The Greatest Thing – Sarah Winifred Searle

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Sarah Winifred Searle introduces us to Win. Their two best friends have enrolled at a new school so Win is starting the tenth grade alone. Fortunately for Win, they have art and it’s through their independent study with Mrs Fransson that they meet April and Oscar.

I found the struggles of all three characters relatable. This could have been quite a dark story and it does touch on some difficult topics, specifically those relating to sexuality, identity and body image.

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There’s an exploration of mental health and the feelings of being alone and not fitting in. 

I mean, I don’t belong here. I feel like I work so hard to keep afloat but no one sees or hears me. 

The friendship between Win, April and Oscar makes all the difference.

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Their friendship isn’t always easy and things don’t always work out as planned but their connection gave this story the injection of hope that it needed. The zine they worked on together, which is included in its entirety, was heartbreaking and beautiful. 

While I connected with some of what Win and April were struggling with, it was Oscar who stole my heart. I absolutely adored him. 

I wish I could hear the song Win and Oscar listen to. I loved the illustrations and the colour palette. 

Teenage me would have read this graphic novel so much that it would have disintegrated in my hands. Adult me is definitely keen for a reread.

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To see myself through your eyes, as I look to someone who loves me … it has simply been the greatest thing. 

Content warnings include biphobia, eating disorders, fatphobia, mental health and self harm.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the first day of Grade Ten, and Winifred is going to reinvent herself. Now that her two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, Win must navigate high school on her own.

Luckily, she isn’t alone for long. In art class, she meets Oscar and April. They don’t look or act like the typical teenagers in her town: they’re creative, a little rebellious and seem comfortable in their own skin in a way that Win can only dream of. 

But even though Winifred is breaking out of her shell, there’s one secret she can’t bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself – and this lie threatens everything.

Win needs to face her own truths, but she doesn’t need to do it alone. Through the healing power of clandestine sleepovers, op-shopping and zine publishing, Win finds and accepts what it means to be herself.

Sherlock Bones #3: Sherlock Bones and the Art and Science Alliance – Renée Treml

Bones, a skeletal tawny frogmouth, and Watts, a stuffed blue Indian ringneck parrot, are exhibits in the state Natural History Museum. Grace is a raccoon whose love of chocolate makes her exceedingly relatable. She’s also the only one of the three who needs to breathe. 

It’s a good thing we’ve visited them today because there’s a new mystery to solve. 

Really? A mystery? I love mysteries!

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There’s a new exhibit opening tomorrow called Art & Science Alliance and rumour has it that one of the paintings is haunted. Luckily, Bones, Watts and Grace are on the case. 

They’re going to need plenty of courage because apparently this ghost hisses. They may also need someone to help them pronounce ‘macabre’ and perhaps a dictionary so they can figure out what it means. They’re definitely going to need some chocolate (well, Grace and I do).

As usual, I loved the illustrations and accidental learning. I didn’t find this mystery as funny as the previous two but I did appreciate the inclusion of a drop bear in the new exhibit. 

Nivlac, who we met in Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature, used their very specific and entirely awesome skillset to assist our mystery solving trio.

I hadn’t thought this before but now I can’t think of anything else; Bones does kind of resemble a stick insect wearing a sombrero. 

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I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Natural History Museum. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The intrepid Sherlock Bones and his quietly funny sidekick, Watts, and their animal friends are back to sneak around the museum and solve any mysteries that come their way. Full of fun, friendship and fascinating facts, this fabulous graphic novel is perfect for young readers who love adventure, mystery and a little bit of mayhem.

Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones – tawny frogmouth skeleton, chief sleuth and star of all museum-related investigations!

Today is an exciting day because the museum has a new exhibit – and a new mystery!

Together with my partners, the ever-brilliant Watts and talking bundle of fur Grace, I’m here to track down the ghost that’s destroying the museum.

You might not be able to hear Watts, because, technically, she’s a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the haunted painting?

