Mr Chicken Arriva A Roma

Mr Chicken Arriva A Roma

Mr Chicken Arriva A Roma











Mr Chicken Arriva A Roma

Leigh Hobbs

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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



What’s next when the fun and focus of Book Week is over?  A new Mr Chicken adventure of course!!


With his insatiable appetite for travel, Mr Chicken, Citizen of the World, takes us on his latest exploits.  This time he is in Rome and from endpaper to endpaper it is a feast of fun.  Armed with his Very Frequent Flyer card, a list of things to see and some handy phrases, Mr Chicken arrives in Rome keen to explore his childhood dreams of Ancient Roman life and places.  With his guide Federica he’s off to see some ruins and meet some real Romans, although the departing view of him on Federica’s Vespa is a bit disturbing and is one of those things that can never be unseen!

As with his previous visits to Paris and London, he visits the main tourist sights, often becoming more of an attraction than the attraction itself.  The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and the Trevi Fountain (where he takes a dip to cool off much to the entertainment of the crowds) are all on his itinerary and provide endless opportunities for photographs. But what would Italy be without gelato and pasta?  And which pasta – spaghetti, cannelloni, penne, tortellini, papalina or tagliatelle?  Or all of them? Decisions, decisions. Left on his own for the afternoon, he takes a nap and his dreams take him to the Rome of long ago where he is the star until…

Luckily his nightmare is interrupted by the return of Federica who is taking him to her family for dinner,  This time Mr Chicken is in charge of the Vespa and brings a whole new meaning to the madness of traffic in Rome.  But all too soon it is time to say “Arrivederci” to this fascinating place and create an album of all those selfies he took.

In his iconic style that is so familiar to younger readers, Leigh Hobbs has once again created the most enjoyable ‘travelogue’ of one of the world’s greatest cities and as well as offering a wonderful adventure with the indomitable Mr Chicken that children will love, he’s also provided a terrific teaching tool to show our youngest students that there is a world beyond their town.  Some of the best lessons I’ve ever given have focused on Mr Chicken’s adventures as we’ve read the books, used Google Earth to explore each city and its significant places and then wound up with examining our local community for the places Mr Chicken would have to see if he came to our town.  Superb for exploring built and manmade features, discussing those things that are unique to the area and getting the children to not only discover their surroundings but also draw them and tell their stories.

Now Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016 and 2017, Leigh Hobbs has come from behind his drawing board to be in the spotlight and is a perfect candidate for an author/illustrator study.  There’s an interview with him from Story Box  and a Q&A with ABC Splash at / ; an interview with The Australian and Mirrors Windows Doors /; and soon there will be a plush toy available too.  He’s even produced the Story Calendar which features all his characters – Mr Chicken, Mr Badger, Old Tom and Horrible Harriet and which inspires readers to explore a new type of story every month!

So if you’re concerned that the current spotlight on the library might dim soon, Leigh Hobbs and Mr Chicken are guaranteed to turn it back to full beam.

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection

Roald Dahl Collection







Charlie and the Chocolate Factory






Roald Dahl

Puffin, 2016

pbk., RRP $A16.99

On September 13, 1916 one of the greatest children’s authors of all time was born and in just 43 days there will be great celebrations to mark the centenary of his birth.  There are many events planned, particularly in the UK but to mark the occasion here, Penguin Random House have relaunched a number of his most popular books, bringing the works of this word wizard into the world of a new generation.

Originally written in 1964 and already over 50 years old, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is arguably the best-known of Dahl’s creations having been made into a movie in both 1971 (under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and in 2005. It was also converted to an opera The Golden Ticket in 2010 and a musical in 2013.  It is the story of poverty-stricken Charlie Bucket who wins one of five golden tickets (along with Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregard) to visit the mysterious, magical chocolate factory of eccentric chocolatier Willie Wonka and the adventures that befall them. 

