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Wild Australian Life

Wild Australian Life

Wild Australian Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Australian Life

Leonard Cronin

Chris Nixon

A & U Children’s, 2022

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

9781760637224

Over the years there have been many books published about Australia’s wildlife so for  yet another one to stand out  means there has to be a significant point of difference – and this one has it.  Rather than glossy photos and repeated facts, Wild Australian Life investigates how the creatures with which we share this continent have evolved and adapted so they can survive and thrive in the particular habitats in which they are found. 

Beginning with the classification of the Animal Kingdom, not an unusual start,  it demonstrates how the red kangaroo fits into the descending groups until it is recognised as a species of its own.  Its shows how the diminishing  characteristics of kingdom>phylum>class>order>family>genus> species is a logical sequence and that allows the reader to trace any creature through such a taxonomy and understand just how and why they fit where they do.  Then depending on where the reader’s interest lies, they can choose which of the traces and tracks they want to investigate to learn more about what they might not be able to see without the secret “key.”  For example, if feathers take their fancy they can turn to the specified page and learn about birds generally, and then, more specifically, how their feathers, beaks and feet allow them to manage their lives in their particular environment. The shape of the beak of a bird offers a lot of information about the lifestyle and diet of the bird if you know what you’re looking at.

For independent readers who want to know more about the why and how, rather than just the what, this is a fascinating dip-and-delve book that puts the power of discovery into their hands as they choose their interest – or just follow it through as they choose. 

 

 

 

The Echidna Near My Place

The Echidna Near My Place

The Echidna Near My Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Echidna Near My Place

Sue Whiting

Cate James

Walker, 2022

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

9781760652401

Whenever Nana and Child walk through the scrubby paddock at the end of their street, they look for the echidna – that curious, spiky creatures that waddles like its feet are on backwards.  They see if often, almost as if it knows them, and, as they watch it carefully, they learn about its habitat and habits.

This is the latest addition to the Nature Storybooks series, one of my favourites for young readers as it combines a narrative story with a factual account so they learn so much more about the fascinating creatures that inhabit their world, particularly Australia.  

Just as Searching for Cicadas celebrated the relationship between grandfather and grandchild, this one also focuses on the special bond, this time with grandma as they walk through the paddock almost daily and each time they see the echidna they learn something new. For although the short-beaked echidna (the only species found here, the other three are in Papua New Guinea) is common in many parts of Australia   – we often see them waddling along our road or through our bush block here in the Snowy Mountains – nevertheless, they are shy and well-camouflaged so not so easy to find if you’re not looking.  But for all that they might be common, they are also just one of two monotremes – egg-laying mammals – found on the planet, the other being the platypus. Teaching notes to learn even more are available. 

So even though we make sure our old, gentle cavoodle is inside when they come, and they uproot pot plants seeking shelter because their sensitive snouts smell her anyway,  we will continue to enjoy their company whenever they come to visit – just like Nana and Child. 

Rainbow the Koala

Rainbow the Koala

Rainbow the Koala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow the Koala

Remy Lai

A&U Children’s, 2022

112pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781761065453

It is time for Rainbow the Koala to become more independent and so, after a year of being nurtured and comforted and provided for, he has to say goodbye to his mother and venture off on his own- find a new tree, seek his own food and generally be the adult he was destined to be.  But it’s not easy – for starters,  it’s not just a matter of climbing the nearest tree and calling it his.  It has to be the right species and unoccupied and with the way land is being cleared for humans and the drying landscape making them less nutritious,  there are not so many of the just-rights available.  Waterholes made by humans can be treacherous, dogs are not always the koala’s best friend and the smell of smoke on the air is a signal for alarm…

This is the first in a new graphic novel series called Surviving the Wild designed to make young readers more aware of the environment by viewing it through the lenses of those creatures that live in it.  The new NSW English syllabus, particularly, requires students to be able to “to express opinions about texts and issues… both objectively and subjectively”, so as well as empathising with Rainbow as they, too, face having to step out of their comfort zone to navigate the new world of school; meeting new people who, like Kookaburra, may not be as friendly as they expect, and having to solve problems for themselves, they also learn about the perils of things like habitat destruction, climate change, drought…  Being in the shoes of the main character, in this case a koala which automatically has inbuilt appeal,  helps them be more engaged and understand the situation better, hopefully inspiring them to become not only more aware but more active in environmental protection.  Inspired by the devastating bushfires of the 2019.2020 summer in which it’s estimated over one billion creatures were lost, there are extra pages explaining the origins of Rainbow’s predicament as well as ways that the reader can help by making simple, everyday changes. 

