The Sea in Me

The Sea in Me

The Sea in Me











The Sea in Me

Cody Simpson with Jess Black

Amandine Thomas

Puffin, 2024

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


A hot summer’s day and everyone seems to have had the same idea – to go to the beach. Rows of beach tents block the breeze, the jingle of the ice cream van is on repeat, the towels are so close they are touching and even the seagulls are grumpy as they squabble over spilled chips.  The sights and sounds are so overpowering and overwhelming that there is just one solution – to go for a swim , dive deep below the waves and relax…

The sounds from above are hazy and lost to me.
I can only hear my heartbeat, slow and steady.

Far below the hubbub above, there is peace and quiet and the sea creatures go about their lives as they have always done in a slow, repetitive rhythm that soothes jangled nerves and calms the soul in a magical way.

Sometimes, whether it is a physical experience like being at an overcrowded beach, or just embroiled in life itself, we will all feel that it is all too much and we just need to get away, to find solace in silence and stillness, to go to where the only sound is the inner voice in your head and listen to it.  And with today’s busy, frenetic lifestyle and all the outside noise imposing itself even on our youngest, this is a wonderful allegory to share to help them find that inner peace, whether that be under the waves or high in a tree or perched on a rock or snuggled under the blankets.  We all have a “sea” that is our sanctuary. 

Cody Simpson is a name that will be familiar to many – as a musician, aspiring Olympian and now writer he is well-qualified to write about the outside noise and pressures on his life.  Listening to an interview with Giaan Rooney immediately after just failing to make the Olympic team to go to Paris, this book could not have a more timely release.  He spoke of a time when he had to shut down all the distractions and listen to the voice of 12-year-old Cody telling him that he was a talented swimmer at that early age and had the potential to go far, and it was up to him to realise it.  The most powerful message though, comes from the ending – even though he didn’t achieve his ultimate goal, he gave it his all and he wasn’t going to go through life wondering “What if…” But it was that initial act of actively seeking that solitude and seclusion that allowed him to hear that voice that sparked the dream that was so critical.

So whether this book is just used as a peek at what is underneath the waves, or as part of a mindfulness program that encourages students to look deep within to find their “sea” and what it is telling them, it has a place for a wide audience and a message that goes far beyond the celebrity’s name on the cover.  Even if not as an Olympian or a musician, Simpson has offered himself as a role model of an entirely different sort. 

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth











Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Joanna Grochowicz

A & U Children’s, 2024

272pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Sir Douglas Mawson. His face is on the $A100 note; he has streets, suburbs and places named after him scattered across the country; and  the longest continuously operating station south of the Antarctic Circle bears his name.

So who is he and what did he do to deserve these honours? 

To learn that we need to go back to winter in Antarctica in 1912, just months after Amundsen and Scott have reached the South Pole, and a young Australian driven by his passion to contribute to scientific knowledge leads the Australian Antarctic Expedition intent on establishing research bases on the continent and sub-Antarctic islands to explore and chart the east Antarctic coastline  and learn from it.  As disaster befalls his team and gradually they perish, Mawson finds himself alone but is so determined to take both data and specimens back to base that he struggles on alone for 30 days, arriving just a few hours after the ship sent to retrieve the party had left..

Mawson’s remarkable tale of determination, endurance and resilience is retold in this absorbing narrative non fiction, the latest addition to this series which includes the journeys of Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton . Using a range of primary and secondary sources, its polar historian author tells the stories of these early pioneers of Antarctic exploration in a way that brings them to life, with all their foibles and faults as well as courage and tenacity, engaging the reader in a way that facts and figures, bare statements and grainy photographs can’t.  

And for those for whom a 272page book might be a bit daunting, there is also Douglas Mawson in the brilliant Meet… series, so an  opportunity for all to know a little about this remarkable real here. 

My own connections to the Antarctic were outlined in my review of Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey but these are stories of real-life heroes that don’t require that sort of legacy to inspire their reading – these are for any independent reader of any age who enjoys true stories of doing the seemingly impossible, particularly in times when it is the human endeavour rather than the technological wizardry that determine success or otherwise.  Who knows – introducing a young person to this series just might be the trigger for a lifetime.

Jonty’s Unicorn

Jonty's Unicorn

Jonty’s Unicorn











Jonty’s Unicorn

Rebecca Fraser

ifwg Publishing, 2024

140pp., pbk., RRP $A22.99


In the quiet hamlet of Blaxby in the Kingdom of Irrawene, twelve-year-old Jonty Fairskye’s mother is gravely ill. A tonic from Dagatha, the fearsome witch who dwells in the dark heart of the Terrenwild Woods may be her only hope, but everyone knows Dagatha’s cures cost dearly — both in gold and regret.

