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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…

 

Elbow Grease

Elbow Grease

Elbow Grease

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elbow Grease

John Cena

Howard McWilliam

Puffin Books, 2018

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

9780143794400

Elbow Grease is the smallest monster truck in the Demolition Derby. Even though his brothers Tank, Flash, Pinball and Crash were tougher, faster, smarter and braver, they didn’t intimidate him nor deter him from racing.  Even the fact that he was different because he ran on an lithium-ion battery and needed to be recharged every night did not stop him believing in himself and his ability to keep up with his brothers.  Because Elbow Grease had gumption, that mixture of strong will and determination to keep on going even when it seemed all was lost.

When Mel the mechanic puts a large poster of a monster truck Grand Prix on the wall, Elbow Grease is determined to compete, regardless of the derision of his brothers.  He drove to the Grand Prix by himself, snuck in behind all the others at the starting line and off he went.  It soon became obvious that the other trucks had more experience and better technique but Elbow Grease refused to give up. On an on he went until it started to pour and his battery went completely flat…

Inspired by growing up with four older brothers, John Cena has captured the spirit of determination that younger siblings so often have as they strive to keep up, and has created a powerful story about trying new things, resilience, facing fears and obstacles, and doing everything you can to keep going.  It’s a lesson in “Of at first you don’t succeed….” 

Told with a bare narrative with all the speech in speech bubbles, sometimes the message is less than subtle, but young readers will delight in the bright, bold illustrations that carry the expression and the humour.  Some who are familiar with WWE competitors might even recognise Cena from that field and be inspired because of that.  In an interview, Cena said, “With ‘Elbow Grease’ and the books to follow, I want to offer kids a fun and engaging way to learn about the power of ambition, dedication, and heart. These concepts have been transformative in my life, from my childhood up to now, and it’s so important to me to pass the positivity on and help our youngest generation see that right mindset is key to achievement,”

Monster trucks appeal to so many little boys that even if they don’t absorb Cena’s message at first, at least they will continue to discover the joy of reading as they find books about the topics that interest them. 

We Are Together

We Are Together

We Are Together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Together

Britta Teckentrup

Little Tiger, 2018

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

9781848576582

On our own we’re special, And we can chase our dream.
But when we join up, hand in hand, Together we’re a team. 

This is the message of this story  – the power of one, but the even greater power of many.  Starting with being content with one’s own company flying a kite, it grows to embrace others in our lives, known or not-yet, so whether it’s being caught in a storm or being passionate about a cause, the support and strength found in the love and friendship of others alongside us is cause for joy and celebration.

If ever we’re lonely, we’ll just say out loud: Let’s all stand together, one big happy crowd! 

The cover is intriguing with cutouts peeking through to just two of the children on the stunning endpapers showing children of all nationalities and ethnicities, and as each page is turned the cutouts increase revealing an ever-widening circle of children capturing the innate way they have of making friends regardless of any external differences. 

 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

It provides an opportunity to talk about not only receiving a helping hand but also extending one, valuing and sharing the things we do well personally while respecting and trying the things others can do. It emphasises that while we are individuals, humans are also dependent on others – no man is an island – and that co-operation, collaboration and company are essential elements of our well-being. 

 

 

 

Digby and the Duck

Digby and the Duck

Digby and the Duck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digby and the Duck

Max Landrak 

Lothian Children’s, 2018

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

9780734417770

Digby is sure someone is watching him. It is just a feeling, but no matter what time of day or where he goes, he is certain that there are eyes following his every move.  Determined to find out who or what, he searches for clues, finally stepping in some poo that appears to prove his theory, and that sends him on a research search to discover what sort of creature does such droppings. But is the creature that he finally decides is the culprit, actually the spy?

