Tag Archives: Felice Arena

Pasta – Felice Arena. Illustrated by Beatrice Cerocchi.


Affirm Press

28 March 2023
RRP: $19.99
ISBN: 9781922848604

I do wish you could see how tricky this lovely cover is, with its embossed shiny strands of spaghetti twirling with temptation. There would be very few kiddos who don’t both know and enjoy eating pasta and many of them will already know a few of the different types. Spaghetti, macaroni, lasagne, fettucine spring to mind immediately. But if you have known Italians, as The Kid and I have done, you will know that these are just the tip of the steaming bowl of delicious goodness and so many of the pasta names are just glorious good fun to say. Clever Felice Arena has put them together in a joyous rhyming romp through the menu, to which all children will love to bounce along.

I have not previously seen Beatrice Cerocchio’s illustrative work but her style is well suited to this rambunctious rumbustification with its bold colours, adroit details and expressive characters – and those endpapers!! Just delightful!

If you have a focus on food itself or perhaps looking at cultural differences, (or how these have been absorbed to become a vital part of mainstream Australia) this would be a great addition to your program. But like most great picture books, it is just pure good fun as well and I can easily envisage a read-aloud session that leads to some pasta art or some menu creations for a classroom restaurant or some crazy spelling lists. I do feel you should practise your Italian accent for a read-aloud session as the kiddos will delight in joining in with you, as well as providing the emphases in all the appropriate places!

Those of us of a certain age will remember a childhood in a typical WASP home sans pasta – I know I didn’t ‘discover’ spaghetti bolognese until the very early 70s (thanks to my big brother!). How marvellous that now we have this entire delicious smorgasbord of pasta varieties and dishes to play with as a matter of course!

Let me finish with a slightly amusing story on that note. Our Italian friend came to Australia in 1971, and he, and the friend he made on the ship, arrived in Sydney and set forth to find somewhere to eat on their first day. Neither of these two Italian men (almost still boys) spoke a single word of English, but found a cafe and recognised the word ‘spaghetti’ on the menu, so promptly ordered that. You can imagine their complete bewilderment (and horror actually) when plates of toast and tinned spaghetti arrived at their table. I did laugh a lot at the recount of this experience but really, thank heavens we’ve moved on from there! (also – where would our sense of pasta humour be without the famous Spaghetti Harvest Hoax?)

Buon Appetito! Enjoy your fill of Pasta – I highly recommend it to your readers from around Prep upwards. Ciao!

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan – Felice Arena


Penguin Australia

29 March 2022

ISBN: 9781761044366

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

In a completely genius move, Felice Arena has combined his love of football (the AFL kind) and his skill with bringing lesser-known history to life. Set in Melbourne in the later years of WWII, this is the story of Maggie Flanagan who loves the game of football, and her team St Kilda, with all the passion of the most diehard fan. It is also the story of everyday life in Australia with the threat of war and invasion hanging like a pall, the constant worry about the menfolk away fighting, the rise of feminism and the history of women’s football.

Maggie practises her footy skills every day, using the precious football entrusted to her by her older brother, Patrick, who is away over the other side of the world, fighting for King and country. Football for girls is not only considered inappropriate – “unladylike” – but, indeed, risible by many people, mostly but not only males. So, when the new local priest suggests the children of Maggie’s school come up with some fund-raising ideas to support the troops, and Maggie proposes a girls’ football match, the shock and ridicule from many quarters soon squashes the idea.

If nothing else, Maggie is one determined young woman, and with Blessed Mary listening to her prayers, she knows she can succeed in this enterprise, despite the apparent obstacles. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, Maggie seems to uncover potential players for her match in the most surprising of places: the new ‘ice-woman’ delivering for the household ice-chests now that her husband has enlisted, or similarly the ‘milk-lady’, the usherette from the cinema, school nurse Nancy, Lizzie who lives with Miss Kelly of the corner shop, and even Sister Clare. Some of these have actually played football before, much to Maggie’s surprise. She also makes discoveries about her elderly neighbour, Grumpy Gaffney, and new girl, Elena, that not only give her much pause for thought but show her different ways of thinking.

