Book reviews by Rebecca

Book review: Mr Tripp Smells A Rat

Mr Tripp Smells a Rat by Sandy McKay, ill. Ruth Paul, Walker Books Australia ISBN 9781921529061

A review copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.

"Mr Tripp Smells a Rat (cover)"Lily is in Room 5 at school and Mr Tripp Smells a Rat has three stories about the teacher Mr Tripp and his class. Lily thinks Mr Tripp is awesome—he tells jokes and he has a clever nose for sniffing things out.

Story 1: Mr Tripp Smells a Rat

Mr Tripp has to sniff out a pet rat who has escaped from another classroom. Mr Tripp hates rats, but he has to be brave because all his students are peering in the window watching him!

Story 2: Mr Tripp Eats Some Fish

Mr Tripp tells the class he has been on a diet—eating lots of fish and fruit and vegetables to lose weight and stay healthy. His birthday is coming up and the class want to throw him a surprise party. But what sort of cake can you make for a teacher on a seafood diet?

Story 3: Mr Tripp Finds a Nit

Eww! Room 5 learns about headlice and how to get rid of headlice and nits! This bit made me laugh:


Suddenly everyone started scratching because when you talk about things living in your hair it makes you itchy.


(Doesn’t that make you feel like scratching your head, too?) At the end of 2 weeks, Mr Tripp checks everyone’s hair to see if the class is headlice-free. And he makes a horrible discovery …

There are great illustrations on every page of Mr Tripp Smells a Rat. (I like the one where Mr Tripp puts his finger on his nose and goes cross-eyed.)

The stories are fun and include lots of riddles. There are even three bonus pages at the end of the book with more of Mr Tripp’s favourite riddles. If you are starting to enjoy chapter books, this is a great book to add to your reading pile.

© July  2011 “Review of Mr Tripp Smells a Rat by Sandy McKay, ill. Ruth Paul”, reviewed by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book Review: Mbobo Tree

Mbobo Tree by Glenda Millard, ill. Annie White. Scholastic Press for Scholastic Australia, ISBN 9781741693515

A review copy of this book was sent to us from the publisher.

"Mbobo tree (cover)"

Tiranambo Adesimbo Mbobo is found as a baby, swinging in the branches of the tree on the crest of a hill. Like the tree, the baby belongs to no-one and everyone. She grows up in the village and shares in the dancing and celebrating and mourning but she never speaks. The tree where she was found is a source of joy and life for the village and the animals that live around it. One day the tree is threatened—can Tiranambo Adesimbo Mbobo’s bravery save the village?

This story is told in the style of a folktale or a myth and it includes some wonderful description.

I like this sentence—

They gave her a name that was longer than she was: Tiranambo Adesimbo Mbobo.


Late at night, when the moon was as round and yellow as a cornmeal pancake, Tiranambo Adesimbo Mbobo sat by her window.

The illustrations are in oils on canvas and I love how you can see the texture of the canvas showing through on many of the pages. My favourite pages show Tiranambo Adesimbo Mbobo and the villagers dancing.

This is a good story with a bit of mystery about it. Mbobo Tree is now on the shelf with my favourite picture books.

© July  2011 “Review of Mbobo Tree by Glenda Millard, ill. Annie White”, reviewed by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)
Book reviews by Rebecca

Book review: Raven’s Mountain by Wendy Orr

Raven’s Mountain by Wendy Orr, Allen and Unwin, ISBN 9781742374659

This book was selected for review from the editor’s own collection.

"Raven's Mountain (cover)"

Raven isn’t thrilled about moving—and leaving her friends behind. When her step-dad decides to take Raven and her sister Lily mountain climbing they aren’t thrilled about that, either. But when Raven gets to the top first, she is ecstatic and does a

crazy jumping, waving my arms, spinning, Top-of-the-World Dance

and that’s when the rock tilts and everything goes wrong.

Raven has to find her way back down the mountain on her own to find help for Lily and Scott before it’s too late. She’ll have to summon up enough strength and courage to keep going. And going.