The Champ! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dave Atze

Twelve year old Summer absolutely adores sports! She wishes she was good at them like her older brother, Carl. Although she fantasises about leading her team to victory, the truth is that Summer doesn’t have a team. Despite her passion, she’s not good at any sport, so much so that she always seems to be picked last.

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All of a sudden, though, Summer is a sporting superstar. 

‘How did this happen?’ 

Well, remember the meteor that changed Amber’s life forever, the one that resulted in her becoming Skydragon? Well, if I’m not mistaken, that very same meteor made an appearance at Rockstone too. 

As Summer walked back to the house, she realised her body felt different, somehow. It was still her body, but it felt more flexible and powerful. 

The variety of effects the purple goop has had on people reminds me of the particle accelerator explosion at STAR Labs. I’m also wondering if there are more superheroes (and villains) in this world that we haven’t been introduced to yet. Summer begins to use her new skillset to become a superhero.

Of course, there’s no point having a superhero if they don’t have an archnemesis. It appears the grumpy librarian who is currently volunteering for this position is the Book Witch. You know she’s pure evil because her nefarious deeds extend to inflicting paper cuts! Now, we may want to boo at the witch because she uses books at weapons but at least she’s doing her part to stop the spread of COVID.

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That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be a shadowy government organisation on the Champ’s trail. 

Summer has a supportive and adorable best friend, Wilbur. We don’t see much of Wilbur in this book because he’s busy with choir rehearsals but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s going to be getting some more page time as the series progresses. 

There’s a picture of him on the back cover and a sticker (this book has stickers!) showing him wearing a cape so I’m hoping he becomes the Champ’s sidekick. I’m also hoping he has a brilliant sidekick name like Ice cream Boy; the logo on his shirt has a picture of an ice cream cone and a B, and he’s wearing what looks to be an empty Neapolitan ice cream container on his head with cut outs for his eyes. I just know Wilbur is going to be my favourite character. 

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I enjoyed the illustrations, although there were a few that didn’t entirely line up with the details in the text, e.g., reference is made to four rubber bats but only three were pictured. 

The most interesting discrepancy to me, though, suggested a potential fun fact about the series. This is pure conspiracy theory at this point but I think Summer’s name wasn’t always going to be Summer. In two illustrations, this character’s name is shown and they say Katie, not Summer. 

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I’m curious to find out how Carl and Summer support themselves. I’m also wondering whether Summer is going to be sensitive to the impact her new skills are likely to have on her brother, especially considering what the meteor has taken from him. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Summer loves sport. She would love to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team. But instead she always seems to be the last one picked.

That is until the day her life changes forever… Until the day Summer becomes THE CHAMP.

But even the Champ will have her work cut out for her if she is going to keep her brother, her best friend and her whole town safe from the dastardly plans of the wicked Librarian…

Take a Breath – Sujean Rim

Sometimes something on your do to list starts climbing over all of the other somethings, eager to capture your attention. They think if they’re the loudest and can make you start to panic, you’ll set aside the dozen or so other things that are due first just to silence them. 

Sometimes when this happens, you might forget how important breathing is. But sometimes, just sometimes, life intervenes on your behalf. You pick up a book, look at the title and chuckle to yourself about the irony. This is that book.

Meet Bob, my new favourite feathered friend. Unlike the other birds, Bob can’t fly. Yet.

He doesn’t let being grounded get him down. He fills his time puzzling solutions to age old questions and getting to know the land dwelling locals. Bob also has good taste in music.

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I love Bob’s persistence and the creativity he applies to learning how to fly. Some of Bob’s more humorous attempts at taking flight involve a balloon, slingshot and springs.

Bob might be many things but, like most of us, he’s not immune to self doubt. What are some of the best things about Bob? He recognises when he needs help and is open to trying new things.

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Enter Crow, my other new favourite feathered friend. Crow empathises with Bob and is willing to share what helped them when they were in a similar situation. Crow is patient, kind and encouraging.