Matilda is the story of child genius Matilda Wormwood who loves to read and study but who is regarded by her ignorant, self-absorbed family as a freak and a scab.  This does not deter her in any way for she is smart enough to see them for what they are.  It also features the lovely Miss Honey and the frightening, stereotypical principal Miss Trunchbull who has her own reasons for being so nasty that the children live in fear of her.  This has also been made into both a movie and a musical. (Tickets to the Brisbane production of this are part of the Readathon prize)

In 1982, Dahl wrote The BFG introducing us to Sophie, the Big Friendly Giant, a host of very unfriendly giants and his wonderful way with words that speak directly to his audience.  Few children would not know what a whizzpopper is and be able to explain its cause and effect  particularly after the release of the movie that was such a hit in the recent school holidays.

Dahl’s writing career spanned five decades and during that time he brought love and laughter, mystery, mayhem and magic into the lives of millions – telling stories that engage adults as much as children.  These three are just a tiny portion of those he wrote and having been translated into 55 languages, there would be few who would not know of his genius and had a little light brought into their lives because of it.  Publishers Penguin Random House have launched a readathon competition to celebrate this milestone but for me, it will be about sharing my favourite story (George’s Marvellous Medicine) with Miss 5 whom I know is going to make a reading friend for life

The Lost Sapphire

The Lost Sapphire

  The Lost Sapphire










The Lost Sapphire

Belinda Murrell

Random House Australia, 2016

315pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


Fourteen-year-old Marli is mightily miffed that instead of spending her summer holidays on the Brisbane beaches with her friends, she is having to spend them with her Dad in Melbourne while her mother takes up a temporary lecturing post at Cambridge University in England.  What will there be to do in a city she doesn’t know with a dad she hardly sees and who works such long hours, and where she knows no one else apart from her ageing grandfather Didi?  How can she miss out on the parties, picnics, movies and beach trips that her Brisbane school mates would be enjoying? Spending time with her dad on a construction site in Melbourne wasn’t her idea of how the long school break should be spent.

But within 24 hours life changes for Marli because her grandfather has some astonishing news.  They have inherited an abandoned mansion – one that has been in the government’s hands for 90 years but with no funds for its upkeep, is about to be handed back to the family.  Riversleigh sits on the banks of the Yarra in peaceful, leafy Hawthorn – just across the river from bustling, crowded Richmond where Marli is staying – and was owned by her great, great grandfather who disowned his daughters for not sticking to traditional ways in the 1920s. Even though it is derelict, boarded up and its gardens overgrown its former beauty remains apparent and Marli is immediately captivated.  She is determined to find out more.

Monday morning comes and bored already, Marli decides to cycle back to Riversleigh for another look… not knowing she is cycling into her family history and a fascinating adventure with a boy named Luca that not only keeps her intrigued for the whole holidays but makes her want to live in Melbourne.  How do an iron key on a faded velvet ribbon, a hatbox beautifully decorated with peacocks, and an old camera bring about such change? What is the significance of the sapphire ring?

This sixth story in Belinda Murrell’s timeslip series takes the reader into the life of Melbourne in the 1920s as we meet the privileged Violet and Imogen trying to stay afloat after the loss of their brothers in World War 1 and the subsequent death of their mother from grief; their distant, traditional, patriarchal father who owns Hamilton’s Gloves and is very much a symbol of the upper class clinging to old values and old ways; Sally the maid and her family who live in the slums of Richmond and epitomise the working class of the time; and the enigmatic Nikolai, a Russian émigré, now chauffeur, who has his own secret story to tell. And in cahoots with her is Luca, the young lad from the Italian family in the apartments built next door whose connections to Riversleigh are as strong as Marli’s and who also has a story to tell.  

Slipping easily between then and now, and weaving all the threads into a seamless tapestry tied together by the beautiful blue wren whose family would seem to be as tied to the house as that of the other characters, this is a story of different ways of life in different times that are so intricately bound by the decisions and actions of a distant generation, the reader is prompted to reflect on what was done 100 years ago that continues to shape their own life now. How has society changed so that we have the juxtaposition of Violet’s increasing distance from her father against Marli’s increasing closeness with hers?    How does Violet’s determination to break free of the old rules enable Marli to enjoy her present day freedoms?

