Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2022

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


In the sunlit waters, baby Fluke is content to swim languidly among the rest of the sperm whale pod, occasionally rising to the surface to breathe. But as he does so, he is joined by a pod of dolphins who leap and cavort far above the surface, teasing him to join them.

“Come up and see the sky”, they say to which Fluke says he can see the sun.  “The sun’s great, but have you seen the stars?” 

And Fluke begins to wonder and daydream…until he is given some advice from Cachalot, the great bull whale, that sends him on a journey of discovery that teaches him more than he can have imagined.

Put Andrew Plant’s name on the cover of a book and I’m there! Whether it’s The Poppy, Sparkor any of the others that I’ve read and reviewed over the years, I know I will be in for a beautifully illustrated, lyrically written story that will reach deep. Of them all, Stardiving  has gone the deepest as Fluke learns as much about himself as he does about the stars that are in his own environment, without even having to learn to leap and leave his natural habitat.  As Fluke discovers the stars that twinkle and shine far below in the ocean’s depths, a place where the dolphins can’t ever go, he begins to understand what Cachalot means when he says, “You are not even yourself yet. Why do you want to be something else?”  That, like the ocean, he has hidden depths yet to explore…

Plant’s stunning illustrations take the reader into an unknown world, one inaccessible to most humans. one that even television images from deep-diving submersibles can’t portray accurately as the calm and serenity and the being-in-the-moment-ness has to be experienced; yet one that, for all its mystery, is as deserving and needy of preservation as the shallower waters above because what happens on top impacts what happens beneath.  Just as our personal experiences shape who we are, as they did for Fluke – a theme to explore in itself – so too is the ocean an integrated, holistic environment.  And while Plant doesn’t touch on pollution, habitat destruction and so forth, it is there in his dedication, reminding the reader that this story has as many layers as the ocean itself.

To all the eco-warriors who faced down the whalers; to the scientists who study and advocate for our oceans; to the kids who fight the scourge of plastic…

Extensive teachers’ notes which include an introduction to the creatures that Fluke sees, enable this book to become a journey of discovery for the reader as much as it was for the baby whale. 


Welcome Home

Welcome Home

Welcome Home











Welcome Home

Christina Booth

Ford Street, 2013

hbk., 32pp., RRP $A26.95


Once upon a time, although not that long ago, whaling along Australia’s shores was a thriving industry and vital to the livelihoods and life of the communities at its centre. Whaling is again becoming a thriving industry along Australia’s shores, but it’s the marvelling at these awesome creatures, not the killing of them that is its focus. How far we have come in just a handful of generations.

In this beautifully, gently illustrated book by Christina Booth a young boy hears the call of the whale “echoing off the mountain like a whisper while the moon danced on the waves”. Neither his parents nor his grandparents could hear it – it was a sound for his ears only.  And each day he hears her call and learns something new about the treacherous path her ancestors followed and the murderous intent his ancestors had.  Can there be a reconciliation between humans and these magnificent creatures? Will she feel safe enough to show herself as he waits under the night sky? Will a whispered “Sorry” give her courage?

The tone of this book is set in the dedication on the title page – “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” (Chief Seattle)  And it is one of the most sensitive, beautifully told stories that I’ve had the pleasure to read for a long time.

Although the setting is not identified, the story was inspired by the birth, in August 2010, of a southern right calf in the Derwent River, Hobart – the first in 190 years! While those who witnessed this and the gradual return of the southern right (so-called because they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt) to the Derwent and whisper, “They are back”, this story explores “Where did they go?”  Known in the 19th century as a whale nursery, whalers hunted the southern right almost to extinction but since 1935, when they became the first species to be declared protected in either Australia or New Zealand, the whales are slowly returning knowing that once again, there is safe haven where only their photographs are taken, not their lives.

Is the whale in the story, sighted in July 2013, the same one who had the courage to give birth back in 2010?  Only time will tell.  But for all those children who ask, “Where did they go?”, not just about the southern rights but also all the other species that migrate northwards and still inspire a sense of awe and wonder, this is a perfect introduction to a past that is an integral part of Australia’s history and the foundation for an opportunity to build a more glorious future. Fitting into the cross-curriculum priority of sustainability perfectly, there is such scope for not only looking at what happened and why, but also the changing perspectives of humans towards their environment over time and what can be done and achieved, as well as giving background to the questions and arguments that arise when the Japanese begin their annual whale hunt, or even looking at how science, particularly that emanating from World War II, has produced viable alternatives. Riches indeed to capture the passions of all.

