Monthly Archives: April 2023

Whalesong – Kate Gordon


Riveted Press/Yellow Brick Books

September 2022

ISBN: 9780645218022

RRP: $16.95

I absolutely love Tasmania. I have now been there four times, the last was an adventure with The Kid, who also loved it. There is still so much for me to explore and I’m really hoping we can go back again. One of the aspects I love so much about this treasure of a state, is the rich history that abounds everywhere you go – much of which is lovingly and respectfully preserved today.

This first foray into time-slip/historical fiction from Kate Gordon is just lovely. It did remind me of the much loved Playing Beatie Bow with the set of historical steps being very much in the forefront of the story, and that – as I think we can all agree – was a magnificent novel.

Aberdeen’s family have an association with Hobart which reaches back generations, and when she is given an antique chronometer, her family history becomes an intense, dramatic and sometimes dangerous adventure into the past.

Kate Gordon blends themes of conservation, environmental awareness, feminism, courage, family identity/heritage with the glorious tapestry that is the backstory of our smallest state. Aberdeen’s meeting with Betty is a revelation to her. Not only because of the newly discovered facts about a [undeservedly] revered historical figure, but because of the lineage of her family tree. Australia’s history and the whaling industry gives many of us pause for thought, particularly if, like myself, your family had a close association with those times. We know better now, of course we do, but in colonial times, the wealth of the country was very much tied up with practices that are now out of favour. Certainly, we have come a long way since those times and it is only fitting that we do all we can to redress the wrongs of a time when such industries were considered completely justified. Not necessarily in the manner of some practitioners, such as the villain of this story, so thankfully Aberdeen is able to set that straight – and more than that, create a new future for herself and others. “One person really can make a difference.”

I would suggest that this is a book for your more able and mature readers. They will need to stay focused in order to pick up on the nuances in the text. but it is not a difficult read as such. If you are looking for a shared reading to accompany a unit of work set in early 19th century Australia this would be a very good choice indeed and will offer up much to mine for productive conversations.

I recommend it for readers from around Year 6 upwards especially those who enjoy historical fiction.

Huda was Here – H. Hayek


Allen & Unwin


Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $15.99

This is a really fun read but more than that, it’s a delightful look at family relationships and community interactions. When their dad loses his job as the neighbourhood security guard, Huda and Akeal set out on a campaign of mischief, with the goal of pressuring the Body Corporate to reinstate him. They’re not criminals as such, but they do become known as the Crimanimals (due to Huda’s spelling error in their first foray into graffitti). They don’t want to hurt anyone or steal anything so all their misdeeds are aimed at low-level misdemeanors like knocking over all the rubbish bins, running off with the shoes outside the mosque door and ‘kidnapping’ their baby brother. They narrowly escape some police attention and run into older boy Fadey, who becomes their chief ally, and along the way they uncover a nasty plot of fraudulent financial management from the very Body Corporate who have given their dad the sack.

Huda reminds me very much of Kevin from Home Alone – that same quirky kind of kid who is a cross between super-smart and super-annoying, but definitely precocious and passionate. There is no doubt she is very single-minded in her goal to get her dad back in his job and in their family home.

Unsurprisingly, given H. Hayek has based Huda and her family on her own, there are strong themes here of identity, being Muslim and Lebanese-Australian, and the funny and sometimes fraught interactions between family members.

While it is a light-hearted read in many respects, there are also opportunities to explore more serious aspects and it would lead to some interesting conversations around what is right and wrong and when, if ever, being ‘naughty’ or breaking rules is acceptable or justified.

This would make a terrific serial read aloud for any class from around Year 4 upwards and a great reading circle title. Recommended for kiddos from around 8 upwards.

A Message Through Time – Anna Ciddor


Allen & Unwin

April 2023


Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $18.99

For those who love time-slip adventures, and particularly, are keen on ancient history this is a desirable addition to your shelves. I loved The Boy Who Stepped Through Time and after book talking it to my ChocLit kiddos, it was on a regular rotation in and out of the library. Author Anna Ciddor was ably assisted in Roman research for that earlier book, by her sister Tamara, and when the pair realised they had a lot more material than was needed for the first book, the concept of a second was born.

