My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess











My Especially Weird Week with Tess

Anna Woltz

Translated by David Colmer

David Dean 

Rock the Boat, 2023

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Sam is a deep thinker – his older brother, Jasper, calls hum ‘the professor’ – and since attending the funeral of a schoolfriend’s father recently, many of his thoughts have been centred around death, particularly its impact on those left behind.  And it is his questions about the loneliness of the last dinosaur that leads to a chance meeting with 12-year-old Tess who seems to be on his wavelength and turns a run-of-the-mill holiday on the Dutch island of Texel into a life-changing time for both of them.

Within minutes of the meeting he finds himself learning to waltz in a carpark, offering to bury an old man’s canary and then discovering that Tess, who has never known her father, has found out who he is and has hatched an audacious plan to bring him to the island so she can observe him and decide whether she will disclose her identity. Through the filter-free conversations that kids have when life is still about them and theirs and not impinged by what others might think, they share their thoughts and do things that help them work through Sam’s fear of the loneliness caused by death and Tess’s relationship with her father that is completely credible for any reader who is the same age or who knows how that age group thinks and works. The setting, the situation and the characters are authentic and I binge read it in one session!

 Made into an award-winning Dutch film titled My Extraordinary Summer with Tess ,translated into 13 languages and awarded  The Times Children’s Book of the Week in March 2023, this is a heart-warming story of friendship and compassion for independent readers, even a class read-aloud,  that will envelop the reader like a warm hug.  Loved it in the same way as I loved The Girl who brought Mischief.  




The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart











The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

Samera Kamaleddine

HarperCollins, 2023

288pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Evie Hart likes rules and routines. A lot. But as she embarks on her very last year of primary school, it feels like all the rules around her are being broken and the routines are definitely being upset, starting with mum not eating dinner with the family any more. 

Then she discovers her mum, a journalist, is the author of the horoscope page for the local newspaper, and because it has her photo, her friends and their families know too, and they don’t hold back letting Evie know they think her mum writes and tells lies.  To make things worse, she learns her beloved stepdad Lee is moving to Dubbo for at least a year, perhaps splitting the family in two forever! So when Evie’s class starts learning about the Earth’s place in the universe, it makes Evie think about her own place in the world and where she belongs. 

But the more Evie learns about the sky and the stars, guided both by her kind, compassionate and knowledgeable teacher Miss Owen and her mother’s insights, the more she learns that changes in the world can’t always be controlled. And maybe that’s not a bad thing as she starts to make sense of and map out her own life as a more confident person.

Even though the title is The Sideways Orbit… there are many parallels to the lives of the readers that this book will appeal to, and so it will resonate with them as they make that sometimes tricky transition from tween to teen and young adult. While so much of her life so far has focused on the here and now, as she becomes more independent, bigger questions raise their heads – questions whose answers seem bigger and more complex than the universe – and Evie, like her readers, has to learn to navigate these in the context and boundaries of their own lives. And that doesn’t even include puberty!  Straddling the reality of the day-today while contemplating the huge world of what-ifs and what-could-bes that is opening before her, including high school on the horizon, can be overwhelming but there is comfort in knowing that there is a path forward and a way through.  So even if you feel like you’re going sideways in an endless spin, there is hope…

Many who write for and work with very young children talk about helping them understand and navigate “big feelings”. This story helps those who are at a different transition navigate theirs. 















R. J. Timms

Albert Street, 2023

304pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Deep under the ocean in the Shallow Side of Chumville Finley the reef shark lives with his dentist parents Su and Shi, and his siblings, Dash, Smash, Crash, Flash , Splash and Bash.  During the day Finley goes to school with his mates Hunter the tiger shark, Gnash the pointer shark and Gilleon the lemon shark, but at night, they are secretly the super-famous rock band JAWSOME!  But not everything is cruisy. Can JAWSOME get to the bottom of an ocean of shady shark-nanigans while keeping their secret identities watertight?

This is a new series for those emerging readers who like a light-hearted read, peppered with pun humour and plenty of illustrations.  Verging on a graphic novel because as much of the action happens in the illustrations as it does in the text, it will also appeal to those students who like to be seen with thick books – it has over 300 pages because of the large font and copious graphics.  But woven among the puns and other fishy jokes are facts about sharks that will de-mystify and maybe un-demonise these creatures so there is learning as well as laughing, as well as a strong lead character that has to learn to face his fears of singing in public step up to help his mates.

One to look for and perhaps give to some reluctant readers to determine if it is worth adding upcoming additions to the series to the library’s collection. 

