Archive | November 2023

Always Never Always

Always Never Always

Always Never Always











Always Never Always

Meg McKinlay

Leila Rudge

Walker Books, 2023

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


Always follow secret tracks –
the paths that wind and wend through cracks.
Never worry where they go.
When you get there, then you’ll know.

If ever there were an example of the symbiosis between the text of a picture book and its illustrations, then this would be it.  

While the words offer advice and guidance that encourage the young child to be open to exploring their world, using their imagination and seeing and appreciating its wonders, particularly those right in front of them, the pictures take a young girl on an adventure with her wind-up duck following what ever opens up before them.  

Always take time to look on every cranny, every nook

Never go so fast you miss important things like that and this…

Written in rhyme that carries the metaphor of moving forward on life’s journey as we must, it encourages the young child to take the next step but there is always a word of caution to temper what could become reckless… 

Always test a secret door. And keep that key! There could be more!)

Never close it at your back, but leave it open just a crack.

There is so much meaning that could be taken from lines like these beyond the illustration of the young girl opening a door in a vast, vine-entwined tree trunk opening opportunities for older readers to compare literal and figurative language. Added to this is the image of the key used on both the endpapers and throughout the book, suggesting that there is so much in life that can be unlocked so what appears on the surface to be a book for young readers itself unlocks a lot of lessons for those a bit older.

Beasts of the Ancient World

Beasts of the Ancient World

Beasts of the Ancient World











Beasts of the Ancient World

Marchella Ward

Asia Orland

DK., 2023

144pp., hbk., RRP $A37.99


The myths, legends and folklore of civilisations, generations and destinations are peppered with stories of brutal beasts and mysterious monsters, and, on the surface, this is a collection of those stories from around the globe. There are stories about fantastic creatures such as the Japanese baku, which had the power to devour nightmares, the wise Egyptian Sphinx, and the fearsome Minotaur who went head-to-head with Theseus in Greek mythology, and a map that shows just how widespread the stories are. Stories are collected under the headings of Our Worst Fears, Battles with Monsters, Kind Beasts and Harnessing the Power of Beasts, and accompanied by colourful illustrations that are not too scary.

But there is also an analysis of why people believe in these creatures, why they evolved and what they actually represent that can persuade the reader to read them through a different lens, seeing the similarities between the stories and the differences in how the beasts were vanquished – if indeed they were.  The concept of a monster has been used over time to represent the unknown, dangers and even feelings,  particularly fears,  often serving as a warning.  There is also the suggestion that rather than defeating the beasts that we could perhaps learn to live with them as we begin to understand the origins and purpose of the stories, because “things are never really as simple as brave human defeats monster.”

Thus, while younger readers can learn the stories surrounding the monsters so often associated with mythology, more mature readers can start to analyse the back story – what circumstances might have promoted the invention of such a creature, how it might be similar to other stories and why the imagery persists today. Are today’s generations very different to those who have gone before?



Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma's Alphabet Day

Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day











Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma

 Puffin, 2023

26pp., board book, RRP $A16.99


Behind the the curly red hair, pink shirt and orange dress of the main character is  Emma Watkins, once known as the “yellow Wiggle” but also a woman passionate about raising awareness  of Australia’s deaf community, who already has formal qualifications in Auslan and who is currently undertaking her PhD in “the affective, artistic integration of sign language, dance and film editing.” In consultation with artists who themselves are deaf, she is producing and releasing a range of formats that as well as the storybook will include, an ebook, audiobook and an Auslan video translation so that all young readers can be entertained through “movement, creativity, inclusiveness and friendship”.

In this new release Emma Memma takes a walk through her day teaching young readers how to sign each letter of the alphabet relating the letter to something she sees or does. 

There is a lot of research relating to learning a second language in early childhood, not just because it is easier for the child but because of associated benefits so learning Auslan alongside learning the English alphabet makes a lot of sense.  By using a recognised character, everyday situations and multi-modal delivery, Emma Watkins is doing much to normalise this way of communicating so that all children can be included.  

