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A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boy Called BAT

Elana K. Arnold

Charles Santose

Walden Pond, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9780062445834

Bixby Alexander Tam, known to those who know him as BAT because of his initials, his love of animals and the way his arms and hands flap when he gets excited, prefers life to be logical, predictable, routine and without surprises. He’s not good with noise (so wears his sister Janie’s earmuffs often), doesn’t like the mushy texture of some foods, is sensitive to the feel of fabrics on his skin and finds it difficult to make eye contact and hold casual conversations. Clearly, to even a non-teacher who doesn’t know the signs of being on the autism spectrum, this is a little boy with  special needs. But Bat is not unhappy or frustrated – his mum, sister and teacher are sensitive to his needs, his peers seem to accept him for who he is, and although his father, whom he stays with “every-other-Friday” seems to struggle a little with his non-sporty son, generally Bat is content and just gets on with things.

But when his mum, a vet, brings home a newborn skunk that needs special care, Bat comes into his own, devoting his life to caring for the kit and planning how he will be able to keep it and care for it beyond the initial few weeks before the local wildlife refuge can take over. He needs to show his mum that he is responsible and committed enough, even contacting a skunk expert for advice. 

This is an engaging story that shows the reader the world through Bat’s eyes but which is not patronising, sentimental or emotional.  Bat’s autism adds a different and interesting perspective to the relationships between the characters but the concept of an eight-year-old taking care of an orphaned animal and hoping to keep it longer is a story that could be about any young person.  I believe that all children should be able to read about themselves in stories, and those about autistic children are rare, so this one which has such a solid, familiar storyline so every reader can relate to it while learning about the world through unfamiliar eyes, is a must-have.  Its sequel Bat and the Waiting Game is also available in hardcover. 

 

 

 

 

High Five to the Boys: A Celebration of Ace Australian Men

High Five to the Boys: A Celebration of Ace Australian Men

High Five to the Boys: A Celebration of Ace Australian Men

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Five to the Boys: A Celebration of Ace Australian Men

Random House Australia, 2018

2018., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780143791782

Despite Australia’s relatively short history, there have been some amazing men emerge from the ranks who have contributed so much to this nation and the world.  In this fabulous companion volume to Shout Out to the Girls, young readers  can not only learn the stories of familiar names like Adam Goodes, Andy Griffiths, Jonathan Thurston and Hamish and Andy but they can also discover less familiar people like Vincent Lingiari, Weary Dunlop and Mei Quong Tart.  Even Australia’s current Local Hero Eddie Woo is featured, making this a celebration of contemporary Australians as much as it acknowledges the accomplishments of those who have gone before.

As in Shout Out to the Girls. it is not just the story of the “poster boy” that is told, but also an acknowledgement to all the others in a similar field who have contributed and continue to do so, but just not with such a high profile.  For example, Hugh Jackman is featured but there is a high five to the “chameleon performers who entertain us and show us others’ lives and worlds.”  There is an atmosphere of inclusivity that recognises that there are many Hugh Jackmans, Mick Fannings and Troye Sivans but not each can have a place unless the book were to be E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S.  Within those credits the biographer has picked out an essential element of character that goes beyond the personal prowess in sport, acting, music or whatever so that it speaks to a wider audience.  For example, while Mick Fanning is  highlighted, it’s not for his surfing achievements but as an example of “the resilient guys who achieve awesome physical feats and get back on their boards after being knocked off”.  Jonathan Thurston exemplifies “the men who wear their colours with pride and use their renown to change the world for the better.”

Whoever they are and whatever their story, each has a clear one-page bio and a portrait by one of Australia’s leading illustrators, themselves all men whose work should be celebrated, making this a book that will attract the young reader out of interest rather than just being a resource for “Investigate the life of a famous Australian”. It has its place as a kickstart for that sort of inquiry as young researchers are led to learn more about their chosen hero, but more importantly it will affirm and inspire. While there may be many who aspire to be the next YouTube sensation like Troye Sivan, perhaps there will be another Jordan Nguyen who has developed a mind-controlled wheelchair or David McAllister who was born to dance and didn’t let gender stereotyping stand in his way.

This is an exuberant, uplifting book that needs to be in every library collection and promoted so our boys can find new role models, new directions and even new dreams.

As with Shout Out to the Girls, all royalties are donated to The Smith Family.

