Grandma’s Guide to Happiness

Grandma's Guide to Happiness

Grandma’s Guide to Happiness











Grandma’s Guide to Happiness

Andrew Daddo

Stephen Michael King

ABC Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


My grandma says the funniest things.

She says that you don’t need much to be happy – not really.

Grandmas know that it’s often the simplest things that make you happy, like splashing in a puddle or baking delicious cookies, and the further I got into this book the more I was convinced that Andrew Daddo had been spying on me – right down to the creation of the fairy garden!!! We even moved from city to country so our little ones would have the space to roam freely and use their imaginations!

So there were so many memories of the things we did together when they were little in this charming book that shows that happiness can be found in the simplest things, if we just take the time to enjoy the moment. Despite all the attractions and distractions of today’s busy world, there is something magical about lying on the grass watching the pictures in the clouds or cooling off under the sprinkler or taking a sneaky swing on the clothesline.  The things we grandmas enjoyed as children are just as fun today, if we and our grandchildren just take the time… Although Stephen Michael King has been flattering in his illustration of me – I’m more the traditional short, rounded, glasses-wearing granny (although I do still have my natural red hair) – nevertheless, he has interpreted and captured Daddo’s words in a way that just shows the magic of mindfulness,  And although my littlies are now Miss 12 and Miss Nearly 17, there are still times when we just take a minute to jump in a muddy puddle – especially if Grandad is close by!

Intergenerational relationships are so important for all, and they’re long and strong in this family.  Thanks for the memories, Andrew and Stephen!!!!



Song in the City

Song in the City

Song in the City











Song in the City

Daniel Bernstrom

Jenin Mohammed

HarperCollins, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Sunday morning in the city, and Emmelene is accompanying her Grandma Jean to church where there is a choir singing and trumpets blowing  and hand-clapping to hear and join in with. But Grandma Jean is getting cross because Emmelene is lagging behind because she is listening to the music of the city – the tap-tappa-tap, the yip-yippa-yip, the pitter-patter-drip and all the other sounds that her ears hear but her eyes can’t see.  

And in church, when Grandma Jean’s music makes little impression on Emmelene , Grandma gets even crankier and just doesn’t understand what Emmelene can hear – although she does try. And then Emmelene shows her…

A long time ago, I read a poem about the sounds of night falling and it made such an impression on me, that now, mosquitoes willing, one of my favourite wind-down activities is to listen to the dark creep across our bushland home.  I have to admit that I’m a bit like Grandma Jean and haven’t heard the music of the city so maybe I should sit in the park in town and close my eyes… Certainly, it is something we can do with our kids on a nice day – take them outside, let them lie on the grass in the sun and just listen to the music of the outdoors.  And if someone falls asleep, that’s fine – either they needed the rest or the activity had the desired effect of putting them in the zone for a while.  

But, while this is a great book to inspire an awareness of our surroundings and be mindful in the moment, on a more practical level it is also one for exploring the concept of onomatopoeia as the sounds of the vehicles and other things that Emmelene hears are illustrated in a way that makes you see them as well as hear them.  Another opportunity to explore and experience our language. 



Breathe In and Out

Breathe In and Out

Breathe In and Out











Breathe In and Out

Jan Stradling

Jedda Robaard

ABC Books, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Big Ted is having one of those days when his feelings are dark and stormy, and when his friends come to play he doesn’t want to join them.  Even when they build him a mindfulness cubby, he doesn’t feel better until…

Our youngest readers will immediately recognise the characters from ABC Play School in this story but more importantly, they will recognise that feeling gloomy, anxious or wound-up are perfectly natural emotions that everyone has.  Unpleasant though they may be, they are part of life and after all, without rain there are no rainbows.  But because Jemima and Kiya and Little Ted have all experienced them, they know the sorts of things that can help and so through their actions, little ones can learn their own strategies to work their way through those times when the going gets tough.   Who doesn’t feel a little calmer when cocooned in a cubby made from sheets spread over chairs, with familiar smells to breathe in, peaceful sounds to listen to and things that bring back happy memories to look at?

Being able to self-calm and self-regulate is a huge step in growing up and this story will go a long way in helping our littlies to master and manage their emotions, while still acknowledging that such emotions are real,, are part of who we are, and will be part of us for our lifetime. 


