Dirt by Sea

Dirt by Sea

Dirt by Sea











Dirt by Sea

Michael Wagner

Tom Jellett

Puffin, 2022

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


When Daisy’s family join in a rendition of the national anthem while watching television, little do they know the impact it is about to have.  Because Daisy hears the lyrics as “dirt by sea” rather than “girt by sea” and even though her grandparents and father explain that “girt by sea” means being surrounded by ocean, when she looks out the window all she sees is “girt by dirt.”

It is then her dad realises that he has never taken her to the beach, let alone the ocean, and the trip he and Daisy’s mum made in their old Kombi van is fading into distant memory.  So on Christmas Day, Daisy’s gift is that old Kombi, and on Boxing Day, she and her Dad set off…

Drawing on their own experiences of childhood and adulthood road trips with families, this is a round-Australia adventure for those with the skills to be able to read and follow its graphic novel format. It starts with Daisy’s blank map of Australia on the front endpage and finishes with a completely filled in, colourful one at the back detailing their trip from south-western Queensland to Airlie Beach and beyond around the country’s coastline.

But this is more than just being a travelogue or tourist brochure. Carried along in the conversations between the two, it becomes a personal journey of development for Daisy, her relationship with her dad as he relives his life with Daisy’s mum whose absence is both noticeable and unexplained, and also Daisy’s realisation that she misses her family, and for all it might by “girt by dirt” there is still no place like home with the people and things you love and how they have helped you become who you are. By the time they make it home, neither Dad nor Daisy are the same people who left, and there is a bond between them that the reader knows will endure long into their futures. 

As the blurb says, they discover so much more than the sights and sounds of the wild and wonderful Aussie coast. 


The Great Southern Reef

The Great Southern Reef

The Great Southern Reef











The Great Southern Reef

Paul Venzo & Prue Francis

Cate James 

CSIRO Publishing, 2022

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


Most Australians, even our youngest and newest, are familiar with the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system comprising more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands which stretches over 2,300 kilometres along the Queensland coast, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the only living thing on earth visible from space. But even longer and more accessible to most is the Great Southern Reef , a fringe of interconnected underwater systems that span 8000km from the NSW/Queensland border, around Tasmania and its islands, along our great southern coastline and up to Kalbarri in Western Australia.  

First defined as an entity just six years ago in 2016, it has already been identified by Mission Blue  as a Hope Spot, a biodiversity hotspot critical to the health of the world’s ocean environments, particularly because of its forests of giant kelp, Ecklonia radiata, that offer shelter and food for more than 4000 species of invertebrates, countless fish species such as the weedy sea dragon, the WA rock lobster and the blacktip abalone, and many seaweeds, most unique to the reef, which offer carbon storage to offset climate change as well as potential for a plastic-free world of the future. 

But despite 70% of us living within 50km of it, its existence is little known and so this beautifully illustrated, informative book is an essential step in teaching our young students (and hopefully the adults in their lives) not only about its existence and inhabitants but also its importance.  After a storm thrashes the coastline, Frankie and Sam join Professor Seaweed in a walk along the beach to see what has been washed up overnight.  Together they find many things and not only does Professor Seaweed explain what they are but she also demonstrates the need to leave the beach as we find it, to be careful when delving into rockpools, and the significance of the saying, “Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Kill nothing but time.” However, she does encourage the children (and the reader) to collect any rubbish that will also have been washed up as their contribution to helping the beach and its creatures stay pristine and healthy.

Even for those of us who do not live within that 50km of the reef, or the ocean, it is a destination that naturally attracts millions every year, so this is the perfect book to introduce our children to the existence of the reef itself and their role in protecting it.  Teachers notes  linked to the Australian Curriculum are available to help you do this. 

We Are Australians

We Are Australians

We Are Australians











We Are Australians

Duncan Smith & Nicole Godwin

Jandamarra Cadd

Wild Dog Books, 2022

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


“We are Australians.  We are citizens of our family, classroom, school, community, church, street, suburb, team, town, state, country, world.”

“As citizens of Australia, we have rights, And we have responsibilities.”

