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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Transformational Teaching & Learning - 6 Key Steps

Much has been said about 'Transformational Teaching' and 'Transformational Learning' in recent times. Is this just academic nonsense or is there some significance to the terms and the practices.

In the simplest possible terms Transformational Teaching (TT) is teaching that creates learning environments that change learners. It changes the way they approach tasks, the questions they ask of the tasks, their expectations for what they will learn from a task, and their expectations for its use and application. It in effect helps to change the way learners understand learning, co-learners, their teachers and themselves.

The opposite of Transformational teaching is 'Transactional Teaching'. This can be recognised by its characteristic transmission of knowledge from teacher to child and its focus on integrating knowledge of others largely as individual learners. Its major concern is what the learner knows and will learn.

While knowledge is important and there is a role for transactional approaches to developing it, there are other ways to learn. Transformational Teaching values knowledge too, but it is characterised much more by inquiry, discovery, firsthand experience, critical thinking and the use of varied communication and thinking skills, than simply knowledge transmission.

6 Key Steps to using Transformational Teaching.

Step 1 - Develop effective routines

What I mean by this is that a classroom that allows inquiry, experimentation, problem solving and lots of interaction needs to be VERY well organised. It is not synonymous with classroom chaos, although there will inevitably be a little more noise.

Step 2 - Organise classroom space & materials well

TT requires a room where materials are available, spaces are provided that permit interaction, additional access is given to computers and other key resources.

Step 3 - Establish clear expectations with students about what can and cannot occur

We need to establish some basic rules about sharing space, movement, sharing materials, how class members interact, time frames for task completion and so on. All must be clear and revisited regularly.

Step 4 - Implement routines for the sharing of ideas and discoveries

Classrooms where TT is practised need to be places where ideas are shared and celebrated. Audiences are very important to testing ideas, receiving feedback and learning from one another.

Step 5 - Place a high importance on quality outcomes and behaviour

Classrooms that are characterised by TT are places where standards are high. Near enough is not good enough, there must be accountability in terms of quality, task completion respect for others and so on.

Step 6 - Place a priority on communication, feedback, task evaluation, honesty & respect

This is the key to a vibrant engine room in any classroom. Classrooms where there is honesty, generosity and accurate feedback are places where members will take risks as learners. Ensure that these are present and part of you regular maintenance work as a teacher.

What do these classes do?

I'll probably say more about this in a future post but in general terms Transformational Teaching leads to classroom environments where you will see:
  • much greater interaction between students as well as much great interaction with the teacher;
  • much more group work (and these will vary based on topic, interest and expertise, not simply general ability;
  • the teacher leading from behind as much as from the front;
  • more celebration of work and achievements;
  • greater learner autonomy within clear boundaries;
  • regular demonstration, and expert resource people visiting;
  • increased use of multi-modal responses (shared use of images, words, drama, art etc);
  • increased risk taking, experimentation, problem solving and creativity; and
  • high expectations and standards for work and behaviour.

Monday, August 31, 2015

How About a Literature Unit on Cats? 20 books & ideas to get started!

I've written many posts about Key Themes in children's literature. While cats haven't taken over the children's literature field quite as much as they've seized the Internet, there are MANY books about them. Here is a sample. I'd love to hear of some of your favourites as well.

A unit on cats would be a lot of fun. There would be so many angles. You could consider:
  • the adventures of cats
  • ways cats 'change' our world
  • the many personalities of cats
  • cats from many nations
  • their relationship to people
  • the world through the eyes of cats

1. 'Sam, Bangs & Moonshine' by Evaline Ness

Sam (short for Samantha) is a fisherman's daughter who dreams wonderful dreams, Her father calls them moonshine. But when her 'stretched' stories bring a disaster to her friend Thomas (and her cat Bangs). Sam learns finally to judge the difference between reality and moonshine.

Sam, Bangs & Moonshine was the winner of the 1967 Caldecott Medal

2. 'Moses the Kitten' by James Herriot and illustrated by Peter Barrett

James Herriot is well known to us as a storyteller. 'Moses the Kitten' is a story about a tiny and scruffy kitten found beside a frozen pond. It is nursed back to health on a nearby farm.

