Jackie Kerin

Annie White

Ford Street, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $a24.95


Victoria, Australia in the 1850s and the word of the discovery of gold is spreading around the world. Among the tens of thousands of everyday fold who flock to the goldfields are two young English brothers and another two from Canada.  They decide to team up but they soon discover that despite the rumours, the streets are not lined with gold and nor is it just lying around to be picked up.

Searching for gold is hard work for little reward as you battle the elements, the environment, the crowds, the thieves, the law -and Ma Kilduff’s advice doesn’t really make things easier.  Still they persevere until one day…

This is the “inside story” of the discovery of the first large nugget to be discovered in Victoria, the  Blanche Barkly, taking the reader through the harsh, hard life that the goldfields afforded yet was accepted because of gold fever.  However as well as the story itself, in the final few pages the reader is taken on a journey that provides even more detail beginning with the impact that the goldrush and subsequent discovery of the Blanche Barkly had on the Dja Dja Wurrung, the traditional owners of the land., giving an interesting and original perspective that could be explored further in any curriculum studies of the topic.  Teaching notes are available but this lends itself to investigating  lines of inquiry such as…

  • How did the quest for gold impact the traditional owners of the land on which it took place?
  • How did it affect the environment?
  • Why did the government initially try to keep the discovery of gold a secret and did they make the right decision?
  • As the world’s second largest gold producer in 2020, what lessons have been learned  and what has changed  since the first discoveries? What differences would Ma Kilduff notice?
  • What has been the legacy of the goldrush 170 years on?

Alternatively, students could put themselves in the shoes of one of the characters from Ma Kilduff to Queen Victoria and research and retell the story from that personal perspective. Even just asking, “What did the author and illustrator need to know to produce this book?” would lead to some interesting investigations.

Hopefully the days of “This is Year 5 so it’s gold” and the meaningless study of facts and figures have disappeared so having s book as rich as this in offering different ways to learn about a critical part of Australia’s history is as precious as the metal itself. 



Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles

Puffin Littles


















Puffin Littles





The Solar System



9781760897024 (Sept 2020)


9781760897680 (Sept 2020)

The Ocean

9781760897666 (Sept 2020)

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


A familiar symbol in and on children’s literature for 80 years, Puffin introduces our young readers to a whole range of interesting information in this new series of non fiction titles, the perfect size for little hands. In them, he talks directly to the reader sharing information in manageable chunks in a layout that not only appeals but also supports their reading skills and their interests.

Little Cook: Snacks focuses on the fundamentals of cooking and preparing food; Little Environmentalist: Composting teaches them about composting and recycling to make a difference while Little Scientist: The Solar System takes them on a journey around the planets. Planned for September are three more which explore the ocean, robotics and the ANZACs. 

Not all children like to read fiction and so this series caters for both the newly independent reader and those who are almost there using its narrative style voiced by that iconic character to offer more than just a book of facts and figures. The contents page to help them navigate to a specific page and the glossary to build and explain vocabulary help develop those early information literacy skills while the quiz on the final page consolidates what has been learned.

Young readers will appreciate this series because there has clearly been a lot of thought put into addressing their unique needs as emerging readers as well as tapping into subjects that appeal. 


Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : A New World

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : A New World

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : A New World












Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : A New World

Jane Smith

Big Sky, 2020

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


On a trip to Sydney before being sent to boarding school in Brisbane, country girl Carly Mills visits the sights and sites of Sydney’s past with her new friend Dora. At Customs House they are refused admission because the exhibits are being changed. but when Carly picks up two shawls that drop off a trolley she is told to keep them as they are probably being discarded.

But what she doesn’t realise is that hers has a magic of its own when she puts it on- it transports her back in time to meet some of the influential women in  history.

In the first in this new series she is taken back to 1841 to the days of Caroline Chisholm and her work with new immigrant women and girls giving them a safe haven in the Female Immigrants’ Home and getting suitable employment. In others she meets Dr Lilian Cooper, Dame Nellie Melba, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Miles Franklin.

Written for newly-independent readers, the series is a mix of fictional characters like Carly and real-life women who have shaped the world bringing history alive in a more personal way through the narrative and showing how what the characters learn can be applied to the modern world. A companion series to Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy, this has great potential to introduce young readers to important people of the past in a way that will engage and educate at the same time.

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

The Schoolmaster's Daughter

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter










The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

Jackie French

Angus & Robertson, 2020

384pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


The turn of the 20th century, a new nation and perhaps a new start for Hannah’s family as her father has been appointed schoolmaster of the one-teacher school at Port Harris, a town founded, owned and ruled by one man who built the local sugar cane industry, itself built on the slave labour of the Pacific Islanders “contracted” to work and live in conditions that would rival the worst of what we know about the southern states of the USA.

It is not an auspicious start with the Cecily McPhee foundering as she was caught in a storm of Pirate Bay, and the shipwrecked travellers having to fight their way to shore.  While the men decide they will try to find a way to the port, the women shelter and are rescued by a young lad and taken to his family farm. But that young lad is coloured and the product of a mixed marriage between his white mother and his Kiribatian father and immediately the first ugly seeds of racism start to grow.  While Hannah and her mother have no qualms, the other women immediately adopt the holier-than-thou attitude of European settlers of the time and demonstrate why Jamie and his mum have been ostracised. 

