Old Fellow

Old Fellow

Old Fellow











Old Fellow

Christopher Cheng

Liz Anelli

Walker Books, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99


The Swedish have a word for this story- fika [fee-ka]. It means “a moment to slow down and enjoy the good things in life”.  And that is exactly what the old man and his dog do from the moment they wake and stretch their creaky old bones, through their walk in the park meeting old friends and new and then home again for a well-earned cuppa. But is it the man or his dog that is the “old fellow”?

There are only a handful of authors who can take such an everyday occurrence as an old man and his dog taking their daily exercise and turn it into such a charming story that has so many possibilities.  Indeed, Chris Cheng has dedicated this story to the “Old fellows of Campderdown Memorial Park”, suggesting that he. himself, has spent an hour or more there just  practising fika as he watches all the meetings and greetings and connections that are made, for a walk in the park is as much mental and emotional exercise as it is physical.

While, in previous generations the old man might be represented by a grandfather, that stereotype has been replaced and so our children might not have as much contact with those whose birthdays start with a 7 and beyond and so this is an opportunity for them to engage with this age group and as programs such as Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds showed so well, there are huge benefits for both sides. Teachers’ notes are available.

In the meantime, Liz Anelli’s illustrations are so rich in detail as she captures not only the community who enjoy the park but their connections and friendships that you can almost feel the camaraderie coming off the page. And the reader’s next walk in their park will be viewed through a different lens.

With titles such as Bear and Rat  and One Tree , among many others to his credit, Chris has once again shown his incredible ability to capture the emotional essence of a situation that can open up a whole new world for young readers as they learn to identify, express and manage their own feelings.  

In the meantime, here is that elusive fika in action!















Jess McGeachin

Allen & Unwin, 2022

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


The publisher’s description of this book as a ” beautiful ode to the wonders of our natural world” is spot on.

In this book you’ll find

Many kinds of things

Some have slippery scales

Some have feathered wings

But kind is more than type

Kind is how you care

For creatures that you meet

And places that we share. 

There have been a plethora of books in the last couple of years that encourage us to take greater notice of our immediate surroundings, particularly as that has been where we have been confined to, and implore us to take greater care of where we step, what we see and how we act.  Leaving a shell on the beach means a lot to the little creature who seeks shelter beneath; not stepping on an ant means  even more to the ant! So this is another reminder to take the time to acknowledge,  appreciate and applaud Mother Nature, to remember that the real seven wonders of the world are at our fingertips.

But it is her final verse that really has great impact if we are to continue to be healthy and happy individuals who have the compassion, empathy, strength and energy to be kind to everyone and everything else. 

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature












Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Ted Kooser & Connie Wanek

Richard Jones

Walker Books, 2022

72pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


There have been a number of books reviewed on this site over the last couple of years like The Secret Signs of Nature that have encouraged young readers to explore their immediate environment with  critical, sensitive eyes to discover the detail hiding in the big picture. 

But what if, as well as their senses and science brain, they also took their imagination out to play? And what they saw really did become a clown on the top of the hill, up on one leg, juggling a pie, rather than just a winter tree with a long-vacated squirrel’s nest on the end of a branch? 

The subtitle of the US version of this book by former US poet laureate Ted Kooser and and poet Connie Wanek is ” Two Poets at Play Among Figures of Speech” and while a bit dull, nevertheless, it sums up this stunning collection of blank verse poems perfectly.  By letting their imaginations out to play, and using similes and metaphors and other literary devices beloved of English teachers, a thunderstorm becomes something that has become lost in the dark of the house, not wanting to wake us but crashing into walls as they stumble about, occasionally striking a match to see their way; tadpoles become commas making them “the liveliest of all punctuation” ; and a book is transformed into a sandwich with all sorts of goodness between its folded pitta covers!

 Organized by the elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth and accompanied by distinctive, sparse illustrations that interpret the words but which don’t interfere with the picture created by the reader this is an intriguing anthology to dip and delve into, for letting the imagination roam free, wander, and stay healthy. So while we understand that a fire has no stomach, is “never full, never satisfied” and thus must never be set dree, it is an entirely different story for our imaginations.


