Reviews

Ten little yoga frogs by Hilary Robinson and Mandy Stanley

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Yoga is gaining increasing traction with the under five crowd so little movers will love this story that counts up from one to ten as one little frog is joined by nine friends in some kid-friendly yoga. This is similar to Mike Brownlow's Ten Little... series, except that this counts up rather than down. Bright, vibrant illustrations will capture and hold the attention of young listeners, who may even like to try out the poses themselves. The names of the poses and a silhouette of each are helpfully included on the corner of each page. Some pose inclusions are tree, lotus, garland and cow face. The last page also shows and names each pose. The text itself is simple and rhythmic: "Three yoga frogs stretching out for more, Noor joined in and then there were . . ." As with all classic counting books like this, children will enjoy shouting out the next number and large, colourful numerals in the top corner will aid with visual recognition. No doubt, they will also love perusing the fun illustrations which show the frogs in various peaceful places in the great outdoors: on lilypads, on yoga mats on the beach and in the vegetable garden, as well as being able to replicate the moves themselves. This will be a perfect introduction to yoga for beginners or a fun interactive book for those who already have a few poses in their arsenal. 

Themes Yoga, Counting Book, Rhyming Book.

Nicole Nelson

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Goodnight, little Panda

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Similar in concept to the Ten Minutes to Bed... series, Goodnight, Little Panda is one in a series of simple bedtime stories designed to send little ones off to sleep. The longish, nonemphatic text is notable for its predictable storyline and calm tone. Sweet, earthy, watercolour art is punctuated with photographic illustrations of a baby panda hunting for something tasty to eat before bed. She has had bamboo for breakfast and bamboo for lunch and she really wants something different for dinner. "Have you got anything nice to eat?" she inquires of the monkeys. But the lichen they suggest is icky and sticky and Little Panda doesn't like it at all. The seeds suggested by the birds are too itty and bitty and the worms suggested by the frog are much too slithery and slimy. The problem is resolved by the red panda, whose suggestion of bamboo really is the best one!

This is a gentle and soothing story that ends with Little Panda settling down for a lovely long snooze. This peaceful ending and simple, flowing language makes it perfect for bedtime or nap time. 

Themes Bedtime, Pandas.

Nicole Nelson

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Life savers by Eryl Nash and Ana Albero

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In 2020 frontline workers in the health industry came to the fore showing their skills and passion for their work and dedication to helping people all over the world struggling in the COVID-19 pandemic. Life Savers written by Eryl Nash recognises twelve emergency real life workers from many different countries. There is a foreword from Dr Zoe Williams, a NHS Doctor and television presenter, who talks about heroes that are in everyday life and that 'their heroic powers come from their minds, hearts and able hands'. Some of the life-saving heroes include Fabien from France who rescues people from danger in the mountains, Jin from China is a cancer research scientist detecting ways to treat deadly diseases, Johanne from Germany is a counsellor who supports adults and children through hard times, Ashan is a surgeon from Pakistan who performs life-saving operations and Andrew from Australia who is a Flying Doctor.

Each double page spread presents a concise and easy to understand written account of a day in the life of the particular worker, a brief storyboard of them at work plus a whole page dedicated to the equipment or kit they require including the uniforms they wear and tools they use. The clever images are presented graphically and labelled clearly. At the end of the book are acknowledgements with photos of the real-life heroes. There is a list of resources with additional information and with website addresses for further research.

This book would be a welcome addition to a school or public library.

Themes Frontline Workers, Emergency Services, Heroes.

Kathryn Beilby

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The tram to Bondi Beach by Libby Hathorn. Illus. by Julie Vivas

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Sydney in the 1930s and Kieran is fascinated by the trams as they rattle past his house and down the hill to Bondi Beach. But even more so, he loves to watch Saxon the paperboy swing his way along the running board, deftly selling papers and giving change as he goes. He is determined that he too will be a paperboy and finally, when he is 9, Mr Francis gives him a job. The only trouble is, when the newsagent hires him, Saxon tells the younger Keiran this tramstop is his territory.

