Monthly Archives: December 2014

Minton Goes – Anna Feinberg/Kim Gamble



Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781760111960

Australian Pub.:January 2015

RRP $19.99

Can you imagine my delight when, coming so soon after reviewing the latest Tashi book, I receive the complete series of Minton books in which to also revel?! Oh pure joy!

Many of you will be familiar with the clever little salamander, Minton, who first appeared in The Hottest Boy Who Ever Lived which of course is the first book in this compilation.  When Hector, the hottest boy, finds happiness at last in the frozen North, Minton returns to their sunny beach where he meets a friend and begins his own adventures. In each subsequent story, Minton becomes smitten with a different form of transport and using recycled materials builds his own (instructions for the reader’s own at the back). In my experience, kids around Year 2/3 love these stories and they are of course, so useful for supporting the ‘Transport’ unit in whichever form it takes, from a library perspective. Each week with Year 3 we would read another story, discuss other similar vehicles to that featured and in small groups, the children worked on their own design plans for a “Minton” style vehicle. All the while, bringing along hordes of recyclable materials for the grand building sessions at the end of term, after which the vehicles and designs went on display.

As Small and I were so absorbed with all our Christmas books up until a few days ago, I didn’t get a chance to start sharing this one but will be doing so on her next sleepover. She is going to love Minton (she has her own pet blue tongued lizard) and she will love the construction idea as well as she is always making things.

Despite being the 7 books in one volume, this is not too chunky for smaller hands – though chubby it is not tall and so a comfortable size. What a wonderful present for someone who is just about to leap into series!

Highly recommended for primary school libraries, readers and lizard lovers of all ages from around               6/7 years up!

Check out some handy teaching ideas here!

Racing the Moon – Michelle Morgan



ISBN: 9781743316351
Australian Pub.: January 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: A & U Children
Subject: Children’s fiction
Suitable for ages: 12-14

RRP $12.99


I received this in a pile of books from Allen & Unwin later in the year and picked it up last week when doing the X-mas reshuffle thing. It’s been a really enjoyable read and one I think would appeal to students both boys and girls in Middle School.

Set in a memorable year: the Sydney Harbour Bridge finally ‘met’ in the middle, Phar Lap wins the Melbourne Cup and Bradman scores 334 runs in the Test, the novel follows the trials and tribulations of young Joe Riley for a year of his sometimes tumultuous life.

Joe and his family live in the Glebe of the Depression, a ‘rough and tumble’ sort of neighbourhood (still is, last time I saw it!) and luckily, they make ends meet through various means. Dad runs an illegal betting shop, Mum takes in sewing and Joe sells fresh eggs from his uncle’s farm, has a paper round and is not averse to using some of Dad’s knowledge to rig the gambling on the local billy cart derby.   He has a younger brother Kit and an older sister Noni and in general, apart from when Dad is on the grog and he cops a belting, life isn’t as dreadful as it is for others.  Until, his parents decide after several brushes with authority, that they have saved enough money for Joe to go to boarding school.

Despite his protests, Joe is packed off across the harbour to St Bart’s, which turns out to be a pretty nasty place all round and when a predatory priest makes one wrong move too many towards Joe, he finds himself with a bloody broken nose and Joe is shipped off again, this time to the Farm, a reform school on the South Coast.  At this point I was expecting more nastiness for Joe, but as it turned out, the Farm wasn’t that bad at all. In fact, Joe learns a lot about himself, new skills, working as a team and the satisfaction of physical labour.  However, in the scheme of things this almost came as an anticlimax, but does prove his rite of passage. Joe returns home with a good report and will go to school locally after all.

The plot is not necessarily the strongest but it would keep, particularly boys, reading. I am thinking about using this in literature circles in Middle School this coming year – partnering it with The Sequin Star – Belinda Murrell. Both set in exactly the same period of time, with a great deal of historical information to absorb but one with the boy protagonist and one with the girl. My co-ed groups might like this approach I hope.

One thing I have to say is that I do NOT like the cover at all – it looks like a book for much younger readers and for this type of novel, I would have expected a much grittier design to engage the readers.  I can’t see any of the teenage boys I know picking  it up based on the jacket!

Allen & Unwin do have a link to teaching notes on the webpage but it wouldn’t work for me – but visit their website and try it out here

The Night Before Christmas – Clement Clarke Moore/illustrated by Richard Johnson


On the 12th day…

Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780552569880

Published: 03/11/2014

Imprint: Picture Corgi

Extent: 32 pages

RRP $16.99


It would seem likely from the account of Moore’s famous poem’s origins that he would never have imagined that, almost 200 years after writing it, that it would be arguably the best known of Christmas stories/verse. Originally entitled A Visit from St Nicholas, this enduring testament of love for one’s family, was first published when a friend of the Moore family heard of it from the Moore children, copied it and sent it to a publisher. It not only set in metaphorical cement the images we now hold about Santa Claus but also gave his magical reindeer names which everyone can recite off at the drop of a hat (well, can’t you?!).

Now Richard Johnson has brought his award-winning style to a new edition with such beautiful ‘soft focus’ style illustrations, that we could almost believe we were dreaming that we too saw St Nick, as Small and I read it for our ‘last day before Christmas’ story.

This picture book is the perfect way to introduce this classic poem to a new audience with the illustrations being wonderfully timeless in their depiction of interiors and fashions.

This new edition is a must for your library shelves (and home shelves) in my opinion, for surely, no Christmas is complete without it’s retelling as the magic swirls in the air and little ones expectantly lay out their Santa sacks (pillowslips, stockings!) and leave out treats for the jolly old elf and his clever reindeer.

