The Supernatural Survival Guide

The Supernatural Survival Guide

The Supernatural Survival Guide











The Supernatural Survival Guide

George Ivanoff

Puffin, 2021

176pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


All Hallows Eve, that special night dating back to the 0th century Celtic festival of Samhain when its celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical and spirit worlds blur, allowing more interaction between humans and the inhabitants of the Otherworld. It was held on October 31 to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the long dark winter, particularly in those northern regions of what is now the United Kingdom and bonfires were lit to entice the sun to remember to come back.  It was the final night that the souls of those who had died could roam before ascending to heaven or descending to hell.

As time passed, civilisations rose and disappeared and beliefs and festivals waxed and waned,  the time known as Hallowe’en and all the traditions of witches and ghosts, and masks, costumes and jack-o-lanterns to scare them off has evolved.  So the release of this book, which attempts to make the paranormal more normal is timely.  Drawing on his personal long-term fascination with “the supernatural, the paranormal, the mysterious, the unknown the unexplained and the downright weird” and taking on the role of a child caught between a dad who believes that things like UFOs, ghosts and the yeti are true – “the truth is out there” – and a more practical, pragmatic mum who has a sensible explanation for noises in the night and strange sky shapes; Ivanoff has investigated the more common phenomena and offers a scientific explanation or debunks them.  “The truth is in here!”

Using the child-friendly format of The Australia Survival Guide and The Human Body Survival Guide he tackles topics like  Is the Loch Ness Monster real? Does Big Foot exist? Are there scientific reasons for hauntings? What is cryptozoology? What can explain UFO sightings by multiple witnesses? So young readers will be well-armed as the spooky season approaches.  (And given that The Australia Survival Guide was published just before the Black Summer of 2019-2020, this could prove particularly useful!















Neridah McMullin

Sarah Anthony

Walker Books, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


In 1889, A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson in his tribute to the iconic Clancy of the Overflow, wrote…

In my wild erratic fancy, visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And in this stunning book those pleasures are brought to life by the lyrical text and the evocative illustrations as the reader joins Drover on the trail as the herd of bullocks are moved over the vast interior of this country.  Even though each day seems to be a repeat of the routine of the one before it, the ever-changing land and sky scapes make each unique and enjoyable, even though they are bone-weary and saddle-sore and a tiny bandicoot spooks the flighty Shifty so the whole herd stampedes. 

But there is a twist in this tale – for it is only once they have wheeled the bullocks into Dajarra to the thrill of the gathered crowd, after thousands of kilometres and six months on the trail that the identity of “Drover” is revealed to be Edna Jessop, a real-life character and Australia’s first female boss drover who took this herd from WA to Queensland in 1950 after her father fell ill.  

Droving cattle is not just a part of this country’s history, but also its present as during recent droughts many farmers have been forced to send their stock out onto the long paddock,  the term given to the travelling stock routes that traverse outback Australia. Many has been the time when we have slowed to pass the herds as they graze the verges of the highway, drovers and dogs on high alert as the traffic passes within metres.  So as well as celebrating the remarkable story of Edna Jessop, it also opens up another avenue of exploration to explain where we have come from, perhaps even inspiring them to plan a family journey to discover those pleasures that Paterson, Clancy and Edna all experienced.   















Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2021

320pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad…

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda…

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared…

Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated and they were…

Maybe there will peace and happiness for Felix at last…

Now Zelda learns her grandfather’s story…

Always stay hopeful…

In this incredible series that has been 16 years in the writing, Gleitzman has tackled the most confronting of issues in the world’s recent history spotlighting the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence, the death and the ever-present fear that was the reality of the times and which form the stories of their grandparents and their great-grandparents who are at the root of today’s multicultural Australia.

