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Nov 20 2017

M is for mutiny: History by alphabet by John Dickson

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Ill. by Bern Emmerichs. Berbay Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9780994384119
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Australian history. Aboriginal themes. First Fleet. A different view of Australia's history is presented in this intriguingly illustrated picture book, with information to hold readers' attention and drawings that will make the eye linger on each page.
An alphabet book, the first double page entitled, 'A for Acknowledgement', is devoted to the first people who lived in this land. Following is 'B for Banks the Botanist' who accompanied Captain Cook in his explorations of the southern lands. The text gives information about this scientist and his place in our history while the illustrations shows some of the plants he is known for, adapting the local Aboriginal name for their classification. And 'C is for Captain Cook', while 'F is for First Fleet', 'M for Mutiny', 'R for Rum Rebellion', 'S for Sheep', so offering few surprises with information given about known events in Australia's early history. Where this departs from the expected is the emphasis given on how the indigenous people were affected by this incursion. So we have 'L for Land Rights', 'Q for Questionable Acts', 'T for Terra Nulius', 'U for Uproar', and 'Y for Yemmerawanne', while several of the other pages include information about Australia's Indigenous population.
An alphabet book trying to achieve a 'history by alphabet' is by necessity very selective, having only 26 headings to use, but this book has selected a number of events normally not included in history books, so offering a differing view of our past, one which readers will recognise alongside learning something new.
Told in a chatty style, each paragraph is enough to engage and delight while offering snippets of funny information kids love to read.
References to other events, for example Mabo, gives readers something more to research, while some themes - Women, Crime and punishment, Treatment of the Indigenous people - will impel readers onto to fields beyond this book.
The startling illustrations were developed by painting onto ceramic tiles which are then photographed. The detail is astounding and infectiously fascinating, the detail quite extraordinary, making this a book to pore over. The naive style is reminiscent of early pottery. The endpapers list all the people of the First Fleet, some named, most left with a number, underlining the lack of importance given these people by those who sent them to Australia. In a classroom, it would be fun to envisage what the students would have included as their letters.
Fran Knight


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Nov 20 2017

My magical life by Zach King

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Puffin Books, 2017. ISBN 9780141387574
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. My magical life is a new series by author Zach King and he also just happens to be the star of the book. Zach is 11 years old and comes from a magical family. The opening pages of the book are like a photo album, showing colourful, cartoon style pictures of the characters you will meet throughout the story. Zach is in year 7 but is homeschooled. He has the chance to attend public school when his parents realise he might not have magic like the rest of his family. They hope a change of scenery might help Zach find his special magic object and then his magic.
When a magic trick at school brings Zach to the forefront of popularity, his path crosses mean girl Tricia. Zach doesn't even know how he did it but it is all over social media. Thankfully, Zach makes quick friends with Aaron and together they try and use Zach's magic to become more popular. When Zach discovers two caps that help him channel his magic, hilarious moments and detentions occur. Can Zach get back at Tricia and teach her a lesson? What does a locker full of chocolate pudding and an alligator in the principal's office got to do with it all?
My magical life is an excellent mix of drama and comedy. It is a novel with comic style images and readers will related to Zach's issues and life at school. They will get a laugh out of Zach's antics and the text will engage readers throughout the story. Zach is a great role model for children - a bit naughty, a good son, a good friend and all about being supportive to everyone. My magical life is highly recommended for boys aged 9+ but will be enjoyed by all readers.
Kylie Kempster


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Nov 20 2017

Agent Nomad: Deadly magic by Skye Melki-Wegner

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Random House Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780143780403
(Age: 14+) Deadly magic is the second book in the riveting Agent Nomad series by Australian author Skye Melki-Wegner.
I was impressed by Skye Melki-Wegner's first book in this series, confident that the next book would see the author honing her writing skills. In the first of the series, The eleventh hour, my enjoyment was minutely affected by the momentum of the story and the minimal character development. These downfalls were not evident in this second book. Deadly magic provides more insight into the characters and skilful technique in allowing events to build the story.
Our feisty and independent protagonist, Natalie Palladino, is nearly 16 years old now, and she has found a growing strength in her role as Nomad, a rare witness in the world of magical secret agents known as HELIX.
After the exciting adventure and personal discoveries of the London mission in The eleventh hour Nomad, Riff, Phoenix and Orbit are itching to leave training behind and go out into the field again. Their chance comes when all the cadets are sent to New Zealand for their annual camp and our team is put in charge of investigating a mysterious death with strict instructions to not get involved. After solving ingenious clues, the cadets find communication with their senior supervisors compromised and, being isolated from help, they now have crucial decisions to make.
Skye Melki-Wegner cultivates the teen topics that were touched on in The eleventh hour. We see how the team has further developed their skills in collaboration, not just within their own close-knit group but by allowing others to influence and guide their choices. A fast read with gripping adventure and compelling friendships. Once again there is a twist to the plot I did not see coming and I look forward to the next instalment.
Sharon Smith


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Nov 20 2017

Undercover princess by Connie Glynn

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Rosewood Chronicles book 1. Penguin, 2017. ISBN 9780141387567
(Age: 11-14) Themes: Fantasy. Boarding school. Princesses. Connie Glynn's debut novel Undercover princess takes inspiration from her love of Disney princesses and their stories. She shares this on her popular Noodlerella vlog and YouTube channel. This fantasy adventure story uses recognisable Young Adult literary tropes, well-known character types and settings, typical plot points and twists, and the prescient struggle of good and evil. Her familiar settings include an elite boarding school with its secret magical qualities and the old bakery where the orphan protagonist lives with her uncaring stepmother. Of course, there is a defiant princess from the magical kingdom of Maradova, who rebels against her royal destiny allowing Lottie to fulfil her dream of being a princess.
Lottie Pumpkin has studied incredibly hard to win a bursary to prestigious Rosewood Hall in spite of her difficult home life. Before her death, Lottie's mother has instilled in her a sense of self worth, with the mantra "I will be kind, I will be brave, I will be unstoppable." Meanwhile Princess Eleanor (Ellie) Wolfson of Maradova, finally has been allowed to leave her own country and attend the same school, in fact she is Lottie's roommate. Following a huge mix-up, Lottie takes on her royal role allowing Ellie to enjoy a normal life. There are the familiar highs and low of school life, friendships, bullying, secret messages to solve, as well as a quick trip to Maradova for Lottie to take on the role of portman, or undercover princess.
The text ranges from simplistic to extremely expressive, while the characters need more depth and back-story. Several scenes are somewhat confronting and more suited to a teen audience. This novel is the first in the Rosewood Chronicles series written for young teen fans that enjoy the fantasy genre.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Nov 20 2017

Don't spew in your space suit by Tim Miller and Matt Stanton

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HarperCollins, 2017. ISBN 9780733334672
(Age: 5+) Don't spew in your space suit' is another bodily function picture book by Tim Miller and Matt Stanton (who also bring us the There is a monster... who farts series) that is sure to delight young children who thrive on all things gross! The book follows the story of an astronaut who is looking for life on Mars but unfortunately has a queasy tummy and doesn't take too well to space travel. The rhyme is fairly easy to follow, and makes for a good read aloud story - especially as there are often responses of 'yuk!' 'Eewww!' from the audience. I read this book to a group of reception boys. Their reviews range from "I think this book is funny, because it makes me laugh" and "It was pretty good, and I liked the bit where he had to wipe vomit off the windscreen" to "The book was silly, and the pictures and words were silly and I didn't like it". The majority of children who I read this book to thought it was hilarious, disgusting and good to listen to. Not for those weak of stomach, or in a bad mood!
Overall it gets 3/5 for its disgusting yet funny theme, and its bright and engaging illustrations. Best read to children who will understand the concepts of spew, space travel and aliens - 5 years and above.
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 20 2017

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Wowolla Boyle

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Ill. by Maggie Prewett. Magabala Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925360578
(Age: 3-7) Highly recommended. Themes: Aboriginal life, Culture and identity, Australia - Social life and customs. Magabala Books continues to publish an excellent range of indigenous stories, perfectly suited 'to providing an opportunity for all young Australians to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures'. ACARA. Mrs White and the Red Desert is an engaging and colourful story reminiscing about the author's childhood. They lived in the red, sandy desert 'in a corrugated iron house that was wavy and buckled and bent just like our grandmothers hair.' The children played in mud and drew in the rich red sand. She remembers higgledy-piggledy houses and gardens, the hot winds blowing through the nail holes and wooden shutters.
This is a gorgeous sensory story, the changing weather having an effect on her family, the rain's soft pitter-patter on the tin roof and cold night winds racing through their house. Josie Wowolla Boyle's imagination turns to humour when the early morning crows clatter across the rood dressed for shopping.
Mrs White their teacher expresses concern when the children's homework is handed up, each page is grubby and covered in red dust. Her visit to the children's desert house proves enlightening, the house is cleaned, the table set and their homework cleaned with slices of bread, however only grandmother is watching the skies. Mrs White in her pristine clothes and hat is caught in the wild sandstorm and everything inside and outside the house is covered in red dust, even their teacher.
Josie Wowolla Boyle's beautiful evocative story includes gorgeous imagery and rich language and Maggie Prewett's vibrant watercolour illustrations perfectly build the sense of place and drama. Earthy tones with bold sweeps of red and white add depth to this childhood memory. Mrs White and the Red Desert is a wonderful book to share with a young audience, my Reception History classes delighted in the alliterative text and vibrant images of the crows on the roof decked out in hats and high heels. A perfect picture book to inspire art lessons, to encourage children to write stories of their own childhood and to explore the concepts of aboriginal heritage and connection to country.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Nov 20 2017

