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Ruby’s Worry

Ruby's Worry

Ruby’s Worry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby’s Worry

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2018 

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

9781408892152

Ruby is very happy being Ruby, happy to be by herself and content in her own company. But one day she discovers she has a companion, one that is invisible to all but her.  It is a worry.  And the more she thinks about it, the bigger it grows, the more persistent and pervasive it is.  No matter where she goes or what she does, it is there with her until she gets to be worrying so much about the worry that there is no room in her brain or life for anything else.

Then, in the park one day, she spies a young boy looking as sad and forlorn as she is.  Taking her courage in her hands she speaks to him, and together they discover something quite miraculous.

Anxiety in children is at an all-time high these days as they try to meet all the expectations put on them – academic, sporty, physical, creative – and as they try to please all those they hold in high esteem- parents, family, friends, teachers… It is no wonder that so many of them are like Ruby, carrying around worries that threaten to swallow them whole if they haven’t done so already. So this book which brings to life the old adage of “a problem shared is a problem halved” is a critical part of any mindfulness program or anything that deals with children’s mental health.  Children take on board all sorts of things that adults don’t realise, bits of overheard conversations or things that they see start to play on their mind, growing bigger with imagination and become all-consuming because not only do they not have the ability to detach themselves from the here and now, but they also don’t have the strategies to deal with them.  Living in the bubble that is often the way of children’s lives these days, they believe that they are the only ones with the problem and that only they can solve it. Despite their apparent connections to others, they actually feel very isolated. 

Therefore to have an easily accessible picture book that starts the conversation is so important. Because Percival does not identify Ruby’s particular worry, the story has universal application- it could be the story of any child in our care. By using the story as the starter for a discussion that demonstrates the importance of reaching out to family and friends for support and that this is as important for children as it is for adults, we are offering them a beginning strategy that can be built on as they mature.  

An important addition to your mindfulness collection.

 

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the End of Holyrood Lane

Dimity Powell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335767

Flick lives at the end of Holyrood Lane in a little house beneath the beech woods, spending most of her days in the sunshine dancing with the butterflies and playing with her unicorn toy and long, rainbow ribbon.  But sometimes a storm hits – storms so violent and loud and scary that she has to hide because even her rainbow ribbon and her unicorn cannot give her comfort.  She is very good at hiding but the storms make her feel very small and they are so loud her ears hurt and her heart throbs.  

One day, the storm is so fearsome and lasts so long that there is nowhere for Flick to hide and so she flees.  But it follows her, almost swallowing her in its fury, until “sodden and shaken” she stops, gathers all her courage and asks for help.  She is gathered into the arms of someone with a large umbrella under which she shelters, and even though the storm continues to rumble and grumble for a while, finally it leaves.  Finally the sun comes out.  

Flick is still scared of storms and flinches if the rumbling starts, but while it might rain a bit the storms have gone for good.  

While a fear of thunderstorms is common for many children, and even telling them it’s just the clouds bashing together doesn’t soothe, in this case the thunderstorm is a clever metaphor for what is happening in the house under the beech trees.  Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnson, the couple behind the poignant story of The Fix-It Man, have teamed up again to bring us a book that uses the analogy of weather to explore the issue of domestic violence and its impact on the children in the family who are so often invisible as the storm’s fury strikes, often without warning. Sadly, this is an all-too common happening in the lives of those in our care but so rarely touched on in children’s literature, particularly picture books for the young.  While we often hear the phrase that school is a “safe haven” for many children, there is much that goes on beyond school hours that we are not privy to, and unless a situation directly impacts a child in the class such as being removed into foster care, we really do not know the extent of the problem or the damage it causes. 

Sharing At the End of Holyrood Lane as a class story may offer an opportunity to allow children to discuss those things they are scared of, their own personal “storms” and perhaps Flick’s courage in asking for help  might inspire another little one to disclose something that will bring them respite too.  Children need to know they are not alone and it’s OK to ask for help – that there is hope for the sun to shine again and there will be a chance to dance with the butterflies.  

With its soft, supportive illustrations that encapsulate and extend the sensitive, subtle text superbly, and endorsed by a number of agencies concerned about the children caught in the middle of domestic violence such as Act for Kids, RizeUp, Paradise Kids , and Think Equal, this is a conversation starter that may bring a lot of comfort,help and hope to the children in our care. 

Boy Underwater

Boy Underwater

Boy Underwater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boy Underwater

Adam Baron

Benji Davies

HarperCollins, 2018

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008267018

Cymbeline Igloo is nine years old, is the third-best footballer in Year 4 (joint), second best at roller-skating. Even though he has only one parent while his friends have two or even four, he is  fit, healthy and totally normal in every way.  Yet, despite living in Lewisham in south-east London he has never been swimming.  His mum has never taken him near a pool, a lake, a river, the seaside – always brushing away his request with seemingly plausible excuses. 