Bob and Crow teach (or remind) readers of the importance of mindfulness. By focusing on his breathing (sounds simple until you realise you’ve been either holding your breath or are on your way to hyperventilating), Bob is able to centre himself. 

The lessons in this book are easy to apply and realistic. A couple of really important things happen that make all the difference to Bob. Someone has cared enough to listen to his concerns and validated him, and the breathing technique Crow has taught him has quietened his mind and helped regulate his body. 

Do these things magically solve all of Bob’s problems? No, but he sure is in a better frame of mind to tackle them. 

Sometimes you just have to be grounded before you can fly. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

An anxious baby bird who fears he’ll never learn to fly gets a lesson in mindfulness in this funny and sweetly encouraging picture book about believing in yourself.

Every morning, the birds are flapping with excitement for their first flight of the day … except for Bob. Bob doesn’t get the whole flying thing; when the other baby birds go up, up, up, he goes down, down, down. Bob can’t help worrying … what if he never learns how to fly? 

His friend Crow tells him, “All you need to do is breathe, Bob.” Of course, Bob breathes all the time, but there’s breathing and then there’s B-R-E-A-T-H-I-N-G. And it might just be the thing to calm Bob’s ruffled feathers.

Pow Pow Pig #2: Let the Games Begin – Anh Do

Illustrations – Peter Cheong

You’ve gotta love a team that were tasked with saving the world not because of their unique blend of talents but because they were the only ones available. Z team hail from the year 2050 and their world is literally on fire. 

They’re on a mission to travel back in time to before the point of no return to “convince the rich animals to help the poor.” That would be a difficult task in and of itself but it’s all a little bit more complicated than that because there are a few kinks to iron out in their time machine. 

See, instead of taking them to 2030, it took them to the Middle Ages. While this was an awesome opportunity to meet new animals and have an adventure, it didn’t exactly help Z team save 2050. 

So, it’s time to crank up the time machine again. Surely they’ll touch down in 2030 this time. Yeah, maybe not.

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After storing their time machine using a trick they learned from Marty McFly when he spent time with his folks in 1955, Pow Pow Pig, Kung Fu Duck, Cha Cha Chicken and Barry the Goat set off to find out when they are.

It turns out they’re in Ancient Greece so their time machine is only off by a couple of millennia. The time machine needs time to recharge before they can try again so they have time to explore (and I need to stop saying ‘time’). Good thing their clothing magically morphs to suit the fashion of the era they’re visiting.

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While they’re in Ancient Greece, the Z team do some ghostbusting and are serenaded by the musical genius that is Placido Flamingo (remind you of anyone?). Other famous animals include Alexander the Goat and Usain Colt.

There was a bit of an ends justifying the means message that I wasn’t entirely on board with, especially when one of the animals benefited from another’s misfortune. The animals are really cute, though, and although it seems like it’s going to be a long time before our team finally make it to 2030, I’m along for the ride. 

I’m keen to find out when we’re going next. And I’m still loving the stickers that come with each book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Hi there! It’s Pow Pow Pig.

Me and the Z team are on a mission.

We’re trying to the save the world!

But somehow we’ve ended up in Ancient Greece instead…

It’s going take an Olympic effort to get out of this mess!

Skydragon #4: Brave the Storm – Anh Do

Illustrations – James Hart

‘Once you embrace greatness, you will become great.’ 

When we catch up with Amber, she’s still feeling the effects of Ride the Wind’s Skydragon/E-Boy crossover. Irene takes a concussed and newly powerless Amber to a rainforest in Sennam for some much needed time out. Amber hopes if she is able to immerse herself in this “insect paradise” she will be able to reconnect with her power. 

Of course, the plan to avoid Agent Ferris’ goon squad doesn’t exactly go to plan. Scarlett Stewart, who works for EverCorp, has her own reasons for being in Sennam and she’s brought a secret weapon.

