Category Archives: Childrens books

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile: the junior novelization – Bernard Waber

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Harper Collins Australia

September 2022

  • SBN: 9780063256477
  • ISBN 10: 0063256479
  • Imprint: Clarion Books
  • List Price: 12.99 AUD

To be perfectly honest, until the trailers for the movie came out, I had never really heard of this series, although I think I’ve had at least one of the picture books (the original one?) in my collection at some point. Maybe because sometimes American children’s books are eclipsed, for me at least, by our own kids’ lit (especially older ones) or maybe I’m just unobservant. *grin*

Whichever, Waber‘s series of Lyle books has been a staple favourite of US kids for some time, and it is easy to see why. This is the sort of nonsensical story that young children like with an absurdist titular character combined with family and neighbourhood interactions. There are some great themes of being your best self, regardless of who – or indeed, what – you are, which will make for some great discussion points with kiddos.

I am sure that many of your readers will have been to the movies to see this one over the Xmas break and as we know, the movie tie-in is always a great way to tempt those reluctant readers, particularly when the book is an easy read such as this.

Recommended for your kiddos from around Year 2 upwards, who would particularly enjoy it as a read-aloud (with subsequent classroom chats).

Friday Barnes 11: Last Chance – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

  • Published: 31 January 2023
  • ISBN: 9780143779247
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Oh Friday, you just get betterer and betterer! Readers will remember my anecdote of the dismay felt by my coterie of Friday fans, when the ‘last’ in the (original) series was announced, and was confirmed by my (then) recent conversation with Rachel over afternoon tea. Subsequently – and by then in a different school library – the kiddos went wild when they found out Friday’s adventures were off and running again. I now have some readers in university who still hang out for the latest update on Friday, her friends, her mishaps and successes – and of course, her love life!

Friday, Melly and Ian, along with Uncle Bernie and a few assorted newcomers to the quirky cast of characters, are once again embroiled in an art crime. As special consultants to Interpol, the teens are undercover as art students, as they try to establish the veracity of a supposedly genuine letter which reveals the famous Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre, is a highly successful fake – and has been displayed as the real thing for a hundred years. This is a cold case with a difference it seems – or is it?

The trio’s investigations not only have Spratt’s hallmark idiosyncratic humour stamped all over them but raise current topics such as digital theft and art ‘terrorism’. It’s another action-packed instalment from our favourite teen detective, with the added bonus of the slowly evolving romance between Friday and Ian to bring smiles to readers’ dials.

Releasing with perfect timing to kick off a new school year, you would be wise to get this one on your shelves ASAP because those Friday Fans will be clamouring for it. Highly recommended for your readers from mid-primary upwards. I know I can’t wait to see what happens next!! (and seriously, this has, at least, Netflix series written all over – does it not??)

Signs of Survival: a memoir of the Holocaust – Renee Hartman with Joshua M. Greene

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Scholastic

November 2021

  • ISBN: 9781338753356

RRP: $28.25

I found out about this book via Mighty Girl about a week ago and was so pleased that not only had my local library acquired it very recently but that it was available. I read it last night in one sitting (just over 100 pages is all) and, trust me, this is one you want in your collection for sure. I know how many kiddos I’ve had over the years with a deep interest in the Holocaust and preserving memories – quite a number of them who had family members murdered or impacted.

Renee and her younger sister, Herta, were little girls in Bratislava when the terror began. Their story of survival despite incredible odds, and the horror of Bergen-Belsen became part of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. From there, Renee developed their history into this very easily read version for younger readers with the supplementary material from Joshua M. Greene.

From the vantage point of their present day as American citizens, having been transplanted there after the war and finding out their parents had been among those killed by the Nazis, Renee and Herta share their extraordinary and terribly poignant story. It’s amazing because not only did two little girls survive despite all odds, Herta’s deafness marked her out as inferior in the eyes of the Nazi regime and their butcher-doctors, and Renee was mere hours away from being dead of typhoid when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. Do yourself a favour and hunt it out and read it but, more importantly, acquire it for your collection and promote it to your children. We all have a moral responsibility let alone a compassionate impetus to ensure that the history of this most heinous episode in human history is neither forgotten nor repeated.

Herta, aged 9 on the left and Renee, aged ten and a half on the right.

Lockwood & Co – Jonathan Stroud

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Penguin Australia

  • 7 February 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241613122
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $18.99

Ten years ago I reviewed The Screaming Staircase and wrote: This new series from Jonathan Stroud is the first since the Bartimaeus Sequence which sold over six million copies, and was translated in over 35 languages. The fact that Universal Studios has already picked up the film rights to Lockwood & Co. is an indicator of the enthusiasm this new series should generate. And now this terrific series is set to become the next Netflix sensation for kiddos.

After a decade it was just as enjoyable to re-read in it’s new dress and, once again, I have every confidence that your avid readers from about mid-primary upwards to secondary will thoroughly enjoy it – provided they’re not too squeamish about some pretty fearful ghosts *grin* and love some humour, even if it is a little grotesque at times.

If you still have not read this fab series, I ask ‘why not?’. Stroud’s writing is always classy and original so very much worth your own time as well as some solid promotion for your readers. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what’s been made of it for a viewing audience. Bring it on Netflix I say!! Australian release on 27th January! yay!

Highly recommended for your readers from around 10 years up.

Willa and Woof 3: Grandparents for Hire – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

January 2023

  • ISBN: 9781761043338
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

It makes me very happy that my first review for 2023 is for my lovely friend, and ĂĽber-talented creator, Jacqueline Harvey for #3 in her latest sensational series. Jacqueline has a sublime knack for creating character with whom readers can immediately connect, empathise and love, and Willa – along with her ensemble cast – is no exception.

