Archive | February 2023

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear












Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Lindsay Mattick

Sophie Blackall

Little Brown, 2015

56pp., hbk



Cole asks his mother for a bedtime story – a true one about a bear.  And it just so happens that Lindsay Mattick is the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian vet who, in 1914, was conscripted to join the war effort to look after the soldiers’ horses. On his way to the training ground far from his native Winnipeg, the train pulls into a station and Harry spies a baby bear on a rope held by a trapper who is unlikely to raise him and love him as Harry did all animals.  After a lot of thought, twenty dollars changes hands and Harry finds himself back on the train with the bear cub and a lot of curious mates and one astonished colonel.  But the bear whom Harry has named Winnie after his home town, wins over the troops and she soon establishes herself as the regiment’s mascot. 

Winnie travels with the soldiers to England, but when it is time for them to embark for France, Harry knows Winnie can not go.  So he leaves Winnie at The London Zoo where she is loved by hundreds of children including a certain little boy named Christopher Robin Milne – and from there a whole other story begins.

2016 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, this is a charming story that has that intimacy of a story shared between mother and child. Beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall with meticulously researched details in muted watercolour and ink colours which reflect the mood and emotions, it also contains photos of Harry with Winnie and other memorabilia that demonstrate the authenticity of the tale.    The conversations between the narrator and her son which are interspersed throughout the story not only add to its reality but also make it more than just a non-fiction recount.  With its undertones of A. A. Milne’s writing, and the final pages that trace the lineage of Harry Colebourne to Cole, this is a very personal account that is as engaging as it is interesting. Because she is telling the story to her own young son, there are several occasions where she chooses her words very carefully so he will not be upset and this then makes it suitable as a read-aloud for even the youngest of listeners. 

One of many stories published to coincide with  the centenary of World War 1 continues, there are many stories commemorating the contribution that a whole range of creatures made to the conflict, but this one with its direct ties to the beloved character of Winnie-the-Pooh which all children know, is one that will linger in the mind for a long time.  

You could also trace Winnie’s story with Christopher Robin from the time he first appeared in A A. Milne’s anthology, When We Were Very Young, as a poem called Teddy Bear …

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: “If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?”
He thought: “It really isn’t fair
To grudge one exercise and air.”For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
“Is quite” (he said) “as fat as me!”
Then, with a still more moving sigh,
“I mean” (he said) “as fat as I!

Now Teddy, as was only right,
Slept in the ottoman at night,
And with him crowded in as well
More animals than I can tell;
Not only these, but books and things,
Such as a kind relation brings –
Old tales of “Once upon a time,”
And history retold in rhyme.

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: “King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed ‘The Handsome!'” There he sat,
And (think of it!) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” There he sat,
And certainly the man was fat.
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub )
Might yet be named “The Handsome Cub!”

“Might yet be named.” Or did he mean
That years ago he “might have been”?
For now he felt a slight misgiving:
“Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day.
Is ‘Handsome Louis’ with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget.
Next morning (nose to window pane)

The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
“Is he alive or is he dead?”
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled “Oh!”
Our Teddy disappeared below.”

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely to his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
“Well, well!” “Allow me!” “Not at all.”
“Tut-tut! A very nasty fall.”

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It’s doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That ‘handsome’ King – could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
“Impossible,” he thought. “But still,
No harm in asking. Yes I will!”

“Are you,” he said, “by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?”
The other answered, “I am that,”
Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;
Then said, “Excuse me,” with an air,
“But is it Mr Edward Bear?”
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, “Even so!”

They stood beneath the

window there,
The King and Mr Edward Bear,
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that….
Then said His Majesty, “Well, well,
I must get on,” and rang the bell.
“Your bear, I think,” he smiled. “Good-day!”
And turned, and went upon his way.

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about –
He’s proud of being short and stout.

Or listen to this 1929 sound recording by the Dominion Gramophone Company in which Milne reads the third chapter of his classic, “In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,” or the movie A Bear Named Winnie with Stephen Fry and Michael Fassender. 
Of all the stories written about teddy bears over the generations, the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear are arguably the most enduring and to discover that Winne was real, and had a life and following long before Disney discovered it, will delight both young and not-so-young.  A must-have book for any fan. 
Originally published February 16, 2016
Updated February 2023

Lots of Things to Know About Space

Lots of Things to Know About Space

Lots of Things to Know About Space











Lots of Things to Know About Space

Laura Cowan

Alyssa Gonzalez

Usborne, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Every time a child looks to the sky, whether it be day or night, they wonder and ask questions.  

What is the sun?

How many stars are there?

Are we alone?

