Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?









Is It The Way You Giggle?

Nicola Connelly

Annie White

New Frontier, 2018

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


What makes you special?

Is it the way you look or something that you can do?

Is it the way you giggle or the way you wiggle?

This is a new take on a perennial topic that will encourage little people to think about what it is that makes them special.  With the entire text being in question format as though the author is speaking directly to the reader, it provokes thought about those things that are unique to us that make us stand out, going beyond the obvious of the colour of the skin, eyes and hair and starting to look at the inner person-their personality, their expertise  and their mannerisms.  Even those with low self-esteem will be able to contribute something and perhaps get a little lift that there is something special about them.  

Annie White’s charming illustrations in watercolour and pencil show that even within one family of four kids from the same parents and exposed to the same sorts of things, there is huge diversity amongst them which is accepted, appreciated and celebrated within the family. 

Extensive teachers’ notes offer new ideas about using this book with early childhood children but as a parent-child read-along, it’s a great opportunity for a chat about how the child and other family members are special and even what makes the family itself unique.

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

My Best Friend is a Goldfish








My Best Friend is a Goldfish

Mark Lee

Chris Jevons

Carolrhoda Books, 2018 

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


“If you ask me, a best friend is the best thing in the world .  Best friends enjoy the same things. They play together all the time. and they always get along with each other.”

So it was never going to end well when one wanted to be the captain of the spaceship and the other, the captain of the pirate ship.  Harsh words are said, a friendship is split and a new best friend has to be found.  But dogs, cats, hamsters and even goldfish have their drawbacks as best friends and so…

This seamless combination of text and illustrations challenges the concept that many little people have that best friends are like peas in a pod, liking and doing the same things at the same time and never being different.  Is it possible to have different ideas and do different things and still be best friends? If someone disagrees with us, does that mean the friendship is doomed or does it offer an opportunity to explore and respect the differences, perhaps even learn something new?  Can we have more than one friend at a time? How is a best friend different from a regular friend? While in this book the friends look similar, is this a pre-requisite to being friends?  How do shared values and beliefs affect friendships? Is it OK to be angry with or disappointed in or surprised by your best friend?

“What is a friend?” is a perennial topic in early childhood education and this book can take the conversation a step further by having the children consider those sorts of questions. Having friends is about being a friend and there are many facets to that.


Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases












Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Sue Lawson & Auntie Fay Muir

Black Dog Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


From the publisher…“Nganga is an authoritative and concise collection of words and phrases related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and issues.

Nganga (ng gar na): To see and understand. Aunty, Uncle, sorry business, deadly, women’s business, marngrook, dreamtime, Elders, songlines. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander words have become part of our everyday vocabulary but we may not know their true meaning or where the words come from. In Nganga, Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson have brought together these words, their meanings and their history. “

Because Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir is an Elder and Traditional Owner of Boon Wurrung Country; the senior linguist at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages in Melbourne; and  an advisor for the national curriculum on language and culture, the authority of this book is impeccable.  

Beginning with an explanation of the clan system and the conflicts between the Aboriginal belief system and that of the European settlers which has led to deep-seated issues that are still being resolved, it explains some of the terms commonly used by our indigenous peoples, many of which have a different interpretation  from the traditional English meaning normally associated with them.  There is a difference between Aboriginal, aboriginal and aborigine and while we associate “aunty” with a sister of our parents, for Aboriginal Peoples it is a term or respect for any older woman, whether a relative or not.

Given it is only 56 years since all indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in federal elections and while there has been progress towards respect, recognition and reconciliation in many areas, there are still divisions amongst the cultures including the recognition of January 26 as Invasion Day rather than Australia Day, so any authoritative resource that can increase our students’ understanding of the place and role that indigenous Australians have in this country’s history and culture has to be welcomed and promoted as essential.   

Well set out, written in language that is easily accessible with lots of cross-references for better understanding, this should be an integral part of any unit focusing on the ATSI cross-curriculum priority.


Along Came a Different

Along Came a Different

Along Came a Different








Along Came a Different

Tom McLaughlin

Bloomsbury, 2018

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


The Reds loved being red- to them being red was the most important thing and it was The. Best. Thing. Ever.  But when, unexpectedly, their space was intruded upon by Yellow, things changed.  The Yellows (who thought being yellow was The. Best. Thing. Ever) didn’t like the reds  and the conflict began.  And when along came a Blue (who also believed that being blue was The. Best. Thing. Ever.) things deteriorated even further.  There seemed to be no common ground at all – none of them liked each other and demarcation lines were drawn as the insults and grievances grew.  Eventually a set of rules was constructed and things settled down, but then unexpectedly…

Is there any way at all that each group can learn to live with and get along with each other?

