Bob the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Corinne Fenton

Bob, the Railway DogBob would jump onto the footplate of one train, leap off again at some wayside spot, then clamber onto another train heading in the opposite direction.
There was hardly a town in South Australia he did not visit, from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo.

In the early days of Australian railways, when shiny new tracks opened up vast areas of rural Australia, a special dog developed a taste for travel. Bob, as he was named by his first owner, Guard Ferry, travelled first with Guard Ferry then later on any train he could hitch a lift on, and became a favourite with drivers, guards and porters. Today, a photo of Bob still sits in memorial to him at Adelaide Station.

Bob, the Railway Dog is a beautiful historical picture book told with the warm simplicity at which author Corinne Fenton is so very adept. WIih key facts and events wven into the story, readers will nontheless feel like it is a story, with Bob painted as a really endearing character. The artwork, in watercolour, charcoal and pencil, are similarly warm and inviting bringing both Bob and the era to life. Buildings, landscapes, people and, of course, Bob himself are rendered beautifully, making for a really attractive whole.

Bob, the Railway Dog is a treasure.

Bob, the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean
Black Dog Books, 2015
ISBN 9781922179890

Available from good bookstores and online.

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O'Hagan & Andrew McLean

It won’t be surprising if you pick up this book with the tune and lyrics already in your head:

There’s a track winding back to an old fashioned shack
along the road to Gundagai…

However, what will be surprising to most readers will be to discover that the opening lines of the song are quieter and less jaunty:

There’s a scene that lingers in my memory
Of an old bush home and friends I long to see…

(You may be interested, as I was, after reading the book, to hear an old recording of these lines here).

Most surprising of all, is the visual interpretation of the song in this picture book offering. Andrew McLean presents the song from the viewpoint of a soldier, yearning for his beautiful home as he fights and suffers on the battlefield. The contrast between scenes of horror on the Western Front, and the beauty of Gundagai are confronting, but in a beautiful, poignant way. On one spread soldiers and their horses flee a gas attack, the soldiers wearing gas masks, the horses’ eyes filled with fear and a ghastly yellow light surrounding them. This is in stark contrast to the preceding spread which shows young boys playing in the peaceful shallows of the Murrumbidgee river. Further contrast is added with the wartime scenes filling the whole spreads, while the remembered scenes of Gundagai are framed like favourite photographs or paintings. Most of the song lyrics are also on these home front spreads.

This a beautiful, haunting book, outstanding for discussions of Australian history. With the song first written in 1922, McLean’s interpretation is true to the experiences of the war years not long prior, which would still have been very fresh in the public memory. For classroom use, it would be an interesting exercise to offer children the lyrics without the illustrations first, to highlight the contrast of what is then shown in the book.

A surprising book, in the very best of ways. Stunning.


Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Omnibus Books, 2014
ISBN 9781862919792

Available from good bookstores or online.

Sam the Cat, by Sam Bowring & Andrew McLean

‘We never had this problem when you were a kitten,’ Jane told Sam. ‘We agreed to call you Sam right away. It was our favourite name.’
‘That’s right!’ said Ian. ‘We didn’t need to think about it at all. Maybe we should call the baby Sam, and give the cat a new name!’

Sam the cat is very happy living with his owners Jane and Ian – until Jane brings home a baby. Not only do Jae and Ian spend all their time doting on the new addition – but they also give it his name. Now Sam is expected to answer to Jack – and he’s not happy. In disgust, he takes a walk, the longest walk he’s ever taken, and before long he’s lost. Far from home. When Ian finally finds him, Sam doesn’t care wha they call him – as long as he can be home with his family.

Sam the Cat is a picture book based on the true story of how the author got his name. Trues story or not, youngsters will enjoy the idea of a cat facing an identity crisis, with echoes of the familiar story of sibling rivalry between toddlers and new babies. Illustrations, in pen, ink, watercolour and pastel, show a big-eyed ginger and white cat whose expressions evoke both sympathy and smiles.

Very cute.

