The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature










The Good Son: A Story from the First World War, Told in Miniature

Pierre-Jacques Ober

Jules Ober, Felicity Coonan

Candlewick Studio, 2019

104pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


From the publisher… “About one hundred years ago, the whole world went to war. The war was supposed to last months. It lasted years. It is Christmastime, 1914, and World War I rages. A young French soldier named Pierre had quietly left his regiment to visit his family for two days, and when he returned, he was imprisoned. Now he faces execution for desertion, and as he waits in isolation, he meditates on big questions: the nature of patriotism, the horrors of war, the joys of friendship, the love of family, and how even in times of danger, there is a whole world inside every one of us. And how sometimes that world is the only refuge. “

Published to coincide with the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles, one of five treaties formulated at the Paris Peace Conference as part of the peace negotiations at the end of the First World War, the readership of this book is older than what is normally reviewed for this site, despite its sparse text.  However, it is a new and important addition to any collection about World War I  and there will be primary school students who will appreciate the conceptual issues it raises as they become more aware of “the difficult truths of humanity”.

Written by a Frenchman now living in Australia, and illustrated by miniature reenactments of the scenes that have then been photographed, the book is the winner of 1st Prize at the Prix Sorcières 2019, France’s most prestigious award for children’s books.   The story is based on true facts and its connection to the author and the illustrators and their processes have been detailed in the final pages. 

Different, intriguing and utterly absorbing,



Girl Geeks (series)

Girl Geeks (series)

Girl Geeks (series)









The Hackathon


Game On


Alex Miles

Puffin Books, 2019

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

From the Girl Geek Academy website…

What would the internet look like if there were more women building it?

  • By the age of 6, children classify jobs as male and female.
  • By the age of 8, they are limiting aspirations
  • By 13 many of them have already ruled out career options that don’t fit with gender stereotypes.
  • By ages 16-17 60% of girls aspire to stereotypically ‘female’ jobs.

So the mission of the Girl Geek Academy is to increase the number of women and girls in tech, games, making, robotics, 3D printing, aviation, drones and space by teaching one million women
to learn technology by 2025. Launched by five women with the aim of making girls in STEM and IT the norm, they are developing a series of initiatives aimed at those from five years old up to mature women, one of which is this new series of books that put geek girls in the spotlight and in charge.  They show that technology is fun and girls are awesome, with each focusing on each of the girls, Hamsa, Eve, Niki and Maggie and their particular talents – hacker, hipster or hustler. With characters that young girls such as my Miss 13 will recognise, they take everyday situations that arise in schools and show how the girls use their strengths to solve them, demonstrating that being a ‘geek girl’ is as normal as being any other sort of girl.  It’s just one part of who they are.

As well as this new series (four in the pipeline so far) there are many other programs and resources available on the academy website to support and enable the development of digital technologies in the school and across the curriculum so this is both a series and a website that could and should be promoted widely to staff and students.  So often, geeks don’t see the library as having anything for them, particularly when there is still such an emphasis on books and reading, so this is yet another way to reach out to that long tail – all those potential patrons that a library has but who don’t use the facility because they don’t believe it has anything to offer them.

Well-written, illustrated and as perfect for the newly-independent reader as it is for those whose appetite for reading is never sated, this is a series with a difference and with huge potential. 














Ursula Dubosarsky

Andrew Joyner

Allen & Unwin, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


While Pender is playing in the bush near his home, he hears a gunshot and to his dismay he discovers a mother kangaroo taking her last breath.  But as her eyes glaze, he notices movement in her pouch and Pender finds himself with no choice but to take care of the baby joey he names Brindabella.  With his artistic, somewhat reclusive father, they raise Brindabella and even though Pender knows she will one day need to return to the bush he puts that way to the back of his mind, until the day her natural instincts become too much for her and Brindabella leaves…

With the narrative switching between Pender and Brindabella’s perspectives, this is a sensitively written novel for young independent readers that explores the relationship between people and animals. Why do Pertelote the chook, Billy-Bob the dog and Ricky the cat stay with Pender and his father while Brindabella has a compelling need to leave? Confronting, even emotional in parts, Dubosarsky brings the Australian bush alive so all the senses are engaged and the reader is there with Pender, opening opportunities for lots of sensory responses that confirm, compare and contrast Pender’s home with that of the reader themselves.

Shortlisted for the 2019 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, this is a story that I know Miss 8 is going to adore particularly because she loves to roam our bush block and we have our own share of Brindabellas, but for those not as fortunate, there are teachers’ notes and activities that will help to bring it into the realm of city kids. Download them from the home site.

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja









Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja

Kylie Howarth

Walker Books, 2019 

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


New to the realm of supportive novels for newly independent readers is this title from graphic designer cum author Kylie Howarth. 

