Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books

Story Time Stars

Story Time Stars









Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books

Stephanie Owen Reeder

National Library of Australia, 2019

148pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Years ago, when Jackie French was asked by one of my students about how she created her characters, she told the class that the most important thing was to create someone that the reader cared enough about to want to know what happens to them. For without that emotional investment in the character, they won’t bother turning the pages till the end of the story.

So what is it that makes a character in a story so memorable that often as adults, we remember our childhood favourites, even to the point that we pass on those stories to our own children? Why they resonate with us is as individual as the characters themselves, but in this fabulous book, Dr Reeder has collected together some of the most well-known characters from Australian children’s literature, characters that have resonated with so many that we instantly know who they are and are transported back to those childhood memories with love and affection and a warm feeling of well-being. 

Whether it’s Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Mulga Bill, Grug, Koala Lou, Leonie, the Paw, or even the more recent Mr Huff, each is gathered here in chronological order to tell their stories, share their debuts, successes and encores so that we can not only get to know our favourites a little better, but also discover new ones waiting to be friends too. And perhaps consider who we might add to the collection.

Coinciding with the launch of the new NLA exhibition, Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature  presented in conjunction with  the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature, this is another addition to the preservation of the creation and history of children’s literature in Australia and complements the  books, manuscripts, illustrations and ephemera from the NLA’s extensive collections alongside significant loans of the exhibition, which is free and open until February 9, 2020. A must-see and a must-buy for anyone with a love of Australia’s favourite storytime characters.  Most definitely Australia: Story Country.


You Made Me a Dad

You Made Me a Dad

You Made Me a Dad











You Made Me a Dad

Laurenne Sala

Mike Malbrough

Harper Collins US, 2019

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


From the time a man first discovers his partner is pregnant, the bond between father and child begins to grow and this relationship is celebrated in this charming book.  From the time of the first baby bump through to camping out beneath the stars, the father shares his joy and his wonder and his gratitude at being able to guide and share the life of his little one, the big occasions and the not-so.

Perfect for a dad to give to his child on a special occasion, this is a companion to You Made Me A Mother  and turns the tables on the usual format of the story being told by the child about the dad.

Goodnight, Little Tough Guy

Goodnight, Little Tough Guy

Goodnight, Little Tough Guy








Goodnight, Little Tough Guy

Michael Wagner 

Tom Jellett

ABC Books, 2019

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


Bedtime, and the little tough guy is resisting sleep.  But his dad settles him with this lyrical,  alliterative lullaby of how all the tough guys in the world – the astronauts, the firies, the wrestlers, all the superheroes – are settling down because they need to have a refreshing full night’s rest so they can superhero again the next day. 

A book for both boys and girls –  Wagner has used clever alliteration to give this book a rhythm that is perfect for sending the littlest tough guy off to zzzzland, and Jellett’s illustrations cleverly take the reader on a trip through a child’s busy day while still relating it to the world of the everyday superheroes.  While parents might try to tell their little superhero why they need to go to bed and to sleep, this just encapsulates the reasons perfectly so there is no need for verbal justification. Maybe the concept would also work with getting them to eat their veges!



Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books

Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books

Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books











Raising Readers: How to nurture a child’s love of books

Megan Daley

UQP, 2019

244pp., pbk., RRP $A27.95


In the early days of European settlement in this country, establishing schools became a priority particularly for those with a religious bent because they believed it was imperative that the emerging generation of children be able to read and understand The Bible and thus not follow their parents’ errant ways. That was a school’s key purpose. Decades and generations on and while society has changed, and schools themselves are almost unrecognisable from those early institutions, the expectation that a child primarily attends so they can learn to read has not. 

Right from preschool children are tested on their literacy development and judged according to it, underlining the importance that is still placed on being able to read and write. Five year olds head off on their first day of ‘big school’ fully expecting to be able to read by the time they come home and are often disappointed that they cannot. However, research and experience has shown that schools alone cannot be the child’s primary teachers in this critical endeavour. It is a partnership between home and school and those who make the best readers are those whose roots in reading extend back to birth. Indeed, author Mem Fox has stated that the illiteracy problem in this country could be solved if children just heard 1000 stories before they come to school (which can be achieved in three years with a favourite, a familiar and a first-read as the regular bedtime routine) and the concept of the ‘million word gap’ is not new.

