tandey’s life included as a postscript – Morpurgo has taken the facts as they are known and woven them into a narrative that is as compelling for the reader as it is for Barney and his Ma.  Is there ever a time when doing the right thing could be the worst mistake you ever made?

This is a story for independent readers who enjoy real historical fiction (as opposed to a story set in another time) and who are ready to be entertained and educated at the same time.  It’s an easy read technically, but I, for one, wanted to know more and so new avenues have been opened for me to explore.  Not the least of which is once again, considering how my dad’s experiences as a POW in Stalag VIIIB and being force-marched across Poland as part of the German’s human shield shaped him and consequently, me.  

Lion Lullaby

Lion Lullaby

Lion Lullaby











Lion Lullaby

Kate Banks

Lauren Tobia

Walker, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


As night falls in the savannah and “dusk paints stripes across the sky”, ten little lions know it is time to head to bed.  But as they make their way, there are all sorts of sights and sounds to distract them –   a monkey “bouncing a babe on its knee”; a cobra waving its tail,  zebras braying, and a tree frog peeping; there is a honeybee nest to inspect; sand dunes and a stream to navigate; elephants tramping along and wildebeests running. There is as much adventure on the journey home as there has been in the day.  But at last, they are together and cuddled together, they listen to “evening’s lullaby,” and sleep “cuddled by night.”

Just as night envelops the little lions in its all-embracing spread, so too the author embraces much in this lyrical lullaby.  As well as the language which turns the ordinary into the extraordinary – “dusk paints stripes across the sky” is a picturesque phrase that could spark a lesson in itself with students suggesting other ways to describe the twilight sky – the rhythm of the language draws the reader in with its gentle cadence echoed in the illustrations which transition gradually from golds, browns, and greens to dreamy mauves, violets, and greys as the light changes and darkness draws closer.

For those unfamiliar with the habitats and inhabitants of the African savannah, there are geographical and biological discoveries to investigate and woven into it all is a counting book with purpose and context. So while this might have been intended initially to lull little ones as they draw the curtains on their day – even lions have to sleep – it is one that can be shared across the ages  with something new for each.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Little Word Whizz

Little Word Whizz

Little Word Whizz











365 First Words


An Interesting Word for Every Day of the Year


Dr. Meredith L. Rowe

Monika Forsberg

Magic Cat, 2022

112pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

Did you know a ‘cartographer” is a person who takes photos of cars?  That was the definition given to a colleague recently by a young child as they were introduced to the wonderful world of mapping.  Trying not to LOL, she explained its true meaning to her students, and it is unlikely they will forget it.  Once again proving that children are fascinated with new words – the longer the better.  Who knows a little one who can correctly identify and say the names of all the dinosaurs?

Talking is an inherent behaviour that children learn by listening to their mother tongue as everyday life goes on around them, picking up not just the vocabulary but the context in which it is used and the nuances of sound as it is expressed.  365 First Words offers parents a pathway to help their children learn the words associated with  common first concepts including colours, numbers and shapes, as well as parts of the body, things that go, animals and the world around us. Thus it also builds up the connections between the words in the groups so if a child goes to a farm or hears a story with a farm setting, their brain is wired for the things they are likely to see and the words for them.

However, because the words are in English – just one per item – it could also have a role in helping those with a different mother-tongue learn the English equivalents, or perhaps it could become the English-whatever first steps to learning another language.

Its companion, An Interesting Word for Every Day of the Year, takes vocabulary building to a more sophisticated level as it offers 52 fully illustrated scenes which provide  “a fun and supportive platform to introduce little readers to big words and extend their vocabulary, which studies have recently proven to be the biggest indicator of a child’s potential later in life.”  Building vocabulary has become a particular focus of literacy lessons in recent years (and so the wheel turns again) so as well as introducing the child to the particular words on the page (they have their meanings explained in a table at the bottom of the page) there is also scope to use these as starter-words to build synonyms and antonyms, providing a basis for both interesting speech and writing.  Students might also create their own scene from a medium of their choice and, using the book’s examples as a model, add appropriate words that extend their vocabulary and that of their peers.

Both books are based on common concepts but both offer wide-ranging opportunities in the hands of creative teachers. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…



Wondermere (series)











Do Not Disturb the Dragons


Do Not Mess with the Mermaids


Michelle Robinson

Sharon Davey

Bloomsbury, 2020-2021

224pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

In the first book in this series, the reader is introduced to “Two intrepid girls go from ladies-in-waiting to knights-in-action when they rip up the rule book and go searching for adventure!”

Wondermere is the luckiest kingdom in the land, all thanks to the dragons that nest on top of the castle. Nobody wants them to fly away, so everyone has to follow the rules and make sure everything stays the same  to keep the dragons happy.  But Princess Grace hates  the rules. They stop her doing everything she loves, like playing Troll-O and wearing trousers and training to be a brave knight.. Why do boys get all the fun?

