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Ella and the Ocean

Ella and the Ocean

Ella and the Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ella and the Ocean

Lian Tanner

Jonathan Bentley

Allen & Unwin, 2019

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

9781760633691

Ella lived in the red-dirt country
where the earth was as dry as old bones
and it hadn’t rained 
for years
and years
and years.

One night, Ella dreamt of the ocean… and the image mesmerises her and she wants to know more. So she asks her dad,  her mum and Ben the farmhand, and while each has a distant memory to share it is viewed through the lens of the cracked red earth, the dust of the dry, dry, plains and the hungry hungry cows.  Her Gran hasn’t seen the ocean but dreamt about it once – ‘it picked me up and carried me from one side of sleep to the other and I have never forgotten it’- and so she sets about making Ella’s dream come true.

This is an uplifting story that will resonate with so many children from the front cover of the red-roofed house surrounded by vast dry, red, rain-starved land and gaunt gum trees to the family melancholy of hard work and no relief to the power of just a small break in routine to restore faith and hope.  You do not have to venture too far from the city to see the impact that this interminable drought is having on the land, and just as it sucks the life out of the land, so it has the people. Like Ella’s family, that impact is not as visible but is in their body language, their words and their perspective and while we city folk might pay some attention to their plight it is not long before we go back to our own lives, having put a few dollars in a tin or bought a more expensive bottle of milk.  Stories like Ella’s  and images like Bentley’s bring the reality home and depending where you live, will either help the children understand that they are not alone in this plight or perhaps inspire them to do something that might be ‘the trip to the ocean’ that turns a family around for a little while longer.  Or perhaps look a little closer to home. maybe the local nursing home, and think about what they can do to disrupt the routine of same-same boredom to put a light into someone’s life.

So often any unit of work about weather and its causes focuses on the scientific rather than the human, and Ella’s Ocean works to redress this, as readers are almost compelled to think about the what-if. and the what-can-I-do.  Another one of those great picture books that can work across all age groups.

Ella and Mrs Gooseberry

Ella and Mrs Gooseberry

Ella and Mrs Gooseberry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ella and Mrs Gooseberry

Vikki Conley

Penelope Pratley

EK Books, 2019

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

9781925335255

When Mrs Gooseberry was in her front yard she always seemed grumpy, slamming her door and making the children afraid to ask for their ball when they accidentally kick it into her yard.  But when Ella, who lived next door, saw Mrs Gooseberry in her backyard, it was a different story.  She had a lovely vegetable garden  and chickens that she talked to and she seemed happy.  Confused, Ella asks her mum how a person could be grumpy in their front yard yet happy in the back and she learns that Mrs Gooseberry has “lost her love.” That confuses her even more because she didn’t know that you could lose love and whether it might be found again.

She asks the important adults in her life what love is and gets a different answer from each one, and gradually realises that love can be many things. When she sees her cat’s kittens snuggling into their mother’s warm tummy, she has an idea…

This is a charming story that will help young readers understand that love can take many forms and it doesn’t always have to be encased in the words, “I love you.”  It can be expressed in the things we do (or don’t do); the way we look at and treat others; the care we take; the extra gestures or actions we make… It is an ideal way for them to start thinking about how those who are important to them show their love and how they reciprocate those feelings.  It cries out for an activity where children inscribe one side of a heart with “My —— loves me because —–” and the other side with “I love —– because —-” where the blanks are filled with the little personal things that show love without being words.  Apart from raising awareness of how they are loved, it might also inspire them to think of new ways to express their love such as cleaning their room or doing the dishes so the adults have one less thing to do. And perhaps it might show those who think they have lost their love, that they haven’t – it’s just in a different shape now.

100 Ways to Make the World Better

100 Ways to Make the World Better

100 Ways to Make the World Better

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100 Ways to Make the World Better

Lisa M. Gerry

National Geographic Kids. 2019

256pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781426329975  

From something as manageable as forgiving someone or leaving a complimentary note in their locker to more complex ideas such as taking a First Aid class or letting your trash be someone else’s treasures, this is a small book full of big ideas about how to make the world a better place both physically and emotionally. 

