Australia – book reviews

Australia – book reviews © Jason and Clare

A selection of books with an Australian theme that will enhance your activities linked to our platypus story and tempt even the most reluctant readers to curl up with a book.

Diary of a Wombat

Diary of a wombat

Title: Diary of a Wombat (BB)
Author: Jackie French
Illustrator: Bruce Whatley
Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Price: £5.99

This delightful board book combines beautiful, humorous illustrations with slyly funny text.

A perfect read for children aged three plus (but don’t let older children miss out), to make children (and grown-ups) laugh out loud. The board book is ideal for tiny hands, and introduces the Australian wombat to children who may not have come across the animal. Illustrator Bruce Whatley manages to capture 101 wombat expressions with simple but telling painterly images. The horror on the faces of the family that the wombat chooses as his pets will be familiar to every family who has ever had a less-than-perfect pet. Simple text in an apt typeface conveys the characters beautifully, with some nice little asides that add interest to the design. You could use the book as the basis for all types of class discussion or for children writing diaries in the voice of various animals – or simply for fun.

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales

The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales

Title: The Barefoot Book of Earth Tales (PB)
Author: Dawn Casey
Illustrator: Anne Wilson
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £14.99 each

This book contains seven ancient stories all about Earth from cultures around the world – Australia, Bali, Kazakhstan, Wales, Nigeria, the American Southwest and India. The colours of the countries are reflected in the illustrations: earthy tones for Australia (see illustration, above), grass green and reds for Wales. Children will love the illustrative details, such as the buckets or flowers as folios. Following the stories, there are activities to make and do, from creating a songline painting to building a willow den.



Title: Window (PB)
Author: Jeannie Baker
Publisher: Walker Books
Price: £4.99 each

This 32-page wordless picture book shows photographs of collages made by the author for exhibition. Ideal for inspiring children to make their own collage work around an Australian theme, the book also has a strong environmental message with collages made from grass, tree bark, earth and fabric. Looking through the window we see the story of a boy from his birth to becoming a father – and how the world around him changes. Australian animals feature and neat little details on the inside of the window – such as birthday cards and fast food wrappers – build the story beautifully. This has a thousand uses in the classroom – ask children to tell the story they see in the individual collages, to create their own Australian story linked to the platypus, or simply to say what they can see.

Kangaroos have Joeys

Kangaroos have Joeys

Title: Kangaroos have Joeys (BB)
Author: Stella Blackstone
Illustrator: Philippa-Alys Browne
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £8.99 each

This 32-page board book is chunky enough for Early Years children to get a grip on and still be long lasting. Each page features a mother and baby set in a patterned border. The unpatronising caption text is large and clear on white space. The book includes some unusual animals, such as pigeons, moles and goats, and uses the correct baby names. The final spread gives thumbnail pictures of the whole book and includes some additional background text for the reader. There’s plenty to talk about in the detailed images and it would be a great inspiration prior to making potato prints or any kind of pattern-making.

Stories from the Billabong

Stories from the Billabong

Title: Stories from the Billabong (BB)
Author: James Vance Marshall
Illustrator: Francis Firebrace
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Price: £8.99 each

Ten Aboriginal oral stories are the basis of this 64-page collection, retold by James Vance Marshall. It would be fun to compare the platypus story in this book to How the platypus got his shape, and it’s ideal for teachers focusing on traditional tales. There’s a useful glossary and a short, factual page to accompany each story.

The final spread shows a variety of Aboriginal symbols and explains their meanings. The illustrations are subtle and textured, in the Aboriginal style. The kangaroo illustration, used on the cover as well as inside, is particularly tactile, with visible brush marks that will make children want to run their hands over it.

Who are you Baby Kangaroo? 

Who are you Baby Kangaroo

Title: Who are you Baby Kangaroo? (PB)
Author: Stella Blackstone
Illustrator: Clare Beaton
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £5.99 each

This is available as a paperback or board book. The colours and textures of this story are delicious. From the detail of the inside front cover, which is decorated with felt cut-outs of hummingbirds and bees, young children will be drawn into the story about a curious puppy as well as enjoying the fantastic stitched images, decorated with brightly coloured tiny beads, that make up the illustrations. The final spread includes more information about all the animals that the puppy meets on his journey, as an at-a-glance reference for the reader or teacher.

 The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales

The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales

Title: The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales (HB)
Author: Naomi Adler
Illustrator: Amanda Hall
Publisher: Barefoot Books
Price: £9.99 each

Perfect for reading aloud to KS2 children, or for children to read alone, this 80-page book comes with two Storytime CDs, where Naomi Adler retells the stories. There are nine stories in total, and the last page gives a brief overview of where the stories come from. ‘The Greedy Frog’ is the Australian contribution, enhanced by Dreamtime-style illustrations showing the kangaroo, wombat and emu.

Children will love the fantastic image of the giant frog that spans a double page spread, set against a backdrop of mountains that are smaller than his stomach.

More in this category: « Author interview – Anne Faundez

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