The Last Zookeeper

The Last Zookeeper

The Last Zookeeper











The Last Zookeeper

Aaron Becker

Walker Books, 2024

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


In a not-so-futuristic time, the Earth has flooded and the waters continue to rise. The only signs of humankind are the waterlogged structures they left behind. Peeking out from the deluge are the remnants of a zoo, home to rare and endangered animals like elephants. giraffes, tigers, pandas  and rhinoceroses, who have hung on and clung on despite everything. Tender-hearted NOA is a huge construction robot who has found a new mission as the caretaker of the zoo’s beleaguered inhabitants, and despite towering above them, they trust him.  Bracing for the next storm, NOA builds an ark from the wreckage around him and together they go in search of new land, only to almost perish as that anticipated storm hits while they are at sea.  But then something miraculous arrives, and NOA not only discovers sanctuary for those he has saved, but something even more profound…

 Described by the publisher as a “luminous sci-fi parable for our changing world”, the only words in this masterpiece are a quote from primatologist and anthropologist Dr Jane Goodall,..

Only if we understand, can we care.

Only if we care, will we help.

Only if we help, shall all be saved.

But within the illustrations is a powerful story that is a parallel to the biblical story and which offers so many riches to explore, particularly by those who are so well aware of the need to protect and preserve the environment and the prospect of the impact of climate change.  So while younger readers may interpret this as a futuristic retelling of Noah and his ark, more sophisticated readers will bring all their own existing knowledge and experiences to tell their own tale as they examine the details embedded in the illustrations creating a unique, very personal story unimpeded by the text of another.  And while it may seem to be a story of gloom and doom that could be depressing, there is a twist that references the other biblical story of the Garden of Eden that offers hope that perhaps not all is lost in the post-apocalyptic world… 

Reviews of this amazing work abound and each suggests a new aspect, element or interpretation that could be explored including discovering Becker’s other work, The Tree and the River, which is a “time-lapse portrait of humankind – and our impact on the natural world”, making both of these core texts for older readers who, having asked what-if now want to consider what-next. So while most are touting it as suitable for ages 4-7, to me this is one for older readers who have an understanding of the current environmental uncertainty and who can bring that, as well as their knowledge of the biblical stories and the universal human need for hope to the table so they can really appreciate the beauty and value of Becker’s work.  

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure











The Squirrel and the Lost Treasure

Coralie Bickford-Smith

Particular Books, 2023

64pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00


As autumn turns to winter in the woods, and leaves and acorns fall, the young squirrel watches others scrabble to collect them, murmuring about a secret place in the centre of the forest where no trees grow at all.  As night falls she sees a solitary acorn lying in the leaves and gathering it quickly, she clutches it all night determined not to let it go ever.  When dawn broke she heads for the centre of the forest where there are no trees  no birdsong, and no other squirrels to steal her precious prize.  And there she buries it safe from the cold and snow to come.

After the long winter finally passes and Spring comes again, the squirrel hurries to find her treasure – but where is it?  And why has everything changed?

The creator of this “fable about growth, new life and finding hope in unexpected places” describes herself as “a designer of fine things, mostly books” and her talent is very obvious not only in the lyrical, almost poetic text of this book but also its presentation. Author-illustrator of this as well as  The Fox and the Star (2015) – the first picture book to win the Waterstones Book of the Year award – The Bird and the Worm (2017), The Song of the Tree (2020) and the designer of many more, particularly the Clothbound Classics series from Penguin, she has a distinctive style which turns a seemingly-simple story into something so much more, harking back to a style of bygone times.

This has a place in any library collection as much for its presentation as its contents offering goodies as rich as the acorn the little squirrel buried. 



