The Sea in Me

The Sea in Me

The Sea in Me











The Sea in Me

Cody Simpson with Jess Black

Amandine Thomas

Puffin, 2024

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


A hot summer’s day and everyone seems to have had the same idea – to go to the beach. Rows of beach tents block the breeze, the jingle of the ice cream van is on repeat, the towels are so close they are touching and even the seagulls are grumpy as they squabble over spilled chips.  The sights and sounds are so overpowering and overwhelming that there is just one solution – to go for a swim , dive deep below the waves and relax…

The sounds from above are hazy and lost to me.
I can only hear my heartbeat, slow and steady.

Far below the hubbub above, there is peace and quiet and the sea creatures go about their lives as they have always done in a slow, repetitive rhythm that soothes jangled nerves and calms the soul in a magical way.

Sometimes, whether it is a physical experience like being at an overcrowded beach, or just embroiled in life itself, we will all feel that it is all too much and we just need to get away, to find solace in silence and stillness, to go to where the only sound is the inner voice in your head and listen to it.  And with today’s busy, frenetic lifestyle and all the outside noise imposing itself even on our youngest, this is a wonderful allegory to share to help them find that inner peace, whether that be under the waves or high in a tree or perched on a rock or snuggled under the blankets.  We all have a “sea” that is our sanctuary. 

Cody Simpson is a name that will be familiar to many – as a musician, aspiring Olympian and now writer he is well-qualified to write about the outside noise and pressures on his life.  Listening to an interview with Giaan Rooney immediately after just failing to make the Olympic team to go to Paris, this book could not have a more timely release.  He spoke of a time when he had to shut down all the distractions and listen to the voice of 12-year-old Cody telling him that he was a talented swimmer at that early age and had the potential to go far, and it was up to him to realise it.  The most powerful message though, comes from the ending – even though he didn’t achieve his ultimate goal, he gave it his all and he wasn’t going to go through life wondering “What if…” But it was that initial act of actively seeking that solitude and seclusion that allowed him to hear that voice that sparked the dream that was so critical.

So whether this book is just used as a peek at what is underneath the waves, or as part of a mindfulness program that encourages students to look deep within to find their “sea” and what it is telling them, it has a place for a wide audience and a message that goes far beyond the celebrity’s name on the cover.  Even if not as an Olympian or a musician, Simpson has offered himself as a role model of an entirely different sort. 

How to Save the Whole Blinkin’ Planet

How to Save the Whole Blinkin' Planet

How to Save the Whole Blinkin’ Planet











How to Save the Whole Blinkin’ Planet: A Renewable Energy Adventure!

Lee Constable


Puffin, 2024

256pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


As once again the news is dominated by political parties sprouting their particular ideologies about which energy source – renewables or nuclear – is going to be the way forward to meet the target of Net Zero by 2050 if we are to save the planet, this book reaches out to those who will be most affected to show them what they can do now, in the here and now, to make a difference.  

Speaking directly to the young independent reader, it starts by explaining how dependent the world is on electricity and how the traditional ways of generating this are leading to pollution, greenhouse gases and climate change.  The reader is invited to be an imagineer – an engineer who “likes to use powers of imagination, creativity and problem-solving to come up with wild and wonderful ideas and inventions that [will] make the whole blinkin’ world run as smoothly and safely as possible” = and join Captain Kilowatt to learn more about the problem, its causes and possible solutions with a variety of interactive devices that not only get them directly involved but also give them the science so they can make informed decisions and choices. 

Its style and format make it an engaging read that emphasises the need for the reader to be an active participant in understanding and solving the issues, with questions, quizzes and QR codes to scan to develop and consolidate knowledge. It’s a companion to How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet and like that, offers our kids practical ideas that will help them make a difference, perhaps even contribute to the discussions so that they are more than just political catchphrases with an underlying motive that has little to do with actually protecting the planet. 

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)









Little Ash (series)

Sleepover Surprise


Big Break 


HarperCollins, 2024

64pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

As the French Open gathers momentum, and Wimbledon on the horizon, the thoughts of many will be turning to tennis and remembering Australian Ash Barty’s win at Wimbledon in 2021 as well as her other achievements including being only the second Australian woman to be ranked #1 and holding that position for 121 weeks.  So this is a timely release of two more titles in this popular series for young, newly independent readers.  