Determined to prove that the rules are a load of old swamp-rot, Grace and her sister Princess Portia secretly enter the year’s biggest Troll-O. A couple of rule-breakers couldn’t possibly disturb the dragons … could they?

Then in the second, Don’t Mess with the Mermaids Grace has proved to the kingdom of Wondermere that when it comes to courage, determination, playing TROLL-O on unicorn-back and being a brave knight, she’s just as good as any boy! But now Wondermere is expecting a very important  visitor: the Mermaid Queen of the Outer Ocean. That means frilly dresses and best behaviour – and absolutely no rule breaking.  But when a purple dragon egg falls into the moat of Wondermere castle, Grace and her sister Princess Portia find themselves babysitting a big secret.  One teeny tiny little dragon called Dennis couldn’t possibly disturb the royal visit … could he?

This is a series for newly independent readers who are straddling the fantasy worlds of dragons, unicorns, mermaids and princesses but demanding more of their reading heroes than the traditional knight-on-shining-armour-to-the-rescue plots. So while they still have those things that have fascinated them for a number of years, they are wanting the females in the stories to be more like themselves, to have the can-do attitude and determination that they themselves have and to start showing the independence that they are also exhibiting.  

Incorporating all the formatting supports needed to transition to the independent reading of novels, this series fills the gap nicely, making a strong stepping stone. 


I am…

I am...

I am…










I am Angry


I am Hungry 


Michael Rosen

Robert Starling

Walker Books 2021 – 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

In this new series by the author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, which will include I Am Happy and I Am Wriggly, Rosen draws on his observations of his own children’s emotions and feelings as they grew up.

By addressing them. he validates  them acknowledging that little ones do have big feelings, often made bigger by the frustration of not being able to articulate them clearly but by using humour and rhyme, he shows that while they are real and natural they also don’t last for long.

In I am Angry, the kitten has the biggest tantrum ever threatening all sorts of things but as suddenly as it appears, it disappears.  In I am Hungry the squirrel lists all the things he could eat, some funny, some revolting and others impossible. In both, the rhymes, humour and illustrations will make the child laugh out loud so the next time they have a big feeling they can think about managing it as the animals do.

A series for our youngest readers.


Boss of Your Own Body

Boss of Your Own Body

Boss of Your Own Body











Boss of Your Own Body

Byll & Beth Stephen

Simon Howe

ABC Books, 2021

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


You’re not the boss of many things
because you’re little and still learning.
You’re not the boss of anyone else,
you’ve got to let them be themselves.

But you ARE the boss of one thing …

How often have you heard a little one say, “You’re not the boss of me” as they try to exert some power over a situation?  From birth it is instinctive that we feel in control but as a young child, there are few circumstances  that we do have the  power  to make the decisions.  In this book, based on a song from Teeny Tiny Stevies, sisters who “make content for children filled with cheerful folk-pop tunes covering topics that explore important social messages in a fun and relatable manner.” young children are encouraged to understand that while they are not in charge of many everyday situations, they are in charge of their own bodies.  They decide how fast they can run, whether they do a handstand, join a game  or hold a grown-up’s hand.

As a teacher of 50+ years, I’ve attended many staff meetings and other PL but I always remember one particular meeting in 1989 when we were presented with the appalling statistics relating to child abuse including that based on these, there had to be kids within our school, indeed our classes, who were suffering and school had to be both their sanctuary and their saviour.  It came as mandatory reporting laws  became some of the first introduced after the ACT was granted self-government and for many, eyes were opened as we learned the facts and figures and what we could and must do about any instances we became aware of.  In many ways it was a turning point for the teaching profession as suddenly our role legally embraced the pastoral care of our students as well as their academic development.  Programs like Protective Behaviours were introduced (who remembers Try Again, Little Red Riding Hood?)  and we tried to negotiate both teaching the children how to protect themselves and the minefield that was the legal obligations we now had, particularly as children now had both a pathway and a voice so they felt it was safe and worthwhile to disclose.

And while organisations like A Mighty Girl have produced booklists that focus on abuse and violence , only a handful are for primary-aged students  and even fewer for preschool.  So this book fills a gap in what is available to our young readers, sadly having to teach them something they shouldn’t really have to learn.  Even though its words only touch lightly on the possibility of intimate abuse – “You see, you can give your uncle a kiss and you can decide to snuggle like this” – it is that repeated message that the child can choose that is the critical and powerful one. Unlike the animated version which features cartoon creatures, Simon Howe has chosen to interpret this with illustrations of children from diverse backgrounds so even the youngest child can relate to the words and the message.  This is something written just for them.