While Raven is trying to make her way down the mountin, she has a lot of time to think—she worries about Scott and Lily, she thinks about the friends back in Cottonwood Bluffs, her mum, the bear family they saw on the way up the mountain (and the advice Scott gave her about bears), and her dad who left the family when Raven was very young. It’s a physically and emotionally demanding journey for Raven but she is determine to save her sister and step-dad.

I didn’t want to put this book down. It’s highly recommended if you love adventure and stories of bravery … and possibly if you love being outdoors and mountain climbing—though hopefully you’ll never find yourself in Raven’s situation!

© June 2011 “Review of Raven’s Mountain by Helga Visser”, reviewed by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)
Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book Review: The Last Viking

The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and illustrated James Foley. Published by Fremantle Press, ISBN 971921888106.
(A review copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.)

"The Last Viking (cover)"Josh’s pop is always talking about ‘exciting stuff like Vikings, and Spitfires and Redcoats, though not usually when Nan’s around.’ Josh is staying with Nan and Pop for the holidays and that’s when he decides to become a Viking, and change his name to Knut. Although he’s not very brave, when trouble arrives, Josh summons up some Viking courage and discovers just how brave he really is.

If you don’t know anything about Vikings yet, you’ll know heaps about them by the time you finish The Last Viking. The illustrations are fun and cartoon-like and if you’re a super sleuth, you’ll notice that on some of the pages there are messages written in code—rune carvings. At the back of the book (on the endpapers) you’ll find the key to crack the code.

Keep an eye out for the ravens in the book, too. In Norse mythology they are Odin’s messengers, and in The Last Viking, they keep the Viking gods updated on Josh/Knut’s progress.

The Last Viking is an exciting adventure about courage, imagination and dealing with bullies.

Time to go a-viking!

PS Check out The Last Viking blog where the author and illustrator talk about creating The Last Viking. The blog also has Viking activities and teacher’s notes.

© June 2011 “Review of The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen & James Foley” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)
Book reviews by Rebecca

George and Ghost–book review and giveaway!

We recently interviewed Catriona Hoy about her new picture book, George and Ghost. Today we’re reviewing George and Ghost—and you can win a copy, too!

George and Ghost by Catriona Hoy and illustrated by Cassia Thomas. Published by Hodder Children’s Books, ISBN 9780340988862. 

(A review copy of this book was sent to us by the publisher.)

"George and Ghost"George and Ghost are friends but George isn’t sure he believes in Ghost anymore. When George suggests that Ghost isn’t real, Ghost asks him to prove it. Can something be real if it doesn’t weigh anything, you can’t take its photo, and it doesn’t take up space?

Just when you think George has proved that Ghost isn’t real, Ghost comes up with some interesting questions of his own. This is a picture book that will have you asking your own questions, scratching your head and thinking hard.

Cassia Thomas’s colourful illustrations match the story well and you’ll love George and his ghost friend … whether Ghost is real or make-believe.

This is a story about friendship—with a good helping of philosophy and science thrown in!

© “Review of George and Ghost by Catriona Hoy”, June 2011, Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)


We have one  copy of George and Ghost to give away. To enter, simply email your name and postal address to and put ‘George and Ghost’ in the subject line. We will draw the winner at 5.30pm (WST) on Friday 17 June 2011. We will email the winner and the book will be posted to the winner’s postal address as per the email entry. Good luck!

[This giveaway has now closed. The winning entry drawn was S Burton in Victoria. We have emailed the winner and copy will be posted to them on Monday. Thank you for your interest—you can find out more about George and Ghost on the author’s website.]

Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Review: Our Australian Girl series

A brilliant new series for girls: Our Australian Girl

Review by Rebecca Newman

Under the main title of the Our Australian Girl series, there are four Australian girls who each have their own series. The four girls are Grace (a convict girl from 1808), Letty (a free settler in 1841), Poppy (a gold rush girl in 1864) and Rose (a Federation girl in 1900).