Add into the mix Mrs Gilbert’s liberal views, her passion for women’s suffrage and universal education that includes girls and non-whites, so much so that she starts a secret school for Hannah and Jamie, and you have another powerful historical novel that is as much fact as it is fiction.  Once again, Jackie French exposes the reader to times past that have been hidden because men wrote the history books and directed the classroom curriculum by bringing her own family history to light and to life.  As the nation moved through the early months of Federation, the first tentative steps towards women’s suffrage and the introduction of the White Australia Policy that prohibited all non-European immigration and was not abolished until 1973 when it at last became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, Hannah and her mother unpeel those carefully constructed layers subtly and softly through staying true to their beliefs without fanfare or fuss and certainly not offence. Hannah’s mother is very well aware of the impact of scandal and how it would affect the progress of change.  Now, 120 years on, we are starting to see and appreciate the determination and strength of those shoulders on which we stand as we become and celebrate a nation of many cultures, enjoy universal education whose value is even clearer in current circumstances, and even our personal lives as we choose to marry or not, divorce or not, have children or not.

Definitely a read for older, independent readers, this is a story that has both the deepest of depths and the widest of implications as we really consider where we have come from as both individuals and a nation, and where we want to go.  For this is a unique time in which the world has paused and we can choose the future, personally and collectively.

Scientists who changed the world (series)

Scientists who changed the world

Scientists who changed the world







Scientists who changed the world(series)

Charles Darwin


Rachel Carson


Sir Isaac Newton


Anita Grey

EK Books, 2020

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

It could be said that never before in the lives of our young students, has science been at the forefront as it is at the moment.  Every night on the news and in other programs they have access to, science is featured along with the obligatory white-coated scientist as there are reports of progress in the race to a vaccine and treatment for Covid-19, the disease keeping them trapped inside. The importance of research, testing, trials and all the other vocabulary associated with the discipline is becoming a natural part of their vocabulary and there would be more than one little one who now has aspirations of finding that one thing that will save mankind.

So this new series about the scientists on whose shoulders today’s generation stands is timely, Apart from anything else, it demonstrates there are almost as many fields of science as there are people investigating and so if immunology and epidemiology don’t appeal, then there are endless other facets that might. The first three in the series introduce us to a physicist, a marine biologist and an anthropologist, all of whom changed the world’s thinking with their discoveries .

Using accessible text, colour illustrations and an appealing layout, young readers are introduced to each including not just their discoveries but also their early life that influenced the paths they took. With at least three more in the series planned (Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei and Stephen Hawking) this is a series that will be a most useful addition to the library’s collection because of its modern presentation and timely release as children return to the classroom with big dreams of adding their names to the list of world-changers.


ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front










ANZAC Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

Alison Marlow Paterson

Big Sky, 2015 

52pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


In the years of 1914-1918 over 330,000 Australians served their country in a war far from their homeland, more than 60,000 of them died. Five of these Australians were brothers; three of them were destined to never return to the home they loved.

The Great War brought enormous sorrow to families all over the world. In Australia there were few who escaped the fear, nor the tragedy. This is the story of the Marlow brothers. This powerful children’s book brings their story to life for future generations. It is a tragic tale of mateship, bravery and sacrifice; a heartbreaking account of a family torn apart by a devastating war. It is a pledge to never forget.

Based on the original title Anzac Sons; the Story of Five Brothers in the War to End All Wars, this important children’s book compiled by the granddaughter of a surviving brother tells the true story of brothers’ service, the impact on the family and community and weaves through the facts and history of the Great War and battles.

Combining beautiful prose and imagery including photographs, maps, letters and facts, the book will reach children of a variety of ages. Children, teachers and parents can read the letters her ancestors wrote from the trenches, walk in their footsteps and remember all those who have served throughout the generations to defend our freedom and our way of life. This and Dreaming Soldiers have been released as a special 2020 ANZAC Day book pack with a number of accompanying resources.  Details are available here

As we prepare to commemorate an ANZAC Day like no other in living memory, with services online and driveway commemorations, this is a book to be shared at this time so we can think about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before to keep us safe, and renew our commitment to what we have to do now to keep others safe.  And if you can’t get this one in time for this year, there are plenty of other suggestions here


Dreaming Soldiers

Dreaming Soldiers

Dreaming Soldiers











Dreaming Soldiers

Catherine Bauer

Shane McGrath

Big Sky, 2018

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


Jimmy Watson and Johnno Hogan were the best of friends – swimming-in-waterholes, camping-under-the-stars, sharing-water-bottles kind of friends. Throughout their lives they did everything together and even when their paths diverged because there were different rules and expectations for “white” and indigenous children then, they still came back together as close as they had ever been.  And then one day they went into town for supplies, heeded the call for men to fight in a war far away and enlisted…

This could be the story of any number of friendships of the early 20th century when ‘white’ and indigenous kids on farms formed friendships that were blind to colour, cultural differences or any other racial prejudices and its strong focus on that friendship is its positive. While the treatment of indigenous soldiers during the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since the Boer War in 1899 could have been its focus, its power lies in that spotlight on the friendship, the shared adventures and stories, the fears and hopes that are common regardless of skin colour. Teaching notes are available. 