As with the others in the series, each story deals with a situation that will be familiar to many.  In Sleepover Surprise, she hosts a sleepover for her friends, trying to make everything perfect for then, but she discovers that after all the fun and it’s time to actually settle down, not everyone feels confident not being in their own bed.  Her friend Ruthie is homesick and with her Gran being too far away to come to get her, Ash has to work out how to make her feel safe and okay.

Meanwhile, in Big Break, it’s the annual family tennis tournament at the beach and while Ash is ready, her little sister Ali has broken her arm. Ali is bewildered when Ash doesn’t pick her for a partner, but that’s because Ash has a plan that will mean Ali can join in properly and have fun too.

Like their predecessors, each story is bound up in themes of family, friendship and fun and show the readers that even the most extraordinary adults have had ordinary childhoods with all the activities and anxieties that they enjoy and endure too.  Those they admire most face similar dilemmas and choices as they do, making them more real and, at the same time, showing them that they do have power to determine things for themselves.

With 10 in the collection now, this is a series that, with its attention to theme, characters, formatting, and language choices, is ideal for those transitioning to “chapter books” and which will have broad appeal to those who like to put themselves in the shoes of their heroes.


Jonty’s Unicorn

Jonty's Unicorn

Jonty’s Unicorn











Jonty’s Unicorn

Rebecca Fraser

ifwg Publishing, 2024

140pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


In the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene, twelve-year-old Jonty Fairskye’s mother is gravely ill. A tonic from Dagatha, the fearsome witch who dwells in the dark heart of the Terrenwild Woods may be her only hope, but everyone knows Dagatha’s cures cost dearly — both in gold and regret.

Determined to save her mother, Jonty resolves to enter the King’s Annual Horse Race on her beloved horse, Onyx. The prize, a pouch of gold — more than enough to pay Dagatha. When Jonty discovers Rose, an injured unicorn, during a woodland training session, she is wonderstruck. There hasn’t been a unicorn sighting in Irrawene for over a century. Jonty smuggles Rose back to the safety of her barn to recover.

As the great horse race draws closer, disaster strikes and Jonty is forced to make a decision that will impact the lives of everyone she loves. Danger and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Jonty will learn that the true meaning of kindness and bravery comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice.

If ever there were a stereotypical entry into the world of fantasy for young readers, then this would be it. From setting to situation to characters to plot, it has all the hallmarks of what you expect from this genre for this age group from the ailing parent and the young child down to their last pennies; the possibility of a cure from the wicked witch who lives deep in the forest but at a cost too much to pay; the possibility of winning the money; the child ready to save the parent whatever it takes;  the disaster, the disappointment, the redemption – and of course, a magical unicorn.  But this is not a bad thing for the newly independent reader because it confirms and brings to life all those mind-pictures that they have formed already from listening to such stories and seeing illustrations in picture books.  Beautifully descriptive, here, in words alone, are all the things that have been imagined and now they can read them for themselves and solidify that platform they have built, perhaps even extending their reading by seeking others in the same genre.  

It also has the classic plot structure of a novel for younger readers with problems, possible solutions, complications and suspense to the final resolution making it an ideal way to introduce this longer format and the value in persevering rather than expecting the story to be done and dusted in one sitting like a picture book or television episode, while the underlying perennial message of being resilient and standing up for what is right is also strong as it carries the story along

Perhaps a little more expensive than other paperbacks, nevertheless its value as a mentor text for examining the tropes of this genre, the construction of a plot, and descriptive language that would enable even the lousiest artist like me to construct a mental or physical image of the setting and the characters, and its potential to extend the readers interest to find similar stories,  make it a worthwhile investment. 

To and Fro

To and Fro

To and Fro











To and Fro

Anton Clifford-Motopi

A&U Children’s, 2024

304pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


For twelve years, it has just been Sam, his mum and his Nanna (and Grandad when he was alive) and Sam has been okay with that.  He has survived his mum’s cooking, passion for second-hand things and dreadful driving; he visits his nanna often and copes with her religious beliefs, ornaments on every surface and gallery of photos of dead people on the mantelpiece; he fits in well at his school, has friends although they make fun of his Afro haircut especially Lachlan Bott, manages to rub along with his teacher Mr Peacock whose antics mimic his name and like most in Year 6, is counting down the days till primary school is over.  He has a dog called Trevor who has a haircut similar to his own, and altogether, he is just like everyone else he knows.

He has never met his dad although he knows he was a Black African who apparently left his mother when she was pregnant, and even that is unremarkable these days when family structures are so diverse.  But what he is not ready for is his dad suddenly appearing in his life, and his having to make the decision about whether he will meet him with all the ramifications that that will have. 

