Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire










Girl on Wire

Lucy Estela

Elise Hurst

Puffin Books, 2018

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


High above the city buildings, a cold breeze biting her cheeks,  a young girl stands  alone for hours.  Stretched before her is a wire that she must cross to be able to move forward but fear holds her back.  But as dark thunder clouds gather and a storm threatens, she knows she must make a move. To stay where she is, is impossible and so  she takes that first tentative step. As she inches forward, her skirt swishing around her legs, the storm breaks and she realises how far she will fall if she fails.  Overcome, she falters, stoops and cries for help.  

A swooping eagle reassures her that all will be well but she has to “walk the wire by yourself”.  Will she find the courage to move forward?

All around us people, adults and children alike, are having to step out onto their own personal wires, and no matter how strong the support from those around us are, we still have to walk it by ourselves.  Sometimes it seems an impossible journey and we may have to start several times before we dig deep and find those inner reserves that allow us to tiptoe towards the other end.  While the personal route of the journey and its destination may be unique to each of us, nevertheless the fear of the unknown and of failure, the feelings of trepidation and nervousness are universal and in this beautifully and evocatively illustrated allegory, we learn that we are not alone.  Life cannot go forward if we don’t take that first step, wherever it is leading us. 

With the mental health of our young people finally acknowledged as a critical issue in their well-being, this, at first, seems a book for older students, but in the hands of a skilful adult even little ones will be able to tell of something they were afraid of that they have conquered and begin to reflect on their inner strength as well as acknowledging that some things are hard to get right first time but with courage and confidence and a belief in yourself it’s OK to try again and to seek help if it is just too much. Like the girl on the wire, we can curl our toes tighter, stand a bit taller, and raise out arms to embrace what is on the far edge.

From the author of Suri’s Wall, this is an important addition to your mindfulness collection. 

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha










A Stone for Sascha

Aaron Becker

Candlewick Press, 2018 

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Just before the family leaves on a holiday at the beach, they bury their beloved dog.  As Sascha grieves and dusk falls, she takes her bucket to the ocean’s edge to collect stones to take home to cover the bare mound that is her dog’s grave.  Among those she picks up is one that is particularly bright and shiny and as she looks up to the stars she begins to wonder and trace the stone’s journey to its resting place on the shore.  From a meteor that hurls itself to Earth in the time of the dinosaurs to being picked up by Sascha and eventually placed on her dog’s grave,  it has a long and fascinating history that reveals itself in a series of stunning illustrations in this wordless text, traveling through time and across lands. 

But, perhaps most important of all, although Sascha continues to miss her dog terribly, she begins to understand that nothing is truly lost – everything, even a stone and a dog, has a history and a legacy and is but one piece in the jigsaw that is both our own and the planet’s story.  We are more than what is happening to us in the moment – all that has gone before has shaped us and what we do now will change us for the future. 

Described by one reviewer as the “young person’s Shaun Tan”, this story has so many layers to explore and ponder with each visit – Becker’s decision to not add text means the reader has to impose their own making for a wonderful opportunity to reflect and consider and wonder. Against the background of the muted palette, the gold of the stone stands out like a thread weaving its way through a carpet, just as our own individual stories while being but one strand of a much larger tale, nevertheless stand out for us.

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. 

Along Came a Different

Along Came a Different

Along Came a Different








Along Came a Different

Tom McLaughlin

Bloomsbury, 2018

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


The Reds loved being red- to them being red was the most important thing and it was The. Best. Thing. Ever.  But when, unexpectedly, their space was intruded upon by Yellow, things changed.  The Yellows (who thought being yellow was The. Best. Thing. Ever) didn’t like the reds  and the conflict began.  And when along came a Blue (who also believed that being blue was The. Best. Thing. Ever.) things deteriorated even further.  There seemed to be no common ground at all – none of them liked each other and demarcation lines were drawn as the insults and grievances grew.  Eventually a set of rules was constructed and things settled down, but then unexpectedly…

Is there any way at all that each group can learn to live with and get along with each other?

Using colour, shape and whimsical illustration, McLaughlin explores the concept of judging others based on their appearance and how flimsy the arguments for discrimination really are.  While each colour has its unique features, there is common ground and much to be said for the symbiosis that occurs when there is co-operation, collaboration and even harmony.

Discrimination based on perceived differences is an adult concept that most young children do not even notice unless an adult points it out.  This book is the perfect conversation starter so that when they do encounter prejudice they have this experience to draw on so they can see the stupidity of it and reject it.  Life should be about friendship, inclusivity and acceptance and McLaughlin demonstrates this perfectly.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…














Mac Barnett

Jon Klassen

Walker Books, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Each day, Square goes deep into his secret cave and takes a block from the pile below the ground, pushes it up all the stairs and out of the cave and stacks it on the other squares he has already made into a pile on the top of the hill.  Circle, whom Square thinks is perfect, admires his work so much and uses words like “sculptor” and “genius” and demands that Square makes a sculpture of her. 