Sam the Cat

Sam the Cat, by Sam Bowring & Andrew McLean
Working Title Press 2012
ISBN 9781921504297

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Show Day, by Penny Mathews & Andrew McLean

As soon as I wake up, I remember that today is special.
It’s Show Day!
We’re going to the show!

There’s nothing like a country show, and in Show Day, author Penny Matthews captures the fun and magic of the day. Told through the first person perspective of young Lil, the story follows a family from waking up in the morning, getting ready and travelling to the show, and the events of the day. Every member of the family has entered at least one competition – Dad for marmalade and wood chopping, Mum for cakes and pumpkins, younger brother Henry for chickens and Best Pet, and Lil for Most Unusual Pet. They don’t all win, but there are prizes, fun and surprises. There are also plenty of other show experiences including rides, showbags and things to eat.

Andrew McLean’s watercolour illustrations bring the text to life and add lots of little glimpses of the fun and activity of the show. Young readers will enjoy spotting details like the variety of pets in the pet tent, and the side shows in side show alley.

Show Day brings to life a fun tradition of Australian life. Especially pleasing is the rural setting, and the sense of family fun which is prevalent.

Good stuff.

Show Day

Show Day, by Penny Matthews & Andrew McLean
Omnibus, 2012
ISBN 9781862916890

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

There's a Goat in My Coat, by Rosemary Milne

Wriggle and Giggle
Wriggle your fingers
And wriggle your toes
Wriggle your hips
And wriggle your nose
Wriggle your bottom
And wriggle your head
Wriggle and giggle
And jump out of bed!

There’s a Goat in My Coat is a picture-book sized, hard cover collection of poetry from the author of the ‘Playschool’ song ‘There’s a Bear in There’. The opening poem is about getting out of bed, and the final poem rounds off the collection with the same poem, re-jigged for going to bed. In between, there are poems to reflect a wide range of days. Some are nonsense narrative poems like ‘Bouncy Bear’ and the more realist ‘Round and Round the Roundabout’. Others are about slippers and socks and rolling down hills. The title of the collection comes from a poem called ‘I’m a Walking Zoo’, a nonsense rhyming poem. There are long poems and short ones and following around the page ones. Illustrations range from real to absurd and are loose watercolours and pencil.

It’s clear from the outset, that There’s a Goat in My Coat is going to be a fun collection for young children. It’s silly and funny and perfect to read out loud. The content is styled to make the listening to the individual words and lines as much fun as the poem itself. There’s a mixture of poetic styles too, with rhyming poems, rhythmic ones, and others that employ repetition to good effect. There are poems that ask to be acted out, poems for counting, observational poems, something for every taste. The illustrations add to the humour and fun. Some are full colour, others are set in white space. Front endpapers are set on the same sunny yellow as the cover, while the end endpapers reflect the going to bed of the final poem. A perfect collection to give away as a gift, or to keep to share with your own young children.

There's a Goat in My Coat

There’s a Goat in My Coat, Rosemary Milne, ill Andrew McLean
Allen & Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781741758917

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar & Andrew McLean

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Since its first publication in 1908, this poem has been learnt, sung, recited and cherished by countless Australians. Now, it is brought to life in stunning watercolour to be loved and cherished by a new generation of readers.

My Country combines the original poem by Dorothea Mackellar with sumptuous watercolour illustrations by illustrator Andrew McLean, who captures both the beauty and the diversity of the Australian landscape. the design of the book is also beautiful, with the cover presented like a leather-bound album with picture insert, and the endpapers adorned with gumleaves.

A lovely gift, likely to appeal to children and adults and also suitable for classroom use.

My Country

My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar & Andrew McLean
Omnibus, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Ben the Post-Mouse, by Emily Rodda

Ben the post-mouse spends his days delivering letters to every house in Mouseville. He loves his job, and the people of Mouseville love him – but nobody ever writes to Ben. Ben has a great plan to make sure he gets some letters – he advertises for a Pen Pal. But soon he has more letters coming in than he can handle. Can his Squeak Street friends help him to sort out his problem?

