Saturday, 25 June 2016

Who’s got a Normal Family?

Who’s got a Normal Family? by Belinda Nowell, illustrated by Miša Alexander (Little Steps Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117752

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Alex had exciting news to tell at school. His baby sister arrived last night. She’s a foster kid, just like him. Everyone claps, except for Jimmy Martin. Jimmy doesn’t like anyone to be happy. ‘You don’t have a normal family!’ he yelled.

Well, that made Alex so sad. Even his mum’s hugs didn’t cheer him. But Mum made a good suggestion -- to search through his class photo album to find someone ‘normal’.

One by one, Alex realises there’s no one at school who has a normal family. Perhaps Jimmy Martin comes closest, but his dad’s left home — so does he count? Suddenly, Alex realises why Jimmy doesn’t want anyone to be happy; it’s because he’s not happy himself.

Thus next day, he shares two secrets with Jimmy: (1) where the best lizards live and (2) what his mum said about ‘normal’ families.

This is a perfect book for anyone to share with a child who has worries about their family structure. It’s delightfully illustrated. Although the publisher recommends 3-6 years as the target audience; I felt it was slightly older, perhaps the 4-7 years old bracket.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A Show for Bonnie

A Show for Bonnie by Helen Bock, illustrated by Lexie Watt (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $14.95ISBN: 9781925117622

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton 

A tender, gentle air pervades this story of moving on from sadness and loss.

Bonnie’s pups had left the farm and she was grieving for them. Sammy came up with a plan—and, with a bark, gathered all the different animals to perform tricks and songs, routines and moves. The pig, pony, geese, cow and even the squeaking barnyard mouse all get in on the act. Sam’s kindness and the animals’ friendship brings delight back into Bonnie’s life. 

The muted colours of the delicate illustrations perfectly complement the text in this picture book for pre-schoolers.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra

My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra by Sean Williams, illustrated by Karen Mounsey-Smith (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95ISBN: 9781925117547 

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton 

The opening page was so impressive with its rhythm and rhyme I was sure I was in for a treat with this very different ‘tour guide’ of the region south of Sydney.

 ‘We’ll play mahjong by a billabong in Gerringong,’ promised a feast of sound and visual treats.

 Well, subsequent pages aren’t quite up there with the consistent, rhythmic flow but the rhyme is still top notch. Imagine a suitable rhyme for ‘Isabel Boulton’s Chair’, Kiama Blow Hole and Bellambi Reef. It’s all there!

Although this book is targeted at 3–6 year olds, I imagine older children might enjoy it too. The specific mention of places-to-go and things-to-do in the Illawarra region clearly sets the book apart regionally, perhaps making it difficult to market elsewhere. 

This is a book to share and enjoy with children touring the Illawarra. The illustrations are joyous and exuberant. The last page has eight photographs; I would really have liked to have seen a map as well.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Francois the Fearless Circus Peg

Francois the Fearless Circus Peg written and illustrated by Carrie Webster (Little Steps Publishing)                       HB RRP $24.95 ISBN: 9781925117714 PB RRP $14.95 ISBN: 9781925117691 

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton Francois is a peg (of the very old-fashioned, wooden, household washing type) and a performer in a travelling circus. On Monday he does a cannonball act. On Tuesday it’s a tightrope act. On Wednesday, it’s flips from an elephant’s trunk. On, day by day through the week, Francois has a regular routine of death-defying stunts. Francois the Fearless has a secret: actually he’s not so fearless!
 With mainly red, white and blue illustrations throughout, in mysterious dark grungy shades, there’s perhaps a tribute to Francois’ cultural background lurking around. This is a rhyming story about fear, courage and friendship for 3-6 year olds. An excellent addition to the fun text is the activities and teacher’s lesson plan at

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Flossie the Fairy

Flossie the Fairy by Nancy Watson, illustrated by Natasha Farrar (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781925117684
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Delicate pastel illustrations enhance a subtle story of death and new beginnings.

Flossie is a tiny, invisible fairy who delights in the contents of an elderly lady’s rose-red handbag. There are mirrors and make-up to use for dress-ups; pockets to live in without drawing suspicion. Flossie is entranced by the music Mistress plays on her electric organ each day.

But one day, the music stops. The light, airy atmosphere of the house falls into grey gloom. Strangers come to tidy up the house, throw out things, remove the furniture. They toss the rose-red handbag out in a box of unwanted items for the council truck to pick up on its garbage run.

Flossie leaves the rose-red handbag behind when a little girl comes by and takes a birdcage from the discard pile. Darting into the birdcage, Flossie comes to a new house where she is welcomed by a whole troupe of toys.

This story for 3-6 year olds presents a story of a difficult life transition without either cloying sentimentality or raw facts.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Penelope the Mountain Pygmy Possum

Penelope the Mountain Pygmy Possum by Gordon Winch, illustrated by Stephen Pym (New Frontier)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92505-959-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Penelope is a Mountain Pygmy Possum which lives in the Snowy Mountains in Australia. She hibernates throughout the winter in her home under the boulders while her mate Percy and the other males spend the cold months further down the mountain where snow and ice do not reach. When spring arrives, Penelope hungrily snacks on Bogong Moths, but then her thoughts turn to Percy and she wonders why he has not made his way back to her yet.

This is a lovely story which finds the balance between make-believe and fact. It is a story about with these tiny endangered marsupials the impact humans have on their environment. But it also a hopeful story which shows that, with a little thought, humans and animals can exist together well and demonstrates how these little animals help to keep the environmental balance in check.

Even though this story contains a clear message, this is not a wordy picture book. The simple writing style makes it a good read aloud. It an easy story for young children to follow and they will empathise with plight of Penelope, Percy and all their friends. And the expressive eyes of the Pygmy Possums will make children fall in love with these adorable little creatures.
Beautiful soft muted illustrations give the story gentleness. The colour palette enhances the Australian setting and emphasizes the quiet humour in Percy’s brightly striped socks or the unexpected shock of the yellow bulldozer.

Penelope and the Mountain Pygmy Possum will make a nice bedtime story for 4 to 8 year olds. The happy ending sees a reunited Penelope and Percy at the end of ‘The Tunnel of Love’, snacking on their Bogong Moths ‘with a crackle and a crunch, a chomp and a munch.’

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Dog Emergency

The Dog Emergency by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-135-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Dog Emergency is a new title in a series based on indigenous characters. In this story brothers Dillon and Ryan help an injured dog and hope they can keep him. Unfortunately Mum is still upset over the recent death of their old dog Buster. She has said there will never be another dog; it’s too upsetting when they die.

But the boys are determined to find a way to keep him. Maybe if they can raise the money to pay for the dog’s surgery? This plan seems to be working until, just when they think they have enough money, the dog’s owner reads the lost dog signs and comes to the nursing station to claim him.

Authentic voices and interesting characters with a hint of mischief come through the text strongly, as does the outback, small Australian town setting.
Short, with uncomplicated words, humorous illustrations, an appealing layout and light but universal themes, this is a great chapter book for early readers from the age of 8 years old.