Category Archives: Childrens books

The Travelling Bookshop #1: Mim and the Baffling Bully – Katrina Nannestad

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Harper Collins Australia

July 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460713662
  • ISBN 10: 1460713664
  • Imprint: ABC Books
  • List Price: 8.99 AUD

I absolutely love this return to her whimsical, feel-good style from Katrina Nannestad, in this new and thoroughly delightful series. Although pitched at younger readers, I can absolutely see my older readers, who are keen fans of The Girl, the Dog, the Writer…taking this up with glee and loving it.

Mim Cohen travels with her father, little brother, a horse called Flossy and a cockatoo called Coco in their travelling bookshop caravan. Where ever Flossy leads them is where they are meant to be and when they arrive in a small Dutch village, it is clear that they are here for a reason and when Mim meets Willemina, a kind girl who is being horribly bullied, it seems to her that she needs to help. But is it just Willemina who needs help?

The travelling bookshop is a magical entity and visitors are always completely surprised when they first enter it to find how mysteriously capacious it is. After all it’s not every old wooden caravan that contains a basement is it? One of it’s greatest mysteries – or perhaps the mystery of Mim’s dad, sometimes known as Dreadful Zeddy – is the fact that the bookshop provides exactly the right book for the right customer, despite any thoughts to the contrary by either customer or Mim. So the woman who is looking for a crime novel but takes a book about termites, or the man who searched for a tome on tractors but ends up with Knitted Tea Cosies may be initially rather baffled but as it unfolds, have exactly what was needed.

Their sojourn in the pretty little Dutch village and their interactions with the inhabitants is heart-warming and joyous, full of imagination and wonder which will enchant readers from around 7 years upwards. I for one can’t wait to read more adventures of Mim and the travelling bookshop and look forward to the next instalment with great anticipation. And I certainly want to know more about Mim’s mother, the world-travelling civil engineer.

I’m going to really enjoy promoting this one to my middle/upper primary kiddos as well as my younger secondary ones who are already great fans of Katrina’s work.

Very heartily recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.

Term 3 Displays

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We’ve really been upping our game with displays this year in my library we believe. But this term we’re really having some fun. As soon as I was aware of Josh Langley’s latest book in his Being You is Enough series (reviewed yesterday here) Being Wildly Kind and certainly seeing his bee accoutrements as he launched it – I had the germ of an idea to do a ‘Bee your best self’ display for my big kiddos (who are gradually getting more and more attuned to my love of displays). So the past month or so a few purchases: bee string lights (Oh I love lights !), tiny wooden painted bees and some of the prettiest ‘feel good/positive’ books around, today it went up………..on the two bay end panels that face our Circ desk and front of library – so a prime ‘in your face’ spot. Happy enough with this result – as usual with this location, the display is passive interactive with a pack of post-it notes for the kids to add their own ideas.

Then, last term I successfully negotiated a bit more ‘wriggle’ room with our gender diverse fiction. Previously anything with a gender diverse character (even secondary or mentioned in passing) had to be put in Senior Fiction (NB: I don’t necessarily believe this was a systemic decision, more likely a personal prejudice). Now I don’t know about you but our SF gets very infrequent traffic (not least of all because there is a lot of dross in there – haven’t got to that slash’and’burn yet. So with that news and so many fab displays coming through our feeds for Pride Month my terrific assistant felt inspired so I asked her to take on a display around Diversity – of all types. The result is simply stunning and very effective.

Then of course, it’s Book Week this term and that theme for 2021 is so inane I felt I just wanted to scream but our huge and awkwardly shaped front window demands dressing and is such a chore that whatever goes in there stays all term. So I did a cheat with a big photo backdrop (one of my new best friends) and kept it simple but it is certainly attracting loads of positive attention.

We have one more to do – on our big slat wall upstairs where we had the fab Battle of the Books last term (such a success) but I’m waiting on a vital component to complete it! Will post pics when it’s done…

Oh and just as an aside – last term the front window was a celebration of our First Australian culture….

Being You is Enough series- Josh Langley

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Big Sky Publishing

RRP: $14.99

It was such a joy to become connected with the uber-talented Josh Langley online earlier this year and to discover his own magical brand of positivity, particularly as it applies to children. It’s taken a while but this week I received the four books in his amazingly successful series and have fallen in love with them all. After a rather fraught couple of months with the Kid who was struggling with some serious anxiety and other mental health issues, and the frightening stats coming out about the escalating numbers of children and young people presenting with such problems, I can only say that this series could not be more timely. While I know my personal philosophy has always been to encourage self-confidence and self-awareness in children and, in particular, this young woman it is my privilege to be raising, how much more effective is the sharing of such vibrant and entertaining ‘lessons’ via books that make a child laugh as well as think and reflect. Even said Kid laughed when I showed her some of the spreads – and commented ‘Point taken, Gran!’.

