Books and Reading

Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 2 – Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day Two: Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Adventures of a Subversive Reader: Caps for Sale

Genre – Junior Picture Book

There once was a peddler who sold caps of different colours. However, he was different from other peddlers because he wore them on his head. One day, when sales were bad, he sat down to rest under a tree. Only that tree contained some very mischievous monkeys who had a fondness for caps.

This classic picture book is a big favourite in our house. The illustrations are relatively simple, with a muted colour palette. Squirm loves reading the part with the monkeys and the way they interact with the hapless peddler. I’d imagine as children got older they would be happy to join in with telling the story and supplying the actions – especially if they’d heard it a few times.

Highly recommended for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and early primary – they can all get something out of this lovely book.


Advent Calendar Book Reviews: Day 1 – Smile by Raina Telgemeier

In the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing short reviews of great books and who they’d be perfect for. Find the master list here

Day One: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Advent Calender Book Reviews - Smile -Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Genre – Middle School Graphic Novel

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But after a nasty fall, she injures her two front teeth, beginning a long journey with specialists, braces and other dental paraphernalia. Plus there’s friends who might not be friends, boys who might be friends or might be more and a major earthquake to deal with.

This is an incredibly sweet story which is told incredibly well with simple but beautifully drawn panels. This was an amazingly popular book in my classroom, with students finding something to connect with in it, even if they hadn’t had their own dental dramas. It was also a great book for those who were less enthusiastic about reading.

Highly recommended for upper primary and lower secondary students. Also for anyone who went through dental dramas as a kid. Or anyone who has ever been a kid 🙂

Our New Australian Children’s Laureate: Jackie French

Book Review - Flood

I was absolutely delighted to hear that Jackie French has been named as the new Australian Children’s Laureate. I am a massive fan of her books – picture books, novels and non fiction, and I can’t think of a better person to encourage reading in this country.

I kind of want to quote this whole article from the Sydney Morning Herald, but Jackie French’s ‘manifesto’ really stood out to me:

Every child in Australia needs a book to go to bed with, and a bed to read that book in,” she said. “Every child in Australia can learn to read and for kids like me who are dyslexic, with spelling that you might call ‘original’, and whose work always looks like a wombat has sat on it, never feel that you are dumb, never feel that you have failed. You haven’t failed it’s the adults who have failed to give you access to the heritage of humanity.”

I thought I would share some of my reviews of Jackie French books. Go and check her website out as well – her biography is hilarious and poignant

Plus I made a whole outfit inspired by Diary of a Wombat

Congratulations to Jackie French! I think we’re in for a very exciting time!

Diary of a Wombat: Ideas and Activities: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Squirm’s Book Reviews: Tap the Tree Edition

Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here

Tap The Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

Tap the Magic Tree - Squirm's Book Reviews - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

There’s magic in this bare brown tree. Tap it once. Turn the page to see.

This magical book invites the reader to get involved, to tap and swish their way through the pages, as a tree moves from bare to full of leaves, flowers and fruit and back to bare again. It’s not a long, or a complicated story, but rather an interaction, a way of connecting movement to the (usually) rather still act of reading.

I’m going to address up front my one annoyance with the book. Right there in the front was a rather limited age recommendation – 4-8 years old. I disagree with this. I think a book which is so beautiful and which manages to be so clever and simple at the same time, appeals to a much wider range of people. The large and uncomplicated illustrations are as eye catching to a baby or toddler as they are to an adult. Similarly, it’s easy to be enchanted by the book’s commands to shake and tap and blow, no matter how old you are. Squirm (at 15 months) was utterly engaged with it, while Mr Pilot and I were both interested in what would happen next. Age recommendations are fine as a guideline, but I’m sure there’s many people who would feel limited by them and would pass over a wonderful book like this because their children didn’t meet the right age.

I’d be very sad if people did pass over this one, because it was a very lovely read. It gently moved us from one stage of the tree to the next, relying on visual literacy as well as the short commands. Squirm was too young (and in the bath, so too wet) to do the taping and brushing himself, but he loved watching me do it (especially the counting to ten and blowing the kiss) and I’m sure if we read it together a few times, he’d soon join in. I think this book would work beautifully with groups of children too – it would be fantastic for learning about trees and seasons, and I can just imagine groups of children with their hands in the air getting involved with the book.