3. 'The Cat in the Hat' by Dr Seuss

Dick and Sally are stuck inside on a cold and wet day with nothing to do. That is until a very large cat in an absurd hat turns up. This transforms a dull day into a crazy adventure that almost wrecks the house while their mother is out.

'The Cat in the Hat Comes Back'

This is a follow on from 'The Cat in the Hat'. It’s a snowy day and Dick and Sally are stuck shovelling . . . until the Cat in the Hat arrives to liven things up (to say the least!).

4. 'The Tale of Tom Kitten', Beatrix Potter

This Beatrix Potter classic tale is set in the cottage garden Beatrix created herself at Hill Top, the farm she owned near the village of Sawrey. It is the 8th book in her well-known 23 book series of little books. Tom and his sisters look so smart in their new clothes. But when their mother sends them outside, she couldn't possibly guess what a mess they will get themselves into.

'The Tale of Ginger and Pickles'

Ginger (a dog) and Pickles (a ginger cat) have a very popular shop. Their customers loved to buy their provisions there, but they don't like to pay and are always after credit. The Tale of Ginger and Pickles is book 18 in Beatrix Potter series.

5. 'Catwings' by Ursula K. Le Guin and illustrated by S.D. Schindler

Mrs Tabby can't quite explain why her four kittens were born with wings. But she is grateful that they use their flying skills to soar away from the dangerous city also have its difficulties.

6. 'Slinky Malinki' by Lynley Dodd

Slinky Malinki is a character that first appeared in Dodd's famous story of 'Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy'. This rascally cat gets up to lots of mischief.  At night he turns into a thief.  There have been a number of other Slinky Malinki stories from Dodd (here).

7. 'Where Is Catkin?' by Janet Lord and illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Catkin jumps off Amy's lap and heads out for his daily hunt. He hears the creatures hidden in the yard cricket, frog, mouse, snake but cant find them. But the hunter becomes the hunted before Catkin gets safely back home.

8. 'My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes' by Eve Sutton and illustrated by Lynley Dodd

The Internet is filled with cats from around the world that do exciting things. This simple picture book tells of some of the many and simple adventures cats can have. This ordinary house cat, likes to hide in boxes. This is a wonderful rhyming story that is perfect for beginning readers.

9. 'The Boy Who Drew Cats: A Japanese Folktale' by Arthur A. Levine and illustrated by Frédéric Clément

This is a mystical traditional Japanese tale. In it, we follow Kenji on a journey to a mysterious mountain, an eerie, abandoned temple, and the threat of the terrible Goblin Rat. The beautiful illustrations (paintings) add greatly to drama of the story.

10. 'The Church Mouse' written and illustrated by Graham Oakley

This was Oakley's first book in the series of books about the life and adventures of some mice that live in an old church and get up to many adventures and was written in 1972. Since this many have followed including 'The Church Mice Adrift' and 'The Church Cat Abroad'. In the initial book Arthur the church mouse is living in the Wortlethorpe church vestry, but he gets very lonely with only Sampson the church cat for company. So he decides to search for some new companions.

11. 'Come down, cat!' by Sonya Hartnett and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

The day is ending, night is falling, and Nicholas's cat won't come down from the roof! She licks her paws while he worries about her. How will he coax her back to his safe and warm house?

12. 'Madeline and the Cats of Rome' (from the Madeline series) by John Bemelmans Marciano

This is one of the well-known Madeline books. The Paris skies are grey, so Miss Clavel and the twelve little girls are leaving for the better weather of spring in Rome. As well as the great sites of Rome Madeline has an unexpected adventure, that involves a thief, a chase, and many, many cats.

13. 'No Kiss for Mother' by Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer is a genius as an author and illustrator. This book might not be as well known to some as some of his other works, but it is a wonderful book. The central character is Piper Paw, a feisty and mischievous cat. Hi rebellious ways are a challenge to his parents with some interesting outcomes.