Starting early with these vital lessons in being confident, courageous and compassionate, resilience, self-regulation and growth mindset can only prove beneficial for our kiddos. Whether you hold these in your collection (which I plan to do) or share them with your guidance counsellors (which I also plan to do) or if you simply acquire them for use with the small people in your life, Josh’s simple but quirky text in each book accompanied by his joyous cartoon-style illustrations will engage your young readers from the start. And as we all know that hook from the start is the most important part of any learning experience. In fact, seeing these books in person for the first time, I immediately busted out a grin and thought ‘Wow, our very own Todd Parr!’.

The latest in the series was launched a few weeks back and takes as its focus what might just prove to be the most important quality of the decade going forward. The world is in dire need of more kindness. With so much suffering, worry and despair, taking some time to be kind to each other and the Earth itself is vital – for our own mental well-being as much as anything else.

I no longer teach the littlies but even with my older kiddos, I am planning a ‘Being Wildly Kind’ challenge for this term *grin*. My strings of little ‘bee’ lights are ready to go up as are my challenges for them and I believe I will have many of my ‘too cool’ teens rise to the occasion when I ask them the question ‘What kind of person do you want to bee?’.

Josh does not confine himself to his popular books (for children and adults). He also has an online presence with videos and online chats, one of which I joined during the past week to my utter delight. This is a man who not only talks the talk but has walked the walk, his sensitivity and commitment to young people’s mental health being inspired by his own struggles as a child.

I truly cannot recommend these highly enough for your kids – either the ones in your classes or the ones in your family.

Be sure to check out Josh’s website for more resources and inspiration or for information around his school visits and more.

Oddity – Eli Brown

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Walker Books

May 2021

ISBN: 9781406389272
Imprint: Walker
Distributor: Walker Australia-HEDS

Australian RRP: $18.99
New Zealand RRP: $21.99

I read this well over a month ago and have been talking it up big time to my readers, especially my ChocLit group but hadn’t yet written the review. Not because I didn’t absolutely love it but because, really, it is so completely unique in my experience that I have struggled to know exactly how to describe it.

It is a thrilling mixture of gothic fantasy, adventure, thriller, and supernatural (so try putting it into a ‘genre’ – arggghhh!) with characters the like of which you have never yet encountered and a plot that is utterly original, quirky and gripping.

Clover Elkin has been raised by her father, a gentle physician originally from Prague, following the loss of her mother in a freak accident when Clover was just a baby. When her beloved father is murdered by ruthless and cruel bandits, he charges Clover with the protection of the most magical Oddity of all. Clover knows a little about Oddities. She knows her mother studied these strange objects and has read some of the few journals about them that she has come across. Oddities are seemingly everyday objects but have mysterious powers of their own, almost impossible to control or direct: an ice hook that when thrown into a lake has kept that body of water frozen for decades, a teapot that, when tipped, keeps pouring endlessly, a rag doll that is animated when roused and has the strength and fury of a titan. All of these are objects which have been highly sought after by collectors and their powers used or abused over eons.

In this alternate 19th century history the Unified States still suffers from the horror of the Louisiana Wars and Napoleon’s enchanted army, and, in many ways, is as lawless as any old West frontier town of long-ago matinee movies. Clover must make her own way to find the answers she needs about her parents, her own history but also this one special Oddity in particular. Along the way she encounters some of the strangest (and frankly, at times, creepiest) characters some of whom prove to be allies and others unscrupulous enemies including a young girl who travels with a deadly snake and her medicine show, a talking rooster who is a decorated army general, a sinister man with a hat that collects secrets, and the nightmarish ‘Seamstress’.

This is dark and scary but at times also funny and warm. I read it eagerly, eating up every word, adventure and character in what is one of my best reads so far this year. I feel I cannot do it justice by merely writing this small account so I urge you most strongly to pick it up and read it. You will not be disappointed I promise.

I am giving it my highest recommendation for discerning readers from around 12 years upwards. I have readers of my own lining up to read it and predict it will be in high demand in our library.

Heroes, Rebels and Innovators – Karen Wyld. Illustrated by Jaelyn Biumaiwai.

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Hachette

July 2021

ISBN: 9780734419835

RRP: $26.99

As NAIDOC 2021 draws to a close, this is such an important book to share with you, examining as it does the lives and incredible actions of seven inspirational First Australian heroes. Each of these amazing Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander figures contributed in immensely important ways to their people and to our nation, though some have been sadly overlooked in the general terms of history. How fitting it is that this book sheds light on not only some whose names are known to contemporary society but also some whose stories have been side-lined.

As far back as the arrival of the Europeans comes the first of these inspiring stories with the account of Patyegarang, the Darug woman who worked closely with Lt Dawes, officer and scientist with the First Fleet. These two worked together each learning the language of the other and compiling a list of Aboriginal words. The discovery of Dawe’s writings in 1972 has helped to revive the Darug language and, though we have no knowledge of Patyegarang after Dawe’s departure back to England, her legacy lives on with this important record.

