Archive | April 2023

Willa and Woof 4: Wedding Rescue

Willa and Woof 4: Wedding Rescue

Willa and Woof 4: Wedding Rescue











Willa and Woof 4: Wedding Rescue

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2023

128pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


It’s summer and Willa is looking forward to her Aunty Jane’s wedding.  But it is also a time for bushfires and  and Willa’s town is in danger. When a spot fire burns down the wedding venue, she has to jump into action to save the day. But while she figures out that the showground might be a good new venue, she is trapped with a secret.  Local bully Robbie has hidden some injured koalas there and because he has her diary, he threatens Willa he will tell her secrets if she tells his….

The fourth is this series for emerging independent readers,  Harvey has captured the black-and-white, do-or-die world of eight-year-olds well. What to an adult may seem trivial, young ones seem as really important and they don’t yet have the world experience that enables them to prioritise so the possibility of the “world” knowing about her crush on a particular boy is as devastating as what might happen to the koalas.  Robbie has her over a barrel.  And so whether she is able to rescue the wedding remains to be seen…

The importance of and scope for using series with emerging readers has been outlined in reviews of previous episodes in the series and this one consolidates that work.  Because the series has characters and situations that will be recognisable to the readers, perhaps they can think about how the text relates to their own lives,  and how they would respond if they were in a similar situation.  What can they learn from Willa, Tae and Frank that they could draw on in the future? How has reading this series helped them better understand themselves and their friends?  And if all that is too deep and meaningful for a holiday read, they can look forward to Episode 5 in July! 


Game On: Shrinkle

Game On: Shrinkle

Game On: Shrinkle










Game On: Shrinkle

Emily Snape

EK Books, 2023

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Game-obsessed Max in having a very, very bad day. After being pranked by his brother Liam in front of his class, he is now being looked after by their crazy neighbour Miss McBoob. 

But things get even worse when Liam starts playing Shrinkle on Miss McBoob’s phone because the app suddenly shrinks both him and Max to the size of a minifigure and their house, once so familiar, is now a treacherous landscape! Everyday objects loom large and even the cat is more like a tiger! Can they scale sofa mountain, escape Miss McBoob’s snoring mouth and outsmart the now-enormous pet cat? And will they stay tiny forever? Can they actually work together to beat the game?

Written to draw reluctant readers into print stories, the author says, “Reading should be a pleasure and it was my aim to write books that pull you in and hook you from the start. Hopefully, then you can’t help being moved by the characters as they grow and develop. I love comedy in books, but funny books also have to have heart, believable characters, and a great plot that keeps you reading till the very end.’

Using a modern premise of being drawn into a game, with characters not unlike themselves, and the sort of fast-packed , immediate action including countdowns, levels and time limits, this is the sort of story that will pull even reluctant readers away from their screens. They might even like to speculate on what might happen if they (or Liam and Max) were drawn into their own favourite game, a concept which, in itself, might spark story-writing and a group display of possibilities. Some might like to be inspired by the Lego Masters television series and recreate the world of their game, while others might prefer to broaden their horizons and explore the world, of The Borrowers, a classic series by Mary Norton that dwells in the realm of ordinary becoming extraordinary. 

Our Dragon

Our Dragon

Our Dragon











Our Dragon

Mem Fox

Linda Davick

Puffin, 2023

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


Having a young toddler in the house can sometimes seem like raising a dragon, especially as they start to push boundaries to exert and test  their independence but don’t have the words to articulate their frustration when things go wrong and so there is an explosion.  Particularly if the child is tired or hungry,

In this new book from family favourite Mem Fox, the little one is portrayed as a dragon breathing fire rather than the usual manifestation of a tantrum, giving it a light-hearted touch as the parents remain patient and try to guide it to making better choices. Written in rhyme, Fox shows that the outbursts are unintentional – “And he also tries hard / to behave as required, / but flames often spout / when he’s hungry or tired.” and the parents’ calm responses are teaching the child how to respond to any situation as much as the one at hand.  IMO, if this is an older sibling sharing this story, it also helps them understand that the younger one is still learning so whereas they might get into trouble for doing something similar, that’s because they’ve been through the learning stage and should know better by now.  But what if the little one really were a dragon???? 

Put Mem Fox’s name on a book for Australian children and you know you are going to get a story that is something special – and this lives up to expectations.  

