I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox & Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)

My auntie came from Athens
with her brother and her niece.
And now we live in Adelaide
because it’s so like Greece.
How about you?

Since the first white settlers arrived in Australia, there have been ongoing debates, discussions and worse, regarding just who has the right to be here, or to call themselves Australian. This is a really important topic, but not always an easy one to explore in a child-accessible way. I’m Australian Too manages to explore a wide range of versions of being Australian, from the first peoples, through to refugees – including those still waiting to find out if they will be ‘let in’ –  in a form which is easily digestible but also offers a way to discuss belonging and nationhood with even quite young children.

Opening with the lines I’m Australian!/ How about you?, each subsequent spread is from the voice of a different Australian child, telling where their family is from and where they live now. The closing pages focus on Australia’s tradition of opening doors to strangers, with echoes of the national anthem, and a reminder (or rejoinder) to live in peace. The important message of the story is reflected in the wonderful illustrations, showing the diversity of Australian homes, customs, landscapes and, of course, children.

Perfect for classroom discussions of belonging, multiculturalism, refugees and more, this is also perfect for at home sharing.

I’m Australian Too, by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh (ill.)
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276218

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

‘Lucy! Your mum’s here,’ my mum calls up the stairs.

‘Already?’ Lucy pulls a face. ‘I was hoping she’d be late.’

I glance at the clock and smile. ‘She is!’

We’d been having so much fun together that we didn’t notice how late it was. We’d been talking, and listening to music and surfing the net, and laughing and doing all the things we don’t get to do together when I’m away.

‘Lucy! Your mum’s here,’ my mum calls up the stairs.

‘Already?’ Lucy pulls a face. ‘I was hoping she’d be late.’

I glance at the clock and smile. ‘She is!’

We’d been having so much fun together that we didn’t notice how late it was. We’d been talking, and listening to music and surfing the net, and laughing and doing all the things we don’t get to do together when I’m away.

Sage Cookson travels a lot. Her parents are television cooks and she goes where they go. She loves the adventure and the travel but sometimes misses her friend Lucy. In this second Sage Cookson adventure, Sage travels with her parents to Harmon Island, an island off the coast of Tasmania. There, they will film an episode about the bakery and their amazing pies. But Bettina, one of the bakery’s owners loses a ring and thinks Sage has something to do with it. Sage has to work quickly to solve the mystery before others also begin to believe she is responsible.

‘Ring of Truth’ is the second instalment in this new series from New Frontier for independent readers. Sage is a normal, sometimes messy, child who would rather be solving mysteries than doing her homework. She enjoys her travels with her family and their tv crew, but also misses time with her friends, especially Lucy. In each book, there is a mystery to be solved, and Sage is the girl for the job. She is observant, quick-thinking, caring. And there is food. Good food. Great fun: interesting settings and some sleuthing. Recommended for independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth, Sally Murphy New Frontier Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925059748

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller


The Snow Wombat, by Susannah Chambers & Mark Jackson

Snow on the stockman’s hut
Snow on the crows
Snow on the woollybutt
Snow on my … NOSE!

A little wombat takes a stroll across the winter landscape of Australia’s High Country watching the snow on the animals, birds, people and plants – and on himself as well. The snow is fun, but Wombat is happy to snuggle down for a sleep in the only place with no snow – his burrow.

The Snow Wombat
is a beautiful picture book featuring gentle rhyming text and divine watercolour and ink outline illustrations. T

The story is simple, with youngsters likely to predict the rhymes on early readings and subsequently remember and join in. Adults shouldn’t mind the repeated rereadings, with the rhyme scanning well. The illustrations bring he winter landscape to life, with the wombat being particularly delightful.


The Snow Wombat
, by Susannah Chambers & Mark Jackson
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113810

The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon

Soon Subhi, the people out there will remember us. Soon they’ll see that living in here isn’t living at all. We just need to show them who we are, that we’re people, and then they’ll remember. This time, they won’t forget.

Subhi was born in a refugee camp, and has never known freedom. His mother and sister remember life before, and the dangerous journey to get to Australia, but now even his mother has stopped hoping, stopped telling the stories of home, and teaching Subhi their language. Subhi still believes in goodness, and lives with the hope that one day his father will come and join them and that they will live outside of the camp.

Jimmie lives close to the camp, with her father and brother, but since the death of her mother the family is barely functioning. Jimmie rarely goes to school because Dad works shifts and her brother is too busy to take her. She wonders about the nearby camp and whether its inhabitants have things she doesn’t. When she finds a way in, it is Subhi that she meets.

