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Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Tracks

Ros Moriarty

Balarinji

Allen & Unwin, 2018

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781760297824

“Follow the bush tracks over the rocks and stones to the coastal hunting grounds…” but be careful as you do because there are wondrous things to see and hidden dangers to avoid along the way. Make a spear, find the fresh water where there seems to be only salty, make a fire to tell others of your approach,  catch a crab in the light of the full moon…

Accompanied by vivid, authentic artworks full of colour and detail that we need to pay as much to as the track we are on, this is a call to venture outside and be as in tune with our surroundings as the traditional owners of this country are. The text speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to be part of this adventure and discovery.

This is the perfect introduction for littlies to the lifestyle of those who have been here for so long, as they investigate what is needed to sustain them.  Most will have accompanied a parent to the supermarket to buy food, but what if there were no supermarkets?  Help them track their thinking back to a time, which still exists, where self-sufficiency is critical for survival. 

Central to the illustrations is the track of the journey and while you might not be able to take your young readers to the “coastal hunting grounds”, you can take them around the school or a nearby park, mapping and photographing the journey and speculating on what might live or depend on the natural elements that you pass.  Investigating and demonstrating the importance of the flora to the fauna, the cycle of the seasons, and the symbiotic interdependence  of Nature regardless of the habitat within which it exists is critical if we are to grow children who appreciate and value their natural environment as much as their built one.

Like its companion, What’s That There? Bush Tracks has a translation of the English into the Yanyuwa language (spoken in families in Borroloola , NT) at the end allowing the young readers of those families to see and read stories in their own language as part of the author’s Indi Kindi initiative as well as demonstrating the power of story regardless of the language spoken, offering those who do not have English as their first language an opportunity to share their mother tongue and its stories. 

Both What’s That There? and Bush Tracks are prime examples of the power of picture books for all ages – done well, there is something for all ages of reader!

What’s That There?

What's That There?

What’s That There?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s That There?

Ros Moriarty

Balarinji

Allen & Unwin, 2017 

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781760297817

Australia is more than a landscape of endless red plains and grey-green gum trees, and in this vividly illustrated book younger readers are encouraged to look more closely at the landscape around them.

Using a predictable text pattern of both question and answer and repetition, the reader is invited to examine the bird’s-eye view of the landscape and engage with the illustrations to identify what it is the bird sees.

What’s that there?

“That’s the rushing river’s curly bend,” cries the sea eagle perched on a swaying, knotted branch. “There, look!”

And in stunning pictures, based on traditional Aboriginal designs and created by Balarinji established by the author and her husband, the astute young reader can indeed pick out the river winding through and the sea eagle from its on-high perch.  Or the hawk soaring over the “cliff face sharp with sun-scorched stones glinting”. Or “the dry, cracked billabong sleeping”  that the stick-bug clinging to the peeling tree bark sees.

As well as being a celebration of the country and its creatures, the poetic text and the stunning illustrations introduce landscapes that may be familiar but but are unseen as we race through life, not pausing to see things through artistic or linguistic eyes, Not only does it encourage us to slow down and think about what we are seeing, it also offers a different perspective.  What do the tops of the grey-green bush look like to the magpies, currawongs and crimson rosellas that are always flying over and around my house? What do they make of the dun coloured, drought-affected grasses that stretch between the trees? 

Understanding and using the bird’s-eye view perspective where things are seen from above, often an unfamiliar angle for our little ones, is a difficult concept to grasp and yet it is an essential skill of mapping and “unplugged coding” so this book is an intriguing way of introducing them to that concept, perhaps even challenging them to try their hand at interpreting their own surroundings from such a perspective. 

 For those who want to explore a different aspect, there is a translation of the English into the Yanyuwa language (spoken in families in Borroloola , NT) at the end which not only allows the young readers of those families to see and read stories in their own language as part of the author’s Indi Kindi initiative but also demonstrates that not everyone speaks English as their first language offering the opportunity to explore the languages spoken by classmates and families and celebrate the value of that first language.  

For a seemingly simple, 24 page book there is so much packed into this, it is a must-have in your collection.

