The Frog Book – Nature’s Alarm

The Frog Book – Nature’s Alarm

The Frog Book – Nature’s Alarm











The Frog Book – Nature’s Alarm

Sue Lawson

Guy Holt

Wild Dog, 2023

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


Sometimes on a clear, still night if you’re lucky you can hear the local frogs – even luckier if it is the sound of the pobblebonk that you will hear. But rather than curse them for keeping you awake, you should bless them because they are a sign that the local environment is healthy.  For frogs are often the first to show that things in their habitat are not well, and, in this book that teaches young readers all they need to know about frogs generally, they also learn that it is the frog’s thin permeable skin  that is the barometer for change.  Because as well as allowing life-giving air and water, it also absorbs pollutants and chemicals, and is sensitive to salinity and temperature changes. thus when frogs get sick, scientists know that there is something more concerning happening.

Most young readers are familiar with frogs because even if they haven’t heard them, they are usually one of the focal points of any studies about life cycles that children undertake, and this is a comprehensive book perfectly pitched at young independent readers so they learn not only about the crucial role of the creatures but why and how they, themselves, can help them through their own actions as well as how to build a frog-friendly habitat. Accessible text, large colour photos combined with detailed illustrations and comprehensive teachers’ notes linked to the Australian Curriculum make this an essential part of any collection of resources about these special creatures. 

For a creature that has survived on the planet since the days of the dinosaurs, it is a sad indictment that now, in Australia alone, there are more than 40 species listed as endangered or vulnerable. So when the pobblebonks and the other species that live in our dam start their nightly chorus it is time to celebrate that all is well in their patch of the planet – and just pull a pillow over my ears. 















Jane Bingham

Mariona Cabassa

Usborne, 2023

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


Festivals are times for fun and excitement, bring communities together to celebrate and commemorate.  And there are many books about the most common that are held in different cultures, religions and societies so that most students have a basic knowledge of a lot of them, particularly those that are important to their school populations.

But what sets this book aside apart from its vibrant presentation is that the festivals themselves are collated not by date or purpose but by action.  So there are collections of those where throwing things like gumboots and tomatoes gathered together under the heading SPLAT!;  others collected under headings such as Boo!, Crackle! and Parade! , even Splosh!

Amidst the eye-catching illustrations, only two or three festivals are featured and there is just the basic information about them, but this is expanded a little in pages at the back, making this an ideal text for young readers.  Who wouldn’t want to find out more about a festival that features giant ice castles that sparkle, or one that has a parade of giants or even one wear everyone wears a mask? And then, just in case you missed something there are look-and-find pages that encourage the readers to go back and find particular celebrations.

Time and again throughout my reviews I have said that Usborne really know what makes an interesting, engaging non fiction book and this one is no exception.  And, as usual there are Quicklinks to investigate individual festivals further but for me, the power of the book is the similarities in the way that we express joy and delight as we remember and recall, and that in itself, brings communities together as much as any individual focus. 

The Truth Detective

The Truth Detective

The Truth Detective











The Truth Detective: How to make sense of a world that doesn’t add up

Tim Harford

Ollie Mann

Wren & Rook, 2023

192pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


In this evolving digital world where global connections are instantaneous and your money, even your identity, can be stolen with a few clicks of a mouse in any corner of it, more and more we need to teach our students to be critical thinkers and the Australian Curriculum strand of Critical and Creative Thinking has never been more important.  

But with Australians alone losing more than $3 100 000 000 to scammers in one year, it seems it hard enough to teach the adults let alone young ones who are only just emerging from childhood and its acceptance of all that is told to them, who are only just being mature enough to view things from another’s perspective or put themselves in another’s shoes, who are just learning to think logically and analyse according to what they already know and believe.  Young people who are perhaps experiencing the freedom of fewer restrictions on their digital footprint and for whom the timeless message of “stranger danger” is relegated to not talking to people they don’t know in the park and seem to be okay with posting personal information and photos on unknown, unmonitored platforms for the brief gratification of some likes from strangers.

