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real life heroes - they're not always human!

Fabish is a retired racehorse that somehow led seven yearlings to safety during the 2009 Victorian bushfires. 

Those days in February are seared into Australian memories. They were gruelling days even for those of us far away. (For readers outside of Australia, the 2009 bushfires were the deadliest Australia has ever endured.)

This beautiful book is about Fabish and his heroic trainer. It’s a true story, told with compassion and with optimism. While the story of the bushfires remains a tragedy, the story of Fabish shines with hope. 

Fabish’s trainer was faced with trying to protect all of his racehorses from the fire – a herculean task. So he released Fabish and his group of yearlings from their paddock in the hope that they might find a way around it.

For some children there is no substitute for true stories – they want the relative safety of truth so they can deal with the emotions and thoughts brought on by the story without the necessity of separating those feelings from their real world experiences. But limiting a child to a ‘just-the-facts’ style of book means that they miss out on all sorts of opportunities for language development and for exploring opinions and ideas. 

Fabish is a lovely melding of a true story that is superbly narrated and thoughtfully illustrated. Neither the words nor the pictures insist on an emotional reading, but there is certainly plenty to give a reader pause – especially if they remember the bushfires personally.

The bravery of the trainer and his dedication to his horses is sobering and the devastation that greets him is realistic and ominous. In the moments after the fire has passed and the trainer looks out over the blackened paddocks, there’s a deep sense of loss.

This is important. A story about a heartbreaking time cannot be told without moments of grief. Knowing about disasters and knowing that grief is part of that can be strengthening for children, especially when presented as it is here – with a resolution that doesn’t sugarcoat the tragedy but does offer promise of a future.

I especially love this description of the world that confronted the trainer after the fire:

Trees were broken and blackened, and the soil was baked hard. The tack room and machinery shed was a pile of twisted iron and white ash. The wind dropped and the sound of crackling embers filled the air. The trainer’s throat stung. His hands were blistered. The soles of his boots had started to melt when he found an old truck that hadn’t been burnt out. He headed off to the far paddock.

This is an inspiring book – the heroics of the trainer and Fabish are testament to courage and work in impossible circumstances.

You can buy Fabish - the horse that braved a bushfire via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia 

Also ...other books about the 2009 Victorian bushfires:

Elizabeth Mellor

Elizabeth Mellor

Jackie French, Bruce Whatley

Jackie French, Bruce Whatley


...other books about facing real life with courage:

worried about what to 'be' when you grow up? Number Three is too!

by Drew Dernavich – Henry Holt and Company (Christy Ottaviano Books), 2016
ages 5 to 10 years / funny, s.t.e.m.

I once had a three-year-old who said he wanted to be a professor when he grew up – but he didn’t know what sort of professor, ‘because there are so many interesting things to be’.

Number Three in this story is in pretty much the same boat. There are just so many things a ‘3’ could be. The hump of a camel for example. Or a ship’s anchor.

This is a terrific book with an engaging story and a fair smattering of existential angst going on.

Number Three wants to try out all that life offers, even though it’s cryingly obvious to all his readers that his true calling is as a number.

Number Three is quite successful in his new work – he makes a brilliant sculpture and the list of other possibilities seems endless. 

Ultimately though, Number Three is simply too important as a number, and he misses the role he was born for. 

There’s a fine line between crushing hopes and dreams and valuing the life you were born to lead - but this story does a great job of valuing all of Number Three’s ideas and choices.

There are plenty of nods to the human condition for adults as well as kids; Number Three thinks he has found his place in life as a sculpture and enjoys the adoration he gets for a while, but eventually it all starts to feel a bit hollow - as adoration so often does when it’s not accompanied by purpose and contribution.

There are funny moments scattered all through the story; the humour comes partly from the absurdity of a number being unhappy with its lot in life and partly through clever wording and pictures. I laughed at the page showing Number Three dressed incognito for the State Fair.

There are heaps of great jumping off points for more learning. Number Three is written in words whenever the character is on show and as ‘3’ in the pictures – ideal for talking about reading and writing numbers. 

There’s a whole lot of fun to be had finding Number Three as he tries out new work, like the hem of a dress, the mouth of a cat and so on. 

And there are pictures with an edgy, urban feel to them (author/illustrator Drew Dernavich is a cartoonist for The New Yorker and a whole slew of other great publications). You can see some of his very funny cartoons here.

Although it would probably be quite hard to come up with other roles for Number Three after seeing all the clever ideas in the book, it could be fun to try to find new work for other numbers. (Number Seven could work as a nose on a cartoon face or as door handle for example – but I’m sure imaginative young minds can do better than that!). And it could be fun to write a story about another number using the same storyline.

This is a bright and snappy story that will appeal to kids who are beginning to conceptualise numbers, and to the adults who read it to them.

You can buy It's Not Easy Being Number Three via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

Also encourage thinking about life and what you hope to make of it:

...some good jumping-off points for writing:

And, great for a gift, this very funny collection of rejected cartoons from The New Yorker that includes some of Drew Dernavich’s work.

P.S. The ‘professor’ has grown up and settled on teaching English and Media Studies – so far at least.

8 bookshelf ideas (aka eye-candy) to engage and maybe inspire

Bookshelf ideas from all over, we like them a lot, maybe you will too. Some are achievable, some not so much - but still beautiful to look at.


You might also like this floating supershelf or ... you might like to just follow the lead of these children, they had the whole books thing covered! Sort of.