Julian Is a Mermaid





Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid









Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love

Walker, 2018

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


Going home on the subway with his grandmother, Julian spots three glamorous women dressed as mermaids and is immediately transported to his imaginary world living under the sea as a mermaid, at one with the creatures there.  He is pulled from his reverie as the train reaches his stop but the memory lingers and once he is home and his grandmother goes to have a bath, he uses the things in her apartment to transform himself – plant fronds for flowing, hair, lacy curtains for a splendid tail, and some lipstick. But then his grandmother comes out – will she scold him for becoming something so feminine or will she embrace his imagination and diversity?

In what is almost a wordless picture book, the reader has to immerse themselves in the pictures to really engage with this story that challenges the stereotype of being a mermaid being a girl’s dream and celebrates diversity, being true to yourself and accepted for that. 

One can imagine the eyebrows that would be raised on an Australian metro train should three glamorous women dressed as mermaids get on, each confident in themselves and their dress (reminiscent of the costumes of Priscilla, Queen of the desert)- but this is New York and instead of derision they encourage a young child to dream and then make that dream a reality. 

His grandmother, somewhat overweight but nevertheless flamboyant in her own style, is clearly very comfortable in her own skin, not driven by the expectations of others and definitely not the stereotype grey-hair-and-knitting that is so commonly portrayed in stories, and so it is not surprising that she embraces Julian’s desires and takes him to a place where he can truly belong. 

Because so much of the story is told in the illustrations, they have to be superb and they are. From the stunning undersea creature presenting the mermaid Julian with a coral necklace to the characters that Julian and his grandmother pass in the street, indeed even the women in the pool in the endpages, each with is imbued with personality and confidence and pride in who they are. 

This is a book that demands close reading and reflection so its riches are revealed; it is one that will raise questions and demand explanations; but to those who are like Julian and dream of things that are beyond the traditional stereotype bounded by gender, it will bring comfort and maybe confidence so they too can be themselves. 

Originally published June 28 2018

Updated February 2023

Perfectly Norman





Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman











Perfectly Norman

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2017

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


Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! 

He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing  a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?

In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean? What do Norman’s wings represent – could it be he has come to terms with his gender identity and regardless of the coat, he can now use the wings to be true to himself?  

 For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes.  They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed… 

Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be.  It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!

Originally published October 1 2017

Updated February 2023

Out of the Blue





Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue











Out of the Blue

Robert Tregoning

Stef Murphy

Bloomsbury, 2023

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


What happens if you live in a world of blue –

ONLY BLUE ALLOWED, by Blue government demand

Anything that isn’t blue, by colour law, is banned

-but your favourite colour is yellow?

What if your favourite toy is a little yellow rubber duck but you have to hide it even from your family?

This is a story that not only champions diversity, difference and pride but encourages those who are different to have the courage to come forward and celebrate that.  In a world that is hopefully disappearing rapidly – despite those in some US states clinging to the “old standards” by banning books and educators facing criminal charges for breaches – and conformity was the key, there were always those who preferred yellow in a world of blue whether that was colour, religion, political or gender identity, or any of the millions of other ways that humans differ.  And it’s been a theme in many children’s books now for some time, but this one stands out for its simplicity in explaining the concept. Liking yellow in a world of mandated blue is something even the youngest readers can understand and they can start to think of things that they like that perhaps others don’t, like brussel sprouts and broccoli., then consider if that is necessarily something to be shunned for. 

A friend recently posted a message to social media about a daughter who “marches to the beat of her own drum” (whatever rhythm that might be) and my response was that it was wonderful that she now lives in a world that is willing to accept and embrace so many different tunes because while it might sound like a cacophony, it is actually the harmonious sound of humanity.  

So it doesn’t matter how many times our little ones hear this vital message about being yourself, of celebrating difference, of having the courage to stand out, because now we are finally reaping the benefits.  


May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'When you dance to your own rhythm life taps its toes to your beat. Terri Guillemets the oogie boogie witch'


Embrace Your Body

Embrace Your Body

Embrace Your Body











Embrace Your Body

Taryn Brumfitt

Sinead Hanley

Puffin, 2020

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


There is something scary in the statistic that 70% of primary school children have a concern about their body image, and when this is coupled with the greatest desire of post-restriction Australia is for beauty salons and gyms to re-open, it is easy to see why and that without intervention, this obsession with how we look is not going to change. From long before the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe to waif-like Twiggy to the more-rounded Kardashians, our obsession with how our bodies look rather than how they perform has dominated so many lives, and this is as true for our males as it is for females.  How many young lads see themselves in the image of a Hemsworth?