 

 

 

Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Tracks

Ros Moriarty

Balarinji

Allen & Unwin, 2018

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781760297824

“Follow the bush tracks over the rocks and stones to the coastal hunting grounds…” but be careful as you do because there are wondrous things to see and hidden dangers to avoid along the way. Make a spear, find the fresh water where there seems to be only salty, make a fire to tell others of your approach,  catch a crab in the light of the full moon…

Accompanied by vivid, authentic artworks full of colour and detail that we need to pay as much to as the track we are on, this is a call to venture outside and be as in tune with our surroundings as the traditional owners of this country are. The text speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to be part of this adventure and discovery.

This is the perfect introduction for littlies to the lifestyle of those who have been here for so long, as they investigate what is needed to sustain them.  Most will have accompanied a parent to the supermarket to buy food, but what if there were no supermarkets?  Help them track their thinking back to a time, which still exists, where self-sufficiency is critical for survival. 

Central to the illustrations is the track of the journey and while you might not be able to take your young readers to the “coastal hunting grounds”, you can take them around the school or a nearby park, mapping and photographing the journey and speculating on what might live or depend on the natural elements that you pass.  Investigating and demonstrating the importance of the flora to the fauna, the cycle of the seasons, and the symbiotic interdependence  of Nature regardless of the habitat within which it exists is critical if we are to grow children who appreciate and value their natural environment as much as their built one.

Like its companion, What’s That There? Bush Tracks has a translation of the English into the Yanyuwa language (spoken in families in Borroloola , NT) at the end allowing the young readers of those families to see and read stories in their own language as part of the author’s Indi Kindi initiative as well as demonstrating the power of story regardless of the language spoken, offering those who do not have English as their first language an opportunity to share their mother tongue and its stories. 

Both What’s That There? and Bush Tracks are prime examples of the power of picture books for all ages – done well, there is something for all ages of reader!

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Play Trucks?

Ann Stott

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781406378238

Almost every morning Jack and Alex play together in the sandpit at the playground while their mothers have a chat.  They enjoy playing together, Jack with the trucks, particularly those that are big and can wreck things,  and Alex with his doll, who has a pink, sparkly dress. When Jack suggests they play trucks, Alex counters with playing dolls that drive trucks. And this is a happy compromise until Jack chooses a crane and tells Alex that dolls with tutus can’t drive cranes.

But this is not an argument about gender, although as it escalates it seems it is – Jack has a much more pragmatic perspective which Alex quickly solves and they are soon playing happily again until they hear the sound of the ice cream truck.

Time and again over the 45+ years I’ve been in education I’ve seen children squabble and adults intervening because they have imposed their beliefs and perspectives on what they think is the problem, when it is really a much more simple issue such as in this story. Rather than letting the children sort it for themselves and learning all sorts of critical social skills as they do, the adults are too prone to step in looking for peace above all else.  In my opinion, it is what is going on in the background that is as important as the foreground in this story, as the mothers continue to chat, nurse Alex’s baby sister when she wakes up and go with the boys to get ice cream, ignoring the boys’ conflict, if indeed they notice it. Graham also has lots of other characters passing by going about their lives with no reference to what is happening in the sandpit – there is no notice taken of the boys’ different ethnicity, their preference for particular toys or their minor squabble.  Life is what it is and is as it is. And therefore the boys are left to work things out for themselves,learning in their particular microcosm how to negotiate, compromise, change, accept, include… all those vital attributes that will help them navigate their expanding world.

While this book appears to be about challenging gender stereotypes because of the boys’ choice of toys, to me that is just the hook on which the broader issue of how kids deal with, negotiate and celebrate difference and diversity has been hung on.    Sharing this with little ones will open up opportunities for them to not only share their stories but to learn their own strategies as they are challenged by new situations. 

Won’t be surprised to see this nominated for awards in the future.

My Storee

My Storee

My Storee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Storee

Paul Russell

Aška

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335774

When he is at home the stories running through his head keep him awake at night – stories about dragons and rainbow eggs at the bottom of Grandma’s garden; his teacher being eaten by a gruesome ogre; unicorn detectives chasing robotic pirates up alien volcanoes.  The wonderful, magical ideas just keep flowing and he writes and writes and writes.  It’s all about the adventures and not about the writing rules.

But at school, the adventures dry up because the writing rules rule. And the red pen is everywhere,

“But at school their are too many riting rulz and with all the rulz I can never find my dragons.”

At school he doesn’t like to write

Until a new teacher comes – one who is a storyteller himself and knows writing is about the story and not the rules.

