Jane Bingham

Mariona Cabassa

Usborne, 2023

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


Festivals are times for fun and excitement, bring communities together to celebrate and commemorate.  And there are many books about the most common that are held in different cultures, religions and societies so that most students have a basic knowledge of a lot of them, particularly those that are important to their school populations.

But what sets this book aside apart from its vibrant presentation is that the festivals themselves are collated not by date or purpose but by action.  So there are collections of those where throwing things like gumboots and tomatoes gathered together under the heading SPLAT!;  others collected under headings such as Boo!, Crackle! and Parade! , even Splosh!

Amidst the eye-catching illustrations, only two or three festivals are featured and there is just the basic information about them, but this is expanded a little in pages at the back, making this an ideal text for young readers.  Who wouldn’t want to find out more about a festival that features giant ice castles that sparkle, or one that has a parade of giants or even one wear everyone wears a mask? And then, just in case you missed something there are look-and-find pages that encourage the readers to go back and find particular celebrations.

Time and again throughout my reviews I have said that Usborne really know what makes an interesting, engaging non fiction book and this one is no exception.  And, as usual there are Quicklinks to investigate individual festivals further but for me, the power of the book is the similarities in the way that we express joy and delight as we remember and recall, and that in itself, brings communities together as much as any individual focus. 

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war











Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Robin Cowcher

Walker Books, 2019

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


Left! Left! Left! Right! Left! We make our way in the dark.

On the one hand feet make their way to a commemorative service; on the other soldiers’ boots take them to the battlefront. 

As we commemorate ANZAC Day, this book reminds us that Australians have been involved in wars since before we were even officially called Australia and that our presence is known and respected in wartorn countries even today.

Each double-page spread with its simple text and evocative illustrations juxtaposes the people at the commemorative ceremonies with soldiers in conflict throughout our history. From the title page where the family hurries out the door into darkness through to the endpapers with the iconic poppies that we associate with remembrance in this country the reader is taken on a journey through our military history in such a sensitive way. 

As the Dawn Service moves through prayers,  the raising of the flags, the lighting of candles, the placement of wreaths and poppies, silences and the familiar bugle call of The Last Post and Reveille so too we move through time –  The Boer War, World Wars I and II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Bosnia & Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan, Ukraine – whether as combat troops or peacekeepers, Australians have had a role committing hundreds of thousands of men and women, each of whom deserves our respect and gratitude. While each page just has one factual statement of what is happening, the  illustrations bring a depth and dimension that inspire emotion and memories as the two marry together perfectly. From the sprig of rosemary somehow surviving the stomp of boots on the first page to the ghost-like images marching with the people on the last, there is a sense that this is an enduring commitment by military and civilian personnel alike.   One could not stand without the other.   

Thumbnail sketches of each conflict are provided at the end of the book and teachers notes’ are also available for those who want to use this as the first step in a deeper investigation for both History and English. It may even inspire some students to investigate the role that their family has had in the Services and given our multicultural population there may be students who have personal experiences to share that might give a unique insight that can’t be gleaned from picture books, no matter how stunning they are.

Something a little different to share this ANZAC Day, not only to remember the huge contribution that has been made but also to acknowledge those who have served and continue to serve so that those students who have had or still have family in the military forces understand that they are included in the thoughts and prayers.  The services are not just for the sacrifices made long ago on faraway battlefields by generations unknown, but for everyone who has served in the short 120 years of our united history.

We hear the sweet songs of morning. And we remember them.

First published March 24 2018

Updated April 25 2023


The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape

The Great Gallipoli Escape











The Great Gallipoli Escape

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

224pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Sixteen-year-old Nipper and his Gallipoli mates Lanky, Spud, Bluey and Wallaby Joe are starving, freezing and ill-equipped. By November 1915 they know that that there is more to winning a war than courage, that the Gallipoli campaign has been lost, and that the reality of war is very different from the pictures and perceptions painted in the posters at home touting war as an adventure, a way out of inevitable unemployment, a ticket to see the world that few in isolated Australia would ever get, and that to fight “for King and country” was as noble as it gets for those with strong ties to England in early 20th century Australia – calls to arms that compelled many like Nipper to lie about their age so they would be allowed to join the army to defend their country.  

