Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?










Want to Play Trucks?

Ann Stott

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2018

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


Almost every morning Jack and Alex play together in the sandpit at the playground while their mothers have a chat.  They enjoy playing together, Jack with the trucks, particularly those that are big and can wreck things,  and Alex with his doll, who has a pink, sparkly dress. When Jack suggests they play trucks, Alex counters with playing dolls that drive trucks. And this is a happy compromise until Jack chooses a crane and tells Alex that dolls with tutus can’t drive cranes.

But this is not an argument about gender, although as it escalates it seems it is – Jack has a much more pragmatic perspective which Alex quickly solves and they are soon playing happily again until they hear the sound of the ice cream truck.

Time and again over the 45+ years I’ve been in education I’ve seen children squabble and adults intervening because they have imposed their beliefs and perspectives on what they think is the problem, when it is really a much more simple issue such as in this story. Rather than letting the children sort it for themselves and learning all sorts of critical social skills as they do, the adults are too prone to step in looking for peace above all else.  In my opinion, it is what is going on in the background that is as important as the foreground in this story, as the mothers continue to chat, nurse Alex’s baby sister when she wakes up and go with the boys to get ice cream, ignoring the boys’ conflict, if indeed they notice it. Graham also has lots of other characters passing by going about their lives with no reference to what is happening in the sandpit – there is no notice taken of the boys’ different ethnicity, their preference for particular toys or their minor squabble.  Life is what it is and is as it is. And therefore the boys are left to work things out for themselves,learning in their particular microcosm how to negotiate, compromise, change, accept, include… all those vital attributes that will help them navigate their expanding world.

While this book appears to be about challenging gender stereotypes because of the boys’ choice of toys, to me that is just the hook on which the broader issue of how kids deal with, negotiate and celebrate difference and diversity has been hung on.    Sharing this with little ones will open up opportunities for them to not only share their stories but to learn their own strategies as they are challenged by new situations. 

Won’t be surprised to see this nominated for awards in the future.














Cherri Ryan

Christina Booth

Black Dog Books, 2018

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


A small, woven basket, a couple of handkerchiefs , a stick, some buttons and thread and a scrap of fabric for a flag and Spirit is ready for her inaugural voyage sailing across the garden pond. 

A victory dance,  some attention to her mast and hull and she was ready for the next challenge – bobbing and dipping as she rides the currents of the creek. 

Another victory dance and some more tweaking – will she be ready for the greatest adventure yet?  All was well as she rode the calm waters of the river with her fishy attendants, her rudder true and her bow leading the way, but after the bridge jagged rocks churn and froth the water and Spirit faces the biggest dangers of all.  Will she survive or will she be broken?

On the surface, this is a charming story about a little girl building a boat and testing it, increasing the degree of difficulty of each challenge.  But just like the creek and the river, there are hidden depths as children navigate life and have to learn to be steadfast, resilient, imaginative and have faith in themselves and their abilities to survive the setbacks.  Much as we would like our children’s lives to be smooth sailing, character is built through adversity and they need to learn to pick themselves up, oil their hulls and smooth their masts, or let someone more experienced help them do that, and move on to the next challenge, persevering, learning about failure as well as success, commiseration and celebration.  They need to know they have an inner spirit, one that can’t be broken but like Spirit one which gets stronger and stronger particularly when they are knocked down, but sometimes they have to dig deep into the unknown to find it.

As busy classroom teachers, we often just see the surface of our students’ lives, only sometimes being privileged to catch a glimpse of the depths beneath -some of which are joyful; some of which are deep and dark with jagged rocks but all having as many twists and turns as the river. So this would be an ideal read-aloud sharing both the words and pictures that intertwine with each other perfectly, and talking about the underlying thoughts behind them. Discussing the name of the boat, the girl’s feelings, determination and courage, the invisible hands guiding her while letting her try that are not revealed until the penultimate page, the role of the fish as they support Spirit on its journeys,  and the connection of the girl’s story to their own lives may help those who are troubled and struggling realise they are not alone and deep down they too have the courage to take the next step forward, even if it is into the unknown.

