Whatever, and however you celebrate I wish you all safe and happy holidays, from me and The Kid. Many thanks to all who follow and bother to read my reviews – which are haphazardly posted at best – and I’m thrilled to see that this year the blog has had well over 10 000 views!!!! Wow!! 2023 marks a decade since I decided to start collating the reviews I was doing in one place ,and began Just So Stories, and there have been many, many changes in my life since then. It looks like my full-time teaching days are over but will still need to keep earning somehow for a while to support The Kid so new adventures await.
Not only do I want to thank you all but also the wonderful authors, illustrators, creators and of course the publicists at various publishing houses who let me play in their world. I have a couple of Christmas reviews to write up and post today, and then about twenty more to catch up on (!!) after the festivities are done.
I do hope your own celebrations are filled with joy – The Kid and I will be in our happy place for three days (very like Kev in that illustration!) and ours will be slow and salty.
Well it was a bit of a mammoth effort and one I haven’t undertaken for a few years but a new PB review posted each day of the month – whew!! Thanks for anyone who played along with me :-). Hope you discovered some treasures for your collections!! and of course, thanks to the publishers who are kind enough to let me read voraciously for them :-).
Now SO many others to catch up on – about 18 piled up from biographies to MG novels – lucky holidays are imminent!!
It has been fantastic in recent years to see the growth in girls becoming more interested in science disciplines. I know I have loved running my Geek Girls groups and hosting events from Tech Girls and the like. And it is equally pleasing to see more and more schools including state primary schools having dedicated STEM specialist lessons. While we may not (many of us) have a whole heap of time in classroom programs to divert to spontaneous topics of interest, this is a book that will easily springboard into these areas.
I road-tested this one this week with a fairly rambunctious Year 2 class I was with (they were out of sorts after a couple of disruptive days and one not-so-effective relief teacher the day before me) but they were all, even to the ‘liveliest’ really engaged with this and it was a very effective read-aloud to settle them after a break. We didn’t have much time to spare in the program the teacher had provided but I stole some to have them ‘monster-fy’ one of their own toys and draw the result. FrankenToys (example) is a really fun activity I have run in library lunchtimes and both littles and bigs enjoy it and all you need is some old toys and some constructions material like hot glue guns.
Frankie is a truly dedicated young scientist, always researching, hypothesising and testing, with her much-loved partner, Bear, always on watch from the shelf. But Frankie really wishes that she and Bear could really talk to each other and that he could become more than just a silent partner. After much experimentation, she comes up with a formula that she’s sure will work – and it does! – only not quite in the way she anticipated. Suddenly, instead of cute, fuzzy Bear she has a great, green, angry monster Bear, intent on eating everything and wrecking a lot as he goes along. Time to come up with another potion – and fast!! It’s certainly a nice twist on friendship and also, arguably, being satisfied with our friends, just as they are. It is also an apt lesson in perseverance and resilience – two qualities high on every school’s values list.
With its rhythmic rhymes and the vibrant illustrations, this will be a definite hit from Prep upwards to around Year 3.
Why not make a point of sharing it with your STEM teacher/coordinator as well as your kiddos?
Highly recommended for 4 years upwards (and don’t forget to stock up on the glue guns, screwdrivers and pliers!)
If you are exploring the depths of the ocean or the limitless skies or if you simply are looking for a beautiful lyrical book to share with our kiddos, this would be a wonderful choice. It offers so much for even very young readers with elegant poetical prose, enchanting descriptive language and a richness of imagination that will provide much scope for exciting conversation.
As well as this gorgeous linguistic aspect there are the creatures to be discovered and researched – many of them not so well-known: chitons, periwinkles, and jelly moons along with such wondrous aquatic marvels as Neptune’s necklace or iridescent algae. I can already picture a beautiful wall of art going up in the classroom or library to reflect this
But the two children on their journey of imagination are not just relishing the ocean, they are sailing across the night sky, past the constellations and heading towards Earthrise. The illustrations are every bit as captivating as the text with the subtle shades of ocean greens and blues and the night skies’ indigos, blues and pinks. Each spread is a feast for the eyes and you and your readers will delight in close examination of them picking out delicate details.
I have yet to share this one with a class, but hoping I get to visit my little school just over my back fence this coming week or so, with its strong focus on the ocean, being right on the waterfront as it is. I know the children there will just love it as much as I do.
There are some activities free to download but you will be able to conjure up so many follow-up activities to this one as it just lends itself to so many learning experiences whether English, science, STEAM or Environmental studies.
Highly recommended for little readers from Prep upwards.
From firsthand experience, I can assure you that having a sensitively written, beautifully crafted book to help a child deal with loss is a very valuable commodity. I used several when we lost The Kid’s mum but this one is a very welcome addition to that specific genre.