Determined to save her mother, Jonty resolves to enter the King’s Annual Horse Race on her beloved horse, Onyx. The prize, a pouch of gold — more than enough to pay Dagatha. When Jonty discovers Rose, an injured unicorn, during a woodland training session, she is wonderstruck. There hasn’t been a unicorn sighting in Irrawene for over a century. Jonty smuggles Rose back to the safety of her barn to recover.

As the great horse race draws closer, disaster strikes and Jonty is forced to make a decision that will impact the lives of everyone she loves. Danger and betrayal lurk around every corner, and Jonty will learn that the true meaning of kindness and bravery comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice.

If ever there were a stereotypical entry into the world of fantasy for young readers, then this would be it. From setting to situation to characters to plot, it has all the hallmarks of what you expect from this genre for this age group from the ailing parent and the young child down to their last pennies; the possibility of a cure from the wicked witch who lives deep in the forest but at a cost too much to pay; the possibility of winning the money; the child ready to save the parent whatever it takes;  the disaster, the disappointment, the redemption – and of course, a magical unicorn.  But this is not a bad thing for the newly independent reader because it confirms and brings to life all those mind-pictures that they have formed already from listening to such stories and seeing illustrations in picture books.  Beautifully descriptive, here, in words alone, are all the things that have been imagined and now they can read them for themselves and solidify that platform they have built, perhaps even extending their reading by seeking others in the same genre.  

It also has the classic plot structure of a novel for younger readers with problems, possible solutions, complications and suspense to the final resolution making it an ideal way to introduce this longer format and the value in persevering rather than expecting the story to be done and dusted in one sitting like a picture book or television episode, while the underlying perennial message of being resilient and standing up for what is right is also strong as it carries the story along

Perhaps a little more expensive than other paperbacks, nevertheless its value as a mentor text for examining the tropes of this genre, the construction of a plot, and descriptive language that would enable even the lousiest artist like me to construct a mental or physical image of the setting and the characters, and its potential to extend the readers interest to find similar stories,  make it a worthwhile investment. 

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project











The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Mitchell Itches

Mitchell Itches

Mitchell Itches











Mitchell Itches: An Eczema Story

Kristin Kelly

Amelina Jones

EK Books, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A4.99


Ever since he was born, Mitchell has been itchy – so much so that even as a baby he had to wear special mittens and socks to help him control his constant need to scratch.  And while he is young, surrounded by family who understand the condition and do all they can to alleviate it, things are okay, but when he gets to school things take a turn for the worse with the lack of understanding leading to taunts, bullying and isolation.  Yet, when there is a family holiday by the seaside things ease, and Mitchell finds a way to distract himself from the need to scratch.  But holidays can’t last forever and school returns – will he find a way to be accepted for the little boy he is, itches and all?

Sadly this story could be that of my husband – and the one in five children living with eczema – right down the special mittens, the allergy to eggs and milk, and the special care of his family. And while he has now grown out of the condition, what he had as a child shaped who he is today as a mature+ – aged grandfather.  Although he doesn’t have Mitchell’s special talent, he did have the bullying, the shame and the ostracisation that went with such conditions in the 50s and 60s.  So stories like this that not only help the Mitchells to understand that the condition is more common that they realise, but also educate those around them that it is not catchy and underneath the irritated skin is a regular person can play an invaluable part in making life less miserable than it is.  

And while this is specifically about eczema, there is also an underlying message about discovering something that we love to indulge in and completely distract us from whatever is troubling us.  In fact, it is not indulgent, it’s necessary to give the brain a break so it can be refreshed and renewed when reality impacts again.  So all sorts of lessons for all of us. 


Test Trouble

Test Trouble

Test Trouble









Test Trouble

Serena Patel

Louise Forshaw

Barrington Stoke, 2024

88pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


When his teacher announces that there will be a timed maths test the following Monday, Arun goes into meltdown.  Even though he is bright and attentive, tests, especially timed ones, make him feel extremely anxious as he feels the pressure to perform.  And so he is determined to get out of it by any means possible staging a protest about tests altogether (which only gets him into more trouble) and even pretending to be sick.  But then a conversation with his neighbour helps him see things in a different light….