And now the final chapter has been written…”I’d always known that this story would take us back to where we first met Felix, and that we’d be taken there by his own voice, as we were that first time in Once. But in Once Felix was ten years old. In Always he’s eighty-seven.”  But from the very first chapter the prejudice, the persecution, the racism, the horror, the violence, the death are still there.  Has history taught us nothing? Or has it taught us but we have failed to learn?

In these current times of lockdowns and restrictions those who are older try to help our younger ones cope with the isolation by saying things like, “At least you’re not sleeping in a train tunnel because there are bombs dropping on your home” but whilst a fact of life for so many at the time, it is  too far removed for them to understand.  So this series with the story told by those who were there, who lived it at the same age as they are brings home what that sort of deprivation is, and perhaps gives them hope of better things to come. It is a story as relevant now as it was when it first began and even though those original readers, those who “have now grown old but are still young” will want to read this final chapter.

The impact of the series, its well-knownness, the power of Gleitzman’s words, story and vision will attract more readers and reviewers and nothing that I can write will enhance what already exists. It is time for me to renew my first acquaintance with Felix from all those years ago, follow his journey all over again and then savour the full circle of his life.  In the story of the writing of this final chapter, Gleitzman says “I hope you feel it was worth the wait.”  All I can say is, “It absolutely was!”




We Go Way Back

We Go Way Back

We Go Way Back










We Go Way Back

Idan Ben-Barak

Philip Bunting

A&U Children’s, 2021

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Sooner or later a young child will ask, “Where did I come from?” and this will be the perfect book to have on hand.  But it is not the “birds and the bees” talk that might be expected, but rather an attempt to simplify the scientific explanation for life on earth, starting with the big bang theory.

Using a mix of clever illustrations, well-chosen language and layout, the reader is taken on a journey that asks what is life and then travels back in time to the first elements found in the seas which joined together to form molecules and how things evolved from there culminating in a triple-page spread of life on Earth. But then the final endpages put it all in perspective!

Ben-Barak, who has degrees in microbiology and in the history and philosophy of science as well as one in library sciences, has a knack of using his knowledge to simplify science for children in a way that intrigues them and captures their imagination – Argh! There’s a Skeleton Inside You and Do Not Lick This Book – while Bunting had several books listed in the CBCA 2021 Picture Book of the Year Notables making this a powerful combination to introduce this tricky topic to young readers.   

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp












Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Jane Smith

Big Sky, 2021

120pp., 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 this, the fourth in the series, Carly is in London on holiday and finds herself transported back to the mid-19th century where life and expectations for women were very different from modern times and she meets the iconic “lady with the lamp” Florence Nightingale recognised as being the founder of modern nursing, travelling with her to the battlefields of the Crimea.

Much has been written about Nightingale and her exploits and achievements over the years, but with nurses so much in the frontline of this new battle with COVID-19, this is a timely release that allows young independent readers to learn about the early beginnings of this profession and how far it has come because of the courage and determination of women like its subject. 

 This  series mixes fictional characters like Carly and real-life women who have shaped the world, thus bringing history alive in a more personal way. By becoming involved in the narrative, perhaps even putting themselves in Carly’s shoes, the reader understands how the lessons the characters learn can be applied to the modern world. Other in the series focus on Caroline Chisholm, Dr Lilian Cooper, and Dame Nellie Melba, with Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Miles Franklin to come.  

The Imagineer

The Imagineer

The Imagineer











The Imagineer

Christopher Cheng

Lucia Masciullo

NLA, 2021

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Penny was an imagineer – one of those clever people who can create in their head and then craft with their hands. All day long she would look at the everyday things around her and imagine how they could be used in a different way, like turning an umbrella upside-down to catch the rain and use its unique shape to funnel the water into a mug with a tap.  She was always pulling things apart and then twisting and turning, screwing, taping tying until they were back together again -sometimes as they were but usually not. 

Her imagination knew no limits as she sketched and planned but sadly the little apartment where she lived was not as large.  However, Grandpa lived in a much larger house, one where he had lived for a very long time and the rooms were packed!  When Penny first visited, she was in seventh heaven. The treasures to be explored… And then she discovered the shed!

