Even though Australia is surrounded by ocean, not everyone has the chance to visit it regularly and even fewer have had the opportunity to explore it as a scuba diver and really see the diversity of life under the waves. (Believe me, it is a fascinating world and even more diverse at night.) So in this companion to the 2019 CBCA shortlisted Australian Birds, Matt Chun has taken his talents beneath the surface to give us a peek at what is in the waters that enclose us.
From the Great White Shark to the Dugong to the Weedy Sea Dragon, readers can explore and discover pictorial and textual descriptions of familiar and not-so creatures that are part of our natural seascape. The attention to detail is again superb, and while most children won’t recognise as many of the species as they might have in Australian Birds, this is the perfect time, with summer and beach holidays around the corner, to pique their curiosity raise their awareness and inspire thoughts of conservation.
If Australian Birds inspired your class to be involved in this year’s Aussie Bird Count later this month, then perhaps there could be an in-school project to identify the marine creatures the students discover over summer.
If we are to protect our planet and its inhabitants, knowing about them first so they are valued is essential and this is the perfect starter.
A walk along the beach is often characterised by the sound of the waves, the fresh air and the sheer exuberance of being able to move with such freedom as we pass rocks, seaweed and other detritus washed up by the tides. Being king of the castle, drawing pictures in the sand with sticks, feeling the texture of the sand and shells under our feet and the delight of beating the waves as they try to soak our clothes are just a few joys of this most pleasurable experience.
But what if we slowed down and took the time to look at what is there, to examine the shapes and colours and textures of the landscape? Where might our imaginations take us? Into a world of monsters or somewhere different?
Environmental activist David Suzuki says
Unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.
Author/photographer of this new book for young readers, Sharon Yaxley has used this quote to describe the concept of this remarkable book for young readers, to encourage them to look more closely at the things in their world and let those things talk to their imaginations. Tails, tusks, dark eyes, sharp noses and jaws with jagged teeth are all there in the seaweed, driftwood, rocks, sand… and when the tide crashes in and the wind does its work, they change into something different. Looking closely, thinking about the object’s story and the story it could inspire all help to slow the child down in this breakneck world, to be curious and spark their wonder.
Even if your students live nowhere near a beach, this can still be the inspiration to take them outside and let them immerse themselves in what is there and imagine… Let’s take the opportunity to connect our kids to the real world so they want to protect it too. Extensive teaching notes aligned to many strands of the Australian Curriculum are available.
High in the mountains where he lives, Cam tells his grandfather that he wishes he could see the sea and his grandfather promises to take him there “one day.”
But as winter turns to spring and the snows begin to melt, Cam watches a trickle of water running through the pine trees, water that splashed and sang in the voice of the snow, Come with me. Come with me. I will take you to the sea.” And unable to resist its song, Cam follows it and begins a journey that broadens his horizons in so many ways.
The beautiful, lyrical words of one of New Zealand’s premier authors for children, Joy Cowley and the stunning, detailed, muted illustrations of Kimberly Andrews which echo both the high country of New Zealand and the Canada of her childhood come together in what is indeed a song of the river. With a text that builds much like the river itself, rises to a crescendo and then returns to its original melody like a piece of music, this is indeed an aptly named story both in content and style. It lends itself to all sorts of mapping activities, more than just the physical journey of the trickle to the sea. Even exploring why the author named it “Song of the River” rather than “Story of the River” will open up the beauty of the language and the build-up of the journey.
With a landscape very different from those of the illustrations, and much of the country in one of the worst drought’s ever, this is an ideal book to begin an investigation of Australia’s rivers and compare their origins and uses to those of the river in the story. A search of the NDLRN using Scootle will bring up a number of units of work focusing on the Murray-Darling Basin such as A Sense of Place (TLF ID R11374) (written by me for Year 3-4 but which could be adapted for both age and situation) that could be the perfect companions to maximise the impact of this book.
From something as manageable as forgiving someone or leaving a complimentary note in their locker to more complex ideas such as taking a First Aid class or letting your trash be someone else’s treasures, this is a small book full of big ideas about how to make the world a better place both physically and emotionally.
With philosophy such as being the kind of friend you’d like to have and being inclusive, it covers personal issues that can help the individual be more calm, more mindful and more responsive to their world while also taking actions that can help shape the world into what they want it to be. Ideas are presented as simple concepts with engaging graphics and photographs, and many are followed by detailed supporting information, including advice from Nat Geo explorers, interviews with experts and weird but true facts. readers can get a sense of their own power to make a difference and an understanding of what actions contribute to positive outcomes and how they can change things by themselves.
While journalling and personal challenges are becoming a popular way to have students focus on the positives and support their mental health, sometimes knowing where to start can be overwhelming so this could be used to guide that journey by having students set themselves the 100 tasks over the school year, and help them structure their progress that way as they work their way through them. They might also have spaces for another 20 ways they discover that are not mentioned in the book and these could be added to a class wall chart to inspire others to look more widely.
