More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me










More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me

Tayla Harris and Jennifer Castles

A & U Children’s, 2020

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Sunday, March 17, 2019 and Tayla Harris goes to work as normal, just as she has every other day. But this was to be no ordinary day – not only was it the last round of the AFLW home-and-away matches to determine which team would be in the finals, but it was the day Tayla was propelled into the media in a way she never sought nor wanted.

During the match, she kicked a goal and photographer Michael Wilson snapped the action as it happened.  Ordinarily, it would be no big deal but when it was published online to showcase her amazing athletic ability, suddenly the faceless trolls who hide behind their keyboards decided she was fair game and the photo went viral, along with a plethora of nasty comments that turned it into something it was not. Rather than being a photo of an athlete at work, it became a war of words – a war that hit the headlines here and overseas. And because 7AFL chose to remove the photo rather than hold the trolls accountable, it attracted even more attention. 

The photo...

The photo….

In this frank and very personal memoir of that time, Harris speaks directly to the reader about the impact that it had on her as an individual and as a footy player and her concerns for herself, her family and the families of those who felt it was OK to write what was essentially sexual abuse. She notes that she was “lucky” because she had a manager, a family and a community who rallied around her to support her through the furore, but she is very concerned for those who suffer similar bullying and do so, alone and often in secret. 

Whether readers are footy fans or not, know who Tayla Harris is or not, this is a powerful story that shows the power of social media and the consequences of those faceless remarks that so many seem to think they have the right to make.  For our girls wanting to aspire to the highest level of sport, it is inspirational; for those who are suffering at the hands of these anonymous cowards it offers hope and guidance; for those who write such trash, it is an eye-opener into what their words can do.  For Tayla, it resulted in a statue in Federation Square and a boost to women’s football that was unprecedented, but sadly, for some like Dolly Everett it is a burden too tough to bear.  That’s why, despite not usually reviewing books for the age group that this is written for, I’m sharing Tayla’s story because this is a story that needs to be heard over and over and over – until the haters and trolls are held accountable and responsible for their actions.

The statue... (Daily Mail, UK))

The statue… (Daily Mail, UK))



Elizabella and the Haunting of Lizard Lake

Elizabella and the Haunting of Lizard Lake

Elizabella and the Haunting of Lizard Lake











Elizabella and the Haunting of Lizard Lake

Zoë Norton Lodge

Georgia Norton Lodge

Walker Books, 2020

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Excitement is in the air as Elizabella – poet, fixer of fairytales and the biggest prankster in the history of her school – heads off to camp with the rest of her class. But when Larry the Lizard learns she’s headed to Lizard Lake he stows away in her suitcase, dreaming of discovering the other sentient lizards rumoured to be living there. Soon, Elizabella begins having strange dreams and wonders if Lizard Lake is haunted. Meanwhile back at Bilby Creek, Martin madly searches for Larry, eventually stumbling on another lizard who looks exactly like him. After discovering who is really haunting Lizard Lake, Larry and Elizabella return home to solve another mystery. Who is the imposter hanging out with Martin? 

This is the third in this series for young independent readers – Elizabella Meets Her Match and Elizabella and The Great Tuckshop Takeoverhave already been published and Elizabella Breaks a Leg will be available in September. Described as a ” messy mix of Matilda, Pippi Longstocking and Horrid Henry”, this is a lively series for girls who like a light-hearted read but with a bit of substance as they see themselves in the situations that Elizabella manages to get mixed up in.   Told from the perspectives of Elizabella, her father, her pet lizard and her principal Mr Gobblefrump, the adventures of Bilby Creek Primary School’s camp at Lizard Lake will entertain as the camp’s motto is “Don’t Worry, Be Happpy” (distorted for copyright reasons) and everything has a positive spin on it.  While Elizabella and her friend Minnie really want to devise the greatest prank of all time, they are confronted by real-life issues that provide a serious side that makes for a story that offers more than the blurb would suggest.

This is a series worth promoting to your students in that Year 3-4 range who are ready for the next step on their reading adventure.   




Where’s Spot?

Where's Spot?

Where’s Spot?









Where’s Spot?

Eric Hill


24pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99


It’s dinner time and Mama Dog is looking for Spot.  Where can he be? Under the rug? Behind the door? Inside the clock? He’s playing hide-and-seek and there are so many places a little puppy can fit into.

As well as having the joy of lifting the flaps to discover Spot’s hiding place, our youngest readers can also have the fun of predicting where he might be and whether he could be in the places Mama looks, at the same time learning important place words like under and behind and so on.

This is the 40th anniversary of the publishing of this first in the series about this little dog and so it is in a stunning ruby foil cover that attracts the eye as much as the illustrations. Judging by the number of requests for Spot-related fabrics and so forth on a FB group I belong to, this little fellow is as popular as he was when he was first introduced all those years ago. And given the stories have sold 65 million copies in over 60 languages, his appeal is universal.

