Classics to cherish – Old tale picture book reviews

Don’t you love that emphatic certainty a below-twelve year-old has whenever they hear a remix of a song dating from the golden oldie era? ‘They got that song from such and such movie, Mum!’ Um well, no actually it was around way before me…Stories evoke similar conviction.

Alice in Wonderland 150thModern retellings of classic children’s stories might seem like a cheeky waste of time, but timeless tales and parables reclothed in sleek modern attire have an astonishing way of finding hanging space in a child’s heart. After all, they are encountering these tales for the first time. Sharing golden oldies with them is a sure fire way of rekindling your love for favourite tales as well. Here are a handful of ‘new’ classics to curl up with together.

We begin our journey with Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole. This is a large substantial picture book retelling of Lewis Carroll’s spectacularly well-known fantasy tale from the late eighteen hundreds.

Alice in Illo spreadLoud and outlandish like the very bizarre world Alice plummets unexpectedly into, this re-telling commemorates the 150th Anniversary of Alice’s journey. Many of the most famous phrases are included in a parred down text, which showcases some of Carroll’s most notable characters: Alice, the White Rabbit, and The blue Caterpillar.

Ever changing, yet strangely familiar and forever charming, Eric Puybaret’s dashingly abstract illustrations establish just the right amount of plausibility for our wide-eyed, take-it-as-it-comes adverturine, Alice. An excellent pre-emptive introduction for littlies before they embark on the original version.

Retold by Joseph Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg

Koala Books February 2015

The Velveteen RabbitIn keeping with le Lapin theme, The Velveteen Rabbit is a sublime re-release of the 1922 classic children’s story by Margery Williams Bianco. Lovers of the Toy Story notion that toys have their own very real wants and needs just like to their young owners will coo with delight over this bedside tale. The Velveteen Rabbit will melt the strongest of hearts with its ‘nursery magic is strange and wonderful’ credence.

Velveteen illo spread Bianco’s original text is faithfully reproduced and swathed in the softest, silken images befitting this dreamy tale by first time picture book illustrator, Helen Magisson. Subtle and sweet enough to want to take up and cuddle, the charm of The Velveteen Rabbit will ‘last for always’. Read our full Boomerang review and interview with Helene Magisson, here.

New Frontier Publishing March 2015

The Ugly DucklingSlipping a CD into a picture book is a natty little bonus that enlivens a tale and adds extra dimension to its delivery. Justine Clarke is no stranger to delivering entertaining songs and stories to children and it’s her interpretation of this song adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale classic, The Ugly Duckling, that youngsters are going to warm to.

Written by Frank Loesser, this rendition is the same snappy paced version sung by the late Danny Kaye in the 1952 movie, Hans Christian Anderson.

The illustrations of Nathaniel Eckstrom are visually enchanting and bring to life the tale of a socially ousted signet that matures into the most beautiful and noble of all the creatures on the pond.

Justine ClarkeA timeless tale enhanced and best appreciated with the accompanying CD performance.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Henny PennySpeaking of timeless tales, The Once Upon a Timeless Tale collection by Little Hare Books gives children several fairy-tale titles to choose from in handy-to-hold sized, hard covered picture books with plenty of child and bookshelf appeal.

Hugely collectable, stories of yesteryear are retold in a simply laid out style, which confident readers can easily tackle themselves. Pre-schoolers will appreciate snuggling up with a new tale each night and get a kick of the beguilingly beautiful artwork accompanying each tale by various well-known illustrators such as Tamsin Ainslie, Ann Walker and Anna Pignataro to name but a few.

Henny Penny, the tale of an apprehensive hen who predicted the end of the world when she felt a bit of the sky fall on her tail, is one in a list of many familiar stories; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea and Jack and the Beanstalk amongst many many Timeless Tales Collectionothers. They come in CD audio versions as well. Find your favourites and please don’t forget to share them!

Little Hare Books, HGE 2014


Review – Katie and the Lephrechaun

Katie is running late for school. Again. Dashing through the park, past the nooks of huddled trees, Katie trips on a tree root and falls sprawling to the ground. That’s when she hears the voice.

A high-pitched squeaky voice – with a funny accent. Katie can hardly believe her eyes when a little man with a red beard and lawn green ensemble appears before her, sitting on a tree branch, swinging his legs merrily. It’s Patrick Fitzpatrick – a cheeky sprite who bamboozles young Katie with his fast talk and jittery ways.

Patrick tells Katie he is indeed a leprechaun – or leith broghan, as it’s known in the magic trade. It means ‘one-shoe maker’ and of course, Katie can’t for the life of her understand why  anyone would be employed to make only one shoe. Patrick, of course, explains that many one shoes make up plenty of shoe pairs – and so begins a mind-bending banter for poor Katie, who finds herself both frustrated and oddly intrigued by the little green man. Is he for real, or is this all a strange dream?

Katie and the Leprechaun is part of the new Little Rockets reader range from New Frontier. Kids will giggle along with Katie and her magical new friend as she helps him find the perfect model shoe . . . a shoe that may surprise you. At the end of the book, kids can pop out a cute cardboard rocket to make for themselves.

