How Was That Built?

How Was That Built?

How Was That Built?











How Was That Built?

Roma Agrawal

Katie Hickey

Bloomsbury, 2021

80pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


From the time our earliest ancestors sought shelter in caves and discovered their limitations, humans have been building structures, each seemingly grander than its predecessors as challenges such as height, length, shape, and strength are overcome and physical impediments such as being underwater, underground, on ice and even in space are conquered.

There is something comfortable and comforting in being enclosed -perhaps it stems from the confines of the womb – and from the early childhood days of making a cubby with a sheet over chairs (itself having evolved to purchased indoor tents) to building towers from toothpicks and peas to bridges “strong enough to hold a toy car” from paper, our junior engineers have evolved to become those making the creations that dominate the modern landscape. While some, like the pyramids , Stonehenge and other ancient temples  have endured across centuries, this book focuses on more modern structures which have solved the problems like how to build high, long, strong and so forth, explaining with explanations and illustrations how the obstacle has been overcome in both general and specific circumstances. 

For example, in the section How to Build Across, the mechanics and physics of various bridge designs are demonstrated and then the construction of Te Matau Ā Pohe, a bridge across the Hatea River at Whangarei, New Zealand that needs to be able to lift quickly to allow essential boat traffic to pass, is explored, showing how the engineers drew on the Māori legend of Maui fishing the North Island from the sea with his hen matai, a magical fish hook, to create the lift mechanism.

Although more for those in Year 5/6+, this is an intriguing book for readers who want to take the basic “design, make, appraise” of STEM to its next level or who have a fascination with structures and aspirations to be structural engineers themselves.  For those just intrigued by big buildings, it is equally fascinating as they learn the whys, whats and hows of their favourites. 

Today’s Sun

Today's Sun

Today’s Sun











Today’s Sun

Greg Dreisse

Puffin, 2021

16pp., board book., RRP $A14.99



Dawn, the sun is yawning and it’s time to munch like “a hungry, fluffy possum.” As it rises over the horizon it is time to laugh like “a happy kookaburra.’ And as it warms, cools. fades and sleeps, there are times to hop like a kangaroo, run like an emu, snuggle like a koala, slumber like a wombat…

Using just black, white and a myriad of patterns, Greg Dreisse takes the young reader through a magical journey of the day, not only introducing them to some of Australia’s iconic wildlife but also encouraging them to note the passage of the sun and the passing of time.  There is a time for everything. And when today is done, there will be another one tomorrow.

September 15 is International Dot Day, the day celebrating creativity, courage and collaboration, inspired by The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.  The Dot is the story of a caring teacher who dares a doubting student to trust in her own abilities by being brave enough to “make her mark”. What begins with a small dot on a piece of paper becomes a breakthrough in confidence and courage, igniting a journey of self-discovery and sharing, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe. 

This is the perfect book to encourage children of all ages to explore their creativity, to start their own illustration to add to the book starting by making a mark.  Just looking at the cover and exploring the number of ways Dreisse has made a dot by changing its size and fill could inspire a beginning and then a closer examination of the patterns used in the illustrations throughout will open up so many possibilities. 

Even though this is a board book with a target audience of the very young, it could be used with older students to investigate the origins, traditions and protocols of the dot artworks of First Australians, while others could explore the use of pattern to build movement, texture, and mood which the monochromatic scheme really emphasises.

A rich addition to any collection, regardless of its format and what it appears to be on the surface. 















Inda Ahmad Zahri

Anne Ryan

Ford Street, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Once Salih’s life was ice creams at the park, his favourite teacher and warm milk at bedtime but now, like his pet tortoise, he carries his home on his back as his family, and thousands of others try to escape the deafening blasts of bombs, the white dust shrouding the sun and the sound of crying in the darkness.  There is some solace when an old man teaches him to paint his happy memories on the scraps of waste paper that blow past their nighttime camps and Salih encourages others to do the same.  He has plans for the pictures, keeping each one and rolling it up and putting it in a bottle to scatter on the ocean.  But when they finally  get there, the sea is angry and tosses the bottles and the families hither and thither – will they find a safe, welcoming new home?

Written in 2018 when thousands fled across the Mediterranean to find sanctuary in Europe, this is a story that will bring a new world to young readers -that of being a refugee, or as in the recent conflict in Gaza, a life that means living with bombs and noise and dust and constant fear. Sadly, it might be all too real for some of our students so this is one that must be handled sensitively by a teacher who knows the students well.  But if we are to acknowledge the perils that some of our students have faced and build awareness and empathy in those who have had an easier upbringing, then sharing stories like this is a way to do it.  There are two sets of teachers’ notes to accompany this story – the first focuses on refugees generally and the activity which has students selecting the items they would take if they had to flee but which must fit into their backpack is very powerful’ the second focuses on a spread by spread examination of the book. Both give students a better understanding of what life is like for too many children in this world. 

