Tag Archives: Family Life

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 über-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!

Dancing with Memories – Sally Yule with Professor Ralph Martins & Maggie Beer. Illustrated by Cheryl Orsini.

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Harper Collins

July 2022

Imprint: ABC Books AU

  • ISBN: 9780733342578
  • ISBN 10: 0733342574

RRP: $24.99

The length of time I’ve been sitting on this is certainly no reflection of its quality or value so please don’t think it is. Given my rather tumultuous year, there came a point where I just thought – save all these PBs for November so now you are getting the benefit of them all in one 30 day extravaganza *grin*.

I’d venture to say that there would be very few families who have not been touched by dementia or Alzheimer’s in some way. I know that often when I talk to kiddos, younger or older, there are numerous anecdotes regarding family members who are affected and we talk about how difficult and sad it can be.

My own beautiful Mum slipped further and further away from us for nearly ten years before we lost her altogether and it was heartbreaking. We talked to our little people about what was happening with Nanny but a sensitively written book such as this is a godsend to families faced with the same situation.

Lucy has dementia and knows it. She knows she forgets things and that she remembers things but there is no predicting which. Fortunately she has family and friends looking out for her to help her and when she remembers her granddaughter’s wedding but forgets that her daughter is picking her up, a solo bus trips turns into a worrying and anxious time. With good fortune, all ends well but it is certainly a timely reminder to those of us in this situation to always be mindful of what can happen.

This is Sally Yule’s first foray into writing and is based on her long years of experience working with Alzheimer’s patients and families, as well as her own parents. This first-hand experience was her impetus to share with families and children to help them understand more about living with dementia. The additional material from Professor Ralph Martins [Foundation Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University WA, and Professor of Neurobiology at Macquarie University NSW.] and Maggie Beer, [much-loved cook, author and former Senior Australian of the Year] is a wonderful bonus. I know, I’m going to try out some of Maggie’s recipes for sure.

Highly recommended for your readers from Prep upwards and I would strongly suggest sharing the information on this one with your community via newsletter or socials as well as ensuring your guidance officer/counsellor has a copy to hand. Extensive teaching materials available as attached.

My Baba is the Best – Bachar Houli. Illustrated by Debby Rahmalia

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Penguin Australia

August 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761046568
  • Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $19.99

Read more in this piece from SBS Arabic24

This is simply just a joyous read filled with family and fatherly love. It is wonderful that we have an ever-increasing diverse representation of our Australian children in books, and, in particular, picture books.

Bachar proves himself not just a great AFL legend but a fabulous storyteller as he tells this narrative from the PoV of his eldest daughter. In so many ways the book will resonate with many Australian children with shared experiences such as camping and movie nights but it also offers a different perspective for non-Muslim kiddos by describing cultural and religious aspects such as attending mosque and Eid festival.

Everything about this delightful picture book underlines the importance of the loving connection between fathers and daughters, and indeed, family – particularly, sharing and enjoying time together. While children from other backgrounds may find some of the very Muslim aspects a little different, they will also strongly identify the important themes here.

I love this book a lot and believe that sharing it in library, classroom or at home will bring you and your small humans much joy. Highly recommended for readers from Prep up to around Year 3.

You can listen to a Triple R podcast with Bachar talking about the book here.

Peppa Pig: Peppa’s Dragon Adventure

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Penguin Australia

August 2022

  • ISBN: 9780241575673
  • Imprint: Ladybird
  • RRP: $14.99

We can always depend on Peppa and her family to provide us with warm fuzzies, plus imagination combined with happy reality.

When George Pig doesn’t want to go to sleep, fearful of bad dreams, Daddy Pig tells a wonderful story about a dragon. Peppa and George enjoy the story so much, they want their own dragon! And when they see one the next day, they are certain that dragons are real – no matter what Daddy and Mummy Pig say.

Regardless of their opinions, the Pig parents gladly join the children in following a set of tracks that do, indeed, look very like those a dragon might make. To their great surprise, the trail leads to a castle and, in front of the castle, a huge dragon with their friend Miss Rabbit sitting on top of its head!

It’s a robot dragon which Miss Rabbit sometimes uses in her tours of the castle and she is very happy to offer Peppa and George a ride. How exciting to be on a huge dragon, way above the ground! For the children it is every bit as good as flying on one in their dreams.

This is another one I’ve shared recently with Prep children, all of whom loved it. We had quite the conversation about dragons and other imaginary creatures.

Recommended for happy reading with little ones from teeny to around Year 2.

Peppa Pig: A Trip to the Moon

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Penguin Australia

September 2022

ISBN: 9780241610664

Imprint: Ladybird

RRP: $16.99

I think it’s safe to say that Peppa’s popularity just does not diminish! I shared this one with a delightful class of Preppies and before reading, when I asked who likes Peppa, there was a forest of hands shooting up and much excited chatter.

