The Secret of the Youngest Rebel

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel









The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (Secret Histories Book 5)

Jackie French 

Angus & Robertson, 2019

128pp., pbk., RRP $A 14.99


1804 in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, and Frog, like so many orphan children is starving, eking an existence by stealing food scraps and anything else of value for Ma Grimsby in exchange for some rat-infested straw to sleep on at night. Tempted by an apple tart in a basket carried by a fine lady, Frog cannot resist and snatches it – but is caught by a tall man and life changes forever.  It is the time of the Irish uprisings against England in Ireland, and transported to the colonies for their sedition, the word of rebellion is spreading through Sydney Town, Parramatta, Green Hills and beyond.  And the person who has caught Frog is their leader, Phillip Cunningham. 

Frog is enraptured by Cunningham, his eloquence, his promises and enthralled by the thought of a life that is so much better than this and the cry of “death or liberty”, Frog joins the rebels in their ill-fated rebellion at Castle Hill but Frog has a secret even bigger than that of being a rebel. To say much more would be to disclose Frog’s greatest secret and that is something that the young independent reader should have the surprise of discovering, but this is another intriguing read and one that offers amazing insight into the lives of the children of this time – a life so utterly different and unimaginable for today’s younger generation.

Meticulously researched as usual, based on eyewitness accounts and reaching back into her family’s history, Jackie French has created the fifth in this series of this country’s secret histories, and it stands proudly alongside Birrung the Secret Friend, The Secret of the Black Bushranger, Barney and the Secret of the Whales and Barney and the Secret of the French Spies  helping to bring history alive for young readers who may otherwise  see it as dry, dusty and irrelevant. 

This is a must-have series in any library as it not only sits alongside the mandated curriculum but brings it to life in a way that only Jackie French can.


Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Grandma's Treasured Shoes

Grandma’s Treasured Shoes










Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Coral Vass

Christina Huynh

NLA Publishing, 2019

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Grandma has oodles and oodles of shoes.

Walk to the park shoes

Dance in the dark shoes

Fun shoes and sun shoes

Out and about shoes

Splash in the rain shoes

Fancy shoes, 

Plain shoes,

But her favourite shoes 

Are her worn and torn shoes

From a time long ago

And a land far away. 

For they are the shoes of her childhood in wartorn Vietnam, a time when her childhood was like that of others until the night she and her family have to flee with just the shoes on their feet.  They are shoes that take her on a terrifying journey to a new land where she is given new shoes to wear.  But she never forgets or discards those old shows with the memories and stories they hold for her.

Beginning with a rhyme and rhythm reminiscent of Frida Wolfe’s poem Choosing Shoes , this is a story that could be that of the grandmother or grandfather of any number of our students who have come to Australia as refugees, but in particular those who fled the Viet Cong and arrived here in boats in the 1970s. (But not always to the welcome that Grandma gets.) Using the shoes as a vehicle to tell the story of the fear and the flight, both author and illustrator have introduced the young reader to the story of refugees in a sensitive, non-confrontational way.  They have put themselves in the shoes of those who have had to flee their countries and imagined that regardless of the country, “that each shoe would have a different tale of danger, hardship, sacrifice and the cost of freedom to tell.”

This approach is rich in possibilities for a wide age group – children could tell the story of their shoes’ daily journey while those who have been in Grandma’s situation might feel comfortable about telling their story through the perspective of their shoes.  It could also serve as a lead-in to a series of lessons about perspective and how the different role a person has in a situation alters how the story is told. For example, what might be the glass slipper’s version of the Cinderella story? In a time when immigration is once more in the news as the tragedy in Christchurch starts debates again, older students might even examine the different responses by those such as Jacinda Ardern (#theyareus) and Donald Trump (building the wall).

As usual with NLA publications, there are pages of information at the back, these ones outlining the history of refugees in Australia and in particular, those who came from Vietnam in the 70s, the grandmothers and grandfathers of so many of our students. Perfect for Harmony Day celebrations or any focus on the multicultural nature of this country.



Grandma’s Treasured Shoes from STYNA on Vimeo.