More artwork created by Balarinji

More artwork created by Balarinji

Backyard

Backyard

Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard

Ananda Braxton-Smith

Lizzy Newcomb

Black Dog, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

 9781925381177

Dusk “in this city that is like other cities” and a “sleep-moony child and s star-eyed dog” sit on the back step of their home and watch and listen to the sights and sounds of night falling.  For the back yard is home to other animals apart from them and just taking the time to listen and look can reveal an astounding array of inhabitants that are otherwise often invisible…

While television programs may make us think that nature happens on the vast plains of Africa or the hidden depths of the ocean, in Backyard author and illustrator using poetic descriptive text and exquisite, lifelike illustrations, have brought to life a suburban backyard, exposing critters and creatures that so cleverly hide amongst the plants and bushes, showing that the marvels and miracles are so much closer than we realise. And while our own backyards might not have the particular species shown, that just sets up investigations into what creatures are there; why they are different from those in the book; the influence and impact of day and night; what conditions are needed to protect those that are and encourage more…the possibilities are so many!

But even if scientific investigations are not for you and yours, this is a lyrical lullaby that would serve as a perfect bedtime story as it is so calming and peaceful, encouraging the child to sit and listen and dream and gradually pull the curtains on their day. 

(For those of you wanting to use this as a springboard for a series of lessons that explore your playground or the students’ backyard, a great non fiction companion would be The Australian Backyard Naturalist  by Peter Macinnis who combines his deep skills in science, history and teaching to produce resources for Australian teachers and children.)

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

Mark Greenwood

Andrew McLean

Walker Books, 2018

32pp/. hbk., RRP $A24.99

 9781925081381

February, 1942.  Despite fierce battles, amazing resistance and extraordinary bravery, the fall of Singapore – known as “the Gibraltar of the east” because of its strategic position – was imminent as the Japanese steadily advanced through South East Asia. 

Amongst the women and children and more than 50 000 allied troops taken prisoner of war and herded into the notorious Changi Prison, was Sergeant David ‘Griff ‘ Griffin who tried to keep up the morale of the men by encouraging them to read and tell stories in what became a living hell for those interned, including my father-in-law.  Concerned for the children cooped up without books or toys and with Christmas approaching he and his colleague Captain Leslie Greener inspired the men to make toys with whatever they could find. Griffin was better with words than his hands so using paper scrounged from wherever he could find it, he crafted a story about three friends – Winston the lizard, Martin the Monkey and Wobbly the frog – who found a box that contained the secrets to happiness.  Greener illustrated it and it was typed and bound. 

But the Japanese commander had determined that he must inspect all the toys before they could be given to the children and when presented with The Happiness Box he declared it subversive because the lizard shared the same name as the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and thus it must contain secret messages.  A mate stepped in and declared he would ensure the story was destroyed, and Griff braced himself for the inevitable beating, although the greater pain was knowing that none of the children received any gifts at all – the Japanese general exacting the greatest retribution.

The full story of The Happiness Box and its creators is told in the final pages of the book, one of the few stories of happiness and hope that emerged from the misery and brutality of Changi and the Japanese occupation – one that needed the mastery of both Greenwood and McLean to bring it to a new generation, although five years ago it was made into a musical for young people and for those in Sydney, there will be a one-off performance of it on November 4.

The book itself survived the war, having been buried rather than destroyed, and toured Australia along with Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat and Ned Kelly’s helmet as part of the National Treasures exhibition from Australia’s great libraries. Griffin, who eventually became Lord Mayor of Sydney, donated it to the State Library of NSW where it is currently held.

The original

The original

If ever there were a book that fits the deeper meaning of this year’s CBCA Book Week theme Find Your Treasure then this is it!

 

Teacher

Teacher

Teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher

Gabbie Stroud

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760295905

Even though I requested this book for review I didn’t know if I could read it let alone review it, because even now, 12 years into “retirement”, I am still heavily invested in the world of education, constantly leaping to the defence of my colleagues whenever I hear disparaging comments or “helpful” suggestions.

Not a week goes by without someone who has never stood in front of a class of 30 expectant children uses their power of position to say that Australian education is failing; that teachers need to be held accountable; that this or that should be in the curriculum (although nothing is ever taken out); that teachers are underworked, overpaid and have too many holidays.  They seem to believe that while every child has an innate desire to “reach their potential” that potential or success is defined by academic ability encapsulated in a meaningless score on a one-size-fits-all test administered on a particular day when who knows what else might be going on in the child’s life at the time. 

For my own sanity and peace of mind, these days I use the OFF button whenever I hear this sort of stuff so to request a book that has the subtitle “One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching” seemed stupid.  Did I really want to read about a teacher going through all that remains so familiar  to me (I went back and did another year in a school in 2015) and which is still the life of 90% of my friends?  