I particularly love that in this latest, Jacqueline addresses an issue that many schools have finally begun to realise can be problematic and upsetting for children – the ubiquitous Grandparents’ days and events. To be sure, the intention behind these functions originally was very sound: a desire to embrace the older generation and include them in their grandchildren’s lives. But as time goes on, it is more and more apparent that many kiddos are living quite removed from their grandparents, whether physically, or in other ways.

Clever little Willa conceives of a plan for her own school Grandparents Day to solve this problem for her fellow students and, at the same time, draws attention to situation at the local retirement village whereby the residents’ outings are threatened due to lack of funding. I love that Willa’s is constantly inventive and problem-solving – to be sure, sometimes she encounters obstacles but always she remains optimistic and positive. Along with the whole dearth of available grandparents, outings at risk, Willa also has a mystery to solve about her beloved four-legged friend, Woof. The lovable wolfhound has developed a very out-of-character habit of running away, not to mention stealing food and it is quite a conundrum to Willa and her family for some time. Astute little readers will pick up on the doggy vibe and predict the reason for Woof’s naughtiness, I am sure. The course of canine true love does not always run smoothly!

I’m sure smart librarians and teachers will already have clued up to this new series but for those who haven’t – or if you are looking for new books at this start of the year to tempt a newly emerging reader in your circle – you cannot go wrong with these. I also had quite the giggle with the reference to Willa’s teaching reading the class one of the Kensy & Max books – well played Jacqueline! also I think this is my favourite cover so far!

Goes without saying – my highest recommendation – what are you waiting for? Go buy it now!

Such a fun night back in 2021!

Happy 2023 and 10 years of Just So Stories

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Greetings one and all !! Why yes, I have been AWOL while it’s been the school holidays. After a pretty shitty year, and still many unresolved issues I needed some recharge time. I’ve done a LOAD of reading – just haven’t actually written the reviews but now it’s looking like it could be time to get cracking. I am also undertaking a course of study this year, plus trying to find some part-time work besides the grind of relief teaching so posts will likely be a bit haphazard :-).

That being said this year marks a decade since I started the blog. I had been writing a few reviews in a small way after being asked to help out a professional colleague – and that started a whole new hobby with publishers approaching me on a regular basis. So I decided to start collating the reviews. Thus, not all of the reviews I’ve ever written are found here but I’m going to dig around to see if I can find some of the old ones – which might be interesting I think.

Last year my stats were about 10.5k views for the year which was great and I’m hoping that the figures will continue to rise (HINT HINT -tell your friends!). To celebrate the 10k+ and the 10th year I’m going to give away a book (at least one) each month of the year. Given I’m unemployed and still got The Kid to raise, these will only be posted within Australia but if you’d like to be in the running – just message me on the post/s as they come up.

In the meantime, I hope everyone had a good Xmas and New year as did The Kid and I – quietly at the beach with our adopted family. 2023 is the Year of Good Things – we all need that I think!

Meerkat Christmas – Aura Parker

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Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777229
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

Seriously, I’m always so in awe of creators who can do both the text and the illustrations – for someone who yearns to have even a smidgin of creativity it seems a little unfair -haha!

This is another title I shared with numerous classes over the closing weeks of Term 4 – again from Prep upwards to Year 3 and once again it was received with tumultous applause – even the older children loved the rollicking rhymes and the oh-so-cute illustrations.

We all had lots fun talking who had or had not seen meerkats yet (many in my neighbourhood have gone to Australia Zoo), where meerkats live, why does EVERYONE love them so much and imagining other funny antics they might get up to. They totally loved the reveal of the pups pyramid-ing their way to form a Christmas Tree and there was much laughter all round.

And what do I love? I absolutely adore the endpapers (as everyone knows, they are a passion of mine) and I love that the rhyming text flows naturally with rhythmic grace and ease and never sounds forced or discordant (which frankly, annoys me often in books by ‘award winning’ authors whose scansion leaves much to be desired) – this is just fabulous and the top reason for it being such a joy to read aloud!

This is truly an adorable addition to your Christmas bookshelf and for a little person in your circle particularly would make for a beautiful gift under the tree or in their wee stocking.

Highly recommended for small pups from around 4 years to 8 years old.

Christmas Goodies

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Zola and the Christmas Lights – Melina Marchetta/Deb Hudson

Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777649
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

For the entirety of the delightful What Zola did On… series, Melina Marchetta consistently delivered such beautiful and meaningful messages to young readers around diversity, community, empathy, friendship and family, all without once becoming preachy or tedious. It truly was joyful to read each new instalment. Now Zola has her very first (and let’s hope, not last) picture book and once again Zola’s story embodies all that made the chapter books so special.

Before school finished up I had the pleasure of sharing this gorgeous book with at least five different classes from Prep to Year 3 and all not only loved it, but also keenly participated in predicting and postulating. It was a highlight of my last few weeks of casual teaching.

Best of all for the very diverse population of children with whom I shared this, there was not one who could not identify with some aspect of this Australian celebration, from my sweet girl who so excitedly told me ‘we have a lantern just like that for Ramadan and my mum wears [that]’ i.e.a hijab, to the ones who could talk earnestly about some people finding it hard to buy groceries, to the ones who had already put up Xmas decorations. We really did have such fun and such richness from it.

Of course the narrative is beautifully illustrated by Deb Hudson, whose work enhanced the chapter books so ably but now explodes into a perfect riot of colour and detail.

It’s not too late to pick up a copy and share with your own little people – and enjoy the talk about what our various celebrations mean to us all.

Highly recommended for readers from 4 years upwards.