Country Town

Country Town

Country Town










Country Town

Isolde Martyn

Robyn Ridgeway

Louise Hogan

Ford Street, 2023

48pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Every country town has its own unique history shaped by its location, its settlers and the events that have come and gone over the years. 

In this book, somewhat reminiscent of the seminal text My Place by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins, and Window by Jeannie Baker,  the story of a fictitious town is traced from its earliest times as a camp for a First Nations clan, and then from the 1820s when European explorers arrive, one decides to stay and run sheep, displacing those earliest inhabitants, and beginning a new story that features significant events that might have occurred over the ensuing 200 years.

Beginning with a poem by Robyn Ridgeway that describes the life her ancestors led but foretelling the feeling that great change is to come, each significant event, both natural and not, is explored and its impact explained so this becomes an oral history rather than just a series of facts and figures.  Each snapshot is accompanied by a detailed illustration that has much to investigate in itself as well as comparing it to the previous illustrations as the changes happen and the town evolves.

Extensive teachers’ notes are available  inviting the students to explore this text in detail, compare it to Window and then look at the history of their own town. They also suggest ways to use it from a broader perspective offering an entire term’s history curriculum that covers other strands of the Australian Curriculum, including  the cross-curricular priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures making it a valuable addition to a teacher’s personal toolbox as well as one that the teacher librarian can suggest with confidence.  Take a peek inside here.

Eat My Dust!

Eat My Dust!

Eat My Dust!











Eat My Dust!

Neridah McMullin

Lucia Masciullo

Walker Books, 2023

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


It is 1928 and despite proving their capabilities during World War I,  most men still believed a woman’s place  to be “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen”. Many who had stepped in to fulfil the roles and occupations traditionally taken by men had been relegated back to domestic duties, yet there were many who defied the prevailing practices and attitudes and chose to follow their dreams.  

Among them were Kathleen Elizabeth Howell and Jean Ochiltree Robertson whose passion was driving and who, in 1927, had completed the perilous trip between Melbourne and Darwin mapping their journey and the mileages as they went from Melbourne to Mount Gambier and Adelaide before heading north through the Central Desert to Oodnadatta and Alice Springs and up through to Darwin, sending their research back to their sponsors, the Shell Oil Company, who used the information to produce their first map of the route to central Australia.

Even though they were well-known in the motoring circles of the time, were experienced in both motor mechanics and driving in the desert, in 1928 when they took on the the west-east speed record from Perth to Melbourne (having already driven from Melbourne to Perth) and beating it by five hours, it was the derision and discrimination of the men that proved to be a greater hurdle. Each place they stopped for fuel or food, they were met by those who felt that such a journey was not the realm of women. To which they tended to respond, “Eat my dust!”  Thus, told as narrative non fiction, this new book provides both an introduction to two little-known heroines who paved the way for women to drive today, and highlights those attitudes offering an insight into how difficult it was to be female in a male environment and the opportunity to investigate the transition of women’s achievements and influence over the last century.

With the 2023 CBCA Book Week theme of Read. Grow. Inspire still fresh in our minds, this is another story that allows young readers to meet the pioneers who followed their dreams, inspired others and  made something “abnormal” normal for today’s generations. 



Mulga Bill’s Bicycle: 50th Anniversary Edition

Mulga Bills Bicycle

Mulga Bills Bicycle











Mulga Bill’s Bicycle: 50th Anniversary Edition

A. B. (Banjo) Paterson

Kilmeny Niland, Deborah Niland

HarperCollins, 2023

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


Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze’

He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;

He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen’

He hurried of to town and bought a shining new machine…”

But despite his boasting that “there’s none can ride like me”,  he finds getting on the penny-farthing difficult enough and that riding is nothing like he anticipated…

This is one of Banjo Paterson’s classics, an hilarious tale of misadventure, that was first brought to life for young readers by the illustrations of sisters Kilmeny and Deborah Niland in 1973 and has remained a favourite on library shelves for 50 years, often being the introduction to other works by Paterson for those same young readers. While Paterson’s words tell the story of Mulga Bill’s crazy ride, it is the action and expressions that have been captured in the illustrations that ensure the reader is totally immersed in the story, invested in the inevitable outcome – can anyone survive such an out-of-control ride?

