Category Archives: Childrens books

Grace’s Mystery Seed – Juliet M Sampson/Karen Erasmus

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Graces-Mystery-Seed

Ford St Publishing

March 2019

$16.95

Have you ever had your children (or grandies) garden with you? I used to garden with my girls and now I have my beautiful granddaughter growing up here also loving planting and watching things grow. She especially loved planting radish seeds to spell her name and only having to wait a few days to see the results!

Juliet M Sampson has utterly captured the magic of that moment of watching the transformation of a seed into a thing of beauty and wonder.

Little Grace loves helping her favourite neighbour in her garden and especially feeding the pet parrot, Polly, his delicious stripy seeds. When Grace wonders aloud where these delicacies come from, Mrs Marino suggests planting one. Grace is enthralled and shares her excitement with her friends and family.

Grace’s joy when her sunflower blooms and does indeed seek the sun each day is truly super stuff to share with young readers (oh how I wish they could all experience this amazing transformation!). Of course, not only is Grace’s mystery seed the foundation of her joy in the flower, but the sunflower will keep on giving – seeds to her friends and to Polly.

I lament the fact that so many children no longer have this glorious joy and I’m personally so glad I have been able to share it with my own children and grandchildren.

Why not inspire your young readers to do likewise? I am planning now to start a seed or two in our library after the holidays and hand out some to kick off some young reader’s own nature journeys.

Highly recommended for readers from around five years upwards and check out the teaching notes here.  GROW your readers now!

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Holiday Hiatus

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Normally, the school holidays are an opportunity to really power on with my reading and reviews. However, two days before the end of term I found out that my lease of six years is not being re-offered. This means I’m spending my holidays sorting, packing, house hunting and all the blah that goes with all of that. I’m hoping we’ve found a new house – which both my girl and I really like – but waiting final confirmation – and surrounded by boxes, paper, mess etc.  Will get back on track asap. Meanwhile, if you are also on your break – enjoy!!

This is Home: Essential Australian Poems for Children – Selected by Jackie French, Illustrated by Tania McCartney

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thisishome

Publisher:   National Library of Australia

ISBN:   9780642279385
01 April 2019

RRP: $34.99

Why yes, some readers of this blog will already know that not only am I non-fiction nerd since childhood but also a poetry nerd. I openly admit this to the children at school who are sometimes a little (?!) resistant to poetry. Of course, I follow this up by totally blowing them away with the magic, humour and depth of poetry.

As it happens, this new anthology, selected by the amazing Jackie French (all hail!) and illustrated by the gorgeous and multi-skilled Tania McCartney will be EASY to sell to poetry-resistant kids. The contributors included roll out like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Australian children’s literature, both past and present.

From such historic luminaries as Norman Lindsay, Judith Wright and Dorothea MacKellar to contemporary stars such as Meredith Costain, Suzanne Gervay, Meg McKinlay, Andy Griffiths, Shaun Tan  – *gasp* and pause for breath, this is one of the most comprehensive and quality poetry collections I’ve ever encountered for children.

Page after glorious page of amazing verse accompanied by Tania’s iconic illustrations, it is pure joy to hold, read and savour. There have been many anthologies of Australian poetry published for children but I would have to think hard about one that presents both old and new offerings to children with such a contemporary and fresh format.  I know that poetry is, of course, still embedded in the curriculum but children so often seem to be disengaged with the way it is presented to them. I fully believe that this new collection will give children a point of connection and impart the joy of verse.

Sir Walter Scott said “Teach your children poetry; it opens the mind, lends grace to wisdom and makes the heroic virtues hereditary.”

We owe it to our children to not only show them the beauty of narrative literature but the amazing landscape of poetic creativity.

Highly recommended for children and adults from around eight years upwards. This one’s not going anywhere except my own shelves.

Thank you Jackie and Tania – love your work! x

Perks of the Hobby – R. A. Spratt

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You can well imagine how I leapt at the invitation to meet up with Rachel – aka R. A. Spratt – which came via the delightful Zoe, publicist with Penguin Random House. We had a delicious time chatting and laughing and I managed to sneak in a few questions on her professional life – as well as learning more about this very talented writer.

