• Children's & Young Adult Books

    June picture book love

    Three new picture books for youngsters to love, coming in June.

    Boss Cat by Sarah Speedie shows what happens when a grumpy cat is introduced to the family’s new dog – with hilarious results. Anyone who has tried to soothe ruffled feathers (or fur) at the entrance of a new ‘best friend’ into a household will recognise Boss Cat’s antics. Tom Jellett’s bright pictures capture the sulky, vengeful feline’s mood perfectly.

    Marringa Lullaby is written by Emily Wurramara with Sylvia Wurramarrba Tkac, accompanied by block colour illustrations by Dylan Mooney, of Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander heritage. It’s a beautiful, lilting board book perfect for sleepytime reading and singing, with an introduction to words in the Anindilyaka language.
    I remember seeing Emily perform at the Woodford Folk Festival some years ago, and thinking what a talent she was. Lovely to see her branching out into new art forms.

    Lights Out, Little Dragon! by Debra Tidball and Rae Tan, approaches that common parental dilemma – baby is tired but won’t go to sleep – with humour and imagination.
    Each double page spread invites the littlies to join in, by tracing a path on the page for naughty sheep to exit, or saying Go to bed, Little Dragon. And when Dragon tries to distract with a million questions, Put your hands over your ears and tell him to hushhhhh. On it goes, with baby trying all sorts of strategies to encourage Little Dragon to quieten down, lie still and sleep, and Dragon pulling out every trick in the baby-at-bedtime book.
    It’s an amusing and gentle way to settle down for nap time.

    These three picture books are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books Australia in June 2024.
    My thanks to the publishers for review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Friendship for littlies: ‘How to be a Friend’ by Sarah Ayoub & Mimi Purcell

    A sweet book with simple rhyming text and softly colourful illustrations, How to be a Friend is all about friendships and being a good friend.

    Friends always clap for us the loudest
    to let us know that they’re the proudest.
    They make us feel all kinds of clever,
    are up for fun, no matter the weather.

    Friends help us feel safe and cosy and warm,
    they carry us through all sorts of storms.
    They love the things that make us unique,
    like the way we look and how we speak.

    How to be a Friend

    Both the words and pictures allow recognition of children in all their shapes, sizes and colours, with various family and living situations and interests.

    As children begin to explore the world outside of their immediate family and home, friends begin to take on more importance. This is a good book to share at that time, reinforcing aspects of positive friendships.

    How to be a Friend is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    For young travel-lovers: ‘Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris’ by Kate Knapp

    Ruby Red Shoes is a series of beautifully illustrated books for very young readers by Australian author and artist Kate Knapp.

    To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris, a special edition has been released.

    Ruby is a white hare with special shoes that love to take her to new places.

    She travels to Paris with her grandmother, where they meet up with her Babushka’s brother and his grandson Felix. Ruby and Felix explore Paris, where they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste everything that city has to offer.

    Ruby is an intrepid traveler and records what she experiences in her special travel notebook.

    I love the sly nods of humour which will appeal to older people perhaps reading the story aloud to a littlie, such as the airline (‘The Flying Hare’) they travel with, or the carrot flavoured toothpaste Ruby packs for her trip.

    The pictures are the type you can get lost in, rich with detail and evocative of Parisian sights. It’s a fabulous introduction to traveling and to the City of Love. The text expands youngster’s vocabulary: Ruby is ‘fizzing with excitement’, she climbs the ‘narrow, twirling staircase’ to their apartment, Babushka must ‘tussel with the old keys and creaky lock.’

    Ruby Red Shoes and the others in the series are perfect to plant seeds of wonder and exploration in emerging readers. The special anniversary edition is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    African adventures: ‘Kip of the Mountain’ by Emma Gourlay

    I love that Melbourne author Emma Gourlay has chosen to set this middle-grade story in the land of her birth, South Africa. It’s pretty rare for Australian children to be exposed to stories of that country, so in itself that is a plus. Another is the occasional word in Afrikaans sprinkled throughout – especially buffel, which apparently means a ‘special, rare creature.’