Under the cold bright lights by Garry Disher

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Text Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9781925498882
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Mystery and suspense. Alan Auhl works for the cold case department, after retiring from Homicide years before. He lives in a large old house with a random selection of boarders and people who need his help. At work he juggles an assortment of cases, including the body that was buried under a concrete slab and the death of John Elphick, whose daughters are convinced that he was murdered, as well as investigating the slick doctor whose wives have a habit of dying. At home he is supporting a woman who has fled with her 10 year old daughter from domestic violence and who is facing the Family Court in a fight to limit her estranged husband's access to her daughter.
The reader is taken on a breath taking ride as Auhl juggles all these complex cases as well as his feelings for his ex-wife and the taunts at work about being old and putting up with the nickname of Retread. He just gets on with the job. Disher captures the attention of the reader with a description of a snake in the backyard of a young couple and the subsequent revelation of a skeleton under the concrete where the snake has taken refuge. The other cases are just as complicated and Disher manages to keep all the plots interesting, with many twists and turns and some surprises as well about the way some of the villains meet their come-uppance.
This is a stand-alone novel, but I hope that Disher continues to write about the unforgettable Alan Auhl. His characters, vivid prose and settings are wonderful.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 20 2017

Zombie's Birthday Apocalypse by Zack Zombie

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Diary of a Minecraft Zombie book 9. Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743818350
(Age: 7-9) Themes: Zombies, Friendship, Birthdays. The popular fan fiction series continues with Zack Zombie's preparations for his epic thirteenth birthday party. His birthday falls on Halloween making it an extra special celebration. With his plans to host a Larry Snotter party, Zombie realises that he needs to find a job to finance his expensive costume. On Tuesday when he tries to find his human friend Steve to discuss his party, he has disappeared. As he checks out the nearby woods, Zack observes a strange occurrence amongst the other villagers who are walking around with large pumpkin heads.
With his neighbourhood preparing scary Halloween decorations in their front yard, Zack helps Old Man Jenkins with his old Zombie horse. Mr Jenkins' old bones keep falling apart and he offers him a job grooming the horse. With a competition for the scariest costume at school, talk of a Zombie Apocalypse, the mob villagers disappearing and trying to organise his birthday party, Zack is keeps busy. The final scenes of saving the mob of pumpkin head villagers using the school oval sprinklers and Ursula the Witch's potion prove exciting for Zack and his friends.
Zombie's Birthday Apocalypse is a fun junior novel, packed full of familiar characters, Minecraft images and the strange lives of Zack, his family and friends. Humour, grossness, body jokes and plenty of Minecraft activities are just right for the fans of this popular series.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Nov 20 2017

Terrortide by Michael Adams

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The Seven Signs book 6. Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743628065
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Themes: Adventure; Danger; Sydney, Australia; Futuristic adventure. Book 6 in the Seven Signs series is as terror and suspense-filled as the previous five books in the series. The young DARE award winners are yet again plunged into horrific circumstances as they race to save the World from the actions of the Gamemaster. This unknown and mysterious figure has sent more images to solve via their hi-tech futuristic communication devices, and impels all of the seven teens into more life-threatening scenarios - this time with Sydney, Australia as the potential target. With one catastrophe leading immediately into another, it is not surprising that they author ends this penultimate book of the episodic series on a cliff-hanger ending (or perhaps more accurately - hanging on by our fingernails).
Readers will be desperate to find out what comes next (very clever marketing strategy!) and solving the ultimate puzzle as to who is behind this reprehensible series of awful events, and to see whether the young teens can be heroic yet again and save the world from destruction. Or is it too late?
Recommended to adventure junkies aged 13+.
Carolyn Hull


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Nov 20 2017

Crimewave by Michael Adams

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The Seven Signs series book 5. Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743628058
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Themes: Adventure; Risk; South Korea; Colombia; Information; Futuristic Crime. With one twist after another, the seven DARE award winners are thrust again into life-threatening scenarios in the fifth exciting book of the Seven Signs Series. The action picks up where it left off in book 4, with the teenagers in RoboWorld Theme Park in South Korea. With out-of-control robotic attackers still advancing and the clock clicking closer to imminent destruction, five of the intrepid teens must face their own fears and the threat of their own demise to save the country. Meanwhile, Mila and Isobel are in Bogata, Colombia, and they become embroiled in the plans of a criminal heavyweight. They too are in imminent danger.
With a one page introduction or summary of previous events in the series, the author launches into action. No time to draw breath! Consequently this is mostly suited to readers who have been waiting breathlessly to find out what might come next. And again, the author leaves the reader dangling at the end of the book with a closing cliff- hanger . . . Ready for the next exciting adventure to save the world.
Recommended for action lovers aged 13+.
Carolyn Hull


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Nov 19 2017

Ava's big move by Mary Van Reyk

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Surf Riders Club series. Hachette Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780734417909
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Ava's Big Move is the first book in the series Surf Riders Club and has been created in collaboration with Surfing Australia.
A new beginning and a move for a dream to come true sees Ava unwillingly move with her family to a beachside town. She can't go on the yearly snowboard trip and she is leaving her best friend. Ava's first day of school and subsequent weeks end up being amazing thanks to new friends and the discovery of liking surfing. Now, Ava just needs to figure out if she has the skills to move to the next level in surfing lessons. Can she catch the five waves or will she be left behind? Through her surfing journey, Ava realises the move to a new town is pretty good. She is spending time with her older brother , seeing her parent's dreams come true and surviving high school.
Ava's Big Move is a great, positive story about new beginnings and everyday life. Even better, it is set in Australia. The themes of resilience, persistence and accepting others are strong throughout and Ava and her friends are strong role models for girls. The vocabulary is easy to read and understand. It might even inspire readers to create stories about their own adventures. highly recommended for girls aged 10+.
Kylie Kempster


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Nov 17 2017

Molly the pirate by Lorraine Teece

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Ill. by Paul Sedden. Magabala Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925360660
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Pirates, Central Australia, Aboriginal themes. The wonderfully spontaneous Molly lives a long way from the sea, and yet dreams of being a pirate. With mum in the background trying to hang out the washing on a very blustery day, Molly dons her eye patch, pirate hat and sword. She rows out to the pirate ship and there challenges Captain Chicken, but is made to walk the plank.
She somersaults across the deck, outsmarting the crew made up of other chickens and the cat, until the crew is so dizzy they feel the need to lie down for a while. She climbs the rigging and comes back to the deck to eat with the crew members. They then turn the ship for shore and Molly returns home, certain that there will be more adventures. A delightful story of the risk taking Molly and her pirate crew, readers will love to see how she reacts once on board the pirate ship, and love reading of her interaction with the crew.
And the illustrations are just magical, with Seden using common kitchen items on each splendidly vibrant page. Young readers will love searching them out and laughing at the way the illustrator has used each in his drawings, while the background of inland Australia underscores its distance from the sea. Each page is a delight and I loved the way Sedden has used differing perspectives, challenging the reader to work out where they are.
Fran Knight


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Nov 17 2017

Force of nature by Jane Harper

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Aaron Falk book 2. Macmillan Australia, 2017. ISBN 9781743549094
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Mystery and suspense. Aaron Falk returns in the second of Jane Harper's mysteries, following her best-selling The dry. This time partnered with Carmen Cooper, they are investigating a family company, BaileyTennants, which is suspected of money laundering. His whistle blower, Alice Russell, has promised to give them the documents to prove the case, but she turns up missing after a team building bush walk in the rugged Giralang Ranges. Five women from the company walked into the bush and only four returned.
The action and the setting keep the reader riveted. Told in alternative chapters, Harper describes what is happening on the bushwalk and the direction that Falk's investigation into Alice's disappearance is taking. The Giralang Ranges provide a dark and frightening background and when the women take a wrong turning and become lost there is not only the never ending sameness of the bush to contend with but the lingering fear that once a serial killer and his son roamed this wilderness.
Harper brings alive the characters of the five women: there is Jill, daughter of the patriarch of the family company and nominally in charge of the group; Alice Russell is self-centred and nasty but committed to her daughter; the twins Bree and Beth constantly bicker and Lauren is a self-effacing woman who lacks confidence. As the members of the group try and find shelter and the way home any group cohesiveness is lost and old wounds are opened with often nasty results.
Family dynamics are vividly described. Lauren's daughter is suffering after being brutally bullied at school. Alice's daughter who goes to the same school, is also experiencing problems with the son of the company's director and these complexities add a depth to the story and the reader's feelings about the main characters.
The reader is never certain if Alice is still alive and has just chosen to disappear or if she has been murdered by a group member or someone following them in the bush. This suspense is kept up until the very end when there is a very satisfying denouement.
This is a worthy follow-up to The dry and I look forward to reading about Aaron Falk's future investigations.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 17 2017

