Reviews

The last bloodcarver by Vanessa Le

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Nhika is a lonely and embittered heartsooth, and the local population of Theumas do not esteem her amazing healing skills. To them she is a Bloodcarver from the Yarongese clan, a despised people group that contain amazing healers and despite these skills they have virtually been wiped out.  Captured, she is then bought by a local wealthy family involved in the animatronic industry - the Congmi siblings. She has been asked to restore a comatose family friend, witness to the murder of the Congmi patriarch. Nhika has been escaping attention for a long time, but now she is thrust into a powerful world where she might at any moment be exposed and potentially eliminated. Her healing powers enable her to ‘enter’ bodies to diagnose and heal from within and the medical world is both fascinated and challenged by her skill. Will she be able to heal this time, or are the man’s injuries beyond her powers? Can she escape the attention of the local doctor and his aide, or will she inadvertently place herself in harm’s way, a victim of her own capabilities? 

I loved this book! It is an amazingly unique story, both sci-fi and fantasy woven together, with a generous sprinkling of romance and intrigue. It sometimes feels like it is set in the far past, and yet it occasionally travels into a future with robotic assistants and technological advances. This strange juxtaposition never feels wrong or out of balance - a credit to the author. It is tense and yet powerful in its emotional quality, exploring grief and warped relationships and abuse of power. And there is friendship and restoration that grows despite misunderstandings.  I was very impressed, and Vanessa Le’s medical knowledge shone through in Nhika’s healing journeys into the human body and this will appeal to those who enjoy science as well as those who love a unique fantasy.  This will be much enjoyed by readers aged 14+.

Themes Sci-fi, Fantasy, Healing, Grief, Romance, Intrigue, Murder, LGBTIQ characters.

Carolyn Hull

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The apprentice witnesser by Bren MacDibble

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The Apprentice Witnesser by Bren MacDibble transports readers into a captivating world set in the year 2072; where life is markedly different from our present reality. In this intricately crafted narrative, MacDibble paints a poignant picture of a society grappling with the aftermath of widespread disease, and survival is no longer a guarantee for communities who cling to simpler ways of life in scattered Australian villages.

At the heart of the story young orphan Bastienne Scull, is taken under the wing of elder Lodyma Darsey. Basti finds herself apprenticed to the art of witnessing miracles; something she takes very seriously. Together they use these skills to get food and money to survive. During each night market, Eld Darsey shares stories of miracles, while Basti sells peanuts to locals, eager to hear a good tale.

Their village is absent of many males, due to susceptibility to all the disease. While they live out in the wilderness, the villages are made up predominantly of women and children. Before Lodyma took in Basti, she had lost her husband and eldest son to illness, then sent her younger son, Osmin, into the hills, hoping he would survive. But, left utterly devastated that he has never returned, she is heartbroken and empty.

However, the plot takes an intriguing twist when two young boys come to the village and ask Lodyma to witness a miracle. Setting out on this voyage, Lodyma and Basti have no idea this journey will turn their world upside down forever.

The Apprentice Witnesser is another unique tale which encompasses MacDibble's masterful skill as she weaves themes of grief, hope and the power of human connection. Through Basti’s eyes, readers are invited to contemplate the enduring power of little wonders, making this novel a captivating and thought-provoking read. Another great middle grade novel to be enjoyed and pondered over.

Themes Family, Communities, Perseverance, Relationships, Courage, Connections, Societal complexities.

Michelle O'Connell

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Rainbowsaurus by Steve Antony

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We're following a rainbow to find the Rainbowsaurus. We're following a rainbow. Would you like to join us?

Two dads and their three children set off on an adventure to find the Rainbowsaurus. On their way, they meet animals that are all the colours of the rainbow who all want to find the Rainbowsaurus, too.

This is a fun read for little ones as they join the quest with its crazy collection of creatures, all different colours and lots of opportunities to join in with the noises and actions as they seek the Rainbowsaurus. And if that isn't enough there is always the song to sing as it has been set to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ...

