My Friend Fred / Pip Finds a Home

My Friend Fred
Frances Watts and A. Yi
Allen & Unwin

An unseen narrator (mostly), dachshund Fred’s best friend tells of the doggy things he gets up to. He loves dog food (disgusting!), chasing balls, sniffing trees and digging holes.

However he doesn’t like stairs unlike his pal; he loves baths, (his friend hates them)

and Fred does some rather odd things like howling at the moon and turning around thrice before sleeping.

Youngsters will delight in guessing the nature of Fred’s best friend (there are some visual clues in A. Yi’s adorable watercolour illustrations) so may work it out before the final reveal. Whether or not they do, with its themes of friendship and difference this is an engaging book to share with your little ones.

Pip Finds a Home
Elena Topouzoglou
New Frontier Publishing

Due to a case of mistaken identity Pip undertakes a long journey to the South Pole for that’s where those that look like him live.

He’s met by four friendly Adélie penguins who want to know what kind of penguin Pip is.

They attempt to identify him but he doesn’t have feathers on his head like a Macaroni penguin, is too short to be an Emperor Penguin and lacks the orange beak of a Gentoo.

Perhaps he isn’t a penguin after all.

Nonetheless he’s made welcome by the Adélies until another black and white bird approaches and then Pip learns his real name.

It’s time to go home …

This simply told, beautifully illustrated in watercolours, tale of friendship, similarities and differences and belonging gently informs young listeners too; and the final three pages give additional facts about the four kinds of penguins and the species to which Pip belongs.

The Caveman Next Door / Twelve Days of Kindness

The Caveman Next Door
Tom Tinn-Disbury
New Frontier Publishing

Penny’s street is perfectly ordinary until a caveman moves in next door to her. He does little but grunt by way of communication, is scantily clad and his only furniture is made from sticks or stones.
Thinking he seems a little lost, Penny decides to befriend him and takes him on a tour of the town starting with the library where he receives a less than welcoming reception.

No matter where they go Ogg seems to manage to annoy somebody or embarrass Penny; seemingly he just doesn’t fit in.

But then, having seen inside Ogg’s cave with its wonderful mural documenting all their adventures, Penny has a great idea;

Ogg will visit her school.
After an initial setback, the headteacher recognises that in Ogg he has not only an interesting artist but someone who can educate his pupils about the natural world.

Tom Didsbury’s fanciful story of friendship and finding a place to fit in, with its wonderfully quirky illustrations will delight and amuse young listeners.

Twelve Days of Kindness
Cori Brooke and Fiona Burrows
New Frontier Publishing

When Holly realises that new girl Nabila is having trouble making friends among her classmates she decides something needs to be done to help her.

Both girls are picked for the school soccer team but despite this her fellow team- mates are not showing any signs of welcoming Nabila. With just twelve days left before the first match, the girls still haven’t gelled as a team.

Nabila and Holly devise a plan: for every remaining day they will do something good and kind for the team and gradually not only does the team come together

but the “Twelve Days of Kindness’ is a winning formula.

An effective lesson about acceptance, welcoming strangers, friendship and of course, kindness, beautifully delivered in Cori Brookes’ straightforward narrative and Fiona Burrows’ powerful pictures of the girls is one to share and discuss in lower classrooms especially.

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf? / A Home for Luna

Who’s Afraid of the Quite Nice Wolf?
Kitty Black and Laura Wood
New Frontier Publishing

Not all wolves are big and bad: meet wolf Wilfred; he’s not at all scary despite being a member of a rather unpleasant pack. Their leader despairs of Wilfred’s un-lupine characteristics taunting the poor creature mercilessly

and ordering him to join in the attack on the sheep the following night to learn proper wolf behaviour.

That night however, Wilfred visits Mildred sheep and together they come up with a plan to help the other sheep.

Will their ruse be successful in foiling the wolves’ attack?

Debut picture book author, Kitty Black’s funny tale turns on its head the wolf stereotype (this wolf is a vegetarian) and in best picture book tradition Laura Wood’s hugely expressive illustrations are immediately engaging and extend the narrative.

A Home for Luna
Stef Gemmill and Mel Armstrong
New Frontier Publishing

When Luna is washed up on a strange shore far from her home, hearing nothing but the sound of the waves she feels lonely and afraid.
After spending the night sleeping beneath the container she’d arrived in, she smells a smell not unlike home. Following her nose she comes upon some penguins feasting on sardines and one in particular with yellow eyes catches her attention.

