Australia’s Great War: 1918, by Libby Gleeson

The barrage was on.
Crashing artillery.
Smashing shells.
Buildings, bricks, rocks and debris, in the air.
Deafening. Deafening.

It is 1918, and the War is still going. While the Russians have withdrawn, it seems Germany remains strong, holding out against the allies across the Western Front. Ned and his tired soldier mates are sent into battle at the small village of Villers-Bretonneux. A win here, they are told, could help to turn the war around. But promises about the end of the war have been heard so many times, it is hard to know what to believe. All Ned wants is for the fighting to be over, and to be back home with his family. First he just needs to survive.

1918 is the gripping last installment in the Australia’s Great War series from Scholastic. Each book has seen a different author (disclosure: this reviewer wrote one of the earlier titles, 1915) tell a story set amidst key events of that year of World War One. 1918 brings the final year of the war to life through the eyes of Ned, who struggles with the horror of the war and with his concept of bravery. The role of nurses, and the behind the front treatment of wounded and sick soldiers is also explored, as well as the aftermath of the conscription referendum of 1917, providing lots of insight into the events and impact of the war on those who were there as well as on Australia as a whole.

1918 can be read a stand alone, but young history buffs might be inspred to read the rest of the series.

Australia’s Great War: 1918, by Libby Gleeson
Scholastic, 2018
ISBN 9781743622513

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet, by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

9781743315286.jpgUncle Tom is making himself a coffee. ‘What’s up, pumpkin? Youy’ve got a face as long as a wet week.’
Cleo shrugs. ‘There’s no one to play with and nothing to do.’
‘You’ve got an imagination,’ says Uncle Tom. ‘Use it. Make something up.’

Cleo is having a terrible day. It’s raining outside, her best friend Nick is away, and her parents are busy. There’s nothing to do that doesn’t seem to land her in trouble. When she spies her reflection in one of the rainy day puddles, Cleo has an idea – and her day gets brighter.
In a second story, Cleo desperately wants a pet. Her friend Nick has a new puppy and it seems like everybody in her class has a pet of some sort. Mum and Dad say a poet is a lot of work. But when Cleo sees Dad trying to get rid of the snails in the vegetable patch, she has an idea.

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet is the second book featuring the endearing Cleo and her family. The two stories in this new volume are just as wonderful as those in the first. Cleo is inventive and loveable, but she’s not perfect, making her someone young readers can relate to.

The format of the books, in hardcover a little larger than a regular chapter book, and with sumptuous colour illustrations on every spread, is inviting, and makes them suitable for either independent reading or sharing with an adult. Both adult and child will fall in love with Cleo.

The Cleo Stories: A Friend and A Pet
Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743315286

Mum Goes to Work, by Libby Gleeson & Leila Rudge

Mum Goes to WorkIt’s early morning.
Everyone is arriving at the centre.
It’s noisy and busy while Mark and Mai greet everyone.
Mum is going to work.
“Bye, Mum.”

As the mums head off to work, their children settle in for a day of playing, and resting, and eating. What do mums do when they are wt work? And what do the children do while Mum is away?

Mum Goes to Work is a beautiful picture book about mothers and children, and about child care centres. Each spread shows one mother at work, explaining what she does there, before looking at what the child and a friend do at the childcare centre. The children’s activities mirror what the mother is doing. So, while Laurence’s mother works in a cafe, Laurence and Georgia make sand cake and sand biscuits in the sandpit, and while Max’s mum works as a nurse, Max and Ann put the dolls to bed in the dress up corner.

The illustrations show mums from lots of different backgrounds and, while the text focusses on mums, the illustrations show dads at drop off and pick up, too, a nice touch, as is the fact that one of the childcare workers is male. The illustrations, in watercolour, pencil and collage, are softly coloured and have lots of detail of both the childcare centre and the mothers’ workplaces, with mots spreads having several smaller pictures. This gives plenty to be explored on the repeated readings that the book is likely to have.

Mum Goes to Work is an excellent offering, particularly for families who use childcare, and for centres, too.

Mum Goes to Work, by Libby Gleeson & Leila Rudge
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN 9781921529825

Available from good bookstores and online.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Every night she does this.
Ever since she moved into my room.

