Let’s Build a Backyard

Let's Build a Backyard

Let’s Build a Backyard











Let’s Build a Backyard

Mike Lucas

Daron Parton

Lothian, 2022

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


Chug! Chug! Chug! That’s the sound of the tipper truck.

Bang! Bang! Bang!  That’s the sound of the nails being hammered into the fence.

Sing! Sing! Sing! That’s the sound of the birds in the big tree that offers shelter and shade to countless living things and which must be protected.

In this charming companion to Let’s Build A House, Dad and his daughter are back again, this time building the backyard from bringing in quality topsoil to building a bee motel to planting the vege patch, installing a frog pond and planting bright flowers that feed on stinky chicken poo.  Using simple rhyming sequences and repetitive text, Mike Lucas and Daron Parton have once again combined to bring the complex task of creating a backyard haven for the family and wildlife alike into the realm of our youngest readers.  The bond between father and daughter is just as strong as she helps him with all the tasks – imagine the fun of being allowed to control the bobcat – with the final spread showing them sharing the joy of their labour together, suggesting that there is no mother in the story, a situation many will relate to.

As well as introducing young readers to all the tasks involved in creating a backyard and the order in which they must be done, the story opens up the opportunity for students to dream with their eyes open and plan their own backyard.  What features should it have so that it is perfect for playing and relaxing while still being a safe haven for the local wildlife and environmentally sustainable?  Teach them about bird’s-eye-view maps and drawing to scale so things fit. Big concepts for little children but made thoroughly accessible through this must-have book. (And if the prospect of a backyard is not feasible, how could the school playground be improved in a similar way? )


Sophia the Show Pony

Sophia the Show Pony

Sophia the Show Pony











Sophia the Show Pony

Kate Waterhouse

Sally Spratt

Puffin, 2022

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


Sophia is literally a show pony.  Not for her smelly, draughty stables and a manky horse blanket.  “She lived uptown in fancy Flats, the ritziest place on earth” and was “known for her stylish array of hats, paired with coats and designer gowns.”  But Sophia has a secret dream to actually  win the race that she and her friends dress up for.  Her friends discourage her saying that her destiny is being a fashionista and so Sophie settles for that until…’

Waterhouse has combined her fashion and racing backgrounds with her desire to write a book for her daughters which embraces ” all the lessons I want to impart ” about ” following your passion no matter what anyone says and finding your place in the world, and also embracing your individuality.” This message is a common one in children’s stories, but one which needs to be heard often so whatever story it is embedded in is worthwhile.  Choosing to tell it in rhyme can be tricky with both vocabulary and rhythm having to be manipulated but Waterhouse has done this creating a story that gallops along accompanied by illustrations which have all the characteristics that appeal to its target audience.  With its gold borders and pink roses, the book itself wouldn’t look out of place in the member’s area of the racecourse. 


A peek inside...

A peek inside…



I Wish I Was a Fish

I Wish I Was a Fish

I Wish I Was a Fish









I Wish I Was a Fish

Laura Bridekirk

Vanessa Fernandes

Little Steps, 2022 

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


Oh, what a thrill it would be to have a tail and gills! Imagine breathing underwater water! The idea gives me chills.

The little lad in this story is fascinated by fish and the world they live in so he takes the reader on an imaginary adventure under the water as he dreams of what his life would be like if his dreams came true.  But wait! What would he have to give up  as a little boy if they did?  Is there a compromise?

This story-in-rhyme is not only an introduction to the creatures of the watery world for our young readers, but it is also an opportunity for them to share the things they wish for – and reflect on the price they would pay if they actually came true.  A chance to think about the meaning of “Be careful what you wish for.” 

The Unfunny Bunny

The Unfunny Bunny

The Unfunny Bunny











The Unfunny Bunny

Adrian Beck

James Hart

Puffin, 2022

24pp., hbk., RRP $A17.99


’Twas the night before EASTER
When I spotted the BUNNY!
So I offered to help
Make the EGG HUNT more FUNNY!

