review-cover-I'm-a-dirty-dinosaurI’m a Dirty Dinosaur
From cover to cover, this book is simply brilliant. Janeen Brian obviously knows what makes children tick: a cheeky character, catchy words and a whole lot of muddy mess. The simple, rhythmical text is engaging and fun to read aloud, and lends itself nicely to being sung.

This dirty dinosaur starts his day with a dirty snout. Body part by body part, he slowly covers himself in mud, and has a lot of fun along the way. With an amusing use of verbs, the text also incites action for its young readers. Children might enjoy re-enacting scenes from the story by sniffing, snuffing, shaking, tapping, stamping, splashing and sliding.

Ann James’ magic pencil and mud illustrations celebrate fun and messiness and invite children to explore painting with mud.

review-cover-that-boy-jackThat Boy, Jack.
As I read this book, I really worried for That Boy, Jack. I was so concerned about what would happen to him, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

This evocative book is the reason we read. To be entertained, to be worried, to be affected.

The story transports us to 1874, where we get to experience life in a mining town through the eyes of a normal boy. Just before his twelfth birthday, it is decided that Jack will work in the mines, like his father. The mines are terrifying and Jack is scared of going underground.

This intelligent historical novel is at once thought-provoking and captivating.

There is an amazing chapter about Jack’s first journey into the inky darkness of the mines. The air is suffocating, the noise is thunderous. The work is tedious. Jack can only see by candle light and can’t talk to anyone because of the noise of the picks.

The mines are full of dangers. Jack’s Dad has an awful cough from years of underground work. The story is set in motion by a mining accident that results in the father of Jack’s best friend losing his legs. It is gruesome and terrifying. Add to that the fear of losing siblings to childhood illnesses such as typhoid, and the amount of work required just to save up to buy a new pair of pants, and this book will be difficult to forget.

When Jack makes an important decision to get out of the mines, things become worse and worse. The trials he goes through will haunt the reader long after the book is finished, but the reader will also come away grateful and hopefully with an understanding of hardship.

Just when I thought everything was grim in this book, Jack’s Cornish immigrant Mum makes a comment, “I thought we came here for a better life.” “We did, and it’s still a better life,” says Jack’s Dad.

This beautiful Australian junior fiction novel by accomplished author Janeen Brian will easily become a classic. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Petra Keown –

review-cover-meet-ned-kellyMeet…Ned Kelly
The story of Ned Kelly is told in verse in this highly informative and easy to read story. From Ned’s beginnings to his life as a selector, to the saving of a boy from drowning, to the start of his life outside the law, the verses sing the story of one poor Irish family downtrodden by their poverty and police harassment until pushed beyond the law. It is Victoria in the 1850’s, gold has been discovered and precious few of the men trying their luck succeed. But it draws people away from their jobs, so much so that the law, for example, is forced to recruit lesser men for the job. And law was harsh, Kelly convicted of horse stealing was sentenced to three years hard labour, and when he returned home, he was always under suspicion, eventually turning to a life of crime. His life as a bushranger was short. He was captured at the infamous siege at Glenrowan, tried and convicted and then hanged at Melbourne Gaol.

Brian gives us all this information and more in her easy to read verse tale, and the illustrations add considerably to the depth shown in the verses. The utter despair the gang must have felt is obvious at the end where the place they are captured is surrounded by over 40 police, the illustration rendering in detail the aim of the law in capturing the gang once and for all.

Students will find this a pleasurable book to read and ponder, lingering over the illustrations, taking in all they represent: the housing of the time, clothing, poverty of the Kelly family, while assimilating readily the information given in the text. Younger students will find this book a sympathetic introduction to the Kelly story, while older ones may like to use it as a companion to others written on the same topic. In class or from the library, this is a well-researched and informative addition to the books about Ned Kelly written for children.

Many children struggle with reading. Some are reluctant to read; others attain reading readiness later than their peers. For these kids, novels must grab their attention and keep it, with a fast-paced story they can relate to.

Oddball, by Janeen Brian, is just such a book. Published by Walker Books Australia in 2008, it’s part of a series called Lightning Strikes, designed to support and motivate those kids who’ve somehow missed out on the joy of reading. The cover is eye-catching, and the format very cleverly designed with lots of white space and larger print. I think boys in particular will love Oddball.

“It was the worst Monday morning ever.” Sol Tranter’s beloved dog has just died, his mum insists he must get his Afro hair cut, and he somehow finds himself challenging the school bully and sporting hero to a game of handball. And promising to win by using hypnosis! Is there anything at all Sol can do to get out of this mess?