Keiran is determined and tries to copy Saxon's technique on the trams. It all ends in a fall and his dad's fury and the threat of losing his first job. Are Keiran's dreams shattered before they have really formed?

This is a classic story from one of Australia's most established children's authors that has lasted the test of time as it takes the reader back to an era barely recognisable in today's hustle and bustle. The lives of Keiran and Isabelle are quite different from that of today's 9 year-old - could having a job as well as school be a normal thing today? The signature style of Julie Vivas's illustrations add a richness that demand a compare and contrast that will show that while there are many outward differences as time has moved on, not just between 1931 and now but also 1981 when it was first published and now. that inner strength of family remains unchanged.

It also highlights the current controversy of the delivery of news, including the situation with Facebook withdrawing access to news sites, setting up an investigation into how people have got their news over time, its integrity and its relevance, making it a book that could be used at any level across the school.

Barbara Braxton

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The rose daughter by Maria Lewis

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Dreckly is a sprite, hiding in plain sight as an oyster shucker at the Sydney Fish Market, while forging documents for the supernatural beings who are desperate to escape persecution from the Treize. When she is  approached by a group of rebels to join their cause, she refuses - her father had always taught her not to be a hero, but to hide herself away.

An Aurealis award winner, Lewis deftly tells Dreckly's story in alternative chapters: what is happening to her in the present and her life story from the past. She was born in a notorious prison deep below ground in Scotland in the late 19th century to a forbidden union between a selkie and an earth elemental. She never knew her mother who died there and her father desperately tries to teach her as much as he can while using all his energy as an earth elemental to arrange for her escape. It is fascinating to follow her life as a florist in the US, a set designer in Hollywood, a spy in the second world war and then in the present, quietly hiding on board her boat in Sydney Harbour.

Life in Sydney becomes very dangerous for her, and the tension builds up with capture, imprisonment, escapes, a touch of romance and a finale that will have readers waiting desperately for the next in the series. Although this the 7th book in the series, I believe that it could be read as a stand-alone. I had read the first, Whose afraid? and The wailing woman, book 5, but Lewis gives enough information for a reader new to the series to catch onto what is happening. But of course, they will want to go back and read the other six books.

This series is one for people who enjoy supernatural stories with strong female protagonists and a touch of humour. 

Themes Supernatural, Fantasy.

Pat Pledger

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Game changer by Neal Shusterman

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Neal Shusterman's books are impossible to put down. Unwind, Dry and Challenger Deep are testimony to Shusterman's ability to craft a compelling novel. Game Changer is no exception. The author builds on scientific theory that multiverses are inevitable to prompt the reader to consider the extent to which the decisions we make in this universe have implications for others living in parallel worlds.

Set in the present, the book follows Ash Bowman, a successful lineman on his high school football team. Linemen do not have the limelight in a football game, but are essential for the success of the team. The essential Ash experiences a head injury that's like a concussion, and yet leaves him feeling like something has shifted in his world.

In Game Changer the reader is expertly guided though alternative realities through which Ash processes the changes to his relationships, friends, family and world view. Shusterman provides the reader with opportunities to reflect on Ash's personal revelation that ". . .  so much of history - the good and the bad - is influenced by hidden factors that no-one even thinks about . . . What choices are being made, what things are being said in high places that might seem so unimportant now, but are laying the groundwork for truly horrible things tomorrow?" 

Game Changer casts the reader's attention to historical events and the social structure of our world while drawing a line to their consequences for ordinary people living ordinary lives. The characters are richly drawn so the reader feels drawn to them and invested in their futures. 

This book is thought provoking with an ending that invites the reader to identify their own interpretation of Ash's experiences and the threat to his reality continuing to exist. Game Changer will intrigue and provoke heated discussion. Questions for group discussions and extension activities are available in the Educator's Guide and Discussion Guide.

Themes Relationships, Sexism, Racism, Misogyny, Privilege, Homophobia, LGBTQI+, Football, Time travel, Multiverse.

