Scar Town

Scar Town

Scar Town











Scar Town

Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2023

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Imagine watching your old town emerge from the depths of a lake – a town that was drowned seven years ago taking untold secrets with it, secrets that were thought to have been hidden forever but now, as the water drops,  are rising and threatening to reveal mysteries, crimes and their perpetrators.  

Buildings and bridges rise from the depths of Lake Eucumbene as water levels drop during the severe drought in 2007.  Taken on the Old Snowy Mountains highway near Anglers Reach. What secrets did they divulge? (My photos taken while we were living in Old Adaminaby, 2007)

Buildings and bridges rise from the depths of Lake Eucumbene as water levels drop during the severe drought in 2007. Taken on the Old Snowy Mountains highway near Anglers Reach. What secrets did they divulge? (My photos taken while we were living in Old Adaminaby, 2007)

Will,  and twins J and Dar are fascinated as an old house starts to appear and despite Will’s misgivings, they decide to swim out to explore it.  But when they discover a large stash of cash in the walls and then human remains, they expose old secrets that were presumed buried forever.  Could the bones be those of Will’s dad who, along with eight others, disappeared seven years ago? Should they keep the money a secret because J sees it as the twins’ path to financial freedom from their deadbeat, alcoholic, broken dad and Will sees it as a ticket to somewhere else for his mum and him, away from the memories and their current money problems? And who else wants it so badly they are willing to beat up kids, kidnap Dar and trash houses? 

The title Scar Town has a lot more meaning than just being short for Scarborough as old wounds that have thin scars are opened up.  

As with his other suspense thrillers like Cop and Robber  and Detention, Bancks has again written an un-putdownable read that races along and puts the reader firmly in the position of having to consider what they would do if they were in that situation. By creating characters that are, in so many ways, just like them, Bancks hooks the reader into being more than just an observer, and places them in the position of having to take a stance.   Would they go to the police, which is what Will wants to do, because, after all, his father was the local policeman before his mysterious disappearance, or would their loyalty to their friends persuade them to follow the belligerent, seemingly fearless J?  Can kids outsmart crooks or would adult help be better?  But which adults can you trust? 

Apart from sheer entertainment, one of the purposes of contemporary realistic fiction is to place the reader in situations where they can experience life vicariously and consider their own responses, and although they might not be exactly in Will’s situation, there will be times when they are torn between friendship and doing what they know to be the smart thing. Thus, this is a perfect example of this year’s CBCA Book week theme of Read. Grow. Inspire.

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Be Careful, Xiao Xin!











Be Careful, Xiao Xin!

Alice Pung

Sher Rill Ng

Working Title Press, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


All through the day, no matter where he is or what he is doing, Xiao Xin’s family is warning him to be careful.  Even the most common things that children do like climbing on the monkey net come with warnings and commands not to do it. If ever an example of helicopter parenting were needed, this is it. 

But rather than feeling loved and protected, Xiao Xin feels stifled. 

They don’t understand what I can do!

They don’t understand what I can be!

For he dreams with his eyes wide open and sees himself as a Red Fire Warrior capable of doing “infinite things”. But more than that, he also sees how this constant care and concern is limiting him and his little sister.

So, when one day Xiao Xin leaves the house to prove he can be independent and safe,  and doesn’t tell anyone, panic sets in, until…

Children are often the most-longed for gift, and certainly the most precious, and so it is understandable that parents want to protect them, but this deeply-layered story with its stunning illustrations which add another dimension in themselves, demonstrates that just as our children grow up, so must we and we must be willing to let them become the confident, competent, independent adults they need to be. 

Written in both English and Mandarin (itself another layer of complexity), it is one that straddles all age groups as the child who hears it may well relate to Xiao Xin’s situation and the parent who reads it might also reflect on how their protectiveness and expectations might be stunting the child’s growth.  I was reminded of a vignette in a recent episode of Old People’s Home for Teenagers in which a young girl who, because of parental expectations, worked hard to excel academically stumbled when presented with a problem that could not be solved by the technology in her hand.  Reading a print street directory was too much of a challenge, but more concerning was her response to not being able to do so.  There is a fine line and Xiao Xin not only pushes it but has the courage to cross it!

Watch for this one in awards season! 

How to Survive on Mars

How to Survive on Mars











How to Survive on Mars

Jasmina Lazendle-Galloway

CSIRO Publishing, 2022

120pp., pbk., RRP $A29.99


For the last couple of weeks, students have been “dreaming with their eyes open” – dreaming of what they would like to be, do and go, and, for some, that would include travelling into space, perhaps even living on another planet, like Mars.

