Grug at the Beach – Ted Prior

Mum and I were walking on the beach a couple of months ago and saw something in the distance. As we got closer we both agreed it looked as though Grug had come to the beach and was having a sleep facedown in the sand. We were suitably amused and I decided I had to memorialise this momentous occasion.


Okay, so perhaps our imaginations are a tad overactive. This is what Grug actually looks like at the beach.


During his day at the beach Grug builds a sandcastle, gets dumped by a wave (giggles are appropriate when you see the look on his face), soaks up the sun and chases his beach ball.


While I was disappointed that my favourite snake, Cara, wasn’t invited along for this adventure, this book earned some points for parading Grug in front of me in his beachwear – striped pants that look like pyjamas, some cool sunglasses and a floppy hat.

I’ve loved Grug since I was a kid. I don’t care what he does; I’ll be there cheering him on.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A day at the beach is fun but don’t forget the sunscreen Grug! 

Matilda – Roald Dahl

Illustrations – Quentin Blake

Matilda is 30! How is that even possible?! Matilda and I became friends 29 years ago and her story remains one of my all time favourites. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it over the years but I can say that it gave me hope that circumstances can always improve, taught me that girls can be powerful and resilient, and that it is perfectly okay to be a book nerd, and proven if you’re really lucky you’ll find your very own Mrs Phelps and Miss Honey. I spent my childhood on the lookout for my Miss Honey.

I never had friends that enjoyed reading when I was growing up so Matilda became that for me. We even had a shared favourite book, The Secret Garden. I loved this story so much that the year after I first read it I wrote a multi page poem about the infamous chocolate cake incident for school. Not many things survived my childhood but I still have my treasured 1989 paperback copy of Matilda and that poem.

I found an amazing article by Mara Wilson about Matilda at 30. I love that there are multiple 30th anniversary editions of Matilda, each showing her thriving in a different way. Naturally this means that I have to buy one of each because, you know, marketing and obsessive book love and I have to have them all!!!

I need to press pause for a bit and tell you how much I adore all of Quentin Blake’s illustrations in Matilda and the rest of Roald Dahl’s books. As a kid I read about a bazillion books and while I always remembered the names of the titles and authors, the only illustrator whose name I knew was Quentin’s. Roald and Quentin made a perfect team, with Quentin highlighting all the phizz-whizzing quirkiness of Roald’s imagination. Even now I compare every illustrator I come across to Quentin; I can’t help it.

I don’t think you can truly put into words the impact a book has had on you like Matilda had on me but I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. While reading it this time I wondered where its characters would be today. I expect I’ll change my mind each time I reread this book from now on but here’s what I came up with this time:

The Wormwoods

Michael Wormwood eventually reconnected with his brilliant sister and they stay in regular contact. After some turbulent times as a teenager where he made some choices he’d prefer to forget including stealing cars, Michael turned his life around and now mentors troubled teens.

Mrs Wormwood is now a frumpet in an aged care facility where she cheats at Bingo and watches her programmes. She did try to sell Avon for a while but potential customers took one look at her caked on makeup and shut the door in her face. She never made a single sale. She bleached her hair one too many times so she’s now bald and her face has a look of perpetual surprise due to botched plastic surgery.

Mr Wormwood remains a grunion. The Wormwoods lived in Spain for a few years until his schemes were discovered and they were run out of the country. After trying and failing to implement new scams in numerous other countries Mr Wormwood eventually found work at a sawdust mill. His boss is a woman. He has a phobia of hats.

The Kids

Fred, Matilda’s friend who owned Chopper the parrot, became a veterinarian.

Lavender remains adventurous and now spends her days touring the world, conquering one extreme sport after another. She has lucrative sponsorship deals and whenever she’s photographed you can be sure her hair is a different colour, but never lavender. She has a pet newt and remains in contact with Matilda.

Hortensia now owns a pub and is known to regale her customers with wild, detailed yarns about her formative years under the watchful glare of the Trunchbull and her experiences in The Chokey. No one knows whether to believe her or not but she’s a born storyteller so they always come back for more.

Ollie Bogswhistle double crossed the wrong people and wound up serving time. He’s currently a prison snitch and after being on the receiving end of one too many punches he now sports a full set of dentures.

