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The Other Christy

The Other Christy

The Other Christy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Christy

Oliver Phommavanh

Puffin, 2016

208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143505723

 

For the last three years at Cabravale Primary, Christy Ung has been in the same class as Christie Owens.  Even though they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different.  Loud, brash, attention-seeking it girl Christie Owens is the opposite of shy, quiet, friendless Cambodian Christy – so much so that she has been dubbed “The Other Christy’.

All Christy wants is to have a friend, someone to bake treats for, someone who doesn’t see her as a ‘spare Christy’ and calls her anything but ‘The Other Christy’. But it doesn’t happen.  If her class were the solar system, Christie Owens would be the sun, her friends the planets, and Christy is Pluto.  She views herself as a meteorite floating around the school, spending her time in the Quiet Quad with the other meteorites who find it tricky to make friends for one reason or another.

She is made to feel even more isolated when she is the only person in the class who doesn’t receive an invitation to Christie’s party but even though her own birthday is just a week later she doesn’t feel she can invite people to her home because her Grandpa whom she lives with has a germ phobia and most of Christy’s home time is spent cleaning.  However, her dead mother’s sister has married an Australian and lives nearby so Christy is able to escape some times, learning to bake the most scrumptious treats.  It is Christy’s baking skills that bring a huge change in her life as she takes her birthday cake into school – a triple chocolate cheesecake that sets off a chain of events that Christy could not have foreseen.  Not only does she start to build friendships (although she doesn’t recognise them at the time) Christie becomes her BFF!  But, as is the way of friendships with this age group it has to survive and overcome several hurdles as both girls learn a lot about themselves and others on the way.

This is an engaging and entertaining read that reflects so much of what happens in Year 5 and 6 as friendships wax and wane, ebb and flow, include and exclude, as the children gradually move into adolescence and independence wanting to branch out on their own but needing the safety and solace of family.  Christy’s home life, built on a very different life in Cambodia that is gradually revealed, echoes that of many of our students who come here unable to speak English and having to overcome that as well as the cultural changes, let alone making friends in a situation where friendships were cemented in Kindergarten. 

Phommavanh says he has drawn on his experiences as a teacher and it is clear he was a very observant one as the dynamics of the relationships could be duplicated in almost any school in the country.   It is touching, sensitive and wholly realistic but mostly, it offers hope for those, who, like Christy, want nothing more than to have someone they can call a friend. It’s about staying true to yourself and your beliefs and trusting that who you are is enough. 

This Girl That Girl

This Girl That Girl

This Girl That Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Girl That Girl

Charlotte Lance

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

9781760291709

This is this girl, and that is that girl. This girl likes to do things like this, and that girl likes to do things like that. Neighbours who are so different  – one demure, the other eccentric; one tidy, the other messy; one domesticated; one not so much. And each has a dad who is the opposite to who they are and each lives in a house that is not what you would expect. Miss Prim and Proper lives in a wacky colourful house complete with slides and rope bridges and a falling-down fence, while Miss Wild and Free lives in an orderly, symmetrical home reminiscent of a formal English mansion enclosed by a walled garden.  Are they SO different that they can never be friends – or are the similarities that unite stronger that the differences which divide?  The answer comes when both dads decide to build a treehouse – with the help of their respective daughters…

Vignettes on each page provide insights into the characters of each girl (and the patience of their fathers) and no doubt readers will recognise themselves in some of them and wish they could be like one or the other.

Author and illustrator Charlotte Lance says that the story was inspired by her two sons who are so different but regardless, they each get to where they need to be even if the route is different.  But before I read the publisher’s blurb, as I read the story I was thinking that they were one and the same girl, each with an inner personality trying to break through.  Did Miss Prim and Proper really, deep within, want to be Miss Wild and Free and vice versa? Or were they two separate girls determined to break free of their fathers’ influence by being the opposite of them?  Perhaps those questions are way too deep for the intended audience of young readers but I do like books that pose such philosophical questions that can be explored and take the reader’s thinking to a deeper level. 

Perhaps it’s just a fun story told in minimal text but maximum colour and movement about how personalities and talents can combine to produce a similar outcome – that despite the particular pathway we take, co-operation, collaboration and determination will deliver us to our destination.  And that there is no right way or wrong way, no better or worse – just different. The ultimate message is the total love between father and daughter and their unquestioning acceptance of each other for who they are, even if it’s not quite the same as them.  That has to be good.

