The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project











The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Mitchell Itches

Mitchell Itches

Mitchell Itches











Mitchell Itches: An Eczema Story

Kristin Kelly

Amelina Jones

EK Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A4.99


Ever since he was born, Mitchell has been itchy – so much so that even as a baby he had to wear special mittens and socks to help him control his constant need to scratch.  And while he is young, surrounded by family who understand the condition and do all they can to alleviate it, things are okay, but when he gets to school things take a turn for the worse with the lack of understanding leading to taunts, bullying and isolation.  Yet, when there is a family holiday by the seaside things ease, and Mitchell finds a way to distract himself from the need to scratch.  But holidays can’t last forever and school returns – will he find a way to be accepted for the little boy he is, itches and all?

Sadly this story could be that of my husband – and the one in five children living with eczema – right down the special mittens, the allergy to eggs and milk, and the special care of his family. And while he has now grown out of the condition, what he had as a child shaped who he is today as a mature+ – aged grandfather.  Although he doesn’t have Mitchell’s special talent, he did have the bullying, the shame and the ostracisation that went with such conditions in the 50s and 60s.  So stories like this that not only help the Mitchells to understand that the condition is more common that they realise, but also educate those around them that it is not catchy and underneath the irritated skin is a regular person can play an invaluable part in making life less miserable than it is.  

And while this is specifically about eczema, there is also an underlying message about discovering something that we love to indulge in and completely distract us from whatever is troubling us.  In fact, it is not indulgent, it’s necessary to give the brain a break so it can be refreshed and renewed when reality impacts again.  So all sorts of lessons for all of us. 


Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing











Grace the Amazing

Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books, 2024

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


Like many 11-year-olds, Grace Marshall is struggling to straddle that divide between childhood and independent young woman. While she would like to be seen as Grace the Awesome, Grace the Incredible and Grace the Miraculous, she believes others have a different view of her, particularly her mum, a zookeeper who is juggling work and home almost as a solo parent. A chance remark to the “most popular girl in school” some time ago means she appears to have no friends at school, her little brother is a pain, and while her dad loves her to bits she misses him terribly, he is a FIFO worker only home one week in four.  

Grace recognises that she is different, perhaps eccentric, certainly straight-talking, a girl of “many moods [and] many colours” but never boring.  But sadly, she also believes that being just Grace is never enough. Currently, her passion is doing magic as she strives to be known as Grace the Amazing, and when she discovers her one true friend at school is Pamela, her art teacher, has been away for the past few weeks because she has terminal cancer, Grace is determined to find the magic to fix her.

But even though the reader secretly hopes for a different, miraculous ending, there can be only one and this is an engaging, endearing story of how a child deals with the news and its consequences, while at the same time learning much about herself and life, love and friendship along the way. From a little boy in a foster family with a weird name, to Dr Granger the Stranger, to Emma who she thought despised her, to Pamela herself, this is a coming-of-age story that will resonate with many who also feel isolated, a misfit and misunderstood, as once again, Darlison has created credible characters who could be the kids we know and so the reader fits right into the story.

In a Q&A with fellow reviewer TL Sue Warren, Darlison says, “A great story often starts with a simple idea.  Ideas for stories bombard me each and every day. Ideas are everywhere I go. In everything I see and do. And in everything I hear.  If you’re interested in writing stories, you can find ideas in the world around you too. You see, stories abound in all the many subtle nuances of our life – you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open to them…” Given the dedications in this book, there is a suggestion that this story is more than one of imagination -it’s one of those ideas that Darlison has seen or lived, and that, in itself, gives it a reality and poignancy that is going to have wide appeal. 


Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma's Alphabet Day

Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day











Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma

 Puffin, 2023

26pp., board book, RRP $A16.99


Behind the the curly red hair, pink shirt and orange dress of the main character is  Emma Watkins, once known as the “yellow Wiggle” but also a woman passionate about raising awareness  of Australia’s deaf community, who already has formal qualifications in Auslan and who is currently undertaking her PhD in “the affective, artistic integration of sign language, dance and film editing.” In consultation with artists who themselves are deaf, she is producing and releasing a range of formats that as well as the storybook will include, an ebook, audiobook and an Auslan video translation so that all young readers can be entertained through “movement, creativity, inclusiveness and friendship”.

In this new release Emma Memma takes a walk through her day teaching young readers how to sign each letter of the alphabet relating the letter to something she sees or does. 

There is a lot of research relating to learning a second language in early childhood, not just because it is easier for the child but because of associated benefits so learning Auslan alongside learning the English alphabet makes a lot of sense.  By using a recognised character, everyday situations and multi-modal delivery, Emma Watkins is doing much to normalise this way of communicating so that all children can be included.  

Emma Memma: How Are You?

Emma Memma: How Are You?

Emma Memma: How Are You?












Emma Memma: How Are You?

Emma Memma

Puffin,   2023

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


Emma Memma is back to delight young readers with a new book in which she introduces her friends, at the same time teaching those young readers how to use Auslan to sign “How are you?”

Emma Memma waves hello
Can you wave a hello too?
Smiling, she signs and asks
‘How are you?’