Penguin Books sent me the first book for each girls’ series. Each book is an adventure and you learn a bit about Australia’s history without even trying to. They aren’t true stories, but they are based on the lives of children who lived in those particular times in Australia.

Here’s a bit about each of the books:

Meet Grace (book 1 in Grace’s series). Author: Sofie Laguna Meet Grace (cover)

Grace is poor and lives with her uncle in London. She loves horses, particularly the horses on Fleet St and one day she steals an apple from a cart to give to one of them. Grace is seen stealing the apple so she runs away and she’s terrified about being caught—she knows she might be sent to prison or something even worse.

Meet Letty (book 1 in Letty’s series). Author: Alison Lloyd Meet Letty (cover)

Letty’s big sister is about to go on a sea voyage to Australia to start a new life. When Letty and her father go to wave goodbye, there’s a misunderstanding and Letty somehow ends up on the ship too. There’s no way to go home to her family, she has to stay on the ship and nobody seems pleased to have her on board. Life on the ship is hard, but what will life be like when they arrive in Australia?

Meet Poppy (book 1 in Poppy’s series). Author: Gabrielle Wang Meet Poppy (cover)

Poppy lives at Bird Creek Mission near Echuca during the Gold Rush. She hates it there—and her brother, Gus, hates it, too. When he runs away from the mission, Poppy really misses him. She decides to run away from the mission and find him. But how can she escape without being caught? Will it be easy to find Gus when she doesn’t know the way?

Meet Rose (book 1 in Rose’s series). Author: Sherryl Clark Meet Rose (cover)

Rose lives with her family in a big house in Melbourne. She’s a bit of a tomboy and in those days girls weren’t supposed to play cricket or climb trees. Then Rose’s aunt comes to stay and she’s not like the other women in Rose’s life. Rose is not even sure her mother will let her aunt stay. With her aunt around, maybe her life will start to change …

I loved all four of these books. The girls are similar to girls today, and things that are important to today’s girls are important to them, too—friendship, to feel safe, to have a home and a family that cares about you. But back then these girls also had different challenges—like having to make all the decisions because there were no grownups around and you were in danger. Or like girls not being allowed to wear comfortable clothes, especially trousers (unless they were secretly disguising themselves as boys!), having to wear a corset even when you were still a kid, and not being allowed to go to school. (Sometimes you might think it would be better if you didn’t have to go to school. But imagine if you weren’t allowed to, or that you weren’t allowed to read a lot or ride a bike or play sport either because it wasn’t ‘ladylike’. Would your life be different?)

These books are suited to girls aged 8–11, especially girls who love reading books in a series and like stories with adventures and friendships.

Extra bits:

Check out the series website with extracts from the books, quizzes, activities and competitions. (The second books in the four series are out now!)

Don’t forget to read our interview with Gabrielle Wang about writing the Poppy series!

These four titles from the Our Australian Girl series were sent to us by Penguin Books Australia.
Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book review: Press Here by Hervé Tullet

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman, Editor
"Press Here (cover)"
Press Here by Hervé Tullet

With thick, shiny white pages and brightly coloured spots, this is a fun picture book. It has instructions on each page and you’re asked to press or tap on the dots. It’s a book, so you KNOW pressing or tapping is not going to do anything … and yet … you can’t help pressing and blowing and tapping and shaking that book and doing whatever else you are asked to do to make the dots move and change.

I read it with a 5 year old and a 7 year old and they can’t get enough of it.

As well as being fun to read (and press), it helps with understanding some Maths ideas, too. It’s fun to test out some predictions: “If you tip the book this way, what do you think will happen to the dots?” Tipping the book to the left will make all the dots slide to that side of the book (well, they don’t REALLY, but it looks like they do!) and tipping it to the right will make them all slide the other way. And with all the dots lined up, you have to stop for a bit of counting every now and then (you just can’t help yourself).