But how to survive? With not enough air to breathe, sunlight to keep  warm, or any available food and water, life on Mars would be a challenge… but it just might be possible! In this stunning new release, the reader is taken on a journey to the Red Planet to discover natural wonders like ancient polar ice caps, the highest volcano in the solar system and a 45-kilometre-wide impact crater that was once a Martian lake. Led by astronomer and member of the National Space Society of Australia, scientists, engineers, archaeologists, ethicists and science-fiction writers have joined together to explore the planet, consider the challenges and offer solutions so those with an interest and the dream can dream on.

Photographs, activities and quizzes make it an inviting read even for those without the dream, as space tourism gathers momentum and the first crewed Mars Mission, which would include sending astronauts to Mars, orbiting Mars, and a return to Earth, is proposed for the 2030s, just as these readers will be thinking about planning gap years or family holidays. What a change from the pilgrimage to the UK of my generation!



No Boundaries

No Boundaries

No Boundaries










No Boundaries

Clare Fiseler

Gabby Salazar

National Geographic Kids 2022

160pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


As we bid farewell to National Science Week and say hello to Children’s Book Week with its theme of “Dreaming with Eyes Open”, this collection of the stories of 25 female National Geographic explorers and scientists revealing their greatest successes, most epic failures, and astonishing adventures seems particularly appropriate to review on the cusp of these two celebrations in our schools.

This anthology celebrates lesser-known changemakers and outstanding women of diverse backgrounds, nationalities, and fields of study who are just beginning to make a name for themselves. Each profile is based on first-person interviews and comes paired with useful tips and relatable advice for budding explorers and scientists.  Each has a text box called Inspiration Station in which the scientist offers advice for those who already have the dream, while inspiring those who may be doubtful to chase their own dreams. Stunning photography and fascinating general interest information about the animals, places, and practices add drama and context.

Readers can track a volcanologist as she braves the elements atop an active volcano; travel alongside a mountaineer as she battles stereotypes and frostbite to conquer the famed Seven Summits;  join a conservationist on her passionate fight to save lions and dig with a paleontologist to uncover massive dinosaur fossils, bit by breathtaking bit, as well as a host of other women forging new paths in careers possibly unheard of. These heartfelt stories give readers an insider’s look at the amazing work female explorers at National Geographic and beyond are doing in the field to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.

No Boundaries sends a positive message to every girl who has ever dreamed or dared to go a little further. And although these explorers’ endeavours are quite adventurous, the lessons they share can inspire all girls, as well as boys, whatever their goals, skills, and interests, to dream with their eyes open.


Against All Odds

Against All Odds

Against All Odds












Against All Odds

Craig Challen & Richard Harris

Ellis Henican

Puffin, 2022

288pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


In June 2018, for seventeen days, the world watched and held its breath as the Wild Boars soccer team were trapped deep in a cave in Thailand. Marooned beyond flooded cave passages after unexpected rains, they were finally rescued, one-by-one, against almost impossible odds, by an international cave-diving team that included Australians Dr Richard ‘Harry’ Harris and Dr Craig Challen.

In this young readers’ edition, specially edited and condensed for a younger audience and including new maps and diagrams explaining the rescue, as well as photographs, a timeline and glossary, the story of the remarkable rescue is recounted by those two doctors. 

And while it is a fascinating tale with their first-hand accounts filling in the gaps that could not be shown on the nightly news, and which will give added understanding to the new movie Thirteen Lives coming to Netflix, for me the key messages for our students lie in the personal introductions from both doctors…

In a year when the CBCA Book week theme is Dreaming With Eyes Open, Dr Craig says, “This is the worst thing you can do, putting limits on yourself before you have even tried for no reason other than the fear of the unknown …  slowly I built knowledge and expertise until one day I realised that the limits I had previously believed in were not really there at all, I was able to do so much more and go much further than I knew… And every challenge pursued, whether successful or not, builds our capability and strength as adventurers.”

While Dr Harry declares, after being described as a unicorn because of the “rare and improbable combination of skills I brought to the rescue” that, “I came to realise that every one of us is a unicorn. Every one of us has a unique combination of skills and characteristics, and hopefully there is a custom-made place in life for all of us.” 

They both believe that the boys coped in the cave because “they were country kids, They grew up in a tough environment, Several of them knew what it meant to be stateless, When you grow up doing hard things, you are ready for the challenges of life when they come.” This was a message echoed in Dr Harry’s accepted speech when he and Dr Craig were awarded joint Australians of the Year in 2019. 

