Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good

Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good

Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good











Ratbags 1: Naughty for Good

Tom Harris

Shiloh Gordon

Puffin, 2023

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

: 9780143777441

Rats, in general, do not have a good reputation for being friendly and kind, and The Ratbags are no exception.  Their goal in life is to make trouble and to look for naughty things to do.  They ream of mayhem and believe rules are for losers.  Except for one – Jigsaw.  He got his name because he does not fit in, like a puzzle piece that won’t squeeze into place no matter how much you twist and turn it. Jigsaw likes both rules and humans so he doesn’t fit in with the other rats and they shun him. 

But things might change when a new pizza shop opens in town…

This is a new series from the author of titles like Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables and this time he has joined with illustrator Shiloh Gordon to create a series that is likely to appeal to young boys, particularly those who don’t choose reading as their first choice for free time.  With minimal text, cartoon-like illustrations, and lots of laughs,  the story moves along at a fast clip more like an animated television program than a print resource, driven by the characters rather than events.  

It’s the first in the series and there’s a quiz that readers can take to see which character they themselves are most like, because every little one dreams of being brave enough to not toe the line, unless they are Jigsaw.  But just below the surface, there are subtle messages about friendship,  peer pressure and having the courage to stand your ground.  Despite the rats’ bad behaviour, however, there are several heartwarming messages buried beneath the surface. ‘It’s not preached at all, but there’s a nice subtle message that we can be friends with other people, no matter what our belief system or no matter how different we are to them,’ says Tim Harris.

Buy the first one and give it to your reluctant readers to determine if you should get the rest in the series.  You may well hook them into reading not only this, but reading in general. 


Little Lunch (series)

Little Lunch (series)

Little Lunch (series)










Little Lunch (series)

Danny Katz

Mitch Vane

Walker, 2023

80pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

It’s only 15 minutes in the school day so really, what can happen in such a short time?  Ask any teacher who has ever been on playground duty and you will discover the answer is – a lot! And in this series of books that are perfect for those venturing into the world of novels because of their relatable characters and events and text/image balance, the reader discovers what teachers already know- it can be the most significant 15 minutes of the day.

Set in a suburban primary school in Australia each episode highlights  the adventures of a class of Year 5 students and their teacher Mrs Gonsha during morning recess as relationships ebb and flow over what seems like the most innocuous events. In fact, so much happens during that short time that there are three stories in each book. And whether it’s Tamara Noodle hogging the monkey bars, fighting over what kind of sandwich Manny was eating or Battie became SUPER BATMAN GUY, each provides an engaging read that not only has heads nodding but also offers opportunities to discuss how the issue was or could be solved without argument or violence.   

The series was first released 20 years ago, was made in to a TV series, still available on iView, in 2015-2016 and is as popular now as it was then because the characters and the things that happen essentially don’t change.  The issues a teacher deals with on the playground today at recess will be similar to those I dealt with all those years ago.  

Apart from just being a fun read, Danny Katz shows that writing about every day stuff, the stuff you know about and have done can be just as entertaining as the most far-fetched fantasy, and thus the stories in the book could be a basis for a writing exercise for a class.  Have them really observe what happens in the playground, analyse the relationships among those involved and how the dynamics made the incident worth watching, show them how to disguise real-life by giving the characters new identities and then have them create their own story for an extra addition to the series.  Usually picture books are the inspiration for a class writing endeavour, but this series is just ideal too. 


Diper Överlöde: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diper Överlöde

Diper Överlöde











Diper Överlöde: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (17)

Jeff Kinney

Puffin, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99



When Greg Heffley decides to tag along with his brother Rodrick’s band, Löded Diper, Greg doesn’t realize what he’s getting into. But he soon learns that late nights, unpaid gigs, fighting between band members, and money troubles are all part of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. That it’s not all fame and glory and adoring fans. 

