What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did on Thursday


What Zola Did on Friday


What Zola Did on Saturday


What Zola Did on Sunday


Melina Marchetta

Deb Hudson

Puffin, 2021

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

This great series for newly independent readers continues with the  release of three new titles and concludes in September with What Zola did on Sunday.

Readers first met Zola, her cousin Alessandro and her friends last year in What Zola Did on Monday  when she roped her Nonna into helping rebuild the community gardens and as her adventures continued in subsequent books, so the community got to know each other and bonded. And so in these latest releases, even though she continues to get into strife – forming a band and upsetting a cranky neighbour, painting Nonno Nino’s little yellow boat; helping Nonna with her prized tomatoes; and joining in the fun of the St Odo’s Day fete – she still manages to bring the community together so that instead of being isolated individuals as they were to start with, there are now friendships and love and laughter.

Inspired by her own daughter who was intelligent but reluctant to read, Marchetta has written this series with its humour, relatable characters and all the supports for those building their confidence with novels, so that others can grow as her daughter did. She has taken parts of her daughter’s character and family members and events and melded them into stories that not only her daughter was able to relate to, but just about every other child in Australia.  While there is a vast variety of characters, settings and plots in children’s stories today (as opposed to the good vs evil didactic tales of the past) those that resonate with readers, particularly reluctant ones, are those in which they see themselves, where they can put themselves into the events and become a participant rather than an observer.  So creating something with a big family, cousins who live in the house behind you, a hole in the fence to climb through so you can play together and a street of diverse interesting neighbours to explore means that this has wide appeal for so many. 

It’s a perfect series to binge-read during this lockdown and inspire the children to get to know their communities better when they are allowed out to play again. There are teachers’ notes available  and Thursday has an activity pack that could be used as inspiration for children to build their own for the others in the series. 

Zola, her friends and their adventures have become a friend over the last 18 months or so and it’s sad that the series is complete, but I’m glad they were in my life. 


All About Diversity

All About Diversity

All About Diversity











All About Diversity

Felicity Brooks

Mar Ferrero

Usborne, 2021

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


“Being different from each other is called DIVERSITY”  and this entertaining book explores a range of ways people can be different such as what they look like, where they live, the sorts of families they live in, the foods they eat and the way they spend their time.  Using a two-page spread , lots of illustrations accessible text and speech bubbles, its design encourages the young reader to explore each vignette and learn something new each time. There is also a glossary to explain some of the trickier words as well as notes for the grown-ups that explain why promoting diversity and inclusion is critical for the healthy well-being of our children.


A peek inside....

A peek inside….

Although this is a topic that early childhood teachers focus on each year this books gives a real focus and explanation to those aspects that their students are most aware of, making it an excellent foundation for an ongoing unit of work.  Inspired by the stimuli provided, children could create their own class pages featuring themselves and their lives making it a powerful resource for both social and language development. 

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. 

A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars











A Glasshouse of Stars

Shirley Marr

Puffin, 2021

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

In this intriguing novel, the author has drawn on the good, the bad and the ugly of her own experiences of arriving in Australia in the 1980s after being a refugee on Christmas Island and having to adjust to such a different life and lifestyle.  Her “Western mind and Eastern heart” resonate throughout the story, offering the reader an insight into what it must be like for so many of their peers and perhaps helping them to understand and interact with them better.  

Jessica Townsend, the author of the Nevermoor series, has described this book as “‘Heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic. This is a special book from a powerful, compassionate new voice in children’s literature, destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine).’  And, really, that says it all. More for the upper end of the readership of this blog, nevertheless it is one that needs to be shared with your mature, capable independent readers who are wanting something that will engage them and stay with them long after the last page is read.  While they will need to have some tissues handy as they ride the rollercoaster of emotions as Meixing faces the changes and the accompanying ‘big scaries’ they will rejoice in her resilience and ultimate triumph. 


Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers

Music for Tigers










Music for Tigers

Michelle Kadarusman

Pajama Press, 2021

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


“The first sound I hear in the forest at the bottom of the world is Vivaldi’s ‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons. There’s a movement in the violin concerto that’s meant to mimic the sound of birds. When I step off the bus in the Tarkine bush, that’s exactly what I hear. An orchestra of birdsong descends like musical rain from the Tasmanian treetops.”