A perfect addition to your mindfulness collection. 


Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Kensy and Max

Kensy and Max










Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Jacqueline Harvey

Random House Australia, 2018

366pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99  


Imagine getting in a car in one country and waking up in a strange place in another!  That’s the beginning of a whole new adventure for twins Kensy and Max who started their journey in Zermatt, Switzerland and 16 hours later find themselves in the grounds of an unfamiliar mansion in England.  While it seems their carer Fitz knows his way around as he follows an unfamiliar fellow wearing a red dressing gown with matching slippers inside and up the stairs, Max is mystified but the warmth and comfort of a large, soft bed is too tempting and he is soon asleep again.  But when they wake in the morning to find themselves locked in the mystery deepens and the adventures begin…

Breaking News is the first in a new series by the author of both Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series, featuring feisty twins Kensy and Max.  At just 11, Kensy is feisty, impulsive and has two speeds – full-tilt or out-cold – while Max is more measured and perceptive, They are smart and athletic and fiercely competitive, particularly between themselves, but also tough and determined, which seems a perfect combination of characteristics for amateur sleuths who find themselves in a strange and mysterious situation as the real truth about their parents’ employment emerges and they are separated from them for their own safety.

As well as writing another cracking story that will engage independent readers who love a good mystery, Harvey also invites the reader into the story by enabling them to try to solve the clues as they read and using the mysterious Caesar code to encrypt the chapter headings.

With the second in the series, Disappearing Act just weeks away from release this is the perfect time to hook young readers into an intriguing series from one of our best authors for the age group.


Being a Princess is Very Hard Work

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work

Being a Princess is Very Hard Work










Being a Princess is Very Hard Work

Sarah Kilbride

Ada Grey

Bloomsbury, 2018 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A21.99


Throughout the generations, inspired by storybooks and real-life princesses like Elizabeth and Margaret, Anne, Diana, and now Catherine and Megan, little girls have had dreams of being a princess, no matter how fleetingly.  But when the little girl in the story is dropped off at princess school by her parents, she soon finds it not just about pretty dresses and handsome princes.  

Being a princess is very hard work,

There’s so much to do it would drive you berserk.

Not only is there so much to learn like sitting on a throne for hours, practising handshakes and being tested by spinning wheels and dragons, but there is also so much you are not allowed to do.  No bouncing on the trampoline, no nits in your hair, no burping or farting or picking your nose… really, in the end it is much better to be an ordinary little girl.

With its fast-moving rhyme and bright pictures that are full of humour and detail this is a story that will not only illuminate the behind-the-scenes life of princesses but will also reaffirm that little girls are perfect just as they are.  

Lots of fun and perhaps an inspiration to look at what really lies behind some of the other glamorous jobs that appeal.

A peek inside....

A peek inside….

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

Finding Granny









Finding Granny

Kate Simpson

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2018

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


Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny, a bedtime, story-time pantomime granny, as I’m not afraid of some slime Granny.” She loves Edie and Edie loves her.  But when she has a stroke and has to spend a long time in hospital, Edie is confused by her ‘new’ Granny. Her Granny doesn’t need help eating her dinner!

Gradually, Edie discovers that even though this Granny is a bit different in some ways, at her heart she is still the same – a love as fierce as a lion Granny.

With stroke being the third leading cause of death in Australia and one of the top 10 leading causes of death among people aged 45 and over, Edie’s predicament is one that is faced by so many of the children in our care and so this is a really important book that has to be in the collection.  It’s superbly chosen text describes Edie’s and Granny’s relationship perfectly in a unique way so that the reader automatically sees that this is a close and loving relationship; the wordless page that just shows the ambulance with its lights flashing; and the simple explanation by the doctor that Granny’s “brain isn’t working the way it used to” are all that is needed to set the scenario for the big changes and challenges Edie is going to have to face.  Coupled with illustrations that show the emotions that don’t need words, this could be any child who is confronted by this situation – any one of them could be Edie. 