I savoured this book and didn’t want it to end – as I have with all the titles in the series.  So much so that I’m going to buy the collection for Miss Nearly 12 who now has the background knowledge of this country’s history to be able to explore it further through the lives of the modern characters who will resonate with her and take her back into the childhoods of those who have gone before.

Whether she is writing for a younger audience in her wonderful Lulu Bell series or for the Year 5+ age group, Belinda Murrell has the ability to craft fascinating stories that engage even old readers like me. Even though it is beyond the parameters of the age group I usually review for, this is such a great series that it needs to be known.  If the girls in your care have not yet met her, introduce them now!

Mrs Dog

Mrs Dog

Mrs Dog











Mrs Dog

Janeen Brian

Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Five Mile Press, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.95



Once, not so long ago, Mrs Dog rounded up the Woolly-Heads on the farm, but now, as time has caught up with her as it does with everything, she just follows Tall-One and chases shadows.  But one day she finds a tiny lamb, abandoned by its mother because it is so small and weak, and she carries it home to be its foster mother, caring for it as though it were one of her own puppies from a long-ago litter. Gradually, with milk and a cosy blanket from Tall-Two, Baa-rah grew stronger and it was time to see the big wide world.  But even though Mrs Dog could teach him to beg and belly-crawl and pounce, she could not teach him to bark.  It sounded like he was trying to spit out a fly!

Mrs Dog also taught Bah-raa the dangers of the farm, especially the steep cliff that overhung the river where only Beaky-Wings, the fierce magpies, came back from if you went too close.  And it is one of the Beaky-Wings who swoops Mrs Dog, arrow-sharp beak aiming for her eyes that sends Mrs Dog over the cliff!  Bah-raa searches everywhere for her, eventually gathering her courage to go closer, closer to the edge and peer over…

How will she save the one who saved her?

This is a page-turning, charming story that has more layers than a bed in winter.  It’s about ageing and how there is purpose even though the working life might be over; there is change as roles develop and evolve; there is trust between two not normally friends; there is belief, determination and compassion as older nurtures younger; there is courage as the love is reciprocated and from deep within Bah-raa draws on the most important lesson she learned – how to bark!

While on the surface it is a story about an ageing dog and a young lamb, in many ways it reminded me of the remarkable relationship that developed between Miss Then-8 and Ms 87 as her hospital stays became longer- a relationship that I’ve seen replicated so many times as wrinkles and ageing, aching joints are made invisible, outshone by the love between elder and youngster and the special sparkle that it brings. There wasn’t a dry eye when the young one found the courage to tell the congregation of her love for the older one at the funeral. 

Superbly illustrated in intricate detail and a soft palette that add real life to the story, it is a story of hope and love that will lift any heart. Janeen Brian is a master story-teller and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall is the ideal illustrator for a book that should be on the awards lists in the future.

Teaching notes are available but it just provides a wonderful opportunity for our students to talk about their relationships with the older people in their lives and the special things they do together.

Anna Liza and the Happy Practice

Anna Liza and the Happy Practice

Anna Liza and the Happy Practice










Anna Liza and the Happy Practice

Eoin Colfer

Matt Robertson

Barrington Stoke, 2016

108pp., pbk., RRP $A13.99


Anna Liza Madigan’s mum is a psychiatrist – sye-kye-a-trist.  She talks to people who are very lonely or very upset until they are better.  Anna Liza thinks this is so important that even though her mum tells her only grown-ups can be psychiatrists, she sets up her own office in her mum’s waiting room and wearing her stethoscope and white coat from her “Nurse Nancy on Duty” set, she does the rounds of the waiting room every afternoon after school.  She gets those waiting water or a magazine, sometimes even cheering them up with her version of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.  But one day she meets Edward who is seven point five years old, doesn’t like sauce on his burgers and is the saddest child she has ever seen.  Even her 17 best knock-knock jokes can’t make him raise a smile.  Determined to get to the root of the problem, Anna Liza digs deeper and discovers that Edward’s sadness is because is dad his sad because his mum has left them. 

