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Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snot Chocolate

Morris Gleitzman

Puffin Books, 2016

165pp, pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780143309222

The blurb reads, “Stop your mum picking her nose, read the secret diary of a dog, catch a bus and then let it go, discover how one slice of toast can make you the most popular person in school, start wearing a crown and give up eating pig-nostril gruel, use a wrecking ball to defeat a bully, show your big sister the very scary secret in your wardrobe, unleash the awesome power of chips, live in a house that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom.”

But there is so much more to this collection of short stories from a master storyteller who seamlessly switches between the poignancy of Two weeks with the Queen, the gaiety of Toad Rage and the seriousness and sincerity of the Once series. Gleitzman himself says, “Nine stories, and I’ve made them different lengths because different parents have different ideas about how long a person should be allowed to read before turning the lights out.”

With a title designed to attract that reader who loves to makes sure parents and teachers have a stomach-churning moment when they see it, nevertheless there are serious undertones to each as the central character of each tries to grapple with a big problem affecting family or friends using a thought process and logic that are particular to that age group.  Creativity is alive and well in children – until the formality and seriousness of school try to quell it.

Along with Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake, these stories which give the author “a break from the stiff neck and stiff brain you sometimes get writing book-length stories” might seem a long way from the stories Gleitzman commonly crafts and which he is so valued for, but as he says, he would” hate to forget that in stories a laugh can have a teardrop as a very close neighbour.”  However, despite the sombre notes this is a collection that will keep those newly independent readers, particularly boys, reading and help them transition to the next phase of their reading journey – which will probably be a Gleitzman novel – as they show that even short stories with wicked titles can have great, credible characters and a depth of plot that makes reading so worthwhile.  

Parents,  teachers and teacher librarians are blessed to have such a gifted writer as Gleitzman on their side.

Read what Morris Gleitzman has to say on the value of short stories.

The Bike Ride

The Bike Ride

The Bike Ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bike Ride

Jan Ormerod

Freya Blackwood

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

10pp., board book, RRP $A14.99

9781760128982

Bear’s world revolves around Maudie, and so does Maudie’s. Bear is the hero that every little person needs in their life.  The one that does everything for them, no matter how trying they are; the one that is the guardian angel on their shoulder; the one that loves them unconditionally no matter what. 

So when Maudie says she needs some exercise, in particular a bike ride, Bear is there ready to help out.  He gets the bike while Maudie gets… her sunglasses, then their hats, then her scarf, sunscreen, bug spray.  All the while Bear waits patiently until at last they are ready to go. But just who gets the exercise?

This is a gentle, quirky story from the late Jan Ormerod, re-released in board book format so it is perfect for the little hands of its intended audience.  As usual, Freya Blackwoods’s gentle pictures in their soft palette bring the words to life in a way that just wraps the reader up in all the love that Bear has for Maudie.

 

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Molly & Mae

Danny Parker

Freya Blackwood

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016

32pp. hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781742975276

 

A railway station in rural Anywhere, Australia and Molly and Mae are looking forward to their journey to the city.  On the platform there is fun to be had like hide and seek to play as they and the other passengers wait for the train to arrive and their friendship is full of laughter and giggles as the excitement builds.  Even being stuck in the bubblegum doesn’t dampen their delight.  And even as the waiting goes on and on, there is fun to be had as they enjoy each other’s company.  When at last the train comes the fun continues as they colour in, dress up their dolls, experience the dining car, and even do crazy stuff like hanging upside down from the seats!  

But slowly as the trip seems interminable cracks start to appear as boredom sets in.  Molly thinks Mae is silly and tells her so and Mae doesn’t like it and before long the girls are not speaking to each other, turning away and spending their time peering through the window at the wet, smeary countryside.  The whole world looks murky, echoing their feelings.  Will they resolve their spat or is this the end of something special?

This is a story about so much more than a long train journey as it mirrors real-life friendships – the excitement of new shared interests, the pleasure in just being together and doing everyday stuff and the anticipation of adventures to come.  But there are also times when it is boring, when difficulties happen and there is a choice of building bridges and continuing on the main track or branching off onto another one.