But it is very difficult to make a square into a perfect circle and while he tries very hard, all he ends up with is rubble.  As the rain tumbles down and day turns to night, he continues to chip away until he finally falls asleep.  Despairing that he will have let his friend Circle down,. Square dreads her visit but then…

We first met Square in the initial book in this series, Triangle, and once again Barnett and Klassen have crafted an intriguing tale with few words and evocative monochromatic pictures. Being able to convey emotions, expressions and  exchanges through the use of basic shapes and eyeballs is a gift and the reader is encouraged to look closely at the illustrations to absorb all that is going on in the interactions between Square and Circle, and the internal battle Square ends up having.

And, as with Triangle,   the story takes the reader beyond the maths concepts of shape recognition and into the realm of philosophy.  What is perfection?  Is it achievable? It is OK for things to be less than perfect if we have given it our best shot?  Those children in our classes who are afraid to to start something in case it is not perfect on the first attempt or giving up in tears, frustration and even anger might draw comfort from Square’s persistence and perseverance and also understand that “perfect” has a different meaning for everyone. There could also be discussions about whether Circle’s expectations were reasonable – just because we are good at one thing, does that make us good at another?

Lots to ponder as we await the third in the trilogy, no doubt focusing on the perfect Circle.



A Lion is A Lion

A Lion is A Lion

A Lion is A Lion










A Lion is A Lion

Polly Dunbar

Walker, 2018

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


Before you start to read this entertaining book with your littlies, brainstorm all the words they associate with the image of a lion. 

Most likely, the word “fierce” will be among those suggested.

BUT… is a lion still a lion if he wears a hat? Or carries an umbrella? Is he still fierce and angry and scary and any of those other words that were suggested?

Or does any of the other seemingly friendly things that this lion does when he comes to visit in this hilarious but cautionary tale?

Is there a reason we are warned to “never smile at a crocodile” or that “a leopard doesn’t change its spots”?

Rhythmic text and engaging illustrations carry this story at a rollicking pace, rather like an old-fashioned vaudeville act where you want to yell out and warn the children that there is a dastardly villain hiding in the wings and all is not what it seems!  Provoke discussions about why the lion is dressing up and being so nice; draw parallels with the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood; start a conversation about stranger dangerand investigate the message of “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  But most importantly, enjoy a fun read!

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems










Penguin Problems

Jory John

Lane Smith

Walker Books,  2016

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


Poor Mortimer.  His life really is difficult.  It’s so hard living in the Antarctic when you don’t like snow, the light is too bright, you have to swim in the ocean which is too dark and it smells salty, you sink like a stupid rock and there are lots of things that want you to be their dinner.  And when you are on land you have to waddle and you look silly when you waddle, and that’s just the beginning.  Try looking like everyone else and not being able to find your parents… Is there no end to the problems that penguins have?  Every day seems to be a “terrible, horrible, no good very bad day” and then a  walrus tapping him on the shoulder. Is this day going to have a very bad ending too?

Apart from being very funny even though Mortimer himself is so serious and makes sure he gets the last word, this is an important book in the armoury of the mindfulness collection and even moreso with the issue of children’s mental health attracting official attention so teachers in all sectors can detect and determine students’ problems early. Mortimer is definitely a pessimist who can see no joy in anything and as teachers, we are all aware of the child in our class who has a similar outlook.  While one story alone is not going to turn this around – as the final page in the story suggests – nevertheless we can help children start to count their blessings, look for positive validation in themselves and offer genuine affirmation to others. 

Perhaps the author deliberately chose a penguin as his protagonist because of their stark “black-and-whiteness” where life is either good or bad and Lane through her illustration style not only softens the edges of Mortimer but also his surroundings so that there is the possibility of some light getting through.  If we are teaching our students to be critical readers and ask, “What is the author’s purpose for writing ?” ;”What does the author want me to know from reading this story?” and “How is the message being conveyed?” then this would be an excellent tool as we try to get them to examine  issues of objectivity and accuracy in other resources.

Right from the get-go with no title on the front cover (it is on the back, though) and the inner flap setting Mortimer’s tone, the reader knows this story is going to be different. A search online will reveal a range of resources to support it, but as with all quality picture books, it stands alone as an entertaining story first and foremost whether its underlying message is explored or not. 


The Poesy Ring – a love story

The Poesy Ring

The Poesy Ring












The Poesy Ring – a love story

Bob Graham

Walker, 2017

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


Way back when, in this case in 1830 in County Kerry, Ireland, poesy rings were given as tokens of friendship and affection between lovers.  And way back when, just as today, bitter words can be spoken, relationships break up and rings discarded. 

This one, aptly inscribed “Love Never Dies”, is caught by the wind, tumbling end over end and settles deep in a meadow near the sea where it lies for seasons undisturbed until a little deer catches it in its hoof as it eats the acorns from the tree that has grown ad fruited over the years beside the ring.  Then its adventure begins until over 200 years later it is placed on a new finger, showing that its message is as eternal as the land that has ensconced it.

