Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth


Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth











Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth

Steve Mushin

A & U Children’s, 2023

80pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


When the introduction to a book is entitled ” Ludicrous Ideas are Bootcamp for Brains” then you know you have something that is going to be out there and it’s going to appeal to your wild thinkers, your madcap inventors and all those other kids who dwell in the Land of What If?

This is a most unusual book in both format and content and yet it is also most intriguing.  The author himself says that he had been having “outlandish ideas” for as long as he can remember, some successful, some not-so, but he is on a mission to “crush climate change by transforming every city on Earth into a jungle (or whatever other type of ecosystem it was before humans trashed it)”.

So in a comic-like format that follows his thought processes, he designs habitat-printing robot birds and water-filtering sewer submarines, calculates how far compost cannons can blast seed bombs (over a kilometre), brainstorms biomaterials with scientists and engineers, studies ecosystems and develops a deadly serious plan to transform cities into jungles, rewilding them into carbon-sucking mega-habitats for all species, and as fast as possible. But, as a highly-respected industrial designer, artist and inventor these are not the random machinations of a child’s wildest dreams, but serious collaborations with scientists and others who are concerned about the planet and which incorporate futuristic materials and foods, bio reactors, soil, forest ecosystems, mechanical flight, solar thermal power and working out just how fast we could actually turn roads into jungles, absorb carbon and reverse climate change. Each project has been researched and while not yet necessarily put into practice, each is theoretically possible and some are already happening,

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Underpinned by quotes from those who have gone before including 14th century philosopher William of Ockham who said that “the simplest solution is almost always the best” (Occam’s razor) this is one to inspire all those who are concerned about climate change but who want and need to do more than reduce their personal use of plastic and who can see that doing what has always been done might not work in time, let alone be successful. It validates the wacky and the wild ideas some students have and encourages them to go even further.

Parcel For Turtle

Parcel For Turtle

Parcel For Turtle











Parcel For Turtle

Shelley Knoll-Miller

Puffin, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99


Turtle and his friends are hiding under the rocks wanting to go back to the water but wary of a pesky pelican who is hovering with a hungry look in his eye. when Postman finds a unique way to safely deliver a parcel from Koala.  

But what could it be? It doesn’t sound like a remote control car that could whizz them to the water’s edge; it’s not the right shape for a beach umbrella that could shelter them as they ran and and it’s not big enough to be a trampoline so they could bounce back either.   There is one way to find out… open it.

As with its predecessors, Penguin, Gorilla and Koala, the contents are unexpected but perfect for solving their problem. And, as with those predecessors, the premise of the story is summarised in the intriguing endpapers so there are two stories that can engage our youngest readers as they put their predictive and deductive skills to the test – both key elements of mastering the printed word and becoming a reader! Bright, appealing illustrations, funky characters (even if they have evil on their mind), the opportunity to think about how the characters might be feeling as the story progresses, and the unexpected twist in the tale all make this a story that will move from a first-read to a favourite very quickly!

Apart from putting a smile of sheer delight on my face when I open each new title in this series, it is one that should become as much as a staple in a little one’s library as other classics like Where’s Spot , Ten Minutes to Bed and those by Hervé Tullet. Stories that first and foremost entertain and engage the reader so that start to develop the expectation and anticipation of being “real readers” are the foundation of literary and literacy success and this series is definitely one of those.  Originally intended to be just a collection of four stories, I, for one, would love to see more. 

LEGO Marvel Visual Dictionary

LEGO Marvel Visual Dictionary

LEGO Marvel Visual Dictionary











LEGO Marvel Visual Dictionary

Dorling Kindersley, 2023

160pp., hbk., RRP $a39.99


Since 2012 when it first released its Batman-themed sets, LEGO, a contraction of leg godt which means “play well” in Danish, have offered fans construction sets related to the popular superheroes so they can learn to read and follow instructions and develop their fine motor skills as they make the intricate models from the movies, then use their imagination to build new stories and adventures with their creations.

Beginning with a visual timeline of releases this guide to the minifigures, vehicles and sets of the Marvel multiverse offers lots of background information about the characters including Spider-Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and others, it culminates in a behind-the-scenes chapter which features concept art and an interview with the LEGO  Marvel creative team.

