The Littlest Penguin

The Littlest Penguin

The Littlest Penguin











The Littlest Penguin and the Phillip Island Penguin Parade

Jedda Robaard

Penguin Foundation

Puffin, 2023

144pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Before the Europeans came to Millowl (Phillip Island) there were at least ten little penguin colonies there, but these days there is only one.  Protected by law now, it is the largest colony in the world, and, at the end of each day, hundreds of tourists come to watch some of those 40 000 adults gather together in “rafts” before they surf into the beach, waddle across it and head up the familiar tracks to their burrows, each looking for landmarks or listening for their partner’s voice to find their way.  

And, just maybe in that daily trek there will be Little Penguin, Scruffy, Cheeky and Big Chick who are the stars of this absorbing, beautifully illustrated novel for younger readers as they begin their lives as downy chicks and grow into adults ready to have chicks themselves. Just 33cm tall and less than a kilo as adults, there are many dangers facing the little penguins, particularly as they can be at sea for up to a year on that first journey, and Little Penguin, Scruffy, Cheeky and Big Chick are exposed to all of them making for an engaging read as we hope for a happy ending for all of them.

As well as their story, there is also an extensive information section to tell the reader more including the usual facts and figures that add the background as well as what happens when they are affected by oil slicks, itself an intriguing, heart-warming story, as is the story of another colony at St Kilda.. 

Produced by the Penguin Foundation which “raises funds to enhance Phillip Island’s natural environment and protect native wildlife through research, conservation and education programs”, and published by Penguin random House (who else? and who provide funding for the organisation), this is the ideal read-aloud or read-together to inspire interest in and awareness of these little birds as well as giving all those who are likely to make the trip to Phillip Island over the upcoming Christmas  break the knowledge and understanding of just what they are seeing. Maybe, as they learn more from both the Penguin Foundation and the Penguin Parade websites, they might even want to adopt a penguin for themselves. 

I adored it.


Penguin chick born in Eden for the first time in 30 years holds hopes in re-establishing colony 

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess











My Especially Weird Week with Tess

Anna Woltz

Translated by David Colmer

David Dean 

Rock the Boat, 2023

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


Sam is a deep thinker – his older brother, Jasper, calls hum ‘the professor’ – and since attending the funeral of a schoolfriend’s father recently, many of his thoughts have been centred around death, particularly its impact on those left behind.  And it is his questions about the loneliness of the last dinosaur that leads to a chance meeting with 12-year-old Tess who seems to be on his wavelength and turns a run-of-the-mill holiday on the Dutch island of Texel into a life-changing time for both of them.

Within minutes of the meeting he finds himself learning to waltz in a carpark, offering to bury an old man’s canary and then discovering that Tess, who has never known her father, has found out who he is and has hatched an audacious plan to bring him to the island so she can observe him and decide whether she will disclose her identity. Through the filter-free conversations that kids have when life is still about them and theirs and not impinged by what others might think, they share their thoughts and do things that help them work through Sam’s fear of the loneliness caused by death and Tess’s relationship with her father that is completely credible for any reader who is the same age or who knows how that age group thinks and works. The setting, the situation and the characters are authentic and I binge read it in one session!

 Made into an award-winning Dutch film titled My Extraordinary Summer with Tess ,translated into 13 languages and awarded  The Times Children’s Book of the Week in March 2023, this is a heart-warming story of friendship and compassion for independent readers, even a class read-aloud,  that will envelop the reader like a warm hug.  Loved it in the same way as I loved The Girl who brought Mischief.  




The Ultimate Collection of Brilliant Bedtime Stories

The Ultimate Collection of Brilliant Bedtime Stories

The Ultimate Collection of Brilliant Bedtime Stories











The Ultimate Collection of Brilliant Bedtime Stories

R. A. Spratt

Puffin, 2023

400pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


” There is so much in a child’s life that is beyond our control. Picking up this book and reading your young person a story is a precious thing. It is more than a silly tale, (although it is definitely that.) A story shares is a reassurance, a balm for the soul and, one day, a happy memory for you all to look back on fondly.  So much of parenting is hard.  But reading a story isn’t.  You can totally ace this”.  

