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.

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?











What Makes Me A Me?

Ben Faulks

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2017

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


Who am I?
I ask myself.
What makes me a ME?
I think hard with all my might,
And look around to see.

What is it that makes us unique, unlike anything or anyone else despite the similarities we see? Are we like our clothes -the same shape and the same age; maybe like a computer that knows lots of things; or perhaps a tree because our arms stick out like branches? But then, for everything we see a similarity with there are also subtle differences.  Super Guy helps the goodies and fights the baddies but he also likes to kiss girls!  Maybe we move like a snail, especially first thing in the morning, but where are our eyes on stalks and the slimy trail?

The author of Watch Out for Muddy Puddles  and the illustrator of You Can’t Take an Elephant on a Bus  have combined to create an intriguing story-in-rhyme that encourages children to think about their identity and what it is that makes them special.  Because no matter how like something or someone you are, there is always a subtle – or not-so subtle- difference that makes you, you.  

A perfect parent-child read-along, it would also be the ideal introduction to an early childhood unit that explores each child’s individuality while still acknowledging that each is human and has the same needs and dreams as their friends.  They could have fun thinking how they might be like something, especially if their thinking is extended by pulling the name of an object out of a hat (perhaps a woolly blue one) and looking for a link. My friend tells me I am an eggbeater but didn’t say if it’s because I’m always whirring around or whipping everything up!!!  Lots of potential for all sorts of activities in this one. 

The Sloth Who Came to Stay

The Sloth who came to stay

The Sloth who came to stay











The Sloth Who Came to Stay

Margaret Wild

Vivienne To

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


Amy’s family was the speediest family in the world.  Everywhere they went and everything they did was done at breakneck speed as they rushed through their day, only to do the same thing the next day. There seemed to be no time to chat or play or laugh or just enjoy each other’s company. Then one day Amy brings a sloth that she has found hanging in a tree in the park home – and sloths move at a very different pace to Amy’s family.  Will it adapt to the speed of the family or will the family change to meet the rhythm of the sloth?

Amy’s family seem typical of so many families these days who seem to need to cram so much into every day that they forget to stop and enjoy the things they do.  Once again, Margaret Wild has observed the everyday and asked “What if?…” and brought young readers a delightful tale that so many will relate to. Vivienne To’s illustrations are right up to date although for such a busy family it’s a wonder Amy’s dad hasn’t discovered what a waste of time ironing is!

There’s a saying that it’s about the journey not just the destination and this has been captured perfectly in this story as Amy declares the first day with the sloth the best day of her life.  An excellent addition to your collection focusing on mindfulness, the need to reflect and absorb what is and let it become part of who we are.  Look around, enjoy the subtle colours of a winter sunrise, the chatter of the birds and the sounds of night falling – be like a sloth and be happy and comfortable with that.

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman









The Most Perfect Snowman

Chris Britt

Balzer & Bray, 2016

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


Built in the first flurry of winter snow, Drift was the loneliest of snowmen.  With his stick arms, small mouth and coal eyes he stood forlorn and forgotten amongst the bare winter trees.  He dreamed of having a smart scarf, warm gloves and a long orange carrot nose like the other snowmen so he could join in their banter, their fashion parades, snowball fights and other fun stuff.  But he was too plain and different to be included, so his days were spent swooshing and sliding through the woods, stopping and standing in the shadows to watch the others at play.

Then one day some children gave Drift all that he wanted – a fluffy blue hat, warm mittens, a soft scarf and even a long orange carrot nose.  Suddenly the other snowmen found him acceptable now that he had his new accessories and watched as he played all afternoon with his new friends.  But that night a blizzard blew and Drift lost his smart new clothes and no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find them. All he had left were his scarf and his long orange carrot nose.  Then he heard a tiny voice – a little bunny was lost in the snow, frightened and shivery cold.  Drift knows he can save the bunny by wrapping it in his soft scarf and giving it his long orange carrot nose but can he bear to part with them? Can he go back to being that plain snowman with skinny stick eyes, a small nose and coal eyes?

As winter begins to grip southern Australia and some parts are seeing early snowfalls, this is a charming story about what it means to be “perfect” and whether it is about looking a particular way or having the right things or whether it runs deeper than that. What is the meaning of the old adage “Clothes maketh the man” and is it true?  Are we more visible and therefore perhaps more powerful because of our external appearance?

It also raises the concepts of selfishness and selflessness and whether even giving just a little can make any difference.  Do we need to be applauded and rewarded for doing something kind or should it be enough to within that we have made a difference?  Do we have to be the person giving the boldest and brightest present at birthday parties or is it the phone call saying thank you afterwards that is most remembered?

The soft palette echo the gentleness of both the story and its message but this is more than just a story to welcome winter.


Through the Gate

Through the Gate

Through the Gate










Through the Gate

Sally Fawcett

EK Books, 2017

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


As she looks through the gate of her new house, the little girl is feeling really despondent because it is anything but new.  All she could see were the drooping roof, the peeling paint, and the crumbling steps.  As she sits on the step pondering all the changes of a new house, a new town and a new school she sees nothing bright in her future.  But gradually, slowly, one step at a time things begin to change – and so does she.

This is a familiar story for many children who are uprooted from their comfort zone that has been told on so many different levels that it is quite brilliant.

Firstly there is the concept – as the house is slowly restored to something smart and vibrant so does her mood and her willingness to look beyond her untied shoelaces, gradually lifting her head to the possibility and potential that surrounds her. Then there is the text itself – carefully chosen vocabulary that reflects the girl’s moods, changing with each step forward that she takes in settling into her new environment.  This is accompanied by illustrations that have an increasing use of colour and detail, climaxing in full-colour spreads as the future becomes clearer. And throughout, the changes are reflected in the life of the little bird that first appears on the front endpaper as a lonely soul with a forlorn twig and ends on the back endpaper showing all the riches of life.

This is a story about nothing staying the same; about even the most dismal day waking to a sunrise soon; about how our moods and feelings can colour our world; and cliches like “light at the end of the tunnel”;  “some days are diamonds and some days are stones” and “without rain there can be no rainbows.” While younger readers may engage on a more superficial level at spotting the changes to the house and the bird’s business, older readers may be able to dig deeper and look at the more philosophical ideas that underpin the story as well as learning about looking for the positive, managing emotions and expectations, and developing strategies that will help them deal with new, tough or confusing situations, physical or emotional.  Some might even like to share such occasions and how they coped perhaps sending a message to other classmates that they are not alone and not on their own.

Change can be challenging but time can take care of things.

Extensive teaching notes are available.