Reviews

Happy hoppy home by Tull Suwannakit

cover image

When the Hare family fills its burrow, it becomes evident that they must search for a new home. The four young ones are restricted by the burrow’s tiny space: Dot cannot dance, Pip and Pat cannot play their games, while Baby Cottontail complains that there is too much noise to sleep.

So Papa Hare puts forward his plan: they will move to a bigger burrow. He burrows up but meets the sky, he burrows down and digs into someone else’s house, he digs sideways and finds a frog in the bath in one, and a python curled up inside one burrow, amongst other animals in tricky situations. None want the Hare family in their house. At last his digging comes across the perfect house. They all love it; it is open and spacious, just right for their large family, but Baby Cottontail is scared to sleep in so much openness, Dot says it is lonely while Pip and Pat think there is too much space. But they must all start digging again when the real owner of the house returns, taking possession of her home. They dig and dig until finally they return to their old burrow which is warm and comforting, the perfect house for the family. So Papa Hare’s new plan is to stay right where they are.

A charming story of finding the place where you feel most at home, the Hare family works together to solve the problem of not enough space but conclude that they have all the right ingredients for their family after all. A warm and loving story of ‘there’s no place like home’ will endear younger readers, reiterating the need of family love and comfort, the closeness a family brings to each of its members and is a celebration of the richness that home brings to its occupants.

The lovely pencil and watercolour illustrations showcase a range of images which represent home for everyone: the bed shared by the family, the warm kitchen and the sharing of family togetherness.  I loved the detail: the mail boxes above ground, the things the children take with them when they are eager to move, the animals they encounter on their expedition, the new house with all its differences. Readers will love exploring the illustrations and think about what home means to them.

Themes Family, Comfort, Home, Change.

Fran Knight

booktopia

The Usborne Book of the brain and how it works by Dr Betina Ip Illus. by Mia Nilsson

cover image

The most important part of the human body is the brain but it is only in the last little while that technology has enabled scientists to examine it more closely and start to understand its complexities and connections and figure out how it works. Indeed, about 20 years ago there were huge shifts in the way we teach as new pedagogies emerged from this new understanding and "brain-based learning" was the buzzword of the times.

But for all that we, as teachers, were learning about the principles of learning, and the magic trees of the mind, books which clearly explained how the brain functions which were accessible by young learners have been few and far between. So this new publication which is essentially a conversation between a wise owl and a curious little girl fills a void.

Using speech bubbles, the owl takes the girl on a journey through her brain clearly explaining its parts, its functions, how we learn and how to keep it active and healthy offering a clear and concise explanation that is perfectly pitched for its target audience. From the senses to sleep, memories to making decisions, it provides an introduction to this fascinating topic and then this is supported by the selected online sites in the Quicklinks that accompany these sorts of Usborne publications.

An essential part of any investigation into how we learn by teachers and how our bodies work by students. At the very least, it will help both groups understand why each of us is unique and views the world that little bit differently.

Themes Brain.

Barbara Braxton

booktopia

Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth

cover image

Each night after Sam the cat has made sure that the family are safely tucked in bed, she goes on a nighttime wander.

But rather than this being a tale of what she does and who she meets while she is out, this story is the impetus for exploring how maps are used to "tell us how to get from here to there" and "tell us what is where". It is a unique introduction to the purpose of information illustrations like maps, charts and diagrams and how they can be used so that a picture does indeed, tell 1000 words.

By using an inquisitive cat whose favourite place is atop what will be the highest building in the neighbourhood (shown through a birds-eye-view map) this is a clever story that engages the reader because they become invested in Sam's explorations rather than being confronted by dry explanations. As Sam follows her customary path, wandering farther and farther away from home, readers encounter different kinds of maps illuminating different points of view and the various spots Sam visits. Finally, when Sam reaches her favourite place and confirms that all is well, she heads back home, climbs onto a cosy bed, and falls asleep.

Thus the reader comes away with having enjoyed a story as well as new knowledge, knowledge that is consolidated by two pages of background information just to draw all the concepts together.

For those who think that maps are confined to using the sat nav or Google maps, this is an excellent introduction to the variation and purpose of maps and the importance of being able to read, interpret and perhaps even create our own. They are so much more than the stereotype Boy Scout activity!