Hallmarks of quality literature include having characters and a plot which are engaging and interesting for the students, offering layers and levels of complexity that are revealed with multiple readings and which enrich discussion and challenge perceptions, thinking and attitudes.  This certainly does that and young readers will look forward to Star the Elephant which is already published and Sunny the Shark due in August. 

 

 

 

Little Wombat’s Easter Surprise

Little Wombat's Easter Surprise

Little Wombat’s Easter Surprise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Wombat’s Easter Surprise

Charles Fuge

Walker, 2022 

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

9781760654269

Little Wombat is busy collecting eggs on his Easter hunt when he sees Rabbit hop by wearing a special Easter Bunny costume. It’s such a good costume that the tail and nose won’t come even off – but wait, is that really Rabbit? Or is it his new friend, Bilby?

In 1991,  the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia (RFA) developed and registered the Easter Bilby campaign  to raise awareness of the damage rabbits do to native wildlife, and to raise money with royalties from Easter Bilby sales to fund research programs. In 1993, Haigh’s Chocolates in Adelaide stopped making chocolate Easter bunnies and made the first Easter Bilby, donating part of the proceeds to RFA.  More recently the Easter Bilbies have been made by Fyna Foods sold under the brands of Australian Bush Friends and Pink Lady and have been stocked by national chains and other independent stores. 

Aligned to this, in 1999 the  Save the Bilby Fund was established in 1999 to raise money and awareness to help stop the steady decline of bilbies. The fund helps support bilby conservation initiatives including a breeding program and a “bilby fence” creating a predator-free zone in Western Queensland. 

Dedicated to Tim Faulkner and his work with Aussie Ark ,Little Wombat’s Easter Surprise shines a new light on the both the plight of the bilby and the reasons behind Australia having such a unique interpretation of the familiar Easter Bunny both for the young audience and their parents who share it because they will be too young to remember the circumstances.  As in Swim, Little Wombat, SwimLittle Wombat tries to mimic the actions of his new friends Bilby and Easter Bunny only to discover he has his own unique talents that come in very handy for building friendships and having fun.

As well as being a fresh story about Easter in Australia, and helping children understand that we each have special abilities that we can use for the good of others, it is a great way to introduce another Australian species, sadly also endangered, and raising awareness (and perhaps money) that there are many who need our help.  

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

Kookaburra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kookaburra

Clare Saxby

Tannya Harricks

Walker Books, 2020

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

9781760651060

Dawn, and in a line on a limb, Kookaburra and her family greet the rising sun with their distinctive call, harsh at times but more melodious than any alarm clock.  After welcoming the daylight hours, they go their separate ways in search of food, using their keen eyesight to spot even the most elusive snack.  But it is nesting season and after being presented with a delicious morsel by her lifelong mate, they go in search of a new tree hollow in which to lay their eggs.  But despite looking at a lot of new real estate, they return to their old home even though they have to defend it and the surrounding territory from intruders. And as the shadows grow longer and dusk falls, once again there is a line on a limb and that familiar sound bids the world goodnight.

There is no more iconic sound of the Australian bush than the laugh of the kookaburra – even though it varies according to circumstance and season and is never actually directed at something amusing – and in this addition to the narrative non-fiction Nature Storybook series that opens the world of Australia’s fauna to young readers by telling the story of one creature and accompanying it with facts about the species in general, Saxby and Harricks have captured both the sound, sight and antics of this stunning bird perfectly. 

Saxby, also the author of Big Red KangarooEmu Koala  and Dingo (also illustrated by Harricks) brings her ability to create pictures with her words to create magic on the tongue, while Harricks has captured the colours and the contours of the bush in oils with her bold strokes and beautiful palette. We are blessed to live in a place where we see a range of Australian birds in their natural habitat every day but despite the magpie family’s loyalty, the brilliant colours of the crimson rosellas and the mad antics of the galahs and cockatoos, it is always the call of the kookaburra that brings the widest smile.   While trees with hollows are becoming harder to find, particularly after the Black Summer bushfires, hopefully there will always be a home in the bush near us for them. 

