Women Who Led the Way

The Women Who Led the Way

Women Who Led the Way











Women Who Led the Way

Mick Manning

Brita Granstrom

Otter-Barry Books, 2022

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


“From Aud the Deep-Minded, an early voyager to Iceland, and Sacagawea who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition across the USA, to Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space and Arunima Sinha, the first woman amputee to climb Mount Everest, this book shows the incredible courage, determination and power of women explorers over the last 1200 years. These women have led the way exploring lands, oceans, mountains, skies and space, but have also made pioneering discoveries in the fields of science, nature, archaeology, ecology and more. The lives of these women, told as personal stories, are an inspiration to us all.”

As I looked back over the increasing number of reviews for books that showcase women who have changed the world in some way, none of them have focused on female explorers breaking through that traditionally male domain peppered with names like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Abel Tasman, James Cook, Robert Falcon Scott and Edmund Hillary. (Even the Australian Museum’s Trailblazer collection is predominantly men.)

In fact, when I looked through the contents page, there were only three names of more than 30 that were familiar, yet here are the stories of women who broke new ground in so many areas including being the first to cycle round the world, the first black woman into space,  the first to look into space and discover eight comets…  One wonders why they are not household names like their male counterparts.

However, apart from a brief mention of Nancy Bird Walton, there were no Australian names suggesting that perhaps there have been so many women to choose from that Australia’s heroes were overshadowed.  Where are Kay Cottee, Jessica Watson, Emily Creaghe, Lady Jane Franklin, Jade Hameister, Robyn Davidson,.. even my own mum, Dorothy Braxton, the first female journalist to travel to Antarctica and the first female to set foot on some of its hallowed places in 1968 (although, to be fair, she was a Kiwi through and through)?

Dorothy Braxton, Scott's Cross. Antarctica, 1968

Dorothy Braxton, Scott’s Memorial. Antarctica, 1968

So, as well as learning about these trailblazers, the book needs an Australian companion so we can set students the challenge of not only researching someone suitable and retelling their story in the same format as the book – brief personal accounts and which include an inspirational quote – but also pitching for their contribution to be included. Obviously, such a book can only have limited entries so students would have to argue why the contribution of their selection changed the world while the rest of the class would take on the role of the editor choosing.

Alternatively, it could be ties to this year’s CBCA Book Week theme of Dreaming With Eyes Open and students could write about why, in the future, they would be included in such a collection.  What will be their legacy? 

Books like this, apart from always introducing the reader to new heroes, open up so many more possibilities that can make each of us an explorer in our own way.  


The Secret Signs of Nature

The Secret Signs of Nature

The Secret Signs of Nature











The Secret Signs of Nature: How to Uncover Hidden Clues in the Sky, Water, Plants, Animals and Weather

Craig Caudill & Steve Backshall

Carrie Shyrock

Magic Cat, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


Since the world really started to focus on climate change, and particularly since the lockdowns of the pandemic which meant that often the only outdoors we could visit were our own backyard, there have been many books for children encouraging them to be much more observant. to look more closely at the natural world that surrounds them, to be aware of not only the little creatures but also the ordinariness of the habitats the live in and to take greater care.

This book, co-authored by a BAFTA winning naturalist, takes that ability to be observant several steps forward and shows the reader what can be learnt from Nature, by noticing and interpreting everyday signs and signals that not only enrich the experience but help predict what might be happening.  Apart from using their senses more acutely, young readers are encouraged to read the weather by understanding rainbows, observing cloud patterns, predict wind direction and use a compass before they set off into their environment and then each section introduces them to some of the secrets of that place whether it be the ocean or a puddle, the woodlands or a desert or even how a farm paddock! 

Although predominantly using the landscapes of the United Kingdom, the reader and the two young adventurers are taken across the globe as there are many principles to discover that are universal – looking at the shape of the moon and the various visible stars or examining tree stumps can all reveal stories regardless of where you are.- and the reader is urged to be constantly curious, to be present in the moment, to be familiar with the environment so changes are noticed, to study what they observe and ask questions, and then use their learning to teach others.  So, having spotted a huddle of sheep in a paddock, they can surmise that it is likely to rain soon and predict the direction the wind is coming from be looking at the land’s topography. Or stomping through a puddle can tell the person who comes after you, which direction you were travelling…

With such a focus on environment and sustainability both in the curriculum and literature, this is an important book that can empower young readers even more, encouraging them to go  outside and see what they can learn right now!  

