Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2017

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


Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad…

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda…

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared…

Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated and they were…

Now Zelda learns her grandfather’s story…

Maybe there will peace and happiness for Felix at last…

Felix, Gabriek and Anya, who is now seven months pregnant, are once again on the run trying to get back to Gabriek’s farm and hide from Zliv, the murderous brother of Gogol the Polish patriot who vowed  ‘Poland has been crawling with vermin for centuries. Germans, Austrians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians.  Now we’re cleaning them up.” and killed by Felix.

But there is a very rude and dangerous homecoming and once again they have to flee – this time on a treacherous journey that lands Felix in Australia. Maybe this will be the land of opportunity for a young boy who only wants to attend university to become a doctor. But…

The sixth in this family of books that tells the remarkable story of Felix in a way that it has to have a considerable element of truth, shows that when the guns fall silent the war is not necessarily over and sanctuary is elusive not guaranteed, Yet throughout both this book and the series, Felix maintains his humanity and resourcefulness and in cases, his child’s logic provides a touch of humour to lighten the dark which Gleitzman does not shy away from. He believes our children need to know about this history which is so recent if could be that of their grandparents’ and refuses to patronise them by glossing over the not-so-nice. 

Much has been written about the Holocaust that is inaccessible to our upper primary students because it is so factual and so foreign they can’t comprehend it – in this series written through the eyes of a child it becomes clearer and starts to develop a belief that this must never happen again, whether it be against a religion, a race, a gender or any other reason that people can be marginalised.  Sadly, now termed “ethnic cleansing” it does continue but no longer does the world turn such blind, uncaring eyes.  

For those who are venturing into the investigation of how Australian has developed in post-war times particularly with the immigration of so many from Europe, this series is essential reading to understand why people couldn’t just “return home”; why there were no homes to go to and why somewhere as faraway and foreign as Australia held such appeal.  For it is the Felixes of this world who established not only the town I live in but this multicultural, tolerant nation that we and those who follow must work hard to maintain. 

And now we await Always, the conclusion to an enriching and engrossing saga.

Once Upon an ABC

Once Upon an ABC

Once Upon an ABC










Once Upon an ABC

Sophie Masson

Christopher Nielsen

Little Hare, 2017

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


A is for Anansi, both clever and neat,

B is for Brer Rabbit with tar-sticky feet…”

This is a clever romp-in-rhyme through the characters of familiar fairy tales and folktales that will bring back memories of loved stories as well as suggest new ones to explore. Who is Herd Boy?  Why was the Nymph protecting her tree? And why is ‘ugly’ just a disguise?  Perfect for extending children’s reading into traditional tales from a range of countries as they try to match character with story.

But while the illustrations are quirky, I’m not so sure that the target audience is attracted to these muted, retro colours that seem to be so prominent in children’s books at the moment. My experience of 45 years with littlies is that children will view the cover as quite dull and pass it over in favour of something more eye-catching, so that while the text is brilliant it will take an adult’s encouragement to entice the child to explore it.  

Concept is great, presentation not so.

A Canadian Year – Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids

A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada's Kids

A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids









A Canadian Year -Twelve Months in the Life of Canada’s Kids

Tania McCartney

Tina Snerling

EK, 2017

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


Continuing this fabulous series which includes A Kiwi Year , An Aussie Year and a host of others, young children are introduced to the children of Canada.  There is Chloe, who speaks both French and English; Oki who is Inuit, Ava who is of Chinese heritage; Liam of Scottish heritage and Noah whose dream is to place ice hockey for the Vancouver Canucks – kids just like those found in every classroom in Australia but whose lives are subtly different because of their geographic location.  Whoever heard of it being -30° in January and instead of being at the beach kids are skiing, skating and sledding?  And as we currently shiver through early winter and another Big Wet, it’s hard to imagine there are children on summer vacation for two months, kayaking, salmon fishing in the ocean, swimming, camping in the wilderness and visiting Santa’s Summer House just outside Toronto.  If nothing else, and there is SO much more, students will learn about the seasons being somewhat different in the northern hemisphere.

Offered as vignettes for each month, young children learn that there are places beyond their immediate horizons and there are kids who do things that are a bit different but overall, despite the timeframe, they enjoy and do the same things as kids everywhere so there is more that binds than divides. 