A gorgeously-written story, colourful illustrations on almost every second page will help keep reluctant readers engaged, while advanced readers will equally enjoy this magical little tale.

Katie and the Leprechaun is published by New Frontier.

Review – The Children Who Loved Books

So lovely to review another Peter Carnavas book, an author/illustrator who has been going great guns with a consistently fabulous book list for New Frontier. Peter’s emotive, subtle and visually beautiful books have enormous crossover appeal, and with the addition of ‘books’ in the title of this newbie, well – I couldn’t get it out of the envelope fast enough.

Angus and Lucy are simple kids. They don’t have a lot. No TV. No car. Not even a house. Instead, their teensy caravan is jammed to the ceiling with piles and piles of books. Now, books – they do have. Balanced, propped, stacked, teetering . . . books, books everywhere.

Of course, you can imagine what happens when the books become too much for the teensy caravan. They have to go. And what happens when books are removed from children’s lives?

The answer may surprise you.

This charming book, with its central theme of the impossibility of living without the lure of a great book, is another Carnavas winner. Iconic, whimsical illustrations perfectly reflect the tone and nuance of the carefully-edited text. bringing meaning and volume into the clean white spaces he does so well.

A must-have for your Carnavas collection.

The Children Who Loved Books is published by New Frontier.


Professor Fred Hollows is the latest book in New Frontier’s inspiring Aussie Heroes Series.

According to the late Professor Fred Hollows “Three out of four people who are blind don’t have to be. They are blinded by poverty alone.”

Popular author, Hazel Edwards takes us through the life of this inspiring man and his amazing achievements.

Fred qualified as an eye doctor and moved to Australia. He gave ‘vision’ to more than one million people. He worked in remote and Aboriginal communities providing much needed aid, often for free.

Fred Hollows worked tirelessly to heal the eyes of people suffering from cataracts and glaucoma. He treated everyone the same regardless of wealth or status; his one priority to restore their sight.

He pioneered mobile health clinics and set up factories in Eritrea and Napal to manufacture intraocular lenses at an affordable price. By doing this he was able to reduce the cost of the lenses from $200 to $10 each, making the treatment far more accessible.

Hazel Edwards has meticulously researched Fred Hollow’s life and achievements and presented them in an easy to read text that makes Professor Fred Hollows very accessible to readers and an important addition to school libraries.

Pat Reynolds full colour illustrations work with the text to provide an engaging biography of a man who achieved so much in a relatively short time.

Educational Resources are available for Professor Fred Hollows from Hazel Edward’s website.





Like many of Sally Murphy’s stories, Toppling started with a character. John is a boy with the slightly nerdy hobby of domino toppling. He has a very stable, happy home life, and a good strong friendship group at school. But Sally started to wonder what would happen if something went wrong in John’s life.

Using the metaphor of  toppling, Sally decided that John’s best friend is in danger of toppling. He has cancer, and John and his other friends need to figure out how best to support Dominic  while still carrying on with their own lives.

John is a year six boy who is pretty normal. He isn’t a big fan of school, but likes the chance to hang out with his mates. He has a big sister who rubs him up the wrong way.

John is honest and he is a first person narrator who can be self-deprecating, and admits to insecurities.

Toppling is for middle and upper primary aged children but is also being used in secondary schools because of the subject matter and the verse form.

It covers a tough topic, but kids will enjoy that it is a positive story, which offers hope. Also, it has humour,  and lots of slice of life scenes. The verse novel format makes it very accessible to readers.

I found the verse format of Toppling very easy to read and engaging and as Sally says,

When I see how kids love this format I wonder why there aren’t more verse novels made available to them.


I  had fun weaving domino toppling through the book, and trying to weave just a little humour into what was, by necessity, a fairly serious tale. The humour helps to ease the tension.


Writing on such a heart-wrenching topic – childhood cancer – can make the process very emotional. I cried when I wrote it and still get teary when I read certain scenes.

Toppling is published by Walker Books


This book sprang from two words – fluff and gruff – which ended up being the first two end rhymes in the story, which is told in rhyme. Sally wrote the first two lines when they sprang to mind, then had to sit down and plan the rest of the story.

It’s about a teddy bear – Pemberthy – who doesn’t know how to have fun, and a doll, primula, who is determined to get him to join in her games.

It’s mainly for kids aged 2 to 6, although Sally says she has  shared it with much older kids (even high school boys).

It’s a feel-good book, with beautiful pictures by talented illustrator Jacqui Grantford. And, because it is written in rhyme, it makes a good read-aloud for story sessions.

Kids are amazed when they realise that the bear on the cover is an illustration, not a photo. The artist is so clever!

Pemberthy Bear is covered in fluff but, as the opening page reveals, he is mean and gruff.  But really, he isn’t so tough – he’s just shy and a little insecure, and he learns to be braver.

Sally says that the hardest thing about writing Pemberthy Bear was getting the rhyme and rhythm just right. Writing in rhyme is far more difficult than many people think.

I wrote many, many drafts of this story to get it just right.

Pemberthy Bear is published by New Frontier.