Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Introducing Young Children to Shakespeare

I've written previously on this blog about the value of Shakespeare for children of all ages, even primary school children (HERE). I had little chance as a child to be introduced to Shakespeare until forced to read it at High School. What a terrible way to meet some of the world's greatest literature.  English classes boring and seemingly unrelated to my life.  Shakespeare's plays seemed remote and of little interest. And yet later in life I began to appreciate and love Shakespeare's work.

Is it possible to make Shakespeare accessible for children as young as seven or eight years? Yes, I think it is! A good place to start is either with an abridged version of the great plays or using some of the wonderful prose versions of his work. A company in Sydney has even begun to present live Shakespeare to primary schools. Bell Shakespeare has set itself the task of introducing primary aged children to Shakespeare's plays, with a plan to teach Shakespeare's work to children as young as six.

Sixty- Minute Shakespeare

I have no doubt that in classrooms where children learn to love words, language and narrative, that they will find Shakespeare exciting, challenging and enriching. There are many resources that will help you. Recently, I had a look at Cass Foster's abridged versions of Shakespeare's plays. The 'Sixty-Minute Shakespeare' series is an ideal alternative for those who lack the time to tackle the unabridged versions. Professor Foster has carefully condensed (without modernizing) the rich poetic language of each play so that it can be completed in about 60 minutes. The abridged versions offer the excitement of Shakespeare's tales, as well as the wonderful imagery in the prose and verse.

Each edition also comes with detailed footnotes on nearly every page explaining the more arcane words and phrases to help the reader better understand and appreciate each play. You will also find practical suggestions for staging, pacing, and thematic exploration very useful. Each script is approximately 70 pages.

'Shakespeare's Hamlet' staged on the page by Nicki Greenberg

This is a remarkable and ambitious work from Nicki Greenberg for high school children. This imaginative and epic 415-page graphic novel will excite many teenage readers. Hamlet has become an expressive black inkblot whose form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is not a kid's picture book! Rather, it is one more attempt to present Shakespeare in new forms. Not just to make it more accessible (for some might find some other word-only attempts less challenging) but to tell it afresh.

There is no doubt that Greenberg’s Hamlet is unique. At 400+ pages it is hardly an easy 'read'. But might it not help the young uninitiated reader of Shakespeare to see new things? Only readers 13+ will be able to help us to answer this question.

The language of Shakespeare is given new emphasis as the play is performed on paper. This is a play 'staged' in a book as the title suggests.  It is a very interesting book but I can't help but feel that a retelling like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories (see below) is not a better way in. It is hardly stuff for the poor reader, but more likely the gifted who wants to experience Shakespeare with new depth and relevance. It might just do this for some.

Joint winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Picture Book of the Year 2011

Photo courtesy of the Guardian

Prose Forms for Young Children

You don't need a theatre company to help you to introduce Shakespeare to young children. One of the easiest ways to get young children interested in Shakespeare's work is to read some of his plays in adapted prose form. While there are some pretty awful attempts to do this, the collections written by Leon Garfield are superb. His first collection 'Shakespeare Stories' was illustrated by Michael Foreman and published by Gollancz in 1984. It features 12 of Shakespeare's best-known works, including 'Twelfth Night', 'The Taming of the Shrew', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'. Garfield is a brilliant writer of children's fiction and so if anyone was to tackle this project, he would surely be the most likely to succeed in presenting the plays with as much complete dialogue as possible but with adaptations that make the works more accessible without detracting from the language, plots and characterisation of each play. This is how Garfield begins 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':
Hermia, who was small, dark and perfect, loved Lysander; and Lysander loved Hermia. What could have been better than that? At the same time, Helena, who was tall, fair and tearful, loved Demetrius.
But Demetrius did not love Helena. Instead he, too, loved Hermia...who did not love him. What could have been worse than that? 
Garfield's adaptations are engaging and faithful to the plays and if read well to children as young as 7 or 8 will capture their attention. I have used them with children or varied ages and they love to hear Garfield's versions of Shakespeare's work and they want to pick them up and read them. My daughter has also found the Garfield collections wonderful to use with her children aged 6-10.  She has written about this on her own blog (HERE).

A shorter collection, 'Six Shakespeare Stories' was published by Heinemann in 1994 and 'Six More Shakespeare Stories' in 1996.

Other resources

There are a number of other helpful resources and sites for teachers who want to try Shakespeare with children aged 6-12 years.

'Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare' was written by Edith Nesbit in 1907 and is still available in more recent editions (HERE)

A good BBC resource that offers children a simple introduction to Shakespeare and his work (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare 4 Kidz' site is worth a look. Their tag is "Bringing the world of Shakespeare to the young people of the world" (HERE)

'Shakespeare is Elementary' is a great little site developed by an elementary school (Crighton Park) in Novia Scotia Canada. It has some great ideas for getting started (HERE)

You can buy some scripts adapted for young children but I haven't personally tested them (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare for Kids' site also has some helpful advice for teachers using Shakespeare with primary/elementary school children (HERE)

Read more about the Bell Shakespeare work in Sydney HERE

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Titles for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12

I'm always looking for good literature that children who can read independently will find engaging. Lots of books come across my desk for review and here are eleven that caught my interest. I have arranged them in rough age order so that the first books are the easiest (children 6-8 years) and the latter books best for children 10-12 years.

1. 'Lilly the Elf' by Anna Branford and illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)

Anna Branford emerged as a writer of excellent fiction for younger readers in the last five years and writes enjoyable page-turning books mainly (but not exclusively) for girls. There are now four books in this little 'Elf' series, I have seen just two at this stage. The books are centred on the main character that is a little elf who faces varied situations and challenges. The books are meant for very young independent readers who want to step up from picture books to something that 'looks' like a novel and is more challenging. The texts are very simple with between 20 and 30 words per page of large type and simple (but delightful) black and white line and wash drawings.

'The Elf Flute' tells how little Lily receives a surprise package with a silver flute one day from an aunt. But the flute proves more difficult to pay than she thought and emits only whiffles, not sweet sounds. Will she ever make it to the special concert?

'The Wishing Seed' tells how one day Lily (who lives in a tiny house under a bridge) has an encounter with a dandelion seed. She lets the dandelion drift away on the wind and makes a wish. But will her wish come true?

The books are engaging and will be a good source of reading material for children who can read alone at the grade 2 level.

Walker has also published 'The Midnight Owl' and 'The Precious Ring' in the series.

