The Railway Children by E.Nesbit illustrated by Ji-Hyuk KimUsborne

ISBN 9781474915984 Originals, 2016, RRP $A24.99

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson illustrated by Fran Parreno

ISBN 9781409581970 Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016 RRP $A24.99

The Odyssey Retold by Anna Melbourne illustrated by Sebastiaan Van Donnick

 ISBN 9781409598930 Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016 RRP $A24.99

Anne of Green Gables by M. Montgomery

ISBN 9781409598671 Usborne Illustrated Originals, 2016 RRP 24.99

Every time someone produces a list of “Books Children MUST Read” or “The Top 100 Books EVER” or something similar, there are certain titles that are always included – titles like The Railway Children, Kidnapped, Anne of Green Gables and The Odyssey and a host of others that have been written over the past century or so and the quality of the story has earned them the tag of ‘classic’.  While it is hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes a story “a good read” let alone a classic, generally it is agreed that it is a story that has a plot that focuses on a universal truth that is understood by readers from various backgrounds, social levels and abilities and has stood the test of time and is considered representative of both life and literature of the time.

However, as our children are surrounded by graphics and demand these as an integral part of their reading, some of the text-dense releases of the past hold little appeal for them and so many miss out on being acquainted with stories that they might enjoy.  Usborne is addressing this with their new releases of the stories under their Usborne Illustrated Classics banner with complete and unabridged reprints of the originals but that are illustrated in full colour and packaged with attractive covers.  Endpapers help situate the story as their landscape is very different to that which is now familiar and  some have glossaries of unusual words or phrases and information about the author, the setting or the timeframe.  By searching for the title on Usborne’s Quicklinks 

site readers can find links to websites that tell them more about the story itself or its author.

While competent, independent readers will read the stories for themselves, these new editions are perfect for a teacher to serialise in the classroom or a parent reading to a child at bedtime. (Kidnapped first appeared as a serial in the magazine Young Folks, so it would a perfect starting point to introduce Stevenson’s works.) A wonderful way to introduce a new generation to titles from the past that they should read. 

Reviewed by Barbara Braxton



The Fox and the Ghost King by Michael Morpurgo ISBN 9780008215774

HarperCollins, 2016 RRP $A19.99

Like all foxes, the Fox family love to watch football and from their den under the garden shed, Father Fox and his eldest son venture forth to watch their favourite team, the Leicester City Foxes, although the night usually ends in disappointment because their team is soundly beaten each time.  On the night that they were beaten by Chelsea, the foxes were making their way home trying to keep their spirits up by raiding the dustbins along the way looking for food scraps, especially pizzas but anything that had been left behind that would make a quick and easy meal.     As usual they venture into a city carpark that is being dug up because there is a good chance of finding some fresh, juicy worms but this night there attention is caught by an invisible voice seeking their help.

The voice purports to be the king of England who desperately wants the foxes to dig a tunnel to him so the archaeologists can find him and give him the fitting regal burial he is due and help clear his reputation that he believes, “that villainous scribbler Will Shakespeare”, “that wretched man, that ruinous rhymster, that dastardly dramatist”,  has ruined.  Eventually the foxes agree but being cunning creatures,  there has to be something in it for them -“such stuff as dreams are made on”.

If anyone can draw a connection between the remains of King Richard III being found in a carpark in Leicester City and the Leicester City Foxes winning the English Premier League for the first time ever, it would be Michael Morpurgo.  This is a short, humorous story retold by Master Fox whose story is backed up by articles in the Leicester Echo that will appeal to younger readers who are almost independent but who still need the support of short chapters, larger fonts and supporting illustrations.

Morpurgo is a master at creating new stories that are unique in their storylines and this one is no different.  Superb.

Get a taste here…

reviewed by Barbara Branxton

Wormwood Mire by Judith Rossell ISBN 978073333019 RRP 22.99

Stella Montgomery is in disgrace.  After being missing for two nights and returning covered in mud and dressed as a boy after the adventures described in Withering-By-Sea her aunts Deliverance, Temperance and Condolence have packed her off to join her cousins Strideforth and Hortense and their governess at the family home of Wormwood Mire.  Now she is alone on a long, lonely train journey rattling along towards an unknown, ancient stately home once owned by Wilberforce Montgomery, the epitome of the eccentric Englishman of the late Victorian era who travelled the world collecting all sorts of plant and animal specimens and filling his home and its grounds with them, dead and alive.