The stories of the remaining six icons are just as fascinating: Bungaree, whose efforts were of such great aid to Matthew Flinders; Taronorerer, who rebelled against the white blackbirders and led her people in battle; Yarri and Jacky Jacky, rescuers of 69 people in the Gundagai floods of 1852; Mohara Wacando Lifu, first Indigenous woman to receive the Royal Humane Society’s Gold Medal for bravery; David Unaipon, known by many as the Black da Vinci and Fanny Balbuk Yooreel, resistance fighter and fierce protector of the environment.

Make no mistake each of these makes for compelling reading and the colourful spreads will engage readers’ interest in the text and give rise to much fruitful discussion.

Perfectly suited to classroom units of work exploring cross-cultural perspectives but also so very much worthwhile promoting as independent reading for readers from around year 3 upwards.

Highly recommended for your readers and your teachers alike..

Shockingly Good Stories – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

  • ISBN: 9781761043376
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99

The hilarious author, R. A. Spratt, knows well that her stories make me snort laugh in an extremely undignified manner. I do my utmost to keep these moments private as I have noted that when reading hilarious stories from what is obviously a kids’ book on a train full of commuters and laughing uproariously, one gets looks from fellow travelers that imply more suspicion than a cough in a crowded supermarket (these days). However, I am instructed that I must now do my reading of all new Spratt stories in full view of any unsuspecting members of public in the name of shameless publicity for the aforementioned author.

Well I’ve saved the last couple of stories for an upcoming train journey but the rest were mirthfully devoured over the past week or so and I have to say, that your young funsters are going to lose their tiny minds over this collection. R. A. Spratt has shared the love around between her two outstanding characters, Nanny Piggins and Friday Barnes, with a few well-chosen random fractured fairytales thrown in, all of which will send readers into paroxysms of laughter.

From the get-go I was completely onside with Nanny Piggins’ rendition of Rapunzel Bacon-Hair and the ensuing Piggins tales, oddly all centred on foodstuffs equally reduced me to a gibbering mess. Then there are the always entertaining sleuthings of Friday – which are (for me at least) more subtle in their laughter-provoking moments.

Interspersed with the stories are some fabulous story-telling tips for your budding writers and humorists. Here’s one I particularly enjoyed:

Storytelling Tip #4

Don’t be afraid to yell. Children love yelling. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be as provoking. If your child’s attention is drifting away throw in a KAPOW! or a BOOOM!!! David Walliams does this all the time. If you do it loud enough, it’s an excellent way to startle your child, raising their heart rate so they don’t fall asleep before the end.

Thanks awfully for that one R. A.! I humbly request some sage advice for startling teens into behaviour that resembles an actual human…………….sorry, I digress.

I never have any hesitation in recommending Rachel’s books with my greatest endorsement. I have seen for myself the mad scramble for kids to get their hands on the newest ones – and seen my kiddos literally weep when a series has finished.

Happy book birthday to Shockingly Good Stories today! Get thee to thy online ordering to have your copy ready to go immediately after the holidays!!

Who Fed Zed? – Amelia McInerney. Illustrated by Adam Nickel

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Allen & Unwin

July 2021

ISBN: 9781760524432

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $24.99

For my library event of last week, I was required, of course, to complete the paperwork to tick all the boxes and of the 50 children attending, ten had dietary requirements – with nine of those being medical conditions not just a choice. Of those nine, four had anaphylaxis alerts and so we needed to have EpiPens at the ready. Those of us in schools have long realised that the growing numbers of children with food or other allergies, many of them severe, are reaching unprecedented figures.

So, this lively and highly amusing picture book, which very cleverly and subtly reinforces the message that food allergy/intolerance is a real issue for many children, and that reading food labels carefully is important for everyone.

The narrator explains through rhyme that friends Ted, Ned and Fred normally play with Fred’s dog, Jed, but sadly Jed has a very bad case of fleas, and for some reason, the flea power treatment has not worked. So instead of Jed, they watch Zed, the fish. Now Zed has already had a narrow escape after being fed bread at one point, so everyone knows not to make that same mistake but what happens when you don’t read packaging carefully? Oh oh – well it is quite a calamitous chain of events but very fortunately all turns out and once again Zed escapes unscathed, and Jed is finally freed of fleas.

Your little ones will absolutely love the rhyming thread throughout and this is a story that begs to be read aloud – with, I have no doubt, many requests for repeat performances.  Amelia McInerney has taken the situation of her own child as inspiration for this extremely important book which will promote healthy discussion about food allergies and intolerances but also, I would hope, lead to a general understanding of food choices for some – all of which leads children to a more considered acceptance of differences.