This is not a sequel but rather a companion novel, and once again, keen readers will enjoy the plunge back into Roman times. Step-siblings, Felix and Zoe, who are not at all impressed with their new kinship find themselves living in the past when Felix picks up a mysterious magic bronze stylus. Their encounter with pampered and precocious Petronia, a 12 year old Roman girl from a privileged family, has all three embroiled in a mission that becomes a race against time.

Tracing the development of the relationships between the characters as they explore their own strengths and weaknesses, and test their own limits, provides some rich discussion and reflection for readers. There are clear themes of gender roles, wealth and privilege, resilience, ingenuity, the issues of slavery and moral compass/conscience as well as rich historical details, which could very well be translated into a meaningful unit of work, particularly in an integrated unit on ancient civilisations, such as that often explored by Year 7.

For those who are looking to augment their ‘read around your topic’ collections or expanding Literature Circle titles this would be a terrific addition. Highly recommended for kiddos from around Year 5 upwards.

365 Days of Calm – Becky Goddard-Hill


Harper Collins Australia

April 2023

RRP: $19.99

  • ISBN: 9780008545222
  • ISBN 10: 0008545227
  • Imprint: Collins GB

I probably needed this book – well, the first copy sent to me at least – as the courier delivering it left out on my back verandah, not under cover, while we were away for the weekend – a weekend that ended with one of our biggest summer storms. Needless to say, I couldn’t really ‘read’ the book when I discovered it. But it was definitely worth the wait, I can assure you.

While it’s being marketed as a children’s ‘well being’ book, frankly I see it as being applicable to any one, young or old. I certainly intend to keep it and have it close by – like my bedside table – so that I can remind myself to stay positive, focused and, yes, calm no matter what is happening. Right now, packing up to move house after just a year, I’ve not been feeling very calm but then I remember, that it was my choice to get out of this nasty house, that I have money enough in the bank to achieve it, and that, this year, finding a new rental was a much smoother and happier process.

Before I left my school before last, we were doing a big revamp of our non-fiction and had created a collection which we were calling the ‘warm fuzzy’ books and this would be a perfect fit for those titles. Whether you are in a primary or secondary school, this would be a very appropriate addition to your shelves. If you are neither, it would make a thoughtful gift for either child or adult (remember, Mother’s Day is coming up!).It is super soothing with it’s lovely colour palette and format, plus the combination of quotes, affirmations and activities provides something to appeal to every reader.

I think after the last few years we’ve had (and certainly me!) we can all use a little more positive mindset so why not splurge and buy yourself a copy? Highly recommended for anyone you care about – from around ten years old to 110 :-).

Neil the Amazing Sea Cucumber – Amelia McInerney & Lucinda Gifford


Affirm Press

April 2023

RRP: $19.99
ISBN: 9781922848635

These days The Kid and I have beach days that look like her surfing and me sitting, enjoying the view or reading but in the past, from the time she was toddling, exploring the beaches at low tide was one of our favourite pastimes. We especially loved the hermit crabs of all sizes, the wiggly worms, the shiny sea jellies, the (thankfully) rare sighting of a blue-ringed octopus (!!!!!!!) and of course, the occasional glimpse of a sea cucumber.

I think Neil might make a good point. These are, seemingly, not the most interesting of creatures. [However, there are around 80-100 species MANY OF THEM EDIBLE -with their outer layer, bêche-de-mer, considered a real delicacy in many cuisines.] I don’t think that’s a consideration that should be raised with Neil, the hero of this adventure.

I say adventure because, for a sea cucumber, it is indeed that. Neil’s true love, Sandra (hehe) has been swept away – not off her feet, because obviously she has none – but more like a ‘go with the flow’ moment and carried away on a tidal surge. In a case of mistaken identity Neil sees, away in the distance, a Sandra look-alike (which is actually a discarded party pickle) and in his own cu-cumbersome way he races to her rescue.

The accompanying illustrations of this epic journey across the seabed had me in fits of the giggles. With deadpan delivery worthy of Neil Pye (The Young Ones – for whom I do hope this Neil was named) this boring amazing (if slimy) critter will endear himself to young readers from Prep upwards.

In my experience, young kiddos are really good at subtlety, and making inferences from illustrations that expand on text, and any adult reading this aloud will have difficulty in restraining themselves from snort laughs (or is that just me?). I love a good pun and there are some here that will provide a perfect introduction to this form of word play for youngsters. Lucinda’s clever cartoon style artwork is the ideal accompaniment to this narrative – which might seem sparsely written but is actually teeming with vibrant expression. And full marks to the designer for the absolutely superb binding – the gold foiling and Neil’s texture on the front cover is just a brilliant finishing touch!