Teachers notes created by the author are available.

Barbara Braxton

booktopia

Where the heart is by Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe

cover image

In 2011, a Magellanic penguin washed up on an island village beach just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, near Joao's home. Joao rescued him, cleaned him up and cared for him for months knowing that he would have to set him free eventually. But for that first year they did almost everything together, until there came a time when even Dindim felt the call of the wild and knew he had to leave.

This is the beautiful story of that rescue, the friendship and the remarkable events that followed, even after Dindim left for the cold waters of his native Patagonia. With its gentle text and pictures, it celebrates friendship and the power of the words, "If you love something, set it free."

Teachers' notes for K-2 are available to help young readers understand the broader aspects of Dindim's plight.

Themes Penguins, Wildlife conservation, Marine habitats, Brazil.

Barbara Braxton

booktopia

The Best Friend Promise by Rebecca Timmis

cover image

The best friend promise is the first book in the new series Mertales, written by Rebecca Timmis. Filled with fantasy and adventure, this story will leave the reader enchanted and delighted with sea-sational mer-fun and more!

Pearl Periwinkle wakes, excited that it is her ninth birthday today. While caught up in the anticipation of her big birthday party tonight, she realises she is now running late for school. Deciding to take a potentially dangerous shortcut through the reef, she encounters a reef shark. Suddenly she remembers why she is not supposed to take short cuts! Quickly she escapes that potential danger, only to suddenly spy a bright green star zooming into the ocean nearby. What could it be? On diving back into the water, she experiences something magical. Her tail glows and tingles, but she is unsure what this all means. So quickly she sets off to meet up with her friends for school and tell them all about it.

The journey throughout the novel keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. As Pearl works through friendship dilemmas, discovers the ability to talk to animals, fights off potential predators and waits for the much-anticipated birthday party, the reader feels like they are riding the sea-ventures with her. This is an easy read for those children who are emerging into short novels. Anyone who enjoys a little fantasy, mermaids, glitter and sea creatures is sure to thoroughly enjoy this young novel.

Rebecca Timmis, as author and illustrator, creates a story that is engaging and moves quickly for one adventure to the next. Just when you think the story has reached its crescendo, another plot twist evolves. Nicely interwoven with monochrome pictures to support the story and added with a splash of vibrant pink, she expertly manages to capture and enhance the storyline. Children will be enchanted and enthralled with the twists and twirls, glitter and glam of the fantasy, undersea world. Filled with mermaids, real and mythical creatures and exciting escapades, this story is sure to keep the reader entertained!

Themes Sea creatures, Friendship, Problem Solving.

Michelle O'Connell

booktopia

Lucy and Copper by Mandy Foot

cover image

Farm-dwelling Lucy has been best friends with her pony Smudge since she was little. But both Smudge and Lucy are getting older and Lucy is too big to ride her anymore: her toes almost touch the ground and Smudge's feet clomp heavily under the weight. Pa has brought home a new horse for Lucy but she isn't interested. How could any horse take the place of her beloved Smudge? Copper is not the right colour, he is too skinny and bony... Her determined stance not to have anything to do with Copper turns to sadness when she is in bed that night. 'I miss riding Smudge', she says to her dad. Tears flow as she deals with her grief. 'But Lucy, maybe Copper needs you', says Dad. The next morning as day dawns, Lucy has a new, fresh outlook as she saddles up Copper and rides out with Smudge trotting happily next to them.

At no point does the text overtly tell the reader how Lucy feels; Mandy Foot beautifully portrays these emotions through her soft illustrations, Lucy's caring love for Smudge and short smatterings of dialogue. This touching story will resonate with many children who have to say goodbye to things or people that they have grown with over their childhood, particularly pets. It also subtly addresses themes of change, personal growth and emotional resilience. Having the father as main caregiver, who is gentle and nurturing and helps Lucy deal with her emotions is also a lovely touch. Mandy Foot is a stalwart illustrator whose depictions of animals are always stunning. Lucy and Copper is no exception.

Themes Horses, Change, Growing up.

Nicole Nelson

booktopia

This is NOT a Book! by Kellie Byrnes and Aska

cover image

In this brightly illustrated book the main character is convinced they're not in a book How can they be when they are real? After all, if this were a book, there'd be pages to turn. Oops! We've turned the page. But that's not proof this is a book.

