Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma's Alphabet Day

Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day











Emma Memma’s Alphabet Day

Emma Memma

 Puffin, 2023

26pp., board book, RRP $A16.99


Behind the the curly red hair, pink shirt and orange dress of the main character is  Emma Watkins, once known as the “yellow Wiggle” but also a woman passionate about raising awareness  of Australia’s deaf community, who already has formal qualifications in Auslan and who is currently undertaking her PhD in “the affective, artistic integration of sign language, dance and film editing.” In consultation with artists who themselves are deaf, she is producing and releasing a range of formats that as well as the storybook will include, an ebook, audiobook and an Auslan video translation so that all young readers can be entertained through “movement, creativity, inclusiveness and friendship”.

In this new release Emma Memma takes a walk through her day teaching young readers how to sign each letter of the alphabet relating the letter to something she sees or does. 

There is a lot of research relating to learning a second language in early childhood, not just because it is easier for the child but because of associated benefits so learning Auslan alongside learning the English alphabet makes a lot of sense.  By using a recognised character, everyday situations and multi-modal delivery, Emma Watkins is doing much to normalise this way of communicating so that all children can be included.  

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab











Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab

Sean E. Avery

Walker, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99


In the ocean there is no closer friendship than that between Mr Clownfish and Miss Anemone.  She protects him with her stinging tentacles if a big fish threatens him, and he protects her from other fish, cleans her tentacles twice a day and finds delicious small morsels of food they eat together, although Miss Anemone does get lonely when he swims off because she is tethered to the side of a large rock. They are each other’s heroes, 

On Miss Anemone’s birthday, Mr Clownfish gives her a hermit crab as a present and then goes in search of something special for their birthday tea. But when he returns, Miss Anemone has disappeared!  Convinced she has been kidnapped he follows the tracks in the sand and finds Miss Anemone riding on Hermit Crab’s back delighted in being able to explore the ocean at last. Mr Clownfish is devastated, convinced he is  no longer needed. But he has a very important lesson to learn about friendship… 

For those who have seen Finding Nemo (and this is a good reason to show it again),  the fun and friendships of the cheeky clownfish will be well-known as will the diversity of life on the ocean floor that is so beautifully depicted in Avery’s iconic, quirky illustrations, as Mr Clownfish delivers dinner in a scoop of seaweed rather like an underwater Uber Eats.  Apart from being a most engaging story of a special friendship that opens opportunities to explore the symbiotic relationships of creatures, not just in the ocean, and their interdependence so they can survive. it also puts the intricacies of human friendship into the spotlight.  Written for an age group that is just starting to build relationships beyond family ties, and often being very possessive of those, it raise questions about whether it is possible to have more than one special friend and how to respond if our special friend finds someone else.  While they might not need their friends to protect them in the way that Mr Clownfish and Miss Anemone interact, what are the unique attributes of their friends and how do they enrich each other’s lives? 

As with Frank’s Red Hat, shortlisted in the CBCA 2023 Book of the Year awards, Avery has offered our younger readers a most delightful read but with many more layers than meet the eye,  

Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Secrets of the Saltmarsh











Secrets of the Saltmarsh

Claire Saxby

Alicia Rogerson

CSIRO Publishing, 2023

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


Where the land meets the sea is a fringe that is sometimes sea and sometimes land – depending on the tides – one of the most unique environments of the planet. For thousands of years First Nations people have harvested the rich seasonal food resources they offer and they support countless  life cycles from that of  tiny bacteria to large migratory birds, each dependent on each other and the land, ocean, water, wind, sunlight and seasons, at the same time as they store up to four time more carbon than ordinary forests.

While they have often been drained to provide more room for human housing, slowly we are learning more about how critical they are to the planet’s health and this new book for younger readers by a master pf narrative non fiction starts to raise awareness from an early age.  From the front endpaper featuring just some of the birds that can be found to the final one featuring fingerling fish, the book is a masterpiece of introducing this special, little-known environment.  Written in the first person, each double page spread focus on either one of the elements that is so crucial to the saltmarsh or the creatures that live within it and how they contribute to wellbeing, and, like the inhabitants of the marsh, there is a symbiotic relationship between Saxby’s lyrical text and Rogerson’s illustrations.

Perhaps I was drawn to this book because I have just finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a novel in which the environment plays such a significant part in the story, and, to my knowledge, there have been few books on this biome for young readers despite its diversity and importance.  Nevertheless, like The Great Southern Reef, this is an environmental phenomenon that is accessible to so many of our students and thus one that greater awareness will build an appreciation for.

