Category Archives: Childrens books

How to Train Your Dragon 20th Anniversary Edition: Book 1 – Cressida Cowell

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Hachette

  • ISBN : 9781444973006
  • Publisher : Hachette Children’s Group
  • Imprint : Hodder Children’s Books
  • RRP: $26.99

When this first arrived, aside from the fact that I was totally blown away by the gorgeous, shiny gold dust jacket, I thought – what the…? 20 years?? surely not! But then I stopped and realised that The Kid was five years old when the movie came out, and she, along with her mum and I, fell in love with Toothless. I already knew that the book was brilliant, but the movie adaptation elevated the fandom beyond anything up to that point. I am even surprised to realise that my review of the final, #12, in the series was written 8 years ago!

And so now here we are, twenty years and seven million copies (of the series) worldwide later. How absolutely marvellous it is to re-visit Hiccup and the band of extraordinary (and somewhat crackerbarrel) Vikings with the bonus of a new story to boot – and an epilogue that actually made me feel teary.

Because Cressida’s books are like that. They are often wacky, and exceedingly humorous but there is also, so often, tenderness or wisdom that only those of calcified heart could fail to be moved by. And of course, Cressida’s iconic and idiosyncratic illustrations are completely unmistakable, and add so very much to the text.

These are, rightly so, regarded as modern classics. I’ve gone on to love every single one of Cressida’s books, and her assortment of (regularly misfit!) characters and circumstances.

I want to take this opportunity to personally thank Cressida for not only giving children everywhere ,Hiccup, Toothless and all the crew, but also for the extreme pleasure she gave to The Kid, when she was known as Small, and her mum, before we lost her forever, and the joy The Kid continues to have in these stories.

Thank heavens, I had saved her dragons which used to regularly feature in her imaginative play before she was ready for more social interactions – they were her friends before humans were.

I don’t need to ‘sell’ this at all. You will want it for your collection, whether library or personal, and if you have been a fan for twenty years and own them all, you will still want this special and glittery addition. And just think – now you will have an entire new generation with whom to share the joy. I think this one will be one of the few that remain on my own shelf.

However treacherous the path may be through the heather, however difficult it is for you to say what needs to be said, however small and helpless and unimportant you may look, you always have to fight with your heart and your hands and your head, for what you believe to be right.

For when the world needs a Hero…..It might as well be YOU.

Cressida Cowell: ‘Books are better than films at teaching children creativity and intelligence’

Willa and Woof #5: Let the Games Begin! – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

July 2023

  • ISBN: 9781761048920
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

Adorable Willa is back in a new adventure which will again resonate with her young fans. Willa is very excited, though incredibly nervous, about her upcoming very first ‘real’ gymnastics competition. Her anxiety is not helped by her nemesis Evie’s constant jibes and taunts. Along with her team, she has been practicing diligently and while some of her routine is going really well, her vaulting really needs help. Luckily, her best old friend Frank, comes up with a super solution for her to be able to practice at home.

At the same time, the Sunset Views Retirement Village is going to host their inaugural Tournament of the Ages – oldies vs kids and Willa and best young friend, Tae, are helping to organise it but there are some hiccups with which to contend (namely Evie – again!).

As always, Willa puts on her most positive self, determined to overcome all obstacles but when the absolute worst happens, and she injures herself and is unable to compete, it becomes very hard to keep up that usual happy outlook.

There is no doubt that Willa is resilient and the support of family and friends make all the difference to this determined young lady. Readers will readily identify with her trials and tribulations, and Jacqueline’s ease in creating sympathetic characters, though far from perfect, is again evident. There would be few kiddos who would not connect with Willa’s grumpiness after her accident. Being miserable is a hard mood to shake sometimes, and we all know it. I always love, as well, that Jacqueline’s unpleasant characters are rarely without some redemption, and Evie is no exception. When readers see her mother, they will understand the reason for the girl’s disposition.

What else can I say? I love Jacqueline’s books – as do literally thousands of other fans – and as I’ve mentioned before I have ‘big’ kids who will still turn to her titles or pounce on a new one.