This is a story that nearly every reader will relate to. The anxiety that comes with the expectation of being tested, and being expected to do well, no matter how often teachers and other adults try to reassure you that it is “just a test” to let them know how you’re coping and that they can know where you need support.  The fact is that the fear of not living up to expectations, particularly your own, can become bigger than the test itself and that is what distorts the results, not your lack of knowledge and understanding.  

But even though we, as teachers, know this and that there are better ways of assessing a student’s progress and program, boffins wanting to protect their positions insist on imposing tests to measure achievement as though a score on a paper on a particular day indicates anything other than that, and using the results to make all sorts of high-stakes claims and decisions.  So until there is enlightened leadership, such as the implementation of the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate, which does not require a final exam,  our students are going to find themselves in Arun’s position, sadly from their Kindergarten year. And so this is a worthwhile addition to every teacher’s toolkit, especially those who teach that middle primary area where the fear and anxiety really start to take hold, so it can be shared over and over, especially the conversation that Arun has with Mr Patel on pp48-49. Sometimes just turning up for something that we are afraid to do is the biggest achievement, and, having done that, the rest is not so hard.  

This is a little book that has the potential to have the most enormous impact.

This book is from a new imprint, Barrington Stoke, that HarperCollins UK has acquired. Many will know that Barrington Stoke print all of their titles using dyslexic-friendly paper stock, formatting and fonts. Many of their books, including this one, are hi-lo texts written by popular authors but which have been edited to have a lower reading age than interest age so it’s great that they are now going to be readily available in Australia.













Lauren Loftus

Lauren Gero

Little Steps, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.95


Early 2020 and the whispers about a disease that is about to overtake the world are becoming louder and louder and within a few weeks, “the world has turned outside-in”.  While approaches to its impact varied greatly, there was a common thread of encouraging people to stay indoors and not visit each other, and this book reminds little ones of they were brave and kind inside by staying inside.  Even though it meant not seeing loved ones and not going to school, by staying at home they were caring for others because they didn’t put them at risk. 

One might wonder about the relevance of this book four years on, particularly as a conversation with the principal of a large primary school suggests that there is little to no talk of COVID and its restrictions at the time, although there are other issues that have arisen.  But, it does have value in the school library collection if it is used as a way to show children that they do have experience of overcoming overwhelming situations and if they are faced with such circumstances in their personal lives again, they do have the wherewithal inside to face them and deal with them.  By reminding them of their personal experience, and how with the love and caring of those around them they were able to both survive and thrive, that they can do it again no matter what might be thrown at them.  So rather than being a story about the pandemic it becomes a springboard for consolidating their resilience.

The Last Zookeeper

The Last Zookeeper

The Last Zookeeper











The Last Zookeeper

Aaron Becker

Walker Books, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


In a not-so-futuristic time, the Earth has flooded and the waters continue to rise. The only signs of humankind are the waterlogged structures they left behind. Peeking out from the deluge are the remnants of a zoo, home to rare and endangered animals like elephants. giraffes, tigers, pandas  and rhinoceroses, who have hung on and clung on despite everything. Tender-hearted NOA is a huge construction robot who has found a new mission as the caretaker of the zoo’s beleaguered inhabitants, and despite towering above them, they trust him.  Bracing for the next storm, NOA builds an ark from the wreckage around him and together they go in search of new land, only to almost perish as that anticipated storm hits while they are at sea.  But then something miraculous arrives, and NOA not only discovers sanctuary for those he has saved, but something even more profound…

 Described by the publisher as a “luminous sci-fi parable for our changing world”, the only words in this masterpiece are a quote from primatologist and anthropologist Dr Jane Goodall,..

Only if we understand, can we care.

Only if we care, will we help.

Only if we help, shall all be saved.

But within the illustrations is a powerful story that is a parallel to the biblical story and which offers so many riches to explore, particularly by those who are so well aware of the need to protect and preserve the environment and the prospect of the impact of climate change.  So while younger readers may interpret this as a futuristic retelling of Noah and his ark, more sophisticated readers will bring all their own existing knowledge and experiences to tell their own tale as they examine the details embedded in the illustrations creating a unique, very personal story unimpeded by the text of another.  And while it may seem to be a story of gloom and doom that could be depressing, there is a twist that references the other biblical story of the Garden of Eden that offers hope that perhaps not all is lost in the post-apocalyptic world… 

Reviews of this amazing work abound and each suggests a new aspect, element or interpretation that could be explored including discovering Becker’s other work, The Tree and the River, which is a “time-lapse portrait of humankind – and our impact on the natural world”, making both of these core texts for older readers who, having asked what-if now want to consider what-next. So while most are touting it as suitable for ages 4-7, to me this is one for older readers who have an understanding of the current environmental uncertainty and who can bring that, as well as their knowledge of the biblical stories and the universal human need for hope to the table so they can really appreciate the beauty and value of Becker’s work.  

