Last Man Out

Last Man Out

Last Man Out











Last Man Out

Louise Park

Wild Dog, 2023

80pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


While most children in Australia and New Zealand learn much about the landing of their combined troops at ANZAC Cove on April 25, 1915 that built the legends and legacy that the bonds of the two nations are now so solidly built on, and that these days, they learn that from the get-go this was a disastrous campaign starting by the soldiers being dropped at the wrong location, not so much is known about the subsequent withdrawal in December 1915 masterminded by Australian Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Brudenell White.  And that for the plan to be successful, audacious as it was, there needed to be a handful of men to remain behind to the end to provide cover for their fellow soldiers, even though to be part of that mission meant that they, themselves, would probably not leave the battleground alive.

Author Louise Park’s grandfather was one of those chosen to be part of that rear guard – an assignment hotly contested amongst those who remained because of the bonds forged during those eight torturous months – and, using his letters home as well as meticulous research, she has crafted an eye-opening story that sheds new light on what those times and that miraculous evacuation (which he survived) were really like.  This is a personal account of what life was really like in the trenches, told first-hand rather than a third-party voice that can never truly capture the reality.  It tells of the deprivations, the lack of sleep,  food and water, the pain  of the never-ending digging of trenches, the illnesses like “Gallipoli Gallop”, the strategies employed to trick the Turks, the dangers and most of all, the mateship that grew between the soldiers and the respect that they developed for the enemy, because they are just defending their families and farms from invaders, as the ANZACs would do if it were their country.  

The reader is right there beside John Park, Charles Rankin, Freddy Woods, Francis Owen, and Lieutenant Riddell and all the others, including my own grandfather – ordinary men doing extraordinary things – and we learn about the true meaning of “loyalty, having each other’s backs no matter what, and valuing something greater than yourself”.  The Gallipoli Campaign took an estimated 400 000 direct casualties , an impersonal statistic difficult for young (and older) minds to comprehend, and while there have been many accounts written for all ages, this one for younger, independent readers stands apart because John Park and his buddies are real people with a real story rather than an anonymous fictitious character invented to carry the narrative along.  With my own dad named after Lord Kitchener, this could have been the story of my grandfather, my grandchildren’s great, great-grandfather, any of our students’ ancestors, regardless of the side they were on, and that makes it personal..

John Park was a seasoned soldier aged 36 when he was at Gallipoli and he clearly understood the importance of documenting his experiences, whereas my grandfather was a young lad of just 18 and even if he did write, the letters have long been lost.  And as with so many who finally did return, (after Gallipoli, he was sent to the Western Front and gassed on the Somme), he didn’t share what he had seen and done with those who had not been there; there was no 24/7 news cycle to bring pictures into the family living room and so it is left for people like the author to tell their family’s stories so that we can better understand ours, 

An essential addition to any ANZAC collection.

Dreaming Soldiers

Dreaming Soldiers

Dreaming Soldiers











Dreaming Soldiers

Catherine Bauer

Shane McGrath

Big Sky, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Jimmy Watson and Johnno Hogan were the best of friends – swimming-in-waterholes, camping-under-the-stars, sharing-water-bottles kind of friends. Throughout their lives they did everything together and even when their paths diverged because there were different rules and expectations for “white” and indigenous children then, they still came back together as close as they had ever been.  And then one day they went into town for supplies, heeded the call for men to fight in a war far away and enlisted…

This could be the story of any number of friendships of the early 20th century when ‘white’ and indigenous kids on farms formed friendships that were blind to colour, cultural differences or any other racial prejudices and its strong focus on that friendship is its positive. While the treatment of indigenous soldiers during the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since the Boer War in 1899 could have been its focus, its power lies in that spotlight on the friendship, the shared adventures and stories, the fears and hopes that are common regardless of skin colour. Teaching notes are available. 

Within the Australian Curriculum, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures, and so this book offers the opportunity to help our younger students understand that despite rules against their enrolment (those not of “substantially European origin” were excluded from enlisting by the Defence Act 1903) and not being recognised as citizens until 1967,their neglect and exclusion on their return, indigenous people have fought for Australia in many overseas conflicts and their contribution has been vital.  Now, each year following the Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, there is a special ceremony acknowledging their service. 

Further information, and some of the stories of the estimated 1000 who managed to enlist can be found on the Australian War Memorial site and an internet search will provide links to further valuable resources.