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse












Cat Spies Mouse

Rina A. Foti

Dave Atze

Big Sky, 2022

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


When Cat spies mouse, he grabs him and tells him he is going to gobble her up.  But being a feisty mouse, she disagrees and asks, “Why would you do that?” And so begins a back-and-forth conversation about the fairness of bigger being allowed to eat smaller because “that’s the way it is”. Mouse, who must be terrified, nevertheless has courage and tries to convince Cat that it would be better to be friends, but Cat is not interested until along comes D-O-G!

Told entirely in conversation with different coloured text identifying each speaker, this is a charming story about assumed power invested by size – just because you’re bigger doesn’t make you in charge – and it will promote discussion about whether being little means giving in or having rights. Is Cat (or Dog) a bully? Mouse’s arguing against the status quo is very reminiscent of little ones who feel injustice keenly but who don’t quite know how to get something sorted, although they are determined to win and make their own world fairer. Having the courage to speak up for change is a big lesson in assertiveness, and while parents might end the conversation with “Because I said so!” it is nevertheless a sign that their little one is maturing and gaining independence.

The illustrations are divine – set on a white background, all the emotions and feelings are contained in the animals’ body language and facial expressions that even without being able to read the words for themselves, very young readers will still be able to work out the story and participate in that crucial pre-reading behaviour.

Don’t be fooled by its apparent simplicity – this is a thought-provoking read that we can all take heed of, regardless of our age!

Let’s Build a Backyard

Let's Build a Backyard

Let’s Build a Backyard











Let’s Build a Backyard

Mike Lucas

Daron Parton

Lothian, 2022

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


Chug! Chug! Chug! That’s the sound of the tipper truck.

Bang! Bang! Bang!  That’s the sound of the nails being hammered into the fence.

Sing! Sing! Sing! That’s the sound of the birds in the big tree that offers shelter and shade to countless living things and which must be protected.

In this charming companion to Let’s Build A House, Dad and his daughter are back again, this time building the backyard from bringing in quality topsoil to building a bee motel to planting the vege patch, installing a frog pond and planting bright flowers that feed on stinky chicken poo.  Using simple rhyming sequences and repetitive text, Mike Lucas and Daron Parton have once again combined to bring the complex task of creating a backyard haven for the family and wildlife alike into the realm of our youngest readers.  The bond between father and daughter is just as strong as she helps him with all the tasks – imagine the fun of being allowed to control the bobcat – with the final spread showing them sharing the joy of their labour together, suggesting that there is no mother in the story, a situation many will relate to.

As well as introducing young readers to all the tasks involved in creating a backyard and the order in which they must be done, the story opens up the opportunity for students to dream with their eyes open and plan their own backyard.  What features should it have so that it is perfect for playing and relaxing while still being a safe haven for the local wildlife and environmentally sustainable?  Teach them about bird’s-eye-view maps and drawing to scale so things fit. Big concepts for little children but made thoroughly accessible through this must-have book. (And if the prospect of a backyard is not feasible, how could the school playground be improved in a similar way? )


The Encyclopedia of STEM Words

The Encyclopedia of STEM Words

The Encyclopedia of STEM Words












The Encyclopedia of STEM Words

Jenny Jacoby

Vicky Barker

CSIRO Publishing, 2022

112pp., pbk., RRP $A27.99


Not so long ago, the word ‘stem’ referred to the major vertical shoot of a plant that bears buds and shoots with leaves and with roots at its lower end to anchor it. (It had other meanings too, but that’s the one with which primary school kids were most familiar.)  Now though, in schools  it more commonly refers to the interdisciplinary approach to teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, thus bringing these topics and their vocabulary into the realm of even our youngest students.

So words like ‘hypothesis’, ‘viscosity’ and even ‘yangchuanosaurus”  now roll off tongues as a matter of course, and concepts such as inertia, electromagnetism and bioluminescence sit alongside the more traditional ones of the primary classroom like photosynthesis, evaporation and metamorphosis. But sometimes such words are easier to say than understand so this encyclopedia explains 100 words that are common to young scientists, arranged in alphabetical order and each with its own page so there is space for illustrations and text so the meaning and the concept’s application is clear.  To make it even easier, there is a contents page, an both an index and glossary so navigation is simple if the reader is looking for a specific term.  