It may not be due out for another few weeks but this is one you know will sell out as fast as it’s on the shelves so do your pre-ordering NOW! Highly recommended for your young newly independent readers – and all the other JH fans *grin*.

Running with Ivan – Suzanne Leal

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Harper Collins Australia

February 2023

  • ISBN: 9781460761335
  • ISBN 10: 1460761332
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • RRP: $17.99

Leo is not in a good space. After his mother died, it seemed that his grief would never ease and now, two years later, his father has re-married, and he has a whole new family and home to which to adjust. Julia, his stepmother is just fine, and he really does like her, but her two sons are complete bullies, especially Cooper, with whom Leo is expected to share a room.

Hating everything and everyone is becoming a common feeling for him, and when Leo is at the end of his tether at one point and desperate to find a refuge, he discovers the storage room at the back of the garage. This becomes his secret hideaway and he installs here mementos of his mum including photos and her beautiful vintage music box. When he winds it, the music box plays Brahms’ Lullaby – a real memory from his early childhood – but astonishingly, when it finishes playing, Leo finds himself transported to another time and place.

Leo’s timeslip takes him to the beautiful city of Prague, pre-World War II, where he first meets Ivan, a little boy of six or seven. As he adventures back time and again, Ivan grows until he is older than Leo, and the war is drawing to a close. For a Jewish family such as Ivan’s, the war is hard and dangerous, and Leo shares many of the trials and tribulations with his friend, though not quite in the same way.

Simultaneously, his one solace in his new life is discovering joy in running, and finding a friend in both Sandy, girls’ champion, and his mentor and coach, Mr Livingstone.

The intertwining of all these threads is beautifully well-written, and not only truly transports the reader as well as Leo, but also makes for compelling reading which young people who love a true-to-life narrative will lap up. Leo’s journey in time has many parallels to his present day unhappiness, and his friendship and shared ordeals with Ivan enable him to develop a deeper understanding of his own feelings, as well as the behaviours of others.

The author had the privilege of hearing from her neighbour, the first-hand account of his war as a Jewish boy in Czechoslovakia (as was), and has transformed that into a heartfelt and inspirational historical fiction which resounds with authenticity, compassion, friendship and courage. d

As Ivan and Leo run together in the streets of the Terezin concentration camp, which the Nazis duplicitously presented as a ‘safe haven’ for Jews, they are literally running for their lives. Running brought them closer together during the war as a means of survival and, in the present day, running once again brings them together.

This is highly suitable reading for kiddos from around 10 years upwards but would make a superlative addition to your ‘read around your topic’ units on WWII, the Holocaust or if you use Anne Frank’s diary as a set text, right up to Year 8 or 9. There are deep concepts to explore as well as the historical information which will provide rich and fertile learning experiences. Read more about Theresienstadt here, and stay posted for teaching notes for this novel.

Highly recommended for your Upper Primary/Early Secondary students.

May you suffer no more

The History of Terezin

Hello Twigs series : Andrew McDonald/Ben Wood

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Hardie Grant

Imprint: Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing

August 2023

RRP: $9.99

If you have the littles constantly wanting to borrow graphics, then this series will be a godsend to you. From the dynamic creative team that brought us The Real Pigeons, these new books tick a lot of boxes: develop reading skills, encourage a love of reading, promote inclusivity and positive relationships and are highly suited to both independent reading and read-aloud. Oh, and they are great fun too!

Although the release date for these is August, they are available for pre-order now from the usual suppliers and I am going to strongly suggest to you that you should definitely put them on your list because I predict they will be selling like proverbial hotcakes.

Meet the Twigs: Red, Noodle, Ziggy,and Stump, each with their own very individual twiggy personality. In Book 1 Red, the twig who loves to be wild, springs surprises on his unsuspecting friends with very unhappy results. It takes a while, and a bit of careful thought from the other twigs, but finally Red discovers that the best kind of surprises are the pleasant ones.

In Book 2, Noodle decides she wants to paint and her friends all help her collect the right art equipment. The only difficulty is where to find blue in nature, and when a plan to take blue from the sky misfires, the problem is solved unexpectedly with blue feathers from a passing (and rather shocked) bird. Ziggy has got very tired holding up the leaf canvas for so long but is thoroughly delighted when she see Noodle’s portrait of her.

