Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence

Sonam and the Silence











Sonam and the Silence

Eddie Ayres

Ronak Taher

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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


When Sonam turns seven, she is deemed no longer a child and her big brother orders her to cover her hair and begin to work. But the streets of Kabul and its market are too loud and scary for Sonam, the cacophony making a storm in her head and so she runs.  As she runs, she hears a strange sound and follows it, finding an old man with milky eyes and a curved spine in a garden of mulberry and pomegranate trees.  In his arms he is cradling a rubat, making music that Sonam has never heard before because in Taliban Afghanistan music has been banned.  

The music captures Sonam’s heart and each day she visits the old man, learning to play the rubat that he has given her – the one he played as a child.  But when her brother hears her humming and investigates further, he takes Sonam’s rubat forbidding her to sing or play again.  And as the noise builds in her head again, and the roar of gunfire and rockets is so close, she becomes withdrawn and her heart shrinks.  Until one day, she knows she just has to go back to the pomegranate garden…

This is “a lyrical fable-like story by the well-known musician, author and broadcaster Eddie Ayres, about the irrepressible power of music.” Based on his own experiences in Afghanistan and a young girl he knew there, he challenges the reader to think what a world without music would be like, particularly as it is often the key connection between peoples with no other common language. But as Sonam discovers, even if there is no audible external sound, there is still music.  

Illustrated by Iranian-Australian visual artist Ronak Taher using sombre colours and many layers and textures, which offer uplifting features like Sonam floating above the noise and chaos of the city, this is a thought-provoking story about how other children live in other parts of the world, and, indeed, how some of those in our classes have lived. While music has now been allowed in Afghanistan, the six years that the silence reigned must have been devastating for those for whom music is as essential as food. Readers are challenged to consider what their life would be like if something they held dear was banned, and if others prevented them from indulging in it because of the dangers such behaviour could invite.  Ayres suggest an Australia without sport, but what about a country without books? As with no music, how would the stories be told and continued?

As Christmas draws closer and the hype escalates, this is a book to share and consider those whose lives are very different and for whom joy comes from something other than a brightly wrapped present. 

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Ariki and the Giant Shark

Ariki and the Giant Shark










Ariki and the Giant Shark

Nicola Davies

Nicola Kinnear

Walker Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Washed up on the shores of Turtle Island in her cradle, no one knows quite where Ariki has come from and the islanders wanted to put her back on the waves, but Arohaka said she was a gift from the ocean and a gift should never be refused.  So he becomes her guardian although no matter how long she lives there, she is not accepted as one of them – by the adults or the children.

Protected by her distinctive tattoos which are different from those of the other children, Ariki loves to spend her days in the sea rather than doing chores.  An excellent swimmer, her favourite game is to catch the tail of the baby yellow moon sharks and hitch a ride around the lagoon while they are too young to turn and bite her.  She is more at home in the sea than on the land, and on the day her life is saved from the jaws of the nihui by a shark bigger than she has ever seen, life changes for her.  Struck by drought, the islanders are struggling to find food and when two of the island’s fishermen tell a tale of a large creature that scares the nihui and almost bites their boat in half, leaving behind a tooth bigger than a man’s hand, then fear strikes and the islanders are frightened to go into the sea. They are determined to kill this monster but Ariki, her friend Ipo, Arohaka and the children have other ideas…

This is the first in a new series from zoologist Nicola Davies and as well as being an entertaining read, her knowledge of the ocean, its ways and its creatures gives an added dimension of authenticity.  Ariki is a strong, independent feisty heroine who is content with herself despite the ridicule of her peers and her friend Ipo also shows similar resilience as he deals with his own issues. Highly original, well-written and utterly engaging, this is the perfect read for those who are independent readers moving on from beginner novels. 


Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Athena: The Story of a Goddess











Athena: The Story of a Goddess

Imogen Greenberg

Isabel Greenberg

Bloomsbury, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A27.00


Greece’s Mount Olympus is the home of the gods and goddesses, including Zeus, Poseidon, Hera and Aphrodite.  It was also the home of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and War and in this new picture book readers are introduced to her. From her extraordinary birth – sprung from the head of her father, in the midst of a thunderous headache – to her refusal to take no for an answer, she inspired powerful gods, goddesses and humans and determined the terrifying fate of those who dared to cross her path. 

Illustrated in graphic novel style, similar to that of The Story of Tutankhamun, it is more suited to independent readers who can manage the small cursive font. The stories associated with the Greek gods and goddesses, their amazing feats and their legacy continued in modern literature references have proven popular with the Year 3+ crowd over the years, and once they know about them they are hooked.  Perhaps this is the book that will spark a run on your 292.2 section! 

Teaching notes are available.

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards











Riding a Donkey Backwards

Sean Taylor & Khayaal Theatre

Shirin Adl

Otter-Barry Books, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


The full title of this book is Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin, a traditional beloved Muslim storyteller known as Hodja in Turkey, Afandi in Central Asia, Joha in the Arabic world and Mulla Nasruddin to millions of other Muslims.  His stories make the listeners laugh, think and maybe “even make your thoughts do somersaults inside your mind!”

Therefore to have a collection of traditional stories so well-told and beautifully illustrated that not only opens up a whole new world of stories for our students but also allows a large percentage of our school populations to see their stories alongside the common English ones like Cinderella et al, is a gift.  This is the first collection of these stories that has been published for a young Western audience.