And so there is a large collection of books available to help them investigate the answers to their questions, and this new one from Usborne is a worthy addition to the collection. Using catchy subject headings like “The Universe Awards” and “How to garden on the Moon”, and using funky diagrams and illustrations with minimal text to explain them, it answers all the regular questions and a few more.   There’s even  peek into the future where the concepts that propel sailing ships might be applied to space ships!

As always with Usborne publications, the subject is explored in a novel way that makes for engaging yet educational reading and is supported by Quicklinks for those who want to know even more because their curiosity has been sparked.  

Hop Lola Hop

Hop Lola Hop

Hop Lola Hop











Hop Lola Hop

Kathy Urban

Siski Kalla

Little Steps, 2023

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


Lola is a little toy bunny who likes to go on fun adventures. But one day, she goes a little too far. Meanwhile Ella her owner Ella is heartbroken when her beloved bunny goes missing. How are they going to find each other again, especially in a big town?

This is a heart-warming tale about an adorable lost toy bunny that young readers will relate to because they will know the feelings and emotions that come with losing something special.  No doubt they will have their own stories to share, or perhaps they might imagine the adventure that their toy had while it was away.  Stories like this that have a simple, relatable plot are valuable for getting littlies to tell their own stories, learning to organise their thoughts, sequence the events and build their vocabulary as they describe what happened and how they felt.  


Banjo Paterson Treasury

Banjo Paterson Treasury

Banjo Paterson Treasury












Banjo Paterson Treasury

Banjo Paterson

Oslo Davis

Random House, 2013

pbk., 151pp., RRP $A19.95



I confess.  I am an unabashed fan of Banjo Paterson.  Since being introduced to his work as a newly arrived immigrant by being enthralled with the movie “The Man from Snowy River” (the only movie I have ever seen where the audience sat through the credits and then applauded), I have loved his work to the extent that when I sorted my CD collection recently, I found I had three sets of the works by Wallis and Matilda who have set many of the poems to music. 

The first lines of so many are so familiar … “Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong…”; “I had written him a letter…””There was movement at the station…” “’Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze..” and each is featured in this treasury as well as a host of not-so-familiar poems,  illustrated by cartoonist Oslo Davis. And, as his birthday approaches on February 17, perhaps it is time to revisit his legacy and explore the works he wrote that so encapsulated the people and places of a unique time in Australian history.

Because of my passion, many of my students found themselves exploring the works too, and more than one listed Paterson as their favourite poet.  Apart from the beauty of the language, the stories they tell and the insight into the life of the times, I found the poems made perfect introductions for a whole range of lessons whether it was Year 3 putting their own illustrations to “Waltzing Matilda” and “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle”, using “The Man from Snowy River” as the catalyst for an investigation into the situation of brumbies in Australia’s high country, or stirring up a debate amongst teacher education students at the Australian Catholic University by asking if the little fellow in “A Bush Christening” was any less christened than one who had gone through a formal church ceremony!

And that’s without even looking at their literary construction and all that stuff, although there is the opportunity for older students to consider why it is that his writing persists today so that while there have been many worthwhile and notable poets  in the last century, it is his work that resonates so widely still. 

Paterson’s works are part of the Australian heritage and psyche and this collection in its paperback or ebook format is perfect in size and price to keep with you at all times so you can delve into them for pure pleasure or you can share them with the next generation who need to know these words.

Original Review October 24, 2013

Updated February 2023

This entry was posted on February 15, 2023, in Picture Book.

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember











A Day to Remember: the Story of ANZAC Day

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2014

pbk; RRP $14.99


April 25, 1915 is a date imprinted on the Australian psyche.  In fact, some say, that despite the political calendar of January 1, 1901, this was the day that Australia became a nation.

Much has been written for students to help them understand the events and the significance of this day, and in a way, this book honours that because after providing an outline of those events on that Turkish beach, author Jackie French and illustrator Mark Wilson trace the commemoration of that day from its shaky, tentative beginnings of parades in Australia, New Zealand and London in 1916 to the huge crowds that now gather annually to honour those who have served their country in this way.  At intervals throughout Australia’s history, French and Wilson pause on April 25 and examine what was happening on that day. We learn about the vast difference between the excitement and anticipation when the troops left in 1914, and their return in 1919; the touching story behind the advent of the Dawn Service and how men only were allowed to attend in case the women’s crying disturbed the silence;  the desperation of many veterans left jobless as drought and the Depression hit; and then Australia is plunged into war again. 