And so I come to the end of my Christmas countdown – Small and I have loved sharing our reading with you all.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

The Last of the Spirits – Chris Priestley


Allen & Unwin Australia

ISBN: 9781408854136
Australian Pub.: November 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Imprint: Bloomsbury Child
Subject: Children’s and Young Adult


RRP $21.99

Yes, this is a ‘Christmas’ book but it’s not the last in my countdown. This one arrived today and when Small and I went to the pool for an hour or so this afternoon, because I didn’t want to get in the water today, I grabbed the first book off the pile – and read it within an hour.

So after that subtle recommendation, let’s explore some more. I am not familiar with Chris Priestley’s work – no doubt, because the supernatural/paranormal genre is not one for which I usually opt. But reading a little of his bio, it seems this ‘master of the macabre’ loves nothing better than to take a traditional Gothic horror story and put a complete new twist on it.

And this he has done with A Christmas Carol. I really like Dickens: but I’m not an Egghead knowing all there is to know about every book, and while I like A Christmas Carol it has never been my favourite, and I had completely forgotten about the two ‘wild’ children hidden underneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Ignorance and Want – these two feral children become the focus of this side stepping of the original story, taking the reader into the dark and disturbing world of Dickens’ London.

Written in a style that will totally captivate those young readers who relish a bit of spookiness, this story is new, fresh and engaging while completely retaining the pervading message of the original novel.

I’m giving this a big thumbs up and will definitely be promoting it to Middle School next year – creepy but not horrific, matter of fact but not graphic (about the dire circumstances of London’s poor) and totally resolved in a satisfactory manner.

I’d be grabbing this one for your library shelves – readers around 11 to 15 would love it I believe – it’s a brilliant segue into hardcore Dickens!


The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas – Heath McKenzie


On the 11th day…


Black Dog Books

First published 2006

ISBN 1921167319

RRP (per Riverbend Books) $12.99 as a 2009 published board book edition

Lucky enough to have a signed copy of this one – which has been a favourite for years. Heath McKenzie brings his own unique illustrative style to a different take on the old standard.

Small does enjoy this version – but possibly mostly because of my crazed out-of-breath reading of it, which seems to fit the illustrations! – she does find the possums a tad evil looking as they maniacally play their video games. I rather like the ‘Eight flies feasting’ because, after all, what is Christmas (and summer) in Australia without the wretched things.

Check out Heath’s website here.

Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle – Glenda Millard/Stephen Michael King


On the 10th day ……


ISBN: 9780733322495
Australian Pub.: November 2008
Illustrated By: Stephen Michael King
Publisher: ABC BOOKS
Subject: Picture books

RRP $24.95

This is one of my favourite Christmas books ever but strangely I didn’t own a copy myself – until I spotted it at the local newsagent on sale a couple of days ago.

In this country of ours where so often natural disasters can come swiftly and with a great vengeance this beautiful story resonates and gives hope to the youngest of readers.

One little pig, thinking about the loss of her beautiful surroundings after the ravages of drought and bushfire, is so sad and despairing, not just for herself but for her humans, Joe and Marigold. How can they possibly have Christmas when all around them is scarred and bare and black?

But Applesauce had reckoned without the giving nature of good friends and family – and the joy that both the simplest of things and the most miraculous can bring.

Beautifully written and illustrated likewise this is a sublime example of both the true Christmas spirit and the true Australian spirit.

You can find some teaching notes on this and other books which were shortlisted in the CBC 2009 Awards here.

Queen Victoria’s Christmas – Jackie French & Bruce Whatley


On the 9th day………

queen victorias christmas

Harper Collins

Imprint: Angus & Robertson


Picking up such a delightful Christmas book to add to my collection for just $7.99 (hardback) was a pretty special moment today.

Jackie French takes children on a wonderful rhyming explanation of how the Christmas Tree, as we know it, first came into fashion in the royal household of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The illustrations from Bruce Whatley are amusing and add so much depth to the story.

When a huge fir tree is delivered to the palace, the royal children and pets are all quite bemused. They are all shut outside the parlour while mysterious noises and interesting smells are detected. Then all is revealed! A magnificent decorated tree with piles of presents heaped underneath – magical!

There was that tree.

But what a tree!

Candles flickered,

Tinsel glittered,

Balls of gold and apples red,

Men made out of gingerbread,

And an angel right up high

Just like it could really fly.

Prince Albert brought the tradition of the tree being central to the family Christmas to England and the Empire, as well as quickly picking up other Christmas celebrations being created at that time – crackers, Christmas cards, big puddings, special cakes and gathering round the tree to exchange presents.

A truly gorgeous history lesson for children aged around 5 and up – as one would expect from this talented pair.

Find teaching notes here.


The Down-Under 12 Days of Christmas – Michael Salmon


On the 8th day of Christmas…….


Ford St Publishing

SBN: 9781921665592 (hardocover), 9781921665608 (paperback)
Extent: 32 pages
Format: Trade hardcover and paperback
Price: AUD $19.95 (hardcover) $12.95 (paperback)
Category: Xmas story, poetry
Age guide: 3+

When Santa lands in the outback, Christmas deliveries are not quite the same as in the Northern Hemisphere! While Santa checks the list – twice!- his kangaroo and koala helpers try hard to help him get all the gifts to their recipients. Skiing snakes and surfing sharks, dancing dingos and leaping lizards are all part of the colourful fun of this book.

Small and I love this version of the traditional song and  try very hard to remember ALL the verses.

Don’t leave this one off your Xmas favourites list. Ford St Publishing also have a terrific activity book to accompany it.

And a big shout out to Michael as he does some recuperating – mwuahhh! From Small and I.