Music, movement, colour and a dinosaur - what's not to love? Especially if the young reader is invited to be a creature and colour of their choosing and really join in!

Themes Rainbows, Dinosaurs, Homosexuality.

Barbara Braxton

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Country by Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson. Illus. by Cheryl Davison

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Country is all encompassing, giving a guide to culture and history, story and how to live.

This sharing of the importance of Country to Aboriginal people will inform all of the younger readers as they read and then look more wisely at the land on which they live. 

Aunty May’s words encompass all the things that Country means, starting with ‘Country is past, present, future,’ finishing with a plea to look after Country: ’When we care for Country, Country is strong and healthy. Then we are strong and healthy too.’

Each superb double page has one sentence showing what Country gives to us and next to it is a stunning illustration in creams and brows, reflecting the land, and using dots, stripes and outlines to give an image of the Country in which we live. Waterholes, creeks and rivers are illustrated by a beautiful river  complete with mangroves and bird life, while the page devoted to reptiles and fish shows fish swimming across the page. Each page is awe inspiring, using muted colours and Aboriginal motifs combining to give a recognisable image of Country and its importance to us all, ‘Country is all of us. Country is how we behave, how we care for each other.’

The teaming of award winning authors, Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson has resulted in a work which highlights the basic beliefs of Aboriginal people and how their attachment to Country is profound. This is surprisingly the first book by Cheryl Davison (Illustrator) and hopefully the first of many.

Themes Aboriginal beliefs, Country, Environment.

Fran Knight

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The radio hour by Victoria Purman

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In the 1950’s, radio serials like ‘Blue Hills’ saw people regularly gathering around the radio cabinet in their home to hear the latest segment in the lives of their favourite characters. Purman’s story centres on Martha Berry, one of the steadfast but underappreciated female employees who works behind the scenes to ensure that all runs smoothly in the radio studio. Men run the show, and women are only employed in subordinate positions regardless of the many years experience they may have garnered. The dilemma for long suffering Martha becomes how to ensure the success of the new serial ‘As the sun sets’ in spite of the obvious incompetence of the newly appointed young producer. Dare she insert her own scripts and storylines?

Purman’s writing style is characterised predominantly by conversations, between Martha and her mother Violet and the elderly ladies in her street, and between Martha and her colleagues at work, so that the novel becomes much like a radio play itself. The scripts that Martha writes are almost a radio play within a play. It makes for a novel that flows very easily and engages the reader to find out what each chapter will bring.

Although the novel is clearly set in the past with authentic details of food, clothing, and expectations of women’s behaviour, there are themes that have parallels today: fears of new technology replacing old, the glass ceiling barrier for women, misogyny, and sexual harassment. So, while we may congratulate ourselves on our progress, Purman reminds us of the problems that are still unresolved today; all delivered with a light comedic touch that is very easy to read.

Themes Historical fiction, Radio, Radio plays, Women, Post-war, Sexual harassment.

Helen Eddy

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A small collection of happinesses by Zana Fraillon & Stephen Michael King

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This altogether quirky tale brings together the young, lonely child, Hettie, and her new neighbour, Ada - the irascible (and possibly grieving) older woman who has lost her partner in life, Bessie.  Initially, Hettie and Ada are sandpaper acquaintances, roughly rubbing each other up the wrong way until edges are smoothed off. Eventually they become charming fellow adventurers. Following the story of a black panther in their neighbourhood (is it Bessie’s ghost?) and collecting facts and fantasies for their small collection of happiness, together they make memories and connections with the natural world, with their neighbours and with each other. 