Stump takes centre stage in Book 3 when his sadness at no longer being part of the Big Tree takes over. He misses the breeze up in the tree but the twiggy friends band together and find a terrific alternative ‘breeze’, not to mention the joy of group twig hugs.

Book 4 has zany Ziggy, she of the Snail Zoo in Book 1, keen to go exploring and find treasure. Her twiggy friends are super keen to help but the thing is that each has a different idea as to what treasure it. As for Ziggy, she doesn’t know at all what she means by treasure. It takes wise Noodle’s collection of nature items, a very high rock and a twiggy friend rescue tower for Ziggy to grasp the true meaning of treasure.

All in all, these are just joyous and truly delightful. Kiddos will gain understanding about colours, feelings, comparatives, friendship, cooperation and collaboration as they romp through the riotous fun adventures.

Don’t delay – put in your pre-order now and look forward to some great fun with your younger readers from Prep upwards. Be sure to lay in a goodly supply of googly eyes so that everyone can make and adopt their very own Twig!

Hello Twigs, Surprise! ISBN:9781761211980

Hello Twigs, How are You Feeling? ISBN:9781761211997

Hello Twigs, Time to Paint! ISBN:9781761212017

Hello Twigs, Let’s Find Treasure ISBN:9781761212000

Leeva at Last – Sara Pennypacker. Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

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Harper Collins Australia

  • ISBN: 9780008606190
  • ISBN 10: 0008606196
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB

RRP: $16.99

This is another fabulous Sara Pennypacker MG novel, but straight up I’m going to say it’s nothing like Pax nor Here in the Real World, which thus far have been my favourites. It is however, a wonderfully absurdist look at values, relationships/friendships, risk, trust, responsibility, but above – and how marvellous! – the importance of libraries and books.

Leeva Spayce Thornblossom is the only child of the nastiest parents ever written into a book. Yes, even nastier than the Wormwoods! She has never been allowed out of the house, she has always had to fend for herself for food, clothing and other necessities and her vile mother and father make her work with not a skerrick of thanks or consideration. Her mother is the ghastly despotic Mayor, and her father the corrupt tax collector. Leeva knows they are awful to her, but until she escapes, she has no concept of how heinous they are altogether to the entire town. Though she has never been to school, she has taught herself many things via television and the daily newspaper, but when she discovers the public library next door (just through an illicit space in the hedge) she taps into the wealth of knowledge that is there for anyone, even those with no money nor social skills.

Leeva not only finds whole other worlds through books but also her first two friends, Harry and his aunt, the librarian. It is through them that gradually Leeva’s world completely unfurls like a blossoming flower, as she ventures through the streets of her town, making friends, helping people, and a badger named Bob.

It is hilarious at times, poignant at others but all throughout is a shining thread of kindness and sharing as Leeva searches for the answer to her question ‘What are people for?’. Leeva embraces her whole town eventually, and they, in turn, take her into their protective circle. The child who had nothing in the beginning, has everything needful in the end.

There are numerous direct references to well-loved books e.g. Because of Winn-Dixie, Matilda and Charlotte’s Web, but it is the indirect intertextuality that make this a real love-letter to children’s literature – all of those mentioned and more echo throughout Leeva’s voyage to her own personal special family and identity. Asute young readers will remark upon these similarities themselves.

This is another that would make for a great serial read for your MG kiddos but I also think a First Chapter Friday session will see it fly off the shelves. It would also be a superb choice for your junior book group, should you have one. My only slightly negative (very nit-picky) comment would be that I prefer the US cover to the one for our edition – but that really is a mere trifle. I strongly urge you to add this to your collection, and recommend it highly for readers from about Year 3 upwards.

Custodians: Wylah the Koorie Warrior 2 -Jordan Gould and Richard Pritchard

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Allen & Unwin

May 2023

ISBN: 9781761180040

Publisher: A&U Children’s

RRP: $15.99

Wylah proved herself in her first adventure, and achieved the near-impossible in uniting the five Guardians, now firmly at her side but her mission continues. She must press on through the Valley of the Spirits, with all its risks and dangers in order to set herself against the Dragon Army, and rescue her people.