This is a true marriage of text and graphics.  Blackwood’s soft palette and somewhat retro feel and clever headings of platform, timetable, journey, signal failure, destination that replicate both the stages of the journey and the development of the friendship express Parker’s concept and text perfectly and the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into the story from the early morning endpaper  through the title page to the explosion of the big city station and as night falls over the city.  Blackwood has explained her thought processes and choices here showing just how much goes into such a project.

If teachers were ever looking for a book to explain metaphor, this is it!

Would not be surprised to see this among the CBCA shortlisted titles in 2017.

 

 

Jack and Mia

Jack and Mia

Jack and Mia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack and Mia

Robert Vescio

Claire Richards

Wombat Books, 2016

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

9781925139730

Before Mia moved in next door, Jack was lonely.  But Mia brought rainbows, jungles, concerts and lots and lots of giggles.  Even their mums thought they  were “two sides of the one coin” and “fit together like a puzzle.”  Mia’s amazing imagination took them on adventures that Jack had never dreamed of and when they both got sick at the same time, they were each given a book about making and doing, make-believe and play that allowed them to continue the fun from their beds.  

When they were better they kept using their books, snipping, gluing, taping and  tying a magnificent cardboard castle.  They each wore crowns and royal robes and ruled over their kingdom with wisdom and kindness.  They were as close as the materials that held that castle together.  Until one day Mia moves far away with her family and Jack is back into the isolation and desolation that he felt before Mia entered his life.  Nothing was the same any more.

Across the sea, Mia had also given up.  She was missing Jack just as much.  But then Jack found Mia’s book in his toybox and… 

There is nothing like the deep friendships forged in childhood where there are no distractions beyond deciding what today’s fun will be about.  Jack and Mia is a charming story that focuses on such a friendship and how it can continue even after separation has intervened. It will resonate with children who have moved away from familiar surroundings and friends and show them that there are plenty of ways of keeping in touch to relive old memories and make new ones. The technology of today gives them so much more than that of previous generations and the world can come to you with just a few clicks.

The illustrations enrich the storyline as Jack and Mia do not share the same skin colour but neither notice – it’s all about who each child is, how they connect and the fun that can be had when kids get together, just as it is in any playground. In fact, I’d proffer that the readers will not even notice the difference.  Racism and all that it entails is very definitely a concept learned from adults.

Heartwarming and positive. 

Stanley

Stanley

Stanley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stanley

Colin Thompson

ABC Books, 2016

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

9780733332852

Stanley is not the world’s most attractive dog – he looks like he has been built out of very old, very weathered, very strong bricks and even though he looks dangerous from a distance, he was really as soft as a pillow.  Stanley loves four things – his bed, his dinner, his red rubber ball and Gerald, his human. Unlike Stanley who looked like he had been built from bricks, Gerald looks like he has been created from carefully crafted paper, folded and glued together and rather than looking dangerous, he looked as “harmless as a postage stamp.”  Gerald loves his mum, Stanley and Lego.

Most days Stanley walks Gerald to school but on the whole he was quite lonely at times as Gerald and his mum were all the family in the house, and while he loved them, they never came to sleep in his bed with him.  So when Gerald took Stanley and his red ball to the park and Stanley got to play with other dogs, he loved it.  When Gerald threw the  ball all the dogs would chase it, but they always stood back and let Stanley fetch it.  Until the day a fluffy little thing called Lulu caught it and refused to give it back…an event that will change his life forever!

Colin Thompson, author of the fabulous Fearless, has created another doggy character that children will love and resonate with giving them hope that even though they might feel lonely and be the only one in a single-parent family, things can change.  With his vivid words-and-pictures descriptions of both Stanley and Gerald (with lots of wonderful similes to explore) there is a strong message about not judging things on their appearance and the juxtaposition of the soft, fluffy Lulu  standing up to the tough-looking Stanley is just one example.  

