Bear in Space – Deborah Abela. Illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

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Walker Books Australia

August 2020

ISBN: 9781760651510
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $25.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

Encouraging our little readers to be not just accepting of differences but to embrace them is arguably one of the greatest gifts we can offer. And to be able to do this through the enjoyment of a wonderful and vibrant story is a real bonus.

Bear is different. He’s not like the other little bears who are noisy and play lots of games. Bear prefers the quiet, learning about space and planning his trip in his own rocket ship. The other bears laugh at his dream of space travel and though Bear feels lonely, he is undeterred. He takes off and begin his exploration and finds not only the amazing vastness of his dream but a most amazing surprise – a like-minded friend! Together Bear and Panda conquer space and upon their return find that the acceptance from their peers opens up even more richness.

This is just a beautiful and thoughtful story which will enchant children and adults alike spring-boarding many deep discussions around our perceptions of others. Children will also love the interspersed space facts – this being truly a fascinating topic for them in my experience.

The perfect combination of text and illustrations is just superb and clearly the two creators are completely in sync.

Celebrating differences, acceptance, self-belief and friendship this is a must-have for your collection.

Highly recommended for little readers from around five years upwards.

Tree Beings – Raymond Huber and Sandra Severgnini [with a foreword by Jane Goodall]

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Exisle Publishing

October 2020

ISBN 9781925820539

RRP $34.99

I think it fair to say that if Dr Jane Goodall is lending her endorsement to a book then you know it must be of the highest quality.

This is a beautiful volume packed with information and richly illustrated which addresses the growing desire among children to be part of the global saving of our planet.

Challenging the perception that trees are just ‘silent statues’, it focuses on four big ideas:

  • Trees give life to the planet.
  • Trees can help save us from climate change.
  • Trees are like beings.
  • Trees need our help and protection.

Through individual vignettes focused on people, past and present – the titular ‘tree beings’ – from professors to the nine-year-old boy determined to plant a trillion trees, readers will glean so much from both the inspirational accounts and the wealth of information.

In part, straight informational text but with these personal anecdotal pieces, fun facts and interactivity via in-text puzzles and mazes included this will both delight and amaze youngsters.

As a call to arms (branches?) this would be a marvellous addition to any classroom unit centred on conservation and protection of natural resources but is more likely to be taken up by individuals keen to explore its inherent beauty and subject matter. Readers will spend hours poring over the detailed illustrations and uncovering the grace, strength, science and spiritual importance of trees across cultures.

Over the past ten months the world has been forced to stop and take some stock of the mess we as humans have created as the sudden cessation of many aspects of contemporary life suddenly opened up a vista of ‘what could be’. Families and individuals alike have taken up an altered lifestyle more closely aligned to the natural world and it’s needs. How very perfect then is the timing for this outstanding volume which will encourage young readers to be more observant and to take action.

Highly recommended – indeed, I would say essential – for readers from around eight years upwards.

Teaching notes and sneak peeks available via the links below.

Go for Gold! (Pea and Nut #2) – Matt Stanton

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Harper Collins Australia

August 2020

  • ISBN: 9780733340680
  • ISBN 10: 0733340687
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 17.99 AUD

The second in the Pea + Nut series is another rowdy rambunctious read that will have your kiddos in fits of laughter and with swimming season upon us there will no doubt be many connections made.

Pea the panda really just wants to relax by the pool, in her own inimitable way but Nut the wacky flamingo is determined to have a race.

With the hilarious elastic rules with which so many children will relate the pair are off with fiercely competitive attitude. These two are complete oddballs and their antics will surely delight any of your younger readers.

If you haven’t got onto these yet you should, your tinies from around four years upwards will just love them…..

And congratulations Matt & Bec, you talented pair, on the arrival of the new little princess!

Nala’s World: One man, his rescue cat and a bike ride around the globe – Dean Nicholson

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Hachette Australia

SEP 29, 2020 | 9781529327991 | RRP $32.99

When Dean Nicholson set off on his cycling journey around the world he had little idea that his epic trip and his life would become an Instagram sensation after he picked up a tiny stray kitten in a remote area of the mountains between Montenegro and Bosnia.