Harriet’s Hungry Worms

Harriet’s Hungry Worms

Harriet’s Hungry Worms











Harriet’s Hungry Worms

Samantha Smith

Melissa Johns

EK Books, 2023

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


At Harriet’s place it’s her brother Fred’s job to walk Walter the dog, and her sister Sa;;y’s job to look after the chooks.  Harriet’s job was to take care of the nine-hundred-and-eighty-three worms that live in in the big green box in a shady corner of the garden.  Each day she fed them different scraps and waste that the family generated but after a whole week it seemed that they did nothing but eat and wriggle.  And then Harriet spotted the tap at the back of the big green box and discovered something quite magical…

There have been some outstanding books helping our young readers understand how they, themselves, can contribute to looking after the environment released recently, and this is one of them.  Back in the days of the dinosaurs when I was at school the only thing we learned about worms was that they were hermaphrodites  (something I can still recall all these years on) but nothing about how essential they are to keeping the planet healthy and balanced, even helping to reduce methane gas production which is such a contributor to climate change.  By writing an engaging story that will appeal to young readers as it takes the reader through worms’ menu through the days of the week (a much healthier version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar) with a nod to alliteration as well as some essential worm facts and their foodie likes and dislikes, this is narrative non fiction that will inspire our children to investigate having their own worm farm either at home or at school, as well as understanding the concept of composting and generally giving Mother Nature a helping hand. 

Ready-made farms are readily available and many councils offer rebates on their initial cost, although it is easy enough to build one, while there is plenty of advice and information available to ensure the farm is healthy and active. Teachers’ notes linked to the Australian Curriculum also offer insight and information to help not only appreciate the story but also inspire the students to be more pro-active about being involved so they too, can feel they are contributing,  

Ratbags 2: Midnight Mischief

Midnight Mischief

Midnight Mischief











Midnight Mischief

Tim Harris

Shiloh Gordon

Puffin, 2023

192pp.,graphic novel, RRP $A14.99


Rats, in general, do not have a good reputation for being friendly and kind, and The Ratbags are no exception.  Their goal in life is to make trouble and to look for naughty things to do.  They ream of mayhem and believe rules are for losers.  Except for one – Jigsaw.  He got his name because he does not fit in, like a puzzle piece that won’t squeeze into place no matter how much you twist and turn it. Jigsaw likes both rules and humans so he doesn’t fit in with the other rats and they shun him. 

But things might change when a new pizza shop opens in town…

This is the second in this  new series from the author of titles like Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables and this time he has joined with illustrator Shiloh Gordon to create a series that is likely to appeal to young boys, particularly those who don’t choose reading as their first choice for free time.  With minimal text, cartoon-like illustrations, and lots of laughs,  the story moves along at a fast clip more like an animated television program than a print resource, driven by the characters rather than events.  

This time, having gained a reputation for being good because of rule-loving, leaf-collecting, piano-playing Jigsaw’s actions in the first book, the other Ratbags need to change this immediately and Ripple and Onion are the best ratbags for the job. But while performing some ratty mayhem, they fall into Cracker the cat’s claws… Will their midnight mischief turn them into a midnight snack? Or will Jigsaw find a way to save them? Again!

Despite the fun and naughtiness, just below the surface there are subtle messages about friendship,  peer pressure and having the courage to stand your ground.  ‘It’s not preached at all, but there’s a nice subtle message that we can be friends with other people, no matter what our belief system or no matter how different we are to them,’ says Tim Harris.

If the first one in the series captured your reluctant readers, they will be glad that this one is hot on its heels and there are at least two more to come… Best of Pets in July and Take Flight in September.


Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war











Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Robin Cowcher

Walker Books, 2019

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


Left! Left! Left! Right! Left! We make our way in the dark.

On the one hand feet make their way to a commemorative service; on the other soldiers’ boots take them to the battlefront. 

As we commemorate ANZAC Day, this book reminds us that Australians have been involved in wars since before we were even officially called Australia and that our presence is known and respected in wartorn countries even today.

Each double-page spread with its simple text and evocative illustrations juxtaposes the people at the commemorative ceremonies with soldiers in conflict throughout our history. From the title page where the family hurries out the door into darkness through to the endpapers with the iconic poppies that we associate with remembrance in this country the reader is taken on a journey through our military history in such a sensitive way. 

