This picture book anthology is bursting with the beauty and colour that makes Australia such a unique and wonderful place. Each double page spread represents the styles and imaginations of eighteen talented illustrators who take us on an artistic journey around the country. There is a wonder, curiosity, and respect for nature evident in each of their carefully crafted visions. From the forests to the seas, from the cities to the bush, they share their insights and inspirations into what connects them to our great wide land.
We swim in our breathtaking reefs, wander through purple gorges, run with brumbies in the snow, immerse ourselves in multicultural cityscapes, marvel at the first signs of new life after a bushfire, and delight in the intricate patterns we find in geckos, gumnuts, and blossoms.
A celebration of life both large and small, this anthology evokes a deep sense of appreciation for what we see around us. A superb collection of illustrations and thoughts representing the many perspectives that make up the land we call home.
Find out more about Just Write For Kids and Our Australian Heart
Published by Daisy Lane Publishing
Release date: December 2023
ISBN: 9780645842722 (HB)
Recommended for ages 3 +
Xander’s life is pretty typical of that of a 12-year-old boy. He has two best friends – Cat and Tee-Jay, a loving mum and dad, and a younger sister Phoebe who always finds the positives in everything – despite being in a wheelchair. He wishes he could be brave and courageous like his sister and the superheroes he loves to draw – but he isn’t. He wishes he could stand up to the boys that bully him at school – the Clagg brothers aka the ‘Bruise Brothers’ – but he doesn’t. He wishes he could solve the mystery of why the alpacas on Cat’s farm are dying – but he can’t.
Until one day he finds a golden ink pen and discovers that anything he draws with this magic pen comes true. He defeats the Clagg Brothers, enables his sister to walk again, helps his father win a fishing contest that gives the family more money than they’ve ever had, and comes first in a school math competition, even though his friend Tee-Jay deserved the prize more.
But each time something wonderful happens it quickly turns into something awful. He alienates his friends, his once loving mum and dad are no longer speaking to each other, and Xander himself has changed under the influence of the pen. Instead of the sunny, easy-going person he once was Xander is now bitter and spiteful.
But sister Phoebe comes to the rescue with her truthfulness and unwavering support. Xander is soon making amends for situations that went awry. The mystery of the poisoned water and dying alpacas on Cat’s farm is the last problem needing to be solved. Xander knows he can’t do it alone and that to solve the mystery, he has to earn back the trust of his friends Cat and Tee-Jay and together find the solution.
David Lawrence tackles some deep and serious issues in this story with warmth and compassion. Disability, bullying, greed, and dishonesty are woven into the story in a way that is age appropriate and meaningful for readers. Cherie Dignam’s black and white illustrations enhance the story and provide the perfect visual insight into the main characters.
This is Book 2 of The Pen series.
Teaching themes could include fantasy, families, bullying, communities, friendship, greed, problem solving, disability, trust and courage.
Find out more about David Lawrence
Find out more about Cherie Dignam
Published by EK Books an imprint of Exisle Publishing
Release date: 14 November 2023
Recommended for ages 9 to 13
The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet: A Kingdoms and Empires book by Jaclyn Moriarty. Ill. by Kelly Canby
For most of her short life, Lillian Velvet has lived with her stern, uncompromising and decidedly unaffectionate grandmother. Her days are regimented and she must follow the routine set for her otherwise there is the sting of a sharp reprimand. But things change dramatically on the day of her tenth birthday. Grandmother gives Lillian a jar of gold coins and tells her, ‘Don’t go out, don’t open the door to anyone – and don’t spend all your coins at once,’ which seems odd to Lillian as she’s not allowed to go out so how could she spend her coins? Just when she thinks things cannot get stranger, she feels an almighty shove and finds herself somewhere very different to her home in Bomaderry.
Lillian has begun her adventures in the Kingdoms and Empires series where magic, intrigue and a certain spurious character called Mr Turtlehaze follow her everywhere. Each time she experiences the shove she finds herself in another kingdom that costs her more of her gold coins, and where it falls upon Lillian to save someone from danger. Throughout her seemingly disconnected forays she encounters Shadow Mages, True Mages, Sparks, Hurtlings, Spellbinders and even a Queen – all creatures and people she has never met but who are somehow familiar. Lillian also meets the various members of the Mettlestone family who are brave, courageous, and kind. They will all play a key role in helping Lillian discover who – and what - she really is.