Cinderella by Jane Ray

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406377842
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Diorama, Theatre, Classic tale, Fairytale. A three dimensional representation of the classic tale of Cinderella is offered within the covers of this book in six pop up dioramas. Each double page presents a scene from the fairy tale, with side flaps giving the story, and the central offering a diorama of the action presented in the text. In the first diorama, we hear of Cinderella and her two lazy stepsisters. We see Cinderella sweeping in the kitchen while her stepmother and stepsisters lounge about, in an adjacent room preening, drinking tea and eating cake. They are magnificently dressed, whereas Cinderella is dirty and disheveled. The page is cut out so that the action stands out from the background. Through the cut out foreground we can see into the garden beyond.
Each double page is full of interest, and children will read the text eagerly looking at the picture presented, searching out the details of the story.
The book is subtitled, A Three-dimensional Fairy-tale Theatre, and the side flaps are like curtains opening on the scene presented, making the viewer's eyes focus on the opening of the stage curtain and what is then revealed.
A different outing for the classic tale will be eagerly used by young careful readers.
Fran Knight


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Nov 17 2017

Stitches and stuffing by Carrie Gallasch and Sara Acton

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Little Hare, 2017. ISBN 9781760127787
Wherever Adeline went, so did Bunnybear. They had been together since forever, never apart. He was soft and cuddly, his ears and legs wibbling and wobbling and he flipped and flopped along. He even had his own seat at the table for morning milk and biscuits with Nanna. Bunnybear was her best friend and she didn't feel right without him. Until one day, Bunnybear accidentally got left at the beach. Caught in a tug-of-war between a curious seagull and Adeline's puppy, poor Bunnybear was destroyed and Adeline was distraught. That night there was a Bunnybear-shaped empty space in her bed and she felt very alone.
Next day Nanna sat in her knitting chair and made a new Bunnybear for Adeline. But this one wasn't the same. It was too stiff and straight and no matter how Adeline squished and squashed him, he felt like a stranger. And so he sat on the shelf, hard and still like a statue. But then, one day Nanna had to go away for a while and with no milk and biscuits for morning tea, and no sitting in the knitting chair with her, the days became long and quiet. And then Adeline remembered . . .
This is a soft and gentle story, illustrated with the soft and gentle palette and the soft and gentle lines of watercolours, that will remind all readers, young and not-so of their favourite take-along-everywhere toy of their childhood. Everyone has a Bunnybear in their story, that one toy that we felt lost without regardless of whether it was shabby or pristine. In fact, shabby was better because it showed how loved it was but despite that, there is always room for change and sometimes when it is thrust upon us we need to embrace it. This softness is not just in the storyline but also in the rhythm of the story - long sentences that spread out over vignettes and pages as life continues on its merry way but changing to shorter, more abrupt statements when the worst happens and then gradually getting longer and more rhythmic as life takes on a new pattern. The whole wraps around the child like a hug, reassuring them that things will work out even if they are different.
Sometimes when little ones go to big school there is a suggestion that it is time to leave their preschool lives behind, including their beloved toys that have been with them since birth. And yet with this huge change in their lives they are left without the companionship of their most trusted and comforting friend and ally. We have to remember we can still count in months the time these little ones have been in the world and they need and deserve all the support they can get. The astute teacher will acknowledge that these are more than just a collection of stitches and stuffing, that they are imbued with love, safety and security and perhaps having a special shelf so the special toys can come to school too with the child deciding when they want to wean themselves. Meanwhile the teacher librarian can encourage them to read to their special toy in school and at night and might even provide a collection of teddies for those who just need an extra hug or two. It worked for me!
Barbara Braxton


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Nov 15 2017

The poesy ring: a love story by Bob Graham

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406378276
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Love. Marriage. Artifacts. Historical evidence. The journey of a poesy ring given to a beloved in times long ago is full of significance as it is lost and then found nearly two centuries later, meaning the same thing for the couple today as it once did for the couple that lost it. A whole story can be evoked from the opening pages watching a young Irish woman gallop away from the sea, a tall ship disappearing into the distance. It is 1830 and she has thrown the ring away. It falls to the ground, spending time with the small animals and grasses that grow around it. An acorn that falls nearby grows into a huge tree before a deer finds the ring lodged in its hoof. The ring falls into a meadow, and when the farmer tills his soil, a bird picks it up. From there is falls into the sea only to be retrieved from a fishing net and sold. By now it is 1967, and a couple busking in the New York underground, take their earnings to a gold shop where they buy the ring and walk home together in the snow.
The ring has come full circle, finding a finger on which it can sit symbolising the love between two people.
This touching story of love, dedicated to Graham's partner of fifty years, Carolyn, will endear itself to all readers, showcasing the endurance and tenacity of love and its symbols. The inscription inside the ring, Love never dies, resonates through the story as the ring, buffeted by the passing seasons is eventually found in a shop in New York, bringing a small tear to the eye of all who read it.
Graham's soft watercolour illustrations show time passing from tall ships, then wartime destroyers and later a fishing trawler, while a man turns the soil with his plough, reaping the crop with a scythe, the images moving on to the escalator in the underground and the shops in the streets of New York. This book lovingly shows the passing of time and the enduring power of the little ring, lost and now found, a circle of love for a new generation. Younger readers will have a great time seeking the smaller pictures on each page, reflecting the passing of time, while older readers will ponder the timelessness of the gold ring and all that it implies. Graham successfully inhabits his books with the small things of life, the wonderful image of the ploughing man and his horses, the boots of the fisherman, the tattoo on Sonny's hand, the children giving money to the buskers. His books give a feeling of solidity, of family, of community and continuity, and no more so than here, with the ring coming full circle, to the hand of a woman in New York.
A wonderful interview of Bob Graham by Jason Steger of the Sydney Morning Herald can be found here.
Fran Knight


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Nov 15 2017

On the free by Coert Voorhees

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Carolrhoda Lab, 2017. ISBN 9781512429138
(Age: 15+) Themes: Survival. Disasters. Resilience. Santiago has elected to undertake the Bear Canyon Wilderness Therapy Programme in the Colorado mountains as a diversion from the juvenile justice system. A small party supervised by two counsellors sets off on a demanding trek designed to encourage the attendees to evaluate their lives and take responsibility for the future. Santi's character is brilliantly depicted. He's a good kid who has made a couple of poor decisions which lead to serious consequences. I found myself nodding at the entirely realistic portrayal of a lad lacking parental guidance whose ethnicity and socio-economic background limit his opportunities. When drug offences lead to criminal bad company and a custodial sentence, I groaned, not just because Santi's choices were so obviously flawed, but because this is daily reality for so many young people.
It was also refreshing to see the Wilderness Programme presented as a well-intentioned but slightly delusional attempt to help troubled youths who treated it with some derision. This was partly due to their adolescent cynicism and posturing but also because its organisation and staffing were imperfect.
Victor is another trekker and is a thoroughly unpleasant character who enjoys inflicting discomfort and humiliation on his fellows. Again, the revelation of his past steers the reader to understand and feel compassion for a young man whose future could have been so much happier and more fulfilling.
The interaction and tension between Santi and Victor and other party members is realistically portrayed and a natural disaster which leads the pair to fight for life in the company of Amelia, one of the camp counsellors is entirely plausible.
This is a good survival story which could have been brilliant. The crafting of characters, setting and events in the context of wilderness adventure created a fast-paced and satisfying read which unfortunately lost its way a little after the disaster. The inclusion of another aspect seemed contrived and unnecessary, cluttering a story which was developing nicely on its own.
This is still a worthy read and I know it will appeal to those who enjoy survival stories where individuals have to use skill and resilience to overcome significant physical and mental challenges.
I'd suggest this suits readers 15+ and the text contains some profanity which achieves a nice balance in presenting realistic teenage dialogue which the readership will identify with, but which is not particularly offensive or gratuitous.
Rob Welsh