Using colour, shape and whimsical illustration, McLaughlin explores the concept of judging others based on their appearance and how flimsy the arguments for discrimination really are.  While each colour has its unique features, there is common ground and much to be said for the symbiosis that occurs when there is co-operation, collaboration and even harmony.

Discrimination based on perceived differences is an adult concept that most young children do not even notice unless an adult points it out.  This book is the perfect conversation starter so that when they do encounter prejudice they have this experience to draw on so they can see the stupidity of it and reject it.  Life should be about friendship, inclusivity and acceptance and McLaughlin demonstrates this perfectly.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

I Am Enough

I am Enough

I am Enough











I Am Enough

Grace Byers

Keturah A. Bobo

Balzer + Bray, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Like the sun, I’m here to shine…

Like time, I’m here to be, and be everything I can.

In a time where there seems to be an expectation that we will each be smarter, richer, thinner, bigger, better than anyone else, it seems to be impossible to just be – and let who you are be enough. But in this stunning new release, the little girl does not feel the need to compete with anyone.  She not only accepts who she is and is proud of that but also respects the individuality of others…

I know that we don’t look the same: our skin, our eyes, our hair, our frame.

But that does not dictate our worth; we both have places here on earth.

Apart from the powerful message that all children, indeed everyone, needs to take away from this book, it’s other strength is its diversity – each child is different in ethnicity, religion, and even physical ability although their gender is the same and that perhaps is its one negative.  Perhaps in a world where gender equality is still an issue. showing girls and boys together could have added just a little more.

Nevertheless, this is an important book to share and discuss as we try to promote positive mental health from an early age and that needs to start with the acceptance of ourselves as we are with no compulsion to compete to match someone else’s expectations. 



Sorry Day

Sorry Day

Sorry Day










Sorry Day

Coral Vass

Dub Leffler

NLA Publishing, 2018

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


Standing amidst the large crowd gathered on the slopes of Parliament House in Canberra is light-haired, fair-skinned Maggie clutching her Aboriginal mother’s hand waiting for the most important speech from a politician for generations.  It is February 13, 2008 and, on behalf of a more enlightened nation,  the newly-elected Prime Minister is about to deliver the long-awaited apology to all Australia’s indigenous peoples for their losses in past times when it was thought that their children would be better off if they were taken to live with and be raised by white families – the Stolen Generations.

In a time ‘long ago and not-so-long-ago’ children were taken from their parents, their ‘sorrow echoing across the land’. 

Intertwined with Maggie’s story of anticipation and sudden loss as she falls among the legs of the crowd, is that of her mother, a young girl in different times when the roar of a truck and the thud of boots was a signal to hide before the white men came to take them.

“Screams echoed across the land as they scrambled to escape, sliding in the mud with every step.”

But, in the final fold-out flap the stories merge as Kevin Rudd proclaims,For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.  To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry… We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”  

And at last, hope glimmers.

The recognition of the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was a central focus of the 2007 election campaign for it had been 40 years since the referendum to acknowledge and include  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as citizens of Australia, and ten years since the historic Bringing Them Home report  was tabled in Federal Parliament. 

While many of an older generation will remember where they were on the day of the speech, our younger generations may not understand its significance seeing it as just another day paid homage during the school year. So to have such a beautifully written story with such evocative illustrations to explain its importance – perhaps akin to ANZAC Day in the shaping of our nation – is superb and a must-have in every school library collection, particularly as there are two pages of explanation and illustrations drawing on the collection of the National Library of Australia  to complete it. 

In a few, well-chosen words and sublimely constructed sentences, Coral Vass has written an evocative story that not only expresses the heartbreak of those whose children were taken but also the fear of the children as Maggie is briefly separated from her mother.  Accompanied by unforgettable illustrations that capture the landscape, the emotions and the tension of both Maggie and her mother’s stories, this is a unique story that enables all of us to understand the importance of May 26 each year.

Teachers notes are available

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Can I Touch Your Hair?