In the 80s I was lucky enough to be deeply involved in the process writing movement where we truly believed that writing had to be about the ideas and the adventures and that the processes of reviewing, editing and publishing came later once there was something to work with.  Children were just happy to express themselves and as teachers, it was our job to guide them with spelling, punctuation and grammar, semantics and syntax, so that if one of their ideas grabbed them enough that they wanted to take it through to publication then we would work together to do that. Words were provided as they were needed in context and punctuation and grammar tackled on an individual’s needs rather than one-size-fits-all lessons. And if the effort of writing was enough and the child wasn’t  interested in taking it further, then we had to accept that – flogging a dead horse was a waste of time.   In pre-computer days, how many nights did I spend on the typewriter with the big font so a child could have the joy of their own creation in our class library?  Children enjoyed writing for writing’s sake, were free and willing to let their imaginations roam free and were prepared to take risks with language conventions for the sake of the story. 

But when publicity-seeking politicians whose only experience with the classroom was their own decades previously declared that “assessment processes need to be more rigorous, more standardised and more professional” (a quote from Teacher ) we find ourselves back to the red pen being king and our future storytellers silenced through fear. While the teachers’ notes tag this book as being about a dyslexic child, it really is about all children as they learn how to control their squiggles and regiment them into acceptable combinations so they make sense to others, a developmental process that evolves as they read and write rather than having a particular issue that is easy and quick to label and therefore blame.  We need to accept what they offer us as they make this journey and if they never quite reach the destination, or are, indeed, dyslexic, then as well-known dyslexic Jackie French says, “That’s what spellcheck and other people are for.”  So much better to appreciate their effort than never have the pleasure of their stories.

So many children will relate to this story – those whose mums have “to wade through a papar ocean to wake [them] up” – and will continue to keep writing regardless of adults who think they know better. But who among those adults will have the conviction and the courage to be like Mr Watson? Who among the powers-that-be will let them do what they know works best? If the red pen kills their creativity now, where will the storytellers and imaginative problem-solvers of the future come from?

 

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey Backwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding a Donkey Backwards

Sean Taylor & Khayaal Theatre

Shirin Adl

Otter-Barry Books, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781910959305

The full title of this book is Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin, a traditional beloved Muslim storyteller known as Hodja in Turkey, Afandi in Central Asia, Joha in the Arabic world and Mulla Nasruddin to millions of other Muslims.  His stories make the listeners laugh, think and maybe “even make your thoughts do somersaults inside your mind!”

Therefore to have a collection of traditional stories so well-told and beautifully illustrated that not only opens up a whole new world of stories for our students but also allows a large percentage of our school populations to see their stories alongside the common English ones like Cinderella et al, is a gift.  This is the first collection of these stories that has been published for a young Western audience.

So, why does Nasruddin spoon yoghurt into the river?  Why does he paint a picture that is blank? Is he crazy to move into the house of the man who’s just burgled him? And why does he ride his donkey backwards?  The answers are in the stories, each just a page or so long with stunning illustrations, and each very funny and often with a strong underlying message that makes so much sense and which will provoke discussion and debate. 

Stories are what binds a culture together; these ones will help cross the divide between them.  

The Day War Came

The Day War Came

The Day War Came

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day War Came

Nicola Davies

Rebecca Cobb

Walker, 2018

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

9781406376326

It started as an ordinary day- there were flowers on the window sill, her father sang to her baby brother, her mother made her breakfast, kissed her nose and walked with her to school,  School was ordinary too – she learned about volcanoes, how tadpoles turned to frogs and she drew a picture of a bird.

But then, just after lunch war came.  The devastation and desperation was complete.  The only salvation was to run – through fields, roads,and mountains in the cold and the mud and the rain; riding on trucks, buses, even a leaky boat and eventually up a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand. 

But war had come to this nation too – not the bombs-and-bullets type of war but one where hearts and minds are closed to those seeking refuge – until there is one act of kindness that changes both thinking and lives…

It is tragic enough that here in Australia some think it is OK to  put desperate children in detention, children who have suffered more than the decision-makers can ever imagine; but to know that Australia is not alone in this as evident by the recent policies of the US administration and that this poem was inspired by UK government refusing sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees in 2016 is heart-breaking and head-shaking.  How has humanity become so selfish it can’t give succour to a child?

Told through the eyes of the child it not only puts a face to all the children displaced by adult motives but also makes the stories and plight of these children accessible to young readers – readers who might be like the little boy in the story and start a groundswell of change.  It is a book that cannot be shared in isolation – it needs a conversation that focuses on the girl’s emotions and feelings; her resilience and determination; and the big question “what if this were you?” (and some of our students may well be able to tell us because it has been them.) 

