Ariki and the Giant Shark – Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Nicola Kinnear.



Walker Books Australia

July 2018

ISBN: 9781406369793
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $12.99
New Zealand RRP: $14.99

It can be difficult to find fiction that focuses on the Pacific/Polynesian cultures particularly for younger readers but this first book in a new series promises to be rich material for this aspect of HASS as well as being an entertaining mystery/adventure.

Ariki was washed up on the shores of Turtle Island as a baby and has been raised by Arohaka, the village ‘Star Walker’ or wise man. One day Ariki hopes to be his apprentice but fears he is dismissive of her in part of course because she’s a girl.

The ocean is not just Ariki’s playground but also her spiritual home. It is where she feels most alive and is intuitive to the creatures that inhabit the tropical seas around her island home. Lack of rain has meant the island is suffering from a food shortage and when Ariki is out coaxing fish into her canoe one day she encounters a massive shark, one she has never seen before. Unlike the usual nihui sharks often encountered who were quite likely to eat a girl as much as a fish, this giant of the ocean seems to be bonded to Ariki.  But when a giant shark tooth washes up on the beach, the island people’s ineffectual but excitable young Queen rallies the people to kill the intruder, blaming it for the shortage of fish.

It is up to Ariki to save not only the beautiful giant shark but it’s babies and in turn her island people. This she does after uncovering long ago rock paintings which show that this event has happened in the past and persuading her guardian and friends to help her in the rescue.

This is a charming story with plenty of memorable characters, humour and adventure to keep readers entertained throughout. Additionally young people will gain a sense of the island life and culture which although it differs from one locale to another, still has many common threads.

I strongly recommend this either for independent reading or read-aloud for children from around seven years upwards.

Smart about Sharks – Owen Davey



Walker Books

October 2016

ISBN:  9781909263918
Imprint:  NB – Flying Eye

RRP $27.99

I’ve mentioned previously my childhood geeky obsession with factual books so when glorious new ones arrive in packages I’m always thrilled. This is the first of a few over which I shall rave.

It’s unfortunate that the image doesn’t reveal the wonderful tactile pleasure of the retro-style binding and pages but I shall try to do justice this slice of informational deliciousness.

I can’t say I’ve ever really wanted to know much about sharks, although Miss Small has considered them favourites of hers for a long time, but this beauty just begged for me to read and wonder over many quirky and interesting facts.

From the weird and wonderful to the feeding frenzy this is just a joy throughout.

Considering the high profile sharks have in this country – and for my two cents’ worth if you don’t want to face one then don’t go into their home! – I think many young readers will relish this.

Highly recommended for primary libraries and children with an interest in nature.


The Shark Caller – Dianne Wolfer



Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780143780557

Published: 01/08/2016

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s


RRP $17.99

I have never been to Papua New Guinea but strangely I have had so many numerous vicarious experiences with this near neighbour.  I have, particularly in the last few years, met so many people who have lived or worked in PNG and I feel as though I have some slight acquaintance with the people and the culture.  Further, my family ties with First Australian culture and history have given me some additional knowledge of Indigenous cultures.

But this marvellous book has opened my eyes to a completely new culture and spirituality.  The writing is evocative and transformative – for the duration I was in the Islander culture.

Izzy (Isabel) and her twin Ray are the children of a ‘mixed’ marriage with a traditional Islander mother and a ‘foreign’ father.  For the first few years of their lives they were raised in the New Ireland community and have many strong memories of it but their parents removed them to Australia. Izzy often feels as though she doesn’t quite ‘fit’ the Western culture to which she has been transplanted and when her parents divorce she struggles even more. Then in a tragedy her brother Ray dies in a bizarre incident at the beach. For three months Izzy is at a loss to deal with her grief and when she and her mother return to New Ireland so that Ray will have a proper Islander farewell she thinks perhaps there might be some respite from her terrible sorrow. She knows the heritage of their ‘shark calling’ but has no idea of the depth, history or cultural beliefs that her clan embraces in this.

For Izzy her return to New Ireland truly is a ‘coming home’ and as the full implications of being a twin in the shark calling tradition unravel Izzy is pulled into the mysterious world of her ancestors. The results are courageous and frightening, inspiring and full of despair and utterly mesmerising.