Behind the the curly red hair, pink shirt and orange dress is  Emma Watkins, once known as the “yellow Wiggle” but also a woman passionate about raising awareness  of Australia’s deaf community, who already has formal qualifications in Auslan and who is currently undertaking her PhD in “the affective, artistic integration of sign language, dance and film editing.” In consultation with artists who themselves are deaf, she is producing and releasing a range of formats that as well as the storybook will include, an ebook, audiobook and an Auslan video translation so that all young readers can be entertained through “movement, creativity, inclusiveness and friendship”.

Aimed at the early childhood audience, this is a perfect way to help them understand that kids who have different needs are just like them, like the same things they do, and are easily included if we are just prepared to make a bit of extra effort. 

Hedgehog the Wonder Dog

Hedgehog the Wonder Dog

Hedgehog the Wonder Dog











Hedgehog the Wonder Dog

Dannika Patterson

Ross Morgan

 Ford Street, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.95


Each day of the week, Hedgehog has a routine he follows with his owner Jo – going to the cafe, the dog park, the beach and even just staying at home on Thursdays. Some people think he is a strange-looking dog, all rough and hairy and sometimes smelling of shorebird poop. But there is more to Hedgehog than meets the eye and only Sam can see this.

Meanwhile, in a parallel world, Sam also has a routine – drawing pictures, playing cards, going outside if it’s fine, having tests… all the while counting down the sleeps till Friday. Because Fridays are the best days  – that’s when Hedgehog comes to visit. Sometimes it’s for cuddles and stories from Jo, but sometimes it’s just for cuddles and comforts as Sam is topped up with Superpower Juice.   No matter how weird or strange Hedgehog might seem to others, to Sam he has superpowers too, and right now that’s what Sam needs.

In this heart-warming, beautifully illustrated story that treads new ground in children’s picture books, exploring the connection between a child in hospital receiving treatment for cancer and a little dog whose owner brings him to visit every Friday and celebrating the healing powers that therapy dogs like Hedgehog can offer. 

Even though Sam’s surroundings and illness are not explicitly stated, close attention to the illustrations beginning with Sam wearing a beanie inside while drawing will offer clues and cues that there is something special happening – sadly, something that will resonate with many whose lives have been touched by cancer.  Even though the situation is one we would wish that no child has to encounter, nevertheless there are touches of humour throughout that lighten the mood, such as Hedgehog rolling in the bird poop, Sam receiving treatment at the Superpower Charging Station, and just Hedgehog’s cheerful appearance and expression. While teaching notes allow for the literary aspects of the book to be examined, the power in this book is the hope and joy that shines through the trauma and sadness.  

Something different to read and share but something essential and illuminating. 

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home











When The War Came Home

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2022

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Wales, 1920. Twelve-year-old Natty is quite happy living with her mam in their flat, going to the village school with its yummy free lunches, and special fish and chip teas on Fridays just like her dad used to do when he was alive. 

But when her activist mum loses her job for sticking up for the workers’ rights, and they are forced to move in with relatives in a nearby village, things change dramatically.  Firstly, she has to share a room, even a bed, with her cousin Nerys who is very bright and never stops talking.  Then there are the unpredictable Huw who lied about his age to enlist but who has come home a totally different 17 year old suffering from shell-shock, and the mysterious “Johnny”, another young lad who has returned from the Western Front but who has no idea who he is or where he came from.  She also has to attend a school ruled over by a brutal principal who uses his cane freely, particularly on those who are poor and hungry because there are no free dinners at this village school because their provision is the prerogative of the local council.

Even though she is angry at her mother’s desire to right wrongs that are not even her problem because of the impact it has on her own life, Natty is surprised to find herself drawn into a student strike demanding free school lunches so those who don’t have enough to eat can think about their studies rather than their stomachs. Perhaps she is more like her mother than she realises.  But it is her friendship with both Huw and Johnny that has the most profound effect on all their lives, particularly as the message about never giving up is one that comes from all angles.

Once again, Lesley Parr takes the reader back in time to an era of Welsh history, but, as with The Valley of Lost Secrets and  Where the River Takes Us , the issues she addresses will resonate with today’s readers.  For although World War I is over a century ago, many children will know someone who is experiencing PTSD  or the impact of some extraordinary trauma -or it may even be themselves- and so they empathise and perhaps find a little more compassion. And even though women now have the vote and workers have rights, this can serve as a starting point for  an investigation into why such change was inevitable as well as discussions into what remains the same.  Homeless, hunger and abuse are still rife in our society so what is the answer?  Is there an answer?

At the very least, the story shines a light on what happened in so many homes and families around the globe after the guns fell silent.  Sometimes, having your loved one home wasn’t the be-all and end-all – the war came home with them, shaping lives in a way that has impact today.  As Nerys tells Natty,  “The war took him away, Natty. And it gave him back, only not every part of him. And it took away some of the good parts and gave him bad ones instead.”

Lesley Parr has written three books now, and each one has been the most absorbing read – stories of kids of another time and place but whose lives seem so familiar, making them an opportunity to reflect and respect and understand the power of well-crafted, well-rounded characters, a story that seamlessly embraces critical social issues as it flows along, and the joy and satisfaction of being just a little wiser for the experience.  Definitely an author to introduce to those who like meaty, engaging stories. 