Jessie won’t go to sleep. She throws her pillow on the floor, she stands at the bar of her cot, and she screams. Her big sister can’t sleep either – she wishes Jessie would be quiet, or, better still, that Jessie wasn’t sharing her room at all. It seems nothing will settle Jessie down to sleep, except maybe a little bit of sisterly love.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! is a gorgeous tale of a situation many families will relate to,from one of Australia’s favourite picture book pairings. Libby Gleeson’s text tells a fairly simple tale of a baby who won’t sleep in spite of big sister, Mum and Dad’s efforts, but at the same time there’s a deeper tale, of both sibling rivalry and sibling love. Apart from not being able to sleep, the big sister also laments the loss of her own space, and the disruption that Jessie has brought to her life. When Mum tells her she doesn’t really want her own room, big sister disagrees – but when Dad takes Jessie out for a drive to try to settle her, big sister can’t sleep, and it is her sisterly intervention which finally gets Jessie to sleep and helps her sleep, too.

Freya Blackwood’s illustrations, in watercolour, gouache and pencil, perfectly capture both the frustration and the mixed emotions of the big sister, as well as Jessie’s upset. WHile Mum and Dad are art of the story, Blackwood makes sure the children are central – with Mum and Dad only visible either from behind or from angles which don’t show their faces. This is the children’s story, and the final image of them asleep together in Jessie’s cot is gorgeous.

A beautiful picturebook.


Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2014
ISBN 9781742977805

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Cleo Stories, by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Cleo is about to say that she got her T-shirt for Christmas and the whole family came, even Uncle Tom from America, and now he’s going to stay here. They all went to the beach for dinner and a swim. She is suddenly quiet. Maybe the other girls will think a T-shirt is not such a great present, not like a necklace. She touches her bare neck. What would a necklace feel like?

Cleo is excited about her friend Nick’s birthday party. But she is wearing her Christmas T-shirt, even though it’s not Christmas, and the other girls are wearing necklaces. Cleo is sure that she has to get a necklace too – even though Mum and Dad say special presents are only for birthdays or Christmas. Cleo’s solution, when it comes, is typical of her unique way of thinking.

When Mum’s birthday approaches, Cleo is determined to give her something only from Cleo, but she doesn’t have much money, and she doesn’t have a single idea. Mum says she doesn’t need a present – Cleo is everything she needs. Again, Cleo’s solution is unique, and very special.

The Cleo Stories are two delightful stories of a delightful girl in one delightful hardcover volume. Cleo is an individual – she wears what she wants, and she does what she wants – but she has a big heart and a ton of imagination. Young readers will giggle at her antics just as they’ll cheer her on when she fixes her problems with innovative ideas.

The two stories are told in simple text, accessible to early readers, without feeling simplistic. The illustrations are filled with the warm, whimsical detail fans of Freya Blackwood love so much, with end papers depicting Cleo’s neighbourhood a special treat.

A book to be treasured.


The Cleo Stories, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743315279

Available from good bookstores or online.

Red, by Libby Gleeson

Something else happened, long before the cyclone, that took Red away from Sydney. If she can figure out what it is she might figure out exactly who she is and where her family are. First, tough ,she has to decide who she can trust.

Mud in her mouth, her nose and her eyes. Mud in her hair and caked on her neck and her arms. Mud filling her shoes and seeping through her clothes. She lay sprawled on her side, a garbled, barely distinct sound coming from her: ‘Jaymartinjaymartin’. One eye opened, then the other. She coughed, spat, tried to clear her throat. Mud was stuck to her tongue, her gums and the top of her mouth. Still she said the words ‘Jaymartinjaymartin.’

When Red wakes up, muddy and muddled, she has no idea who she is, where she is or even how she got there. Her new friend Peri helps her navigate the strange new world of a Sydney partly destroyed by a terrible cyclone. But although Peri gives her her new name, he can’t give Red back her lost memory, and without that, she has no idea how she can find her family, if she has one.

As memories slowly return, Red realises that the cyclone isn’t the only threat to her survival. Something else happened, long before the cyclone, that took Red away from Sydney. If she can figure out what it is she might figure out exactly who she is and where her family are. First, tough ,she has to decide who she can trust.

Red is an exciting new tale from much-loved author Libby Gleeson. The pace is fast, the mystery absorbing and the dilemma of amnesia and displacement one which will intrigue young readers. Red and her friends Peri and Jazz are diverse and likable, willing to take chances and to work together.

Suitable for readers aged ten and over, Red is an outstanding offering.