As with Last Man Out, this story, based heavily on accounts in primary sources like letters, diaries, oral histories and memories, takes the reader into the disease, deprivation and desperation of life in the trenches that were the origins of “diggers” the nickname for Australian soldiers, and while Nipper and his mates are fictitious, what they experienced was real.  As author Jackie French, renowned for her research and attention to detail when she crafts historical fiction, says, this is “still only one story… there are possibly one hundred thousand stories, all of which might vary in many respects, but still be true.” 

Nipper has played cricket with the Turks in the opposing dugout, dodged rocket fire and rescued desperate and drowning men when the blizzard snow melted. He is one of the few trusted with the secret kept from even most of the officers: how an entire army of 150 000 men, their horses and equipment will vanish from the Peninsula, secretly moved to waiting ships over three impeccably planned nights without a single life lost – but a plan that leaves those still alive with the very mixed feelings of seeing an opportunity for their own salvation while being reluctant to leave behind those who endured so much and gave their lives for something seemingly futile. 

“Will we be remembered for holding the line here, in a campaign that has won nothing and lost so much?” 

And that question is just one of many philosophical discussion points that takes this book beyond an historic narrative. What was and is the legacy of Gallipoli? Why do we still commemorate a failed campaign more than a century later, and why is commemorating it in Gallipoli, itself, such a milestone for so many? 

Apart from the discussion points and activities that relate directly to the book raised in the teaching notes, there are some outstanding opportunities to explore some big-picture questions and really extend students’ thinking such as 

  • How does historical fiction (as opposed to fiction set in the past) enrich and enhance our understanding of life and living during significant events and times?
  • Given that the Turks were defending their families and livelihoods from invasion by the ‘Tommies’ and their allies, were they necessarily the enemy? Were the invaders in the wrong?
  • Are there parallels between the allies invading Turkey and the Russians invading Ukraine?  What are the differences in approach this time? 
  • The lads in the stories could be the older brothers of those reading it so, if Australia were to put “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, as they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, would they be as eager to join up today as Nipper and his mates were? Why?
  • Have attitudes to conflict changed in the past century, and if they have or haven’t, why?

To me, quality historical fiction inspires the reader to think beyond the story, to the what-ifs, and the why-dids, and this book has certainly done that on both the professional and personal level because between this and Last Man Out I am learning more and more about what my grandfather experienced and why he didn’t share his stories (even if I had known to ask) and how that shaped him, and ultimately me.  How being named after Lord Kitchener impacted my father’s life so that my brother, currently on his way to Villers-Bretonneux, will then make his way again to the  anniversary of the Battle of Crete where dad was captured on his 25th birthday – just two of those 100 000 stories that had their roots in those eight months on a remote Turkish beach. How many more will be inspired to investigate their own?


One and Everything

One and Everything

One and Everything











One and Everything

Sam Winston

Walker, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Once there were many stories in the world. Some had beautiful sunsets, some lived at the bottom of the sea, and some were simply about dogs. Until one story decided that it was going to be the most important story ever. It called itself the One and started to consume every other story in existence. Soon it seemed that the One was all that was left … or was it? Because inside the One’s tummy, something was happening—the other stories, combined into new words, become a Voice. Pushing back against its captor, the Voice gets the One to understand that it is actually Every Story, not merely a single one. Will the One be angry and turn on the others, permanently silencing them for ever, or will it heed the words of the Voice and create magic?