Many of us will have had that weird feeling that someone is looking at us, but it is usually just a passing thing and we seldom go to the lengths that Digby does to discover who or what it is. But once he thinks he has solved the mystery, his world is back in balance and so this story sends a strong message about facing your fears, staring them down and getting them into perspective. So many of our young people suffer from anxiety of  real or imagined situations -in fact, some are like Digby and feel out of kilter if there is nothing to worry about as the ending of the story shows – so helping them develop strategies to deal with this is a critical pathway forward to learning.  Whether it’s doing research as Digby does to get to the root of the fear or talking about it with others to discover the particular fear is common or other strategies, until the feeling is dealt with satisfactorily it can become crippling.  

Ensuring our children’s mental health is safe is as important as their physical health so this is another one to add to the mindfulness collection, to be shared and discussed as we continue to help our students develop resilience as they learn how to deal with fear and anxiety.

Invisible Jerry

Invisible Jerry

Invisible Jerry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invisible Jerry

Adam Wallace

Giuseppe Poli

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335781

People don’t notice Jerry. If someone bumps into him, they don’t say sorry. If he makes a joke, no one laughs. He never gets picked last for sports teams — but that’s because he never gets picked at all. It’s like he’s invisible. Even though, like most kids, he doesn’t want to be so different that he stands out, he hates being invisible.  He really would like to be part of the crowd, laughing, smiling and having fun but that’s hard if you’re quiet and  shy.

But then along comes Molly… and not only does she change Jerry’s life, she enables him to change the lives of others.

There is a fine line between being the centre of attention and perhaps putting a target on your back for bullies and being so introverted that you’re not even noticed. Most kids seem to work within a happy medium between the two but there are always the extremes – like the Bell curve of distribution.  Sharing this book with young readers can help make those in the middle more aware of those like Jerry who don’t have the confidence to step forward, or who are ignored when they try, while at the same time, give the introverts the opportunity to reach out to someone who is just like them and who is probably feeling as unhappy as they are. Whilst we don’t all have or want to be in the limelight, sometimes it’s necessary to cast a light into the shadows.

From the front cover of this book where the line between Jerry and his peers is drawn with the title dividing him from them, the placement of Jerry in the illustrations underscores his isolation and the gentle palette reinforces the light touch that Spark author, Adam Wallace has used to portray a common situation that can be dark and overwhelming.

Another wonderful story for your mindfulness collection. 

Finding Your Path: A happy start to school

Finding Your Path: A happy start to school

Finding Your Path: A happy start to school

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Your Path: A happy start to school

Amba Brown

Finding Your Path Books, 2018

30pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9780648233930

A new school years is just over the horizon and next year’s Kindergarten students are starting their transition visits to “big school”. So this book by Positive Psychology author Amba Brown is ideal for preparing them for what to expect when they begin this next phase of their young lives, particularly as anxiety about making this move is common and natural. 

Written in rhyme with bright bold pictures, it will capture their attention and help allay any fears they might have. Explaining some of the things they will learn and encouraging them to try hard, use their manners and smile will reassure the most concerned, making this transition full of the fun, excitement and anticipation that it should have. 

 

The Short & Curly Guide to Life

The Short & Curly Guide to Life

The Short & Curly Guide to Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Short & Curly Guide to Life

Dr Matt Beard & Kyla Slaven

Simon Greiner

ABC Books, 2018

192pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99

9780143792185

While helping students develop their information literacy skills is a critical part of enabling them to investigate the world around them, it is what to then do with what they learn that can be tricky.  As we teach them to be critical consumers of information we also need to help them be creative users of it, to interpret it in new situations, to view it from a different perspective, to ask “what if…” and to develop new knowledge and understandings.

Short & Curly is a podcast from the ABC aimed at 7-12 year-olds which asks short and curly questions about the world around them, focusing on ethics, the strand of philosophy that focuses on what is right and wrong and encourages thinking about “what should I do?”

In this print edition, using the Brains Trust – Arjun, Rabia, Koa, Sophia, and Mae – who are a team of young researchers who identify, observe and try to answer ethical dilemmas that face our students, the book puts forward a number of scenarios that demonstrate some of these issues like lying, being happy, learning, making choices, letting go, being fair, making promises, and so on. Each scenario is presented as a report rundown, a summary of the situation, which is accompanied by questions that focus thinking on the best way to handle the situation. Dr Matt responds with some ideas and poses some bigger questions that can be applied to a broader range of contexts, encouraging the reader to think about the situation from a variety of perspectives rather than just their own experience and then consider what they would do in that situation.

