Rainbow the Koala

Rainbow the Koala

Rainbow the Koala











Rainbow the Koala

Remy Lai

A&U Children’s, 2022

112pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


It is time for Rainbow the Koala to become more independent and so, after a year of being nurtured and comforted and provided for, he has to say goodbye to his mother and venture off on his own- find a new tree, seek his own food and generally be the adult he was destined to be.  But it’s not easy – for starters,  it’s not just a matter of climbing the nearest tree and calling it his.  It has to be the right species and unoccupied and with the way land is being cleared for humans and the drying landscape making them less nutritious,  there are not so many of the just-rights available.  Waterholes made by humans can be treacherous, dogs are not always the koala’s best friend and the smell of smoke on the air is a signal for alarm…

This is the first in a new graphic novel series called Surviving the Wild designed to make young readers more aware of the environment by viewing it through the lenses of those creatures that live in it.  The new NSW English syllabus, particularly, requires students to be able to “to express opinions about texts and issues… both objectively and subjectively”, so as well as empathising with Rainbow as they, too, face having to step out of their comfort zone to navigate the new world of school; meeting new people who, like Kookaburra, may not be as friendly as they expect, and having to solve problems for themselves, they also learn about the perils of things like habitat destruction, climate change, drought…  Being in the shoes of the main character, in this case a koala which automatically has inbuilt appeal,  helps them be more engaged and understand the situation better, hopefully inspiring them to become not only more aware but more active in environmental protection.  Inspired by the devastating bushfires of the 2019.2020 summer in which it’s estimated over one billion creatures were lost, there are extra pages explaining the origins of Rainbow’s predicament as well as ways that the reader can help by making simple, everyday changes. 

Hallmarks of quality literature include having characters and a plot which are engaging and interesting for the students, offering layers and levels of complexity that are revealed with multiple readings and which enrich discussion and challenge perceptions, thinking and attitudes.  This certainly does that and young readers will look forward to Star the Elephant which is already published and Sunny the Shark due in August. 





Tyenna: Through My Eyes - Australian Disaster Zones

Tyenna: Through My Eyes – Australian Disaster Zones












Through My Eyes – Australian Disaster Zones

Julie Hunt & Terry Whitebeach

A & U Children’s, 2022

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


They huddle low, nostrils burning from the smoke. A wave of despair flows over Tye. Nothing will survive this firestorm. The bush and everything she loves will be lost.

It’s the summer holidays, and Tye is staying at her grandparents’ lodge at Chancy’s Point in Tasmania’s beautiful Central Highlands. But her plans for fun with best friend Lily and working on her pencil pine conservation project are thwarted as fire threatens the community and the bush she loves – and when Tye discovers Bailey, a runaway boy hiding out, she is torn between secretly helping him and her loyalty to her grandparents.

As the fire comes closer and evacuation warnings abound, Tye is caught up in the battle of her life. Will she and Bailey survive? What will happen to her beloved pencil pines and the wildlife at risk? Can she and her close-knit community make a difference in a world threatened by climate change?

This is the latest in this series that offers fictionalised accounts of world events that help our older, independent readers not only understand what happened but allows them to process it.  By giving each story a central character such as Lyla who endured the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, the story becomes one of courage, resilience and hope rather than an historical recount with meaningless facts and figures. It offers the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  

Like its predecessors, Tyenna is a well-written, well-researched blend of imagination and information that above all, tells a story of one girl’s experience -sadly one similar to that of  so many of our students who faced that dreadful Black Summer of 2019-2020 when the whole of the east coast of the country seem to be alight – and shows that it is OK to have been scared and fearful, but that natural human resilience can prevail. The first to focus on an Australian disaster (it will be joined by Mia later this year), it will resonate with many in one way or another and thus, if you have a system that places trigger warnings in your books, this may be one to consider.  

While we would all like to protect our kids from the disasters of modern times, natural or otherwise, that can be an impossible task as the world now comes to them in the palm of their hands, but stories like this can offer insight, understanding and a feeling that they too, have come through the other side – often shaped by it but also more resilient and courageous because of it. 



