Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker










Millie Mak the Maker

Alice Pung

Sher Rill Ng

HarperCollins, 2023

288pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Life has been pretty tricky lately for nine-year-old Millie Mak. As well as her family moving to a new neighbourhood to be closer to her mother’s parents, she has started a new school and being quiet and somewhat shy, she has found it hard to make friends, not made easier by being Scottish-Chinese with Asian features and flaming red hair.  Things come to a head when she and her Granny find an old dolls house put out on the street for Hard Rubbish Day collection, perfect for them to renovate, but which is also seen by the young sister of one of the mean girls who throws a tantrum when she does not get it.  

But Millie and her grandmother have been revitalising and renewing old stuff  together for a long time and now it’s in Millie’s nature to look for new ways to use old things, turning them into something beautiful and useful.  So when she sees her other Chinese grandmother who lives with them and takes care of the household, including two year old Rosie, making sleeve savers from an old pillowcase, she has an even better idea using her dad’s broken umbrella. She learns even more when she goes to the holiday program at the local community centre – not the expensive Awesome Kids workshops she was hoping for – and meets Veesa and Glee whose mums actually make the popular brand-name clothes that everyone, including those mean girls, are paying so much money for.  Who knew you could make a trendy skirt from some tea towels?

The second story also focuses on making something from almost nothing, as a new girl, Amrita, starts at the school and being Sikh, experiences the same isolation that Millie did.  But the two girls strike up a friendship that not only opens new doors for both of them but has them having the most popular stall at the school fete.

All the familiar themes and feelings of starting a new school are threaded through this story – isolation, bullying, racism, stereotyping – as well as having to grapple with issues at home like the rivalry between her grandmothers and her dad unable to work because of an accident, so it will resonate with many readers but its focus on recycling and upcycling will really appeal to those who love to do the same, particularly those learning to sew – made even moreso because there are clear instructions given for some of the projects at the end of each story as well as some other avenues to explore.  Who knew that fabric could come from animals, minerals and plants and we could be wearing all at the same time?

Both Millie’s family and the situations she and Rita, particularly, face will not only be familiar to those who have walked that path, but there are also lessons to be learned by those on the other side, particularly about making assumptions about how someone might feel or react.   Teaching notes offer other ideas for exploring the issues in greater depth – there is so much but a book review can only be so long.

When a friend recently offered sewing classes for children, she was so overwhelmed with the responses that she had to add extra sessions, and so there are many boys and girls who have an interest in this sort of creativity and this is the ideal book for feeding that interest as well as sparking inspiration for others.  Being one of those who sews every day and knits each night, I read it in one sitting and kept thinking of how I could share it with one of the little ones in Jane’s sewing classes because I know they would love it.  

 Luckily for those budding creators, this is just the first in the series and Children’s Books Daily has an interview with the author to share.



Julian at the Wedding






Julian at the Wedding

Julian at the Wedding








Julian at the Wedding

Jessica Love

Walker, 2020

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Julian and his grandmother are attending a wedding. In fact, Julian is in the wedding along with his cousin Marisol. When wedding duties are fulfilled and with a new dog friend in tow, the pair takes off to roam the venue, exploring everywhere from underneath tables to enchanting willow trees to muddy puddles!  So when Mariola’s dress gets ruined, Julian has the perfect solution. But how will the grown-ups respond?

We first met Julian and his flamboyant grandmother in Julian is a Mermaid, a brilliant but controversial interpretation of being true to oneself. This sequel is just as good as it subtly shifts the narrative of convention so that the wedding being that of two brides is as normal as any other is almost unremarkable. After all, a wedding is just “a party for love.”

However, its impact may be more profound. 

The story behind Charles M. Schultz introducing a black character into the Peanuts comic strip has been well-documented and there are stories galore of how this impacted young black readers in the US, particularly.  Suddenly they were seeing themselves in literature in a new and positive portrayal. And so it may well be with children like Julian – those who don’t live in a conventional family; those for who two mums and two dads is the norm; those who prefer to be mermaids than superheroes. Here they are in a story that treats their situation as the norm and moves on to the real issues – ruining your bridesmaid’s dress at a wedding where, traditionally, you’re supposed to remain pristine!

Like its predecessor, most of this story is told in the stunning illustrations with the minimum of text, and they hold so many riches that the book demands to be explored again and again. Jessica Love won the Bologna Ragazzi Award and Klaus Flugge Prize for Julian is a Mermaid, her debut picture book and it is quite probable that this will be among the prizewinners too. 

