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. 


Jacob’s New Dress






Jacob's New Dress

Jacob’s New Dress










Jacob’s New Dress

Sarah and Ian Hoffman

Chris Case

Albert Whitman, 2014

hbk., 32pp.,  RRP $A24.95


There are many costumes to choose from in the class dress-up corner – firemen, dragons, farmers, knights in shining armour – but Jacob insists on wearing the princess dress complete with crown.  Even when Ms Wilson suggests alternatives to deflect the derision he is receiving, particularly from Christopher, he proudly informs her that he is the princess.  At home that afternoon, his mother reaffirms that boys can wear dresses and even suggests he plays in his Hallowe’en witch’s outfit but when he proposes to wear it to school the next day she is caught in a dilemma of acknowledging her son’s choices and protecting him for the cruelty of his classmates.  When Jacob creates an alternative – a toga-like outfit he makes from towels – she is happier, especially when Jacob agrees to wear shorts and a shirt underneath.

However, while his friend Emily admires his creation, that is not enough for Christopher and the rest of the boys who cannot deal with Jacob’s nonconformist persona and Jacob goes home miserable and confused, but determined. He asks his mother to make him a real dress but she hesitates, and the longer she hesitates the harder it is for Jacob to breathe.  Will his mum support what for him is a natural expression of who he is, or will she try to protect him from the Christophers of the world? If she allows Jacob to make and then wear his dress to school is she subjecting him to ridicule?  If she denies him, is she protecting the stereotype?

Just ten years ago, there was a “Jacob” at the school where I taught – a young lad who preferred the princess outfits, made long hair from plaited pantyhose, and whose choices made him not only the butt of the playground bullies but also the subject of many teacher-parent and teacher-teacher conferences as we tried to find a way through the minefield that saw him become more and more anxious and isolated as he progressed through the years. Gender identity issues were not common – in fact, our Jacob was the first gender nonconforming child that many of us had taught. In hindsight and with what we know now, his dependence in other areas was just a manifestation of his insecurity and need to be acknowledged like a regular child, that he was more than his gender confusion and we needed to look harder beneath the outer to seek the inner. How welcome a book like Jacob’s New Dress would have been to give us some guidance, for like Jacob’s parents in the story, teachers too are trapped in the dilemma of acknowledgement and protection.  Ms Wilson tells her class that Jacob wears what he’s comfortable in. Just like you do. Not very long ago little girls couldn’t wear pants. Can you imagine that?”  If we don’t make judgements about a girl’s future sexuality because she prefers to wear blue jeans and to play football, why do we react so strongly to a boy making alternative choices?

This story was born of the authors’ own experience with their own child and while there are many unanswered questions about both the cause of and the future for such children, the strong message is that “support and acceptance from family, peers and community make a huge difference in the future health and mental health of these kids”.  Just like any child, really.  Ms Wilson is a role model for teachers – gender nonconformity is just another way of being different and “there are many ways to be boys [and girls].” Just a couple of generations ago people who were left-handed often had the offending hand tied behind their back to compel them to write with their right – perhaps it won’t be too long before “pink boys” are as accepted as lefties are today. Perhaps we could start the conversations with questions such as

  • If Jacob were in our class, are you more likely to be like Emily or Christopher?
  • How would you feel if someone made fun of you wearing your favourite clothes or wouldn’t let you wear them?
  • Has that happened to you?  Do you want to share?
  • Why do you think Christopher reacts the way he does?
  • What did you like/not like about the way Ms Wilson dealt with the issue?
  • If you were Jacob’s mum or dad, what decision would you make?

Apart from anything else, an astute teacher will pick up on any sexism and bullying issues that might be bubbling below the surface.