So when his teacher says that the class will be starting swimming lessons the following Monday, Cymbeline is somewhat daunted.  He doesn’t even own a pair of swimmers!  But encouraged by his best friend Lance (named after the disgraced cyclist) and goaded by the class bully Billy, he agrees to a race against Billy in the pool.  Naturally, things end very badly for Cymbeline, not the least of which is losing the swimmers he found in his dad’s things in the attic, but it is the response of his mother who is called to the pool that is the most startling of all.  

As a result of this incident, she ends up in a psychiatric hospital taking Cymbeline’s beloved soft toy Mr Fluffy with her.  And Cymbeline is forced to stay with his rich Aunt Millie and Uncle Chris , to whom he is a burden, and cousins Juniper and Clayton who make it clear they want nothing to do with him. Totally alone, his mother hospitalised and not well enough to see him, and no cuddly toy to take to bed to comfort him, Cymbeline is bewildered and scared but determined to find out what is wrong with his mum to have had such an extreme reaction.  Surely the world seeing his willy isn’t enough to provoke such a response. And why has she taken Mr Fluffy?   Befriended by super-smart Veronique and even Billy, who has his own issues at home, Cymbeline is determined to get to the bottom of things.  And when he does, it becomes clear that adults really should paint the whole picture when they tell a child something big, not just the bits they think the child can handle.  Sometimes honesty can prevent a lot of heartache – the child isn’t left to fill the gaps with their own, often wild, imagination.

Written in the first-person in a voice that really echoes that of a 9-year-old boy, this is a story that will engage the independent reader with a storyline that has some meat to it and is totally credible. Even though it deals with some heavy-duty issues, this is done with a light hand, humour and empathy, providing an insight into the lives of some of the children in our care that we might not always see. Families falling apart for whatever reason is a common story, sadly, and it’s not always the teacher, in this case Mrs Phillips, who is the confidante.  Many children, like Cymbeline, are carrying  unseen burdens.   

For me, a quality novel is one that engages me to the end and I can hear myself either reading it aloud to students or book-talking it.  Boy Underwater is indeed, one of those.   

Spirit

Spirit

Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit

Cherri Ryan

Christina Booth

Black Dog Books, 2018

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

9781925381771

A small, woven basket, a couple of handkerchiefs , a stick, some buttons and thread and a scrap of fabric for a flag and Spirit is ready for her inaugural voyage sailing across the garden pond. 

A victory dance,  some attention to her mast and hull and she was ready for the next challenge – bobbing and dipping as she rides the currents of the creek. 

Another victory dance and some more tweaking – will she be ready for the greatest adventure yet?  All was well as she rode the calm waters of the river with her fishy attendants, her rudder true and her bow leading the way, but after the bridge jagged rocks churn and froth the water and Spirit faces the biggest dangers of all.  Will she survive or will she be broken?

On the surface, this is a charming story about a little girl building a boat and testing it, increasing the degree of difficulty of each challenge.  But just like the creek and the river, there are hidden depths as children navigate life and have to learn to be steadfast, resilient, imaginative and have faith in themselves and their abilities to survive the setbacks.  Much as we would like our children’s lives to be smooth sailing, character is built through adversity and they need to learn to pick themselves up, oil their hulls and smooth their masts, or let someone more experienced help them do that, and move on to the next challenge, persevering, learning about failure as well as success, commiseration and celebration.  They need to know they have an inner spirit, one that can’t be broken but like Spirit one which gets stronger and stronger particularly when they are knocked down, but sometimes they have to dig deep into the unknown to find it.

As busy classroom teachers, we often just see the surface of our students’ lives, only sometimes being privileged to catch a glimpse of the depths beneath -some of which are joyful; some of which are deep and dark with jagged rocks but all having as many twists and turns as the river. So this would be an ideal read-aloud sharing both the words and pictures that intertwine with each other perfectly, and talking about the underlying thoughts behind them. Discussing the name of the boat, the girl’s feelings, determination and courage, the invisible hands guiding her while letting her try that are not revealed until the penultimate page, the role of the fish as they support Spirit on its journeys,  and the connection of the girl’s story to their own lives may help those who are troubled and struggling realise they are not alone and deep down they too have the courage to take the next step forward, even if it is into the unknown.

A perfect addition to your mindfulness collection. 

 

Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl on Wire

Lucy Estela

Elise Hurst

Puffin Books, 2018

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

9780143787167

High above the city buildings, a cold breeze biting her cheeks,  a young girl stands  alone for hours.  Stretched before her is a wire that she must cross to be able to move forward but fear holds her back.  But as dark thunder clouds gather and a storm threatens, she knows she must make a move. To stay where she is, is impossible and so  she takes that first tentative step. As she inches forward, her skirt swishing around her legs, the storm breaks and she realises how far she will fall if she fails.  Overcome, she falters, stoops and cries for help.  

