Category Archives: Childrens books

The Wizards of Once: Knock Three Times: #3 – Cressida Cowell




SEP 24, 2019 | 9781444941470 | RRP $19.99

Not strange at all – looking up and seeing three children clutching a magical flying door high above a forest. Well ok, perhaps a magical door flying is a tiny bit odd but not in a Cressida Cowell fantasy/adventure! Xar, Wish and little Bodkin are escaping their Warrior and Wizard families along with their faithful retinue of assorted sprites, enchanted objects, snowcats, Crusher the giant and of course, Caliburn, the raven who was once the great wizard Pentaglion. However, it’s not just their respective parents and their supporters pursuing them but far worse, the Witches who are hovering above them, unseen but with the worst of intentions.

When Wish’s mother, Warrior Queen Sychorax, sets the forest alight all manner of chaos results. The ragged and tired children are facing the grimmest of narrow escapes until they are unexpectedly rescued by a giant bear. Although the giant bear is not really a bear but is actually Caliburn’s sister whom they are hoping to find and with whom they are hoping to seek shelter.  Perdita and her talking owl advisor  Hoola may not at first appear the best of saviours but the assorted band of refugees are taken into Pook’s Hill, the school for gifted wizards and are able to re-group, as well as contemplate a possible traitor in their midst.

Xar and Wish have a mission. They are determined to find a way to rid their world of Witches – and most especially the Witch-King, who is trapped in an iron ball but always posing a threat. Their sojourn at Pook’s Hill is not lengthy but enough to fortify them and give them both some skills and confidence with which to control their respective magical powers.

In the meantime, Queen Sychorax and Encanzo, Xar’s father and head of the Wizards, must reconcile their past as star-crossed lovers and unite to rescue their children.

It’s complex, fascinating, enchanting and chockers with exciting adventure and creepy characters.  I absolutely adore Cressida’s ability to combine the scary with the humorous, the seriousness with the silliness and of course, her unique illustrations and funky fonts all combine to create a really unique reading experience. No wonder she was chosen as the newest Children’s Laureate UK!

There really is no need to ‘sell’ Cressida’s novels and any readers who have already raced through the first two books in this new series will be leaping to grab this next instalment.

Highly recommended for your readers from around 10 years upwards.


JT : The Making of a Total Legend – Jonathan Thurston, with James Phelps


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Harper Collins

August 2019

ISBN: 9781460758618

ISBN 10: 1460758617

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 16.99 AUD

I grew up slightly obsessed with rugby league. Born and bred in the heart of Dragons’ territory in the glory days of that team, my girlfriends and I played footy every day in the school playground (I still bear a cracking scar on my knee from an untimely slide across the asphalt!).  I begged my father to buy me my own football and was rather disappointed when it appeared – the rubbery kind not a leather one – which he found quite amusing. Clearly I had no clue how much a ‘real’ football cost!  My love of the game has somewhat diminished over time but I’m still a diehard Dragons supporter and even after thirty odd years in Queensland still proudly wear my ‘Blues’ jersey at Origin time.

Despite my history with the great game I cannot deny that if a player ever deserved the epithet of legend it would be Jonathan Thurston.  This shining star of league has not only proven his skill over and over again but is an exemplar of sportsmanship, teamwork and above that, a thoroughly decent, humble and compassionate human.

Young readers will be inspired by this version of his autobiography which begins with his childhood in Brisbane – too skinny, too sooky, too little – to be considered a likely professional player and traces his rise to the greatest heights the game can offer.  From his debut with the Canterbury Bulldogs (nothing to say there) to his brilliance in State of Origin, internationals and of course the Cowboys readers will gobble up every detail of every game.

Since his retirement from the game this giant of league has continued to use his influence positively with the Jonathan Thurston Academy with its commitment to ensuring success for young people in every field be it studies, employment or well-being.

In a culture where so-called sporting heroes often fall far short as role models, JT is a stand-out whose ‘total legend’ status goes without saying.

Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.



Kensy and Max #4: Out of Sight – Jacqueline Harvey




September 2019

ISBN: 9780143791928

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

Just as life for the intrepid and resilient twins seems to be settling with both their parents and their grandparents restored to the family, the London house habitable again and being back at school with their friends, things start hotting up.  Their upcoming first Pharos review is doubtless a tad stressful given there’s no wriggle room for inadequacies and the school play looms large but there’s far more to it than that. They appear to be not only surrounded by deception and mystery but for the first time ever each is keeping a big secret from the other.

