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What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes Me A Me?

Ben Faulks

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781408883327

Who am I?
I ask myself.
What makes me a ME?
I think hard with all my might,
And look around to see.

What is it that makes us unique, unlike anything or anyone else despite the similarities we see? Are we like our clothes -the same shape and the same age; maybe like a computer that knows lots of things; or perhaps a tree because our arms stick out like branches? But then, for everything we see a similarity with there are also subtle differences.  Super Guy helps the goodies and fights the baddies but he also likes to kiss girls!  Maybe we move like a snail, especially first thing in the morning, but where are our eyes on stalks and the slimy trail?

The author of Watch Out for Muddy Puddles  and the illustrator of You Can’t Take an Elephant on a Bus  have combined to create an intriguing story-in-rhyme that encourages children to think about their identity and what it is that makes them special.  Because no matter how like something or someone you are, there is always a subtle – or not-so subtle- difference that makes you, you.  

A perfect parent-child read-along, it would also be the ideal introduction to an early childhood unit that explores each child’s individuality while still acknowledging that each is human and has the same needs and dreams as their friends.  They could have fun thinking how they might be like something, especially if their thinking is extended by pulling the name of an object out of a hat (perhaps a woolly blue one) and looking for a link. My friend tells me I am an eggbeater but didn’t say if it’s because I’m always whirring around or whipping everything up!!!  Lots of potential for all sorts of activities in this one. 

Soon

Soon

Soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon

Jessica Love

Echo Books, 2015

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9780994232397

My dad is leaving soon.

He is going to another country to help keep other families safe.

Soon is coming too fast…

It is Christmas today.

My dad is still gone. I am sad.  Christmas feels strange without him… but soon is getting closer.

Time is such an abstract concept for young children to grasp that adults usually resort to the seemingly innocuous “soon” when asked, “How long till…?”

But soon can seem to be a long time when you’re young, seemingly meaning  “forever” when it stretches over birthdays, Christmas and Easter, and almost touches “Never!” When creator Jess Love’s dad was deployed overseas with the Australian Defence Forces, she became one of many children, including my own grandchildren, who measured the concept of “soon” in special days, events and activities missed.  Even letters, emails and phone calls become bittersweet because while it is great to catch up, it just makes the pain of missing even more acute and “soon” seems just as far away as it ever was.  Even knowing the absence is because someone else is being helped doesn’t really register with littlies because they want their daddy or mummy there to help them.

The predecessor to Sometimes   young author Jessica has articulated and illustrated the innermost feelings of any child missing a loved one who is absent for whatever reason, not just overseas deployment.  While the adults in their lives can understand calendars and do mental countdowns and fill their days, young children have to be satisfied with “soon” and it can be confusing.  Is it a long time, getting closer, almost here, or taking too long? And for some it can mean feeling bereft or even abandoned.

This is an important book for parents to know about so they can understand that “soon” isn’t enough in times of extended absence; that while their child might seem to understand time it can be confusing and there needs to be some sort of mechanism that help them have a picture of what “soon” means such as a calendar to cross off the days or the number of sleeps left; something that helps them realise that “soon” will come and it will happen. 

For the children of those in the Defence Forces or other professions that entail long absences, it is important for them to know that their feelings are real, shared and validated and that “soon” will come eventually. While crossing dates off a calendar might seem pointless and endless, perhaps instead of marking special things missed, they can set themselves a goal to achieve before “soon” happens.  Riding their bike, playing a tricky tune on the piano, knitting a jumper, achieving the next level in a sport – whatever is their passion can become their driving force for making “soon” hurry up. And even though it seems that it is dragging its feet, it eventually does arrive.

As teachers there is much that we can do to acknowledge the anxiety, help the understanding of time by making the countdown the kickstart for a series of lessons about how humans have measured time over millennia and make “soon” become “now”.

Another important addition to  our mindfulness toolboxes and collections.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Lisa Papp

Old Barn Books, 2017

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

9781910646328

Madeline Finn does not like to read. Not books. Not magazines. Not even the menu on the ice cream van. Reading out loud in class is a nightmare and the words get stuck in her mouth “like peanut butter” and the other children laugh.  While they get stars from their teacher, all Madeline gets is a “Keep Trying” sticker.  She gets a lot of those.  But she desperately wants a star and so one night she makes a wish on a star for a star.  

Sadly, some wishes take a bit of time to come true and come the end of the week and it’s time for her to visit the local library she is truly despondent, is tired of trying and has all but convinced herself she will never be a reader.  But librarian Mrs Dimple has a surprise for her – a surprise that will not only turn her reading around but also her life…

There are children like Madeline Finn in every class – children who hate the out-dated practice of having to read aloud to the group because all it does is shine a public light on their struggles as they try to master the written word and self-talk themselves further and further down the rabbit hole of being a non-reader.  As a teacher and teacher librarian who has spent 45 years helping little ones to read I wanted to shake Madeline’s teacher and show her that stickers and stars and “keep trying” are fruitless – but then Lisa Papp wouldn’t have had a story and there wouldn’t have been a happy outcome, albeit fraught with anxiety, for Madeline.