In case you didn’t know R. A. began as a writer for TV and had a very successful career doing so before switching to children’s books – and half a million books later, has certainly proven her outstanding ability with that venture! She told me that her first contract was offered the day after her oldest daughter was born so she was taking the phone call resting up in the maternity ward. Talk about double excitement! The only possible issue was that the offer was for two books with the second one to be delivered in three months – three months with a newborn? Easy peasy (!!) – not – but without hesitation she was into it and of course went on to deliver another six episodes in the hilarious and still so popular Nanny Piggins series.  Friday Barnes – Girl Detective was the next series to emerge from this fertile brain – and when it came to an end not so long ago – also after eight books, I had girls literally wailing with despair at their loss.

Now we have another new series rolling out with The Peski Kids and I’m told the third installment is completed.  I am reliably informed that this will also be an eight book series and workshopping for the next “high concept” venture is already underway – what a woman!! She’s a real powerhouse!

I asked Rachel about her main female protagonists – Nanny P, Friday and April – and commented how quirky, feisty and often opinionated they are, though totally endearing. It would seem that they are in many ways a reflection of their creator – well I never! *wink*.

I mentioned that I had been reading some material on Anthony Horowitz earlier in the day and his comment about the leap from writing for television and for children is not that huge a chasm as they are both about fast paced exciting events and relatable characters – Rachel agreed and went on to say that originally Nanny Piggins was to be a ‘pitch’ for a tv show so when she actually tackled it as a book she wrote it in exactly the same way  as she would have approached a sit-com – cast of six main characters, one central location and ‘floating’ cast plus the high level excitement ‘events’.

R. A. works from her home office amidst the busy-ness of raising two girls and a dog – along with her writer husband.  I knew already that she is extremely fit – and does completely ridiculous looking stunts like hanging upside down at the gym and running in potato races (am I right with that?) but didn’t know she also teaches bell-ringing at her local church in the lovely locality of the Southern Highlands (what a beautiful spot it is!).

She is currently in Brisbane cramming in a load of school visits – lucky children!- and one day I hope to see one of her very animated presentations. Within the last week Nanny Piggins’  tenth anniversary was celebrated at The Children’s Bookshop to much enjoyment from the many in attendance., both children and adults.

Thank you so very much for sharing such a pleasant time with me Rachel – all I can say now is that my kids at school are going to elevate me even further to goddess-like status by virtue of my associations!  And of course thank you to Penguin Random House for allowing me the pleasure of reading plethora new books from so many talented writers for children.

Here’s Rachel in action at the anniversary celebration…

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oh post coffee…..

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All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold/Suzanne Kaufman

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Bloomsbury Australia

February 2019

ISBN: 9781526604071
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children

RRP: $14.99

I deliberately saved this one to time with Harmony Day since it is a perfect expression of what we want to convey to our children as they grow up in a world where so many adults are blindly ignorant of the true meaning of one humanity. What I didn’t expect was that this review would come hard on the heels of one of the most heinous acts of butchery in the name of that hate-fuelled blindness so close to home.

 Kia Kaha, Christchurch –we stand with you.

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This delightful book follows a diverse group of children through their school day reiterating that all are welcome despite their various races, religions or backgrounds. With lilting rhymes the children embrace each other whether they are listening to stories, making art, playing or learning each spread repeating the refrain that ‘All are welcome here.’.

The brightly coloured illustrations show children from many different backgrounds and include both adults and cultures in likewise fashion.

Children will love the pure joyousness of this as a read-aloud or to savour themselves.

We’re part of a community

Our strength is our diversity

A shelter from adversity

All are welcome here

It’s my thought that perhaps we should send a copy to our governments and let them take note of what we want for our communities and our children.

Highly recommended for all from about four years upwards.

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Animal Crackers

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Now that the pile of review novels is finally getting to a stage that could be described as semi-tamed, it’s time to get stuck into plethora picture books. So here are some animal-focused ones to get into – because we all know that our little readers just love a great animal story and we love them because so often they send such positive messages.

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Flat Cat – Hiawyn Oram/Gwen Millard

Walker Books Australia

January 2019

ISBN: 9781406371543
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

“If you love something, set it free” – that was my first thought on reading this book. My second thought was the memory of buying my beloved Burmese cat, Possum, many years ago. I was determined that he would be an ‘inside’ cat but after two weeks of completely shredded flyscreens, I realised that was not in his nature and so he became an inside/outside cat and was my best friend for the eight years of his life.