Ugly, sad and necessary though it may be that we have to teach our littlies this message which will eventually build into the No Means No campaign is a vital one so to have such a sensitive but appealing text to add to the armoury is very welcome.



The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids

The Secret Lives of Mermaids











The Secret Lives of Mermaids

Prof Anuk Tola

Anja Sušanj

Flying Eye Books, 2020

34pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


At the School of Merology (SoM), Professor Anuk Tola (aka Anja Sušanj has been studying the lives, habits and habitats of merpeople for many years in an attempt to be able to communicate with them and those studies have revealed that

  • The word “mermaid” is a misnomer because there is more than just one gender, their societies are large and varied, and each is a unique individual
  • Merpeople are “a highly complex, curious, social, fierce, intelligent and incredibly secretive” species and what little is known has taken hundreds of years to glean
  • Because the ocean is changing so are the merpeople and they and the merologists (those who study merpeople) have to find new ways to work together. 

In the meantime, she has gathered all that is currently known into this highly informative book, a companion to The Secret Lives of Dragons   and  The Secret Lives of Unicorns. Beginning with a section entitled  “What is a merperson?” the reader is introduced to the species, visits the various kingdoms in the world’s oceans and learns about their beliefs, language and so forth. But perhaps the most important section is the final one which examines how and why the oceans are changing , how that is affecting them and what we, as humans, can do to protect both them and their environment. 

Mermaids (and unicorns) continue to be a source of fascination for many, particularly young girls, and this is a really imaginative way to introduce them to the concept of ocean conservation as well as non fiction generally, . To build a complete world in this way, albeit one based on a fantasy, is a clever way to make the reader stop and think about what might live between the waves and pause before they chuck their plastic bag in the water or let their balloons go into the sky.  Somehow it gives a whole new slant on this year’s CBCA Book week theme, “Dreaming with eyes open…”

In the meantime, put March  29 aside to celebrate International Mermaid Day!

Fold-Out Timeline of Planet Earth

Fold-Out Timeline of Planet Earth

Fold-Out Timeline of Planet Earth












Fold-Out Timeline of Planet Earth

Rachel Firth

Daniel Long

Usborne, 2022

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


Readers whose interest and imagination have been captured by the books exploring the development of the planet will be captivated by this book.  From the Big Bang to the Big Whack to the development of mankind, the history of our amazing planet unfolds at a glance in this graphic timeline. Then they can  turn it over to find out how, through billions of years of volcanic eruptions, ice ages and mass extinctions, life on Earth has emerged.

Even if they have not yet discovered the fascination of finding out where we have come from, this is one of those books that is going to have groups spreading it on a table at lunchtime and gathering around to share their discoveries and knowledge.  And while this may just whet their appetite, as usual publishers Usborne have curated lots of links so they can delve deeper and take their explorations further.  

Sometimes it is hard for our little ones to understand the abstract concept of time -in their world of instantaneous, ‘past’ and ‘future’ are just words to them – but publications like this that use their format to underpin the concept really go a long way to helping them.  One for anyone with an interest in the planet’s past and who prefers a highly graphic approach to one with lots of text. 

The Green Planet

The Green Planet

The Green Planet











The Green Planet

Leisa Stewart-Sharpe

Kim Smith

Cbeebies. 2022

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


“About 500 million years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed, primitive plants crept across this barren rock called Earth.  Tiny mosses and liverworts hugged the ground, creating the first soil and pumping oxygen into the atmosphere.  This planet became a Green Planet…”

Now, Earth is dominated by plants, which outweigh all other life – from tiny duckweed floating in our ponds to giant sequoia trees towering above us. It’s easy to take plants for granted, but we depend on these light-eaters, oxygen-generators, and rain-makers for every breath of air and mouthful of food we take. Plants that can  care for other plants and can smell, taste, touch, hear and even ‘talk’. 

In collaboration with BBC Earth, this illustrated non-fiction book captures the intrigue, drama, and beauty of the groundbreaking new BBC TV series: The Green Planet. opening up a world of natural history that is often overlooked or deemed not as dynamic as the animal kingdom.  Each double-page spread explores a different aspect from the battle for light in the tropical world so surviving in the sands and the desert to the secret gardens of the sea using full-colour illustrations, and text presented in accessible chunks that offer the most intriguing information.  Did you know there is a “wood wide web” of fungi roots kilometres long that share nutrients with other plants, including those in distress?

Sir David Attenborough, who narrated the television series says, ” We can all work with plants to help make our world greener and a little wilder.  If we do this…our future on this planet will be safer and healthier- and my own experience tells me that we will also be happier.” There are suggestions for how each of us can help make this happen and this book is the ideal starting point becasus the more we know the more we understand, appreciate and value.