Mrs Dog, by Janeen Brian & Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

‘Leave it, Mrs Dog,’ called Tall One.
‘It’s too small and weak to live.’
But Mrs Dog carried the little Woolly-Head home to the Big Kennel.

Mrs Dog is getting too old to round up sheep, but when she finds a tiny orphaned lamb, she is determined to help him. She takes him home, keeps him warm and tries to teach him all that she knows. Baa-rah does his best to do the things Mrs Dog teaches him, and one day, when it is Mrs DOg who needs help, Baa-Rah saves the day.

Mrs Dog is an adorable picture book story about an unlikely friendship between a dog and a sheep, elderly and very young. Children will love not just the events of the story, but the use of language, with Mrs Dog’s terminology for sheep being Woolly-Heads, the humans called Tall Ones and so on. The illustrations, in soft colours and with loads of detail, capture farm life and the expressions of the animals. A wonderful touch is that while the humans do lend a helping hand, they are barely there in the illustrations, allowing the bond between animals to be highlighted.

A lovely picture book.

Mrs Dog, by Janeen Brian & Marjorie Crosby-Fairall
Five Mile, 2016
ISBN 9781760066451

Yong, by Janeen Brian

I never wanted to come.
And now I’m probably going to die. Before this trip I had never been out of my village in Guangdong. Never walked past the banks of the rice fields or smelled the air beyond the dark hills.
Yet, here I am, aged thirteen, in a sailing ship that’s being hurled about in seas as tall as mountains, heading for some strange shore across the other side of the world.

Yong does not want to go to Australia. He wants to stay home in his village and look after his younger siblings and his grandmother. But he is the firstborn son, and has no choice: his father insists that he accompany him to the goldfields in Ballarat. There they are to make their fortune, to send money home for their family, and eventually return.

The trip by ship to Australia is long and tedious, and, when storms hit, dangerous too. Yong and his father are lucky to escape with their lives, but find themselves not in Victoria, but South Australia, and so begin another long journey – on foot. With other men from their village and an untrustworthy guide it seems they might never arrive.

Yong is a moving historical fiction tale set in 1850s Australia against the backdrop of the goldrush. Whilst gold is the goal for Yong and his father, however, the focus of the story is on unearthing the culture and type of people who came to Australia in search of gold, specifically the Chinese. Through the eyes of Yong we see his concerns about leaving behind his birth country and family, his bewilderment at his new country, and how his culture affects his experiences.

An engaging story, Yong is ideal for private reading and for schools and libraries.

Yong, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925126297

Silly Squid, by Janeen Brian & Cheryll Johns

Silly Squid!Look at me! I’m quite divine,
a dancer of the sea.
I swim and glide and slip and hide
and grip my food with glee.

With the ability to colour-change, adapt and hide,the squid of this title poem is anything but silly. And, while there is plenty of fun and joy in this lively collection of poems, there is lots of evidence too of the wonders of the animal world, particularly those that live under and around the water.

From little jellyfish:
We come in different sizes
and people call us ‘jellies’
We have no bones, nor heart nor brain –
not even jelly bellies!

to the huge whale:
I swim high and low
and wherever I go
my water spout makes
such a wonderful show

Silly Squid! is a wonderful exploration of the diversity of the ocean, celebrated in playful rhymes. Each animal is given a double page spread including a poem and a realistic, yet still intimate acrylic illustration. The eyes of the animals look straight at readers, inviting them to get to know their subjects. Each page is finished off with brief facts about the animal in question. These facts, while useful, are on the edges of the page so as to not give them more emphasis than the poetry or art.

Readers may choose to read the book from cover to cover, or to read one poem at a time, dipping in and out of the book.

From the creators of Silly Galah, Silly Squid! is a wonderful poetry offering for younger readers.

Silly Squid!, by Janeen Brian & Cheryll Johns
Omnibus Books, 2015
ISBN 9781742990965

Available from good bookstores and online.

That Boy, Jack, by Janeen Brian

“…Captain Trelwaney will take you on as well. We can both start work on the picky-table. And we can both earn money.”
I stood frozen, eyes wide.
“I knew you’d be pleased,” said Gilbert. “I have to go now. See you later.”
He didn’t say when and I didn’t ask.