This intriguing, character driven plot is like a puzzle, with each chapter disclosing another piece about Lillian and her time travels. Readers will be captivated from the very beginning by a fast paced, compelling, and intricate storyline that will have them on the edge of their seats anticipating the final, monumental revelation of Lillian’s secret. Kelly Canby’s colourful cover design and delightful black and white chapter illustrations with their Picasso-esque faces are the perfect complement to a wonderfully quirky and endearing story.
Although this is Book 5 and I read it as a stand-alone, it only left me wanting to find out more about the wonderful worlds that came before this one, created by the talented Jaclyn Moriarty. This was my first venture into the Kingdoms and Empires series but it won’t be my last.
Teaching themes could include magic, fantasy, quests, spells, humour, courage, resourcefulness, family, friends, belonging and love.
Find out more about Jaclyn Moriarty
Find out more about Kelly Canby
Published by Allen & Unwin
Release date: 31 October 2023
ISBN: 9781761067570 (HB)
Highly recommended for ages 10 - 14
It’s Hungry Ghost Month and thanks to her new ghostly (and actually her only) friend William Xiao, July Chen discovers there’s an opening in her school to the Gates of the Underworld and dangerous ghosts are escaping. July’s yin-yang eyes have enabled her to see ghosts from when she was little, which is why she is able to see William who is a wandering soul, an 'almost ghost' caught between the living and the dead. But July can also see all the other ghosts breaking loose from the Underworld, and these ones are determined to find souls to eat and wreak havoc and mayhem in the human realm. This includes Oxhead and Horseface, the King of the Underworld’s ghostly assistants. Every time the assistants come to collect someone whose name is on the Death Register, William’s name also appears, but vanishes again as soon as it is seen. William enlists July’s help to figure out why this is happening to him, and together they embark on a perilous journey into the Underworld. What they discover is a never-ending supply of dumplings, surprises, unexpected revelations, and the unavoidable impact on both of their lives of what it means when there is a Nobody missing from the Birth Register.
Inspired by Southeast Asian tradition and beliefs surrounding the seventh lunar month commonly known as Hungry Ghost month, this deliciously creepy graphic novel is a must for readers who love books with a supernatural element. Sprinkled with humour, heart, and levity, the writing is clever and crisp, and effortlessly weaves the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and kindness into the storyline. The sometimes dark, spooky illustrations are balanced by those that create lightness and emotional connection to memories and family. Fans of tales like Spirited Away from Studio Ghibli will be spellbound and enthralled by this latest graphic novel from Remy Lai.
Teaching themes could include friendship, family, ghosts, the supernatural, beliefs and traditions, mythology, food, fantasy and resilience.
Find out more about Remy Lai
Published by Allen & Unwin
Release date: 1 August 2023
ISBN: 9781761065477 (PB)
Highly recommended for ages 8+
Block out the blood. Remember. Think. I am still here . . . I must hold on.
My name was Rath. This I remember.
Rath had long ago taken his sons Bayat and Oyan to a safe place outside the city when he found out the truth behind his wife’s experiments. Kalina was ruthlessly kidnapping the homeless and using them as test subjects to carry out ideations of the virus she hoped would turn them into some kind of hybrid being that had the heightened senses, awareness, and strength of a cougar-like animal, whilst retaining human emotional capabilities and understanding.
Fast forward to the present where Rath has been infected with the virus by one of the ‘chimera’ or ‘ferals’ as the creatures are called and is struggling to retain his own humanity.
The chimera had eventually broken free from Kalina’s laboratory and infected almost the entire city with the virus. Those who had managed to flee and secretly returned to find a cure, realised they were not safe, for the cure was short lived and the chimera were now creeping ever closer. The River, Mountain and Desert Peoples sought to protect themselves by barricading their villages, but Bayat knew this would not work. Now a grown man, he had seen friends consumed by the virus and die at the hands of the chimera. Bayat and Pandora, the River girl he has come to love, undertake a final journey to the city to find the last of the precious cure ZarVex for their friend Emmaline, in the hope that a high enough dose will kill the virus in her. Bayat is determined that any chimera encountered will be killed on sight. But Pandora, whose visions have both haunted and guided her, has looked into the eyes of the chimera, and seen an empathy others have not. Will they be able to save Emmaline? Will Pandora be able to convince Bayat and the other villagers that there is a way both chimera and humans can survive? Or will all hope for the future be lost?