“I do fear for kids today who, living in a risk-averse society, will not learn to challenge themselves and to earn the grazed knee and stubbed toes that really are necessary to build resilience and confidence, …Kids do need to be kids and they need to be allowed to find their own boundaries and to test their own limits… Parents [need] to let them have a little rope to do that.”

While so many of us waited for news during those 17 days as what began as a two line news filler about a soccer team trapped in a cave in remote Thailand became a global focus and then our lives moved on; and while for those involved there were debriefs and examinations for the lessons to be learned for the future, the enduring message is that of the doctors and young readers should be inspired.  A legacy indeed. 

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)











Little Ash (series)

Ash Barty

Jasmine McCaughey

Jade Goodwin

HarperCollins, 2022

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


There would be few in Australia who do not recognise the name Ash Barty, who have not admired her grace, sportsmanship and honesty, and who were not disappointed when she retired from professional tennis without defending her 2021 Wimbledon title.

She has become the role model for so many of our younger readers and so this new series about school, sport, friendship and family will be welcomed.  While not necessarily autobiographical, it shows Ash to be just like other kids, reinforcing the idea that even ordinary people can become extraordinary, and dreaming with eyes open is something that everyone can do.

Written and formatted to support the newly independent reader, each story addresses a common issue that kids face from having to choose between things they love to putting others before that love.  With four stories out now to whet the appetite,  and two more to come in November the series will be a perfect addition to your Stepping Stone collection bridging the gap between formal reading instruction materials and the world of independent reading. 


A Feather on a Wing

A Feather on a Wing

A Feather on a Wing











A Feather on a Wing

Maria Speyer

UQP, 2022

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


Sometimes, when it’s dark and you’re lonely, the best thing to make you feel better is to have a big sister to reassure you that you are not alone.  Like a feather on a wing, a flower in a daisy chain, a raindrop in a shower, we are always connected to someone and together we make up a whole that has unlimited potential.

With illustrations as gentle as the rhyming text, imagery that calms as it connects,  and the whole put to music as an addendum, this is a charming story that not only soothes the little girl but also provides the reader with food for thought as they consider the connections in their own lives and the ‘something bigger’ that they are a part of.   Feeling alone, perhaps a little afraid, in the dark is such a relatable experience and in each spread not only does the big sister reinforce the concept of belonging, but gradually widens the circle so that it embraces shared sorties, toys, other children…

Through her use of metaphors, the big sister encourages her little sister to practise mindfulness, to be in the moment, to dream with her eyes open…

What wholes are you part of?

Teachers’ notes are available.

Antarctica The Melting Continent

Antarctica The Melting Continent

Antarctica The Melting Continent












Antarctica The Melting Continent

Karen Romano Young

Angela Hsieh

What On Earth Books, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Antarctica is one of the most isolated and harshest environments on the planet, often referred to as “the final frontier”. 

From her harbourside home in the very south of the South Island of New Zealand, as a young girl in the 1930s my mum would watch the ships head southwards to the ice, literally the next stop after they left the safety of the port of Bluff.  And she began to dream. In 1968, after years of dedication and hard work, she broke the “petticoat ban” and she too, joined those sailing south from Bluff – on a converted fishing trawler that was the precursor to the luxury liners of today, as Lars-Eric Lindblad pioneered Antarctic tourism and she became the first female journalist to go south.

The Magga Dan tied up at McMurdo Sound, 1968

The Magga Dan tied up at McMurdo Sound, 1968

Fifty+ years on and it is so different – or at least the getting there is, and the presence of women is no longer a novelty and the issue of where they might go to the toilet no longer a primary barrier!

Today, in the southern summer, tourist trips leave regularly for the ice, although most often it is via South America to the Antarctic Peninsula as the crossing of the Drake Passage is usually only about two days while scientists are there all year round and women work alongside the men.  So, this new book provides an up-to-date view of this isolated continent in a narrative that draws on the author’s own experiences as well as extensive research and interviews with scientists, combining a unique personal perspective with up-to-date information about the land and its inhabitants, the investigations being undertaken and the discoveries being made such as studying climate change to investigating ice cores almost a million years old to learn about the history – and future – of our planet. There is still so much to learn and do and the book’s scope offers many opportunities for students’ interest-driven investigations.

While most of its readers probably won’t have the wherewithal to afford a trip on one of the many ships that have made it a bucket-list destination, perhaps this book will inspire them to take another route under the Australian Antarctic program and dare to dream – just as my mum did all those years ago! For that truly was “Dreaming with eyes open…” 



Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World











Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Rebecca Schiller

Sophie Beer

Walker Books, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


In the USA school students are walking out of school to protest the lack of gun control laws; in Australia, they walked out of school in 2021 to protest the lack of action on climate change… The names of Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and other young activists are as well-known to them as those of their favourite singers and movie stars as the mantle of protest moves from its traditional university setting to the classroom.  