Most kids meet their parents when they’re born. All they need to do to impress them is poop, sleep and make goo-goo ga-ga sounds. But I’m twelve. None of that is going to impress my father.

And given that Mr Peacock has set the class a major investigation into “who am I and where do I come from?’ so Sam’s focus is already on his origins, it is a dilemma that only he can decide.  He does go ahead with the meeting but that just sets up more questions than answers – deep-seated questions that will shape his identity – but which provoke a lot of turmoil within and without.  Is he a white kid with a black dad? Or a black kid with white skin? Or half-black and half-white? How can he make his outside match his insides if he doesn’t know who he is?

This is an engaging novel for independent readers, many of whom may find themselves in Sam’s predicament whether the conflict be based on race, culture, religion, gender or something else.  As kids move through puberty, even those in the most “standard” of families, question who they are as they try to find and establish their place as independent individuals in the scheme of things, so it is going to have broad appeal.  Told by Sam himself, and being somewhat akin to the author’s own experience, the reader is drawn into Sam’s confusion from his perspective, rather than that of a narrator imposing their interpretation.  It’s funny, has a certain amount of toilet humour that appeals to the age and gives it authenticity, but more than anything, it is a compelling read that tackles deeper issues than just constructing a family tree because it takes that to the next level of looking at the relationships on it and their impact on the current generation.

While many modern stories for that upper end of primary often feature fantastic creatures, superheroes and good vs evil in some shape or form, my experience is that these readers also love contemporary realistic fiction like this – stories where they see themselves or put them in a position of asking what would they do, giving them an opportunity to work through genuine life issues at arm’s length.  They like being respected as intelligent, thoughtful readers, and through both the characters and the storyline of this one, the author has nailed it.  

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project











The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

Test Trouble









Test Trouble

Serena Patel

Louise Forshaw

Barrington Stoke, 2024

88pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


When his teacher announces that there will be a timed maths test the following Monday, Arun goes into meltdown.  Even though he is bright and attentive, tests, especially timed ones, make him feel extremely anxious as he feels the pressure to perform.  And so he is determined to get out of it by any means possible staging a protest about tests altogether (which only gets him into more trouble) and even pretending to be sick.  But then a conversation with his neighbour helps him see things in a different light….

This is a story that nearly every reader will relate to. The anxiety that comes with the expectation of being tested, and being expected to do well, no matter how often teachers and other adults try to reassure you that it is “just a test” to let them know how you’re coping and that they can know where you need support.  The fact is that the fear of not living up to expectations, particularly your own, can become bigger than the test itself and that is what distorts the results, not your lack of knowledge and understanding.  

But even though we, as teachers, know this and that there are better ways of assessing a student’s progress and program, boffins wanting to protect their positions insist on imposing tests to measure achievement as though a score on a paper on a particular day indicates anything other than that, and using the results to make all sorts of high-stakes claims and decisions.  So until there is enlightened leadership, such as the implementation of the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate, which does not require a final exam,  our students are going to find themselves in Arun’s position, sadly from their Kindergarten year. And so this is a worthwhile addition to every teacher’s toolkit, especially those who teach that middle primary area where the fear and anxiety really start to take hold, so it can be shared over and over, especially the conversation that Arun has with Mr Patel on pp48-49. Sometimes just turning up for something that we are afraid to do is the biggest achievement, and, having done that, the rest is not so hard.  

This is a little book that has the potential to have the most enormous impact.

This book is from a new imprint, Barrington Stoke, that HarperCollins UK has acquired. Many will know that Barrington Stoke print all of their titles using dyslexic-friendly paper stock, formatting and fonts. Many of their books, including this one, are hi-lo texts written by popular authors but which have been edited to have a lower reading age than interest age so it’s great that they are now going to be readily available in Australia.

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies











Heather Has Two Mummies

Lesléa Newman

Laura Cornell

Walker Books, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Heather’s favourite number is two – she has two arms, two legs, two pets and two lovely mummies, Mama Kate, a doctor, and Mama Jane, a carpenter, plus dog Midnight and cat Gingersnap.  But when Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy … and Heather doesn’t have a daddy! But then the class all draw portraits of their families, and not one single drawing is the same. Heather and her classmates realize – it doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the most important thing is that all the people in it love one another very much.