Again the narrative is fast-paced, plentifully strewn with humour (a bum fight between a giant wombat and a drop bear can be nothing but-t!) and heavily laced with traditional story aspects and cultural references. There is also excellent explanation of words in language. Wylah and her stalwart companions encounter both friend and foe in their journey, and must even overcome treachery in her own ranks.

Your readers will be gripped by the action and be ready to jump and down and yell at those who work against this fearless young warrior. This has been such a successful formula from these two creators, and such a refreshing new take on First Nations MG literature. It has given me great pleasure to see kiddos in various libraries with the first in their hands and I predict that this will be highly sought after, when it hits your shelves.

I think we will all be waiting for the next instalment impatiently. Highly recommended for your readers from around 8 years up to lower secondary, and a fine way to round off Reconciliation Week 2023.

My Little Barlaagany (Sunshine) – Melissa Greenwood

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Harper Collins Australia

May 2023

  • ISBN: 9780733342998
  • ISBN 10: 073334299X
  • Imprint: ABC Books AU
  • RRP: $24.99

Gumbaynggirr artist Melissa Greenwood has created another beautiful and stylish picture book to add to your collection of First Nations titles. This is a dreamy and gentle bedtime love story between mother and child, country and culture. With a text that is interspersed with words from her own traditional language, and her own contemporary styled artwork this will become a staple for many bedside readings for little ones.

I love that Melissa’s artwork echoes traditional stylistic components but her fusion with more contemporary colours and placement of features makes it a real stand-out. This one with its frequent use of pastels completely encapsulates that soothing rhythm we look for to send a little one off to sleep, and the passage of time from day to night is echoed in the change of colours and tones.

At the end of the book the entire text is written in both her own language and English. I think the only thing that would have made this more perfect would have been a CD so that we who might struggle with some pronunciation could listen to its beauty in the language of the creator.

Highly recommended for your little readers – or as a stunning gift for a newborn jarjum in your mob.

Why not take time to check out Miimi and Jiinda for artwork and lifestyle items from Melissa and her Miimi (mother)?

Backyard Footy – Carl Merrison. Illustrated by Samantha Campbell

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Hachette

Hardback MAY 31, 2023 | 9780734421517 | RRP $19.99

This is another fabulous footy book from Carl Merrison and the exuberance of the narrative leaps off the page like a specky.

In his own backyard, in the Kimberley, Jy is playing footy, because kicking the ball is fun! When he accidentally kicks the ball over the fence, his neighbour, Kitara, joins in and goes for the catch – but oops! over the next fence goes the ball. Kicking the ball IS fun, but playing with friends is better.

And so the story goes on, with another friend with a different skill joining in along the way, until there is one big happy mob having a game on the local oval. Readers will enjoy the game of footy but they will also take note of the setting from the rich red soil to the lush backyards and orchards, this is a virtual visit to a region that I’ve not yet seen in a picture book, and one which would provide much interest.

Take your kiddos on a Google maps tour of the Kimberley and research what the region is like, and where in Australia it is located. Children will be fascinated by the remote wilderness and likely find it hard to believe that people do live there, let alone kids playing football!

Carl’s writing is joyful and the glorious colours of the illustrations make this a knock-out. The footy-mad kids are depicted with bold colours and outlines,set against backdrops of muted pastel skies and mountain ranges. And the endpapers are just gorgeous!

Both author and illustrator are First Nations creators and this book is part of a new sporty series developed by SLQ’s black-and-write!, a program aimed at fostering First Nations creators and editors. You won’t want to miss this and neither will your young footy fans.

Highly recommended for kiddos from Prep upwards.

The Monkey Who Fell from the Future – Ross Welford

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Harper Collins

March 2023

  • ISBN: 9780008544744
  • ISBN 10: 0008544743
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

A new Ross Welford novel is always a treat, and this is no exception. His time-travelling escapades are always full of adventure, tension and humour, and at the same time, they are thought-provoking. This one ticks all those boxes again.