The kiddos really enjoyed this story as well as our discussion about what they knew about the moon. If you are undertaking a unit around Night and Day with your littlies this would make an excellent addition to your reading list but it is equally as fun for simply sharing.

George and his friend, Edmond, are busily playing with their space toys and when Peppa expresses the opinion that ‘space stuff is just made up’, Daddy Pig decides it’s time for a visit to the museum and the special moon exhibit. It’s a pretty cool tour with elasticated harnesses for the visitors so that they can experience some sense of weightlessness (I do believe the Queensland Museum should emulate this!) and, despite Mr Rabbit’s admonishment to Daddy Pig that this is a serious tour so no jokes about the moon being made of cheese, the gift shop is selling delicious moon cheese (QM – again, take note!).

All in all a really cute way to introduce some learning about the moon and have some fun along the way.

Highly recommmended for your small humans from around 3 years upwards.

Attack of the Giant Baby – David Lucas. Illustrated by Bruce Ingman

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Bloomsbury Australia

August 2022

ISBN9781408899878
ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

This was absolutely great fun to share with a lovely little class of Preppies who sat completely engrossed until about 2/3 of the way when the penny started to drop. The look of delight on their little faces as they realised what was going on was just wonderful.

A sweet excursion into imaginative play when the Giant Baby supposedly invades a beautiful kingdom sending King, Queen and courtiers into a mad panic. Only the Princess remains calm repeating, “He’s just a baby..” The rampaging baby tramples mountains, derails the train, shakes the passengers out of the bus and completely knocks down the castle’s defensive walls – which just happen to resemble brightly coloured blocks. It was round about there that my observant audience began to twig :-).

Luckily the Princess is able to save the kingdom from a complete disaster when she skilfully diverts the Giant Baby to the kitchen where Mummy has prepared supper.

It really is just a joy and it is so refreshing to see our little people, of whom we often think are lacking in imagination, catch on to exactly what is implied in the illustrations with such vigour. They were very chuffed that they had worked it out and out of the two books I shared with them, this was by far the most well received.

Highly recommended for your little peeps from around 4 years upwards.

Battle Mum – Zoë Foster Blake. Illustrated by Adele K. Thomas

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Penguin Australia

1 November 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143779681
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

Look, I’ve gotta be honest – anything with Karate Kid moves or ninja references and I’m in! In my experience, the same applies for kids. Ok, so maybe not all of them are actually across the Karate Kid (clearly because their education has been neglected) but definitely ninjas!

For anyone with kids (or indeed, grandies!) that dread feeling of being exhausted, but beset by kiddos who just want to ‘battle’ – play, wrestle, cavort, pounce, gambol, leap – is just plain overwhelming at times – you get my meaning here I know, and I also know you already feel exhausted just reading that.

I think Zoë also knows this feeling only too well, and has superbly translated that into this really funny and lively new picture book.

Ana and Louis are dead tired after their busy day at school and kindergarten, and have just settled themselves on the couch to binge some TV and chill out. The trouble is that Mum wants to battle … and she’s not taking NO for an answer. Reluctantly, the children concede but with provisos – NO TICKLING! and ONLY FIVE MINUTES! – especially because they need this to be well over before Dad gets home and starts up his own battle! Such a super way to illustrate how wonderful imagination is – as you will discover :-).

I love that Zoë has used her own son’s signature moves and actions as her inspiration (and I’d be guessing he’s also quite impressed). This is truly just pure good fun – I could envisage a whole lot of extravagant physical activity going on with a class as a follow-up to a shared reading – hopefully, outside the classroom!!

Kiddos are going to love this – and I think there will not only be many requested re-readings for bedtimes but most certainly in classrooms. Highly recommended for littlies from Prep upwards.

Read more about the inspiration for this one with Zoë’s Q&A

Which Way to Anywhere – Cressida Cowell

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Hachette Australia

September 2022

ISBN 9781444969047 | RRP $22.99

Well, if there’s anything more exciting in MG fiction than a new Cressida Cowell title, it’s a new Cressida Cowell series and this one is going to skyrocket I can assure you.

K2 O’Hero (yes, he is named after the mountain) would appear, to all intents and purposes, a very ordinary little boy. He and his twin, Izzabird, are from a very extraordinary family it’s true, but that’s a deep secret which is not revealed outside said family – and especially not, to the Stepfather and the world’s most irritating stepsiblings, Theo and Mablel. But not even Izzabird knows that K2 has an incredibly rare and powerful gift. In fact, K2 doesn’t know he has this particular gift but that’s all going to change.

K2 knows he can draw amazing maps of strange, marvellous and, at times, frightening places but he has no idea that he can in fact create these maps as portals to the worlds he believes are just his own imagination.