There, in those few stark words alone, is so much food for thought and discussion with our students, particularly as we head into another federal election. What does it mean to be a ‘citizen’?  And what are the “rights” and “responsibilities”? But team those words with the illustrations which accompany them and there is a whole new dimension to consider. 

Rather than the focus being on individual rights and responsibilities, what do those words mean when it comes to the bigger picture – the looking after each other, the caring for the land? And not just for those who have gone through the formal citizenship ceremony, but also for those born here? And not just for now, but also into the future?

Over the last two years, our students would have heard the phrase “for the greater good” often, particularly in relation to the safety procedures related to COVID-19, but what do they mean when it comes to living with each other despite our diverse heritages and histories, so that the present does have a future? What do we, as individuals, need to know, understand, do, appreciate and value about our own culture and that of others so that we can contribute to move forward positively, collectively? In particular, what do we need to know, acknowledge and embrace about those who have gone before, who have lived here for thousands of generations so we can connect and continue their legacy so we leave our children a deep attachment to the country they walk on that is more than the comings and goings of political parties, politicians and policies? For all that we have heard the voices of those with the power to access the microphone, whose voices have been silenced? And now that those who were once silent are now being heard, what are they saying that we must listen to?  What do they know that we must learn if we are to survive as a cohesive whole? 

From the vivid cover illustration of a young face vibrantly sporting a rainbow of colours to the more grizzled, aged face in its traditional hues, Jandamarra Cadd’s illustrations add a depth to the text that goes beyond his blending of contemporary portraiture with traditional techniques, suggesting that ultimately the way forward has to become a blend of the two – those First Nations peoples who have been here for 50 000  years and those “who’ve come across the seas”. The timeline at the end of the book suggests that there is a merging of the journeys but what more can be done to make them fully intertwined in the future?

This is a stunning and provocative book that has a place in every classroom to promote and grow that concept of “the greater good’ – from Kinder Kids making new friends and learning what it means to be a citizen “of the classroom” to those facing voting and having to consider the national, and even global aspects of both their rights and responsibilities.  


Camp Canberra

Camp Canberra

Camp Canberra











Camp Canberra

Krys Saclier

Cathy Wilcox

Wild Dog, 2022

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


About this time of the year excitement begins to ramp up as students anticipate their school excursion to the national capital, Canberra – perhaps even moreso as there is a federal election due and government, its purpose, politics and people become a curriculum focus.  And so it is with the Mount Mayhem Primary School students, as readers are reunited with Farrel, Kira and Jack who introduced them to the mysteries of Australia’s preferential voting system in Vote 4 Me

Written in a diary format, the class has been divided into three groups – the Menzies, the Gillards, and the Holts, names worth investigating in themselves – and each visits a number of Canberra’s attractions including

Using Wilcox’s signature cartoon characters overlaid on to photographs of each location, this is a thumbnail tour of what to see in this city that makes it unique as the nation’s capital – having spent 30years living and teaching there, each was familiar so it became a trip down memory lane.

Thus the quiz at the end was rather easy but what wasn’t included is that under PACER, (Parliament and Civics Education Rebate) those students who come from more than 150km (calculated by road using the “most favourable” routes) can have their costs subsidised provided their visit includes an educational tour of Parliament House and where possible, an immersive learning program with the Parliamentary Education Office, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Electoral Education Centre at Old Parliament House, and the Australian War Memorial.

Any excursion sparks excitement as it is a break from the ordinary routine of things and IMO, those who come to Canberra should also include a trip to the top of Telstra Tower (although it is temporarily closed for refurbishment) or Mt Ainslie so the layout of this planned city with Walter Burley Griffin‘s vision of the National Triangle and the lake at its heart can be clearly seen.

Teachers beyond the realm of Canberra cannot be expected to know their way around this city nor the must-see destinations or even the fun recreational places like Commonwealth Park and other playgrounds  (my favourite is Boundless Park in the centre built for all ages and abilities)  on offer where kids can just romp and play so this book offers a valuable introduction so the itinerary can be planned so everyone gets the most from it. While there are teachers’ notes to accompany the book itself. hopefully the links in this review will add a little more to the physical experience. 