Linda Guthrie

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The shape of darkness by Laura Purcell

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Set in the English town of Bath, 1854, silhouette artist Agnes Darken is struggling to make ends meet. She lives with her elderly mother and orphaned nephew Cedric and is doing all she can to support the three of them. Suddenly, one of her clients ends up murdered, shortly after sitting for Agnes. Then another . . . and another. It seems as though the killer is targeting Agnes and her business, but why? Desperately wanting answers, Agnes seeks the assistance of Pearl, a child spirit medium living with her stepsister (a mesmerist) and her ailing father, to contact the dead in order to find the killer. They soon discover that they may have opened the door to something they can never put back.

Laura Purcell's writing is so descriptive and gives an authentic feel to the Victorian Era this book is set in. It is a gothic mystery, with elements of supernatural that will have you peering over your shoulder and questioning every shadow. The powerful imagery she uses creates the perfect atmosphere and scenery for what ended up being a thrilling finale, with a twist that I never saw coming. The plot is a little slow to start, as it is very descriptive, however this is to set you up with everything you need to know later on. The characters are unique, and each have their own story to tell, some I would like to delve a little deeper into, however you become really invested in their journeys. Each one has a suspicious element to them which makes it even more difficult to determine who the killer could possibly be, no one can be trusted.

Overall, this is an enthralling and compelling read with high quality writing style that will have you guessing right until the very end!

Themes Different points of view, Ghosts, Good and Evil, Gothic Fiction, Illness, Murder, Mystery, Scary Stories, Shadows, Supernatural.

Emily Feetham

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Lottie Luna and the Fang Fairy by Vivian French. Illus. by Nathan Reed

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Lottie Luna is a werewolf. She's super-fast, super-strong and has X-ray vision. Lottie doesn't really like to use her special skills, though - she just wants to be like everyone else. But when Lottie and her friends go camping, she finds that she might just need to - if she's going to find out the truth about the fang fairy.

This is the third in this series for young, newly independent readers who see themselves as just like Lottie - being just regular little girls on the surface , but with a heroine not too far below the surface. Richly illustrated with all the supports needed to carry their reading journey forward, this is an ideal series to offer those looking for something new and different.

Barbara Braxton

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Evie and the bushfire by Becky Westbrook. Art by Jet James

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Evie and the Bushfire is a thoughtfully written picture book about the devastating bushfire that took place on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, in the summer of 2019/2020. The main character Evie is a spirit girl who lives simply as one with Mother Nature. She wakes one day feeling the sense of fire in her bones and seeks refuge in a cave as the land burns around her. She attempts to comfort people through their grief as she is known to have the gift of hope but only a young child Tom can see her. As even he begins to lose hope, Evie talks to him about strength and courage and takes him on a journey to see these in action: the volunteer firefighters, the farmers rebuilding fencing, the glossy black cockatoos spitting out seeds to regerminate the land, home cooked meals from strangers and the green shoots reappearing on the blackened tree. They discover fire again but it is not danger, it is the Ramindjeri men connecting with the land and preventing fire by using fire to protect their ruwe, our country. The community is angry with the fire but Tom talks to them about learning to listen to the land and live in harmony with it.

This story is truly one about hope, resilience, courage and community. It is also about looking to our Indigenous people for understanding and knowledge of sharing the land with nature. The illustrations in mainly black and tones of brown by Jet James are beautifully drawn and mirror the careful and gentle text. Throughout the story elements of colour are introduced to enable the reader to focus on important aspects of the text or changes taking place in the blackened landscape.

This book was written and published on the island of Karta of the Ngarrindjeri Nations with support from the Government of South Australia the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network.

Themes Bushfires, Kangaroo Island South Australia, Friendship, Grief, Natural Disasters, Indigenous Beliefs & Story, Ramindjeri People, Hope, Courage, Strength, Community.