What You Need to Be Warm

What You Need to Be Warm

What You Need to Be Warm











What You Need to Be Warm

Neil Gaiman

Bloomsbury, 2023

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


I have neither the desire or the skill to review this book because anything I say or write pales into insignificance in the presence of the wondrous Neil Gaiman. Thus I am going to use the foreword and the publisher’s notes to show what this book is about and why I immediately recommended it to colleagues who were seeking just such a piece…

in 2019, before COVID, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the current Israeli conflict, winter was coming to the northern hemisphere and people were going to be cold , especially people who didn’t have homes because they had fled the fighting in their countries or their homes, often their villages and towns, had been destroyed.  To draw attention to their plight Neil Gaiman asked his social media followers  what reminded them of warmth.  And from the tens of thousands of replies, each with a specific memory, he wove the responses into a long green scarf, so symbolic of being snuggled in warmth, and into a poem that became a film and now a book illustrated by people like Chris Riddell, Benji Davies, Yuliya Gwilym, Nadine Kaadan, Daniel Egnéus, Pam Smy, Petr Horácek, Beth Suzanna, Bagram Ibatoulline, Marie-Alice Harel, Majid Adin and Richard Jones, with a thought-provoking cover from Oliver Jeffers.

It is  “an exploration of displacement and flight from conflict through the objects and memories that represent warmth in cold times. It is about our right to feel safe, whoever we are and wherever we are from, and about welcoming those who find themselves far from home. “

Sadly, in 2023, winter is again coming to the northern hemisphere and more people than ever are without a home, or warmth whether that’s wrapping your hands around a baked potato on a winter’s night or wrapping yourself in a blanket knitted by your grandmother or just the warmth of feeling safe indoors, so sales of every copy of this book will help support the work of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which helps forcibly displaced communities and stateless people across the world.

And if you want to do more, check out Wrap With Love and perhaps start a knitting group in the new year.

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean











Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Melissa Greenwood

ABC Books, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Gaagal (ocean) is our special place,

we love to swim in the waves.

We’ll catch some yamaarr (fish),

eat, dance and play games.

Is there anything more iconic than the sights and sounds of little ones running down the beach to dip their toes in the cool waters of the ocean on a hot summer’s day, carefree and careless?

It’s a scene that has been and will be repeated for decades and decades as the sun beats down and the waves invite. But, after reading this lyrical ode to the ocean, perhaps this summer our children might stop and consider the privilege they are enjoying, maybe even offer a word of appreciation…

But first, before walking on Country, we talk to the land

and het her know that we re here to play.

We are grateful for what she has to offer,

we promise to take care of her during our stay. 

Woven among the stunning artwork that is so evocative of the experience if you take the time to look at it, is a description of something that has been done over and over and over – dancing over the hot yellow sand, gathering bush fruits and collecting pipis in the tide zone, keeping an eye out for sharks and knowing when it is safe to swim, watching the whales and dolphins twist and turn in their own special water dance, collecting shells, dodging crabs, building a fire to make lunch and sheltering from sunburn all taking on a bit of extra magic as the children play but all the while having that connection that keeps them aware of how lucky they are. “We say, ‘Yaarri yarraang gaagal, darrundang, Goodbye ocean and than you,,, until next time.'”. Each thing has its own particular and unique place in the landscape and landshape that is so much more than just for the delight and amusement of the human intruders. 

As with Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth, there are indigenous words scattered throughout,  and the full text is included in both English and Gumbaynggir in the final pages, adding to the resources for preserving and revitalising First Nations languages.  

This is another of a number of brilliant new books that help our children understand the significance of that now-familiar Acknowledgement of Country, perhaps even inspiring them to develop their own connections as another summer looms and they too, “must go down to the seas again”. 














Sally Soweol Han

UQP, 2023

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


Lewis has been in the noise of the city all day and he is really looking forward to the peace and quiet of his country home.  But on the way home, the bus gets a puncture and they are stranded.  Straight away the adults start to chatter-chatter-chatter so Lewis moves away and as he climbs into a field a whole new world of sound and songs opens up to him…

Anyone who, like me, lives in the country, will empathise with Lewis in his desire to escape the noise and busyness of the city.  Han has used a clever technique of using speech bubbles and words in the illustrations to convey all the sounds in this story, and this emphasises the continual and constant cacophony that we are surrounded by every day, particularly if you live in the city.  So not only is the peace of the countryside so different, it is very welcoming and restful.  And sometimes, even then, it is not until we are forced to listen do we actually hear, as Lewis does.