Julius Rottwinkle has a fear of heights and flying, among many other phobias. He attends therapy frequently. He hasn’t eaten liquorice since he was a child.

Nigel Hicks has extraordinary balance. He wrote a book espousing the health benefits of not showering very frequently but for some reason remains single.

Prudence, emboldened by being able to spell a ‘difficult’ word in Miss Trunchbull’s presence, went on to become a spelling bee champion.

Amanda Thripp never cut her hair again, an achievement that has made her the Guinness World Record holder for having the longest hair. She only ever wears her hair in pigtails.

Rupert Entwistle works at the Natural History Museum but his passion is cryptozoology. He had a secret crush on his next door neighbour Lavender for many years and follows her adventures on social media.

The other Rupert, Matilda’s classmate with the golden tresses, became an accountant and carries a calculator wherever he goes.

Eric Ink has a most unusual party trick; he can waggle his ears at will. He loves cosplay and due to his large pixie shaped ears he never needs to worry about adding prosthetic ears to his costumes.

Wilfred overcame his fear of being upside down when he went bungee jumping.

Bruce Bogtrotter became a competitive eater during high school and is now a well known food critic. His favourite food is chocolate cake and travels the world in search of a more delicious cake than the one Cook baked for him. He’s yet to find one.

The Crunchem Staff

Cook, may she rest in peace, quit her job shortly after selling her prized chocolate cake recipe to the highest bidder and then proceeded to lose every cent betting on the horses.

After Mr Trilby became the Head Teacher of Crunchem Hall Primary School the students and teachers breathed a collective sigh of relief. He became the most loved Head Teacher that ever ran the school. Sure, that’s not saying much, but he was wonderful. Honest!

Miss Plimsoll remained a teacher until she retired. She never had another student as brilliant as Matilda.

The Trunchbull was never heard from again. A school without children was established several years after she disappeared. While record numbers of applications were received for the school’s teaching positions, the school itself surprisingly went bankrupt within its first year and was forced to close. There is an old lady in Arkham Asylum that constantly mutters about chalk but no one knows who she is.

The Heroes

Mrs Phelps went on to inspire countless young minds to adore reading. A number of her patrons became well known authors and you’ll find her name in the dedications and acknowledgement sections of several bestsellers. Mrs Phelps has since retired and now travels the world, Kindle in hand. She spends each Christmas with Matilda and Miss Honey.

Miss Honey found her relatives in Australia and has visited them a few times during school holidays. She adopted Matilda but only because she needed offical paperwork to prove what they already knew; they were family. Miss Honey went on to become many students’ favourite teacher and won numerous awards for her pioneering method of using music in her classroom. Her home is full of books. She loves nothing more than pottering around in the garden at The Red House and lives a peaceful, quiet life.

Matilda has led a full life. She couldn’t decide which university course to study so she completed them all and was able to study for free because of the scholarships she was awarded. She has travelled extensively, following in the footsteps of the characters in the books of her childhood. She has worked as a librarian, lovingly sharing her passion for books with a new generation. She has also published a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. She gets excited when she finds a book she hasn’t read. After consulting with Matilda behind the scenes many leaders have implemented her ideas to solve worldwide problems. Matilda is a wonderful mother and a loving partner, and Miss Honey remains one of her favourite people. Above all, Matilda is happy.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Puffin, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK, for the excuse to read this book yet again. As soon as I saw the 30th anniversary edition on NetGalley I got so excited about Quentin Blake’s amazing covers I had to see them immediately!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she’s knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she’s a super-nerd and the teacher’s pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda’s world.

For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there’s the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss (“The”) Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.

She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable.

Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.

Grug in the Playground – Ted Prior

By now you should know that Grug books are one of my favourite series that are supposedly for children. It doesn’t matter what Grug gets up to; Mum and I always want to know about it. So, today Grug decided to go shopping and in his travels he came across a playground.

Being a curious animal that began his life as the top of a Burrawong tree, Grug is always keen to explore his surroundings. Naturally, upon discovering the playground Grug investigates. What follows is a cross between a comedy of errors and a whirlwind exploration of all the playground has on offer.