But who are they inspired by? On whose shoulders do they stand? 

Defining an activist as one who uses their knowledge, skills and energy to make the world a better place by protecting human rights, ending prejudice and inequality and protecting the planet from harmful human activities so all its creatures are safe, this book introduces young readers to 20 people who have made a significant contribution to changing the world – some names familiar, others not-so – including Sonita Alizdeh; Rachel Carson; Favio Chavez; Mahatma Gandhi; Jane Goodall; Helen Keller; Martin Luther King Jr; Nelson Mandela; Wangari Maathai; Aditya Mukarji; Emmeline Pankhurst; Autumn Peltier; Boyan Slat; Gareth Thomas; Harriet Tubman; William Wilberforce; Ai Weiwei Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah as well as both Yousafzai and Thunberg.

Each person has a double-page spread that includes an outline of what they have achieved, the core motivation for their actions, the particular powers that they employed, as well as a significant quote to inspire the readers to continue their work.  There is also an activity suggested so that this can be done so the reader begins to realise that no one is too small to make a difference. For example, they are encouraged to build their public speaking powers so when they have something important to say they can speak out with confidence as Mahatma Gandhi did, or perhaps create something that will solve a problem as Boyan Slat did when he was confronted with an ocean of plastic rather than marine creatures on his first scuba diving trip.

Conservative, right-wing, middle-aged men in suits (and those who follow them) condemned those children who left their classrooms to protest – they should have stayed there to study and learn –  yet it could be strongly argued that those same children were actually putting their learning into practice, determined to make the world a better place for themselves and others, because “there is more to life than increasing its speed” as Gandhi said.  By introducing our students to those who have gone before, and those who are already forging a new path, through books such as this,  Children Who Changed the World , and others, perhaps we can plant the seeds that will grow the future.  Encourage each to “dream with their eyes open.” 


A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure

A Shorebird Flying Adventure











A Shorebird Flying Adventure

Jackie Kerin

Milly Formby

CSIRO Publishing, 2022

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



A few weeks ago we found ourselves at an international airport, which might not seem unusual except we we had no luggage, tickets or boarding passes, we weren’t intending to fly anywhere and our feet were firmly planted in the sand of Shoalhaven Heads in the Illawarra District of Australia’s East Coast.


But this was not your usual airport where planes take off for faraway destinations – it’s actually an important bird migration destination on the East-Asian Australasian Flyway  that extends from Arctic Russia and North America to New Zealand and is used by over 50 million migratory waterbirds.  Twice a year, 36 species of migratory shorebird fly annually to Australia and New Zealand for their non-breeding, or overwintering, season, and then return to breed in the northern hemisphere above the Arctic Circle.

So the release of this book for review was very timely, particularly as it also coincides with an opportunity to follow illustrator Milly Formby’s microlight adventure around Australia to raise awareness for migratory shorebirds in May–November 2022, complete with all sorts of support resources including the teachers’ notes downloadable from the book’s home page..

While we might be learning about the amazing migratory journeys of species like the humpback whale  and other creatures, they are able to stop, rest and feed on their journey.  How can a red-necked stint which weighs about the same as a piece of toast fly 500km without stopping – that’s the distance from Sydney to Perth and then another 1000km out to sea?  Who are these amazing birds, who can’t land on the water because they don’t have webbed feet, and what do they do to prepare for their amazing journeys? How do they find their way across both ocean and continent covering up to 12 000km in nine days like E7, the bar-trailed godwit which was fitted with a tracker to record the first world bird record for the longest non-stop flight?

In this absorbing book, the reader is taken on a trip to the Arctic tundra and back to discover the life and lifestyles of these wanderers in a format that is engaging, accessible and which opens up a whole new world to wonder about.  With books like this and The Great Southern Reef  we can introduce our students to the amazing world that is right on their doorstep, perhaps opening up new interests and dreams. For Milly Formby has a dream to fly her microlight to Siberia and back to follow the birds, the first step being that  Wing Threads adventure of flying around Australia. A real-life example of “Dreaming with Eyes Open.” 

Milly's Journey

Milly’s Journey



Then to enrich the experience, as well as being involved in  Milly’s adventure, track down a copy of the movie Fly Away Home, the remarkable story of saving Canada geese by training them to follow an ultralight, based on the real-life experience of Bill Lishman.

What a world has opened up for me because I found myself at that unknown airport!  And my feet haven’t even left the ground!