This is Bob Graham at his story-telling best using the poetry of his words and the beauty of his illustrations to take the reader on a journey through and across time showing that the world and its living things keep turning and enduring offering hope and optimism even if things seem a bit bleak in the short term.  And it is the same with love and relationships – just as the ships that cross the ocean near the meadow sail through storm and war as the lighthouse guides them to safety – so the bonds between people can be tested, saved or severed.

Astute readers might pick up on the dedication at the front of the book and the date that the love story turns full circle – perhaps this has been inspired by something very personal to the creator. 

While publishers’ and booksellers’ website suggest that this is a story for 3-8 year olds, it is so full of symbolism that it is a story for all ages.  Parents sharing it with their young children might need to offer a few explanations, pointing out how Graham has shown how time passes and love endures and once they understand the subtlety of the illustrations they will learn to look for the clues and cues by themselves, not only enriching their engagement with this story but enhancing their understanding of how top-shelf picture books work. It is a story that needs to read and then read again so the beauty of its message is as entrenched as the beauty of the prose and pictures.

Like so many of his previous titles, this is most likely to be on awards lists in 2018.



Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala's Magic Pencil

Malala’s Magic Pencil










Malala’s Magic Pencil

Malala Yousafzai


Puffin, 2017

45pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


When she was young, Malala Yousafzai watched a television program called Shaka Laka Boom Boom about a boy who had a magic pencil which he used to draw the things he needed to get himself out of trouble or to get the things he needed like a bowl of curry when he was hungry.  As Malala watched she wished she had a magic pencil too so she could draw and get the things she wanted, like a lock on her door to keep her brothers out, some flowers to erase the smell of the nearby rubbish dump, beautiful dresses for her mum, even a real soccer ball so she and her brothers didn’t have to play with an old sock stuffed with rubbish.

Every night she wished for a magic pencil and every morning she looked for it but it was never there.

Then one day whilst throwing potato peelings and eggshells on that nearby rubbish dump she saw something that she had never seen and which, ultimately, changed her life.  A girl was sorting the rubbish into piles and boys were fishing for metal scraps with magnets on a string. As she talked it over that evening with her school principal father, she learned that not all were lucky like her and got to go to school, that many many children had to help support their families with the rubbish they found and that for so many school was a luxury only to be dreamed of. And she also realised that even with her education, she could be just as trapped as those girls on the rubbish dump.

New dreams began and that elusive magic pencil was going to be put to a wider use.

But Malala was smart enough to know that there was not going to be a magic pencil miraculously waiting beside her bed one morning so she had to create her own.  So she did…

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world…

The youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is one of the most inspirational young women this generation has seen and her story is becoming more and more well-known as she hopes to inspire others to lend their voices to the global issue of education for girls.  In this stunning picture book, aimed at children who are the age she was when she began her campaign, the reader not only learns about what inspired her but also becomes inspired to make a whisper become a worldwide shout.  If the current #metoo campaign can become such a voice for opposing sexual aggression against women, then what can be done to create a similar movement for girls’ education.  Study after study has shown that the way to world peace is through the education of girls so this is the perfect vehicle to help our young students understand they do have a voice, it is important and it can be loud.

It’s OK to feel the way you do

It's OK to feel the way you do

It’s OK to feel the way you do










It’s OK to feel the way you do

Josh Langley

Big Sky, 2017

90pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


The buzzword in many personal development programs these days is resilience and phrases such as “Eat cement and harden up”, “Build a bridge and get over it”, and “Suck it up, princess” are often heard bandied around. It’s as though expressing our emotions, particularly ‘negative’ ones, is becoming unacceptable and we are supposed to bottle up anger and disappointment and fear and let it fester away inside, becoming bigger and bigger, in case we offend or hurt someone else’s feelings.

This can be very confusing especially for young children who are recognising their range of feelings and learning how to control their actions in response to them.  Our emotions are controlled by chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin and we cannot control their release although we are expected to control and even suppress their consequences.  So a book written and illustrated especially for young children that explores the natural feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, loneliness, pride, fear and anxiety and shows that is OK to have the whole range of such emotions – in fact, it is unhealthy not to – is welcome, particularly as mindfulness programs gather momentum.

Understanding that emotions are what makes us human and that certain things trigger certain emotions, even though there are different triggers for each person, is a huge step in understanding ourselves and we need to do that if we are to understand others.  Acknowledging our feelings is the first step in dealing with them appropriately, developing responses and reactions and then being able to move on to choices is part of natural maturity.  Langley tells his own story of how a negative comment in his childhood spurred him on to greater things rather than sending him into a downward spiral and so children can learn it’s not the emotion that is the issue, but how we can deal with it for the better -do we express it or suppress it?

The bright, bold colours and cartoon-like illustrations will capture the young reader, the text that talks directly to them and the affirmation that feeling feelings is natural and OK will help to empower our young students and help them from feeling overwhelmed even confused.  In the past, health curricula have included exploring feelings and children have completed a zillion sentences starting “I am happy when…” but in today’s world we need to take this further and show that feelings are natural, that they are shared, that disappointment and anger are OK and can lead us in a new direction, that everyone has fears and doubts and highs and lows and life is not necessarily the glossed-up television version.

Indeed, it’s OK to feel the way you do.