I am not at all scientfically minded so if you are like me and need a reminder of The Law of Conservation of Energy, by which this is inspired, you can check it out here. Accordingly, sharing this book will not only help your young readers come to terms with the concept of grief and loss but will enable some fascinating experiments into this scientific principle.
The animals are concerned for Ziggy, who is sadly looking up at the moon. Eventually the rabbit explains that his magician, Alby, The Amazing Albertino, has gone missing after (as Ziggy thought) working long and hard on a new trick. Finally, it is wise Owl who shows Ziggy how Alby has performed his greatest disappearing trick ever and how, despite his disappearance, Ziggy can still keep him close.
It is a beautifully and poignantly written and illustrated story of loss, sorrow and comfort and even your smallest of kiddos will grasp the intent of its magic.
Highly recommended for your little peeps from around Kinder upwards to around Year 3 or 4.
Honestly, my first thought as I really got underway with this new offering from Martin Chatterton was: the Stranger Things fans are going to LOVE this! Lo and behold when I visited Martin’s website before beginning to write this review, he makes the same comment. Always good to know you’ve got the right take on a book – haha!
It’s Australian Gothic horror/dark comedy at its best and if you have those readers who seek out the somewhat bizarre or unusual plot lines, make sure you get this on your orders list now.
14-year-old Theo Sumner lives in a Queensland mining town, Scorpion Falls, where he is a bit of a loner – and often a victim of school bullying. His best friend Ari and her parents run the Iguana Motel, where Theo works after school. His mother is wheelchair-bound with MS and things are exactly a picnic for Theo either at home or elsewhere.
When a creepy stranger moves into the motel and even creepier things start happening around Theo, he begins to see a very different side to dull and boring Scorpi (start thinking Upside Down style!). Cue the samecreepy stranger finding a pair of ‘gooey’ eyeballs on his bed, and Theo’s mum admitting she put them there – and away this twisting and turning plot goes! A mysterious white van, the apparent abduction but then re-appearance of Theo’s nemesis, a student (who has apparently never existed) being dragged into a store room and vanishing without a trace – all this and more is doing Theo’s head in.
Teenagers disappearing, fake cops, robotic spiders, winding subterranean tunnels, a kid literally laughing his head off – it’s all unravelling in a completely disturbing and spooky way in Theo’s world.
Chatterton explores themes of trust, friendship, exclusion, racism, identity and mortality. The sting in the scorpion’s tail will completely blow readers away and I’m looking forward to my first kiddos to read it to see their reactions!
Jacqueline is an only child and has always dreamed of having a sister. Little does she know she will find one in the most unexpected and, arguably, difficult circumstances ever. When the Second World War breaks out, Jacqueline’s life is turned topsy-turvy. Her father goes away to the front, she and her mother are sent away to the country. France had become a dangerous and troubled country for its people. The times are dark but there are moments of light. When Papa comes home with a puppy for Jacqueline, she is overjoyed but it is not long after that the Germans invade and poor little Chiffon is shot. Papa is imprisoned and Maman and Jacqueline bravely ride to the town where he is locked up and plan an escape. After making it to the French Free Zone, Papa announces that he is going to join the French African Army, so the whole family travel to Algiers where life is strange and confusing, and for Jacqueline quite lonely as she does not fit in. Then the Allied troops arrive and Jacqueline realises that the long war is finally coming to an end. Two years later Jacqueline is back in a bombed, and defeated Germany and her family move into a requisitioned house along with its German owners. Jacqueline and Hildegard, the daughter of the family, are very antagonistic at first but over time the two girls discover they actually have much in common and their life-long friendship is forged. 75 years later their friendship still holds true.
This is a remarkable story made all the more striking because of the highly creative format in which it is told – modelled miniatures, photography and artistic – it is both highly poignant and evocative. It is exactly the type of picture book that demands to be shared with audiences of all ages and there is no doubt in my mind that as a springboard into studies of history this is a front runner of real distinction.
I would strongly recommend adding it to any collection either primary or secondary and will certainly be drawing attention to it with both my students and my Humanities staff.
So I’ve had these ones for a while but thought they would be more usefully timed for the start of the school year so was going to post them next week as Queensland schools were due to resume on 24th January. That was the case right up to a few hours ago when the growing explosion of Covid cases – mostly Omicron – propelled the state government to announce a delay in the start of the new school year. What this will look like in reality could still change but at present our kids will, for the most part, start a week later than anticipated and hopefully the peak of this latest wave will have been reached. However, when the kids start, perhaps one or more of these will be perfect for your smaller kiddos.
Frankie Goes to Kindergarten – Peta Baxter & Connie Hemmens. Illustrated by Marjory Gardner.
Ford St Publishing
‘Tis a bit exciting to share this one as it is two lovely Queensland peeps who have collaborated to ensure that all the little people who starting off their educational journey, whether Kinder, Child Care or Prep, are happy, confident and looking forward to their new adventure.