Go Home, Cheeky Animals

Go Home, Cheeky Animals

  Go Home, Cheeky Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Home, Cheeky Animals

Johanna Bell

Dion Beasley

Allen & Unwin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
9781760291655

In the Northern Territory is the remote indigenous community of Canteen Creek, a tiny settlement that seems to have more dogs than people.  Grandpa feeds them so they like his house best and even when Mum tries to shoo them away, he tells her to let them stay because they keep the cheeky animals away.  For, as the weather works through its annual cycle of big rains, the sweaty season, the cool winds, the drying grass and the dry soaks a gang of goats, a drove of donkeys, a herd of horses, a bunch of buffaloes, even a caravan of camels invade the little town one after the other making life awkward.  Nothing seems to deter them – not Dad’s flapping arms; not Uncle’s stamping foot; not Aunty’s big stick; not even sister’s thong and certainly not the horde of cheeky dogs – who just lie there despite Grandpa’s beliefs!  Until the big rains come again…

This is an unusual book that has a fascinating back story  The most striking aspect is the illustrations which look like they have been done by someone the age of the intended audience, and that in itself will appeal because young children love that their style is validated in a “real book”.  So often they dismiss their efforts because they don’t look like “book pictures” or the “real thing” so to have illustrations that they themselves could have done will draw them into the story.  A bit of research though indicates that the artist, Dion Beasley, was born with multiple disabilities – profoundly deaf and with muscular dystrophy – and the whole book is testament to celebrating the diversity of abilities that people have, focusing on what they can do, not what they can’t. It would be perfect as the centrepiece for the International Day of People with a Disability on December 3 and Don’t Dis My Ability 

But illustrations do not necessarily a story make, and the text, too, is fascinating as it cycles through the seasons in a land that we all live in but most are so unfamiliar with.  The northern climate is so different from the four distinct seasons that we southerners experience and the changes on the landscape are subtle but profound so as well as being introduced to the feral animals of the north, the reader is also taken on a journey that is in sharp contrast to what most would be familiar with. Right there is the kernel of an investigation that could stretch across year levels and even countries.

In the bio blurb, Johanna Bell says that working with Dion has changed the way she sees the world and tells stories.  In the hands of an informed, imaginative teacher this book could have a similar impact on our students.  Perfect for Australia: Story Country.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself

Introducing Teddy

Introducing Teddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing Teddy: A story about being yourself

Jessica Walton

Dougal Macpherson

Bloomsbury, 2016

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

9781408877630

 

Errol and his teddy, Thomas, are best friends.  They do everything together and go everywhere together.  Riding the bike, planting the veges, eating sandwiches in the treehouse, and having tea parties indoors when it is raining. 

But one day Thomas seems incredibly sad and nothing Errol can do can cheer him up – not even playing on the swings in the park. 

“What’s wrong, Thomas. Talk to me,” said Errol.

“If I tell you,” said Thomas, you might not be my friend any more.”

“I will always be your friend, Thomas.”

Thomas the teddy took a deep breath.  “I need to be myself, Errol.  In my heart. I’ve always known that I’m a girl teddy, not a boy teddy.  I wish my name was Tilly, not Thomas.”

Does this revelation affect Errol’s friendship with his teddy?  Not at all. It’s their friendship that matters.  Neither does it bother their friend Ava, who scoots by and joins in the fun of the park.  And at the very next tea party Errol and Tilly have a lovely time with Ava and her robot.

The publisher’s blurb for this book says it is “a ground-breaking children’s book about gender identity and friendship’ and indeed it is for if you have ever tried to find stories about this topic for young people, you will know they are few and far between.  In fact, anything that touches on gender diversity is scarce and yet it is an area that needs and deserves attention.  Written in response to a personal need, its Australian author has really highlighted that gender orientation should not be that which defines us, and for kids, it isn’t.  Being a friend is much more important.  Having witnessed the transition of a girl to a boy first-hand, what was very evident was that the other students just accepted the child for who he was.  There was no fuss or bother, teasing or bullying.  Perhaps this was because of the way both the parents and the school handled the matter, but it was very apparent, that as with any form of discrimination, it is the adult generation that finds things hard to accept and imposes sanctions.  Just like Errol, the existing friendship was stronger and more important than anything else.