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies

Heather Has Two Mummies











Heather Has Two Mummies

Lesléa Newman

Laura Cornell

Walker Books, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Heather’s favourite number is two – she has two arms, two legs, two pets and two lovely mummies, Mama Kate, a doctor, and Mama Jane, a carpenter, plus dog Midnight and cat Gingersnap.  But when Heather goes to school for the first time, someone asks her about her daddy … and Heather doesn’t have a daddy! But then the class all draw portraits of their families, and not one single drawing is the same. Heather and her classmates realize – it doesn’t matter who makes up a family, the most important thing is that all the people in it love one another very much.

In the international bestseller, Lessons in Chemistry, which focuses on the attitudes towards women in the 1950s and early 60s, Teacher Mudford asks her Year 1 class to fill in a diagram of their family tree including a photo, but not only does she share what she learns about some of the diverse families of her students with other parents, but she persecutes those children who don’t have the stock-standard, mother-father-child/ren arrangement that was the only accepted model of the times.

Fast forward 30 years to the 1990s and the original version of Heather Has Two Mummies is published, despite many rejections from mainstream publishers because it was considered too controversial because attitudes had scarcely changed, and is challenged, banned, the subject of public debate, attacked by clergy and politicians alike. By the end of the decade it was the 9th most challenged book in US literary history.  

Now, another 30* years on, the self-published first editions have become collectibles, and reprints are common in school libraries because diverse family structures are mostly more acceptable and children have both the right and the need to read about themselves. While as recently as 2015 teachers in some US states faced dismissal for sharing such stories, a situation that has become even more dire in some US states since the extreme right-wing presidency of Donald Trump with books with any sort of reference to sexual diversity being pulled from shelves and banned in state-sponsored legislation, nevertheless this book has persisted and has not been out of print for 35 years, indicating that there is clearly a demand for these sorts of stories that address the tricky topics that children live daily, that cause both confusion and anxiety, and which have to be shared if we are to normalise anything that is not the norm. 

For those for whom such stories might be problematic because of the ethos of their schools, I invite you to read both the discussions that were generated in 2015 when I wrote the tricky topics hat for my 500 Hats blog and how it has been addressed in the Sample Collection Policy under Diversity and Inclusion. The mental health of our students is more prominent now than it has been in the past and much stems from feelings of being different, excluded, not belonging and so, IMO, we as educators have a responsibility to embrace diversity, to show that there is so much more that includes rather than divides. As the wise MS Molly in the story says, “each family is special, The most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love one another.”

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small

Everyone Starts Small











Everyone Starts Small

Liz Garton Scanlon

Dominique Ramsey

Candlewick Press, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Sun grows beams
and Grass grows blades
and Cloud cannot contain herself.

Spring rains change Water from a tumbling creek to a roaring river and bring Tree nutrients it needs to stretch toward the sky. As Sun’s rays intensify, the sprouts and fruits and insects of the forest grow and bloom and develop, all working together in harmony. Even Fire, whose work causes Tree to ache from the inside, brings opportunity for the next generation of flora and fauna. This poetic tribute to our planet’s resilience, accompanied by its striking illustrations is a resonant story of life, death, and regeneration and demonstrates to young readers the interdependence of the elements of Nature and how without one, or too much of one, our planet cannot survive, let alone thrive.

It echoes the old Aesop fable of The North Wind and the Sun although the theme of this is not competition but the symbiosis of the elements, despite Tree warning that “it is not a race”.  As well as building a greater awareness of the world around them, it introduces young readers to the concept of life cycles and possibly sparking investigations of the connections between creatures and their habitats and what they can do to help such as making a bee motel.

For those more mature readers, the personification could be a metaphor for their own lives, a reassurance that despite all they might experience as they grow and mature into independence, like Tree, they have the resilience and wherewithal to cope with whatever they encounter no matter how bleak the immediate future might seem.  Despite the devastation of Fire and the harshness of Winter, following the devastation, the Earth renews itself, and new lives arise again, rife with fabulous potential – just as they can.