In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf

In the Mouth of the Wolf









In the Mouth of the Wolf

Michael Morpurgo


Egmont, 2018

160pp., hbk, RRP $29.99


In the village of Le Pouget, in the Languedoc region of south west France, Francis Cammaerts is resting after the celebrations for his 90th birthday come to a close.  As dusk turns to dark and the church bell strikes midnight, he thinks of those who have been a part of his journey to this ripe old age – those who raised him, supported him and had so much to do with the man he became.  And from those reminiscences comes a story of determination, danger, courage and heroism that would have gone untold if not for Morpurgo’s pen and Barroux’s brush.

One of two sons born during the Great War, Francis grows up to be a teacher while his brother Pieter is a burgeoning actor,  But when World War II breaks out, the brothers take very different paths. Frances believes war is futile and barbaric, that people should not descend to the level of the fascists and that only education and pacifism are the “way forward for humanity”. Pieter, however, believes that pacifism will not stop Hitler, that the cruelty of fascism had to be confronted and so he becomes a Sergeant Navigator in the RAF.  While he eventually goes to join a bomber squadron in Cornwall, Francis goes to Lincolnshire to work on a farm having justified his beliefs to a tribunal.  

But when Pieter is killed returning from an air raid over France and a bomb dropped by a German plane kills the family on the next farm including including baby Bessie, Francis begins to rethink his decision, particularly as he now has a wife and the birth of his own child is imminent.  He talks to Harry, his mentor from his teaching days – a conversation that changes his life forever as it leads him into the silent world of the secret agent working with the Resistance in France…

As with Flamingo BoyMorpurgo shines a light on the real story of war and its impact on ordinary people by taking an unusual perspective and telling the story through that.  This is not a tale of derring-do embellished with action scenes and special effects -although it could be that in the hands of another – but a quiet tale of remembrance and reflection, of the impact of the legacy of others on a particular life, when that life itself has left its own legacy.  Morpurgo has said, ” This book may read like fiction. But it is not. That is because it does not need to be.” It is the story of his own uncles.

Generously illustrated using family photographs which are included at the back of the book as well as biographical details of those who had such a profound impact within the story, Morpurgo has produced a story that not only tells yet another untold story of the war but one which has shaped his life too.  

One for independent readers  wanting something different, compelling and utterly readable. 

Play This Book

Play This Book

Play This Book










Play This Book

Jessica Young

Daniel Wiseman

Bloomsbury, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Seven instruments sit alone on a stage –  guitar, keyboard, saxophone, trombone, drum, maracas and cymbals – waiting to be played so there can be a show.  But without the reader lending a hand, there can be no band.  And so how to play each instrument and the sound it makes becomes the focus of this interactive book featuring lots of different children introducing each instrument. By the end of the story, all the instruments have been tested and are brought together in a grand cacophony of sound appreciated by the audience.

This is a wonderful opportunity to acquaint young readers with some common musical instruments and the invitation for them to “play” them will be irresistible.  Interactive in a similar fashion to the Hervé Tullet books like Press Here, this one will engage very young readers as they return to it again and again. 

The importance of music in a child’s life cannot be underestimated and is encapsulated in this infographic from The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra  and this research from the University of Canberra so Play this Book would be an important addition to your early music teaching resources. A natural follow-on would be Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf supported by Energy in the Air: Sounds of the Orchestra  To round out the experience, Birdsong by Ellie Sandall gives the children the opportunity to make their own music by using their voices and their bodies!



As is proclaimed in another classic, “Let the wild rumpus start!”



The Gum Family Finds Home

The Gum Family Finds Home

The Gum Family Finds Home









The Gum Family Finds Home

Tania McCartney

Christina Booth

NLA Publishing, 2018

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


The Gums – Mum, Dad, Leaf and Nut – are a family of koalas who live in a eucalyptus tree which is perfect for them as a food source, but not much else.  The open nature of the branches means they have little shelter when it rains and on days when the branches are whipped about by the wind, it is just plain dangerous.  Reluctantly, because it means leaving all they know especially their dear friend Kooka, they decide to find a safer home – one that is rock solid.  Armed with a checklist of must-haves including safe, dry, strong, food, shelter, views, friendly neighbours, water, rocks… Dad hooks up the caravan and off they go leaving their cackling, buzzing, windy, rainy home far behind.

And so begins an adventure that takes them and the reader on a journey around Australia’s iconic geological formations – Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Karlu Karlu, the Bungle Bungle Range, Katherine and its Butterfly Gorge, the Glasshouse and Blue Mountains, the wonders of Tasmania and the Twelve Apostles of Victoria, and across the Nullabor to Wave Rock and The Pinnacles. Is there any place that will fulfil their requirements?

Let me declare that I am an unabashed Tania McCartney fan – I love the way that she can write the most engaging stories while weaving in all sorts of information that just beg the reader to explore further.  And this is no exception.  Together with Christina Booth’s unique illustrations which seamlessly combine her artwork with photographs of the focus landscape, this story introduces young readers to Australia’s distinctive, ancient geographical features formed up to 3000 million years ago, encouraging them to wonder about the what, where, why and the how of them. Each place that the Gum family visits has its origins explained in notes and photos in the final pages, each of which is part of the National Library‘s collection. 