While I initially wondered how Skydragon would work without Amber’s powers, I really enjoyed this book. Amber proved that you don’t need to have special powers in order to be brave and help others. 

I loved meeting Lin and her tribe, especially her grandfather, and the lure of a rumoured curse was too enticing to resist. It was also wonderful to have the opportunity to spend more time with Irene, who’s an absolute sweetheart. 

After being concerned by the potential insect body count during the last couple of books, I was relieved that Amber specifically acted in a way to preserve their lives in this book.

Firefighter doesn’t have a huge role to play in this book but an important revelation may bring him closer to discovering his true identity.

As in previous books in the series, there was plenty of action in this book, humour and the requisite cliffhanger. I’m keen to find out what Firefighter does with the information that he’s in the process of figuring out and what dastardly plan Ferris is going to cook up for Amber next.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amber is back in a thrilling adventure with new friends and old foes.

Amber took a deep breath and closed her eyes. There were insects everywhere in the park – if she concentrated, she should see a little purple flare of light where each one was. But she saw only darkness.

Her voice came out in a whisper. ‘My power is gone.’

Amber has become used to summoning her insect friends and transforming into Skydragon at the first sign of danger. But now her powers are gone, and she’s just back to being just Amber again. Will she be able to get her powers back in time to help new friends defeat an old enemy?

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #4: Bats What Friends Are For – Renée Treml

Just when I didn’t think this series could get any bat-ter… 

Ollie the owl is looking for Bea the bunny, but can’t find her anywhere. Hanging around, though, is Kimmee, a bat who loves jokes.

Ollie and Kimmee have a “WHEELY fun” time together. They even join forces to tackle a mysterious mystery. 

When the two new friends finally hoppen upon Bea, Bea isn’t very hoppy to see them. Bea’s not convinced the Super Team has room for one more, especially someone who clearly already has a bond with her best friend.

This series focuses on friendship. The friends encourage one another, laugh and have fun together (with plenty of knock knock jokes and puns), and support each other to face and solve problems. 

It can be scary for kids when one of their friends makes a new friend. This book acknowledges that while also inviting them to be open to making new friends themselves.

Kimmee is a great new addition to the Super Team, which also includes CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel. 

As I’ve come to expect from Renée Treml’s books, the illustrations are Bea-utiful. The characters are expressive and Kimmee looks absolutely adorable in their beanie.

This was a bat-tastic read. You bat-cha Bea-lieve owl be hanging out for the next book.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Some-BUNNY is missing! HOO could it Bea?

Ollie makes a BAT-tastic new friend, but Bea’s not very HOPPY about it. Can Ollie show Bea that there’s OWLways room for one more friend? 

Join Ollie and Bea in their joyful playtime adventures. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #3: Wise Quackers – Renée Treml

Ollie the owl is too old to play with stuffed toys. Well, that’s what he’d like to Bea-lieve anyway. Then he meets Bea the bunny’s “bestest, most favourite-est stuffed toy”, Duckie.

Bea hops off home to get her mask so they can play superheroes, leaving Duckie in Ollie’s capable hands. Except Ollie accidentally sorta kinda takes playing with stuffed ducks to a whole new level. 

Now there’s a mystery to solve but if the Super Team are going to quack this case, Ollie is going to have to own up to what really happened.

Ollie and Bea are joined by the other Super Team members, CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon (who speaks Spanish), Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel, as they work to solve this case.

This is a fun series that majors on friendship. Each story has an age appropriate message about being a good friend. 

In this story, Ollie makes a mistake, which he initially tries to hide from his friends. When he finally tells them the truth, his friends all work together to help him fix the problem. Teamwork prevails, Ollie’s friends don’t hold his mistake against him and there’s a hoppy ending.

Puns and jokes abound on this series and the characters are so loveable. I particularly enjoy the illustrations, which clearly show the emotions of the characters, and the colours used. 

I would have adored this series as a kid. Adult me is just as impressed. Of course, I had to reread the first two books before beginning this one and they were just as good as the first time I read them. 