Sharing this story with the class will help the Madelines understand that there are many kids like them who just haven’t quite got reading sorted yet, but that it is achievable and even enjoyable. They are not the only ones who find the squiggles on the page confronting but that it is OK to make “mistakes” and these become fewer as their understanding and confidence grows.  Reading is not about the stars on a chart, but the inner satisfaction of being immersed in something that takes you away from the here and now and into the land of imagination and possibility. 

More and more the power of dogs as pets as therapy is being recognised and they are turning up in all sorts of places. While it might not be possible to have one in your school library, it is possible to substitute Bonnie for a teddy – or a host of teddies – so those who have yet to develop confidence in their reading because they believe “real readers” don’t make mistakes can have a non-judgemental partner to read to.  My experience was children who dreaded coming to the library would be there before school and at lunchtimes reading to their favourite teddy – I ended up with about 50 in the collection – as they built their confidence and their skills in a safe, friendly, non-threatening environment. They even became regular borrowers!

While this story will bring comfort and hope to a lot of little people, hopefully it will also inspire teachers to reflect on their professional practice and consider whether they are doing things that inadvertently marginalise their not-there-yet readers and make changes.  

Teacher’s hat is now off!

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781408880982

Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! 

He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing  a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?

In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean?

 For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes.  They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed… 

Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be.  It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

Susan Hall

Cheryl Westenberg

NLA Publishing, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780642278890

Wesley Wombat really wanted to be a superhero.

‘If only I had superpowers like all my friends!’ he thought longingly.

If only he could fly like the king parrot, swim like the platypus, jump like the kangaroo or protect himself with body armour like the echidna.  But, sadly, no matter how hard he tries to be like his friends in the bush, his attempts end in near disaster.  He is feeling really despondent but his mother reassures him he will find his special talent and to look forward to the birthday party with his friends the next day.  And it is on his way to the party that Wesley discovers his super power and becomes a super hero.

This is a charming story written for the very young who are learning to identify our unique indigenous creatures and their special characteristics.  Using a lift-the-flap format, Cheryl Westenberg has created the most wonderful illustrations of Wesley’s mishaps that little ones (and bigger ones too) will roll on the floor laughing and really understand the fun to be had in stories while understanding that each of us has our own super power because we are all really good at something. Bright and colourful and accompanied by extra pages of facts about each of the featured creatures, this is a must-have addition for the early childhood collection.  

Leaf

Leaf

Leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf

Sandra Dieckmann

Flying Eye Books, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781911171317

 

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore…

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, a creature unlike anything the other animals  had seen, they fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous particularly when it began to collect leaves. They nicknamed him Leaf and desperately wanted him to leave because no one should live in fear.  Then one day Leaf burst through the forest covered in leaves and leapt off the hill with a giant roar.  Perhaps inspired by the crow’s feathers that helped it fly to freedom he has turned the leaves into wings, but sadly they lifted him but briefly and he tumbled into the lake. 

A meeting of the other creatures was held and attitudes started to soften, but like many such meetings, the only outcome was an agreement to disagree and nothing was done. But when Leaf tried to fly again a few days later, this time landing in the ocean realisation dawned and  things begin to change…

There is a quote on the dedication page of this book…

“Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught in life.” -Friedrich Schiller

And so it is with this book which is one of those that resonates more and more with each reading.  Accompanied by the most stunning, memorable artwork which is rich in colour, pattern and details, on the surface it is a tale about a polar bear who wants to go home.  But what is the message behind the polar bear arriving on a shard of iceberg in the first place? Climate change? Refugee? And what can we learn about and from the forest creatures’ automatic fear and distrust of this unfamiliar, different animal in their midst? Or is the whole a metaphor for a child or adult with a terminal illness who wants to die but who must endure the intervention of science and medicine before finding release? The dedication suggests this…

While the polar bear is the subject, the story is told very much from an objective observer’s eye, a narrator that states the facts and actions without emotion,even though there is so much emotion embedded in the illustrations. An intriguing book that makes the reader ponder.

 

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pea Pod Lullaby

Glenda Millard

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760290085

I am the lullaby

You are the melody

Sing me

It starts like a gentle lullaby, perhaps a story you would share with your very youngest children to help them slip into sleep at the end of a long happy day.  But turn the page and a different story emerges from this remarkable collaboration between author and illustrator that grew as a special project at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in NSW.