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Nov 15 2017

Little Shaq: Star of the week by Shaquille O'Neal

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Ill. by Theodore Taylor III. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781619638822
(Age: 6+) "Little Shaq has always wanted his own kitten, but his parents aren't sure he's responsible enough. When Little Shaq is chosen as his class's Star of the Week, he knows that this is his moment to shine, to prove to his parents that they can count on him. Will Little Shaq be able to show he's ready for his very own pet?" (Publisher)
Written by Shaquille O'Neale and illustrated in colour by Theodore Taylor III, the Little Shaq story is sure to turn into a popular series with young sports enthusiasts. This will fit nicely into the 'quick reads' section as it is set out like a chapter book and will not take the reader long at all to complete. The relatively large text with illustrations interspersed will act as a confidence builder for children striving to read the 'chapter book'.
The book celebrates family, friends and community and the simple language used is tailor-made to the target audience. Not only can Shaquille play basketball, I think he has also hit the nail on the head with this book. Suitable for students aged 6 and up.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Nov 15 2017

Paddy O'Melon the Irish kangaroo by Julia Cooper and Daryl Dickson

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Exisle, 2017. ISBN 9781925335637
On the very day that he took his first steps out of his mother's pouch, the little kangaroo is separated from her as two large black marauding dogs race through the clearing, scattering them to shelter. The joey cannot keep up with his mum so he hides, found hours later by the O'Melon family who live in a valley in the rainforest and who care for injured and orphaned native creatures. They call him Paddy O'Melon, their Irish kangaroo. Wrapped in a pillowcase pouch and bottle-fed a special milk mixture, Paddy not only survives but thrives. He spends more and more time in the garden as he grows, meeting and making friends with the other creatures that the O'Melons have rescued. Eventually, all his time is spent outdoors and the family tell him that when he is old enough he can return to the wild and live with his own kind. But just what is his "own kind"? When he introduces himself as Paddy O'Melon the Irish kangaroo, he is met with sniggers and giggles and no one is able to help him. The best advice he can get is to find the cassowary who knows everything and everyone.
This is a charming story with echoes of Are you my mother? but with much more depth and interest. Written by a highly regarded naturalist, who has since passed away, it not only introduces the reader to the unfamiliar and unique creatures of Far North Queensland but carries a lot of information about them in both the text and the stunning illustrations, but never intruding into the story of Paddy's quest.
While many are familiar with kangaroos and wallabies, few know about their cousins the pademelons who inhabit the northern rainforests In an effort to spread the word about the species of her home region, Cooper has deliberately included the more unusual.
There are also Teachers' Notes available and royalties are being donated to further the conservation of the area.
Apart from just being a good story, this book also introduces us to more of Australia's wonderful wildlife, perhaps setting up an investigation that compares and contrasts those of the FNQ region to those in the students' region.
Barbara Braxton


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Nov 14 2017

Untidy towns by Kate O'Donnell

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UQP, 2017. ISBN 9780702259821
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Themes: Rural life, Private schools, Future, Relationships, Conformity, Friendship. Abruptly leaving her city private school in March during her year twelve is scholarship girl, Adelaide's best move. She has endured this place since year seven, putting up with the slights from other girls, the meaningless relationships and the push to strive and do well to represent the school, to conform, toe the line, and behave. But suddenly she no longer wants to be the girl they want her to be, so catches the train and goes back home to Emyvale near Geelong. Mum meets her at the station, and there follows a blossoming of her place in the world, a realisation that she can do what she wants. She becomes the intern at her grandfather's history museum in their small town, a step towards fending for herself, of finding her path.
She meets the people she went to primary school with, rekindling relationships from long ago with relative ease.
Her family does not pressure her to do anything she doesn't want to do, allowing her space to find out what it is she really wants, while she finishes her studies long distance and applies for a uni course for the following year, to keep her options open.
When Mia comes to stay during the school holidays, things change. She becomes involved with Addie's old friend, Jen and the two work out how they can see each other at uni the following year. Adelaide becomes embroiled in her relationship with Jarrod, to such an extent that people are expecting them to become more of a couple and stay in the town. Adelaide has a melt down and they argue but in making up, she realises that this is the jolt she needs to do something. Exam results, New Year, and uni offers for some the following year are the background to the last chapters of this engaging novel about making choices, making your own path in life, making decisions about your own future.
Lashed with humour and stories of the town the whole is a diverting look at people with hard decisions to make about their futures. Told in chapters following the months from March to January, the chronology of the book invites the reader to compare it with their own path and decision making in what many see as a crucial year. Seeing past what others want for her is part of the mix.
The cover compels the reader to pick up the book, eager to see what the young girl will do in her untidy town. The design, font and illustration stand out on shelves full of books with unremarkable covers, and once inside the readers will be unable to put the book down. A choice made through good design.
And I love the list of books read and those still to read at the end of the book.
Fran Knight


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Nov 14 2017

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

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Lothian, 2017. ISBN 9780734418074
(Age: 8-13+) Highly recommended. Nevermoor will be compared to Harry Potter. There is an unloved child with unknown powers, a journey to a parallel world with new friends and bullies as well as an eccentric but kind mentor. The front cover even states that "Readers will feel as though Harry Potter is meeting Alice in Wonderland" (Kirkus).
Indeed, there are many similarities but Nevermoor and its main character, Morrigan Crow are able to stand apart and be enjoyed in their own right.
Morrigan Crow is a deemed cursed child, someone who only brings bad luck to all around her and will die on her 11th birthday at midnight on Eventide. Her family are cold and uncaring but she stays stoic and greets each negative incident with an almost detached humour.
On the depressing night of her ordained death, Morrigan is rescued from the evil "Hunt of Smoke and Shadow", by her unflappable and charming mentor Jupiter North of the Wundrous Society.
She journeys to Nevermoor and lives in the fantastical Deucalion Hotel owned by North and it is here Morrigan meets a variety of interesting characters such as Fenestra the giant Magnificat and Frank, a vampire dwarf - or is it a dwarf vampire.
Morrigan begins a friendship with Hawthorne, who is her greatest support during the series of trials she must pass in order to remain in Nevermoor. She is competing against hundreds of other children who will all display their particular talents. The problem is Morrigan has no idea of her own gift.
This is Jessica Townsend's first book (and obviously a first in a series) but at the Frankfurt Book Fair she received requests for publication from at least eight major publishing houses.
There is so much to recommend this book, the combination of magic and humour, the wonderful activities of Nevermoor such as the delightful Christmas celebrations and the unique, amazing rooms at the Deucalion. The characters and scenes are vivid and very theatrical. Morrigan herself is a wonderful heroine, steadfast and brave while making witty comments about the goings on around her.
To the fans of Harry who mourn the end of the "Hogwarts" world", I invite you to join Morrigan in Nevermoor. I believe you will not be disappointed.
I highly recommend this book to anyone 8 to 13 + years old.
A small trailer for the book is available.
Jane Moore


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Nov 14 2017

The untold story of Father Christmas by Alison and Mike Battle

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Ill. by Lauren A. Mills. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408892343
"In olden times, when magic still filled the air, there lived a master toymaker and his wife . . ."
So begins this delightful retelling of the story of Father Christmas, beautifully illustrated and set in a land of deep forests, elves and magic.
The kindly toymaker and his wife discover that if you keep your heart full of love and wonder, dreams really do come true . . . .
Who doesn't love a traditional story at Christmas time? A beautifully illustrated and timeless story about how a toymaker and his wife became Mother and Father Christmas for children all over the world. The toy maker is a kind character, always seeing the best in situations, except for one thing - they did not have their own child. With similarities to The Elves and The Shoemaker, the old couple set about making toys for the children in their village. This is a truly beautifully written story that displays the true meaning of Christmas and the act of giving. It would be fantastic to talk to students about being selfless and what one can gain from displaying this quality. I can see the children shouting out 'it's Father Christmas' as I am reading the story as he is described as a toy maker throughout the book and not referred to as this until the very last page in the book. I am a sucker for a traditional story using traditional colours in the illustrations and this did not disappoint me. A welcome addition to the collection of Christmas books.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Nov 14 2017

Ori's Christmas by Anne Helen Donnelly

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Anne Helen Donnelly, 2017. ISBN 9780646969329
"Ori the Octopus is so happy to be celebrating Christmas with all his friends. But what happens when Ori's friends all want to do different things on this special day? " (Author)
A festive book where children can join in with the story, using simple and fun actions.
Ori's Christmas is the second book in the series, Ori the Octopus. It will resonate with children, especially at Christmas time with the ideals of sharing and compromise. On each page, there is a piece of text written in purple indicating the actions the children can perform to join in while the story is being read. With bright, eye catching illustrations, this book is very different to the traditional Christmas stories using a variety of creatures found in the sea. In the middle of the book, there are a number of Christmas decorations that can be coloured in. These can easily be removed without harming the book. The bonus addition of notes for parents and teachers is always popular. I could see this book being used as a short Christmas play within a classroom. Although not everyone's cup of tea, I think this will be a big seller at Christmas and would make a welcome addition to the school library collection or a great stocking filler.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Nov 14 2017