Even if there are pages to turn, there would be things happening and there would be a focus and other characters, a distinct time period and exciting settings, action to be involved in, problems to solve. Yet, to him, there is nothing happening, despite what is being portrayed in the illustrations.

it is one of four books from this publisher - the others are The Art of Words, The Leaky Story, and My Storee - that focus on metafiction, helping young readers become young writers. Told by the main character (who is deliberately not identified by gender) in a monologue, the text in this story says one thing whilst in the illustrations the opposite is happening, showing that all the elements the character says should be in a book - main and subsidiary characters, settings, plots, problems, resolutions and so forth - are actually there.

This is a novel way to help children turn their ideas into written stories to share with others and  teachers' notes are available.

https://youtu.be/RCxNFk8nh1k

Themes Imagination, Story telling, Books and reading.

Barbara Braxton

booktopia

If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann. Illus. by Aaron Cushley

cover image

Over time there have been a number of books that reduce the world's population to 100 people so that little ones can understand how things compare.

Imagining a number like 8 billion is tricky but reducing it to a village where 100 people live - each person representing around 80 million people in the real world and then exploring the similarities and differences through specific questions makes it easier to understand. Are they all grown-ups? Are there more males or females? How many have black hair or blue eyes? What languages do they speak? Who can read and write? How many have access to the internet or have enough food to eat? Does everyone have access to electricity or clean water?

Using double-page spreads, clever illustrations and graphic design elements, the global village is reduced to manageable proportions making it easier to see the things we have in common, and the things that make us different. There is also a challenge to consider the world in 2050 when they will be the decision-makers and how they can contribute to making the world more equitable.

But as well as the social and humanitarian aspects of the book, it is also an excellent way to talk about data collection, interpretation and presentation, offering the perfect pathway into learning about the various types of graphs, their purposes and formats. Students could also survey their class to see how it compares to the village by calculating the class number as a percentage of the 100 villagers, asking the questions and comparing the numbers. A purposeful and meaningful way to bring real life into their maths lessons.

A valuable addition to any teacher's toolbox and a fascinating examination for any child interested in their world and its statistics.

Themes Population, Social problems, Statistics, Mathematics.

Barbara Braxton

booktopia

Mia's Life Fan Takeover! by Mia Fizz

cover image

Fan Takeover is the first book in the new series Mia’s life, written by Mia Fizz. Based on the life of the author Mia Fizz, this novel takes you behind the scenes of a real-life YouTuber and social media sensation who has millions of followers.  Early on in the story, you discover that even though she obviously has this really high profile, she is actually just an ordinary girl with ordinary problems. Her cheerful and bubbly personality emanates throughout the story; creating easy connections and relatability for the readers.

The novel begins with Mia vlogging her fans about makeup tips. She gets a text reminder that it is her younger sister, Sienna’s 9th birthday in a few days, and she hasn’t bought a present. Knowing that it will be a virtual experience with the whole family videoing for followers to see, she needs to think of a great gift that her sister will love, and her fans will rate too! While contemplating this, Sienna interrupts her thinking and throws a curve ball that she should change her channel up a bit to keep her fans enthused. Now she has two problems to deal with! Will Mia be able to work out a way to keep her viewers entertained and at the same time get her little sister a great birthday present? Or will things get a little crazy along the way?

This book is written in a way that is an easy read and relatable to preadolescents who are interested in using social media. The story deals with many important issues that can arise while growing up, with great opportunities for learning points and reflections. An enjoyable and entertaining read with relevant and relatable information about staying internet safe, being true to yourself and keeping strong family and friendship connections. Mia is sure to win over even more fans and increase her follower numbers with this novel!

Themes Internet safety, You-Tubing, Family, Friendship, Taking risks.

Michelle O'Connell

booktopia

Everything under the sun: A curious question for every day of the year by Molly Oldfield

cover image

Molly Oldfield, the host of the weekly podcast, ‘Everything Under the Sun’ has complied a compendium of 366 questions which her young listeners have sent in from around the world. The book has been beautifully illustrated in vibrant colour by twelve different illustrators providing unique images to complement each of the questions answered.