This story has many layers so will appeal to many age groups, but overall it’s just about love and the power of hope and a red rubber ball.

Very useful teachers notes are available.

 

The Famishing Vanishing Mahoosive Mammoth

The Famishing Vanishing Mahoosive Mammoth

The Famishing Vanishing Mahoosive Mammoth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Famishing Vanishing Mahoosive Mammoth

Hollie Hughes

Leigh Hodgkinson

Bloomsbury, 2016

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

9781408862780

 

“I’m so famishing, I’m vanishing,” moaned the mahoosive mammoth  when he woke up early in the morning with an empty tummy.  But even though his friend Bug finds and feeds him an enormous amount of food through breakfast, a snack, brunch and lunch, and afternoon tea at the seaside the mahoosive mammoth is still hungry and nothing will satisfy the funny feeling deep inside.

But Bug is clever and realises why his friend is always hungry – and comes up with the perfect solution.  And Mammoth finally fixes that funny feeling inside.

This bright, colourful story-in-rhyme moves along at a fast clip and young readers will be astonished at how much food can be eaten by one creature in one day!  They will delight in the language – watch ‘mahoosive’ become part of their vocabulary – and have fun thinking of new snacks that might fix that funny feeling or imagining the consequences if the mammoth’s tummy does pop!

A fun read that will enchant young readers.

 

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.

small things

Small Things

Small Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small things

Mel Tregonning

Allen & Unwin, 2016

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781742379791

 

Over recent weeks my life seems to have been leading up to opening this book.  

It started with a friend’s son committing suicide and my going back into the classroom as a volunteer to allow a colleague to attend the funeral.

There was RUOK Day which is a big thing for me because suicide has touched my life too many times.

Three schools I’ve been associated with have recently installed buddy benches.

This story came through my Facebook feed-Teen Makes Sit With US App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies and then, this morning, this meme…

small_things2

Even so, I was not prepared for the storyline of this important book even though I’d skimmed posts about its launch on my network connections. Let the blurb tell it for you…

An ordinary boy in an ordinary world. small things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.”

Perhaps a storyline that has been done one way or another many times – but then, on the publishers’ blurb there is this…

In 2008, Mel began illustrating a graphic novel about the universal feelings of loneliness and happiness. In May 2014, Mel took her own life.

It is the most absorbing story of a boy who is dealing with lots of the small things in life that we all face but which affect each of us differently – small things that appear to be so unimportant that they don’t even require capital letters in the title.  Yet, while for some they may be no big deal, for others they lead to sadness, anxiety and depression exacerbated by the perception that you are the only one feeling this way.  Other people can make friends, other people can do pesky maths problems, other people can play basketball – why can’t you?  And the thoughts and doubts start grow and become demons which start to chip away from the inside out and then open cracks until you are surrounded by and followed by them.  They constantly exude from you without let=up until you are so overwhelmed that the pain of keeping them in is greater than physical pain of letting them out. So you give them a helping hand and for a brief minute one pain exceeds the other. But when even that doesn’t help and the darkness descends…

Mel died before she completed her book and the wondrous Shaun Tan completed the final three pages.  And in doing so, he turns the darkness around into a powerful and hopeful ending so that even though there are small things that can cause such despair and desolation there are other small things that can lead to hope and happiness. It’s a story about discovering your place in the world and finding your path through it; about realising that while others’ paths may seem the same as yours, theirs may have obstacles invisible to you and hurdles they find too hard to climb; about being aware of others as well as ourselves and developing and showing empathy; about discovering that others have similar pains and you are not alone; about building a sense of a strong self and knowing and employing the strategies to achieve this. For all its physical, emotional and conceptual darkness, it is a story about light.

