The Kindest Red

The Kindest Red

The Kindest Red











The Kindest Red

Ibtihaj Muhammad

S. K. Ali

Hatem Aly

Walker, 2023

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


It’s school photo day and, unlike Australia where students are encouraged to wear school uniform,  Faizah wears a special red dress that belonged first to Mama and then handed down to her older sister, Asiya, Faizah adores the dress because of the kindness of family that has been woven into the fabric over time. To complete the picture, Asiya does Faizah’s hair in a special style and Faizah pins Asiya’s hijab with a special, sparkly pin.

When they get to school Faizah finds she matches with her friend Sophie, who is wearing a dress with red roses and a huge red sash. When their teacher. Ms. Ramirez asks the class to imagine the kind of world they want and to draw it, while others want an ice cream world or a unicorn world,  Faizah draws a kind world, and Sophie draws a superhero world. Then, throughout the day, they use their superpowers to make the world kinder, helping other kids by doing little things that seem little but mean much at the time, and brightening their days. By the time it is their turn for photos, everyone in class is smiling.

But when it’s time for sibling photos, Faizah is upset when she sees that, , she and Asiya don’t match., unlike all the other sibling pairs. She is in her special red dress, and looks nothing like Asiya. Can her friends find a way to help?

We first met Asiya and Faizah in The Proudest Blue  and this story is another charming celebration of family and friendship woven together through the strong thread of helping others not only being just what you do, but that kindness can come in many forms, and does not need acknowledgement or reward.  Being kind is an end in itself – it should never be accompanied by a “what’s in it for me?” motive. 

In The Proudest Blue, Mama advised her daughters, “Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them.  They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.” And in this story she tells them,  “My kind, beautiful girls. Remember, you are strong and smart. You can do and be anything!”  – again, wise words that should resonate with everyone, regardless of their ancestry or beliefs. 

There are comprehensive teachers’ notes available to support the book, but for littlies it might just be enough to explore  Faizah’s main point – a kind world is one where there is always a friend nearby to help each other – and let them share stories of how a friend has helped them or vice versa, to emphasise the point that kindnesses can be small, almost unnoticeable deeds and can permeate every minute of the day. Because, despite the subtitle of the book being “A Story of Hijab and Friendship” kindness is not restricted or limited by anything. It is universal.


Pippa and the Troublesome Twins

Pippa and the Troublesome Twins

Pippa and the Troublesome Twins











Pippa and the Troublesome Twins

Dimity Powell

Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.98


Pippa loves her new twin baby brothers, Pepi and Penn. But their constant mess and cries for attention are driving her batty and she  yearns to take off on her own to the Too-far-to-fly-to Forest but each time she asks about flying to the Too-far-to-fly-to Forest, her parents are always too busy attending to the babies.  Instead, they have left her to babysit the twins while they go off to find food.

Pippa has always been an adventurous bird even though her parents found it hard to let her be independent, but now they have given her the responsibility of looking after her brothers, she has to show that she is worthy of their trust. 

Like its predecessor, this story has themes that will resonate with many readers who have to come to terms with there being new babies in the family and the disruption to everyone’s routines that this causes.  But although this might seem to be just for younger readers, the excellent teaching notes that embrace all strands of the curriculum expand some of the themes for more mature readers too.  So while little ones can compare the arrival of the cat to the concept of “stranger danger”, older readers might investigate why birds can fly but humans can’t, or use their own experience to compare the pros and cons of being an only child to that of having siblings. Even more mature readers might like to investigate how picture books like this are used to address the issues that younger children face and then compare that to how their own issues are addressed in contemporary realistic fiction and why there is such a change of approach. 

Whichever level the reader is at, this is an entertaining story that deserves its place in the library’s collection.

Grandads are the Greatest

Grandads are the Greatest

Grandads are the Greatest











Grandads are the Greatest

Ben Faulkes

Nia Tudor

Bloomsbury, 2023

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


It is the summer picnic especially for grandads and their grandchildren and a chance to celebrate their relationship.  But being a grandad is about the only thing the men have in common . For each one has a different career or interest – baker, barber, explorer, inventor, magician… But they all share one passion – their love for their grandchildren.

Written in rhyme this is a joyful  picture book that honours these special men and the wonder and happiness they bring to the lives of their young ones.  As well as helping the child to understand the structure of the family tree, it also offers them the opportunity to share what is special about their own grandfather and would be the perfect companion to What do you call your Grandpa?

One to set aside for Grandparents’ Day in your school. 

Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up

Kensy and Max 10: Time's Up

Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up











Kensy and Max 10: Time’s Up

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2023

400pp., pbk., RRP $A21.00


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…

That was the premise of the first in this dramatic series for independent readers when it was published in 2018 and now, five years later, the final in the collection has now been released.