Everything Under the Sun begins with a note for the reader where it is explained that some of replies to the questions are factual while others may be the contributors’ opinions. This is followed by the contents page with each chapter being a month of the year. Molly gives a warm and welcoming introduction and then it is straight into the month of January with 31 questions to be answered. Some of these questions include: Does eating cheese give you bad dreams?, Why do Saguaros have arms? or How long would it take for my hair to grow like Rapunzel’s? Month after month the young reader has the chance to find out responses to many amazing questions which children have asked the author. December’s questions include: Has an astronaut ever seen Father Christmas? and Who invented Christmas crackers? Perhaps one of the more humorous and reassuring answers to the question Can Mrs Christmas help Father Christmas to see who is naughty or not? is from author Neil Gaiman.

The end of the book includes a page about Where will your curiosity take you next? and mentions libraries as being wonderful places to find books and seek help from librarians to answer your questions. There is a brief biography about the author, a thank you to the people who responded to the questions, a double page spread introducing each of the illustrators plus a thank you list of all the children who sent in questions.

This is a very worthwhile addition to any library for all age groups of children from pre-schoolers to upper primary students. A wonderful resource for a classroom teacher to begin each day with a new question.

Themes Questions & Answers, World Wide Topics.

Kathryn Beilby

booktopia

The right way to rock by Nat Amoore

cover image

The Right Way to Rock, written by Nat Amoore is a story for music and art lovers combined. Mac is a boy who has grown up with a mum who loves rock music. She lives and breathes it and believes that Mac is the same. However, Mac has a secret, he actually loves Broadway musicals. Finding a ‘secret society’ who shares his same passion, he journeys through the joy and celebration of finding that special connection with likeminded, yet very unique people. Mac feels at last that he is understood and can be himself. He begins to feel more of a sense of purpose and belonging. Enjoying the new friendships and mutual love of this music genre, Mac is enjoying life.  

However, this feeling of happiness and contentment are short lived. When Mac overhears a conversation and discovers that his beloved arts program at his primary school is going to be removed from the curriculum next year, he is horrified. Can Mac work out a way to change the outcomes for his school? Will his new friendship and ‘secret society’, band together and show everyone the beauty of Broadway Musicals and save the school program or will Waterson Primary’s principal stick with her decision and deny the students the opportunity to explore the joy of all facets of art? 

Nat Moore engages the reader with a relatable character in Mac. Each chapter begins with a scene that is scripted and a Broadway song; where the words have been cleverly changed to follow the melody. Knowing the actual song and tune that is being referred to enables the reader to enjoy this more and definitely adds a little extra zing to the new words. This book is thought provoking and intriguing, it may even inspire young readers to develop an interest in music theatre and check out the songs themselves. A story of trusting friendships, building self-confidence and accepting people for who they are. Mac’s songs are sure to get your toe tapping as you follow his journey to save his school.

Themes Music, Broadway musicals, Friendship, Problem solving.

Michelle O'Connell

booktopia

Introducing D'Lila LaRue by Nette Hilton. Illus. by A. Yi

cover image

D’Lila LaRue is a little girl whose parents are VERY IMPORTANT and often away and D’Lila is left in the care of Nanny Anny.  The book is split into three short stories that centre around the two main characters and the adventures they have. 

D’Lila is an independent thinker and very adventurous, she is a kind child who tries to keep out of mischief and be good for Nanny Anny.  However, things just seem to happen and mishaps occur that are amusing and engaging for the reader.

This book does have a couple of occasions where the adults response to D’Lila feels old-fashioned or rude but she never seems to mind or doesn’t quite understand what is being said.  I don’t think that young readers will pick up on the subtext of the interactions but they will find the humour in the adventures that the little girl has with and without Nanny Anny.

This is a book that I think will appeal to younger independent readers as the layout of the book makes it an easy read.  There are three distinct stories with large text, colourful illustrations and short chapters.  This is a book that would also work in a classroom read aloud situation.