Between them, Christopher Cheng and Lucia Masciullo have used their imaginations and their incredible skills with words and pictures to craft a thoroughly entertaining tale that is rich in all those elements that make the very best stories for children – I had to check there were only 34 pages because there was just so much packed in even though the text is just the right amount.  The final foldout page is just adorable and young readers will spend hours just poring over its possibilities, lighting their own imaginations.  

And because it is a publication from the National Library of Australia, there are vignettes of the tools that are mentioned in the story with brief explanations of what they are and how or why they were used (because even the grown-ups sharing the story won’t be old enough to remember let alone used them, unlike me who still has some of them) . It is such a clever way of taking youngsters back to Old Worlds so they can see how things have evolved over time and allow them to speculate on how their own imaginations might develop them further.

To use Chris’s own words, this is a “most wonderful, phantasmagorical, increibleacious, stupendorific” read.

Story Doctors

Story Doctors

Story Doctors










Story Doctors

Boori Monty Pryor

Rita Sinclair

Allen & Unwin, 2021

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


What do you do when you are expected to review a book like this when you know you don’t have the knowledge, the skills or even the authority to do so?  And the text is so lyrical, the illustrations so sublime and the message so powerful that you just feel overwhelmed.

You let the words of others do your work because you know they will convey the power and the beauty so much better.

This is from its blurb…

This is a book for everybody. Welcome! Take a seat! And listen carefully, because this story has a heartbeat. Can you feel it, there in your chest?

Legendary storyteller Boori Monty Pryor invites us to travel with him from the first footsteps through 80,000+ years of strength, sickness, and immense possibility.

From the very first stories and art, to dance, language, and connection with the land, Boori offers a powerful, beautiful, and deeply rich account of Australia’s true history, drawing on a lifetime of wisdom, and on his generous instinct to teach and heal.

An exquisitely illustrated celebration of the power of storytelling to unite us, how nature connects us, and the wonderful truth that the medicine needed for healing lies within us all.

This is an interview with the author from Radio National which gives so much insight.
And this, the first few lines that demonstrate not only their origins and the thinking behind them but also the lyricism of the entire text… the language used is masterful and so clever, particularly the written version rather than just the audio.

And finally this – the explanation of the mesmerising, thought-provoking afterword on which the whole book was founded…


With the theme of the 2021 NAIDOC Week being Heal Country, this is indeed,  “an empowering story for all Australians, acknowledging our true history, embracing inclusivity, and celebrating the healing powers of nature and culture” from Australia’s Children’s Laureate 2012-2013.  If ever there were a book that epitomised the theme of Australia: Story Country, then this is it and it is one for all ages. 

Shackleton’s Endurance: An Antarctic Survival Story

Shackleton's Endurance:  An Antarctic Survival Story

Shackleton’s Endurance: An Antarctic Survival Story











Shackleton’s Endurance: An Antarctic Survival Story

Joanna Grochowicz

Allen & Unwin, 2021 

304pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


After the race to the South Pole ended in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen‘s conquest and victory over Sir Robert Falcon Scott. the fascination with Antarctic exploration was not over. Irishman Ernest Shackleton, a member of Scott’s original expedition in 1901-1904, turned his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. 

Thus, in August 1914, Shackleton and his men set sail for Antarctica, where they plan to cross the last uncharted continent on foot. But in January 1915, his ship, the Endurance, becomes locked in pack ice, slowly being crushed before the shore parties could be landed and, later, sinking without a trace. With no help available, to survive, Shackleton and his crew of twenty-seven men must undertake a trial even more extreme than their planned crossing of the frozen continent. Their aim is to make it home against tremendous odds, with only lifeboats to cross the heavy seas of the South Atlantic. And so the crew camped on the sea ice until it disintegrated, and eventually launched the lifeboats aiming for South Georgia Island, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles (1,330 km). As well as the ice and the ocean their constant companions were hunger, exhaustion, and uncertainty but  Shackleton’s extraordinary leadership skills drive them on.