In 2016 Taryn Brumfitt wrote and directed a documentary Embrace which encouraged us to love who we are as we are, but that doco received a MA15+ classification and so did not reach down to the roots of where the obsession starts.

So now she is addressing this with the establishment of a number of initiatives that speak directly to our children including another documentary , a song and, based on that song, this book. Based on the mantra that “your body is not an ornament:it is the vehicle to your dreams!”. children of every size, shape, colour and ability are engaged in all sorts of activities  showing the extraordinary things our bodies can do proving that nobody has a body that is the same as anyone else’s and that it is capable of so much more than conforming to some arbitrary stereotyped look.

This book has an important role in the conversations and investigations we have with our youngest students and not just in the health and mindfulness programs we offer. Because we are all individuals it opens up the world of science and maths as we investigate why and how that is, delving into genetics and measurement and a host of other areas that give a deep understanding to the message of the book, including the language we use to describe others. ‘Smart’, ‘clever’, ‘athletic’ are so much better than the pejorative terms of ‘pretty’, ‘handsome’ and ‘strong’.  For if, from an early age, we can grasp that we, as individuals, are a combination of the unique circumstances of both our nature and nurture, then our understanding of and appreciation for who we are is a big step towards valuing the inside regardless of the outside in both ourselves and others. 

It is sad that there is still a need for this sort of book in 2020, just as there was in 1920 and 1960, but if you make and use just one purchase this year, this could be the one that changes lives for the better. 



Nice and Slow

Nice and Slow

Nice and Slow











Nice and Slow

Sarah Ayoub

Mimi Purnell

HarperCollins, 2022

24pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Let’s take today nice and slow,
have a break from the go-go-go.

We can lounge about and rediscover
what we love about each other.

The madness of Christmas and New Year is over and the holidays stretch before us – but for some, instead of being a time to rest and recuperate, it seems to be an opportunity to pack in as much activity as possible.  In fact, some even feel guilty if they have a day without something particular planned.  So this is a gentle book that reminds readers that to take the time to relax and reconnect with those around us is okay – even necessary.  Reading a book, learning something new, or returning to old favourites like building a cubby from sheets and chairs are all that is needed to reset, especially if we turn off the screens!

With words that soothe like a lullaby and a palette of soft colours, this book is as gentle as lying on the grass and watching the clouds make pictures – something many young readers need to learn as their lives seem to have become a competition as to who can do the most or have the most or be the most. Definitely one for the mindfulness collection as we encourage them to share what they would do if they had a whole day of choice that cost nothing. 

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














Mark Macleod

Kirrily Schell

ABC Books, 2008

40pp., hbk $16.95


Did you watch the six o’clock news last week? There were stories and pictures of people ravaged by a cyclone in Burma and rescued from an earthquake in China.  There was a policeman shot, a motorcyclist killed and a young lady who did not know CFCs were banned 20 years ago, crowned as the Australian entrant for the Miss Universe pageant. For most of us, the news will remain just what it was – a regular bulletin of the events of the world in the last 24 hours.  Few, unless they are personally involved, will give many of the items a second thought and we will move on to tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.

But what of our children who saw the same news?  To them, the images can be very confronting and powerful and they don’t yet have the experience and maturity to let them go, or to see them in their historical or geographical context.  They linger on, forming fears, causing nightmares and starting what-ifs. There are many stories of children afraid to go to their own school because they have seen images of a school massacre on the news, or who won’t fly in a plane after seeing the footage of an aircraft crash.

Mark Macleod wrote Tomorrow to counteract the world of gloom and doom that our children can see every evening.  He wanted them to know that the world will keep spinning, the sun will keep rising, the birds will keep singing and the plants will keep growing despite all these horrific events.

And so we have what appears to be a simple story with simple line drawings about a child going to sleep at night after sharing a bedtime story, and waking in the morning and getting all the way through the next day with none of those terrible fears eventuating.  But it is not just a story for the next day, it is a story for life – of hope and affirmation and inspiration that each of us will be strong enough to survive whatever might befall us.  “Tomorrow” becomes “today” and even “yesterday” without our scarcely realising it.

This is a book that deserves a place on library shelves.  Parents can share it with their little ones in the comfort and security of the bedtime story, and the astute teacher can use it to begin a conversation about fears and how we can confront them  – “Turn, look them in the eye and say you’re off to find tomorrow.”

Original review Sat 17/05/2008