Ruby’s Repair Cafe

Ruby's Repair Cafe

Ruby’s Repair Café











Ruby’s Repair Café

Michelle Worthington

Zoe Bennett

New Frontier, 2023

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


If you broke something, tore something or just needed something to go again, then you (and everyone else in town) went to The Repair Café and Ruby would mend it for you.  It was the busiest shop in town, long before the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” was mentioned.  That was until the new department store opened next door and suddenly everyone wanted new and shiny and, instead of going to Ruby’s, the local tip filled with ditched and discarded stuff.  Sadly Ruby’s Repair Café  had to close down even though the stink from the tip wafted over the town and the piles pf garbage threatened to bury it! 

But one night a huge storm sweeps through the town causing immense damage – even though it destroys so much, can it be the thing that saves it?

This is a captivating and original  story that not only focuses on the environmental message but also has a touch of David and Goliath about it as the big chain store swallows up small business. a story playing out in rural towns like mine almost every week.  (We’ve just seen our beloved pet shop close its doors because of one of the arrival of one of the chains.)  So, as well as consolidating the message about our impact on the planet through our incessant demands for new and shiny, it has the potential to introduce students to that old biblical story and start them thinking about shopping locally and supporting all those mum-and-dad businesses in their neighbourhood. Just as they are aware of their environmental choices, can they also be more-informed consumers?  Is price necessarily the most important factor? 

Young children will appreciate the solution of how both Mr Bigg and Ruby resolve their dilemma but they might also start to look at their own habits, particularly as Christmas draws near and there is going to be another wave of stuff to swamp them.  

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened











Our Country: Where History Happened

Mark Greenwood

Frané Lessac

Walker , 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


In the first book in this series, the creators took readers on a journey to the ancient wonders of this land – landscapes and landshapes that have existed for billions of years. Now, they have put its people in the picture, tracing some of the significant events that have shaped the life lived today.

Beginning with the statement, “The story of our country is told in stone”, the reader begins their new journey with a visit to Ubirr in the Northern Territory, one of over 100 000 important rock art sites around Australia that pass on the historical, cultural and spiritual knowledge of Australia’s First Nations peoples.  They then move on to the significance of a pewter plate with a chiselled inscription nailed to a post in 1616 in Western Australia, showing that the story of this country can be told through pictures and words, artefacts and mementos just as much as it is through observed and lived events.   The journey continues through a timeline of other important events – mapped out on the front endpaper – each including that basic statement,  a broad explanation with language reminiscent of a tourist brochure as well as a brief, fact-filled paragraph about the event itself.   And all set against a backdrop of Frané Lessac’s stunning artwork! Then, acknowledging that there is much more to this story than can be covered in a picture book, the final endpaper has a different timeline of other critical events inviting the reader to find out more and perhaps even produce their own entry for the book. 

Younger students are often challenged by the relevance of having to study that which has happened before their time, particularly as their maturity level has them living in the here-and-now exacerbated by the instant connectivity the internet offers, and so this book is the most attractive and engaging way to introduce them to the concept of times past and how those times have shaped their here-and-now.  Would we have had the recent Voice referendum, even the daily Acknowledgement of Country, if not for the work of Eddie Mabo?  Would they have even been born in Australia if not for the impact of World War II on Europe and the waves of migrants who sought a new life here? 

As well as being a must-have entry level book to learning about the history of the country they live in, the content, format and potential of this book ensures its inclusion in collections spanning all ages and abilities especially if students are old enough to step beyond what happened and consider what if… If Dirk Hartog had done more than nail a plate to a post and claimed this country for the Dutch; if French captain de Surville had turned west to investigate the land his crew claimed they could smell five months before Captain Cook claimed the continent for England… 

History in the form of facts and figures, dates long gone and people long dead, can be greeted with a groan by many, but this series with its engaging format and just the right amount of information to bring it into the realm of the reader has the power and potential to grab the imagination and spark a desire to learn more.  It epitomises the theme Australia: Story Country.

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree











Wollemi: Saving a Dinosaur Tree

Samantha Tidy

Rachel Gyan

CSIRO Publishing, 2023

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


Imagine if, in the course of your daily work, you discovered something so significant that only a handful of people were ever allowed to know where you had been and even they were sworn to secrecy.  