A must-have in any collection focusing on environmental biodiversity.  Teachers’ Notes are available.


The Tiny Woman’s Coat

The Tiny Woman's Coat

The Tiny Woman’s Coat











The Tiny Woman’s Coat

Joy Cowley

Giselle Clarkson

Walker Books, 2021

28pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


A storm is brewing and the tiny woman realises she will need a coat to stay dry and warm.  But where will she get the cloth, the scissors, the thread, the needle, the buttons?

On the surface this is a lovely story about friendship and co-operation in the tiny woman’s community but to those who understand how little children learn to read it is so much more than that.

When I started my initial teacher ed course in New Zealand in 1970, Joy Cowley was the leading author behind the Ready to Read series, a collection of basal readers that was used in junior classrooms in every school in New Zealand for reading instruction.  In the 70s there would have been few Kiwi children who were unfamiliar with Early in the Morning , Grandma Comes to Stay and The Fire Engine, and the thrill of moving from red to yellow, blue and green levels before starting on ‘chapter books” like The Donkey’s Egg or The Hungry Lambs.  The series was revolutionary in its approach to teaching children to read because it used natural language rather than phonics or controlled vocabulary, drawing on the research on world leaders in early literacy like Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Dr Marie Clay. She then went on to be the talent behind the Storybox Library series with titles like Mrs Wishy Washy and The Kick-a-Lot Shoes.

And it is her knowledge and experience of how children learn that underpins this story so that they can experience “real reading” and consolidate their belief that they can be “real” readers. To start with the tiny woman wonders where she will get the cloth for her coat, focusing the reader’s attention of the sorts of things that will be needed to construct it so they can draw on their own experience to suggest the items that will be required.  Then each “chapter” starts with the repeated statement and question… “The tiny woman wanted a coat. “Where will I get some…” leaving the reader to suggest what the next word might be and possible solutions. All the while the sky is changing building the anticipation of whether she will get her coat completed before the storm hits.  

While there are hundreds of stories written and published for our youngest readers every year, there are few that are so deeply rooted in understanding those early reading behaviours and which consolidate our children’s expectations of being readers as well as those by this author.  While the world has clearly moved on from the scenario of Grandma arriving in a Vickers Viscount  (after 50+ years I still remember the theme of the stories) , the process of learning to read remains the same, and this is the perfect support to that. 

Say My Name

Say My Name

Say My Name











Say My Name

Joanna Ho

Khoa Le

HarperCollins, 2023

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


There is an old riddle that goes, “What is yours alone but used by everyone else? Your name”. 

There is so much embodied in a person’s name that it can be (and was) one of the most popular units of work that I did with my students at the beginning of each year.  They loved to discover why they had the name they did, its history and significance within their family, its meaning, its cultural connections  and how it shaped their own identity. They enjoyed having conversations with family members about why it was chosen, seeing their birth announcements and sharing their stories.  But most importantly, they wanted to teach us how to say it properly because that demonstrated that we respected them, cared enough about them,  to make the effort to learn it and use it and acknowledge that they were not invisible.  Even though some chose to use a more common “European” name, there was always a spark in their eyes if their birth name was used and pronounced correctly.

In this new book by Joanna Ho, whose stories  Eyes the Kiss in the Corners and Eyes that Speak to the Stars embody and celebrate diversity in a perception-changing way, six children of Chinese, Tongan, Persian, Diné, Nahuatl, or Akan descent share the meaning and history of their names. Names that are “full of tones and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, chords and cadences, Each syllable, each sound, is a building block in an architecture constructed over oceans and across generations.” (And there is a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to help you out.)

Accompanied by stunning illustrations that are rich in the symbolism of the culture of the child, the lyrical text shows us how important it is to each child, indeed each person on the planet, to say their name correctly because “My name is a window to my world, a door to my destiny, a key to unlock the dreams of my ancestors, the hopes of my family and the divine that lives within. Anything less is not me.”

Sadly for some children having someone say their name and smile is the only positive acknowledgement that they will get in a day and it is that affirmation that they exist that is enough to bring them back to school for one more day.  If ever there was a book that demonstrates just how important your name is and how we each cling to its uniqueness, this is it.  With a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to serve as a model for each child’s story, here, embedded in this literary treasure,  is your program for the first few weeks of Term 1 2024 sorted…

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened

Our Country: Where History Happened











Our Country: Where History Happened

Mark Greenwood

Frané Lessac

Walker , 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99


In the first book in this series, the creators took readers on a journey to the ancient wonders of this land – landscapes and landshapes that have existed for billions of years. Now, they have put its people in the picture, tracing some of the significant events that have shaped the life lived today.