While bicycles have certainly changed since this poem was first published in 1896, perhaps sparking an investigation into how they, or even transport and travel itself has evolved since then, Bill’s embracing the new technology remains the same for many.  There are always going to be the early adopters and the late bloomers and students might like to consider which they are and the pros and cons of each approach. Some have suggested that in the era that the poem was written, the “safety bicycle” would have been more common that the penny-farthing and that perhaps the illustrators used poetic licence with Paterson’s words to create something more appealing, opening opportunities to discuss whether it is okay to do this, or to rearrange historical events or geographical places and so forth to make a story more engaging.  Should the fiction have precedence over the facts? Some students may even have examples they can share as authors acknowledge their fiddling with the facts in many historical stories. 

Or they might just enjoy this 50th anniversary edition for the fun and laughter it evokes!  

The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape











The Great Gallipoli Escape

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

224pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Sixteen-year-old Nipper and his Gallipoli mates Lanky, Spud, Bluey and Wallaby Joe are starving, freezing and ill-equipped. By November 1915 they know that that there is more to winning a war than courage, that the Gallipoli campaign has been lost, and that the reality of war is very different from the pictures and perceptions painted in the posters at home touting war as an adventure, a way out of inevitable unemployment, a ticket to see the world that few in isolated Australia would ever get, and that to fight “for King and country” was as noble as it gets for those with strong ties to England in early 20th century Australia – calls to arms that compelled many like Nipper to lie about their age so they would be allowed to join the army to defend their country.  

As with Last Man Out, this story, based heavily on accounts in primary sources like letters, diaries, oral histories and memories, takes the reader into the disease, deprivation and desperation of life in the trenches that were the origins of “diggers” the nickname for Australian soldiers, and while Nipper and his mates are fictitious, what they experienced was real.  As author Jackie French, renowned for her research and attention to detail when she crafts historical fiction, says, this is “still only one story… there are possibly one hundred thousand stories, all of which might vary in many respects, but still be true.” 

Nipper has played cricket with the Turks in the opposing dugout, dodged rocket fire and rescued desperate and drowning men when the blizzard snow melted. He is one of the few trusted with the secret kept from even most of the officers: how an entire army of 150 000 men, their horses and equipment will vanish from the Peninsula, secretly moved to waiting ships over three impeccably planned nights without a single life lost – but a plan that leaves those still alive with the very mixed feelings of seeing an opportunity for their own salvation while being reluctant to leave behind those who endured so much and gave their lives for something seemingly futile. 

“Will we be remembered for holding the line here, in a campaign that has won nothing and lost so much?” 

And that question is just one of many philosophical discussion points that takes this book beyond an historic narrative. What was and is the legacy of Gallipoli? Why do we still commemorate a failed campaign more than a century later, and why is commemorating it in Gallipoli, itself, such a milestone for so many? 

Apart from the discussion points and activities that relate directly to the book raised in the teaching notes, there are some outstanding opportunities to explore some big-picture questions and really extend students’ thinking such as 

  • How does historical fiction (as opposed to fiction set in the past) enrich and enhance our understanding of life and living during significant events and times?
  • Given that the Turks were defending their families and livelihoods from invasion by the ‘Tommies’ and their allies, were they necessarily the enemy? Were the invaders in the wrong?
  • Are there parallels between the allies invading Turkey and the Russians invading Ukraine?  What are the differences in approach this time? 
  • The lads in the stories could be the older brothers of those reading it so, if Australia were to put “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, would they be as eager to join up today as Nipper and his mates were? Why?
  • Have attitudes to conflict changed in the past century, and if they have or haven’t, why?

To me, quality historical fiction inspires the reader to think beyond the story, to the what-ifs, and the why-dids, and this book has certainly done that on both the professional and personal level because between this and Last Man Out I am learning more and more about what my grandfather experienced and why he didn’t share his stories (even if I had known to ask) and how that shaped him, and ultimately me.  How being named after Lord Kitchener impacted my father’s life so that my brother, currently on his way to Villers-Bretonneux, will then make his way again to the  anniversary of the Battle of Crete where dad was captured on his 25th birthday – just two of those 100 000 stories that had their roots in those eight months on a remote Turkish beach. How many more will be inspired to investigate their own?


Flora’s War

Flora's War

Flora’s War











Flora’s War

Pamela Rushby

Ford Street Publishing, 2013

pbk., 243pp., RRP $A18.95



Flora’s war begins in late 1914 in Cairo where the somewhat indulged daughter of an Australian archaeologist whose only interest is discovering the antiquities of Ancient Egypt meets up with her American friend Gwen, quite determined to be ‘modern young ladies’ of the time now that they are 16 and having ‘come out’, are afforded much more freedom.  Flora’s war ends a year later in Cairo where two much more mature young ladies contemplate their future having seen and done much more than ‘modern young ladies’ should have – in fact having seen and done much more than modern young ladies (or gents) of any generation should have.