At first, this looks like a book for little people, but then the storyline seems to be an allegory for political power for older students, and then you read the endpages and find it is something completely different and you return to pay much closer attention to the illustrations which rather than being randomly coloured dots whose patterns are actually symbols  of 50 different scripts (the written symbols for spoken language) of languages once spoken around the globe.  Given that it’s estimated that there are currently more than 7000 languages spoken, these fifty are but a sample of those that have already disappeared, but inspired by the Endangered Alphabets project, aimed at preserving cultures by sharing their unique scripts, Sam Winston has used writing systems such as cuneiform, Canadian aboriginal, Egyptian hieroglyphs and ogham to illustrate this book, as well as including a fascinating explanation of those languages, where they come from and a challenge to find them used in the story. 

Given today is Harmony Day, this is an ideal story to use as a springboard to explore the languages spoken in the classroom or school, and perhaps even invite someone to share a story from another culture.  Students could interview their parents and grandparents to investigate what their favourite stories and authors were, and then see which ones are still popular today – some of today’s parents will recall the excitement of the initial publication of the Harry Potter series!!!


Ten Blocks to the Big Wok

Ten Blocks to the Big Wok

Ten Blocks to the Big Wok











Ten Blocks to the Big Wok

Ying-Hwa Hu

UQP, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


It’s ten blocks through Chinatown to the Big Wok, Mia and Uncle Eddie’s favourite restaurant. On the walk there, Mia counts all the interesting things she sees – one giant panda, two lion statues, three toy turtles…. But will she remember how many dumplings to get for Grandmama?

This is a joyful journey that not only has the anticipation of some delicious food at its destination, but also highlights all the things that we can see if we take the time to look and don’t whizz past in the car.  Added to the symbols and words for counting to 10 in Mandarin is the little kitten who joins them as they step out of the house -and gets his reward!  Little ones will enjoy finding him in each of the stunning illustrations. Not only will there be many who will delight in seeing themselves in this story, but the author has included notes about each of the things that Mia and Uncle Eddie see and their place in Chinese culture,so all readers will learn something.

There is also a chart that shows the Mandarin symbols, words and their pronunciation for one to ten which could inspire creating similar charts for all the other languages spoken in the classroom, perhaps even an investigation into the story of numbers, in itself a fascinating study that links research and mathematics. For those just beginning to learn to count, go on a maths walk around the school or neighbourhood and take photos of the groups of items discovered to create your own “ten blocks” story. Add captions that emphasise the numbers, numerals and words. 

The Month That Makes the Year

The Month That Makes the Year

The Month That Makes the Year











The Month That Makes the Year

Inda Ahmad Zahri

Allen & Unwin, 2023

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



This month is different from the others.
It starts with the sighting of a new crescent moon.
‘Slow down, be kind to yourself and think good thoughts.’
This month, we learn to do big things by changing one little thing at a time…

For Deenie, the youngest member of a Muslim family, it is her first time to fast during Ramadan. She wonders how she will survive without food or water until sunset but although she faces some   challenges, by the end of the month, she learns that there is a lot more to Ramadan than giving up food and water.

This year, 2023, Ramadan is expected to begin on Wednesday 22 March, following the sighting of the moon over Mecca and last 30 days ending on Friday 21 April, with the celebratory days of Eid al-Fitr starting on Saturday 22 April or Sunday 23 April. While fasting is not compulsory for children, it is seen by many as a rite of passage as they come to learn “patience, gratitude, self-control, mindfulness and a sense of solidarity with everyone on the planet” as well as “strengthening [their] faith on [their] bond with Allah” and thus there will be many in our school communities who are going through this period of denial and for whom, as teachers, we must make allowances, not the least of which is ensuring other students have some idea of this important time in the lives of their classmates.

Told in the first person by a Muslim who has practised the tradition since being a child, its narrative format makes this a personal story that connects to both those of the faith, and those outside it.  Other Muslim children will enjoy seeing themselves in a book that acknowledges their beliefs while showing that it is a struggle to go without and there will be times that they, too, might falter but that there is much that can be gained by distracting their thoughts from hunger and thirst.  Sharing it with all our students will also raise awareness with non-Muslim children helping them to understand not just why their friends might be unable to participate as they normally do, but also the deeper reasons. As well as the enlightening introduction, there is also a glossary to help students understand not only the meaning of some of the terms but also their deeper implications.