We’re definitely going to buy this one for ourselves (we were reading a library copy) and I’d definitely recommed getting a copy for yourself. (Also, I think it’s time to campaign for this to be a board book! It would be 100% perfect for that)


Watching Book Exploration Develop

Watching Book Exploration Develop - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Squirm is a book lover.

I cannot tell you how happy I am to write those words. Because, although I know a lot of the theory about reading to babies and toddlers, I’d never seen it in action. I never knew what discovering books would look like, or the steps we’d go through in introducing books to Squirm. On top of that, there’s definitely been times when we haven’t been able to read with him as much as we’d like – when he’d fall asleep before we could pick a book up or when he was more interested in leaving gnaw marks over the books than reading them.

It seems that discovering books and reading, like almost everything else, consists of a series of developmental steps. There are things to learn and ways to react before you can move onto the next level. Here’s some of the things we’ve noticed on Squirm’s journey:

Books as Mummy and Daddy’s Voice

This was the first stage of our exploration into books with Squirm. We started reading to him while we were in the hospital, and we discovered that it was a great way to calm him – that he responded really well to the steady rhythm of our voices. This continued when we got home, especially on the nights when he was doing everything he could to stay awake. Our favourite was an old kids book about Australian Aviators. It’s an incredibly detailed book, with tonnes of potential for monotonous reading.

Books as Objects (like everything else)

This phase kicked in once Squirm could pick books up . . . and bring them towards his mouth. Suddenly we needed to consider the books we shared with him in terms of ‘mouthable’ and ‘not mouthable’ (read more about sharing books with a mouthing baby here) Books became things to pick up, move around and put in his mouth, but were very much like other objects in the house. We continued to read to him (all sorts of books, not just the ‘safe’ ones) extending the books as Mummy’s and Daddy’s voice.

Books as Objects (in their own right)

Suddenly books became books! They became objects which had a cover and pages and those pages could be turned. And this was the same in every book, whether it was paper, board, fabric or plastic. This was where the absolutely fabulous ‘That’s not my . . .’ book series was the best. They were sturdy enough to hold up to the mouthing and the enthusiastic little hands, while being small enough to handle. Plus they’ve got a look which is similar from one book to another and fabulous textures which keep little attentions on the page for longer. At this stage there’s been a lot of enthusiastic flipping through books – stories are begun and finished very quickly!

Books as Stories

This is the stage we’ve just reached recently. Squirm still spends ages looking at books, but he’s not quickly flipping through them anymore. Now he’s stopping to examine pictures. And he’s bringing books to us and demanding that we read them to him. Again and again. He has a longer attention span at reading times to – his eyes really taking in the page while he listens to the story. He’s beginning to understand that these objects contain magical things in them – which is a really magical thing to watch.


So what comes next? Well, as Squirm’s language skills develop (we seem to be getting new words all the time) I’m sure we’re going to start dipping into retelling, role playing and story telling. It’s a fascinating journey to watch up close, and one I feel very privileged to witness.

Watching Book Exploration Develop - Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Squirm’s Book Reviews: Popping the Bubble Edition

Each week I review books we’ve read with Squirm. Find other reviews here

Mozzie and Midgie by Doug MacLeod and Sandy Okalyi

Squirm's Book Reviews: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Mozzie and Midgie are a pair of sibling Spoonbills who live on a tropical Queensland island. Everything in their world is happy until they come across a boastful parrot who teases them for being too plain. From then on, Mozzie is determined to find something which will make them beautiful – even if it means wearing crabs on their heads! Will Mozzie find the perfect decoration? Will Midgie be convinced that they look beautiful?

Squirm's Book Reviews: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

This is a lovely picture book about finding out who you really are and not listening to the nay-sayers around you. Mozzie’s schemes keep coming, and poor old Midgie gets dragged along from one scheme to another. The repeating nature of the book is really enjoyable and opens the book up to reader participation – you’re left wondering what Mozzie will come up with while knowing how Midgie is likely to respond. The illustrations are simply done, but often hilarious (I love the two spoonbills wearing flying fish scales as masks) and they introduce a lot of different animals. This was a really enjoyable read which I’m eager to read again.

Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar

Squirm's Book Reviews: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Mabel never thought blowing bubbles at the table could cause so much trouble. She never imagined that one of those bubbles would capture up her baby brother and take him bobbling and joggling through the town. She never considered that it would lead to an adventure involving all her neighbours, half the town, and a gaggle of choir boys. And how on earth will they get her brother down?

This was a rollicking poem of a story, which (luckily) rolled fairly easily off the tongue as you race through the adventures. There was some absolutely splendid use of words in the story, and I was really left admiring the beautiful writing, even after reading it several times. The story also lends itself beautifully to using different voices, always something which I really enjoy. The illustrations are relatively simple, but there are a few nice little things to look at and point out. This was a really, really enjoyable read which has kept Squirm captivated and wanting me to read again

The Favourite Toys of a (nearly) 1 Year Old

So, believe it or not, Squirm is turning one next week. Of course, this means we’ve had to think about presents – both from Mr Pilot and myself and from the rest of his family. And since we want to buy things Squirm will really enjoy, we’ve spent some time looking the toys which are already his favourites.

Favourite Toys of a (Nearly) 1 Year Old: Adventures of a Subversive Reader


Squirm adores books. We have a selection of good sturdy board books which are always available for him. He’s constantly taking them from the baskets and boxes where we keep them, and spends ages opening them, turning pages, looking at them and moving them around. His all time favourites are the That’s Not My . . . sensory books, which we were very kindly introduced to by a good friend of mine. So more good sturdy board books wouldn’t go astray, nor would other picture books which we read to him in the morning and before bed.

Making Books Accessible for Mouthy Babies: Adventures of a Subversive Reader


I can confidently say that Squirm has enjoyed music since he was in the womb – in fact some of his most energetic kicking was during Boogie Shoes on Glee. We have a small selection of kids music, as well as some good albums which are brilliant for people of any age. Squirm is a massive Justine Clarke fan, but also enjoys Frances England and Paul Simon. As well as music to listen to, we’ve bought some really nice percussion instruments for him to experiment and play with.


A couple of months ago, I bought a set of wooden blocks for Squirm, thinking that he might be interested in them, but not expecting much. Turns out he absolutely loves them, but not for building (the only thing he builds with at the moment is corn on the cob . . .). He picks them up, moves them around, rolls them, twists them, puts them in places . . . and knocks down structures when we make them.

When we were at the Mitchelton Library unveiling, he (and Mr Pilot) fell in love with the Duplo board. We have a few pieces, but it would be great to add to that.

Mitchelton Library Refurbished: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Toy Animals

This is a strange one. For Christmas, Squirm was given a small toy train which had three little carriages which toy animals sat on top of. Squirm doesn’t have massive affection for the train or the carriages, but he adores the animals – carrying them around the house everywhere. I’m going to be on the lookout for some other animals, but I have to be super aware of things he might put in his mouth (he puts everything in his mouth)

Anything which rolls

You know how I said he wasn’t enthralled by the toy train? Well part of the reason for that is that it only moves well when you press the button, and then it moves on its own. Squirm likes things he can manipulate 🙂 I often see soft balls rolling across the floor, as well as anything which Squirm has scavenged from the bottom drawers in the kitchen (the ‘safe’ drawers for him). His favourite rolling things are cups and bottles, as well as egg cups and bowls. He loves putting things in them and checking out how they roll as well . . .


I really love seeing how engaged Squirm is with his toys, and that they’re toys which he needs to move and manipulate and experiment with. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he interacts with his birthday toys.

Making Books Accessible to Mouthing Babies

When you’re talking about books and babies, one of the things you often hear about is making books accessible to babies – putting them in places where babies can pick them up, play with them and enjoy them.

I can totally understand why this is important – it normalises books, makes them part of the everyday. It teaches important book skills, like turning pages and looking at pictures. And it makes for some pretty cute photo opportunities.