This tale is winsome and meandering and occasionally odd. The central characters can be frustrating and endearing at the same time, and their friendship seems both unlikely and yet inevitable.  Some young readers may not grasp or appreciate the floaty, ethereal quality of the story. It hides some veiled environmental themes and issues related to grief and loss. It posits the notion that one can reappear as a ghostly being after death. And the crumbling apartment destined for redevelopment or destruction actually hides a secret that needs to be ‘miraculously’ uncovered. Hettie’s own circumstances seem vaguely sad and isolated, but this does not impede her feisty view of life.  Eventually everything seems to find resolution and possibility, but I am not entirely sure that this will warm the hearts of young readers in the target audience of 7-10. This book may intrigue some, and will probably impress some adult judges for its esoteric, uniquely whimsical qualities. (I accept that I may be the exception.)  Small illustrations by Stephen Michael King, in his recognisable style, head the start of each chapter, and stylistically there are some very different ‘modern abstract’ full page illustrations to divide one chapter from the next.

Themes Friendship,Dreams, Ghosts, Memories, Relationships, Development, Loneliness.

Carolyn Hull

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This book is full of holes: From underground to outer space to everywhere in between by Nora Nickum. Illus. by Robert Meganck

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What is a hole?
A hollow place.
An empty space.
A part of something
where there’s nothing at all.

It is a delight to read an engaging non-fiction text that will appeal to a range of readers from young children through to adults. Possibly holes are not high on most people’s agendas but it is surprising how much they are a part of our daily lives. From the front cover featuring a large round hole with a number of diverse faces looking surprised, to the glorious endpapers in tones of blue that showcase a variety of holes, this beautifully presented book will be a joy to share with children of all ages.

From the initial question of What is a hole?, the book moves onto giving examples of a hole: on a shelf where a book has been removed, holes in nostrils, holes in clothes, holes made by animals, builders, cooks or engineers. Some are indentations where they have a bottom or open like the eye of a sewing needle or they can be found on land or underwater like blue holes deep in the ocean. Holes can be made slowly or quickly like a sinkhole or they can be deep, shallow, tiny or enormous.

There can be many holes or just one like a hoola hoop, they can be empty or full, are to get in or out of like burrows, can speed something up or slow it down. A hole can be used to breathe like a whale blowhole or beat the heat like sweating pores, can be a lifesaver or a danger, can either solve a problem or be one like the hole in the atmosphere, can be used for art or music like the sound hole in a guitar, or can be mysterious or familiar like a hole in a sock. The English language is full of holes, for example a loophole, pigeonholed, poke holes, full of holes, a square peg in a round hole.

This clever and informative book with large colour illustrations shares a simple phrase about holes on each page to engage the youngest readers, and then provides further information for older readers. It is a fascinating book that will encourage deeper thinking and wonder about our world.

Themes Holes, Facts, Phenomena.

Kathryn Beilby

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Little Ash: Sleepover surprise! by Ash Barty and Jasmin McGaughery. Illus. by Jade Goodwin

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Sleepover surprise is the last book in the Little Ash series, presented by Ash Barty. It is about a sleepover party that Little Ash is holding for her friends.  This is certainly familiar territory for younger readers who will all be able to remember times when they had sleepovers and some of the extraordinary things that may have happened when they did.  In this story one of Ash’s friends Ruthie becomes homesick during the party and Ash thinks of a way to calm her down and have some fun so that she can be comfortable enough to fall asleep and stay the night. 

These books contain plenty of well-placed, black and white illustrations to assist young readers to understand the text. The chapters are short and there are some highlighted words to draw attention to the action or prompt readers to explore the meanings of unfamiliar words. The series Little Ash is a wonderful collaboration between three Indigenous women who are all passionate about bringing quality literature to younger readers.  The series, which has 10 titles in total, covers a wide variety of subjects including school, sport, family, friendships, sportsmanship, and decision-making. A well-crafted, interesting series that will be popular in school libraries for emerging independent readers, even if they are not sports lovers.

Themes Sleep overs, Parties, Friendship.

Gabrielle Anderson

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Super Sloth: Revenge of the chick-oats by Aleesah Darlison. Illus. by Cheri Hughes

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Super Sloth: Revenge of the chick-oats by Aleesah Darlison is a wonderful second episode in the Super Sloth series. Bringing readers another action-packed adventure, this story is full of suspense, excitement and lighthearted humour that will keep the audience engaged from start to finish.