So, why does Nasruddin spoon yoghurt into the river?  Why does he paint a picture that is blank? Is he crazy to move into the house of the man who’s just burgled him? And why does he ride his donkey backwards?  The answers are in the stories, each just a page or so long with stunning illustrations, and each very funny and often with a strong underlying message that makes so much sense and which will provoke discussion and debate. 

Stories are what binds a culture together; these ones will help cross the divide between them.  

The King with Dirty Feet

The King with Dirty Feet

The King with Dirty Feet










The King with Dirty Feet

Sally Pomme Clayton

Rhiannon Sanderson

Otter-Barry Books, 2018

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


Ask a child to draw a picture of the king and they will always give him a crown.  They would never give him dirty feet!  But that is the problem for the Indian king in this story inspired by a Bengali folktale called The King and the Cobbler.

Even though the king lives in a beautiful palace in a kingdom filled with trees, flowers, animals and a broad flowing river, he himself is not so beautiful because he loathes bathing.  To put it bluntly, he stunk so much that it even offended him and so he reluctantly decides to bathe in the river.  But when he steps out the riverside dust dirties his feet and so he has to get in the water again. But again they are dirty when he steps out. Realising the problem he orders his servant Gabu to remove all the dust and dirt in the kingdom and gives him just three days to do it or…

Gabu’s first two solutions work but the king doesn’t like them.  The third solution works but then a wise old man shows him that the land won’t like it.  Is there a way  for the king to have his clean feet and the land to still produce the plants and animals that make it so remarkable?

This new version of an old story is brought to life by an acclaimed storyteller so it is easy to hear yourself reading it aloud to a captivated audience while the colourful, detailed illustrations  show a different kind of king and kingdom to challenge the stereotype.

Something a little different to share and spark a range of conversations from the importance of hygiene to the purpose of clothes to the stereotyping of particular characters .


The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise









The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise

Shona Riddell

Matt Gauldie

Tortoise Shell Press, 2015

36pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Matthew and Marama loved playing soldiers in the backyard of the big, old house they had just moved into.  Using water pistols and plums as weapons, there were plenty of bushes and shrubs to hide in or seek shelter.  But most of all, Marama liked to attend to any wounds using the medical set she had been given for Christmas.  It even had fake blood! 

One day their games lead them to a hole in the hedge and when they crawled through it, they found themselves in a neat, manicured garden that had lawn as soft as carpet. And in the middle of the lawn, a strange creature was munching on dandelions. But rather than being the baby dinosaur they thought it was, it turned out to be Kemal an ancient tortoise with an amazing story – a story the children find themselves in when they touch the tortoise and find themselves transported back to the battlefields of World War I.

The centennial commemorations of World War I have inspired many to delve into their family histories to explore what part their relatives played in it, and from this many unique and unusual stories have emerged.  The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise is one such story. It is based on the true story of Peter discovered in the trenches of the Western Front by a wounded soldier who popped him in his pocket for safe keeping. After being evacuated to the Middle East for treatment, Pete was given to Nora, a New Zealand nurse stationed there, and she, in turn, took him back to New Zealand where he lived as a family pet until his death in 1994.

Told by Nora’s  great-great niece and illustrated by a former  former NZ Defence Force artist, this is yet another previously unknown but utterly intriguing story to emerge from World War I that helps to put a human face to the tragedies of so long ago that are so important to our nations’ histories but hard for little people to comprehend.  The final pages in the book tell a little of the story behind the story but since the book was written it has become more widely known and there is much online that the curious can explore.  

If for no other reason than it helps to illuminate to Australian children who put the NZ in ANZAC, this book deserves a place in your Anzac Day collection.





Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel











Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99


In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.


NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts - Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods











Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Craig Phillips

Allen & Unwin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


Ever since there have been children there has been children’s literature and having children learn lessons about life through this literature has been a constant thread in every culture across the globe.  Since the earliest days of mankind, stories have been created and told from generation to generation not just to explain the unknown but also to inspire better, more mature and moral behaviour in children with dire consequences inflicted by fearful creatures if boundaries were breached.  Didacticism was alive and well with stories featuring giants, trolls, witches, beasts and other fantastic figures achieving amazing things, wreaking havoc, surviving disasters or decreeing punishments so that adults as well as children lived in fear of retribution for misdeeds.

Now, with modern communication and science, while such creatures do not have the power of fear they once had, nevertheless they are still a central part of today’s literature with stories like the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones commanding huge audiences as well as a continuing fascination for those stories in which the modern have their origins.  But until now, these have been retold and republished in formats that tend to scream “younger readers” and from which those who see themselves as more mature than the “picture book brigade” shy away from regardless of the quality of the content.  So to have ten traditional tales from ten countries brought together in graphic novel format as creator Craig Phillips has done is going to create a buzz of excitement.  Here, in one superbly illustrated volume, are stories featuring giants, trolls, witches and beasts with all their magical powers and chilling feats and universal messages of courage and obedience. that will appeal to those who are fascinated by this genre in a format that will support and sustain their reading.

Phillips has kept his audience in mind as he has drawn – the imaginary creatures are all sufficiently gruesome and grisly so their characters are clear but not so much that they will inspire nightmares. The mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters offers something for each reader to explore and perhaps think about why stories from such diverse origins have such similar themes.  Is there indeed, a moral and ethical code that links humans regardless of their beliefs and circumstance?

One that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deserving of its place among the 2018 CBCA Notables.















(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99


DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

















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.