The Possum Thief, by Dr Harry Cooper and Craig Graham

Kate loves her dog, Smudge, and her possum, Torchy. And Smudge and Torchy are best mates. Until now. Torchy has two new babies and Smudge keeps stealing them while the possum is sleeping. Smudge and Torchy are now the best of enemies! Even confining Smudge indoors doesn’t help. Mum and Dad decide Smudge will have to go to Grandma’s. Torchy will have to go back to the bush.

Kate needs help so she writes a letter to Dr Harry. With a bit of help from his dog Scarlet, Dr Harry soon has everything back to normal. This is a realistic story with a magical twist. Young children particularly will enjoy Scarlet’s special skills.

Fans of the television show will enjoy The Possum Thief, a Dr Harry adventure co-written by vet Dr Harry Cooper and Craig Graham (Pan Macmillan 2002) and delightfully illustrated by Mitch Vane’s lively watercolours.

The Possum Thief, by Dr Harry Cooper and Craig Graham. Illustrated by Mitch Vane
Pan Macmillan 2002

I Saw Nothing, by Gary Crew & Mark Wilson

Rosie lives in 1930s Tasmania, with her father, a timber cutter, and family. Although they are in wild country, Rosie and her family are happy and safe.

One day, though, a fur trapper who Rosie fear- Elias Churchill – comes to the camp, looking for her father. When her father returns, he takes Rosie with him to see Churchill at the railway station. There, while her father is off talking to the trapper, Rosie sees what Chrichill is up to. In a train carriage she sees a thylacine, caged and ready to be sent to Hobart Zoo. Churchill has trapped it and sold it. Rosie is saddened to see the wild animal, hurt and scared.

Several years later, Rosie goes to see the thylacine in the Hobart Zoo. She learns that it is possibly the last thylacine alive. When it dies, she wonders if she could have done something to save it, and perhaps the whole species, by helping it when it was trapped and frightened in the train.

I Saw Nothing is a story which educates rather than uplifts. With an important message about conservation, and protection of endangered species, its use of a child character makes it accessible to younger readers.

The illustrations of Mark Wilson, contrasting the rich and peaceful greens of the bush with the dank colours of disaster and images of the thylacine, are an integral part of the message.

This is an outstanding book, perfect for primary classrooms and for home collections.

I Saw Nothing: The Extinction of the Thylacine, by Gary Crew & Mark Wilson
Lothian, 2003

Various Faerious, by Jacqui Grantford

Sometimes it can seem,
in the blink of an eye,
Some magical beings
have just passed you by.

Various Faerious reveals the magical world of faeries to young readers, with simple rhyming descriptions and captivating illustrations.

Author and illustrator Jacqui Grantford details the various kinds of faeries which inhabit different climes – from the Faeries of Snow, with crystalline wings, to the devilish Contrary Faeries, with their weird ways, and on to the debonair Flippant Faeries, who tap dance and kick up their heels.

The descriptions and verse are sweet, but there is no question that it is Grantford’s illustrations which make this book a winner. Each faerie type is depected in awe-inspiring detail in its natural surrounds, with each new spread revealing more of Grantford’s talent. The illustrations are as different as the faeries themselves and readers of all ages will be enthralled.

This is no mere book of pretty fairies with tutus and no substance. This is a collection of wonderful images, which will appeal to boy readers as much as to girls.

This is artist and graphic designer Grantford’s first picture book. Her talents are sure to be used in many more titles.

Various Faerious, written and illustrated by Jacqui Grantford
Lothian, 2002

When I Was Little, Like You, by Mary Malbunka

There are books whose sole purpose is to entertain and books whose purpose is to educate, but it is a rare treasure when a book is able to succesfully entertain AND educate at the same time. When I was Littleis one of these treasures.

Author/illustrator Mary Malbunka shares the story of her childhood, growing up in the Papunya settlement in central Australia. While young readers will be entertained by Malbunka’s tales of playing, exploring, hunting and daily life, they will also be educated about traditional aboriginal culture and lfiestyle, and some of the ways that lifestyle has been affected by the white man’s world.

Malbunka’s text is conversational in tone, creating an intimate connection between the author and reader, whilst the illustrations are an engaging combination of traditional and contemporary styles. Malbunka’s Luritja language is used frequently throughout the book, witha useful glossary and notes on language included at the end.

A valuable text for school and family sharing.

When I Was Little, Like You, by Mary Malbunka
Allen & Unwin, 2003

A Year on Our Farm, by Penny Matthews

On any Australian farm, there are jobs to do, animals to care for, crops to grow and people who live there. In A Year on Our Farm, one of the children who lives on a farm shares his year with the reader. Having introduced the residents – both human and animal – he details the monthly activities and happenings. Each month is shown in a double page spread, with the relevant season named and the key events presented both in the story and the illustrations.

As fiction, A Year on Our Farm can be read as a simple story. At the same time, the nonfiction elemnts introduce months, seasons and farming to young readers, making it an excellent classroom sharing book.

The illustrations of Andrew McLean are delightful and a perfect complement to author Penny Matthews’ text.

A delight.

A Year on Our Farm, by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Omnibus, 2002

Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes

The children love their groovy granny. She’s not like other grannies – she has a house full of colour and music and fun. When the children visit, they have midnight swims, dance on the roof in the rain, and eat ice cream for breakfast. But then something terrible happens – Granny’s house burns down.