Big Bash League: Academy smash by Michael Panckridge

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Random House Australia, 2017. ISBN: 9780143782278
(Age: 7+) "Billy loves to bowl - fast! He's also a massive Melbourne Stars fan and when his friend Wen-Lee lets him know about a cricket academy camp, run by none other than the Stars, Billy is desperate to go! So is Wen-Lee, even if she does barrack for the Brisbane Heat.
Trouble is, the applications are about to close and Billy needs to find a way to raise money for the entry fee. Perhaps a speed-bowling competition is in order!" (Publisher)
This is the fifth book in the series and to be honest I can not see it being any less popular with both the boys and girls. These books are rarely on the shelf in our library, with students aged from 7 upwards borrowing them. It is fantastic to see that there are both male and female strong lead characters in the book. It is a story of determination, friendship and quick thinking. The storyline follows a traditional narrative and will be sure to maintain the interest of the reader. For the sport enthusiast, this series fills a gap for students who are ready for the next challenge of a chapter book, moving on from 'quick read' chapter books. Even though there are 137 pages, the text is relatively large, meaning it will not actually take long to read. I am sure many children will have this on their Christmas wish list. Another 'must have' for the library collection.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Nov 14 2017

Roald Dahl's George's Marvellous Experiments by Barry Hutchinson

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Ill. by Quentin Blake. Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN 9780141375946
Once upon a time George Kranky decided it was time to get his gruesome, grouchy grandma who had a mouth pinched in like a do's bottom into a better mood by making her some special medicine. But being neither doctor nor scientist, George just combines and cooks things he has on hand - and the results are not as he expects.
Building on from this favourite Dahl tale of George's Marvellous Medicine is this collection of science experiments that might not have the results that George's concoctions had but which will be equally spectacular, just as much fun and importantly, they are all tested and safe (although some adult supervision might be needed.) With chapter titles such as Marvellously Messy, Excellent Eruptions and Vivacious Vehicles and full-colour illustrations by Quentin Blake, this is a science book like no other that is going to appeal to all those who like to explore what-happens-if and spark an interest in things scientific in those who are yet to discover the magic and fun. Experience has shown me that kids are entranced by the 'magic" of chemistry and having seen a result are keen to find out the how and the why so it's a superb one to add to the teacher toolbox too.
And if you're not sure yourself and are not confident following the easy-to-read instructions (which in themselves could serve as a model), start with these:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgRksqzQtLY
Too cool for school. And put George's Marvellous Medicine at the top of you class read-aloud list for 2018!
Barbara Braxton


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Nov 13 2017

Where's Wally? The totally terrific tin by Martin Handford

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406374926
A wonderful collection for children from 6 years and up. This Where's Wally? set contains the first 3 books and is beautifully presented in a colourful tin, making it a fantastic present for any young Where's Wally? fan. The three books are Where's Wally?, Where's Wally now? and Where's Wally? The fantastic journey.
Each book invites the reader to not only search the pages for Wally, but also for many of his friends including Wanda, Odlaw and the Wizard Whitebeard. This feature keeps Wally hunters amused for longer and as it's recurrent in the 3 books enables them to build character knowledge and maybe even create their own stories about what they are doing. The back of the book also provides 'The Great Where's Wally?' checklist giving extra objects and people to find.
I really like that each book has a theme, which carries throughout the pages. Each theme can also lead to extra investigation, such as letter writing from book 1 (Where's Wally?), going back in time in book 2 (Where's Wally now?) and fictional/mythical times from book 3 (Where's Wally? The fantastic journey). Each of these keeps Wally hunters interested and searching for more.
The illustrations are wonderful and it is amazing what you can find when delving deep into Martin Handford's drawings! I love the scenes he creates within the pictures - be it two people arguing or small children playing a game. Because you are scouring every inch of the page you come across them often, and they do bring a smile to my face.
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 13 2017

Affluence without abundance: The disappearing world of the Bushmen by James Suzman

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781632865724
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Non-fiction. Anthropologist James Suzman has spent many years living and working with the Bushman groups of Namibia and Botswana, southern Africa, providing us with a unique insight into the culture of these hunting and gathering people. He describes them as a group of people who had already discovered the Keynesian economic ideal of a life of satisfied needs without long working hours. He estimates that they may have spent about 15 hours a week securing their nutritional needs. The idea of working to cultivate extra food, or of storing for later, was completely unknown and unnecessary to the Ju/'hoansi. The land always provided for them in some way. The thought that the so-called 'primitive man' could actually have affluence without the endless toil for further wealth is unimaginable to Western society caught in the perpetual cycle of work and accumulation of things.
Suzman's book is fascinating. So many unusual concepts are revealed to us: the idea of equality moderated by jealousy; of empathy with animals but not humanised affection or compassion; a respectful and sharing relationship with predator lions; the environment as a set of relationships that includes everything even litter; satisfied instincts without greed or obesity. Whilst reading, it seemed to me that there may be some overlaps with the values of Australian Aboriginal peoples. There are also some shared problems brought on by loss of land to colonising powers.
There are many interesting characters, some of them revealed in a wonderful collection of colour photographs. The book also includes several maps of the region, an index, and a list of suggested further reading.
Helen Eddy


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Nov 13 2017

Safari Pug by Laura James

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The adventures of Pug. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408866405
(Age: 7-10) Safari Pug is the third short novel in the series by Laura James, and follows the adventures of Pug who is the (somewhat) adventurous pet of Lady Miranda.
Pug doesn't want to meet a LION. But LADY MIRANDA insists. They've packed a picnic and now they're off on a SAFARI ADVENTURE - but what if wild animals like PUGS for lunch?
This book features a trip to the wildlife park and some encounters with wild animals and a TV celebrity named Arleen Von Bling! While on this adventure we learnt about Sedan chairs (who wouldn't want to arrive at the open range zoo in one of those!), running footman and the ferocity of lion parents when met with a threat to their cub. Pug tries to be a hero (whilst not ending up as Lion's lunch or sold by Arleen Von Bling) and attempts to help out his new cub friend - luckily a happy ending ensues.
I thought this was a great short story as did my 7 year old son. It was long enough to read over a few nights (2-3 chapters per night), and short enough to hold his attention. The main character Pug is very well written in this book, and I felt like he was possibly put in adventurous situations by Lady Miranda when he would probably rather just hang around his mansion snoozing! The illustrations by Eglantine Ceulemans added great insight into Pug's life and we enjoyed the expressions of the characters. They really add to the narrative and bring it all to life.
This book would be great for a beginner independent reader (approximately 7 years old); as the chapters are relatively short and the character names are repeated throughout the story often. We are keen to seek out the previous two books Captain Pug and Cowboy Pug to find out more about the luxurious life of Pug and Lady Miranda.
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 13 2017

Nothing by Annie Barrows

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Greenwillow Books, 2017. ISBN 9780062796516
(Age: Senior secondary) Strong language. Drug and alcohol references. "Really, this book is about me, Charlotte, and my friend, Frankie, and some stuff that happened to us last Christmas. It wasn't anything amazing. Trust me on this one. But I, personally, am tired of reading about abused/drug-addicted/depressed/alien-infested teens. And-also personally-I think Frankie and I are pretty funny. Actually, I think we're hilarious, but that could be a me-thing. So if you want to read about some not-incredible-but-not-entirely-basic fifteen-year-old girls, then this book is for you!" Publisher.
Written by the bestselling co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the author of the award-winning and bestselling Ivy + Bean books the reader would expect some hilarious moments and interesting writing and they won't be disappointed. In an article on Goodreads, the author states that the theme of all her books is the message that: 'You don't need to get better. You're already fine the way you are' and the reader will find that is true as they read about the life of 15 year old Charlotte and Frankie in Nothing.
The theme of friendship is a very strong one and the reader will become engrossed in how Frankie and Charlotte support each other, and how their families support them as well. There is a refreshing realism to the story that teens are sure to appreciate and much to smile about.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 13 2017

The wolf, the duck and the mouse by Mac Barnett

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Ill. by Jon Klassen. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406377798
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Animals, Survival, Interdependence. When the wolf eats the mouse he finds in the forest, he is at a loss as to understand what is going on in his stomach. The mouse finds a duck in its bed inside the stomach and on enquiring finds that the duck lives there quite peacefully, safe from any nasty things which may want to eat him outside. After all, he may have been swallowed but he has no intention of being eaten. Together the two have breakfast and mouse asks if he can stay. Life looks quite good. When their rousing keeps the wolf awake, they ask for more things, some wine and candles to celebrate their companionship. Wolf obliges but when he falls down through the pain in his stomach he is seen by a hunter who fires at him.
The mouse and the duck realise that they must do something to keep the wolf safe, after all their lives depend upon his safety.
With all the hallmarks of a fable, the wolf learns that the three are dependent upon each other for their survival. The duck and the mouse cleverly work out how to live without fear and the wolf must put up with the occasional rumble in his stomach to have them help him in return.
The illustrations are glorious, a mix of media presents the sepia colours of the forest and the animals. An occasional bright spot of colour appears in the dark of the stomach with a tablecloth contrasting with the gloom, and the check of the hunter's shirt standing out against the muted shades of the forest. I loved looking at the small details contained within the stomach, laughing out loud at the situation of a wolf swallowing a variety of things to keep his guests happy.
Their interdependence will intrigue younger readers and they will laugh at the situation where the wolf must go to great lengths to survive.
Fran Knight