For decades, new parents have been advised by the likes of wonderful authors like Mem Fox, of the importance of reading to our little ones since birth because not only do they hear and learn the sounds and rhythms of our language but it establishes that beautiful relationship between the reader and the listener as they are cocooned in a world of make-believe.  And now, in this dedication of her new book of short stores, Author Spratt reminds us that sharing stories is not just for the parents of the very young but an important, long-lasting bonding between parents and their older children too.

And to make this possible, she has written another collection of short stories to go along with Shockingly Good Stories and Astonishingly Good Stories to ensure that parents, grandparents, teachers and anyone else who cares has plenty of wonderful stories to share. As well as those told by the popular Nanny Piggins, and a new Friday Barnes adventure, there are many silly stories and tall tales from her own family life, often based on legendary characters the children will know through fractured fairytales,  that have the power to bring brief respite into busy lives and just “draw the curtains on the day” as those early bedtime episodes did.  

Through her series such as Nanny Piggins, Friday Barnes, and  The Peski Kids , and her weekly podcast, Spratt will be known to many of her intended 7-11 audience, and now this new book offers an opportunity for the whole family to share in the fun. 

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us

Where The River Takes Us











Where The River Takes Us

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2023

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Wales, February 1974. The coal miners are on strike for better pay and conditions, and energy rationing is enforced with power to homes and businesses only being allowed at certain times of the day, and thus many businesses are working on a three-day week. It’s winter, it’s wet and cold.  And to add to this misery, in a small village 13-year-old Jason  and 18-year-old Richie are grieving the death of their parents in a car accident while struggling to stay together in their family home.  The mortgage is due again on March 1 but there will be no celebration for St David’s Day this year because Richie’s wages just aren’t enough.

When Jason learns how Richie has been tricked into making some extra money on the side, he is terrified his brother will end up in prison and they will be separated, regardless, and so when he learns about a reward being offered for proof of the existence of a wild beast roaming nearby mountains, it seems like a lifeline worth pursuing at all costs.  An idea is born and a quest begun.  With his best friends Jinx, Tam and Catrin, he sets off on adventure following the river up into the high country, determined to be the first to photograph the Beast with the camera Catrin has “borrowed” from her father. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt as they are dogged by their arch-enemies Gary and Dean, and so the trip is made even more hazardous…

Underpinned by the bonds between the four children, this is a brilliant, fresh, original story that kept me reading until I finished.  While the lure of the £100 reward which they have agreed will be used to pay the boys’ mortgage. is the carrot that keeps them going physically, it is as much an emotional journey for each of them as they learn so much about themselves, about each other and about the power of friendship and the complexity of grief.  Unbreakable ties are forged that will exist regardless of the outcome of the quest,  while both Jason and Richie begin to accept that they are not alone and it’s okay to let others in for support and guidance.  

Like The Valley of Lost Secrets, (the first chapter of which is included at the end), this is a superbly crafted story built on the interactions between the key characters – ordinary kids doing something as ordinary as an overnight camping trip in the school holidays, but who find themselves learning more than they ever imagined.  When questioned about what they are doing, rather than divulge their hunt for the Beast in case others are too, Catrin refers to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, one often associated with outdoor adventure, but if the reader examines the full purpose of it – “to explore their full potential and find their purpose, passion and place in the world, regardless of their location or circumstance” – then perhaps that’s exactly what they did, just without the formality.

Independent readers who like authentic stories with real body will adore this, as will class teachers looking for an absorbing read-aloud that will hook the entire class.

In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting a copy of When the War Came Home because Lesley Parr is becoming a name I am always going to look for. 

Cop and Robber

Cop and Robber

Cop and Robber











Cop and Robber

Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Nash Hall’s dad is a criminal who just can’t seem to go straight. As a former boxer fallen on hard times, he thinks the only thing left for him is to steal money.  He wants Nash to help him commit a robbery and seems to have no qualms about making his son an unintentional accomplice.  The trouble is, Nash’s mum is a cop. and she is Nash’s rock. And the robbery is at Nash’s school because his dad sees it as a soft target, particularly immediately after the school fair. But Dad owes a lot of money to some very dangerous people and if Nash doesn’t help him do the job, it could cost both their lives. So does Nash try to stand by his Dad likes his mum stands by him, and turn his activities around in a way that his mum couldn’t, or does he tell his mum and ruin the relationship with his dad for ever? Can there be a happy ending for anyone in this story?