Thirty-year-old Dean had been living an unsatisfactory existence in Dunbar, Scotland when he and a friend conceived of an idea to cycle the world. The pair didn’t last all that long but when Dean rescued little Nala he acquired a travelling companion who would not only become his best friend but empower him to become a fully-realised animal and environmental activist in the very best of ways.

While he already had a small following of friends and family on his Instagram feed, it was after his rescue and subsequent postings of Nala that his global audience exploded exponentially. With his Insta posts and YouTube channel Dean has not only endeared himself and his feisty little companion to thousands but has raised thousands of dollars to support small and struggling rescue shelters and charities in places that generally go unnoticed.

Their travels together of the past two years have fascinated their followers through all the ups and downs of life on the road – good times, difficult times, sickness, health, tragedies and celebrations. Their loyal fans have supported them, helped in practical and emotional multitudes of ways and cheered them on proving time and again the generosity and kindness of strangers that can still be found, even in these troubled times. And I deliberately stress that last as the book concludes with the first frightening and sweeping wave of the Covid pandemic – fortunately, Dean was able to narrowly escape being locked down in the UK away from Nala in Hungary. Coronavirus may have put the brakes on Dean’s dream trip, but nothing can stop this indomitable pair as they forge their way forward, helping whomever they can with what they can.

This hugely heart-warming and inspirational story will further Dean’s mission to support those who need it as well providing an enjoyable read whether you are a cat-lover or not. I know that when this goes onto my shelves with the other new true-life and biography books I’ve recently added, it will be snapped up immediately by one of my many readers for whom this will be an excellent follow-on from A Cat Named Bob especially.

Check out Dean and Nala at 1bike1world

Graphically Shakespeare

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There is an increasing number of graphic versions of Shakespearean plays and they have been gaining quite a following. Recently our English department purchased ten copies of a graphic Merchant of Venice and had great success with these, engaging otherwise dis-enfranchised Year 10 readers.

Here are two different takes in this vein – one more expected and the other a very different perspective.

Usborne Graphic: Macbeth – Russell Punter with Massimiliano Longo & Valentino Forlini

Harper Collins Australia

August 2020

  • ISBN: 9781474948128
  • ISBN 10: 147494812X
  • Imprint: Usborne – GB
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

No doubt Macbeth is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays and this graphic version has great appeal across ages from around ten to mid-secondary with its vibrant comic strip illustrations and updated language.

This is probably the most successful graphic adaptation of the Bard’s plays I’ve seen and for the purists there are some original lines included, italicised for easy recognition, a brief introduction including the cast of main characters and a mini-essay to conclude with factual information about both the playwright and the history of Macbeth.

All in all, either as an addition to your graphic collection or as one to share with your English literature teachers, this one ticks all the boxes.

Yorick and Bones – Jeremy Tankard and Hermione Tankard

Harper Collins Australia

September 2020

  • ISBN: 9780062854315
  • ISBN 10: 0062854313
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – US
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

Ok, so perhaps I fudged a bit with the Shakespeare reference as such and this one could more accurately described as ‘inspired by Shakespeare’ but it is very funny, very quirky and is definitely going to grab your readers from around eight years upwards.

The Tankard father and daughter duo have created the first in an imaginative and lively series that young readers especially your lovers of graphic will absolutely relish.

Yorick the skeleton has been disinterred after a few hundred years off-duty and in keeping with his origins is inclined to speak in very Shakespearean language e.g. “Pray, get thee onto him! I wish thee luck!”. Bones is the very hungry dog who has dug up Yorick – obviously in search of gnaw-able bones. Being a dog Bones didn’t really expect bones that would talk back!

Can this unlikely pair actually become friends? Perhaps if Bones can find a treat that not only suits his appetite but is not quite so fulsome in its conversation, they just might. From hotdogs to games of marbles, soccer balls to babies in prams, this a delicious romp through some creative and fun mayhem.

I would highly recommend it as a new series to grab particularly any reluctant readers as well as your kiddos who pounce on the graphics.

That’s Not My Wombat – Fiona Watt/Rachel Wells

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Harper Collins Australia

September 2020

  • ISBN: 9781474980470
  • ISBN 10: 1474980473
  • Imprint: Usborne – GB
  • List Price: 14.99 AUD

I can tell you something about the Usborne Touchy-Feely books – it’s not just the little ones who love these! The Narwhal version I included in my recent Book Bonanza to celebrate Book Week was the most highly sought after ‘lucky dip’ out of all 50 books on offer – and the year 8 girl who won it was absolutely ecstatic!!

