The Know it All, by Peter Whitfield

‘Are you coming to lessons today Furball?’ Bruno asked as he hurried past.
‘No Dummo,’ said Furball, ‘I’m too clever to go to lessons.’

Furball, the cat, is sure that she knows it all. There’s no need for her to go to lessons with all the other Zen animals. She’d much prefer to just sit on a rock, soaking up the warmth and being superior. She’s quite unpleasant too, not content to just be superior, but feeling the need to make sure others know it. She knows it all. There’s a lesson she missed out on though, and by the end of the story, Furball knows something new. Illustrations focus on animals stepping into Furball’s world before hurrying on. The final few spreads take the reader to where the other animals have been working, before the final illustration shows Furball after her ‘lesson’. The final openings take a look at the origin of the Zen philosophy and revisit the lesson illustrated here. End papers, front and back covers and all text pages, carry the symbol of the Zen Tails.

Zen Tails The Know It All is one of a series of tales designed to illuminate a message. The text is simple, the message clear. There are consequences for behaviours. If you think you know it all, there is a lesson coming to you to demonstrate that you don’t. Humility and a preparedness to learn may help you to progress through life. Readers can interpret the hints in each illustration which build to the conclusion, with the consequences for know-it-all Furball. Recommended for lower- to mid-primary readers.

Know It All

Zen Tails The Know It All, Peter Whitfield ill Nancy Bevington
New Frontier Publishing 2009
ISBN: 9781921042331

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Love is Helping and Happiness is Sharing, by Peter Whitfield, illus by Nancy Bevington

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Following on the success of their Zen Tails series, New Frontier have produced a series of board books of the same themes. Aimed at the 2-6 year old reader, each story offers a simple message easy for young children to appreciate.

The messages are simple. In Love is helping, Pierre, Bruno and Gilbert work together to build a dam; Fur Ball doesn’t help, but finds a special job of their own that contributes to the end result. Love is helping reminds the reader of watching a group of four year old children use their individual abilities, without judgement, or criticism, to build a tower.

Happiness is sharing is a concept that young children struggle to understand. Ownership is everything. Whilst Bruno, Gilbert and Pierre share their books and balloons, Grizzel Bear prefers not to share. But, he is not happy and it is in the simple act of sharing his balloons where he finds happiness.

Nancy Bevington’s illustrations are colourful and clear and allows the non reader to enjoy the story being read to them. Once the story is known, they are books that children can look at, and enjoy independently, over and over again.

Love is Helping and Happiness is Sharing, by Peter Whitfield, illus by Nancy Bevington
New Frontier, 2008
HB rrp $9.95

Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs, by Peter Whitfield

A small girl is keen to prolong the pre-bedtime fun with Mum. Interspersed with every-night tasks like cleaning teeth there are familiar games to play and cuddles to share. Mum and daughter make their way towards sleep time enthusiastically. The action moves from the bathroom to the bedroom and through story-time, drawn on by the regular refrain of ‘squeezy cuddle dangly legs’. The type of cuddle varies, but each is warmly given and received. The end is inevitable as the girl snuggles into her bed, secure in her mother’s love.

Bedtime rituals are often a memorable part of childhood. Children will recognise most of the games in Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs and want to share in them. There is enough detail for those unfamiliar with the games to also join in. Peter Whitfield’s text is very simple and the refrain of the title strongly featured. Jacqui Grantford’s illustrations are photo-realist, warm and almost cuddly in themselves. An obviously well-loved soft-toy dog accompanies the girl and her mother on every opening. This dog dances across the endpapers, travelling from wakefulness to sleep. There is plenty of white space on each opening, keeping the focus on the relationship between mother and child. It is easy to imagine children wanting to read this story again and again, sharing the games within and adding their own variations.

Recommended for 2-5 year olds.

Squeezy Cuddle Dangly Legs, by Peter Whitfield ill Jacqui Grantford
New Frontier, 2007
ISBN: 9781921042584

No Presents Please, by Peter Whitfield

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan


The third book in the Zen Tale series, No Presents Please is as enjoyable as the first two. The books are based on Zen Tales, with each of the nine characters in the series representing a human characteristic such as love, fearlessness or anger.

No Presents Please is about dealing with anger. Grizzel Bear becomes angry when Guru Walter Wombat does not do as he demands. Whilst Grizzel becomes angrier during the meeting, Guru Walter remains calm. This eventually leads Grizzel to question his own behaviour.

This is a message that many adults could learn from. The Zen Tale itself provides the answer to dealing with anger, “I refuse to accept your anger, so you will have to keep it for yourself.” This is a powerful message.

As with Up and Down, this story benefits from having only two characters. It is easy to follow and clearly conveys the essence of the original tale, an advantage in getting the message across to readers. This is a story that should help children, and hopefully adults, address issues they may have with anger.

Nancy Bevington’s illustrations again provide a delightful visual accompaniment to Peter Whitford’s text. They are clear and colourful and the focus this time is on blue. The Zen symbol and page frames are a soft pale blue and do not detract from the illustrations in any way. The use of colour to frame the pages and display the Zen symbol is a pleasing theme with the Zen Tail series. There is also the predominance of green within the pictures as once again the activity of the story takes place outside. The orange and red of the character’s clothing breaks up the browns and greens, which could become monotonous as they series continues.

The illustrations convey the emotions felt by the characters and in this case anger, confusion, contentment and happiness are all defined in the faces of Grizzel and Guru Walter.

Once again, this is an enjoyable story with a message we could all learn from. The Zen Tale is again provided at the back of the book.


No Presents PleaseBevington, Nancy (illus.), Peter Whitford (text)
New Frontier Publishing, 2004, $19.95, ISBN 0975090747


Bruno Dreams of Ice Cream, by Peter Whitfield and Nancy Bevington

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan


Bruno Dreams of Ice Cream is the first in a series of books based on Zen Tales. There are nine characters in the series each representing a human characteristic such as love, fearlessness or anger.

This story is about focusing attention and not allowing yourself to be distracted. Everyone has an ice cream, except Bruno, and he wants one. This is all he can think about. When his fearless quality is needed to help a friend, Bruno is able to focus his attention on something other than the ice cream. He soon forgets about it and gets what he wants – ice cream.

Nancy Bevington’s illustrations tell the story without any distractions. The colours are earthy; a lot of browns brightened by greens, yellow and red. The square pictures sit beautifully within a pale brown frame on the page.

There are a lot of characters in this story, seven of the nine in the series, but once children become familiar with them, this should not be a problem. This is a book with a subtle message told within a story that children will enjoy. The word length means it is for older children, although younger children might like the pictures. The original Zen Tale is included at the end of the story.

Bruno Dreams of Ice Cream, Bevington, Nancy (illus.), Peter Whitfield (text)
New Frontier Publishing, $19.95, ISBN 0975090712