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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.

 

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

Why can't I be a dinosaur?

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

Kylie Westaway

Tom Jellett

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760294724

Nellie is all dressed up in her dinosaur costume because today is a Dinosaur Day.  But it is also her Aunt Daisy’s wedding and she is supposed to be the flower girl and wearing her special purple dress. While some parents might exert their parental power, Nellie’s try a more negotiated approach,  as stubborn as any preschooler, Nellie refuses to change and despite her parents’ pleading she stands her ground.  Can a compromise be reached with Aunt Daisy having the pretty flower girl at the wedding of her dreams?

This is a funny yet familiar story that will resonate with both parent and child – parents because we can all remember some of the monumental battles we have had with stubborn, determined little people, the child because the adult world does seem to have some weird rules and expectations and having to wear a purple dress to a wedding is just one of them.

It’s refreshing to see a girl in the lead role in a book about dinosaurs and Tom Jellett has captured Nellie’s obsession with them and her feelings at being told no perfectly.  You can feel the tension in the air as powerful wills meet even though voices are not raised (except as a dinosaur roar) and the parents remain calm.  Lots of discussion points about feelings, doing what others expect, negotiating and compromising and whether clothes really do “maketh the man”. 

 

 

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.

 

 

Stitches and Stuffing

Stitches and Stuffing

Stitches and Stuffing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stitches and Stuffing

Carrie Gallasch

Sara Acton

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781760127787

Wherever Adeline went, so did Bunnybear. They had been together since forever, never apart. He was soft and cuddly, his ears and legs wibbling and wobbling and he flipped and flopped along.  He even had his own seat at the table for morning milk and biscuits with Nanna.  Bunnybears was her best friend and she didn’t feel right without him.  Until one day, Bunnybear accidentally got left at the beach… Caught in a tug-of-war between a curious seagull and Adeline’s puppy, poor Bunnybear was destroyed and Adeline was distraught.  That night there was a Bunnybear-shaped empty space in her bed and she felt very alone.

Next day Nanna sat in her knitting chair and made a new Bunnybear for Adeline.  But this one wasn’t the same. It was too stiff and straight and no matter how Adeline squished and squashed him, he felt like a stranger.  And so he sat on the shelf, hard and still like a statue. But then, one day Nanna had to go away for a while and with no milk and biscuits for morning tea, and no sitting in the knitting chair with her, the days became long and quiet. And then Adeline remembered…

This is a soft and gentle story, illustrated with the soft and gentle palette and the soft and gentle lines of watercolours, that will remind all readers, young and not-so of their favourite take-along-everywhere toy of their childhood.  Everyone has a Bunnybear in their story, that one toy that we felt lost without regardless of whether it was shabby or pristine. In fact, shabby was better because it showed how loved it was but despite that, there is always room for change and sometimes when it is thrust upon us we need to embrace it.  This softness is not just in the storyline but also in the rhythm of the story – long sentences that spread out over vignettes and pages as life continues on its merry way but changing to shorter, more abrupt statements when the worst happens and then gradually getting longer and more rhythmic as life takes on a new pattern.  The whole wraps around the child like a hug, reassuring them that things will work out even if they are different. 

Sometimes when little ones go to big school there is a suggestion that it is time to leave their preschool lives behind, including their beloved toys that have been with them since birth.  And yet with this huge change in their lives they are left without the companionship of their most trusted and comforting friend and ally. Photos of Prince George starting school recently showed him looking a bit bewildered and unsure, and even though his grandfather Prince Charles thought the experience “character-building” we have to remember we can still count in months the time these little ones have been in the world and they need and deserve all the support they can get.  The astute teacher will acknowledge that these are more than just a collection of stitches and stuffing, that they are imbued with love, safety and security and perhaps having a special shelf so the special toys can come to school too with the child deciding when they want to wean themselves. Meanwhile the teacher librarian can encourage them to read to their special toy in school and at night and might even provide a collection of teddies for those who just need an extra hug or two. It worked for me!

Sometimes

Sometimes

Sometimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes

Jessica Love

Echo Books, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A24.95

9780995436435

Sometimes when you’re gone I wonder why your job seems more important to you…than me.

Sometimes when you’re gone I get upset and angry when you miss things that are important to me.

Sometimes I look at what you do and I realise that you don’t want to leave… but by making our lives harder, you are making other people’s lives better.

But even with that understanding, it doesn’t make the life of a child with a parent in the Defence Forces or any other profession which necessitates prolonged absences any easier.  

This is poignant true story based on the 16 year-old author’s own experiences of being a child in a military family grappling with the absence of a loved parent.  It was her way of telling her dad about her feelings while he was away and her confusion when he came home as the family had to adjust to another routine. In an interview with the Canberra Times she says, “When I showed it to Dad, it wasn’t really anything we had discussed before … it was quite a shock to him…

But Jess didn’t just write this book for her dad, she wrote it for all children of Defence families and in a letter to them she tries to reassure them that their feelings are common and normal,they are not alone and  even providing a page for them to write their own ending to the sentence, Sometimes when you’re gone…

Many of us have taught many children from military families who have struggled with having a parent deployed and there has been an expectation that they will “soldier on” and manage the separation and the emotions that go with it.  But this book has a wider application than just military families – many of our students will have parents away, either permanently or temporarily – and in sensitive hands this could be the perfect opportunity to support them by getting them to open up about their feelings; to help them understand that they are not alone and it’s normal to feel resentful at times and they don’t have to feel guilty; to help them help their parents understand the impact of the separation because often parents are so busy being adults that they forget what it’s like to be a bewildered kid.