This is a powerful book both in its own narrative right but also a hugely beneficial adjunct to curriculum studies of our near neighbours and creating a greater cultural understanding.

I look forward to being part of the blog tour for this amazing novel in the upcoming weeks and can highly recommend it to you for your collection for older readers – probably Year 6 upwards. You will find teaching notes here and check out Dianne’s website here.

A novel ten years in the making and a superlative example of the quality of our Australian children’s literature.


A Whale of the Wild – Rosanne Parry


Harper Collins Australia

January 2022

  • ISBN: 9780062995933
  • ISBN 10: 0062995936
  • Imprint: HarperCollins US
  • RRP: $16.99

This is just a magical read – the lyrical text almost flows like the water Vega and her family inhabit – and was certainly for me last night, a really intriguing but also restful way to read myself ready to sleep. That’s not to say it’s without tension and drama but there really is just something about it that just floats the reader along with the orcas.

I have to be honest. I had never heard of the Salish Sea nor was I particularly aware of different types of orcas, so reading this was also very informative and it is indeed described as ‘slyly educational’ which is pretty much spot on. *grin*

Vega and her family are already facing difficulties as their usual salmon feeding cycle has been disrupted and their hunger increases as they try to find the salmon that is usually so plentiful. They do not realise that humans have made such an impact on the ecosystem at first. Vega is learning to be the salmon finder for her family, against the day when she will become the matriarch following on from her mother and grandmother but when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami separate her, along with her younger brother Debden, from the rest of the pod, they must brave danger and threats to try to find their family again. In a sea that is almost unrecognisable they face sharks, their increasing hunger and polluted waters and Vega must be resilient and employ every skill she has learned from her mentors.

It is a rousing adventure, a wonderful story of survival and an ecological lesson all in one with superb research underpinning the entire story. It is further enhanced with beautiful black-and-white illustrations, and also includes a map, much backmatter and information on orcas.

The publisher suggests it for 8 years upwards and certainly it is not a demanding text but I am seriously considering it for inclusion with our scant ‘Animals’ genre collection for our Year 7s in particular as I think there would be many kiddos who like both animal stories and are interested in environmental topics for whom this would greatly appeal.

On that basis I’m giving it a full recommendation for readers from around Year 4 to Year 8. A very useful teaching guide is available.

Read more about SRKW (Southern Resident Killer Whales)

A Little Fishy-ness



Peppa at the Aquarium [a lift-the-flap book]

Penguin Random House

June 2020

  • ISBN: 9780241411797
  • Imprint: Ladybird
  • RRP: $14.99

This is another gorgeous board book which will delight your littlest readers as they discover all kinds of surprises under the flaps on each page – some of them with more than one!

Peppa is worried about her goldfish. Poor Goldie seems sad but how does one cheer up a goldfish? Peppa, being an intuitive little piglet, thinks perhaps Goldie is lonely so the Pig family go to visit the aquarium to get some advice on finding a friend for their little pet.

Luckily Miss Rabbit is there to show them around and tell them about some marvellous aquatic creatures and best of all, they find a special friend for Goldie.

It’s simple but with wonderfully colourful illustrations and those flap-surprises will enchant little readers from as young as babies upwards to around 4 years old.

Baby Shark: Adventure Down Under


Penguin Random House

  • Published: 19 May 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760897970
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $14.99

I defy anyone to tell me that they are unfamiliar with Baby Shark! Aside from all the hyped up little kids singing it there have been plenty of big kids and even some adults (I’m looking at you Lily!).

What a phenomenon it has been so there’s no doubt that young readers will love this colourful, entertaining and informative book that explores the variety of sharks found in Australian waters – doo doo doo doo doo doo!

Each double spread features another of our sharks and includes: tasselled wobbegong, Port Jackson, shortfin mako, great white, hammerhead, pygmy and more with salient details about each.

You won’t need to coax your readers to engage with this one as a read-aloud. They will be singing along from the first page!