With so many of our students, even very young ones, struggling with bullying and mental health issues that too often lead to the dire consequences of drugs and death, this is an important book for teachers to examine so we can be alert to the needs of the children in our care and consider whether the remark made in jest or the less-than-average grade might have a deeper impact than we think. It’s about the need to help our children build a core of resilience and self-esteem so they can cope when their expectations are not realised and to help parents understand that stepping in and solving every problem for a child in the short term in not necessarily the best solution in the long term.  It’s about helping our children understand that there are not losers, only learners.

It’s about so much more than one reviewer can express in one review.  Perhaps its most critical role is that it even though it encapsulates the feelings and thoughts of the boy in its evocative pictures so well that no words are needed, it becomes the conversation starter – more than that, it generates a loud call to action.

On a literary level I believe this will feature in the CBCA Book of the Year lists in 2017; on a social level it is so much more important than that.

There are Teachers Notes for both primary and secondary available and they come with a warning of how you use it because of the nerves that may be touched, a warning I would echo.  Do not share this book as a stand-alone, time-filler. It’s format of many small frames does not readily lend itself to a class sharing, but rather a one-to-one exploration with a sensitive adult taking the helm.  However the teachers notes offer some really positive ways of promoting positive mental health and strategies for those who are feeling fragile as well as helping others know how they might help a friend.   Asking R U OK? is not just for one day a year. 

A most remarkable and life-changing book.  We need to nurture those who will sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria but we must also know who the lonely kids are.

 

Shaun Tan completes graphic novel after author Mel Tregonning’s suicide: ‘Her absence made me try even harder’

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

Lifeline 13 11 14

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

Tony Wilson

Laura Wood

Scholastic Press, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $24.99

9781743623534

 

Hey diddle diddle

You all know the riddle

A cow jumps over the moon.

It happened, all right,

On a crisp, cloudless night

On the second-last Friday in June.

But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.

As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moan soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.

But what they don’t say in the songs from that day

Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.

It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…

And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.

The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”.  She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred.  Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed.  Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…

It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards.  As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days.  By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed.  They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.

But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.

“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.”  Steptember, 2016

Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births.  Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth.  It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.

But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.

There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember.  Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.

Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book.  I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.

 

The Big Flood

The Big Flood

The Big Flood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juliet Nearly a Vet: The Big Flood

Rebecca Johnson

Kyla May

Puffin, 2016

84pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780143507031

Juliet and her best friend Chelsea love animals, and Juliet KNOWS she will be a vet.  Problem is, she’s only ten years old so she has a bit of time before she can go to university and start the study.  But she’s getting a head start by helping her mum in her veterinary practice, keeping her vet diary meticulously and making sure her emergency kit is always on hand. Chelsea is also an animal fanatic but her dream is to be a world famous trainer and groomer. 

In this, the 11th in this series, Juliet and Chelsea are involved in rescuing a variety of creatures after rain has deluged the land and left it flooded.  The first task is to get their neighbours’ alpacas to higher ground and while the cria goes willingly on the boat, its hembre (mother) is a little more hesitant.  Once that task is complete, they head for home but Juliet is sure she spots movement on an island and wants to stop. However, her mother is anxious to get back to the surgery in case neighbours have brought in any emergencies and so Juliet is left frustrated.

She is determined to confirm what she saw and so with the help of Chelsea and her dad (who is afraid of animals, particularly mice) she sets off in Chelsea’s brother’s canoe to investigate.  And sure enough, there is a whole menagerie there including mice, lizards, stick insects and an echidna who is struggling to breathe.

This is a series that is loved by young girls who love animals and who are independent readers. The combination of strong, independent girls who are “clever, almost grownups” and animals mixed with a touch of humour is  unbeatable. It’s written by Rebecca Johnson who is the author of so many of those delightful junior non-fiction titles photographed and published by Steve Parish, and illustrated with cute pictures by Kyla May.  Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Juliet’s vet diary which actually include some interesting facts such as those about the alpacas and which could be a model for the other Juliets in the offing.  There’s also a quiz at the end of the book that enhances the learning.

All the books in the series are listed here. If your library doesn’t have them they are a worthwhile investment because they tick so many boxes for the Year 2-4 reader.