So this book from Megan Daley, a respected, qualified teacher librarian (we must have qualifications in both teaching and librarianship), which explores how parents can help to raise readers is a valuable contribution to the lives of new parents, particularly in these days of the screen being a dominant feature in children’s lives.  For those who can read it is hard to remember not being able to do so; for those who can’t read or don’t like to it is tricky to overcome the personal prejudices that already exist, so to have a “manual” that helps explain some of the best practices and what underlies them is eye-opening.  

While there have been a number of books on this sort of topic in the past, many have been written bu either authors of children’s books or university lecturers, This one is by a practising teacher librarian who is in touch with what is happening both in and out of school as Megan has two daughters.  She examines the place of the school library in the child’s reading journey while at the same time encouraging parents to attend book launches; getting involved in Book week while setting up a book-themed bedroom; explaining the most popular genres of young readers while offering tips to host book parties and be “best book-givers”. Interspersed with the user-friendly text are comments from some of Australia’s favourite children’s authors as well as suggestions for books to support the young reader as they grow their literacy skills.

For the teacher and the teacher librarian, this is a refreshing read with lots of tried-and-true and new ideas and perspectives in amongst the host of academic and professional reading we have to do; to parents it’s a simple explanation of the what, why and how of raising a reader so both child and parent fulfil their expectations..

One to encourage staff to read and to include and promote in your parent library.

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby's Worry

Ruby’s Worry










Ruby’s Worry

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2018 

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Ruby is very happy being Ruby, happy to be by herself and content in her own company. But one day she discovers she has a companion, one that is invisible to all but her.  It is a worry.  And the more she thinks about it, the bigger it grows, the more persistent and pervasive it is.  No matter where she goes or what she does, it is there with her until she gets to be worrying so much about the worry that there is no room in her brain or life for anything else.

Then, in the park one day, she spies a young boy looking as sad and forlorn as she is.  Taking her courage in her hands she speaks to him, and together they discover something quite miraculous.

Anxiety in children is at an all-time high these days as they try to meet all the expectations put on them – academic, sporty, physical, creative – and as they try to please all those they hold in high esteem- parents, family, friends, teachers… It is no wonder that so many of them are like Ruby, carrying around worries that threaten to swallow them whole if they haven’t done so already. So this book which brings to life the old adage of “a problem shared is a problem halved” is a critical part of any mindfulness program or anything that deals with children’s mental health.  Children take on board all sorts of things that adults don’t realise, bits of overheard conversations or things that they see start to play on their mind, growing bigger with imagination and become all-consuming because not only do they not have the ability to detach themselves from the here and now, but they also don’t have the strategies to deal with them.  Living in the bubble that is often the way of children’s lives these days, they believe that they are the only ones with the problem and that only they can solve it. Despite their apparent connections to others, they actually feel very isolated. 

Therefore to have an easily accessible picture book that starts the conversation is so important. Because Percival does not identify Ruby’s particular worry, the story has universal application- it could be the story of any child in our care. By using the story as the starter for a discussion that demonstrates the importance of reaching out to family and friends for support and that this is as important for children as it is for adults, we are offering them a beginning strategy that can be built on as they mature.  

An important addition to your mindfulness collection.















Gabbie Stroud

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A29.99


Even though I requested this book for review I didn’t know if I could read it let alone review it, because even now, 12 years into “retirement”, I am still heavily invested in the world of education, constantly leaping to the defence of my colleagues whenever I hear disparaging comments or “helpful” suggestions.

Not a week goes by without someone who has never stood in front of a class of 30 expectant children uses their power of position to say that Australian education is failing; that teachers need to be held accountable; that this or that should be in the curriculum (although nothing is ever taken out); that teachers are underworked, overpaid and have too many holidays.  They seem to believe that while every child has an innate desire to “reach their potential” that potential or success is defined by academic ability encapsulated in a meaningless score on a one-size-fits-all test administered on a particular day when who knows what else might be going on in the child’s life at the time. 

For my own sanity and peace of mind, these days I use the OFF button whenever I hear this sort of stuff so to request a book that has the subtitle “One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching” seemed stupid.  Did I really want to read about a teacher going through all that remains so familiar  to me (I went back and did another year in a school in 2015) and which is still the life of 90% of my friends?  