This is one for all teachers, not just counsellors, and deserves a wide audience among our profession – it has the power to change lives. 

Two Rainbows

Two Rainbows

Two Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Rainbows

Sophie Masson

Michael McMahon

Little Hare, 2017

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760127794

The little girl looks out from her city window and sees a cloud and part of a rainbow.  At first, it seems like it is the only colour in this grey, drab city landscape and she thinks longingly of the rainbows she used to see in the country on the family farm – rainbows that spanned the whole sky and lit it up, not just a small arc peeping from a cloud because the sky is full of buildings. 

But gradually she begins to see spots of colour in her new surroundings – not the full-blooded red of the tractor of the farm but the red postbox in the street; not the orange of the sunset and the twine around the hay bales, but a curl of orange peel on the pavement; not the blue of her sheepdog Billy’s eyes but the paint of a neighbour’s fence…  And there is one colour that both landscapes have in common.

This story is a marriage of text and illustration, each interdependent as they should be in quality picture books.  At first the little girl sees only the rainbow, even though there are other spots of colour around her, as she thinks nostalgically of the colours of the country but as she starts to see more of her environment, so too the colours in the pictures increase although the city remains grey and the country bathed in light. And as her thoughts slowly attune to the city environment she begins to see more objects, different from the farm but perhaps with something to offer as she peers over the blue fence and sees a treehouse with a rope ladder and maybe a friend.

Perhaps, after all, there is but one rainbow – it just sees different things.  An interesting contrast between city and country living that poses the question about why the family may have moved; about nostalgia as we tend to yearn for the things we remember when we are out of our comforts zone and hope as we learn to adjust and adapt to new places, new things and new experiences. 

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just ate my friend

Heidi McKinnon

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760294342

I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend?

Monster has eaten his friend and now he is on a search for another one.  One by one he asls other monsters but each has a different reason why they can’t oblige.  Too big, too small, too slow, too scary – each has a unique excuse.  But finally another one agrees…but this is definitely a case of “Be careful what you wish for”!

Set against a background of a dark starry sky, this is a story that has a dark humour to it and the twist in the end may puzzle very young readers but older readers will appreciate it. Even though the illustrations appear quite simple, there is a lot of expression built into the large white eyes and the slitted mouth that offer a lot of scope for encouraging young readers to look at the details in the pictures and interpret feelings from the facial features. Teaching them to read the pictures as well as the words is a critical skill to get the most from stories, even those that appear to be fairly simplistic. 

Using the universal desire for having a friend as its basis, it offers scope to discuss what it means to be a good friend and how you keep them.  Perhaps eating them is not the best idea, but what can you do when you find you don’t agree on something. Even discussing the fundamental question of whether friends can disagree and still be friends is important in developing the concept of friendship. 

Fresh, original and offering all the things a quality picture book should.

 

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garcia & Colette Go Exploring

Hannah Barnaby

Andrew Joyner

HarperCollins Children’s, 2017

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

9781460754306

Garcia the Rabbit and Colette the Fox cannot agree on where they want to go exploring – Garcia is fixated on space while Colette wants to see the sea.  With no agreement in sight they agree to go their separate ways.  Garcia builds a snazzy, silver rocket while Colette makes a gold and glorious submarine.  Packing peanut butter sandwiches, a notebook, a pen and their lucky charms, each heads off on their own adventure. 

But is exploring new and exciting places all that much fun when you don’t have your best friend by your side?

Cleverly written and illustrated so that each character remains connected despite their physical separation, this is a charming story of friendship and compromise that will appeal to a broad range – those who love the sea and those who love space.  Is there a middle ground and how can it be reached? A great way to introduce the art of negotiation and seeking win-win solutions while younger children can have fun contributing to murals of what each friend saw on their travels.    

Sage Cookson: Literary Launch

Sage Cookson: Literary Launch

Sage Cookson: Literary Launch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage Cookson: Literary Launch

Sally Murphy

New Frontier, 2017

56pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9781925594010

Sage Cookson is a ten-year-old whose parents, Ginger and Basil, travel Australia and the world, and lucky Sally gets to go with them. While they are sampling the food, learning new cooking techniques and then sharing their new knowledge with their massive television audience through their show The Cookson’s Cook On, Sage has a lifestyle that others might envy.

In this latest episode, Sage is confronted by a school assignment which many children dread – having to prepare and present a three-minute speech to her classmates.  She fears all the things that many do – forgetting the words, being laughed at, being boring – and even the comforting words of her best friend Lucy don’t reassure her.  Nevertheless she perseveres amidst all the excitement of the launch of her mother’s first cookbook at the Sydney Opera House, helped enormously by Tori who has flown in from Singapore to give her own speech at the occasion.  But when traffic delays everyone except Sage and her mum, Sage finds herself volunteering to do the opening speech … is this the silliest decision she has made?

This new series for newly independent younger readers combines the author’s love of television cooking shows and mysteries, so that in each new addition something goes wrong and Sage has to solve the problem.  Sage is going to appeal to a range of young readers who will be able to follow her adventures and then visit her website for more fun, as well as trying out the delicious cupcake recipe included.