Ben the Post Mouse is part of the Squeak Street series, each focussing on the story of one resident of Squeak Street. Young readers will enjoy the humour of a the situation here – a postman who never gets letters of his own – and will also appreciate the acceptability of the story, which is designed to be read alone by beginning readers making the transition to first chapter books..

Ben the Post-Mouse is a cute offering.

Ben the Post Mouse, by Emily Rodda, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Working Title, 2006

Lucky Clive, by Emily Rodda

Lucky Clive lives at Number Five Squeak Street. Every morning he gets up early to bake cakes for his shop and every day customers queue up to buy them. He loves his job. But on a late-night dash to buy a missing ingredient he runs into two old friends from school. Roly has written a book and Daisy is a film star. Both are rich and have very exciting lives. Poor Clive realises he hasn’t changed a bit since school and decides it is time to do something different.

Soon Clive is sitting at the Loads of Jobs agency, keen to try a new career. The agency has plenty of jobs – Clive can be a broom salesman, or a clown, or even a mouse-eating-fish feeder. But what will the other residents of Squeak Street think when they can no longer buy Clive’s delicious cakes?

Lucky Clive is the fifth book in the Squeak Street series, a chapter book spin-off from the popular Squeak Street picture book. At just 2000 words in length, with a high ratio of illustration to text, these are aimed at beginning readers making the transition from early readers and picture books to novels.

Lucky Clive is a fun tale.

Lucky Clive, by Emily Rodda, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Working Title, 2005

Victoria's Market, by Nan McNam

Reviewed by Tash Hughes


Billabong’s Daughteris the eighth in a series of fifteen books about Norah Linton and her family on their station, Billabong. The series was very popular with girls as they were printed, and has touched generations of Australians and others.

Billabong is an isolated cattle station in Northern Victoria in the early 1900s. Having never known her Mother, Norah lives with her Father, David, elder brother, Jim, and adopted brother, Wally.

An enjoyable book, with much to give younger readers, Victoria’s Market is about a young girl and her father going on their weekly shopping trip.

The story itself will interest children, as they can understand the idea of a child being separated from her father in a public place. Like most children would, Victoria wanders around the market looking for her father, rather than staying still for him to find her.

From page to page, the book alternates perspective between Victoria and her father as they search. Much to the children’s amusement, Dad is constantly seeing unusual beings at the market: a giant, a werewolf, a monster, a spy and a vampire, just to name a few.

The pictures and text show the diversity of things available at a market, giving many opportunities for discussions about foods and produce. It is also a great lead in-book for children about to visit a market and for children able to visit the Queen Victoria Market, it is even more appropriate as the book is based there.

Illustrations by McLean are coloured sketches and they include many details so that it is easy to imagine being at the market with the characters.

Eventually, Victoria and Dad meet up near the food stalls and have their usual treat together. Observant readers will then discover that Dad wasn’t really imagining things in the Market!

Victoria’s Market, by Nan McNam, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Allen & Unwin, 1992

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna & Andrew McLean

I have never seen the beach before.
“What does it look like?” I keep asking.
“It’s wet,” says Mum.
“And sandy,” says Uncle Daniel.
“And sometimes it’s wavy,” says Dad.

Trying to imagine what the beach is like without having ever seen it is hard for a young child. But this little girl has plenty of delightful experiences on the trip to the beach which influence what she imagines the beach will look like.

This is much less a book about the beach than it is about travelling and dreaming. The adults in the story ensure that the trip to the beach – over several days – is full of experiences and special moments. Together the family picks strawberries, buys treasures in an op shop, presents family concerts and just revels in the delight of ‘being’. Each new day of experiences influences how the child imagines the beach will be when they finally arrive, although nothing prepares her for what she eventually sees when they do arrive.

On Our Way to the Beach is a delightfully crafted book, with both the story and the illustrations full of whimsy. It is a peaceful bedtime story and an excellent classrom sharing book, especially for chidlren in inland parts of Australia who will relate to the expectation and excitement about a trip to the beach.

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna and Andrew McLean
Scholastic, 2004