52 Mondays

52 Mondays

52 Mondays









52 Mondays

Anna Ciddor

Allen & Unwin, 2019

208pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Melbourne in the hot summer of February 1964 , in the hot car on the way to Nana and Zayda’s and Anna clutches the library book she can’t wait to read. It’s called Hitty: the life and adventures of a wooden doll and it not only inspired young Anna to own her own antique doll, a dream that lasts 52 Mondays, but also inspired the older Anna, the author, to tell the tale of the joys and disappointments of her real-life childhood search for the doll.

Based on her own life and following the success of The Family with Two Front Doors  which tells the story of  her own family, the Rabinovitches who “dance, laugh and cook their way through an extraordinary life in 1920s Poland”, the author takes the readeron a journey through the life and times of children growing up in 1960s Melbourne.  No computers, no Internet or social media, in many homes, not even a television set – just the day-to-day adventures of children who had to seek and make their own fun.  For those like me it is a trip down memory lane to the days of warm school milk, Mr Whippy, and desks in rows in schools, while for more modern young readers it is an insight into the lives of their grandparents -something very different to that which they know.

Whichever, it is a very readable story about a little girl with a dream, parents who understand and support it, the  highs and lows of following it, and the determination and resilience  required to achieve it. 



Mallee Sky

Mallee Sky

Mallee Sky









Mallee Sky

Jodi Toering

Tannya Harricks

Black Dog Books, 2019

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


“The first people of the land call the Mallee “Nowie”.  It means sunset country. When the sun goes down, the red heat of the day bleeds into the sky and sets it on fire.”

In this most evocative book with poetic text and stunning illustrations, we are introduced to life on the Mallee under the harshest conditions of drought, where the summer sky is big and blue and at night there are more stars in the sky than anywhere in the world. Where bitumen melts, red dirt cracks, the scrub sighs from thirst and the wind is so hot and tired it can’t raise more than a whisper…

No rain falls here and the ancient eucalypts are ghosts of themselves until one day there is a strange sound on the tin roof…

The author, herself born in the Mallee , has taken seven years to perfect her book and the time and dedication shows in its sensitive, picturesque phrases that build an image so vivid it must have been easy for illustrator Tannya Harricks to know what to capture and bring to life with her oil paints and bold brushstrokes. , even though the two only met for the first time at the launch of the book! 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

What is typical for this vast region of Western Victoria, encompassing more than a quarter of the state is sadly the scenario and scenery for much of the eastern states as this drought drags on and on, and so this is a timely publication and addition to the collection because so many will be able to see their own surroundings and lives in it and how they, as people, are shaped by Mother Nature, and perhaps draw hope that they too will dance in the rain as the Mallee kids did. In fact, Toering herself says, ““This is really a book about Australia. Even though it is set in the Mallee and it’s called Mallee Sky, in essence it’s about drought, which affects every part of Australia, it’s about climate change, it’s about farming and small towns and the impact that drought has on them.”

Simply stunning. and could well be among the award winners over the next 12 months. 



Sleep Tight, Platypup

Sleep Tight, Platypup

Sleep Tight, Platypup









Sleep Tight, Platypup

Renée Treml

Puffin Books, 2019

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


Alone in his burrow, the baby platypus wakes up and is disturbed by the shadows and noises of the night.  He calls out for his mummy who has been out searching for food, and after giving him a big hug she takes him outside to show him the night.  At first all he can see is darkness but when she encourages him to look more closely, he sees other things that are familiar to him during the day and starts to understand.  When the wind blows, she encourages him to listen carefully to the sounds and again, he starts to distinguish those that are familiar and his fear dissipates.  

Superbly illustrated in her distinctive style, the creator of gems like Wombat Big, Puggle Small, Ten Little Owls, Once I heard a wombat, One Very Tired Wombat and Colour  for Curlews  has designed another gentle story for young readers which not only introduces them to another of Australia’s unique creatures but also helps dispel fears they might have about the night – perhaps even offering human parents a strategy that could help their little ones.  

With its soft, gentle palette of purples portraying the night, rather than the more usual starkness of black, its sensitive text that reflects just how a mother would soothe a frightened child and its universal theme of a fear of the dark, this is a winner on so many levels.  

A peek inside....

A peek inside….

An activity pack with some lovely activities to enrich the book and help them understand their fears is available. 