During the course of the day Tiny penguin makes approaches to Luna, offering her a shellfish to eat and the following night Luna joins the colony catching fish, ‘Not exactly like a penguin … but good enough. Then when marauding gulls attempt to steal what she’s caught, Yellow-Eye sees them off ‘Not exactly like a cat … but good enough.’

Little by little Luna gets closer to Yellow-Eye and it isn’t long before she’s become a part of the huddle.

One night a boat nears the shore; the crew are surprised to see a cat among the penguins and want to take her with them. The reaction of the penguins and Luna convey to the well-intentioned fishermen that this is not going to happen; and as the boat sails into the darkness, it’s clear to Luna that she has a new home with the penguin huddle and that’s where she now belongs.

In this tale of displacement and friendship, a spare telling that is in keeping with the stark setting, combined with debut illustrator, Mel Armstrong’s textured illustrations capturing the bleakness of the penguins’ home against the movement of the ocean, and clearly showing in-comer Luna’s changing relationship with the resident penguins, convey something of the isolation felt by refugees in a strange land.

Under the Same Sky / Little Puggle’s Song

Under the Same Sky
Robert Vescio and Nicky Johnston
New Frontier Publishing

Two young children living on opposite sides of the world yearn for friendship.
The boy resides in a city, the girl in a rural area yet it’s he who uses metaphors of the natural world to express his longing – “We are like the sky and sea … always apart. Never touching.’

As he stares out through the window one night, there’s a pigeon sitting on the ledge and that gives him an idea.

Creativity takes over as, with its help the lad finds a way to bridge that seemingly impossible distance and light up the world of the little girl.

The gentle, softly spoken words of the boy demonstrate how with imagination and determination true friendship can endure against the odds and across the miles. Not only does he touch the heart of the one he reaches out to but also that of the reader. The inherent tenderness of the text is reflected in Nicky Johnston’s gorgeous watercolours, which provide a perfect complement to Robert Vescio’s narrative.

Little Puggle’s Song
Vikki Conley and Hélène Magisson
New Frontier Publishing

Puggle the echidna longs to sing but no matter how he tries there’s only silence. Deep down he knows that echidnas can’t sing, nor even make a sound;

but is there perhaps a way he can become a part of the bush choir that has been asked to sing a welcome song for the emu chicks that are soon to hatch.

As the days pass Puggle can merely look on as the other animals under the leadership of Brown Feather, practise their rendition.

Then on the night before the special performance he hears the news – Brown Feather is sick. Can he possibly save the day?

Lyrically told, Vikki Conley’s heartfelt story of determination and fulfilling your dreams reads aloud well and with Hélène Magisson’s beautifully painted scenes of the fauna and flora of the Australian bush, this picture book will introduce Australian wildlife to youngsters outside the antipodes.

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor / Isadora Moon Puts on a Show

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor
Helen Castles
New Frontier Publishing

This is the first of a proposed series featuring thirteen year old Scoop McLaren, editor of Click, an online newspaper. She resides in Higgedy Harbour a place where quite suddenly strange things start happening. Alarming for sure, but even more so is the fact that a brand new rival newspaper, The Dark Times, is reporting these events at exactly one minute past midnight every night.

Could its editor Sonny Fink be connected with all the disasters – the plague of frogs, the torrential rain that hits the town causing a flood, buildings being burned down, to mention just a few?
Scoop, along with her friend Evie, is determined to get to the bottom of things and restore peace and harmony to their hometown; the mayor seems totally disinterested and so it’s down to the two girls.

But just who is this mysterious and unscrupulous Sonny Fink character and is anyone else in town to be trusted to help them discover his identity?

Mixing straightforward narrative, news articles and text messages, this is an amusing, pacey tale that will definitely keep readers guessing as the plot twists and turns its way to the final exposé.

Isadora Moon Puts on a Show
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you’ve yet to meet young Isadora Moon let me just say that her dad is a vampire and her mum a fairy. That makes Isadora unique – a vampire-fairy no less.

This story starts with the family getting excited about the annual vampire ball, even Isadora who is now old enough to attend. This year it’s going to be super special as it’s being held on the night of a blood moon and all the vampire children are to take part in a talent show. Isadora decides to do some ballet dancing and she has just two weeks to perfect her routine. “It’s going to be an amazing show!’ she tells Pink Rabbit as they snuggle up under the duvet that night.

But then she has a crisis of confidence, changes her mind about dancing and decides to go along with Dad’s tonsorial suggestion. Or does she?