Sol’s voice is so authentic, it’s as if he’s perched on the kitchen table relating his tale between eager bites of Vegemite sandwich. Janeen Brian definitely understands boys – she puts the reader right inside Sol’s bushy head, so we feel what he feels, and see the world through his eyes. We’re impelled to race to the next page to find out what happens.

Oddball is a great choice for kids who like realistic stories they can relate to. I believe children in senior primary or early high school classes would enjoy following up questions like “Have you ever made a problem for yourself through something you said?” “Do people really do strange things when they’re hypnotised?” “How does hypnosis work?” and “How did things change for Sol in the story?” The book would make a great model for children writing a narrative centred around a problem to be solved.

review-cover-columbia-sneezesColumbia Sneezes
Four facts you may or may not know about The Book Chook:

I love great picture books. I love rhyming picture books when they’re done very, very well. I love quirky illustrations. I love boy camels called Columbia.

And that’s why I love Columbia Sneezes, by Janeen Brian and Gabe Cunnett (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia, 2008). I started grinning when I first saw Columbia’s geeky black spectacles in his portrait on the front cover. That grin widened to a smile when I read his song:

I like all the palms and the watery wells.
I like all the moonlight and fresh nightly smells.
I like all the dunes that rise up and then fall
But I don’t like, I don’t like, I don’t like at all
All the sand that is carried by each desert breeze-
It tickles my nostrils and fills me with SNEEZE
Atishoo, atishoo, atishoo! And then
Atishoo, I sneeze and atishoo again.

Can’t you just see delighted kids loudly joining in with that sneezy refrain?

Soon poor Columbia’s problem had me laughing aloud. Perhaps that doesn’t say much for my compassion, but I defy anyone to read this riotous romp of a picture book without a chuckle or two. I’ve enjoyed other books written by this talented Australian author (Oddball, Where does Thursday go? and Elephant Mountain), but Columbia Sneezes takes its place at the very top of my list.

Gabe Cunnett’s illustrations were created from acrylic paint on paper, Adobe Photoshop, and a wacom tablet. They add a whole extra dimension to Brian’s rhyming tale. I swear the desert traveller on stilts whom Columbia meets, is modelled on the Jawas from Star Wars IV. As for Columbia’s hump? Let’s just say Cunnett is an illustrator with a great sense of humour.

Can you guess the title of my new favourite picture book?

review-cover-i-spy-dadI Spy Dad
The more I read picture books, and I read a LOT of picture books, the more I realize that the most successful picture books are those where the writer and illustrator complement each other perfectly. I Spy Dad is such a book. Written by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Chantal Stewart, and published by New Frontier (2009), I Spy Dad is a charming romp with delightful characters, and is perfect for reading aloud. I would love to meet Janeen Brian. I am betting she has a great sense of humour, and a flair for drama, as well as her undeniable talent, because that’s the way she writes. I love her books and have reviewed Wishbone, Silly Galah, Too Tight Benito, Where does Thursday go?, Columbia Sneezes, Oddball, Elephant Mountain and By Jingo! an alphabet of animals here at The Book Chook.  You just can’t help loving this book. It’s a celebration of dads – reading dads, weeding dads and even lively-leading dads. In Brian’s impeccable rhyme, we meet all sorts of dads, and Stewart ensures they are all sorts visually too – different ethnic origins, professions and appearances. The illustrations are lively and fresh, a perfect complement to Brian’s playful story.

I spy with my little eye dads all starting with d.

But can I find the one who’s mine? I wonder where he’ll be.
Kids love to play the I Spy game, so they’ll instantly want to join the search. And I know they’ll enjoy looking at all the dads and comparing him with their own as the story proceeds. The I Spy game itself would be a great way to either follow up or introduce the story. Older brothers and sisters might like to join in and spy objects that start with certain sounds, and little ones can look for things that are red, or round, or have legs.

I Spy Dad would make a great picture book for students studying families, or multiculturalism. I think it would also make a lovely gift for a dad who wants to share a special book with his child, one that shows dads in various roles, and reaffirms our understanding that all dads are special people.

review-cover-i-spy-mumI Spy Mum!
A little boy out at sea is searching for his mum and on his search he finds lots of mums doing different things. The story is based on I spy and is beautifully rhyming so ideal for reading out loud. 
The illustrations are full of movement and mums doing energetic things! 
Kathryn Pledger
Editor’s note: This is a companion volume to I spy Dad.

review-cover-shirlShirl and the Wollomby Show

Is there anything more Australian than the local show? The smell of freshly slashed grass, cow manure and donuts, the drone of blowflies and incomprehensible directions over the loudspeaker, the jewel-like colours of the jam display – and the tension between rivals vying for those coveted trophies!