Felice cleverly weaves into this snapshot of a significant time in our history, many of the prevailing attitudes and customs of the time – thankfully, most of them long gone the way of dinosaurs – as his narrative reveals how diverse people such as Maggie’s effeminate best friend, George, and Italian Elena were generally treated. The arrival of the ‘Yanks’ in Australia was divisive at the time and this too, is reflected in older sister Rita’s deviation from her steady boyfriend, seemingly dazzled by a tall good-looking American. Overall, there is much here that will provide some interesting discussions and comparisons for your young readers.

Like all of Felice’s stories, above all it is a cracking good yarn, with a plot that moves along at a brisk pace with a keen desire to find out what happens next. This, aside from anything else, will make this a fabulous tempter for your reluctant readers, particularly those who love their footy – whether boys or girls – and along the way they will absorb some valuable insights into a period of history that had great impact on the growth of our nation and our society.

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 up to Year 7 – it will definitely be going up on my current Specky Magee anniversary display and will be part of my book talking with my kiddos over the coming weeks. Just in time for footy season – it’s a winner all round!

[Pre-orders available from the usual suppliers]

Happy Specky-versary!


Following up on my review of Specky’s 20th anniversary edition – as the actual birthday is today – it was timely to kick off the 2022 footy season with not only a display to feature everyone’s favourite young AFL player, but the code itself. And of course, an opportunity to have a ‘win’ incentive to encourage the borrowers in my new library!. Thanks Felice Arena & Garry Lyon, for bringing us all such a great character, who just never gets old! and also thanks, to one of my new specky-tacular library assistants, Gretchen, who kindly brought in her son’s AFL jersey collection to add to our display!

Specky Magee- Felice Arena, Gary Lyons


Penguin Australia

1st March 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143777168
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Seriously, these anniversaries always give me such a jolt – “Whaddya mean 20 years of Specky?” she says with disbelief as she opens the parcel. Yep, face it, you have been doing this job a long time! I’m the first to admit (much to the disgust of a couple of former gentleman friends) that I am not an AFL aficionado – hello!? born and bred in Sydney, right in the heart of Dragons territory and went to St George GHS – any surprise as to my football allegiance!?) but the Specky series is so much more than football.

Any youngster who is a keen follower or player loves this series – right from the start I can confirm – and it will be no different as a new generation pick them up. The footy aspect is integral, of course, and the story line is fortified by the technical ‘know-how’ inserted at relevant points. But the theme of Specky is so much more than this. Readers will relate with ease to Specky’s relationships with friends and family, at school or at home or on the footy field, and they will empathise with his dilemmas and concerns.

It is in this first Specky story that he discovers he is adopted, and as anyone could imagine, the whole unravelling of this (so far) family secret causes much disquiet all round but the sensitivity and understanding that underlies the text is so very affirmative and reassuring for any young reader.

Readers don’t need to know anything about the game (hey I’m testament to that point). If they are fans, they will love the footy details but even without that, they will thoroughly enjoy the well-paced plot, the interactions of family and friends and Specky’s very down-to-earth and utterly believable actions, speech, and responses to the situations in which he finds himself.

There is obviously a very valid reason why these books are still so popular. In fact, in my new library, while I’m dissing a lot of titles that, rightfully, should be in a primary library, I strongly defended Specky. If our Year 7s come in and haven’t yet discovered this legend, they should and I will be the first to recommend!

I highly recommend this series to you for your readers from around Year 4 upwards but please – bear in mind, if you are struggling to tempt some readers (boys or girls) in lower secondary who lack confidence and enthusiasm but are mad AFL players – give this the biggest plug ever!! I’m now trying to think what incentive I can add to a big promo of it in my new space!

Poo! and other words that make me laugh – Felice Arena/Tom Jellett


Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

  • ISBN: 9780733341427
  • ISBN 10: 073334142X
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

Kids love words – there’s no doubt about that all – and they particularly love rambunctious words I have found. One time, when I taught my darling Year 1/2 class about onomatopoeia in our little school (just 100 kids), they were so delighted with being able to say it. I swore them to secrecy to not, under any circumstances, tell the Year 7s when they went out to the playground – as ‘those big kids, you know, they’re not good with difficult words’ ;-). Naturally the first thing they all did was run shrieking at any big kid they saw “We can say ‘onomatopoeia’ and you can’t!’. It was rather amusing.

Of course, ‘poo’ is a very popular word with little kiddos especially but just think how you could enrich them with words such as squeegee, dilly-dally and succotash!