With philosophy such as being the kind of friend you’d like to have and being inclusive, it covers personal issues that can help the individual be more calm, more mindful and more responsive to their world while also taking actions that can help shape the world into what they want it to be.   Ideas are presented as simple concepts with engaging graphics and photographs, and many are followed by detailed supporting information, including advice from Nat Geo explorers, interviews with experts and weird but true facts. readers can get a sense of their own power to make a difference and an understanding of what actions contribute to positive outcomes and how they can change things by themselves.

While journalling and personal challenges are becoming a popular way to have students focus on the positives and support their mental health, sometimes knowing where to start can be overwhelming so this could be used to guide that journey by having students set themselves the 100 tasks over the school year, and help them structure their progress that way as they work their way through them. They might also have spaces for another 20 ways they discover that are not mentioned in the book and these could be added to a class wall chart to inspire others to look more widely. 

While these sorts of books always inspire when you first pick them up, without accountability life can go back to routine quickly so offering ways to keep the ideas in focus and support the reader over time will not only help them, but also the adult offering that support. We can all make our world better. 

 

The Visitor

The Visitor

The Visitor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Visitor

Antje Damm

Gecko Press, 2019

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

9781776571895

Elise was frightened—of spiders, people, even trees. So she never went out, night or day. One day a strange thing flies in through the window and lands at her feet. And then there comes a knock at the door. Elise has a visitor who will change everything.

This is a charming story, cleverly constructed with its dark and bright palettes, that shows how a child can unwittingly bring life and light back to where there seems only darkness. Using a unique process of drawing Elise and Emil and then placing their cutout figures in a small, tidy home with furnishings crafted of paper and board, photographing them and then adding colour washes or not as the story’s mood dictates, Damm demonstrates how much we really do need others in our lives if we are to experience its true joy. The final page demonstrates this perfectly.

Whenever there is a news story about children visiting an aged care facility, the residents always talk about how alive they start to feel, something that my own mother-in-law experienced herself.  Unable to recognise her own son and daughter towards the end, nevertheless she was able to recall the words to the songs that our school choir sang and join in with them.  But not only did she talk about it to us for many visits afterwards, the children themselves also talked about the people they had met, the grandparents they didn’t have and the friendships that were beginning to blossom as the visits became a regular fortnightly activity. There was a purpose to their learning new lyrics and practising their singing and my m-i-l always knew when there was a visit imminent.

Lots of scope to develop vocabulary about feelings but more powerfully, never underestimate the power of a child in someone’s life and think about how you and yours could brighten someone else’s.

 

 

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson's Journal

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal

Jeff Kinney

Puffin, 2019

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760892517

“Rowley’s best friend Greg Heffley has been chronicling his middle-school years in thirteen Diary of a Wimpy Kid journals . . . and counting. But it’s finally time for readers to hear directly from Rowley in a journal of his own. In Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, Rowley writes about his experiences and agrees to play the role of biographer for Greg along the way. (After all, one day Greg will be rich and famous, and everyone will want to know his life’s story.) But Rowley is a poor choice for the job, and his “biography” of Greg is a hilarious mess.”

There would be few primary school readers (and even those a little older) who do not know the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , one of the pivotal series to get boys reading that I’ve encountered throughout my teaching career. So this new addition to the collection, in which Greg’s life is viewed through the lens of his best friend, is a welcome new chapter with a twist.

But as well as just being a fun read, one that so many can relate to, it’s also a chance to explore the concept of perspective.  Do others see us as we see ourselves? It reminds me of an advertisement on television where a fellow is called to a meeting and is giving himself negative self-talk  – this one…

But the reality is significantly different. So this book could be an opening into examining how others perceive us and perhaps tapping into someone’s mental health by having friends write about their friends. A skilled teacher who knows the students really well might have them write about themselves first and if necessary have conversations with the school counsellor.  Food for thought that might get someone who is struggling to open up.

But for those who just adore Greg and Rowley and their adventures, they can find out more about their creation here.