Mrs Vandenberg sets her 5th grade class a poetry project and then says, “Pick a partner.”  Within seconds the only one left for Irene is you-never-know-what-he-is-going-to-say Charles and for Charles it’s hardly-says-anything Irene.  But that’s not the main difference they see – Charles is black and Irene is white.  Nevertheless, an assignment is an assignment and with no boundaries they select everyday topics like buying shoes, their hair, going to church and the beach to write about, each using blank verse to describe their experiences.  For Irene who is painfully shy and likes her “stringy, dishwater, blonde” hair because it’s a curtain she can hide behind, her first poems focus on how she would like to be like the popular girls in class.  “I’d rather be sun-burned than sugar-sand white.” For Charles, for whom words fly off the page and out of his mouth, they’re about how he too, would like to fit in better but is shunned because of the colour of his skin and the confusion that that sets up inside him.

But as they write and share their poems, the topics getting more personal and revealing, gradually a greater understanding grows and they realise they have many more similarities than differences, seeing each other as individuals, and that they are both so much more than black and white. However, the poems don’t just explore their growing connections – they also explore their personal conundrums.  Charles watches the news and sees people walking by as black people are being “choked, pummelled, shot, killed by police officers” and yet he has a special friendship with local (white) Officer Brassard; Irene is shunned by Shonda in the playground but when Shonda presents her family tree draped in chains, Irene feels the need to say, “Sorry”.  

Subtitled, Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship,  this book grew from a friendship that began as an email but evolved from all that had gone before in the authors; and illustrators’  lives to shape them into their current personalities.  Imagining what it would be like if they had met in a modern-day 5th grade class, rather than a book of unrelated poems this one tells the story of an evolving friendship between two people with seemingly distinct lives, diverse experiences and different perceptions using the format of the poem to be the voice of each, and each shedding light on innermost thoughts that illuminate a path that few get to tread.

Unlike other books with “we’re-all-the-same-on-the-inside” messages, this one tackles the issue of race head on so that conversations can be started and differences can be explored rather than ignored.  Because even though we may be the same on the inside, all that has gone before us even before we are born has gone into the making of who we are now, and while that makes us unique individuals regardless of skin colour, it is that skin colour that can be the greatest division as first impressions are so deeply shaped by existing attitudes, perceptions and preconceptions.  Charles was picked first for the basketball team simply because of his skin colour and lanky legs, but things changed when he muffed an easy shot.

This is a complex book with so many layers that it risks being left unopened on the shelf if it is not shared with the child by an astute adult, either parent or teacher, who can begin and sensitively guide the conversations.  Cultural differences – racial, religious, sexual, lingual, socio-economic – are a big issue in our schoolyards as the focus on bullying demonstrates, so something new that approaches the issues in a radical way can be a catalyst for change.  What is we were all Mrs Vandenbergs and set our students a similar challenge, instead of the one-size-fits-all novel study, and insisted that students work with someone they have never worked with before?  


If you are in an Australian school and would like my review copy of this book to use with your students, be the first to contact me and ask for it.  Please include your name and postal address.

Meerkat Choir

Meerkat Choir

Meerkat Choir








Meerkat Choir

Nicki Greenberg

Allen &  Unwin, 2017

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


It is time for the very first practice of the meerkat choir and the choir-master is all set to begin.  But each time he starts the countdown  he is interrupted by another creature wanting to join in.  But this choir is for meerkats only – no outsiders allowed = and so he sends them away, in an increasingly less-than-friendly manner as his frustration grows.  Finally, the other creatures get his message that they are not welcome and practice begins.  But the sound is not what he is wanting – it’s more enthusiastic than musical and he stomps off in disgust.   Then the disappointed meerkats hear a beautiful noise and go to investigate…

As well as being a LOL story which nevertheless has serious undertones about acceptance and inclusion, the intrigue of this book is in its format and illustrations.  The narrative is told in large speech bubbles with the choir-master’s increasing frustration being expressed in larger and larger fonts while the clever use of soft shapes, lines and colours gives a visual aspect to the melodious sounds which contrasts with that depicting the sounds of the meerkats when they finally do sing.  While children will tell you that they can’t see sounds, this technique shows that sounds can evoke visual imagery just as they can evoke physical movement and offers a great opportunity to play them contrasting pieces that firstly encourage them to move in different ways and then express them using colours and lines.  Extending the exercise further, they could discuss the mood that music can elicit and how it’s possible to accentuate mood through music by listening to the background tracks of movies or television, or even watching different parts of a ballet such as Swan Lake where the music, mood and movement of the Four Little Swans is so different from that of the final conflict between Siegfried and the sorcerer.