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Nov 13 2017

Ballad for a mad girl by Vikki Wakefield

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Text Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9781925355291
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Death, Mystery, Thriller, Country towns, Friendship, Reality, Perception, Ghosts. Grace Foley has a reputation for being a little bit mad. She is a risk taker and plays pranks on her friends. When she accepts the challenge to walk the pipe which stretches across a deep ravine, she experiences a moment of dread when she hears a voice, and she freezes, needing to be rescued by one of the local boys. She is dragged into the mystery of Hannah Holt who disappeared twenty years before and of the boy who was accused of murdering her. Struggling with working out what is real and what could be in her imagination, Grace becomes immersed in following clues while trying to hold onto her sanity.
This is a stunning and totally engrossing thriller that has all the elements that any reader could want. There is action: the first chapter of the book pulls the reader in as Grace's journey across the dangerous pipe is described; the possibility of a ghost appears as Grace hears voices; the mystery of Hannah's disappearance must be explained and there is the empathy that the reader feels for Grace and for the young man who was accused of Hannah's murder. The stunning conclusion will also remain with the reader making
Vicki Wakefield is a master of the YA genre and she has outdone herself in Ballad for a mad girl. It would make an excellent class novel or literature circle book. Teacher's notes are available at the publisher's website.
I can see this book winning awards, not just for its fabulous story line but for its vivid, memorable and clever writing.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 12 2017

Wombat and Fox : the whole story by Terry Denton

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Wombat and Fox series. Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760294359
(Age 6-9) Recommended. Theme: Humour. This large book contains the three tales of Wombat and Fox published separately over the past several years, Tales of the city, Summer in the city and Thrillseekers. The stories are about two friends, Wombat and Fox who get into all sorts of mischief, especially when teamed with their friends, Croc, Bandicoot, the Hippo sisters and the Five Monkeys, the latter always good for a special mix of adventure.
After the contents page, the group of friends is introduced, and then the mayhem starts with Monkey and Fox having adventures. I enjoyed A hot night in the city, one of the three stories in the book, Tales of the city. In this the pair decides to go to the seaside during a particularly hot spell in the city. They must takes a bus and being novices, let many buses go by before they realise that any one of them would take them to the beach. But when they get on the bus they find that another of their friends, Crocodile is headed in the same direction, but one thing is there to ruin their holiday, the Five Monkeys,their frenemies.
The running battle between the friends and the monkeys ends harmoniously when all at sea, the penguins come to their aid. All of the stories in this tome are similarly funny and based in things that lower primary people know, all punctuated with Denton's recognisable drawings, giving a background of the familiar and homely. Kids will enjoy the stories which includes the banter between the group, their shifting relationships and friendships, taking risks and their exploration of their surroundings. There is a lot to like and the accompanying illustrations add another level of humour to an already very funny set of stories.
Fran Knight


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Nov 12 2017

Gary by Leila Rudge

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Walker Books Australia, 2017. ISBN 9781921977008
(Age: 3-10) Highly recommended. Gary (both written and illustrated) by Leila Rudge is a charming story about a pigeon that is different to all of his friends. He cannot fly like everyone else, and instead collects souvenirs that they bring back for him. Gary doesn't seem too worried about this as he enjoys his scrap-booking and listening to their adventures. The book continues on to follow Gary on his own adventure, where he must overcome his uncertainty of the city and get back home.
This book is such a great story to use for teaching children about difference and thinking outside the standards of the 'social norm'. I really like the ending which talks of Gary being like all the other racing pigeons most of the time, but then that sometimes the racing pigeons are just like him. It shows that there is not just one way of doing things and challenges the reader/listener to think about physical expectations placed on us every day. The illustrations are pencil drawings mixed with paper cut outs/mixed media and are interesting and engaging, bringing life and adding value to the story.
This story is a well-deserved Honour Book for the 2017 Children's Book of the Year Awards (Early Childhood). I feel is appropriate for children up to the age of 10 as it is a wonderful starting point for discussions of physical difference, social interactions and even storytelling through scrapbooking!
Thoroughly enjoyed and recommended.
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 12 2017

Dotty Detective: The paw print puzzle by Clara Vulliamy

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HarperCollins, 2016. ISBN 9780008132453
(Age: Beginning independent readers) Inspired by their favourite television character Fred Fantastic, Ace Detective, Dotty and her best friend Beans have formed the Join The Dots Detective Agency. They have special badges that they wear underneath their coat collars so they don't blow their cover and are ably assisted by Dotty's dog McClusky to solve mysteries that seem to occur. They are guided by Fred Fantastic's tenets of :
1. Stay Frosty. Always be on the lookout.
2. Follow That Hunch. If you've got a funny feeling you may be onto something important.
3. Use Your Noodle. Think.
4. A Light Bulb Moment. A sudden genius idea.
5. Get Proof. You must have the evidence before you can solve your case.
6. Jeepers Creepers. Use your Peepers.
In this episode they set out to solve the strange noises that Dotty hears in her hallway at night. When she opens her door and can't see anything she is almost convinced to believe in ghosts and that her house is haunted. But by using the clues, conveyed through secret notes written in invisible writing, they are able to identify what is really going on . . .
This is a series that is perfect for the newly independent reader with its layout, illustrations, larger font, shorter chapters and humour. The pace is rapid and the use of a variety of fonts highlights key ideas and actions without the need for a host of words. Girls will relate to her feisty nature but boys will also find the situations familiar and appealing. Others in the series are The Midnight Mystery, and The Lost Puppy.
A worthwhile new series to get for those who are beginning their independent reading journey.
Barbara Braxton


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Nov 09 2017

Tilly's reef adventure by Rhonda Garward

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National Library of Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780642279088
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Reef, Sea animals, Fish, Turtles, Great Barrier Reef, Pollution, Lift the flap book. Tilly a small green turtle has against the odds made it to the sea on the east coast of Australia where she learns to survive amongst the other animals. Through her eyes we see the array of coral which makes up the reef and the plethora of animals which make it their home. Dodging the lizards and seabirds ready to make a feast of the new hatchlings, she must make it past the whales waiting for a feast. Diving down into the clear water on the reef, she finds smaller animals that bear no danger but there are larger ones which do pose a danger to someone her size. She must learn to recognise these and avoid them. But one day she is trapped by a plastic bag which catches around her and she is washed up onto the beach amongst a lot of other litter.
It is here that the point of the book is made crystal clear. The little green turtle is helpless, the plastic around her makes her a rudderless piece of flotsam drifting with the waves, and once on the beach she is stranded, ready to be picked up by any predator. In this story, the humans come to her rescue, putting her back in the sea. But unknown numbers of sea creatures are killed in this way every day, and the book offers the opportunity for class to discuss this world wide problem and what can be done about it.
At the end of the book are several pages giving information that classes will find useful: one double page outlines Tilly and her friends in the sea in more detail, while the next double page illustrates all the fish seen on the reef, and the following several pages show readers what is being done on the reef by scientists bent on saving the heritage site for future generations.
A most informative and lively book, the illustrations will add to the interest shown by young readers with their bright colours and detailed drawings. Lifting the flap always adds interest to an information book and this is no different, but an index would have helped younger readers look things up and practice their research skills.
The animals all have anthropomorphic qualities which detracted from the flow of information for me, but I am sure young readers will not be as picky: they will enjoy every page, the information and illustrations alike, learning much about the reef and its inhabitants the more they read and look at the intricate and detailed pictures.
Fran Knight


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Nov 09 2017

The last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

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Orion, 2017. ISBN 9781473218130
(Age: 14+)Fantasy. In a well-written and well-constructed narrative, Ciccarelli draws us into the interconnected lives of the royal family, the slaves, the cousins and the dragons. This world resembles our world in its jealousies, love, family feuds, its enmity towards those outside 'our' world.
We are plunged into the intimate world of Asha, the Iskari, whose recent action, slaying a dragon, must be concealed, as should the burn she bears as a result of her killing this dragon. Controlled yet passionate, beautiful and unattainable, she is in a state of fear, of tension and of anxiety about what she has done, in her transgression, and what she must do to both cover this up and be ready for the next stage in her life.
These characters are drawn so finely, their world so rich in detail, the presence of the dragons as willful, strong aggressors that must be tamed or silenced, that we conceive of this world as possible. Not unlike our world, this world is full of envy, of family disruption and jealousy, of the normal human frailties and love, of honour and betrayal. It is a good read for those who love a story that rings so true and that lifts us out of our world for a brief time, to both puzzle and entertain us.
Liz Bondar