The first hint that this is not a traditional lullaby comes when you turn the page and you are confronted by the image of a baby being passed into a tiny boat despite the stormy sea, safe into the arms of a young boy, while high on the rugged, isolated cliff barbed wire tangles it way down, clearly designed to prevent such departures. Yet despite this ominous scenery, the words evoke a feeling of trust, safety and comfort…

I am the small green pea

You are the tender pod 

Hold me.

This message of security and belief that there will be protection threads throughout the rest of the story in its gentle, lyrical text and despite the pictures portraying a somewhat different, more threatening story, the inclusion of the red bird constantly with them and appearing somewhat like the dove from Noah’s Ark towards the end of the journey is reassuring.  

The symbolism is strong  – a polar bear found floating on a fridge is taken on board and returned to its family with the help of the whales, the boat expanding to accommodate all shows that this is a story about the planet, not just its people – and all the while the little peapod boat sails on towards it destination regardless of the sea’s moods, just as love carries us all through life. While the final stanza – I am the castaway, you are the journeys end. welcome me – might suggest the story is over, the final pages and the endpapers show that this is a bigger story than that of the family in that little boat. 

While the family in the boat give a focus to those who find literally launching themselves into and onto the great unknown a better prospect than staying where they are, this is about that uniquely human emotion of hope – the family believe they will reach a better destination and they will be welcomed with warmth and compassion and even in their midst of their own struggle they find the wherewithal to help others, just as they hope they would be helped.

There are teachers’ notes available that take this so much deeper than any review can, but don’t be surprised to see this amongst the CBCA Book of the Year winners in 2018.

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Danny Parker

Matt Ottley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781742974675

When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it.  A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier.  And so it proved to be.

Prodding and pushing didn’t move it,  surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless.  And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down.  How was she going to see her friends?

Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long.  And the next day…

This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.

If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and  analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them,  believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.  

This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.  

Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.

 

 

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Meg McKinlay

Leila Rudge

Walker Books, Australia, 2017

3299., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925126709

 

While her family and friends wallowed in the mud and bathed in the sun and did all the other things that rhinoceroses do, the little rhinoceros gazed at the boats sailing past on the nearby river and dreamed…

“Don’t you wish that you could see the world?” she asked the others.

But they were not dreamers  or adventurers – they had everything that a rhinoceros needs right there and told the little rhinoceros so.  “You belong here”, they told her. 

However that didn’t stop the little rhinoceros dreaming and one day she began to put her plans in action.  First, she gathered the things she needed to make a boat blocking out the negative comments of the older rhinoceroses, and one day all the mud-wallowing, grass-grazing, tree-scratching, sun-bathing rhinoceroses gathered in alarm as they watched her sail out of sight…

As soon as I picked up this story it resonated with me.  It could have been the story of my mum who watched the ships leave Bluff, her home town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand, headed not just for the vast oceans of the world but also the Antarctic.  And her heart was captured, her hope stirred and her determination to follow in their wake cemented.  Despite all the comments about where she belonged, what she as a child of the 1940s should be doing, the belief that Antarctica was a men-only domain, she “built her own boat” and in 1968 she sailed south too – the first female journalist to do so, a trailblazer for women in both Antarctic exploration and journalism.  Its publication on the 3rd  anniversary of her death is particularly poignant.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Others will write about the literary and artistic merits of this book – I just adore it because of its power to show that stick-in-the-muds can stay stuck; nay-sayers can be ignored and that dreams can come true.  This is one I will be sharing over and over with my grandchildren who were privileged to know their great-gran and to be inspired by her.

 

There Is NO Dragon In This Story

There Is No Dragon In This Story

There Is No Dragon In This Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There Is NO Dragon In This Story

Lou Carter

Deborah Allwright

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781408864906

Most stories about dragons have the dragon capturing a princess and fighting the brave knight who comes to save her.  But that’s not what this story is about because the dragon has gone off in a huff in search of a story where he is the hero not the villain.

But each time he enters a story – The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red riding Hood – he is told the same thing. “No! There are no dragons in this story!”

And then he spies a boy climbing a beanstalk. But just as Jack tells him the same thing, the giant captures the dragon and suddenly the dragon doesn’t want to be in the story!  But just as he seems doomed, the giant sneezes and blows out the sun…  Can the dragon be a hero at last?

This is a charming, colorful romp through a lot of childhood favourites that young children will delight in recalling and discussing the various forms the villain takes if it is not a dragon.  They will connect with characters and settings they know while the left-to-right direction of print is emphasised with the vivid and clever illustrations.  Older children can venture down the path of learning about stereotypes and how preconceived notions can lead to unfounded expectations, perhaps even starting to gather a collection of stories where the stereotype is challenged and then starting to examine their own prejudices.  

Quality stories always have lots of layers to suit lots of readers – this is one of those.