Even the cover was confronting- once upon a time teachers were symbolised with a ripe, red apple, wholesome and nutritious, but the one on the cover is just a core.  Is that all we are worth now? Or does it represent all that is left of a teacher after they’ve been in the system, chewed up and spat out with only their essential core of themselves remaining, and that very much exposed?  There are also quotes (and three pages of commentary) about the value and the integrity of the book from people that anyone in education will recognise but none from anyone whose opinion of teachers was changed by reading it.  With such illustrious company already spruiking its value, what could I, as just one of tens of thousands of Gabbie Strouds, without a fancy title or a string of letters after my name add to what had already been said? All I have is 46 years  of experience in schools, a mixture of successes, failures and mistakes, and a deep and abiding passion for children who deserve more than they get at home and school. They are the ones who will be making the decisions about my life in my old age and I want them to be the best they can be!

And so I started – and I couldn’t put it down.  Here was my teaching experience, and that of almost every other teacher, laid out in front of me reminding me of what I did and why I did it.  Every one of us remembers the bright eyed, bushy-tailed, eager graduate who finally bid farewell to Uni knowing that all those worst-case scenarios we’d been told about would never happen in our classroom. Every one of us recalls that first day in front of our first class and watching four years of university learning fly out the window. Every one of us has a Grayson, a Ryan, an Ed, a Warren, a Billie for whom life at school was better than being at home, whose role models there set them up for failure in a society that demanded manners, proper language, and a range of acceptable strategies for dealing with frustration and who learned that what they had learned only got them into strife but who didn’t learn any other ways. Every one of us has had a principal who is too scared to rock the boat, who is driven by the numbers of bums on seats and the public perceptions of the school.   Every one of us has had colleagues who support us, hold our hands, offer chocolate and empathy when it is needed in a way that no one else can because they’ve been there themselves, and those who would rather compete than collaborate.  Every one of us knows the drawn-out staff meetings, the endless professional learning about the-new-best-thing-to-revolutionise-education when we know it’s a case of everything-old-is-new-again, the hours devoted to writing individualised reports that will only get a cursory glance or an angry please-explain phone call. Every one of us has known the partner who doesn’t get that this is a 24/7/365 commitment and the consequent juggling of the needs of family and the needs of kids who see us more than our own do.  Every one of us knows the times we’ve had to miss a family event because of planning and preparation and the endless paperwork that soaks up the hours that are not 9-3.  (I’ve always said that 9-3 is performance time; the other 18 hours are preparing for the performance.)  And the lucky ones among us have taught at Belmora and made lifelong friendships just as we have all experienced Paradise.

Every one of us has walked in the author’s shoes, even if it was to a different destination.

When Gabbie’s brother Phil committed suicide an astute teacher who knew she was hurting but was probably invisible as the rest of her Catholic family wrestled with his death and it implications, told Gabbie that she was a writer and she needed to “write her way through this.”  And just as she did then, so she has done now – working her way through a tale so familiar to those “on the inside” from the child who knew she wanted to teach to one who was outstanding but for whom the cost became too much and the price to pay unbearable.  In a narrative that makes you laugh and cry as you remember, empathise and sympathise, even those who have not been teachers get such a clear insight into the life, struggles and emotions that make up what it is to stand up in front of 30 expectant little people each day, putting yourself aside so that you can help them be the best they can be. 

Will this book change Australia’s public perception of teachers? No – because those who should read it, won’t.  Will it stop the politicians and power-brokers constantly meddling in what teachers should teach? No – because they are too bound up in their own “success” that is dependent on being seen to be fixing things (even when they aren’t broken) and teachers are such easy targets that anything that humanises them is off-limits. So, apart from coming to terms with her own situation, what will Gabbie achieve from this?  I believe it will be something more important – because teachers will read it, recognise themselves,  remember that inner drive that compelled them to teach, review what they do, realise that people are more important than paperwork,  renew their passion and revitalise themselves so they get back to the core of teaching – relationships! 

And that can only be good for the kids in our care.  

When I review children’s books I look for those in which children can see themselves and understand that they, their issues and problems are not unique – they are shared by many others and so they can gain comfort from not being alone, from not being the ‘freak’ they often perceive themselves to be. Teacher is such a mirror.  With many students starting this new term with an unfamiliar face in front of them because yet another teacher has moved on this is a book that needs to be shared widely and discussed in staff meetings.  With long-term tenure in politics so fragile, it is unlikely we are going to extract the meddling fingers of the politicians from our profession – fiddling with education and blaming teachers is a crowd-pleaser – so we need to sit down with our colleagues, have the courage to speak openly, share the issues impacting us and work out strategies that can support each of us now and into the future.  We need to create a collaborative culture that allows for the sharing of problems knowing that there will be support and understanding, not condemnation and a feeling of failure as reality meets ideality, particularly for those less-experienced. Each child belongs to all of us.   “No man is an island…”

Reviewers get to keep the books they review, but instead of this one sitting on my shelf, I’m sending it off to a colleague with instructions for her to pass it on and for it to be passed on and on and on until it falls apart from being read by teachers who are feeling swamped by the system and need a reminder of the personal rather than the public, of the individual rather than the crowd, and the  people they have touched rather than the paperwork which has piled up, of the fact that they are the nurturers of the future rather than the fiction that they are the failures of society. As deputy principal I know she will use it as a catalyst for reflection and discussion in her school and knowing her principal, they will work together to make it a force for improvement.