From the first year of school, the Australian Curriculum has outcomes explicitly supporting “students to recognise the emotions, abilities, needs and concerns of others [and to] develop their understanding about how respecting the perspectives, emotional states and needs of others is essential to social interactions” and this is an ideal book to meet that goal. It might even be an opportunity for all to share their own religious beliefs, customs and traditions so that they can provide a foundation for investigation throughout the year as they occur.  

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember

A Day to Remember











A Day to Remember: the Story of ANZAC Day

Jackie French

Mark Wilson

HarperCollins, 2014

pbk; RRP $14.99


April 25, 1915 is a date imprinted on the Australian psyche.  In fact, some say, that despite the political calendar of January 1, 1901, this was the day that Australia became a nation.

Much has been written for students to help them understand the events and the significance of this day, and in a way, this book honours that because after providing an outline of those events on that Turkish beach, author Jackie French and illustrator Mark Wilson trace the commemoration of that day from its shaky, tentative beginnings of parades in Australia, New Zealand and London in 1916 to the huge crowds that now gather annually to honour those who have served their country in this way.  At intervals throughout Australia’s history, French and Wilson pause on April 25 and examine what was happening on that day. We learn about the vast difference between the excitement and anticipation when the troops left in 1914, and their return in 1919; the touching story behind the advent of the Dawn Service and how men only were allowed to attend in case the women’s crying disturbed the silence;  the desperation of many veterans left jobless as drought and the Depression hit; and then Australia is plunged into war again. 

Throughout the book, tribute is paid to all those in the conflicts that Australians have been involved in as well as their peacekeeping roles.  There is the sad reminder that after the Vietnam War which had so divided the nation’s young, so few marched  and watched that perhaps “no one would march at all.”   But awareness was growing behind the scenes through teachers teaching Australia’s history and the recognition of the sacrifices of Australia’s young people through iconic songs like Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and Redgum’s “Only 19.”  In 1985 the Turkish government officially recognised the name  Anzac Cove and in 1990 the first dawn service was held there, attended by those few veterans of the original conflict who were still left to honour.

Being at Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service has become a pilgrimage for many; an item on the bucket list for others. Ceremonies are  held wherever Anzacs have served and suffered and wherever their sacrifice can be acknowledged. Who can imagine what the centenary in 2015 will be like?

IMO, this is Jackie French and Mark Wilson at their best. As the granddaughter of a Gallipoli survivor and the daughter of an ordinary New Zealand soldier who spent his war as a POW in Germany after being captured on Crete, the words and illustrations of this beautiful, haunting book touch me in a way I find hard to describe. Jackie grew up, as I did, “with the battered and weary of World War Two around me, men still scarred in body and mind by Japanese prison camps or the Burma railway, women who had survived concentration camps” and “saw boys of my own generation march away as conscripts, while I marched in anti war demonstrations” and yet we know so little about where Australians have served or how often they have. 

The story of 100 years of history is a difficult one to tell, and even more so in a picture book, yet it is encapsulated perfectly in this partnership. On the one hand, the text could not live without the pictures and vice versa; yet on the other, both media are so perfect within themselves that they stand alone. Jackie and Mark give their own interpretations  in their teachers’ notes I can do no better than that, but if you only have the money for five books this year, this HAS to be one of them.

Lest we forget.

Originally reviewed as a hardback April 16, 2012

Updated February 2023


Ceremony: Welcome to Our Country

Ceremony: Welcome to Our Country

Ceremony: Welcome to Our Country











Ceremony: Welcome to Our Country

Adam Goodes

Ellie Laing

David Hardy

Allen & Unwin, 2022

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


Welcome, children!
Nangga! Nangga! Yakarti!
Tonight will be our Ceremony.