In the international bestseller, Lessons in Chemistry, which focuses on the attitudes towards women in the 1950s and early 60s, Teacher Mudford asks her Year 1 class to fill in a diagram of their family tree including a photo, but not only does she share what she learns about some of the diverse families of her students with other parents, but she persecutes those children who don’t have the stock-standard, mother-father-child/ren arrangement that was the only accepted model of the times.

Fast forward 30 years to the 1990s and the original version of Heather Has Two Mummies is published, despite many rejections from mainstream publishers because it was considered too controversial because attitudes had scarcely changed, and is challenged, banned, the subject of public debate, attacked by clergy and politicians alike. By the end of the decade it was the 9th most challenged book in US literary history.  

Now, another 30* years on, the self-published first editions have become collectibles, and reprints are common in school libraries because diverse family structures are mostly more acceptable and children have both the right and the need to read about themselves. While as recently as 2015 teachers in some US states faced dismissal for sharing such stories, a situation that has become even more dire in some US states since the extreme right-wing presidency of Donald Trump with books with any sort of reference to sexual diversity being pulled from shelves and banned in state-sponsored legislation, nevertheless this book has persisted and has not been out of print for 35 years, indicating that there is clearly a demand for these sorts of stories that address the tricky topics that children live daily, that cause both confusion and anxiety, and which have to be shared if we are to normalise anything that is not the norm. 

For those for whom such stories might be problematic because of the ethos of their schools, I invite you to read both the discussions that were generated in 2015 when I wrote the tricky topics hat for my 500 Hats blog and how it has been addressed in the Sample Collection Policy under Diversity and Inclusion. The mental health of our students is more prominent now than it has been in the past and much stems from feelings of being different, excluded, not belonging and so, IMO, we as educators have a responsibility to embrace diversity, to show that there is so much more that includes rather than divides. As the wise MS Molly in the story says, “each family is special, The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

Miimi and Buwaarr, Mother and Baby

Miimi and Buwaarr, Mother and Baby

Miimi and Buwaarr, Mother and Baby











Miimi and Buwaarr, Mother and Baby

Melissa Greenwood

ABC Books, 2024

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Being your miimi (mother) is the most precious gift life can give.

When you were born you opened my heart as wide as the ocean.

There is no stronger bond than that between mother and child and using a palette as soft and gentle as the accompanying text,  Gumbaynggir storyteller, artist and designer Melissa Greenwood, has created an ode between mother and newborn that tells the baby of the connections to their family, totems, language and environment both past and present and how they can draw on the characteristics  to guide and protect them through their journey through life. 

While it is a story that echoes the feeling between any mother and newborn. it is expressed in a way that shows the long, strong connections to family, land and culture that reach far into the past of First Nations families.

While it is written in a combination of English and Gumbaynggirr  with a full Gumbaynggirr translation included, at the end, it is nevertheless one that could be in any language spoken in the world, so universal is it message. And as children learn their mother language-its meaning, its rhythm, its expression, its nuances -whatever it is, through listening to it, there is much that they absorb during these personal, precious moments beyond that expression of love. Therefore, these sort of lullabies have a unique place in language learning and should not only be among the gifts given to any new mother but also be the first in the baby’s library, regardless of their heritage..

Dinosaur in My Pocket

Dinosaur in My Pocket

Dinosaur in My Pocket











Dinosaur in My Pocket

Ashleigh Barton

Blithe Fielden

Lothian Children’s, 2024

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


James loves two things more than anything in the world: dinosaurs and miniatures. every day he plays with his toy dinosaurs and admires his collection of teeny tiny things on his shelves. But while he has an assortment of things like an elephant, a horse and even a mountain, he doesn’t have a miniature dinosaur. So when his class goes on an excursion to a museum and James finds a miniature dinosaur in the gift shop, he can’t help himself: he has no money so he steals the dinosaur. But, instead of feeling happy to be able to add it to his collection,  as the day continues, his guilt grows. And so does the dinosaur!

The only thing that can cure James’s guilt – and shrink the dinosaur back to its proper size – is doing the right thing. But how will his parents’ respond?  Will he be in BIG trouble?

There will be few children who haven’t been tempted by something they really want, so this is a cautionary tale that can open up discussions of knowing and doing right from wrong, the feelings they are likely to experience if they do succumb and how they might get what they want in an honest way.  It might also spark a discussion about the response of James’ parents – if they had yelled at him and punished him, would he have been likely to own up or be more scared of the consequences?  At a time when many seem to have a problem owning their behaviour, taking responsibility for what they have done and accepting the consequences, this could be an ideal ice-breaker.