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab











Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Sean E. Avery

Walker, 2023

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


In the ocean there is no closer friendship than that between Mr Clownfish and Miss Anemone.  She protects him with her stinging tentacles if a big fish threatens him, and he protects her from other fish, cleans her tentacles twice a day and finds delicious small morsels of food they eat together, although Miss Anemone does get lonely when he swims off because she is tethered to the side of a large rock. They are each other’s heroes, 

On Miss Anemone’s birthday, Mr Clownfish gives her a hermit crab as a present and then goes in search of something special for their birthday tea. But when he returns, Miss Anemone has disappeared!  Convinced she has been kidnapped he follows the tracks in the sand and finds Miss Anemone riding on Hermit Crab’s back delighted in being able to explore the ocean at last. Mr Clownfish is devastated, convinced he is  no longer needed. But he has a very important lesson to learn about friendship… 

For those who have seen Finding Nemo (and this is a good reason to show it again),  the fun and friendships of the cheeky clownfish will be well-known as will the diversity of life on the ocean floor that is so beautifully depicted in Avery’s iconic, quirky illustrations, as Mr Clownfish delivers dinner in a scoop of seaweed rather like an underwater Uber Eats.  Apart from being a most engaging story of a special friendship that opens opportunities to explore the symbiotic relationships of creatures, not just in the ocean, and their interdependence so they can survive. it also puts the intricacies of human friendship into the spotlight.  Written for an age group that is just starting to build relationships beyond family ties, and often being very possessive of those, it raise questions about whether it is possible to have more than one special friend and how to respond if our special friend finds someone else.  While they might not need their friends to protect them in the way that Mr Clownfish and Miss Anemone interact, what are the unique attributes of their friends and how do they enrich each other’s lives? 

As with Frank’s Red Hat, shortlisted in the CBCA 2023 Book of the Year awards, Avery has offered our younger readers a most delightful read but with many more layers than meet the eye,  

Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Secrets of the Saltmarsh











Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Claire Saxby

Alicia Rogerson

CSIRO Publishing, 2023

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


Where the land meets the sea is a fringe that is sometimes sea and sometimes land – depending on the tides – one of the most unique environments of the planet. For thousands of years First Nations people have harvested the rich seasonal food resources they offer and they support countless  life cycles from that of  tiny bacteria to large migratory birds, each dependent on each other and the land, ocean, water, wind, sunlight and seasons, at the same time as they store up to four time more carbon than ordinary forests.

While they have often been drained to provide more room for human housing, slowly we are learning more about how critical they are to the planet’s health and this new book for younger readers by a master pf narrative non fiction starts to raise awareness from an early age.  From the front endpaper featuring just some of the birds that can be found to the final one featuring fingerling fish, the book is a masterpiece of introducing this special, little-known environment.  Written in the first person, each double page spread focus on either one of the elements that is so crucial to the saltmarsh or the creatures that live within it and how they contribute to wellbeing, and, like the inhabitants of the marsh, there is a symbiotic relationship between Saxby’s lyrical text and Rogerson’s illustrations.

Perhaps I was drawn to this book because I have just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a novel in which the environment plays such a significant part in the story, and, to my knowledge, there have been few books on this biome for young readers despite its diversity and importance.  Nevertheless, like The Great Southern Reef, this is an environmental phenomenon that is accessible to so many of our students and thus one that greater awareness will build an appreciation for.

A must-have in any collection focusing on environmental biodiversity.  Teachers’ Notes are available.


The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman's Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat











The Tiny Woman’s Coat

Joy Cowley

Giselle Clarkson

Walker Books, 2021

28pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A storm is brewing and the tiny woman realises she will need a coat to stay dry and warm.  But where will she get the cloth, the scissors, the thread, the needle, the buttons?

On the surface this is a lovely story about friendship and co-operation in the tiny woman’s community but to those who understand how little children learn to read it is so much more than that.

When I started my initial teacher ed course in New Zealand in 1970, Joy Cowley was the leading author behind the Ready to Read series, a collection of basal readers that was used in junior classrooms in every school in New Zealand for reading instruction.  In the 70s there would have been few Kiwi children who were unfamiliar with Early in the Morning , Grandma Comes to Stay and The Fire Engine, and the thrill of moving from red to yellow, blue and green levels before starting on ‘chapter books” like The Donkey’s Egg or The Hungry Lambs.  The series was revolutionary in its approach to teaching children to read because it used natural language rather than phonics or controlled vocabulary, drawing on the research on world leaders in early literacy like Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Dr Marie Clay. She then went on to be the talent behind the Storybox Library series with titles like Mrs Wishy Washy and The Kick-a-Lot Shoes.

