Category Archives: Childrens books

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.

Cato’s Can Can – Juliet Sampson & Katrina Fisher

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Ford St Publishing

August 2021

ISBN: 9781025804751

RRP: $24.95

Juliet’s newest book is just sheer joyfulness on paper! I know she loves her dancing, and so do we in our family – it’s only the current generation who have declined to dance actually *sad face* – so this gorgeous, happy story about Cato the cockatoo who yearns for someone with whom to dance is just perfect. Equally, your kiddos who dance – or even those who just have to move with the music! – will love it as much.

Cato finds plenty of dancers from the local dance school but just as he seems to get close they all disappear. Finally, he is brave enough to go right inside the building and there they all are – the ballet dancers who leap, the rappers who spin and all the rest. All the dancers he has seen in his search, with their actions so like other native birds, welcome him into their class and suddenly – everyone is learning a new dance – the can can!

This is sweet and happy and full of such positive energy, and a lovely affirmation that we can always find kindred spirits if we care to look. I absolutely love Juliet’s comparisons to our various birds and Katrina’s illustrations are just spot on, with the dancing children almost bursting off the pages with their energy.

Highly recommended for your little readers from around Prep upwards – I can well imagine some lively dance sessions both during and after a shared reading. You can also find teaching notes and activities here. [I have in fact, made a similar birdy craft with my kiddos and it’s a huge hit!]

The Amazing Case of Dr Ward – Jackie Kerin/Tull Suwannakit

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March 2021

Ford St Publishing

RRP: $16.99

ISBN: 9781925804706

When a true life story can be brought to life in an engaging picture book it’s a real bonus and this particular book has so many applications for rich discussion and learning experiences; science, HASS, innovation, and invention. Hands up all those who have had a terrarium in their home – or made them with children….yep, me too. And yet, I had never heard of the man who conceived of this amazing way of growing plants. Nathaniel Ward was fascinated with growing plants, particularly unusual ones and was determined to both see and grow the exotic plants that voyagers in the 19th century were seeing and attempting to bring back to England. The long sea journeys, weather and vermin made is almost impossible for healthy specimens to arrive intact and through a chance discovery, Ward saw that plants can grow in a sealed glass container successfully for indefinite periods of time.

Dr Ward’s curiosity and innovation enabled the transport of many of the plants – both decorative and useful – to other shores and while, with hindsight, we have come to understand that some of those introduced to Australia have been a disaster for our native habitats, there is also no doubt that the production of fruit and other crops has been an important part of our agricultural landscape and economy.

Most intriguing of all is the concept of simple wondering and experimentation that lead to something now so commonplace that we accept its presence without question, and it is this, in my opinion, that your young readers will connect with the most. Reading this even to your upper primary children will provoke so many learning opportunities and I highly recommend it for your kiddos from around six years upwards.

Good Night, Ivy Bright – Ben Long/Andrew Plant

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Ford St Publishing

April 2021

RRP: $16.99

ISBN: 9781925804720

This is a glorious book with both a joyful rollicking rhyming text from author, Ben Long, and (as always) sublime illustrations from Andrew Plant. On the surface it is a splendid introduction to both colours and colour mixing but it goes much deeper than that. To be honest, I can’t say it better than Ben himself:

What I didn’t realise while I was writing this story was the importance of the moose.
Everyone needs a moose. We all have times when we’re challenged – when we are tired,
troubled, or in tears. And it’s at those times when we need someone to sit down next to us
and be there for us, just like the moose in this story. For some people, the moose might be
their mum. For others it might be their dad, sister, brother, friend, or all of the above.
Similarly, sometimes we need to be the moose for someone else. It’s a good reminder to ask
for help when you need it, and to offer help when it’s needed.

Just imagine using this with your class and investigating all the artistic possibilities but at the same time inviting discussion around when we might need a ‘moose’ in our lives. It would take very little encouragement to generate the most valuable of conversations and giving small humans the reassurances they need, as well as putting into their minds the possibility that they might, in turn, be someone’s ‘moose’.

I just love this and can easily envisage it in either your library session or a classroom setting – especially since there are brilliant teaching notes provided!

Highly recommended for little readers from around five years upwards.

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp – Paul Russell/Nicky Johnston

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Exisle Publishing

Imprint: EK Books

ISBN: 9781925820881 

RRP: $24.99

Without doubt we (as educators) have all met a Bowen Bartholomew Crisp at some point and many of us will remember our first encounter with a neuro-diverse child before we were even fully aware of such diversity. And we also know, that these children are among our most memorable for their completely unique outlook on life and the sparky quirkiness they often display. And then there are those of us who have the daily joy of living with a child who is diverse, making our lives rich and full. 🙂

As a little boy and throughout his life, Bowen has had so much on his mind, and so very much he can share but sadly, does not always get the opportunity, as others are usually too impatient or short-sighted to value his different way of thinking. Thankfully his mum knows exactly what he needs to share his thoughts and know how much they are valued. It is not until he is grown up that Bowen’s special talent for thinking in a different way is able to burst forth resulting in amazing creativity. And as we well know, it is often just this way in real life. Thank goodness for diverse thinkers!