As well there is annoyingly inquisitive new student Blair, new Drama teacher/Pharos agent/”world famous actor” Mr Theo Richardson and some missing journalists with which to contend. The twins’ training in stealth, disguise, parkour and coding are all about to become far more necessary than just for the upcoming review!

When it becomes apparent that there is a large-scale operation focused on thefts of valuable pieces and that somehow there’s a connection to both the new Drama teacher and the missing journalists, the Pharos kids are galvanised into action.  Given the skills, expertise and native intelligence the twins and their friends are able to apply to a dangerous situation the review could seem an anti-climax.

Once again, readers will revel in the excitement of this series. Each book gets a little edgier with the twins (and their friends) demonstrating real independence, quick thinking, teamwork and bravery.

Jacqueline Harvey has proven over and over her ability to connect with her readers by providing exactly the right adventures that appeal to the middle school kiddos upwards. It’s certainly no wonder that her fan base just continues to grow and that each new book is greeted with such enthusiasm.

Highly recommended for readers from around 9 years upwards.

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay – Alexandra Stewart/Joe Todd-Stanton





May 2019

ISBN: 9781526600769
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $24.99

As a child of the 50s the names of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were as familiar to me as the names of my friends. Though I was born a few years after their remarkable expedition their names still resounded around the globe. The modest beekeeper from New Zealand and his local Sherpa guide had done the near-impossible. They had claimed victory over Everest and their achievement had become legend.

Timed perfectly to commemorate the centenary of Hillary’s birth this big, bold, beautiful book will bring this inspirational story to a new generation of children. The foreword is written by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, arguably the only modern adventurer to match the achievement of these two but it is the stunning presentation that will totally captivate young readers.

Exploring their early lives, the lead up and of course the ultimate arduous and dangerous trek to the summit in 1953, the text is sectioned in manageable passages which are beautifully illustrated – with (dare I say it?) the cutest possible images. They just have so much kid-appeal that they are irresistible.

Everest was – and still is – the repository of lost hopes and tragedy but for these two unassuming men, their doggedness and ambition overcame all obstacles.

It is without a doubt the story of one of the most heroic adventures of our modern history and one which deserves to be re-told.

Readers from around ten years upwards will love this and also be inspired by these two amazing individuals. Teacher notes are available on the publisher’s website.

I highly recommend it particularly if your upper primary/lower secondary students have a unit on inspirational individuals.

Clancy of the Overflow (The Matilda Saga #9) – Jackie French


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Harper Collins

October 2019

ISBN: 9781460754771

ISBN 10: 1460754778

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 29.99 AUD

This little hobby of mine has brought me so much richness. I’m able to read the newest titles from so many fabulous creators. But as you probably have realised I stand in complete awe of our maven of literature for children, teens and adults, Jackie French, and what a privilege for me to have the opportunity to read the last of the Matilda saga well before its release date.

So many of us have followed the travails of Jackie’s characters both historical and fictional, spanning a century, and now the narrative comes full circle encompassing both the past and the contemporary. The characters with which we have engaged and loved have made the past come alive and the present realised in a sweeping story of strong women particularly and vivid history.

Those readers who are familiar with the series (who isn’t?) will expect that this last volume will continue our connection with Jed and Sam, Scarlett and William plus Alex, as well as Nancy so I don’t really feel the need to expand on the plot – because clearly you will want to read it for yourself. What I want to focus on is the scope of this body of work – as Charlotte would say, arguably Jackie’s ‘magnum opus’. By saying that I would not imply that Jackie has reached her peak or we can expect any less in the future but to my mind this series represents and encapsulates so much of what Jackie strives to achieve and bring to her audience as well as embodying so much of herself in so many ways.

Jackie’s unequalled ability to place her readers firmly in the period of which she writes and the skill with which she connects us to the characters is unparalleled. But even more so is her deftness with interweaving so many threads of historical narrative throughout her work: to do so over a series of nine books is to my mind a superb accomplishment. This final volume of the series not only continues the narrative but expertly brings in the references to earlier books and the exquisite blending of fact and fiction is enthralling. Of course, as readers we hang on waiting to know the fate of Jed and Sam, as well as Scarlett, but now we are also privy to the amazing love story of Clancy and Rose – as well as the unfulfilled connection between Clancy and Matilda. As a long time devotee of Banjo Paterson (thanks Dad!) this blending of history and imagination just delights me so much and Jackie has the innate skill of making the events and circumstances so utterly believable.

My regard for Jackie goes well beyond her unerring skill as a storyteller, a diligent researcher and an accurate historian. I know her to be a warm, generous and caring human with a drive that is enviable and a nature that is beautiful. She is truly an admirable Australian whose passion for our history – whether good or bad – and our unique culture is to be celebrated.

