Pip and Houdini

Pip and Houdini

Pip and Houdini









Pip and Houdini

J. C. Jones

Allen & Unwin, 2017

208pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Pip Sullivan first entered our reading lives in Run, Pip, Run when she had to live on her wits to stay out of the clutches of the authorities when her “grandfather” Sully had a stroke and subsequently died. Fearful of being put in foster care, Pip found temporary refuge with her best friend Matilda’s family. But to Pip, Matilda is perfect and never seems to get into trouble whereas Pip doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of it. Convinced she is going to be put in formal foster care with all that entails because she believes the Brownings no longer want her, Pip hits the road with her inseparable dog Houdini determined to find her real mother.  With only a nine-year-old postcard to go by, she is determined to get to Byron Bay…

Full of determination, resilience and quick-thinking Pip has much to overcome as she makes her way north, all the while never giving up hope and never forgetting Houdini who is very well named. Despite her somewhat unorthodox upbringing, she has learned some important life lessons from Sully and these make her a particularly likable little girl of just ten and a bit.  Asking to pay extra for her train fare because she had skipped without paying the day before is just one example. And when all you want is a family of your own, nothing will deter you.

Written so that the reader can understand her perspective and her thinking, it is an engaging sequel that is every bit as good as the CBCA shortlisted original. An engaging, solid read that is a little bit different for independent readers.


The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess











The Cherry Pie Princess

Vivian French

Marta Kissi

Walker Books, 2017

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


“It’s not much fun being a princess: you have to be prim, proper and obedient. Princess Peony lives in a world full of magical creatures – hags, trolls, giants and fairy godmothers – but her father’s strict rules leave her feeling bored and lonely. She wants to learn how to DO things, and cooking’s at the top of her list. But when Peony borrows a recipe book from the public library, the king has the old librarian who tried to help her arrested for “speaking out of turn”. Can Peony stand up to her father and make things right?”

The publisher’s blurb sums up this engaging story very well. Despite being somewhat of a misfit in her family shunning shoes and pretty dresses to better herself, she counts down the days till her 13th birthday when she is allowed an unescorted “educational” visit but is dismayed to find that her plans to again visit the library which she first discovered when she was nine, are thwarted by Mrs Beef who believes a visit to the family’s mausoleum to study her ancestors would be much better for her. But she manages to escape, makes her way to the library and there her adventures really begin…   

For independent readers who like their princesses to have some attitude but also compassion, this is a new take on the more traditional tale.  Lovers of familiar  fairy tales will see it still has many of the features of the originals with a tyrant king with old-fashion views; older, self-absorbed sisters who treat the youngest one with disdain; the mean, miserable governess with the iron fist; fairy godmothers who can grant wishes; a neglected old hag who is cranky that her invitation to the new prince’s christening has not arrived; dark gloomy dungeons where innocents sit forgotten for years; a talking cat… and only one person who can save the day when trouble threatens.   But they will also like the determination, compassion, resilience and self-reliance of Peony who is more like them and isn’t relying on a handsome prince to get her out of bother.

Vivian French’s storytelling is accompanied by a sprinkling of illustrations that add charm and character, making this ideal for a bedtime read-along  or read-alone for the 7+ age group.

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

The Secret Garden & Other Stories

The Secret Garden & Other Stories











The Secret Garden & Other Stories

Usborne Illustrated Classics

Usborne, 2017

388pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Usborne have added another volume to their stable of illustrated collections that bring us the tales, stories, myths and legends that have been shared with and enjoyed by children throughout the generations.  This collection includes The Secret Garden, The Railway Children, The Wizard of Oz, Black Beauty, Little Women and Heidi, all based on the original stories and beautifully illustrated to entice the young reader ready to take their reading in a new direction.

There are some stories that have endured over time for very good reasons and this collection is one that celebrates some of those that continue to be published in full so many years later.  They are the sorts of stories that grandparents and even great-grandparents remember fondly and love to give so these abridged versions are the perfect introduction to the longer, original stories.  Apart from just being a good read, they give 21st century children a glimpse into the lives of children of the past to a time when life wasn’t dominated by screens and technology. Who wouldn’t be tempted to explore the mysteries of Misselthwaite Manor, wander down the yellow brick road or be afraid of going from luxury to poverty overnight?

As well as being an essential addition to the collection, this could be one to flag in your suggestions for Christmas purchases for parents!

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings











Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings: Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories

Stella Tarakson

Richard Morden

Random House Australia, 2016

288pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Australia really is a ‘story country” and the tales, tall and true that have been collected in this volume prove just how rich and diverse this nation is.  Even our unofficial national anthem focuses on a ghost so why wouldn’t there be a wealth of stories about mythical creatures, mysterious locations, haunted places, UFO sightings, bizarre disappearances and strange happenings?


From bunyips and yowies to Azaria Chamberlain and the disappearance  of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, this is a collection that will absorb the lover of the weird, wonderful and utterly mysterious, some familiar and others not-so. Ostensibly for those 10 and over, its clear format, short chapters and abundant illustrations will appeal to any independent reader who is interested in finding out more about the strange and unusual that this country has on offer.   

