Archives

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335828

In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…

 

Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.

 

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2018

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

9780763693558

Sometimes parents give their babies names that are bigger than they are- even when the baby grows up! And so it is with Alma Sofia, Esperanza Jose Pura Candela.  So she turns to her Daddy to explain why she has six names and as he tells her, she learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; the spiritual Pura and her activist grandmother Candela.  As she hears the story of her name and her history, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell.

Parents choose our names for so many reasons – my own was changed to be the initials of the harbour board of which my grandfather was the chief engineer, initials which were on the risers of the steps leading to his important office so I was convinced they were my personal stairway to heaven – and to discover those reasons can be a fascinating insight into what life was like for our parents at the time, just as it was for Alma. But despite, or because of, our names we all remain unique individuals who will, in time, have our own stories to tell – just as Alma does.

There are so many cross-curriculum activities that can be done just by playing with and exploring our names – my students loved to see how much their names were worth if each letter had the dollar value of a Scrabble tile – that to have such a clever, poignant but fascinating story such as this to kickstart the investigations is just perfect.  (If you’re looking for suggestions scramble through your Teacher Resource section and see if you have a copy of Maths  About Me, written in 1991 under my other name of Hosie.)

Maths About Me

Maths About Me

Parvana – a graphic novel

Parvana - a graphic novel

Parvana – a graphic novel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parvana – a graphic novel

Deborah Ellis

Allen & Unwin, 2018

80pp., graphic novel, RRP $A19.99

9781760631970

In 2000, Canadian author Deborah Ellis told the story of Parvana, an 11 year old girl who living in  Kabul, Afghanistan with her mother Fatana, her father, her older sister Nooria, and two younger siblings, Maryam and Ali when Taliban soldiers enter her house and arrest her father for having a foreign education and beginning a fascinating, intriguing, award-winning series of books which include Parvana’s Journey , Shauzia  and Parvana’s Promise that shone a spotlight on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan that continues to this day.

As a series it is an amazing, true-to-life story of a young girl living in circumstances that the rest of the world knew little about but which has now led to the establishment of international organisations which support not only Afghan women but the recognition and provision of education for girls in male-dominated countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As a story, it is one of courage, resilience, determination and grit that is inspirational as well as educational.  So many young girls that I know who have read this have commented about how it puts their own issues into perspective.

Renamed The Breadwinner in the US, it was made into a film of the same name and now that has been adapted into graphic novel format which will enable so many more to learn about Parvana’s story and perhaps continue to read the entire series.

If this series is not on your shelves for your Year 5/6+ readers, it should be.  If it is but has not circulated, perhaps it is time to promote it to a new audience.   In my opinion, it is a modern classic that should be read by all as an introduction to the world beyond the Australian classroom.

 

NB If you are searching for the series it also has the titles The Breadwinner (1),  Mud City (3) and My Name is Parvana (4)

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby in the Ruins

Shirley Hughes

Walker Books, 2018

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

9781406375893

“Ruby and Mum have lived through the terrifying London Blitz and are waiting for Dad to come home from the war. Ruby hardly recognizes the tall man who steps off the train, but when she falls in the ruins nearby, there’s only one person who she wants to rescue her.”

Even though the setting and time are very specific in this new story from multiple award-winner Shirley Hughes, it is one with universal application for all those children whose parents have been away for an extended time and their return means changes not just to regular routines but also having to get to know this stranger whose experiences have changed them as much as those left behind have changed.  It also has particular application to many of Australia’s children as it could be the story of their grandparents and great-grandparents  who came here after the huge disruptions caused by World War II, helping to put pictures into minds that previously had only heard words.  

We are so lucky not to have known the devastation and death of war on our doorstep but many of our new arrivals may be more than familiar with the scenes and the experiences so it needs a sensitive and knowledgeable adult to share this story, particularly if it is read aloud to a class.  An important story about the lives of children in another time while remembering it could also be the story of a child in our own time.