Kathryn Beilby

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The biggest thing of all by Kathryn Thurman and Romina Galotta

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The biggest thing of all is an important story for all children, particularly those who have had experience with the death of a loved one. The book tells the story of Lily, her parents and her grandparents. They live all together and tend to the beautiful garden during the dry seasons. Grandma unfortunately becomes ill and eventually passes away, leaving Lily feeling lost and sad. When the snow clears, she sees a way to understand her feelings and celebrate grandma.

The main message used in this story is the everything is part of something bigger. The talk about one bee being part of a hive, one bird being part of a flock, and eventually one Grandma being part of their family. Lily uses this analogy to help guide her grief journey and come to an eventual place of acceptance within the loving embrace of her family.

The illustrations also help assist the message of the story, through facial expressions, images of the garden through the seasons and of Grandma's illness progression. The illustrations are watercolour which I find to be a media that suits an emotional topic well. 

This story would be so helpful for younger children who are trying to navigate their grief, and for their family who are not sure how to help their children or where to start the conversation. Upside Down Books are committed to creating resources to help children navigate and understand emotionally challenging situations. They aim to provide stories and characters that children can identify with, enabling them to find a safe space for the processing of their emotions. 

This is a book that I will definitely keep in my library and ensure staff are aware of its themes and whereabouts on the shelf. It is so important for children to have relevant reading materials for complex emotions as it can be difficult to have discussions when in the emotion is so raw. 

Themes Grief, Family, Love, Death.

Lauren Fountain

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Climate crisis for beginners by Eddie Reynolds and Andy Prentice. Illus. by El Primo Ramon

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The climate crisis is real. It is already changing the world around us. How does the climate work? What are we doing to change it? What can we do differently to avoid the worst outcomes? Why do we all find change so hard? The climate crisis is a troubling and sensitive topic, especially for children, so the book includes vital tips on how to set realistic goals and not get overwhelmed by bad news.

Given the number of posts asking for suggestions for books about about sustainability that are being sent to the TL forums I belong to, this is a timely release. Using simple language and vivid illustrations to explain complex questions clearly, and make the concepts and solutions accessible to our younger students, it is another must-have addition to your collection that explores the planet and how we can make it better.

From the same series as 100 Things to Know about Saving the Planet, it has the usual Usborne integrity that talks directly to the reader to engage them and enable them to feel empowered to do something. It spans a broad range of topics and these are expanded by the pre-selected Quicklinks so the reader can follow their interests further.

It is the publication of books like this focusing on contemporary topics that compel schools to have vibrant, up-to-date non fiction collections in print format so that students have access to the information at their level at hand, rather than going down the rabbit hole of the internet.

Barbara Braxton

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The day Saida arrived by Susana Gomez Redondo and Sonja Wimmer

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The day Saida arrived at the school she seemed to have lost her words and instead of joy and laughter there were tears and sadness. Her new classmate hunted high and low for the words but could not find them so instead, she drew a heart in chalk and Saida drew a smile. The first breakthrough!

When her dad explains that Saida probably hasn't lost her words, it was just that her words wouldn't work in this country, the little girl sets out to teach Saida the new words she needs as well as learning Saida's words. What follows is the beginning of a joyous, lifelong friendship that is so characteristic of our children when confronted with this sort of language problem. They work it out, find common ground, ignore boundaries and borders and learn together.  

Having worked so often  in schools where English is an additional language for so many, where students with no English at all come to get that first grounding before they go to their neighbourhood school, this story is a stunning portrayal of how kids get along regardless particularly when adults don't intervene.  The playground is such a cosmopolitan learning space and whether the language is Arabic like Saida's or Tagalog or whatever,  the children's natural needs overcome barriers. Enriching friendships are formed and their words that every "shape, sound and size" just mingle naturally.

With illustrations that are as joyful as the concept and the text, this is the perfect story to help students understand that being in such an alien environment can be bewildering and confusing, that there will be times when they are in Saida's shoes and their words won't work, but there is always help and hope. Because the learning between the girls works both ways, the story values Saida's Arabic as much as her new friend's English so that Saida is an equal partner in the story, offering a subtle nudge for us to consider how equally we treat our NESB students. What accommodations can and do we make for those whose words don't work in our libraries and classrooms?