A book that can take you from a choir of meerkats who first appeared in The Naughtiest Reindeer at the Zoo to the masterful work of Tchaikovsky and Pepita; one that has each of a range of reviewers focusing on different elements of its content and construction,  is indeed special – no wonder it is a 2018 CBCA Notable in the Early Childhood category!

Teachers’ notes are available.


Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War










Gladys Goes to War

Glyn Harper

Jenny Cooper

Picture Puffin, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Auckland, New Zealand in the very early 20th century when girls were still supposed to be seen and not heard, despite having had voting rights since 1893 – still very much an English colonial mentality where they busied themselves with music, needlework and other “feminine” tasks.  However, unlike her sisters, Gladys was not good at such things, preferring instead to spend her time under the bonnet of her brothers’ cars and those of their friends.  

“No one will want to marry a mechanic” her mother told her, echoing the feelings and the culture of the times.  But her mother was wrong and in 1912 she met and married William Henning who taught her to drive and then set up a car sales business in Auckland. Being competent and comfortable in this “men’s world” meant that it was no surprise that when her husband and brothers enlisted when World War I broke out that Gladys wanted to go too.  But her efforts were met with the typical chauvinistic response of the times …”If you want to help the war effort, you should stay at home and knit socks and balaclavas.”

But they had underestimated Gladys’s determination and in 1916 with the assistance of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood she was reunited with her husband in Egypt becoming an ambulance driver, and when he was sent to France she went to England.  But again male-dominated bureaucracy determined her place was in the hospital scrubbing floors not driving ambulances.  Until one evening, there was a shortage of drivers…

This is the story of just one of the many women who played an active part in World War I as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and so much more, rather than being the stereotype wife/mother/ sister/ daughter who ‘kept the home fires burning’.  Despite their important contribution throughout history, so many women have been written out of it and when a request through a local network for a book for younger readers about World War I from a female perspective there was a paucity of replies.  Yet there are so many stories that could be told from both New Zealand and Australia.

Gladys was a pioneer in so many fields – in 1927, having survived both the war and Spanish flu, she and her friend Stella Christie became the first women to transverse Australia east to west and north to south in a car – and so bringing her wartime service to light is just the beginning of the stories that could be told about this remarkable woman.  But as well as her personal chronicle, this could be a springboard for having students investigate and retell the stories of other women whose contributions have been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.  Searching the Australian War Memorial’s site for “women in war” is a good starting point.

But even if Gladys’s story is just shared as a standalone, it is a sound representation of #nevertheless,shepersisted 


Visiting You – a journey of love

Visiting You

Visiting You – a journey of love









Visiting You – a journey of love

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Andrea Edmonds

EK Books, 2018

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

There are many ways to visit Hope Meadows.  But whether you go by train, bus, tram or ferry, there is always someone sharing the journey with you.  And whether that is a scruffy, gruff man who is so tall he can touch the roof without stretching who lives apart from his daughter; a gruff and grouchy old man with hair like white fairy floss and a big round nose whose wife has died;  a grouchy and cross girl with hair as black as night and  ring through her nose whose grandfather no longer remembers her; or a woman as big as a bear with tattoos down her arms whose son may not recover from a motorcycle accident; each has the same purpose and a similar story to tell – the loss of someone they loved dearly, whom they miss terribly and who brought joy and love to their lives.  Each of them love and miss their family member just as much as the little girl loves and misses her dad, and while his journey has reached its final destination, this love continues and brings joy.
Undeterred by outward appearances, the little girl asks each the same question – Who are you visiting? – and in return discovers that love is what binds us together regardless of how we present ourselves to the world.  Rather than focusing on physical differences, it is the common humanity of the community and the need to give and receive love that binds us.  This commonality is echoed through the repetitive style of the text and illustrations which feature a pathway of love that connects the memories of each person.
This focus on our similarities rather than our differences is a familiar theme of many stories for children, but Visiting You stands out as it looks beneath the surface to our emotions and helps us understand that really, all you need is love. That will carry you through the most trying situations. It offers an opportunity for the reader to reflect on those whom they love and the memories they would share if something were to happen to that person, perhaps even create a class journey of love so they can be reassured that there is someone in their life who loves them as much as they love in return.