Fourteen preschoolers, two Indigenous books and a LOT of excitement

Magabala Books recently sent me two children’s books to review – Return of the Dinosaurs and Cheeky Animals. I find it hard to review kids’ books because in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I like the book!

Then I thought, who better to review these books than Master Five and his pals from kindergarten. So last week I headed into his early learning centre to do a group reading with him and his classmates.

I was actually a bit nervous as I walked through the doors.  What if other kids aren’t as into books as mine? Would they find me dull? Do five-year olds heckle?

As it turns out they do heckle, but in a well-meaning and endearing way.  As we read the books together, they were so desperate to tell me how much they knew (‘High tide means very high water!’; ‘I love salmon’!; ‘I’ve been to Broome!’; ‘Calves means babies!’).

So – picture fourteen very excited five-year olds, sitting in a circle on the floor, having to be reminded every few moments to put their hand up to speak, leaning further and further in towards me, absolutely bursting to tell me their thoughts, and most of all, to hear the books. It was very, very sweet.

Return of the Dinosaurs, Brownyn Houston

‘That book starts with an R!’.

‘Imagine if dinosaurs came back to visit Broome.  What would they do?’ the first page of the book asks.  ‘They would eat everyone!’ was the instantaneous answer.

The kids were rapt as we read through the story and saw the dinosaurs doing all sorts of mischievous things: ‘eating’, ‘swimming’, ‘splashing’, ‘playing’.  We all decided they wouldn’t be scared of noisy airplanes.

The kids’ favourite page from Return of the Dinosaurs.

We chatted about the Kimberley coast, the town of Broome and how far these places are from where we live in Melbourne.  When I mentioned that real dinosaur footprints had been found there, I saw some perplexed faces and their wee brains ticking over digesting this bit of news.

The kids were really animated as we talked about what we’d do if we came back as dinosaurs.  ‘I’d watch a movie!’.  ‘I’d eat some leaves!’. ‘I’d eat some salmon!’. ‘I’d eat some other plant eaters’. ‘I’d go rollerskating!’.

‘Did you like this book?’, I asked after we’d read it again. ‘YEAAAHHH!’ the kids shouted back.

There was a moment of silence and then, ‘Can you read the next book now?’. So we did.

Cheeky Animals, Shane Morgan

As we looked over the front cover together, no one was entirely sure which cheeky animals we’d be reading about (‘meerkat!’, ‘llama!’, ‘wolf!’, ‘ostrich!’).  But eventually, realisation dawned that this was a book about cheeky Australian animals.

The kids absolutely loved this book. They were literally in hysterics as we read about the lizard and the fish and the dingo being cheeky to an unsuspecting human.  The page where the emu has the man hanging upside down by his pants caused particular hilarity.  The turtle stamping on the man’s foot was also a thigh-slapper.

‘Can you read it again, cos I like it!’, asked one cherubini. In the end, we read it three times.


We talked about our favourite Australian animals (‘frilled-neck lizards!’; ‘kangaroos cos they bounce!’).  We also had a chat about rhyming, and the kids were great at guessing the rhyming words throughout the book.

Then there was a period of fierce concentration as the group did some drawings of their favourite bits from the books.  We ended up with some wonderful impressions of dinosaurs, emus, turtles and even a rattle snake.

I walked away from that small session with a handful of drawings and a big grin on my face.  Kids do love books, and they really, really loved these two books.





Walking the Lights: Quite a lot of walking, and not a lot else

I had high hopes for Walking the Lights by Deborah Andrews. It’s been shortlisted for this year’s The Not the Booker Prize; it’s published by an independent Scottish publishing house that gave us last year’s The Not the Booker Prize winner (Fishnet by Kirsten Innes); it’s set in Glasgow, and its blurb promises that it ‘perfectly evokes 90s Britain and those living on the margins, while others prosper’.  A winning combination, I thought.

George Orwell’s 11 golden rules for making tea

I recently stumbled across George Orwell’s 1946 gem of an essay, A Nice Cup of Tea.  It’s not surprising that as ‘the 20th century’s best chronicler of English culture’*, Orwell had some strong opinions about this quintessentially English institution.

In his short, humorous essay, George Orwell lists 11 inviolable rules one must follow to create the perfect cup of tea.  For the most part, his dogma stands the test of time.  But, there are a couple of points that are less ‘golden’ and, in my view, quite simply wrong.

George and I go head to head on what does, or does not, create the perfect cuppa.

Australia’s asylum shame

A year ago, I moved back to Australia after 10 years in Scotland.  Over these last 12 months, I’ve been relearning what it is to be Australian – not in the cliched sense, but in terms of the nuances of daily life that I’d just clean forgotten about (such aggressive driving, for example) or never even known about (the oddities of school drop offs).

But more than anything, I’ve had to confront and compute my country’s attitudes to its indigenous people and its asylum seekers. I feel like I’m seeing these issues with fresh eyes, and I really don’t like what I see.

The Dry: A scorching Aussie thriller

I’ve just finished reading what I reckon will be one of my top books of the year, The Dry by Jane Harper.  Within minutes of starting this book I knew I was in safe hands, and right to the very end I couldn’t put this book down.  It’s the kind of book that makes you miss your train stop; it’s an engrossing and very satisfying read.

This is why we need women only book prizes…

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need feminism? 664392

It doesn’t seem to matter what statistics say about the gender pay gap, occupational segregation, family violence, women in leadership, poverty, misogyny in mainstream and social media etcetera – some remain unconvinced.

Hands up those who get sick of explaining why we still need women only book prizes?  

The Man Booker and the Not the Booker Prize 2016

Today the Man Booker Prize announced its longlist of 13 books, which you can find here.


I’ve not read any of the books on this year’s longlist, so can’t offer any comment on their relative merit.  But I did immediately notice the absence of Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, which made me sad.

However, I have a means to remedy this! The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize 2016 gives us all a chance to champion our own favourite book of the year.