While I love all Grug books I did wish Grug’s best friend Cara was in this one. I adore Cara. I could imagine the expressions on her face as Grug flew through the air between each piece of equipment but wondered if she would have joined in or watched from the sidelines.

This is one of the earliest Grug books so the playground equipment actually looks like some of the slides and swings that made up a pretty significant chunk of my childhood. I got all nostalgic looking at the illustrations of Grug’s playground equipment so my review will now morph into me reminiscing about the good ol’ days.

My favourite thing to navigate at the park was this ugly but incredibly fun chunk of climbing heaven that consisted of four huge wooden frames that supported and held together four tyre bridges that were all connected by chains. There were no steps or easy access so you had to find a way to climb up this monstrosity that was probably built by an awesome bunch of local dads.

Some of the tyres weren’t quite as connected to the chains as they should have been. Half of the fun was knowing which tyres posed the biggest challenges and working out how to get past them without falling several metres to the very hard ground below. I’m fairly sure this type of fun would be banned by the safety police these days but it was brilliant!

Fun Fact: I was trying to think of the way to describe the metal climbing frame elephant that Grug encounters in this book so naturally I asked Google. When I came across a picture that was the closest to what I was looking for and that most resembled what I used to play on as a kid in the local park, the description accompanying the photograph included the word vintage. So apparently I’m now old enough for my childhood to be vintage. That’s fun! Sort of … 😜

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Playgrounds are full of fun and challenges for Grug! This classic Aussie hero is back from the bush to enchant a new generation of youngsters!

Grug Learns to Cook – Ted Prior

🥧 Happy Pi Day!! 🥧

To get into the spirit I went through my stack of Grug and Clifford books to see which one would be most suitable for Mum today. I came across Grug Learns to Cook and thought there was a chance Grug would learn to cook pie 🥧 so went with that one.

Grug tries three recipes from his Bush Food Cookbook: tea-tree soup, gum-leaf rolls and carrot cake. So no pie, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

It turns out Grug is as good at cooking as I am and he likes to sample cake batter too. Grug gets an ‘A’ for effort. The results? 🤔

Well, besides the batter splatter which results in my favourite illustration, Grug does wind up with some edible ingredients, if not edible cake. Which brings me to my favourite part:

”Grug baked the rest of the mixture, but it came out burnt and black. He put carrots on the top to make a carrot cake.”

In context and with the accompanying illustration this bit earned a giggle from me. I’m fairly confident that my culinary masterpieces were the inspiration behind Grug’s marvellous food creations in this book. At least Cara hadn’t been invited over for dinner. I’m not sure there would have been enough left at the end of the lesson to feed two.

You’ve got to give Grug credit. He’s always willing to try new things, he tries his best at everything and when things inevitably don’t go quite to plan he doesn’t get upset. He makes the best out of the situation, salvages what he can and goes to bed so he can be ready for his next adventure. I can’t wait to find another excuse to give Mum another Grug book soon! 😃

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Try some scrumptious gum-leaf rolls prepared by Grug! 

This classic Aussie hero is back from the bush to enchant a new generation of youngsters!

Came Back to Show You I Could Fly – Robin Klein

I’m not sure how you’re supposed to review a book you’ve loved since your early teens, especially when you haven’t read it for about 20 years. With such high expectations and nostalgia taking hold I was worried that Came Back To Show You I Could Fly wouldn’t stand the test of time. How happily wrong I was!

It was everything I remembered and more. Angie and Seymour, both lonely outcasts, took up residence in my heart way back in the early 1990’s when it was assigned reading for my English class. I can’t begin to imagine how many times I reread this book as a teenager, taking hope from what is quite a sad book on the surface.

Seymour is staying for several weeks over the school holidays with Thelma, a lady who clearly has no experience caring for children, but has been basically conned into protecting Seymour from his father by his drama queen mother. Seymour is a lonely, neglected, bullied 11 year old who is so well mannered and adorable that I just want to hug and then adopt him. I was only a year or two older than Seymour at the time I first experienced this book and while I saw him as a peer at the time, I now look on him as someone I desperately want to mother.

By chance Seymour winds up at Angie’s home and over the course of the novel they form a sibling/friend bond and go on adventures all over the city. Angie brings colour and excitement to Seymour’s stone grey life. Seriously, Seymour’s Mum, a stone grey pencil case is not a cool birthday present!