Originally published April 23, 2020

Updated March 2023

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear












Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear

Lindsay Mattick

Sophie Blackall

Little Brown, 2015

56pp., hbk



Cole asks his mother for a bedtime story – a true one about a bear.  And it just so happens that Lindsay Mattick is the great-great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a Canadian vet who, in 1914, was conscripted to join the war effort to look after the soldiers’ horses. On his way to the training ground far from his native Winnipeg, the train pulls into a station and Harry spies a baby bear on a rope held by a trapper who is unlikely to raise him and love him as Harry did all animals.  After a lot of thought, twenty dollars changes hands and Harry finds himself back on the train with the bear cub and a lot of curious mates and one astonished colonel.  But the bear whom Harry has named Winnie after his home town, wins over the troops and she soon establishes herself as the regiment’s mascot. 

Winnie travels with the soldiers to England, but when it is time for them to embark for France, Harry knows Winnie can not go.  So he leaves Winnie at The London Zoo where she is loved by hundreds of children including a certain little boy named Christopher Robin Milne – and from there a whole other story begins.

2016 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children, this is a charming story that has that intimacy of a story shared between mother and child. Beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall with meticulously researched details in muted watercolour and ink colours which reflect the mood and emotions, it also contains photos of Harry with Winnie and other memorabilia that demonstrate the authenticity of the tale.    The conversations between the narrator and her son which are interspersed throughout the story not only add to its reality but also make it more than just a non-fiction recount.  With its undertones of A. A. Milne’s writing, and the final pages that trace the lineage of Harry Colebourne to Cole, this is a very personal account that is as engaging as it is interesting. Because she is telling the story to her own young son, there are several occasions where she chooses her words very carefully so he will not be upset and this then makes it suitable as a read-aloud for even the youngest of listeners. 

One of many stories published to coincide with  the centenary of World War 1 continues, there are many stories commemorating the contribution that a whole range of creatures made to the conflict, but this one with its direct ties to the beloved character of Winnie-the-Pooh which all children know, is one that will linger in the mind for a long time.  

You could also trace Winnie’s story with Christopher Robin from the time he first appeared in A A. Milne’s anthology, When We Were Very Young, as a poem called Teddy Bear …

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: “If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?”
He thought: “It really isn’t fair
To grudge one exercise and air.”For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window-pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
“Is quite” (he said) “as fat as me!”
Then, with a still more moving sigh,
“I mean” (he said) “as fat as I!

Now Teddy, as was only right,
Slept in the ottoman at night,
And with him crowded in as well
More animals than I can tell;
Not only these, but books and things,
Such as a kind relation brings –
Old tales of “Once upon a time,”
And history retold in rhyme.

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: “King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed ‘The Handsome!'” There he sat,
And (think of it!) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” There he sat,
And certainly the man was fat.
Nicknamed “The Handsome.” Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub )
Might yet be named “The Handsome Cub!”

“Might yet be named.” Or did he mean
That years ago he “might have been”?
For now he felt a slight misgiving:
“Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day.
Is ‘Handsome Louis’ with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget.
Next morning (nose to window pane)

The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
“Is he alive or is he dead?”
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled “Oh!”
Our Teddy disappeared below.”

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely to his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
“Well, well!” “Allow me!” “Not at all.”
“Tut-tut! A very nasty fall.”

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It’s doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That ‘handsome’ King – could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
“Impossible,” he thought. “But still,
No harm in asking. Yes I will!”

“Are you,” he said, “by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?”
The other answered, “I am that,”
Bowed stiffly, and removed his hat;
Then said, “Excuse me,” with an air,
“But is it Mr Edward Bear?”
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, “Even so!”

They stood beneath the

window there,
The King and Mr Edward Bear,
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that….
Then said His Majesty, “Well, well,
I must get on,” and rang the bell.
“Your bear, I think,” he smiled. “Good-day!”
And turned, and went upon his way.

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about –
He’s proud of being short and stout.

