High Above the Sea



Narelle Oliver writes books I like!  Nature study for the very young with engaging text and striking illustrations is almost too much to expect of one book, but with all that, the bonus factor with Oliver’s books is that she is a south-east Queensland local, and this is reflected in her work.

I first encountered her writing and art in  “The Best Beak in Boonooroo Bay “, and was smitten.  Many different bird species are introduced and the special features of each are highlighted and shown to serve the individual’s needs.

In “The Hunt”, she details the progress of a mother owl hunting for food for her owlets.  Several small animals and insects elude the owl, as they are shown in their natural habitat in this most perfect introduction to the concept of camouflage.

“High Above the Sea” is the story of a male osprey hunting for food to bring back to his mate on the nest.  Included in the story are:

  • Where osprey nest
  • Other fauna abiding in the vicinity and what they eat, including a honey eater, lace monitor, curlew, pied oystercatcher, sea dragon and hermit crab
  • How the osprey hunts and what it eats

Each page is lavishly illustrated with watercoloured lino cuts, and the author has included a fact page on osprey at the end of the story, as well as a summary of the techniques and  history of lino cut print making in Australia.

In their own right these are beautiful books worth owning, but if you happen to be a resident of the sunshine state, they have the added appeal of being about your local flora and fauna.



Berlioz the Bear

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Berlioz has a problem. An embarrassing problem. After weeks of practice, the day of the gala ball is at hand and his double bass sounds terrible!  So distressed is he about this problem that he fails to pay attention while driving, and the bandwagon is now firmly wedged in a hole.  Will nothing go right?

The mule pulling the wagon refuses to budge, and a host of animal friends of progressively larger and stronger frames attempt to pull the wagon from the hole, to no avail.  The tension builds as the time for the ball draws near.

The climax of the story provides many giggles for the younger members of the family, and within the fun of this well crafted tale is a subtle, two-fold parable: the solution to Berlioz’s stuck wagon is not solved by strength or might; and sometimes, our problems can turn to our advantage.

Jan Brett’s illustrations are very richly detailed, and add considerably to the delight of this already appealing story.

Brett’s website offers resources for the classroom or homeschool, but the book is worthwhile purely for the enjoyment factor.  There is also a free unit study available through homeschool share which includes lapbook instructions for the cut and paste inclined.


The Almond Orchard

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Laura Jane Coats has written a story that spans nearly a century of farming life in California.  In the year 1900, a little girl’s father plants an almond orchard: that little girl is Coat’s grandmother. This story is gently told, and both text and illustrations show how much the world  can change in a lifetime.

As Coats narrates the story of her grandmother’s life, we are taken on a tour through the world of farming in days when life was simpler, but work was hard.  Observing the seasons, the different work required at different times of year, the story of the almond production is told both in the text, and in the clear illustrations.

As the years progress, the days of horse drawn wagons and burlap bags are surpassed by new methods of farming, transportation and processing. New ideas for the use of almonds produce a variety of products.

Some things remain unchanged even though the world looks very different when the little girl has grown old.  The crops are still dependent on the weather, the seasons come and go, and the orchard still looks beautiful in bloom.

Tom’s Rabbit

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A true story from Scott’s last voyage, written by Meredith Hooper, a writer with the Australian National Antartic Research Expedition, tells the story of Christmas day on board the Terra Nova.

Captain Scott’s diary records, “An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit.  She gave birth to seventeen…at present warm and snug…”

Hooper tells the story of Tom’s hunt for a safe place to make a nest for his rabbit. On this level, it is a story suitable for the youngest child.  The illustrations are of a realistic style, and show the variety of animals on board the ship, as well as the extreme weather conditions. The text explores the different areas of a ship, in the quest for a safe nesting place.

The story concludes on a cheerful note for the pre-reader, and historical notes are given at the end of the book, for those old enough to bear the knowledge of the fate of the Captain and his fellow explorers.

This book is worthwhile simply as a story, but would also be a wonderful introduction to a study of greater depth on the history of polar exploration.

Owl Babies



“Owl Babies” is a story with a theme children will easily relate to. It describes the anxious wait of three baby owls, Sarah, Percy, and Bill, whose mother has left to find them dinner.

As the wait grows, so the owlets become progressively more concerned.

Will she come back?  Has something happened to her?

Patrick Benson’s illustrations tell as much of the story as Martin Waddell’s text.  A surprising amount of personality is portrayed in a brief text, and the very endearing drawings.

Owl Babies is a gentle introduction to owl facts, but more than that, a charming, warm story of siblings, and the constancy of mother’s love.

A Gaggle of Geese

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The art is such that you will either love it or hate it.  But either way, Phillipa-Alys Browne’s book, “A Gaggle of Geese” is interesting.

I purchased this book because I find collective nouns, and the history of English, fascinating. In “A Gaggle of Geese, The Collective Names of the Animal Kingdom”, the author has chosen twenty-six collective nouns, from the better known “army of ants” to the perhaps lesser known “crash of rhinos”, to illustrate.  After pouring over the eye-catching (or poke-you-in-the-eye) art, there is still a bounty of information to be had at the end of the book as the author explains some of the history of the collective nouns and categorizes each according to the origin of its name; Appearance, Characteristic, Habitat, or onomatopoeic.

This book has been very popular here with all ages, and the art work was a favourite with even my very young baby, who would spend her “tummy time” looking at a different picture each day.


One Odd Old Owl

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“A teasing, tongue-twisting, rib tickling, repeating, rhyming, puzzle-game story, cunningly constructed for children of all ages by Puzzle Master, Paul Adshead”.

So says the blurb, and I couldn’t agree more.  My children were captivated by this book.  The illustrations are fun, colourful, detailed, and generous, the text is witty, and the puzzle factor clinches this as one of our all time favourite books.

The puzzles really are tricky, and add another dimension of fun to an already delightful book.


I highly recommend you procure a copy for any small fry in your family – unless of course, you are the sort of person to be tormented by that one last clue eluding you..

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