Originally published November 3 2020

Updated February 2023

Grandad’s Camper





Grandad's Camper

Grandad’s Camper










Grandad’s Camper

Harry Woodgate

Andersen Press , 2022 

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


There’s nothing she loves more than to visit her Grandad, snuggle up on the sofa and listen as he tells all about the amazing places he and Gramps would explore in their camper.  But these days, Grandad’s camper van is hidden away in the garage – now Gramps isn’t around any more, the adventures they shared travelling in it just wouldn’t be the same. As she listens to his wonderful stories, Grandad’s granddaughter has an idea to cheer him up…

This is a delightful story of a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather, a bond that those of us who have been fortunate to experience it never forget.  But this story has a twist because there is no grandma – rather there is Gramps, her grandfather’s much loved partner. And while it is a reminder that there are many definitions and designs of “family” – the rainbow flag on the camper on the cover is an indicator- it is the little girl’s complete acceptance of the situation that is heart-warming because it shows we have come a long way, albeit there is still a way to go.  So while gender diversity is not the obvious in-your-face focus of the story, it is the memories that are so inextricably bound together by Grandad’s and Gramps’ relationship that are at its heart. 

Family diversity is so widespread and little ones need to see theirs in stories, so this is another opportunity to share and celebrate. 

Originally published March 4, 2022

Updated February, 2023

You Need To Chill





You Need To Chill

You Need To Chill










You Need To Chill

Juno Dawson

Laura Hughes

Farshore, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


When Bill can’t be found at school one day, the imaginations of the other children run wild. Is he on holiday? Is he lost in the park? Has he been eaten by a shark?! It’s up to Bill’s sister to explain…

This is a fun-filled celebration of family diversity that is filled with love, acceptance and humour as the suggestions of Bill’s whereabouts are contemplated and the only response is, “Hun, you need to chill.” But finally the answer is disclosed and it’s not what a lot of readers will expect, but knowing little kids, one they will accept. It opens up the opportunity for discussions about not only Bill’s new circumstances but also family diversity in general and the children will soon realise that no two families are the same.  Such growth in tolerance in the years I’ve been teaching, led by books like this which expose our young readers to new situations so they are ready for them when they encounter them.   


Bored: Milo Finds $105













Bored: Milo Finds $105

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Milo is so bored that he is having a conversation with an ant, when suddenly he spies money lying in the middle of his cul-de-sac.  There’s $105 to be exact and he ha s no idea who it belongs to or what he should do about it.  His stepmum, Liz, tells him it is “finders keepers” but his mum, a law student, says he must try to find the owner.

Being somewhat shy, introverted  and anxious, this causes issues for Milo who is afraid of Rocco the bully; would love to know Evie better but she’s always got her headphones on, and is somewhat overawed by the confidence of Frog; the new kid who has invented his own brand of martial arts.  Suddenly, having so much money becomes a nightmare, particularly when Frog and Rocco look like they’re going to get into a fight about it t the bus stop. “Some kids just have power and other kids don’t, and I don’t understand it. Where do you get power from? Because if I knew, I’d happily spend a hundred and five dollars to buy some.

But then Frog hatches a plan…

Told by 11 year old Milo, this is a new series from the author of Funny Kids and The Odds in which Stanton again demonstrates his ability to turn everyday situations and authentic characters that readers will recognise into stories that engage even the most reluctant readers.  While there is a strong sense of family because Milo misses his older brother Henry who has joined the army, rather than his having two mums, (which is just accepted by kids if not by adults) it is the evolving and changing friendships between the children that carry the story along, just as they do in real life.

When Milo muses, “Some kids just have power and other kids don’t, and I don’t understand it. Where do you get power from? Because if I knew, I’d happily spend a hundred and five dollars to buy some, ” some readers will be urging him to find his voice while others will be feeling just as concerned as he is.  Being able to evoke such opposite emotions is the sign of a writer who knows kids well and how to relate to them through story, and achieves his goal of creating stories with “emotional guts”, with “truth and understanding” and allow the reader “to feel a little less alone.”

The second in the series, due in September, is told from Frog’s perspective as he tries to fit into this new neighbourhood and one suspects that the other children in the street will also get their say in the future.


The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act











The Accidental Diary of B.U.G.: Sister Act

Jen Carney

Puffin, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Billie Upton Green (aka .B.U.G.) is 10 years old, in Class Five at school and is weaving her way through life at that age keeping a diary about her life and those people and events that are important in it. 

In the first in the series the reader learns that BUG has two mums and that she is adopted, but the main focus of the story is that there is a new girl in their class who seems to take up more of BUG’s best friend Layla’s attention that BUG would like, which has the effect of totally normalising BUG’s family structure so that those who are also in a different configuration to what is considered “normal” not only relate but appreciate that who they live with is no big deal in the bigger picture.

