Gleebooks Education 

April 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, April 13, 2017

Book News

Gleebooks Education No 55, April 2017


Greetings from the Gleebooks Education team!

We welcome a host of new subscribers this month, so it may be worth us briefly introducing ourselves to provide some context to this newsletter, and make sure you have the right point of contact here at the shop.

Maija, Mandy and Kate look after our international schools (and Australian schools too, outside of the Sydney metropolitan area) - be sure to contact Maija ( to order any of the books below, or with any other queries you have in relation to international shipping and purchase orders. Don't forget the wide range on our website of specific lists of books and resources for you to browse and order from.

Tania ( oversees our Sydney local schools service. Have a look at our full range of services for local schools, including our popular monthly book approval box service. If you are from a local school be sure to contact Tania with orders or for any help you may require.

Enough of us - now to book news! As our last newsletter was quite recent and quite extensive we’ve kept this one to a pithy selection.

Also, the 2017 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards shortlist has been announced, you can find the complete list here. Where possible we have included our own reviews and hope to have them fully reviewed by the time the winners are announced in August:   



Picture Books


Hooray For Birds! by Lucy Cousins hb 9780763692650 $25.00

In my opinion Lucy Cousins really can’t go wrong. Her use of colour and simple clear shapes succeed in enticing the reader into the book—whether it’s Maisie the mouse, a naughty woodpecker, colourful fish, or, in her latest book, beautiful vivid birds. Like a lot of her books, this story starts on the end papers, which are covered in a panoply of birds. The birds wake up, they fly through the day, and then they go to bed—the birds on the back endpapers are all sleeping (except for the owl). Each bird is instantly recognisable, whether it’s a hen, or a flamingo, an owl or an eagle. Wonderfully large type sings against the vibrantly coloured backgrounds, making it a pleasure to read this book aloud. Very highly recommended for babies to 5 year olds.  LP

Also in the same format;

Hooray for Fish  pb 9781406345018 $17.00


Home in the Rain by Bob Graham hb 9781406368239 $25.00

There is so much that is very familiar in this latest picture book by Bob Graham.  It is a gentle story about Francie and her mother who leave their grandmother’s house and make their way home in the pouring rain in a tiny car on the freeway dwarfed by huge trucks.  They look so vulnerable in that tiny car.  Francie draws on the misting windows the names of her father away working, her mother and herself.  She would like to write the name of the new baby, not yet born but they haven’t decided on a name.  However as they pull into a petrol station her mother has a sudden moment of inspiration.  They will call the baby Grace.  Francie can’t wait to tell Daddy.  It is a lovely story so strong with the warmth and love of family. 

(3 – 5 years)  KS

Shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA picture book of the year.


Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy 9781922244871 $25.00

This is the only picture book that I know of that is a welcome to country.  Aunty Joy Murphy is the Senior Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri People of Melbourne and surrounds.  Text and illustrations show the beauty of the land with its winding river, its trees and the starry skies.  The welcome acknowledges the ancestors and their work in caring for the land and only taking what could then be given back.  It pays respect to the culture, the land and the people and this is brought to life through Lisa Kennedy’s evocative and beautiful acrylic illustrations. (4 – 10 years)  KS

Shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Chrichton Award.


How marvellous that these two delightful picture books are back in print.   Speak Chinese! Fang Fang! was Sally Rippin’s first picture book.  She wrote it for a student called Fang Fang who she was tutoring in Chinese and who was complaining that her parents wanted her to speak Chinese at home all the time but she spoke English with her friends and at school and didn’t see why she should bother with Chinese.  This was Sally’s way of showing her why speaking Chinese was a good idea.  This was in 1996 and Sally had no thought at the time of having it published until a friend suggested it.  It is beautifully illustrated in a style reminiscent of traditional Chinese brush paintings but with a vibrancy which is very much her own.  

Speak Chinese! Fang Fang!  by Sally Rippin pb 9781862912908  $16.00  Big Book  9781742991818  $40.00
Fang Fang would much prefer just to speak English. At school her friends come from many different countries and they all speak English but her parents are forever wanting her to speak Chinese.  However when her young cousin from China comes to stay, she learns that there are advantages in being able to speak Chinese and English.  Beautifully illustrated.