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Nov 09 2017

Build the Dragon by Dugald Steer

cover image Ill. by Jonathan Woodward and Douglas Carrel. Quarto Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925381702
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Dragons. Models. Build the dragon is a fabulous kit that comprises of a book about dragons and a model of a dragon comprising of 46 model pieces and 1 wind-up motor. It is housed in a sturdy box and is must for lovers of dragons and people who like to make models.
The book describes what a dragon is, dragon legends, and different dragons from around the world, their magical powers and their senses. It is very brightly coloured with very appealing illustrations that complement the text. The reader will learn much about the mythical creatures and from where they originate. There is even information about the living dragon, the Komodo dragon. People who enjoy reading tales of dragons will find that this book gives lots of background information to the fantasy dragons that they are familiar with from their stories.
The model is made from sturdy cardboard and has good instructions on how to make it. Children will need to be able to read fairly fluently to follow the guide, but they can always ask an adult to help them make it. The moving parts of the completed dragon will delight model lovers, young and old alike.
This would make an ideal gift for children and would keep them occupied and away from screens for a considerable and enjoyable amount of time.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 09 2017

Once upon a small rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

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Ill. by Leila Rudge. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781925126709
(Age: 3-8) Highly recommended. Themes: Determination, Adventure. This tale is whimsical and gentle with soft, pencil illustrations in muted colours that suit the style of the book perfectly. It is about a rhinoceros named Lila who isn't content with just doing rhinoceros things. She sees the boats that sail past on the river, bringing with them exotic sights, sounds and smells and she dreams of seeing the world beyond the mud and grass and trees that she calls home. But the mud and grass and trees are everything a rhinoceros could need says another rhinoceros. Lila agrees. It is. But still she dreams. Finally, one day, she builds a boat.
Lila, with her human-like upright stance, contented smile and rosy cheeks is such a likeable character. She is determined and adventurous and absolutely refuses to be discouraged from her mission, regardless of her lack of knowledge or experience. "You can't row. Or steer. Or read a map" one rhino says. "I know" says Lila. "You'll get lost" says another. "Perhaps" she says, as she sails off around the bend wearing the bright orange life jacket she found in the mud.
When reading this aloud it feels like you have to say the mouth-twisting word rhinoceros or the even more gymnastic word rhinoceroses one too many times, but this is minor critique for what is a really rather perfect picture book. The illustrations of Lila's travels are stunning, bringing to life little worlds that Lila marvels in: the depths of the ocean, the rainforest and the city. The page containing people from different cultures and walks of life is a great discussion point. When Lila returns home most of the rhinoceroses are content to hear her stories and then continue with their normal lives. But in one rhinoceros, even smaller than herself, she finds a similar dreamer.
This tale emphasises that you don't have to be big (or male) to step outside of your comfort zone and to be an explorer and a pioneer. Lila dreams and works hard to bring her dreams to fruition. She has no help and no encouragement, but it doesn't deter her.
This isn't a unique story line for a picture book but it is a particularly good one. Inspirational for young and old, male and female.
Nicole Nelson


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Nov 08 2017

I'm just no good at rhyming: and other nonsense for mischievous kids and immature grown-ups by Chris Harris

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Ill. by Lane Smith. Macmillan, 2017. ISBN 9781509881048
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Poetry. Humour. Word play. Read aloud. Fun. Rhyming. Poetry books often linger on shelves but this one will not. All it needs is someone to read out one of the poems to an eager class, and the book will be taken away. An astute teacher will see the possibilities of using such a book in the classroom, as many of the poems present a template on which children can invent further poems.
Many are just nonsensical, sure to elicit laughter from the delighted listeners, some have marvelous word play, inviting children to add their own piece of nonsense, while others describe a very recognisable situation. Whatever poem found when opening this large book, children will be intrigued, offering rhyming words, working out just what the poet means, trying them out for themselves.
The poem of the title will grab them as the poem lives up to its title, having non-rhyming words at the end of each stanza, impelling listeners to call out their own rhyming words. But when the poet says he is good at metre, spelling and timing, children will learn what these are as they read. Others like 'The hungry giraffe' are simply fun, inviting children to learn the short poem and laugh out loud at the preposterous rhyme in the last line, modeling the use of this poem as a template for their own work, using made-up words to complete the rhyme.
There are poems about bad words, and farms, animals and going out on a Saturday night, poems about families and cities, snails and teachers, all designed to make people laugh out loud and read them over again.
'Under my dragon's wing', for example, encourages children to find something that makes them feel safe, and use the metre of this poem to write their own.
Nonsense poems abound, such as 'The incredible story of day the glistening city of San Fransisco was saved from destruction by a lowly snail', or 'Alphabet book' (by the laziest artist in the world)
while some may be about a topic which encourages discussion like 'The loser's cheer' (and also a laugh!) and others are much longer, like 'The shortest anaconda in the world', which reveals some startling rhyming words.
The illustrations by award winning artist, Lane Smith, add to the fun of the poems, often poking fun at the theme while adding to the story. I love his doorman and the giraffe, while many other drawings made me laugh out loud.
There is an index (good luck with that) and an outdex along with short biographies of the two people responsible for the book.
I can imagine groups of children reading these out to each other, giggling away at the outrageous rhymes and funny illustrations while teachers will use them for classroom poetry readings and modeling creative writing.
Fran Knight


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Nov 08 2017

Wolf children by Paul Dowswell

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408858516
(Age: 13+) It is July 1945, Hitler's Third Reich has fallen, and Berlin is in ruins. Living on the edge of survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city. The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage.
Caught between invading armies, ruthless gangs and the constant threat of starvation, Otto and his friends must learn to stay alive.
But the Nazi regime left psychological wounds that are slow to heal: rifts arise in their little group and terrible secrets surface when a sinister figure emerges from the darkness.
Dowsell has created a masterpiece that draws on themes such as searching for the truth, friendship and survival against the odds. After living through the horrors of war, the children are now trying to find a life that resembles some sort of normalcy in Russian-occupied Berlin. There are a number of strong characters in the book, none more so than Ulrich. He is in constant turmoil between the brainwashing he received in the Hitler Youth and the reality of how he is now forced to live. Ulrich still clings to the ideology of the 'Master Race' but, in reality he is beginning to question this.
This is definitely a YA novel as it tackles some issues that would not be suitable for readers younger than 13. It would be a positive addition to the library collection on World War 2, particularly as it exposes experiences of children on all sides.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Nov 08 2017

The princess in black: Three smashing adventures by Shannon and Dean Hale

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Ill. by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick Press, 2017. ISBN 9780763697778
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Themes: Humour. Monsters. Adventure. Superheroes. Getting a monster to return underground where it belongs is not a task allocated to a pretty Princess in Pink, Magnolia, replete with tinkering glass slippers and a tiara. But it is just the right task for the Princess in Black, her alter ego, who can change her clothes in an instant, and leap onto her charger, a few minutes before a unicorn in the paddock calmly chewing the grass. But things do not have quite the same ring as a superhero, for the princess must change into her new guise in the broom closet, slide down a channel built into the castle walls to meet her horse outside the castle walls. Once on the go, she meets up with the goat boy, Duff, trying to protect his goats from the blue monster which has appeared above ground. It cannot remember just why it should not go outside the underground cave where it belongs but soon recalls the reason when the Princess in Back forces a reminder. While she is away the nosey Duchess Wigtower snoops around her castle, adding another layer to the story, with humorous results. The illustrations add to the story, splitting up the text for newer readers, and adding a level of visual literacy that is inviting and fun.
This series turns around the idea of superheroes, with Princess Magnolia changing from her pink outfit to the black to defeat her enemies. The princess in black is the first in the series, followed by The Princess in black and the perfect princess party and The Princess in black and the hungry bunny horde while at the back of the book there are pictures of several more in the series.
Each is funny, adventurous and involving. They will appeal to younger new confident readers.
Fran Knight


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Nov 08 2017

Fluke by Lesley Gibbes and Michelle Dawson

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Working Title Press, 2017. ISBN 9781921504891
Under the shadow of the great harbour bridge a little southern right whale is born. For weeks it stays and plays with its mother getting stronger for the long journey south to the Antarctic waters, delighting the people of Sydney who hadn't seen a pair like this for many years. But one day a ferry's motor startles Fluke and he dives deep to the bottom of the water where it is dark and murky and he can no longer hear his mother calling.
The people of Sydney begin an anxious search for him knowing that without her protection he will be easy prey for a shark...
Based on actual events, this is a charming story illustrated in a palette as soft and gentle as both the text and the events themselves. Like the humpbacks that are so prevalent down the Humpback Highway at the moment, southern right whales - so-called because early whalers believed them to be the 'right' whale to catch because they were large, slow-moving, rich in oil and blubber and floated when they were killed - were hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century and so the appearance of mum and bub in the harbour brought both joy and hope. The endpapers provide a thumbnail sketch of these wonderful creatures, adding an extra dimension to the book.
Now that whale-hunting has taken on a whole new meaning and with seeing a whale in the wild on many bucket lists making it a sustainable tourist industry for many little coastal towns, learning about them through stories like Fluke can only bring a greater awareness and help to guarantee their revival and survival. The whalers were an important part of our coastal history and settlement, making them an important part of the history curriculum but unlike a generation ago, their activities can now be scrutinised through several lenses as students discuss and debate the 'rightness' of their endeavours. The use of books like Fluke would bring another perspective to a webquest.
Teachers' notes are available
Loved it.
Barbara Braxton