Shirl and the Wollomby Show was written by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Kat Chadwick and published by Omnibus (Scholastic), 2010. It’s a children’s picture book that’s such fun to read and share with kids! There are features that both adults and kids will love, and I predict you’ll be laughing aloud just like me.

It’s Wollomby Show time again, and Shirl and the other girls in the paddock want to join in the fun. Trouble is, Gertrude the goat always wins the prizes for cooking and flower arranging-and everything else. How will they even out the contest?

Brian has chosen a rollicking rhythm and rhyming text that make a perfect introduction to poetry and bush ballads for children. Younger kids will enjoy the story and hope for the smug Gertrude’s downfall; older kids will appreciate the finer details of fun internal rhymes and Aussie ingenuity.

Chadwick’s art work is priceless. It really captures the country show and complements Brian’s humour beautifully. The sheep are individuals whose character comes through in their eyeshadow, elaborate hairstyles and personalized aprons.

Shirl and the Wollomby Show would make a great acquisition for schools with units on Australian Studies. It would also be perfect as an introduction to poetry for kids – I can just see students learning to knit, make pickles, jams and cakes, and putting on their own mini show in the playground.

review-cover-machino-supremoMachino Supremo! Poems about machines
A book of snappy little poems about the machines that surround us in our daily life, Machino Supremo is the happy collaboration of succinct writing and inspired illustrations. From Jackhammer, to Outback Windmill, Jean Machine and the Pizza Oven the machines take on a larger than life proportion as the imagination of writers and illustrators allow us to share in their world where machines are almost monsters. The book includes a ‘hidden words puzzle’ which is an extra bonus in an action packed collection of poems sure to appeal to the under eight-year old reader and would-be poets.

review-cover-silly-galahSilly Galah!
Silly Galah! is one of those bright, colourful books that just begs for a child to pick it up. When they do, I can almost guarantee they won’t be disappointed. This Book Chook’s smile widened with every page!

Written by Janeen Brian, and illustrated by Cheryll Johns, Silly Galah! was first published by Omnibus (Scholastic) in 2001, and has been re-printed several times since. I’m not surprised about the re-printing, because the book is just delightful. It’s a collection of short poems about Australian animals, accompanied by interesting facts and Johns’ charming illustrations.

Brian’s poetry is such fun! Pitched at child level, it focuses on an important feature about each animal, while inviting the reader to enjoy a laugh, and celebrate this writer’s obvious love of language.

Tree frog green
Like shiny jelly,
hasn’t got a button
on his little frog belly.


The ringtail possum is fond of her tail,
which is curly and whirly and strong.
She swings, if she pleases,
among leafy treeses,
for berries and fruit all night long.

Each animal has a page or double page spread, with a semi-realistic background for the dominant, cartoon-like, animal picture. Johns’ illustrations perfectly complement Brian’s text – you can almost hear the screeching on the Cockatoo page! The poem is also central, and the factual sentences are written around the perimeter of the page. The ever-changing details of insect activity add another layer to the visual text, and provide even more interest for young readers.

I’ve reviewed several books by this prolific and talented Australian author (Too Tight Benito, By Jingo!, Columbia Sneezes, Elephant Mountain – recently selected as a Notable in the Younger Readers Category of the 2009 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards – Oddball, and Where does Thursday go?). I’ve enjoyed them all, but I believe Brian’s talent that impresses me most is her ability to get inside kids’ heads and give them material that makes them grin, giggle, and want more.

Silly Galah! is an excellent choice for people looking to introduce their children to poetry, and is also a great non-fiction resource about Australian animals. I predict it will become a much requested read-aloud in any home. It would also be a wonderful gift for a child living outside Australia.

Parents looking for follow-up activities could find some cute colour-in outlines at ABC TV, read animal facts at Australian Animals, get craft ideas at DLTK, or try a webquest on Australian Animals. If you would like more information about galahs, suitable for kids to read, try Teaching Treasures which has some simply worded facts. Janeen Brian’s own website has an attractive project activity for children,and you can find more activities by scrolling down on this page. Check out the Youtube video below if you’d like to see what a galah looks like.

too-tight-benitoToo Tight, Benito
Benito Bear had grown during the long days of summer…

Benito has enjoyed his warm-weather romps, but now it is time to crawl into his cubby-hole to sleep for the winter. But when he tries, he discovers his hole is too tight – he has grown during the summer. So Benito sets out to find a new hole – without much success. Every other hole is either too small, too high or too smelly. Finally, Benito returns to his hole and discovers that some hard work will make his hole just right.

Too Tight, Benito is a beautiful picture book with simple text, humorous twists and turns and sumptuous illustrations. Benito romps from hole to hole, accompanied by a nameless squirrel who is not mentioned in the text – although alluded to in the final page when we learn that Benito’s hole has room for one more. A pleasure to read aloud, and a visual delight, this offering will become a firm favourite with adults and children alike.