Ember and the Island of Lost Creatures

Ember and the Island of Lost Creatures

Ember and the Island of Lost Creatures












Ember and the Island of Lost Creatures

Jason Pamment

A & U Children’s, 2023

288pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99


Fitting in can be hard, especially when you’re as small as Ember. He can’t remember anything from before he lived in an attic in a city where everything was giant-sized. He longed for friendship, but when he ventured out to try to make a connection, he was accidentally swept into a storm drain and out to a beach. He hopes his his luck will change when Lua, a kindly sea turtle, escorts him across the ocean to a school for little creatures on a wondrous island, and he meets creatures like Ana, a salamander, and Viggo, a stroppy blue-tongued lizard.   Ember learns that first days can also be hard – especially when your friends read your journal and mock you.  Lessons at school involve intriguing discussions of camouflage and mimicry and introductions to the unique denizens of the island and surrounding sea but it his adventures involving  fantastical cave-dwellers, ferocious storms and classmates that aren’t interested in making friends that teach him the most.
As he struggles to adapt to his school, Ember finds himself at the heart of an otherworldly mystery, facing a strange monster from the deep. And though Ember’s classmates may seem of little help, any good student knows appearances can be deceiving – and friendship can come from the most unexpected of places.
For those independent readers who like the graphic novel format, this is an intriguing story with clear, detailed pictures that in a lot of cases carry the story without speech, that reinforces the message of being and accepting yourself, building friendships with unlikely folk, persevering to get to know them better, and being open to new ideas and perspectives. 

Butterflies Be Gone

Butterflies Be Gone

Butterflies Be Gone












Butterflies Be Gone: Yoga Therapy for Fear and Anxiety

Loraine Rushton & Adele Vincent

Andrew McIntosh

Little Steps, 2023

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


When Jesse wakes up with butterflies in his tummy, he feels anxious about his day. But as he begins to move his body in special yoga poses, he is able to work through different emotions. Soon his body feels better and his imagination takes off!

It’s rare for a children’s storybook to come with a disclaimer that “the authors take no responsibility for any injury or illness resulting or appearing to result from doing the yoga in this book…” but that aside, this is still one worth having because so many of our children suffer from anxiety and if following some simple exercise patterns helps alleviate that, then it’s worth trying.  Giving the exercises such as lying on your back and then scrunching into a tight ball to let the butterflies out, a context so the reader is exposed to 18 different techniques that may be useful in times of stress. And even though it is called “yoga therapy”, many of them are the sorts of movements that might form part of a phys ed stretching session so they would be useful in the classroom setting when a change of routine is needed, benefitting more than just those feeling anxious. With simple illustrations of each pose offered at the end and their catchy names, children will enjoy participating in these without feeling that they are being singled out – everyone is involved but some will need them more than others.  

Nevertheless, given the prevalence of anxiety – whether it’s butterflies in the tummy to a debilitating medical condition – all children (and adults) can benefit from having a few strategies on hand to release it beyond taking a few deep breaths.  There really is nothing quite as magical as being so relaxed that you can hear your heart and the rhythm of love and life that it is beating.   

The Little Fear

The Little Fear

The Little Fear












The Little Fear

Luke Scriven

HarperCollins, 2023

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


When Sam lets in a little fear one night, he’s sure it won’t be any bother. But before he knows it, the fear has grown and grown and grown. Until even the sunniest of sunny days doesn’t feel very sunny any more. There’s only one thing for it. Sam must try and be a little bit brave …

It’s not so long ago that if we wanted books that addressed the mental health of our youngest readers we would be searching the shelves, possibly in vain.  But with the growing recognition and understanding that the well-being of our teens and young adults begins with their ability to cope with their earliest fears – fears that all children have as they start to navigate the road to independence – then books like this are not only becoming more common but, sadly, more necessary.

Sam’s particular fear is not identified but it is given shape, form and colour so that it seems real, and that in itself is important because it acknowledges that for Sam , and other children, whatever it is is a real concern so the story has wider applicability. In Sam’s case, the fear grows so large it follows him around like a big black cloud until he decides that to be brave, he just has to put one foot in front of the other.  There is no indication that he tells anyone about it or  seeks adult help, so if this book is used in a class program perhaps those steps should form part of any ensuing discussion.  To give the impression that something that has grown as large as it has is something the child could/should deal with alone is perhaps instilling even more anxiety especially if using Sam’s strategy doesn’t work . So while facing our own individual demons, regardless of their size, shape and colour, all of which can keep changing, is something we ultimately have to do ourselves, there needs to be a strong message that we don’t have to do it alone.  So while I’d recommend it as part of your mental health collection, it is one that should be shared in the first reading.       