That’s what this riotously funny book is all about – the magic of weird and wonderful words. Tom Jellett’s always distinctive illustrations fill each page with glorious colour and vibrancy and the children will just lap it all up. The addition of a glossary to inform the reader of meanings of the crazy words is a superb touch!

This will easily springboard into an ongoing word wall with some little word detectives sleuthing out some additional unusual, quirky or obsolete words to build into their burgeoning vocabularies. I’m pretty sure that it will also be a pretty simple step towards moving away from ‘POO!’ into something far more hilarious for common usage – ‘bumbershoot’ perhaps?

Highly recommended for fun and learning for little – or even bigger – readers from around 3 years upwards.

The Besties Make a Splash – Felice Arena/Tom Jellett



Penguin Random House

April 2020

ISBN: 9781760890964

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $9.99

The Besties are back for their next little adventure and your little newly independent readers are going to be well pleased about that!

Again Felice has taken a familiar event in the lives of many small humans and turned it into a fun and engaging romp with a great message woven into it.

As we know Oliver and Ruby have been besties for ever. They do everything together and they love going to the beach where there is so much to do; swimming and jumping the waves, exploring the rock pools, racing around in general and of course getting an ice-cream from the beachside kiosk van.  Such an outing is doubly exciting when their two friends from school turn up as well. Zac is very funny and Isabella is quite the live-wire and they are both great friends as well. Just because you are best friends doesn’t mean that you absolutely positively have to do everything together or even enjoy everything the same so when the two Besties split up to enjoy their own preference of activity – Ruby with Zac and Oliver with Isabella – it seems like a great idea.

Well sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we plan and Ruby and Oliver find themselves feeling just a tad overwhelmed by their individual companions, their exuberance and just the, well, difference in personalities. All in all it’s a bit of a relief to have the adventure over and to be back in their own comfortable groove.

As we know these little ones at the start of their school years are often dipping in and out of friendship circles and for some it can be quite the challenge to try out the company of someone else. We all prefer the friendship of those with whom we are comfortable but it can also be a great learning experience to connect with someone else, even on a temporary basis.

Once again Tom Jellett has captured the personalities of Oliver and Ruby perfectly and Felice has ticked all the boxes for these beginning readers who will love this new book as much as the earlier ones in the series and will be waiting impatiently for the next one.

Highly recommended for small humans from around 5 years upwards.

In case you missed it – catch up on Felice’s blog post about the importance of play.

Total Quack Up Again! – Edited by Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck. Illustrated by Jules Faber.



Penguin Australia

October 2019

ISBN: 9781760893583

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $14.99

Get quacking if you haven’t already and grab this second edition of hilarious stories from some of our most celebrated authors as well as one young newcomer!

The first TQU was a great success not only providing children with some super funny stories but raising funds for Dymocks Children’s Charities. At this critical moment Dymocks are well and truly focused on providing valuable support for children affected by the catastrophic bushfires which are still burning.

Featuring stories from Nat Amoore, Felice Arena, Adam Cece, Jules Faber, Tim Harris, Kim Kane, Belinda Murrell, A.L. Tait, Shelley Ware, Michael Wagner and Nova Weetman as well as young Coby Sanchez whose story The Duck Pond was determined the winner of the story-writing competition, this collection will have kids everywhere chuckling with gusto.

With all the aspects young readers are looking for including ridiculous situations, ‘smelly’ stories and weird characters this will be a welcome addition to any primary library.

Be sure to tell children how this book (and its predecessor) represents a special and generous initiative by not only the Dymocks group but the talented authors/artists who so generously give of their time and talent.

Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

The Besties – Felice Arena and Tom Jellett



We all know how hungrily those newly independent readers gobble up their favourite series of easy chapter books and we also know that there are times when we struggle to find them the ‘next series’ on which to embark.

This super new series from a highly talented pairing is going to tick a lot of boxes. The two ‘besties’ of the title are Ruby and Oliver so right there you have instant appeal for both boys and girls and also a fabulous demonstration that opposite genders can very easily be friends!

Felice has the knack of engaging his readers always and by having these two new characters simply enjoying their friendship, everyday life, playtimes and simple adventures will very easily hook those early readers into the narratives.

