The Secret of the Youngest Rebel

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel









The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (Secret Histories Book 5)

Jackie French 

Angus & Robertson, 2019

128pp., pbk., RRP $A 14.99


1804 in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, and Frog, like so many orphan children is starving, eking an existence by stealing food scraps and anything else of value for Ma Grimsby in exchange for some rat-infested straw to sleep on at night. Tempted by an apple tart in a basket carried by a fine lady, Frog cannot resist and snatches it – but is caught by a tall man and life changes forever.  It is the time of the Irish uprisings against England in Ireland, and transported to the colonies for their sedition, the word of rebellion is spreading through Sydney Town, Parramatta, Green Hills and beyond.  And the person who has caught Frog is their leader, Phillip Cunningham. 

Frog is enraptured by Cunningham, his eloquence, his promises and enthralled by the thought of a life that is so much better than this and the cry of “death or liberty”, Frog joins the rebels in their ill-fated rebellion at Castle Hill but Frog has a secret even bigger than that of being a rebel. To say much more would be to disclose Frog’s greatest secret and that is something that the young independent reader should have the surprise of discovering, but this is another intriguing read and one that offers amazing insight into the lives of the children of this time – a life so utterly different and unimaginable for today’s younger generation.

Meticulously researched as usual, based on eyewitness accounts and reaching back into her family’s history, Jackie French has created the fifth in this series of this country’s secret histories, and it stands proudly alongside Birrung the Secret Friend, The Secret of the Black Bushranger, Barney and the Secret of the Whales and Barney and the Secret of the French Spies  helping to bring history alive for young readers who may otherwise  see it as dry, dusty and irrelevant. 

This is a must-have series in any library as it not only sits alongside the mandated curriculum but brings it to life in a way that only Jackie French can.


Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Grandma's Treasured Shoes

Grandma’s Treasured Shoes










Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Coral Vass

Christina Huynh

NLA Publishing, 2019

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Grandma has oodles and oodles of shoes.

Walk to the park shoes

Dance in the dark shoes

Fun shoes and sun shoes

Out and about shoes

Splash in the rain shoes

Fancy shoes, 

Plain shoes,

But her favourite shoes 

Are her worn and torn shoes

From a time long ago

And a land far away. 

For they are the shoes of her childhood in wartorn Vietnam, a time when her childhood was like that of others until the night she and her family have to flee with just the shoes on their feet.  They are shoes that take her on a terrifying journey to a new land where she is given new shoes to wear.  But she never forgets or discards those old shows with the memories and stories they hold for her.

Beginning with a rhyme and rhythm reminiscent of Frida Wolfe’s poem Choosing Shoes , this is a story that could be that of the grandmother or grandfather of any number of our students who have come to Australia as refugees, but in particular those who fled the Viet Cong and arrived here in boats in the 1970s. (But not always to the welcome that Grandma gets.) Using the shoes as a vehicle to tell the story of the fear and the flight, both author and illustrator have introduced the young reader to the story of refugees in a sensitive, non-confrontational way.  They have put themselves in the shoes of those who have had to flee their countries and imagined that regardless of the country, “that each shoe would have a different tale of danger, hardship, sacrifice and the cost of freedom to tell.”

This approach is rich in possibilities for a wide age group – children could tell the story of their shoes’ daily journey while those who have been in Grandma’s situation might feel comfortable about telling their story through the perspective of their shoes.  It could also serve as a lead-in to a series of lessons about perspective and how the different role a person has in a situation alters how the story is told. For example, what might be the glass slipper’s version of the Cinderella story? In a time when immigration is once more in the news as the tragedy in Christchurch starts debates again, older students might even examine the different responses by those such as Jacinda Ardern (#theyareus) and Donald Trump (building the wall).

As usual with NLA publications, there are pages of information at the back, these ones outlining the history of refugees in Australia and in particular, those who came from Vietnam in the 70s, the grandmothers and grandfathers of so many of our students. Perfect for Harmony Day celebrations or any focus on the multicultural nature of this country.



Grandma’s Treasured Shoes from STYNA on Vimeo.

All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome










All Are Welcome

Alexandra Penfold

Suzanne Kaufman

Bloomsbury, 2019

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Regardless of where you come from, what you wear, how you get around, all children are welcome in this classroom and this book celebrates individual’s diversity as well as inclusivity.  This could, and should, be a snapshot of any classroom anywhere, as families of all types and origins connect to share their children’s education. It clearly shows that however different the children’s home lives are (and we get a glimpse of those in the illustrations) children everywhere love to do and learn about the same things.

Though the rhyming text might be a bit saccharin in some places (although other reviewers have called it “almost radical in our polarized time”) there is much that the teacher librarian and classroom teacher can take from the illustrations particularly to acknowledge and celebrate the diverse heritages of our students. From creating a display of national flags and sharing the various words for hello, to having students create displays of their homelands to coincide with national days or having parents who are fluent in another language come in and tell stories in their language to other students, it all helps the student feel that they are indeed welcome here.