An Artist’s Eyes

An Artist's Eyes

An Artist’s Eyes











An Artist’s Eyes

Frances Tosdevin

Clémence Monnet

Frances Lincoln Children’s, 2022

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


When Mo looks at the sea, she sees “dazzling duck-egg blue, a swirl of peacocks and the inky indigo of evening” but all Jo sees is blue.  

When Mo looks at the forest, she sees “shiny apple-green, the lime of gooseberries and the springy zinginess of moss” and shadows that make the green go darker.  But all Jo sees is green, making him more and more frustrated because he can’t see what Mo does.  But Mo is patient and gradually Jo begins to use his imagination although instead of seeing the shades and hues that Mo does,  he starts to see something different…

This is a powerful yet gentle story that reminds the reader that two people can look at exactly the same thing and see it differently- that each of us has artist’s eyes that are shaped by our imagination, experience and perceptions and it can take us a while to align them.  Monnet’s watercolour interpretation of Tosdevin’s lyrical text is enchanting and with their shapes, lines and colour choices the reader will view them through Mo’s eyes or Jo’s eyes or their own eyes…

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

At the age where our children are exploring a new independence and making a wider friendship group, they look at those around them and think that being like them is the key to “success:” and they try to change who they are to be like those they admire.  So this familiar message of being comfortable in your own skin, being the unique individual you are, perhaps even being the ‘you’ that others admire and seek to emulate is important and cannot be shared too often.  So this iteration of that truth is not only important but being a completely different interpretation gives it added reach and recognition.  Whether our eyes kiss in the corners or speak to the stars, sees shapes or colours or sparkles, what we see is unique to us and is as valid as what our neighbour sees. 

The Secret of Sapling Green

The Secret of Sapling Green

The Secret of Sapling Green











The Secret of Sapling Green

Penelope Pratley

EK Books, 2022 

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


Sometimes being different can be cool, but when your talent is growing things, and your thumbs are literally green, it isn’t.  Until it is…

Sapling Green has always hidden her big secret – her green thumbs. As the others play in the schoolyard, even helping to create a new garden, she shoves her hands in her pockets and hides her thumbs. Much as she would like to help, the library is her refuge as she watches Wynn climb the old, bare tree in the yard. 

But one day it is damaged in a storm, and Wynn becomes more and more morose, particularly when the diagnosis is that the tree must be cut down. Is it time for Sapling to be brave enough to show her classmates her secret and save the tree?

Every class has its mix of the quiet and the boisterous and yet both might be behaviours covering similar insecurities.  Because while Sapling Green’s might be made overtly obvious in the story, why does Wynn become so despondent so quickly when the tree is damaged?  Does he feel his place in the playground, perhaps in the world, is entirely dependent on his tree-climbing prowess? So while this story has a familiar theme of our differences being our strengths, it is also an opportunity for students to consider the behaviours of others and begin to develop understanding, empathy and compassion.  Doing it at arm’s length through story is much less fearful and confronting than actual examples of their classmates, but it does offer a way of viewing others through a different lens. It is an opportunity to discover that our beliefs, values, thoughts, attitudes and actions are unique to us because of the experiences we have had, and that there are those whose lives are vastly different, even though, externally, they are similar.

Inspired by her son’s diagnosis of autism, the author wanted “to portray a character who isn’t neurotypical. A character who learns to accept themselves and be accepted by others simply for being who they are.” But, IMO, it becomes more than this because by delving deeper, not only does Sapling Green accept herself but others accept her too, allowing her to build trust in others that can lead to long-term bonds.  Just look at how Wynn’s relationship with her changes.  

We are not empty pots like those portrayed on the front endpaper – we each have magic hidden in our depths that allows us to bloom as individually as the pots on the back…

The Boy with Flowers in His Hair

The Boy with Flowers in His Hair

The Boy with Flowers in His Hair











The Boy with Flowers in His Hair


Walker, 2022

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


David has flowers in his hair and that’s just fine with all the other kids in the class, particularly his best friend. But when the bright, pretty petals start to fall off and David just has spiky twigs, things changed.  David was quiet, he didn’t want to play and he started to wear a hat. He never wore hats.  And when he took it off and reveled that he was twiggy, spiky and brittle, the other kids didn’t want to play with him either.  Until his best friend had an idea…

This is a touching story about what being a best friend really means – being there when your mate is at their most vulnerable, whether that be through illness or any other hardship that might strike.  The clichéed “thick and thin” that few are fortunate to experience, but when they do it means a lifelong bond that is remembered forever. Even though having flowers growing out of your head might be noticeable in the adult world, it is totally accepted as natural by the children who haven’t yet learned about adult perceptions or prejudices. But whether it’s because they’ve heard parental whispers or it just takes them a while to adjust to David’s new look, their attitudes and behaviour changes when he does, leaving him even more vulnerable than he would have been just dealing with its cause. Thank goodness for his best friend who supports him regardless.