Even the cover was confronting- once upon a time teachers were symbolised with a ripe, red apple, wholesome and nutritious, but the one on the cover is just a core.  Is that all we are worth now? Or does it represent all that is left of a teacher after they’ve been in the system, chewed up and spat out with only their essential core of themselves remaining, and that very much exposed?  There are also quotes (and three pages of commentary) about the value and the integrity of the book from people that anyone in education will recognise but none from anyone whose opinion of teachers was changed by reading it.  With such illustrious company already spruiking its value, what could I, as just one of tens of thousands of Gabbie Strouds, without a fancy title or a string of letters after my name add to what had already been said? All I have is 46 years  of experience in schools, a mixture of successes, failures and mistakes, and a deep and abiding passion for children who deserve more than they get at home and school. They are the ones who will be making the decisions about my life in my old age and I want them to be the best they can be!

And so I started – and I couldn’t put it down.  Here was my teaching experience, and that of almost every other teacher, laid out in front of me reminding me of what I did and why I did it.  Every one of us remembers the bright eyed, bushy-tailed, eager graduate who finally bid farewell to Uni knowing that all those worst-case scenarios we’d been told about would never happen in our classroom. Every one of us recalls that first day in front of our first class and watching four years of university learning fly out the window. Every one of us has a Grayson, a Ryan, an Ed, a Warren, a Billie for whom life at school was better than being at home, whose role models there set them up for failure in a society that demanded manners, proper language, and a range of acceptable strategies for dealing with frustration and who learned that what they had learned only got them into strife but who didn’t learn any other ways. Every one of us has had a principal who is too scared to rock the boat, who is driven by the numbers of bums on seats and the public perceptions of the school.   Every one of us has had colleagues who support us, hold our hands, offer chocolate and empathy when it is needed in a way that no one else can because they’ve been there themselves, and those who would rather compete than collaborate.  Every one of us knows the drawn-out staff meetings, the endless professional learning about the-new-best-thing-to-revolutionise-education when we know it’s a case of everything-old-is-new-again, the hours devoted to writing individualised reports that will only get a cursory glance or an angry please-explain phone call. Every one of us has known the partner who doesn’t get that this is a 24/7/365 commitment and the consequent juggling of the needs of family and the needs of kids who see us more than our own do.  Every one of us knows the times we’ve had to miss a family event because of planning and preparation and the endless paperwork that soaks up the hours that are not 9-3.  (I’ve always said that 9-3 is performance time; the other 18 hours are preparing for the performance.)  And the lucky ones among us have taught at Belmora and made lifelong friendships just as we have all experienced Paradise.

Every one of us has walked in the author’s shoes, even if it was to a different destination.

When Gabbie’s brother Phil committed suicide an astute teacher who knew she was hurting but was probably invisible as the rest of her Catholic family wrestled with his death and it implications, told Gabbie that she was a writer and she needed to “write her way through this.”  And just as she did then, so she has done now – working her way through a tale so familiar to those “on the inside” from the child who knew she wanted to teach to one who was outstanding but for whom the cost became too much and the price to pay unbearable.  In a narrative that makes you laugh and cry as you remember, empathise and sympathise, even those who have not been teachers get such a clear insight into the life, struggles and emotions that make up what it is to stand up in front of 30 expectant little people each day, putting yourself aside so that you can help them be the best they can be. 

Will this book change Australia’s public perception of teachers? No – because those who should read it, won’t.  Will it stop the politicians and power-brokers constantly meddling in what teachers should teach? No – because they are too bound up in their own “success” that is dependent on being seen to be fixing things (even when they aren’t broken) and teachers are such easy targets that anything that humanises them is off-limits. So, apart from coming to terms with her own situation, what will Gabbie achieve from this?  I believe it will be something more important – because teachers will read it, recognise themselves,  remember that inner drive that compelled them to teach, review what they do, realise that people are more important than paperwork,  renew their passion and revitalise themselves so they get back to the core of teaching – relationships! 

And that can only be good for the kids in our care.  

When I review children’s books I look for those in which children can see themselves and understand that they, their issues and problems are not unique – they are shared by many others and so they can gain comfort from not being alone, from not being the ‘freak’ they often perceive themselves to be. Teacher is such a mirror.  With many students starting this new term with an unfamiliar face in front of them because yet another teacher has moved on this is a book that needs to be shared widely and discussed in staff meetings.  With long-term tenure in politics so fragile, it is unlikely we are going to extract the meddling fingers of the politicians from our profession – fiddling with education and blaming teachers is a crowd-pleaser – so we need to sit down with our colleagues, have the courage to speak openly, share the issues impacting us and work out strategies that can support each of us now and into the future.  We need to create a collaborative culture that allows for the sharing of problems knowing that there will be support and understanding, not condemnation and a feeling of failure as reality meets ideality, particularly for those less-experienced. Each child belongs to all of us.   “No man is an island…”