So Nancy devises a plan to make Edward’s dad’s life go somewhere and make him happy again… but will it be successful?  Racing through like a sequence from a cartoon, complete with illustrations that leave much to the imagination, Anna Liza’s plan can only end badly.  Or does it?

This is another title from the Little Gems series that is deliberately formatted to cater for readers with dyslexia (see my review of Out for the Countbut regardless, it is just a rollicking good story written by the author of the Artemis Fowl series who knows what it takes to entertain young readers.  Despite its physical length, it is not a long read and is full of humour and fun with a delightful twist at the end that invites the reader to continue the story in their head.  And, of course, the whole thing invites a Knock-Knock Jokes Fest. 

Funny, different, entertaining – I know Miss 9 will love this one.

Squishy Taylor (series)

Squishy Taylor (series)










Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters


Squishy Taylor and a Question of Trust


Squishy Taylor and the Vase that Wasn’t



Ailsa Wild

Ben Wood

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

Sita Taylor (aka Squishy Taylor based on her hero. gangster Squizzy Taylor) is an 11 year-old “solver of problems and mysterious mysteries with a daredevil flair for anything ninja-esque, [and] a big heart with a soft spot for anyone needing help” Reflecting the lives of .many of the target audience of young independent readers, Squishy is also from a mixed race background, and is part of a blended family and the first book Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters deals with the familiar situation of children from different families being blended into one. An absent mother whom she chats with each night via Skype while trying to connect with another female adult mother-figure; sharing a room with two strangers who are her new sisters; a noisy baby who is her half-brother are tricky issues in themselves and initially the situation is difficult and prickly but as time (and adventures) go by things become more positive until she seems them as her bonus sisters. Trying to discover who is living in the basement of their apartment block (and shouldn’t be) is an extra conundrum.

The new sisters really gel in Squishy Taylor and a Question of Trust when they realise each hates their neighbour Mr Hinkenbushel and form a club dedicated to making his life as miserable as possible, particularly if they can get him arrested in connection with some stolen diamonds!

She is of that new breed of literary heroes for our girls – smart, independent, curious and imaginative – who faces real-life issues calling for real-life decisions that her audience can relate to because she lives in today’s world and is undaunted by those who think that she should behave in a certain way while still having all those doubts and issues that girls of this age do.  Yet she still has those mysteries to investigate that her audience would love to have in their own lives and so this serves as a sound introduction to that genre. Discussion of the elements of a quality mystery (and perhaps a comparison with Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series and why it has endured for nearly 75 years despite its ‘old-fashioned’ setting) could open a whole new world of reading for middle-primary girls who still need the support of larger fonts word art and generous illustrations to enrich and enhance their reading.

Like many of her age group, Miss 9 is right into reading series – preferring to binge read all episodes in one continual session – and she has already earmarked this collection for these school holidays. Tempt your young ladies with the book trailer 



Lulu Bell

Lulu Bell

 Lulu Bell










Lulu Bell’s Fantastic Holiday Fun



Lulu Bell’s Amazing Animal Adventures



Belinda Murrell

Serena Geddes

Random House, 2016

pbk., RRP $A19.99


Have your newly independent readers discovered this series about Lulu Bell who is just eight and the practical one in a family that includes her six-year-old sister Rosie, who loves wearing angel wings and sparkly shoes; her three-year-old brother Gus who always wears his superhero suit; her dad, a busy vet and her mum, an artist- not to mention a menagerie of pets.  Based on the author’s own experiences of growing up in a vet hospital, this series has an authenticity that really appeals to its target audience, particularly as that is the age when so many of them dream of living the life themselves and they relate to the characters, particularly strong, level-headed Lulu.

These two additions to the series are collections of four favourite stories bound up in one volume – perfect for those like Miss 9 who has been reading them since their inception and who just want to keep reading and not have to wait for the next title. Each story is complete and Serena Geddes bring the characters and the incidents to life.