I read a lot of books, particularly those for children, and therefore it is to be expected that not all of them stand out to be recalled over and over again. But this one had me enthralled from beginning to end, not just because of the quality of Bancks’ writing – he has had me as a fan since Two Wolvesbut for the originality of the plot and that I could hear myself reading it aloud to equally enthralled students and asking them, “What would YOU do?” So when I recommended it, yet again, to a teacher librarian’s forum as a story that would allow them to explore perspective and perception perfectly, I was surprised that I had not reviewed it already.  My only excuse is that this blog is primarily for books for for younger readers but occasionally I add must-reads-for-olders and this is one of them.  

Nothing that Bancks has written in this genre, including Detention  and The Fall has ever left me disappointed, even as an adult reader, but it is this new one that offers so many avenues for exploration particularly relating to moral dilemmas which the target audience are going to have to face as they navigate adolescence into adulthood.  Not that they are likely to be in the same scenario as Nash, but there are going to be challenges where they will be torn between what they know is right and what their peers are pressuring them to do.  Comprehensive teaching notes  explore these issues including how to explore the inner and outer worlds of Nash’s thinking as he grapples with the dilemma.  

In a literary world that is full of futuristic stories of fantastic heroes, this one is one that will endure long after the reader has put it down,  Ask me how I know! 

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure











The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

Jacqueline Wilson

Mark Beech

Hodder Children’s, 2022

285pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00


2856pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Seventy-plus years ago, the stories of Enid Blyton were the core of the young child’s reading diet.  A trip in the magic wishing chair or a visit to a land through the mysterious cloud above a huge tree were a much-anticipated part of the bedtime routine introducing us to the fantasy genre and leading us on to read series like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven  or any other of her 700 books and 2000 short stories for ourselves. 

Such were the memories made that that generation went on to share her work with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and some, like me, went on to become teachers and shared them with a new class of fans every year for 50 years!!! So to discover that Jacqueline Wilson had been given permission to weave new adventures among the branches of the Faraway Tree so new, modern readers can share the magic and mystery made this high on my list of review requests.  And I’ve had my nose in it all afternoon not only meeting the new and familiar characters like Silky, Moonface, the Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot among others but recalling my own introduction to them all those years ago and the joy and wonder I’ve brought to children over the years when I have shared them.  

In this new adventure, Milo, Mia and Birdy are on a countryside holiday when they wander into an Enchanted Wood and following a rabbit who can speak to them through the thick forest with its mysterious whispering leaves, discover a beautiful tree that stands high above the rest. The Magic Faraway Tree is home to many remarkable creatures including a fairy called Silky, her best friend Moonface and more. Little Birdy is only too happy to find that fairies are real. Even her older brother and sister are soon won over by the magic of the Faraway Tree and the extraordinary places they discover above it.

Keeping true to the original concept, including the writing style, this is both a nostalgic visit to past pleasures as well as the gateway to reading the entire series which remains in print.  IMO, this is one of the best series to introduce young readers to reading novels because each chapter is pretty much complete in itself making it ideal for a both a read-aloud session and a read-alone session, yet there is the continuity of both the storyline and the characters to be able to pick it up and set it down without having to orient yourself to a whole new read.  While there is drama in each chapter . the plot remains straightforward so there are not too many twists and turns to confuse the novice reader. 

My well-thumbed, well-read 1971 editions of the series have pride of place on my bookshelf, and this new adventure will be sitting there with them too, ready for when my grandchildren are ready to read it to theirs.  Hachette, the publishers, kindly sent me a hardcover version but it is also available in paperback at a more accessible price so more generations can lose themselves in the magic.  