Or listen to this 1929 sound recording by the Dominion Gramophone Company in which Milne reads the third chapter of his classic, “In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,” or the movie A Bear Named Winnie with Stephen Fry and Michael Fassender. 
Of all the stories written about teddy bears over the generations, the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear are arguably the most enduring and to discover that Winne was real, and had a life and following long before Disney discovered it, will delight both young and not-so-young.  A must-have book for any fan. 
Originally published February 16, 2016
Updated February 2023

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember











A Day to Remember: the Story of ANZAC Day

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2014

pbk; RRP $14.99


April 25, 1915 is a date imprinted on the Australian psyche.  In fact, some say, that despite the political calendar of January 1, 1901, this was the day that Australia became a nation.

Much has been written for students to help them understand the events and the significance of this day, and in a way, this book honours that because after providing an outline of those events on that Turkish beach, author Jackie French and illustrator Mark Wilson trace the commemoration of that day from its shaky, tentative beginnings of parades in Australia, New Zealand and London in 1916 to the huge crowds that now gather annually to honour those who have served their country in this way.  At intervals throughout Australia’s history, French and Wilson pause on April 25 and examine what was happening on that day. We learn about the vast difference between the excitement and anticipation when the troops left in 1914, and their return in 1919; the touching story behind the advent of the Dawn Service and how men only were allowed to attend in case the women’s crying disturbed the silence;  the desperation of many veterans left jobless as drought and the Depression hit; and then Australia is plunged into war again. 

Throughout the book, tribute is paid to all those in the conflicts that Australians have been involved in as well as their peacekeeping roles.  There is the sad reminder that after the Vietnam War which had so divided the nation’s young, so few marched  and watched that perhaps “no one would march at all.”   But awareness was growing behind the scenes through teachers teaching Australia’s history and the recognition of the sacrifices of Australia’s young people through iconic songs like Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and Redgum’s “Only 19.”  In 1985 the Turkish government officially recognised the name  Anzac Cove and in 1990 the first dawn service was held there, attended by those few veterans of the original conflict who were still left to honour.

Being at Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service has become a pilgrimage for many; an item on the bucket list for others. Ceremonies are  held wherever Anzacs have served and suffered and wherever their sacrifice can be acknowledged. Who can imagine what the centenary in 2015 will be like?

IMO, this is Jackie French and Mark Wilson at their best. As the granddaughter of a Gallipoli survivor and the daughter of an ordinary New Zealand soldier who spent his war as a POW in Germany after being captured on Crete, the words and illustrations of this beautiful, haunting book touch me in a way I find hard to describe. Jackie grew up, as I did, “with the battered and weary of World War Two around me, men still scarred in body and mind by Japanese prison camps or the Burma railway, women who had survived concentration camps” and “saw boys of my own generation march away as conscripts, while I marched in anti war demonstrations” and yet we know so little about where Australians have served or how often they have. 

The story of 100 years of history is a difficult one to tell, and even more so in a picture book, yet it is encapsulated perfectly in this partnership. On the one hand, the text could not live without the pictures and vice versa; yet on the other, both media are so perfect within themselves that they stand alone. Jackie and Mark give their own interpretations  in their teachers’ notes I can do no better than that, but if you only have the money for five books this year, this HAS to be one of them.

Lest we forget.

Originally reviewed as a hardback April 16, 2012

Updated February 2023


Lone Pine

Lone Pine

Lone Pine












Lone Pine (First World War Centenary edition)

Susie Brown & Margaret Warner

Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Little Hare, 2014 

hbk, 32pp., RRP $A24.95



In 1915, on a Turkish hillside a lone pine stood in a barren wasteland above a fierce battle being waged between the Turks and ANZACs, a conflict that has become part of Australia’s history and identity. 

In 1934, a sapling grown from that lone pine was planted in the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia’s national capital.

In 2012, and still in 2023,  that tree stands tall in beautiful, lush surroundings in memory and recognition of the events of 1915.


The 80-year-old Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra

The 80-year-old Lone Pine tree at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra


Lone Pine is the true story of that journey.  From a soldier looking for his brother, a mother mourning the loss of her son, a gardener understanding both the significance and the vision, a Duke performing a ceremonial duty we learn of how a tiny pine cone from that solitary tree has become such a symbol in our commemorations.  Told in simple prose against a backdrop of muted but magnificent artistry, the story is both moving and haunting.  The soldier’s mother plants three seeds but only two saplings survive, just like her sons; fierce storms batter the sapling the day it is planted at the AWM, just as war clouds started rumbling around Europe once again; it survives to stand tall and strong despite the storms it has to weather, just as our hope for peace does. The continuity of life through the pine tree echoes the seasons and cycles of human life.