Australian Birds

Australian Birds

Australian Birds











Australian Birds

Matt Chun

Little Hare, 2018

36pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


It took millions of years of isolation and a diverse range of habitats for Australian birds to evolve the way they did. The result is many of the world’s most striking and beautiful birds, including some that are stranger than fiction. In Australian Birds,  artist Matt Chun showcases 16 remarkable species that have captured the imagination of the world. 

This is a beautifully crafted book, superbly illustrated with great attention to detail and colour, which is the perfect introduction to Australia’s unique birdlife. Each of the birds featured is one that will be well-known to many of our students because it will be a part of their environment, but at the same time, will be new to others who live in a different part of the country.  Living in the bush as I do, I’m privileged to see lots of varieties on a daily basis, whether it’s the little finches who have just raised a family in their little nest in the honeysuckle outside my window, to the magpie family who bring their babies down to feed and learn each year, the cheeky crimson rosellas who delight in splashing in the birdbaths we have around or the raucous kookaburras who are better than any alarm clock.

Children will delight in telling you which ones they already recognise, while it would serve as a wonderful resource to start identifying,  spotting and tallying the species and numbers of birds found in your school playground throughout the various seasons and investigate ways that it could be made more bird friendly, perhaps even being involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count in October this year.  


Dippy’s Big Day Out

Dippy's Big Day Out

Dippy’s Big Day Out










Dippy’s Big Day Out

Jackie French

Bruce Whatley

HarperCollins, 2019

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


All Dippy wants to do is fill his tummy and find a soft place to sleep.  But it seems that that is a bit tricky when you are a diprotodon, a kind of giant wombat the size of a rhinoceros!   No matter what he does or where he lies down, it seems Dippy is doomed to be hungry and wide awake.  Beds that are nests, snacks that attack, it’s a bit bewildering until…

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have developed an idea from Ben Smith Whatley and teamed up once again to introduce young readers to the world of megafauna, huge creatures that evolved from the dinosaurs and roamed Australia up until about 50 000 years ago. Not surprisingly, given her well-known love of wombats, Jackie has focused this story on their ancestors, the diprotodon, but even though this initially appears to be a story for the very young, it opens up so many areas to explore that it could be for any age.

Combining minimal text with illustrations that contain so much action, this is a great introduction to the genre of ‘faction” where a fictional story is based on so much fact that the lines are blurred and it becomes an information text as much as a imaginary one, meeting many of the Australian Curriculum outcomes in the process. Whatley has painted a very different Australia to that which we are used to, which has to spark questions about climate change and what happened to these ginormous creatures. And are there lessons we can learn because we no longer have diprotodons in our landscape? Is its descendant, the wombat, likely to follow in its footsteps? Put May 11 aside to celebrate Hairy Nosed Wombat Day as a focus for endangered and extinct species!

Given the fascination that young children have for dinosaurs, it is surprising that there are so few stories, or even resources, about these other prehistoric beasts and so, this is a must-have in any collection.

Excellent teachers’ notes (written by me) exploring the riches of this book are available both on the publishers’ website  and their Teachers Hub , demonstrating that what might be considered a book for preschoolers actually has a much wider application, making it a model of its genre..



Bat vs Poss

Bat vs Poss

Bat vs Poss










Bat vs Poss

Alexa Moses

Anil Tortop

Lothian Children’s, 2019

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


Meek lives with her three sisters, a gaggle of birds, lizards and other creatures next to a tumbledown terrace house. Everyone shares the space, and life is pretty sweet until the day a rude and messy fruit bat named Squabbles moves in – and demands everyone else move OUT.  And the creatures are thinking that’s what they will have to do when, at a meeting of all the residents, Meek has a plan.  It means putting her brave on and all the others working together but if it works, it will give them their peaceful home back.

Written in rhyme and charmingly illustrated by Anil Tortop in a palette that reflects the nocturnal life of the story’s characters, this is a story that may be familiar to readers who have had their lives disrupted by a bully who hasn’t learned how to behave well yet. But it is also a story of redemption, showing that sometimes being given a second chance is needed if bad behaviour is to change rather than just continue in a different setting. 

This is the perfect story to share at the beginning of a new school year when some children may be afraid of moving into their new class because of the reputations of some of their new classmates. And for those who have not learned acceptable behaviour skills in the past, it is confirmation that new starts can be made as they start to understand the impact of their actions on those they really want to be friends with, if they only knew how.  A great forerunner for talking about respect and responsibility and establishing class expectations and guidelines for the new year. 