Shipped halfway around the world from Toronto to Tasmania to spend the summer with her mother’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. All she wants to be is a violinist, not a biologist like her mother but her mother has discovered that the family-run sanctuary is about to be destroyed and thinks Louisa needs to know more about her heritage.

Life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odours in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock. 

Finally, when Uncle Ruff gives Louisa her great-grandmother’s diary, she learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor-a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust. 

As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin a young lad on the autism spectrum; with the forest;  and-through Eleanor’s journal-with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever? 

This is an intriguing read for independent readers who are looking for something different, and something that will stay with them long after the last page is read. The Tasmanian Tiger remains an mysterious, elusive creature which fascinates because of the sporadic “sightings” and suggestions that it may not have become extinct when the last one died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. Acknowledging the expertise of the land’s traditional owners, it is one that has the preservation of the environment at heart, but also the changing nature of people and families as they learn more about who they are.

Written for readers at the upper age limit of this blog, I, as an adult, was engrossed and I could hear myself reading it to a class of entranced listeners. 


The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife










The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife

Maz Evans

Hodder Children’s, 2021

225pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Scarlett Fife has BIG FEELINGS. And when she has BIG FEELINGS, they explode out of her like an over-squeezed stress ball.

Scarlett’s in big trouble after a BIG FEELINGS episode leads to a runaway hamster getting into the vicar’s trousers at her aunty’s engagement party. If she loses her temper ONE MORE TIME, she’s going to miss out on her trip to Mega Awesome Sicky Fun World, the best theme park on the planet.

But feelings are like slime in a party bag. No matter how much someone tells you to keep it in, it’ll always find its way out. And very soon, Scarlett notices that every time she pushes her feelings down, something explodes. Like … really, properly explodes.

It might be her teacher’s slimy green smoothie. A huge pot of purple paint. Or a massive pile of elephant poo at the zoo. And let’s hope Scarlett doesn’t get mad at Aunty’s wedding – that wedding cake is HUGE …

Start a story with “I AM SO ANGRY I THINK MY BUM MIGHT FALL OFF’ and populate it with characters who are instantly relatable to its audience, add modern illustrations and a graphic layout and you have a story that is going to appeal to a wide number of newly independent readers, particularly girls who understand Scarlett’s frustrations. This is a new series  (with at least two more scheduled) for those in the 9+ age group who like humour, action and an assertive sassy heroine who can’t always control her feelings and her temper.  Most importantly,  it demonstrates that sometimes the healthiest way to deal with a situation is to let yourself explode, express your frustration and anger and not be the sweet, demure, considerate person that people expect you to be.  (Ask me how I know!!) But it also shows that there are times when you need to suck it up and move on – learning the when and why of both responses is part of maturing and that’s just what Scarlett and her readers are doing. 

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners










Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Joanna Ho

Dung Ho

HarperCollins US, 2021

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


“Some people have eyes like sapphire lagoons with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns, sweeping their cheeks as they twirl.

Not me.

I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.”

This is the stunning story of a young Asian girl who notices that her eyes are a different shape from those of her friends, but they are the same shape as her Mama’s, her Amah’s and her little sister’s,  All their eyes ” crinkle into crescent moons and sparkle like stars. Gold flecks dance and twirl while stories whirl in their oolong pools, carrying tales of the past and hope for the future.” And her own eyes “find mountains that rise ahead and look up when others shut down”. Through her lashes which “curve like the swords of warriors” she sees kingdoms in the clouds and because they are just like those of the most important women in her life, they are hers and they are beautiful. 

It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and nowhere is that made more explicit  in the exquisite language and beautiful illustrations of this story of discovery, revelation and self-empowerment. While we are familiar with mapping the differences in eye colour amongst students, seldom do we ask them to look at shape; while we are familiar with examining the mechanics of how the eyes work, seldom do we consider their origins, their legacy and their vision. 

This is such an original story, with such exotic, poetic language that it scarcely needs the illustrations, yet one that will resonate with so many of our students. While there are activities available, this is one that can be so easily enriched with the use of just a mirror and one that will be remembered for so much more. 