The King Who Banned The Dark

The King Who Banned The Dark

The King Who Banned The Dark










The King Who Banned The Dark

Emily Haworth-Booth

Pavilion, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


As a small boy, the prince was afraid of the dark and so be vowed that when he became king he would banish the dark.  And, despite the people’s protests, that’s what he did. Employing a popular political tactic of spreading disinformation so that the people thought the dark was a bad thing and demanded it be banned, he “succumbed” to their wishes and the ban was put in place. He had a huge artificial sun hung above the palace so that the night was as light as the day,  and light inspectors were employed to report and punish anyone who turned lights off in their houses.

At first the people thought it was a great idea and celebrated the light, but then their opinions began to change…

As well as being an engaging read for young readers that could have them investigating night and day and how life needs the dark to continue its cycle,  it could offer them an opportunity to talk about their nighttime fears, perhaps discovering that they are not alone with them and finding some strategies to deal with them. Would the prince have been better to find another way to ward off his fear of the dark? What sorts of things could he do?

It could also provoke a lot of discussion with older students about current political practices, acting in haste on a tide of popular opinion and the collective power we, in democracies, have to make change.  There could also be philosophical discussions about how we need dark to appreciate the light, rain to appreciate rainbows and so forth, focusing on the need for ups and downs in our lives and that like the night, the downs will pass and the ups will come again and we will value them all the more.

The predominantly yellow, black and white colour palette is perfect for spotlighting the messages of the story, whether literal or figurative, and given the depth of the story, one that spans many age groups.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Dress Like a Girl

Dress Like a Girl

Dress Like a Girl









Dress Like a Girl

Patricia Toht

Lorian Tu-Dean

Harper, 2019

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Time for a sleepover and the guests have been instructed to “dress like a girl”.  But what does that mean? 

Does it really mean dresses and high heels, buttons and bows?  Or could it mean a space suit, a wetsuit, a medico’s coat or something entirely original?  

Told in rhyme the opening stanza sums up the focus and purpose of this book perfectly…

What does it mean to dress like a girl

Many will tell you in this big, wide world

that there are strict rules that must be addressed,

rules you will need when looking your best.

But when you are given these rules to obey,

the secret is heeding them-in your own way.

The strong message is that we are each individuals and we should be dressing to suit ourselves rather than what others might say about our appearance, or what “fashion” dictates or other external influences. Written for the young girl who is becoming more aware of the world around her, what others are doing and wearing and starting to shape her own tastes and preferences, this is a timely release that should spark lots of discussions not just about what is “acceptable” but also self-acceptance and the influence of peer pressure. Do “clothes maketh the man”? 

While Tu-Dean has depicted a diverse range of ethnicities and origins in the illustrations, there is a strong theme of events like slumber parties being about the friendships and fun that are common desires of everyone, rather than differences that divide or separate or having to conform to a given look to be accepted. Great for the mindfulness collection.

Lola Dutch When I Grow Up

Lola Dutch When I Grow Up

Lola Dutch When I Grow Up










Lola Dutch When I Grow Up

Kenneth Wright

Sarah Jane Wright

Bloomsbury USA, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Lola Dutch  is frantic because she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up and even though her sensible friend Bear thinks there is time to discuss it, Lola sees it as an emergency.  So she drags him to the den where she consults all sorts of books and decides that she wants to be on the stage and lets her imagination wander…But then she thinks she might be an inventor, or a botanist, or a high court judge or…

This is another delightful book that explores the wonderful world of Lola Dutch and her imagination, but concludes with her being happy with just who she is – for the moment at least!

Young girls will delight in seeing themselves in Lola while those who are looking for diversity in books about girls will be glad to see the various ambitions that Lola has that go beyond the traditional choices, that open up all sorts of opportunities for dreams and plans but also acknowledges that it is perfectly fine to be just who you are. No decisions have to be made right now! Great as a read-aloud or a read-alone and perfect for satisfying any curriculum outcomes about career education.


Sea Bear: a journey for survival 

Sea Bear

Sea Bear: a journey for survival










Sea Bear: a journey for survival 

Lindsay Moore

Greenwillow Books, 2019

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


Imagine you are a polar bear.

Your coat is thick. Your teeth are sharp.

Your front paws are paddles, your back paws are rudders, and you can swim for miles.

Your home has always been the sea and the ice.

A sea bear, far north in the Arctic, hunts and naps and raises her young. She moves with the ice, swimming, running, stalking seals, resting. She follows the rhythm of the sea and the seasons.

But what happens when those rhythms change? What happens when there is no ice?

Told from the perspective of a female bear, the reader is taken on a journey of the Arctic seasons starting in spring when the ice is thick and the baby seals numerous, through to summer when the water warms and the ice melts, making it too thin to stand on and the seals more wary and quicker. Smelling land on the offshore breeze, the bear starts to swim to shore for food but it is a long arduous and perilous journey filled with lots of other creatures of the cold seas.  But above all, polar bears are patient and so she continues knowing that the world will turn, the time will pass and winter will come again. Courage, determination, resilience – even in the animal kingdom.