A story that puts life into perspective offering a way to help students deal with their own problems even if they are not as dire as Salih’s.  .

While You’re Sleeping

While You're Sleeping

While You’re Sleeping










While You’re Sleeping

Mick Jackson

John Broadley

Pavilion, 2021

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


Night time.  Time to snuggle down under the covers, think briefly about tomorrow and drift off to the land of sweet dreams.

But night is not a time of peace and quiet for all.  There is much that happens.  Weather changes, animals hunt and there are many many workers who ensure that the wheels of modern life keep turning, and on the other side of the world children are going about their daytime life.

With its highly detailed imagery, which are fully explored in the excellent teachers’ notes, this book introduces the young reader to another world which exists side by side with their own.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

This world of the night-time worker will either acknowledge what they already know because they have a family member who works then (and thus they see their own lives in print), or expose them to a whole new concept helping them to understand how the world works and appreciate those who make it so.  Either way, it opens up a realm of possibilities to explore from children sharing their own experiences to investigating what causes night and darkness. Starting with a focus on things that are close to the child, it gradually encompasses a broader perspective to show that there is always much life and activity happening somewhere, and even though they might be asleep another child will be sitting in class. Perfect for this year’s CBCA Book Week theme.

This is an original concept that will capture the imagination with its intriguing cover -why is there a  bed floating over the town? – and the calm, undramatic text will soothe and comfort. 

Leafy Critters

Leafy Critters

Leafy Critters












Leafy Critters

Yvonne Lacet

Blue Dot, 2020

36pp., hbk., RRP $A16.95


The limitless shapes, colours and textures of leaves is explored as an art medium in this almost wordless picture book to inspire young creators to try their hand.  The reader is encouraged to examine the components of the pictures that have been created so instead of seeing just green leaves in the environment, they start to realise that each tree has a myriad of colours and that the shapes can suggest all manner of things that can go together to make a whole.

As summer wanders on and some trees have already begun to change colour because rainfall is still scarce, this is the ideal time to take littlies outside to observe, gather, collect and create their own artworks using the free materials on offer from Mother Nature.

These creations help them search for the finer detail in the whole and examine the parts and their unique elements so as well as taking a closer look at their surroundings, they are also developing their visual acuity which is such an essential early reading skill as they distinguish letter shapes and search illustrations for clues to the text. 

Einstein declared that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

What better way to start a new school year than with such an open-ended imaginative project that will appeal to all ages. 

Women Artists A to Z

Women Artists A to Z

Women Artists A to Z









Women Artists A to Z

Melanie LaBarge

Caroline Corrigan

Puffin, 2020

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


As International Women’s Day approaches, this is a timely release of a collection of international women artists spanning a variety of genres including painting, drawing, sculpture, and more. The work of each is succinctly summarised in the title of each double-page spread such as F is for Flower (Georgia O’Keefe), O is for Opposites (Hilma Af Klint), Q is for Quilt (The Gee’s Bend Collective) and Y for Yarn (Xenobia Bailey). While there is just a paragraph describing the thrust of their work, there are more detailed biographical notes about each in the final pages as well as a provocative question about each inspiring the reader to think and do according to the medium or concept that captures their attention.  For example, aspiring quilters are challenged to consider who in their community they would like to work with on a collaborative piece.

Australian artist Mirka Mora is featured (A is for Angels because these found their way into work so often) but this could serve as a model for students to create their own spreads with a focus on the works of Australian artists. Rather than just retelling the artist’s life, the challenge becomes the summation of their works. Definitely one to share with your art faculty. 


Peppa’s Christmas Jumper Day

Peppa's Christmas Jumper Day

Peppa’s Christmas Jumper Day








Peppa’s Christmas Jumper Day

Ladybird, 2019

16pp., board book, RRP $A9.99


Christmas is coming and Peppa and George’s playgroup are celebrating with a special Christmas jumper day.  But when Daddy Pig gets the jumpers out, neither Peppa’s nor George’s still fits.  George is sorted though because he can wear Peppa’s old one but how will Daddy solve Peppa’s problem in time for the big day?

This is another Christmas story that will appeal to our youngest readers as they recognise a favourite character but wearing a woolly jumper at Christmas may have them baffled.  Perhaps it is the opportunity to talk about the differences in seasons and time zones and how others celebrate Christmas. They might even like to design their own Christmas jumper with their favourite Christmas images and materials, either for themselves or for Peppa for next year.