This is a beautifully realised picture book where text and illustrations mesh together perfectly to bring a sensitive portrayal of neuro-diverse children to younger readers. Clearly in a classroom setting we want our children to understand and embrace these differences but just as obviously this is so important for our own children in a home setting.

We can always depend on EK Books to bring us the books that celebrate differences and provide insight for young readers on a wide range of topics and as usualy, I highly recommend this delightful book to you for readers from around 5 years upwards.

Wandi – Favel Parrett

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Hachette

September 2021

ISBN: 9780734420633

RRP: $19.99

When Wandi, the tiny dingo pup, was found in a Victorian backyard in 2019, it was unlikely that anyone would have predicted the lucky canine’s rise to social media superstar status.

Since then he is currently on about 47,000 followers on Instagram — and that’s across the world.”

The remarkable story of Wandi’s rescue has been well publicised indeed, and now critically acclaimed author, Favel Parrett, has turned her skilled hand to crafting a beautiful narrative of the dingo pup’s journey for young readers.

Beginning with his first few weeks of life with his litter mates and parents high in the Alpine snow country, to his almost fatal snatching by, likely, a wedge-tailed eagle, and ultimately, to his new home in the Australian Dingo Foundation’s sanctuary with his favourite playmate, Hermione, Wandi’s story will delight readers. More importantly it will draw their attention to the plight of Australia’s native canine and, particularly, the less common varieties.

Simple line drawings throughout add even more interest to the dingo pup’s story and, as a slim volume, it will prove a very accessible read for children from as young as Year 2. For your more able newly independent readers it will feel very much like ‘grown up’ book with its beautiful binding and cover art (which has the illusion of being hand-painted – just beautiful!).

The book concludes with some easily digested information from sanctuary supervisor (and Wandi’s very good friend), David Newman, along with ideas for how children can get involved with helping the dingo population. This is followed by a Q&A with Favel Parrett, which particularly explains her personal connection with Wandi and the sanctuary.

All in all this is just a superb little true-life narrative which readers will enjoy and about which they will no doubt become enthusiastic and be spurred into action.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.

Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

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Allen & Unwin

September 2021

ISBN:9781760526108

Imprint:A & U Children

RRP: $19.99

One wouldn’t normally associate the outback mining town of Mt Isa with magic or dragons but Karen Foxlee’s newest novel for middle school readers makes this eminently plausible.

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip is always reluctant to go home since her mother’s boyfriend moved in. Matt, the epitome of domestic bully, has reduced the previously happy life Pip and her mother had together to a frightened shadow where both are diminished. While her mother seems to have lost almost all her own free will, Pip’s resentment, both of Matt’s invasion, and the loss of her best friend, Mika, fuels her determination to get herself and her mum out of this ugly situation.

Pip spends a lot of time at the waterhole, where she and Mika used to sit and dream, talk and plan, even as the river dried up and the cracks in the mud widened. Since Mika’s been gone and Matt’s influence has permeated every moment of her life the waterhole has become Pip’s only refuge, even though her mum doesn’t like her spending so much time there alone.

The day she finds the almost-dead little creature is the day her whole life changes, though she doesn’t yet know it. All she does know is that she is going to save it, no matter what it takes. It’s not a lizard, it’s not a fish – it has wings and scaly skin and little nubs on the top of its little head – so it can only be a baby dragon. How and why, it has come to be almost dead, half-buried in the mud of a lonely waterhole Pip has no idea, just as she has no real idea how to save the little creature. She can hear Mika’s suggestions in her head but they come and go so she can’t depend on them. However, she’s not as alone as she thinks. As the days go by and Little Fella begins to slowly recover, Pip discovers a growing bond, born of conspiracy and curiosity, between herself and Laura and Archie, school friends she has never realised are friends.

Just as Little Fella’s strength improves and he grows to a point where he will survive, thanks to the combined efforts of the three friends, so too does Pip’s resolve and encouragement for her mother to make the move that will save them both.

Karen Foxlee’s ability to create characters with whom the reader can bond completely has become evident with the success of her earlier books and this new one does not disappoint. With its focus on a sadly, increasingly, common scenario, it will bring heart to those who may be faced with similar dilemmas – particularly as at the end of the book, the author has provided links and resources for readers with such issues.