As the Dawn Service moves through prayers,  the raising of the flags, the lighting of candles, the placement of wreaths and poppies, silences and the familiar bugle call of The Last Post and Reveille so too we move through time –  The Boer War, World Wars I and II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Bosnia & Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan, Ukraine – whether as combat troops or peacekeepers, Australians have had a role committing hundreds of thousands of men and women, each of whom deserves our respect and gratitude. While each page just has one factual statement of what is happening, the  illustrations bring a depth and dimension that inspire emotion and memories as the two marry together perfectly. From the sprig of rosemary somehow surviving the stomp of boots on the first page to the ghost-like images marching with the people on the last, there is a sense that this is an enduring commitment by military and civilian personnel alike.   One could not stand without the other.   

Thumbnail sketches of each conflict are provided at the end of the book and teachers notes’ are also available for those who want to use this as the first step in a deeper investigation for both History and English. It may even inspire some students to investigate the role that their family has had in the Services and given our multicultural population there may be students who have personal experiences to share that might give a unique insight that can’t be gleaned from picture books, no matter how stunning they are.

Something a little different to share this ANZAC Day, not only to remember the huge contribution that has been made but also to acknowledge those who have served and continue to serve so that those students who have had or still have family in the military forces understand that they are included in the thoughts and prayers.  The services are not just for the sacrifices made long ago on faraway battlefields by generations unknown, but for everyone who has served in the short 120 years of our united history.

We hear the sweet songs of morning. And we remember them.

First published March 24 2018

Updated April 25 2023


Australia Remembers

Australia Remembers

Australia Remembers











Australia Remembers

Allison Paterson

Big Sky, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99


As the annual commemoration of ANZAC Day  approaches, and once again our attention turns to remembering Gallipoli, the Western Front and all those who have been part of our armed services in whatever capacity, this book, the first in a series from the author of ANZAC Sons explores the concept of commemoration – what it is, how we do it and why it is so important.

There would be few towns in Australia that do not have a war memorial, one that becomes the focal point for commemorations on April 25 and November 11 each year. But many of our young students do not realise the significance of this place so this book which explains the background of conflict, the history and meaning of ANZAC Day, the significance of the elements of the ceremonies,  and the role of Australia service people in war and peace since they were first called to support the “mother country” in 1914 with simple accessible text, coloured photos, and an appealing layout will be a wonderful addition to your library’s collection.

With a Table of Contents, glossary, index and bibliography it is a wonderful model for those learning about using the cues and clues to find the information they want, but what set this book apart are the frequent quotes about its various topics that have been collected from children who are the age of its target audience, offering their own insights into what these events mean for them. There are also questions to ponder and activities to do, including teachers’ notes so students understand the importance of a ceremony so significant that even in the dark days of the pandemic we stood in our driveways to honour those who have served. 

First published October 23, 2018

Updated April 24, 2023

The Anzac Billy

The ANZAC Billy

The ANZAC Billy











The ANZAC Billy

Claire Saxby

Mark Jackson & Heather Potter

Black Dog Books, 2019

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


At first they said the war would be over by Christmas, but another Christmas is coming and it’s time to fill a billy for Dad who is overseas with the rest of the Australian troops, somewhere in Europe. Into the tin, which is not only airtight and sturdy enough to withstand the sea journey but can also be used by the recipient for cooking, the little boy puts his favourite things – butterscotch, a fish, the last walnuts from the tree, a bar of chocolate and a pair of hand-knitted socks. His mother and grandmother also put in things, more practical than the little boy’s but packed with just as much love. And then it is time to send it on its way – will it reach the little boy’s father or find a home with another soldier?  Whichever, there is a letter and that’s what matters. 

This is a tender family story, one known by so many families in so many places at the time, of waiting for a father, a husband, a son to come home from war safe and well. Meticulously researched and illustrated in great detail in water colours as gentle as the story, it provides yet another glimpse into what life was like a century ago as families came to terms with what it meant to have the men overseas, and the sending of these special hampers was common. 

The centenary of World War I has provided us with a wealth of stories for young readers, each unique and each helping the young reader to understand life in this different and difficult time, bringing history to life in a way that resonates with them. As well as the teachers’ notes available for this book, there is much to explore and compare in this story to life 100 years on and the opportunity to speculate about what might go into a soldier’s billy today. 

An essential  inclusion in your ANZAC collection.

First published April 25 2019

Updated April 23, 2023

The Beach They Called Gallipoli

The BeachThey Called Gallipoli

The Beach They Called Gallipoli











The Beach They Called Gallipoli

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99



On April 23, 1915 on a beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula, seagulls swooped as fish flapped silver in the nets… a peaceful, tranquil scene.