Our family gathers as the fire burns.
The smoke rises up as we take it in turns . . .
Then clapsticks tap – one, two, three –
but a stick is missing! Where could it be?

Joyful and full of fun, Ceremony invites young readers to celebrate the rich traditions of dance, family, community and caring for Country from the world’s oldest continuous culture, helping them to better understand what is meant when they recite the Acknowledgement of Country or hear the Welcome to Country. 

While there are over 350 First Nations groups in Australia, each with different languages and customs, this particular one is from the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders ranges in South Australia, the country of author Adam Goodes. 

Using stunning illustration and text featuring both English and Adnyamathanha words (which are explained in a visual glossary on the endpages)  the preparations for and the ceremony itself highlight that Adnyamathanha  society is divided into two moieties. membership passed on from mother to child and your father must be the opposite moeity, and that your moeity determines all the important aspects of life including who can be married, special knowledge possessed and relationships  with others.  It is an exciting time for the children as they get ready and while the story is carried along in rhyme, it is also full of humour and surprises.  

Like its predecessor, Somebody’s Land  Ceremony is designed to teach young children and families about Australia’s First Nations history and it has done this very well.  A must-have. .


Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Racism

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Racism

Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Racism












Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers about Racism

Jordan Akpojaro

Ashley Evans

Usborne, 2022 

14pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


While the issue of racism has bubbled along in the background of schools for decades, the recent rise and focus on the Black Lives Matter movement has brought it forward into the loungerooms and lives of our students and many have many questions. This is to be expected if we accept the premise that “race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour” particularly when ‘race’ itself is defined as “the idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups on the basis of inherited physical and behavioral differences.” (Britannica, 2022

Therefore this book is a timely release that uses a simple lift-the-flap technique to answer children’s questions in a way that they will understand.  For example, while the Britannica definition can be easily unpacked by an adult here it is explained as “treating people differently and unfairly based on their skin colour, where they’re from, their religion or their family traditions.”

From ‘What’s wrong with the idea of ‘race’? and ‘Why is life harder for people with darker skin?’ to ‘Don’t ALL lives matter?’ and ‘What’s racism got to do with me?’ this book tackles powerful, pertinent questions in a direct, accessible and thought-provoking way. Even if the reader has not encountered racism, they learn why it is everyone’s problem to solve, and how we can all be part of the solution.

There is also a blog post  that offers guidance about how to talk to children about racism because “even by the age of two children begin to notice skin colour and other differences in appearance” and there are also the usual Quicklinks to help the reader understand more deeply. 

Playing At The Border

Playing At The Border

Playing At The Border











Playing At The Border

Joanna Ho

Teresa Martinez

HarperCollins US, 2022

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


“Feet planted on the soil of one nation, eyes gazing at the shores of another, Yo-Yo Ma played a solo accompanied by an orchestra of wind and water.” 

On April 13.2019, on the  US banks of the Rio Grande he played a piece of music hundreds of years old to an audience on the opposite banks in Mexico to show that building bridges is so much better than building walls.  

But this is more than just a story of one man playing a cello alone to be heard by a few – this is the story of a renowned cellist, himself a blend of cultures as he was born to Chinese parents in France and raised in the US. Because his fingers were too small for a double bass, as a little child he chose the cello – and its particular blend of international origins is woven into both the story and the music.  And from its strings comes the music dancing ‘over rocks and rivers and walls into the sky”, born in Germany 300 years before, lost,  then found in Spain, and renewed in the US to unite those who had once been one but who were now separated…

Connecting cultures and countries through music was Yo-Yo Ma’s ambition when he began the Bach Project in 2018, reviving the rare cello solos which “create the sound of harmonising melodies on one instrument” there was as much symbolism as there was entertainment on that day in 2019 when the people of two nations momentarily joined together again, in defiance of the rhetoric and actions of the then POTUS. And in Johanna Ho‘s text, which is as lyrical as the music itself, we discover that there were many more than just two nations involved in making it happen.