In a world that seems to be driven by economics rather than empathy this is a book that might start to change things, if now now then perhaps for the future.  Perhaps it is time for another make-love-not-war generation, despite the current protagonists being the products of the previous one. 

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid

Julian Is a Mermaid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julian Is a Mermaid

Jessica Love

Walker, 2018

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781406380637

Going home on the subway with his grandmother, Julian spots three glamorous women dressed as mermaids and is immediately transported to his imaginary world living under the sea as a mermaid, at one with the creatures there.  He is pulled from his reverie as the train reaches his stop but the memory lingers and once he is home and his grandmother goes to have a bath, he uses the things in her apartment to transform himself – plant fronds for flowing, hair, lacy curtains for a splendid tail, and some lipstick. But then his grandmother comes out – will she scold him for becoming something so feminine or will she embrace his imagination and diversity?

In what is almost a wordless picture book, the reader has to immerse themselves in the pictures to really engage with this story that challenges the stereotype of being a mermaid being a girl’s dream and celebrates diversity, being true to yourself and accepted for that. 

One can imagine the eyebrows that would be raised on an Australian metro train should three glamorous women dressed as mermaids get on, each confident in themselves and their dress (reminiscent of the costumes of Priscilla, Queen of the desert)- but this is New York and instead of derision they encourage a young child to dream and then make that dream a reality. 

His grandmother, somewhat overweight but nevertheless flamboyant in her own style, is clearly very comfortable in her own skin, not driven by the expectations of others and definitely not the stereotype grey-hair-and-knitting that is so commonly portrayed in stories, and so it is not surprising that she embraces Julian’s desires and takes him to a place where he can truly belong. 

Because so much of the story is told in the illustrations, they have to be superb and they are. From the stunning undersea creature presenting the mermaid Julian with a coral necklace to the characters that Julian and his grandmother pass in the street, indeed even the women in the pool in the endpages, each with is imbued with personality and confidence and pride in who they are. 

This is a book that demands close reading and reflection so its riches are revealed; it is one that will raise questions and demand explanations; but to those who are like Julian and dream of things that are beyond the traditional stereotype bounded by gender, it will bring comfort and maybe confidence so they too can be themselves. 

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Is It The Way You Giggle?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is It The Way You Giggle?

Nicola Connelly

Annie White

New Frontier, 2018

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

9781925594102

What makes you special?

Is it the way you look or something that you can do?

Is it the way you giggle or the way you wiggle?

This is a new take on a perennial topic that will encourage little people to think about what it is that makes them special.  With the entire text being in question format as though the author is speaking directly to the reader, it provokes thought about those things that are unique to us that make us stand out, going beyond the obvious of the colour of the skin, eyes and hair and starting to look at the inner person-their personality, their expertise  and their mannerisms.  Even those with low self-esteem will be able to contribute something and perhaps get a little lift that there is something special about them.  

Annie White’s charming illustrations in watercolour and pencil show that even within one family of four kids from the same parents and exposed to the same sorts of things, there is huge diversity amongst them which is accepted, appreciated and celebrated within the family. 

Extensive teachers’ notes offer new ideas about using this book with early childhood children but as a parent-child read-along, it’s a great opportunity for a chat about how the child and other family members are special and even what makes the family itself unique.

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Best Friend is a Goldfish

Mark Lee

Chris Jevons

Carolrhoda Books, 2018 

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781512426014

“If you ask me, a best friend is the best thing in the world .  Best friends enjoy the same things. They play together all the time. and they always get along with each other.”

So it was never going to end well when one wanted to be the captain of the spaceship and the other, the captain of the pirate ship.  Harsh words are said, a friendship is split and a new best friend has to be found.  But dogs, cats, hamsters and even goldfish have their drawbacks as best friends and so…

This seamless combination of text and illustrations challenges the concept that many little people have that best friends are like peas in a pod, liking and doing the same things at the same time and never being different.  Is it possible to have different ideas and do different things and still be best friends? If someone disagrees with us, does that mean the friendship is doomed or does it offer an opportunity to explore and respect the differences, perhaps even learn something new?  Can we have more than one friend at a time? How is a best friend different from a regular friend? While in this book the friends look similar, is this a pre-requisite to being friends?  How do shared values and beliefs affect friendships? Is it OK to be angry with or disappointed in or surprised by your best friend?

“What is a friend?” is a perennial topic in early childhood education and this book can take the conversation a step further by having the children consider those sorts of questions. Having friends is about being a friend and there are many facets to that.