The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland

Popcorn was, quite simply, the friendliest chicken at FIDDLESTICKS FARM.

She insisted on saying hello to every animal every morning.

Popcorn was, quite simply, the friendliest chicken at FIDDLESTICKS FARM.

She insisted on saying hello to every animal every morning.

Popcorn was friendly and entertained all the farmyard animals, brightening their days with story. Life in the farmyard was richer for her sunny nature and helpfulness. But then she discovers a strange object in the corner of the barn: the Fabulous Friend Machine. Gradually all of Popcorn’s time and energy is sucked into communing with the friends she has found inside the object. She has so many friends that she hardly notices that the friends around her are missing her. Illustrations use a limited but rich palette of reds greens and blacks.

The Fabulous Friend Machine’ is a cautionary tale about the dangers of contemporary communication channels. Virtual ‘friends’ may not always be who they seem. Real friends are sidelined by the Fabulous Friend Machine until it seems that disaster must ensue. Recommended for early primary readers and teachers/family wanting to open conversations about cyber-safety with young users of technology.

The Fabulous Friend Machine, Nick Bland Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781760277659

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Noisy Nights, by Fleur McDonald & Annie White

The animals on Farmer Hayden’s farm talked a lot at night.
The crickets chirped.
The dogs barked.
The cow moo-ed
and the sheep maa-ed.

With all the animals on the farm making so much noise every night, Farmer Hayden is struggling to get any sleep. He calls out to the animals to be quiet – but it’s no good, because they are making so much noise they can’t hear him. Finally, on the verge of giving up, Farmer Hayden goes outside to sit on his verandah. As he looks out across the farm., he sees his sheep jumping a fence. he starts to count them. Soon, Farmer Hayden and all the animals are fast asleep.

Noisy Nights is a humorous picture book title featuring lots of farm favourites, and noises which youngsters will enjoy echoing. The solution, too, will bring smiles, with its play on the old idea of counting sheep to get to sleep.

The illustrations, using water colour with pencil outlines are also filled with gentle humour.

Lots of fun.

Noisy Nights, by Fleur McDonald & Annie White
New Frontier, 2016
ISBN 9781925059663

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin & Ben Wood

We’re under a cow,
We’re under a cow,
We’re under her here
We’re under her now!

When a sudden storm hits, the animals of the farm are taken by surprise. Far from shelter, they are not sure what to do – but Madge the Cow is very calm, and very brave and she offers shelter – first to Lally the rabbit, then to Robinson the dog, Cackalina the chicken and her excited chicks and, finally, to Spike the echidna. As lightning flashes and thunder booms, Madge not only provides a hiding place for the smaller animals, she also encourages them to sing, to dsitract them from the storm.

Underneath a Cow is a quietly humorous story about friendship, safety and bravery. Madge is a gorgeous yellow cow who smiles her way through the terrible storm, seemingly happy to be a point of refuge for her diverse range of guests (though she does request that Spike be careful of her ‘dangly bits’). The other animals appreciate her care, and are grateful and even form unlikely friendships through their experience.

Young readers will love the silliness of the story and its warm demonstration of friendship, and the humour of the illustrations, rendered in mixed media inluding watercolour, pencil and digital collage.

Lots of fun.

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin and Ben wood
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990880&

Cows Say Moo, by Graeme Base

Cows say moo. But what sounds do other animals make?

Children and adults alike have long been delighted by the amazing detail of Graeme Base’s artwork, along with his stories in books such as Sign of the Seahorse and Animalia. Now, though, the very young are being offered a series of fold-out flap books, the Little Bug Books.

Cows Say Moo , one of the four titles, focuses on the sounds made by animals including cows, ducks, tigers and more. Each spread includes minimal text. For example, the cows spread features the words ‘Cows say’, and when the flap is folded out, a speech bubble shows one of the cows ‘saying’ Moo!. The illustrations use white space, with realistic looking animals against rural backgrounds, simpler than the complex illustrations of Base’s longer works. Hidden in each illustration is a little bug, providing a challenge for slightly older readers.

This sturdy offering, and the remainder of the series, will be loved by young readers.