Reviewers get to keep the books they review, but instead of this one sitting on my shelf, I’m sending it off to a colleague with instructions for her to pass it on and for it to be passed on and on and on until it falls apart from being read by teachers who are feeling swamped by the system and need a reminder of the personal rather than the public, of the individual rather than the crowd, and the  people they have touched rather than the paperwork which has piled up, of the fact that they are the nurturers of the future rather than the fiction that they are the failures of society. As deputy principal I know she will use it as a catalyst for reflection and discussion in her school and knowing her principal, they will work together to make it a force for improvement.

The author’s final words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching. Teaching left me”.  For Gabbie, the only outcome for her was to leave what she loved so she could become the whole apple again. After devoting over two-thirds of my life to the profession, my words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching.  Teaching left me…proud, privileged, exhilarated, satisfied, fulfilled, with a profound knowledge of how people tick so I can bring out the best in them yet a little saddened that not every teacher can be so positive and not every child can be taught by those who have inspired, guided and mentored me.” For I have been privileged to work with the crème de la crème for most of those 45 years, relationships I still treasure and draw on. 

Teacher gives each of us an opportunity to read, review and reflect on our own stories and write the next chapters so that when that time comes we can say, “Teaching left me…” 

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

Finding Granny









Finding Granny

Kate Simpson

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2018

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


Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny, a bedtime, story-time pantomime granny, as I’m not afraid of some slime Granny.” She loves Edie and Edie loves her.  But when she has a stroke and has to spend a long time in hospital, Edie is confused by her ‘new’ Granny. Her Granny doesn’t need help eating her dinner!

Gradually, Edie discovers that even though this Granny is a bit different in some ways, at her heart she is still the same – a love as fierce as a lion Granny.

With stroke being the third leading cause of death in Australia and one of the top 10 leading causes of death among people aged 45 and over, Edie’s predicament is one that is faced by so many of the children in our care and so this is a really important book that has to be in the collection.  It’s superbly chosen text describes Edie’s and Granny’s relationship perfectly in a unique way so that the reader automatically sees that this is a close and loving relationship; the wordless page that just shows the ambulance with its lights flashing; and the simple explanation by the doctor that Granny’s “brain isn’t working the way it used to” are all that is needed to set the scenario for the big changes and challenges Edie is going to have to face.  Coupled with illustrations that show the emotions that don’t need words, this could be any child who is confronted by this situation – any one of them could be Edie. 

I know from recent experience how confronting and difficult it is to see the impact of age and illness on a loved one and to come to terms with this ‘different’ person, establish a new relationship and burrow down to the love that is still there albeit not so evident at times – and that is as a mature adult.  So it is even trickier for a child, although, again from experience, they seem so much more able to cut to the chase and work with what they are presented with, just as Edie does.  Nevertheless, there can be some confusion about feelings -“That’s not my Granny,” says Edie when she first sees hers in hospital – and so to learn that these are natural, acceptable and shared by other children will bring comfort and together, like Edie, they can move forward and develop a valuable, if different, relationship that still has love at its core. 

A book that should spark conversations and bring comfort…

The All New Must Have Orange 430

The All New Must Have Orange 430

The All New Must Have Orange 430









The All New Must Have Orange 430

Michael Speechley

Penguin Viking, 2018

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


Remember the fidget spinners of last year that were the essential, all-new, must-have for kids?  The beyblades? The shopkins? And a hundred other toys that clever advertising has made top-of-the-toy-parade but which fade as quickly as they appear?  Well, Harvey had them all – and then some! Boxes and buckets full of them! So when he heard about The All New Must Have Orange 430 then he had to have that too.

The only thing that was empty in Harvey’s room was his money box but after checking everything and everywhere he finally found enough coins to be able to buy his latest desire.  So intent was he on owning it that he didn’t notice the huge April Fools’ Sale sign or that this  All New Must Have Orange 430 sat on a shelf surrounded by items such as dead batteries, free fat, grey fluff and even a lead balloon! He was only focused on having The All New Must Have Orange 430!

When he got home he eagerly unwrapped it.  It had EVERYTHING _ a thingy that did nothing; a whatsit that did squat; a dooverlacky that was whacky; and a something that was silly.  But what did it do? No matter what he did, it did nothing and he finally realised it was “actually completely useless.”

So he decided to take it back – and then his life changed forever.