Philosophy and ethics seem like grown-up concepts on the surface, unlikely to have a place in the primary curriculum, but when they are expressed in the context of the everyday situations that children encounter such as whether it is OK to lie to protect someone’s feelings, it becomes much more practical and doable so this book is perfect for guiding the children’s development in this area, setting up discussions that allow a lot of perspectives and opinions to be aired in a calm, objective way, compromises to be made and solutions to be negotiated.  Not only does the classroom offer a forum for a wider variety of voices than the student’s family values, such discussions lay the foundations for calm, reasoned, evidence-based debates in the future as the students mature, are more able to cope with thinking on an abstract level and face bigger community-based issues as well as their own personal ones. 

While each scenario is a standalone within its pages, there are now many picture books that deal with the focus themes so using these in conjunction with each discussion would be value-adding in a significant way.  For those struggling with the Ethical Understandings strand of the Australian Curriculum, this is a solid base for your program, one that will reach far beyond both the classroom and a particular academic year.

Me and My Fear

Me and My Fear

Me and My Fear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me and My Fear

Francesca Sanna

Flying Eye, 2018

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

9781911171539

In the beginning her constant companion Fear is small, just big enough to keep her from doing things that would be harmful or dangerous.  But when she moves to a new country where she doesn’t know the language, the neighbourhood, the school or those she meets there, Fear grows and grows until it all but cripples her.  She feels more and more lonely and isolated each day, her self-confidence disappears and she hides herself away, full of self-doubt and beginning to loathe this new place as she begins to believe that she is too different to be understood, accepted and liked .  But a little boy is watching… can he lead her back by helping to shrink Fear?  And what does she discover about all the children in her class, indeed, everywhere?

This could be the story of any one of the children in our care, even those who have not had to emigrate to a new country and a whole new way of life.  While this companion to The Journey shows that the plight of refugees is not necessarily resolved as soon as they reach a new country, anxiety about the unknown, even the known, plagues many of our students, some to the point that they cannot get themselves to school, and so this book which demonstrates the power of how reaching out, being friendly, having empathy and making connections (even if that is your own biggest fear) can lead a troubled child back to a more normal world, where Fear is natural but it is a normal size.

The soft, retro colour palette reinforces the gentle tone of the book, and even though Fear grows and grows, it is not a black, dark, formidable, force but more a white, soft, marshmallow-like character that is not physically threatening . It maintains its shape even as it grows suggesting that its core remains the same, rather than becoming an overwhelming fear of everything.

Recommended in many lists as one that can help children not only begin to understand and overcome their own fears, but also one which can help others make the first step of reaching out and embracing those who seem isolated, this story is one that has many roles to play within the curriculum.

The Dam

The Dam

The Dam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dam

David Almond

Levi Pinfold

Walker Studio, 2018

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

9781406304879

It looks like death will come to this valley as the dam is almost completed, and when it is and the waters rise, so much will be washed away, drowned and never seen again.  In tribute to all that have gone and for all that are still to come, the musician sings and his daughter plays her violin as they wander through the empty houses that were once homes. But even though the physical things may be gone or going, the music plays on, locked in the memories as new opportunities await.

Forty years ago when a great dam was built by the Kielder Water in Northumberland,  UK, the valley below slowly filled with water. But just before this, when the villagers had been moved out, two musicians went back to the abandoned valley. They tore down the boards over the houses, stepped inside and started to play – for this would be the last time that music would be heard in this place.  But while much of the natural landscape was lost, a new one was created, one which brought new activities and adventures and allowed for new memories to be created.