This is the story of the discovery of the Wollemi pine, a tree that can grow to over 40 metres tall but whose existence was unknown until just 30 years ago, when Ranger David Noble found a clutch of them growing in a deep gorge in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. A tree so old that it dates back to the dinosaur period and so rare that there were less than 100 in existence at the time.  No wonder its location remains a secret so that sightseers can’t traipse in and bring in diseases on their shoes, damage the site and perhaps wipe out those remaining so it is gone forever.

Sadly, though, humans aren’t the only threat to this ancient species and this is the story not just of the tree but the remarkable efforts that were made to protect the grove and the gorge during one of NSW infamous fire seasons, for surely, something that has descended from a family of trees going back 200 million years, and has survived ice, fire and the passing of many generations deserves to be saved no matter what.

This is another remarkable publication from CSIRO Publishing shining the spotlight on yet another unique Australian creature so that our youngest readers can start to build their awareness and knowledge or the amazing things we share this landscape with, and hopefully, with that knowledge and awareness, become its protectors.  Introducing Mia, the schoolgirl daughter of botanist Kate, brings the story right into their realm and when Mia suggests that her class plant a seedling to help conserve the Wollemi, they might be inspired to do the same thing as they explore the story further through the teachers’ notes


How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry











How We Came to Be: Creatures of Camouflage and Mimicry

Sami Bayly

Lothian. 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


In 2019, “author and illustrator of all things weird and wonderful” Sami Bayly published her first book, The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals and within four years her name on the cover of a book has become the signal for an intriguing, fascinating read about the creatures that inhabit this planet.  

That first book was followed by The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals and The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Peculiar Pairs in Naturethen the first in a new series called How We Came to Be focusing on sea creatures.  This new release is the next in that series and it examines animals that are masters of disguise – those who can blend into their surroundings (camouflage) and those that can look like something else (mimicry) – and how they have developed these abilities over time. 

As she explains, there are different forms of camouflage including appearance, smell, sound, behaviour and location and so the book is divided into those sections, each examining  a handful of exponents of that art.  But rather than the usual format of an illustration accompanied by text, the information is shared in short speech bubbles with the creature itself with more generalised facts highlighted in spots. So the reader is involved in a “conversation” with the unique characteristics shared by the creature itself making the whole very accessible to younger independent readers, providing enough to satisfy curiosity but also to spark greater investigation.  For example, she dons her scuba outfit and seeks out a mimic octopus who appears as a sea snake but then confesses their ability to mimic a number of creatures, and this could then lead to reading Meet Mim to find out more.  Those featured in the book are complemented by those on the endpages, including my all-time favourite the leafy sea dragon (a cousin of the weedy sea dragon) which in itself led me to investigate the differences between them. 

In a recent blog post, I set out the reasons why our young readers need access to a robust non fiction collection including

  • not everything is available on the internet
  • what is there is not necessarily aimed at the curious minds of the very young and so is not accessible to them
  • not all young readers have easy access to internet-enabled devices and don’t have the knowledge or skills to search for what they want
  • young readers get as much from looking at the illustrations as they do from reading the text and so an attractive, graphic-laden layout is essential
  • young readers like to look, think and return to the same topic or title over and over and the static nature of a print resource allows this
  • that not everyone prefers to read from a screen, that print is the preferred medium of many, and there is research that shows that many prefer to print onscreen articles so they can absorb them better
  • that research by people like Dr Barbara Combes shows that screen-reading and information -seeking on the internet requires a different set of skills and those most able are those with a strong foundation built on the traditional skills developed through print
  • young readers need support to navigate texts so they offer contents pages, indices, glossaries and a host of other cues and clues that allow and encourage the development of information literacy skills, and again, the static nature of a book enables the young reader to flip between pages more easily
  • the price of the book covers its cost and so there is no distracting eye-candy to distract the reader from their purpose and pursuit
  • the content of most non fiction books is designed to inform rather than persuade or challenge, and so the young reader doesn’t need to be searching for objectivity, bias and undercurrent messaging
  • that young children are innately curious and that exploring the answer to a question via a book with the child in charge is a unique bonding experience shared between parent and child that is not the same as looking at a webpage where the parent controls the mouse
  • that children know what they’re interested in and a range of resources gives them a range of options all at the same time; that one question leads to another and the answer might be in another resources on the same topic but with a slightly different slant
  • that children don’t know what they don’t know so browsing an interesting display of books  with bright covers and intriguing titles can open gates to new pathways