    In Kip of the Mountain, Buffel is the name Kip gives to a tiny creature that comes to her via a mysterious bottle in the forest, near the side of Table Mountain where she lives.

    She spends her twelfth birthday wondering what her Something Odd will be – a tradition in her hometown is that everyone receives a Something Odd on their twelfth birthday. When she finally realises that the strange little creature that cracked out of the egg in the bottle is, in fact, her Something Odd, she decides she will love him forever.

    First, though, she has to keep him hidden from her dad, who has a ‘no pets’ policy, but who is busy as always in his shed, trying to build a flying machine. Then she must avoid the mean kids and even meaner teacher at school, who tease her about her hair and her family background of black dad and white mum.

    Last but certainly not least is the threat to Buffel’s freedom when he is kidnapped. To rescue Buffel she must travel away from her beloved mountain to a strange island across the sea.

    Kip is a shy loner who learns that good friends can be made and that doing the right thing can be hard but is always the most rewarding.

    The story is set in the 1980’s when the hideous apartheid regime was still in force, and there are references to this which introduce the concept to young readers, but very much from a child’s perspective. It offers a way to open discussion about hard issues like institutionalised racism, bullying and discrimination to younger readers, while encompassing them in an adventure story full of magic and wonder. The black and white illustrations by Kate Moon brings scenes to life throughout.

    Kip of the Mountain will appeal to young readers who like their stories sprinkled liberally with zany characters and adventure.
    It is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Christmas picture books

    How wonderful to see books celebrating Christmas as we know it in Australia. The ‘Teeny Tiny Stevies’ are back with a new picture book, all about Aussie summer Christmases.

    Snowmen, chimneys, plum puddings and dark wintry evenings are all charming, but not part of an Australian Christmas.

    Instead, we have hot days in the sun, the long summer holiday, shorts, T-shirts and swimmers in the paddling pool or the beach, the buzz of cicadas and the sting of mozzie bites, pavlova for Christmas lunch.

    The pictures by Simon Howe capture the pleasures of long hot days, camping trips, the anticipation of Christmas morning.

    I love this book; it is a real portrayal of an Australian summer and our different way of ‘doing Christmas’ here.


    Back to the northern hemisphere, we have A Night Before Christmas – with a difference.

    A small boy, accompanied by his dog and cat, is witness to the antics of the Elf on the Shelf, who narrates the familiar story of the arrival of St Nicholas with his sleigh and trusty reindeer.

    There is a mix of old and new as the much-loved Christmas poem is given a shake up by the elf. The pictures created by author and illustrator Chanda A. Bell are vibrant with saturation colours and plenty of activity.

    Together these two books celebrate Christmas in both hemispheres of the globe. They are published in Sept and Oct 2023 by Harper Collins Children’s Books.
    My thanks to the publishers for review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Australian stories: three new picture books

    Three very different picture books here, all by Australian authors.

    Giinagay Gaagal (Hello Ocean) by Gumbayngirr artist Melissa Greenwood (who also created My Little Barlaagany (Sunshine) among others.) It’s a celebration of the ocean and its pleasures: swimming, fishing, running on the sand, collecting pipis and shells. In the story the aunties share cultural knowledge and wisdom as well as fun:

    But first, before walking on Country, we talk to the land
    and let her know that we are here to play.
    We are grateful for what she has to offer,
    we promise to take care of her during our stay.

    Giinagay Gaagal (Hello Ocean)

    I’m always delighted to see new books incorporating First Nations languages. It’s a gentle way to introduce young readers to the multiplicity of cultures and languages that flourished in Australia before colonisation, some of which are still in use or are being revived.

    The illustrations are gorgeous, incorporating the colours of sea and sand.


    Fans of Jackie French will welcome her latest picture book, The Turtle and the Flood, a companion to the wonderful The Fire Wombat. Fire and flood are the bookends of natural disaster events in this country, and our children experience them all too often.

    Learning about how native animals have evolved to survive these events is one way of coming to understand the natural cycles of our land.

    We are introduced to Myrtle the long necked turtle, who can sense a coming flood (even before the rains begin) and makes her long slow climb uphill to a safe spot, out of the reach of the water.