Beginning with the statement, “The story of our country is told in stone”, the reader begins their new journey with a visit to Ubirr in the Northern Territory, one of over 100 000 important rock art sites around Australia that pass on the historical, cultural and spiritual knowledge of Australia’s First Nations peoples.  They then move on to the significance of a pewter plate with a chiselled inscription nailed to a post in 1616 in Western Australia, showing that the story of this country can be told through pictures and words, artefacts and mementos just as much as it is through observed and lived events.   The journey continues through a timeline of other important events – mapped out on the front endpaper – each including that basic statement,  a broad explanation with language reminiscent of a tourist brochure as well as a brief, fact-filled paragraph about the event itself.   And all set against a backdrop of Frané Lessac’s stunning artwork! Then, acknowledging that there is much more to this story than can be covered in a picture book, the final endpaper has a different timeline of other critical events inviting the reader to find out more and perhaps even produce their own entry for the book. 

Younger students are often challenged by the relevance of having to study that which has happened before their time, particularly as their maturity level has them living in the here-and-now exacerbated by the instant connectivity the internet offers, and so this book is the most attractive and engaging way to introduce them to the concept of times past and how those times have shaped their here-and-now.  Would we have had the recent Voice referendum, even the daily Acknowledgement of Country, if not for the work of Eddie Mabo?  Would they have even been born in Australia if not for the impact of World War II on Europe and the waves of migrants who sought a new life here? 

As well as being a must-have entry level book to learning about the history of the country they live in, the content, format and potential of this book ensures its inclusion in collections spanning all ages and abilities especially if students are old enough to step beyond what happened and consider what if… If Dirk Hartog had done more than nail a plate to a post and claimed this country for the Dutch; if French captain de Surville had turned west to investigate the land his crew claimed they could smell five months before Captain Cook claimed the continent for England… 

History in the form of facts and figures, dates long gone and people long dead, can be greeted with a groan by many, but this series with its engaging format and just the right amount of information to bring it into the realm of the reader has the power and potential to grab the imagination and spark a desire to learn more.  It epitomises the theme Australia: Story Country.

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean











Giinagay Gaagal, Hello Ocean

Melissa Greenwood

ABC Books, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Gaagal (ocean) is our special place,

we love to swim in the waves.

We’ll catch some yamaarr (fish),

eat, dance and play games.

Is there anything more iconic than the sights and sounds of little ones running down the beach to dip their toes in the cool waters of the ocean on a hot summer’s day, carefree and careless?

It’s a scene that has been and will be repeated for decades and decades as the sun beats down and the waves invite. But, after reading this lyrical ode to the ocean, perhaps this summer our children might stop and consider the privilege they are enjoying, maybe even offer a word of appreciation…

But first, before walking on Country, we talk to the land

and het her know that we re here to play.

We are grateful for what she has to offer,

we promise to take care of her during our stay. 

Woven among the stunning artwork that is so evocative of the experience if you take the time to look at it, is a description of something that has been done over and over and over – dancing over the hot yellow sand, gathering bush fruits and collecting pipis in the tide zone, keeping an eye out for sharks and knowing when it is safe to swim, watching the whales and dolphins twist and turn in their own special water dance, collecting shells, dodging crabs, building a fire to make lunch and sheltering from sunburn all taking on a bit of extra magic as the children play but all the while having that connection that keeps them aware of how lucky they are. “We say, ‘Yaarri yarraang gaagal, darrundang, Goodbye ocean and than you,,, until next time.'”. Each thing has its own particular and unique place in the landscape and landshape that is so much more than just for the delight and amusement of the human intruders. 

As with Miimi Marraal, Mother Earth, there are indigenous words scattered throughout,  and the full text is included in both English and Gumbaynggir in the final pages, adding to the resources for preserving and revitalising First Nations languages.  

This is another of a number of brilliant new books that help our children understand the significance of that now-familiar Acknowledgement of Country, perhaps even inspiring them to develop their own connections as another summer looms and they too, “must go down to the seas again”. 

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code











Riz Chester: The Fingerprint Code

R. A. Stephens

E. Hammond

Wombat Books, 2023

90pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Riz Chester has highly tuned senses and notices things that most people don’t, such as the brand of cheese being changed in the tuckshop lunches, the 10gram change in the size of the packets of chips, and the differences between identical twins Sabrina and Jenny.  She keeps a note of the differences in her Weird Stuff Log because when she mentions them, people look at her funny.  