The Bone Sparrow is a moving story of friendship and survival. Both children are scarred by what is happening in their own lives, but each is able to offer the other hope.

But, though Jimmie’s story is part of the book, it is Subhi’s life which will shock young readers, offering a glimpse of life in detention camps and, particularly, of the children who live in them. The story is confronting, with Subhi and fellow inmates being poorly treated – physically and emotionally. It is this confronting nature that makes the story so important, giving an empathetic voice to a problem happening here in Australia and abroad – as the book’s afterword claims, “an all too true reality.”

Beautifully told, The Bone Sparrow will bring tears, and a desire to change things for kids like Subhi.

The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon
Lothian, 2016
ISBN 9780734417138

South of Darkness, by John Marsden

Having been asked by the Revd Mr Johnson to jot down a few notes about my upbringing and the manner of my arrival in the colony, I will attempt to do so, but I should say at the outset that I have little of interest to relate. I have not contributed much of worth to the world, as will no doubt become obvious in the pages that follow, and indeed I sometimes wonder that I even survived the trials and tribulations of my earliest years.

So begins the story of Barnaby Fletch, a young convict recounting the tale of his childhood and early years in the colony of New South Wales. As would be expected, his protestations belie the absorbing story which follows. Fletch has been on his own on the streets of London for as along as he can rememberer, with no knowledge of his family. He relies on what he finds, or can steal, and shelters wherever he can, although his favourite place is within the walls of St Martin’s church.

A chance encounter with a returned convict makes Barnaby wonder whether transportation to the strange new land of which the stranger tells might provide an opportunity for a better life, so he decides to do what he can to get himself caught and transported. Eventually, though not without some difficulty, he finds himself bound for Botany Bay, and whatever that may hold.

South of Darkness is John Marsden’s first foray into writing for adults, though young adults readers may also enjoy this tale of hardship, survival and adventure set against the backdrop of colonial Australia and England and with a distinctly Dickensian feel. Fletch is an endearing narrator – surprisingly literate for his lack of formal education – and, while he does not give his age as narrator, the events of his childhood are told largely through the lens of childhood naivety, leaving readers to interpret and react.

There is the hint of a sequel in the final lines, and it is to be hoped that it will come, because readers are left wanting to know what is next in store for young Barnaby.

South of Darkness

South of Darkness, by John Marsden
Pan Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743531563

Available from good bookstores and online.

Fire, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

One small spark brought fire awake
Winding like a small black snake.
Fire flickered, fire crept
Flames snickered, bushfire leapt.

A fire starts small but quickly grows, spreading across the landscape, lighting up the trees, the sky – and even houses. People flee as fire fighters battle to bring the monster under control. Afterwards, there is sorrow at the devastation, but there is also hope, as comfort is spread by friends and by strangers, and by signs of life returning.

Fire is a wonderful picture book collaboration form the team which also produced Flood. Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. The rhyming text seems to echo the actions of the fire, taking the reader n a breathless journey through the smoke and ash and beyond to the gradual restoration of calm. The illustrations capture the mood of the fire, as well as the contrasting landscape before and after.

A wonderful way to open up discussion about the impact of bushfire, both for those who have experienced it and those who haven’t.


Fire, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN 9781742838175

Available from good bookstores and online.

Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture of Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love our land all the more.

For too long Australian children and adults have been told that Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers who collected food by chance and lived nomadic lifestyles. If this is the case, then why is there so much evidence of organised agriculture, dams, houses, towns? And what can we learn from this past that will help modern Australia with challenges including those faced in contemporary food production?

Dark Emu: Black Seeds provides an in-depth insight into the agricultural and social practices of Aboriginal people prior to European settlement, and the impact which that settlement had on those practices. With evidence including historical documents, photographs and anecdote, as well as discussion of its implication, this is an intriguing read, which uses accessible language which the lay person can understand, though will also be of interest to scholars.


Dark Emu – Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident?, by Bruce Pascoe
Magabala Books, 2014
ISBN 978192214243

Available from good bookstores or online.

Australia's Greatest People & Their Achievements, by Linsay Knight

Can you name Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister?
Which Australian sportsman is the only cricketer to have received a knighthood from the Queen?
What important scientific discovery is Howard Florey famous for?