(5– 8 years)  KS

Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year  by Sally Rippin pb 9781862912915  $15.99
Fang Fang was born in China but considers herself very Australian and prefers everything Australian.   When her friend Lisa is invited to the Chinese New Year celebrations, Fang Fang thinks that the celebrations are all so boring and is most surprised at Lisa’s enthusiasm.  However as Fang Fang catches her frend’s enthusiasm for all the celebrations as well as the Lion dance and drumming and the food, they both have a wonderful time.  Lively illustrations using the black outlines of traditional Chinese brush paintings bring the celebrations to life. (5 – 8 years)  KS




The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela pb 9781925324822 $15.00

I would never have thought that spelling could be so much fun.   India is a young girl who is extraordinarily good at spelling.  With the strong encouragement of her eccentric family and of everyone in the small country town of Yungabilla where she lives, she summons up courage to go in the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee competition.  However she has very strong doubts because she is so very shy and extremely nervous in front of crowds.   There are some very funny incidents but also some scary ones because her younger brother Boo has asthma and sometimes has to go urgently to hospital. At the beginning of each chapter, a new word and its meaning are used as chapter headings and as a guide to what will happen.  Deborah Abela uses most expressive words, such as tremulous, skulduggery and surreptitious.  This is a thoroughly enjoyable story with engaging characters, that delights in using language in a very entertaining way.  (8–11 years)  KS


Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth illustrated by Ekua Holmes  hb 9780763680947 $25.00
When I first saw this book, I thought that rather than have poets writing their own poems celebrating such well loved poets, I would rather read poems by the poet being celebrated.  And yet on reading it, I changed my mind and decided that this book gives us so many additional insights into the work of these poets.  Each poem is written in the style and spirit of the poet being celebrated and this may inspire students to experiment with writing their own poems in different styles.  Kwame Alexander has written a beautiful introduction to poetry and also the importance of words and expression in his family when he was growing up and what poetry means to him now.  He is an educationalist who gives many poetry workshops.  His poems and also poems by Chris Colderley and Marjorie Wentworth are included in this collection.  The poets are mainly from the US but the others do come from round the world.   The poems are framed by beautiful vibrant illustrations emphasising the very different cultures and settings.  They are divided into three parts.  Part 1 Got Style? includes poems emphasising style and rhythm.  In Part 2 In Your Shoes – the poems suggest that we may have similar ideas.  Part 3 Thank You includes poems which may affect us in very personal ways.  This book could be an inspiration to teachers and students giving them many ideas while bringing them to a new understanding of a wide range of poems and poets. (10–15 years)  KS


Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim pb 9781760113414 $17.00

The characters of Ming and Li and Fei are so vividly and realistically drawn that their stories stayed with me for days after finishing this very well written book.  Set mainly in the sixties in Mao’s China in Guandong Province, just opposite the island of Hong Kong, it describes the impact of the Great Famine on the small village in which Ming lives.  Ming and Fei, a young girl from a neighbouring village, are orphaned as a result of this terrible famine.  After the Famine, the Cultural Revolution caused huge upheavals in society.  Young Red Guards were sent all over the country to teach the peasants about Mao’s teachings and to throw off any bourgeois background and to learn the work of the farm worker.  Li is one of a group of Red Guards sent to Ming’s village.  He is from an educated city family and suffers terribly while adapting to the extremely long hours of toiling in the fields and very poor food, but he becomes a firm friend of Ming’s.  Ming teaches him to swim in the ocean and it is one of the pleasures they share.  The description of how these two very different groups are forced to live and work together in the one village is fascinating.  It portrays so well the brutality and intense harshness of those times, when there were always some, who watched for any chance to report a fault to their superiors.  Life becomes more and more unbearable for Ming and Li and they decide to risk their lives by swimming across the sea to Hong Kong.  Apparently thousands did this during the sixties. Many died in the attempt and many were captured but thousands made it to Hong Kong.  I find it amazing that I have never heard of these “freedom swimmers”.  The book is based on the true story of her father who fled and swam across to Hong Kong.  Excellent.  (11 – 17 years)  KS


The Smuggler’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen pb 9781925164190  $17.00

This is a very enjoyable and extremely interesting old-fashioned adventure story of smuggling and piracy in the style of Treasure Island.  It is even more interesting since the novel is set in the north west of Western Australia around Broome at the end of the 1800s.  Apparently there was a strong history of smuggling for the region, which includes Indonesia and Singapore.  Young Red Read is the son of the female owner of The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel in Broome.  He is not quite sure why or how but he finds that he is now a cabin boy on the Black Dragon under Captain Black Bowen.  After a few terrifying weeks, Red learns “the ropes” quickly and even grows to enjoy aspects of life at sea.  When Captain Bowen is swindled out of his cargo of brandy which he had planned to smuggle into Singapore, it is the beginning of many hair-raising adventures with pirates, Dutch officials, gun runners, rebels and head hunters in Sumatra.  There are some gruesome deaths but there is also a lot of humour, often told at Red’s expense.  Fortunately the Captain is a gentleman at heart who is very happy to kill villains but is kind and fair to those who do the right thing.  He also has an amusing tendency to quote Shakespeare in moments of danger.   Jorgensen vividly conjures up life on board a sailing ship, with the sounds of the sea, creaking of the ship’s timbers and the sound of the wind in the sails, both in times of calm and in terrifying storms.  This is a very satisfying tale of high adventure. (10 – 14 years)  KS


When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane pb 9781741758528 $17.00