But it was to be the last day of peace for that Turkish beach for a long time for on April 24, 1915 the ships came.  And less than twenty four hours later, blood-stained foamed fringed the grey waves of a grey sea under a grey sky.  For eight, long tragic months the conflict lasted as more ships brought more men and took away the broken bodies of the wounded, while leaving many more who would never leave this beach and its sentinel cliffs.  “A land with few names had new names now: Anzac Cove, Quinn’s Post, Rhododendron Ridge, The Apex, Farm and Lone Pine.”  Names etched into our history along with the courage, the compassion and the comradeship that we associate with them.

On December 21, 1915 the beach was again silent and empty, a tranquil place. Perhaps the seagulls and the fish had not yet returned, but the waves still rolled in onto the shore, just as they had done for months, years, decades, centuries. But months, years, decades, a century on we remember… Lest We Forget

Among the plethora of publications that have been written  to commemorate the centenary of the events of April 25, 1915, this is a standout.  By focusing on the place, the author brings a range of perspectives about the people – the fishermen, the residents,  the many nationalities who fought and those who defended.  The blood that was shed mixes and mingles into a story of a battle with no heroes or winners – just people and the futility of war.

Superbly illustrated by Bruce Whatley with collages of photos, paintings, drawings, diagrams, artefacts, symbols and flags, it is a masterful insight into the campaign – its before, during and after. The sounds and sights and smells are brought to life through the skilful selection and arrangement of the vignettes that emphasise that while the place shaped the events, it is the people who created and encountered them and their consequences.  There is no favouritism – it is written and illustrated as though the landscape is the observer witnessing men from everywhere trying to master it – as though that were ever going to be possible.

While such rich imagery leaves little to the imagination, it inspires the imagination.  This was not the remote-control driven warfare that invades television news bulletins today – this was face-to-face conflict of a type that breeds the legends that have endured for so long.  And all the while, the waves lap on the beach.

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, as author and illustrator, are a match made in heaven.  This could be one of their most important collaborations yet and I predict it will be high on the awards lists this year.  It is an essential resource in your commemoration collection. Comprehensive teaching notes which include links to a host of significant resources are available. 


First published November 20, 2014

Updated April2, 2023

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda











And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Eric Bogle

Bruce Whatley

Allen & Unwin 2015

hbk., 32pp., $A24.99



Is there a more haunting tune about World War I than Eric Bogle’s classic And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Beginning with

Now when I was a young man, I carried me pack, and I lived the free life of a rover

From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback, well I waltzed my Matilda all over

it tells the story of a young man, almost any young man of 1915 in Australia, who took up arms to fight in the war at a time when Australia was trying to meet its quota for Britain and to not fight for King and Country branded you a coward.

They gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun, and they marched me away to the war.

Throughout the song and the journey, from the ship departing, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the hospital for the wounded and the arrival of “the crippled, the wounded, the maimed…the legless, the armless, the blind, the insane” at Circular Quay there is the poignant refrain of the band playing Waltzing Matilda, the iconic song that many believe should be our national anthem as it connects us in a way like no other. And finally, as an old man, he sits on his porch and watches the parade with his comrades passing before him and he knows that soon, as more old men disappear, “Someday no one will march there at all”. But how proud and amazed would those who came home -and those who didn’t-  be to see that this is not a forgotten war, they are not forgotten heroes and rather than no one marching, each year the crowds at the annual commemorations wherever they are get larger.

However, the most provocative stanza is   

And the old men march slowly, old bones stiff and sore

They’re tired old heroes from a forgotten war

And the young people ask, “What are they marching for?”

And I ask myself the same question.”

Written in 1972 at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War, many were wondering that aloud and as still engulfs parts of the world and threatens Australia’s future, we may well all ask ourselves the same question again.

With superb illustrations by Bruce Whatley that show every emotion of the text –drawn with his left hand because he has discovered he draws “with much more emotion” with that hand –using the restrained palette that one associates with Gallipoli,  this is a book that has to be in your library’s collection as it is a song that should be known by everyone before this year is done.  However, this is so much more than one of Australia’s leading illustrators putting pictures to an iconic tune. There are teachers’ notes  that provide many ideas for exploring the content, its imagery and its images and the full lyrics are available via an internet search

A memorable contribution to the collection of books on this topic. 

First published April 21 2016

Updated April 21 2023