2. 'The Cleo Stories' by Libby Gleeson & illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin)

Libby Gleeson is one of Australia's finest children's authors and Freya Blackwood one of our best and most successful illustrators. This is a wonderful collection of stories about Cleo a little girl with a giant imagination and curiosity. She is a wonderful character that five to six-year-old emerging readers will love. The situations and characters will be well known to these young readers. The stories cover friendship, life's frustrations and patience when waiting for special times, giving and receiving, being accepted.

Freya Blackwood beautifully illustrates the book with her characteristic watercolour images. All in all, it is a wonderful book for 'first' readers. The book was the winner in the Younger Readers category of the 2015 CBC Australia Book of the Year Awards.

3. 'Roses are Blue' by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Gabriel Evans (Walker Books)

Sally Murphy is a highly awarded and acclaimed Australian author who has written many fine books. She is a master of the verse novel that has characterised many of her works, the most successful perhaps being 'Pearl Verses the World' and 'Toppling'.

This is another wonderful book for younger readers (aged 7-9 years). Amber Rose and her family are dealing with tragedy and much change. Amber Rose struggles to accept that her wonderful Mum has gone, and while she loves her new mother, she misses her old mum. A beautiful touching book.

4. 'Kitten Kaboodle - Mission Two: The Lightning Opal' by Eileen O'Hely & illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Walker Books)

This is the second book in the 'Kitten Kaboodle' series.

Kitten Kaboodle is not just a cat, he is a detective! In fact, he is a very surprising cat; even his collar can freeze a dog at twenty paces. Kitten Kaboodle is the number one secret agent at CAT - the Clandestine Activity Taskforce. When the Disaster Organisation Group (DOG) sends an opal-chipped robot to find Kitten Kaboodle, he leads the canines to CAT Headquarters, and then all the way to Lightning Ridge. Can Kitten Kaboodle stop DOG from using the opalised dinosaur skeleton that lies beneath the desert sand?

The simple comic-like illustrations add to the fun of the text in these simple books of about 130 pages with large print and no more than 150 words per page. They are an easy read for readers aged 7-9 years. Younger boys will love the action and fun.

Children will also enjoy 'Mission 1: The Catier Emerald'

5. 'Diary of a Golf Pro' & 'Diary of a Basketball Hero' by Shamini Flint & illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint has been producing a number of these funny books (up to nine now) that appeal to that desire within most young boys and girls to become a great sporting stars. She covers varied sports including Taekwondo, Rugby, Cricket, Track & Field, Soccer and more.

In Diary of a Golf Pro, Marcus who is a maths whiz and not good at sport, tries valiantly to convince his far too persistent father that he does not want to play golf. Poor Marcus and his Dad end up in a match play event with hilarious results and a surprising ending. These are fun books that are a light and enjoyable read for children aged 6-8 years. The line drawings from Sally Heinrich make a great contribution to these amusing books. Tentative and reluctant boy readers will enjoy them.  

6. 'Ten' by Shamini Flint (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint is in her own words "an ex-lawyer and stay-at-home mum who is determined to change the world through writing!" She has a good instinct for what young somewhat reluctant readers want in a book. Her Asian heritage and experience shine through in this book set in her native Malaysia.

Ten-year-old Maya lives for soccer. But no one in her small seaside town in Malaysia shares her obsession: her brother prefers hockey, the girls at school think it's a boys' game, and her grandmother just wants her to be a 'good Indian girl', even though with pale skin and an English father she's already a disappointment. Maya has other problems too. Her parents are constantly arguing, the new girl at school is getting everyone in trouble, and, worst of all, Brazil has just lost the World Cup. But Maya is determined that none of this will stop her from becoming a professional soccer player - the only problem is she's never even kicked a ball.

This is another fresh and authentic tale that grapples with intersection of sport, parental aspirations and children's efforts to he their own person, in spite of what others want or expect.

7. 'Tashi and the Wicked Magician and other stories' by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg & illustrated by Geoff Kelly & Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin)

Tashi is bold and clever, and tells the best stories ever! There's a Magnificent Magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

This is another delightful book in the series of Tashi books that span a number of years. This latest offering is beautifully designed. My review copy was in hard cover and is a delight. It has 90 pages that are interspersed with beautiful illustrations. The stories are engaging and fresh.

Tashi and his friend Jack set out on four fabulous adventures of mystery and magic. Tashi tells tales of courage and daring when faced with a magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house that is about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

8. 'Cartboy Goes to Camp' by L.A. Campbell (Allen & Unwin)

This is a sequel to 'Cartboy and the Time Capsule' and the hapless Hal Rifkind (a.k.a. Cartboy) is off to summer camp. But this is a camp with a difference. This is a history camp where you churn butter, get to plant maize, get your own water from a local stream and can be punished for not doing chores! Hal's hillarious journal is filled with drawings, timelines and photos of this 'special' adventure to a camp where nothing has changed for 400 years. It's a very funny book that readers aged 8-10 will love.

9. 'The Ravenous Gown and 14 More Tales about real beauty' by Steffani Raff (Exisle Publishing)

In a day when princesses have been boiled down to beautiful ball gowns comes a new kind of fairy tale. Fall under the spell of a “Once upon a time…” where beauty is bigger than a reflection, where wisdom makes girls extraordinary, and where curses are broken through the strength and character of unlikely heroines. A magnificent collection of short stories written in fairy tale prose The Ravenous Gown captures the essence of a stronger, smarter princess – the kind that actually lives happily ever after.

This is a wonderful and funny book that intelligent young girls (in particular) will love. It is a collection of 'twisted' new fairy tales. Twisted in the sense that they don't follow the expected plot, or dish up the same 'unreal' characters. All that you have come to expect is turned on its head. Here is a sample in the first story from which the collection takes its name. A princess finds herself in the scullery of a castle in a mess and a fairy godmother comes to her rescue. The princess exclaims:

"I didn't think you actually existed. I thought you were just some convenient literary device used in fairy tales to grant wishes to deserving princesses who found themselves in need."

Each tale has more than a few twists and turns. You will find magic mirrors, dragons, a princess who could fly, a crystal castle and more.

Wonderful stuff!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Giftedness: How to Identify, Develop & Support It

Once giftedness was defined primarily in terms of intellectual skills and knowledge that could be tested with a narrow range of intelligence tests. But increasingly we recognise that giftedness has multiple dimensions (see for example my post on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). While some gifted children demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc). If you are interested in more information on supporting gifted children you can read a previous post HERE which covers some common territory but has additional ideas for older children.     
How do I recognise giftedness in my children?