As well as the evocative text, it is the illustrations which make this book a stand-out.   Using a palette of a myriad of blues, the reader is treated to all the moods and times of this wonderland -starry night skies, ocean depths and shallows, the aurora borealis, the breaking ice pack and isolate seashore. While it could be a story of any sea bear, using the first person builds a connection with the reader so we are invested in her survival as well as that of all her kind. Her companions of the deep become less threatening as they pass by each other as Moore’s illustrations reflect her Master of Science in Medical and Scientific Illustration.

A page of information about sea ice and polar bears and another introducing the creatures she passes on her journey to shore add to the value of this book which shines a light on the plight of Arctic (and Antarctic) creatures as global warming continues and the amount of sea ice declines each year

A valuable addition to your environment and sustainability collection.


Queen Celine

Queen Celine

Queen Celine








Queen Celine

Matt Shanks

Walker Books, 2019

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


Celine Beaufort was an ordinary girl. She did ordinary things, on ordinary days, in ordinary ways. But every now and then, Celine was a Queen, Of a kingdom by the sea.” And while it was difficult to pick just one, Celine had found the perfect rock pool with stunning clear water, a host of creatures but all seemingly threatened by a flock of hungry seagulls.  So to preserve the perfection, Celine scared the birds away and then proceeded to keep her pool pristine and perfect by building a wall that kept the inhabitants in and the intruders, including the tides, out.  But the results were not as she intended… Does she see the error of her actions and fix them, or is she blind to all but her own aspirations?

This beautifully illustrated book has a strong environmental message about maintaining the balance so that things can survive and thrive as dependent on change as they are on stability, as on each other as they are on new blood.  But given the political events in the world at the moment, it could also be used with older students as an allegory for exclusivity and inclusivity as well as what leadership really means.  Another excellent example of showing that picture books just aren’t for beginning readers!


The Flying Orchestra

The Flying Orchestra

The Flying Orchestra










The Flying Orchestra

Clare McFadden

UQP, 2019

40pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


No matter what is happening in our lives, the Flying Orchestra has a solo, a symphony or a sonata to accompany it  Whether a happy, joyous occasion, or one that disappoints or even invokes sadness there is a piece of music to go with it and the orchestra is ready to play regardless of whether we are in the suburbs, at the airport, or out in the country.

This is the paperback release of of the hardback version which won the CBCA Crichton Award in 2011 and is perfect for introducing a new generation of young readers to the music around us.  It includes a list of appropriate orchestral pieces that may be the child’s first introduction to this sort of music, provoking plenty of discussion about why a particular piece was chosen and introducing them to how music can both provoke and reflect a variety of emotions and moods. While the notion of an actual orchestra flying around might be a piece of fantasy, nevertheless the concept that music surrounds us and that somewhere, sometime, someone has composed just the right piece of music to match our actions, thoughts and feelings is one that many children will find fascinating and may make them even more sensitive to their world and what it offers.  Just imagine the sounds that would accompany a day “so windy that even the angels lose their balance from the top of City Hall.”

Teachers’ notes for early childhood are available here while those for older readers are available here, while McFadden herself reads the story with a musical accompaniment on You Tube.

If you or your teaching colleagues are planning to introduce young students to the wide world of music this year and are looking for something beyond the traditional Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf or Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, this could be it.

The Green Giant

The Green Giant

The Green Giant










The Green Giant

Katie Cottle

Pavilion, 2019

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Every summer, Bea left her home in the city to stay with her grandad in the country. Iris, her dog, always went along with her. Bea is adventurous and she has explored everywhere in Grandad’s garden apart from one place – the small and rusty old greenhouse. So one day she decides to take a look inside. On the outside the greenhouse may be small, but inside it is huge – packed with plants, and a little creepy. Bea has a distinct impression that someone, or something, is watching her. Then a shadow falls, and standing over her is… … a giant. A giant made entirely of plants and greenery. Bea is scared, but the giant reassures her and explains that he has escaped from the grey city. Bea and the giant become friends, but can they do anything to make the grey old city, and the world, a greener place?

With huge concrete and glass buildings dominating today’s cityscapes rather than the trees of yesteryear,  the constant urbanisation of our planet is putting it at risk and so this is a timely tale that helps our young readers focus on their immediate environment and how they might be able to “think global, act local.” Even though they, themselves, might live in one of those ginormous apartment blocks with little green to be seen, perhaps there is scope for a school garden or perhaps even a garden on their home balcony. Wherever there is space for a pot, and access to light and water, there is space for a plant.

This is an ideal book to introduce the concept of our dependence on plants, their needs and life cycles and those of the creatures that are not only sustained by them but, in turn, sustain them too.  With another summer of devastating fire and flood almost passed, now is the time to think about what the land needs most to recover.