But as well as being a ready reference in itself, it just begs to be a model for students to build their own definitions and explanations.  Imagine the power of a Word Wall that has more than just vocabulary, one that is built and added to at point of need, written and illustrated by the students themselves. Maybe even extending the Word Wall to a display of working models so that as well as the science there are also the technology, engineering, and maths aspects that can be exploited.  And who wouldn’t want to watch an episode of Lego Masters and try to explain the STEM as well as the story? 

Books like this that actively engage readers in building on them are essential tools in the kits of teachers, libraries of schools and bookshelves of families.  This one is a must-have. 

















Christopher Cheng

Liz Duthie

Walker Books, 2022

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Known as the “bulldozers of the bush” wombats may look soft and cuddly, but they are determined and tough, with sharp teeth that never stop growing, limbs that they use to shovel dirt like bulldozers, and bony bottoms they use to defend their burrows. They can live for years without drinking water, getting all of their moisture from the plants they eat — and they deposit their cube-shaped poop on rocks or stumps as a warning to other wombats.

But even though they can be destructive, ornery and bite the unwary really hard, wombats still rank high among children’s favourite Australian animals. So this  new paperback addition to the Nature Storybook series, which introduces young readers to the natural world by focusing on the daily life of one creature while expanding its activities with factual information about those in a format known as ‘faction’ or ‘narrative non fiction’ will be a welcome addition to the collection.

Given recent bushfires and floods, the plight of Australia’s native creatures has never been so precarious or prominent as young readers begin to understand the impact of these natural disasters on habitat and food supplies.  And with May 11th being Hairy-Nosed Wombat Day the timing is perfect for sharing this charming story.

Wombat Day

Wombat Day

Beginning deep underground, “where dirt and tree roots mesh”, the story follows Wombat’s days from daybreak as she snuggles down in her burrow to sleep through the bright, hot day to marking her territory as she is a solitary creature, to having to defend herself and her little jellybean-like baby against the dingo. Again, Cheng has crafted the most compelling story, accompanied not only by stunning illustrations from Duthie, but also lots of wombat facts as imagination and information sit comfortably side by side. 

Chris Cheng is at his best when he meshes his meticulous research with his way with words and this sits very well alongside  Python, his other contribution to this series, and his many other stories for children, my personal, long-term, yet-to-be-beaten favourite being One Child

A must-have for any collection that meets the needs of any children with a liking for or an interest in these unique creatures.  

And if you would like to get your students started on writing faction, beginning with a wombat focus, then From Fact to Faction(e:update 011, 2012) written by me is available to Primary English Teachers’ Association Australia members.


Do You Love Exploring?

Do You Love Exploring?

Do You Love Exploring?











Do You Love Exploring?

Matt Robertson

Bloomsbury, 2022

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


Whether they live in the tallest mountains, the deepest oceans , the hottest deserts or the iciest places on the planets, animals have evolved so they can survive and thrive in every environment and this joyful book is the perfect introduction to species familiar and not-so for young readers.  

Each double page spread features a different habitat – grasslands, mountains, rainforests, islands, woodlands, ice worlds, deserts, oceans -as well as those who are nocturnal, endangered or just plain strange and provides a brief description that whets the appetite.  But unlike formal books that can be somewhat daunting, the cartoon-like nature of this one makes it appealing and accessible to even the youngest readers. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

At the beginning of the book there is a double-page spread of many of the featured animals, and readers will delight in choosing one and then spotting it in the body of the book.  Look for the bear with the burger or the alpaca in the woolly hat! If Robertson, who both wrote and illustrated the book, is also the designer of the layout, then he certainly knows how to capture the attention (and attention span) of young readers.

As well as introducing the diversity of creatures, the book also teaches the reader about the different regions of the planet encouraging them to think about what would be needed to survive there and how the various creatures have actually adapted so they can, prompting possible investigations into how particular species have changed over time. It brings in new vocabulary to explore and explain such as adaptation and evolution, endangered and extinct, as well as concepts such as climate change and human impact, raising awareness of the fragility of the environment from a very young age.