Like its predecessors that have been linked to popular movies and characters, this is a book that will have young fans poring over it, talking about what they are discovering, wanting to learn more and reading to do so- engaging in all those behaviours that show that print offers them something and that reading for pleasure is a worthwhile thing to do.  Guaranteed to hook young reluctant readers, appeal to more independent fans and even offer suggestions for the Christmas stocking as each model has details of its release date, set number, and the number of pieces and minifigures that come with it. There is even a Iron Man minifig included!

Mr Chicken Goes to Mars

Mr Chicken Goes to Mars

Mr Chicken Goes to Mars











Mr Chicken Goes to Mars

Leigh Hobbs

A&U Children’s, 2023

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


Mr Chicken has been everywhere – Paris, London, Rome, and all over Australia.  But now, tired of being at home swamped by boring, everyday household chores, he is ready for a new adventure. And as he looks out at the night sky he knows just where he wants to go – Mars.  So, with the help of his friend Boris the rocket builder, within a week he is off. 

Undaunted by a myriad of complex levers, lights, switches and gauges, he uses his trusty guidebook to safely navigate his way past asteroids and other space travellers, and after a brief visit to a space station for lunch, he gets to his destination.  But will the inhabitants welcome him or…??? Will he return safely to Earth for another adventure in the future? 

For more than 10 years, the adventures of Mr Chicken have delighted young readers and led to all sorts of engaging, intriguing learning experiences  – read some ideas in the linked reviews – and this one is no different.  Imagine being here one day and on Mars in seven! 

When Mr Chicken asked Boris to build him a rocket, he says he wants “all the comforts of home” so that could set the designers in the class planning and drawing to show just what its interior might look like, and while Hobbs has had fun with naming all the gidgets and gadgets the linguists could not only work out what they are for but suggest new ones (with labels) for the class models. Those with a penchant for space travel could investigate the history of its exploration, the astronomers could identify, explore and explain asteroids, planets, stars and even Mars itself, while the practical thinkers could investigate what is currently happening in travel to Mars.  The writers could dream up Mr Chicken’s next adventure to another planet and the illustrators could bring that to life.

And all the while, everyone is enjoying this new adventure with this intrepid explorer as he enriches their learning and lives in a way that few ever do.  


Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker

Millie Mak the Maker










Millie Mak the Maker

Alice Pung

Sher Rill Ng

HarperCollins, 2023

288pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Life has been pretty tricky lately for nine-year-old Millie Mak. As well as her family moving to a new neighbourhood to be closer to her mother’s parents, she has started a new school and being quiet and somewhat shy, she has found it hard to make friends, not made easier by being Scottish-Chinese with Asian features and flaming red hair.  Things come to a head when she and her Granny find an old dolls house put out on the street for Hard Rubbish Day collection, perfect for them to renovate, but which is also seen by the young sister of one of the mean girls who throws a tantrum when she does not get it.  

But Millie and her grandmother have been revitalising and renewing old stuff  together for a long time and now it’s in Millie’s nature to look for new ways to use old things, turning them into something beautiful and useful.  So when she sees her other Chinese grandmother who lives with them and takes care of the household, including two year old Rosie, making sleeve savers from an old pillowcase, she has an even better idea using her dad’s broken umbrella. She learns even more when she goes to the holiday program at the local community centre – not the expensive Awesome Kids workshops she was hoping for – and meets Veesa and Glee whose mums actually make the popular brand-name clothes that everyone, including those mean girls, are paying so much money for.  Who knew you could make a trendy skirt from some tea towels?

The second story also focuses on making something from almost nothing, as a new girl, Amrita, starts at the school and being Sikh, experiences the same isolation that Millie did.  But the two girls strike up a friendship that not only opens new doors for both of them but has them having the most popular stall at the school fete.