The story cries out for students to discover more about the land they live in, perhaps setting up a challenge where partners investigate one of the landforms that the Gum family visit, post a series of clues based on their findings and invite their peers to work out where it is.  (I did this some years ago using pictures from landscape calendars but it could also be done effectively as a slideshow or other digital app.)  They might even investigate other landshapes and landscapes choosing one of these instead…

Great Sandy Desert Tanami Desert Great Victoria Desert Gibson Desert Simpson Desert
Sturt Desert Mt Kosciuszko Mt Bogong Mt Bimberi Mt Bartle Frere
Mt Ossa Mt Zeil Mt Woodroffe Mt Meharry Great Diving Range
Australian Alps Murray River Murrumbidgee River Darling River Lachlan River
Franklin River Cooper Creek Goulburn River Gascoyne River Lake Eyre
Uluru Twelve Apostles Devils Marbles Three Sisters Bungle Bungles
Coorong Flinders Island Fraser Island Heron Island Melville Island
Grampians Great Barrier Reef Jenolan Caves Kakadu Kangaroo Island
Katherine Gorge Lake Mungo Lake Pedder Nullabor Plain Wave Rock
Flinders Ranges Wilpena Pound Kangaroo Island Kings Canyon Kata Juta
Wallaman Falls Lake Argyle Lake Eucumbene Lake Gordon Mt Townsend
Finke River Yilgam Lakes Gulaga Mt Augustus Menindee Lakes

Others might prefer to investigate the formation of the land generally – there are a number of excellent resources available via Scootle and GeoScience Australia or even reading the opening chapter of Michener’s Hawaii while others may prefer to examine, compare and contrast the creation stories of our indigenous peoples and other first nations.  

Younger students could map the Gum family’s travels trying to plot a journey that doesn’t double back on itself too often, learning how to interpret and create maps as they do while even younger ones might like to think about the requirements the Gum family needed for a safe home and compare those to those needed by a wombat or a dugong or other species that they are interested in.  

I’ve often said that the best picture books are those that entertain and educate and this has to be up there with the very best of those. 

Tania has decorated the bookshop at the National Library in Canberra and has written about the book and its purpose here, she talks more about the creation of the book and offers some goodies here. and more teaching ideas  covering AC English, Science and HASS are available here.  


The (temproary) new look for the bookshop at the NLA.

The (temporary) new look for the bookshop at the NLA.

















Ananda Braxton-Smith

Lizzy Newcomb

Black Dog, 2018

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


Dusk “in this city that is like other cities” and a “sleep-moony child and s star-eyed dog” sit on the back step of their home and watch and listen to the sights and sounds of night falling.  For the back yard is home to other animals apart from them and just taking the time to listen and look can reveal an astounding array of inhabitants that are otherwise often invisible…

While television programs may make us think that nature happens on the vast plains of Africa or the hidden depths of the ocean, in Backyard author and illustrator using poetic descriptive text and exquisite, lifelike illustrations, have brought to life a suburban backyard, exposing critters and creatures that so cleverly hide amongst the plants and bushes, showing that the marvels and miracles are so much closer than we realise. And while our own backyards might not have the particular species shown, that just sets up investigations into what creatures are there; why they are different from those in the book; the influence and impact of day and night; what conditions are needed to protect those that are and encourage more…the possibilities are so many!

But even if scientific investigations are not for you and yours, this is a lyrical lullaby that would serve as a perfect bedtime story as it is so calming and peaceful, encouraging the child to sit and listen and dream and gradually pull the curtains on their day. 

(For those of you wanting to use this as a springboard for a series of lessons that explore your playground or the students’ backyard, a great non fiction companion would be The Australian Backyard Naturalist  by Peter Macinnis who combines his deep skills in science, history and teaching to produce resources for Australian teachers and children.)




Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse










Hello, Horse

Vivian French

Catherine Rayner

Walker Books, 2018

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


It is very daunting meeting Catherine’s friend Shannon for the first time – because Shannon is a horse, a very big horse.  But slowly and gently Catherine manages the meeting showing the little boy that even though Shannon appears huge, she’s actually very gentle and with an apple and some grooming she is very friendly.  But when Catherine suggests that he ride Shannon, does he have the courage?

Part of the Nature Storybook series which includes Dingo, Koala, and Python this new addition looks at a more domesticated animal, one that is familiar to so many of our students but which can appear formidable up close because of its size.  But in the company of an experienced person and armed with the information in both the narrative and the sub-text, like the boy in the story little ones will have more confidence facing their concerns and discovering one of the gentle joys of life – plodding along on the back of a horse. The story is based on the illustrator and her own horse and the detailed watercolour illustrations not only echo her familiarity with these animals but also mirror the child’s anxiety so the reader understands it. 

Those readers who are already familiar with horses will enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences when the book is shared, but it could also serve as a model for discussing the dos and don’ts of dealing with other domestic pets that may seem somewhat scary to start with.  It will also show that such concerns are common, not babyish, but they can be overcome by learning more.