Sally Murphy –

review-cover-hooshHoosh! Camels in Australia
They are as tall as doorways and weigh around 450 kilograms.
They have two sets of long, curly eyelashes and extra inner eyelids to see through during sandstorms.
They are smelly and flies love them.
They can drink about 100 litres of water in a couple of minutes.

Camels are not native to Australia, yet they have played a very important role in our nation’s history since first being introduced in 1840. They have carried explorers, moved freight across the country, and played an essential role in massive construction projects such as the Rabbit-Proof Fence and the Canning Stock Route.

In Hoosh! Camels in Australia, author Janeen Brian provides a comprehensive study of camels, focussing on their role in Australia. From their evolution and physiology, to their introduction into Australia, their roles in Australia’s history, and a discussion of their current and future role.

Brian uses accessible language and her comprehensive research into the subject is evident – this is no lightweight treatment of the subject. The text is complemented by colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and sketches, providing a visually pleasing presentation, which kids will be drawn to – especially captivated by the cover photograph of the camel’s face, his mouth and nose shown in close-up detail.

This is an outstanding nonfiction offering. First released in hardcover, and shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards in 2006, Hoosh has now been released in paperback.

Sally Murphy –

review-cover-eddie-pipperEddie Pipper
Eddie Pipper is a typical 8-yearold boy … he lives with his mother, father, and younger Sister. Oh, and he loves penguins!

There’s just one small problem … Eddie is terrible at remembering things. He leaves the fridge open, forgets his bus money and forgets what his mother and father tell him. However Eddie desperately wants a pet–not just any pet–a penguin. But Eddie has a plan! Will he be able to convince his parents that he is responsible enough to have another pet?
This book immediately draws the reader into Eddie’s world. The thoughtful illustrations scattered throughout the book provide support for children who are consolidating their skills as an independent reader. The text is well written and accessible for children reading from text level 16. There is a clear narrative structure and well-defined problem and solution.

This would be a perfect take home book or a class serial to be read aloud. It provides a springboard for class discussions on topics such as responsibility and perseverance. This book is suitable for an independent book review or various other literacy-based activities from Grades 2-4. This book is sure to entice even your most reluctant readers.

review-cover-where-does-thursday-goWhere does Thursday go?
Children wonder about all sorts of things. Why is the sky blue, and not pink? What do angels eat? Australian writer, Janeen Brian, has cleverly tapped into that natural curiosity in Where does Thursday go? a Margaret Hamilton (Scholastic) picture book, first published in 2001, and winner of a CBCA Honour Award in 2002.

Splodge is a bear who has had a wonderful birthday. Like most of us, he wishes his special Thursday would last forever. That makes him wonder: where does Thursday go before Friday comes? He and his friend Humbug, a sea-bird, set off in the night to find it.

This delightful story has so much kid appeal. Children will love the sounds in the landscape like the “oogle gurgle” of the river; wondering what Thursday looks like; following Humbug and Splodge on their quest; and joining in with the refrain: “‘Is that you, Thursday,’ called Splodge. But there was no reply.”

Stephen Michael King’s illustrations really set the mood for the book, with soft colours that show a safe, gentle nighttime landscape. My favourite page has Splodge sitting on the front steps of his wonderful lamp-lit tree house, accompanied by Humbug, wearing aviator head-gear and goggles.

I enjoyed the lyrical descriptions: “A streak of shining silver swam past with a flick of its tail” and the onomatopoeia in sentences like “Swish, Swish, the waves sighed as they drew back into the ocean.” It’s important to share quality literature with kids, so we can help them celebrate the richness and diversity of our English language.

Where does Thursday go? is a lovely story to read aloud. Emergent readers will have fun reading the refrain while you read the rest of the story. As a follow-up activity, ask children to think about a time when they and a friend searched for something special, or describe a favourite birthday party. Splodge’s tree house might spark them to draw their own tree house, or better still, go outside and create one of their own.

(Book Chook Note: In Australia, we call play houses “cubbies”. Making cubbies was the dominant theme of my childhood. We made highly frowned upon ones under the bed with candles and cookies, but our favourites were out in the bush using tree trunks, sticks and old carpet to protect us from marauding pirates or Sheriff’s men. Do your kids build cubbies? Do you remember a favourite from your childhood?)

Henry wishes he was the owner of all sorts of dogs – maybe a little rough and tumble dog, a happy-go-lucky dog that splashes in puddles, a trim sausage dog that gives itself airs. Henry’s mum shows him how to plant things and make wishes so that they just might come true. An endearing and enchanting story, with a touch of magic.