All the familiar themes and feelings of starting a new school are threaded through this story – isolation, bullying, racism, stereotyping – as well as having to grapple with issues at home like the rivalry between her grandmothers and her dad unable to work because of an accident, so it will resonate with many readers but its focus on recycling and upcycling will really appeal to those who love to do the same, particularly those learning to sew – made even moreso because there are clear instructions given for some of the projects at the end of each story as well as some other avenues to explore.  Who knew that fabric could come from animals, minerals and plants and we could be wearing all at the same time?

Both Millie’s family and the situations she and Rita, particularly, face will not only be familiar to those who have walked that path, but there are also lessons to be learned by those on the other side, particularly about making assumptions about how someone might feel or react.   Teaching notes offer other ideas for exploring the issues in greater depth – there is so much but a book review can only be so long.

When a friend recently offered sewing classes for children, she was so overwhelmed with the responses that she had to add extra sessions, and so there are many boys and girls who have an interest in this sort of creativity and this is the ideal book for feeding that interest as well as sparking inspiration for others.  Being one of those who sews every day and knits each night, I read it in one sitting and kept thinking of how I could share it with one of the little ones in Jane’s sewing classes because I know they would love it.  

 Luckily for those budding creators, this is just the first in the series and Children’s Books Daily has an interview with the author to share.



The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden











The Concrete Garden

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


At last, winter is over, lockdown is lifted and the children spill out of the large apartment block ” like sweets from a box”.  Last out is Amanda and she is carrying a large box of chalks because she has an idea. Choosing green first, she draws a large circle with some smaller circles radiating from it – and from there the fun begins… Firstly, Jackson made a dandelion from Amanda’s circle, and then Janet added a mushroom and then the twins added flowers and then…

This is Bob Graham at his best offering the reader so many ideas to explore as the book is read and re-read.

Firstly, there has to be that glorious feeling of being free to connect with others, including those whom you have never met, when isolation has been imposed on you. The reader can hear the shouts of delight of the children and the babble of busyness as they get to be kids again, and imagine that their new and renewed friendships will spread to those of the adults in their lives too, meaning that there will be a greater sense of community in the apartments once inside beckons again.  But what if that isolation isn’t COVID related?  What if there is a child confined to a hospital bed, or isolated by language or being new to the area or… How might the reader reach out to them?

And while many will resonate with living in an apartment building where there is no opportunity to have the sort of gardens that feature in In My Garden , that doesn’t mean the children are oblivious to Mother Nature and the colour and magic and togetherness that she brings.  As so many of the young artists add natural elements to the drawing, there is an unspoken acknowledgement of what is missing from this hemmed-in concrete jungle, perhaps inspiring something more than a transient chalk drawing to be done. And, as with In My Garden, there is much to explore about the connectivity of gardens, real and imagined, in “The picture crossed deserts and mountains and oceans and cities.  It bounced around the world, returning to fill the screens in all the dark rooms over the concrete garden”. 

Others might like to explore why it is the seemingly simple activity of drawing a picture with chalk that brings so much imagination, friendship, co-operation, optimism and joy rather than the more formal, organised, prescriptive activities that seem to be such a part of children’s lives.  They might be let loose with chalk in their playground, or start a chain picture to which everyone contributes in the classroom, or even work together on a physical project to beautify their school or local community.  The possibilities are endless.

This is not only Bob Graham at his best but also the picture book at its best.  The links between text and illustration are woven so tightly together, one can’t stand without the other and each thread of the tapestry offers something to explore and ponder.  Expect to see this one up there in all the awards in the coming year.   

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. 





Nature’s Song

Nature's Song

Nature’s Song











Nature’s Song

Robert Vescio

Nicky Johnston

New Frontier, 2023

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


It’s tough being inside when Outside is peeking through the window and beckoning you to follow.  But it’s even tougher if you’re confined to bed because you have a broken leg.  And so the little girl resists the temptation to escape and keeps her brother company instead. Until the day the plaster finally comes off and she is able to be there herself to watch the morning rise, serenade the sun and  rediscover the wonders of Outside has been keeping.  Now, how can she bring this inside so her brother can share it too?