6yr old drawing of Blue Tongue from predator view
If you live with a gifted child or have one in your class there is a good chance you will begin to recognise a number of characteristics that differentiate them from most children, even most capable children.  While many parents feel their children are gifted as they learn new things (we all think our kids are amazing), exceptional intellectual giftedness is much more rare. While some teachers tend to assume that gifted children can take care of themselves and so require less attention, this can be a dangerous assumption. Life for the highly gifted child can be an extremely frustrating, confusing and at times lonely experience if their giftedness isn't identified and supported. If your child demonstrates, to a significantly greater extent a large number of the following characteristics, they may be gifted and will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents.

  • The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways (and I'm not talking about a six year old making a paper aeroplane). 
  • The desire and ability to investigate their immediate world, to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.
  • Extreme curiosity demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in depth study.
  • Using extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.
  • Understanding and using imagery and metaphorical language at a young age (often under 5 years).
  • Exploring varied interests often at depth, well beyond their years.
  • Being able to learn rapidly and easily compared to other children.
  • Gaining great pleasure and excitement when they are learning new and difficult things.
  • Outstanding memory demonstrated by encyclopaedic recall.
  • A desire to spend time with older children or adults and to learn with and from them.
  • Being able to cope with the introduction of many new ideas, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Wanting to spend large amounts of time learning about a favourite topic.
  • Capable of generating many solutions to verbal or mathematical problems.
  • Enjoying and seeking out frequent intellectual challenges.
  • Demonstrating unusual imagination that is stimulated easily and sometimes independently.
  • Ability to generate multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Showing preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.
  • Often preferring individual work rather than group work and able to work well independently.
  • Demonstrating a highly mature and unusual sense of humour.
  • Sometimes having expectations of themselves that are too demanding and unrealistic.
  • Demonstrating single-mindedness and extreme determination when pursuing interests.

If you think about the above characteristics it should be easy to see how they might well be misinterpreted by teachers and parents who don't understand giftedness. For example, wanting to work independently could be seen as anti-social, single-mindedness can be seen as self-focussed, questioning the assumed knowledge of the teacher could be seen as rudeness and so on. This is why the gifted need to be understood and supported; they are different.

Sketch of 'A Camel & Its Reflection' (Lydia aged 3yrs)
One aspect of giftedness is rich imagination. While all children demonstrate imaginative qualities at a very young age, many seem to lose much of their uninhibited almost natural ability. But some grow and demonstrate this to a greater extent as they age. The gifted demonstrate high levels of imagination, which in turn reflects high levels of creativity and significant knowledge. The latter is important, for creativity requires knowledge (e.g. knowledge of subject, language, mathematics etc), and in most instances associated high levels of skill and proficiency (e.g. hand-eye coordination, observation, computation, bodily dexterity, memory, verbal fluency etc).  

Imagination requires the mind to take existing data or knowledge and reintroduce it in a variety of new forms. If your child demonstrates to a significantly greater extent than most children - a large number of the following types of imaginative activity, they are likely to be gifted. If so, they will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents. I will list just some ways in which imagination is demonstrated and how each form can be stimulated.

1. The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways?

Here a 6 yr old looks at prey from above
Encourage children to look for different perspectives with lots of 'what if?' questions. What if the penguin's wing was bigger? What if we tried to do this another way? What if we had a small city in Antarctica? What if 'The Wind in the Willows' was set in Australia not England? What if you spent most of your life flying, how differently would you understand the world?

2. Using real world objects and knowledge in unusual ways?

Most 'what if' questions can end up here but there are other paths. It requires children to investigate their immediate world (this requires skills), to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.

Simple cubby made from a box
  • Make a cubby house from boxes, old sheets etc (see previous post on cubbies HERE).
  • Create a clubhouse in the back yard with membership rules, club motto, a logo and so on. 
  • Create a new board game with a theme of interest. You can use many formats adapted from existing games or create a new form. It requires them to think of a theme (dragons, 'Polly Pocket', Spider Man etc), a format (e.g. series of boxes with a start and finish), rules for playing and scoring etc. 

3. Encourage the child's extreme curiosity that is typically demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in-depth study

Encourage the study of a topic of interest (but don't be afraid to nudge them on to new areas) by helping to find books, key websites, by taking them to movies, enrichment activities, museums, zoos, special sites, and by helping them to acquire knowledge, buying key tools (e.g. binoculars, microscope, sewing machine, tools). Help them to start an insect collection, a resource book on whales, a short history of your community, a study of one animal, a short talk on the challenges of interplanetary space, a short video on a topic (see my previous post on simple animation HERE), or write their own blog (see my post on children as bloggers HERE).

4. Encourage children to use extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.

  • This is perhaps the easiest area to enrich. Immerse your children in a rich diet of poetry, literature and drama. Share literature and talk about it, make it a key part of the home or classroom. 
  • Play with language, rhyme, introduce new words and technical terms never use an approximate word in the face. 
  • Play with words as part of life, as you play with your children, drive with them in the car, walk with them along the road. 
  • Play word games with them and make it fun! Dr Seuss is a great place to start with general language silliness (see my post on Dr Seuss HERE). 
  • Give them new words in the midst of real life experiences. 
  • Introduce them to literature beyond their immediate experience.

5. Introduce your children to imagery and metaphorical language.

The gifted child will begin to become aware that language has more than literal meanings. Point out some of this richness, encourage them to observe it, and eventually to use it. Point out that language is enriched by simile, metaphor, homophones, homonyms and so on. Again, this can be done in everyday life as you play, travel, share meals (see my previous posts that deal with this HERE , HERE & HERE)

6. Encourage imaginative discovery in as many varied situations as possible.

Play is one way to achieve this, sometimes with adults, sometimes alone, and also with other children (see my previous post on this HERE).

Another way is to provide rich firsthand experiences from a very young age. Many of these are very basic:

  • The squelch of mud between toes on a wet day in the back yard.
  • Running on a sandy beach for the first time.
  • Watching a worm wiggle in the palm of a small hand.
  • Going outside on a dark and cloudless night to gaze and talk about the stars (if you have an iPad, you might use Star Walk).
  • Watching a bird build its nest in a tree in the playground in spring.
  • Doing hand painting.
  • Observing chickens as they grow bigger day by day, collecting the eggs, sweeping the cage.

