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Reena’s Rainbow

Reena's Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White

Tracie Grimwood

EK Books

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

97817755935223

Reena is deaf and the little brown dog in the park is homeless. But even though her ears didn’t work, her eyes did and she saw the things that others take for granted.  So even though she couldn’t hear the wind in the trees, she could still see the leaves swirling and Dog leap to catch the acorns.

When the children came to play hide and seek in the park she was very good at finding their hiding places, but when it was her turn to hide no one could find her and she couldn’t hear them calling so they left her there alone.  Luckily Dog was able to fetch her mother who explained that people are like the colours of the rainbow – each one different but together a strong and beautiful entity.  But both Reena and Dog felt like they didn’t belong in the rainbow.  Will they ever fit in?

As well as windows that show readers a new world, stories should also be mirrors that reflect their own lives.  Children, in particular, should be able to read about themselves and children like them in everyday stories so they understand they are not freaks and that others share their differences and difficulties.  Reena’s Rainbow is a wonderful addition to a growing collection of stories that celebrate the uniqueness of every person and not only show them they are not alone but also help others to understand their special needs.  Imagine how frightened Reena must have felt when all the children left the park because they assumed she had gone home.

Young children are remarkably accepting and resilient – they don’t see colour, language, dress or disability as a barrier to the child within – those are handicaps that adults impose on themselves – but the more stories like this that we share with them, the more likely they are to develop knowledge, understanding, tolerance and acceptance and thus develop into adults who embrace difference rather than shunning it.  Close inspection shows that rainbows actually include every shade of every colour, not just those visible to the eye, and through Reena and Dog and characters like them we can all learn to discern the not-so-obvious beauty.

Grandma Forgets

Grandma Forgets

Grandma Forgets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma Forgets

Paul Russell

Nicky Johnston

EK, 2017

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

9781925335477

 

My grandmother forgets who I am.  Every time we meet, it likes meeting someone new….

Even though Grandma can’t remember us, we have so many memories of her.”

There are the sausages as big as elephant’s legs that she served for Sunday lunch; going to the beach; snuggled in together with a hot-water bottle and a blanket watching the nighttime storms split the sky… The little girl and her dad have memories galore that they share with her in her new home with the painted garden and people who remember for her.  

Young children encountering older relatives who are succumbing to the challenges of the ageing process are becoming more common as generations live longer than ever, and so stories that help them deal with what can be a confronting situation are always welcome.  This is a gentle comforting story about the enduring love between the generations, although if Grandma is 80 as her birthday cake shows there seems to be a skipped generation in the chain.  My own grandchildren would appear to be about the age of the children in the story and they faced this situation with their great-grandmothers, not their grandmas. We are only in our 60s!  

Nevertheless, this is an uplifting story that shows how children embrace the changing circumstances, accepting the changes and the challenges and working with them, rather than taking them as a personal rejection.  There are adults who could learn from this unconditional love that children display and how they adapt so they almost become the adult themselves.  And while there are old memories to recall, there are always new ones to make.

The soft palette and lines chosen by the illustrator portray the beautiful memories perfectly and the love between them all just oozes from the page setting up the perfect opportunity to let the children tell and draw their own stories of their own special moments with their grandparents, perhaps cementing them even more firmly.

A family story that provides lots of comfort.

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Ava's Spectacular Spectacles

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Alice Rex

Angela Perrini

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781912076536

Ava does not like wearing her spectacles at school so she finds it difficult to see the board and read her books.  Her teacher understands this and knows she has to help Ava feel okay with wearing them so she begins to talk to Ava.  “If only Little Red Riding Hood had put on her glasses the day she went to visit her grandmother…she would have seen the big teeth and big eyes.”

Ava stops crying and Mrs Cook continues, gradually getting Ava to understand that wearing glasses is helpful and a good thing, not a badge of shame.

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Ava was me 60 years ago, right down to the red hair tied up in bunches. It’s as though illustrator Angela Perrini had been looking at my family photo albums (although we didn’t have coloured photos way back then!)  And then six years ago, it was my granddaughter who was Ava and in the intervening time, hundreds of other kids too. No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  As a teacher of 45 years, I’ve seen it over and over although luckily there is much greater acceptance these days.  Oh, to have had a teacher as understanding and as smart as Mrs Cook.

This is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers but which should be actively promoted to both teachers and parents as a strategy for getting little ones to be comfortable with wearing their glasses rather than ashamed.  While Mrs Cook sticks to well-known stories and rhymes where 20/20 vision would have been helpful there would be plenty of incidents, real and imaginary, that teachers and parents could draw on to play the what-if game.  

So many children will see this book as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves, while others will see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Ava and others feel and how they can be more empathetic. They might even explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Superb.

Ambulance Ambulance!

Ambulance Ambulance!