“Welcome Home” is one of my top five books for teaching children about treading lightly on this earth – it is not ours to destroy.



Waiting for Chicken Smith

Waiting for Chicken Smith

Waiting for Chicken Smith











Waiting for Chicken Smith

David Mackintosh

Little Hare, 2018

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


Every year, I stay in the same cabin at the beach with my family, and every year Chicken Smith’s here too, with his Dad and his dog, Jelly. But this year, something’s different.’

Convinced that his friend Chicken Smith will appear any moment, the young narrator of this story waits resolutely for him, cradling the piece of driftwood that Chicken Smith carved into a whale shape last summer. While he waits and waits, his sister tries to get his attention but he ignores her – nothing is more important than being there to greet Chicken Smith when he arrives. Apart from anything else, he has a shell to give him as a thank you for the driftwood whale.  

As he remembers and reflects on past summers, it gradually becomes clear that perhaps Chicken Smith won’t be coming this year.  The cabin he stays in is shut up with long grass all around it and a huge cobweb in Chicken’s bedroom window.  And at last, he pays attention to his sister’s entreaties and discovers something that makes up for Chicken Smith’s absence…

This is a moving story that will inspire young readers to reminisce on their own holidays at the beach, the friends they made, the things they did and start to build the anticipation of having such a magical time again.  They might like to speculate on what has happened to Chicken Smith and ponder whether the boy will have as good a holiday without him, using the clues towards the end to think about the new friendship that is beginning. 

The childlike language and the illustrations that could have been drawn by the narrator make this a more personal experience for the reader – you are just waiting for Chicken Smith to appear and for the boys to get on with what boys do at the beach.  Great for starting thoughts about the upcoming summer…

Teachers’ notes are available.

A peek inside....

A peek inside….















Nicole Godwin

Demelsa Haughton

Tusk Books, 2018

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


Billie the dolphin loves the wildness of surfing the ocean’s waves -for her there is no greater thrill.  And so she sets off to find the most enormous wave that she can, one that will make her happy, safe and free.  But in her search for that one wonderful wave, she encounters more than she expected as she finds fellow marine creatures entangled in the human detritus and pollution of the ocean.  Fishing lines, plastic bags, nets, noise… all are modern-day hazards that have to be navigated as the ocean’s creatures go about their daily lives.  Billie helps to free as many as she can, but when she herself is caught in a net and her new friends come to rescue her, she finds something that is even better than surfing the enormous waves.

The Canberra author of Ella has made it her mission to be a voice for those creatures of the wild who don’t have their own voice to bring attention to the destruction of their habitat.  Many young  readers will be familiar with the sight of dolphins surfing the waves and develop a fascination for these beautiful, intelligent creatures from a young age.  But they are unaware of the issues that dolphins face as the human world encroaches more and more on their environment and so it is books like this that carry a critical message of conservation as well as a charming story that inspire them to action.  Rather like the little wave that forms and is then apparently lost in the vast ocean, but in fact becomes part of a larger wave, so the voices of authors like Godwin and illustrators like Haughton who has created such vivid images become bigger and bigger and louder and louder as both Ella and Billie are shared with our young students as part of the sustainability perspective of the Australian Curriculum.

The final double spread explains more about the issues that Billie encountered on her journey, and part of this includes this statemet, “One of the saddest parts of my journey was not being able to help my friends in the dolphin park. They belong in the wild, not in tanks.” This has the potential to become a formal debate on the role of places like SeaWorld and other venues where dolphins are held in captivity, perhaps even extending to the roles of zoos, in the understanding and conservation of the planet’s fauna.  So while this appears to be a picture book for the very young, it has scope to be used with a much wider, older audience.