Lulu Bell’s Amazing Animal Adventures includes  Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort Lulu Bell and the Tiger Cub, and  Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party while Lulu Bell’s Fantastic Holiday Fun includes  Lulu Bell and the Koala Joey Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle Lulu Bell and the Pirate Fun  and Lulu Bell and the Circus Pup. 

Each of these has been reviewed individually on this blog  (search for Murrell) and if you want to see the complete series then it is available on the publisher’s website,  Knowing how popular it had been since they were first released when Miss 9 was only 7,  I bought the series late last year for the library I was working in and it was immediately a great success. Word spread like wildfire because Belinda Murrell has a real storyteller’s knack of being able to create something wonderful out of something that most see as just ordinary life and it is this that appeals to the readers because they can connect the text to themselves (or their dreams) very easily.  This is a series about ordinary people doing regular things, grounded in reality and perfect for those who want that sort of read.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler











From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler

E. L. Konigsburg

Faber Factory, 2015

192pp. pbk., RRP $A16.99



Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler wishes to change her will and is writing to her lawyer Saxenberg to explain her changes and the reasons for them.  To make things perfectly clear, she then writes the story of Claudia and James Kincaid, two children from Greenwich who are never going to enjoy the sort of wealth she has but who cross her path after a series of intriguing adventures.

Claudia is tired of being the eldest of four and decides she will run away to make her parents take more notice of her and she chooses her middle brother Jamie to go with her, not only because she likes him the best but he is the one with the money – mostly gained from cheating at a card game with his school mates.  They complemented each other perfectly.  She was cautious about everything but money; he was adventurous about everything but money. Deciding that hiding in plain sight is probably the best option Claudia chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and armed with $28.61 they set off on their life changing adventure.

All goes well for them until Claudia is struck by the mystery surrounding a new statue that is drawing huge crowds to the Museum.  Is it really by Michelangelo?  Determined to solve the mystery while still maintaining their daily routines like putting on clean underwear, Claudia and Jamie have to use all their wits, intelligence and money-sense to remain undiscovered until Claudia decides to visit the statue’s previous owner Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler, a somewhat eccentric old lady who seems to understand both children very well.

Originally published in 1967, it won the Newbery Medal the following year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children and has become a modern classic for independent readers. Not only that, the Museum gets so many questions about the book that they have devoted a whole issue of the Museum Kids newsletter to it; there is a movie made of it and the Internet is sprinkled with lesson plans, reviews and other guides.  Regardless of if perhaps  appearing to be a little old-fashioned for today’s readers, nevertheless it is an engaging story that those who are ready for and wanting a solid read.  I’m glad I left it till I had time to give it its due.

The Snow Sister

The Snow Sister

The Snow Sister










The Snow Sister

Emma Carroll

Julian de Narvaez

Faber Children’s. 2015

128pp., pbk., RRP $A 14.99



It is Christmas Eve in Victorian England and Pearl Granger has just got into trouble for using her sister’s beautiful red and gold paisley shawl to adorn the “snow sister” she has made to honour and remember her sister Agnes who died from fever three years ago.  Since her death, Christmas has meant little to the family so Pearl is more concerned about the scolding she is going to get but it will be worth it because each year she builds herself a snow sister and each year she misses Agnes a little less.  Living in poverty means there is not a lot of extras for Christmas – even taking the two pieces of coal for her snow sister’s eyes means that the fire will burn a little lower that night despite the blizzard that is approaching.

As she trudges inside to face her due, she is met by the postman whose sack is weighed down by “these new Christmas cards” and he gives her a letter that she is to give her father immediately.  It is a letter that would seem to change the Grangers’ lives forever as Pa has been summoned to a solicitor’s office in Bath to hear the reading of his rich brother’s will – a will of which he is the ‘main beneficiary”.  Imagining new wealth beyond their dreams,  Pearl is sent to beg some more credit from Nobel’s Grocery so the family can have the ingredients for their first Christmas pudding since Agnes died but a series of circumstances see her getting to see the rich side of life that she fantasises about and helps her understand that all may not be what it seems.  Life is not necessarily about how many sugar plums you can eat.