Publishers are aware of this need, teacher librarians need to defend their collection development and whilst ever we have the likes of Sami Bayly bringing the real world to life in such interesting and intriguing ways the learning of our children will be enriched and enhanced.  Can’t wait for the next one. 

Country Town

Country Town

Country Town










Country Town

Isolde Martyn

Robyn Ridgeway

Louise Hogan

Ford Street, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden











The Concrete Garden

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


At last, winter is over, lockdown is lifted and the children spill out of the large apartment block ” like sweets from a box”.  Last out is Amanda and she is carrying a large box of chalks because she has an idea. Choosing green first, she draws a large circle with some smaller circles radiating from it – and from there the fun begins… Firstly, Jackson made a dandelion from Amanda’s circle, and then Janet added a mushroom and then the twins added flowers and then…

This is Bob Graham at his best offering the reader so many ideas to explore as the book is read and re-read.

Firstly, there has to be that glorious feeling of being free to connect with others, including those whom you have never met, when isolation has been imposed on you. The reader can hear the shouts of delight of the children and the babble of busyness as they get to be kids again, and imagine that their new and renewed friendships will spread to those of the adults in their lives too, meaning that there will be a greater sense of community in the apartments once inside beckons again.  But what if that isolation isn’t COVID related?  What if there is a child confined to a hospital bed, or isolated by language or being new to the area or… How might the reader reach out to them?

And while many will resonate with living in an apartment building where there is no opportunity to have the sort of gardens that feature in In My Garden , that doesn’t mean the children are oblivious to Mother Nature and the colour and magic and togetherness that she brings.  As so many of the young artists add natural elements to the drawing, there is an unspoken acknowledgement of what is missing from this hemmed-in concrete jungle, perhaps inspiring something more than a transient chalk drawing to be done. And, as with In My Garden, there is much to explore about the connectivity of gardens, real and imagined, in “The picture crossed deserts and mountains and oceans and cities.  It bounced around the world, returning to fill the screens in all the dark rooms over the concrete garden”. 

Others might like to explore why it is the seemingly simple activity of drawing a picture with chalk that brings so much imagination, friendship, co-operation, optimism and joy rather than the more formal, organised, prescriptive activities that seem to be such a part of children’s lives.  They might be let loose with chalk in their playground, or start a chain picture to which everyone contributes in the classroom, or even work together on a physical project to beautify their school or local community.  The possibilities are endless.

This is not only Bob Graham at his best but also the picture book at its best.  The links between text and illustration are woven so tightly together, one can’t stand without the other and each thread of the tapestry offers something to explore and ponder.  Expect to see this one up there in all the awards in the coming year.   

Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth

Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth

Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth











Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth

Anna Fienberg

A & U Children’s, 2023

384pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Frances is in a new house in a new neighbourhood and going to a new school, but no amount of new can make her forget the old, sad secret dragging at her heart. Not the pictures of bacteria that she draws with painstaking precision, not even Picasso, the puppy with the long soft ears and the cute black circle like a target on his bottom. With her father overseas in Pakistan writing about terrible diseases and her mother in mourning, they are both out of reach to Frances and she carries her grief and guilt alone. 

But then she meets Kit, the tall, quiet boy with the two-coloured eyes, who seems as alone as she is, as he seeks refuge in the school library to draw each lunch break. . Kit is a real artist. His coloured pencils fill page after page of exercise books. He sees wonder in the rocks and ferns and sky, although Frances soon detects  Kit has worries of his own.

But when secrets are spilled, Frances’s life turns grey and drab. Not even Picasso’s wet nose can brighten her up. Frances and Kit will need to face the truth of their pasts to find colour in their world again. After all, don’t the most brilliant sunsets need a cloudy sky? 