This is the third book in the award-winning series by Matt Robertson that includes Do You Love Bugs? and Do You Love Dinosaurs? and is just as interesting and intriguing as its predecessors.


Nature’s Treasures

Nature's Treasures

Nature’s Treasures











Nature’s Treasures

Ben Hoare

DK, 2021

192pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99


Walking to explore our local neighbourhood became daily exercise for many during the recent pandemic, and our children learned to walk with their eyes wide open.  They looked at the sky, the ground, the trees, bushes and flowers and within them they found all sorts of treasures – coloured leaves, scribbles on bark, coloured feathers, a spiderweb jewelled with dew… Perhaps they found a bird’s nest, a pretty stone or even blew on a dandelion fairy clock…

All around us there is evidence that Mother Nature has walked before us with “dazzling feathers, armoured fruit, extraordinary eggs’, bristly teeth, leaf skeletons, glittering gems, ancient fossils, exploding seeds, super-sticky webs, rocks from outer space and much else besides.” In this superb book, the stories of these fascinating objects is explained – where they are found, how they work, what they tell us, how they are used…  Grouped into categories -animals, plants, fungi and algae, minerals and rocks, and made by Nature – common and not-so-common finds are examined with photographs, diagrams and readily accessible text.

From the early “Cabinets of Curiosities” -“large private collections of those wealthy enough to travel to gather them displayed in glass cabinets- to the classroom “nature tables” eagerly renewed each Monday morning as children brought in their weekend discoveries,  there has always been a fascination of these sorts of objects, although now there is a much greater emphasis of just taking photographs and leaving them in situ because they are part of the particular ecosystem and others can also enjoy them.  Thus, a book as beautiful, as entertaining and as informative as this one is a must-have in both the home and school library because if children know and understand what they are looking at, they are more likely to treasure and protect it. 

Get Ready, Mama!

Get Ready, Mama!

Get Ready, Mama!









Get Ready, Mama!

Sharon Giltrow

Arielle Li

EK Books, 2022 

32pp., hbk., RRP  $A24.99


Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, get breakfast all over her top, or… wait, is Mama watching TV?! Learn how to get Mama up and ready despite her mischievous delaying tactics with this essential guide to dealing with morning mayhem! Little ones will delight in the cheeky role-reversal that sees a young girl doing everything she can to get her reluctant mother out of the house, and teachers, particularly will enjoy the twist in the tale.

But apart from being a funny story that will resonate with everyone who has ever wanted “just five more minutes”, this has great value in maths and literacy lessons that focus on sequencing and its vocabulary, as well as time. Identifying the essential tasks and routines that must be done, sorting them into order, allocating sufficient time for each, comparing and contrasting breakfast menus., looking for hacks that might shortcut the morning rush (although sleeping in your school uniform which was the preferred choice of one previous student is not recommended).. it’s a story that will resonate widely with every child.  Teachers’ notes are available.


The Butterfly and the Ants

The Butterfly and the Ants

The Butterfly and the Ants












The Butterfly and the Ants

Kate McCabe

Nicole Berlach

CSIRO Publishing, 2022 

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


“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf…”

The opening sentence in one of the most popular children’s books ever written, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  

But do butterflies really grow up by eating apples and pears and chocolate cakes?  Or is there something more to their story?  

The Butterfly and the Ants tells the story of Blue, a member of the Lycaenidae species of butterfly that is found around the world – a species that comprises about 25% of the world’s butterflies but which is unique because it is dependent on the special relationship the eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises have with the ants that look after them. So while we are familiar with the basic life cycle of the butterfly, this adds not only another element but also a lot more detail about how that tiny egg emerges to be a beautiful gossamer-wing butterfly, usually with a touch of blue. 

It introduces the reader to the concept of symbiosis setting up the potential to investigate which other creatures live in such relationships and underlining the need for children to understand that even if they take or move just one thing from an environment, it can have far -reaching effects.  

This is a book for those who want to know more than the basics,  that explains the process in clear and accessible detail that respects their intelligence – as all those from CSIRO Publishing do. There are teachers’ notes available that not only have a focus on the science but also help expand vocabulary and encourage students to use the “real” language, as well as to be more observant.   Other elements support the information literacy process as they are encouraged to read the notes at the back, use the glossary and so on.