In her new house, Granny just isn’t the same. Her house is empty and lifeless, and so is Granny. She is cold, distant and very very sad. The children want their old Granny back. So when Granny’s old friend Wilhelmina comes to town, they are delighted to discover she is just as groovy as Granny used to be. The children have lots of fun visiting her and almost forget about Granny – until she comes to visit. Maybe, with Wilhelmina’s help, they can get Granny back to her old self.

Groovy Granny is a fun picture book by Western Australian author Cate Haynes. With exuberant illustrations by artist Shane Tholen, this is an upbeat story about fun, family and recovery.

Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes, illustrated by Shane Tholen
Sandcastle Books, an imprint of Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

Dragon Quest, by Allan Baillie

Hey, you! Yes, you with the book
Come on! You’ll be a hero, a great warrior, an epic knight…

Through forests inhabited by dark witches, where Dragon Fighters are trapped in trees, along the whispering abyss and over the hills where lurks a double-headed troll, the reader joins the narrator on a quest to find the Last Dragon.

With text by Allan Baillie and illustrations by Wayne Harris, DragonQuest is filled with intrigue, excitement and humour, as the narrator, a slightly bumbling Knight, guides the reader towards Glass Mountain, where he will fight the last dragon. But there is a final surprise for both reader and Knight at journey’s end.

This is a picture book which will appeal to children aged 4 and over, able to intrigue much older readers as they seek out the mythical creatures on each page. An excellent introduction to the fantasy genre.

DragonQuest, by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Wayne Harris
Scholastic, 1996

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon by Valanga Khoza

When Gezani is sent to take a bunch of bananas to his cousins over the hill, he is tricked into giving them to a clever baboon. After he has been reprimanded for losing the bananas, he is laughed at for being so easily tricked.

Gezani is determined to be trickier than the baboon, and soon has a plan for revenge. He will make the baboon sorry for tricking him and win back the respect of his fellow villagers.

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon is an endearing story of trickery and revenge, set in South Africa, where author Valanga Khoza was born. Khoza comes from a family of storytellers and, since arriving in Australia, has used his storytelling skills to perform in schools. His style is aptly complemented in Gezani by the illustrations of Sally Rippin, which are filled with bold oranges, browns and blues.

A perfect read-aloud.

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon, by Valanga Ghoza, illustrated by Sally Rippin
Allen & Unwin, 2003

The Waterhole by Graeme Base

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball


Graeme Base’s children’s books are special. They are the sort you read and re-read and save for your grandchildren. Artist and author Base’s vivid and highly detailed drawings are so sumptuous, so full of fun and whimsy, without compromising on realism that you can look at his work long after you’ve finished reading the text. Recently released in paperback, The Waterhole was inspired by a visit to Kenya and Tanzania. The gently rhyming and alliterative prose follows a shrinking waterhole as animals from all over the world gather at it to drink. The waterhole itself is cleverly cut into the pages of the book, which gives it a 3-D effect as it shrinks into nothing.

The book operates on many levels. It is a counting book, with each number corresponding to a page, animals, and a particular area of the world. It is also a book of discovery, where you can learn about the areas it covers in the animal frieze around the edge of each page. Your children can also find the hidden animals on each page, the crayfish, storks, foxes, peacocks, bears and so on, formed out of the fauna. On each page is also a series of funny, dressed frogs, which leave “town” when the water runs out. Finally, this is an ecological book, encouraging children (and adults) to think about our most importance resource, our vulnerability without it, and the cycle of dry and wet.

This beautiful book is rich, powerful, and lots of fun. The watercolour, pencil and gouache illustrations are stunning, and although the text is relatively simple, it is humorous. There are real animal sounds and their English “translations” – now I know the sound a ladybird makes (Bzui)! There is so much for children to learn from this wonderful book – from the diversity of our natural world, problem solving skills, the flora and fauna of the world, ecology, and of course, the joy of reading.

The Waterhole by Graeme Base
Puffin, March 2003, pb, RRP $A19.95
ISBN 0-14-0567534

Magdalena Ball is Editor of The Compulsive Reader, Preschool Entertainment, and is the author The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.

The Very Blue Thingamajig, by Narelle Oliver

Creak…crunch…crack! From an egg covered in more spots than you could possibly count, came a very blue thingamajog. The other thingamajigs gathered around to see the new arrival, but didn’t stay long. This thingamajig was just too plain and boring, so he was left alone.

But, one Sunday morning, the thingamajig woke up to find he had a very curly tail. On Tuesday, he found he had a new pair of yellow wings. For the rest of the week, there was some new and interesting addition every day, until the next Sunday he was ready to show the other thingamajigs. Their reaction was not quite what the thingamajig expected.

The Very Blue Thinggamajig
is a fun lift-the-flap book, which teaches the concepts of days of the week and counting, at the same time as providing a gentle lesson on differences. Author/illustrator Narelle Oliver uses simple language and rich pastel colours to create a gentle but fun story.

Oliver is the author and illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including The Hunt and Baby Bilby, Where Do You Sleep?

The Very Blue Thingamajig,by Narelle Oliver
Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic, 2003