Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros, by Meg McKinlay & Leila Rudge

Once, there was a small rhinoceros
who wanted to see the big world.

All the other rhinoceroses do the things that rhinoceroses are supposed to do: they wallow in the mud, bathe in the sun, eat grass and rub their horns against trees. But for one small rhinoceros these things are not enough. She wishes she could see the world.  And, although she knows that rhinoceroses can’t build boats, and especially can’t sail and steer boats, she builds her own little boat and sets off to see the world.

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros is a gentle, humorous but inspirational picture book story. The text tells a tale of courage and following dreams and will appeal to young dreamers. The mixed media illustrations are in gentle tones, allowing the rhinoceroses to star both in the jungle and in the settings the young rhinoceros travels through.

A divine offering for children and adults alike.

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros, by Meg McKinlay & Leila Rudge
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925126709

Laugh Your Head Off Again

I’m in the supermarket trying to remember what groceries mum wanted me to pick up, but I can’t think. I can’t breathe. I can’t do anything. i’m busting. And I don’t mean busting. I mean BUSTING!

Andy Griffiths’ hilarious tale of mishap after mishap when a boy finds himself busting for the toilet in the middle of a shopping trip is just one of nine stories by some of Australia’s best – and funniest – authors of young people in this hard cover bind-up for children.

Laugh Your Head off Again features nine humorous stories from authors including Griffiths, Sally Rippin, Morris Gleitzman and Frances Watts, in situations including a corn chip that looks like Justin Beiber, a seagull determined to steal the perfect footy pie, and a school camp on a llama farm. Each story is short enough to be enjoyed in a single sitting and is embellished with illustrations by Andrea Innoent.

Lots of fun for primary aged readers.

Laugh Your Head off Again
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743549872

Bella and the Wandering House, by Meg McKinlay

Bella and the wandering house cover‘Sorry.’ Bella lifted her foot. She hopped onto the path and looked back at the house. And as she did, a shiver prickled her skin. Because what she saw made no sense. The front steps ran down the veranda – the way they always had, the way they must. But where they should have met the path – the way they always had, the way they must … they didn’t.
Instead, things were crooked. It was if the world had shifted sideways a little, in a quiet sort of way…

Bella is the only one who notices that her house is doing strange things. Her mum and dad, caught up in their busy lives, think she’s dreaming when she says that the house has moved. But soon the house starts moving further and further from their yard, and even Bella’s parents are forced to take notice when they wake up next to a pond. But it is Bella who figures out why the house is moving, and what they can do to help it.

Bella and the Wandering House is a whimsical tale of a wandering house, imagination and memories. The gentle mystery of why the house wanders – and what can be done about it – is resolved agianst the background of a lovely relationship between Bella and her grandfather. Bella is an independent, strong character, and and the change in her parents as the story proceeds is satisfying.

Suitable for junior primary readers.

Bella and the Wandering House, by Meg McKinlay
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925162301

A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay

First the fingertips and then the hand. Choose your angle wisely, girl; there’s no forgiveness in bone. Rotate the shoulder, let the head and hips follow … there.

The Mothers’ words echoed in Jena’s mind as she eased into the crevice, flattening herself against the rock. When she was through, she paused, waiting for the next girl. They were deep now, in the heart of the mountain. Around her, the earth pressed so tightly it was hard to tell where her body ended and the stone began.

Every girls dreams of being part of the line, the seven young girls chosen to crawl deep into the mountain to collect the precious mica which will ensure the village’s survival. Jena is the leader fo the line, and believes passionately in all the Mothers tell her. She doesn’t question, doesn’t doubt. Until a baby is born early, a girl dies and a single, impossible stone is found. These three seemingly separate incidents make Jena question all that she has believed, and bring back memories of losing her parents. COuld it be that all she has believed is wrong?

A Single Stone  is a  disarming yet beautiful novel set in a dystopian world. Jena’s village has been cut off from the outside world by a massive rockfall following an unnamed disaster which has also affected the world beyond their valley. With no way out, and no help from outside, the villagers have adapted to their isolation and to the vagaries of cold and lack of resources through evolving a society where everything revolves around the need for girls to collect the mica which can generate heat through cold winters.  Girls, especially fine boned girls, are precious. Men are to blame for the rockfall, and so lesser, and boy children undesirable, except to ensure the conception of more girls.

Jena is a strong lead character, who comes to question her own determination to do the work she was raised to do. McKinlay’s writing is superb: thoughtful, deliberate and breathtaking. Readers will feel squeezed by the mountain, shocked along with Jena at the discoveries she makes, and warmed by the hope of the resolution.


A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN 9781925081701

Available from good bookstores and online.

Definitely No Ducks, by Meg McKinlay

Everyone crowded in behind Abby, craning to see.
“Oh dear,” said Melvino.
“Our glacier!” said Lianna.
“Our whale!” said Sam.
“Quack!” said Max.

Max is back. He charmed readers in Duck for a Day, and now this wonderful little duck, and his human friends Abby and Noah (and their classmates) are back in a new adventure. If you haven’t yet met Max, what you should know is that he is a special duck – because he’s the class duck. He waddles around the classroom, curling up on the feet of the children and brightening their lives. He’s especially made a difference to Noah, helping him build in confidence and bringing Noah and Abby together as friends. Now, though, Max is in trouble. Someone – or something – has destroyed the class Antarctica display, and the principal says he will have to go. Abby and Noah are determined to prove that Max is not the culprit. If they don’t they’ll lose him.

Definitely No Ducks! is as compassionately quirky as its predecessor.  The concept of a class duck, and a teacher with a touch of Mary Poppins magic about her, is one which will amuse young readers, but the messages about honesty and acceptance and friendship, are important ones, and ones which McKinlay handles deftly.