Intercultural understanding is a mandated part of the Australian Curriculum so that students “understand how personal, group and national identities are shaped, and the variable and changing nature of culture” and this series is the perfect way to start this with young children whose concepts of the world are just developing. 

As usual, there is the is a double-page spread featuring intriguing facts and figures which just invite comparisons with Australia – if ‘Canada” comes from ‘kanata’ meaning village, where does “Australia” come from? If Canada is the world’s second-largest country, what is the largest?  What’s the difference between large as in area and large as in population? While teachers’ notes are available, the children themselves will generate enough questions to drive their own investigations. 

Why not use it as a model for a class calendar, highlighting the important events of each child’s life in each month visually exploring the unity and the diversity and promoting an important bond of belonging and acceptance so that lives and heritage are celebrated.  Create a wall display for each month and invite the children to contribute to it, and then compare what is happening with other children in other parts of the world using this series as the key resource.

A Kiwi Year – twelve months in the life of New Zealand kids

A Kiwi Year

A Kiwi Year











A Kiwi Year – twelve months in the life of New Zealand kids

Tania McCartney

Tina Snerling

EK, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP SA19.99


On the surface there don’t appear to be many difference between Australian kids and their Kiwi cousins apart from the fact the we Kiwis “talk funny”.  But as five Kiwi kids – Charlie, Ruby, Oliver, Mason and Kaia – show us as they journey through their year, there are subtle distinctions, enough to make their lives special and unique.

As well as different vocabulary like ‘tramping’ not ‘bushwalking’ and ‘jandals’ not ‘thongs’ Kiwi kids love rugby not rugby league or Australian Rules and are familiar with a very different range of flora and fauna.  Maori culture and the influence of our Pacific Island neighbours is very strong with official places and concepts being in both languages. Maoritanga is a mandatory part of the school curriculum.  The land is younger and much more mountainous and so winter is more severe with more opportunities to participate in snow sports, but summer sees us at the beach and playing cricket, even if we still remember that infamous underarm bowling incident.  

But like Australia, ANZAC Day is sacred and we remember those who put the NZ in the word, and with the European forefathers of both country being predominantly from the United Kingdom many of the annual festivals are the same.  But there are some that are unique that celebrate our heritage and landscape bringing a richness to our lives and our culture that is unique.

So many times I’ve heard Australians say they don’t want to go to New Zealand because it would be just like Australia in miniature, but once having been there, change their tune and marvel at just how different it is. Tania and Tina have ferreted out those things that make this country and its people unique and bring them to life through the eyes of the children, celebrating them in such a special way that this book will be handed on to my grandchildren (whose dad is also a Kiwi) so they can understand where they come from – and why Grandma is just a tad different at times!  LOL.

Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World










Usborne Illustrated Myths from Around the World

Anya Klauss

Usborne, 2016

256 pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


What do Demeter and Persephone, Finn MacCool and the fish of Maui all have in common?  Well, they are included in this collection of stories from around the world beautifully illustrated by Anya Klauss.

In times long past before the truth was known, many of the things like the sun’s passage across the sky or the formation of the land were a mystery to those observing them so they made up stories to explain the particular phenomenon.  Even though they came from far-flung places and diverse peoples. their common thread was to explain the seemingly inexplicable so that the world made sense to them. Whether it involved giants, mythical beings and creatures, magic or sorcery, each story sought to demystify and through their telling through generations across thousands of years they have endured, even though science may have intervened to expose the truth.

As well as being a wonderful introduction to these sorts of stories and embracing a range of cultures, such myths can also be the entry point into scientific investigations for young and not-so-young scientists.  If Maui did not fish the North Island of New Zealand out of the sea, how did it get there? If the changing of the seasons are not caused by Demeter’s love and loss, how are they formed?  A great way to link literature and science and start our students on their own quests.


The Baker’s Dozen






The Baker's Dozen

The Baker’s Dozen











The Baker’s Dozen

Aaron Shepard

Wendy Edelson

Shepard Publications, 2010

40pp., pbk.


Van Amsterdam the baker was well known for his honesty as well as for his fine Saint Nicholas cookies, which were made of gingerbread and iced just as people imagine St Nicholas to look like. When his made the cookies he weighed his ingredients meticulously and always gave his customers exactly what they paid for — not more, and not less. They were very happy and Van Amsterdam was very successful.