Set in a post-modern, pandemic inflicted, dystopian world that has collapsed into ruin due to environmental degradation, mismanagement of resources and medical autocracy, City Knife reveals the secrets and truths of those who created the chimera, and the strength and determination of those who came after. This is an intricate and intriguing story of despair and hope, love and loss, and hatred and empathy, told through a series of character driven, interwoven, individual chapters. It is a timely reminder that whatever our future holds, we need to be ready for its challenges and to keep hope alive, no matter how fragile it seems, so that humankind and life on earth, will endure. City Knife will have you on the edge of your seat from the opening lines to the very last pages.
Teaching themes could include dystopian futures, pandemics, environmental issues, medical ethics, family, survival, and relationships.
Find out more about Rachel Hennessy
Published by MidnightSun Publishing
Distributed by NewSouthBooks
Release date: 14 September 2023
ISBN: 9781925227970 (PB)
Highly recommended for ages 12+
In a few short weeks, Callie would be starting at Birchwood High, and if they were all calling her Calliope-Jean from day one, she’d be Calliope-Jean – super nerd – until the end of time. This week at In The Rip would be her one chance to change that. In her wildest dreams she’d be CJ McGee – cool, daring, adventurous. But if Callie was what she could get away with, then Callie would do just fine. Surely if other people knew her by a different name, then she’d be different on the inside as well?
Every summer was the same at In The Rip. They’d been renting the house for as long as she could remember with family friends The Lanes and The Kensingtons. Callie asked why they couldn’t rent a separate house this year, but her mother had laughed and said you don’t mess with tradition. Trouble was ‘tradition’ also meant sharing the summer with Sasha, Cody and the twins. Sasha who, now that she was fifteen, had the sass and attitude to match, and had switched from being her ally to hardly noticing her. The one person Sasha was noticing was Ned, one of the local surfers. And then there was Mitch Lane and his younger brother Billy. Mitch was the same age as Callie but had made it his life’s mission to find ways to upset her. This year Mitch had brought along his cousin Owen, who seemed to have lots in common with Callie and the ability to keep Mitch in check. The three decide to investigate the series of recent robberies in the quiet coastal village of Sawyer’s Point, but it is when Sasha goes missing after sneaking out, that Callie must live up to her name and use her tenacity, perseverance, and resilience to save Sasha and discover the unexpected identity of the thief.
This coming-of-age story cleverly manages to bridge the gap from childhood to teenager. The pressures of having an overprotective mum, being an only child and trying to navigate your early teen years are not easy, and many readers will empathise with Callie as she tries to establish her own identity. The clandestine meetings to determine who the thief is will engage even the most reluctant of readers, with a possible ghost sighting and a near encounter with the local teenage gang in the dead of night keeping readers guessing and on the edge of their seats. Annual holidays with relatives and lame dad jokes will resonate with many, as will the feelings of frustration at not being taken seriously.
This is a brilliantly written middle grade novel about resilience, growing up, and navigating the sometimes confusing and complicated changes along the way to becoming who you want to be.
Teaching themes could include families, friendships, family vacations, theft, robbery, gangs, resilience, teenagers, individuality, summer, water safety, coastal towns.
Find out more about A.L. Tait
Published by: Scholastic Australia.
Release date: 1 August 2023
ISBN: 9781760260163 (PB)
Highly recommended for ages 11+
Just when Penny thought things in Year 5 were actually going okay. With the help of her friends Maria, Kristian, Petra and Rocco, and Cosmo her dog, she figures she can cope with pretty much anything. And there’s always her doodling and her chats with Mrs Hines, the Feelings Teacher if she gets a little anxious again. But little does Penny know that life in 5th grade and at home is going to change in a BIG way.