This is a delightful little offering which will appeal to readers ages six and up,  and would be perfect for sharing in a classroom setting – though it may lead to pressure for a new classroom pet!

Definitely No Ducks!

Definitely No Ducks!, by Meg McKinlay & Leila Rudge
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781921977855

Available from good bookstores or online.

Ten Tiny Things, by Meg McKinlay & Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Then, Tessa noticed something.

It was a red thing. It was a sparkly thing.

It was a tiny, tiny thing.

Tessa and Zachary have a shiny machine that is swift and splendiferous and takes them where they need to go in comfort. They can turn on the cooler when it is hot, and the heater when it is cold. And they travel quickly. But when the machine breaks down, Tess and Zachary are forced to walk – all the way to school. It is hot and uncomfortable and such a very long way. They hate tit – until Tess notices a tiny thing she has never noticed before. Then Zachary, too, spots a tiny thing, and before long they have noticed ten tiny things. When the machine is fixed, Tess and Zachary aren’t so sure they want to ride in it any more. There are too many secret somethings and hidden happenings for them to find if they walk.

Ten Tiny Things is far from a tiny thing. It is filled with beautiful things for young readers to discover and a poignant reminder of the wonder of the world (and the value of walking!). Author Meg McKinlay’s text is delightful to read alone or out loud, filled with poetic alliteration and repetition and words which young minds will love, like ‘splendiferous’. The illustrations are a quirky result of acrylic paint and stain on wood blocks, with the result earthy tones of browns, greens and blues. The use of geometrics adds a whimsy to the visuals which young artists will be challenged to try to replicate.

This is a beautiful picture book offering for the young and the young at heart.

Ten Tiny Things

Ten Tiny Things, by Meg McKinlay & Kyle Hughes-Odgers
Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN =9781921888946

This book is available in good bookstores and online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Surface Tension, by Meg McKinlay

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
‘The day that I was born, they drowned my town’ is the opening sentence of Surface Tension. Who could resist a book with an opening like that? I certainly couldn’t. I immediately wanted to know why the town was buried and correlation the two facts had with each other in the story and I’m sure other readers will too.

Told in the first person, it also sets up questions about why Cassie feels out of place in her family. The book gives a lot of emphasis to the swimming of laps Cassie needs to maintain for her health. In the end her swimming becomes a crucial key in the story. When Cassie swims in the lake instead of the pool she finds an intriguing mystery. As summer wear on and the drought, with the help of her friend Liam they set out to uncover the secret drowned under the lake. Liam is another multi -layered character with his own secrets and problems.

As well as a good plot I loved some of the descriptive writing in this book, like this one describing the drought. ‘It had been a dry winter, a dry few years, and now summer was sinking its teeth in and the lake was, well, sinking.’ Another is the description of her leg ‘strobing with pain.’ But the main thing that keeps you reading the pages is the mystery to be uncovered. Meg McKinlay manages to keep adding layers to the mystery and keep the tension in the book right to end of the book.

This story could be read by competent readers from 8 upwards, but there is enough drama, interest and characterisation that it could easily extend to readers of early high school ages.

Surface Tension

Surface Tension, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2011
Paperback RRP $15.99

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

The Big Dig, by Meg McKinlay

Ronnie’s head shakes. “You can’t be serious,” he says.
But I am.
So serious I’m already heading to the shed for the shovels.
With Weasel right behind me.
While we pull the shovels down from their hooks, Ronnie hangs around near the door.
“This is stupid,” he says. “Maybe the stupidest idea ever. Seriously, Nath. You can’t just dig a pool.”

When the Newton Community Pool is closed until further notice, Nathan and his mates are unimpressed. The alternative, the BayView Leisure Centre, might be modern and flashy, but it is steamy, crowded and no fun. But Nathan has an idea – an idea brilliant in its simplicity. They can dig themselves a pool in the backyard. What could possibly go wrong with their great plan?

The Big Dig is a funny tale of mateship and enterprise, with a tinge of daftness. Nathan and Weasel’s plan – Dig. Dig some more. Put water in. Swim. – seems to the reader to be doomed to fail, but it is hilarious to watch them try – and the resolution is fun.

With silliness, action and a little tension, The Big Dig will keep primary aged readers turning pages. Part of the wonderful Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books and featuring the same trio of characters from McKinley’s earlier title in the same series, Going for Broke, The Big Dig is an entertaining offering.

The Big Dig, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2009

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

Going for Broke, by Meg McKinlay

He turns to me. “You sure about this, Nath? It looks – ”
I pick up a tent peg and head for the ramp. “Nah, it’ll be fine.”
Once you’ve come this far, you can’t just turn around and go home. Once you’ve got half a ramp built, you can’t take it apart and pretend you didn’t really care anyway.

Nathan is sick of seeing other kids get awards. He doesn’t want to be the one who gets a dorky piece of cardboard for being ‘nice’. No, Nathan is sure he’s destined for greatness. And now that the holidays are here, he’s going to achieve it – he is going to break a record. He’s just not sure which record.

Going for Broke is a humorous novel for primary aged readers, which shows what happens when one boy (Nathan) tries everything to get his name in the record books. Nathan and his friends Weasel and Ronnie will stop at nothing to break a record – risking life, limb and fresh breath (there’s a record involving onion eating) in an attempt to be the best at something.

Part of Walker Books new Lightning Strikes series, the length of the story makes it accessible to readers of all abilities, with the interest level and humour ensuring it will be popular with primary aged readers, especially boys. From the eye catching cover design, to the sketches and touches of different text types, this is a winner.

Going for Broke, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2008