I know from recent experience how confronting and difficult it is to see the impact of age and illness on a loved one and to come to terms with this ‘different’ person, establish a new relationship and burrow down to the love that is still there albeit not so evident at times – and that is as a mature adult.  So it is even trickier for a child, although, again from experience, they seem so much more able to cut to the chase and work with what they are presented with, just as Edie does.  Nevertheless, there can be some confusion about feelings -“That’s not my Granny,” says Edie when she first sees hers in hospital – and so to learn that these are natural, acceptable and shared by other children will bring comfort and together, like Edie, they can move forward and develop a valuable, if different, relationship that still has love at its core. 

A book that should spark conversations and bring comfort…

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid










Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love

Walker, 2018

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


Going home on the subway with his grandmother, Julian spots three glamorous women dressed as mermaids and is immediately transported to his imaginary world living under the sea as a mermaid, at one with the creatures there.  He is pulled from his reverie as the train reaches his stop but the memory lingers and once he is home and his grandmother goes to have a bath, he uses the things in her apartment to transform himself – plant fronds for flowing, hair, lacy curtains for a splendid tail, and some lipstick. But then his grandmother comes out – will she scold him for becoming something so feminine or will she embrace his imagination and diversity?

In what is almost a wordless picture book, the reader has to immerse themselves in the pictures to really engage with this story that challenges the stereotype of being a mermaid being a girl’s dream and celebrates diversity, being true to yourself and accepted for that. 

One can imagine the eyebrows that would be raised on an Australian metro train should three glamorous women dressed as mermaids get on, each confident in themselves and their dress (reminiscent of the costumes of Priscilla, Queen of the desert)- but this is New York and instead of derision they encourage a young child to dream and then make that dream a reality. 

His grandmother, somewhat overweight but nevertheless flamboyant in her own style, is clearly very comfortable in her own skin, not driven by the expectations of others and definitely not the stereotype grey-hair-and-knitting that is so commonly portrayed in stories, and so it is not surprising that she embraces Julian’s desires and takes him to a place where he can truly belong. 

Because so much of the story is told in the illustrations, they have to be superb and they are. From the stunning undersea creature presenting the mermaid Julian with a coral necklace to the characters that Julian and his grandmother pass in the street, indeed even the women in the pool in the endpages, each with is imbued with personality and confidence and pride in who they are. 

This is a book that demands close reading and reflection so its riches are revealed; it is one that will raise questions and demand explanations; but to those who are like Julian and dream of things that are beyond the traditional stereotype bounded by gender, it will bring comfort and maybe confidence so they too can be themselves. 

Grandmas from Mars

Grandmas from Mars

Grandmas from Mars










Grandmas from Mars

Michelle Robinson

Fred Blunt

Bloomsbury, 2018 

32pp., pbk., $A12.99


Fred and Nell’s parents are off to an important meeting, as are many of the other parents in their town, and so the children are being left with Grandma. In lots of houses parents are saying,,,

“It’s school in the morning, they can’t be up late…

So: homework, a bath – and in bed before eight”

And the grandmas are saying…

“Eat up your greens”

Stop picking your nose.

Give grandma a kiss

What your grandma says goes.”

Meanwhile, on Mars the Martians are watching and they hatch a plan…suddenly the earth grandmas are beamed up and lookalike substitutes take their place.  Grandmas that encourage the children to eat junk food, stay up all night, and do all the forbidden things that have appealed for so long.  

But is it all fun?  Is this really Grandma? Is that a spare eyeball? A tail? A striped tongue?” As the penny drops and the children realise not all is at it seems, they run… but can they escape?

Refreshing as it is to see grandmas who are not stereotypical little old ladies with their hair in a bun, wearing a cardigan and satisfied with sitting and knitting (a concept somewhat alien to today’s young readers) perhaps a grandma from Mars is a step too far as alternative! Young readers will delight in this rollicking rhyming story with its bright actin-packed pictures that introduces someone who, on the surface, seems more the sort of grandma they want  but then will be grateful for the loving grandma that they have. I know Miss 7 and Miss 12 will be counting their blessings after reading this! And they may just be grateful for the lessons they’ve learned…

Be careful what you wish for!