But one day a mysterious old woman in a black shawl came into the shop and demanded that Van Amsterdam give her thirteen biscuits because that was how many were in a ‘baker’s dozen’.  Van Amsterdam refused so the old woman left without her cookies but as she left she told Van Amsterdam “Fall again, mount again, learn how to count again.”

From that day, business went downhill and Van Amsterdam was left almost penniless and with no customers.  Then one night he is visited by St Nicholas in a dream and he learns a lesson about being generous.

This is a retelling of an old tale that goes back into history with the first recorded version being noted in 1896.  Accompanied by exquisite illustrations it brings yet another legend associated with Christmas to life and underscores the need to be unselfish at this time.  It includes a recipe for St Nicholas cookies and a Readers Theatre script  

Something a little different.



Cobweb Christmas – The Tradition of Tinsel






Cobweb Christmas

Cobweb Christmas











Cobweb Christmas- The Tradition of Tinsel

Shirley Climo

Jane Manning

HarperCollins, 2001

32pp., hbk.,



Tante is so little she has to stand on a stool to climb into bed and so old she can’t count all the Christmases she has seen.  She lived at the edge of a pine forest in Germany in a tiny cottage with her canary, her cat and her dog.  Beside the cottage was a barn with a donkey, a goat, a rooster and a hen – so she had all she needed.

Usually Tante wasn’t too fussed about having a spic and span house but at Christmas time when the days were short and the nights long, she cleaned her house from top to bottom and corner to corner sweeping even the tiniest cobwebs and their inhabitants from the rafters.  She would chop down the best Christmas tree she could find and decorated it with sugar cookies and gingerbread and put special presents under it for her animals.  She invited the village children in to see her tree and share its goodies – there was something for everyone including her animals, except the spiders who had all been swept out the door.

But still Tante wasn’t really happy – all her life she had heard about the marvellous things that happened on Christmas Eve like animals talking or bees humming carols. So she sat down to wait for the Christmas magic but soon fell asleep so she never knew whether it happened or not.  She certainly did not hear tiny little voices begging to be let in out of the cold – but Kriss Kringle did so he opened the door a crack and in went all the spiders who had been swept outside.

And the next morning Tante woke to find that Christmas magic had really happened…

Based on an old European folktale, Shirley Climo and Jane Manning have brought this story to the 21st century in a superb retelling with charming illustrations.  Tinsel – originally shiny strands of brass or copper – has been part of traditional Christmas decorations since the end of the 19th century as people tried to bring light and sparkle into their homes at a dark time of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Anyone who has seen a cobweb dipped in dew in the early morning and gleaming as the sun catches it can easily make the connection between the spiders’ work and the sparkly loops of foil we use today.

This is a story worth tracking down to add to your Christmas collection – well-written and adding just a bit more to the story of this special time it will be one to read every Christmas Countdown.

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Home of the Cuckoo Clock










Home of the Cuckoo Clock

Robert Favretto

David Eustace

Ford Street, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781925272253 (hbk)

9781925272260 (pbk)

Deep in the Black Forest nestles the village of Schoenwald, frozen in time – but a somewhat chaotic time for there were no clocks and people did things when they felt like it (or remembered) rather than according to hands making a particular pattern on a numbered face.  One day a weary cuckoo lands in a pine tree and is dismayed to see the disorder and disarray in the village and so the next morning, and every morning after that, this natural time-keeper for Nature sang out.  What a difference this regular greeting made.  Until one night a huge storm brought the cuckoo’s pine tree crashing down and the cuckoo was blown off the mountain and way down into the valley…

Superbly illustrated in a calm palette and with intricate detail (including a hidden egg on each page)  that draw the reader into this isolated village in a beautiful part of the world, this is a perfect story for introducing children to the concept of time and the need to have some order and continuity in our lives.  Little ones will have lots of fun imagining what would happen at home or school if everyone could do what they liked when they liked and I can imagine two contrasting murals being created with each child contributing a vignette.  Having explored the world of no-time, they could then be introduced to the vocabulary of time – before, after, during, now, then, soon, morning, afternoon, evening, night, dusk, dawn, first, next, last – and the skills of sequencing.  Those wanting greater challenges could explore how and why the day is divided into the chunks it is; time zones; time pieces;  what they can achieve in a given period of time… Time is the most abstract concept to teach but it is the one that is most prevalent in our lives.  To have such a unique story and such stunning illustrations to kickstart its investigation is such a gift.