In 2425 the Earth is barely recognisable. It has, for the most part, reverted to wild nature after a cataclysmic meteor event in the 21st century. This did not create widespread destruction, being relatively small in size, but did bring it with it a mystery virus which rendered most of the global population infertile. With less and less children being born, and therefore, a smaller population overall, highly urbanised life as we would know it gradually disappeared.

Ocean lives in the future in a small fishing village, near what is now Newcastle-on-Tyne and when Monsieur Lumière, his nephew, Duke, and Pierre the monkey arrive with a fantastical travelling show revealing artefacts of the ‘Wonder Age’, she is completely entranced, but also sceptical of their plan to secure a ‘Time Tablet’ buried in 2023.

In 2023 Thomas is annoyed that his Australian cousin, Kylie, has arrived to live with his family, as she is going to attend a fancy school for super-brilliant kids. He certainly doesn’t plan on her whacky invention of a Time Tablet being able to do anything, let alone allow people to communicate with the future.

What is set in motion is a kind of exchange, with Kylie and Thomas finding themselves in 2425, while Ocean and Pierre are stranded in the 2023 they’ve left behind. Naturally, there is also a villain involved here. Duke’s vicious step-father is after the Time Tablet as it contains the last viable silicon chip in existence.

It’s a roller coaster adventure from start to finish with so much going on to love. The quirky language and vocabulary that has evolved in the future setting, the stereotypical TV hosts of the present, Ocean’s suspicious and sceptical Nanny Moo, and Monsieur Lumière’s charming excitability for a start.

There is a lot of food for thought here about the positives and negatives of modern life, and the opportunity to speculate on ‘what if’ would give rise to some really rich discussions., e.g. would a plastic bottle of water still be viable after 400 years?

You may wonder at my timing for this review but if I tell you that among this cast of memorable characters, Kylie – full name: Kylene Toora Woollagong is a First Nations girl, it should be clearer. Thomas’ Aboriginal ‘mega-brain’cousin is a stand-out character, and I love that. Well played, Ross!

There are some wonderful themes to explore here around family relationships, urban life versus slow living, and perceptions of people and places. Thomas’ and Kylie’s initial discord is certainly smoothed over by the time they have survived the future with wild boars and even wilder step-fathers, not to mention a very unpleasant librarian while Ocean and Nanny Moo find themselves with a new family, which includes one very lucky monkey.

Your kiddos who have enjoyed Ross’ previous books will be eager to get their hands on this and if your readers have not yet discovered this talented storyteller, this would make a great serial read for them. Highly recommended for kiddos from around 10 upwards.

Our Mob – Jacinta Daniher & Taylor Hampton/Seantelle Walsh

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Ford St Publishing

May 2023

ISBN: 9781922696236

RRP: $17.99

This is a stunning new picture book for your younger readers that will take them around Australia to visit various mobs on Country and find out a little more about each. Authors, Jacinta and Taylor, are the co-founders of Birrang Cultural Connections, based in Victoria [check out the fabulous photos on their FB page!]. Their aim is to provide cross-cultural learning experiences to children in the Albury/Wodonga district. In this book they can take that learning experience further afield, introducing kiddos to their First Nations peers from one end of the country to the other.

With each double spread readers are introduced to another proud Aboriginal kid and find out a little about customs or practices in their own Country. Through the simple but effective and expressive text, children will ‘meet’ a kid from a particular mob, and learn about their own personal connection to country and customs. Each of these is illustrated beautifully with Seantelle’s sensitive and exquisitely rendered interpretations of each child and their own experiences, with reference to traditional art techniques.

I absolutely love this book! It’s such a fabulous way to show all kids the differences and variety from one mob to another, and your readers will truly enjoy getting to know each one. And while each page is lovely in its own right – our favourite is, of course, the Wiradjuri page with little Arlo and his Pop :-), and the story of the nation totem, the gugaa.

This is a must for your shelves so if you haven’t already, get it on order now.

Highly recommended for readers from 3 year olds in kindy upwards to mid-primary. And there are some terrific and comprehensive teaching notes to accompany it.