A swooping eagle reassures her that all will be well but she has to “walk the wire by yourself”.  Will she find the courage to move forward?

All around us people, adults and children alike, are having to step out onto their own personal wires, and no matter how strong the support from those around us are, we still have to walk it by ourselves.  Sometimes it seems an impossible journey and we may have to start several times before we dig deep and find those inner reserves that allow us to tiptoe towards the other end.  While the personal route of the journey and its destination may be unique to each of us, nevertheless the fear of the unknown and of failure, the feelings of trepidation and nervousness are universal and in this beautifully and evocatively illustrated allegory, we learn that we are not alone.  Life cannot go forward if we don’t take that first step, wherever it is leading us. 

With the mental health of our young people finally acknowledged as a critical issue in their well-being, this, at first, seems a book for older students, but in the hands of a skilful adult even little ones will be able to tell of something they were afraid of that they have conquered and begin to reflect on their inner strength as well as acknowledging that some things are hard to get right first time but with courage and confidence and a belief in yourself it’s OK to try again and to seek help if it is just too much. Like the girl on the wire, we can curl our toes tighter, stand a bit taller, and raise out arms to embrace what is on the far edge.

From the author of Suri’s Wall, this is an important addition to your mindfulness collection. 

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. 

The Bad Seed

The Bad  Seed

The Bad Seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bad Seed

Jory John

Pete Oswald

HarperCollins, 2017

40pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

 9780062467768

Born as one of hundreds of seeds of a sunflower, this little guy wasn’t always bad. He was close to his family and had fun, and, like them, ended up being harvested and put into a packet of sunflower seeds . But just as he thinks his days are numbered, he is spat out and lands in the rubbish of the bleachers.  And his life is changed,  Now he is BAD. In fact, he is baaaaaaaaaad! He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens – although he does hear others’ comments about his behaviour which reinforce his belief that he is bad and unworthy. So he stopped smiling, kept to himself, drifted along, seemingly uncaring until one day he makes a big decision…

The illustrations take this book from being a bit morbid into a realm of mindfulness, self-reflection and at times, humour.  It’s message that how we are perceived by others is not only shaped by our behaviour but continues to shape it is an important one to learn as is that of being able to change but that change can take time.  So while we are, to a large degree, in charge of our own destiny, we need to work out what we want to be like, take the steps necessary to achieve that but above all, be patient with ourselves and others.

Something different to spark thought and conversations.

 

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wemberly Worried

Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2010

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780061857768

Wemberly worried about spilling her juice, about shrinking in the bathtub, even about snakes in the radiator. She worried morning, noon, and night.

“Worry, worry, worry,” her family said. “Too much worry.”

And like many children,  Wemberly worried about one thing most of all: her first day of school. But when she meets a fellow worrywart in her class, Wemberly realises that school is too much fun to waste time worrying!

Wemberly Mouse’s anxiety is on an extreme scale though and regardless of her family’s reassurances she cannot relax.  She clutches Petal her doll and strokes her ears when the levels rise, but then worries if she strokes them too much they will fall off.  She is so good at thinking “What if” that she may have a career as a writer when she grows up! 

As the year ticks by and many of our younger children are going to start the transition from daycare and preschool to big school, there will be those who are starting to get a little anxious already with all the usual concerns that making such a big step encounters.  And those worries can become so enormous that they become fears and the anticipation and excitement of this new adventure that is somewhat of a rite of passage are overwhelmed. 

Often it is not enough to just say, “Don’t worry”, (as Wemberly’s family does) to children with a high level of anxiety – they need to have their fears listened to and, where appropriate, helped to develop coping strategies should the worst happen.  There are many resources available now to help parents help their child but sometimes when little ones go to big school there is a suggestion that it is time to leave their preschool lives behind, including their beloved toys that have been with them since birth and have been their confidante and security blanket in stressful times.  And yet with this huge change in their lives they are left without the companionship of their most trusted and comforting friend and ally.  Wemberly would have been unable to cope without Petal just as Jewel would have been lost without Nibblet.  The astute teacher will acknowledge that these are more than just a collection of stitches and stuffing, that they are imbued with love, safety and security, and perhaps having a special shelf so the special toys can come to school too with the child deciding when they want to wean themselves. Meanwhile the teacher librarian can encourage them to read to their special toy in school and at night and might even provide a collection of teddies for those who just need an extra hug or two. It worked for me!  

This book has been in continuous publication since its release in 2000 – that, in itself, says so much about how it resonates with little children and needs to be part of that transition process.  There will be  both a Wemberly and a Jewel in each new cohort.