Rusty, the Rainbow Bird

Rusty, the Rainbow Bird

Rusty, the Rainbow Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rusty, the Rainbow Bird

Aleesah Darlison

Mel Matthews

Puffin, 2022

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

 9781760899240

It is the dry season in the northern reaches of Australia, a tough time for tiny Gouldian Finches like Rusty who watches the waterhole shrink knowing that, like all finches, he needs to drink several times a day. But Rusty is lucky, for he has met Olive and after an energetic courtship dance during which he displays displays the magnificent colours that belie his name – a bright green back, yellow belly, a purple breast and black face (although Olive is the rarer red-faced version)  – together they build a nest in a hollow tree and get ready to raise their young, adding to the population of these endangered birds. It is hard work feeding six always-hungry mouths but it’s made easier because each baby, although naked and blind, has a colourful pattern on its mouth so its parents can see it in the dark of the hollow.

But even more dire than the shrinking water hole which means that Rusty and Olive have to fly further and further to find the insects and seeds to feed their babies, is the fire that is roaring across the countryside…

This is the third in this series about Australia’s lesser-known endangered species  and like its predecessors,  Poppy, the Punk Turtle  and Coco, the fish with hands both author and artist have created a perfect text attractive and accessible to its intended audience of young readers with a curiosity about the natural world around them. The colour and simplicity of the illustrations catch the eye immediately (as would a Gouldian Finch) and the story written in simple but accurate vocabulary which respects their intelligence, supported by fact boxes, is ideal for introducing young readers to a world beyond their own.

This is an essential collection of stories for any parent or teacher wanting to expand their child’s horizons so they understand that there are many creatures in the environment that need both help and protection from us, and we have a responsibility to them all, no matter how small or obscure.  

An Aussie Christmas Gum Tree

 

 

 

 

An Aussie Christmas Gum Tree

An Aussie Christmas Gum Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Aussie Christmas Gum Tree

Jackie Hosking

Nathaniel Eckstrom

Walker Books, 2021

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

9781760652715

From his lofty watch post, Possum is drawn to the sight of a distant tree covered in sparkling trinkets. A Christmas Tree, according to Kookaburra. So begins a quest in which Possum and his crafty crew of helpers try very hard to decorate their very own Christmas gum tree from Bowerbird’s treasure trove. But it’s not as easy as you might think.

There is something about Christmas books that celebrate the Australian experience that make them stay in my mind moreso than any of the other classics.  Over all the years that I have done a Christmas Countdown both with my class and my family, and in more recent times, on this blog, there are a handful that truly encapsulate what it is to have Christmas in this country, and this new offering is now one of those.  

While we know that many of our Christmas traditions have their origins in northern hemisphere customs were brought here by those earliest European settlers so they could still feel the connection to their own origins, (and the concept of a Christmas tree stretches back to pagan times)   and continue to be perpetuated slowly, slowly we are building a set of uniquely Australian customs and this story is an important contributor to that.  How much family fun could there be in doing what the animals did and decorate a branch of a gum tree with things found in nature?  May be easier to say than do for those in the city, but for those who can take a drive in the bush there are plenty of fallen branches to gather and keen eyes will soon find a store of decorations as rich as any bowerbird’s collection.  

Hosking’s rhyming text is superbly supported by Eckstrom’s illustrations which capture our unique flora and fauna in a fun-filled way that befits the joy of working together to create a spectacular centrepiece.  Young readers will delight in identifying those they recognise and meeting those they don’t but for me, the essence of this book, is the co-operation and collaboration. A couple of years ago when S & S came they were disappointed that my usual masterpiece wasn’t waiting for them (but to be fair I’d had a heart attack and was recovering from heart surgery) but this year a new activity will be born. Grandad can find a suitable branch from the thousands on our bush block and we will all spend a couple of hours using what we can find to make it our own.  Maybe in years to come that will be the norm in the family and the tree will have so much more meaning for coming generations. . 

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Dragon

Charles Massy

Mandy Ford

NLA Publishing, 2021

44pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780642279729

 

Beneath the western mountains, on the open plains of the high Monaro where the skies are blue and big, there lived a little dragon lizard.

Timpo is the smartest, best-disguised lizard in Narrawallee, the Big Grass Country. Wolfie the spider is his good friend, but there are no other dragon lizards and he is lonely for his own kind. 

Timpo and Wolfie embark on a journey to discover if Timpo is indeed the last dragon left in the valley. Through a landscape of grassland, granite boulders, shiny snow gums, and shady creeks they search, encountering new friends but also facing grave danger. Wolfie must return home with her spiderlings, but Timpo trudges on … will he ever find another dragon lizard? 