7. Encourage your child to try to imagine and generate multiple solutions to problems of varied kinds

This will include problems that are verbal, mathematical, scientific and even practical in nature. Let your children see how you or others solve problems. Draw attention to novel solutions that engineers, doctors, builders and artists come up with. Encourage them to discuss and generate novel solutions to hypothetical as well as real problems.

Summing Up

Imaginative play starts early
Some will look at the above list and feel as if all children could benefit from them. There is truth in this, but it's a matter of degree and regularity. All children need to have their imaginations stimulated, not shut down. But the gifted child will experience painful boredom and frustration if their school experience is filled with repetitive and unchallenging work that does little to stimulate their imaginations.

You might like to consider some of the other ideas in my previous post on giftedness HERE
Jacob (4 years) draws Grandad from the unusual vantage point of the fish inside the aquarium looking out

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Helping Children to Love Poetry: 9 ideas and some books

Poetry is a much-neglected part of literature. I've written before about its power to allow us to express and explore varied aspects of the human condition (HERE). I also regularly review good poetry books on this blog. Poetry should be read, listened to, experienced and enjoyed with our children. It can amuse, entertain, challenge, teach and change us. Our aim as teachers and parents should be to seek to share good poetry often, and help children to 'experience' poems as significant literary and life events.

Ariel Sacks wrote a great post a couple of years ago in which she offered some great tips to immerse children in poetry. This is my adaptation of her suggestions: 

1. Giving poetry space in the curriculum to poetry don't just use it as an add-on to other things

2. Offer a variety of reading, speaking and listening experiences with poetry that don't require analysis and dissection.

3. Create an anthology for students - a packet of poems as wide-ranging and diverse as possible (rhyming and non-rhyming, contemporary and ancient poems, easy poems easily comprehended, curious & mystifying, classics & unknown, some written by students.

4. Sometimes create an anthology around a particular theme or image (ecology, justice, humanity...).

5. Provide time to read the poetry collection with no strings attached.

6. Allow students to read poems they like aloud to the class. 

7. Try some choral reading. Perhaps have the class pick one of the poems for choral reading.

8. Experiment with poetry - tone and volume, mood, expression, method of presentation...

9. Perhaps have everyone memorize a few poems. Perhaps a poem that they will know for life!

For some great ideas on poetry and access to great book lists visit the Centre for Excellence in Primary Education (CLPE) which has an annual award for poetry written for children. 

I wrote a post on notable poetry books a few years ago that you might still find useful (HERE).

Here is a short sample of some good recent poetry books and anthologies that might be helpful. They are suggested simply to offer an insight into the variety of poetry books available. I would love to hear of your favourites.

Poems to Perform, Julia Donaldson (editor), illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan)

This is a careful selection of poems, both familiar and new; they contain poetry that lend themselves to being performed in a range of collaborative ways. Progress through the book is subtly themed: gliding through poems about school, football, food and many other matters. It offers succinct suggestions for how they could be presented both verbally and dramatically at the back, leaving plenty of scope for teachers and pupils to make their interpretations. The poems range from classics by Edward Lear, W H Auden, and Eleanor Farjeon, to contemporary work by Michael Rosen, John Agard, and Clare Bevan. It is illustrated throughout with exquisite, expressive linocuts, this is a book for teachers, parents and children; in fact anyone who loves great poetry. I bought this to use with children myself! The descriptions are edited versions of the judge's comments on each book.

The Dragon with a Big Nose, by Kathy Henderson (Frances Lincoln)

This collection has many city poems that capture the feel and vibrancy of urban life. These are odes to the urban environment - its buildings, its transport, the people and creatures that inhabit it and the effects of weather on it. The dragon on the cover disguises the contents. Fantasy and reality converge in poems like ‘Under the Stairs’ and many of them describe wonder in the apparently ordinary, but there are varied poems. The child’s eye viewpoint is foremost and this contributes to this being that rare commodity – a single poet collection for younger children. The poet’s own illustrations work wonderfully with the text.

Bookside Down, by Joanne Limburg (Salt Publishing)

This is Joanne Limburg’s first collection for children. It has a unique and contemporary feel, catching the voice and ear of the intended audience providing thoughtful observations of modern childhood. What happens if you read a book while standing on your head? Dare to discover the answer within these poems that provide a fresh take on school and family life, complete with computapets and a Wii with a Mii channel. Take a prefix lesson that doesn’t deal with grammar too seriously while requiring some understanding to get the joke. Sample the mouth-watering potatoes Dad cooks, tantalising all your senses ‘for truly they are epic’. Don’t lose your temper or you may find important things are lost too.

Wayland. The Tale of the Smith from the Far North, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence (David Fickling Books)

This is the story of Wayland Smith, the strangest of all I know. This beautifully told tale reinvents the northern legend of Wayland the blacksmith, whose craft and skill spread his fame far and wide. But Wayland's talents bring him nothing but pain. It is poetic in form, and is epic in nature. It is a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. Readers are quickly drawn into this 'story' set in a landscape of forests and mountains depicted in John Lawrence’s extraordinary engravings. It is definitely a publication for older children. There is the love of Wayland for his Swan-Maiden and beauty in the way words and pictures reunite them.

Cosmic Disco, by Grace Nichols, illustrated by Alice Wright (Frances Lincoln)

This is a collection of poetry with beautiful rhythms, language and imagery that Grace Nichols always captures with such mastery. This collection whirls us out into the cosmos to dance ‘in the endless El Dorado of stars stars stars’ and back again to ‘that little old blue ball spinning in the corner over yonder’. Nature is personified in many guises. Lady Winter raps out a warning and chastises a cheeky robin. Autumn is a knight with ‘cape of rustling ochre, gold and brown’ and ‘spurs made of sprigs’ and ‘medals made of conkers’. Colours speak, giving persuasive arguments why the artist should choose each one of them. Venus is addressed majestically and a ‘star that time forgot’ given a new name.

Friday, October 2, 2015

9 New Picture Books Worth Sharing

The latest batch of kids' books across my desk for review includes the following great examples.

1. 'Footpath Flowers' by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

This wordless picture book is a visual delight. The ink and watercolour illustrations of Sydney Smith are incredible. The 'story' told by the illustrations is subtle and multi layered. Your journey through the full page and comic-sized multi-framed pages is through the eyes of a small girl with red hooded top who sees a world of flowers in a dense urban landscape. She collects them on her walk with her Dad (largely unnoticed by him), and distributes them in the most delightful way.