How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person











How to be . . . The New Person

Anna Branford

Walker Books, 2022

128pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Hazel Morrison has a secret habit – pretending to make videos about everyday things. Eight important tips for successfully buttering toast! Putting your hair in a ponytail: a step-by-step guide! But when her family move to the outer suburbs, Hazel has to cope with starting at a new school where she doesn’t exactly feel welcomed. However, she does meet a new friend – her elderly neighbour Veronica,  But then Veronica has to move too.

So when a school project inspires her to create a real video, she knows just what her focus will be – a how-to guide for being “the new person” . . . because everyone, sometime, will meet one, or be one!

Having laughed and cried through Old People’s Home for Teenagers and having seen the impact of the isolation of lockdown on all ages, it would seem to me that loneliness is at the root of the mental health issues of today’s generations.  While older people finding themselves alone after the death of a partner has always been a trigger point, and one to be aware of regardless of their “I’m OK” protestations because they “don’t want to be a burden”, the anti-social nature of social media is a new phenomenon.  Although it allows for easier connectivity, that connectivity can be done alone and in private without having to have face-to-face contact, without having to develop the skills of interaction or relationship-building, and without regard for the impact of the words on the recipient.  No wonder the teens in the television show, most of whom admitted that they spent hours upon hours in their bedrooms, lacked the confidence to mingle with others.

Thus, as we approach the end of another school year and children are facing having to start a new school, whether that’s in a new location or just moving on to high school, anxiety will be starting to build already as they contemplate being “the new kid” and all that that entails.  This book, written for young independent readers, deserves to be shared with our students to open up conversations that allow them to share their anxieties, to learn that they are all feeling the same way, and to develop strategies so they can believe in Veronica’s observation that “Wherever there are lots of people, there is always at least one nice person. You don’t always find them right away but sooner or later you usually do.  And after that, things get easier.”

IMO, instead of focusing on academics and grades and stuff in the last few weeks of the year, the greatest thing we can do for our students is to guide them along the pathway ahead, to show them that there are many walking beside, behind and in front of them, that the apprehension they are feeling is universal and that they can and will find that “one nice person.”  It starts with being one yourself.   


If someone has lost their smile, give them one of yours.

Astonishingly Good Stories

Astonishingly Good Stories
Astonishingly Good Stories

Astonishingly Good Stories

R. A. Spratt

Puffin. 2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


In her foreword, Ms Spratt writes, “Last year  I wrote a book called Shockingly Good Stories. It was a collection of tales to spread joy in challenging times. Here we are, twelve months later and times are still challenging, so I have written down twenty more stories. The world is in desperate need of silliness and outrageous fabrications – I have written this book to serve that purpose..” And with stories about a lovestruck merpig, a peppermint-stick Parthenon, a vegetarian spider and including a mystery investigated by Friday Barnes  and a retelling of some old favourites by Nanny Piggins, Spratt has achieved her aim.

Sprinkled throughout are storytelling tips for those who are inspired to put their own pen to paper, and there are even some blank pages in the backword to record ideas and words if you don’t have your own paper! As well as being “Just the thing for reading at bedtime, when you’re supposed to be doing your homework or when you’ve been chased up a tree by an escaped rhinoceros and you’re waiting for the zookeeper to arrive” this book might also lead readers to discover Spratt’s other series, including Friday Barnes who started out as the favourite character of Miss 8 and remained so through all her adventures even though Miss 8 is now Miss 16! That, in itself, is testimony of one who can engage and entertain all ages.  

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters

Miss Mary-Kate Martin's Guide to Monsters

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters











Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters (series)

The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm

Karen Foxlee

Freda Chiu

Allen & Unwin, 2022

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


The earth trembled as the creature left its lair at night.  It wound its way across the fields and slunk over the town bridge.  It slithered across the churchyard and its skin shimmered as it slid past the windows of the sleeping children,  Its shadow raced along the stone walls by the light of the mood.  It glided across the village green and then silently through the cobblestoned streets,  It went past the pub and the tiny teashops, past the village library, searing. It had known the place for centuries. In the market square it stopped.

It let out a screech that was wild and full of rage.

That cry echoed down the laneways, through the thatched roof cottages, reverberated over the fields.

It was a noise that had not been heard for many years. 