Snow Penguin

Snow Penguin

Snow Penguin










Snow Penguin

Tony Mitton

Alison Brown

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Way down south at the very bottom of the world a little penguin is very curious about what the world is like beyond the icy, snowy rookery. But as he gazes seaward on the edge of the ice he doesn’t notice that the ice is cracking and suddenly he finds himself floating amidst a world of creatures that he hasn’t seen before. Blue whales, orcas, elephant seals, sea lions – all are new to him and potentially dangerous.  But even though he is not afraid of them, as darkness draws in and the sea turns from blue to black he is worried about getting home to his family.  Will he be safe or will he be someone’s dinner?

This is a charming story that particularly appeals because of its subject and location. But apart from that it is beautifully illustrated, with almost realistic creatures but with a touch of whimsy that make them seem friendly so you know the cute little penguin will be okay.

Told in rhyming couplets that keep the rhythm smooth and soothing, this is a gentle book perfect for bedtime and introducing young readers to some of the unfamiliar creatures that share this planet with them – and the curious penguin.














Lesley Gibbes

Michelle Dawson

Working Title Press, 2017

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


Under the shadow of the great harbour bridge a little southern right whale is born.  For weeks it stays and plays with its mother getting stronger for the long journey south to the Antarctic waters, delighting the people of Sydney who hadn’t seen a pair like this for many years.  But one day a ferry’s motor startles Fluke and he dives deep to the bottom of the water where it is dark and murky and he can no longer hear his mother calling.  

The people of Sydney begin an anxious search for him knowing that without her protection he will be easy prey for a shark…

Based on actual events, this is a charming story illustrated in a palette as soft and gentle as both the text and the events themselves.  Like the humpbacks that are so prevalent down the Humpback Highway at the moment, southern right whales – so-called because early whalers believed them to be the ‘right’ whale to catch because they were large, slow-moving, rich in oil and blubber and floated when they were killed – were hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century and so the appearance of mum and bub in the harbour brought both joy and hope.  The endpapers provide a thumbnail sketch of these wonderful creatures, adding an extra dimension to the book.

Now that whale-hunting has taken on a whole new meaning  and with seeing a whale in the wild on many bucket lists making it a sustainable tourist industry for many little coastal towns, learning about them through stories like Fluke can only bring a greater awareness and help to guarantee their revival and survival. The whalers  were an important part of our coastal history and settlement, making them an important part of the history curriculum but unlike a generation ago, their activities can now be scrutinised through several lenses as students discuss and debate the “rightness” of their endeavours. The use of books like Fluke would bring another perspective to a webquest.

Teachers’ notes are available 

Loved it.

Storm Whale

Storm Whale

Storm Whale











Storm Whale

Sarah Brennan

Jane Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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


Bleak was the day and the wind whipped down when I and my sisters walked to town …

Surrounded by seabirds being buffeted every which way, wild waves  crashing on the shore and bitten by a chill wind that blew their skirts high, turned their legs blue and made their hair fly like a brumby’s tail, three sisters make their way to the beach undaunted by nature’s fury.  In fact they are delighting in it.  But that soon turns to anguish when they spot a whale stranded on the high tide line.  

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell,

Far from the peace of the ocean deep

Where ancient fugitives find their sleep.

Swept by the tide to its farthest reach,

Left with the kelp on the hard wet beach…

Dark as a demon, dull of eye

Waiting in silence to drift…or die

All day the girls battle to keep the whale alive, unperturbed by the weather and the waves soaking them to the skin.  But as dark rolls in and the driving rain sends them home, they have to leave the whale to its fate.  Even the cosy warmth of the fire doesn’t warm their hearts and their night is restless but dream-filled as the storm rages on.  Next morning they hasten back to the beach and discover a miracle…

Written in the most poetic language and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations, Storm Whale took me right back to my childhood in a seaside town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand – next stop Antarctica- and brought back haunting memories of storms with wild winds that crashed the waves onto the rocks and made for the most exciting times.  While whales abounded, they didn’t become stranded on that part of the coastline although it was common on beaches not too far distant.  This is a story that not only paints a different picture of the seaside as the benign summer holiday playground of many of our students but brings to life the fury and magnificence of Nature and the insignificance of even those as mighty as whales in her power.   

The rhyming text suggest the ceaseless rhythm of the ocean and indeed, life itself, while both words and pictures give a subtle but strong message of respect and the need to appreciate, value and conserve.  

A most moving book that will touch the reader on many levels.