In her book,  Tiny Wonders, the focus was on the greyness of the city where everybody is too busy to stop and look at the colours in the cracks and crevices, and this is similar as we seem to be so busy making our own noise we don’t hear the songs that nature provides us with. 

Mem Fox once said that reading a story at bedtime is like “drawing the curtains on the day” and this story offers an additional element to that.  By taking the time and having our children listen to the sounds of night falling – the natural sounds of Mother Nature closing some things down while others awake to start their new day – can be very calming and soporific.  What sounds can be heard? What is making the noise?  Why are some creatures waking up when others are going to sleep?  All questions that can be explored in the morning…


The Disney Book New Edition

The Disney Book New Edition

The Disney Book New Edition











The Disney Book New Edition

A Celebration of the World of Disney: Centenary Edition

Jim Fanning

Tracey Miller-Zarneke

Dorling Kindersley, 2023

256pp., hbk., RRP $A65.00


On October 16, 1923, two brothers began a company that has brought immeasurable joy to millions of people throughout the world for a century!  Those brothers were Walt Disney and Roy Disney and their company was known as the Disney Brothers Studio. 

At a time when black-and-white silent films were state of the art, Walt Disney had a vision to create “a novel entertainment that was uniquely engaging” and for the Disney name to represent quality.  Nearly 50 years since his death in December 1966, one wonders if he could ever have imagined that company being what it is today. From a young lad who loved to draw cartoons that appeared to move as he flipped the pages quickly, to his first animated image in 1927 – a rabbit named Oswald – and his belief that “cartoon animation offers a medium of story telling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages around the world” the name Disney has become synonymous with family entertainment that is engaging and enchanting with memories and moments that last long after a particular feature has ended,  How many of us of a certain generation recall that special time at 6.30 on a Sunday evening, curling up in front of the television to see whether we would go to Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland or Main Street USA for the next hour? How many of today’s children view a trip to Disneyland as their must-have life experience?

And all this history and wonder is encapsulated in this new centenary edition of The Disney Book,  a glossy tome incorporating beautiful art and artefacts from The Walt Disney Company’s vast historical collections, with a decade by decade illustrated timeline spanning 12 pages offering an incredible archive of  all that the name Disney conjures up.

Updated from the 90th anniversary version, it includes all that has been achieved between 2012-2023 making it the most comprehensive collector’s item for Disney fans as well as those with an interest in animation, film-making, children’s entertainment  or aspirations of being the new Disney, themselves.  

For me, this is 256 pages of memories of childhood – mine, my son’s, and my granddaughters’ – so this will have a special place in our family library. 


Follow the Rainbow

Follow the Rainbow

Follow the Rainbow











Follow the Rainbow

Juliet M. Sampson

Anne Ryan

Ford Street, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.95


Ruby and her little dog Tavish are idling away a beautiful sunny day, fascinated by the patterns and pictures she finds in the clouds drifting overhead.  There’s a fairy with a wand, a witch with a broom and a wizard with a cape…

“I wonder what else might live in the sky,” Ruby muses as raindrops begin to fall and her dreaming is interrupted. As she heads for home, a rainbow appears and that sparks her curiosity too.  “I wonder what’s at the end of the rainbow.”  But when she asks the Scarecrow in the field, he has nothing to say and neither does Metal Man in the shed.  Even Lion left in the barn after milking doesn’t answer and so Ruby and Tavish decide to find out for themselves…

This is a story just ripe for sharing and exploring in so many directions – just as Ruby finds wonder in the clouds and the rainbow, so too do so many children and so there is a great opportunity to develop a rainbow of questions about clouds, rainbows, weather and colours to explore.  Each question might even be written on colourful paper and put together in a rainbow-shaped collage, just as those in the illustrations have been done, leading to all sorts of observations about colour and shape as each child finds just the right piece to add.

Then there are  the obvious links to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , both book and movie, that can open up new reading horizons while  the iconic song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland or Emerald City by The Seekers suggest artworks full of imagination and colour.

 And if those ideas don’t appeal, perhaps just take your little one outside and do some cloud watching together. 