Someone has been plotting to bring down the Spencers ever since Kensy and Max were thrust into the secret world of Pharos, but they’ve always managed to stay one step ahead of their attackers . . . until now. As members of the twins’ inner circle – and Pharos’s top agents – start to go missing, it quickly becomes clear that someone is staging a coup. Soon Kensy and Max are on their own, racing to get to the bottom of the terrible situation before the organisation completely falls apart. And before their family is gone forever.

And testament to a quality series, the final is not only as engaging as the first but it still has those initial readers intrigued to find out what happens.  Author Jackie French once told my class that the secret to writing a book that will hook the reader is to create characters that the readers cares enough about to want to continue reading to find out what happens to them, and Jacqueline Harvey has certainly done this in this series, as my Ms 16 will testify, saying yes to having this copy when I offered it!  Modern, original,  fast-moving and sassy, independent characters who could be them make this one of the most popular and enduring series for young readers for some time. 

The benefits of series in a child’s reading development have been discussed on this blog often,. Apart from there being a next-read that is greeted with anticipation, series allow the reader to bring their prior knowledge of the characters, relationships, situation and settings to the story immediately allowing them to presume and predict, building both comprehension and fluency skills. So having a quality series of 10 solid reads available will give the young reader a promise of being able to indulge their interest for weeks , if not months. 

Desert Jungle

Desert Jungle

Desert Jungle











Desert Jungle

Jeannie Baker

Walker Books, 2023

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


Despite being surrounded by mountains of rock and cacti, the boy prefers to sit inside and experience the world through the screen of his tablet.  He fears going far from his home because he has heard the coyotes howling at night and the village dogs barking.

But then he goes to stay with his grandpa in a place far away, much more isolated than even his tiny village,  but it still has internet coverage and so his tablet remains his friend.  Until the night a coyote steals the bag with it inside, and in his search for it Chico’s life changes in ways he will never imagine…

Set in the Valle de los Sirios in the Sonoran Desert in Baja California, Mexico, Jeannie Baker’s magnificent and magical collage artwork brings to life an environment that shows that the desert is not necessarily the barren, desolate, lifeless place we envisage but one which is rich in flora and fauna and history.  While the landscape she portrays is a specific part of the Mexican  desert, nevertheless she raises the possibility that this could be a desert anywhere, just as rich in biodiversity if only we took the time to look and appreciate.

In her notes, she refers to “nature-deficit disorder,” where children are indifferent to their natural surroundings because they are isolated from it and ignorant about it, and  thus they are likely to fear what they don’t know, and what they fear, they will destroy. so this book has a much wider application than just introducing the reader to the wonders of a particular piece of this planet.  Even the juxtaposition of the words in the title is significant as it evokes two totally different images in the mind at the same time, neither necessarily as compatible as the title suggests, and those who are familiar with the author’s work know that there will be many layers to explore in both text and illustration.  For while it is the story of the boy’s individual growth as he learns to love the environment and those feelings of wonder and protectiveness follow him home – the lizard unseen on the rock at the beginning becomes a thing of fascination at the end – it could also be the stories of many who are given the chance to experience Nature at her best in the raw and in the wild first-hand.  How many city kids have never seen a dark sky glistening with stars because the city lights keep them in permanent twilight?  How many country kids have never felt the sea foam tickle their toes or been in awe of the power of the waves crashing on the rocks?

There are so many books for young readers that focus on sustainability and the need to protect the environment, but this is a masterpiece that shows them just what it is they are protecting.  And if not here, then where? 

It is nearly seven years since we were gifted Circle, and the wonder and beauty of Desert Jungle has been worth the wait. 


Shadow Catchers

Shadow Catchers

Shadow Catchers











Shadow Catchers

Kirsty Murray

Karen Blair

A & U Children’s, 2023

32pp., hbk., $A24.99


In the early morning they make shadows on the bedroom wall that are tall enough to touch the ceiling.

At lunchtime their shadows disappear altogether!

And in the evening, they can look scary and fearsome!

As with its predecessor Puddle Hunters, it is the everyday, take-for-granted things that give two children the greatest delight.  This time they chase their shadows across a day having so much fun with something that needs only a sunny day, some imagination and awareness.

Apart from just the sheer enjoyment of the story which exudes from each page, this is ideal for starting all sorts of scientific investigations about the light, the sun and its movement and direction,  as well as measurement if you map your shadow at different times of the day. 

Picture books that celebrate the joy of being a child, that take something as simple as a game of shadow catching that everyone can do and turn them into a magical experience, that make the ordinary extraordinary are among the best, in my opinion, because the young reader can instantly relate to them and join in the fun. Who wouldn’t be wanting to head outside on the next sunny day and have the same sort of fun? So whether it’s catching your shadow or jumping in puddles, share a memory-making moment that cost nothing!  