 

Clare’s Goodbye

Clare's Goodbye

Clare’s Goodbye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clare’s Goodbye

Libby Gleeson

Anna Pignataro

Little Hare, 2017

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

It’s a scene familiar to many children.  The removalists are carrying the lounge chairs, the television, the boxes of books and all the family’s other possessions out to their big truck.  It is time to say goodbye to this house that has been home for so long. But while Jacob and bigger sister Rosie are visiting familiar places and saying a sad goodbye to the empty sandpit, the treehouse, and long-gone Blossom the bunny, younger sister Clare says nothing and does nothing.  And then she disappears…

The house is finally cleared and still there is no sign of Clare and so Jacob and Rosie search every empty room for her until, at last, there she is…

Leaving a home that is loved and familiar and so much a part of who we are because of its memories can be tough – it can be a sad thing to say goodbye or it could be s cause for celebration as we thank it for all it has given us.  Which way did Clare choose? Just as we express our happiness in different, unique ways so do we express our sadness and sometimes it’s not always through tears.

Identified as a 2018 CBCA Notable, for both the Early Childhood and Picture Book categories this is a sensitive, poignant story that will resonate with many children.  Anna Pignataro  has captured the mood of the words perfectly with Clare’s forlorn figure a grey contrast against the brighter but subdued background until the last few pages when she comes into her own.  The mood is emphasised as she portrays the children’s  feelings of desolation about leaving in a predominantly grey and empty world, while the busyness of the adults is depicted with clutter and colour, with a variety of flowers showing that while sometimes they are dull and seemingly lifeless, there is beauty and brightness in the world as they bloom.

A magic pairing of author and illustrator who clearly bring personal experience to the page to make a story that can touch so many.

The Second Sky

The Second Sky

The Second Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Sky

Patrick Guest

Jonathan Bentley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781760127985

Down in the depths of Antarctica an egg cracks open and little Gilbert the penguin looks up through the opening and sees the sky for the first time. Above him the moon glows, the stars sparkle and the birds wheeled.  Gilbert knew where he wanted to be…. soaring high through the heavens with the storm petrels, the shearwaters and the mighty wandering albatross.

But even though his big clumsy feet and small fluffy wings weren’t made for flying, he tried and tried and tried.  But all to no avail.  Even as his fluffy down gave way to feathers, he kept trying – waddling and flapping, waddling and flapping  and each time ending up on the ice, not in the sky.  He didn’t listen to Aunty Anchovy and the other family members who told him to give up.  He persisted, becoming even more determined the day he saw the wandering albatross soar and glide…

Set aside the messages of the need to practice, persistence and resilience that Gilbert’s story encourages and just bask in the wonder of the words and the beauty of the illustrations of this charming story of a penguin who clearly missed the memo about the place of penguins in the world.  Young readers will LOL as Gilbert tries to follow his dream and empathise with his belief that it’s just a matter of time and he will master flight as he gets older and stronger – just as they will get more co-ordinated and balanced as they grow. 

This is a delightful story about reaching for the stars, but when that dream doesn’t come true there can be something even better in the substitute.  

Nominated as a 2018 CBCA Notable for both the Early Childhood and Picture Book categories, it thoroughly deserves its place in both.

Teachers’ notes are available.

I’m a Duck

I'm a Duck

I’m a Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a Duck

Eve Bunting

Will Hillenbrand

Candlewick Press, 2018

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

9780763680329

Imagine being a duck that is afraid of water!

But that’s the problem of this little one who rolled into the pond as an egg, and although quickly rescued by her mother, she has been left with a morbid fear of deep water.

Now I’m a duck who’s scared to go

in the pond or lake, and so

I cannot swim, and that is bad.

A landlocked duck is very sad.

Despite the encouragement of family and friends like Frog and Owl, Little Duck just can’t pluck up the courage to have a go.  She eventually has a go in a puddle, practising all day and night, but even though she’s well prepared, when it comes to the pond she’s really, really scared!  And then one day…

This is a gentle book, both in tone and palette, focusing on overcoming fear that will resonate with many young readers who will have have had to pull their big-kid pants on and have a go at something that has terrified them.  No matter how supportive those around you are, how much they offer to help you, as the little ducking observes, “I’d love to have you help me through it, but I’m the one who has to do it.”