Highly recommended for kids (and big kids) who love some understated humour and hilarious illustrations.

Where the River Takes Us – Lesley Parr


Bloomsbury Australia

April 2023

ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books
RRP: $16.99

I can now confirm for sure that Lesley Parr has become one of my favourite MG authors. This is the third of hers I have read – avidly – and it’s not just the fact that they are set in Wales (home to my dearest friends) so I get to know a little more about that country but because her adventures are fresh and original and her characters so completely engaging and well-realised. This new one is set in the early 70s when life in the UK, particularly in Wales, was troubled and dark, figuratively and literally. The Coal Miners’ strikes were a fiercely fought battle to better conditions and wages for those who provided the means for the easy electricity for the rest of the country. In 1972, for the first time since 1926 UK coal miners again went on strike in a bitter struggle for their improved conditions. You can read more about this here.

For the working class it was even harder for those on ‘rationed’ electricity supplies as many workers were either not working at all or working only a few days a week. For Jason and his big brother Richie, life cannot get much worse. Both parents are dead and 18 year old Richie is doing everything he can to be parent and provider for 12 year old Jason, but with limited work (and insufficient wages even when it was full time) the mortgage payments on their house are becoming more and more impossible to maintain.

Jason has a good circle of friends, Catrin his next-door neighbour is first and foremost but then there’s also Jinx and Tam, each very different in personality and attitudes.

Their district is alive with the reports of a mystery ‘big cat’ spotted in the woods and reputedly killing stock and wildlife. When a competition is announced with £100 offered up for a clear photo of the beast, Jason and his mates are determined to win the pot – with the proceeds intended to help Jason and Richie. The brothers’ financial dilemma has also caused Richie to make a poor choice and get involved with the local thuggish thieves resulting in much angst and possible disaster. The kids’ quest for the beast is punctuated by dramas, both small and large, but throughout their camaraderie increases and the bonds of friendship strengthen as each discovers within themselves hidden depths and truths.

Whether the ‘Beast’ exists or not, what is a fact, as both Jason and Richie find out, that there are people who care and who are willing to go the extra mile to support them, not only in their grief but in the practical day-to-day new life they face.

The interactions between characters is wonderful. Jinx is a lively and ‘interesting’ boy who is deeply suspicious (jealous?) of Jason’s close friendship with Catrin, but as the adventure progresses and he gets to know, Jinx becomes increasingly comfortable, and even attached to Catrin. Tam, always the calm phlegmatic, ‘tree trunk’ of a boy, who prefers inaction rather than violence, realises that sometimes one needs to be more proactive. He also learns that not speaking of the dead, is tantamount to wiping their existence from record, and his awareness of how to respond to Jase’s grief is enhanced, restoring their former bonds. Catrin proves she’s not just a clever ‘swot’ and rule-abider but can be both innovative and creative when it comes to problem-solving. And Jason learns that not everything is black and white – sometimes there are shades of meaning, action and behaviours, and he begins to self-regulate his extremes of emotion.

This would make a great serial read-aloud for kiddos around Year 5/6 or even Year 7 and at the same time, offers them some insight into another time and place which is likely to be unfamiliar to them. Highly recommended for readers from around 11 years upwards.

Itch! Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch – Anita Sanchez. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.


Harper Collins Australia

March 2023

  • ISBN: 9780358732877
  • ISBN 10: 0358732875
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • RRP: $19.99

We all know that kiddos love the gross and the icky. They love to groan over disgusting details and hurl revolting facts around – particularly at the dinner table, so this book is going to go down a treat. It is surprisingly entertaining and engaging for a grown up reader as well I might add!

So the chapters move from learning about skin through the types of ‘itches’ skin might encounter: Lice, Fleas, Plants, Mosquito, Tarantula, Fungus, Bedbugs, and concludes with a general chapter on Itching’s possible good points. Then there is a very neat glossary accompanied by various notes. Throughout the information is presented in very accessible chunks as well as remedies and suggestions for prevention, all accompanied by some wonderfully quirky illustrations.

Arguably the only aspect that might detract (but only a little) is the American-centred information such as on plants but that really is a very small negative.