Through a wonderful marriage of text and illustrations, Walton and Macpherson have explored this concept perfectly – the repositioning of the bow tie to hair ribbon is just exquisite.

However, while I believe that this book and others like it have a place in the school library collection, there are those who are likely to object and therefore it would be prudent to make sure that your Collection Policy includes a statement such as “no resource in the general collection will be shelved, labelled or displayed in a way that discriminates or marginalises a user on the grounds of ability, culture, ethnicity, religion sexual orientation, or any other consideration”.  It would also be prudent to talk to your exec so they are in the loop as they are usually the go-to people when parents complain.  (For more information on this go to The Tricky Topics Hat )

“Inclusivity” and “diversity” have to be more than just buzzwords in the current educational jargon, and we need more writers like Jessica Walton to enable us to ensure that all our students are able to read about themselves in the resources we offer them.

 

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant Man

Mariangela Di Fiore

Hilde Hodnefjeld

Translated by Rosie Hedger

Allen & Unwin, 2016

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760292201

The publishers’ blurb says it best…

“’Gather round – prepare to be amazed! A sight so very gruesome that you simply won’t believe it. Ladies and gentlemen – THE ELEPHANT MAN!’

Joseph doesn’t look like other people. His skin is thick and lumpy, his limbs are oddly shaped, and his head has a big bony bump. People call him Elephant Man and scream in terror when they see him. But inside, Joseph longs for a friend to understand him.

As Joseph is bullied and rejected at every turn, his situation grows more and more desperate. But a meeting with a kind doctor holds the hope to change his life

Based on the famous true story of Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man is a powerful tale about being different, finding happiness in even the hardest circumstances, and discovering beauty inside everyone. The unforgettable true story of one young man’s immense courage and his unbreakable spirit.”

This is a heart-breaking but uplifting story of a young man so badly deformed that he was sent to one of the infamous workhouses of 19th century England at a time when any disability – physical or mental, visible or invisible – was treated with such suspicion that the only solution by ‘genteel society’ was to lock the sufferers away.  “Out of sight, out of mind” would summarise the concept well.  Seeking to escape, Joseph found that exhibiting himself in a human oddities show had more appeal than the life he was living – a sad indictment of the times, indeed. But out of the inhumanity comes Frederick Treves who changes Joseph’s life…

Merrick’s life has been the subject of books, films, plays and documentaries so that over 100 years on, it is still a fascination. This picture book, based on fact but ficitionalised by the inclusion of thoughts and conversations, and cleverly sprinkled with original photos and documents, might seem to have little place in the collection of a primary school of the 21st century. But it’s value is far-reaching for all Joseph really wanted was to be accepted for who he was inside, not his external appearance; as a person first and a person with an illness last.  Extreme example it may be, but what a discussion starter for body image, racism, religious perspectives and all those other characteristics that judgements are made on.  Older students might even examine Hitler’s view of ‘Aryan supremacy’ or Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise.

The book also stands as a testament to how far we have come in our perception and treatment of those who are not “perfect” in a very short time in human history.  As we mark the centenary of World War I, students are reading of those who returned disabled and “shell-shocked”, often shunned by society and certainly with little social support as attitudes did not change.  Indeed, the biggest turnaround was in 1981 in the UN-declared  International Year of Disabled Persons and there was a global spotlight on each nation having a plan of action for “equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities.”  From looking at something as basic as entry into public buildings we now have federal government legislation Disabled Standards for Education  which demands that we adapt our environments and our teaching for inclusivity.   While there is still much to do, gradually we are getting there and it is the understanding, tolerance and idealism of our young that will continue the march.  We should do these things because they are the right thing to do not because we are compelled by legislation.  