As well as the stories themselves, there are pages with extra information and some of the sources the author used for her research are included for those who wish to investigate further.  

Identified as a Notable Book in the 2017 Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, I know a couple of young readers who are going to be having to do scissors-paper-rock to see who reads this one first.














Henry Cole

Katherine Tegen Books

288pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Naming Day at the school on The Hill -an old rubbish dump on the edge of the woods – is the most important day for the students because it is then that they get their surnames based on their expertise in particular disciplines such as metal craft and weaving.  Chipmunk Twig, who prefers to read discarded picture books rather than the old instruction manuals preferred by the other students, is struggling to excel and seems destined to become a lonely Errand Runner. Shamed and embarrassed he runs away, falls into a river and when he reaches the shore he finds a golden egg from which hatches a dragon.  And suddenly his fortunes change – or do they?

Miss 11, an avid reader, was drawn to this book on a recent visit because it is the sort of story she likes and she immediately put her nose into it. However her comments afterwards suggested it did not live up to expectations.  Even though the writing is descriptive,  she said she was glad there were the pictures to help because her imagination wasn’t drawing them for her.

She felt that the storyline did not match her predictions and there were several gaps that were unexplained such as how Twig got back upriver; what is making Char the dragon so sick; enemy Basil’s change of heart and how Lily, banned from seeing Twig manages to accompany him on the final adventure.  She wasn’t keen on the up-in-the-air, to-be-continued ending which left the story unresolved until the sequel Bayberry Island is read. Sadly, Grandma didn’t have it. Perhaps if she did and all the loose ends were tied up she might have enjoyed it more.

Friendship and the ethics of keeping animals captive and cheating to achieve a goal are the themes of this story but to Miss 11, the target audience for the story, they were lost in her confusion of the story.

Unusual for me to publish a less-than-positive review but when you have the critique of the intended audience, it’s hard to ignore it.  

The Earth Book

The Earth Book

The Earth Book











The Earth Book

Jonathan Litton

Thomas Hegbrook

Little Tiger Press, 2017

64pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99



“In the vastness of space lies a tiny sphere that orbits an ordinary middle-aged star in a quiet backwater of the Milky Way.  It’s one of billions of trillions of worlds, yet it is the only one that we know supports life… let’s go on a voyage of discovery to the four corners of the globe.”

Beginning with the beginning of the planet’s existence and told in a narrative style suitable for the newly independent reader who likes to read non fiction rather than dipping and delving for specific information, this is a beautifully illustrated book that takes the reader on a journey through physical earth, life on earth, the regions of the earth and the human planet.  

With its retro colour palette, diagrams and pictures it reminds me very much of a similar book I used to pore over 60 years ago and which I still have, such was its importance to my understanding of the world.  While today’s youngsters have television and the Internet to take them on similar journeys, nevertheless there is comfort and security in having something on hand that can be referred to over and over on demand; that gives enough information to satisfy a curiosity while also being a springboard to seeking further understanding if that is required.  

However, the illustrations are not as clear as might be expected for a ready reference resource of this type and being unpaged, and lacking a contents page and an index make its use more a personal one than an essential element of a library’s collection.  It is one to recommend to parents who are looking to boost their for home libraries so their children can start to understand what this planet is and how it works. It may become as loved as mine did and decades on form part of a collection of adored childhood reads. 

As world events and personal dramas seem to envelop us, books like this tend to put mankind and indeed Earth into perspective in the scheme of things and we are left with a wonder and an awe of this ‘third rock from the sun” as well as a sense of hope that despite everything and everyone, this place will endure for our lifetime and that of several lifetimes to come. 


Bear Grylls: Survival Skills Handbook (series)

Survival Skills Handbook

Survival Skills Handbook






Bear Grylls: Survival Skills Handbook



Dangers and Emergencies




Maps and Navigation


Bear Grylls

Bonnier, 2017

48pp., hbk., RRP $A12.99


Apart from being the star of his Emmy Award winning television show Man vs Wild, Bear Grylls is also Chief Scout to the UK Scout Association and so a series of handbooks about survival with his name on it has authenticity and authority.  Drawing on his 21 years of experience in the British SAS and with a personal philosophy of “Life is and adventure. Live it.”, Grylls encourages young readers to get outdoors, explore what’s on offer and with the help of clear illustrations and information, take a few risks to maximise the experience. From learning to set up camp, build a fire, gather food and water safely, build a shelter to using a compass, reading a map and tying basic knots, these step-by-step instructions are a must for young children whether they are setting up a tent in the backyard for an overnight sleepover or being more adventurous out in the bush with friends. Even if they are not planning a trip, the tips and tricks learned here may well provide them with necessary knowledge for a sticky situation in the future.

There is a constant cry from the world of adults that kids are too screen-bound, too indoors-oriented and they need to get out more so the growing obesity epidemic is halted so this series would be a great support to any studies of survival, self-preservation, needs vs wants and perhaps even encourage some to look at joining the Scout movement.  