As we prepare to commemorate an ANZAC Day like no other in living memory, with services online and driveway commemorations, this is a book to be shared at this time so we can think about the sacrifices made by those who have gone before to keep us safe, and renew our commitment to what we have to do now to keep others safe.  And if you can’t get this one in time for this year, there are plenty of other suggestions here



To The Bridge

To The Bridge

To The Bridge









To The Bridge; the journey of Lennie and Ginger Mick

Corinne Fenton

Andrew McLean

Walker Books, 2020 

40pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


Little Lennie Gwyther is fascinated by the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but unlikely to ever see it because it’s a long way from Leongatha in Victoria to Sydney in NSW.  And even less likely because the country is in the grip of the Great Depression and money is tight for train fares.  But when his father his hospitalised and Lenny takes up the responsibility of running the family farm, his parent decide to reward him for his hard work.  Lennie knows what he wants to do but because train fares are so expensive, he decides to saddle up his horse Ginger Mick and begin a journey that is the stuff of legends, 90 years later. So much so, that he is remembered in his home town with a statue to tell his story

Both Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean have created a sensitive reconstruction of Lennie’s quest, bringing to life a time of great hardship for families that might be being echoed in homes again now.  But Lennie had a dream and he was able to make it come true, so perhaps this will offer some hope and comfort to a new generation facing an uncertain future. Lennie’s story is one worth sharing, even moreso now.  Why not set up an opportunity for students to investigate stories of kids who achieved their dreams like Lennie and maybe share the dreams of their own?


Eureka!: A story of the goldfields


Eureka!: A story of the goldfields










Eureka!: A story of the goldfields

Mark Wilson

Lothian Children’s, 2020 

40pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


Like thousands and thousands of others, Molly and her father have emigrated to Australia to try their luck as gold prospectors in Ballarat, Victoria. Life on the diggings is hard and Molly misses her mother, who died before they left England.

A Chinese teenager, Chen, shows Molly and her Papa how to pan for gold and helps them when their food and money run out. Not everyone on the goldfields is friendly, however. Chen and other Chinese diggers are often bullied and the police lock up miners who haven’t paid the exorbitant gold licence fee. Before long, Molly, Papa and Chen are caught up in a protest that will become known as the Eureka Rebellion – a legendary battle that will profoundly affect them all.

Based on a true story, this intricately illustrated story gives an insight into what life was like on the Victorian goldfields particularly from the perspectives of a young girl and that of being Chinese.  For the Chinese were not welcome, were not trusted and racism regularly raised its ugly head.

 IMO historical fiction like this is a critical element of helping our students understand the nuances of life at the time, I wonder what a book of the future will depict about this time we are living through.  Because this is based on a true story it could also lead to investigating the sorts of documents that people kept,  like family Bibles, photographs, diaries and journals, and the role they play in helping us reconstruct the stories of the past. Perhaps students could document “A Day in the Life Of…” as a way of memorialising this time because what will happen to all the emails and photos and so forth that are only stored online, without a physical copy for posterity.

For those for whom a study of the goldfields is on the curriculum, this is an excellent example of how history can be accessed through a narrative and enable young readers to get a more human insight into the time that bare facts and figures do not offer. This is what Mark Wilson does best and in this, he is at his best.


Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King











Anzac Girl: The War Diaries of Alice Ross-King

Kate Simpson

Jess Racklyeft

Allen & Unwin, 2020 

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99  


It is 1914 and war has broken out in Europe and because of its ties to England, Australia is mobilising. On one of the ships leaving port is Sister Alice Ross-King who is not going for the adventure like so many of the men, but because her passion was nursing and her country needed her.

She thought she was ready but as the entry in her diary for April 29th, 2015, just four days after the Gallipoli debacle, shows, they were not… “I shall never forget the shock when we saw the men arrive covered in blood, most of them with half their uniform shot or torn away. They kept coming, seven at a time.  Soon all our beds were full and new ones were being brought in and put in every available corner…”

Written by Alice’s great-granddaughter and taken from the actual diaries of Australia’s most decorated woman, this remarkable book, a seamless weaving of text, diary entries and illustrations, offers an extraordinary insight into life during World War I for those at the front line. It begins as a love story but when her fiance is killed, Alice has to find a way to carry on despite her grief, to put her duty before her personal loss and feelings. 

As we are unable to commemorate Alice and all our other men and women in familiar ANZAC Day activities this year, sharing this story and others like it, is one way we can take ourselves back in time to remember just how it was we have arrived at where we are, and perhaps put any current hardships into perspective.  Perhaps older students could research the stories of one of their family members, trace their family tree and write the diary that that person might have written as their contribution to honoring those who have gone before in the absence of traditional tributes.