This is an extraordinary tale of leadership, courage and teamwork made all the more remarkable because it is a true story, and while at the upper end of the readership for this blog, a story that will entice and engage those who crave these sorts of real-life adventures.  Told using narrative non-fiction the reader becomes one of the characters experiencing the events as the meticulously researched historical facts are woven into a compelling story.

A companion to Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey a journey which inspired my own mother throughout her life and led her to become the first female journalist to visit the ice , and Amundsen’s Way,  this is the third in this trilogy of tales from that Age of Antarctic Exploration that take the reader back into a world of curiosity and faith, courage, determination and resilience, well before technology made such exploits “safe”.  

Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories

Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories

Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories











Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories

Kate Pankhurst

Bloomsbury, 2021 

192pp., pbk., RRP $a14.99


Women have been responsible for many of the world’s most groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Kate Pankhurst tells the stories of some incredible female scientists whose hard work and persistence changed our understanding of science, and transformed people’s ideas of what women can do.

As a child Mae Jemison imagined herself reaching for the stars and that’s exactly what she did: she became the first African-American woman to go into space. When Elizabeth Blackwell was told women weren’t allowed to be doctors, she didn’t take no for an answer. Tu Youyou spent months on a remote island during the Vietnam War to try and invent a treatment for malaria – and she did it. Other women whose stories are told include Marie Curie,  Janaki Ammal, Caroline Herschel, Katia Krafft, and Rosalind Franklin so readers are introduced to some new names as well as those more familiar.

Including comic strips, family trees, maps and more, Fantastically Great Women Scientists and Their Stories is a celebration of women who made some of the world’s most important scientific breakthroughs.

This is another in this series by Pankhurst , a descendent of Emmeline Pankhurst, who looks at the impact of women in several apparently male-dominated fields, some of which are also available in picture book format. If our girls are to be inspired to reach great heights, it is empowering if they read of others who have done so and understand that perseverance and resilience are essential. 

The Amazing Case of Dr Ward

The Amazing Case of Dr Ward

The Amazing Case of Dr Ward












The Amazing Case of Dr Ward

Jackie Kerin

Tull Suwannakit

Ford Street, 2021

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


In the late 18th and early 19th centuries as more and more of the world was opened up by explorers like Captain James Cook, the botanists on board the ships were almost as important as the captains and the names of people like Sir Joseph Banks became just as famous as the adventurers themselves.  For as well as discovering the new lands, from them came new plants that could be eaten, used as medicines or for building things, offered delightful perfumes or provided shade.

But for every one of the plants that survived the long sea journey back to England, twenty others died as they were uprooted from their natural habitat and transported with little thought for their needs across windy, salty oceans.

From his home in a dirty, smoggy suburb of London where nothing seemed to survive the conditions, Dr Nathaniel Ward read about these exotic plants, their names and the adventures of those who sought to bring them to England, while, at the same time, those who had moved from England to other countries, particularly Australia, were desperately seeking the plants of home, something that would be familiar and help overcome the homesickness.  But one day when Dr Ward placed the pupa of a moth in a jar with some soil and sealed the lid, intending to watch it transform, he made a discovery that revolutionised the transportation and survival of plants forever as well as having a significant impact on the landscape of Australia.

Our library collections are often replete with books that salsify the curiosity of the animal lovers among our students yet somewhat lacking when it comes to those whose interest is in the plant world so this will be a welcome addition.  Despite being heavily based on fact, Kerin (author of Gold!)  tells the story in an entertaining manner and Suwannakit’s illustrations are both botanically correct and engaging making it an intriguing picture book that spans both fiction and non fiction.  If you yourself do not know of Dr Ward’s invention, read this and I promise you won’t look at a terrarium in the same way again and you will also have the basis for a series of fascinating science lessons.  Teachers’ notes are available.