Throughout the book, tribute is paid to all those in the conflicts that Australians have been involved in as well as their peacekeeping roles.  There is the sad reminder that after the Vietnam War which had so divided the nation’s young, so few marched  and watched that perhaps “no one would march at all.”   But awareness was growing behind the scenes through teachers teaching Australia’s history and the recognition of the sacrifices of Australia’s young people through iconic songs like Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and Redgum’s “Only 19.”  In 1985 the Turkish government officially recognised the name  Anzac Cove and in 1990 the first dawn service was held there, attended by those few veterans of the original conflict who were still left to honour.

Being at Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service has become a pilgrimage for many; an item on the bucket list for others. Ceremonies are  held wherever Anzacs have served and suffered and wherever their sacrifice can be acknowledged. Who can imagine what the centenary in 2015 will be like?

IMO, this is Jackie French and Mark Wilson at their best. As the granddaughter of a Gallipoli survivor and the daughter of an ordinary New Zealand soldier who spent his war as a POW in Germany after being captured on Crete, the words and illustrations of this beautiful, haunting book touch me in a way I find hard to describe. Jackie grew up, as I did, “with the battered and weary of World War Two around me, men still scarred in body and mind by Japanese prison camps or the Burma railway, women who had survived concentration camps” and “saw boys of my own generation march away as conscripts, while I marched in anti war demonstrations” and yet we know so little about where Australians have served or how often they have. 

The story of 100 years of history is a difficult one to tell, and even more so in a picture book, yet it is encapsulated perfectly in this partnership. On the one hand, the text could not live without the pictures and vice versa; yet on the other, both media are so perfect within themselves that they stand alone. Jackie and Mark give their own interpretations  in their teachers’ notes I can do no better than that, but if you only have the money for five books this year, this HAS to be one of them.

Lest we forget.

Originally reviewed as a hardback April 16, 2012

Updated February 2023


City of Light

City of Light

City of Light











City of Light

Julia Lawrinson

Heather Potter & Mark Jackson

Wild Dog Books, 2023 

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


February 20, 1962 and astronaut John Glenn is about to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in a spaceship.  From his viewpoint he will be able to see big things, huge things, giant things like the Pyramids, the Amazon, and the Grand Canyon. But how will he see a little boy and a little girl in a little street, in a suburb in a small city like Perth?  There is a way – and he did!

This is a story based on the true story of how Perth turned its lights on to say hello to John Glenn and capture the excitement of one of the first forays into space by humans. It tells of a simpler time when life was very different and such events were huge news, and how the idea of two small children captured the imagination and brought a community together.  

For those of us who remember a time when the world really was a smaller place without television, let alone the internet and a 24/7 news cycle, life was very different and apart from exploring the enormity of this event in itself, readers are also taken back to that time through both the illustrations and the text – the time that their grandparents were children and could have been those kids in the story.  Teachers’ notes offer lots of ideas to compare and contrast the times including imagining how they might signal a spacecraft passing overhead in 2023.   Would  they run around the neighbourhood in an era of phones and text and email? A purposeful way of examining how a specific timeframe and context shape the storytelling.  

But as well as being an account of a real event, it is also a story of hope. Because amid the constant bombardment of overwhelming commentary of climate change, plastic pollution, the cost-of-living and more immediate disasters like the earthquake in Türkiye-Syria, our young readers need to know that they can have ideas and do things that will change big things, even in a small way.  But that small way can grow into something that becomes momentous.  

Lots of potential for lots of exploration of so many topics





Out of the Blue





Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue











Out of the Blue

Robert Tregoning

Stef Murphy

Bloomsbury, 2023

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


What happens if you live in a world of blue –

ONLY BLUE ALLOWED, by Blue government demand

Anything that isn’t blue, by colour law, is banned

-but your favourite colour is yellow?

What if your favourite toy is a little yellow rubber duck but you have to hide it even from your family?

This is a story that not only champions diversity, difference and pride but encourages those who are different to have the courage to come forward and celebrate that.  In a world that is hopefully disappearing rapidly – despite those in some US states clinging to the “old standards” by banning books and educators facing criminal charges for breaches – and conformity was the key, there were always those who preferred yellow in a world of blue whether that was colour, religion, political or gender identity, or any of the millions of other ways that humans differ.  And it’s been a theme in many children’s books now for some time, but this one stands out for its simplicity in explaining the concept. Liking yellow in a world of mandated blue is something even the youngest readers can understand and they can start to think of things that they like that perhaps others don’t, like brussel sprouts and broccoli., then consider if that is necessarily something to be shunned for. 

A friend recently posted a message to social media about a daughter who “marches to the beat of her own drum” (whatever rhythm that might be) and my response was that it was wonderful that she now lives in a world that is willing to accept and embrace so many different tunes because while it might sound like a cacophony, it is actually the harmonious sound of humanity.  