Bring on the bat-tastic book 4!

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ollie has a mystery to solve, and Bea suspects FOWL play!

Ollie is OWL grown up and doesn’t play with stuffed toys – but then where did Bea’s toy go? It might take a DUCKtective to help QUACK this case!

Join Ollie and Bea and their delightful friends. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

There are Birds Everywhere – Britta Teckentrup

Text – Camilla de la Bedoyere

Anyone who’s known me for more than a couple of days has likely heard me talk about birds. For a number of years I was able to get to know an incredible range of different birds, from kookaburras and butcher birds to currawongs and magpies. Their distinct personalities delighted me and I ended up naming most of them. Over time, they learned to trust me and even flew to me when I called me their names.

Suffice it to say, I’m always going to want to read books about birds, especially when there are new fun facts to absorb.

Covering just some of the over 10,000 species of birds that currently take to the skies around the world (and the few who have chosen instead to walk), this book teaches readers about their anatomy, where they live and what they eat. 

Tracing the evolution of birds throughout history, from the dinosaurs to today, I read about many I’d never heard of before. My favourite was the <i>Argentavis</i>, a predatory bird with a wingspan of six metres!

There is more detailed information about the lives of specific birds, including barn owls, emperor penguins and Arctic terns.

Of course, I did have a few favourite facts.

A bald eagle’s nest “can weigh as much as a small elephant!”

Of the sandgrouse, who live in the desert:

Males sit in waterholes where their feathers soak up water, like a sponge. Then they fly back to the nest and the chicks suck on their feathers when they are thirsty.

Arctic terns fly the equivalent of three return trips to the moon during their lifetime. That’s 2.4 million kilometres!

The facts are bite sized and the illustrations are beautiful. My favourite illustration featured a barn owl swooping down in the night sky. This was exactly the type of book I would have borrowed from the library for school projects.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are birds everywhere! Some of them live by the sea, some of them in the savannah, and some might live in your roof.

There are Birds Everywhere is the fourth in a series of non-fiction books from Britta Teckentrup. Young readers will learn where in the world all sorts of birds can be found and all the weird and wonderful things about them that they never imagined were true.

With an added search-and-find element, this is non-fiction with spark and personality from a much-loved illustrator.

It Fell From the Sky – Terry Fan & Eric Fan

When it fell from the sky, everyone approached it differently. Some tried to figure out where it came from. Others investigated, attempting to taste, roll or hatch it. 

Everyone agreed it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen. 

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Spider decides to capitalise on the Wonder. That is, until things don’t quite go to plan.

Spider, initially only focused on how he could personally benefit from the Wonder, eventually learns a valuable lesson about selfishness. Maybe Wonders are more wonderful if they’re shared.

The illustrations in this picture book are absolutely gorgeous. The animals are so realistic that I almost expected them to crawl, hop and fly off the page. I was tempted to blow on the dandelions. 

While the pictures are incredibly lifelike, that doesn’t mean they’re without whimsy. There’s something so adorable and smile worthy about seeing critters you’d find in your garden casually wearing top hats and carrying briefcases.

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I probably wouldn’t have appreciated this as much as a kid but adult me loved the minimal use of colour in the illustrations. Initially, the only splash of colour comes from the thing that fell from the sky. Gradually, more colour is introduced. 

Beware the five-legged creature!

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A picture book about community, art, the importance of giving back – and the wonder that fell from the sky.

It fell from the sky on a Thursday.

None of the insects know where it came from, or what it is. Some say it’s an egg. Others, a gumdrop. But whatever it is, it fell near Spider’s house, so he’s convinced it belongs to him.

Spider builds a wondrous display so that insects from far and wide can come look at the marvel. Spider has their best interests at heart. So what if he has to charge a small fee? So what if the lines are long? So what if no one can even see the wonder anymore?

But what will Spider do after everyone stops showing up?