Angie is effervescent and possibly stole someone else’s personality because she seems to have more than one person’s quota. With the ability to talk under water and regale Seymour with humourous anecdotes from her childhood, complete with impersonations, she’s a live wire. As a young teen fresh from a several year The Baby-sitters Club obsession, Angie’s dress sense reminded me of what I loved about Claudia Kishi, in particular the quirky earrings.

Beneath Angie’s bravado she’s hiding a secret from Seymour. Angie is addicted to drugs. I was really naïve in this area as a kid, coming from a family where no one even drinks alcohol, so this book was my introduction into this previously unknown world. It really opened my eyes at the time and in retrospect I can trace my love of social issues YA books to this one. I can also see the signs through the book of what’s really happening in Angie’s world that I missed as a kid.

What I really appreciated in my reread as an adult is how honestly Angie’s addiction is portrayed, vomit and all. Besides the suspicions Seymour has that Angie’s flu isn’t actually the flu, there is a sensitive yet heartbreaking insight into how drug addiction also affects parents, siblings and friends. While this is clearly shown with Angie’s Mum and sister, I am surprised that I never noticed before that Angie’s Dad and brother are barely even mentioned.

One of the things I love about books is how they influence who you become when you let them into your soul. The awe I felt as a kid at Angie’s clothes and earrings had a huge impact on me and I have an array of weird and wonderful earrings in my collection now. Angie’s lifelong habit of naming her outfits turned into me naming my cars. My first car I actually named Angie after this character. My car, like Angie, was initially rough around the edges but with some love and time I knew it would be loyal and good because beneath the exterior it was a fighter. That car served me well for a number of years.

Nostalgia aside, Robin Klein’s book definitely stands the test of time. Her characters are damaged but loveable, and even when they’re making truly dodgy decisions you want them to prevail in life. Once again I was emotionally invested in the story and no, they’re not tears. I’ve just got something in my eyes. 😭 This remains one of my all time favourites and I could happily go straight back to page 1 and read it all over again right now.

What I Hated: I almost feel like apologising to you about the cover image of this edition. While there’s nothing wrong with this image itself (although not my taste) and it would work well for another book, it does not belong on the cover of this one. Please, in this instance do not judge a book by its cover. The Angie on this cover is bland, boring, forgettable; an imposter. Angie is anything but.

The cover of my copy (the same one our English class at school read from) is the 1991 Puffin Books edition, and this features the real Angie and the real Seymour. The cover illustration is by Vivienne Goodman and you can tell she understood these characters.

Angie is up front, with her dyed hair tousled, shoulder tattoo, painted black fingernails, a jumble of bangles and the earrings I think she purchased with Seymour in her ears along with the first few of an array of earrings working their way up underneath her hair. She’s got this look on her face that’s one part “don’t mess with me”, one part sad, and with a hint of the potential of something sarcastic and inappropriate for the situation about to make its way out of her mouth. She looks like a troubled Meg Ryan, circa When Harry Met Sally….

In the background, there’s Seymour in his jeans, grandpa shirt and daggy sandals, with this smile on his face like he can’t believe he’s in the presence of this angelic being. Right behind Seymour is an old, worn fence, obviously from the non-posh side of the alley. These are the people you’ll be meeting in this book. I hope you’ll love them like I do.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the opportunity to renew my love for this classic Australian novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the summer holidays and eleven-year-old loner, Seymour, lodged with a fussy guardian in an inner-city suburb, is bored and unhappy in his confined world.

By chance he meets Angie – beautiful, charismatic Angie. He is bewitched, and his world is opened as she takes him on unexpected holiday outings and shopping sprees.

Angie, however, is not what she seems.

Grug and His Kite – Ted Prior

🎵 “Let’s go fly a kite

Up to the highest height!

Let’s go fly a kite

And send it soaring” 🎵

Now that I’ve successfully transferred the Mary Poppins song that’s been playing on repeat in my head ever since I first saw this book (you’re welcome!), I’ll tell you what I think about Grug and His Kite.

I loved it!!! I bet that was a surprise since I love all Grug books!