While the story itself deals with David’s hair, which, while being the thing we often notice first about a person yet which is really the easiest thing to change, it could apply to any situation where the child feels isolated or marginalised and so, in the hands of a sensitive adult, it can help little ones share their own stories – perhaps illness, divorce, financial hardship, whatever – while helping to build compassion and empathy amongst their mates as they understand that their friend is still the same inside,  

Sensitively written and illustrated, this is one for the mindfulness collection that deserves to be shared and discussed and valued for its bravery/rarity in touching on a delicate subject in such a tactful way. I could use the other cliché, “Ask me how I know” but all I will say is that I have been David, and hopefully I’ve also been his best friend. 

You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend

You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend

You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend











You Matter: Be Your Own Best Friend

Sue Lawson & Sue Hindle

Prue Pittock

Wild Dog, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


With pandemic restrictions easing and life returning to a “COVID-19 normal” one of the most concerning things emerging from the lockdowns and limitations is the amount of global research focusing on the impact the time has had on children’s mental health.  And, with RATs and masks in schools bringing the disease to them directly, the anxiety and discomfort is likely to have  even greater consequences.  But while that might be the black cloud of the last two years, the silver lining is the focus that has been placed on the mental and emotional health of our young people – no longer is it just an illness of older people.

According to the experts, one of the greatest tools we can provide youngsters with is resilience -“the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity” – and this book, which talks directly to the reader, offers the tools to build this. Beginning with the affirmation that no one else in the world is like you, if offers practical ways to explore emotions and build a toolkit to help with the days when they “feel worried, worn out or just not quite right.” From learning to breathe deeply, tune into their emotions, and creating a place – physical or mental – that is safe and peaceful, the young person is offered ideas that are simple, doable and achievable.  They’re explicitly stated rather than being embedded in a what-would/could-you-do story that needs to be unpacked and have step-by-step instructions from learning to finger-breathe to writing anxieties , fears and feelings on paper and physically ripping them up. 

Mental health is a curriculum focus, even moreso now, and mindfulness part of everyday activities so as well as helping individuals directly, the suggestions could also be a toolkit for teachers to work through with students whenever there is a moment or a need. Sharing stories such as The World Awaits is an essential part of showing children that their feelings are real, shared and validated and this book is the perfect follow-up, empowering them to not only manage their emotions now but building strategies for the future.  


Don’t Forget

Don't Forget

Don’t Forget











Don’t Forget

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Puffin, 2021

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


Sometimes being a kid can be overwhelming – there are so many things to remember to do, to say, to be… Particularly with all the busyness and chaos in the lives of our children, these days.  

Don’t forget to make your bed, and wear socks that fit your feet.

Don’t forget to brush your teeth, and don’t forget your homework!

In this charming book for young readers, acknowledged in the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Notables , little ones are reminded that as well as all that actual stuff, in the whirlwind of the day it is easy to forget the other things that are just as important…

Don’t forget to wonder, to be brave, to share.

Don’t forget to imagine, and to feel the touch of each season

For while we have to do that ordinary, everyday stuff, it is the long-term, intangible things that create memories, build dreams and shape us as we grow.  While celebrating the joy of childhood, Godwin has carefully chosen events that will resonate widely but all the while it is the connections with nature, the  being with and  caring for others that are the most enduring – the things that cause us to wonder, to imagine, to share and to reflect that are both the building blocks and the stepping stones.

Alongside Godwin’s superficially simple text are Anna Walker’s exquisite illustrations which bring both them and the child’s life to life.  The reader becomes part of the neighbourhood, rather than an observer, again reinforcing that connectedness on which families and communities are built. As we move out of such a long period of enforced isolation, books like this which celebrate the simple, that literally remind us to smell the roses, that ground us in the here-and-now rather than the what’s-next and the what-might-be that will help us realise that which really matters.  It’s not about the extravaganza birthday party that was missed but the community street party that was shared by all. 