Overall, I think kiddos – and yes, particularly those reluctant boys around 10/11 -will lap this up. It would be a fun read to dip into as an after-break calm down (well, possibly not so calm with some of the yukky concepts but you get the picture!) It’s always great when a book is both information and fun, and this fits the bill perfectly. And given it’s very reasonable price and stylish format, it makes for a super addition to your collection.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 4 to Year 7.

Mulga Bill’s Bicycle – Illustrated by Kilmeny and Deborah Niland


Harper Collins Australia

  • ISBN: 9781460763728
  • ISBN 10: 1460763726
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • RRP: $24.99

Those of us of a certain vintage, who have been teacher-librarians for a considerable length of time know this book very well indeed – and, I would think, have used it countless times over the years. [Anyone else remember when Year 7s used to ‘do’ bush ballads?? and this was the first ‘go to’ LOL. In fact, I can recall the Year 7s at my first school with each class performing one of the ballads on parade – this was one of those of course].

How very lovely it is then to see it in a fresh new edition celebrating 50 years in print. I feel sure the Banjo would be well pleased with that.

Twins, Deborah and Kilmeny, came from an impeccably pedigreed literary background – children of D’Arcy Niland, author and journalist, and Ruth Park, author, – and were collaborators on almost a dozen books as well as working in animation studios in Sydney.

Their lively and quirky illustrations of Mulga Bill have become synonymous with the Banjo’s poem and have ensured that the exuberant fun of the classic endures almost 130 years after it was first written.

Naturally, it goes without saying that every library – and indeed, every children’s bookshelf – should have a copy of this and what better edition than this gorgeous new anniversary one, so race out and get yours now!! Highly recommended as a rollicking read-aloud for kiddos from around Year 2 upwards.

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, “Excuse me, can you ride?”
“See here, young man,” said Mulga Bill, “from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.
I’m good all round at everything, as everybody knows,
Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.”

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above the Dead Man’s Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man’s Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man’s Creek.

‘Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, “I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I’ve rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; It’s shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s Creek, we’ll leave it lying still;
A horse’s back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill.”

Coral Reefs [Usborne Beginners]


Harper Collins

April 2023

RRP: $9.99

  1. ISBN: 9781474999366
  2. ISBN 10: 1474999360
  3. Imprint: Usborne GB

Given that we are Queenslanders, we have a certain affinity with coral and the beauty of the reef and its inhabitants is something we all treasure (and want to protect). One way to do that is to educate our youngsters and encourage them to also value this natural wonder. Of course, ours is not the only coral reef and they are all fascinating ecosystems, filled with curious and amazing creatures and species.

This is one of a marvellous series of non-fiction books that cater particularly to emergent independent readers with easily accessible text and facts, stunning photographic images and attractive, engaging illustrations. A further plus is that by using the Quicklinks at the end, children and their parents can access many interesting websites and activities to further explore this natural wonder.

One of over 80 titles, it would be a great thing to see how many will fit the interests of your little people and add to your collection. We all know the appeal of quality non-fiction for these smallest readers.

Highly recommended for your kiddos from around Year 1 upwards and of course, fits beautifully with curriculum topics on Ocean, Australian natural features or the Environment.

Tap! Tap! Tap! – Herve Tullet


Allen & Unwin

May 2023


RRP: $36.75

Hervé Tullet is absolutely one of my favourite creators for little peeps, and I have many fond memories of sharing Mix it Up and Press Here with The Kid when she was younger. [Fun fact: did you know that Press Here was on the NYT bestseller list for over 4 years!] I have used many of his books with Prep children and especially use The Game of Light and The Game in the Dark when Year 1 have done the topic of Night & Day. It’s been a while since a new one has come our way although I keep myself entertained by following his socials (always so fun!) and children will have just as much pleasure in this one as the older titles.

Once again the reader is invited into the text, using their hand as a ‘dancer’ who swoops and swirls, leaps and bounds and zooms wildly at times but gracefully at others. All in all, it is just another one of Hervé’s deceptively simple books which is a masterpiece in interactive play. Starting in a gentle way but increasing in complex and intricate movements, with some superb language – ‘curlicues’!!! – readers will once again beg to read it over and over. And, of course, the possibilities for follow up art work are endless.

Highly recommended for your littlest readers from around 3 years upwards -it is just pure joy! Have fun!!

Just saying!!