But, by using her observation skills and logical thinking, she was able to detect counterfeit $10 notes in the first in this series for newly independent readers, and in this episode once again she  demonstrates the value of planning, thinking logically and recording what you discover in an organised way as she tries to determine who could have stolen a baby grand piano from the school’s music room.

This time the forensic focus is fingerprints and there is more information about this at the end of the book, enabling students to understand why they leave unique markers all the time that science is beginning to unravel with greater depth and accuracy every day.

There are lots of series published for this age group, but this one particularly appeals to me because of its emphasis on the need to approach a problem in a clear, methodical way thus brining into play all those skills of the information literacy process.  What has happened? What do we know? What do we need to find out? How can we find that out? What would be the best tools to use? How do we use them? Do I need help using them…  

Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth


Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth











Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan for Rewilding Every City on Earth

Steve Mushin

A & U Children’s, 2023

80pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99


When the introduction to a book is entitled ” Ludicrous Ideas are Bootcamp for Brains” then you know you have something that is going to be out there and it’s going to appeal to your wild thinkers, your madcap inventors and all those other kids who dwell in the Land of What If?

This is a most unusual book in both format and content and yet it is also most intriguing.  The author himself says that he had been having “outlandish ideas” for as long as he can remember, some successful, some not-so, but he is on a mission to “crush climate change by transforming every city on Earth into a jungle (or whatever other type of ecosystem it was before humans trashed it)”.

So in a comic-like format that follows his thought processes, he designs habitat-printing robot birds and water-filtering sewer submarines, calculates how far compost cannons can blast seed bombs (over a kilometre), brainstorms biomaterials with scientists and engineers, studies ecosystems and develops a deadly serious plan to transform cities into jungles, rewilding them into carbon-sucking mega-habitats for all species, and as fast as possible. But, as a highly-respected industrial designer, artist and inventor these are not the random machinations of a child’s wildest dreams, but serious collaborations with scientists and others who are concerned about the planet and which incorporate futuristic materials and foods, bio reactors, soil, forest ecosystems, mechanical flight, solar thermal power and working out just how fast we could actually turn roads into jungles, absorb carbon and reverse climate change. Each project has been researched and while not yet necessarily put into practice, each is theoretically possible and some are already happening,

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Underpinned by quotes from those who have gone before including 14th century philosopher William of Ockham who said that “the simplest solution is almost always the best” (Occam’s razor) this is one to inspire all those who are concerned about climate change but who want and need to do more than reduce their personal use of plastic and who can see that doing what has always been done might not work in time, let alone be successful. It validates the wacky and the wild ideas some students have and encourages them to go even further.

Pepper Masalah (series)

Pepper Masalah (series)

Pepper Masalah (series)











Pepper Masalah (series)

Pepper Masalah and the Flying Carpet


Pepper Masalah and the Temple of Cats 


Pepper Masalah and the Giant Bird


80pp., pbk., RRP $A11.99

 Nine year old Zamir lives with his father and grandmother on an olive farm in Australia with his cat Pepper Masalah (who looks like a mini panther).  Although Pepper Masalah prefers to spend her days sleeping in front of the fire on a red and blue carpet, one that Zam’s grandmother brought with her from Kashmir and which she believes can fly even though it hasn’t done so for many years.  But one night during a storm, Sam and his cat discover  discovered that the rug does have magical powers and they find themselves flying off on all sorts of adventures that take them to all sorts of places, particularly those in the mysterious Middle East.

Inspired by her own circumstances, this is a new series for newly independent readers sharpening their skills, particularly those who love cats and adventures and have dreams of flying off on their own magic carpet. But underlying this, the books also introduce the reader to various cultures, stories and beliefs that they may be unfamiliar with and, in an age-appropriate way, some real world issues, particularly those relating to children.

As well as taking the reader to a region that is in the news but of which little is generally known by the target audience, the series offers the opportunity for the reader to think about where they might go if they had their own magic carpet, perhaps even sparking a way to celebrate all the nationalities represented in the classroom.  Students could design their own magic carpet and then create a display of the important things about their country of birth or ancestry.  

While there are many series written for this age group, this one combines the fantasy of a magic carpet ride, the friendship between a boy and his pet, and the familiarity of the personalities of cats in situations that may offer cause for consideration.  Each story has some information pages at the end as well as a glossary of local words and their pronunciation, grounding the stories in reality.

Something out of the ordinary that will open readers’ eyes to new places and introduce them to children who live different lives from them.