We join Romeo, the super cute sloth with extraordinary powers, as he teams up once again with his trusty friends Tulip the cheetah, Ham and Beth to protect New York City from the despicable plans of their arch nemesis Professor Weird-Warp. The Professor's latest scheme involves creating mutant chick-oats - chickens crossed with goats - to wreak havoc by devouring everything in their path. As chaos ensues, and fear grips the city, the inhabitants pin their hopes on Super Sloth to save the day. But, can Super sloth save the city, or will the powers of the Professor prove too strong?

This book is quite unique with its blend of imaginative storytelling and endearing characters. From driving a Tesla and Vespa vehicle, to using invisible cloaks and secret hide outs, this story brings superheroes into the present! Romeo has spunky determination and Tulip has super fierce loyalty, but each one of the team bring special qualities that are both loveable and admirable.  

Illustrated delightfully by Cheri Hughes, the black and white illustrations add another layer of charm to the story. Bringing the characters and their adventures to life in vivid detail, her expressive artwork captures the essence of the story and helps to immerse readers in the adventurous world of Super Sloth.

Super Sloth: Revenge of the chick-oats is a delightful and innovative tale that is sure to captivate young readers. This short novel will appeal to anyone looking for some fun and an exciting adventure. Darlison and Hughes have delivered another winner to the Super Sloth series. A story about the power of friendship, courage and teamwork; reinforcing the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and the triumph of good over evil.

Themes Superheroes, Teamwork, Friendship, Problem solving, Persistence, Caring.

Michelle O'Connell

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The kindness project by Deborah Abela

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Well-known children’s author Deborah Abela has written a brilliant debut verse novel. The Kindness Project shares the stories of four very different children all dealing with complex family situations and deep feelings. Throughout the novel, the reader is drawn into the emotions and experiences of the children by the rich language used and the clever positional text techniques employed to emphasise key moments.

The story is told in first person by Nicolette, the quiet and lonely child who has an unbreakable bond with her beloved Nanna now in a care home with early signs of dementia. Then there is new boy Leaf, a talented graphic artist and Nicolette’s first friend, who is staying with his aunty, Layla the pretty, perfect, popular girl who appears to have it all, and finally DJ, the class bully who terrorises the other students for no apparent reason. All four are seemingly chosen at random to work together on a classroom task called The Kindness Project.

At first the group struggle to find a common purpose, with DJ’s negativity and relentless barbs, and Layla’s indifference causing great angst for Nicolette as she and Leaf come up with idea after idea. But all that changes when good girl Nicolette breaks her Nanna out of the nursing home in order to spend a day at the beach with her. Her bravery leaves DJ and Layla in awe of what she has done and the group of four gradually learn to accept each other’s differences and come up with a fabulous idea for their version of The Kindness Project.

The Kindness Project would be a wonderful class novel for Year 5 or 6 students as there are many relatable themes presented in the story. The four strong protagonists show great depth of character, flaws and all, and the way they learn relate to each other and work together is inspiring.

Two important messages resonate throughout this book. Firstly, that we often never know what is going on in other people’s lives to cause them to act the way they do and secondly, that with shared kindness and problem solving the pain of challenging situations can be diminished or resolved.

Themes Verse Novel, Friendship, Kindness, Teamwork, Worries, Dementia, Mental illness, Families.

Kathryn Beilby

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The daredevil princess and the fire dragon by Belinda Murrell

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In this third book in The Daredevil Princess series, bold and brave Princess Tilly and her loyal friends, dachshunds Mitzi and Fritzi, Honey Blossom the unicorn and Lukas from Apple Tree Creek Farm, must solve the mystery of the sudden lack of water that is affecting the whole kingdom. There is no water to wash or cook with, or water the vegetables and most importantly there is no water for the animals to drink.