The patches of texture included in each illustration whether shiny, fuzzy, smooth or fluffy will delight the littlest readers as they touch each special spot encouraging their sensory awareness as well as vocabulary.

This is such a cute little series for babies and toddlers – and of course, wombats are particularly endearing so this is bound to be a real hit with the teeny ones. I’ll be popping this one into a parcel for a friend expecting her first baby and I’m sure it will be very well received. Why not include it in your next baby shower parcel?

Aussie Kids series # 7 & # 8

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Penguin Australia

Continuing today’s theme of virtual travel around Australia, here are the next two instalments in one of my favourite series of the past year. These delightful little books have been a huge hit with our newly independent readers who not only enjoy the adventures of the featured kids but are able to learn so much about our big beautiful country and how their counterparts live in so many various places.

Meet Matilda at the Festival – Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern & Tania McCartney

  • September 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760894511
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

This is my favourite so far not only because it’s illustrated by my beautiful and talented friend Tania McCartney but also because it made me seriously reminiscent about my time living in Canberra – particularly a special visit to the Japanese embassy!

Matilda is sad because her friend Hansuke and his family are returning to Tokyo after their appointment and she knows she will miss him very much. As their last adventure together Matilda and her family are once again invited to the embassy celebrations for the Emperor of Japan’s birthday. It is always such a wonderful occasion with delicious food, drumming, origami, tea ceremony and more. Matilda has made her friend a wonderful scrapbook detailing their many shared experiences from hot air ballooning to spotting kangaroos and they have fun remembering all the good times they’ve had together.

Not long after Hansuke has left Matilda has a special surprise when Irish girl Cara appears. Her family has now been posted to Canberra from Tokyo and Hansuke had been her friend there at school. Matilda is thrilled to have a new friend but still misses Hansuke as the months go by. When her birthday arrives there is an even bigger surprise in store for the little girl.

This is such a great addition to this series as it truly captures the wonderful diversity and personality of Canberra as well as the warmth of friendship.

Meet Dooley at the Farm

  • ISBN: 9781760893682
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

From Canberra to Tassie and a city mouse/country mouse story when cousin Sienna visits Dooley on his family farm. Sienna is a real city girl who really doesn’t like all the ‘pongs’ or the prickles from raspberry bushes or the noises of the milking shed. In fact, it seems like she’s not going to enjoy the farm visit much at all.

But Dooley remains undaunted – he’s always wanted to sleep in the barn one night and hasn’t been allowed to do alone but now with an older cousin in tow, he will finally be able to do so. Dooley might be the farm kid used to all kinds of different things to Sienna but it’s both children who find that hay is really not that comfortable as a bed, that possums at night can really disturb your sleep as can your dog chasing mice in the haystacks and when a really bad ‘pong’ wakes them up and turns out to be a billy goat, the pair are totally taken aback. Luckily some quick thinking by Dooley sees the stray goat safely put in the calf shed and the children eventually get a little sleep.

Sienna is pretty impressed with Dooley’s skill and brave enough to sleep in the barn again – but Dooley decides that Jess the dog is ‘too tired’ so the next barn sleepover had best wait a night or so.

Lots of fun as these two contrasting cousins learn more about each other and readers learn more about life on a dairy farm.

As with the previous books in the series there are some fun facts at the end of each book and don’t forget the activity pack!

Highly recommended for your young ‘uns from around five years upwards.

Peppa Loves the Great Barrier Reef

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Penguin Australia

September 2020

  • ISBN: 9780241457542
  • Imprint: Ladybird
  • RRP: $14.99

Planning on taking your little ones on a virtual trip around Australia? Then what better way than with one of their favourite characters! Peppa and her family are visiting Kylie Kangaroo and when Mrs Kangaroo offers to take them along to her work they are in for a really fantastic experience.

Into Mrs Kangaroo’s submarine and under the beautiful tropical waters of Queensland they go, to be amazed by the beautiful Great Barrier Reef. Naturally there is lots to see – of course, coral and clownfish but also sea stars (starfish) and other creatures in all the colours of the rainbow. George Pig had wondered if under-the-sea would look the same as Kylie’s fish tank with its bridge and treasure chest and even though Daddy Pig had gently told him that it would not be, the Pig family are quite surprised to see a bridge after – albeit one made of vibrant coral. Even more startling is George’s discovery of a real treasure chest filled with gold coins!