Sophie loves Jimi-My-Jim and gives him everything you might think a cat could desire – toys, special food, sparkly collars, beds and even clothes. The one thing that Jimi-My-Jim is missing is freedom. He is never allowed outside and gradually he becomes ‘Flat Cat’ because he so morose at seeing the outside world only through a window. When one day by accident, Flat Cat manages to get hold of the front door keys, he is off and away and discovers a world full of other cats, life, excitement, joy and another very special cat – Blanche.  While at first the consequences prove to be difficult for both Flat Cat and Sophie, they are overcome and Flat Cat is able to pursue his new life – with the joy of the freedom plus the joy of being Sophie’s special friend.

This offers a serious point of discussion about when, if ever, it’s acceptable to reject the rules in place and certainly gives ‘helicopter’ parents an opportunity to examine their practices.

I certainly recommend it for young readers from around six years upwards – but would suggest that it could also be a valuable addition to parent information nights!

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Good Rosie! – Kate de Camillo. Pictures by Harry Bliss

Walker Books Australia

October 2018

ISBN: 9781406383577
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

 

I really meant to get to this one sooner rather than later because I truly adore Kate di Camillo’s work. This is such a departure from her novels but is truly enchanting and endearing.

We all need friends and Rosie is no exception. She has a good life with her human, George, but is lonely without doggy companions. Sometimes it seems that she and George don’t have much in common, for example, an intense interest in squirrels. When George takes Rosie to the dog park for the first time, she is somewhat overwhelmed. She has never seen so many dogs before and she feels confronted and scared. She is even more so when Maurice, a very large St Bernard approaches shaking his toy bunny with such vigour it’s a wonder the toy’s extremities still exist. But then the tiny Fifi with her sparkly collar doesn’t seem a kindred spirit either.

It takes an unfortunate incident between Maurice and Fifi to help Rosie realise that sometimes friends come in different shapes and sizes and that we don’t all ‘click’ at first sight.

Formatted in a graphic novel style, this is a lovely reminder about unlikely friendships but moreover about overcoming prejudices and feeling anxious.

A fabulous book for sharing with young readers to kick-start conversations about acceptance and building relationships.

 

Saying Goodbye to Barkley – Devon Sillett/Nicky Johnston

barkley

EK Books

978-1-925335-96-5

$24.99

Losing our furbabies is difficult. For children who have grown up with a special pet it is arguably even moreso. Super Olivia and her trusty sidekick, Barkley, have always been a team. As Olivia carries out her amazing super-hero deeds, Barkley is always right by her giving his all. When Barkley is no longer there, Olivia feels her zest for super-sleuthing and action-heroism has also gone. But after her grieving she realises that Barkley would not want her to give up her passion in life, nor forget his extraordinary assistance. Olivia knows what she must do as a true super-hero for whom rescues are a daily event. She must rescue a new sidekick.

Spud is white, fluffy and adorable – and absolutely useless at fighting crime and uncovering dastardly plots but Olivia loves her anyway.

This is not a story about replacing one pet for another but a beautiful way of describing that eventually we can heal from our losses and find joy in other ways, events and companions.

Highly recommended for readers from around six years upwards.

 

 

The Secret Key (Agatha Oddly: #1) – Lena Jones

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Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780008211837

ISBN 10: 0008211833

Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

June 2018

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Here’s a brilliant new girl detective series for all your lovers of this ever popular genre and this one is for slightly older girls. How can anyone resist someone named after the Queen of detective fiction herself? Agatha Oddlow is thirteen years old and her mother raised her on a steady diet of detective novels, logic and puzzles before she died. Agatha lives with her dad, who is head warden at Hyde Park gardens, in a quaint cottage in the grounds of the garden. They are managing on their own pretty well though Agatha is less than impressed with posh school St Regis, to which she won a scholarship.  She is far more interested in pursuing mysteries, real or imagined, often to the detriment of her school behaviour.  Along with her best friend Liam Lau,  Oddlow Investigations maintains that ‘no case is too odd’ for their sleuthing partnership and Agatha’s many imaginary conversations with her hero, Hercule Poirot, convince her that she is exactly the right type to be a detective.

So clearly when she witnesses a hit-and-run in Hyde Park which is swiftly followed by a terrible disaster with London’s water supply, Agatha is thrilled that her biggest chance yet has appeared. The thick red sludge which has usurped London’s fresh water supply appears to be a problem with no solution. Certainly it has the scientists baffled. But Agatha is determined to get to the bottom of the issue as she begins to connect the dots of the hit-and-run victim, a boastful business magnate who just happens to be launching a water purification venture, a strange key left behind by her mum and some very mysterious tunnels underneath London, where she just happens to discover her mother’s bicycle – the one which her mum was supposedly riding when she was struck by a car and killed.