With just A Garden of Lilies, Improving Titles for Young Minds, a book of doom and gloom and depressing moralistic statements for company, nevertheless Stella is not daunted because surely nothing could be worse than the weeks of icy weather, cold porridge, endless boring lessons, and her aunts’ disdain and distaste that she has just endured. Even though she imagines Strideforth, Hortense and a strict governess to be just waiting for her to make a mistake, Stella has with her a stolen photo of a mother pushing a pram with two toddlers in it and the inscription “P, S & L’ on the back.  She is sure that P is for Patience, her mother, and S is for herself, and imagines L to be for an unknown sister named Letty.  So despite everything, she is somehow looking forward to this trip because she is hoping to discover who (or what) she is. Even though strange things begin to happen immediately when she ventures into the mysterious Spindleweed Sweetshop hoping to get something for her empty tummy while she waits to be taken to Wormwood Mire, she draws on Letty for strength and courage and ventures forth with determination.

Judith Rossell is a master of  building intrigue, mystery and suspense through her compelling descriptive writing that takes the reader right into the setting of an ancient, deserted English pile with multitudes of empty, dusty rooms, clanking pipes, secret tunnels and overgrown gardens where who knows what dwells.  Luckily for Stella Strideforth, Hortense and the governess Miss Araminter are friendly and as curious as she is but Jem and his reclusive grandparents with their warnings of dire, mysterious happenings in the past and their reaction to Stella make for another gripping episode that keeps the reader enthralled. Pet mollymawks and ermines, peacocks that split the night with their raucous shriek, a giant fish with razor teeth that seems to frighten creatures to stone and a tower-top study full of a secret collection of dangerous creatures and plants suck you in like a monster Venus flytrap and the outside world ceases to exist.

Like Withering-By-Sea, this one is printed in that dark green favoured by the Victorians and the monochromatic illustrations in the same tones all add to the atmosphere that suggests that more timid readers might like to read this in daylight.  

Withering-By-Sea won a host of awards –Winner, Indie Award, Children’s and YA, 2015; Winner, ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children, 2015; Winner, Davitt Award, Best Children’s Crime Novel, 2015; Honour Book, CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers, 2015; Shortlisted, Aurealis Awards, Children’s Book, 2014;; Shortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2015 and I predict this one will be just as successful and popular.  

But if you will excuse me, I need to read just one more chapter!

BTW – HarperCollins are hosting a virtual excursion called Cautionary Tales with Judith Rossell on Tuesday October 18 11.30-12.15 AEDT  for students in Years 4-6.  

Review by Barbara Branxton

Together, we learn from each other

500 Hats

The Bottom Shelf

Early Readers

RRS Goes to London

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London

by Kate Knapp

The third book in the best-selling RUBY RED SHOES series Ruby and her grandmother love to travel and now they are in London, the home of red buses, red telephone boxes and red letter boxes. No wonder Ruby’s red shoes feel especially at home in this wonderful city! Ages: 4 – 8


COV_RubyRedShoes.indd  Ruby Red Shopes goes to Paris


Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding

Rosie Dickins

Shaw Nielsen

Usborne, 2015

ISBN  9781409591511 RRP 19.99

Among the stated outcomes of the Digital Technologies strand of the Australian Curriculum for students in Foundation to Year 2 are the ability to “recognise and explore digital systems (hardware and software components) for a purpose” and “follow, describe and represent a sequence of steps and decisions (algorithms) needed to solve simple problems”.   So right from their first years of formal schooling, our students are expected to be able to understand the parts of a computer, use software and begin to mainuplate the devices to meet their needs.

This book with its myriad of flaps to lift and explore is perfect for introducing this age group to what computers are and how they work.  Starting with “What’s a computer?” and an explanation of what coding is, it moves on to show how computers think including lots of interactive activities that encourage the reader to participate and thus gain a better understanding of the focus topic.  For example, the binary code is explained and then the reader is challenged to convert decimal numbers to binary with the answers under the flaps.  Pictures via pixels are explained and so are colours.  There’s even a treasure map to help Pixel the Pirate hunt for treasure while  teaching about writing instructions and flow charts. The flaps reveal answers, explanations and things to think about ensuring that the reader is actively engaged in their learning.

The more I delved into this book the more I went back to my early days of learning to program a turtle using Logo and even earlier still to when we bought books with the coding for games in them and we put these into our basic computers which ran on audio tapes!  This book encourages kids to explore and use Scratch which is so highly recommended by my computer guru colleagues and just continues on with so much inof and fun that I’m surprised it hasn’t been written before!

But even if you buy multiple copies of this for your students, you should also consider buying it for those teachers who feel daunted by the requirements of the curriculum because apart from helping them understand the technical aspects of computers and coding, it offers a myriad of ideas for supporting the learning within the classroom using activities that don’t require a device.  You might also like to scour your TR section for all those books about encouraging logical thinking and problem solving that were so common a few years ago because they are all grist to the mill, and also return to the basics of the information literacy process of

  • What am I being asked to do?
  • What do I already know?
  • What more do I need to find out?
  • Where can I find that information?

So even if writing a million-dollar-making app is beyond the reach of many nevertheless they will have had lots of scaffolding and experience in thinking logically, posing and answering questions and solving problems – which all the futurists says are the essential foundation skills for the future.

Reviewed by Barbara Branxton

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