Ambulance Ambulance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambulance Ambulance!

Sally Sutton

Brian Lovelock

Walker Books, 2017

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

9781925126303

The nee nar nee nar nee nar wail of an ambulance siren is a familiar sound to many young children, particularly those in bigger towns and cities and there are few people who don’t pause to think about its destination and the fate of the person waiting to hear its cry.  

In this book for early childhood, we follow the paramedics as they are called to an emergency and see what they do both inside and outside the vehicle.  In bold rhyming text it helps dispel some of the fear that often surrounds such situations allowing the young child to have a little insight if they or one of their family or friends ever requires an ambulance. 

Clear illustrations and lots of sound and action words give the story pace and vigour and they will love to join in and make the siren sound for you. Even though author and illustrator are a New Zealand team, this is a story that could take place anywhere – some things are universal. 

A story that gives reassurance and peace of mind, as well as gratitude that we have access to such emergency services and the perfect starter for learning about how and when to call 000, being able to stay calm and know your name and address.

Olivia’s Voice

Olivia's Voice

Olivia’s Voice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia’s Voice

Mike Lucas

Jennifer Harrison

Midnight Sun, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781925227192

Imagine waking to a world of silence – no traffic, no sirens, no strident voices; no birdsong, no waves crashing no children laughing.   That is Olivia’s world.  But despite the lack of sound, it is still a beautiful world for her as she sees the patterns and movement of the life in the gum tree outside her window; smells the tasty fragrance of hot toast with butter;  feels the soft warmth of her mother’s cheek against hers as they hug; and embraces life at school just like every child. 

In this charming journey through Olivia’s day she shows us that there is still a beautiful, wondrous world to be explored even if it doesn’t have a sound accompaniment, teaching the reader to observe, enjoy and appreciate what they do have rather than mourning what they haven’t.  Through photograph-like illustrations and first-person text, we see the joy Olivia finds in life and hear her voice so loudly that we can share her curiosity, her wonder and her contentment with what is rather than what isn’t.  

Children with hearing impairments are part of the fabric of a classroom and they have so much more to teach us than just to look at them when we speak.  Opportunities abound in this book to help our students walk a mile in Olivia’s shoes – through artwork, through music, through games and every other aspect as we encourage them to consider a world without a particular sense. Learning only occurs when we reflect on new information and situations and assimilate them into what we already know, so this would be the perfect book to encourage the children to engage with reflecting on three things that have changed their day each day, encouraging gratitude and empathy and perhaps understanding themselves and their circumstances better. Obstacles are just opportunities for us to learn, grow and know ourselves better.

Stunning, evocative, thought-provoking.

 

 

 

 

Little Paws (Series)

Little Paws

Little Paws

 

 

 

 

 

Little Paws (series)

Welcome Home, Harley

9780143781776

Ringo’s Road Trip

9780143781813

Meg’s Big Mystery

9780143781790

Goldie Makes the Grade

9780143781837

Jess Black

Gabrielle Evans

Penguin Random House Australia, 2017

88pp., pbk,, RRP $A9.99

 

Guide Dogs Australia provide essential services to those with vision impairment as well as those who suffer other conditions through their Pets as Therapy program, relieve the isolation and loneliness of the elderly through Companion Dogs and are piloting Autism Assistance dogs for children so this new series which highlights the training of these dogs as well as helping to raise funds for that training is as much a community service as it is a really good read for those newly independent readers.

Each book focuses on the children in different families helping to train the dogs for their special jobs, taking on the responsibility of all aspects of what is involved, providing an engaging story as well as guidance for how the reader might train their own four-legged, tail-wagging friend. They also shed some insight into how life can be for those whose vision is impaired and the impact having some of the stress removed can have, maybe even encouraging them to become puppy-raisers themselves.  So many refuse to do it because of the heartbreak of having to part with the dog, but there’s a lesson to be learned in suffering a little to give someone else so much.

2017 celebrates 60 years since Guide Dogs Australia placed the first dog and April 26 is International Guide Dogs Day. The purchase of each book supports their work so that even more puppies can bring help and joy to others.  But apart from that, each story is a good read and Miss Dog-Loving 6 who is on the cusp of being ready to read chapter books independently is going to love them.  They will give her that little push she needs to make the leap!

 

 

Be A Friend

Be A Friend

Be A Friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be A Friend

Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, 2016

40pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781408869093

Dennis was an ordinary who liked doing ordinary boy things – BUT instead of talking about them like other boys he expressed himself differently. His hero was the great mime artist Marcel Marceau  and like his hero with his white face and top hat, Dennis would mime what he wanted to say.  While other children climbed trees, Dennis was happy to be a tree.   But trees get lonely and as the other children played happily, Dennis looked on wistfully, feeling invisible, as though he were standing behind a wall t . .. until the day he kicked an imaginary ball and a little girl called Joy caught it.