Frankie is a real kindergarten dog from North Queensland where both Peta and Connie teach. It’s a super kindy as there are lots of pets including mice, fish and chickens. But Frankie, who lives with Peta, George the cat and Wilson the dachshund is the star attraction. All the children love him and love their busy time at kindy whether it’s doing yoga, gardening, playtime, singing or reading time. Everything is better with Frankie along. George is meant to stay at home but when he sneaks into a box and joins in the fun, the readers will love finding him in each illustration.
It is a lovely, happy narrative with some extra giggles thrown in and it will give small children a terrific insight into what to expect when they walk through the door of their first kindy. Peta and Connie have simply related the sorts of activities children might do and Marjory Gardner’s lively and colourful illustrations just hit the right spot.
Highly recommended for little ones from around 3 years upwards.
Let’s Get Ready for School – Jane Porter/Carolina Rabei
ISBN: 9781529502343 Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $16.99 New Zealand RRP: $18.99
This is English but that in no way detracts from it’s usefulness for our little Oz kiddos as it covers in simple but reassuring language what to expect and how to get ready to start school.
From being able to dress oneself to toileting, sharing, eating and drinking, playing and getting along with others – everything needful for our smallest students is here and all their questions are answered.
Six different children are preparing for their big adventure, each of them different as will be the other kids at school. In itself, this provides the perfect opportunity to ensure that kiddos are able to accept and embrace differences. Why do I have to go to school? How will I get there? Who will I meet? Will each day be the same? All children have questions and this is a super way to help them with the answers.
Whether you read this one before the child starts school or in the first week, it will provide wonderful reassurance with its effective format, information and relatable illustrations.
Highly recommended for little ones moving into Prep.
Making Friends: a book about first friendships – Amanda McCardie/Colleen Larmour
ISBN: 9781406394542 Imprint: Walker Australian RRP: $16.99 New Zealand RRP: $18.99
Naturally, along with all the excitement of starting school, comes the added excitement of making new friends. Sometimes though this is either not as easy as it seems or is even very much a matter for anxiety and insecurity for some children.
As educators what we continually strive for is to develop empathy and kindness in our charges to help them grow into well-rounded and compassionate adults. And we all know it starts right from the first day these kiddos start to mix in groups.
This is not a story book, it really is a primer for establishing the guidelines of what makes a good or healthy friendship. To this end, at some points, I found it a little too didactic which tended to put me off, but I’m an adult so I don’t think that counts *grin*. For children, I think this will provide a great springboard in a classroom or kinder setting to explore the parameters of friendship and building relationships.
Recommended for your children from around 5 years upwards.
Harry’s poems are a delight for both young and old. If you and your kiddos enjoyed his previous books, including MoonFish, this one will equally entertain you. Particularly for rollicking read-alouds or, for performances, (think 2022 assembly pieces!) this collection of funny and quirky verses will become part of your standard repertoire.
Rhymes, raps, songs, cheese poems, animal poems, shape-poems...combined with Anne Ryans’s highly creative illustrations will ensure this is not just a book for the classroom and teaching, I can guarantee your kiddos will want to claim this for their own reading pleasure.
Given I still have my childhood copy of Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids, much dilapidated and clearly well-loved, you will understand why I think this is just a gem of a book. My suggestion is that you grab a copy for your collection, either personal or professional and, may I also suggest that if you are a relief teacher this would be a super addition to your ‘bag of tricks’ for those one-off days in unknown classrooms.
Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.
Although the women’s version of Aussie Rules has been around since the early 20th century with regular competitions and state leagues being established over the years it wasn’t until 2017 that women’s AFL first became professionalised at a national level. Now with more 2 million viewers/followers, the game has been growing in leaps and bounds attracting much attention both nationally and worldwide.
Ok, I admit it. I grew up in Sydney, right in the middle of Dragons territory back in our club’s glory days. My friends and I played regular games of footy before school and at break times (I still have a scar on my knee from a tackle gone wrong one dewy morning!). So really, I didn’t even know AFL existed until I was an adult. Truthfully, I still don’t completely ‘get it’, however, I can very much appreciate the athleticism and skill of the women who play it. Certainly, it is very exciting to see now the focus on these sporting stars and the dedicated following they have garnered.
What better way then to encourage young girls to take up the game than a fun book with a twist! Kids love ‘choose your own ending’ books, that’s a given. Throw into that mix the excitement of a new club taking up their first serious challenge against a very competitive team and you’ve got a winner in all senses. The narrative has a quick pace and is an accessible read for even those students who are not strong readers and even those who are not die-hard footy fans will find the format appealing. With eight different possible endings, it’s a book to which kids can return over and over.
I give this book a high recommendation for kids from around Year 4 upwards, whether fans of the game or not, indeed whether they are fans of sport or not! A good fun read which they will find hugely enjoyable all round.