Mhairi Alcorn

booktopia

Listified! by Andrew Pettie. Illus. by Andres Lozano

cover image

Where to begin! From the very busy endpapers to the extensive list of useful words a.k.a. glossary, to the detailed index as well as the thorough list of sources, this book is one massive read. Those children (and indeed adults!) who love lists of facts will be in book paradise with Listified! Fortunately, the book begins with a traditional list of contents with the following chapter headings: Space, Nature, Dinosaur Times, Animals, The Body, Being Human, Inventions and Game Changers. The author, Andrew Pettie, then follows with a personal and humorous message, ‘Five great things about reading this book’. Each chapter has a list of things you will encounter in the chapter and each list is presented on a single or double page spread in well-spaced segments with different coloured pages and graphic style images. The use of asterisks, clearly sectioned off at the bottom of the page, provide further explanation of important points. In The Body chapter there is a scale of the ten heaviest human organs with a comparison e.g. did you know the average weight of the eye is 7.5gms which is compared to a pencil or that the brain weighs approximately the same as a steam iron? In the Being Human chapter, we find out that Australia is the sixth largest country by surface area at 7.7 million sq kms and that Vatican City is the smallest at 0.4 sq kms. 

This compendium would make an excellent gift for the fact enthusiast or a great place to find questions for a quiz night, classroom question of the day or online family quizzes which have taken off in COVID-19 times. An enjoyable book to browse and go back to time and time again.

Themes World information, Lists, Facts.

Kathryn Beilby

booktopia

The attack by Catherine Jinks

cover image

Jinks has written a taut thriller with a plot unlike any I have read before. Written in two time-lines, 2009 and 2019, the author takes the reader on a suspenseful trip into the past and the present as Robyn Ayres, a caretaker on Finch Island, recognises a boy from her former life as a teacher. A group of vets run a tough-love program for disturbed teens at the camp and a boy named Darren catches her eye. She spots him as the child, named Aaron, who was at the centre of a vicious custody case when she was his teacher. Things did not go well for her at the school, mainly because of Aaron’s vindictive grandmother, and Robyn is left wondering why his name has been changed and what will the consequences be for her if he recognises her.

Jinks builds up the tension as the narrative switches from 2009 to 2019. In the 2009 classroom the child throws tantrums and is uncontrollable. Robyn finds herself caught between Aaron’s inept mother and his terrifying grandmother. I found myself holding my breath wondering what was going to happen to both Robyn and Aaron. Meanwhile on Finch Island, which was once a leper colony, Robyn faces nasty pranks and the danger surrounding her builds to a crescendo at the final assembly.  Is it the boy now called Darren who is threatening her and will she get safely out of the mess that seems to be her life?

There will be triggers for teachers reading this – difficult children in both the classroom and on camp – but it is a story that can’t be put down. An interesting article about cross-genre writing by Jinks can be found here. Readers who were gripped by The attack may want to read her other recent books for older readers, Shepherd and Shelter.

Themes Psychological thriller, Disfunctional families, Troubled children.

Pat Pledger

booktopia

Melody Finch by Ian Boyd and Gary Luck

cover image

Melody Klomp, from drought-stricken Charleville in Queensland, regularly visits her Nanna Bell on the Coorong in South Australia. Nanna Bell is passionate about the wildlife in the Coorong region and knows that the plants and animals, as well as her ecological boating tours, are suffering from the effects of drought further along the Murray Darling Basin River system. On returning home to Charleville Melody finds herself transformed into the body of a Diamond Firetail Finch and she learns from the secret frog network that the big rains are coming. Melody knows she must travel south along the river system to tell Nanna Bell that the rains are on their way and not to sell her beloved boat, The Isabella. Melody’s journey is one of great risk, fear and wonder. She finds friends amongst the bird and wildlife population especially a Rainbow Bee-eater named Ramon who supports her through some very difficult challenges. She encounters danger from a cane toad, a white goshawk, a human intent on wiping out the seal colony and taking over Nanna Bell’s boat as well as a nasty giant osprey named Silverclaw who is cruel to all animals. At the end of her journey Melody discovers an amazing secret about Nanna Bell and with her help and help from the birdlife, the Coorong seals are saved.

This book is an exciting adventure which middle primary children will enjoy. Along Melody’s journey there are so many interesting facts to learn both about the wildlife, ecosystems and the environment. This wonderful story reinforces how we must interact thoughtfully with our natural surroundings so animals and humans can live together harmoniously. It would make a great class novel. Information about the authors and the book can be found here.

Themes Australia, Drought, Sustainability, Australian Wildlife, Family, Danger, Excitement.

Kathryn Beilby

booktopia