However, there is another level to this book.  While, on the surface, this appears to be a picture book for the young (the recommended age is 4-7) it would also be a brilliant springboard to a study about what is masculine and what is feminine and the messages portrayed through the media about what is valued about and for each; the relationship between the clothes we wear and our perceived position in society; and whether, despite the feminist movement, whether deep-down core values and beliefs have really changed. Are gender-based stereotypes perpetuated?  In the vein of Tomie dePaola’s Oliver Button is a Sissy this is yet another example of a picture book (usually seen as the reading realm of the very young) actually having an audience of all ages.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Originally published May 4, 2014

Updated February 2023

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse












Cat Spies Mouse

Rina A. Foti

Dave Atze

Big Sky, 2022

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


When Cat spies mouse, he grabs him and tells him he is going to gobble her up.  But being a feisty mouse, she disagrees and asks, “Why would you do that?” And so begins a back-and-forth conversation about the fairness of bigger being allowed to eat smaller because “that’s the way it is”. Mouse, who must be terrified, nevertheless has courage and tries to convince Cat that it would be better to be friends, but Cat is not interested until along comes D-O-G!

Told entirely in conversation with different coloured text identifying each speaker, this is a charming story about assumed power invested by size – just because you’re bigger doesn’t make you in charge – and it will promote discussion about whether being little means giving in or having rights. Is Cat (or Dog) a bully? Mouse’s arguing against the status quo is very reminiscent of little ones who feel injustice keenly but who don’t quite know how to get something sorted, although they are determined to win and make their own world fairer. Having the courage to speak up for change is a big lesson in assertiveness, and while parents might end the conversation with “Because I said so!” it is nevertheless a sign that their little one is maturing and gaining independence.

The illustrations are divine – set on a white background, all the emotions and feelings are contained in the animals’ body language and facial expressions that even without being able to read the words for themselves, very young readers will still be able to work out the story and participate in that crucial pre-reading behaviour.

Don’t be fooled by its apparent simplicity – this is a thought-provoking read that we can all take heed of, regardless of our age!















Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2021

320pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad…

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda…

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared…

Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated and they were…

Maybe there will peace and happiness for Felix at last…

Now Zelda learns her grandfather’s story…

Always stay hopeful…

In this incredible series that has been 16 years in the writing, Gleitzman has tackled the most confronting of issues in the world’s recent history spotlighting the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence, the death and the ever-present fear that was the reality of the times and which form the stories of their grandparents and their great-grandparents who are at the root of today’s multicultural Australia.

And now the final chapter has been written…”I’d always known that this story would take us back to where we first met Felix, and that we’d be taken there by his own voice, as we were that first time in Once. But in Once Felix was ten years old. In Always he’s eighty-seven.”  But from the very first chapter the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence, the death are still there.  Has history taught us nothing? Or has it taught us but we have failed to learn?

In these current times of lockdowns and restrictions those who are older try to help our younger ones cope with the isolation by saying things like, “At least you’re not sleeping in a train tunnel because there are bombs dropping on your home” but whilst a fact of life for so many at the time, it is  too far removed for them to understand.  So this series with the story told by those who were there, who lived it at the same age as they are brings home what that sort of deprivation is, and perhaps gives them hope of better things to come. It is a story as relevant now as it was when it first began and even though those original readers, those who “have now grown old but are still young” will want to read this final chapter.

The impact of the series, its well-knownness, the power of Gleitzman’s words, story and vision will attract more readers and reviewers and nothing that I can write will enhance what already exists. It is time for me to renew my first acquaintance with Felix from all those years ago, follow his journey all over again and then savour the full circle of his life.  In the story of the writing of this final chapter, Gleitzman says “I hope you feel it was worth the wait.”  All I can say is, “It absolutely was!”




Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World











Mina and the Whole Wide World

Sherryl Clark

Briony Stewart

UQP, 2021

120pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


More than anything else in the whole wide world Mina wants her own bedroom . And it’s almost ready! Just one more lick of sunny yellow paint and it’s hers.

But then Mina’s parents take in an unexpected guest, and give her room away. At first, Mina is too upset to speak. She is so devastated by her loss and she doesn’t care that this new boy, Azzami, needs a place to stay. Her loss is almost too great to bear. 