The blurb on the back of the book says it is “a heart-warming celebration of individuality, imagination and the power of friendship” and that is spot on.  This is a subtle but powerful exploration of children who are different from the “norm”, who literally and figuratively don’t have a voice and who feel invisible because of that difference.  It’s not that the other children are cruel or unkind but they are busy being children and don’t always see beyond their own horizons, let alone have time to understand Dennis and his special needs.  Even though Joy is like Dennis in that she, too, does not speak, the power of friendship that exists between two children can open new worlds for not just them but others around them too.

Yoon’s illustrations are exquisite – a dotted red line captures Dennis’s actions so the reader knows what is happening and the final illustration using the imaginary skipping rope and all the other children running to join in the game is perfect.

While the storyline focuses on Dennis who doesn’t speak, it could apply to anyone who feels different such as a child new to the country with no English or someone with a physical disability or an emotional need – it will resonate with anyone who feels marginalised and who would just like a friend. But just as it is their story, so it can be a story for one of those “ordinary” children.  As educators we must never under-estimate the value of teaching children how to make friends and be friends – it is a skill that will take them far beyond the first few days of Kindergarten.

Making and being friends is the theme of so many stories for young children that you wonder if there could ever be a new slant on it.  Be A Friend has found it.

I was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen

I Was Only Nineteen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was Only Nineteen

John Schuman

Craig Smith

Allen & Unwin, 2014

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

9781743317235

The banner across the top of the cover of this book says, “The iconic song about the Vietnam War that helped change a nation” and indeed, anyone who has heard the original with the haunting voice of John Schuman as the lead singer of Redgum will find that echoing in their head as they “read” this picture book version of the song that brought the realities of the war to a generation. If you are unfamiliar with it, it’s available on You Tube

While, for the first time in history, war was brought into the family living room through the immediacy of television news programs, it was the personalising of what was happening through the lyrics of this song that not only provided a real insight but which has also endured.  In fact, along with the picture of the little girl running naked from her village after it had been destroyed with napalm bombs it would be one of the most-recalled memories of that time.  Its refrain and final line, “God help me, I was only nineteen” encapsulates it all. Both the words and the sensitive, evocative images of Craig Smith show that war is the antithesis of the great adventure that these soldiers’ ancestors thought that it would be as they hastened to answer the call of 1914 and which will be in our thoughts as we move towards the commemoration of ANZAC Day.

But this is much more than another picture book about Australia’s war effort to support the national history curriculum.

As one of those who was very much involved in the events of the time and worked towards the big-picture objectives of not only having Australia and New Zealand troops out of Vietnam because we were against the “all-the-way-with-LBJ” policies of the prevailing governments but also against sending young men to war who, in their own country could not vote or legally have a beer, we did not consider or understand the effects our actions would have on those young men when they eventually came home, mentally and physically wounded, and to have served in Vietnam was a secret and a shame.  There were no parades or celebrations – you might talk about it with your mates to keep you sane but that was all. There was no respect from the public and each soldier was somehow held personally responsible for the events which we saw each night.  (If you, as an adult, want a greater understanding, read Well Done, Those Men by Barry Heard and Smoky Joe’s Café by Bryce Courtenay.)

And so we have the situation today that many of our students have grandparents who are perhaps not as they should be and cannot explain why. They saw and did things that no 19-year-olds should ever have to and it is their experiences, their illnesses, their PTSD, their suicides that have changed the way we now view our serving forces and how they are treated and supported when they come home.  The picture books and television shows always stereotype Grandpa as being loving and jovial and every child deserves such a person – the production of this book might help them understand why theirs is not. It has an important role to play in helping our little ones understand.

If just the lyrics or the clip of the original “I was Only 19” were the only ones used in a study of the Vietnam War, the story would not be complete.  It is through Craig Smith’s final illustrations of the young soldier now a grandfather with his grandson ducking from a chopper, then sharing an ice cream and finally marching on ANZAC Day together that are critical because they show that while he is still troubled by his experiences, he has survived and 40 years on society has moved on to a new and different attitude.  For that we have to thank the continued and sustained efforts of all those Vietnam Vets who would not let us forget. We salute you now as we should have then.

For those who see this as a teaching opportunity, there are teachers’ notes are available.

 

Republished in honour of the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Long Tan.  August 18, 1966

long_tan

 

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant Man

Mariangela Di Fiore

Hilde Hodnefjeld

Translated by Rosie Hedger

Allen & Unwin, 2016

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760292201

The publishers’ blurb says it best…

“’Gather round – prepare to be amazed! A sight so very gruesome that you simply won’t believe it. Ladies and gentlemen – THE ELEPHANT MAN!’