Of course, there are always those who will raise their eyebrows and so Patrick North personifies those conservative views with his comments but they tend to be water off a duck’s back by this third book, where BUG’s circumstances and adoption are widely known and accepted and it focuses on BUG preparing to have a baby sister, also adopted, but who seems to be taking forever to arrive because of all the rules and regulations, even though BUG desperately wants to hold her up for show and share. Luckily, the school musical is in full swing, giving BUG the perfect distraction. She just needs to watch out for Painy Janey, who has her eyes on the main part and doesn’t care what gets in her way…

Told in an easy-to-read conversational style by BUG herself, and interspersed with her doodles and other comments, this is a quick, enjoyable read for those who don’t want to put too much effort into following complex characters and plots. Yet, in saying that, there are thought-provoking incidents that offer “what-would-I-do?” moments so those who are facing familiar issues (or will do) can consider their own reactions and responses, perhaps even plan a strategy they hadn’t thought of.  

Miss 11 pounced on this in my review pile and stuck her name on it, begging me to “process it, Grandma” before she went home so she could take it with her.  That seems like a sure-fire winner to me. 



This Is My Dad

This Is My Dad

This Is My Dad











This Is My Dad

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2022

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


Leo’s teacher announces that the class’s next focus for Show and Tell will be their fathers and while this excites the other children, Leo’s tummy belly-flopped.  And did another one when Harper asks if their dads can come and share the experience.  Because that can be all well and good for some kids, but what if you don’t have a dad?  And have never known one? “How can I celebrate someone I’ve never met?”

So while his children’s author mother hunts dragons and arrests aliens and rescues her characters from all sorts of predicaments, Leo hunts through the family photos for something he’s not going to find.  And then he has an idea…

Back in the day, teachers would celebrate events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with card and gift-making and all sorts of other activities almost without thought – it’s just what was done.  We didn’t really give a lot of consideration to the Leos because two-parent families were the norm – it was rare to have students without that traditional family structure,  But that was back in the day, and now we recognise that families are as individual as the people in them and we cannot take anything for granted.  Clearly Miss Reilly didn’t get the memo and so this is a timely, important look into the anxiety that an announcement such as hers can make, how carefully we have to tread and how we need to change our focus so that our students are not marginalised or become anxious when what to them is “normal”, becomes apparently not-so.  

This is a book to share with a class whenever one of those traditional celebrations rolls around, or the curriculum demands a focus on families.  Apart from resonating with many of the children themselves, it could be a time to examine Leo’s feelings when Miss Reilly made her announcement. Why did his tummy do a belly-flop? They could also look at the strategies that Leo employed to try to solve his problems. Why couldn’t he just tell Miss Reilly he doesn’t have a dad? Is he ashamed, angry, embarrassed? But even better, an astute teacher could involve the students in finding a big-picture question that embraces everyone’s circumstances.  Perhaps something that looks at the ties that bind a group of people into a family unit, rather than its physical structure; perhaps celebrating the influential adults in the child’s life without reference to gender or relationship; or perhaps even comparing human family structures to those of animal families. More able students might like to consider whether a wedding ring makes a family, and delve into the traditions and purposes of marriages, including cultural aspects, 

While the structure of a family becomes more and more diverse and accepted, and the kids themselves don’t look sideways at two mums, two dads, no mum, no dad and every variation in between which also reaches into the extended families,  Leo’s story is a reminder that, nevertheless, we need to tread carefully and between Powell’s writing and Johnston’s illustrations, we not only have a great heads-up for teachers but also a book which appears to be for littlies but which can enable older students to examine their own perspectives at arm’s length, perhaps even reflect on their own situations and how that has shaped them. 

Teachers’ notes are available

We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families

We Belong Together

We Belong Together










We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families

Todd Parr

ABC Books, 2008

32pp., pbk $14.95



This is another in the series by US author Todd Parr that focuses on issues that can be huge in the minds of our littlest people.  Unlike many authors who explore these issues using toys, teddies or animals as characters, Parr uses children as the key characters and his bold, uncomplicated illustrations are very appealing.

This book is about belonging together and the first sentence depicts it all – “We belong together because you needed a home and I had one to share.” A simple, direct statement that explains the most complex situation of adoption perfectly.  At the end of the book, Parr has a message for his readers, “There are lots of different ways to make a family.  It just takes love.  Share your home and share your heart.”  Through the words and the illustrations, you just feel that this is a genuine message, meant with feeling.

This is a lovely read-aloud book, to be shared by parent and child when they have a question about their family or that of a friend.  It echoes the messages of all those in the series -we are all different and we should accept and celebrate those differences. It’s more than okay to be yourself.

Original Review: Sat 17/05/2008