 

 

Lottie and Walter

Lottie and Walter

Lottie and Walter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lottie and Walter

Anna Walker

Puffin, 2019

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

9780143787181

Lottie had a secret that neither her mother, baby brother or swimming teacher knew.  At the bottom of the learners’ pool lived a shark that only wanted to eat Lottie.  So every Saturday, Lottie would go to the pool, get changed, watch and wait and then get dressed again without getting wet.  But then she met Walter the Walrus who liked the things she did- books, bubbles and fish fingers. So she told him her fears.  Would Walter be able to help her before the pool party next Saturday?

Anna Walker, who created the iconic Mr Huff, has again used a child’s fear as a focus for her new picture book, exploring something common to many children and helping them understand that such fears can be overcome with a little help and imagination. Little people don’t always have the language yet to be able to articulate what is bothering them so Lottie’s use of a shark in the pool is a common device.  Even though her mother and swimming teacher might be able to prove to her there is no actual shark in the pool itself(if they knew it was there), nevertheless it masks something that Lottie can’t express yet.  The strength in the story lies in only Lottie knowing the secret and therefore only Lottie can sort it out, empowering her rather than making her dependent on grown-ups, demonstrating that both Lottie and the reader that little people can solve problems if given the space to do so.

Swimming is an essential skill that all Australian children need to master but there are many Lotties amongst them so this is a perfect book to share and discuss before swimming lessons begin, so that those who do have fears can realise they are not alone and can develop some strategies to overcome the “sharks in the water”. 

The Good Egg

The Good Egg

The Good Egg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Egg

Jory John

Pete Oswald

Harper, 2018

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

9780062866004

The Good Egg is verrrrrry good. It does all sorts of things like rescuing cats, carrying groceries, watering plants, changing tyres, even painting houses.  If there is anything or anyone needing help, it’s there to assist.  Back in the store where it lived with another 11 eggs – Meg, Peg, Greg, Clegg, Shel, Shelly, Sheldon, Shelby, Egbert, Frank and the other Frank – altogether in a house with a recycled roof, things weren’t particularly harmonious because The Good Egg found the behaviour of the others confronting.  They ignored bedtime, only ate sugary cereal, dried for no reason, threw tantrums, broke things… and when The Good Egg tried to be the peace maker and fix their behaviour no one listened. It became so hard and frustrating that its head felt scrambled and there were cracks in his shell, so The Good Egg left.

As time went by, it began to focus on the things it needed rather than what it thought everyone else needed and in time it began to heal…

This is a sensitive story that explores finding a balance between personal and social responsibility so that the egg, or any person really, can live at peace with itself.  It’s about helping the perfectionist lower their expectations of themselves so they are not always struggling and feeling failure, and, at the same time, accept that those around them will always have faults and to be comfortable with those.  Self-perception is such a driver of mental health and self-imposed standards of excellence are impossible to live up to and so the spiral towards depression begins, even in our youngest students.  

A companion to The Bad Seed, John and Oswald have combined sober text with humorous illustrations to present an engaging story that has a strong message of accepting oneself and others for who we are, not who we think we should be. 

Great addition to the mindfulness collection.

 

Old Friends, New Friends

Old Friends, New Friends

Old Friends, New Friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Friends, New Friends

Andrew Daddo

Jonathan Bentley

ABC Books, 2018

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

9780733338137

It’s a new school year and there is a whole class full of old best friends to greet and play with.  But excitement and fizzy tummies disappear when she realises that her new class is full of children whom she doesn’t know.  There is not one familiar face amongst them.  The happy tummy bubbles pop, turning to cartwheels instead; her smile dims and her hands are soggy.

But then she remembers some advice from her mum about being brave, and her grandfather about finding a smile somewhere, and tells herself that her very best BFF will always be herself and suddenly the light begins to shine and a whole world of possibilities opens up.