Joseph doesn’t look like other people. His skin is thick and lumpy, his limbs are oddly shaped, and his head has a big bony bump. People call him Elephant Man and scream in terror when they see him. But inside, Joseph longs for a friend to understand him.

As Joseph is bullied and rejected at every turn, his situation grows more and more desperate. But a meeting with a kind doctor holds the hope to change his life

Based on the famous true story of Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man is a powerful tale about being different, finding happiness in even the hardest circumstances, and discovering beauty inside everyone. The unforgettable true story of one young man’s immense courage and his unbreakable spirit.”

This is a heart-breaking but uplifting story of a young man so badly deformed that he was sent to one of the infamous workhouses of 19th century England at a time when any disability – physical or mental, visible or invisible – was treated with such suspicion that the only solution by ‘genteel society’ was to lock the sufferers away.  “Out of sight, out of mind” would summarise the concept well.  Seeking to escape, Joseph found that exhibiting himself in a human oddities show had more appeal than the life he was living – a sad indictment of the times, indeed. But out of the inhumanity comes Frederick Treves who changes Joseph’s life…

Merrick’s life has been the subject of books, films, plays and documentaries so that over 100 years on, it is still a fascination. This picture book, based on fact but ficitionalised by the inclusion of thoughts and conversations, and cleverly sprinkled with original photos and documents, might seem to have little place in the collection of a primary school of the 21st century. But it’s value is far-reaching for all Joseph really wanted was to be accepted for who he was inside, not his external appearance; as a person first and a person with an illness last.  Extreme example it may be, but what a discussion starter for body image, racism, religious perspectives and all those other characteristics that judgements are made on.  Older students might even examine Hitler’s view of ‘Aryan supremacy’ or Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise.

The book also stands as a testament to how far we have come in our perception and treatment of those who are not “perfect” in a very short time in human history.  As we mark the centenary of World War I, students are reading of those who returned disabled and “shell-shocked”, often shunned by society and certainly with little social support as attitudes did not change.  Indeed, the biggest turnaround was in 1981 in the UN-declared  International Year of Disabled Persons and there was a global spotlight on each nation having a plan of action for “equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities.”  From looking at something as basic as entry into public buildings we now have federal government legislation Disabled Standards for Education  which demands that we adapt our environments and our teaching for inclusivity.   While there is still much to do, gradually we are getting there and it is the understanding, tolerance and idealism of our young that will continue the march.  We should do these things because they are the right thing to do not because we are compelled by legislation.  

Elephant Man is not a gratuitous story about some freak-show oddity – it is a story about a man whose message reaches out across time to teach us so much about belonging, compassion and identity.  There is more information about Joseph Merrick at Biography.com

Emergency Echo

Emergency Echo

Emergency Echo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emergency Echo

George Ivanoff

Penguin Random House. 2016

163pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780857988782

It started as just another game of backyard cricket with her best friend Ben, but the pain in Alice’s tummy isn’t because she has been eating roo meat.  No matter how she tries to ignore it, it soon becomes obvious that something is seriously wrong and when Grandad and Ben finally get her to the local medical centre the news is not good.  Alice has acute appendicitis and needs immediate surgery.  But in remote Mount Magnet, WA, that’s not easy. The nearest facility with the capability is in Perth and the nearest plane from the Royal Flying Doctor service is at least 40 minutes away in Meekatharra!  And there is a massive storm brewing so there is much playing on Alice’s mind apart from the pain, including the fact that her dad went to hospital not so long ago and did not return.

Because her mum can’t leave two-year-old Lewis (and there isn’t room for two) Alice’s grandfather volunteers to travel with her.  He’s a man that Alice is a bit wary of – even though he lives in the granny flat at the back of their house, Alice sees him as being old and “a bit useless’ particularly since he does little except watch television since the death of his son.  But needs must and as he supports and comforts her throughout her ordeal, she starts to understand him a little better and build a new relationship with him.  In the air the storm hits with a vengeance and both Grandad and Doctor Helen distract Alice from her fear and her pain by telling her stories of their own experiences with the RFDS – the echoes of the past that not only keep her mind occupied but also give the reader some insight into this service which began as the Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Service in 1928, the realisation of a dream of the Reverend John Flynn to provide the people of the outback with a “mantle of safety” and made possible by the inventions of the pedal radio by Alfred Traeger 

Emergency Echo is part of a new series about the Royal Flying Doctor Service by George Ivanoff that is perfect for the newly independent reader wanting a good, solid adventure series.  Well-researched and accompanied by information about the Service, the places, the illness (so readers are already informed of what to expect if it befalls them) it is a welcome addition to the quality literature being written for young readers.  Authentic and engaging and different, they will appeal to both boys and girls who will be asking you to get Remote Rescue (already available) and Medical Mission and Fast Flight (coming in May).

There is more information about the books and their origins on George’s website