    She is joined by others (snakes, wombats, water dragons, wallabies.) The animals are guided by Myrtle’s wisdom and understanding of her environment.

    There are lovely soft illustrations by Danny Snell which bring Myrtle’s journey to colourful life.


    The third book in my selection is a change of pace. The first in a new series featuring Bunny and Bird, How to Hatch a Dragon is a sweetly hilarious story about the importance of observation and paying attention. The two friends are so engrossed in the instruction booklet that came with their dragon egg that they completely miss most of the action!

    Little ones will get the humour, as they can see in the pictures what’s going on behind Bunny and Bird’s backs.

    Three new books to delight: Giinagay Gaagal, The Turtle and the Flood, and How to Hatch a Dragon are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September and October, 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Garden love: ‘In My Garden’ by Kate Mayes & Tamsin Ainslie

    There is a very welcome trend in books for very young readers that focus on the amazing variety of cultures, languages and traditions across the globe, while emphasizing the things we all share.

    In My Garden is a lovely addition to these, celebrating as it does the attractions of the outdoors and nature across a range of landscapes.

    We visit a little girl who lives on a river boat in Laos, another in Australia’s tropical north, a boy in New Zealand who watches over little penguin nests and one who sees the rubble of bombed out buildings in war-torn Syria.

    Other landscapes and gardens are from Iceland, Japan, America, Malawi, Canada, Italy and Brazil.

    No matter where the children live, they are all nurtured by the beauties of nature, even little Sami who holds a pine cone from a garden not far from his apartment, which helps him remember Crocuses, tulips and the great Aleppo pine. That garden is his favourite place. He is remembering something there.

    The pages are filled with detail and colour and are truly lovely. Young children can spend time identifying and perhaps naming the various plants and animals they can find, as they absorb the truth that children are children the world over.

    In My Garden celebrates and honours the role that nature plays in all our lives, no matter where we live.
    It is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in August 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Picture book bounty

    One of the nicest ways to welcome a new baby into the world is to gift the start of a children’s book library. The four books mentioned in this post would all earn their place there.

    Board books are perfect for babies and very young toddlers. Robust, able to stand up to chewing, throwing, and dribbling, they offer hours of tactile fun, colourful pictures and simple repetitive text.

    That’s not my kitten, by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells, is the newest addition to the That’s not my… series, and includes all of these features. Babies can see the five different kittens, touch a furry tongue, a smooth kitten nose, a shiny bell, rough paws, and a fluffy tummy, while learning to turn pages and recite the repetitive text along with whoever is reading aloud.

    Moving along in age, for older toddlers and pre-schoolers there is another in the Playschool series by Jan Stradling and Jenna Robaard, called Beginnings and Endings. The series helps littlies to explore feelings: in this case, sadness.

    Little Ted’s friends want to help him feel better when his pet goldfish dies. A special scrapbook of Swish memories, a picnic in the garden, spotting baby birds in a nest and flowers blooming all help, as do a hug and talking about Swish and his memories. The soft illustrations reinforce the gentle theme of the story, that life challenges are best tackled with friends by your side.

    One Little Duck by Katrina Germein brings memories of the children’s rhyme ‘Five Little Ducks’ but it’s a story with a twist. Instead of losing a duckling with each verse, in this story Mother Duck has forgotten how to quack, so each time she calls her duckling to her, she gains a new animal, until she has a menagerie following along. The rhyming verses invite youngsters to join in:

    One little duck went out one day,
    over the hills and far away.
    Mother Duck said…
    Moo moo
    moo moo,
    and Cow said,
    Wait! Now I’m coming too

    One Little Duck

    Danny Snell’s illustrations are sweetly humorous and children will enjoy Mother Duck’s dilemma as she finds new friends, and at the end is reunited with her baby.

    Two Sides to Every Story by Robin Feiner explores the many choices and dilemmas that life can present. Boiled or fried eggs? Meat or vegetables? Is a dog or a cat the best pet? History or science? Country or city? Jacket and tie or lucky T-shirt?

    Oscar has to decide on these and other choices in his day to day life, and deals with each one with his skill of ‘mental gymnastics’.