One Potoroo

One Potoroo

One Potoroo











One Potoroo

Penny Jaye

Alicia Rogerson

CSIRO Publishing, 2021

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


Two Peoples Bay on the southern coast of Western Australia, just east of Albany, and fire is bearing down fast on the last-known natural population of Ngilkat, or Gilbert’s Potoroo.

After the flames have passed leaving only ash and bones behind,  gentle hands find a tiny, burned potoroo huddling under a slab of granite; hands that are checking, caring, soothing and which pop him into a warm sack where he will be safe and secure on the journey to a new place.  A place that doesn’t smell like home but which doesn’t smell like smoke and ash either, but where he will be cared for until he can be found a new home.  A home that has granite boulders – but no pythons; a home that has melaleuca thickets – but no foxes.  A home that has deep leaf litter and truffles – but no cats.  Because this little chap is one of just a handful of his kind left on the planet, a species that was known to the Noongar people for tens of thousands of years, but was thought extinct because of the impact of introduced animals, and which had been rediscovered just 20 years earlier.

And so when his wounds have healed he finds himself once again in the sack and on the truck, this time heading to a new home in the Waychinicup National Park where there is food and protection from the predators.  And where there are others of his kind who offer the promise of life…

While we  have heard much of the plight of the koala following Black Summer, and Jackie French told us of the wombats, it is hard to grasp the extent of the destruction of all wildlife and their habitats until stories like this are put before us. Beautifully illustrated and narrated in a matter-of-fact way but with carefully chosen vocab that make the text as gentle as its subject, there is a desire to learn more about this tiny little creature, even form a cheer squad for its survival.  There is more information at the back of the book to whet the appetite but this is a story to tell and a book to promote to any child or teacher planning to investigate Australia’s endangered species, because it is our rarest mammal and the world’s most endangered marsupial. Extensive, teachers’ notes  covering science, sustainability and English are available and include suggestions for titles for related books such as Hold On! Saving the Spotted Handfish.

It is part of the unique story of our country, and the  courage and resilience of its inhabitants.




Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Combat Wombat to the Rescue










Combat Wombat to the Rescue

Gina Newton

Tiffanee Daley

Ford Street, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Combat Wombat, Wildlife Warrior of the Bush is fast asleep when he is woken by the other creatures, wanting to play. But there is no time to play because Combat Wombat’s super-sensitive nose, ears and paws have picked up some unmistakable signals – there is a bushfire on its way.  Quickly organising  his friends to be in charge of certain elements of safety, Combat Wombat leads them to Billabong Island where they will be safe.  Even though there are significant obstacles on the way he uses his special talents to overcome these until he gets to the river’s edge.  All the others can get across the water, but wombats are not built for leaping, flying or swimming.  Can he trust Bingo Dingo to get him there safely?

This is a story for younger readers that puts the plight of wildlife during a bushfire firmly in focus, particularly relevant given the events of last summer.  By using their special talents and working together, the creatures keep themselves safe, a lesson that goes beyond this particular situation. Much of the story is told in the artwork which is unique and Tiffanee Daley has shared her technique in this video.

Teachers’ notes offer a variety of ideas about how to use this book in the classroom with little ones but I believe they will enjoy it just for its own sake. I did.

The Fire Wombat

The Fire Wombat

The Fire Wombat











The Fire Wombat

Jackie French 

Danny Snell

HarperCollins, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


A curl of smoke appears on the horizon, gradually getting bigger, blacker and more ominous as it comes closer.  The parched earth burns and day becomes night as the ash-thick air envelops all before it and beneath it. 

Nowhere above the ground is safe for anything with two legs or four, but this is not the animals’ first fire and Wombat knows where to go and what to do. And when it is finally safe to emerge, the landscape is unlike the one they had left… grey, charred, burnt, devoid of both food and water. But a primeval instinct drives Wombat and she pushes on and on, seeking the liquid that would mean life…

Written about a little wombat that stumbled onto her Araluen Valley property and then collapsed, this is Jackie French’s own story of resilience and hope amidst the horror that was the summer of 2019-2020 when she and those she loves were surrounded by four fires and the future looked bleak, if not dire. It is a story about how when things seem to be at their worst, basic human nature, kindness and goodness prevails and we look out for those who are in worse circumstances, including our precious but often helpless wildlife. Even though what is done initially may not solve the problem, it is something that can lead to something else and something else… Like the Fire Wombat, we just need to keep searching until we find what we need.