“Meanwhile, dressed in sparkly red shoes with her matching backpack, and carrying her strawberry-scented notebook, Mary-Kate is accompanying her archaeologist mother to the tranquil English countryside to investigate some interesting bones found in an old well. But once they arrive, they realise that the village of Woolington is not as peaceful as it seems. Mysterious noises, earth tremors and a terrifying legend have the locals frightened.

Could there be any truth in the myth of the beast who lives in the ancient well? And if so, why would it return? Mary-Kate might be anxious, but she is not afraid to get to the bottom of this monstrous mystery.”

However, Mary-Kate is not the intrepid adventurer that the publisher’s blurb portrays.  In fact, she is a rather anxious child who likes to make lists so she can plan and manage her life because she doesn’t cope with change well, and while her mother may be used to going off on these sorts of expeditions, Mary-Kate usually stays with her grandmother, which she much prefers. Even the few days away from school which has been Triple H lately – horrible, horrendous and hideous- are little consolation So, reluctantly, she packs her bag with her lucky items – the seven pieces of gum left by her father before he disappeared on Mt Shishapangma; her torch shaped like Big Ben, her little jar with 33 international coins in it and her stress ball shaped like a miniature world globe – and heads off to Woolington Well with her mother. 

This is a new release from the author of Lenny’s Book of Everything  winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, and Dragon Skin. shortlisted for the 2022 CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers and it is ideal for those who like a fantasy-adventure in which they can put themselves into the story as a character rather than an observer.  Being a sucker for anything set in ye olde English villages, it had me at the prologue but I remained hooked and read well past my bedtime as I willed Mary-Kate and Arabella on as they gradually work out why the wyrm, a “huge limbless and wingless dragon or dragon-like creature” has emerged again and is causing so much destruction, while both learn much about themselves as they do.  

Something different to share as a class read-aloud that will be followed by another in the series  The Trouble with the Two-headed Hydra- so readers can continue sharing Mary-Kate’s adventures. 

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale











The Lost Whale

Hannah Gold

Levi Pinfold

HarperCollins, 2022

320pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Rio is lost – both physically and emotionally.  

He has been sent from London to Los Angeles to stay with his grandmother while his mother is in hospital trying to recover from her chronic mental illness. But the tiny, quiet seaside town of Ocean Grove is so different from busy London; and so is his grandmother’s house – so much bigger than their tiny city flat, especially when he is to sleep in his mother’s childhood bedroom.

As if that weren’t enough, not only does he scarcely know his grandmother who is all shiny jumpsuits, sharp elbows and hard angles and whose hugs are not the deep, warm snuggly type he is used to, but he believes that if he had just tried harder and done more he could have prevented his mother’s downward slide into the psychiatric hospital.  At first,  Rio shuts everyone and everything out, unable to do anything but think about his mother and fears for her safety if he is not there.  After all, he’s been her carer for most of his 11 years. He is consumed by guilt if he relaxes or has fun, or even feels at peace. He is fixated of fixing here, despite being so far away, and when he discovers her childhood sketches of a grey whale named White Beak he hatches a plan that will surely save her, one made even more possible when he at last makes a friend in Marina who is passionate about the whales that migrate past Ocean Beach each year and whose dad happens to own a whale-watching business.  

After his own incredible encounter with White Beak, Rio is even more determined but then the reports of her being sighted as she journey s south to the lagoons of Mexico stop. Rio is determined to find her  because White Beak and his mother become one and the same person in his mind, and he and Marina hatch an audacious plan…

As with Gold’s debut novel, The Last Bear  this is a story  that stays in the mind long after the final page has been turned, and as with that story, it is a journey of discovery for the child as much as the focus animal. Rio is so used to being the grown-up, the responsible one, that he has to learn to forge relationships with his grandmother, Marina and her father and to be able to trust others to have his mother’s interests at heart, accepting that he can’t fix everything by himself. But the parallel story about the life and times of the world’s whales, whatever species, and the perils they face as their habitat is threatened is equally important.  It could easily have been set in coastal New South Wales about the humpback highway.  

This is one for independent readers who are seeking a well-written story that has substance and authenticity, but it would also make an excellent class read-aloud.