In case you haven’t picked up on it – I cannot recommend this highly enough – and all I can say is if you haven’t read the first eight books – shame on you

Final Storm – Deborah Abela




August 2019

ISBN: 9780143794462

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

When Deborah Abela started her ‘cranky climate change’ series it was because she was prompted to do so by the refusal of world governments to take action against the obvious and dangerous climatic changes threatening the world as we know it. A decade after the publication of Grimsdon our global leaders still prove to be ignorant and, worse, reckless about the increasingly dire situation facing humanity.

Isabella and Griffin along with their friends have now become settled in New City with Jeremiah acting as their guardian. They attend The Academy where they are learning many new and exciting things but need to deal with situations, not perhaps as dangerous as their adventures in Grimsdon, but certainly fraught.  One of their fellow students is the much-lauded Aleksander Larsen, an up-and-coming brilliant star though not necessarily likeable. It doesn’t take long for Aleksander’s pseudo-charm to become something entirely different.

Wild weather is again wreaking havoc with inexplicable and unpredictable patterns and Jeremiah is hard-pressed with the Bureau of Weather neither to make sense of any of it nor to stop it. It is almost as though there is something entirely unnatural about it all.  And indeed there is.  A grim spectre from the past has risen and presents a ruthless and wanton danger not only to the children but to the entire world. And like so many of our own so-called leaders the bottom line is money and power with not so much as a fleeting thought or concern for any who might get in the way.

Once again Deborah has given middle school readers a thrilling adventure/fantasy that will have readers on the edge of their seats but also will give them much on which to reflect. As young people such as Greta Thunberg take action in a powerful (and fast growing) global movement, in a world where the power-mongers refuse to act this is exactly the kind of narrative to inspire more and more of our future citizens.

Kudos to Deborah for another inspired instalment in what has become one of the most popular series for this age group!

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Flights of Fancy: stories, pictures and inspiration from ten Children’s Laureates 😉



Walker Books, April 2019, 80 pp., $27.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781403687858

Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, Lauren Child.

Naturally we are not the only ones to celebrate our creators of extraordinary children’s books and this compilation is a real treat. The above authors, who have all been such familiar names for us all as we share amazing stories for children, have all been UK laureates. Their contributions to the world of children’s books are completely inspiring and now they share their thoughts, ideas and processes with children, in the hope of encouraging the next generation of outstanding authors and illustrators.

Each noteworthy person offers a personal insight into the creative process with sketches, tips, suggestions and techniques.

This is a beautiful volume filled with colour and life and wonderful insights. If you are looking to provide your young readers with some encouragement to pursue their own creative pursuits this will be a super addition to your ‘arsenal’.

Of course, there is also the opportunity to further explore the  works of each contributor – so many of whom are considered ‘legend’.

I fear my own bookshelves are going to need some expansion as I think this is another one that I cannot let go. I’m perfectly sure you will feel the same when you pick it up.

Highly recommended for any lover of children’s literature.

Story Time Stars: Favourite Characters from Australian Picture Books – Stephanie Owen Reeder




September 2019

ISBN:   9780642279408

RRP: $24.99


During the week the Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature exhibition was officially opened at the National Library of Australia.

Judging by the photos posted by many friends it was a superb occasion with the glitterati of our children’s literary creators and supporters in attendance.

To commemorate this special celebration a range of products is available but most significantly this truly beautiful book compiled by Stephanie Owen Reeder. This retrospective look at over a century of children’s publishing features outstanding characters from so many much-loved stories. I can only imagine the difficulty that the author had in narrowing her selection down but also, no doubt, the immense joy in presenting each of these in a way that is both informative and light-hearted.

From the 1910s with Albert the Magic Pudding to the 2000s and the always outrageous Mr Chicken this is a truly inter-generational volume that will delight everyone who picks it up. Everyone in the family from grandparents to toddlers will find familiar and fun friends from their favourite childhood books.

It is a delight to hold in one’s hands with the quality of production that we have come to associate with NLA publications and would make a beautiful gift for either someone who cares deeply about our children’s books or perhaps to demonstrate to others our fabulous creators over time

An extensive afterword details the work of so many in preserving the history of our children’s literature including that of the NLA and also the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature.

Whether you are looking for an addition to your personal shelves as a lover of our Australian classics for children or perhaps as a professional reference as you guide youngsters through the rich history of our literature for little people, this is a sublime choice.

I cannot recommend it highly enough – just divine! And not leaving my shelves!