It is a story that  embraces all the age groups – on the surface it is a story for little ones about a little wombat whose basic instinct is preservation and which perseveres to find what it needs; but it is also for older students who can consider the sort of assistance that is required and what they can do; maybe even what they can do to prevent fires of the future. The teachers’ notes which I wrote span all these aspects offering another avenue for our students to heal from that awful summer.  Pandemic or not, there are still many wounds to tend to.

No matter at what level you read this beautiful story – along the lines, between them or beyond them – you  will acknowledge that Jackie French is indeed a master storyteller, and her words have been enriched and enhanced by Danny Snell’s sensitive artwork.

And the rainbow after the rain, the dawn after the dark? Jackie has just shared that the Fire Wombat now has a baby of her own, “black as charcoal, fat and bouncing” . She glimpsed them in the valley three weeks ago and Fire Wombat is fat and happy too! 


Nala the Koala

Nala the Koala

Nala the Koala











Nala the Koala

Penny Min Ferguson

Puffin, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99


Fire has destroyed Nala’s treetop home and now she must find somewhere new to live.  But being a koala means that not just any place will do and the quest is not as easy as it seems…

This is a timely story in the wake of the devastation of last summer and the weather beginning to warm up again with a new fire season on the horizon. It is an opportunity to investigate just what Nala and all her cousins need to survive – indeed, any of the species that were so affected by the events of last summer – and what it is that humans can do to assist that. 

Told in the pictures as much as the words, and primarily aimed at young readers, there is also the opportunity to examine how humans may have contributed to those catastrophic fires through our everyday actions. Given recent events in the NSW parliament, older readers could also investigate whether fire is the greatest threat to koala populations or if it is a much broader issue than that.

With all royalties being donated to WIRES , this is an opportunity to initiate some meaningful, in-context research that will resonate with students across all ages.  The power of the picture book to raise awareness and take action.


Tippy and Jellybean – The True Story of a Brave Koala who Saved her Baby from a Bushfire

Tippy and Jellybean

Tippy and Jellybean










Tippy and Jellybean – The True Story of a Brave Koala who Saved her Baby from a Bushfire

Sophie Cunningham

Anil Tortop

Albert Street Books, 2020

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Tippy and Jellybean live in the beautiful eucalypt forests bordering Australia’s high country in Victoria. Life is as it should be for mum and bub until one day in Summer 2019 just as it is turning over to 2020, they wake to smell smoke on the hot, windy air. While the kangaroos and wallabies bound away, the wombats crawl deep into their burrows and the cockatoos take off in noisy flight, Tippy and Jellybean can do none of those things.  As koalas, their only sanctuary is to climb to the top of the tree and hope they will be safe from the fire dragon that is on the warpath.

Curling herself around Jellybean, Tippy protects her baby from the flames even though she herself is burned…

Amidst the horror that was the summer of 2019-2020 , one of the enduring stories for our young readers is that of the impact on the wildlife. So to have this charming true story that not only tells of Tippy and Jellybean’s recovery but also of the dedication and expertise of veterinary professionals to preserving what they can offers a feel-good followup that will go a long way to helping the children heal too. And we are desperately in need of feel-good stories right now.

As fate would have it, Gelantipy was on my list of go-to places after having seen a documentary about in on ABC Back Roads, (it’s a comfortable drive from here) and we had a trip planned, but the fires beat us to it. Then we ourselves had to evacuate… So to know that there is a happy news story, the words interpreted in gentle, non-threatening illustrations by Anil Tortop, and that this is just one of so many creatures saved and treated by carers (many volunteers, some from overseas) strengthens my desire to explore this area as soon as.

To show our young readers that there can be happy endings, that in a time that seems so relentlessly harsh and tough there can be hope and help on the other side, and that Mother Nature can rise up no matter how beaten she is is what our students who have endured the fires, both first-hand and vicariously need right now.  Reassurance can sometimes be the greatest gift and this book provides that.

Dedicated to all the creatures that were not as lucky as Tippy and Jellybean, the publisher will donate $1 from every copy sold of this book to the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund, to help fund emergency veterinary assistance and scientific intervention.