Naturally, it would work particularly well within a unit of work focused on nutrition or health but as a stand-alone, particularly if your class or group is welcoming a child with food allergies, it is also highly valuable.

I recommend this highly for little ones from Prep upwards – and even your tiniest humans in childcare/kindergarten settings will benefit from its message that for some children, certain food/s can be dangerous.

Backyard Birdies – Andy Geppert

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Hachette

JUL 28, 2021 | 9780734420695 | RRP $19.99

Imprint: Lothian Books

Well, you know, I’m a secret bird geek. I love spotting them. I take part in the annual backyard bird survey every year and, even going way way back to my first year of teaching, had my class keeping tally of the birds they saw in the backyards and on their properties. The bird gardens at Maleny are a favourite day trip. We throw our food scraps out onto the grass to feed the neighbourhood bin chickens and crows (mostly). So yes, all in all, a friend of the feathery ones…

And then this book arrived – and I laughed and laughed with the absolute hilarious joy of it. I pretty much expected that I was getting a serious little beginners’ book of bird identification albeit with cutesie illustrations. What I didn’t antipicate was this gloriously uproarious slant on the birds we might most expect to find in our backyards (and here I’m thinking Brisbane backyards as author/illustrator Andy also hails from Bris Vegas).

To whit (but not, in this case, to whoo):

This is a common pigeon. Common because it’s almost identical to every other pigeon.
You’ll sometimes see a white one. That’s because it’s just had a bath. I made that last bit up.

Other avian facts you will discover include:

Seagulls can’t talk.

They can only shout.

and

Kookaburras love hearing jokes from everyone except dads.

Even kookaburras know that dad jokes are terrible.

Along with the fascinating facts… and near-facts… are the delightful and quirky illustrations with each bird depicted next to a common (or dare I say, garden variety) plastic bucket for reference to size and a feather, ostensibly, sticky-taped to the page. Each bird is accompanied by a map for distribution and it’s scientific name so there is some semblance of real information *wink*. The glossary that concludes the book refers not so much words of scientific or technical definition as much as the more random ones chosen by the author.

Most of my friends know that I donate my review books regularly – to a variety of sources – but I found this so amusing and so well-suited to my own sense of humour that it is very likely destined to live on my own bookshelves.

Do not hang about – get thee to your bookseller immediately and order this one. You will definitely not regret it!

Highly recommended for your readers from around six years upwards – I can well picture having a lot of fun with junior classes!

Mr Men: Mr. Tickle 50th Anniversary Edition – Roger Hargreaves

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Penguin Australia

March 2021

  • Imprint: Mr Men
  • ISBN; 9781761042157
  • RRP: $16.99

In 1971 Roger Hargreaves wrote the first of what was to become one of the most well-known and iconic book series for children, after his small son asked him what a tickle would look like. No doubt in the beginning, particularly having found it difficult to secure a publishing deal, he had no idea that fifty years later this best-loved series would still be going from strength to strength.

Celebrations world-wide this year are a testament to the enduring popularity of the series and its characters as well commemorative coins being commissioned by the UK Mint, the introduction of a new Mr and Miss (as voted for by the public – 73 k of them!) and a range of merchandise and activities available via the official website.

When Roger died in his early 50s, the brand was taken over by his son Adam who has continued to delight children around the world as he creates more characters as well as designing merchandise, seasonal/special books, various formats such as board books and more. With over 90 characters in the Mr/Miss world there is bound to be a personality to fit every child reader – and some adults as well! (I know how much I love my Little Miss Bossy shirt!)

I’m keen for our library team to go full Mr/Little Miss this Book Week and if I can persuade them, I’ll be sure to share the photos!

In the meantime, why not buy this beautiful gold-foiled commemorative copy for a special little Mr or Miss in your circle?

Recommended with delight for little readers from toddler upwards.

Salih – Inda Ahmad Zahri. Anne Ryan

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Ford St Publishing

March 2021

ISBN: 9781925804645

RRP: $16.99

The global issue of the plight of refugees, and in particular, child refugees is the focus of this sensitively written and beautifully illustrated book. Even your youngest readers will be able to comprehend the circumstance of those who must flee their homes, with only what they can carry – like turtles carrying their homes on their backs – and the ensuing discussions which will arise will help your little people develop empathy and an appreciation of diversity.

The first person narrative is almost poetic as it describes the flight from danger, the happy memories and the terrible ones and the therapeutic release through art is a beautiful way to tie a healing process to the visual metaphors used in Anne Ryan’s illustrations.

This is an emotional journey as well as a political and cultural one and is an important addition for any classroom unit of work or library collection. It is certainly a theme which has resonance in today’s global circumstance and one that deserves to fully examined in just such a sympathetic and compassionate way.

Recommended with my fullest endorsement for your readers from around five years upwards.