So this is a timely book that needs to be in school and home libraries and shared and discussed.  Not because it teaches about being safe online, although that would be a desirable outcome, but because it gives the reader the tools and tips, strategies and skills to be critical thinkers. To not necessarily take everything at face value but to ask the core questions such as 

  • Does this idea make sense?
  • Does this story conflict with something I already know to be true?
  • Does this fact come from a trust worthy source?
  • Does the person telling me this seem friendly and confident?
  • Do I want this idea to be true?
  • Does this story make me feel something like fear or joy?
  • Is this a cool story?
  • What evidence supports this?
  • What evidence is missing?
  • What does the evidence teach us?

Using real life examples, the author shows the reader how to analyse the situation using the data and asking the right questions using an entertaining formula and format that is very readable. For example, he demonstrates how a magician’s trick of tossing a regular coin and getting ten heads in a row is more about the missing evidence rather than a lucky streak; how the famous “fairies at the bottom of the garden” photographs that fooled even the experts of the time were clearly fake; even how Florence Nightingale who started a revolution with a pie chart.

So, even though as teachers and teacher librarians we can teach our students to be sceptical, to ask certain questions and test websites and so forth for accuracy, authority, currency, objectivity and relevance, such concepts and skills are often taught in isolation and the power of this book is that actual events are put under the microscope and through logical analysis the truth is revealed. If “information is the best weapon” then we must give students the tools to test the information – and this book does this so well by encouraging the collection, analysis and comparison of data  giving context to all those maths lessons about statistics and probability and so forth, such as determining if there is actually a connection between playing a “violent video game” and “violent behaviour”. so the examples are right in the student’s world. 

The publisher’s blurb asks questions such as  Did you know that a toy spaceship can teach you about inflation and that a pooping cow can show you how to invest your pocket money? but, wearing my educator’s hat, there are much more important lessons to be learned from this book and that’s why, IMO, it’s a must in the teacher’s toolbox .

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war











Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Robin Cowcher

Walker Books, 2019

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


Left! Left! Left! Right! Left! We make our way in the dark.

On the one hand feet make their way to a commemorative service; on the other soldiers’ boots take them to the battlefront. 

As we commemorate ANZAC Day, this book reminds us that Australians have been involved in wars since before we were even officially called Australia and that our presence is known and respected in wartorn countries even today.

Each double-page spread with its simple text and evocative illustrations juxtaposes the people at the commemorative ceremonies with soldiers in conflict throughout our history. From the title page where the family hurries out the door into darkness through to the endpapers with the iconic poppies that we associate with remembrance in this country the reader is taken on a journey through our military history in such a sensitive way. 

As the Dawn Service moves through prayers,  the raising of the flags, the lighting of candles, the placement of wreaths and poppies, silences and the familiar bugle call of The Last Post and Reveille so too we move through time –  The Boer War, World Wars I and II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Bosnia & Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan, Ukraine – whether as combat troops or peacekeepers, Australians have had a role committing hundreds of thousands of men and women, each of whom deserves our respect and gratitude. While each page just has one factual statement of what is happening, the  illustrations bring a depth and dimension that inspire emotion and memories as the two marry together perfectly. From the sprig of rosemary somehow surviving the stomp of boots on the first page to the ghost-like images marching with the people on the last, there is a sense that this is an enduring commitment by military and civilian personnel alike.   One could not stand without the other.   

Thumbnail sketches of each conflict are provided at the end of the book and teachers notes’ are also available for those who want to use this as the first step in a deeper investigation for both History and English. It may even inspire some students to investigate the role that their family has had in the Services and given our multicultural population there may be students who have personal experiences to share that might give a unique insight that can’t be gleaned from picture books, no matter how stunning they are.

Something a little different to share this ANZAC Day, not only to remember the huge contribution that has been made but also to acknowledge those who have served and continue to serve so that those students who have had or still have family in the military forces understand that they are included in the thoughts and prayers.  The services are not just for the sacrifices made long ago on faraway battlefields by generations unknown, but for everyone who has served in the short 120 years of our united history.

We hear the sweet songs of morning. And we remember them.