 

I Am Enough

I am Enough

I am Enough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Enough

Grace Byers

Keturah A. Bobo

Balzer + Bray, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780062667120

Like the sun, I’m here to shine…

Like time, I’m here to be, and be everything I can.

In a time where there seems to be an expectation that we will each be smarter, richer, thinner, bigger, better than anyone else, it seems to be impossible to just be – and let who you are be enough. But in this stunning new release, the little girl does not feel the need to compete with anyone.  She not only accepts who she is and is proud of that but also respects the individuality of others…

I know that we don’t look the same: our skin, our eyes, our hair, our frame.

But that does not dictate our worth; we both have places here on earth.

Apart from the powerful message that all children, indeed everyone, needs to take away from this book, it’s other strength is its diversity – each child is different in ethnicity, religion, and even physical ability although their gender is the same and that perhaps is its one negative.  Perhaps in a world where gender equality is still an issue. showing girls and boys together could have added just a little more.

Nevertheless, this is an important book to share and discuss as we try to promote positive mental health from an early age and that needs to start with the acceptance of ourselves as we are with no compulsion to compete to match someone else’s expectations. 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

Glynn Harper

Jenny Cooper

EK Books, 2018

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

9781775592990

On this most solemn of days on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, and as the centennial commemoration of World War I come to a close, My Grandfather’s War tells us of a more recent conflict, the Vietnam War, a war where those who served are now the grandparents of its target audience, our primary school students.

At a time when the world had almost emerged into a new era following World War II, the USA and the USSR were the new superpowers and the common catch-cry promoted by prime ministers and politicians was “All the way with LBJ”, Australian and New Zealand joined forces with the USA in this new conflict to stop the “Yellow Peril” of China moving south and overtaking nations just as Japan had tried to do between 1941 and 1945. Among the 65 000 troops of both nations committed between 1963 and 1975 was Robert,  Sarah’s grandfather who now lives with her family and who is “sometimes very sad.” 

Possibly a natio, drafted because a marble with his birthdate on it dropped into a bucket, old enough to die for his country but too young to vote for those who sent him, Robert, like so many others of his age whose fathers and grandfathers had served, thought that this was his turn and his duty and that the war “would be exciting”.  But this was a war unlike those fought by the conservative, traditional decision-makers – this was one fought in jungles and villages where the enemy could be anywhere and anyone; one where chemicals were used almost as much as bullets; one where the soldiers were not welcomed as liberators but as invaders; and one which the soldiers themselves knew they could not win. It was also the first war that was taken directly into the lounge rooms of those at home as television became more widespread, affordable and accessible. 

And the reality of the images shown clashed with the ideality of those watching them, a “make-love-not-war” generation who, naive to the ways of politics and its big-picture perspective of power and prestige, were more concerned for the individual civilians whose lives were being destroyed and demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Huge marches were held throughout the USA, New Zealand and Australia and politicians, recognising that the protesters were old enough to vote and held their futures in their hands, began the withdrawal.

But this was not the triumphant homecoming like those of the servicemen before them.  Robert came home to a hostile nation who held him and his fellow soldiers personally responsible for the atrocities they had seen on their screens.  There were no welcome home marches, no public thanks, no acknowledgement of heroes and heroism, and Robert, like so many of those he fought with, slipped back into society almost as though  he was in disgrace.  While the official statistics record 578 killed and 3187 wounded across the two countries, the stats for those who continued to suffer from their physical and mental wounds and those who died because of them, often at their own hands, are much more difficult to discover.  Like most returned servicemen, Robert did not talk about his experiences, not wanting to inflict the horror on his family and friends and believing that unless you were there you wouldn’t understand; and without the acknowledgement and support of the nation he was supposedly saving  and seeing his mates continue to battle the impact of both the conflict and the chemicals, he sank into that deep depression that Sarah sees as his sadness but which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Disturbed by his sadness but told never to talk to her grandfather about the war, Sarah is curious and turns to the library for help.  But with her questions unanswered there, she finally plucks up the courage to ask him and then she learns Grandad’s story – a story that could be told to our students by any number of grandfathers, and one that will raise so many memories as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh approaches, and perhaps prompt other Sarahs to talk to their grandfathers.

Few picture books about the Vietnam War have been written for young readers, and yet it is a period of our history that is perhaps having the greatest impact on our nation and its families in current times.   Apart from the personal impact on families as grandfathers, particularly, continue to struggle with their demons,  it opened the gates to Asian immigration in an unprecedented way, changing and shaping our nation permanently. 

Together, Harper and Cooper have created a sensitive, personal and accessible story that needs to be shared, its origins explored and understanding generated.  

Lest We Forget.