An Amazing Australian Road Trip

An Amazing Australian Road Trip

An Amazing Australian Road Trip











An Amazing Australian Road Trip

Jackie Hosking

Lesley Vamos

Walker Books, 2022 

40pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


We’re travelling from Melbourne on a birthday trip west, our aunty is sixty and we’re off on a quest

She’s keen for a picnic and fancies a view, a cake and a loud “Happy Birthday to You!”

So off they go with their 4WD loaded to the hilt, the most magnificent birthday cake taking pride of place on the roof rack.  But despite circumnavigating the country, including Tasmania, and visiting significant scenic and cultural attractions  in each state and territory, Aunty cannot find the perfect picnic spot until…

In my review of Ancient Wonders  I suggested that families could use it as an opportunity to plan a journey (or two or three) to discover the remarkable land shapes and landscapes that are our own backyard, and here it has been laid out already.  Iconic destinations such as The Twelve Apostles, Coober Pedy, Port Arthur, Kakadu, Uluru, Canberra and others have all been included in this itinerary and as well as the ongoing story of Aunty’s objections (and the very fitting ending), there are also factual notes about the significance of each.  The maps on the endpages summarise the journey so well – and any adult sharing  the story will empathise. 

So the challenge to set students, having the model in front of them, is to create a new itinerary that the family could try foe when Aunty is 65!  Differentiate the task by setting it up as either Australia-wide, state-wide or even just town-wide… what places would be perfect for a picnic celebration and why?  Even though our national borders are opening up, there is still so much to see and do in our own country.  By sharing their plans, students may discover new places in their own back yard! 

To me, the best picture books are those that set the reader up for further journeys (both literally and figuratively), that have layers for them to explore and build their understandings on, those that educate as well as entertain.  This is definitely one of those and an essential addition to any collection focused on Australia’s geography. 

Peppa Visits the Australian Rainforest

Peppa Visits the Australian Rainforest

Peppa Visits the Australian Rainforest











Peppa Visits the Australian Rainforest

Peppa Pig

Ladybird, 2021

10pp., board book., RRP $A14.99


Peppa Pig and her family are on holiday in Australia visiting her friend Kylie Kangaroo and they are all off to visit the Australian rainforest.  To guide their explorations, they have a scavenger hunt to complete and so each page has a lift-the-flap experience to discover. 

As with her other Australian adventures , this is a novel way to introduce our youngest readers to environments and the creatures that live in them that they may not be familiar with.  Combining familiar characters and the interactivity of the lift-the-flap format, preschoolers can start to develop conceptual ideas and vocabulary about Australian landscapes and habitats they are likely to encounter in other stories.  It also offers the opportunity to introduce atlases and other non fiction texts if the astute adult asks questions such as “If we wanted to visit the rainforest, where would we have to go?”  or “What other things might they have found in the rainforest?’ or even, “Why does it rain so much in the rainforest?”  There is always the opportunity to model questions that start new investigations. 


Australian Backyard Explorer

Australian Backyard Explorer

Australian Backyard Explorer













Australian Backyard Explorer

Peter Macinnis

Amazon, 2021

180pp., pbk., RRP $A40.00


When your students are introduced to those who opened up this country to others, do their investigations focus on those of the 18th and 19th centuries who trekked into areas they thought were unknown , in search of whatever they could find to make them (or their sponsors) more money? 

Or do they go beyond the usual familiar names and discover the indigenous people who first trod the “native roads” and guided those following?  Do they meet the women and the teenagers who also forged paths?  Do they consider how those people whose names we know found their way, collected food and water, found shelter, coped with the weather, measured distance and all the other issues and problems that needed to be addressed as they made their way into unknown and inhospitable territory? 

Originally published by the National Library of Australia in 2009, Australian Backyard Explorer won the 2010 CBCA  Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, this work combines history with science and technology to give readers an insight into who the ‘explorers’ of Australia were, what they did and how they did it.  This is the 2021 updated version that takes the reader further as the author has delved deeper into the stories behind the stories, but like the original still has Peter’s gift for winkling out long-lost information and uncovering deep dark secrets that bring the people and the text to life.  Chapters are arranged according to issues rather than specific people, beginning with “Who were the explorers?” and there are all sorts of devices to engage the reader including projects that they can undertake to test a theory or see how something works for themselves.  (A list of these is provided for easier navigation.) There are also all the illustrations of the original from the vast collection of the National Library of Australia.