While these sorts of books always inspire when you first pick them up, without accountability life can go back to routine quickly so offering ways to keep the ideas in focus and support the reader over time will not only help them, but also the adult offering that support. We can all make our world better.
In 2017, Gordon Winch and Patrick Shirvington presented our youngest readers with an introduction to some of this country’s native fauna and flora in the hauntingly beautiful Can You Find Me?. Now they have teamed up again to delve closely into what might be living in the garden with this new counting book that is as stunning as the first.
Beginning with some of the larger creatures such as the blue-tongued lizard and kookaburras, young readers are enticed to look more and more closely at the illustrations to discover just what might be hiding amongst the trees, bushes, flowers and leaves, culminating in a challenge to find all of them in the final spread. As well as the introduction to iconic creatures and enabling the reader to practise their counting skills, like the first book, it encourages them to look more closely at their environment and see it with new eyes, to appreciate it more and perhaps even preserve it more carefully.
A counting book that does so much more than help little ones count.
While Pender is playing in the bush near his home, he hears a gunshot and to his dismay he discovers a mother kangaroo taking her last breath. But as her eyes glaze, he notices movement in her pouch and Pender finds himself with no choice but to take care of the baby joey he names Brindabella. With his artistic, somewhat reclusive father, they raise Brindabella and even though Pender knows she will one day need to return to the bush he puts that way to the back of his mind, until the day her natural instincts become too much for her and Brindabella leaves…
With the narrative switching between Pender and Brindabella’s perspectives, this is a sensitively written novel for young independent readers that explores the relationship between people and animals. Why do Pertelote the chook, Billy-Bob the dog and Ricky the cat stay with Pender and his father while Brindabella has a compelling need to leave? Confronting, even emotional in parts, Dubosarsky brings the Australian bush alive so all the senses are engaged and the reader is there with Pender, opening opportunities for lots of sensory responses that confirm, compare and contrast Pender’s home with that of the reader themselves.
Shortlisted for the 2019 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, this is a story that I know Miss 8 is going to adore particularly because she loves to roam our bush block and we have our own share of Brindabellas, but for those not as fortunate, there are teachers’ notes and activities that will help to bring it into the realm of city kids. Download them from the home site.
New to the realm of supportive novels for newly independent readers is this title from graphic designer cum author Kylie Howarth.
Using the popular superhero theme as its foundation, this is a series with a difference because as well as being entertaining, it also teaches those young readers about the ocean environment and its inhabitants. Bodhi’s parents are right into the underwater world – his dad is a marine biologist and his mum an underwater photographer – and they travel the world together to explore what really happens beneath the surface. But Bodhi isn’t into this world as much as they are, preferring dry land but then he discovers he has magical powers…
Each book is set in a different oceanic environment where Fish Kid befriends an amazing marine creature. As he bonds with his new animal friend, he discovers a new fish power. Every chapter contains a rollicking fiction romp (with illustrations to match) plus a focused nonfiction animal fact box (with more realistic illustrations). In this, his family are in the Galapagos Islands and he finds himself stuck on the boat with the captain’s daughter Emely, who likes to play pranks on him, although the innocent looking green smoothie with its secret ingredients would make even the reader have the same reaction as Bodhi.
Full of action, adventure and humour, and all the techniques proven perfect for supporting those transitioning to longer novels, this series also includes fact boxes about the various creatures encountered and draws on the author’s personal knowledge of the world under the waves enriching the reader’s understanding and awakening an awareness to protect it.
Although I haven’t dived the Galapagos Islands, this book took me right back to my experiences on the Great Barrier Reef and for that, this is one destined for Miss 8 so she can share the wonder her grandmother, grandfather and father still have. Perhaps she, too, will be tempted like Bodhi.
On the surface, this looks like a how-to guide to creating illustrations using collage, a technique defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “A piece of art made by sticking various different materials such as photographs and pieces of paper or fabric on to a backing”. Created by Jeannie Baker whose collage masterpieces have fascinated readers in all her works including Where the Forest Meets the Sea and Window, the reader is led through various sections that explore and explain such things as the tools to be used, the materials that lend themselves to being used and even a page that challenges the reader to identify a variety of those materials.
But to me, its power lies in its introduction. Ms Baker shares how even examining paint that has dried and weathered fascinated her, and how its cracks and layers told her so much about the story of the object it was adhered to. Each was another story in its history and made her curious and she would carefully collect a piece to add to other pieces that would help tell a similar story. She finds the materials for her work everywhere, both natural and manmade, and she has become more and more observant of the things that make up this world and how they can be used together to create something new and equally wondrous. And as she says, the purpose of the book is to inspire the reader to be and do the same – to look more closely, to discover “secrets and gems”, to think about them beyond their original purpose or state, and to create more and different magic with them.