When I’m Big

When I'm Big

When I’m Big











When I’m Big

Karen Blair

Puffin, 2023

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


Everyone keeps telling me
I’m going to be a big girl soon,

but I wonder . . . Just how BIG will I be?

Often parents tell their children of the impending arrival of a new sibling, that they will be a “big brother” or “big sister” and this charming story explores what happens when the little girl takes this literally, as children so often do.  To her, “big” only means “large” and she has grave concerns that she might become so big she won’t fit in the bath or her bed, and instead of her toy giraffe she will only be able to play with the real ones at the zoo!

For younger readers, particularly those who are likely to be experiencing not only the introduction of a new baby to their lives, but all the anxieties about the impact that accompany that, this book is a conversation starter about the changes they can expect and how they will be an important and integral part of them. Little ones worry that the new arrival will usurp them in their parents’ affections and they need reassurance as well as examples of how they will be a vital part of the new situation.

But it can also be a starter for helping them understand how they have grown and changed already, reflecting on what they have learned and achieved so they start to realise that “big” can mean a lot of things.  A. A. Milne’s classic poem, The End is the perfect accompaniment as is this poem from Sounds of Numbers by Bill Martin Jr. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; First Edition (January 1, 1966) which could lead to all sorts of writing and maths activities.

My name is Tommy

I am not very big

I am not as big as a goat

A goat is bigger than I am

I am not as big as a horse

A horse is bigger than I am.

I am not as big as a n elephant

An elephant is bigger than I am

I am not as big as a whale

A whale is bigger than I am.

I am not as big as a dinosaur

A dinosaur is the biggest thing I know. 

Sometimes you pick up a book that has the power to take you well beyond its pages – and this is one of those.

The Cool Code

The Cool Code

The Cool Code











The Cool Code

Deidre Langeland

Sarah Mai

HarperCollins, 2023

224pp., graphic novel, $A22.99


When 12-year-old coding whiz Zoey goes from homeschooled by her software-programmer parents to real school where there are teachers and other students, in an attempt to fit in, she develops an app called the Cool Code with a cute pink llama avatar called C.C. that she hopes will tell her everything from what to say to what to wear based on pop culture algorithms she’s uploaded. But although C.C. may be cute, it’s also bossy and starts to give her ridiculous advice,  such as running against her new friend Daniel in the school election, things get awkward.  With a few upgrades and a bit of debugging from the coding club, the app actually works—Zoey gets really popular . . . and gets her pulled in all kinds of directions, including away from her real friends.

Even though the new school year is some months away, nevertheless enrolments are open and for many students about to make the transition from primary to high school. the anxiety is starting to grow as they grapple with the changes involved, particularly the aspect of meeting and making new friends at a time in their lives when social acceptance and peer pressure is starting to dominate relationships.  So while this is a path well-trod in many stories by numerous authors,  nevertheless each one has a place to help reassure those about to embark on a similar journey.  It’s graphic novel format means it is one to be read individually, but that same format could be the hook that gets the reluctant reader in. 

One to add to a display on the theme, including the CBCA shortlisted August and Jones, that might allay the fears of some and also spark conversations about what is concerning them most and how to prepare to overcome that.  At the very least,  it will demonstrate that their worries are common and shared, and that, in itself, can help. 

Garlic and the Witch

Garlic and the Witch

Garlic and the Witch











Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

HarperCollins, 2023

160pp., graphic novel, RRP $A24.99


Brave little Garlic is back in this standalone companion to Garlic and the Vampire, with another tale of friendship, magic, and self-discovery. 

Garlic loves spending time with Witch Agnes, Carrot, and her new friend, the Count, who has proven to be a delightful neighbour to the village of vegetable people rather than the scary vampire the village feared in the first story,. But despite Agnes’s best attempts to home-brew a vegetarian blood substitute for Count, the ingredient she needs most can only be found at the Magic Market, far from the valley.

Before she knows it, with a broomstick in hand, Garlic is nervously preparing for a journey.

But Garlic is experiencing another change too—finger by finger, she appears to be turning human. Witch Agnes assures her that this is normal for her garden magic, but Garlic isn’t so sure that she’s ready for such a big change. After all, changes are scary…and what if she doesn’t want to be human after all…

As with the first one, this is not a complex read,- cheerful rather than chilling – with a subtle message about believing in stereotypes and rumours, readers will still need to have the reading skills necessary to interpret a graphic novel, seamlessly integrating the illustrations with the plot because there are many passages where there is no speech.  That said, with its warm colours, and faces which are friendly rather than frightening, this is a gentle introduction into both the format and fantasy. 

A fresh, new series to entertain readers who are looking for something a bit different. 

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'