While it would indeed be a marvellous find to come across a treasure chest of gold in the Reef, we all know that it is, in fact, the Barrier Reef itself that is the real treasure and Mrs Kangaroo is mindful of teaching the young Pigs to care for this fragile environment.

For all your Peppa Pig fans as well as a wonderful addition to a classroom unit exploring our natural wonders. Recommended for any little readers from around five years upwards.

Dry to Dry – Pamela Freeman/Liz Anelli

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Walker Books Australia

August 2020

ISBN: 9781760650285
Imprint: Walker Books Australia

Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

Whether you are looking to provide your readers with more cross-cultural perspectives or simply looking at weather or really if you just revel in beautiful picture books, this is a winner. And frankly, if it’s not an actual winner in upcoming book awards I’ll be very surprised.

With a marvellous lyrical narrative accompanied by simply stunning illustrations, the reader can explore the changing seasons, the landscape and the teeming wildlife of Kakadu. We may not all be able to visit this very special location in reality but for an armchair tour this is a must-do.

From the Dry to the Wet and back to the Dry the seasons in Kakadu are each in their own way spectacular and both text and illustrations provide an upclose encounter with this unique Australian locale. The abundance and the variety of species both flora and fauna are astonishing whether in the tropical wetlands or on the rocky slopes: thousands of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals will intrigue young readers and give rise to many animated conversations and deep learning.

Kakadu is truly an amazing place and one which is high on the list for many to visit and enjoy but there is no doubt that it also out of reach for many so this will be the perfect substitute for any would-be tourist or for your unit of work be it Australian natural features, wildlife, weather or Indigenous perspectives.

Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

Moonflower Murders – Anthony Horowitz

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Penguin Australia

August 2020

ISBN: 9781529124354

Imprint: Century

RRP: $32.99

The Master triumphs again! Mind-bendingly clever and tricky, Horowitz has once again presented his readers with two devilishly complicated mysteries – once again a book within a book! I can only imagine how difficult it is to construct one complex murder mystery let alone two at the same time!

Susan Ryeland, former editor at Cloverleaf and victim of the nasty plot that killed her obnoxious star author Alan Conway, has been living in Greece with her partner Andreas running, with some difficulty, their hotel. Despite the idyllic setting, the frantic struggle to get the hotel on its feet and the loss of her editorial and bookish connections are making Susan feel frustrated and fretful. Out of the blue the spectre of Alan Conway arises when an English couple visit Susan and ask for her help in resolving the disappearance of their daughter. At first baffled by this, it becomes clear that there may be some connection between Cecily’s disappearance, a murder on the day of her wedding eight years previously and Alan Conway’s Atticus Pund Takes the Case which Susan edited. With Susan’s dissatisfaction with the way things are going in Greece, she needs little prompting to take on the amateur investigation especially as there is a very generous remuneration on offer. The hotel badly needs an injection of funds just as Susan badly needs a small reprieve from the daily grind.

Given the phone call Cecily made to her parents just the day before she disappeared, it is very clear that some clues to the truth of the murder and therefore her disappearance must lie within Conway’s book and Susan is determined to uncover the facts and vindicate a wrongly convicted suspect. Naturally the twisting and turning plot provides much fodder for us armchair sleuths with suspicion shifting from one character to another. Susan’s investigation leads her into some very murky places figuratively but she is aided by surprising help from a couple of characters we first met in Magpie Murders.

Tied in with the search for justice is Susan’s conflicting emotions about her relationship with Andreas, brought into focus by her much-loved sister’s marital dilemma.

This is exactly the sort of juicy murder mystery I have always loved and while I can be the most complete dunce in seeing the carefully hidden clues, the unfolding of the complexities is a delight and really, no one does it better than Anthony Horowitz. For one who basically ate up murder mysteries for years, it is just pure joy to become so involved in the cunning and entertaining world AH creates.

It is always such a privilege to review such an extraordinary writer and needless to say this has my highest recommendation. If you love a great mystery you will be glued to this as I was until you reach the shocking conclusion.