Teachers' notes are available and while these are written for the US, they are readily adaptable to the Australian situation.

Barbara Braxton

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Bedtime is boring by David Campbell. Illus. by Daron Parton

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Bedtime is boring by David Campbell is a funny picture book that will resonate with both the child listening and the parent/caregiver who is reading!

The story follows a cheeky little rabbit who doesn't want to go to bed because not only is it boring but they have so many other thing to do! Bouncing, burrowing and building are all activities that Billy the bunny believes are very important to do instead of going to bed. Throughout the story we hear many (familiar) excuses as to why he shouldn't go to bed - eventually wearing himself out and getting in to bed.

The thing I really loved about this story is how much we could relate to it! I read it to my 6 year old daughter and she thought it was a great story. In her words "The Mummy and Daddy rabbit sound just like you when I don't go to bed!". David Campbell has really succeeded in engaging both the reader and listener through this link. 

The illustrator, Daron Parton, has brought the rabbit family to life in such a bright and fun way. The rabbits portray very familiar emotions and physical stances (hands on hips, eye rolls and the look of a worn down parent!) which I feel adds huge value to the story. In particular the facial expressions of the parents - every time I have read the book their faces resonate with me and link to my personal experience of bedtime with children!

Overall, a great book for young children and their eternally tired parents

Themes Bedtime, Rabbits, Parenting.

Lauren Fountain

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Stunt Kid seriously stacks it! by Jack Heath. Illus. By Max Rambaldi

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Levi is the reluctant 'star' in his father's adventure series, 'Kid Kablam’' Unfortunately, his life is at risk throughout the filming, after all he is the kid that gets 'kablammed'!  This bizarre story weaves its way from one disastrous stunt to another and all the while Levi just wants to go to the Library and read. This story has hints of an extreme Wimpy Kid style combined with all other ridiculous action stories created for reluctant male readers. It is silly and preposterous and it goes into ludicrous and unbelievable territory in the bizarre town of Mount Cabbage.

Jack Heath has created many action adventure stories for older readers and his books are much enjoyed. This book is far more comedic and foolish and does not fit into the same class, however younger readers will enjoy the sheer escapism of the reluctant stunt boy. There are many examples of word play woven between the exploding scenes and the black and white illustrations are suitable quirky. This is the kind of book to get hesitant readers reading and therefore can be recommended.

Themes Action Adventure, Television, Comedy.

Carolyn Hull

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The Greatest ShowPenguin by Lucy Freegard

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Poppy the Penguin comes from a long line of circus performers. Many skills have been passed down from penguin to penguin. However, Poppy soon decides that performing in the family circus is not for her as she prefers to feel calm and in control. But the hardest thing is not juggling, or riding a unicycle - it's telling her mum that she doesn't want to perform any more.The bravery is worth it when Poppy discovers a better role - organising and coordinating the whole show. And what a show it turns out to be!

So often, we, as parents, lead our children down the path of learning the things we like to do and expecting them to love them with a similar passion. But it can be a road fraught with danger because our children always see us as the experts and that somehow they are never going to be quite good enough, which can lead to mental health and self-esteem issues. Even though Poppy is very good as a performer and her parents are really proud of her, deep down inside she knows that the limelight is not for her and luckily she not only has the courage but also the relationship with her parents to express her unhappiness. Perhaps sharing this story might be the catalyst for our students to have similar conversations if they feel they have the need.

Freegard also brings up another element that often rears its head, particularly during class performances - that of "job snob". How often is the lead in the school play sought by the class's leading light and both child and parents celebrate their celebrity? Yet, as Poppy shows, the whole show cannot go on without those backstage workers, the support cast and everyone else who helps to make it happen. Here is a great opportunity to demonstrate that no job is better or more important than another - they are just different and without one, others will flounder. The school cannot function without all the admin staff making it easier for the teachers to do their thing.

Some big life lessons in one little book!

Barbara Braxton

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