I was disappointed that Cara didn’t make an appearance in this one as I would have loved to have seen her expression when Grug and his kite become airborne and do some pretty impressive aerial acrobatics. The eagle was well drawn but spent the book looking kind of cranky. I suppose sharing the sky with a kite that looks like Grug may have been slightly outside of its usual routine, but with Grug around you never know what’s going to happen! While it’s not my favourite Grug book, it’s still awfully cute and fun to read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Startle the birds and touch the sky with Grug! 

Clifford’s Spring Clean-Up – Norman Bridwell

Clifford as a self help book? Allow me to explain.

I’ve had Clifford’s Spring Clean-Up waiting patiently to be read since well before Christmas and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Each time I pass by and glance at the cover my brain automatically wanders into ‘what can I clean/tidy/organise?’ territory. My Pavlovian ‘I watched a Hoarders episode’ response has been replicated and I’ve been on a dusting, reorganising and purging kick ever since. So, thank you, big red dog!

In Clifford’s Spring Clean-Up, Emily Elizabeth’s family (including Clifford) spend the day spring cleaning. First they work on their home and yard, where Clifford helps as only he can, with plenty of oops moments and the cutest expressions when things don’t quite go according to plan. Then Emily Elizabeth and Clifford help out her friends with their Earth Day Project before returning home so Clifford can clean his kennel.

As usual, Clifford is gorgeous, the story and illustrations are wonderful, and Emily Elizabeth’s parents are saintly as nothing Clifford accidentally destroys is a problem. They just get on with it and fix or clean up Clifford’s ‘helpful’ messes. Clifford books are always winners and this one’s no different! ❤️

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In this all-new adventure, he’s hard at work getting the house clean. When Emily Elizabeth airs out some throw rugs, he grabs the living room carpet and gives it a good shake – in fact, he shakes it to pieces! What Clifford does best is help clear out the weeds for the vacant lot on Earth Day.

Grug Learns to Swim – Ted Prior

In honour of my first swim this season (I know that I’m several months late), I had to read about Grug learning how to swim. Grug is my very favourite animated grassy top of a Burrawang tree and his friend Cara is my very favourite smiley carpet snake.

In this instalment, good ol’ Cara saves Grug from drowning in the creek before he learns to swim. The illustrations of waterlogged Grug upside down in the creek (see cover image) and waterlogged Grug sitting on the grassy bank are now two of my favourite Grug expressions. Of course, smiley Cara is always (practically) huggable.

I keep thinking that I can never love Grug and Cara more, and every new book proves me wrong.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Splash and paddle and float with Grug! 

Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah – Norman Bridwell

Clifford and Emily Elizabeth celebrate the eighth day of Hanukkah with Emily Elizabeth’s classmate Melissa and her family. They learn about Hanukkah traditions and eat a dinner that sounds so yummy before going to the town square to see the giant menorah. Clifford even has the opportunity to save Hanukkah when the menorah’s lights go out. This would be a lovely book to use to introduce kidlets to the traditions of Hanukkah.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Clifford look any more adorable than he does in this book. When he first meets Melissa’s family he’s sitting wagging his tail with this goofy cute smile and waving at them. There’s no such thing as a bad Clifford book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Clifford and Emily Elizabeth are celebrating their first Hanukkah. They love hearing the story of Hanukkah, eating “latkes” (fried potato pancakes) and “sufganiyot” (fried jelly donuts), and playing dreidel. 

After dinner, Clifford and Emily Elizabeth take a trip into town to see the giant menorah. But when they get there, they discover that one light is broken. It’s too late in the evening to call a handyman, but maybe Clifford is big enough to help save Hanukkah!

Clifford the Small Red Puppy – Norman Bridwell

Reading this one for the second time because, well, it’s Clifford’s origin story! The first time around I read a library book. This time around it is one of Mum’s many new hide-and-seek Clifford books. I hide them for her and she finds them. It’s so much fun hiding presents for people at random times. I highly suggest you try it!

Anyway, Clifford. While there are a few sad parts in this book, ultimately it’s a story of the power of love between a child and their pet. Clifford may have been the runt of his litter but with Emily Elizabeth’s love, this little red puppy became the big red dog readers adore. Aww! 💕

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How did Clifford become such a big red dog? Read and find out how a simple wish from Emily Elizabeth led to Clifford’s amazing growth.