Like many other families, this one has gathered en masse at the beach house but with the rain tumbling down it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the fun holiday they had planned.  But when the mischievous little kid finds the Easter Bunny hiding eggs in the house, they decide to take matters into their own hands and help out, hiding the eggs in places that are significant to each recipient. But not only are the placements accompanied by an explanation, they also all the worst puns of the season…

Pop’s on a health kick, which he finds unappealing.

So we placed all his eggs up near the ceiling. 

He’ll have to do some hare-robics!”

While the new Easter Bunny is carried away with the pranks and the  jokes, they finally notice that the real Easter Bunny is not amused, and perhaps there should be a re-think of the  plans… Perhaps the funny bunny isn’t so funny after all. 

From the rollicking rhyme, to the predictable puns to the perfect illustrations this is a story that needs to be read aloud to an audience because the groans of those who get the incessant plays on words will just add to the atmosphere. Even though the Easter Bunny has heard them all before, the listeners will not and they will delight in the fun and the joy as they add to them with their own (while learning a bit more about how our language works.)  And because James Hart has cleverly depicted the main character as gender-neutral, each child will see themselves being the Easter Bunny’s offsider and wondering how they could play similar pranks. 

But this is more than just an “hare-larious” story that opens up opportunities for the more serious to explore puns in particular and humour in general – it’s just plain fun and while Easter may again look different for many this year because after the fires and the pestilence, many are now coping with floods, it it still those strong family connections that glue us together whatever the circumstances.  

One to share year after year…



It Starts with a Bee

It Starts with a Bee

It Starts with a Bee











It Starts with a Bee

Jennie Weber

Quarto, 2022

34pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Slowly, slowly we are beginning to understand how critical bees are to our survival, and yet how endangered they are becoming, so any book for young readers that helps them understand the crucial role that bees play has to be an important addition to any collection. 

Using rhyming text and delicate illustration the reader is taken on a journey through the seasons from winter to autumn showing how a garden is pollinated and thus blooms to be beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables bringing both joy and food to our lives, culminating in a magnificent three-page spread summarising the essential elements of the process.  As well, it shows how bees work together with each other and other insects creating an interdependent eco-system which we must protect. 

Although created by an English illustrator who believes ” if people are amazed by the natural world, then they will be less likely to destroy it.” so that there is a “English country garden” feel to it, many of the plants featured are very familiar to young Australian readers, making it’s message as important here as it is anywhere.  It is an ideal complement to books like Holly, the Honeybee Dancing Star  and Bee Detectives (with its focus on Australian species) , all with their strong message of not just conservation but how simple it is for even our youngest readers to ensure their safety and survival. 




That Cat

That Cat

That Cat











That Cat

Jacqueline Harvey

Kate Isobel Scott

Puffin, 2022

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


All over the country I meet lots of interesting cats

Cats of all shapes and sizes in many different guises…

Using simple rhyming terms but very clever, detailed illustrations to completely engage the reader, this is a brilliant book for all cat-lovers and all ages.  For the Mat Cat is not a modest moggy curled up on a rug in front of the fire as you might expect, but a very fit, energetic yoga expert!  The Rat Cat hasn’t caught something nasty to leave at the front door but an echo of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

While young readers will love being able to read it for themselves because of the simple rhyming pattern, it is drawing the connections between the words and the pictures that adds depth, humour and a storyline that has the most comforting ending. Author and illustrator first met when Harvey taught Scott at school and that relationship shines through this book as though Scott knew that Harvey would never intend for a Fat Cat to be a self-satisfied feline surrounded by dead mice. 