First published March 24 2018

Updated April 25 2023


Australia Remembers

Australia Remembers

Australia Remembers











Australia Remembers

Allison Paterson

Big Sky, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99


As the annual commemoration of ANZAC Day  approaches, and once again our attention turns to remembering Gallipoli, the Western Front and all those who have been part of our armed services in whatever capacity, this book, the first in a series from the author of ANZAC Sons explores the concept of commemoration – what it is, how we do it and why it is so important.

There would be few towns in Australia that do not have a war memorial, one that becomes the focal point for commemorations on April 25 and November 11 each year. But many of our young students do not realise the significance of this place so this book which explains the background of conflict, the history and meaning of ANZAC Day, the significance of the elements of the ceremonies,  and the role of Australia service people in war and peace since they were first called to support the “mother country” in 1914 with simple accessible text, coloured photos, and an appealing layout will be a wonderful addition to your library’s collection.

With a Table of Contents, glossary, index and bibliography it is a wonderful model for those learning about using the cues and clues to find the information they want, but what set this book apart are the frequent quotes about its various topics that have been collected from children who are the age of its target audience, offering their own insights into what these events mean for them. There are also questions to ponder and activities to do, including teachers’ notes so students understand the importance of a ceremony so significant that even in the dark days of the pandemic we stood in our driveways to honour those who have served. 

First published October 23, 2018

Updated April 24, 2023

The Poppy

The Poppy

The Poppy











The Poppy

Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2014

Hbk., RRP $A26.95 9781925000313

Pbk., RRP $A16.95  9781925000320

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

This poem, by John McRae, has become one of the most enduring written about World War I and has provided the most recognisable symbol of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders – the poppy. Although Flanders Fields, itself, is in Belgium, the poem and the poppy have become symbolic of the whole of that terrible conflict on the Western Front, and so this new book by illustrator Andrew Plant is aptly named, beautifully told and superbly illustrated.

Starting on the front cover with the brilliant red of the poppy set in front of ghostly images of other poppies entwined in barbed wire and against a background of stormy black skies, this is a beautiful “photo-essay” of the story of Villiers-Bretonnneux, which on ANZAC Day 1918 became the scene of one of Australia’s greatest victories and which forged a bond between two nations that grows stronger each year.  Except the photos are not photos – they are eerily haunting paintings that tell the story of the building of that bond. Bordered in black and accompanied by simple text in white, their bright colours are a stunning contrast which suggests feelings of hope and future and endurance.

The petal of the poppy is whipped off in the winter wind and blows across the village to show  the Villiers-Bretonneux school, known as Victoria School, because it was rebuilt through the contributions of the people of Victoria so that even now the flags of two nations fly above it and carvings of Australian flora and fauna adorn the school hall; it flies through the village past the Musée Franco Australien, and is carried further above the fields and up a broad, low hill to a tall cross and a great tower where thousands of names are carved – those who died but whose bodies were never recovered – and then out over the rows and rows of headstones, some nameless, not even their nationality known. 

But the stories of the soldiers are known and told and not forgotten.  As the winter winds grip the Somme, the Australian and French flags fly side by side and once again, the land turns red. But now it is the petals of the poppies, not the blood of the fallen.

So often our younger students’ knowledge of World War I is limited to the events at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli – here, in this stunning book is the pathway to their understanding of the much more drawn-out battle of the Somme and the Western Front, stories our children should know as well as those students in Victoria School who see “N’Oublions Jamais l’Australie” in every classroom. Stories and a motto which led them to raise nearly $21 000 to donate towards the rebuilding of Strathewan Primary School after it was destroyed in the Victorian bushfires, Black Saturday, 2009. World War 1 was so much more than the hell of the eight months on the Gallipoli Peninsula. 



A peek inside...

A peek inside…

First published February 25, 2014

Updated April 5, 2023

Can You Get Rainbows in Space?

Can You Get Rainbows in Space?

Can You Get Rainbows in Space?











Can You Get Rainbows in Space?

Dr Sheila Kumani

Liz Kay

Puffin, 2023

128pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


Can you get rainbows in space? If you have seen the images coming from Tasmania of the Aurora Australis in the last week , then the answer would seem to be yes.

But what causes these spectacular light shows?  Indeed, what causes all the colours that we see in our world?