This book trailer shows you how it works.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet, Allen & Unwin, ISBN 9781742375281
A review copy of this book was sent to us from the publisher.
Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book review: Song of the Dove

Song of the Dove by Errol Broome, illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar

"Song of the Dove (cover)"This picture book for older children might remind you of Romeo and Juliet. This is the story of the rise to fame of Italian composer, Vincenzo Bellini.

Bellini falls in love with Maddalena Fumaroli, one of his singing students, but Maddalena’s parents refuse to allow her to marry a poor musician. Bellini and Maddalena agree that if Bellini writes ten great operas, her parents will see what a great musician he is and allow them to marry.

After writing his second opera, Bellini leaves for Naples and continues to write operas. His fame spreads and Maddalena’s parents do realise they have made a mistake. But is it too late for a happy ending?

The illustrations by Sonia Kretschmar are detailed and show how hard it is for Bellini and Maddalena to wait for so long. Through the artwork we also learn a little about the 19th century world—the art, music and fashion of the time. And we see how powerless you were if you were a young woman living then. Maddalena tells Bellini that doves live in pairs for life, and doves in the illustrations and endpapers reflect the couple’s story.

Song of the Dove includes a brief biography of Bellini, and a list of his ten operas.

Song of the Dove, by Errol Broome, ill. Sonia Kretschmar, Walker Books Australia, ISBN 9781921529245.
A review copy of Song of the Dove was sent to us by the publisher.
Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book review: Monster Maddie

Monster Maddie, by Susan Stephenson. Illustrated by KC Snider. (Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.)

"Monster Maddie cover"

This picture book’s main character—Maddie—hates feeling invisible and ignored on her first day of school. After that terrible first day she decides she’ll make the other kids notice her. And she becomes MONSTER MADDIE, with ‘fangs and claws and wild, wild hair.’ Her mean tricks and bullying behaviour don’t win her any new friends, of course. Even she knows she’s become a monster and she doesn’t like it.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to make new friends (especially if you’re a bit shy). Monster Maddie shows the approach that some kids might take when they feel lonely and frustrated about joining in.  And Maddie is mean. ‘She put ants in their pants, dirt in their shirts, and ooze in their shoes.

When you’re reading the book, you can tell that she’s not going be asked to join in when she’s so mean. I’ve seen kids behaving like Maddie on the playground—back when I was growing up, but also when I’ve been around playgrounds as an adult. Luckily, by the end of the book Maddie comes up with a way to approach the other kids and join in with them. But it’s not much fun for the other kids OR for Maddie until she does!

This picture book includes 7 pages of activities, including a script of Monster Maddie as a play. This is a great idea for a book about bullying—sometimes acting out a story can help you to see things from a character’s point of view. The activities also include ideas for writing, thinking and creating. There are also some questions to get you thinking about bullying behaviour and what you might do if you feel like Maddie (or if you are one of the other kids in the story).

Susan Stephenson writes The Book Chook’s column (with writing tips for kids) in every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine.

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman
Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

What we’re reading: Hanging Out by Catherine Bateson

"Hanging out (cover)"

Hanging Out, by Catherine Bateson, illustrated by Adam Carruthers,  Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia, 2010

Weston is coming for a visit while his parents are on holiday, and Ben is worried.  Last time Ben saw Weston, Ben made up lots of stories about his life in Melbourne, and now Weston will find out he wasn’t telling the truth. Ben tries to make his mum change her mind.

I remembered everything I had said.

“Mum, he really can’t come here.”

The only true thing I’d told Weston was that we lived near Puffing Billy. We can hear its whistle blow from our house.

As soon as Weston arrives, he’ll start asking about all the activities Ben bragged about. What will Ben do?

This is an early chapter book in the ‘Mates’ series. The colour illustrations by Adam Carruthers are fun. My favourite is a drawing of Miss Phillips on page 35, but I can’t tell you why because it will spoil the story. 🙂

Do you think Ben should tell Weston that he made up most of the stories about his life in  Melbourne?

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman. Our review copy was sent to us by Omnibus Books.