Who could resist requesting, reading and reviewing a book that is set pretty much on my doorstep, on a farm just a little south-east of my home?  And I am so glad I did because not only did I learn about a little creature that is highly endangered, I read a touching story of determination and courage, of survival and an amazing conservation effort.  With artwork that is amazing in its detail, this is a story written by a local farmer on whose property the little creature was found, one who is highly qualified and recognised in the field of regenerative landscape management so that you know that what you’re reading is not only authoritative but inspirational – there can be co-existence between humans, domestic animals and creatures of the wild. 

More for independent readers, as well as Timpo’s story there is a double-page spread of simple facts accompanied by a photo and then Massy’s story of the history of the earless dragon lizard and how it is being protected on his farm at Severn Park, about 15km from Berridale. If your curriculum focus is Australia’s at-risk species and you are looking for something different, something with a positive story then this is a must for your collection.

And if you remember my writing about the little Kindy kid who taught me about pangolins, well now I’m going to return the favour and teach him about one that lives about 10 minutes from his front door!!! Xander, this is for you. 

Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths

Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths

Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Possum and the Migrating Moths

Julie Murphy

Ben Clifford

CSIRO Publishing, 2021

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

9781486314621

High in the snowy mountains of the Australian Alps an amazing story of life plays out each year, one that was thought to have long since ended but a chance discovery at Mt Hotham in 1966 gave hope.

The story of the  mountain pygmy possum and its relationship with the migration of the bogong moth is told in this beautifully illustrated book, bringing to life the tiny creature’s dependence on them for food.  In the warmer months, the moths migrate to the mountains where the pygmy possum gorges on them to build up the fat reserves it needs to survive in its little nest deep beneath the winter snows.  But as urbanisation expands, climate changes and droughts hit. many moths do not make it to their mountain homes (there has been a 99.5% decline in populations in five years and it is now on the IUCN red List) meaning there is less food for the possum.  With only 2500 left in three isolated populations in the alps, this could lead to those earlier fears coming true.

As with One Potoroo, once again CSIRO Publishing have brought the plight of one of our lesser-known endangered species to light in a picture book that will have broad appeal.  Apart from the information embedded in the story, there are extra pages that give much more insight into the possum’s life and habitat and how we can help.. Something as simple as turning off excess lights or drawing the curtains if your home is part of the moths’ migratory path can mean they won’t get distracted and can fly on.  

Clifford’s illustrations are works of art in themselves – their detail is exquisite offering much to explore – and the whole really offers food for thought, not just for those who live in this region but also those who enjoys its winter snows.  If there is a tiny pygmy possum surviving the winter beneath their feet, what else might there be? And what else might be living in other habitats that we take for granted? As usual. there re comprehensive teachers’ notes directly linked to the Australian Curriculum to support its use in the classroom.

Superb!

 

Swim, Little Wombat, Swim!

Swim, Little Wombat, Swim!

Swim, Little Wombat, Swim!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swim, Little Wombat, Swim!

Charles Fuge

Walker Books, 2021

24pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760653538

Little Wombat is so very excited because he’s found a fun new friend to play with – one with a strange name Pla-ty-pus and with an even stranger walk, a funny face and who can swim like a fish. But when Little Wombat tries to mimic Platypus’s walk and finds himself in the water and having to be rescued by his new friend, he realises water is not for him.  Nevertheless, he is determined to learn to swim and while tries teaching Little Wombat  Rabbit and Koala begin to wonder if wombats should, after all, stick to dry land!

Swimming lessons are such an integral and necessary part of our littlies’ lives that when the NSW “roadmap to freedom” was released it was quickly changed to bring forward the opening of indoor pools because of the outcry of parents demanding access to swimming lessons for their young children.  Indeed, in my teacher ed days in New Zealand we could not graduate until we each had our swimming teacher quals as swimming lessons were a compulsory part of the phys ed curriculum for both term 4 and Term 1 with most schools, even in the coldest parts of the country, having their own learner pools installed as a matter of course. 

So this is a timely tale about the importance of learning to swim and the fun it can be, as Little Wombat learns to kick his legs and float using a log, to paddle like a dog and dive like a frog.  After all, if a wombat can learn to swim and become a wom-bat-y-pus, then so can any little child! So sharing this message with a lovable little character with the most endearing expressions with them will give them confidence to try and the expectation that if they work hard as Little Wombat does, they will succeed.  Swimming is just what Australian kids do.