    Oscar had a special way of looking at things.
    He took his subject, he twisted it this way
    and that. He tumbled it all around…
    inside out, and outside in, exploring it
    every which way.

    Two sides to every story

    The illustrations by Beck Feiner are in bold, block colours and bring to life Oscar’s tumbling, turning way of looking at his world.

    If you are building a children’s library, these four books would make perfect additions.

    They are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in July and August 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for copies to review.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Beauty and love: ‘The Lucky Shack’ by Aspara Baldovino

    What a beautiful debut book this is.

    With lush, gorgeous illustrations by Perth-based Jennifer Faulkner, The Lucky Shack tells the story of a simple cottage by the sea, built and cared for by a fisherman.
    One day a frightening storm strikes and the fisherman does not return. The shack feels alone and neglected…until a fisherwoman finds it and once more, the place is loved and lived in.

    The story celebrates the colours, depths and beauty of nature, along with human connection and love.

    There is a wonderful assortment of vocabulary for younger readers to absorb, enriching the narrative and introducing beautiful new words to try:

    Boats pass me by.
    I creak my tired floorboards with loud groans,
    but they don’t stop.
    I flicker the porch light,
    like the lighthouse on the cliff
    sending codes in the night.
    I let go of a precious window shutter
    to send a message into the deep blue,
    to anyone who will listen.

    This is a gorgeous addition to any child’s bookshelf.

    The Lucky Shack is published by Working Title Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, in July 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books,  History

    Writing girls and women back into history: ‘Ming & Hilde Lead a Revolution’ by Jackie French

    Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution is book no 3 in Jackie French’s superb series of middle-grade historical fiction, ‘Girls Who Changed the World’. These stories are all about putting women and girls back into the historical record.

    In this book, Ming is sent by Herstory back to the 1800’s, on a sailing ship heading from Europe to Australia. Her companion, Hilde, is one of several girls looking after royal Saxon sheep that are being imported, to add to the flocks of Merino sheep made famous by the Macarthurs, amongst others.

    I love that Ming has to guess at the specific timeframe she is in, judging it by the various historical facts she knows. And as always, she needs to work out which girl she meets will change the world, and how.

    This particular setting and scenario were new to me: I knew nothing of this particular breed of sheep and how it contributed to the success of the Australian wool industry in the nineteenth century. Which is odd, seeing as how in my primary school classes we learnt all about how Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’ – until mineral resources overtook wool as a major export a century or so later.

    Not so odd, though, when you think about it. Because according to this story, it was the young women shepherds from the part of Europe that later became Germany, who went on to demonstrate a radical new way of taking the fleece from the sheep – ushering in the technique that we now recognise as ‘shearing’. And yet, the quintessential image of Australian shearing is a Tom Roberts painting, featuring muscled bronze men grappling with woolly sheep in a colonial shearing shed.

    Another example of girls and women being written out of history.

    Young readers can learn these gems of history from this book, along with an understanding of earlier attitudes to Asian and First Nations Australians, the sexism taken for granted in colonial society, and attitudes to crime and punishment. The daily life on a wealthy rural estate is portrayed beautifully, especially the contrast between conditions for the rich and poor.

    And as always in a Jackie French novel, the past and present are both shown in a balanced way, neither wholly bad nor wholly good. The actions that bring about change often have unforeseen and unintended consequences – the environmental consequences of colonialism and the introduction of animals such as sheep, being one example in this book.

    The poor bare hills, the animals killed or driven off, and the people of this land too. The country had seemed so beautiful as they passed through it, not wild at all, but tended enough to keep its natural beauty. But we’re in the past, she reminded herself. This is the beginning of the Australia I live with today: most of its forests cleared, its rivers shrinking, its wetlands drained, so many animals extinct of in danger of it.
    This was how it began.

    Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution p150-151

    Ming is a delightful, thoughtful character, learning more about herself, her country and its past each time she is sent on another adventure by Herstory. I can’t wait to see where and when she lands next time.

    Ming and Hilde Lead a Revolution is published by HarperCollins Children’s Publishing in June 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.