Can he help Löded Diper become the legends they think they are? Or will too much time with Rodrick’s band be a diper överlöde?

This is the 17th in this series that follows Greg Heffley and his friends through the trials and tribulations of middle school and remains as popular today as it was when it was first released in 2007 as  new waves of readers relate to his adventures.  And with a new movie Rodrick Rules  being released on Disney+ on December 2, it is likely to gather many more fans, particularly among boys.  Written in the first person that echoes the voice and thoughts of so many boys like Greg, full of humour and heavily illustrated with cartoon-like figures, this is a series that will appeal to your reluctant readers as not only is it an easy read, but its popularity puts the reader in the in crowd, important to those who might feel marginalised because they’re struggling academically.

Definitely one for the library’s collection, and one to recommend to parents for the Santa Sack. 


My Deadly Boots

My Deadly Boots

My Deadly Boots











My Deadly Boots

Carl Merrison & Hakea Hustler

Samantha Campbell

Lothian, 2022

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


He has worked and saved for the money to buy a special pair of football boots, and, at last, they have arrived. His 

Spikes on the bottom boots,
my favourite colour boots,
making me too deadly.

Suddenly, he has all sorts of dreams and powers that give him joy, confidence, competence, inspiration and energy that he didn’t have before – or do they?  Despite his family members and friends telling him that he is who he is with or without the boots, he is convinced they are the secret to his success, to his being too deadly. They are his  ‘walking in two worlds boots’, “blackfella don’t need to be labelled boots’ ‘his ‘run faster than my cousin-brother boots’, his “find a partner and walk in twos’ boots, ‘his ‘dream big boots’, his ‘give me confidence’ boots, his ” I’m somebody’ boots, his very own boots- until he loses them and there is an important lesson to be learned.  

Written in rhythmical  language that carries the reader along at the same pace as the boots, this is an empowering story of affirmation that no matter who we are, we can all be deadly with or without flash footy boots. Author Carl Merrison is a respected Jaru/Kija man from the Halls Creek area who came WA runner up Australian of the Year – Local Hero in 2016. He has worked for over ten years alongside Aboriginal youth as a mentor and AFL coach and he has drawn on this experience of seeing the confidence boost that having new shoes gives his young charges to create this book while trying to show them that the power was within all the time.  While it is specifically aimed at young First Nations readers to inspire them to read, its message is one for all children everywhere.  


Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case

Where Seagulls Dare:

Where Seagulls Dare:











Where Seagulls Dare

The Diamond Brothers

Anthony Horowitz

Walker, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


This is a new story heralding the return of a popular series from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s recounting the adventures of the world’s worst private detective, Tim Diamond (28), and his much more intelligent younger brother, Nick Diamond (14). Because of their popularity they have been re-issued over the years, each time gaining a new generation of fans, often moving on to read Horowitz’s more mature novels such as the Alex Rider series.

In this episode, Tim and Nick haven’t had a case for three months and are down to their last cornflake so when a glamorous woman comes into their office offering them a pile of cash to find her missing father, they think Christmas has come  Before they know it, they are caught up in a case involving bike-riding hitmen, super-hackers and a sinister far right organisation, the White Crusaders. The Diamond Brothers are in trouble over their heads. 

Even though it has a teenage protagonist and international criminals, it is written for the 7-9 age group, lightened with humour, puns. pop culture references and absurd situations characterised by titles that are spoofs of popular movies. Something to entice young males to keep reading and perhaps lead them on to other works by the same author. 


E-Boy (series)

E-Boy (series)

E-Boy (series)










E-Boy (series)

Anh Do

Chris Wahl, Tim McEwen

Allen & Unwin, 2020-2022

200+ pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Ethan is supposed to be doing regular teenage things – like playing sports and hanging out with friends.
He is not supposed to be in hospital getting a brain tumour removed by Gemini, a high-tech android doctor. But just as the operation begins, the medical facility is hit by an unusual bolt of lightning …

When Ethan wakes up he discovers that things are different. He’s always been good with computers, but now his skills are next-level. Ethan almost feels like he’s … part of the machine because now he has powers to hack into any electronic device.. And what about the android Gemini? If Ethan is now part robot, does that make the robot part human?  It seems so,  and the government wants him to themselves to try to catch Ethan because they fear what these powers might mean for their security. And so Gemini is now in pursuit of Ethan but what is his purpose if he catches him?