For example, Chapter 9 is devoted to staying alive and although Ernest Giles believed that this involved being able “to take, and make, an observation now and again, mend a watch, kill or cure a horse as the times may require, make a pack saddle, and understand something of astronomy, geology and mineralogy” we learn about how repairs were made; the disasters which befell expeditions and the need to stay calm and collected in their face; how to get help in a time long before personal safety beacons and mobile phones were invented; and how accidents and illnesses were treated without the aid of a helicopter and medivac team. 

This unique approach means that students will really engage with this country’s past, will understand  the courage and determination it took to travel beyond city limits and perhaps put themselves in the shoes of those who have gone before as they try to solve the problems for themselves. They will be active investigators rather than passive consumers of facts, figures, dates and distances. The imaginative teacher could devise an inquiry unit using any of the chapter headings as the exploratory question and then let the students have at it… 

This is a must-have book to ensure that what can so often become ho-hum become engaging and exciting.                                                      




Our Country: Ancient Wonders

Our Country: Ancient Wonders

Our Country: Ancient Wonders











Our Country: Ancient Wonders

Mark Greenwood

Frané Lessac

Walker Books, 2022

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


Our country is calling…

There could be no more fitting way to start a new year’s reading journey than with this stunning journey around our ancient land visiting natural wonders that date back 2.5 billion years!

From the front endpage that maps out the route to the wonders gathered in the book – Lark Quarry, Undara Lava Tubes, Lightning Ridge, Great Ocean Road, Cradle Mountain, Franklin River, Naracoorte, Lake Mungo, Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Devils Marbles, Kakadu, Wolfe Creek, Bungle Bungles, Zebedee Springs – to the final one that maps adventures still to undertake we are taken on an expedition in an old tour bus that both explores and explains a handful of the features that make Australia unique. 

Each double page spread introduces a ‘new’ phenomenon in a fascinating way that makes this book so readable.

History hunter Mark Greenwood is in his element with this topic as he combines both geology and geography beginning with  a basic statement such as “Our country had a fiery past” and “Lost worlds are found in our country” which not only set the scene for the basis of the visit but create a deeper appreciation of why our First Nations people feel such a connection to Country. Then there is a broad explanation with language reminiscent of a tourist brochure as well as a brief, fact-filled paragraph about the origins of the particular beauty.  And all set against a backdrop of Frané Lessac’s stunning artwork! 

At a time when travel remains so tricky, this is a book that is a must-have in both the home and school library.  For the family, it is an opportunity to plan a journey (or two or three) to discover the remarkable land shapes and landscapes that are our own backyard; while in the school setting, a class could go on a new journey every few weeks!  Set teams to investigate each location in greater detail to introduce it to their peers on a year-long journey that not only explores the feature in greater depth but also helps them understand the origins of the planet’s topography and the interplay between it and the environment, again strengthening that understanding of connection to Country. The historians can delve into the land before time, scientists can dig into geology, paleontology and all the other ologies; the mathematicians can plot timelines, distances, routes…; the artists can produce posters and brochures; the storytellers can dig into the legends and retell them (or invent a new one); the environmentalists can examine the interaction between landscape, habitat and inhabitants… there is something for everyone to show and share their strengths. 

Here are some useful links to start – making yourself familiar with what’s available through Geoscience Australia could be your best move this year…

Table of Geological Periods

Geoscience Australia – Education resources

Geoscience Australia classroom resources 

Australia through Time  (map)

Australia Through Time (poster)

Shaping a Nation: A Geology of Australia    this is a book with each chapter available separately

Australia: an ancient land (teacher notes)

And the best news is that this is just the  first book in the Our Country series which will takes readers on even more  journeys across Australia to discover  both our unique geology and geography! A whole year’s worth of lessons sorted!! If ever there were a book that deserved the tag Australia: Story Country or even Dreaming with your eyes open – this is it.