At school, the other kids call Azzami names but throughout the bullying, he stays silent.  Mina wishes he’d stand up for himself especially after she ends up in strife for hitting Oliver, the worst of the culprits.  But although Azzami doesn’t speck he draws and he as a tale to tell in his drawings,  a tale made all the more poignant when Mina goes with him to visit his very sick mother.  For the first time she really thinks about the life and loss of the quiet boy, what he has seen and escaped from, the death of his father and the illness of his mother, being the least of them, and gradually the loss of her own bedroom is put into perspective. 

This verse novel for younger readers is an important addition to the collection and a vital inclusion to any study of refugees because it gives the silent among our students a voice.  Even though Azzami himself doesn’t speak, his silence is powerful because it echoes that of so many of those we teach who have experienced trauma and fear that we will never know.  Sadly, there are those like Oliver in every class who cannot cope with difference and manifest their lack of understanding and empathy through a display of power and disdain, but there are also Minas who have a more open mind and benefit by finding friendship and tolerance and gratitude. And there are also wise teachers like Ms Smart who know when to step back and when to step up.

This is a story about finding friendship where you least expect it and making room for everyone across this “whole wide world” and the teachers notes will help guide students’ awareness, knowledge, understanding, compassion and tolerance so that the conversation about acceptance, diversity, and caring for others has a new tone.  In addition, there is much to be learned about Clark’s choice of format, vocabulary and using only Mina’s perspective as a vehicle for  a narrative that needs to be had (seemingly over and over, even though refugees have been a critical part of this country’s fabric and fibre since the end of World War II). 

Look for this among the award nominees in 2022.  


The Travelling Bookshop: Mim and the Baffling Bully

The Travelling Bookshop: Mim and the Baffling Bully

The Travelling Bookshop: Mim and the Baffling Bully











The Travelling Bookshop: Mim and the Baffling Bully

Katrina Nannestad

Cheryl Orsini

ABC Books, 2021 

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


Imagine being a young girl travelling the world in an old wooden caravan pulled by a horse that decides where they will go and which seems to have magical powers that mean borders and mountains and oceans are no barriers.  And that caravan is full of books, because it, too, has a magic that means that it is like a Tardis with so much more on the inside than appears on the outside. 

That is the life of 10-year-old Miriam-Rose Cohen (who prefers Mim), her father and little brother Nat, Coco the cockatoo and Flossy the horse.  They travel to wherever they are needed, wherever there is a child in need of a book to make their world right again because “the line between books and real life is not as clear as people suppose.”

In this first episode of this new series inspired by her childhood dream of living in a double-decker bus, the author of the 2021 CBCA shortlisted We Are Wolves and the Lottie Perkins series, we are taken to a pretty Dutch village where Mim meets Willemina, a kind and gentle child, who is being bullied by Gerda. Mim is convinced that Willemina will be much happier if her dad would just find her the right book, but is it really Willemina who needs it? 

This is a brand new series that had me at its title, took a greater hold at the image of little Nat being secured to the caravan’s roof because his dad nailed his pants to it, and held me right through to the end with its quirky characters and madcap adventures that will transport any reader far away from this gloomy, long winter. It’s the stuff that allows the imagination to run wild and starts dreams -that just might come true. 

Turning Cartwheels

Turning Cartwheels

Turning Cartwheels










Turning Cartwheels

Amy Adeney

Amy Calautti

EK, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


Emma is desperate to join queen bee Carly’s Cartwheel Club. Week after week Emma lines up for a try-out, only to be told that she hasn’t made the cut. When Emma is finally accepted, she finds that Carly’s rules and requirements take all the joy out of cartwheeling, and being part of the gang isn’t as awesome as she expected. And so she takes matters into her own hands…

This is a story that could have taken place in Any School, Anywhere and so it will resonate with a wide range of readers. At a certain stage the need to belong, to be part of the in-crowd becomes the driving force in a child’s life but so often, once in, things aren’t as rosy as expected.  Emma’s solution to her dilemma shows imagination and resilience and could be a suggestion for those who are struggling with the constantly changing friendship groups that dominate those middle primary years. It brings that subtle social bullying to the surface to be examined and exposed for what it is, putting those who practise it on notice, while alerting the Emmas about its existence and how it is manifested.