To add to the delight, there are activities to be done so children can party at home with Spot during these shut-down times, and share in this special reading of the story.

Perfect for starting our very youngest on their reading adventures.


The New Baby’s Bunny

The New Baby's Bunny

The New Baby’s Bunny









The New Baby’s Bunny

Philippa Brown

Krista Brennan

Little Steps, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Each time a new baby is born into the family, Nanna knits a new baby bunny.  Each is distinct in its colouring and becomes a favourite with the recipient.  But the fourth bunny is a bit different – it has a grey body but no eyes.  Nanna says she can’t decide what colour to use and leaves the task to the family.  Each comes home from the haberdashery shop with their choice of buttons, but will any of them do the job and be perfect?

This is a charming story for young readers that shows an unusual way of having siblings become involved in the birth of a new baby so they feel part of the process.  It offers opportunities for them to talk about special toys and gifts they have received and will perhaps even pass on to their own children.  But it is also a powerful statement about gift-giving – it is not the fanciest, most expensive gift that is necessarily the most treasured.  It is often those made with love and time and a personal connection that stand the test of time. 

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

The Schoolmaster's Daughter

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter










The Schoolmaster’s Daughter

Jackie French

Angus & Robertson, 2020

384pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


The turn of the 20th century, a new nation and perhaps a new start for Hannah’s family as her father has been appointed schoolmaster of the one-teacher school at Port Harris, a town founded, owned and ruled by one man who built the local sugar cane industry, itself built on the slave labour of the Pacific Islanders “contracted” to work and live in conditions that would rival the worst of what we know about the southern states of the USA.

It is not an auspicious start with the Cecily McPhee foundering as she was caught in a storm of Pirate Bay, and the shipwrecked travellers having to fight their way to shore.  While the men decide they will try to find a way to the port, the women shelter and are rescued by a young lad and taken to his family farm. But that young lad is coloured and the product of a mixed marriage between his white mother and his Kiribatian father and immediately the first ugly seeds of racism start to grow.  While Hannah and her mother have no qualms, the other women immediately adopt the holier-than-thou attitude of European settlers of the time and demonstrate why Jamie and his mum have been ostracised. 

Add into the mix Mrs Gilbert’s liberal views, her passion for women’s suffrage and universal education that includes girls and non-whites, so much so that she starts a secret school for Hannah and Jamie, and you have another powerful historical novel that is as much fact as it is fiction.  Once again, Jackie French exposes the reader to times past that have been hidden because men wrote the history books and directed the classroom curriculum by bringing her own family history to light and to life.  As the nation moved through the early months of Federation, the first tentative steps towards women’s suffrage and the introduction of the White Australia Policy that prohibited all non-European immigration and was not abolished until 1973 when it at last became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, Hannah and her mother unpeel those carefully constructed layers subtly and softly through staying true to their beliefs without fanfare or fuss and certainly not offence. Hannah’s mother is very well aware of the impact of scandal and how it would affect the progress of change.  Now, 120 years on, we are starting to see and appreciate the determination and strength of those shoulders on which we stand as we become and celebrate a nation of many cultures, enjoy universal education whose value is even clearer in current circumstances, and even our personal lives as we choose to marry or not, divorce or not, have children or not.

Definitely a read for older, independent readers, this is a story that has both the deepest of depths and the widest of implications as we really consider where we have come from as both individuals and a nation, and where we want to go.  For this is a unique time in which the world has paused and we can choose the future, personally and collectively.

Weird Little Robots

Weird Little Robots

Weird Little Robots








Weird Little Robots

Carolyn Crimi

Corinna Luyken

Walker Books, 2020

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


In a new town with only the robots she creates in a sagging backyard shed from the treasure she finds on her walks for company, it only takes a little bit of magic to change everything for eleven-year-old Penny Rose. With her new friend Lark – an eccentric tinkerer herself – the promise of joining a secret science club and her newly sentient robots, Penny Rose can’t imagine how she was ever lonely. But a fateful misstep means Penny Rose will have to choose between the club she’s always dreamed of and the best friend she’d always hoped for. And in the end, it may be her beloved little robots who pay the price

As the world waits in anticipation of the first manned space launch from US soil in nearly a decade, it is a very different one from the one I remember in 1969 as we waited for the launch of Apollo 11 and man’s attempt to land on the moon. In those days, it was very much man’s attempt for science, on the surface, appeared to be a man’s world – certainly very little, if any, public recognition was given to the women behind  the scenes. But this engaging, 21st century novel demonstrates so many changes the world has seen in those 50 years, not the least of which being that my granddaughter can openly engage in her passion for science, technology and construction and read about herself in a mainstream novel, The dreams I had for her in 69 have come true, not that at the age of 18 I was projecting myself forward to being a grandmother!  But for those of us with an interest in “boys’ subjects” at high school but who had been directed down other paths simply because of our gender, reading a book like this would not have been possible. 