Award winning poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith is a gem!

2. 'Remarkably Rexy' written & illustrated by Craig Smith

Everybody seems to love Rex. He dazzles everyone on Serengeti Street for years. He waits for the kids to come home each day, does his usual dance steps and flaunts his looks. Then one day Pamela arrives! The children are now spellbound by this French miss. Rex tries to be cool about it then Towser the street bulldog complicates everything. A delightful story from well-know Australian author and illustrator Craig Smith that will be excellent for read alouds as well as early reading material for 5-7 year olds. There is a QR code that allows a link to an audio version of the story as well.

3. 'How the Sun Got to Coco's House' by Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Bob Graham is a legendary author and illustrator and this latest offering won't disappoint. His beautifully simple line and watercolour illustrations always draw us in. As Coco is tucked into bed, the sun moves on. But where does it go while Coco sleeps? To light the day for polar bears, warm some early fisherman, twinkle in the eye of a whale, cast shadows for Jung Fu tramping through the snow, stir a plane load of passengers, make a rainbow in the Middle East, peak above the roof tops and then... finally, shine a light into Coco's room as a new day starts. Remarkably simple, but wonderfully executed.

4. 'Dandelions' by Katrina McKelvey & Kirrili Lonergan (EK Books)

As a little girl hears her Dad starting the lawn mower, she knows this means one thing; he will be cutting all her beloved dandelions. But in a tender exchange her Dad comes up with a solution. As she tells her Dad of her love for dandelions he finds a survivor and they talk about the places that dandelions go when we blow them. This is a sweet tale with a 'softness' of text and illustrations that are well matched. This will be enjoyed by children aged 3-7. Good for read alouds or independent reading for the older ones.

5. 'Platypus' by Sue Whiting & illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)

Readers of this blog know that I love animal books. I especially love the platypus and count among my most memorable experiences seeing platypuses at play in the early morning waters of creeks and streams. Mark Jackson's illustrations in watercolour and pastel have a richness that seems so well suited to the colour pallet of the world of the platypus. The soft light of dusk or dawn, the deep green of fresh water streams, the thick bush that hides their burrows and shadows their playgrounds are all captured well.

Sue Whiting has written this non-fiction picture book with parallel texts. One is more narrative in style that is foregrounded and the other factual and scientific and sitting towards the bottom of each page. This is a beautiful book that children will enjoy as a read aloud (aged 5 to 8 years) or to read themselves to find out about this fascinating creature (ages 6-9 years).

6. Twelve Months in the Life of.....

This series of three picture books by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling offer a snapshot of a year in the life of children from varied countries. The books are beautifully illustrated and designed, right down to the inside covers! The books are published by a small publisher Exisle Publishing so the might be a little harder to find. Make the effort!

a) 'An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

This is such a delightful book that offers snapshots of five children as they lead their daily lives. Tapping into the multicultural richness of Australia and the varied lives across the nations, they take us on a journey across the months as the children in parallel lead different but related lives. Sharing some things and doing others that relate to their family and cultural traditions. The book weaves a trail through myriad events illustrated on every page - play activities, cultural traditions, celebrations, holidays, changing weather and wildlife, games, traditions. A country of differences but also rich complexity and unity. There is an Aussie Kids website for book with background and classroom ideas.

b) 'An English Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

Once again we trace the lives of five children also culturally and ethnically diverse. The places and traditions might be different, the seasons might seem to be at the 'wrong' time, and the customs aren't quite the same, but there are many parallels as well. Children have fun with one another; they learn and play, have families, celebrate and learn.

c) 'A Scottish Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tania Sterling (Exisle Publishing)

In this book we trace the life of Scottish children. Young readers will see the difference in dress, customs, language, history, games, wildlife culture, sport. But again, they will see in the life of these children much common ground. The book like the others trace five lives and end with a pictorial map showing spatially what this wonderful country looks like.   

7. 'Quest' by Aaron Becker (Walker)

This wordless picture book is a sequel to the book 'Journey' that was an honour book in the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 2014 that I reviewed previously on this site (HERE).

On a wet and dull day two children find themselves presented with a quest from a strange man who emerges from a strange door under a bridge where they have sheltered from the rain. It seems they need to rescue a captured king. This is a visually intriguing and delightful book that will captivate children's imaginations. Like his last work this is an ambitious piece of fantasy without words. The watercolour images have depth, detail and enchanting qualities.

Friday, September 25, 2015

20 Wet Weather or Travel Games for Kids 3-12 years

This is a revised version of a previous post.  In Australia most schools are closed for a short spring break. There is a good chance that many readers will find themselves in cars or buses with children at some stage. Or some in the Northern Hemisphere will be just weeks away from winter weather that will keep children indoors. Here are some alternatives to more screen time.

While we have videos in cars, ipods for personalized music and varied tablets that allow children to play games individually, no trip would be complete without some group games. Don't avoid them! They're fun, they teach and they are good for families.

Above: Photo courtesy of the Australian Newspaper

In this post I feature some excellent language games that can be easily played in the car on long (or short) journeys. Many of them could also be played in a bus, or in some cases, a train. I've tried to keep the ideas simple and adaptable for use with children of varied ages. They are fun and teach as well. 

I've included a number of games that we played with our children in the car when they were young, some I used when teaching and a few new ones that I'd love to play with my grandchildren. Most of the new ones are adaptations of some activities from a great resource published by Usborne Children's books, '50 things to do on a journey' (here). This great resource has a range of written and verbal activities that cover literacy, mathematics and general knowledge. One thing to note about these games is that you don't have to play every one of them competitively. If you do, you might need to handicap older children.

1. Sound word categories

You start this game by agreeing on 3-5 categories (depending on the age of the children and their vocabularies) for which people will have to be able to think of words that belong to them; for example, an insect, flower, person, country, girl's name, action word. Someone chooses a letter (maybe Mum or Dad to make sure that it isn't too hard) that has to be used by everyone and is applied to each category. The fastest person to quickly name their words earns 3 points, the second gets 2 and the third 1. So for the letter 'f' and the three categories insect, country and girl's name you could say fly, France and Fiona. A parent usually acts as the timer.

2. Top 6 (or 10 if your children get to be good at it)

This activity is a variation on the previous 'Sound Word Categories'. You vary it by choosing a category and then seeing if someone can list 6-10 words that fit the category. For example, think of 10 car names, dogs, books, insects, snakes, footballers etc. The person who thinks of the most words in a category wins.