Mama’s Chickens

Mama’s Chickens

Mama’s Chickens











Mama’s Chickens

Michelle Worthington

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2023

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


“What happens when a couple of kids and their mother, who has early-onset dementia, welcome some backyard chickens into their lives? “

This is the tagline used by the publisher on the website but the real story of this story is found in the back story of the book, found in the teachers’ notes  and the media release.

While there are some books addressing the impact of dementia on young children’s lives, they mostly focus on the child’s grandparents, yet 28 000 of Australians living with dementia today are mothers under the age of 50 with children at home, the author being one of them.  And so the chances are that there is someone amongst the school’s students who is having to face the challenges of a mum who doesn’t act like herself anymore, forgetting who they are and all the other symptoms that come with the disease, including getting cranky to the point of frightening the little ones.

Told from the perspective of one of her children, this is a sensitive, gentle book that explores the impact of the condition as more and more the children have to become their mother’s carers.  The chickens, imbued with personality through both words and pictures, add a lightness to what could have become a sad, depressing story but is actually one full of love, understanding and support both for the children, their mum and the reader who might be relating more closely than we realise.

I have often praised the editors at EK Books for being brave to tread a path that others don’t, by publishing books that lift the lid on tricky issues that affect our children, and this is no exception.  While, as teachers, we like to think we know and understand the out-of-school issues that our students are facing, it is books like this that give us so much more insight so we can better understand, as well as opening up the topic for the child’s peers to gain a glimpse into what might be happening in their friend’s life.  How do you explain that your mate’s mum might not remember you from one day to the next, when she is having trouble remembering her own children.  But the one thing that permeates both the book and the reality, is that undying, unconditional love between parent and child that can never be underestimated or overestimated- and if that is the only message a young reader takes from this, then job done and done well, Michelle Worthington.


Song in the City

Song in the City

Song in the City











Song in the City

Daniel Bernstrom

Jenin Mohammed

HarperCollins, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Sunday morning in the city, and Emmelene is accompanying her Grandma Jean to church where there is a choir singing and trumpets blowing  and hand-clapping to hear and join in with. But Grandma Jean is getting cross because Emmelene is lagging behind because she is listening to the music of the city – the tap-tappa-tap, the yip-yippa-yip, the pitter-patter-drip and all the other sounds that her ears hear but her eyes can’t see.  

And in church, when Grandma Jean’s music makes little impression on Emmelene , Grandma gets even crankier and just doesn’t understand what Emmelene can hear – although she does try. And then Emmelene shows her…

A long time ago, I read a poem about the sounds of night falling and it made such an impression on me, that now, mosquitoes willing, one of my favourite wind-down activities is to listen to the dark creep across our bushland home.  I have to admit that I’m a bit like Grandma Jean and haven’t heard the music of the city so maybe I should sit in the park in town and close my eyes… Certainly, it is something we can do with our kids on a nice day – take them outside, let them lie on the grass in the sun and just listen to the music of the outdoors.  And if someone falls asleep, that’s fine – either they needed the rest or the activity had the desired effect of putting them in the zone for a while.  

But, while this is a great book to inspire an awareness of our surroundings and be mindful in the moment, on a more practical level it is also one for exploring the concept of onomatopoeia as the sounds of the vehicles and other things that Emmelene hears are illustrated in a way that makes you see them as well as hear them.  Another opportunity to explore and experience our language. 



The Champ (series)

The Champ

The Champ











The Champ

The Champ 1


Rock ‘n’ Roll


Anh Do

A & U  Children’s 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

Popular and prolific storyteller Anh Do is back with a new series for young readers transitioning to novels with all the supports these readers need including action-packed plots and relatable characters who have a touch of superpower to turn them from ordinary to extraordinary in times of need.

Summer loves sport, and there is nothing she would love more than to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team but instead she always seems to be the last one picked, probably because of her lack of co-ordination which even she recognises. Then one day something amazing happens and Summer discovers she is no longer the spectator but the superstar. The purple gloop that covered her and landed her in hospital has turned her life around. However what is magical for Summer is misery for her older brother Carl who goes from being a talented upcoming footballer to being in a wheelchair, and Summer finds herself with a lot more responsibility.

With her new expertise, Summer decides to enter contests to earn money to support her family, but as it turns out, there are far more important things for her to do, starting with sorting out a witch who looks strangely familiar and is causing trouble in her home town while keeping her new powers secret because  a government agency, armed with a robotic minion, begin to take an interest in her.  In the second in the series, she has to deal with the mysterious Book Witch again when everyone’s favourite rock band is kidnapped.

Younger readers who are just meeting Anh Do as an author will like what they read and easily be able to fit themselves into the story, perhaps even venturing into his many other series  as they wait for Summer’s next adventure, but those more familiar with his works, particularly SkyDragon may find parts of the plot familiar.  That doesn’t decry from the appeal of this new series as there is a reason Do is so popular and this is yet another way to get readers on the cusp of being independent to keep reading.