Adorable in itself, and never written to be an instructional text, nevertheless this is one that could be shared with a class focusing on phonics and word families (don’t get me started…) but in a fun way where the children search out other -at words and then use their imaginations to illustrate them in surprising ways.   Or just re-interpret the words in the story.  Either way, they will not only learn a common sound for the -at combination but also start to look at character and how that can be expressed in the details of an illustration.  Can what has happened to Scat Cat be any more obvious even though there are but three words on the page???  The cues and clues offered through the pictures in a picture book are a critical, integral part of the child’s early language and reading development and texts like there that require a focus on both are an essential part of any book collection. 


An Amazing Australian Road Trip

An Amazing Australian Road Trip

An Amazing Australian Road Trip











An Amazing Australian Road Trip

Jackie Hosking

Lesley Vamos

Walker Books, 2022 

40pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


We’re travelling from Melbourne on a birthday trip west, our aunty is sixty and we’re off on a quest

She’s keen for a picnic and fancies a view, a cake and a loud “Happy Birthday to You!”

So off they go with their 4WD loaded to the hilt, the most magnificent birthday cake taking pride of place on the roof rack.  But despite circumnavigating the country, including Tasmania, and visiting significant scenic and cultural attractions  in each state and territory, Aunty cannot find the perfect picnic spot until…

In my review of Ancient Wonders  I suggested that families could use it as an opportunity to plan a journey (or two or three) to discover the remarkable land shapes and landscapes that are our own backyard, and here it has been laid out already.  Iconic destinations such as The Twelve Apostles, Coober Pedy, Port Arthur, Kakadu, Uluru, Canberra and others have all been included in this itinerary and as well as the ongoing story of Aunty’s objections (and the very fitting ending), there are also factual notes about the significance of each.  The maps on the endpages summarise the journey so well – and any adult sharing  the story will empathise. 

So the challenge to set students, having the model in front of them, is to create a new itinerary that the family could try foe when Aunty is 65!  Differentiate the task by setting it up as either Australia-wide, state-wide or even just town-wide… what places would be perfect for a picnic celebration and why?  Even though our national borders are opening up, there is still so much to see and do in our own country.  By sharing their plans, students may discover new places in their own back yard! 

To me, the best picture books are those that set the reader up for further journeys (both literally and figuratively), that have layers for them to explore and build their understandings on, those that educate as well as entertain.  This is definitely one of those and an essential addition to any collection focused on Australia’s geography. 

I am…

I am...

I am…










I am Angry


I am Hungry 


Michael Rosen

Robert Starling

Walker Books 2021 – 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

In this new series by the author of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, which will include I Am Happy and I Am Wriggly, Rosen draws on his observations of his own children’s emotions and feelings as they grew up.

By addressing them. he validates  them acknowledging that little ones do have big feelings, often made bigger by the frustration of not being able to articulate them clearly but by using humour and rhyme, he shows that while they are real and natural they also don’t last for long.

In I am Angry, the kitten has the biggest tantrum ever threatening all sorts of things but as suddenly as it appears, it disappears.  In I am Hungry the squirrel lists all the things he could eat, some funny, some revolting and others impossible. In both, the rhymes, humour and illustrations will make the child laugh out loud so the next time they have a big feeling they can think about managing it as the animals do.

A series for our youngest readers.


Boss of Your Own Body

Boss of Your Own Body

Boss of Your Own Body











Boss of Your Own Body

Byll & Beth Stephen

Simon Howe

ABC Books, 2021

24pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


You’re not the boss of many things
because you’re little and still learning.
You’re not the boss of anyone else,
you’ve got to let them be themselves.

But you ARE the boss of one thing …

How often have you heard a little one say, “You’re not the boss of me” as they try to exert some power over a situation?  From birth it is instinctive that we feel in control but as a young child, there are few circumstances  that we do have the  power  to make the decisions.  In this book, based on a song from Teeny Tiny Stevies, sisters who “make content for children filled with cheerful folk-pop tunes covering topics that explore important social messages in a fun and relatable manner.” young children are encouraged to understand that while they are not in charge of many everyday situations, they are in charge of their own bodies.  They decide how fast they can run, whether they do a handstand, join a game  or hold a grown-up’s hand.