Whether you are buying this for your collection or perhaps as a great gift for a child you know overseas, it’s a great way to share some simple information in a really fun way.

Highly recommended for all Baby Shark fans from around 2 years upwards.



The Peski Kids #1: The Mystery of the Squashed Cockroach – R. A. Spratt



Penguin Random House


July 30, 2018





There were many sad faces in my library when I reported that the Friday Barnes series had come to an end (including mine) but there was the consolation that R. A. Spratt was working on a new series. And here it is! And it’s hilarious! I was tucked up in bed reading it and snort-laughing at so many times.

I’ve said before that Spratt has such a knack for creating quirky characters and a real sense of the absurd and it doesn’t get much quirkier or absurd than this narrative!  Meet Joe, sixteen and a bit gawky with a nervous stammer, Fin (i.e. Sharkfin) thirteen and April, twelve, siblings who are always arguing – easy enough as April is pretty much your semi-psycho anarchist tween who live with their mother, a middle-aged professor of paleontology –  or so the children think.

It’s not until a wholly unexpected visit from their mother’s boss, Professor Maynard, that the children discover that their mum is actually an international spy who has been incarcerated by the dreaded Kolektiv organization. As the kids are now also targets they are rushed out of their home minutes before it explodes and re-located hours later in the country town of Currawong and the home of their father, who is without doubt the most eccentric, absent-minded and wimpish dad ever. He’s clearly unaccustomed to children whether his own or not. The kids’ entrée into Currawong community life is  far from auspicious as they (April) scorn such long-held traditions as the Cockroach Races, lawn bowls and flat caps and escalates when competitive cockroaches begin being nobbled. Throw into the mixture a bizarre but beautiful neighbor, a maniacal dog (April’s) and a host of weird and sociopathic townspeople and you have the makings of a series that is going to captivate kids right from the get-go.

Watch the book trailer here and R. A. Spratt talking about the book here.

Without a nano-second’s hesitation, highly recommended for your readers aged from around ten years upwards.



Animasaurus – Tracey Turner, illustrated by Harriet Russell



Bloomsbury UK

Imprint: Bloomsbury Child

ISBN 9781408884850

RRP:  $26.99

Did you know:
A shark as long as a bus roamed the oceans?
Hamsters with horns once burrowed the Earth?
Giant armadillos grew to the size of a family car? 

Oh yes, this very much satisfies my love of engaging information books for children!  Explore the world of ancient giant beasts as you’ve never done before with each one compared with its modern counterpart.

Have you ever heard of the Titanic Snake? No? I’m sure you do know the green anaconda though.  What about the Therizinosaurus, which once roamed the Mongolian plains with its claws that were almost a metre long? Compare this with the cassowary, which has some of the longest claws in the modern animal world.

Full of fascinating facts, startling statistics and intriguing illustrations this will be a treasure trove for boys and girls aged from around eight years up – especially those lovers of ferocious beasts!

Highly recommended for primary readers with a passion for the weird and wonderful.

Watch Out for Muddy Puddles – Ben Faulks/Ben Cort



Allen & Unwin

ISBN :9781408867204

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Imprint: Bloomsbury Child

Pub Date: October 2016

RRP $14.99

Being Aussie I was not familiar with Ben Faulks’ name but UK readers will recognise it from his very popular television presence. This is his first picture book and is colourfully illustrated by Ben Cort, who also did the illustrations for Aliens Love Underpants and Shark in the Dark.

This is simply a very fun look at the eternal joy of splashing in  puddles but with a twist of imagination that invites young readers to picture what might be hiding in some of those tempting pools.

Watch out for muddy puddles!

Because you never really know…

What there might be lurking

down in the depths below.

Pirates, fossils deep in the earth, kissing frogs or a gigantic rubber duck all just might give you a surprise but really splishing, sploshing, splashing in  puddles is always just great fun.

Lots of onomatoepia and interesting vocabulary, rhythm and vibrancy will engage young readers from Prep-3.

Watch a trailer here and download activities here.


Q & A with Dianne Wolfer


You might recall I published my review of The Shark Caller a few weeks ago.  Today I welcome author Dianne Wolfer to Just So Stories!