And for those who want to explore the concepts further, there is a unit of work available through PETAA but for members only.

The World Awaits

The World Awaits

The World Awaits











The World Awaits

Tomos Roberts


Farshore, 2021

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


As one little boy lies in bed one morning, not wanting to face the day, it’s up to his older brother to show him the extraordinary potential within him and how even the smallest of his actions will make the world a better place . . .

In the child’s world of the here and now, where it seems that their world has been dominated by restrictions and limits for ever, and even just the regular routine of going to school is a list of must-dos and dont’s, where even they, as littlies, are subjected to an uncomfortable nose-swab test every other day, it is easy to see why the prospect of staying in bed and hiding under the doona is an attractive option.  Without the adult’s ability to see the big picture and know that each day they get up and face is a day closer to the end of this situation, even the child’s natural resilience can be tested and their robust (or not-so) mental health can be chipped away.

But how do you explain to the child who mostly lives in Piaget’s world of the concrete operational stage where they are becoming more aware of the world around them but are straddling the phases of things needing to be real and that of being able to think and act in the abstract, that they have something called potential and that they can make a difference? Cleverly, in this poem, which is a conversation between adult and child,  Roberts breaks this concept down into things the child does understand – the concepts of adding and subtracting to a larger element known as the ‘common good’ and identifying simple everyday things, like ringing a grandparent, that they can do that contribute rather than withdraw.

“In our core is a plus and minus, and they’re eternally at play.

They give us the power to add goodness to the world or to take some good away.” 

As with The Great Realisation, Roberts shows his ability to take himself to the child’s level, to talk to them in language they understand, yet at the same time provide layers of meaning that more mature readers can delve into. So while he talks to the child of making its bed or helping a struggling beetle back on its feet, there are also more oblique references to the global situation –

A little look at human history tells us all we need to know

It’s no surprise the toughest times were when that number got too low.  

As with that first book, throughout this one are the threads of hope, of better times and of the child having the power to make the decisions and take the actions that will improve things for all, not just themselves.

Roberts’ poems have been described as “a manifesto for our time” and with his ability to connect with kids of all ages, he is certainly one whose works need attention and further explanation.  Perhaps exploring this poem with a child in your realm, and offering them a way forward, is your addition to the bucket of common good for today. one that will have a long-term benefit that, as a teacher, you may never see or know.  As important as it is invisible. 

Cat Problems

Cat Problems

Cat Problems











Cat Problems

Jory John

Lane Smith

Walker, 2021

48pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


What could a pampered house cat possibly have to complain about?

Just like most cats, this cat lives an extremely comfortable life. But he has his problems, too… The sun spot he’s trying to bathe in just won’t stop moving. The nosy neighbour squirrel just can’t seem to mind its own business. And don’t even get him started on the monster that is the vacuum cleaner! It’s an absolute menace! Will this cat ever find the silver lining? 

The creators of both Penguin Problems and Giraffe Problems  have teamed up again with this new story that not only entertains but, like the others, has a subtle sub-text that is just right for these times.  Because while it has been an inside-cat for eight years and longs for a change of scenery, the squirrel has a different perspective on the outdoors and tells the cat so. Instead of being hand-fed in a warm cosy, exclusive setting, it has to share its tree, be out in all weathers and continually forage for its food. So while we might be tired of this pandemic and all its restrictions, there are those in other places who have it much tougher.  The grass is not necessarily greener… And while life, particularly misery and grief, is not a competition it is useful to view things through a different lens at times so we can be grateful for what we have. Even if we can’t get our favourite takeaway chicken right now because of supply chain issues, what would it be like to not even know if and when you are going to have another meal at all?

This a particularly relatable story for our young readers, not only because they have experienced the cat’s frustration of being confined, but because many of them will have their own cats and will have seen the behaviours that John and Smith so clearly articulate in words and pictures. But it might also give pause for thought – even though the preferred option is for cat-owners to keep their pets indoors these days, is that fair on a cat whose origins are wild and whose instincts are to be outdoors?

As with Penguin Problems and Giraffe Problems, the reader is once again encouraged to view particular situations through the perspective of others, a skill that helps develop both empathy and compassion while making them more aware of the impact of their own actions on others.  A powerful trilogy in the mindfulness collection.