However, I have a Mouther. One of those babies who cannot pass something without trying to put it in his mouth. Recently he’s extended this to trying to lick things. To top it off, he started sprouting teeth really early – so he wasn’t just sucking on and licking things, he was gnawing, chewing and attempting to swallow things (his first official solid food? Wrapping paper)

Now, obviously this doesn’t work so well with traditional books. And while we know things could be replaced, we really wanted some books to make it through these early stages of baby-hood, so that he can enjoy them properly later. However, we still wanted to make books accessible to Squirm. So how did we do that?

Making Books Accessible for Mouthy Babies: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

1. Soft books are your best friend

We’ve got quite a nice collection of fabric books, mostly given to us as gifts. There’s a couple of Lamaze ones, a couple with squeaking things in them, a lift the flaps style one and a gorgeous fabric filled one which my mum made for Squirm for Christmas. (It’s filled with different types of fabric, letters of his name, counting and colours – she’s the best Nana!) These books are well loved, but being fabric, they’ve totally stood up to the Squirm Mouth Treatment. We complement this with a bath book which is also well loved.

The lovely soft book that Nana made

The lovely soft book that Nana made

2. A Few Cheap Board Books

We’re talking those itty, bitty board books which they sell in packs and which only have a picture and a word a page. These have been wonderful because their small size makes them easy to manipulate, and Squirm has spent a lot of time picking them up and playing with them. We’ve lost a few to epic chewing, but since they didn’t cost much and they don’t have much emotional weight (since they weren’t gifts or ‘favourites’) made it easy to toss them and move on.

Making Books Accessible for Mouthy Babies: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

3. Wooden Books

I was so surprised when I saw these! I found them in Toy World and they’re simply a few wooden ‘pages’ which are held together with a cord. They’re similar to the board books in content, but very sturdy

4. Putting these books in accessible places

We’ve got a big fabric box where we keep all the books which Squirm has complete access to. These go in the bottom of our book case where Squirm can get to them. This has helped in two ways – he knows he can always play with them, and often goes and pulls them out. Meanwhile, he tends to leave our books alone!

Making Books Accessible for Mouthy Babies: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

5. Sharing books often

We do a lot of reading to Squirm, but we also read with him. Recently he’s been spending a lot of time ‘reading’ other board books with Mr Pilot. Squirm holds the books and flips through them, and Mr Pilot reads whatever is on the page he stops on (or as much as possible until Squirm starts flipping again). Squirm has control over the book, but it’s supervised, so if the book goes near the mouth one of us is there to distract him and move on to other things.

6. Reassessing his ability as he grows

Recently we noticed that Squirm is spending less time chewing and mouthing the books we’ve provided him. Since then we’ve put a few new board books (bigger, different sizes and pictures, different text) into his book box. We’ve also had great success reading the ‘That’s Not My . . . ‘ series with him (a dear friend sent me three as a baby present and I’ve since bought some more – they’re brilliant!)  This week, I put three of the books into a basket near his toys (in a different area to his other books). These have been an absolute hit – bigger than his other toys. Every single day he’s had them opened up, flipping through them, searching the page for the different textures – and they rarely go in his mouth. It was a good reminder that Squirm’s abilities will change as he gets older, and that means reassessing how we provide materials for him too.

Making Books Accessible for Mouthy Babies: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Do you have a book-unfriendly child? What are your best tips for keeping books in their lives?

I Have Too Many Books . . .

Not my actual book pile, but very similar . . .

Not my actual book pile, but very similar . . .

This is a tough post to write. As an avowed book lover, I like to think that there’s no such thing as too many books. But the sad truth is, that we have limited space and too many books.

Sure, I could get rid of other things. But apparently, it’s kind of important to keep baby related things, and Mr Pilot won’t let me keep books in the shower. (I just did a Google image search for books in the shower and was sadly disappointed by the internet. Sure book shaped tiles and book shower curtains are nice, but where are the innovative storage ideas?)

So, it’s time to start getting rid of book. Or more accurately, packing them up and giving them away to other people.

Some books are easy to get rid of. You’ve picked them up for cheap, never got into them (or never opened them) and don’t really care where they end up. Others are harder because you paid good money for them and you really wanted to like them, but you’ve never gotten past the first page.