14. 'The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch' by Ronda and David Armitage

I've always loved this book, and so does every child who hears it or reads it. It's a simple plot, The lighthouse keeper gets his lunch every by flying fox that holds a basket that his wife has prepared for him and sends down the wire from home on the cliffs to the lighthouse. But the seagulls begin to steal it so serious steps need to be taken to solve the problem. This includes one with Hamish the cat.

15. 'Dog In, Cat Out' by Gillian Rubinstein and illustrated by Ann James

This delightful word concept book is as simple as its title suggests, but there is linguistic complexity in the words and depth to every illustration. Cat and dog jostle for favour and precedence in this family. So, if Dog is out, Cat will slip in. And on it goes. The book has just four words. 'Dog in, cat out', with just one variation, on the last page just one is in. You'll need to read the book to see who it is.

16. 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat' by Jenny Wagner and illustrated by Ron Brooks

This is one of my favourite picture books by a star team. Rose lives alone with her faithful dog John Brown, but one day things change when Rose sights a black cat out side and wants to invite it in. John Brown doesn't think Rose needs a cat and so resists her efforts to bring it in. Once day Rose just refuses to get up. This is a story with many levels of meaning that will suit readers from 4-8 years.

17. 'Mog the Forgetful Cat' written and illustrated  by Judith Kerr

Mog is always in trouble because she is very forgetful. She forgets that she has a cat flap, and even when she has already had dinner. One night when an uninvited visitor turns up her forgetfulness is helpful. In every book that has followed, Mog gets into a different situation with another new character. 
Judith Kerr wrote her very popular 'Mog' series over a period of 42 years. She finally killed off this delightful little cat in 2002 ('Goodbye, Mog') as she neared the age of 80. In her final Mog book she dies of old age and goes to heaven. She based her illustrations on her own family home in London. The two children in the books were named after her middle names.

18. 'The World that Jack Built' by Ruth Brown

This wonderful book draws on the well-known rhyme and gives it a significant twist and an ecological theme. We follow a cat as it chases a butterfly across a section of its world and as we do so we see a transformation in the ecology of the world 'that Jack built'. In stark contrast to the beauty at the start is a world polluted and degraded by the end of the book.

19. 'Crikey and Cat' by Chris McKimmie

This is a story centred on a cat that speaks of the centrality of creativity and friendship to life. It is an intriguing and captivating book. When the stars don't come out, sometimes all you need to fix it is a ladder, some friends and a hardware store.

20.  'Millions of Cats' by Wanda Gag    

There was an old man and an old woman who were lonely. They seek a cat, but the old man finds not one cat, hundred and thousands, millions and billions and trillions of cats. How can he decide which one will be the best pet? He brought them all home. A tale about an old couple and how they came to have just one cat to call their own. This is classic story that has been loved by many generations. Winner of the Newbery Medal in 1929.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Children's Book Council Awards for 2015: Winners & Honour Books

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards were announced on the 21st August. This event always marks the beginning of Children’s Book Week. As usual, the winners and honour books are a fabulous collection. But for every book that wins or is an honour book, there are many more worthy books. Thankfully, the CBCA publishes a set of category lists for approximately 100 notable books each year. You can find the lists HERE.

This year we have superb books and memorable successes.  Perhaps the stand out is the success of illustrator Freya Blackwood in winning not one but three awards. Readers of this blog will recognise that her talent was spotted long ago on this blog and that I have featured many of Freya Blackwood's beautifully illustrated books, including My Two Blankets written by Irena Kobald, which I reviewed in my last post. This of course has now been named Picture Book of the Year. Amazingly, Freya has no formal training in art and took up illustrating while she was working on The Lord of The Ring's film trilogy as an effects technician.  Freya began a collaboration with well known author Libby Gleeson on the book 'Amy & Louis' that won Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in 2007. This was published as 'Half a World Away' in the USA.