Red, by Libby Gleeson
Allen & Uniwn, 2012
ISBN 9781741758535

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

The Great Bear, by Libby Gleeson & Armin Greder

Once there was a bear.
A circus bear.
A dancing circus bear.

The seemingly simple text and progression of this classic picture book belie the many layers of meaning presented both in the story and the wonderful illustrations. Telling the tale of a mistreated dancing bear who spends her day in a cage and her nights performing for a crowd who may clap and cheer but also throw stones and poke her, before she seizes an opportunity to break free and reach for the stars, this is also a story about humanity and the importance of individual freedom.

From the award winning pairing of author Libby Gleeson and illustrator Armin Greder, this book was first released in 1999, and was shortlisted for the Children’s book of the Year Awards in 2000, and winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award in the same year. It has now been given a new life being rereleased with back of book biographies and comment by both creators, as part of the Walker Classics series.

Perfect for classroom study, this is also a gem for individual reading – and reflection.

The Great Bear

The Great Bear, by Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder
This edition Walker Books, 2010

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

Cuddle Time, by Libby Gleeson & Julie Vivas

The sun slips into our quiet room.
“I’m awake,” I say.
“Let’s play.”

This delightful read aloud picture book is the story of an early morning wake up that is part game part morning cuddle as the two children of the house wake up and playfully head to Mum and Dad’s room to make sure they are awake, too.

The text is seemingly simple, though the clever use of internal rhyme, and alliteration makes it fun to read – and to listen to, -and Julie Vivas’s warm, rich watercolour and pencil illustrations have lots of humorous detail, adding to the text to build a satisfying whole perfect for sharing.

First released in 2004, the beauty of this book ensures its longevity.

Cuddle Time

Cuddle Time, by Libby Gleeson & Julie Vivas
Walker Books, this edition 2009

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

Mahtab's Story, by Libby Gleeson

Mahtab was empty. She felt hungry…for water, for her father, for her grandmother, her aunts and uncles, the trees in the back yard, the cabinet on the wall, the silver and glass objects so lovingly collected, for her mountains, the jagged peaks that cut the sky.
Her father was dead. She was sure of it. She was just a speck of dirt on the floor, drifting through the gap between the boards, falling to the ground.

Twelve year old Mahtab and her family flee Afghanistan, determined to travel to Australia and start a new life. But Mahtab discovers that the journey is not an easy one. If they want to be accepted into Australia as refuges, first they have to get there – a harsh journey, months in hiding, and a perilous sea voyage. Then, in Australia, there is the process of applying for residency and proving the family’s refugee status.

This is the story of one family’s journey towards a new life in Australia, but it also the story of so many families who have fled violence and oppression in their quest to live the sort of life which most Australians take for granted. Seeing the story through the eyes of a twelve year old protagonist will make the story very real for young readers, who will be both intrigued and challenged by Mahtab’s ordeal.

Beautifully, absorbingly told, this is an important story which needs to be read and discussed by children and adults alike.

Mahtab’s Story, by Libby Gleeson
Allen & Unwin, 2008

This book is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Ray's Olympics, by Libby Gleeson

‘Pipe down, you two.’ Dad looked from one to the other. ‘There’ll be no television in this house. It’s one more thing for the rich. You can get what you need to know from the papers and the radio.’
‘Can we watch it down the street like everyone else?’ Jane pushed her seat back and started to stack the plates.
‘If you must,’ said Dad. ‘But don’t go getting any ideas.’

There are two big events happening in Melbourne – the arrival of television and the staging of the 1956 Olympics. Ray’s family don’t have a television and they haven’t got tickets to any Olympic events either, so it looks like he’ll miss out completely. But when he lies to the school bullies that his cousin is working for the television crew filming the games, he has to find a way to prove it.

Ray’s Olympics is a junior historical fiction title aimed at middle primary readers. As well as focussing on an important part of Australia’s history, it is a fun, easy to read story, engaging young readers in the period when television was broadcast in black and white and most families could not afford to own their own set.

Ray’s Olympics is part of the new Making Tracks series, where each author is allocated a specific exhibit from the National Museum’s collection. In this case, the item was the van used for the first ABC-TV broadcast in 1956, which is now housed at the National Museum.

This title, and the series of which it is part, provides a really accessible means for engaging young readers in important periods of Australia’s history, as well as being simply a good read.

Ray’s Olympics, by Libby Gleeson
National Museum of Australia Press, 2006