Jack and Gilbert have been best friends for years, and have made a pact that when they’re older they’ll work together in the copper mines, just like their fathers do. But Jack doesn’t know how to tell Gilbert that the thought of working underground terrifies him. On top of that, he loves school and learning, and his mother is keen for him to succeed there. So, when Gilbert is suddenly responsible for the family income, and leaves school to start work, Jack is torn: should he keep the promise he made to his friend, or should he follow the path his heart is keen to take?

That Boy, Jack is a story of friendship and courage, set in and around the South Australian township of Moonta in the 1870s. Depicting aspects of Australian history which may be unfamiliar to young readers, the story will appeal both to young history buffs and to any reader who simply likes a story of adventure. Jack must work hard at home, as well as at school and paid employment, and young readers may be surprised at just how much was expected of a twelve year old boy in the time period. As well as friendship and courage, the story also explores issues including education, family, health and even left-handedness.

Brian weaves a story which allows the reader to experience both this history and the personal journey in an intimate, exciting way.

That Boy, Jack

That Boy, Jack, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781922179005

Available from good bookstores and online.

Meet Ned Kelly by Janeen Brian ill Matt Adams

Ned Kelly went to school for a year or two.

He had books and friends and fun.

But that all changed when his father died.

He became a widow’s son.

Ned Kelly went to school for a year or two.

He had books and friends and fun.

But that all changed when his father died.

He became a widow’s son.

The family was poor. They had to move

To a farm that was nothing grand.

Ned soon learnt that those in charge

Took all the good, rich land.

Ned Kelly was born in the Victorian countryside, and grew up there much as many other boys of his time. He attended school, lived with his family. Then his father died. Ned was given a green sash when he rescued a boy from a swift-running creek. Already though, the police were often not far away. They pursued him when they thought him guilty of committing crimes, and sometimes even when they knew he hadn’t. He went to gaol at the age of sixteen for three years. Life was, he said, unfair. The police were corrupt, or drunk, or both and they were definitely not on the side of the poor. He retreated into the bush, wandering with his gang for a year, evading capture. The reward on his head eventually became too tempting and he was betrayed. In his final stand, at Glenrowan, he was injured and finally taken into custody. He was tried, convicted and hung. He was 25 years old. Illustrations are painterly and naïve, and accompanied by text set in an old-style newspaper type. Text size also varies throughout.

The ‘Meet the … ‘ series from Random House is non-fiction, where real characters from Australia’s history have their stories told in a narrative style. Ned Kelly was born into a poor Irish immigrant family, but life was fairly normal until his father was killed. Ned found himself living the life of an outlaw, partly by bad luck, then because he was angry with those who made and enforced the laws. He saw the inequality of life and of rules for the rich and for the poor. His story has become legend, but Meet Ned Kelly doesn’t set out to render him a saint, only to provide some of the background for the choices he makes. Ned’s story is told in rhyme that references bush ballads and takes the reader back to a time when stories were often told in ballad form – making them easier to share with others. Ned Kelly’s story is an iconic one, and readers will enjoy this introduction to his short and eventful life. Recommended for younger primary readers.

Meet Ned Kelly (Meet...)

Meet Ned Kelly, Janeen Brian ill Matt Adams
Random House Australia 2013
ISBN: 9781742757186

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Available from good bookstores or online.

Of Poetry Collections

I’ve been pondering poetry of late, particular poetry for children, inspired both by some study I’m doing and by the rediscovery of some of the poems of my childhood, including that of A. A.  Milne, some of the earliest poetry I remember loving  (along with Dr Seuss).