As young children move through the natural stages of creating pictures, they get to one where their creation must be lifelike and when it doesn’t meet their expectations, that’s where their artistic abilities stall. They are so dissatisfied with their efforts they tell themselves they can’t draw and the negative self-talk takes over. But, as Ms Baker points out, “When you work in abstract, you don’t have to worry about how things ‘should’ be done -it allows for you to be far more creative and free. There are no right or wrong answers: nothing is ‘bad, just trust your instincts and PLAY!”
By offering the reader ideas for starting their own collage and sharing samples of her work by putting the individual found pieces into a pleasing arrangement, this book should kickstart those who have stalled off in a new direction, encouraging them to pay closer attention to the shapes, colours and textures of the world around them, as well as sending them back to Baker’s earlier works to examine them in closer detail.
In the breakneck speed that our children seem to lead their lives, anything that gives them cause to pause, stop, look and wonder, perhaps even create, has to be a positive influence. There is tremendous scope to use this as the centrepiece of a group activity in the library, with children invited to bring in suitable materials and arrange them in interesting ways – rather like the group jigsaw but much more creative because there is no “right way.” Get started with the Teachers Resource Kit and worksheets.
She also talks to the ABC about her long career, her love of collage and her passion for the environment here.
“Where the mist swallows mountains and winds whisper through ancient trees, myths and legends are born. There are forests here where no one has trod and creatures run free in endless rain and deep, dark bush.”
And among those creatures is a mother thylacine who is trying to show her young pup how to survive. But while she and her offspring might be at the top of the natural food chain, there is one that is even mightier. One that has guns and traps and the motivation of a government bounty. One that outsmarts both mother and young and takes them to a different forest – not one of trees and the scents of fern and pine and thick, dark sanctuary but to one made of concrete and steel exposed to the harsh daylight and hot summer sun. The mother fades away and only the pup is left, until she, too, no longer is. The last of her kind that is known. But perhaps in that secret place where the mist still swallows the mountains and the winds whisper though the ancient trees, there is a sound…
From her bush studio in her Tasmanian home, Christina Booth produces the most amazing work, particularly the stories that she writes and illustrates herself. From the charming Purinina, A Devil’s Tale which tells the story of a young Tasmanian Devil growing up to the beautiful Welcome Home with its focus on whales long gone from Tasmanian shores, to this evocative, haunting tale of the last thylacine she puts young and not-so-young readers in touch with the stories of some of Australia’s most amazing creatures which have suffered so significantly at the hand of humans and in the name of progress and prosperity.
With its dark palette that echoes the darkness of the deep bush of undiscovered Tasmania to the stark whiteness echoing the harsh conditions of Hobart Zoo, the reader is taken on a visual and verbal journey that is so intertwined it is like poetry. But despite the fate of the main character and that of the thylacine as a species being known, nevertheless there is a story of hope for now we think and do differently, and perhaps somewhere in the depths of that untrodden bush there is the possibility…
This is a must-have addition to support any curriculum study that has sustainability and the plight of our planet’s creatures as its focus.
It is clear from recent global actions by young students that the environmental state of the planet is one of their greatest concerns and with World Environment Day being the recent focus of many school activities, this is a timely publication that demonstrates that even our youngest students have the power to do something and make a difference.
Its focus is on waste disposal and its mission is “to save the whole stinkin’ planet by getting [readers] skilled up and clues in on all things waste” and for them to spread this message widely and so the book guides them through each stage of how to do this as they become Waste Warriors complete with name, ID and a Garbology Lab Book. Filled with a mix of facts, statistics and strategies, the text speaks directly to the reader encouraging and supporting them with practical ways they can deal with waste in their lives so they can make a difference on a personal scale. Having the reader understand what happens to the things they dispose of and that landfill is for storing waste not treating it with the real possibility that one day it will be full, is powerful knowledge that motivates them to doing better. Starting with focused personal questions about the last thing they threw away and what happened to it, it builds up to getting the community involved and knowledgeable.
Many schools have a Green Team who try to ensure that the school’s environment is the best it can be, and this is the ideal handbook for them to follow to tackle one of a school’s biggest problems – the production of waste. While many recycle paper and even have compost bins, it is having the knowledge and understanding of why this is done and what happens if it isn’t that becomes empowering and greater results are likely.
A school library should have many copies of this book in its collection and in the hands of a dedicated team who can guide the school and broader community’s journey towards a better, cleaner future. While climate change and air pollution are big picture concepts for which immediate change is hard to see, waste management is something we can all tackle and see the results of our efforts. Perhaps the cost imposed by council of removing the waste from the school could be investigated and as this drops, the savings could go towards something the school needs such as playground equipment; or for those who choose not to use plastic bottle recycling rewards for themselves, the school could have a collection point with the money going towards that overall goal.
When students strike to bring attention to the state of the planet, there are many loud voices saying they should be in school “learning something” (as though they haven’t learned about the environment and democracy to be doing what they are doing) so by adopting a pro-active, aggressive waste management program they could not only demonstrate what they have learned but also teach others!