When they get dressed for the ball, Isadora chooses to wear her tutu under her vampire cape. On arrival though she decides to pull out altogether: not going on stage at all. But then she sees a sad-looking little vampire girl who appears a bit different from the others and she in turn notices Isadora’s tutu.

The two begin to talk and Araminta, as the girl is called, reveals something about herself that makes them bond immediately.

An hour later the show is about to begin so Isadora goes to sit with the rest of her family. Will she stay there or could something amazing happen after all …

Let’s just say there’s a glittering surprise in store especially for mum who has told the organisers to delete her daughter’s name from the list of contestants.

As delightful as the black, white and pink illustrations, is the story’s denouement in the latest episode in the life of this zippy character. Her fans will love it! Sparkle with an injection of zesty pizzazz.

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees? / Ten Little Aliens

Can You Find 12 Busy Bees?
Jordon Winch and Patrick Shirvington
New Frontier Publishing

Who wouldn’t want to accept Jordon Winch’s invitation to enter the garden Patrick Shirvington so beautifully depicts on the opening spread, and join in the search for the abundance of wildlife residing therein. I for one couldn’t wait to go through the gate and seek out the lizard basking in the sun.

As we wander, lots of different birds introduce themselves starting with ‘2 patient powerful owl chicks’ nestling in a tall old tree …

as well as ‘3 crafty kookaburras, ‘6 merry magpies’ – these are poking around on the lawn, ‘7 flighty fairy-wrens, (in the bushes), ‘8 carefree cockatoos’ and ’10 rowdy rainbow lorikeets’ sipping nectar. Yes, some of these birds may be unfamiliar to young readers outside Australia but discovering new things is part of the pleasure.

Lolling around in the pond are ‘4 fat frogs’ to find; and there are two different kinds of butterflies making up the 5 fluttering through the flowers. We’re not told what kind they are, nor the identity of the 9 green grubs chomping through the foliage, though I hope few youngsters will fail to name the 11 lovely ladybirds’

or the most vital for us all, the ’12 buzzy bees’ of the title, as they forage for food in the flowers.

All these creatures, and readers too will endorse the final ‘We love our garden. We hope it will be there forever.’ And it definitely acts as reminder to make our own gardens wildlife friendly.

Patrick Shirvington’s love of the natural world shines through in his beautiful watercolour scenes that accompany the simple descriptive narrative.

Ten Little Aliens
Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Orchard Books

Aliens of all shapes and hues star in this counting down space adventure wherein the strange beings far from home search for a friendly place to stay.

Seemingly though, their numbers diminish as one receives a FIZZ! from a comet’s tail, another is SPLOOFed by Nova-berries, a Mega-Robot’s honking blasts the next, and a fiery crater fires out bubbling lava at a pink one.
Now we’re down to six and they’re caught in a sudden snowy blizzard. So it goes on with a SNIFF!, a BOING!,

a PARP!, a cry for HELP! as the sat-nav gives up the ghost.

Then, hurrah! Up steps the one remaining – a female alien – with a rescue operation to perform.

Will they ever find a hospitable planet on which to land their space ship? What do you think?

Rhyming fun Brownlow and Rickerty style always hits the spot with little ones and this story on an ever popular topic, with its sprinkling of alliteration is sure to please too.

Leaping Lola

Leaping Lola
Tracey Hawkins and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

Young Lola the Jersey cow has a penchant for dancing and is energetically practising her steps for the ball to be held that evening in the barn. But then comes information from her mother that entirely deflates Lola: ‘It’s the Black and White Ball’ so a brown cow such as she won’t be welcome.

Having heard her tale of woe, Pearl the pig offers to disguise her friend.

Suitably attired that evening, Lola is admitted to the ball and she’s immediately swept along by the beat of the music as she swoops and slides across the floor, then kicking up her heels she wows the crowd by ‘swirling and twirling her large derrière.’

Then disaster strikes as Lola mistimes her landing and slithers on her stomach through the Friesians

and straight into a tower of milk churns. Chaos ensues as she’s washed clean of her muddy disguise and cries of ‘imposter’ issue from the frightened onlookers. Is that the end for Lola?

Happily not for then up steps the prize-winning bull who urges her to dance no matter what.

And so she does. Led by Lola in a joyful romping, stomping line, all the cows dance the night away.

With plenty of drama, Tracey Hawkins’ lively rhyming text complemented by Anil Tortop’s splendidly expressive illustrations make for a smashing read aloud to share with youngsters who will delight in the spirited mooover, Lola.

The book has much to say about the importance of inclusivity and might well be a starting point for a discussion on the topic of insiders and outsiders.