Written for independent readers, there are indications that Penny Rose could be on the autism spectrum but even so, neither that nor her passion for science overwhelms that key theme of friendship and the choices that have to be made, that are so important to that age group.  Miss Amost-14, while still passionately interested in science and its possibilities, has moved beyond these sorts of illustrated novels, but had this been available three years ago she would have loved it!

Baby Shark: Adventure Down Under

Baby Shark: Adventure Down Under

Baby Shark: Adventure Down Under










Baby Shark: Adventure Down Under

Puffin Books, 2020

24pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


It would seem that the song Baby Shark is the most popular tune our littlest ones have engaged with for a long time, (or the most annoying for the adults in their lives.)

However you view it, this clever rewriting of it which introduces the audience to the sharks seen in Australian waters is quite ingenious. 

Using the same bright illustrative style as the video, but changing the text to phrases such as funny shark, scary shark, even silly shark, young readers are taken on an underwater adventure with some other ocean-dwellers to discover which of these fascinating creatures can be found around our shores. Each double-page spread features a different shark with one side having the song lyrics and the other, a basic fact file.

Our youngest readers will engage with this from the get-go, learning not only about a most-maligned creature but also that information books can be as much fun as a screen. They might even be encouraged to create their own dance moves, just as in the original!

Not surprisingly, as a scuba diver from way back and having had my own adventures with these creatures, I loved it but beware of the ear-worm!


No! Never!

No! Never!

No! Never!










No! Never!

Libby Hathorn

Lisa Hathorn-Jarman

Mel Pearce

Lothian Children’s, 2020

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


There was a child,
The sweetest ever,
Until she learned these words:

No matter what activity her parents suggest, including those that have always been her favourites, Georgie’s response is No! Never!  It becomes very frustrating for her parents who are at their wits’ end until they try a little reverse psychology.

Written in clever rhyme that bounces the story along, and illustrated in a way that emphasises the discord in the household because of Georgie’s attitude, this is a book that will resonate with preschoolers who are testing the boundaries and parents who are trying to manage that. While parents might like to use the strategy with their own children, or just remind their children  of what happened to Georgie when their children try a similar tactic. 

A fun, modern cautionary tale that will have broad appeal.

Monkey’s Tail

Monkey's Tail

Monkey’s Tail










Monkey’s Tail

Alex Rance

Shane McG

Allen & Unwin, 2020

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


Howler Monkey loved to climb.  He learned as a baby from his father and he practised and practised until he got so good at it that animals from all over the world would watch him.  But one day he fell and damaged his tail so badly that he could not climb any more. He hid his injury because he was ashamed and scared that his family and friends would not like him because he couldn’t do the one thing that gave them pleasure.  He became so sad that he sought the advice of Oldest Monkey who asked some really pertinent questions that helped Howler Monkey understand that he still had family and friends who loved him, he could still be the role model he was – just in a different way – and that what he did did not define who he was.

Rance, the author, was an elite Australian Rules player for the Richmond Tigers and was a member of the team that won the premiership in 2017, a feat that they hadn’t achieved since 1980. But in 2019 he ruptured his ACL in the first game of the season, ending his playing days for the year, and most likely for ever. These life-changing events have been the inspiration for this series of stories including Tiger’s Roar and Rabbit’s Hop, to help young children deal with the highs and lows of life and understand that why they do things is much more important that what it is they do.  If they understand their motivation, then their actions (whether positive or negative) can be chosen, challenged and changed to suit the circumstances and it is the whole of who they are that defines them, not just one aspect.

Even without knowing the author’s personal story, young readers will appreciate this book and Howler Monkey’s predicament, particularly as they return to school and even to team sports where their lives may have changed considerably post-pandemic. The playing field might now be closer to level.


Do You Love Bugs?

Do You Love Bugs?

Do You Love Bugs?











Do You Love Bugs?

Matt Robertson

Bloomsbury, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


From an early age many children develop a fear of bugs – perhaps it’s because of their imagining the feel of all those legs crawling over them, or they are warned about being the target of the creature’s defence system.  So in this book with its accessible text, quirky illustrations and engaging layout, Matt Robertson attempts to show that the minibeasts that inhabit both the indoors and outdoors are actually beneficial and essential to both our planet and our well-being. 

Bees, worms, stick insects, grasshoppers, snails, butterflies and moths, ants beetles, even spiders are all put under the microscope and shown through the lens of being critical to the environment and its health.  Robertson has used a clever technique of portraying the critters in cartoon-like style so that they have personality and are not a scary exact likeness, and that coupled with fun facts like snails being deaf and bees communicating by dancing brings each species into focus in a gentle way.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Before sharing the book, young readers might even like to identify the bugs on the colourful endpapers setting them up ready to learn more about those they know.

Much as I appreciate this approach and the value that bugs add, I’m still not convinced about the usefulness of spiders and flies yet…