The author’s final words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching. Teaching left me”.  For Gabbie, the only outcome for her was to leave what she loved so she could become the whole apple again. After devoting over two-thirds of my life to the profession, my words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching.  Teaching left me…proud, privileged, exhilarated, satisfied, fulfilled, with a profound knowledge of how people tick so I can bring out the best in them yet a little saddened that not every teacher can be so positive and not every child can be taught by those who have inspired, guided and mentored me.” For I have been privileged to work with the crème de la crème for most of those 45 years, relationships I still treasure and draw on. 

Teacher gives each of us an opportunity to read, review and reflect on our own stories and write the next chapters so that when that time comes we can say, “Teaching left me…” 

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases

Sue Lawson & Auntie Fay Muir

Black Dog Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781921977015

From the publisher…“Nganga is an authoritative and concise collection of words and phrases related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and issues.

Nganga (ng gar na): To see and understand. Aunty, Uncle, sorry business, deadly, women’s business, marngrook, dreamtime, Elders, songlines. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander words have become part of our everyday vocabulary but we may not know their true meaning or where the words come from. In Nganga, Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson have brought together these words, their meanings and their history. “

Because Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir is an Elder and Traditional Owner of Boon Wurrung Country; the senior linguist at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages in Melbourne; and  an advisor for the national curriculum on language and culture, the authority of this book is impeccable.  

Beginning with an explanation of the clan system and the conflicts between the Aboriginal belief system and that of the European settlers which has led to deep-seated issues that are still being resolved, it explains some of the terms commonly used by our indigenous peoples, many of which have a different interpretation  from the traditional English meaning normally associated with them.  There is a difference between Aboriginal, aboriginal and aborigine and while we associate “aunty” with a sister of our parents, for Aboriginal Peoples it is a term or respect for any older woman, whether a relative or not.

Given it is only 56 years since all indigenous Australians were given the right to vote in federal elections and while there has been progress towards respect, recognition and reconciliation in many areas, there are still divisions amongst the cultures including the recognition of January 26 as Invasion Day rather than Australia Day, so any authoritative resource that can increase our students’ understanding of the place and role that indigenous Australians have in this country’s history and culture has to be welcomed and promoted as essential.   

Well set out, written in language that is easily accessible with lots of cross-references for better understanding, this should be an integral part of any unit focusing on the ATSI cross-curriculum priority.

 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Waves - for those who come across the sea

Waves – for those who come across the sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waves – for those who come across the sea

Donna Rawlins

Heather Potter  & Mark Jackson

Black Dog, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781925381641

“If you are not an Indigenous Australian, your family have, at some stage, come to Australia from across the waves.”

“Every journey is perilous, every situation heartbreaking. Every refugee is a person forced by famine or war or fear to leave their
home, their families, their friends and all they know. Children have travelled on the waves of migration to the shores of Australia for
tens of thousands of years. This book tells some of their stories.” 

In this poignant narrative non fiction that begins with endpapers forming a timeline of people and their vessels from 50 000 years ago to the present, we meet the fictional children who are representative of all those who have come before as they tell their stories of their situation and circumstances and their anticipation for a new life in a new land. War, famine and fear have forced each of them to leave all that is familiar and escape across the treacherous seas to safety and security with the waves of migration almost as regular as  those that hit our shores interminably.  

Somewhat reminiscent of the iconic My Place by Nadia Wheatley, each double-page spread presents a new child’s story, a snippet of the life that set them on the waves and the life they hope to have, softly and superbly illustrated to give life to the words. 

From Anak who arrives by raft from Indonesia to settle in northern coastal Australia 55 000 years ago to  the refugees of the the present day, it demonstrates how this nation has been shaped by those who have sought solace, safety and security here.  But as well as bringing to life this country’s chronological migration history, it is also an opportunity to spark students’ interest in their own stories and to investigate the circumstances that brought their families across the waves.  Naturally this would have to be done with some sensitivity as not all would be stories that parents would want to be shared especially if there were difficult or traumatic circumstances but it could fill parts of the identity jigsaw as well as stimulate greater understanding and empathy for others.