While this is the story of a dam in the UK, it could be the story of places in Australia like Adaminaby, moved in the 50s to allow for the creation of Lake Eucumbene, nine times larger than Sydney Harbour and part of the might Snowy Hydro scheme that changed Australia forever.  Yes the valley was drowned, and as droughts wrack this country, sometimes, as now, remnants of what was lost rise from the deep, but in its place is a haven for fishers, boaters and artists, and the influx of European refugees who came to help build it changed the shape of Australia forever.

It could be the story of parts of the South Island of New Zealand as dams like Benmore and Aviemore reshaped that landscape as the need for electricity grew; parts of Tasmania where building dams on Lake Pedder in the 60s and the proposed damming the Gordon below the Franklin River in the 70s shone the brightest spotlight on the environment and its conservation that this country had seen.

It could even be the story of those living near Badgery’s Creek where Sydney’s new airport is at last being constructed after 50 years of talk.  It could be the story of 1000 places where human needs have outweighed those of Mother Nature and “progress” moves inexorably onwards and outwards.  

But this is not a morbid book, despite its dramatic, monochromatic sombre palette, vignettes of things lost like fleeting memories and the haunting text which is like music itself.  While it is a memorial to those who have gone before it is also a promise that there will be new life, new different memories  waiting to be made and celebrated just as the change in colours and mood of the illustrations indicate. 

Change throughout our lives in inevitable – some visible and dramatic, others not-so and more subtle – but each alters the path that we have planned or dreamed of.  While this book might be overtly about a true story of the Northumberland wilds, it is a conversation starter for all those who are facing life-changing circumstances, physical or emotional.  The musician and his daughter chose to remember through a musical tribute but were also ready to embrace the new landscape, illustrating that it is how we deal with and embrace that over which we have no control that shapes us.  “That which doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger” has never been more apt. 

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forever Kid

Elizabeth Mary Cummings

Cheri Hughes

Big Sky, 2018 

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

9781925675382

Today is Johnny’s birthday. And as in many families, the birthday kid gets to choose the food, the games and the way they want to celebrate.  And Johnny’s family is no different.  Cloud stories are definitely on the list of must-do – lying on your back and looking for pictures in the clouds and making up stories about what you see. 

But this birthday is different to the others that have gone before. For this year, Johnny is no longer there.  He’s the Forever Kid – one who was part of the family but who has passed away leaving just memories.  And on the is special day, each family member remembers Johnny in their own special way as they celebrate and feel closer to him.  But they all gather together to look for and make cloud stories. 

Much as it saddens us as adults to think that the children we know are touched by death and grief, nevertheless it is a fact of life for many.  Illness and accidents take their toll and often the adults are so busy dealing with adult-things that the toll of the child is overlooked.  Kids are seen as resilient, as ‘not really understanding’, as bounce-back-and-move-on beings.  But anyone who has been with a child who has had to face such a harsh reality will know that the pain runs deep and the bewilderment is confusing so to have such a gentle book that focuses on the child left behind, their feelings, even their guilt, is a salutary reminder that as adults, we need to take care of their emotions too.  

Four years ago, Miss Then 8 lost her precious great-grandmother, my mother, and as we grieved and made funeral arrangements and all that grown-up stuff, it would have been easy to overlook her distress.  I asked her if she would like to say something at the memorial service and she said yes.  My heart broke when this little one, who was such a chip off her great-gran’s block, stood up and just said, “I love you Great Gran.” That’s when the tears began to flow, and we knew that she knew what she had lost but she would never forget her even though she was so young. So this year, when her other grandmother died and the wake was to be at a local restaurant, it was no surprise that Miss Now 12 did not want to go because that’s where she had had so many good times with her Great Gran and “didn’t want them spoiled by sadness”.  Just as Johnny is the Forever Kid, so we have a Forever Great Gran.

This gentle book, with its soft, sympathetic illustrations, is a reminder to us all that we need to acknowledge our children’s feelings and their grief, and allow them the opportunity to remember and celebrate and know that it is perfectly okay to do so. Take the time to lie on the grass with your child, make up cloud stories and let them remember and reminisce.  It will help you both.