In a world that seems to be all about having the latest and greatest, keeping-up-with-the-Jones is paramount and we are bombarded by advertisements in every aspect of our lives (even in public toilets),  this book is a breath of fresh air.  As parents find it easier to give into pester power than suffer the sulks of a firm “no’ as their children mimic their own consumer-driven behaviour, the ideas of looking for value or even restraint and second thoughts seems to have disappeared in this age of instant gratification. So to have a well-written, superbly illustrated book that compels the reader to think before they buy is excellent and will serve as a brilliant teaching tool to introduce the power of advertising, peer pressure, impulse buying, the value of money and even saving for something that seems to be beyond the mindset of so many, including Miss 12! Maybe, for those who are a little older, there could be an examination of the psychology that drives the need to belong, to be one of the flock rather than individual.

Its sepia tones used for all but The All New Must Have Orange 430 add to its layers as they depict what appears to be a beige life with the only spot of colour being a new purchase. But once the brief thrill of the purchase is made, and everyone has what the other does, it too fades to beige in anticipation of the next best-thing.  

As nearly all of us seek more and more storage for more and more stuff, swearing that we will declutter someday soon, reading and taking heed of the important themes of this book may help our younger students refrain from being Harveys in the first place!  

Definitely one for Miss 12 and Miss 7 – perhaps even their parents!  And definitely one for any unit of work that focuses on consumerism and marketing. 

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried










Wemberly Worried

Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2010

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99


Wemberly worried about spilling her juice, about shrinking in the bathtub, even about snakes in the radiator. She worried morning, noon, and night.

“Worry, worry, worry,” her family said. “Too much worry.”

And like many children,  Wemberly worried about one thing most of all: her first day of school. But when she meets a fellow worrywart in her class, Wemberly realises that school is too much fun to waste time worrying!

Wemberly Mouse’s anxiety is on an extreme scale though and regardless of her family’s reassurances she cannot relax.  She clutches Petal her doll and strokes her ears when the levels rise, but then worries if she strokes them too much they will fall off.  She is so good at thinking “What if” that she may have a career as a writer when she grows up! 

As the year ticks by and many of our younger children are going to start the transition from daycare and preschool to big school, there will be those who are starting to get a little anxious already with all the usual concerns that making such a big step encounters.  And those worries can become so enormous that they become fears and the anticipation and excitement of this new adventure that is somewhat of a rite of passage are overwhelmed. 

Often it is not enough to just say, “Don’t worry”, (as Wemberly’s family does) to children with a high level of anxiety – they need to have their fears listened to and, where appropriate, helped to develop coping strategies should the worst happen.  There are many resources available now to help parents help their child but sometimes when little ones go to big school there is a suggestion that it is time to leave their preschool lives behind, including their beloved toys that have been with them since birth and have been their confidante and security blanket in stressful times.  And yet with this huge change in their lives they are left without the companionship of their most trusted and comforting friend and ally.  Wemberly would have been unable to cope without Petal just as Jewel would have been lost without Nibblet.  The astute teacher will acknowledge that these are more than just a collection of stitches and stuffing, that they are imbued with love, safety and security, and perhaps having a special shelf so the special toys can come to school too with the child deciding when they want to wean themselves. Meanwhile the teacher librarian can encourage them to read to their special toy in school and at night and might even provide a collection of teddies for those who just need an extra hug or two. It worked for me!  

This book has been in continuous publication since its release in 2000 – that, in itself, says so much about how it resonates with little children and needs to be part of that transition process.  There will be  both a Wemberly and a Jewel in each new cohort.


Lullabies for Bed Time

Lullabies for Bed Time

Lullabies for Bed Time










Lullabies for Bed Time

Susan Betts, Kerry Brown, Phil Cummings, Mike Dumbleton, Katrina Germein and Louise Pike

Doris Chang

Little Book Press, 2017

28pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


With illustrations and a palette as gentle as the rhymes within, this collection of bedtime poems by some of Australia’s leading authors is the perfect pull-the-curtains finale to the day.

There is so much research about the need for babies to hear the rhythm, rhymes and nuances of their natural language from their very earliest days that this would be the perfect gift to any new parents wanting to start their child on their reading journey from the get-go while establishing a bedtime story routine that should extend for many years.  And, with its uniquely Australian flavour it is one that will reach beyond those first few months well into preschool years.  

The term ‘lullaby” conjures up a feeling of being warm, cosy, safe and loved – and these do just that.