While their stories may be different, many readers will relate to this new novel by Anna Fienberg as they too, will have been the new kid in town with all the uncertainty and upheaval that that will bring, although few would be carrying the guilt of believing they are responsible for their younger brother’s death. In subtle, gentle ways, the author draws together a diversity of characters each experiencing and expressing grief in different ways and how shared interests, nature and a cheeky puppy can bring about a healing not thought possible.
More suited for upper primary students, this is a story that offers reassurance and hope that there is is way through the darkness we experience, even if the light  is not yet visible.  You never know when it will glimmer and brighten or the direction that will come from. 

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart











The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

Samera Kamaleddine

HarperCollins, 2023

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


Evie Hart likes rules and routines. A lot. But as she embarks on her very last year of primary school, it feels like all the rules around her are being broken and the routines are definitely being upset, starting with mum not eating dinner with the family any more. 

Then she discovers her mum, a journalist, is the author of the horoscope page for the local newspaper, and because it has her photo, her friends and their families know too, and they don’t hold back letting Evie know they think her mum writes and tells lies.  To make things worse, she learns her beloved stepdad Lee is moving to Dubbo for at least a year, perhaps splitting the family in two forever! So when Evie’s class starts learning about the Earth’s place in the universe, it makes Evie think about her own place in the world and where she belongs. 

But the more Evie learns about the sky and the stars, guided both by her kind, compassionate and knowledgeable teacher Miss Owen and her mother’s insights, the more she learns that changes in the world can’t always be controlled. And maybe that’s not a bad thing as she starts to make sense of and map out her own life as a more confident person.

Even though the title is The Sideways Orbit… there are many parallels to the lives of the readers that this book will appeal to, and so it will resonate with them as they make that sometimes tricky transition from tween to teen and young adult. While so much of her life so far has focused on the here and now, as she becomes more independent, bigger questions raise their heads – questions whose answers seem bigger and more complex than the universe – and Evie, like her readers, has to learn to navigate these in the context and boundaries of their own lives. And that doesn’t even include puberty!  Straddling the reality of the day-today while contemplating the huge world of what-ifs and what-could-bes that is opening before her, including high school on the horizon, can be overwhelming but there is comfort in knowing that there is a path forward and a way through.  So even if you feel like you’re going sideways in an endless spin, there is hope…

Many who write for and work with very young children talk about helping them understand and navigate “big feelings”. This story helps those who are at a different transition navigate theirs. 

Eat My Dust!

Eat My Dust!

Eat My Dust!











Eat My Dust!

Neridah McMullin

Lucia Masciullo

Walker Books, 2023

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


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

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

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

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



Where Will the Sleepy Sheep Sleep?

Where Will the Sleepy Sheep Sleep?

Where Will the Sleepy Sheep Sleep?











Where Will the Sleepy Sheep Sleep?

David Metzenthen

Jonathan Bentley

A & U Children’s 2023

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


Do you think the sleepy sheep will sleep on top of this wild and windy hill
No-o-o, this windy hill is far too high and wild for a sleepy sheep to sleep on!
Do you think the sleepy sheep will sleep deep down in this steep and stony valley?
No-o-o, this valley is far too deep, steep, and stony for a sleepy sheep to sleep in!

So where will the sleepy sheep end up sleeping?

Early literacy experts tell us that reading to our children in their mother language from their earliest days is critical if they are to learn the sounds, the patterns, the rhythms and the nuances of that language so they can speak it. Hearing language is the foundation for using it – speaking, reading and writing – and this is the perfect story to give to new parents to share with their little children as it twists and turns the tongue through alliteration and assonance, repetition and rhythm looking for a safe place for the sheep to sleep. 

As well as being ideal for that, it is also wonderful for those who are a little older because its question-and-answer format gives them the opportunity to consider why sleeping  “where the foxes hunt and the dingoes howl” or in a “dark and damp cave” may not be the best bed so they not only engage directly with the text but also have to think about cause and consequence.

As well as Metzenthen’s wonderful words that will challenge any tongue. Jonathan Bentley’s portrayal of the sheep is just perfect and no doubt will inspire all sorts of artwork.  

Definitely one to tell new parents about.