An excellent addition to your collection and lessons about what friendship and bullying is, taking the reader into the realm of how friendships change as children get older. Things are sometimes more than they seem. 














David Walliams

Tony Ross

HarperCollins, 2020

312pp., pbk., RR     P $A19.99


There are 999 people living on the Isle of Mulch, most of them awful adults who do not like children. Even those who should like children, like those at the school, the local park, the toy shop and even the island’s ice-cream van  like nothing more than making children miserable. And the island is owned by the most awful one of all – Aunt Greta Greed!

But then there is Ned, an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair who is constantly tormented by his older sister Jemima who resents him because he gets all the attention. Despite being unable to walk Ned is perpetually optimistic and makes it his mission to change the miserable adults and the misery. While trying to get his own back on  Jemima, he discovers one of the great mysteries of the world – slime! What is it? Who is it? Where does it come from? And how does Ned use slimepower to take on the horrible grown-ups of Mulch? 

Using his characteristic humour which so appeals to that audience of newly independent readers, the wacky illustrations of Tony Ross and an intriguing visual layout, this story bounces along at a rapid pace that draws the reader in and keeps them as hooked as the local shoe fish that are the main diet of the islanders. Yet for all its wackery and humour, there is a solid story underpinning the adventures that make if more than a bit of floss read to pass the time.  Everyone will be cheering for Ned and perhaps see themselves in him, always a winning element.














Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2020 

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


High up in the Cloud Tower, the little Quig stared at the world way below him.  As his brothers and sisters rolled out of their eggs, they did the same, quickly learning to use their clever tails and powerful fins to climb and clamber over the tower. But the little Quig didn’t join in because his tail was stumpy, not clever, and his fins were thin and wrinkly, not powerful.  And he was afraid of the open spaces around and beneath him.

So he sat and watched the others, trying to pluck up the courage to jump too, and enduring their torments because he was so different. But one day when their taunts got too much, he did jump.  And discovered something amazing…

If there was a signature book for this year’s Book Week theme of Curious Creatures, Wild Minds then this has to be it!  For Stumpy the Quig is indeed a curious creature and he does have a wild mind.  But he is also resilient and is not daunted about being different, which is the central theme. He may not be the same as the other Quigs but he has other talents that are probably going to make them very jealous when they are revealed!

Whenever I get a book by Andrew Plant to review, I know I’m going to get a beautifully illustrated, unique story and this is no different.  It is made for sharing and discussing.



Derek Dool Supercool 1: Bust a Move

Derek Dool Supercool

Derek Dool Supercool










Derek Dool Supercool 1: Bust a Move

Adrian Beck

Scott Edgar

Puffin, 2020

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Think of the COOLEST, FUNNIEST, most HANDSOME kid in school, times it by a gazillion and you get DEREK DILBERT DOOL. At least he thinks so . . . Pity he’s the only one.

Life’s tough when your name’s Derek. You’re destined to be uncool. But Derek is determined to find something – anything – that will change that. He’s sick of being picked last in PE, of not being invited to parties, and of all the cool kids using his freckles as dot-to-dot challenges. Derek is going to find something that will make him SUPERCOOL and nothing is going to stop him.

There are many boys like Derek in our classrooms so his situation will resonate with them, and with its short chapters, punchy sentences and liberal illustrations this is a new series (Going Viral is due in August) that is going to have wide appeal with independent readers who don’t want to have to concentrate on convoluted storylines and complex characters yet.  The popularity of other series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid  has proven there is a strong market for these sorts of books amongst our newly independent male clientele so to have one that has an Australian flavour will have extra appeal.