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger











Night Ride into Danger

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Braidwood, NSW.  June, 1874 and a typical cold, wet winter’s night.  But despite the weather, the Cobb & Co coach to Goulburn carrying passengers and mail must run on schedule and so, as usual, as they do night after night, Jem and his father are preparing to leave. But this is not the modern-day hour’s run on sealed roads between the two towns – this is an overnight journey with a uncomfortable coach and four horses that involves many twists and turns, each with its own danger. And added to the regular perils  like fording the Shoalhaven River, tonight each passenger has their own particular secret, each of which is gradually exposed as the journey continues and each of which shapes the way events will unfold. 

Nevertheless, with a mission to achieve, a contract to fulfil and a timetable to keep, Jem and his Paw set out as usual until disaster strikes and Jem finds himself in a situation that not only puts his physical strength, courage and determination to the greatest test, but also exposes Paw’s own secret, one which has a profound bearing on Jem’s life.

There are few authors whose new works I pick up and read as soon as they arrive, but Jackie is one of them, because I know I will be in for an engrossing read, meticulously researched and one that will have more layers than an onion. This is not just a story about Jem needing to dig deep to draw on his knowledge and skills and self-belief. It is about self-discovery, finding out who and what we are really made of, how our heritage has shaped our present and will influence our future and understanding that the public face is often a mask for the private persona. 

Competent, independent readers who crave a story that will engage them, entertain and educate them, challenge them and stay with them long after the final page is read will thoroughly enjoy this read, and if it is their first encounter with Jackie’s works, have them seeking more such as The Ghost of Howler’s Beach.

If you are looking for a new class read-aloud over the cold wet, wintery days to come, this is it. 



Dream Big, Little Mole

Dream Big, Little Mole

Dream Big, Little Mole











Dream Big, Little Mole

Tom Percival

Christine Pym

Bloomsbury, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99



Little Mole looks on with envy at the birds soaring through the sky, the ducks swimming, the grasshopper leaping and the squirrely climbing.

“I wish I could do that,” she said with a sigh.  Wise Owl hears her and tells her that rather than envying the others, she should just be herself.  But when Little Mole decides her talent is digging and sets out to dig the biggest hole in the world, it seems that everything just turns to disaster – or does it?

This is a gentle story-in-rhyme for young readers that demonstrates the meaning of clouds having silver linings.  Although it appears that her digging only upsets Fox and Hedgehog and Rabbit and she decides to give up, a meeting with Otter spurs her on and the ending is most unexpected. Perhaps Little Mole’s talent is more important than digging the biggest hole in the world.



Amira’s Suitcase

Amira's Suitcase

Amira’s Suitcase











Amira’s Suitcase

Vikki Conley

Nicky Johnston

New Frontier, 2021

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


When Amira’s family arrive in their new home as refugees, it is clearly different from what Amira is used to and she is felling lost and alone.  But hiding in her suitcase is a tiny seedling struggling for life and it becomes her new best friend, thriving as she nurtures and nourishes it. Something warm starts to grow inside her  as she is reminded of happier times. 

As children do, Amira meets some of the other children in the camp who share their seeds with her and despite being surrounded by poverty, tin shacks, and not much else between them and the friendship that grows like their plants, they are able to bring a little beauty to the bleak environment and harsh life that is now their reality. And just as the seedlings climb and reach for the sun, so do the children build hopes and dreams.

This is a gentle text that tells an all-too common story of displacement but it is tempered by the friendships that are born and thrive like the seedling in Amira’s suitcase. It is a story of acceptance and hope as the children reach out to each other oblivious to race, colour, beliefs and backgrounds, seeing only someone to talk to, to play with and who understands the circumstances. Smiles appear on their faces again as families meet new families and a community begins to grow because a little girl felt lonely and found a seed.

There will be children in our care who will have their own stories to share about camps such as that Amira finds herself in, in a world very different to what they have now and that of the children who are their peers.  But just like Amira they will build new friendships and a new future buoyed by seeing themselves in a story book, learning that just like plants, friendships need to be nurtured to make them strong and healthy.