She came home from school one day in January and was told they were moving house! Her mum was expecting twins, and they needed more room, so they had to move. But Penny didn’t want to move away from her old house. What if the old house was mad they had moved? What if the new owners were messy or painted the walls hideous colours? What if one of the chandelier crystals in her new room fell on her head in the middle of the night? What if she couldn’t organise all her stuff for the movers in time?
Then the 5th grade replacement teacher Miss Kettle told the class everyone had to be involved in the school play that her friend Petra had written. She wasn’t too worried as she was cast as the bat and all she had to do was flutter. That is until halfway through rehearsals, she found out the bat was also the narrator. She would have to speak on stage!
And then there was the problem with her new neighbourhood friend Chloe who hated her friend Maria. How was she ever going to solve that? Problems were everywhere and EVERYTHING was changing! What was she going to do?
In this warm, insightful, and at times laugh out loud second book in the Penny Draws series, award winning author Sara Shepard takes us along on Penny’s journey through the changes that rekindle her anxiety. We are told in a simple and truthful way how this affects Penny and her ability to cope. The strategy proposed by her Feelings Teacher, Mrs Hines, doesn’t seem to work at first, and it is only as the story unfolds that Penny realises how brave she has become and that everything will be okay. The concern and empathy shown for Penny by her friends and family is the wonderful and uplifting thread woven into the story that tugs at the heartstrings of the reader and helps create a deeper understanding of the effects of anxiety.
Teaching themes could include anxiety, families, friendship, acting, writing, diaries, dogs, coping strategies and change.
Find out more about Sara Shepard and Penny
Published by Text Publishing
Release date: 5 September 2023
ISBN: 9781922790408 (PB)
Highly recommended for ages 8+
How much does the Earth weigh? How are rainbows made? Where do dreams come from? Why do I have a tail bone and not a tail? Will mum ever stop crying? How do I put us back together? The right way, like we were with you?
These are questions Carina Sugden needs answered but the only person who can answer them isn’t there anymore. Carina’s dad passed away and the family can’t seem to find their way through the sadness and loss. Her mum decided when the doctors had said there was nothing more they could for dad, that they all needed a ‘tree change,’ and so the small town of Forrest was chosen. Even though the house they found was a ‘fixer-upper’, dad had wanted an adventure in a place surrounded by trees and had wanted them all to fix the house together.
But the town and their new home in the Otway Ranges seemed to bring more hurt, more problems and even more sadness because dad hadn’t come with them. Mum threw herself into fixing up the house on her own, crying behind closed doors and shutting people out, Jack became more distant and mean and didn’t want anything to do with his little sister anymore, Gramps tried his best to keep the peace but was fighting a losing battle, and Carina spent hours searching the forest near their new home for the one thing dad had been certain was there and that she had promised her dad she would find for him – a moon tree. Her dad had told her about the seeds taken into space on the 1971 Apollo mission and the trees planted with them on their return to Earth. They were special, just like her dad, and she wasn’t going to let him down. But finding one was proving much harder than she thought.
Finding a path through grief is never easy, but the journey can eventually give rise to new friends, new beginnings, and the opportunity to heal - which is exactly what Forrest gives the Sugden family.
This is a truly beautiful story that captures the very essence and heartbreak of profound loss. Shivaun Plozza doesn’t shy away from the reality of the friction and conflict that can occur at times like this and approaches it with enormous gentleness and poignancy so that the reader doesn’t feel confronted but is rather placed in the heart of this family and gently brought along on their journey through grief to acceptance.
‘I don’t think memories are bad. I think they’re like seeds – you plant them, nurture them and they grow up big and strong and that way the people you love never really die.’
I totally agree with Carina’s character. What a wonderful way to keep alive the memories of those we have lost. Let’s all plant our own memory seeds from now on.
Teaching themes could include grief, families, acceptance, loss, trees, science, magic, dendrology, scientific processes, intergenerational relationships and friendship.