When bizarre happenings start to accelerate around them: a weirdly creepy faux Geography teacher, a robot assassin, a very odd and seemingly magical person named Horizabel, and their mother and great- aunts (all witches) taking off into the night on a secret mission – and that’s all before baby Annipeck is abducted! – the four children must somehow work together to figure out the Alternative Atlas and conquer the obstacles they face including the vile and ravenous beast, the Abhorrorghast.

I loved this from start to finish. It has all of Cressida’s fantastic creativity: her wonderful skill with humorous secondary characters (the ones that almost steal the show) and an ability to weave a spellbinding adventure with heart-stopping moments, truly horrible villains and children who, in spite of any talents or gifts, are very normal in their ferocious loyalties, their unswerving determination, their sniping and bickering and their persistence.

Your readers from around Year 4 will adore this – particularly those who loved The Wizards of Once – and my suggestions is that you order more than one copy!

Highly recommended for boys and girls who are able readers from mid-primary upwards.

Willa and Woof #2: Birthday Business – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

October 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043321
  • Imprint: Puffin
Our newest favourites from JH are back in their second adventure – and just as delightful as when we first met them. Willa is a very sweet and very kind little girl who has several special friends. Most important of these are Woof, her large albino Irish wolfhound and Tae, her neighbour and best young friend, and, lastly, Frank, who lives in the aged care residence next door, can be a wee bit grumpy but is still Willa’s best old friend.

Willa happens to find out that it’s almost Frank’s birthday and it’s a super special significant one. She feels pretty sad when she knows that Frank’s family, son and his wife plus children, who live in England are unable to even be in touch on this special day so, of course, she decides to do something about it.

Determined Willa thinks a surprise party is just the right thing but organising it takes quite a lot of creative thinking as one obstacle after another is thrown up but finally, it’s all in place and despite Tae’s misgivings that they know Frank prefers ‘no fuss’ it seems like it’s going to just tick all the boxes. But the biggest surprise of all is even more exciting than a party – and that part has nothing to do with Willa at all!

Once again this is such a warm and feel-good narrative about family and friendships, kindness and thoughtfulness. I know that children really warm to Jacqueline’s stories and characters because of these recurring themes. And really, how badly are such values needed in modern society? It is so important that we try our very best to encourage our little ones to have such empathy and consideration for others.

Jacqueline’s knack for creating her engaging characters and making sure each adventure is new and fresh has deservedly earned her legion fans of all ages and this new series is certainly going to take it’s place alongside old favourites Clementine Rose, Alice-Miranda, Kensy and Max.

Be sure to add these to your collection, where they will be in constant demand I can promise you.

Highly recommended for your young readers, especially newly independent, from around 5 years upwards.

A Little Spark – Barry Jonsberg

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Allen & Unwin

August 2022

Imprint:A & U Children

ISBN:9781760526924

RRP: $16.99

Once again Barry Jonsberg has crafted a narrative that will speak volumes to middle grade readers. 13 year old Cate is in her first year of high school and her seventh of being the only child of divorced parents. Neither is too bad really. At school she has her best friend Elise, who is also now going through the whole parents splitting trauma. Outside school, she lives with her teacher mum and her new partner, Sam, who is an incredibly kind and understanding guy. Every fortnight she spends the weekend with her dad, who feeds her imagination with rich role-playing and theatrical wonder. Cate is a gifted writer despite her youth and already on her way to being a published and prize-winning author.

But, as can happen, life throws a curveball. Sam is offered a tantalising and life-changing work opportunity in the UK and Cate’s mum is determined they will all go. Cate is resistant to the whole idea, not least because she knows she will leave her dad with no one, not to mention abandoning Elise in her hour of dire need. And then, in one of their fun-filled adventures, Cate and her dad are involved in a major car crash which almost kills him and leaves her with some serious injuries. Understandably, Cate’s mum is even more determined that Cate will go to the UK. But this is one feisty and clever girl who resents being used as a pawn, so with her father’s assent, a court case begins to establish where Cate will live. But what seems like an almost 50/50 chance falls apart at the last minute and things just go from bad to worse. Without saying any more, or throwing in spoilers, Cate’s life changes for the better in some ways and then for the worse in others. Readers will laugh with her (and Elise) and they will cry in her moments of utter despair.

It is a truly magical story which will capture hearts and minds. I love that Barry has completely nailed authentic voices for both these teen girls (and in a way which will not date). With strong themes of family, domestic conflict, friendships, divorce, grief and self-belief, mature and discerning readers from around 11/12 years old will thoroughly enjoy this one. I absolutely loved it and I think it would make a superb title for a book club for your lower secondary readers.

Highly recommended for Year 6 upwards – there is some low level swearing, so if your school is particular about that, exercise caution. Grab teaching notes here.