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Nov 03 2017

A very quacky Christmas by Frances Watts and Ann James

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ABC Books, 2017. ISBN 9780733329623
(Age: 2-5) Highly recommended. Themes: Christmas, Sharing, Perseverance. Samantha Duck is singing her favourite song, We wish you a quacky Christmas as she gets ready for Christmas. She believes that animals love to share and she wants to give presents to animals all over the world. Sebastian the tortoise is not so optimistic. He believes that it cannot be done, and says "Christmas is not for animals," but Samantha is determined because for her "Christmas is about giving and sharing". When they approach their farmyard friends for help all the animals decide that Christmas is for them. The sheep donate their wool for Samantha and Sebastian to knit socks and scarves, the hens donate their eggs for the pair to make cupcakes, the cows the daisies in the field for daisy chains and then they wrap everything in brightly coloured paper. The donkey shares his cart so that the friends can deliver their presents all over the world. With determination and a final belief that Christmas is for animals from Sebastian, the pair soar into the air, delivering their presents all over the world.
This is a joyous picture book that is destined to become a Christmas favourite. I found myself humming along to Samantha's We wish you a quacky Christmas for hours after reading the story and kept the images of the Samantha and Sebastian dancing to the song in my head, making me feel happy at the thought of sharing and giving at Christmas. Children will delight in the gorgeous illustrations of the friends as they make their presents and soar across the sky and will easily follow the themes of perseverance and generosity that permeate the story.
A very quacky Christmas is a keeper and one for all libraries, homes and classrooms.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 03 2017

One Christmas wish by Katherine Rundell

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Ill. by Emily Sutton. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408885734
(Age:7+) Highly recommended. Themes: Christmas, Loneliness, Sharing, Decorations, Friends, Family. A modern fable, this story tells of a young boy's wish at Christmas and how his wish is fulfilled when he sees a star falling across the night sky.
It is Christmas Eve and he has been left with a new babysitter who falls asleep over her mobile phone in the kitchen. He takes the decorations from the strongly sellotaped box to hang on the tree, and is dismayed all over again that his parents have not replaced the broken ones. He attaches the damaged baubles and finds four more decorations at the bottom of the box: a toy soldier with a rusty drum, a fairy with damaged wings, a wooden horse on worm eaten rockers and a a bedraggled robin.
After he wishes on the falling star, he hears voices behind him and is amazed to see the four decorations asking for help to come down from the tree. From there the excitement of Christmas Eve, making friends and sharing with others takes on a reality of heartfelt proportions as Theo finds ways of making his friends happy. The horse is unscrewed from its rockers, and the robin helped to find someone who will teach it to sing as the five make their way to Mrs Goodyere's house. The robin stays to help her celebrate Christmas, remembering her dead husband, Arthur while she helps the robin sing. They find feathers along the way to repair the fairy's wings, and the tin soldier asks for help in finding someone to love. Theo cleans up his drum, and they head to the doll shop where they find a princess waiting for him. He leaves them guarding the infant in the manger in the town square while the horse makes its way into the sky. When Theo returns home, some magic happens for him as well when his parents return sooner than everyone expected after seeing a horse flying through the night sky and making them feel that they should return home to be with their family.
The warmth of the story is reflected in the detailed illustrations, reminiscent of books from long ago, with lots of Christmasy customs and images to pour over. Readers of all ages will get a thrill reading this lovely witty story and stopping to soak up the marvelous illustrations.
Fran Knight


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Nov 03 2017

A Christmas menagerie edited and compiled by Beattie Alvarez

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Christmas Press, 2017. ISBN 9780994528049
(Age: 7-12) Recommended. Themes: Christmas, Short stories. Twelve short stories will delight young readers and any adult who reads them aloud to children. The stories are by well known authors, Janeen Brian, Michael Pryor, Sophie Masson, Gabrielle Wang and Sherryl Clark as well as some new and emerging authors.
This is a compilation to dip into and enjoy. Clever wombat by Janeen Brian has a very busy Wombat ticking off the tasks for Christmas from his list but needing the help of his friends to find a special Christmas tree. Children will giggle about Michael Prior's story of Santa's special helper the pig who has to help Santa out by eating all the treats left out by families, the delightful illustrations by Kathy Creamer adding to the humour in the story. Adults and children alike will thrill to the story of The ancient wren by Michael Grey, with its moral "Happiness, like kindness, is only real when shared". I was really taken with Pony for Sale, written and illustrated by Gabrielle Wang. Although it isn't a traditional Christmas story, the themes of generosity, sharing and caring that come through this tale of a little girl who has to give her pony away when her family moves to a small flat are ones that bring the spirit of the festive season to life.
Each story is illustrated by different illustrators, Kathy Creamer, Fiona McDonald, Beattie Alvarez, Ingrid Kallick, and Yvonne Low and the bright colourful drawings all add to the joy in the book.
A selection that will continue to be enjoyed by children over the years, this is a worthy addition to every library and classroom.
Pat Pledger


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Sep 13 2017

Literature to Support the Australian Curriculum Book 2 - Annotated Lists of Fiction and Poetry by Fran Knight and Pat Pledger

cover image Pledger Consulting, 2017. ISBN 9781876678531
Highly recommended. This book contains literature to support the Australian Curriculum. It contains annotated lists that cover Asian and Indigenous themes, Sustainability, Poetry, Suggestions for class texts and read alouds for both Primary and Secondary students.
I would highly recommend this useful text for both educators and teacher librarians. It is extremely easy to use with each separate subject being divided up into year levels - entry level - Year 3, Years 4-6 and Years 7-10.
Each annotation contains the publisher and year of publication, making it easy to track down the resource. There is also a brief description/blurb of each text.
Popular picture books and both junior and senior novels are listed. For ease of use, all entries are listed alphabetically according to authors. To assist this, there is also an index of authors.
Each section contains new and recently published texts where you will find your old favourite authors and be introduced to a number of new ones.
It is pleasing to see the inclusion of a diverse range of novels and picture books written by Indigenous authors and illustrators in the Indigenous section. Themes such as diversity, celebration, reconciliation, art and culture are all represented.
I was impressed with the poetry section as this is often an area we are asked for texts by teachers. We find it difficult to find 'good' poetry books to purchase so we will certainly be using this as a starting point to update our collection.
Kathryn Schumacher


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Feb 02 2017

Literature to support the Science curriculum Foundation -7 by Fran Knight and Pat Pledger

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Pledger Consulting, 2016. ISBN 9781876678470
Highly recommended for educators. Subjects: Science curriculum; Fiction; Annotated bibliography. Fran Knight and Pat Pledger continue to write first-rate reference tools for teachers in primary school education, which focus on key curriculum areas. This resource links popular picture books, junior and senior novels and non-fiction books with the Australian Science curriculum. Each book listed has a review available on the ReadPlus online database.
Set out in an easy to read format, each year level and scientific topic is explored with listings presented in alphabetical order of the author. A comprehensive index is included as well.
Pamela Allen, Jeannie Baker, Phillip Gwynne and Elizabeth Honey's popular picture books support the Foundation Biological Sciences strand and the Inquiry Skills. Recent publications such as Aleesah Darlison's Spider Iggy and Roland Harvey's On the River provide up to date scientific information in a story format. The scientific and geographic books by writer and researcher Peter Gouldthorpe provide an excellent foundation for Year 6 students investigating Earth and space sciences. Content included covers Aboriginal perspectives and presents books that introduce a scientific worldview.
Fiction is an invaluable tool for introducing a new science subject, for encouraging investigation, for introducing keywords, setting up a word wall and stimulating creative inquiry and research skills.
Literature to support the Science curriculum Foundation -7 is a significant resource for educators and teacher librarians and for supporting STEM programs.
Rhyllis Bignell
Editor's note: The book is available here.


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Feb 21 2016

Fiction gems: Recommended fiction lists for Upper Primary and Lower Secondary students by Fran Knight and Pat Pledger

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Pledger Consulting, 2016. ISBN 9781876678456
Teacher reference. What a great resource for those charged with purchasing or recommending reading material for Upper Primary and Lower Secondary students. The Middle School aged reader can have specific interests or reading demands and keeping on top of current and favourite books can be very difficult without some help from trusted reviewers. This book lists Fiction recommendations within a number of categories; some books are indicated for more mature readers, but most are well-suited to the 10-15 aged reader.
Each book is summarised with a 1-2 sentence brief overview, so it is easy to peruse for suggestions for readers. More complete reviews are accessible via the ReadPlus review blog index.
This is a book that would be a good resource on the Librarian's shelf.
Carolyn Hull


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