Using the popular superhero theme as its foundation, this is a series with a difference because as well as being entertaining, it also teaches those young readers about the ocean environment and its inhabitants.  Bodhi’s parents are right into the underwater world – his dad is a marine biologist and his mum an underwater photographer – and they travel the world together to explore what really happens beneath the surface. But Bodhi isn’t into this world as much as they are, preferring dry land but then he discovers he has magical powers…

Each book is set in a different oceanic environment where Fish Kid befriends an amazing marine creature. As he bonds with his new animal friend, he discovers a new fish power. Every chapter contains a rollicking fiction romp (with illustrations to match) plus a focused nonfiction animal fact box (with more realistic illustrations). In this, his family are in the Galapagos Islands and he finds himself stuck on the boat with the captain’s daughter Emely, who likes to play pranks on him, although the innocent looking green smoothie with its secret ingredients would make even the reader have the same reaction as Bodhi. 

Full of action, adventure and humour, and all the techniques proven perfect for supporting those transitioning to longer novels, this series also includes fact boxes about the various creatures encountered and draws on the author’s personal knowledge of the world under the waves enriching the reader’s understanding and awakening an awareness to protect it. 

Although I haven’t dived the Galapagos Islands, this book took me right back to my experiences on the Great Barrier Reef and for that, this is one destined for Miss 8 so she can share the wonder her grandmother, grandfather and father still have.  Perhaps she, too, will be tempted like Bodhi.


Hey Baby!

Hey Baby!

Hey Baby!










Hey Baby!

Stephanie Warren Drimmer

National Geographic Kids, 2019

192pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


“In every corner of the Earth-from the Arctic to Australia, from ocean depths to mountain tops, from dry deserts to lush rain forests – tiny tots are learning to find their way in a big beautiful world.” 

But these are not human babies – they are animals of all shapes and sizes and each has its own life story, some more complex and demanding more attention than a human baby. Using the most stunning photos, this is a collection of pictures, poems, stories, folktales and information from Nature’s nursery that will introduce young readers to the diverse creatures of this planet. Grouped according to habitat such as mountains and plains, forest and streams, oceans and seas, each creature has a short fact box giving the name of the young, its home and its food as well as other information, and each section also has a Tot Lot which is a group of eight creatures with not quite so much detail but adding to the wonder of the variety of fauna that shares this planet with us.  Many have a story or even a classic poem to accompany them, such as The Legend of the Pink Dolphin or The Duck and the Kangaroo by Edward Lear to further engage the young reader as this is a book to be shared or read by an independent reader.

An investment in a child’s learning. 



Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began

Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin's brilliant career began

Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began










Miss Franklin: How Miles Franklin’s brilliant career began

Libby Hathorn

Phil Lesnie

Lothian Children’s, 2019

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


Imp is a wild child, roaming the paddocks of the farm where Miss Franklin is employed as governess to the Davis children. Disdained by them as a “real naughty girl” they have been warned by their mother to keep away from her, although Florrie has struck up a friendship of sorts, and dismissive of learning to read and write as a “waste of time”, nevertheless she continues to hang around the schoolhouse and gradually a trust builds between her and Miss Franklin.

Miss Franklin, who had taken the job to help her family out of financial difficulties, has bigger dreams than being a governess, and when she eventually confesses these to Imp, Imp gives her some advice that changes her path and her life forever.

Written about Miles Franklin, author of My Brilliant Career,  and namesake of two major literary prizes, this not only shines a light on the author’s early life but demonstrates how famous people start out as very ordinary and it can be just chance that sets them on their path to fulfil their dreams. And while most of us have dreams, sometimes it’s the most unlikely thing that gives us the impetus to pursue them and the courage and determination to make them come true.  Even though Imp’s dream was nowhere near as grand as that of Miss Franklin, she too was able to take the first steps towards achieving it. The endpapers tell her story! So as much as Libby Hathorn and Phil Lesnie have captured Miss Franklin’s story, it is also an encouragement to anyone to take and chance and chase what they want. 

















Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2019

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. 

When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. 

Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. 

What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?

Whatever decisions are made will change their lives forever.

With the rise and spread of nationalist, right-wing conservative governments around the globe, xenophobia is alive and well in communities and countries around the world. In Australia it is always a hot topic particularly around election time and especially since former prime minister John Howard declared, “It’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people, taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” in an election speech just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001.

Having just had another federal election with the rhetoric of asylum seekers, detention centres and people’s rights claiming a lot of media space and votes, this new book from Tristan Bancks is very timely. In it, through the students in the Reading Superstars class and their teacher Miss Aston, he asks the questions that need to be considered about the plight of refugees, particularly as much of what the children say is the echo of their parents’ perspectives. Bancks says he has tried to tell the story as “a human one, rather than a political one” and he has achieved this as the reader becomes very invested in the plights of Simi and Dan and constantly wonders what would they do if they were either of those characters.

In my opinion, the greatest power of this book is in the hands of a class teacher reading it aloud and discussing the issues as Miss Aston does while she and her charges are in lockdown. That way, a range of points of view can be explored and explained, taking the story to a whole new level, rather than being an individual read that throws up questions but for which the reader doesn’t seek answers. And that teacher should be prepared to answer the inevitable, “What would you do if you were Miss Aston?”

Books for this age group are rarely the focus of reviews on this blog, but I believe that this is such an essential read as part of any study about migration and refugees, it deserves all the publicity it can get. Superb.



Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Fabio The World's Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express












Fabio The World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express

Laura James

Emily Fox

Bloomsbury, 2019

128pp/. pbk., RRP $A12.99


In a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee lives the world’s greatest flamingo detective. His name is Fabio. He’s not tall or strong, but slight and pink. And he’s very, very clever.

It’s the height of summer and Fabio and his associate Gilbert are taking a relaxing holiday journey on the fastest train in the world! But no sooner does the conductor call ‘All aboard’ than a very expensive ruby necklace disappears and the great detective is back on the case!

This is the second book in the hilarious illustrated mystery series by the author of PiratePug, and it is perfect for newly independent readers who require a larger font. short chapters and illustrations to support their reading.  The second in the series  – the first is The Case of the Missing Hippo ,  the third Peril at Lizard Lake will be available in the new year – it introduces young readers to the mystery genre as Fabio tries to discover who stole the necklace with slightly offbeat characters. Can they solve the mystery before Fabio?

How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet

How to Save the Whole Stinkin' Planet

How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet









How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet

Lee Constable

James Hart

Puffin, 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


It is clear from recent global actions by young students that the environmental state of the planet is one of their greatest concerns and with World Environment Day  being the recent focus of many school activities, this is a timely publication that demonstrates that even our youngest students have the power to do something and make a difference. 

Its focus is on waste disposal and its mission is “to save the whole stinkin’ planet by getting [readers] skilled up and clues in on all things waste” and for them to spread this message widely and so the book guides them through each stage of how to do this as they become Waste Warriors complete with name, ID and a Garbology Lab Book. Filled with a mix of facts, statistics and strategies, the text speaks directly to the reader encouraging and supporting them with practical ways they can deal with waste in their lives so they can make a difference on a personal scale. Having the reader understand what happens to the things they dispose of and that landfill is for storing waste not treating it with the real possibility that one day it will be full, is powerful knowledge that motivates them to doing better. Starting with focused personal questions about  the last thing they threw away and what happened to it, it builds up to getting the community involved and knowledgeable.

Many schools have a Green Team who try to ensure that the school’s environment is the best it can be, and this is the ideal handbook for them to follow to tackle one of a school’s biggest problems – the production of waste. While many recycle paper and even have compost bins, it is having the knowledge and understanding of why this is done and what happens if it isn’t that becomes empowering and greater results are likely.

A school library should have many copies of this book in its collection and in the hands of a dedicated team who can guide the school and broader community’s journey towards a better, cleaner future. While climate change and air pollution are big picture concepts for which immediate change is hard to see, waste management is something we can all tackle and see the results of our efforts. Perhaps the cost imposed by council of removing the waste from the school could be investigated and as this drops, the savings could go towards something the school needs such as playground equipment; or for those who choose not to use plastic bottle recycling rewards for themselves, the school could have a collection point with the money going towards that overall goal.

When students strike to bring attention to the state of the planet, there are many loud voices saying they should be in school “learning something” (as though they haven’t learned about the environment and democracy to be doing what they are doing) so by adopting a pro-active, aggressive waste management program they could not only demonstrate what they have learned but also teach others!


The Dictionary of Difficult Words

The Dictionary of Difficult Words

The Dictionary of Difficult Words










The Dictionary of Difficult Words

Jane Solomon

Louise Lockhart

Frances Lincoln Children’s, 2019

112pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00


From the time a little one first says a recognisable word like “mum” or “dad”, a great fuss is made as new words are added, two-word phrases become sentences and so on until new words added to the vocabulary are so frequent that the novelty wears off.  Memories are made when words like ‘spaghetti” and “hospital” are mispronounced or the loss of the front teeth make talking tricky. We make a fuss when big words like “tyrannosaurus” are learned and understood but generally after that initial flush oral language is taken for granted as successes in reading and writing take over.

But whether we speak or write, listen or read, the fundamental unit of communication is the word and in this collection of over 400 words, lexicographer (a person who writes dictionaries) Jane Solomon brings together a range of words that are long, short, common, not-so, fun-to-say, tongue-trickers, have beautiful meanings or weird ones so those with a fascination language can add to their own lexicon. Some of the words like “sesquipedalian” are very old and not in common use; others like slugabed are more recent and one is amazed they are more than just an in-family term.

But whatever its age or origin, each word has a guide to its pronunciation and an easy-to-read meaning so that even the most reluctant reader can understand what is meant by Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango? Many words are illustrated with some words getting special treatment with a full-page spread, and unlike other dictionaries which try to cover every word, the careful selection of these means that the layout is clear and open and very easy to read. It’s chatty style, such as the notes about how to read it, engage the reader and it’s perfect for those who are newly independent readers or well-practised.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Lots of teachers and teacher librarians love to challenge children with Word-of-the-Day tasks and this would be the perfect source for those words while encouraging students to use more conventional dictionaries to discover the meanings.  But as a stand-alone book in itself it is fabulous because of the serendipitous nature of opening a page and learning a host of new words just because. Even wordsmiths will have fun with this, especially the aspiring sesquipedalians!