Jointly written by a teacher librarian and a teacher, there is a real understanding of how to engage the target audience and tell a true story that is not just a recount of an historical event. Accompanying the story are notes about the events it depicts including more information about the tree itself which  reinforce the theme of the renewal and continuity of life.  As well as the sapling planted at the AWM, its twin was planted as a memorial to the fallen brother in Inverell, and even though this has since been removed because of disease, its son lives on at Inverell High School, planted by the fallen soldier’s nephew.  Two trees propagated from the pine at the AWM were taken to the Gallipoli Peninsula and planted there by a group of ANZACs in 1990.

A search of the Australian War Memorial site offers much more about the tree and its descendants  and teaching notes  take the students well beyond the story of a remarkable tree. 

With the 110th anniversary of both World War I and ANZAC Day drawing closer, the resurgence of the significance of ANZAC Day in the understanding of our young, and a pilgrimage to the Dawn Service at ANZAC Cove becoming a must-do, life-changing event, the story of the lone pine deserves to be better known, and this wonderful book HAS to be a part of any school library’s ANZAC collection.

Original review: April 22, 2014

Updated February 11, 2023

Australia Remembers 2: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force

Australia Remembers 2: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force

Australia Remembers 2: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force











Australia Remembers 2: Customs and Traditions of the Australian Defence Force

Allison Paterson

Big Sky, 2021

72pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


As our nation prepares to honour those who have served this country in both war and peace on ANZAC Day 2021,  once again we will see and hold commemorations that while confronting in their origins are comforting in their familiarity. Regardless of which town or city we are in, there will be many aspects of the services that are familiar because they have been traditionally associated with ANZAC Day (and other remembrance days) for over a century.

In this new book, a companion to Australia Remembers  the author has worked closely with the Department of Defence and History and Heritage units of the Navy, Army & RAAF to deliver answers to questions I have often been asked as a teacher on our major days of commemoration, Beginning with answering the question “Why do we have customs and traditions?,  chapters address items such as mottos, codes, music, parades and drills, flags, banners and pennants, badges and awards, ranks, uniforms, animals and mascots and many other elements that go together to make up these special days.  It is more than just pomp and pageantry – there is a story behind each story!

With hundreds of photos, easily accessible language and all the supports needed to navigate the text easily, this is a fascinating look behind the scenes enabling students to have a better understanding of not just the overall ceremony but why things are done the way they are. Having been a teacher librarian for over 20 years, the author knows just what is needed to make a text student-friendly.

Remembering those who have served has a prominent and rightful place in the ceremonial life of our schools, as was demonstrated in 2020 when thousands stood at dawn in their driveways because COVID-19 prevented them from participating in the traditional assemblies (itself the beginning of a new tradition) and this new volume in this series  is another significant contribution to the library collection so that the memories and the understanding continue.

It will joined by Australia Remembers 3: Len Waters – Boundless and Born to Fly in September, which tells the story of Kamilaroi man Len Waters, who, during World War II became Australia’s first known Aboriginal fighter pilot.


Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles (series)















The Ocean


Puffin, 2020

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


A familiar symbol in and on children’s literature for 80 years, Puffin introduces our young readers to a whole range of interesting information in this new series of non fiction titles, the perfect size and format for little hands. Voiced by Puffin Little and speaking directly to the reader in a narrative style which ensures engagement, there is much to carry interest and open up new fields to explore.  The contents page and glossary help develop those early information literacy skills while the quiz on the final page consolidates what has been learned.

Joining the first collection of three are Little Explorer Ocean,  Little Scientist Robotics and Little Historian The ANZACs offering  a variety of topics to tempt a diverse range of interests for those who prefer non fiction and are looking for something that will satisfy their curiosity but not overwhelm with detail. They are ideal for answering those questions that are a step beyond initial curiosity offering enough information using accessible language that respects their existing knowledge and skills. Young readers will appreciate this series because there has clearly been a lot of thought put into addressing their unique needs as emerging readers as well as tapping into subjects that appeal. 

When Allen Lane first established Puffin 80 years ago with a dream of establishing a publishing house devoted to children’s literature, he began by publishing four non fiction titles for children who had been evacuated to the country to keep them safe from German bombing and invasion – War on Land, War at Sea, War in the Air and On the Farm – so it seems fitting that the dream has turned full circle and this anniversary year has been marked by this no-frills non fiction series for little ones. 



Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles

Puffin Littles


















Puffin Littles





The Solar System



9781760897024 (Sept 2020)


9781760897680 (Sept 2020)

The Ocean

9781760897666 (Sept 2020)

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


A familiar symbol in and on children’s literature for 80 years, Puffin introduces our young readers to a whole range of interesting information in this new series of non fiction titles, the perfect size for little hands. In them, he talks directly to the reader sharing information in manageable chunks in a layout that not only appeals but also supports their reading skills and their interests.

Little Cook: Snacks focuses on the fundamentals of cooking and preparing food; Little Environmentalist: Composting teaches them about composting and recycling to make a difference while Little Scientist: The Solar System takes them on a journey around the planets. Planned for September are three more which explore the ocean, robotics and the ANZACs. 

Not all children like to read fiction and so this series caters for both the newly independent reader and those who are almost there using its narrative style voiced by that iconic character to offer more than just a book of facts and figures. The contents page to help them navigate to a specific page and the glossary to build and explain vocabulary help develop those early information literacy skills while the quiz on the final page consolidates what has been learned.

Young readers will appreciate this series because there has clearly been a lot of thought put into addressing their unique needs as emerging readers as well as tapping into subjects that appeal. 


ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front










ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

Allison Marlow Paterson

Big Sky, 2015 

52pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


In the years of 1914-1918 over 330,000 Australians served their country in a war far from their homeland, more than 60,000 of them died. Five of these Australians were brothers; three of them were destined to never return to the home they loved.

The Great War brought enormous sorrow to families all over the world. In Australia there were few who escaped the fear, nor the tragedy. This is the story of the Marlow brothers. This powerful children’s book brings their story to life for future generations. It is a tragic tale of mateship, bravery and sacrifice; a heartbreaking account of a family torn apart by a devastating war. It is a pledge to never forget.

Based on the original title Anzac Sons; the Story of Five Brothers in the War to End All Wars, this important children’s book compiled by the granddaughter of a surviving brother tells the true story of brothers’ service, the impact on the family and community and weaves through the facts and history of the Great War and battles.

Combining beautiful prose and imagery including photographs, maps, letters and facts, the book will reach children of a variety of ages. Children, teachers and parents can read the letters her ancestors wrote from the trenches, walk in their footsteps and remember all those who have served throughout the generations to defend our freedom and our way of life. This and Dreaming Soldiers have been released as a special 2020 ANZAC Day book pack with a number of accompanying resources.  Details are available here

As we prepare to commemorate an ANZAC Day like no other in living memory, with services online and driveway commemorations, this is a book to be shared at this time so we can think about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before to keep us safe, and renew our commitment to what we have to do now to keep others safe.  And if you can’t get this one in time for this year, there are plenty of other suggestions here


Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King











Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Kate Simpson

Jess Racklyeft

Allen & Unwin, 2020 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99  


It is 1914 and war has broken out in Europe and because of its ties to England, Australia is mobilising. On one of the ships leaving port is Sister Alice Ross-King who is not going for the adventure like so many of the men, but because her passion was nursing and her country needed her.

She thought she was ready but as the entry in her diary for April 29th, 2015, just four days after the Gallipoli debacle, shows, they were not… “I shall never forget the shock when we saw the men arrive covered in blood, most of them with half their uniform shot or torn away. They kept coming, seven at a time.  Soon all our beds were full and new ones were being brought in and put in every available corner…”

Written by Alice’s great-granddaughter and taken from the actual diaries of Australia’s most decorated woman, this remarkable book, a seamless weaving of text, diary entries and illustrations, offers an extraordinary insight into life during World War I for those at the front line. It begins as a love story but when her fiance is killed, Alice has to find a way to carry on despite her grief, to put her duty before her personal loss and feelings. 

As we are unable to commemorate Alice and all our other men and women in familiar ANZAC Day activities this year, sharing this story and others like it, is one way we can take ourselves back in time to remember just how it was we have arrived at where we are, and perhaps put any current hardships into perspective.  Perhaps older students could research the stories of one of their family members, trace their family tree and write the diary that that person might have written as their contribution to honoring those who have gone before in the absence of traditional tributes.