  1. Dianne, first of all, can you just give the readers a little insight into your passion for writing? When did you first think you could write for an ‘audience’?

I have always loved reading and since high school days, have jotted down ideas. Collecting my thoughts on paper seems to somehow help me make sense of the world. I think we all need a creative outlet, something to be passionate about. For some it will be drawing, music, sport or sharing ideas through public speaking. I began shaping ideas into stories and non-fiction after leaving college, when I backpacked across Asia. I was 21 and taught in a remote part of Nepal for a year. There was plenty of time for me to turn thoughts into stories and think about a possible audience.

  1. I read some of the history of The Shark Caller’s genesis but can you describe your motivation/inspiration for the narrative?


The earliest idea sparks for The Shark Caller began around 10 years ago whilst diving with family on reefs in Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands. The underwater world fascinated me and interacting with marine creatures triggered my imagination. Those first story ideas mixed with my interest in other cultures and my love of the dramatic south-west, coast particularly places like Greens Pool which in my mind is the fictitious ‘Abalone Cove’. As I became more aware of increasing environmental threats to Pacific waters, some of these factors became additional threads and inspiration for the narrative.


  1. How connected do you feel with the PNG/New Ireland traditions and culture?

As an interested observer, I feel very connected, but have no familial link to PNG. The story is inspired by family travels to several Pacific regions. I’ve snorkelled and dived in the Marovo Lagoon (Solomon Islands) and Vanuatu, as well as different parts of PNG (Rabaul, Walindi and Loloata). My sister and brother-in-law worked in PNG for many years and speak Tok Pisin. Through them, I met interesting people.

  1. Why is it important for young people to be able to explore these other cultures through literature?

Exploring stories through the eyes of diverse characters promotes empathy and our troubled world urgently needs that…

  1. Is the Shark Caller based on fact and if so, how much research was done and how did you set about finding out these traditions?

There is a traditional cultural practise called shark calling and shark feature prominently in the stories, art and dance of many Pacific communities. I have visited the region near the few remaining shark-calling villages, but not the communities themselves. There are several reasons for this; firstly the villages are not easy to travel to and conditions need to be favourable before the callers go out. More importantly, my story is fictitious; it is inspired by a range of factors. My research involved wide reading and Internet scanning not only of Pacific traditions. I also needed to find out about different sharks and octopus, deep-sea fish, milky seas, rising levels of ocean acidity, logging issues, unsustainable fishing practices, underwater vents and the creatures that live by them. It’s been an interesting journey.

  1. Can you tell us about your younger life and what the younger Dianne was like?

I had a pretty normal upbringing until was ten; living in outer suburbia, having adventures with friends, catching tadpoles, building cubbies in paddocks and exploring building sites. That all changed when my dad accepted a job in Thailand. My sister and I didn’t want to go, but the move ended up being great. We were enrolled at an international school and learnt rude words in several languages. Living in Bangkok fostered a love of travel and changed the path of my life.

  1. Have you had personal experience of ‘straddling’ two cultures?

Yes, several times. After my family moved from suburban Melbourne to a traditional area of Bangkok, I was dropped into another very different culture. My parents encouraged us to embrace local customs. We shopped at the market, went to school in a tuktuk and during Songkran threw water over everyone. We had three Thai dogs that were very dingo-like. During a time of recurring nightmares, making offerings at the spirit house in our garden helped me settle. I’ve been open to different beliefs ever since. After graduating from college I worked in a remote area of Western Nepal, and a few years later, lived in downtown Tokyo for three years. My late husband was German, so I have German nieces and Chinese/Canadian/German nephews. Straddling cultures is a normal part of my life.

  1. What would you like readers to take away from The Shark Caller?

I hope readers will simply enjoy The Shark Caller and become lost in the story. I don’t write to impart messages, but my concern for our marine environment probably comes through. If some readers become interested in helping our oceans and the creatures that live in them, then I’d love that. Having lived overseas I know that people of different cultures share core beliefs. The ‘Golden Rule’, being kind and looking after the less fortunate is the bedrock of most communities. Perhaps through my story readers who have not yet travelled will become curious to learn more about neighbouring cultures.