It’s a story about moving at one’s own pace, practising and preparing, and doing things your own way that will offer comfort and support to those facing what seem to be insurmountable challenges and the joy of going from trepidation to triumph. No doubt little listeners will each have their own tale to tell as they reflect on similar situations and then give themselves a high-five for having mastered their fear. 

Oma’s Buttons

Oma's Buttons

Oma’s Buttons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oma’s Buttons

Tania Ingram

Jennifer Harrison

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143786573

Ruthie loved going to visit her Oma and doing all the wonderful things that grandmothers and their grandchildren do together – baking, singing, playing … One day she discovers a small tin under Oma’s bed – a small tin which holds BIG memories!  For in it were lots of buttons, each one representing a special person in Oma’s life.

And so Ruthie learns about the people who had passed through Oma’s life, each one special and significant like the red button that was from her mother’s apron because she loved to bake; the little wooden button from her father who taught her how to be brave; the blue button from the suit Opa was wearing on the day he proposed…   Even Ruthie is in there through the green button off her first dress. 

Fascinated she listens to all the stories , until she finds a beautiful button at the bottom of the tin – from Oma’s favourite coat and so Ruthie asks if she can have it to remind her of Oma.  That button goes with her everywhere that day, even to the park where it slips through a hole in the pocket in her jacket and is lost forever.  Ruthie is devastated but then Oma shows her the best memory button in the world…

This is a most beautiful book dedicated to the author’s mother-in-law who  was born in a displaced persons camp in Kematen, after her family had to flee the occupation in WWII and whose early experience as a refugee gave her an appreciation of family traditions and holding onto the memories of those we love.  Her button tin inspired the story and the love between her mother-in-law and her daughter shines through on every page as the story and memories of each button is shared and celebrated, clearly based on real events.   

Jennifer Harrison’s stunning illustrations are so photograph-like that each person comes to life so the reader not only feels they know them better but is also transported back to memories of their own special people – a grandmother who made porridge and served it with brown sugar as the familiar fanfare heralded the 8.00am news and taught me to make the traditional Kiwi favourites like pavlova; a grandfather who walked miles with us over the beaches and rocks of one of the southernmost towns in the world and who taught me to love the eternal, restless sea; a father returned from being a POW in World War II determined his kids would be brought up in peace and who taught me to look for the silver lining in everyone; a mother who insisted on keeping her hard-fought for career and who taught me to follow my dreams

Sadly, all are gone now as is my Nanna’s button tin, lost in international moves and the passing decades – but the memories are rich and alive. 

Tania Ingram and Jennifer Harrison have written an important book that will encourage reminiscing, perhaps even an investigation into why families are who they are for we all belong to someone, somewhere and we are all loved.  One to be treasured as much as the buttons.

When I Grow Up

When I Grow Up

When I Grow Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I Grow Up

Andrew Daddo

Jonathan Bentley

ABC Books, 2016

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

9780733333422

Hairdresser, inventor, astronaut, writer, performer, secret agent…little people have big dreams when they are asked that perennial question about what they want to be when they grow up.  And these days nothing is impossible.  But there is one thing that is more important than anything else…

This is an engaging book that not only explores the range of possibilities that little ones suggest but also has fun exploring what they think those jobs involve.  For example, the writer suggests he will write a story about “a prince [rescuing] a princess, and she’ll say, “I can rescue myself, thank you!” But they will still live happily ever after.”  The inventor will invent “a bedroom cleaner (that’s not called me)” while the budding hairdresser will tame goldy locks  into buns and braids, bobs and beehives  and give the boys buzzcuts or bowls. 

Once again, Jonathan Bentley’s superb illustrations take the text to a higher level as they translate imagination into reality.  

These sorts of books are perfect for helping budding readers and writers as they serve as a wonderful model for a class book.  Imagine the interest in writing and illustrating a page about your dreams for your future and then having these collated into a book to be pored over and over, maybe even set up as a slideshow to be shared with parents and grandparents from afar. Even research can begin as they discover just what is involved in their choices perhaps inviting parents or representatives of their choices to talk to them -learning that it is often not enough to say what they want but justifying it too.

Personal, in-context activities like these are irresistible to young children and boost their writing and reading enormously as they have such an explicit, overt purpose and meaning consolidating what they expect from a story.

Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015