This book is a comprehensive introduction to and investigation of the phenomenon of colour and how each of the visible colours of the rainbow is created by light (the most important thing) and waves (not the kind you see at the beach – though you will learn why the sea looks blue!).  Readers find out how some animals are able to glow in the dark and how others change their colours to hide from predators, why leaves change colour in the autumn, why our veins look blue but our blood is red, and how the language we use shapes the colours we see . . .

Using lots of illustrations, the information is presented in easily accessible language so young readers can understand this thing that has such an impact on our lives, not just physically but also emotionally.  Taking each colour in turn, each chapter explores fascinating facts about that colour and then we go beyond the rainbow to explore black and white, infrared and ultraviolet, fluorescence, seeing in the dark and whether there really are rainbows in space.

A fascinating, easy-to-read investigation that will answer so many questions our young scientists have. 

Step Inside Science Human Body

Step Inside Science Human Body

Step Inside Science Human Body










Step Inside Science: Human Body

Lara Bryan

Teresa Bellon

Usborne, 2023

14pp., board book, RRP $A19.99


Did you know that it takes about a minute for your blood to do a loop of your body? Or that there are special juices in your tummy that turn anything you eat into mush?

These are the sorts of things that young readers can learn in this interactive book from Usborne as they take a journey through their body so they can discover how thousands of pieces of it work together in harmony to make them, them and us, us. The board book format offers opportunities for peek-a-boo illustrations and lift-the-flap discoveries so young readers are engaged and keen to learn more.  And, as usual with Usborne publications, there are pre-selected Quicklinks so they can learn more and get involved in activities.  


The Animal Toolkit

The Animal Toolkit

The Animal Toolkit











The Animal Toolkit

Steve Jenkins

Robin Page

Clarion Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Until 1960, when Jane Goodall observed a chimpanzee using a blade of grass to “fish” for termites, it was believed that humans were the only animal to use tools and that the use of these because we have opposable thumbs were what separated us from animals in general.  However, since her discovery, we’ve learned that many creatures use sticks, leaves, rocks, and other natural items as tools to perform all kinds of tasks.  

In this fascinating picture book from Caldecott Honor–winning team Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, readers learn all about what makes a tool a tool— “an object than an animal manipulates and uses to affect its environment, another animal or itself – and the remarkable ways animals that use them to interact with the world. From the tailorbird, which repurposes spider silk to stitch a leaf into its nest, to the gorilla, which uses sticks to test water depth and build bridges, these animals are intelligent, innovative, and creative.

Written in a narrative style that is easily accessible to the young independent reader, and using his signature cut paper illustrations, Steve Jenkins offers readers a closer look at these animals, their habitats, and their behaviours, making it a “poster-child” for why we must continue to offer our students a robust non  fiction print collection.  How else will they discover that apes and monkeys regularly clean their teeth, that crows indulge in sword-fighting just for fun and the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, WA have learned to use seashells to catch food? 

This is one that will fascinate animal enthusiasts and aspiring inventors everywhere, and perhaps inspire them to look more closely and investigate further.

The Big Story of Being Alive

The Big Story of Being Alive

The Big Story of Being Alive











The Big Story of Being Alive

Neal Layton

Wren & Rook, 2023

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


What does it mean to be alive? The three things that are agreed on to define “alive” are that all living things grow, reproduce and they are made of trillions of tiny, but critically important, organisms called cells.  It is how these cells combine and work together that gives each living  thing its unique characteristics. 

Young readers can find out what a cell is and why they are important, including how they themselves start as two cells from their parents, in this engaging, fact-filled book written to entertain as well as educate.  Readers will empathise with the little robot who is not alive, but who, in the end would like to be because of all the things it means it could do.  In the past, and perhaps still, the foundation science unit for our youngest students was to distinguish between those things that were alive and those that weren’t beginning their understanding of comparing, contrasting and classifying and so this would be a great starting point to help them understand why there are differences, rather than just that there are.  They could use what they learn to develop a set of questions based on the criteria for being alive and then examine those things around them to see which they satisfy.  Perhaps it will start them on a lifelong journey of scientific discoveries.