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adventurous sisters, dark creatures, magical gifts - and love in all its forms

By Juliet Marillier – Pan Macmillian Australia, 2006
ages 14+ / young adult

Transylvania has long been a land of myth and legend, full of monsters, vampires and all things dark and terrifying. But In Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier it becomes a land of beauty, magic and mystery.

Life is close to perfect for practical Jena and her 4 sisters (beautiful Tati, wise Paula, vivacious Iulia and innocent Stela).

They live in the magnificent Castle Piscul Dracului, surrounded by the beautiful Wildwood, nestled in the Transylvanian mountains - in the care of a loving father and servants.

Life is full of normal everyday things like cooking, working the farm and keeping accounts. But these 5 sisters also posses a wonderful secret – at full moon they cross through a magic portal in their room to go dancing with the folk of the Other Kingdom in the Wildwood:


The boat swept across the Bright Between. As we passed a certain point the air filled with a sweet, whispering music; swarms of small bright creatures that were not quite birds or insects or fairy folk swooped and rose, hovered and dived around us, making a living banner to salute our arrival. Underwater beings swam beside our craft, creatures with large, luminous eyes and long hands, fronded tails and glowing green-blue skin. Many dwelled in or on Tăul Ielelor: ragged swimmers resembling weedy plants, their gaze turned always up, up to the surface; the beguiling pale figures of the Iele, from whom the lake got its name, reaching out graceful white arms from bank or islet, or overhanging willow. Should an unwary man from our world be passing, they would seek to entice him from his path forever. As we neared the opposite shore, an assortment of tiny folk rowed out from the miniature island to join us in a bobbing flotilla of boats made from nutshells and dried leaves and discarded carapaces of beetles. We reached the far shore and my escort, who was three feet high and almost as wide with a scarlet beard down to his boot-tops, handed me out and made a low bow.

But nothing stays perfect forever and, as the girls get older, things start to go wrong.

Their father gets sick and has to go away - their cousin Cezar doesn’t think that 5 girls can take care of themselves - and the oldest sister Tati falls in love in the worst possible place.

Jena is at a loss. She tries her hardest to keep things together, but when her best friend, her pet frog Gogu, turns out to be more than just a frog, and potentially dangerous to her and her sisters, she must make the ultimate decision between following her head or her heart.

This is an enchanting story of adventurous sisters, dark creatures, magical gifts and love in all its forms. Brilliantly told and wonderfully written, Wildwood Dancing is a must-read if you love anything fay or fractured fairytales (it's loosely based on the Princess and the Frog) or just beautifully written stories.

Wildwood Dancing is followed by Cybele's Secret where we get to join Jena’s younger sister Paula on another adventure into the Other Kingdom!

You can buy Wildwood Dancing via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

creating, caring and letting go - of a planet!

creating, caring and letting go - of a planet!

Even when you create and care for a planet, you still need to let it go. Planets are meant to be with the stars after all. But there's still joy and growth along the say and, in the end, you might find something else to create.
ages 2 to 8 years

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an easy introduction to Shakespeare

an easy introduction to Shakespeare

Shakespeare certainly knew how to spin a tale - but reading or seeing one of his classic plays performed live can be intimidating or just plain hard to follow. Try reading these brilliant Shakespeare Stories first, they'll help it all come together and make the original so much easier to love.
ages 6 years and up

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making the case (get it?) for pencils

making the case (get it?) for pencils

On the tactile joy of using beautiful pencils - and Dan Roam's book The Back of the Napkin - solving problems and selling ideas with pictures.

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5 books to read again and again when you're a three-year-old

ages 2 to 8 years / heartwarmers, imagination, language

Since Ivy became a very proud big sister a few days ago, we’ve noticed that each time she chooses something to read, the same five books come out. She pulls out the books, finds herself an adult (or two) and settles in for a good long reading session. (Like some sort of evil scientist, I’ve been playing around with hiding the books in different places in the bookshelf, but she hunts through till she finds them.) Apparently these are her three-year-old comfort books.


Noah’s Ark – a wordless picture book full of detail + full of animals, of course. It’s great because it can be read quickly if you’re in a hurry, or lingered over if you have more time – and because there are no words but heaps and heaps of mini stories happening, young children can ‘read’ it to themselves.

Bertie and the Bear – a classic story about a misunderstood bear who chases a boy. Lots of funny sounds to make, and just a little bit of suspense.


Daisy and the Egg – Daisy the duck becomes a big sister too, just like Ivy. And her new little brother has a fun name to say.


Good News Bad News – a funny story with an optimistic rabbit and a pessimistic mouse.


You Are (Not) Small – size becomes important when you’re suddenly enormous in comparison to your baby brother.


And this one, Big Red Barn, was Ivy’s dad's comfort book. He read it over and over when he was around the same age – and he took it to hospital to read to each of his babies on their first day in the world.

Here is Angus, Ivy's new brother and Alec and Samantha's baby boy (b. 28 July, 2016). Luckily he's a typically chilled second child because he has heaps of admirers who all want to cuddle him - when Ivy will let them!

P.S. The books are linked to Book Depository or their posts, but if you'd like to search for them through our other booksellers (thank you for supporting wtba!), here are the generic links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

Names in these books – Bertie, Daisy, Noah

when a story pulls you in, there's no going back - you just have to follow the words

when a story pulls you in, there's no going back - you just have to follow the words

A book about writing a book. It follows the adventures of Tuesday McGillycuddy, an ordinary girl with an ordinary family and an ordinary dog. Except that it turns out things aren’t as ordinary as they appear!
a great read for 12 ish to late teens

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