Ethan will need all his new skills just to stay alive… but just because he can hack into computers, should he actually do so?  Anh Do sets up an ethical dilemma that the reader has to grapple with. 

This is an interesting series because while its hero is a teenager, its format is more like that for those who are newly independent readers, including plenty of illustrations, so it is perfect for those older boys who are looking for something age-appropriate but still needing that support.  It also means they can be seen reading a book by one of the most popular authors at the moment, so that is also important for their self-esteem. Added to that, within this story are references to some of Do’s other series including Skydragon, and Rise of the Mythix  so it might just open up other reading horizons for them.  

So far, there are four in the series and they are best read in order so there is continuity of both plot and characters, but the early episodes are still readily available if this is not yet in your collection. 

Whose Poo?

Whose Poo?

Whose Poo?











Whose Poo?

Daisy Bird

Marianna Coppo

Andersen Press, 2022

44pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


The two baby mice are fascinated by poo and even though their dad tells them it is an off-limits conversation while on their zoo trip, they can’t help themselves.  As they walk to the zoo, they see lots of different people and their imaginations run wild as they picture the sort of poo the person would do – but once they get there, there’s no stopping their fantasies.  “Chameleons do sneaky, camouflage poo.  They can hide it anywhere they want to!” 

But the greatest insight is when Father Mouse takes them to meet the Pookeeper…

While this is an hilarious story in rhyme that will have young readers laughing out loud that might have them imagining what sort of poo those around them would do, this story also has a serious side.. It shows that going to the toilet is an everyday occurrence for everybody and everything and is a necessary part of being healthy, sparking conversations about the digestive system and how it works. .  By normalising it in this way, the stigma that has been attached to getting rid of body waste for centuries as though it is something nasty and naughty may be diminished so that if there is a change in the habit or the product, it can be addressed without embarrassment.  It may also minimise the advent of toilet humour that seems to grip young boys and often lasts into adulthood.  

A fun read with a serious side. 

Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Tashi and the Stolen Forest











Tashi and the Stolen Forest

Anna & Barbara Fienberg

Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2020

96pp., pbk., RRP $A2.99


Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a little boy was finally born to a couple who so desperately wanted a child that after consulting Wise-As-An-Owl the wife sipped a special mixture made for her and within a year, Tashi was born.  Right from the start he proved to be very clever and had many adventures before finally fleeing from a wicked warlord, arriving in this land on the back of a swan where he became Jack’s special friend.  Every now and then he would share an adventure with Jack and then Jack recounted these to his incredulous parents.  And so the adventures and legend of Tashi were born…

For over 25 years, the stories have fascinated young, independent readers as they are the perfect introduction to the world of fantasy and the fantastic, including almost every Year 3 class I’ve taught since the stories were first published.  Presented in a paperback format that each contained two stories, they were perfect for real-alouds as well as read-alones, so much so that in 2001 my Year 3 classes led a national Book Rap that had students from all over the country answering the questions my students had posed about the stories via online activities and emails as the power of the Internet was gradually harnessed to connect children beyond the school walls.

And now it is time for another wave of emerging, newly-independent readers to get to know this magical little fellow who has such big adventures with a new story published at a special Australia Reads price so that more children can start reading. In this stand-alone, Tashi tells about the time the old forest disappeared, and Much-to-Learn was in danger of disappearing with it! And then the whole village was threatened … Could magic sand and a certain spell help save them all? Only someone as clever as Tashi could find a way to outwit the Baron – and solve the mystery of the disappearing trees.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tashi, or who want to make sure they have all the books ready for renewed interest, you can check the list of books here – promote them to your emerging readers who will appreciate the quality stories as they begin  their journey through novels which give them the confidence and satisfaction of reading a “chapter book” for themselves.