Students could also have lots of fun enacting a storm (complete with sound effects) so fierce that the cuckoo was blown away as well as predicting what will happen to the village.  How could the problem be solved? what role might Franz, the village craftsmen have in that?

The sound of the cuckoo might be unfamiliar to some so they could listen to it and discuss why it might be preferable to that of a rooster as a wake-up sound.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’.  This could lead into an investigation of familiar bird calls or the reasons behind the ‘dawn chorus’ as well as setting up a bird-watching station and identifying the common and seasonal birds which visit the school playground.  And of course, there is always the old favourite round, Within the Shady Thicket

Maths, science, history, music and English outcomes could all be explored in this one title.

Further teaching notes are available.


I Don’t Like Cheese

I Don't Like Cheese

I Don’t Like Cheese










I don’t like cheese

Hannah Chandler

Lauren Merrick

Exisle Publishing, 2014

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



What do you do if you’re a mouse and you don’t like cheese?  Do you starve to death?  Or are you lucky like Mike and live in the house where the Walker family lives and daughter Ashley brings you a special treat for dinner each night?  No matter what type of cheese Mike’s mum gave him, he refused to eat it.  Instead he waited patiently each night for Ashley to bring him something yummy for his dinner And each night it was a taste from somewhere different- meat pie and tomato sauce from Australia on Monday; tacos on Tuesday; sushi on Wednesday… As well as the food there was also a little something from the featured country so Mike could have a little culture with his cuisine.

But on Friday night, along with his French croissants and crème brulée there was a note from Ashley telling Mike that she is going on holiday and won’t be able to leave him his dinner.  What will Mike do?

This is an appealing story that immediately brought to mind the amazing celebrations a local school has just had for Harmony Day where the children got to sample food from so many different countries, dress in their national costumes and participate in dance, craft and other activities.  It would be the perfect story to include in those, but it would also make an ideal platform for investigating just how broad the Australian diet is and the influence that the cuisine of so many places has on it. 

It was written by Hannah Chandler when she was just 11 years old in response to a challenge from the school principal as she tried to tempt fussy eaters.  From being bound and put into the school’s library collection word spread and this charming professional picture book is the result.  So it could also be used as inspiration for all the budding writers in your school. 



Our Village in the Sky


Our Village in the Sky

Our Village in the Sky










Our Village in the Sky

Janeen Brian

Anne Spudvilas

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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


‘Our village sits above the great river, nestled in the Himalayan mountains. This is what we do on summer days when school is closed for holiday time, in our village in the sky.’ 

Written as a series of narrative poems which merge seamlessly together, this is the story of a day in the life of the children in a remote Buddhist village showing how ordinary, everyday chores are turned into games and fun. There is Drummer Boy who makes music on the container that he has to take t the village water pipe.  There is Washer Girl whose job is to launder her brother’s trousers, dreaming as she soaps, squeezes, rubs and rinses.  Washer Boy ensures that the lamas have clean bed linen and robes while Herd Boy tends the goats and chases after runaways. .  Each child has work to do and each does it as part of the family and the community, without the distractions of modern technology or even toys.  But, nevertheless there is plenty of joy and fun … “A ladder lying down makes no sense. But a seesaw does.”  Five stones make the traditional game of knucklebones. 

With beautiful imagery and evocative language, Janeen Brian has captured the joy of life in summer in the high alps, so different from the white, cold and frozen of winter.  Anne Spudvilas’s soft, gentle, water-colour images are the perfect accompaniment as they complement the gentle, peace-loving life that we associate with these people.  Simply drawn they capture the friendliness and and happiness of the children, and coupled with the colour choice they evoke a feeling of warmth and contentment.

This is a life very different to that lived by most Australian children where for most, getting water is as simple as turning on a tap, so it is a perfect introduction to a compare and contrast investigation as students examine their lives, their roles and responsibilities in their families, the way they entertain themselves and then  relate it to that of the children in the story. It would also be a wonderful introduction to narrative poetry and free verse and the use of imagery to convey a message and an atmosphere. “Sometimes my fingers flutter like small, brown  butterflies and the sound is their heartbeat.”

The best picture books are more than just a story – they are a symbiosis of text and illustration that offers many layers of meaning and response.  This is one such book.

To explore if further, teachers’ notes are available at and there is a QR link to listen to poems read aloud.