Elephant Man is not a gratuitous story about some freak-show oddity – it is a story about a man whose message reaches out across time to teach us so much about belonging, compassion and identity.  There is more information about Joseph Merrick at Biography.com

Baxter’s Book

Baxter's Book

Baxter’s Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baxter’s Book

Hrefna Bragadottir

Nosy Crow, 2016

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

9780857635211

 

Baxter adores books.  Books about scary wolves, brave lions, cuddly bears, cute little rabbits… He loves stories so much his greatest wish is to be in a one too.  As he comes out of the bookstore laden with new purchases he spots a sign for an audition to be in a storybook.  This is his dream come true!  He is SO excited but when he joins the very long line of characters waiting to show their talents, he realises all have been in storybooks before – except him.  But he is convinced of his talents – he can sing, dance, act and do gymnastics – so goes forth undaunted onto the stage as the first performer.  Imagine his disappointment when the judges dismiss him because they just don’t know what he is.  He’s not a scary wolf, a brave lion, a cuddly bear, a cute rabbit or even a hungry crocodile and when he tries to be like them, he fails.  Why is being himself not enough?

This debut picture book from Icelandic author Hrefna Bragadottir is quite charming with its lovable main character (who is a totally original concept) who is prepared to follow his dream but finds himself not accepted because he’s different and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a storybook character.  As a story in itself, with soft pastel pictures that take the edge off his rejection, it is a stand-alone but there is greater depth here than just a single read because it raises all sorts of questions about stereotypes – are wolves always scary and rabbits always cute? – as well as being true to oneself, tolerating difference and all those other relationship issues young children encounter when they step into the bigger world of preschool or big school for the first time.  Venturing into the unknown always raises some questions of self-doubt and when things don’t go as anticipated there can be all sorts of ramifications.  The heart-warming ending to the story will bring reassurance and recognition and Baxter will never be an oddity again!

Young readers will delight in identifying the characters they know like the three little pigs, but there’s also scope to investigate other stories that feature the creatures – perhaps make lists and displays to inspire wider reading – and compare and contrast each character with the stereotype.  Character analysis in preschool!!!  For those a little older it could lead to discussions about preconceptions and misconceptions we have about people and start to break down some of the barriers that are already in place even at this age.

Baxter’s Book is a perfect example of children learning about life through literature and why we need to keep sharing such wonderful stories.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Hello!

Hello!

Hello!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello!

Tony Flowers

NLA Publishing, 2016

68pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642278876

Look at your school population.  Are all the children native English speakers?  Or is there a mix of languages almost as diverse as the children themselves?  In my Collection Policy for the school I was recently working in under the heading Purpose and Role of the Collection I included the clause “provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with a diversity of appeal and the presentation of different points of view including those that reflect the lives of students in relation to their culture, ethnicity, language, religion and beliefs, community and family structure, sexual orientation and any other consideration” and this new publication from the National Library of Australia fits the language aspect of this perfectly.

Superbly illustrated in cartoon style by Tony Flowers and presented in a clear uncomplicated layout, we meet twelve Australian children, each of whom speaks a different language including Kala Lagaw Ya from Badu Island in the Torres Strait; Kaurna from Tarntanya in Adelaide; and Murrinhpatha from Wadeye in the Northern Territory as well as the more common languages of Italian, Thai, Korean, Greek , Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Chinese.  Even the Lebanese version of Arabic is included and there is a pronunciation guide at the back of the book to assist the reader but which have been dovetailed to meet needs rather than being a linguistic reference.

Each child has two double spreads so as well as introducing the reader to the word for ‘hello’ in each language, each then shares a little of their life including favourite foods, special days, costumes, musical instruments, games and activities and how to count to ten and each of these is then highlighted at the back of the book with photos available in the NLA.   

As much as the children I was working with last year loved to practise and share their new skills in English, their faces always lit up when they discovered a resource written in their own language or which was about their own country.  They were so happy to see something familiar amongst the unfamiliar and loved to show it to their friends and then take it home to share with their families.  So this wonderful resource is sure to strike a chord with so many of those in our care.  Apart from the familiarity it also demonstrates that we acknowledge and value their origins by having resources for them available.  Seeing yourself in a book is such an affirmation of who you are.

There are so many opportunities within the Australian Curriculum and within the calendar to investigate and celebrate the origins of the children in our classes that this book could be in use all year.  There are comprehensive teaching notes which include how to make some of the items featured by the children   but I can envisage it being a pivotal text for this year’s Book Week theme – Australia: Story Country.  Make it model for the children to tell their story by producing a poster and display for the library to be hung in honour of their country’s national day.  This was one of the most popular displays that attracted so much interest from parents and teachers as much as from the students.  They really valued the recognition.

Make Harmony Day  every day!