Return to FACTopia!

Return to FACTopia!

Return to FACTopia!











Return to FACTopia!

Kate Hale

Andy Smith

Britannica Books, 2022

208pp., hbk., RRP $25.99


Did you know that bacteria from between people’s toes has been used to make cheese? Or that the world’s most expensive cheese is made from donkey milk? Or that the milk from one species of cockroach is the most nutritious substance on Earth? Or that a cockroach can survive for weeks without its head?

In this choose-your-own adventure journey through more than 400 facts, all of which have been verified by Encyclopedia Britannica, every fact  is connected to the next in an ingenious trail of information, where you will hop from topic to topic in unexpected and hilarious ways. And there’s not just one trail through these pages: sometimes your path branches and you can choose to jump to a totally different (but still connected) part of the book. Let your curiosity lead you through this witty wonderland of facts!

There are connections made between a vast range of topics from history and geography to science and nature, including astronauts, polar bears, rollercoasters, sabre-toothed cats, shipwrecks, bananas, pirates, orangutans, medieval knights, and more, all accompanied by more than 300 fabulously witty colour illustrations and photographs.

And while disclosing that bacteria from between people’s toes has been used to make cheese may not be quite the best to share at the family dinner table, nevertheless these are the sorts of weird and wonderful things that kids of a certain age love to pore over and absorb for just the right (or wrong) occasion.  The format of taking your own path which is indicated by a dotted line and then branching out with diversions to other pages is unique to this series which includes FACTopia and the upcoming Gross FACTopis and ensure that each time the reader devles into it, new discoveries are made. 

Something a little different for your non fiction lovers. 



Specky Magee

Specky Magee

Specky Magee











Specky Magee

Felice Arena & Garry Lyon

Puffin, 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Twenty years ago when the AFL season was being dominated by the team from Port Adelaide but two less-likely contenders, Brisbane Lions and Collingwood  fought out the premiership, one of the most popular series that wouldn’t stay on the shelf was Specky Magee – the story of a 12-year-old footballer whose off-field challenges almost surpassed his on-field exploits.  

Nicknamed Specky because he takes such spectacular marks, the young Specky can’t understand why there is a photograph of him in footy gear in pride of place in the family home yet the family can’t stand football. And so he decides to investigate… It is Specky’s backstory that made this such a popular read because suddenly the boys particularly, were reading about their own challenges as they navigated puberty and family interactions and the bridging that child-adolescent chasm.  They found themselves in the story.

And while Felice Arena’s name wasn’t well-known at the time, Garry Lyon’s was.  As captain of the Melbourne Demons from 1991-1997,  three All-Australian nominations and an emerging media career, Lyon was a leading personality whose name on the front cover of a book would draw in even the most reluctant reader.  For it to evolve into a series of eight books was just the icing on the cake. There are many who owe their reading prowess today to that series, girls as well as boys, because this was also a ground-breaking series that was written for both. While the AFLW was still 15 years away, nevertheless the girls are strong characters who help shape Specky off the field. And Christina introduces him to the notion that girls can play as well as boys.

It is testament to the quality and strength of the story that it is being re-released 20 years on from its debut and it will have as much appeal now as it did then.  While the series spans Specky’s life from 12-14, and thus perhaps is at the upper end of the readership of this blog, nevertheless there will be younger readers who will cherish it for being one of just a handful available about their beloved game. 

Meanwhile, having read the series all those years ago, I’m looking forward to Arena’s new title – The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan the story of a young girl who used her football skills to raise funds for the troops in 1942… perhaps the origins of AFLW go back much further than we think.