Cairo in 1914 is not the place Gwen and Flora have known from their annual visits for the excavation season since childhood.  Instead of the close-knit expatriate society they know, the riches and richness of the privileged life of hotels where steps are swept as soon as they are stepped upon, and the endless desert stretching to the beckoning pyramids, it is becoming more and more crowded with troops from Britain, Australia and New Zealand and tent cities are springing up.  There is an air of expectation that something is going to happen, strengthened by the military’s acquisition of their hotels for hospitals and the girls being commandeered to volunteer as helpers in Lady Bellamy’s rest and recreation centre – a pavilion in the Ezbekieh Gardens where soldiers on leave will be tempted with tea and table tennis to distract them from the salacious attractions of “The Wozzer”. The war is acknowledged but it is far away from Egypt, yet still the troop build-up and training continues and the arrival of contingents of Australian nurses is an ominous sign.

But, undeterred, Flora and Gwen push on to being modern young women, learning to dance in new ways, smoking cigarettes, hosting spectacular parties, and most importantly for their freedom, learning to drive a car.  And it is this skill which takes them to sights, sounds, smells and experiences that no one should ever endure, let alone 16 year-old girls.  For, as what we now know as the Gallipoli Campaign begins and intensifies, the war comes to Cairo as tens of thousands of wounded soldiers are evacuated and Flora and Gwen are enmeshed in their care.

There have been so many books written about the events of 1915 on the Gallipoli Peninsula, events that have shaped the Australian and New Zealand psyche and spawned the enduring ANZAC spirit of collaboration and rivalry.   But Flora’s War is different – it’s written from the perspective of ‘what happened next”.  We know the facts and figures and stories of the soldiers in the trenches and the bravery, courage and losses, but what happened to those who were injured, those who were evacuated to the hospital ships sitting just offshore?  So often the stories stop on the beach.  In the notes, the author, Pamela Rushby tells of her journey from reading a story about Australian nurses in 1915 to writing a story of a young civilian volunteer in Egypt, and it is this aspect that makes this novel stand out.  Even though Flora Wentworth is fictional, it is nevertheless the story of real people, inspirational people whose story has seldom been told.

Flora’s War is an engaging read, written by a hand that knows how to weave light and dark together so that the reader is entertained but also educated.  Flora loves her social life and we learn how the social conventions of the time remain paramount – as unmarried young women their duties are arranged so they cannot see men without their pyjama tops, yet emptying bedpans is acceptable – contrasted against the pathos of young men knowing they may never return from this ‘adventure’ they signed on for.  It paints a picture of a time in history that we all know, that has been rarely seen.  Like Boy Soldiers by Cliff Green, this is a story that stands above others on this topic for me. My copy remained on my shelves until my granddaughters were old enough to read it and perhaps understand what their great great grandfather endured.

There are teachers’ notes written by the author which offer a range of ideas to take this story beyond the realm of a girls’ own adventure to a work that has a real place in supporting our students understanding of this critical piece of Australian history.  If you are looking to boost your collection on this topic for older independent readers, this should be at the top of your list.

First published August 9 2013

Updated April 7 2023


The Poppy

The Poppy

The Poppy











The Poppy

Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2014

Hbk., RRP $A26.95 9781925000313

Pbk., RRP $A16.95  9781925000320

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

This poem, by John McRae, has become one of the most enduring written about World War I and has provided the most recognisable symbol of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders – the poppy. Although Flanders Fields, itself, is in Belgium, the poem and the poppy have become symbolic of the whole of that terrible conflict on the Western Front, and so this new book by illustrator Andrew Plant is aptly named, beautifully told and superbly illustrated.

Starting on the front cover with the brilliant red of the poppy set in front of ghostly images of other poppies entwined in barbed wire and against a background of stormy black skies, this is a beautiful “photo-essay” of the story of Villiers-Bretonnneux, which on ANZAC Day 1918 became the scene of one of Australia’s greatest victories and which forged a bond between two nations that grows stronger each year.  Except the photos are not photos – they are eerily haunting paintings that tell the story of the building of that bond. Bordered in black and accompanied by simple text in white, their bright colours are a stunning contrast which suggests feelings of hope and future and endurance.