Then there’s the books you bought and liked, but haven’t read in years and years. You need to find a good home for those ones; you need to know they’ll be in good hands.

Then there’s some books that will never leave my hands, no matter how good the home or how long its been since I’ve read them. Those are the books that have stories other than the stories held in the pages. Those are the special books.

So how am I going so far? Well my plan was to find 50 books to give away today. It’s 9.21 am and I’ve found 52 . . . I’m doing better than I thought I would 🙂


Do you have too many books? How do you deal with that?

Squirm’s Book Reviews: Diary of a Wombat

I’ve decided to spend a little time taking an in depth look at some of the books we read with Squirm. You can find more Squirm Book Reviews Here

Diary of a Wombat: Ideas and Activities: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

Diary of a Wombat 

By Jackie French. Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

This is one of my all time favourite books, a book which I first read when I was on my teaching prac. (Word to the wise, read this one to yourself before reading it aloud. I laughed so much I had trouble getting through the book). It tells the story of Mothball the Wombat who happens to live in close proximity to a family. Mothball interacts with the family as she goes about her day, finding ways to get exactly what she wants.

One of the things I really love about Diary of a Wombat is the way it is written in a loose diary style. The sentences are short and succinct, making it perfect for a relatively new reader. It also allows plenty of time for pausing for laughter. Bruce Whatley’s illustrations match this perfectly, giving us little snippets of the action, surrounded by lots of white space. Often too, the joke is in the pictures, and the reader can only ‘get it’ when they read the pictures and the text – a vital skill required as readers move into reading diagrams and graphs and other mediums which mix picture and word.

For such a relatively simple book, there’s an awful lot of ways you can use Diary of a Wombat – it’s one of those books which can influence activities at a lot of ages.

Exploring Diary of a Wombat with Littlies

As well as the reading through the book several times and talking about the pictures with your littlies, there’s a few things you can do to explore the book further. One thing you can do is to look at some pictures and watch some videos of wombats

You could also read another Australian classic picture book – Wombat Stew (by Marcia Kay Vaughn) which has a fabulous rhyming part to it.

Marcia K Vaughan - Wombat Stew

If you’re really lucky, you might live close enough to a zoo or a wildlife park where you can see wombats – Mr Pilot and I got to see them at Australia Zoo – including a mum with a baby 🙂

Slightly bigger littlies might enjoy playing in some soft dirt, like Mothball. They could even create their own wombat burrows. Of course, when they were finished, they’d need some carrots to eat.

Exploring Diary of a Wombat with Pre-School and Lower Primary Children

As well as enjoying the book itself, there’s a tonne of great ways you can use the book for children in lower primary and that little bit younger. It’s an excellent launching pad for learning more about wombats, which might then lead into learning more about other Australian animals. This information could be collected and could even be turned into a little reference book for your child to turn back to again and again.

Jackie French has a great account of the inspiration for the book and how she approached it here. The ‘real’ Mothball was actually a rescued animal, which would be a very interesting thing to learn about. You could find information about animal rescuers in your local area, and you might even be able to organise a visit. One of my greatest memories was having a ‘ranger’ bring a Ringtailed Possum in to show my (inner-city) school after he had rescued it nearby. He was cuddling it in his jacket and it was amazing seeing those little eyes poking out!

Diary of a Wombat can also be used when looking at days of the week and events. Mothball’s story is spread over 8 days, and we are told what day it is at the beginning of her ‘diary entry’. Her days are then organised into Morning, Afternoon, Evening etc. You could practice putting the days of the week into the right orders and look at all the different ways you could explain different times of the day (morning could also include dawn, breakfast time, early in the day, beginning of the day, first light . . .)

Of course, there’s also the Diary element of the book. You could use it to write your own ‘Diary’ story – the Diary of your own child or a Diary for a fictional character (Cinderella or Peter Pan would be funny). Again, you could make some great sequencing activities from this – looking at different activities and the orders you might do them in.

Another great activity could be planting carrots (or other vegetables). I (vaguely) remember putting carrot tops onto wet cotton wool to try to grow them! Yates had a guide to growing them from seed here.

Have you read Diary of a Wombat? What did you like about it? Have you got any activity ideas?