And it is her knowledge and experience of how children learn that underpins this story so that they can experience “real reading” and consolidate their belief that they can be “real” readers. To start with the tiny woman wonders where she will get the cloth for her coat, focusing the reader’s attention of the sorts of things that will be needed to construct it so they can draw on their own experience to suggest the items that will be required.  Then each “chapter” starts with the repeated statement and question… “The tiny woman wanted a coat. “Where will I get some…” leaving the reader to suggest what the next word might be and possible solutions. All the while the sky is changing building the anticipation of whether she will get her coat completed before the storm hits.  

While there are hundreds of stories written and published for our youngest readers every year, there are few that are so deeply rooted in understanding those early reading behaviours and which consolidate our children’s expectations of being readers as well as those by this author.  While the world has clearly moved on from the scenario of Grandma arriving in a Vickers Viscount  (after 50+ years I still remember the theme of the stories) , the process of learning to read remains the same, and this is the perfect support to that. 

Say My Name

Say My Name

Say My Name











Say My Name

Joanna Ho

Khoa Le

HarperCollins, 2023

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


There is an old riddle that goes, “What is yours alone but used by everyone else? Your name”. 

There is so much embodied in a person’s name that it can be (and was) one of the most popular units of work that I did with my students at the beginning of each year.  They loved to discover why they had the name they did, its history and significance within their family, its meaning, its cultural connections  and how it shaped their own identity. They enjoyed having conversations with family members about why it was chosen, seeing their birth announcements and sharing their stories.  But most importantly, they wanted to teach us how to say it properly because that demonstrated that we respected them, cared enough about them,  to make the effort to learn it and use it and acknowledge that they were not invisible.  Even though some chose to use a more common “European” name, there was always a spark in their eyes if their birth name was used and pronounced correctly.

In this new book by Joanna Ho, whose stories  Eyes the Kiss in the Corners and Eyes that Speak to the Stars embody and celebrate diversity in a perception-changing way, six children of Chinese, Tongan, Persian, Diné, Nahuatl, or Akan descent share the meaning and history of their names. Names that are “full of tones and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, chords and cadences, Each syllable, each sound, is a building block in an architecture constructed over oceans and across generations.” (And there is a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to help you out.)

Accompanied by stunning illustrations that are rich in the symbolism of the culture of the child, the lyrical text shows us how important it is to each child, indeed each person on the planet, to say their name correctly because “My name is a window to my world, a door to my destiny, a key to unlock the dreams of my ancestors, the hopes of my family and the divine that lives within. Anything less is not me.”

Sadly for some children having someone say their name and smile is the only positive acknowledgement that they will get in a day and it is that affirmation that they exist that is enough to bring them back to school for one more day.  If ever there was a book that demonstrates just how important your name is and how we each cling to its uniqueness, this is it.  With a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to serve as a model for each child’s story, here, embedded in this literary treasure,  is your program for the first few weeks of Term 1 2024 sorted…

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened











Our Country: Where History Happened

Mark Greenwood

Frané Lessac

Walker , 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


In the first book in this series, the creators took readers on a journey to the ancient wonders of this land – landscapes and landshapes that have existed for billions of years. Now, they have put its people in the picture, tracing some of the significant events that have shaped the life lived today.

Beginning with the statement, “The story of our country is told in stone”, the reader begins their new journey with a visit to Ubirr in the Northern Territory, one of over 100 000 important rock art sites around Australia that pass on the historical, cultural and spiritual knowledge of Australia’s First Nations peoples.  They then move on to the significance of a pewter plate with a chiselled inscription nailed to a post in 1616 in Western Australia, showing that the story of this country can be told through pictures and words, artefacts and mementos just as much as it is through observed and lived events.   The journey continues through a timeline of other important events – mapped out on the front endpaper – each including that basic statement,  a broad explanation with language reminiscent of a tourist brochure as well as a brief, fact-filled paragraph about the event itself.   And all set against a backdrop of Frané Lessac’s stunning artwork! Then, acknowledging that there is much more to this story than can be covered in a picture book, the final endpaper has a different timeline of other critical events inviting the reader to find out more and perhaps even produce their own entry for the book. 