So it doesn’t matter how many times our little ones hear this vital message about being yourself, of celebrating difference, of having the courage to stand out, because now we are finally reaping the benefits.  


May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'When you dance to your own rhythm life taps its toes to your beat. Terri Guillemets the oogie boogie witch'


Lone Pine

Lone Pine

Lone Pine












Lone Pine (First World War Centenary edition)

Susie Brown & Margaret Warner

Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Little Hare, 2014 

hbk, 32pp., RRP $A24.95



In 1915, on a Turkish hillside a lone pine stood in a barren wasteland above a fierce battle being waged between the Turks and ANZACs, a conflict that has become part of Australia’s history and identity. 

In 1934, a sapling grown from that lone pine was planted in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia’s national capital.

In 2012, and still in 2023,  that tree stands tall in beautiful, lush surroundings in memory and recognition of the events of 1915.


The 80-year-old Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra

The 80-year-old Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra


Lone Pine is the true story of that journey.  From a soldier looking for his brother, a mother mourning the loss of her son, a gardener understanding both the significance and the vision, a Duke performing a ceremonial duty we learn of how a tiny pine cone from that solitary tree has become such a symbol in our commemorations.  Told in simple prose against a backdrop of muted but magnificent artistry, the story is both moving and haunting.  The soldier’s mother plants three seeds but only two saplings survive, just like her sons; fierce storms batter the sapling the day it is planted at the AWM, just as war clouds started rumbling around Europe once again; it survives to stand tall and strong despite the storms it has to weather, just as our hope for peace does. The continuity of life through the pine tree echoes the seasons and cycles of human life.

Jointly written by a teacher librarian and a teacher, there is a real understanding of how to engage the target audience and tell a true story that is not just a recount of an historical event. Accompanying the story are notes about the events it depicts including more information about the tree itself which  reinforce the theme of the renewal and continuity of life.  As well as the sapling planted at the AWM, its twin was planted as a memorial to the fallen brother in Inverell, and even though this has since been removed because of disease, its son lives on at Inverell High School, planted by the fallen soldier’s nephew.  Two trees propagated from the pine at the AWM were taken to the Gallipoli Peninsula and planted there by a group of ANZACs in 1990.

A search of the Australian War Memorial site offers much more about the tree and its descendants  and teaching notes  take the students well beyond the story of a remarkable tree. 

With the 110th anniversary of both World War I and ANZAC Day drawing closer, the resurgence of the significance of ANZAC Day in the understanding of our young, and a pilgrimage to the Dawn Service at ANZAC Cove becoming a must-do, life-changing event, the story of the lone pine deserves to be better known, and this wonderful book HAS to be a part of any school library’s ANZAC collection.

Original review: April 22, 2014

Updated February 11, 2023

The Spectaculars

The Spectaculars

The Spectaculars











The Spectaculars

Jodie Garnish

Usborne, 2023

368pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


As a child, Harper lives a dull life in a city that doesn’t celebrate creativity, so when three figures arrive at her window in a flying canoe, informing her that she is due to start her apprenticeship, Harper discovers she is a Spectacular – a magical performer, gifted special powers from the stars. Harper is thrilled to be part of the Spectaculars’ travelling theatre and boarding school, until everything is plunged into great danger. With her new friends Trick and Thief, Harper sets out to save her school… But while dreams come true at the Wondria, nightmares might just be lurking in the wings…

Touted as “The Greatest Showman meets Nevermoor”, this is the first in a new series for older, independent readers who can cope with a longer book with characters and events that take them beyond their immediate world.  Fantasy and magic are very popular right now and I know this is one that Miss 11, who has aspirations of being a performer one day, will really enjoy.


Say No To Plastic

Say No To Plastic

Say No To Plastic











Say No To Plastic

Ned & Shane Heaton

Tamzin Barber

Little Steps, 2022

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


Use less plastic, every day.
“Be the Change.” Start today.
The ocean should be clean and blue.
But who’s it up to? Me and YOU

Young readers are invited to join Heidi the Piedy, Roy the Boy and Fran his Nan as they travel from their favourite beach to New York City, to talk to the world’s nations about plastic pollution. and to learn that sometimes, the smallest voice can have the strongest message. 

Written in rhyme with integrated activities that offer opportunities to interact with the text, this is another which focuses on the impact of plastics in the environment and particularly the ocean.  While New York may seem to be remote from the Australian classroom, nevertheless this demonstrates the global nature of the problem and offers suggestions that even our youngest children can do to help. 

As well as consolidating the problem of plastic, it also offers the opportunity to compare and contrast two  texts with a similar message and audience for purpose, style and impact enabling students to become more critical readers.