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha










A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker

Candlewick Press, 2018 

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Just before the family leaves on a holiday at the beach, they bury their beloved dog.  As Sascha grieves and dusk falls, she takes her bucket to the ocean’s edge to collect stones to take home to cover the bare mound that is her dog’s grave.  Among those she picks up is one that is particularly bright and shiny and as she looks up to the stars she begins to wonder and trace the stone’s journey to its resting place on the shore.  From a meteor that hurls itself to Earth in the time of the dinosaurs to being picked up by Sascha and eventually placed on her dog’s grave,  it has a long and fascinating history that reveals itself in a series of stunning illustrations in this wordless text, traveling through time and across lands. 

But, perhaps most important of all, although Sascha continues to miss her dog terribly, she begins to understand that nothing is truly lost – everything, even a stone and a dog, has a history and a legacy and is but one piece in the jigsaw that is both our own and the planet’s story.  We are more than what is happening to us in the moment – all that has gone before has shaped us and what we do now will change us for the future. 

Described by one reviewer as the “young person’s Shaun Tan”, this story has so many layers to explore and ponder with each visit – Becker’s decision to not add text means the reader has to impose their own making for a wonderful opportunity to reflect and consider and wonder. Against the background of the muted palette, the gold of the stone stands out like a thread weaving its way through a carpet, just as our own individual stories while being but one strand of a much larger tale, nevertheless stand out for us.

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?









Is It The Way You Giggle?

Nicola Connelly

Annie White

New Frontier, 2018

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


What makes you special?

Is it the way you look or something that you can do?

Is it the way you giggle or the way you wiggle?

This is a new take on a perennial topic that will encourage little people to think about what it is that makes them special.  With the entire text being in question format as though the author is speaking directly to the reader, it provokes thought about those things that are unique to us that make us stand out, going beyond the obvious of the colour of the skin, eyes and hair and starting to look at the inner person-their personality, their expertise  and their mannerisms.  Even those with low self-esteem will be able to contribute something and perhaps get a little lift that there is something special about them.  

Annie White’s charming illustrations in watercolour and pencil show that even within one family of four kids from the same parents and exposed to the same sorts of things, there is huge diversity amongst them which is accepted, appreciated and celebrated within the family. 

Extensive teachers’ notes offer new ideas about using this book with early childhood children but as a parent-child read-along, it’s a great opportunity for a chat about how the child and other family members are special and even what makes the family itself unique.

Little Witch (series)

Little Witch (series)

Little Witch (series)









Secrets & Spells


Hauntings & Hexes


Plots & Potions


Aleesah Darlison

Big Sky Publishing, 2017-2018

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

The tiny beach town of Mixton Bay isn’t Courtney’s idea of a holiday. In fact, she thinks it the sleepiest, most boring holiday place ever and the house she is to stay in is so ugly even a dog wouldn’t sleep in it. But now her grandmother, whom she never met and whom her father hasn’t spoken to for years has died and her house must be sorted and sold.  But once she gets there her curiosity takes over and she starts asking questions about her family’s history and why it has been so fractured.  Little does she know that those family secrets, magic and mystery, and the memory of her grandma Delia will result in a special holiday to remember.

 When she finds a mystical ‘Book of Spells’ with her name on the box, discovers Ink the talking cat and a new surfer friend, Justice who has a secret of his own, suddenly her life gets very interesting and is changed forever.

The Little Witch Series features wholesome magical stories with gentle elements of tween/teen romance. The stories deal with realistic family and relationship issues set against a backdrop of fantasy and magical escapism centred in the real world. Light-hearted and funny, this series feature a strong, independent and unique female lead character whom readers will relate to as she confronts familiar situations with new solutions, learning more and more about her family and herself as she does so. 

No matter what series Darlison writes she has a knack of creating totally believable characters who are great role models for young readers showing independence, imagination and ingenuity while still engrossing them in a compelling and intriguing adventure.