The Blizzard Challenge

The Blizzard Challenge









The Blizzard Challenge

Bear Grylls


128pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Olly hates activity camp and its pointless activities. Why should he bother building a stupid shelter or foraging for food with his teammates – he’d rather be at home in the warm and dry, where the sofa and the video games are.

But then Olly gets given a compass with a mysterious fifth direction. When he follows it, he’s magically transported to a high mountain range where he meets survival expert Bear Grylls. With his help, Olly must learn to survive in sub-zero temperatures, including what to do if the ice cracks when you’re crossing a frozen lake, or a blizzard sets in . . .

But can his adventure with Bear Grylls change Olly’s mind about teamwork and perseverance? And who will Olly give the compass to next?

This is the first of a 12 book series written for younger readers, each with a new hero who is given the magical compass to follow on an adventure.  Well-written, full of survival information embedded in the narrative and illustrated, it is perfect for inspiring the independent young reader to not only read but perhaps to also experience the outdoors for themselves.  Using just their knowledge and wits rather than magic, super powers or fantastic creatures to get themselves out of trouble this is a down-to-earth series that kids can really relate to.  This is something THEY can do and they can be their own hero.

While Miss 11 and Miss 6 might not be the female Bear Grylls, both adore their burgeoning Scouting journey and these books are going to be perfect additions to their bedtime reading routines as well as giving them even more knowledge and skills to build on for their next adventure.  


Storm Whale

Storm Whale

Storm Whale











Storm Whale

Sarah Brennan

Jane Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


Bleak was the day and the wind whipped down when I and my sisters walked to town …

Surrounded by seabirds being buffeted every which way, wild waves  crashing on the shore and bitten by a chill wind that blew their skirts high, turned their legs blue and made their hair fly like a brumby’s tail, three sisters make their way to the beach undaunted by nature’s fury.  In fact they are delighting in it.  But that soon turns to anguish when they spot a whale stranded on the high tide line.  

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell,

Far from the peace of the ocean deep

Where ancient fugitives find their sleep.

Swept by the tide to its farthest reach,

Left with the kelp on the hard wet beach…

Dark as a demon, dull of eye

Waiting in silence to drift…or die

All day the girls battle to keep the whale alive, unperturbed by the weather and the waves soaking them to the skin.  But as dark rolls in and the driving rain sends them home, they have to leave the whale to its fate.  Even the cosy warmth of the fire doesn’t warm their hearts and their night is restless but dream-filled as the storm rages on.  Next morning they hasten back to the beach and discover a miracle…

Written in the most poetic language and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations, Storm Whale took me right back to my childhood in a seaside town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand – next stop Antarctica- and brought back haunting memories of storms with wild winds that crashed the waves onto the rocks and made for the most exciting times.  While whales abounded, they didn’t become stranded on that part of the coastline although it was common on beaches not too far distant.  This is a story that not only paints a different picture of the seaside as the benign summer holiday playground of many of our students but brings to life the fury and magnificence of Nature and the insignificance of even those as mighty as whales in her power.   

The rhyming text suggest the ceaseless rhythm of the ocean and indeed, life itself, while both words and pictures give a subtle but strong message of respect and the need to appreciate, value and conserve.  

A most moving book that will touch the reader on many levels.

My Amazing Body Machine

My Amazing Body Machine

My Amazing Body Machine











My Amazing Body Machine

Robert Winston

Owen Gildersleeve

DK Publishing, 2017

128pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Young children are always fascinated with their bodies and how they work and this new publication from DK is the perfect starting point for those who are ready to delve a little deeper.  Divided into nine sections, each dealing with a different but related phenomenon of the body, with bite-sized chunks of information in accessible text  interspersed with colourful informative diagrams and photos, this is would be an ideal addition to the family reference library ready to consult when questions are asked as well as the school library collection.  Having it out on display so students can leaf through it as they wait will spark lots of curiosity and a desire to find out more. The perfect introduction to the role of the encyclopedia as a starting point to finding out a little and sparking the desire to go to a more specialised book to find out more.

DK have been at the forefront of introducing non fiction to young readers for decades and this is no exception.

Vet Cadets (series)

Vet Cadets

Vet Cadets









Welcome to Willowvale (Vet Cadets #1)

Rebecca Johnson

Puffin, 2017

180pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99



Willowvale Girls Grammar is an agricultural boarding school with 500 students offering a Vet Cadets program, and Abbey, Talika and Hannah are sharing a room. They need to learn to live together even though they come from very different backgrounds – Hannah obviously has money on her side and is a neat freak, while Abbey is the opposite, and Talika is Indian, which neither of the others have any experience of. But each has a family who loves them and fusses over them, and each has first day nerves. 

Nevertheless, adjust they must and it is not long before the adventures begin and they become an inseparable trio solving mysteries, causing chaos and all the time, learning more and more about the creatures they care for..

From the author of Juliet, Nearly a Vet  comes this new series for slightly older readers who are interested in caring for animals, perhaps even becoming vets themselves. With three other titles due for publication over the next few months this promises to be a great addition to your collection to satisfy those girls who are always after new animal stories. 

To celebrate the launch there are two Vet Conventions being held in Queensland but check the website for availability of spaces.