Unable to see her mother Queen Cordelia, Princess Tilly with the support of her friends decide to follow the water source to see what the problem is. They discover a huge boulder blocking the flow of the water and swimming in the water is a huge grumpy and fiery dragon. The dragon threatens the townspeople and with Prince Oskar in the village square watching a puppet show, Princes Tilly knows she has to act fast to solve the problem and cleverly outwits the dragon in a competition of three riddles.

The Daredevil Princess and the Fire Dragon will engage and support those children who are moving onto chapter books. With simple yet enchanting illustrations by Rebecca Crane this third book is sure to find a place in the heart of young readers. A fourth book in the series, The Daredevil Princess and the Grumpy Giant, will be out in July 2024.

Themes Princesses, Unicorns, Family, Dragons, Problem Solving, Riddles.

Kathryn Beilby

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How to measure the ocean by Inda Ahmad Zahri

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Surgical doctor and scuba diver Inda Ahmad Zahri, author of Salih a CBCA Notable Book for Picture Book of the Year 2022, has created a challenging and thought-provoking picture book. How to Measure the Ocean combines nature, Science, the Mathematics strand of Measurement, and a child’s curiosity, in a beautifully illustrated and intriguing publication.

The book begins with the following words and then shows a world map with oceans, half-oceans, once-oceans and oceans in-between.

The ocean can be difficult to measure.
You can’t lift it onto scales to see how heavy it is.
You can’t tie a string around it to see how wide it grows.
You might be able to scoop it out, cup by cup…
…but you’d need a very big bucket to calculate its volume.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
You can work most things out…
once you know what you’re measuring.

 Throughout the book, mathematical terminology is used including number lines, straight lines, corners and curves, shapes and forms, time, temperature, dimensions, add, divide and multiply, equations, formula, theorem. An important fact, the ocean is never wasted, is clearly shown in a labelled diagram using scientific language which may lead to further discussion and research.

On the final page is a letter to the reader with two messages. One message encourages them to think about things like the ocean which are difficult to measure. The second message is to use words such as courage, kindness, and friendship, in place of the word ocean and see where the deeper thinking can lead.

Themes Oceans, Marine Life, Measurement, Mathematics, Science, Feelings.

Kathryn Beilby

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Where sleeping girls lie by Faridah Abike-Iyimide

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In this slow-burning mystery there are multiple layers to explore. Firstly there are the words of a drowning girl ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry . . .’ This is followed by a brief account of a girl escaping from a party to a join a companion in a car and her words ‘H-he’s dead’. The novel proper begins with Sade Hussein’s arrival at an exclusive boarding school, the Alfred Nobel Academy. She is an orphan, but wealthy, the new girl intent on making her way in the school. Her room mate Elizabeth seems like she will be a friend, the gay boy Baz is welcoming, and even the Unholy Trinity, the incredibly beautiful Juliette, April, and Persephone, don’t seem as unapproachable as their reputation suggests.

Strangely Elizabeth disappears on Sade’s first night in the school, and after the initial investigation the school seems ready to move on. But for Sade and Baz, there are too many questions about what could have happened to her. This becomes their focus in any spare moment, piecing together any clues they can find. For the reader, there is another underlying mystery: who exactly is Sade herself? We work out that she is black, Muslim, and lonely, and we know that previously she had been home-schooled, but we don’t know why. We know she has disturbing dreams and she sleepwalks, and there are many references to people dying in her past. In one of the earliest chapters there is the line ‘Sade Hussein was used to being lied to’. Sade is also not open about her past; if not lying, she is at least hiding something. In addition to all that we read mysterious diary entries always with the same intriguing anagram ‘I sleep, I drown & disappear’.

Abike-Iyimide has created a real teaser of a mystery. Although the first two parts of the novel are very long, with a number of red herrings, most readers will be drawn into following the various strands, as the tension builds up until the final chapters where all is revealed.