Cows Say Moo (Little Bug Books)

Cows Say Moo , by Graeme Base
Viking, 2014
ISBN 9780670077618

Available from good bookstores or online. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Guinea Pig Town, by Lorraine Marwood

It was our brother’s idea
to build a town,
a small town
for many guinea pigs
which kept multiplying –
cream ginger and black
wisps of colour and rabbity-mousey
features, all ours.

So begins the title poem of this beautiful collection of animal poems from one of Australia’s leading children’s poets. Stretching over four pages this poem, the longest in the collection, tells the tale of siblings building a ‘town’ for their guinea pigs, but it is more than just a story – it is a celebration of childhood, of pets, and of the magic way in which poetry can bring such events to life.

Other poems are much shorter – just a few lines of perfect poetic observation, as in Storm:
The wind so strong
a dragonfly cartwheels
along the ground

But whatever the length, the quality of the poems is consistent. Each new poem is a delight waiting to be discovered, and, like the subject matter, to be wondered at. From cute and cuddly kittens to scary spiders and thrilling frill-necks, there is an animal on every page for young readers to enjoy, whether they read cover to cover, or dip in and out.

New children’s poetry collections are few and far between in Australia, which is regrettable, but fortunately Marwood, (with the support of publisher Walker Books) continues to produce quality collections of Aussie children to savour.

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781922077424

Available from good bookstores or online.

Lazy Daisy, Busy Lizzie, by Mary Ellen Jordan & Andrew Weldon

One by one, in rhyme, the reader is introduced to the animal occupants of a farm. But few of these animals behave quite as might be expected.

This is my cow,

she’s called Daisy.

She should eat grass,

but she’s too lazy.


One by one, in rhyme, the reader is introduced to the animal occupants of a farm. But few of these animals behave quite as might be expected. There’s the lazy cow, who’d rather be spoon fed jelly; the hen who prefers dancing to laying eggs. Alternate double-page spreads introduce the animals and what they ‘should’ be doing, with following spreads detailing their preferred activities. But despite their un-farmlike activities, there is something they all do well, and the narrator suggests that on balance their combined life is a good one. Illustrations are pen and watercolour, in cartoon-style. Front endpapers show the farm in daytime, end endpapers show the farm at night.


From the outset and from the title, it’s clear that Lazy Daisy, Busy Lizzie is a book about playing with language, playing with sounds, and encouraging the reader to do the same. The illustrations include many other details and reader and child will easily be able to conjure up names, words and activities for further occupants of this farm. Readers will engage with the language, be tickled by the illustrations and come away with a sense of just how much fun it can be to play with words. And all this wrapped in delightful package of silliness. Win-win. Recommended for pre-school and early school readers.

Lazy Daisy, Busy Lizzie

Lazy Daisy, Busy Lizzie, Mary Ellen Jordan Andrew Weldon Allen & Unwin 2011 ISBN: 9781742374291


review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate, by Claire Saxby & Judith Rossell

Sheep lived in a grassy green paddock complete with everything a happy, contented sheep could possibly want. But sheep wasn’t happy. Or content. In Sheep’s paddock, there was no Jellagong tree.

Sheep is happy living in her paddock until she notices the Jellagong tree in Goat’s paddock. Goat tells her the leaves of the Jellagong tree are delicious – and Sheep wants desperately to taste them for herself. But Goat won’t give her any and fiercely guards the creaking gate between the two paddocks. Finally, Sheep comes up with a plan to trick Goat into letting her in – only to find out that the Jellagong Tree isn’t as good as it looks.

Sheep Goat and the Creaking Gate is a gently humorous look at the nature of happiness, exploring the theme of the grass is always greener in a way which will make youngsters giggle whilst giving a subtle message about being satisfied with what you have.

Judith Rossell’s illustrations are delightful, using bold greens, blues and yellows to offset the white sheep and brown and white goat, as well as little collage embellishments.

This is a beautiful offering which will be treasured by children and parents.

Sheep Goat and the Creaking Gate

Sheep Goat and the Creaking Gate, by Claire Saxby and Judith Rossell
Windy Hollow Books, 2009

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