This time slip fantasy is reminiscent of Ruth Park’s much-loved Playing Beatie Bow.  When Madeleine is shipped off to the country to stay with her grandmother in the country, she is not happy.  However on discovering some beautiful old shoes at the back of a cupboard, she is transported back to the year 1900 to a wealthy family who lived in the huge house near where her grandmother lives now.  Madeleine is distraught but gradually settles in when Gert, who is also about 12 years old, contrives a story that she is a friend from boarding school who has come to stay.  There are some wonderful characters:  the self-important father, the fragile mother and the father’s sister who is an outspoken suffragette.  The daughters, beautiful and elegant Bea, Gert who is awkward and clever, Charlie a true tomboy and the youngest pretty Ima are all welcoming.  Madeleine is constantly amazed at the differences between the constraints of life in such a wealthy family with servants, including a cook, Nanny and Maid and the carefree, active life she led before.  She is appalled by the limited expectations for women and the casual racist attitudes of the family.  Tension grows in the plot as we wonder how Madeleine will make it back to her grandmother.  This is a satisfying, interesting read, full of comparisons between life in 1900 and 2016.    

(12 – 16 years)  KS


Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman hb 9781406356618  $25.00 pb 9781406366914 $18

This is a tale of intrigue and high drama in England in the 1700s.  It is the story of a complicated smuggling net on the coast of North Devon and how Pa and Caleb become entangled in its tentacles.  Tanya Landman vividly portrays the life of Pa and Caleb as they travel with their puppet Punch and Judy show.  However Pa is wrongly arrested for theft.  Caleb is devastated but makes his way north, as his father instructed, to the coast of Devon to his father’s sister and the family he didn’t know existed.  There are so many secrets.  So many mysteries and so many twists and turns in this story.  Caleb comes to care deeply for his new family, his aunt, her baby daughter and her stepdaughter, the strong willed Letty for whom he grows to care deeply.  However their life is harsh and made precarious by the overwhelming corruption and power of the wealthy landowner. The plot is complicated and fast moving and there are many mysteries but the characters come to life.  For Caleb, who is dark skinned, why did Pa always refuse to talk about his mother?   Who was the body washed up on the beach that Caleb discovers.  This is rich, intelligent historical fiction.  At times it is grim but there is also a lot of humour, especially in the Punch and Judy shows at the beginning and end of the novel.  In spite of the portrayal of the corruption and greed, there are also engaging and caring characters, especially Caleb and Letty.  There are also beautiful, vivid descriptions of the sea, its power and at times its stark beauty. Highly recommended. (12–17 years)  KS


Black Sunday by Evan McHugh pb 9781743627990 $17.00

This is a fascinating portrait of a 12-year-old boy living at Bondi Beach in the years 1937–38.   David McCutcheon, or Nipper, describes his life in a diary, which his teacher forces him to keep.  Nipper finds to his amazement that he grows to enjoy recording various events and also his feelings.  His main desire in life is to become a lifesaver and he is full of admiration for his lifesaver grandfather.  Because his life revolves around surfing and the sea, there are many descriptions of the ever-changing ocean and the waves and currents.  On a day in February 1938 unusual conditions caused a sudden rip sweeping hundreds of people off the sand bank where they were standing and out to sea.  Many were unable to swim.  Fortunately groups of lifesavers were competing that day and so many hundreds of people were saved by lifesavers risking their lives by swimming out and bringing back people one at a time.  Nipper also risked his life saving one person as he couldn’t just watch her drown.  However five people died.  This is an absorbing and well-written story bringing to life a famous event and the dangers of the ocean.  (11 – 13 years)  KS


 Lizzie and Margaret Rose by Pamela Rushby pb 9781742991528 $17.00

This vivid evocation of life during the war years is set firstly in London during the Blitz and then later in Townsville in Australia where there is the threat of invasion by the Japanese.  Margaret Rose is just ten when her parents are killed by a German bomb dropped on their bomb shelter.  She miraculously escapes and is shipped off to her only suitable relatives, her aunt’s family in northern Australia.  The terrors of the bombing in London and the difficulties of living in London with all its shortages are vividly described, as is the long boat trip out to Australia with many other children.  The family in Townsville is welcoming but from the beginning she and 11-year-old Lizzie have problems in getting along. Chapters are told alternately from the point of view of Margaret Rose and of Lizzie and we can easily understand the frustrations and rivalry of each.  This is a fascinating period of history in Australia and Pamela Rushby describes vividly the changes brought about by the influx of American servicemen, the threat of bombing, and the war shortages all so different from London during the war years.  This is a well written, absorbing story which has at times some very funny episodes.  It is a very satisfying read.  (10 – 14 years) KS




KS Kate Shepherd

LP Louise Pfanner



If you would like to order any of the books reviewed in this newsletter or in the accompanying lists, send orders by email: 


If anyone would like their name to be added to the mailing list so that they receive the newsletter and lists directly by email, please contact:


All prices are in Australian dollars and include GST of 10% which is not applicable to overseas schools.  


For additional lists of recommended books and newsletters visit our website


For further suggestions visit the gleebooks website





Trackback Link
Post has no trackbacks.