47 Degrees

47 Degrees

47 Degrees








47 Degrees

Justin D’Ath

Puffin, 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Saturday, February 7, 2009 and Victoria wakes to a weather forecast of 47 degrees in Melbourne with strengthening northerly winds, part of the pattern of the previous few days as a heatwave crawls across the state. In the tiny community of Flowerdale,  Zeelie’s dad is enacting the family’s bushfire survival plan to stay and defend their home even though her mum and young brother are in the Emergency Department of a Melbourne hospital because Lachy has fallen off Zeelie’s horse Rimu.

Zeelie’s not sure her dad has made the right decision but even though there is a lot of smoke in the air her dad is convinced that his precautions are just that – precautions, and wherever the fire is, they will be safe. But when Zeelie goes next door to find Atticus, the old dog they are minding for absent neighbours who has wandered home and discovers small fires already started by embers, her fear rises particularly for the welfare of her horse Rimu. And when the generator fails and there is no longer electricity for the water pumps, it is clearly time to leave… but what about Mum and Lachy and Rimu?

Based solidly on his own experiences during those Black Saturday bushfires, Justin D’Ath has woven a tale that could be the story of any one of our students or children who has experienced the very real horror of bushfires.  At a time when adults are frantically busy trying to keep everyone and everything safe, and reassuring their children with what they want them to hear, there is not time to put themselves in their child’s shoes and see the events through their eyes.  When her dad asks her to pack suitcases, Zeelie packs her mum’s wedding dress and evening gowns rather than the more practical things;  she is angry at her mum because she has taken the vehicle with the towbar because she didn’t have enough petrol in hers so Rimu will be left to his own devices … kids focus on the details while the adults are dealing with the big picture and providing an insight into the child’s thinking and fears is what D’Ath has done so skilfully. Because he experienced many of the events that Zeelie does, the story has a unique authenticity and the reader feels the heat, smells the smoke, visualises the flames and empathises with the fear as Zeelie and her dad try all sorts of routes to get to Melbourne, only to be turned back towards the danger because even greater danger lies ahead.  D’Ath deals with the less-than-happy parts sensitively, acknowledging rather than ignoring them, and helping readers deal with the fact that not all things have a sugar-coated happy ending.  

As the 10th anniversary of one of this country’s greatest natural disasters when  173 people died and over 2000 homes were destroyed approaches, this is not only account of the an event that had an impact well beyond those who were caught up in it but also an insight into the what-did-happens and the what-ifs of those who have experienced similar events, providing us with an inkling of the trauma that many of our students might have faced and are still dealing with, critical as the milestone memory will generate a lot of media that could bring a wave of flashbacks and other psychological issues.

However, it is also a story of hope for them because 10 years on Justin is still able to write stories for them despite losing everything himself, and while the immediate future might be bleak, unknown and scary there is clear air coming and because Australians step up in an extraordinary way at these times, they will be OK. 


The Aussie ABC Christmas

The Aussie ABC Christmas

The Aussie ABC Christmas










The Aussie ABC Christmas

Nancy Bevington

New Frontier, 2018

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


In 1788 when the first wave of immigrants from the northern hemisphere came to Australia, they brought with them the celebrations and their associated traditions as they tried to settle into what was a land that was so different from what they knew, it was beyond their imagination.  Subsequent waves of immigrants have done the same thing and so now, 230 years later, so much of what we see and do at Christmas is still rooted in those wintery northern customs and people still strive to create a winter wonderland in their homes.

Slowly though, there are some uniquely Australian twists that are becoming more widespread and artist Nancy Bevington has captured these in this beautifully illustrated alphabet book.  There are B for beach, I for icecream and P for pavlova, and for those things like gifts, reindeer and Santa which are more universal, each illustration is quirkily Australian.  I can’t decide if my favourite is the emu putting the star at the top of the tree or the kookaburras laughing with joy. 

Young readers will delight in seeing so much that is familiar while those sharing this with them will love the humour in each picture. A treat for an Aussie Christmas stocking this year, and while it might be too late for this year as school is all but over, it would be perfect to stimulate a class display (or library display with each class contributing a letter) for next year, perhaps the reveal of each letter being part of the Christmas Countdown.