The Besties Show and Smell (#1)


January 2020

ISBN: 9781760890988

Imprint: Puffin

Format: Paperback

RRP: $9.99

Ruby has been so excitedly looking forward to her turn at Show & Tell because she’s going to play her ukulele for the class but things go awry when their regular teacher is away. The replacement teacher Mr Botham is a real grump and refuses to proceed with the regular program but Ruby is not to be daunted. Ollie is a little disturbed and cross that she’s going to defy the old crank while he’s out of the room but soon recovers and all is well. Ruby’s impromptu performance is a huge success and not even class clown Zac’s ‘smelly’ response can quench the mood.

The Besties to the Rescue (#2)


January 2020

ISBN: 9781760890971

Imprint: Puffin

Format: Paperback

RRP: $9.99

Ruby has been practicing her trampoline skills and asks Ollie to video her stunning flips and tricks. Of course Ollie is only too happy to do so but when the pair watches the result they realise that the naughty neighbourhood cat has attacked a bird’s nest and the little fledgling has been tipped out onto the ground. Ruby and Ollie know the little bird is too young to fly so it’s up to them to help it and enable it to survive.


These are super cute stories full of fun with the right dash of imagination to appeal to the little ones that will pounce upon it. Jellet’s illustrations resonate with the joy and energy of the characters. Felice and Tom, who did such a brilliant job on the Sporty Kids, have nailed it again with this new series. Two more are already on the way so what a great way to start off the new year for your borrowers – get some on your shelves ASAP!

Highly recommended for readers from around 6 years upwards

A Great Escape – Felice Arena



Penguin Random House


March 2019



I have never been a student of post-war modern history so my knowledge of the Cold War has always been minimal – sketchy even – but, as serendipity would have it, not one but two of my most recent audio ‘reads’ on my daily commute have referenced this period extensively and in great detail.

Now Felice Arena has brought this era to life for young readers with a compelling narrative based on facts. Peter is swept up in the swift and cold-hearted division of Berlin when his parents and younger sister are in the West on a day visit,  while he has stayed home with his grandparents in the East. In just one day the barriers become impassable and implacable with hundreds of families and couples completely sundered from each other.

For Peter this separation is utterly unbearable and from the first he begins to plot and plan how he might escape over the newly-erected barricades before the Wall becomes a concrete reality. In the course of his pursuit of a workable method of fleeing he encounters two new friends, Elke and Otto, both of whom are also trying to get to their families. The ingenuity of these other children is truly inspiring, demonstrating the lengths to which those who have been cut off from their loved ones would reach, despite the menacing threats of soldiers, guns and savage dogs.

Peter’s growing distress over his isolation but also his increasing worry over his aged and frail grandparents and their care is a dilemma which he must resolve before he can even contemplate action. Life in East Berlin is fraught with danger – the Stasi (secret police) always on the lookout for “traitors”. It almost seems inconceivable that any power would create such a heinous division of family and friends – but then it seems that the idea of building walls has not yet gone out of fashion and many will recognise the correlation and repugnancy of such action resonating in modern situations.

This is a powerful demonstration of the bonds of family and the courage of those who risk all to attain freedom from cruel and callous oppressors.

I cannot recommend it highly enough for readers from around ten years upwards and think it would be a particularly apt read for older students who are embarking on the study of this period of history.

Fearless Frederic – Felice Arena



Penguin Australia


April 2, 2018

RRP: $16.99


In 1910 Paris flooded. A ‘once in a century’ possibility saw the Seine rise to over 30 feet above it’s normal level and the citizens of Paris having to adapt to their city in ways they had never experienced.  For many of them this meant actually evacuating their homes and being housed in makeshift centres across the city.

This new historical novel from Felice narrates the stories of three children, all very different, and their own dramas amid the floodwaters. Frederic lives with his mother since his father was killed in a botched robbery at the Louvre, where he was a security guard. Thierry, the would-be author, is also fatherless – his builder father having died in a construction accident when Thierry was small. Claire, it appears, also has only her mother but there is something odd about the way her mum can never been seen in the shelter.

The children band together to make the most of the drama unfolding around them each day and find themselves in the roles of rescuers and heroes  saving cats, children, horses – and helping track down thieves In the process Frederic uncovers the villains who murdered his father and burns for revenge.

As the narrative unfolds, the personalities (and secrets) of the children, the extraordinary circumstances impacting on them and the growing friendship between them draws the reader further into the adventures of Fearless Frederic and his Floodwater Friends.

Felice has a really deft way of weaving adventure, history and realistic fiction together in a manner that appeals to both genders.

I would highly recommend this for readers from around Year 5 upwards.