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes a poem, the different forms used, and the ways that poetry is collected.  The poetry I’ve been sampling is pretty varied – from Blake, to Ted Hughes,  to AA Milne , to Michael Rosen and more. And, of course, because I’m a proud Aussie, I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite Australian poets. Which has reminded me that there aren’t a lot of children’s poetry books published in Australia, particularly single author collections. For now I’m not going to attempt to analyse why – that’s perhaps a whole series of blog posts.  Instead, I thought I’d start with a list of the poetry collections published in recent years. Initially I looked for those published in t past 5 years, and asked friends on Twitter and Facebook to help.  I ended up with a few titles that were more than five years, but in order to prevent the list being too depressingly short, I’ve kept those in.

So, here it is, my list of single-poet poetry collections for children published in recent years.  I’m hoping I’ve missed some, and that this post will draw some comments from those who remember what I and my friends haven’t.

From Lorraine Marwood:

A Ute Picnic (Walker Books, 2010)

Note on the Door (Walker Books 2011)

Guinea Pig Town  and Other Animal Poems (Walker Books, 2013)

Redback Mansion (Five Islands Press, 2002)


Elizabeth Honey

Mongrel Doggerel (Allen & Unwin, 1998)

The Moon in the Man (Allen & Unwin, 2002)

Honey Sandwich   (Allen & Unwin, 1993)

I’m Still Awake Still  (Allen & Unwin, 2008)


Steven Herrick

Untangling Spaghetti (UQP, 2008)


Doug McLeod

 Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns (most recently Working Title Press, 2012)


Colin Thompson

 There’s something really nasty on the bottom of my shoe (Hodder, 2003)

My Brother Drinks Out Of The Toilet (Hodder, 2000)

The Dog’s Just Been Sick in the Honda (Hodder, 1999)


Meredith Costain

Doodledum Dancing (Penguin, 2006)


Anne Bell

Muster Me a Song (Triple D Books, 2002)


Christobel Mattingley

Nest Egg: A Clutch of Poems (Triple D Books, 2005)


Max Fatchen

Poetry Allsorts (Triple D Books,  2003)


Andrew Lansdown

Allsorts: Poetry Tricks and Treats (Wombat Books)


Rosemary Milne

There’s a Goat in My Coat (Allen & Unwin, 2010)

Duncan Ball

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard (Harper Collins, 2009)

Michelle A. Taylor

If the World Belonged to Dogs (UQP, 2007)


Janeen Brian

By Jingo! (ABC Books, 2005)


Geoffrey McSkimming

Ogre in a Toga (Scholastic, 2007)

John Hay-Mackenzie

Cautionary tales for boys and girls (Murdoch Books, 2009)


Jill McDougall

Anna the goanna: and other poems (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008)


So, have I missed any? If you know of any single poet collections published in Australia in recent years, do drop me a line and I’ll add them. I haven’t included verse novels here, because I’m intending to compose a separate list of these, and perhaps also  of anthologies.

Stories for 5 Year Olds, edited by Linsay Knight

Some of the best-known names in Australian children’s literature, with offerings new and old, combine in this wonderful new anthology targeted at, as the name suggests, five year old readers. Contributors include Ursula Dubosarsky, Janeen Brian , Mark Macleod and more, and Tom Jellett  provides grey scale illustrations

A couple of the stories (The Two Gorillas, by Dubosarsky and The Gorilla Suit by Victor Kelleher) were previously published as part of  Penguin’s Aussie Nibble’s series, and others have been published in School Magazine or by other publishers. Two stories (Charlotte the Explorer, by Dianne Bates and Look! by Lizzie Horne) appear here for the first time.

Good stuff.

Stories for Five Year Olds

Stories for Five Year Olds, edited by Linsay Knight
Random House, 2012
ISBN 9781742756660

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

All are well targeted for five year old readers, each suitable for reading aloud in a single sitting. Early independent readers would also find the stories accessible.

Eddie Pipper by Janeen Brian ill Emma Stuart

‘Eddie Pipper! Here, now!’

Oh, oh. In his bedroom, Eddie wiped his gleey hands down the sides of his grey school shorts. Glue dried clear. Mum would never know. He stood too quickly and his foot knowced the jar of glue. It tilted – and toppeled! Oh, no! He scooped some of the gooey mixture off the bare wooden floor and plopped it back into the container.


He’d get the rest later. With any luck, it might soak into the floorboards and he wouldn’t have to clean it up.