If there’s a child in your life who doesn’t know the answers to these questions (oe even one who does), then Australia’s Greatest People and Their Achievements is an ideal offering. Filled with the names and achievements of some of Australia’s biggest achievers in areas including politics, science, sport, the arts and, satisfyingly, social justice.

Knight bases her selection of who is ‘great’ not just on fame, but on making a lasting contribution, so that achievement is important but so too is character, perseverance and success. Many of the people profiled are names that most Australians will be familiar with – Julia Gillard, Sir Donald Bradman and Mary MacKillop, for example – but many others are names children (and adults, too) may not have heard of, but who deserve to be known. An example is Graeme Clark, who invented the cochlear implant.

Profiles are in easy to understand language and are complemented by photographs and illustrations, as well as quotes and text boxes highlighting key achievements.

This is the kind of book which, though it could be read cover-to cover, is likely to be most enjoyed by dipping in to, and as such is just as suitable for home collections as it is for libraries or classroom use.

Australia's Greatest People and Their Achievements

Australia’s Greatest People and Their Achievements, by Linsay Knight
Random House, 2013
ISBN 9780857980205

Available from good bookstores or online.

An Aussie Year, by Tania McCartney & Tina Snerling

We are going to take you on a journey – from the sea to the outback and through all the seasons of the year. Join us on this glorious tour through twelve months in the life of Aussie kids! Let’s go!

Ned, Zoe, Lily, Kirra and Matilda are from different ethnic backgrounds, but they have one thing in common – they are all proudly Australian. After being introduced individually on the first spread, together they take the reader on a journey through the months of the year , focussing on special celebrations, seasons, past times and more.

Each month is explored in a double paged spread highlighting both well known and lesser known features of that time of the year, drawing on the children’s differing backgrounds. For example, the April spread highlights Easter, April fool’s Day and Anzac Day, as well as the Antipodes Festival, celebrated by the Greek community, and National Youth Week. The text is supported by divine illustrations from debut illustrator Tina Snerling, and design highlights include text embellishments to highlight key words.

A wonderful tool for helping Aussie kids learn about, and celebrate, so many wonderful aspects of our eclectic culture, An Aussie Year would also make a wonderful gift for an overseas relative.



An Aussie Year

An Aussie Year, by Tania McCartney & Tina Snerling
Exisle Publishing, 2013
ISBN 9781921966248

Available from good bookstores or online.


You can read about the creation of An Aussie Year here

The Ink Bridge by Neil Grant

Omed, a boy, flees Afganistan after a run in with the Taliban. He leaves behind his family and all he knows. His agonising and protracted journey leads him to Australia. There he is supposed to find peace and prosperity. Hector is an Australian boy, locked into silence by trauma. He’s gradually withdrawing from all he has known.

Omed had the Buddha’s eyes and a tongue that refused words. His was the silence of caves; the false peace that descends when a mortar shell rips apart a building. His was the stillness of bald mountains and long beards and the paths cleared by bullets; the quiet of a long-bladed knife.

Did all this begin with Omed? Or did it start with me at fifteen, shouting for answers; words running sour in my mouth, bleeding to whispers in my throat, evaporating in numbed ears. Those ears: my dad, my invisible friends, teachers that either didn’t care or cared too much.

Omed, a boy, flees Afghanistan after a run in with the Taliban. He leaves behind his family and all he knows. His agonising and protracted journey leads him to Australia. There he is supposed to find peace and prosperity. Hector is an Australian boy, locked into silence by trauma. He’s gradually withdrawing from all he has known. Their lives intersect in a candle factory in the suburbs. It is a place of numbing boredom, but also a place of secrets. Dangerous secrets. Hector and Omed are linked by their stories, by their experience and by the secrets they uncover.

Hector and Omed are from very different worlds. Both are silent, although it’s not immediately obvious why that is. Candles are supposed to light up the darkness, but illumination leaves shadows, even when two candles combine. There are dark corners in the worlds these boys encounter, separately and together. Meeting each other is a turning point, although neither could have predicted the direction. Grant takes the reader into the enduring horror of Afghanistan’s wars and shows the complexity of the challenges, the realities for a people so long the focus of aggression and hate. The metaphor of a bridge linking the seemingly unlinkable features strongly. He also shines a light on the desperation that impels refugees to seek homes elsewhere, and the barriers that make the journey so much harder than it should have to be. Hector’s rites of passage journey contrasts with Omed’s, but shows the power of empathy and shared experiences. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant
Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742376691

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author