Beautifully written, and softly and sensitively illustrated this is a story about discovering the wonders of our own natural environment without having to seek “artificial” entertainment.  As the little girl and her dog frolic in the freedom of being outdoors again, and discover the extraordinary in the ordinary as Mother Nature goes about her daily business of making the world wonderful, young readers can be encouraged to not only look for all the details portrayed in the pictures and discover things often overlooked or taken for granted,  but to also look at their own Outside and use their senses and imagination to see what magic is waiting for them.  Perhaps, they too, can find a way to bring it Inside.  

And maybe, as they lie in bed on the edge of dreams and reflect on the day, they might ask themselves, “Did I find wonder in the world, today?” “Did I listen to Nature’s song? What tune was she playing?”   For even on cold, misty mountain mornings as we have today, there is always a song being sung. You just have to listen.


In My Dreams

In My Dreams

In My Dreams











In My Dreams

Chelsea Schar-Grant

Aaron Pocock

Little Steps, 2023

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


Just like its intended audience, little Platypus has big dreams of being everything from a movie star to a police officer to a princess, even a racing car driver. And given being asked what you want to be “when you grow up” has to be one of the most common questions asked of young people (as though who they are at the moment is not enough), this is a story deliberately written to inspire the imagination and start the dream.

The vibrant, detailed illustrations explore Little Platypus’s dreams beautifully – my favourite has to be her in her “shining pink tutu” with “silk ballet pointe shoes” on her feet – and really help the young reader realise that if she can do it so can they.  Great for showing little ones that they can dream big, as well as being a kickstart for those a little older who could articulate their dream and then investigate what it would take to make it come true.

Pages & Co.5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library












Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Anna James

HarperCollins, 2022

416pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


“From outside on the busy north London high street, Pages & Co looked like an entirely normal bookshop. but once inside it didn’t quite make sense how everything fitted inside its ordinary walls. The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different direction.  A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched into difficult-to-reach corners.  Tall arched windows above made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and danced on the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature- could often be found dozing in the warmest spots.  During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but at it was October, a fire was roaring there…”

Does this not conjure up every booklover’s dream of a magical place, a bookstore where magic and mysteries, adventures and escapades beckon?  And for it to be the home of Tilly who prefers the company of book characters to the people in real life and, although not having been outside London, is a seasoned traveller within the pages of the books that abound on the shelves  for in the first in the series she discovered her father was a fictional character and she, herself, was half fictional.  There is much more to her grandfather and grandmother and the family’s history and lives than she ever imagined. Bookwandering is what this family does, and it might explain the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the absence of her father. As she and her best friend Oskar search for her missing mother, they meet the powerful but sinister Underwood family, search for the mysterious  Archivists and encounter the Sesquipedalian, a magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel through both Story and the real world. It is owned by Horatio Bolt who specialises dodgy dealings as a book smuggler trading in rare books, and his nephew Milo…

In this, the second last in this series, Tilly and Milo hurtle towards their final showdown with the Alchemist, and the stakes are higher than ever – though there is always time for hot chocolate!
Milo Bolt is ready to be the hero of his own story. With Uncle Horatio trapped in an enchanted sleep by the power-hungry Alchemist, he sets off with his new friend Alessia to find a cure and save them all.  Their journey leads them to the magical treehouse – home of the Botanist, the Alchemist’s sworn enemy. Against the clock, they hunt for the cure: foraging in the Secret Garden, challenging Robin Hood and confronting the mighty Jabberwock.

But the Alchemist will stop at nothing to unlock the powerful secrets of The Book of Books, and Tilly, Pages & Co. and the whole world of imagination are under threat as a battle for the fate of bookwandering is set in motion…

Created for independent readers or perfect for classroom read-alouds, this is a series that really needs to be read from the first one in order so that the subsequent adventures have context but it will have the book lover hooked from the start, regardless of their age, and wishing they too could bookwander into the magical, mystical world of their favourite characters. Miss Now 12 is going to be delighted when her copy arrives in the post as she has been hooked on this from the start.

And if you have readers looking for similar stories about magical bookshops, suggest The Bookseller’s Apprentice and The Grandest Bookshop in the World.  to tide them over while they are waiting for the final of Pages & Co., probably about this time next year.  In the meantime, those who haven’t ventured into the doors of this magical place have time to catch up!