As it cover hints, this is a poignant, heart-warming short story, beautifully written and illustrated with monochrome pictures evocative of the period, that not only paints a picture of the poor in Victorian England but also teaches lessons about the true meaning of Christmas and the power and importance of family love.  The rich–poor, upstairs-downstairs nature of society where wealth determines status is very apparent and readers will engage with Pearl’s almost Cinderella-like character in comparison to the snooty, spoiled Lockwood girls.

This would be a wonderful choice for a family read-aloud over a few nights or for the newly independent reader who is looking for more than a picture book story about Christmas.  Reviews of other books by Emma Carroll have suggested that she is an author on the rise and if  The Snow Sister is a sample of the quality of her writing, she is one I will look for again.  Definitely one for the Christmas collection.


The Anti-Princess Club (series)

The Anti-Princess Club

The Anti-Princess Club

Emily’s Tiara Trouble


Bella’s Backyard Bullies


Grace’s Dance Disaster


Chloe’s River Rescue


Cruise Control


Samantha Turnbull

Allen & Unwin, 2015

144pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99 – $A12.99 


Emily, Bella, Chloe and Grace are 10-year-old best friends and they are the Anti-Princess Club.  Dismayed that even their parents see them as pretty girls who will need rescuing by a “handsome prince” despite their individual talents and interests, the girls unite to show them they are strong, independent young women. There seems to be one set of rules for their brothers and a different set for them. As Bella says, “I don’t want to be a boring old fairytale princess. What do any of them even do, other than look pretty and get rescued by princesses?”

Even though she herself is a neurosurgeon, Bella’s mum insists on buying and reading her fairytales even though Bella, who is a talented artist, would rather have the comics bought for her young brother.  Emily’s mum is fixated on physical appearance while Emily is fixated on all things mathematical.  Grace’s parents believe she should be a ‘lady’ and learn ballet and leave the athletics she loves and is very good at to the boys in her family.  Chloe’s parents see her future as continuing in their Greek restaurant, not in the science that is her passion.  The only person who seems to understand their frustration is Chloe’s yiayia who tells them of the frustrations she and her friends faced as girls in an even more conservative society and the secret club they formed.  And so an idea is born, and when Emily’s mum enters her into the local beauty pageant the girls have their first mission…

This is a new series, with each episode focusing on trying to turn each girl’s parents and teachers away from their preconceptions about what girls should be and do so they can be who they are.  Deliberately designed to challenge the status quo and provoke thought, discussion and even debate the series is intent on showing that there is more to life for this age group apart from the ‘princessification’ of their world.  While it would seem that such a focus should be redundant now, when we examine the world of the modern 3-9 year old it seems that once again we have returned to an emphasis on looking and behaving like a princess.  Perhaps this has been inspired by the Disney movies of several of the classic fairytales and young girls see themselves as the new Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas or Mulan – there’s certainly enough merchandise to support their dreams – and the more practical, real-life world of girls has slipped by the wayside. 

Determined to show her daughter that “there was more than one way to being a girl” when she discovered that even everyday items like babies’ nappies had princesses on them and deciding that wasn’t a healthy image to be projecting from the day she was born, journalist Samantha Turnbull decided it was time for something different, something that showed that girls could be strong, independent, confident, resourceful and empowered, and so she created the club whose motto is “we don’t need rescuing.”

This is not just a series for girls though – if we are to challenge and change the stereotypical thinking that is creeping back into our society, they need to be shared with the boys and their underlying message discussed.  One of the critical aspects of being information literate is to be able to determine the author’s perspective and identify bias towards a preconceived belief that might shape their writing.  Promoting this series of books as a class read would be a perfect platform to start an examination of widely-held beliefs and encourage our students to start questioning the status quo – just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s correct.

Big tick to Samantha Turnbull for creating more than just another series of stories for girls.  Not only is this not staying on my library’s shelves because of appeal and demand, it was in Miss 9’s Christmas stocking and she loves it.