As well as best picture book, Blackwood won in two other categories with Libby Gleeson. In the Early Childhood category for Go to Sleep, Jessie! In the Younger Readers category Gleeson's wonderful story and Blackwood's beautiful pencil and watercolour illustrations are magical in 'The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present'

1. Older Readers


'The Protected' by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)

This is the story of one girl Hannah who lost her sister Katie in a terrible car accident. Her family is torn apart by grief and guilt and such wounds can take a long time to heal. "I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old."

Hannah's world is in pieces and she doesn't need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mother, an injured dad, and a dead sister, who wouldn't have problems? Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn't afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?"

Honour Books
'Nona & Me', by Clare Atkins (Black Inc.)
'The Minnow' by Diana Sweeney (Text Publishing)

2. Younger Readers


'The Cleo Stories The Necklace and the Present', by Libby Gleeson, Illustrator Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin)

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.

Beautifully illustrated by Freya Blackwood with her characteristic watercolour images. A wonderful book for 'first' readers.

Honour Books

'Two Wolves' by Tristan Bancks (Random House Australia)

'Withering-by-Sea: a Stella Montgomery Intrigue', by Judith Rossell, Judith (ABC Books, Harper Collins Publishers)

3. Early Childhood


'Go to Sleep, Jessie!', by Libby Gleeson, illustrator Freya Blackwood (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont)

Why can't Jessie go to sleep? She stands in her cot, and protests. Her sister can’t sleep either, why does she have to share a room with her anyway? This is a familiar situation with a more significant deeper layer. It isn't just about sisters cohabiting. This book taps into the theme of sibling rivalry and love.

Freya Blackwood’s illustrations once again help to produce a memorable book. Her watercolour, and pencil images give an insight into the frustration of the big sister. Her work with Gleeson is a wonderful collaboration.

Honour Books

'Scary Night' by Lesley Gibbes, illustrator Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press)
'Noni the Pony goes to the Beach', written and illustrated by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin)

4. Picture Book of the Year


'My Two Blankets', illustrator Freya Blackwood, text by Irena Kobald (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont)

This is the story of a young girl called Cartwheel. She leaves her war-ravaged country and heads for somewhere seen as safe. But the new country is so strange and foreign that she is confused and wonders who she is. She finds comfort in a metaphorical blanket. This is a blanket of blue-grey words and angular sounds. A young girl offers her friendship and teaches her some words. Cartwheel takes these words and begins to create a new blanket. And from these words and sounds she learns new things. At first it is all too hard, but over time her angular world develops a smoother and more comfortable form and is as warm and familiar as her old blanket.

Freya Blackwood is a brilliant illustrator and she takes this complex text and weaves her magic to create a very special book. In the illustrator's words:

"The metaphorical blanket was a difficult concept to illustrate and took me a long time to solve. But I was really attracted to the idea of a visual interpretation of feelings, sounds and words."

Honour Books

'One Minute's Silence', illustrator Michael Camilleri, text David Metzenthen (Allen & Unwin)
There were many books about war and conflict in the shortlist this year, one in which we remembered that it is 100 years since the Gallipoli landing that is such a significant part of Australian, New Zealand and British history. As such it was fitting to see 'One Minute's Silence' named as an honour book. I suspect that this wonderful book might have won but for the brilliance of 'My Two Blankets'.

'The Stone Lion', illustrator Ritva Voutila, text Margaret Wild (Little Hare, Hardie Grant Egmont)

5. Eve Pownall Award for Information Books


'A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen's Land', author/illustrator Simon Barnard (Text Publishing)

This is a wonderful book that many primary aged readers will love. In the early days of white settlement in Australia 70,000 convicts were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (which we know today as the Australian state of Tasmania). These dislocated and damaged people played a key role in the building of Australia as a nation.

Simon Barnard’s 'A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land' is a wonderful account of the lives of men, women and children who were transported to a strange land for varied crimes. The details of their lives are fascinating, including their sentences, punishments and achievements.

Barnard's illustrations are also memorable with instricate details that will have young readers returning again and again to the book.

Honour Books

'Tea and Sugar Christmas', by Jane Jolly, illustrator Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia)

'Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime', by Carlie Walker, illustrator Brett Hatherly (Department of Veterans' Affairs)