Find out more about Shivaun Plozza
Published by University of Queensland Press
Release date: 4 July, 2023
Highly recommended for ages 9+
Jack doesn’t like trying new things or too loud noises. What he really likes is anything that zooms, digs, or races, and of course, his favourite food, peanut butter sandwiches. His best friend likes peanut butter sandwiches too and they eat them together every lunchtime. She even lets Jack ride on the back of her wheelchair sometimes. Jack’s mother works at the zoo and took Jack, his sisters, and his best friend to visit all the animals at feeding time. The noise of the animals munching on their favourite foods was hard to ignore but, at each enclosure, Jack bravely squeezed his eyes shut and tried the yummy fruits and vegetables for himself. When they came to the lions, Jack began flapping his hands up and down really quickly which is something he does when he’s really excited. The other zookeepers were a bit worried that the lions were getting ready to pounce but, after all the new things he’d tried that day, Jack was fearless. He picked up the lions' food and threw it towards them and as far away from everyone as he could. The next day he stood up in front of the whole class and told everyone about their exciting day, and his best friend and sisters were right there with him.
This is an engaging and inspiring story about two best friends who like each other just the way they are. It celebrates their differences, applauds their similarities, and highlights how we each have something special and unique to offer as a friend. Told with empathy and understanding, JACK’S BEST DAY EVER will hopefully spark conversations about the misconceptions and stereotyping of those who are neurodivergent and encourage more open mindedness and acceptance of who we are as individuals. The warm and colourful illustrations expertly showcase the emotion of the characters and the powerful message at the heart of this story – that not everyone is the same, and that is a wonderful thing.
Find out more about Gabrielle Bassett
Find out more about Annabelle Hale
Published by Woodslane Press
Release date: 01 May 2023
For ages 4 +
Thanks to Romi Sharp and Books on Tour PR & Marketing for the review copy of the book and promotional images
Romeo Alexander Anton Silverio Fortez is a pygmy sloth. But not just any pygmy sloth. The night of his naming ceremony on the tiny island of Escudo where he was born, a fire rainbow erupted across the sky, lightning flashed, there was a shower of shooting stars and the rising moon looked magical. Everyone knew they had just witnessed something incredible. As he grew, Romeo understood he was different to all the other sloths. He wasn’t slow like them. He was fast. Very fast. And he craved adventure and danger. He also developed hypnotic cuteness powers where all he had to do was look into someone’s eyes and they would forget what they had been doing and why they had been cross. He had become a Super Sloth!
The time came when Romeo knew he had to leave the island. He needed to be somewhere bigger, faster and with lots more happening than Escudo. New York City! It would be a bit scary and dangerous at first, but Romeo was up for it! This would be his destiny.
As soon as he arrived in New York, things began to happen. While he was admiring the famous Brooklyn Bridge, its pylons began to tilt, and the bridge began to sway. Everyone else ran the other way but Romeo ran towards the huge half shark, half wolf terrorising commuters. It held a young girl captive in one its enormous, clawed paws. A cheetah had also run towards the commotion. Together they freed the girl and the creature dived into the river below. Suddenly a pig appeared on a Vespa and yelled ‘Hop on!’ The pig, with the girl and Romeo in tow, sped away, with the Cheetah close behind. They quickly came to a cemetery and when the pig pressed a button on the Vespa, a huge panel of grass opened up beneath them revealing a ramp that led to the most amazing underground hideout.
The adventures of Romeo the Super Sloth, Tulip the Cheetah, Ham the Pig and Beth the young Crime Fighter had begun! Now all they had to do was find out where the mutant creature had come from, who had made it and how to stop them from creating more fearsome monsters. Look out evil Professor Weird Warp, your days are numbered!
This is a rollicking, fast paced adventure story filled with incredible inventions, dangerous decisions, brave friends, superheroes, and very evil villains! Readers will be captivated from the opening page, with each chapter providing a thrilling ending to keep us wanting to find out more. Cheri Hughes’ superb black and white illustrations provide just the right amount of detail, leaving the reader with plenty of opportunities to use their own imaginations in the story. An exciting new novel for ages 8 - 12.
Teaching themes could include sloths, cheetahs, pigs, lemurs, superheroes, technology, inventions, villains, friendship, character traits, New York City and Brooklyn Bridge.
Find out more about Aleesah Darlison
Find out more about Cheri Hughes
Published by Big Sky Publishing
Release date: 10 April, 2023
Highly recommended ages 8 - 12.