Book Reviews by Kate Shepherd

This is the first selection of recommended books reviewed by Kate Shepherd to be published monthly in ITM. Kate has specialised in reviewing books recommend for international schools and the IB’s PYP. Kate regularly reviews for Gleebooks, one of the oldest independent bookstores in Sydney.

See for more about the Gleebooks services for international schools. 


The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela pb 9781925324822  $15.00

I would never have thought that spelling could be so much fun.   India is a young girl who is extraordinarily good at spelling.  With the strong encouragement of her eccentric family and of everyone in the small country town of Yungabilla where she lives, she summons up courage to go in the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee competition.  However she has very strong doubts because she is so very shy and extremely nervous in front of crowds.   There are some very funny incidents but also some scary ones because her younger brother Boo has asthma and sometimes has to go urgently to hospital. At the beginning of each chapter, a new word and its meaning are used as chapter headings and as a guide to what will happen.   Deborah Abela uses most expressive words, such as tremulous, skulduggery and surreptitious.  This is a thoroughly enjoyable story with engaging characters, that delights in using language in a very entertaining way.   (8 – 11 years) 



Cloudwish by Fiona Wood  pb  9781925483581 $17.00 (2016)

This book is a delight.  Van Uoc attends Crowthorne Grammar in Melbourne where she is in the first year of the International Baccalaureate programme.  However she is on a scholarship and as the only daughter of Vietnamese refugees who live in housing commission flats, she tries to keep a low profile since she feels her difference keenly from the other wealthier students.  This is the same school as provided the setting for the earlier books of Fiona Wood; Six Impossible Things 9780330426060 $17.00 and Wildlife 9781742612317  $17.00, both of which were highly recommended.  It is fascinating to get into the minds of different students and to see students who we have already met from a different perspective.  Van Uoc struggles to reconcile her life at school with the life of her parents who gave up so much so that she would have a good education and a chance in life.  The book is written in the third person but appears to be such an intimate and authentic portrayal of this young Vietnamese woman.   We feel we get to know Van Uoc as she discusses her feelings, her fantasies and her feelings of detachment from the other students.  She enjoys the challenges of her studies and there are interesting discussions of her work for the Theory of Knowledge and also of a major art project.  It is wonderful that Fiona Wood brings all this so naturally into the fabric of the book.   There is a touch of magic which is a surprise, and a beautifully depicted romance which gradually grows between Van Uoc and Billy Gardiner, one of the school heroes.  This is a lovely relationship and brings changes in both Van Uoc and in Billy.  All in all this is a marvellous portrait of the difficulties facing a young Vietnamese girl trying to make her own way in a world full of challenges.  Cloudwish won the Book of the Year Award for Older Readers of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards for 2016.    (13 – 18 years)


Picture Books

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel hb 9781452150130 $30.00

This seems a simple picture book.  The refrain of “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws” is repeated several times as various creatures see the cat.  However the cat looks very different to each creature.  The child sees a soft friendly animal, the flea sees long, long hairs, the mouse sees a terrifying huge menacing creature with teeth and piercing eyes and the bird sees a small creature far below walking through a meadow.  However there are still more differences.  When the bee sees the cat it sees it as dots of colour, while the bat sees just a dotted shape (presumably this is an artist’s impression of how it could appear from the waves the bat sends out).  There is so much to discuss about the way this cat is perceived so differently by different creatures.  It is a lovely idea and it has been beautifully illustrated.  (3–6 years) 



Going to School in India DVD 9781888194906 $54.95 nett

This very enjoyable and entertaining film shows children going to school in so many different ways and in so many different places. It shows a 12 year old girl in Kashmir going to school across a lake by boat, a homeless boy in Mumbai goes to school in a bus and in fact the school is the bus, another girl goes to school in the dark (since she works to help her mother during the day she goes to school at night), another boy goes to school in a wheel chair and there are children who walk to school across the mountains and others who walk across the desert to a padlocked box which contains the chalk and slates which is basically their school!  The settings are often exotic and the photography is beautiful with an emphasis on music and movement. There are 9 segments each showing a different school and each segment can be watched individually. The whole film lasts for approx 75 minutes. (7 years up)


Kate Shepherd
Austral Ed was set up in 1993 by Kate Shepherd.  Prior to this, Kate had worked at a specialist children’s bookshop called The Singing Tree for about 10 years. She was aware of International Schools since her own children had attended one for a short time in Papua New Guinea and while working with a number of these schools in Asia she gradually learned about the worldwide network of international schools.
Click on the bookshop to follow the link to the Gleebooks International Service and further information on how to place an order from overseas!

Austral Ed

a division of gleebooks

PO Box 486, Glebe NSW 2037

p + 61 2 9660 2333 f + 61 2 9660 9842



Feature Image – Book launch at Gleebooks

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