The Voyage

The Voyage

The Voyage










The Voyage

Robert Vescio

Amanda Edmonds

EK Books, 2019

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


Fourteen words. If books were priced based on the number of words the story had, then you would probably ask for your money back with this one, but those 14 words document a life-changing episode in one family – a family that could be any one of a number of those whose children we teach and will teach as conflict continues to circle the world. Just fourteen words to tell such a story that are more powerful than if there were 10 or 100 times that many. 

War displaces the family and their pet duck and so they must escape on a boat into the unknown. At first there is the CHAOS of the conflict; then there is the WILD ocean as a storm tosses the boat and overturns it;but BEAUTY awaits as they finally sight land ahead and at last they are SAFE.

But words alone are not enough and it is the remarkable and powerful watercolour illustrations that meld with those 14 words to tell an all-too familiar story of despair, hope, courage, resilience and joy. In fact, more mature readers might be able to empathise with the family and retell the story using an emotion for each page, perhaps sparking greater understanding and compassion  for their peers who have lived the nightmare.  But while those illustrations have strong words to convey, they have soft lines and gentle colours so the humanity and reality of the people is maintained and the reader is not turned off by page after page of darkness.. Again, older students could compare the illustrations and mood of this book with those of the 2019 CBCA Honours Book The Mediterranean

Accompanying notes tell us that both author and illustrator were driven by the need to tell what is becoming a common story so that there is greater understanding and compassion amongst those whose lives are less traumatic and through that, build stronger, more cohesive communities so that life is better, enriched and enhanced for everyone. Edmonds deliberately chose a Middle Eastern family as her centrepiece because of the richness of the culture so that the reader can appreciate the depth and meaning of what is being left behind – the dilemma  of leaving  all that is known and loved for the uncertainty of the unknown and the heartache and danger that either choice will bring.

Beyond the storyline itself, this is a book that so clearly demonstrates the critical, integral relationship between text and illustration, that a picture really is “worth a thousand words” , and often the picture book format is the most powerful way to tell a story.

Look for this one in the 2020 awards lists.


Animology: The Big Book of Letter Art Alphabeasts













Animology : The Big Book of Letter Art Alphabeasts

Maree Coote

Melbournestyle Books, 2019

72pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Every part of me’s a letter!

Does that help you find me better?

Look very closely- can you see

The hidden letters that find me?

Sometimes letters may repeat

To make more eyes or fur or feet

Look back-to-front,

Look upside down,

Every letter can be found!

This is one of the most unusual books I’ve reviewed for a long time and one of the most fascinating. Paired with an informative verse about its subject, each illustration is created by using the letters of the creature’s name and the reader is challenged to find each one. From the vibrant mandrill on the front cover, the challenge is set to take a journey through the natural world discovering everything from swans to budgerigars, all cleverly constructed from their letters.  

Readers have to examine the details in each illustrations, honing their visual acuity skills amongst others, as Coote has had fun with fonts, their shapes and sizes to tease even the most discerning eye. One for those boys who like to gather round the same book and test themselves.  And having got the concept by looking, students can then be challenged to try for themselves, remembering that they not only have to spell the name correctly and use all the letters, but make the finished design resemble to creature!! Something very different for an art/biology lesson that could be a shared activity as the artists draw and the wordsmiths research to create the verse!

A significant step up from the usual look-and-find books for younger readers.


Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum

Dr Seuss's Horse Museum

Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum











Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum

Dr Seuss

Andrew Joyner

Puffin, 2019

75pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Throughout history, the horse has been the subject of paintings, sketches, sculptures  and other interpretations and each artist has viewed the same creature through a different lens.  Some have seen its outline, others its bulk; some have seen its lines, others its strength, and each has conveyed their perception in a different way. According to Ted Geisel (aka Dr Seuss), when an artist sees a horse, it is not viewed from a photographic point of view but what the horse means to them as a person, and that depends on their education, experience and the thousands of other influences that shape anyone’s view of the world, not just its horses. 

Twenty-one years after Geisel’s death, his wife found the manuscript that is the basis of this book illustrated by South Australian Andrew Joyner.  The actual timeline of the manuscript is unclear but it does reflect Geisel’s lifetime interest in art with rough pencil sketches and notes for the entire book, and this has now been interpreted by Joyner using his imagination and the actual art works that Geisel planned. Working through a range of art genres including Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism and Abstraction, the young reader is not only taken on a journey through the interpretation of the horse but through art itself, offering an introduction to the various movements that have swept the world along making this a book for older readers as much as for younger. Accompanied by notes about the manuscript, Geisel’s own art and the featured works, the story is told in prose (as opposed to the usual rhyme) and speaks directly to the reader so it is entertaining as well as educational. 

It’s a great discussion starter as young artists think about what they see when they see a horse, as well as a springboard for getting out the tools and creating a personal interpretation. Something unique to add to the art curriculum.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…