Teachers’ notes focusing on the History and English strands of the Australian Curriculum for Years 3-6+ are available. 

If we are to put human faces to our history so that its study has relevance, meaning and connection for our young students, this is a must-have to be in every collection and to be promoted. It is indeed part of Australia: Story Country.

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

Sorry Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry Day

Coral Vass

Dub Leffler

NLA Publishing, 2018

34pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279033

Standing amidst the large crowd gathered on the slopes of Parliament House in Canberra is light-haired, fair-skinned Maggie clutching her Aboriginal mother’s hand waiting for the most important speech from a politician for generations.  It is February 13, 2008 and, on behalf of a more enlightened nation,  the newly-elected Prime Minister is about to deliver the long-awaited apology to all Australia’s indigenous peoples for their losses in past times when it was thought that their children would be better off if they were taken to live with and be raised by white families – the Stolen Generations.

In a time ‘long ago and not-so-long-ago’ children were taken from their parents, their ‘sorrow echoing across the land’. 

Intertwined with Maggie’s story of anticipation and sudden loss as she falls among the legs of the crowd, is that of her mother, a young girl in different times when the roar of a truck and the thud of boots was a signal to hide before the white men came to take them.

“Screams echoed across the land as they scrambled to escape, sliding in the mud with every step.”

But, in the final fold-out flap the stories merge as Kevin Rudd proclaims,For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.  To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry… We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”  

And at last, hope glimmers.

The recognition of the treatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples was a central focus of the 2007 election campaign for it had been 40 years since the referendum to acknowledge and include  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as citizens of Australia, and ten years since the historic Bringing Them Home report  was tabled in Federal Parliament. 

While many of an older generation will remember where they were on the day of the speech, our younger generations may not understand its significance seeing it as just another day paid homage during the school year. So to have such a beautifully written story with such evocative illustrations to explain its importance – perhaps akin to ANZAC Day in the shaping of our nation – is superb and a must-have in every school library collection, particularly as there are two pages of explanation and illustrations drawing on the collection of the National Library of Australia  to complete it. 

In a few, well-chosen words and sublimely constructed sentences, Coral Vass has written an evocative story that not only expresses the heartbreak of those whose children were taken but also the fear of the children as Maggie is briefly separated from her mother.  Accompanied by unforgettable illustrations that capture the landscape, the emotions and the tension of both Maggie and her mother’s stories, this is a unique story that enables all of us to understand the importance of May 26 each year.

Teachers notes are available

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy (series)

Jane Smith

Pat Kan

Big Sky Publishing, 2016-2018

100pp., pbk., RRP $A12.50

When Tommy Bell is sent to work on his grandfather’s farm for the school holidays, he is very reluctant to go because he would rather stay with his mates in his regional NSW town.  But while he is exploring a cave, he discovers an old bushranger’s hat and he is whisked back to a previous time when these outlaws roamed the Australian bush.

Each book in the series brings Tommy and his friends face-to-face with one of our history’s well-known bushranger characters and as they are involved in an exciting adventure they learn not only about our past but also themselves as the historic story parallels their contemporary lives. 

Written for independent young readers, this series offers a different theme for this audience with its time-travelling going backwards rather than forwards.  The first, Shoot Out at the Rock, was a 2017 CBCA Notable, a testament to the content and the quality of the writing. 

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Dog and the Summer Holiday

Corinne Fenton

Robin Cowcher

Black Dog, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925381160

“The long, lazy  days of summer holidays waited like parcels in a lucky dip” and under Little Dog’s supervision Jonathan and Annie are packing their shiny new caravan ready for the summer road trip!  From Melbourne to Sydney and back there are many places to visit and things to see – crossing the Murray River into NSW, visiting the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox five miles from Gundagai, battling Sydney traffic to cross the Harbour Bridge, swimming at Bondi Beach, taking the ferry to Manly… but when it all comes down to it, there is one place that Little Dog likes better than any other!.

While the text alone could be that of a story today, Robin Cowcher’s gentle watercolour illustrations take this story back to the late 50s when caravans were rounded and there were no New Year’s Eve fireworks on the harbour.  Just as Little Dog and the Christmas Wish celebrated Melbourne, this new adventure celebrates Sydney.  Road trips remain a popular way to holiday for many families – mine included – and readers will have fun comparing their experiences to those of Jonathan and Annie and Little Dog.  Has anything really changed? If the story were written for 2018, what would be different?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

The shape and inclusions may have changed, but has the fun?

A great story to share as students return from holidays and have their own stories to share.