As the new school year gets underway, many children will be finding themselves in a classroom where they know no one whether that’s because of the way things have been sorted or moving to a new school and it can be a daunting and overwhelming proposition. So this is the perfect book to share to help children like that feel they can make the first step towards making friendships and that a class of 30 kids they don’t know is just 30 opportunities to open up new possibilities.  This is the advice I’ve given to Miss Moving-On-To-High-School because the strategies are just as relevant there.

When someone has lost their smile, give them one of yours.

The beginning of the year is the perfect time for a focus on friends and friendships and so the team who gave us When I Grow Up and First Day have done it again, with their finger on the pulse of what it is like to be a littlie.

 

The Man With Small Hair

The Man With Small Hair

The Man With Small Hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Man With Small Hair

Jane Jolly

Andrew Joyner

Hardie Grant Egmont, 2018

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

9781742977584

The man with small hair loves his small hair. He also loves his short pants, zing-a-ding boots and clickety-clackety beads. He cartwheels with joy and bursts into song when he wears them. But the man with small hair is the only person who wears his hair small, and no one else has colourful boots or musical beads either. He decides to hide the things that make him happy in order to blend in with the crowd. Until one day he looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognise the man staring back at him. 

Jane Jolly has written a particularly pertinent story about being brave and confident enough to walk to the beat of your own drum, rather than the tune that someone else is piping for you. Sadly, in a world that wants to celebrate individuality and relies on creativity and lateral thinking to solve its problems, conformity seems to be the name of the game and those who dare to be different are teased, bullied and shunned.  So the man who prefers his hair short, and indeed loves it because he likes the feel of the prickly bristles and the funny shadows they make, hides behind disguises that make him seem like all the others on the outside, makes himself one of the crowd who move along in a grey flock, lacking the confidence to express who he really is.

Andrew Joyner’s choice of a predominantly grey palette for the start of the story emphasises the monotonous, monochromatic world that the man inhabits underlining what a dismal place a one-look-fits-all environment can be  But when the man lets his real self shine through, then there is a great burst of colour – as bright as his new found confidence. Not only does the story give the inner person permission to be themselves, but perhaps when they do they will inspire others to discard their masks and show the world their true colours. And even if it is a world of school uniforms there is always some how that we can let ourselves shine.

An excellent story to start off the mindfulness curriculum for the new school year.

Teaching notes are available.

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems

Giraffe Problems

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giraffe Problems

Jory John

Lane Smith

Walker Books, 2018 

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

9781406383164

Edward the giraffe does not like his long neck.  In fact, he’s embarrassed by it. 

It’s too long.

Too bendy.

Too narrow.

Too dopey.

Too patterned.

Too stretchy.

Too high.

Too lofty.

Too … necky.

He thinks everyone stares at it, and as he tries to disguise with ties and scarves and hide it behind trees and shrubs, he admires those with much smaller necks.  And then he meets Cyrus the turtle who is frustrated by his short neck and…  Together they learn that they can co-operate to solve problems and accept themselves as they are.

The creators of Penguin Problems  have combined forces again to bring young readers a new book, one that focuses on acknowledging and being grateful for those things we do have because what we see as a negative may well be a positive to others.  They may even envy it.  Someone’s long legs might be just what the shorter person desires; someone’s auburn hair might be the thing that makes them stand out in a crowd… Encouraging children to accept themselves as they are physically and to celebrate that which makes them unique is all part of their development and may help them to become more comfortable in their own skin, more self-assured and less likely to follow fads and trends or even risky behaviour as they get older. Given that body image issues are concerns of even some of the youngest readers, any story that helps with self-acceptance has to be worthwhile. To discuss this without getting personal, children could make charts of the pros and cons of features such as the elephant’s trunk, the zebras stripes, the lion’s mane or other distinctive characteristics of different species that they suggest. 

There is also a subtle sub-text about not being so self-focused.  While Edward is busy admiring the necks of the other animals, they feel he is staring at them and making them feel self-conscious so children can be encouraged to think of their actions from the perspective of others. Learning that there are “two sides to a story” is an important part of growing up.

Another addition to the mindfulness collection as we try to foster strong, positive mental health in our young readers. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…