3. Rhyming words

Pick a word that is easy to rhyme with other real words. Each person takes a turn. The winner is the person who is the last one to think of a rhyming word. For example, heat, seat, meat, bleat, sleet, neat, pleat..... If the children are older they can write the words down simultaneously.

4. Don't say yes

This is a slightly harder game but lots of fun. One person has to answer questions and the others get to ask them questions to which the answer is obviously 'yes', but they must answer every question truthfully without saying 'yes'. If they do say 'yes', or can't answer, the turn ends and the person asking the question earns a point. For example, Karen is asked, "Do you like ice-cream"? To which she might answer, "Most people like milk-based products that are cold." The next person in the car asks a question, but it mustn't be simply the same question. For example, they could ask, "Do you like milk-based products in cones?" To which the reply might be, "Some I like to eat in a wafer case."

5. Spotto......

One of our family's favourite games in the car was 'Spotto windmill'. We lived in the country and often drove for 5-6 hours towards the coast. In key areas there were lots of windmills pumping water for stock. But you don't have to use windmills; you can spot billboards, bridges, trees, birds, and animals, almost anything that is common. The game can be concluded in various ways, such as the first to 30, ending it at a specific landmark or just stopping when you're tired of it or you run out of windmills (or whatever).

6. What's your job

This game starts with someone thinking of a job. Others then guess by trying to find out details about what the person does, where they work, they use tools, what skills you need etc. The skill is in asking just the right questions. Does this person work outdoors? Do they drive something? Do they use special tools? Can they work alone? etc. The aim is to see who can get it right. Every person in the car takes it in turns to ask a question and you keep rotating until someone gets it right. That person gets to pick the next job and it all starts over again.

7. Guess my song

Someone picks a song and they have to hum the first line. Everyone in the car has one guess then the person hums an extra line if no-one gets it after the first round. This continues until someone gets the song.

8. Guess the person

One person in the car thinks of a person everyone knows (e.g. a family member, TV star, book character, teacher, cartoon character, famous person), and then everyone takes turns to ask a question about them. Is it a man or a woman? Are they young or old? Does she have black hair? Does he wear glasses? Is she famous?

9. I Spy..

This is a well-known game. It can be varied for young children by simply asking for categories rather than insisting on letter names or sounds. So the variations can include: "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with" 'p' (letter name) or 'p' (sound name) or even, "that is green". The last variation is a good way to involve very young children and the categories can be very varied. "I spy with my little eye a thing that ...." is black...or, a little thing that bites... or, a person who likes coffee... or, a thing the car has to stop at etc.

10. Back to back words

People think of words that begin the way the last word ends. You will need to demonstrate this a few times and it isn't that suitable for children under 6 years. It might go like this: pot, tree, egg, goat, top, pot, turtle, elf, fog, goldfish. You can make the game harder for older children if you like by asking for the words to fit specific single categories like animals, names, places.

11. Who lives there?

This is a great game. Wait till you stop at traffic lights or you are travelling slowly enough to see a house long enough to remember some details. People take turns adding details to describe who might live there. This can be very creative or an accurate set of predictions. Each player builds (plausibly) on the previous person's clues. For example, first person says, "a mother lives there with her three children". The next person says, "the children are aged 3, 7 and 16". The next person says, "their names are, Sue, Pickle and Wobble.". The next says, "Wobble is named after his Dad (Bobble) who is on a round the world yacht trip" etc. When people run out of ideas you start again. You could vary this by choosing a car. The first person might say, "That car has a family of three children and their parents heading for the seaside".

12. Twenty questions

This starts with someone choosing an object, person, place, country etc that others have to identify. The others in the car have a chance to ask questions (maximum of 20 for each thing chosen). The questions are answered with a 'yes' or a 'no'. When someone thinks they know it they can guess. You can score this different ways (or not all). The person whose word is not guessed can score points as can the person who guesses correctly.

13. Memory game

There are many memory games, but a common one involves thinking of things that are in the car (or the boot/trunk), an imaginary backpack, suitcase, the kitchen at home, the beach where you'll visit. The people in the car add an item to a list and the next person must repeat previous details and add their own. People are eliminated when they forget an item. So it could start like this: "In the car we have a radio", to which someone says, "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel", which could become "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel, plus a pesky sister.....". A parent might write them down as you progress to avoid disputes.

14. Never-ending story

This game has two main forms, a single word version and a sentence version. In the word version people in the car take turns adding to a story one word at a time. It might go like this: "It", "was", "the", "first", "day", "of", "the", "monster's", "summer", "camp"....and so on. The members of the game try to make it impossible to add to the story because the last word is pretty much the last word.

The sentence version is slightly more complex but just as much fun.

15. Word association

This game is a bit trickier but can be handled by children 6+. Someone starts with a word and the next person has to add a word that has an association. Using just nouns and verbs is easiest. The game ends when a word is repeated or someone is stuck. You can have winners and losers if you want but it isn't necessary. Here's how it might go. "Dogs", "bark", "bones", "kennel", "growl", "fleas", "wag", "tail", "scratch" etc.

16. Who am I?

The first player thinks of the name of someone who everyone will know then gives a clue about their identity, for example, Big Bird, a relative, a cartoon character etc. The people in the car then take turns trying to guess who it is. If they get it then they have a turn at choosing the identity. For example, if the player chose 'Bob the Builder' they might start like this: "I fix things".

17. Oh no!

This is a great idea for 3-4 people in a car. Someone starts a story with the words "Oh no!" followed by a simple statement. They might say, "Oh no! There's a spider in my pocket." People then take it in turns to add to the story using "but" as their first word to turn a serious circumstance into a not so serious one, and vice versa. They might add, "But it is only plastic". To which someone might say, "but it has dynamite in it". This continues until the players get sick of it or until everyone agrees that an appropriate ending has been found.

18. Special choices

This game requires people to choose between two options and give their reasons. Someone has to come up with the choice. For example, "If I had to choose between snakes or caterpillars" might receive the responses" "I'd choose caterpillars because I'm a robin", or "I'd choose a snake to surprise my teacher" and so on.

Above: Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

19. Twenty-Five
The first person chooses a letter or sound at random. Each person then needs to write down (or say) 25 things inside or outside the car that begin with the letter. The game ends either by at the end of set time (say 3 minutes) and the points are tallied. You can score many ways, such as 1 point for every correct word or 1 for each word and 3-5 for each unique word.