As a teacher of 50+ years, I’ve attended many staff meetings and other PL but I always remember one particular meeting in 1989 when we were presented with the appalling statistics relating to child abuse including that based on these, there had to be kids within our school, indeed our classes, who were suffering and school had to be both their sanctuary and their saviour.  It came as mandatory reporting laws  became some of the first introduced after the ACT was granted self-government and for many, eyes were opened as we learned the facts and figures and what we could and must do about any instances we became aware of.  In many ways it was a turning point for the teaching profession as suddenly our role legally embraced the pastoral care of our students as well as their academic development.  Programs like Protective Behaviours were introduced (who remembers Try Again, Little Red Riding Hood?)  and we tried to negotiate both teaching the children how to protect themselves and the minefield that was the legal obligations we now had, particularly as children now had both a pathway and a voice so they felt it was safe and worthwhile to disclose.

And while organisations like A Mighty Girl have produced booklists that focus on abuse and violence , only a handful are for primary-aged students  and even fewer for preschool.  So this book fills a gap in what is available to our young readers, sadly having to teach them something they shouldn’t really have to learn.  Even though its words only touch lightly on the possibility of intimate abuse – “You see, you can give your uncle a kiss and you can decide to snuggle like this” – it is that repeated message that the child can choose that is the critical and powerful one. Unlike the animated version which features cartoon creatures, Simon Howe has chosen to interpret this with illustrations of children from diverse backgrounds so even the youngest child can relate to the words and the message.  This is something written just for them.

Ugly, sad and necessary though it may be that we have to teach our littlies this message which will eventually build into the No Means No campaign is a vital one so to have such a sensitive but appealing text to add to the armoury is very welcome.



The World Awaits

The World Awaits

The World Awaits











The World Awaits

Tomos Roberts


Farshore, 2021

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


As one little boy lies in bed one morning, not wanting to face the day, it’s up to his older brother to show him the extraordinary potential within him and how even the smallest of his actions will make the world a better place . . .

In the child’s world of the here and now, where it seems that their world has been dominated by restrictions and limits for ever, and even just the regular routine of going to school is a list of must-dos and dont’s, where even they, as littlies, are subjected to an uncomfortable nose-swab test every other day, it is easy to see why the prospect of staying in bed and hiding under the doona is an attractive option.  Without the adult’s ability to see the big picture and know that each day they get up and face is a day closer to the end of this situation, even the child’s natural resilience can be tested and their robust (or not-so) mental health can be chipped away.

But how do you explain to the child who mostly lives in Piaget’s world of the concrete operational stage where they are becoming more aware of the world around them but are straddling the phases of things needing to be real and that of being able to think and act in the abstract, that they have something called potential and that they can make a difference? Cleverly, in this poem, which is a conversation between adult and child,  Roberts breaks this concept down into things the child does understand – the concepts of adding and subtracting to a larger element known as the ‘common good’ and identifying simple everyday things, like ringing a grandparent, that they can do that contribute rather than withdraw.

“In our core is a plus and minus, and they’re eternally at play.

They give us the power to add goodness to the world or to take some good away.” 

As with The Great Realisation, Roberts shows his ability to take himself to the child’s level, to talk to them in language they understand, yet at the same time provide layers of meaning that more mature readers can delve into. So while he talks to the child of making its bed or helping a struggling beetle back on its feet, there are also more oblique references to the global situation –

A little look at human history tells us all we need to know

It’s no surprise the toughest times were when that number got too low.  

As with that first book, throughout this one are the threads of hope, of better times and of the child having the power to make the decisions and take the actions that will improve things for all, not just themselves.

Roberts’ poems have been described as “a manifesto for our time” and with his ability to connect with kids of all ages, he is certainly one whose works need attention and further explanation.  Perhaps exploring this poem with a child in your realm, and offering them a way forward, is your addition to the bucket of common good for today. one that will have a long-term benefit that, as a teacher, you may never see or know.  As important as it is invisible.