  1. Tell us about your preferences with reading – authors, titles etc……..did you read as a child?

There are way too many to list. I read across genres, but love historical fiction and animal stories. As a child, books were given as birthday or Christmas treats. They were read over and over. When a library van began coming to our suburb, I was in heaven. Each fortnight I hurried up the front steps of the bus to receive my 6 tickets and choose my next adventures.

These days I read at least one adult title each month for bookgroup, and try to keep up with the output of YA/children’s author friends. My PhD focus on animal stories has slowed down my general reading and there is a towering pile of books beside the bed. I also love picture books, the collaboration between illustrator and author fascinates me….

  1. What are your personal feelings about sharks? For example, do you have a strong opinion about ‘shark culling’ in Australia and other places?

I love swimming, snorkelling and diving, but understand that when entering the marine environment there may be sharks. I live on the south-west coast and our sharks are huge, but I don’t agree with current cull suggestions. I believe more research needs to be undertaken to find out why there are so many more attacks. And then we need to act on that research (ie audio or visual deterrents). Luckily for me, the local beach now has a shark net – that helps me feel safer.

  1. What is your next project?

Completing my PhD. I was fortunate to receive a UWA scholarship to research a PhD in Creative Writing, focusing on Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature. The Shark Caller was one of my two Creative Works and I am completing another YA novel using another animal POV. The second story, exploring the experiences of a dog in northern Australia during WW2, links to the bombing of north-west towns including Broome, Marble Bar and Port Hedland. The narrator is a dog whose young owner has been evacuated south. The remaining PhD task is completing my exegesis.

  1. How do you approach your writing? What is your ‘office’ like? Are there techniques, activities, feelings etc that fuel your writing?

My office is what my daughter describes fondly as organised chaos. Although I am constantly writing and rewriting a current work, my imagination keeps leading me off on exciting new tangents… The way I manage this is by buying plastic tubs and folders. That’s my secret; when an idea takes off, keep everything relating to a certain project in a separate folder. When it grows beyond the folder, put it in a tub. It’s messy but doable, and every couple of weeks I have a clear-up of tubs and folders. Once I complete a draft I will print it and take it to the balcony with a cup of tea to edit and rework. I then type these changes in and the process repeats itself. I also run my drafts past family and a few friends for their input. As far as a daily routine, if I am not at a school or library, the morning is my most productive writing time. After dinner I often print a chunk of writing to edit. That way I have something to type into my manuscript the next morning; a hook to get back into it. When I get stuck, I take the dog for a long walk.


  1. What does the private Dianne enjoy? What is important to you?

Family is the most important thing, and I love travelling. With relations living in different states and overseas, I often combine both. Other things I enjoy (besides swimming and snorkelling) are reading, catching up with friends and walking (along the beach/through the bush). Walking helps me solve plot problems and gives me fresh ideas.

  1. What project is next in your career?

After completing my PhD, my next project will be to research and begin writing the third (and final) novel in the Lighthouse Girl/Light Horse Boy trilogy. This third title will focus on the story of Rose and the experiences of WW1 nurses. And, separately, if all goes well, Nanna’s Button Tin a picture book in production with Walker Books will be released in 2017.

  1. What other jobs have you done? Was there something that was ‘the worst’ ever?

When we were little, my sister and I came up with all sorts of money-making plans; squashing flower petals to make ‘perfume’ to sell to my grandma, lemonade stands and art shows for the public (not many people attended). Then my aim was to be ‘the lady with the torch’ (an usher) when I grew up, because going to the movies was such a special thing. During high school I worked part-time in my mother’s shop and was a waitress through college years when I trained to be a teacher. Since then, I’ve taught all ages from toddlers to people in their eighties. Visiting schools across Australia as an author is great as I get to work with students without having to do yard duty and reports. As for worst-evers, I’d better not go there, but the best ever (besides now) was teaching at ASIJ in Tokyo. It’s the oldest international school in Asia and their staff and policies were inspiring.


Dianne Wolfer, thank you so much for your time and answers!  It’s been such a pleasure to read your responses :-).


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.