This is loads of fun and has the many twists and turns that young readers will relish. I look forward to the subsequent episodes which are apparently on their way to us.

Thoroughly recommended for would-be detectives from around ten years upwards.

The Little Grey Girl (The Wild Magic trilogy #2) – Celine Kiernan.

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Walker Australia

ISBN: 9781406373929
Imprint: Walker

February 1, 2019

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

I absolutely loved Begone the Raggedy Witches which was the first in this trilogy so was pretty chuffed when this second instalment arrived. The Queen and her raggedy witches have been routed and Mup’s Ma is the new queen having taken her rightful place in the strange new world in which the family finds itself. But things Witches Borough are not yet safe. The long cruel reign of the old queen has left many festering wounds among the people and more, the ghosts that inhabit the castle. One in particular possesses a terrible magic which threatens to overturn the new order and destroy Mup and her family.

The little grey girl ghost proves to be elusive as well as intent on destruction and Mup along with her friend Crow are in grave danger as they attempt to uncover both her hiding place and her motives. While Ma tries to placate the remaining witches and clans, Mup is faced with harnessing her own newly discovered powers in order to thwart the ghost’s intentions and right ancient wrongs.

This is an intriguing narrative and though often seriously creepy will have the lovers of such spooky magical tales fully entranced as they follow Mup’s unravelling of the sad and heinous history of her grandmother, the old queen. Readers will find themselves urging Mup to keep up her courage, protect her family and to not succumb to the terrors the ghost produces.

Highly recommended for stout-hearted readers from around ten years upwards.

The Train to Impossible Places: a Cursed Delivery –   P. G. Bell

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Harper Collins

November 2018

ISBN: 9781474948616

ISBN 10: 1474948618

Imprint: Usborne – GB

List Price: 19.99 AUD

Like Suzy you would no doubt be astonished to wake up in the middle of the night to find a very grumpy troll laying railway tracks straight through your house.  And even more astounded when a gigantic steam train comes rumbling through on those lines with a very odd crew and a very nervous postal officer. Not one to shirk the opportunity to quench her curiosity or indeed discover why this magical train should be invading her home, Suzy jumps aboard and finds herself recruited as an assistant postal officer, delivering packages and mail to impossible places. Her first delivery however proves to be not only tricky but cursed and so a most unusual and dangerous adventure ensues.

In an alternate world where fuzzics (not physics) are in place and two rival powers vie for control, Suzy finds herself battling the forces of evil along with a size-impaired boy called Frederick and a bunch of aging trolls.

Despite the odds Suzy and her team are able to thwart the machinations of Lady Crepuscula and her brother Lord Meridian with such resounding success that when Suzy returns to her home safely, an exciting parcel arrives for her –  her own brand new  Postal Troll Officer’s uniform and a shiny Deputy badge as well. Who knows where her next adventure on the train will take her?

Highly recommended for readers who love humour, magic and a little bit of villainy – probably from about ten years upwards.

One Tree – Christopher Cheng & Bruce Whatley

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Penguin Random House

9780143786733

April 2, 2019

Puffin

 

RRP: $24.99

Once Grandfather lived at the top of a mountain next to the tallest tree. Even down in the village market his house was a landmark for all to see but as the land changed so did Grandfather’s life. In those days he told stories to his family and was very happy. Now he lives in a city apartment block with his family and a loving grandchild and his stories are silenced, his eyes are sad he mourns the loss of his traditional past.  Down in the market, the apartment is indistinguishable from its neighbours. It is just one more dwelling among thousands with not a sign of green nature anywhere.

Then one day the small grandchild finds a tiny seedling triumphantly sprouting betweens cracks in the hard surface of the market and, wanting to rescue and protect it, takes it home because “Grandfather will know what to do.”

As that small tree defies odds and continues to grow under the care of grandfather and grandson, another is added and then another until their apartment balcony is filled with green and even from the market it is easy to see their home. Neighbours are enchanted by the greenery and soon begin to add their own trees on balconies until finally almost the entire neighbourhood of bleak barren buildings is transformed into an oasis in a busy city.

This is a beautiful narrative of love, family, resilience and nature. One senses that there could be a very personal back story to this new book and Bruce Whatley’s stunning illustrations capture perfectly the sense of Chinese culture in a linocut style.

This is a splendid picture book which I would predict will be firmly and rightfully placed in award lists in the coming year.

Highly recommended for young readers from around six years upwards.

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