20. Teapot 

This game starts with one player picking a verb (action/doing word). The other players in the car then have to ask questions about the verb, but they replace it with the word "teapot." For example, if the word is "swim", the first question asked might be, "Do cars teapot?" Of the course the answer is "No." Players keep asking questions until someone guesses the verb.
'50 Things to do on a journey', Usborne Activity Cards.

'Children's Holiday Activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning'.

'Holiday activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning'

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 1

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 2

Thursday, September 17, 2015

More on Aboriginal Tales of The Dreamtime

An Introduction for non-Australians

Emily Gap N.T.
Aboriginal** Australians were the original inhabitants of the continent we know today as Australia. They include Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. Together they make up 2.5% of Australia's population today.  It is believed that they are amongst the oldest races on earth with estimates suggesting that they first arrived on this continent between 40,000 and 125,000 years ago. They are an ancient people with a rich and unique culture. There is enormous diversity across the many nations and clans, with an estimated 250-300 spoken languages with 600 dialects. Sadly fewer than 200 of these languages remain and most are in danger of being lost.  Like many non-Aboriginal Australians I see the preservation of Aboriginal languages and their stories as of critical importance. Recently, while travelling in Central Australia this was brought into sharp focus for me.

* This is a revised version of an earlier post
** Please note that there is debate in Australia about reference to the first inhabitants of our great land. For some time we have referred to 'Indigenous Australians'. This name slowly replaced 'Aboriginal Australians' several decades ago due to the views of some Aboriginal people. Many are returning to the use of 'Aboriginal' today instead of 'Indigenous' because it recognises that this proud people of many 'countries' were the first inhabitants of this great land. When I use the name 'Aboriginal' I am referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people who were the first inhabitants of what we now call Australia.

An encounter with the 'The Three Caterpillars'

Mparntwe or Alice Springs is home to the Arrernte people, Aboriginal Australians who have called this beautiful place home for at least 45,000 years.  It is at the geographical centre of Australia. The photo opposite is of a place called 'Emily Gap' that I visited in July while exploring Central Australia. At this place you will find Aboriginal rock art that tells the story of how three caterpillars named Yeperenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye created the MacDonnell Ranges.

 The Arrernte people, believe the ranges were formed by giant caterpillars that entered this world through one of the gaps in the escarpment of the area. In traditional stories the caterpillar ancestors, Yeperenye, Utnerrengatye and Ntyarlke are the major creation forces of the Alice Springs area. These stories tell how they arrived from all directions, first stopping at Mparntwe, a particularly sacred site in Alice Springs, where they battled with the Irlperenye (green stink bug).

'Three Caterpillars' - Emily Gap
The Caterpillars fled when the Irlperenye (stink bug) started to kill them. The ranges around Alice Springs are the seen as the remains of the many caterpillars. The gaps in the ranges like Emily Gap indicate where the stink bugs tore the heads from the bodies of the caterpillars. The rock formations around the area are and the few surviving Yeperenye went on to sculpt the rivers and trees along the tops of the ranges.

'The Three Caterpillars' were painted on the cliff face at some point in time. The dark red and light orange stripes were created by red ochre and white lime blended with animals fats and applied to the rock surface.

Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are associated with specific Aboriginal clans and nations and their lands (countries). These stories are passed on to younger generations by elders and storytellers. They have survived for thousands of years, but the loss of traditional languages and the separation of many Aboriginal people from their traditional land is a threat to their survival. While some of these stories are secret, or are seen as of such a sacred nature that they are only told by specific people to certain people (e.g. told by men to men, or by women to women), in the last 40 years many Aboriginal Dreamtime stories have been shared through children's books.

As a non-Aboriginal Australian (I should add that I might well have at least one Aboriginal ancestor), I love these stories and would like to see more of them written down by the people who own them for others to enjoy. Thankfully, many are being recorded but just as many aren't. For example, to date I haven't come across a written version of 'The Three Caterpillars' that I learned of when exploring Alice Springs.

Some of my favourite Aboriginal Picture Books

Some of my favourite Aboriginal Dreamtime stories have been passed down to all Australian children through the storytelling and wonderful art of Dick Roughsey (1924-1985) or Goobalathaldin to use his tribal name. He was from the island of Langu-narnji in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. His first picture book 'The Giant Devil Dingo' received wide acclaim for the richness of the storytelling, the distinctiveness of his painted illustrations, with their vibrant colours, fascinating detail, and the integration of art and word. It tells of Old Eelgin, the grasshopper woman who was evil and had taught her giant dingo Gaiya to kill men for food. But one day Gaiya meets his match in the Chooku-Chooku (butcher-bird) brothers.

Another of my favourite works by Roughsey is 'The Rainbow Serpent' first published in 1975 and still available. It won the Children's Book Council of Australia award for best picture book in 1976. Goorialla (the Rainbow Serpent) travelled across Australia to find his tribe. As he travelled his tracks formed the mountains, the creeks, lagoons and rivers. The Bil-bil brothers plot to kill him. When Goorialla's anger is spent and he disappears into the sea the world is changed.

Dick Roughsey and Percy Trezise (1923-2005) formed a strong partnership to produce many wonderful books together. While Trezise was not Aboriginal he became Roughsey's brother in a traditional Aboriginal ceremony and was given the name 'Warrenby'. Roughsey lived with his wife and their six children on Mornington Island, but often spent half the year on the North Queensland mainland. He and Percy Trezise discovered and studied the art of Aboriginal cave galleries in the Laura region of Cape York. The Quinkin gallery inspired the award-winning books 'The Quinkins' and 'Turramulli' the 'Giant Quinkin'.
'The Quinkins' is a wonderful story that tells of the Yalanji tribe of Cape York and their encounters with the Quinkins, spirit people of the land with two tribes: Imjim and the Timara. Imjim were small fat-bellied fellows who stole children while Timara were funny and whimsical spirits who like to play tricks. They were tall and very thin and lived in the cracks of the rocks, and they didn't like the Imjim. This is the story of two children, Boonbalbee and Leealin.  This book was an IBBY Honour book in 1980, and was the Children's Book Council Book of Australia Picture Book of the Year in 1979.  As I travelled through northern Australia and looked at the crevices in the rocks the echoes of this story made me think, "could these be Quinkin rocks?"