‘Back soon, Might Penguin,’ he told the sloppy mess of paper strips glued to a couple of balloons.

‘Eddie Pipper! Here, now!’

Oh, oh. In his bedroom, Eddie wiped his gluey hands down the sides of his grey school shorts. Glue dried clear. Mum would never know. He stood too quickly and his foot knocked the jar of glue. It tilted – and toppleed! Oh, no! He scooped some of the gooey mixture off the bare wooden floor and plopped it back into the container.


He’d get the rest later. With any luck, it might soak into the floorboards and he wouldn’t have to clean it up.

‘Back soon, Might Penguin,’ he told the sloppy mess of paper strips glued to a couple of balloons.

Nearly-nine-year-old Eddie Pipper is passionate about penguins. He’d desperately love a penguin as a pet. And he does  have a birthday coming up. But there are more than a few hurdles. First he has to remember to be responsible. Leaving your sister in a pool of ice and forgetting about her, isn’t responsible. No matter how much penguins like it, little sisters don’t. And then there’s the forgetting. His head is so full of penguins and how to get one of his own that there’s not much room for anything else. Like bus money. And Pet Parade.

Many parents will recognise the obsession that can overtake children and consume them to the exclusion of almost everything else. Many children will recognise that longing for something that seems to remain tantalisingly out of reach. And the seeming lack of empathy from those around them. Eddie is a dreamy, yet focussed child (very focussed!) and readers will cheer him on. Eddie Pipper is a new title in New Frontier’s Little Rockets series, targeted at lower- to mid-primary readers. Text is wide-spaced and colour illustrations are dispersed throughout. Stories are fully realised but not over-long, with achievable length chapters. Recommended for lower- to mid-primary readers. And anyone who longs for a pet of their own.

Eddie Pipper

Eddie Pipper by Janeen Brian ill Emma Stuart
New Frontier Publishing 2012
ISBN: 9781921928215

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Available online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

I Spy Mum! by Janeen Brian & Chantal Stewart

I spy with my little eye
mums all starting with m.
But can I find the one who’s mine?
Will she be with them?

A young boy sailor is searching for his mum. He sits in his boat and peers out through his telescope. With gentle rhythmic language he tells of the mums he sees. There are drawing mums and roaring mums, making mums and baking mums. But none of them are his. There is a refrain, to let the reader know that the search must continue, and never be given up. Of course, he ultimately finds his own mum and they sail off together on the ocean. Illustrations are watercolour with plenty of white space. Text meanders around the pages, much as the searcher does with his telescope. There is always a sense that he will eventually find his mother.

I Spy Mum! is a celebration of the special relationship between child and mother. It might be on the tennis court, stringing flowers or sailing the seas, but the main point is that children love to share time with their mum. They like doing all sorts with mums, including playing hide and seek. The text is short, the language simple with repetition of sounds, and children will soon be predicting the next word, then ‘reading’ the whole text. The relationships portrayed are varied but all warm and inclusive. I Spy Mum! is a companion to ‘I Spy Dad!’ and will be enjoyed by young, pre-reading and early reading children.

I Spy Mum!

I Spy Mum! Janeen Brian, ill Chantal Stewart
New Frontier 2010
ISBN: 9781921042164

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

I Spy Dad! by Janeen Brian and Chantal Stewart

I spy with my little eye
dads all starting with d.
But can I find the one who’s mine?
I wonder where he’ll be?

A little girl searches for her dad, spying a ‘mowing dad’, a ‘rowing dad’, a ‘reading dad’ and a ‘weeding dad’, but where is the dad who belongs to her?

This cute rhyming picture book explores the things which different dads might have fun doing, and provides a surprise as the young protagonist searches for, and eventually finds, her dad – in a place the reader will not expect. The text is simple, with enjoyable rhymes providing humour, and the illustrations, in colourful watercolour with ink outlines, are equally playful.

A wonderful gift for a new dad, or just for any child to enjoy.

I Spy Dad

I Spy Dad, by Janeen Brian and Chantal Stewart
New Frontier, 2009

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