Younger students are often challenged by the relevance of having to study that which has happened before their time, particularly as their maturity level has them living in the here-and-now exacerbated by the instant connectivity the internet offers, and so this book is the most attractive and engaging way to introduce them to the concept of times past and how those times have shaped their here-and-now.  Would we have had the recent Voice referendum, even the daily Acknowledgement of Country, if not for the work of Eddie Mabo?  Would they have even been born in Australia if not for the impact of World War II on Europe and the waves of migrants who sought a new life here? 

As well as being a must-have entry level book to learning about the history of the country they live in, the content, format and potential of this book ensures its inclusion in collections spanning all ages and abilities especially if students are old enough to step beyond what happened and consider what if… If Dirk Hartog had done more than nail a plate to a post and claimed this country for the Dutch; if French captain de Surville had turned west to investigate the land his crew claimed they could smell five months before Captain Cook claimed the continent for England… 

History in the form of facts and figures, dates long gone and people long dead, can be greeted with a groan by many, but this series with its engaging format and just the right amount of information to bring it into the realm of the reader has the power and potential to grab the imagination and spark a desire to learn more.  It epitomises the theme Australia: Story Country.

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean











Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Melissa Greenwood

ABC Books, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Gaagal (ocean) is our special place,

we love to swim in the waves.

We’ll catch some yamaarr (fish),

eat, dance and play games.

Is there anything more iconic than the sights and sounds of little ones running down the beach to dip their toes in the cool waters of the ocean on a hot summer’s day, carefree and careless?

It’s a scene that has been and will be repeated for decades and decades as the sun beats down and the waves invite. But, after reading this lyrical ode to the ocean, perhaps this summer our children might stop and consider the privilege they are enjoying, maybe even offer a word of appreciation…

But first, before walking on Country, we talk to the land

and het her know that we re here to play.

We are grateful for what she has to offer,

we promise to take care of her during our stay. 

Woven among the stunning artwork that is so evocative of the experience if you take the time to look at it, is a description of something that has been done over and over and over – dancing over the hot yellow sand, gathering bush fruits and collecting pipis in the tide zone, keeping an eye out for sharks and knowing when it is safe to swim, watching the whales and dolphins twist and turn in their own special water dance, collecting shells, dodging crabs, building a fire to make lunch and sheltering from sunburn all taking on a bit of extra magic as the children play but all the while having that connection that keeps them aware of how lucky they are. “We say, ‘Yaarri yarraang gaagal, darrundang, Goodbye ocean and than you,,, until next time.'”. Each thing has its own particular and unique place in the landscape and landshape that is so much more than just for the delight and amusement of the human intruders. 

As with Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth, there are indigenous words scattered throughout,  and the full text is included in both English and Gumbaynggir in the final pages, adding to the resources for preserving and revitalising First Nations languages.  

This is another of a number of brilliant new books that help our children understand the significance of that now-familiar Acknowledgement of Country, perhaps even inspiring them to develop their own connections as another summer looms and they too, “must go down to the seas again”. 

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code











Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

R. A. Stephens

E. Hammond

Wombat Books, 2023

90pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Riz Chester has highly tuned senses and notices things that most people don’t, such as the brand of cheese being changed in the tuckshop lunches, the 10gram change in the size of the packets of chips, and the differences between identical twins Sabrina and Jenny.  She keeps a note of the differences in her Weird Stuff Log because when she mentions them, people look at her funny.  

But, by using her observation skills and logical thinking, she was able to detect counterfeit $10 notes in the first in this series for newly independent readers, and in this episode once again she  demonstrates the value of planning, thinking logically and recording what you discover in an organised way as she tries to determine who could have stolen a baby grand piano from the school’s music room.

This time the forensic focus is fingerprints and there is more information about this at the end of the book, enabling students to understand why they leave unique markers all the time that science is beginning to unravel with greater depth and accuracy every day.

There are lots of series published for this age group, but this one particularly appeals to me because of its emphasis on the need to approach a problem in a clear, methodical way thus brining into play all those skills of the information literacy process.  What has happened? What do we know? What do we need to find out? How can we find that out? What would be the best tools to use? How do we use them? Do I need help using them…