There is the suggestion of a LGBQTI+ romance but it is very understated. Instead it shows the value of platonic relationships. The central issues are those of toxic masculinity, misogynistic attitudes, harassment, privilege and entitlement. The book comes with a warning that it deals with real issues including sexual assault, rape, suicide and suicidal ideation, grief, and death of family members, and at the end there are referrals to support services in the UK. It is a book that reflects diverse cultures and experiences, and would be suitable for mature YA readers with a love of complex mystery stories.

Themes Mystery, Missing person, School story, Toxic masculinity, MeToo, Friendships.

Helen Eddy

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Tweet by Morris Gleitzman

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Tweet, by highly talented author Morris Gleitzman, is a heartfelt tale of connection and conservation.

Eleven year old, Jay, finds himself facing the biggest challenge of his young life. His parents are world renowned bird scientists but are currently unreachable in Africa, and he has been left him in the care of his ailing Poppa. They have been searching for answers about his parent’s whereabouts but have got nowhere in this quest; and time is of the essence.

Jay’s life is thrown into further turmoil and he struggles to comprehend what to make of everything that is going on. Losing his Poppa, Jay has always found comfort in his cherished companion, Clyde; a budgie with a remarkable intellect. Clyde is not your average household budgie. He has worked hard to learn to communicate with humans…. and he can even place jigsaw pieces correctly!

So, when Clyde and Jay are torn apart, they are both devastated and lost. Clyde meets Dora, a galah that is half wild and half pet, and he is terrified of her. But she is actually hoping he can help her on her mission. The wild birds around the world are extremely upset, and their behaviour is causing a great deal of unrest and hostility amongst the humans. Dora is desperate to try to rectify this situation and is hoping Clyde may be the missing link to support her.

Alone and lonely, Jay needs to work out what is going on with all the wild birds too, while also trying to find his parents and hopefully locate Clyde along the way. Can their connections draw them back together, and help all the wildlife of the world, or will the task be way out of their control?

Gleitzman masterfully weaves together themes of friendship, loss, unique bonds between humans and animals and consequential actions. Each chapter alternates between the perspective of Jay and Clyde, allowing readers to understand their viewpoint and share insight into both sides of the story.  A wild and thought provoking tale that resonates long after the final page is turned.

Themes Conservation, Wildlife, Birds, Communication, Connections, Friendship, Problem solving, Persistence, Caring, Environment.

Michelle O'Connell

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When the fog rolls in by Pam Fong

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One little puffin is left behind as the others fly off. He is soon enveloped by fog, fog that becomes thicker and more overwhelming. The bird becomes lost, and stumbles, unsure of what lies ahead. Sometimes he comes up against obstacles, sometimes he is confused. The fog is thick and frightening.

But as he looks more closely at what is around him, he takes notice of what may appear in the fog and he eventually sees something ahead of him, out of the fog. The more he looks, the clearer it becomes. And then he sees his mob, and he joins them again.

This lovely story is suffused with the most illustrative of drawings across each page. The fog becomes thicker and the illustrations become more overwhelming as the fog becomes denser and all  encompassing. The little puffin is most endearing, and readers will love seeing what happens to the little bird as he strives to find his way. 

The images are disarming, the fog encouraging different responses from the readers as they realise that the story of the bird is a story of sadness, of depression of mental illness. The fog that surrounds and sometimes envelopes people, can be dispiriting, it separates people from their friends, it becomes thicker and so harder to be released from it.

The story takes the reader into a sad mind, but one that can be helped when the person looks falsely at what is happening and understands that there is a way ahead. Younger readers will be able to see this as the aim of the story, and be able to talk about keeping themselves well and mentally fit.

I loved the line at the start of the book  'On a clear day, it’s easy to see your way'. And the last line, 'so much is waiting for you when the fog lifts.' Both lines distill the theme of the book into a few words which could be writ large in every classroom.

We all have times when we feel lost or confused, and a book like this will support children in these times, reading of the little puffin finding his way out of his fog.

Themes Wellbeing, Depression, Fog, Mental health, Allegory.

Fran Knight

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