The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello

The Hats of Marvello











The Hats of Marvello

Amanda Graham

Lavanya Naidu

HarperCollins, 2023

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


In the small Australian country town of Mount Dry, Olive is preparing for her starring role as a narrator in the Year 5 play. It’s a really big deal for her and she is very excited so she is determined to shine  and so she needs the perfect costume. She is delighted when she finds the perfect top hat at the local op shop, but when she gets it home she discovers it has a secret.  A talking rabbit called Robbit unexpectedly pops out – and a rabbit is something that Olive has always longed for but can never have because they are considered pests on farms and her grandfather has repeatedly refused her requests.

Olive faces a dilemma – how can she obey her grandfather who is trying to rid the farm of rabbits altogether (and is obliged to by law) and still help Robbit who tells her that 100 of his friends have been kidnapped by the wicked Reynard  and need to be rescued?   Her hat is one of a magical set that allows the rabbits to travel between hats through time and place and so when they turn up on the farm  does she hide and protect them so they can go back to Wilby’s Magic Shop in England or does she tell her grandfather?

As well as being torn between Robbit’s pleas and her grandfather’s beliefs there is also the question of how a magician’s hat turned up in an op shop in rural Australia and so Olive is drawn into a mystery that becomes much more exciting than the school play.

Although this is a book that is based on mystery and magic, it is set against a backdrop of people and places that are very recognisable as they face familiar, real-life problems.  Olive has choices to make but there are many elements influencing her options and she has to navigate these while trying to make the right decision to suit everyone.

Short chapters and illustrations make this an intriguing read for independent readers, but one which has some more complex layers that will provoke thought and consideration, and perhaps even further investigation into the impact of introduced animals on the Australian landscape, particularly those species which have become feral.

Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks

Hercules Quick's Big Bag of Tricks

Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks











Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks

Ursula Dubosarsky

Andrew Joyner

A & U Children’s, 2023

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


One day while out shopping with his Aunt Alligator, Hercules Quick spies a magic box in a shop window, one that he knows he would love to own.  And while he is dismayed that he not only doesn’t have any money of his own in his piggy bank, he doesn’t even have a piggy bank, he is not daunted.  He gets out his paints and makes a sign offering to do jobs for his neighbours for 10c a task. He explains to Aunt Alligator that 10 cents a day will be a dollar in 10 days and that’s $310 in 10 months – surely enough to buy the magic box.

But quirky neighbours mean quirky jobs and he has to work hard to  earn his money.  Will he reach his target?  And will he still want the magic box if he does?

In this compendium comprising the first two stories in the series, Ask Hercules Quick and The Magnificent Hercules Quick  as well as a new story, younger, independent readers can  enjoy meeting this little lad who is much like them and consider its message about saving and savouring the anticipation of waiting, rather than the more prevalent one-click, instant gratification society we seems to have moved to. It also includes instructions for some of Hercules’s magic tricks for those who have a hankering to try.  

Something whimsical and fun for a winter’s afternoon.  

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. 

When I’m Big

When I'm Big

When I’m Big











When I’m Big

Karen Blair

Puffin, 2023

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


Everyone keeps telling me
I’m going to be a big girl soon,

but I wonder . . . Just how BIG will I be?

Often parents tell their children of the impending arrival of a new sibling, that they will be a “big brother” or “big sister” and this charming story explores what happens when the little girl takes this literally, as children so often do.  To her, “big” only means “large” and she has grave concerns that she might become so big she won’t fit in the bath or her bed, and instead of her toy giraffe she will only be able to play with the real ones at the zoo!

For younger readers, particularly those who are likely to be experiencing not only the introduction of a new baby to their lives, but all the anxieties about the impact that accompany that, this book is a conversation starter about the changes they can expect and how they will be an important and integral part of them. Little ones worry that the new arrival will usurp them in their parents’ affections and they need reassurance as well as examples of how they will be a vital part of the new situation.

But it can also be a starter for helping them understand how they have grown and changed already, reflecting on what they have learned and achieved so they start to realise that “big” can mean a lot of things.  A. A. Milne’s classic poem, The End is the perfect accompaniment as is this poem from Sounds of Numbers by Bill Martin Jr. (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; First Edition (January 1, 1966) which could lead to all sorts of writing and maths activities.

My name is Tommy

I am not very big

I am not as big as a goat

A goat is bigger than I am

I am not as big as a horse

A horse is bigger than I am.

I am not as big as a n elephant

An elephant is bigger than I am

I am not as big as a whale

A whale is bigger than I am.

I am not as big as a dinosaur

A dinosaur is the biggest thing I know. 

Sometimes you pick up a book that has the power to take you well beyond its pages – and this is one of those.