There are so many of their titles that I love and have enjoyed sharing with children. These include 'The Cave Painters' by Percy Trezise (1988) which tells of the experiences of two Bullanji children Nonda and Mayli as they travel to visit their mother's people, the Yalanji who live in 'Quinkin Country'. 'The Magic Firesticks' (Trezise & Roughsey) is another story of the Yalanji people in Cape York and tells how the people discovered the way to light fires, not simply sustain fires once they were alight. After monsoonal fires quenched all their fires two young men (Bandicoot and Curlew) travel to a far off Fire Mountain where it was said Didmunja (a wise man) had magic sticks which could produce fire when you wanted it.

'Banana Bird and the Snake Man' (Trezise & Roughsey) tells of a time when people who were later to become birds, animals, plants and reptiles were still in human form. The snake men of Cape York were cannibals who would kill people and hang them in trees to be collected later when they were hungry. This story tells of the triumph of Coucal the brother of Banana Bird man who avenges his brother's death and destroys the Snake men. 

Another wonderfully simple book is 'When the snake bites the sun' told by David (Bungal) Mowaljarlai, which was retold and illustrated by Pamela Lofts. This delightful story of the Ngarinyin tribe of Western Australia, tells the story of the sun and why it is as it is today. This was one of a series of simple picture books for preschool children produced in the 1980s some of which are still available. Other books in the series included 'Dunbi the owl', 'Echidna and the shade tree' and 'How the birds got their colours'. We owe Pamela Lofts (who lives in Alice Springs) a great debt for recording and illustrating many Aboriginal stories. You can find a full list here.

Tiddalik Rock (Wollombi NSW)
'What made Tiddalik Laugh' has been produced in various versions of varied authenticity. It is based on the 'Cylorana platycephala' (or Water-holding Frog) that swells as it swallows water. It is sometimes referred to as 'Molok' as well as 'Tiddalik'. The version I first read was Joanna Troughton's beautifully (and amusingly) illustrated version, although this might not be the most authentic traditional version of the story. Tiddalik woke up one morning with an unquenchable thirst. He began to drink all the fresh water he could find till he was satisfied and every creek and billabong was dry. All the creatures and plant life began to die, so the other animals decided to do something about it. But how could they get the water back? Wombat had the answer, make him laugh? But how? The amusing solution involved Platypus in Troughton's version of the story. The story is said to have originated in South Gippsland Victoria but is common along the Eastern seaboard of Australia, so this is unclear. The photo of this rock (opposite) known as Tiddalik rock is located near Wollombi in NSW.

'Enora and the Black Crane', by Arone Raymond Meeks is another fine example of a traditional story being turned into a picture book. Arone Meeks is a member of the Kokoimudji tribe from the Laura area of far North Queensland. This story tells of Enora and how his killing of a crane led to birds acquiring their colours and him becoming the black crane. Winner of Australian IBBY Award for Children's Literature (1994), CBCA picture book of the year (1992) and UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats International Award Silver medal (1992). Arone Meeks also illustrated Catherine Berndt's wonderful book 'Pheasant and Kingfisher' (1987) that was shortlisted by the CBCA in 1988 and won the Crichton Award for Meeks in the same year.

A more recent book which I love is the 'Papunya School Book of Country and History' (2001). This isn't really a Dreamtime story, it is the story of the Anagu people of Central Australia. It offers a balanced telling of the people, their place, their culture and history. It does a good job in speaking of some of the difficult issues arising from the impact of white settlers. It is a wonderful collaboration between well-known non-Aboriginal advocate Nadia Wheatley and Aboriginal writers, storytellers and artists from the staff and students of Papunya School.

Another more recent community collaboration is 'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life At Ardiyooloon' (2011) by One Arm Point Remote Community School.  Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi-Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the north-west of Western Australia. 'Our World: Bardi-Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon' takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Aboriginal community; lives that are very different to those experienced by most Australians. Worthy Honour book in the CBCA awards for 2011 in the 'Eve Pownall Award' for Information Books.

Yet another wonderful collaborative book is 'Playground' (2011) compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle, has been short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Aboriginal Australian Elders, 20 Aboriginal secondary students and with Aboriginal Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present.

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Aboriginal children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Aboriginal life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Aboriginal children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Aboriginal children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Aboriginal people not simply read their stories.

Some other great resources

Based on an Aboriginal Dreamtime story of Waatji Pulyeri (the Blue Wren)

Lovely example of Aboriginal Storytelling, 'How the Kangaroo Got its Pouch' A Wirrajuri tale

Some brief further notes on Aboriginal Australians

In Central Australia the Aboriginal people are called the Anangu. Within this group there are many different language groups including the Pintupi, Warlpiri, Anmatyerre, Pitjantjatjara and Arrente. All Aboriginal Australians come from different 'Ngurra' (homelands or traditional countries) and within their rich cultural traditions have stories, drawings, dances other cultural practices that have been passed down through the generations for millennia.  There has been a wonderful balance and 'bond' between people and their land. They see their ancestors as their teachers and for thousands of years they have taught their children the knowledge of ancestors and a history seen within the very rocks, water courses, hills, fauna and flora of their place. This has been passed down often (but not exclusively) through story. Often these stories are told in the context of place and have been oral, but in the last century some of these stories have been written down so that they can enrich all people, even if perhaps not understanding their full significance.

There is a deep sadness that many non-Aboriginal Australians feel that there has been some loss of language and stories of these unique people. It was with a mixture of joy and sadness that I caught glimpses of the rich connection between Indigenous people and their land while I travelled across Central Australia.  The joy comes from the richness I could see in this connection, but the sadness is that for many Aboriginal Australians this connection is made more difficult by their dislocation from traditional lands. My hope is that more Aboriginal stories will be captured in written and spoken forms.

You might also find my review of 'Welcome to My Country' by Laklak Burarrwanga, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banbapuy Ganambarr, Djawundil Maymuru, Sarah Wright, Sandie Suchet-Pearson and Kate Lloyd. The book is a collaboration between three academics and six Aboriginal women from Bawaka and Yirrkala. It is a publication that literally welcomes you to the Country of Laklak Burarrwanga in Arhhem Land Northern Australia.

Other posts on Aboriginal People

'Better education outcomes for Aboriginal students' HERE

'Aboriginal students making literacy progress' HERE

'The Lucky Country: How are the kids faring?' HERE 

'Australia Day: A time for storytelling and action' HERE 

'Catching a glimpse of our nation through children's literature' HERE

'Requiem for a Beast: A review' HERE