The petal of the poppy is whipped off in the winter wind and blows across the village to show  the Villiers-Bretonneux school, known as Victoria School, because it was rebuilt through the contributions of the people of Victoria so that even now the flags of two nations fly above it and carvings of Australian flora and fauna adorn the school hall; it flies through the village past the Musée Franco Australien, and is carried further above the fields and up a broad, low hill to a tall cross and a great tower where thousands of names are carved – those who died but whose bodies were never recovered – and then out over the rows and rows of headstones, some nameless, not even their nationality known. 

But the stories of the soldiers are known and told and not forgotten.  As the winter winds grip the Somme, the Australian and French flags fly side by side and once again, the land turns red. But now it is the petals of the poppies, not the blood of the fallen.

So often our younger students’ knowledge of World War I is limited to the events at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli – here, in this stunning book is the pathway to their understanding of the much more drawn-out battle of the Somme and the Western Front, stories our children should know as well as those students in Victoria School who see “N’Oublions Jamais l’Australie” in every classroom. Stories and a motto which led them to raise nearly $21 000 to donate towards the rebuilding of Strathewan Primary School after it was destroyed in the Victorian bushfires, Black Saturday, 2009. World War 1 was so much more than the hell of the eight months on the Gallipoli Peninsula. 



A peek inside...

A peek inside…

First published February 25, 2014

Updated April 5, 2023

Simpson’s Donkey: A wartime journey to Gallipoli and beyond

Simpson's Donkey

Simpson’s Donkey

Simpson’s Donkey: A wartime journey to Gallipoli and beyond

Peter Stanley

Michelle Dawson

Pier 9, 2011

pbk; 159pp ; RRP $A14.99


ebook, 2011, 9781742664033


The story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and his donkey carrying the wounded to safety from the battlefields to the beach at Gallipoli is one that all Australian children grow up with, one which has been told in many versions for all ages. 

But how did the donkeys get to Gallipoli in the first place?  This story beautifully told  by Peter Stanley offers some answers.  It follows the life of Sevilen, a donkey born on the island of Lemnos, who, through the actions of a variety of masters, including Simpson, has a remarkable journey through the eastern Mediterranean region during the First World War. Told as though it is his autobiography, Sevilen’s story gives us a unique insight into the theatres of war at that time as he encounters Australians, New Zealanders, Greeks, Turks, Britons, Arabs and Indians. 

Author Peter Stanley has had a long association with the Australian War Memorial as the Principal Historian and was then the Director of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia, and currently at UNSW ADFA, so his credentials as an historian are impeccable and his ability as a storyteller, engaging.  It is a book of World War I that will capture the imagination and empathy of middle to upper primary students, offering an example of how a familiar story can be told through a different lens.  Now only available as an ebook, it would be one to share as schools focus on the upcoming commemoration of ANZAC Day, not only reminding them of Simpson the legend and his legacy, but also offering yet another example of the role that animals played, and continue to play, in war opening up a whole new field of investigation.  

Originally published January 3, 2015

Updated April 4 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


City of Light

City of Light

City of Light











City of Light

Julia Lawrinson

Heather Potter & Mark Jackson

Wild Dog Books, 2023 

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


February 20, 1962 and astronaut John Glenn is about to become the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in a spaceship.  From his viewpoint he will be able to see big things, huge things, giant things like the Pyramids, the Amazon, and the Grand Canyon. But how will he see a little boy and a little girl in a little street, in a suburb in a small city like Perth?  There is a way – and he did!

This is a story based on the true story of how Perth turned its lights on to say hello to John Glenn and capture the excitement of one of the first forays into space by humans. It tells of a simpler time when life was very different and such events were huge news, and how the idea of two small children captured the imagination and brought a community together.  

For those of us who remember a time when the world really was a smaller place without television, let alone the internet and a 24/7 news cycle, life was very different and apart from exploring the enormity of this event in itself, readers are also taken back to that time through both the illustrations and the text – the time that their grandparents were children and could have been those kids in the story.  Teachers’ notes offer lots of ideas to compare and contrast the times including imagining how they might signal a spacecraft passing overhead in 2023.   Would  they run around the neighbourhood in an era of phones and text and email? A purposeful way of examining how a specific timeframe and context shape the storytelling.  

But as well as being an account of a real event, it is also a story of hope. Because amid the constant bombardment of overwhelming commentary of climate change, plastic pollution, the cost-of-living and more immediate disasters like the earthquake in Türkiye-Syria, our young readers need to know that they can have ideas and do things that will change big things, even in a small way.  But that small way can grow into something that becomes momentous.  

Lots of potential for lots of exploration of so many topics





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