To round off such an important and quality book, the bonus of beautiful binding makes this a joy to hold in one’s hands.

I give this my highest recommendation for your mature readers from around Year 4 upwards, with the warning that of course the domestic abuse issue may be an emotional trigger for some. In our collection, this means a disclaimer on the endpapers as an advisory comment.

The Wolf’s Howl: A Maven & Reeve Mystery Book 2 – A. L. Tait

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Penguin Australia

August 2021

  • ISBN: 9781761041792
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • RRP: $16.99
It has taken me some time to get to this review – though not to the book itself (thank goodness it’s finally the holidays!). I absolutely loved the first in this series, in my mind it’s like a junior version of Cadfael :-). A. L. Tait has a lovely knack of putting her readers right in the midst of these alternate histories whether adventure or mystery and her characters are always so engaging. Maven and Reeve are first and foremost cautious allies as they work together to solve the current problem. This particular one I found even more intriguing than the first and I suspect this more convoluted plot device might continue – and good-oh! I say.

Maven and Reeve have accompanied their respective mistress and master – the Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick – on an important visit to a remote Airl and his region. Upon their arrival they discover that the long-standing and respected cook has disappeared (and as it would be – kidnapped), that the Airl’s guard are very strange in their organisation indeed and the entire surrounds of Glawn Castle are not only inhospitable but dangerous. Maven knows that the Beech Circle’s reach extends as far as this isolated landscape and wastes no time in calling upon her sisterhood.

There is plenty of intrigue, red herrings and the (now expected) nastiness from Anice, Lady Cassandra’s cousin and Maven’s nemesis, all happily resolved by the intrepid pair who may be lowly ‘servants’ but are both smart and resourceful.

I know my kiddos love A. L. Tait’s books and this series is going to take off rapidly now with this second episode launched. I highly recommend it for your readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Pax, Journey Home – Sara Pennypacker

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Harper Collins

September 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008470289
  • ISBN 10: 0008470286
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD
So many readers have been waiting for a sequel to the book that captured thousands of hearts with its tender story of a boy and his orphaned fox. Now a year has gone by since Peter and Pax were separated (oh the tissues required!) and each has followed their own path. Pax has a mate and a new litter of kits to protect as they wander the wasteland to find a safe haven. Peter, now orphaned himself, has been taken in by the warm and generous Vola far away from his home but he cannot settle, despite the sanctuary she offers.

When Peter joins the Water Warriors, a group determined to repair the ravages of the war, his primary intention it to work his way back to his old home, although he knows there is nothing left for him there. He desperately tries to put Pax out of his mind but still there’s a part of him that yearns to know his fox is safe. At the same time as Peter draws nearer to his old house, Pax is trekking across the dangerous landscape with his youngest kit, the feisty the little girl pup, who is becoming weaker and weaker. Despite the fox’s sharp senses he has no way of knowing that the water the little vixen drinks so thirstily is slowly poisoning her. When their paths finally intersect again, the pair’s reunion is bitter-sweet but as they part once more, both have experienced a healing transformation.

Again Sara Pennypacker has crafted a book that is full of exquisite tenderness and real emotions, with no trace of cloying over-sentimentality. The beautiful re-defining of ‘family’ and the transcedent power of pure love will linger with readers well after they turn the last page.

An absolutely magical book which was one-sitting read for me as I once again dipped into the world of Peter and Pax.

My highest recommendation for readers from around 10 years upwards.

What Zola Did on Sunday – Melina Marchetta

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Penguin

  • September 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760895228
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

This series has just been pure joy from the very first word with each new story building on the warmth, friendship and community of Zola’s neighbourhood. Now that we have finished the entire week with Zola I feel quite sad but I’m hopeful that Melina might take Zola and her friends, not to mention her mishaps, on a longer journey for us. I’m going to sit back and wait for What Zola Did in January now *grin*.


The climax of the entire series is the St Odo’s fete where so much that has featured along the way all comes together: the knitting, gardening, pets, music and baking as well as the entire cast of charming characters.

Of course, it was to be expected that Zola would once again be in the middle of a muddle and when she doesn’t quite manage to hold onto Tim Tam the cat in the face of excitable dogs before the Pet Parade starts, there is quite the calamity. But, despite the kerfuffle, the fete still manages to be a huge success and the funds raised by this caring community give everyone much satisfaction – particularly as their efforts will support the homeless, which gives the reader pause for reflection when one thinks about these happy families in their homes. Throughout the entire series, the opportunities for meaningful discussion and action learning have been plentiful, all the while without being ‘preachy’.

I feel sure you must have caught onto these sweet books for your newly independent readers by now – but just in case somehow you have overlooked them, do yourself and your little peeps a big favour and put them on your order list.

Highly recommended for readers from around 6 upwards.