Hope Is The Thing

Hope Is The Thing

Hope Is The Thing











Hope Is The Thing

Johanna Bell

Erica Wagner

A&U Children’s, 2023

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


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
These opening lines from Emily Dickinson’s poem, Hope is the thing with feathers   are the inspiration for this stunning picture book  begun after the devastation caused by the bushfires which ravaged so  much of south-east Australia in 2019-2020. 
A young girl who is a bird lover and watcher, as are the book’s creators, focuses on the birds around her as they return to their burnt-out habitats to resume the lives and lifestyles that are natural to them clearly with the hope, indeed expectation, that it will continue as always regardless.  The kookaburra sings, the baby emus learn to run, the parrot nests in the hollow tree, the seagull is still eyeing off the hot chips…
The last years have been tough for many, and there will be those facing new challenges as the new year rolls over, so this is a perfect book to share to show that hope for better things is what drives us forward regardless of how dire the current situation might be. While hope might be seen as unreachable as the eagle able to soar above and be free, it can also be as mundane as the ibis returning to raid the rubbish bins in anticipation of food.   If the bowerbird still seeks the blue among the black ruins of the landscape, we, too, can look for the diamonds amongst the stones. 
Erica Wagner’s extraordinary mixed media illustrations interpret the author’s lyrical words perfectly, the final illustrations showing that with hope, we too can fly…
Perfect for sharing with students at the beginning of the year as they think about their hopes and dreams for the year and start formalising goals they want to achieve.
Erin Hanson Poetry

Erin Hanson Poetry

Little Bat Up All Day

Little Bat Up All Day

Little Bat Up All Day










Little Bat Up All Day

Brian Lies

HarperCollins, 2022

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


Little Bat has never stayed up all day before! He always goes to sleep at the end of the night and so he is very curious about how the world looks when he’s normally asleep. He’s excited to see how everything looks in the sun and so he decides to stay up all day.

It turns out the world is a much different place – it’s hot, bright, and noisy and full of new things. . Luckily, Rusty the Squirrel is willing to show Little Bat around, even though Little Bat struggles to stay awake.  But when these new, fast friends separate at the end of the day, how will they stay in touch when one is usually awake while the other is asleep?

With a distinctive illustrative style that has won him a Caldecott Honor award among others for The Rough Patch,  this is a charming story to share with young readers who always want to stretch their bedtime because they think that something magical happens to the world after dark.  And it does – for all sorts of creatures who have slept during the day emerge when the sun disappears and the shadows take over.  So it’s no wonder Little Bat is curious about what happens in the world while he is asleep. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

As well as shining a light, so to speak, on the activities we diurnal creatures tend to take for granted, this is also an opportunity for young readers to learn about nocturnal creatures and consider why that is the best time for them to be awake. Why does Little Bat sleep during the day?  It can lead to investigations about why we have day and night, the phases of the moon, and even why all creatures need to sleep at some time.

More than just a bedtime story.  


Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance












Tarni’s Chance

Paul Collins

Jules Ober

Ford Street, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95


When Tarni’s mum says goodbye, all the colour and joy of life seem to go with her. Tarni retreats into her bubble. Her world became smaller and the air seemed thinner. But then Chance steps in . . .

As much as the text in this narrative of family breakdown, self-doubt and anxiety echoes the feelings of loss and loneliness that so many readers will have felt, it is the illustrations that make it so special.  Beginning in deep shades of grey as her parents argue, with the only colour being Tarni and her guitar, her bubble of music, a monochromatic scheme that continues as Tarni comes to grip with her loss, finding solace only in solo activities like drawing and reading, gradually being consumed by the grey of her grief.  Using handmade miniatures set against black and white photography, the reader is drawn deeper into Tarni’s world, but then Tarni spots a stray, ragged dog, seemingly as lost as she is, and there is a ray of hope.  Brief though it is, it shows both the reader and Tarni that there is still a glimmer of colour in the world, and when the dog returns the grey gradually disappears. 

While this is not the first book to use colour to depict mood and emotion in this way, and the use of miniatures and photography was a feature of the 2020 CBCA shortlisted The Good Son, nevertheless it is a powerful representation that those who have passed through the grey of grief will relate to, and those who are still in it will be buoyed by the prospect that colour still exists and step by step they will find it.