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Leaf

Leaf

Leaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf

Sandra Dieckmann

Flying Eye Books, 2017

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

9781911171317

 

Crow saw it first. The strange white creature, carried upon the dark waves towards the shore…

When a polar bear arrives unexpectedly in the woods, a creature unlike anything the other animals  had seen, they fear and avoid him, suspecting him to be dangerous particularly when it began to collect leaves. They nicknamed him Leaf and desperately wanted him to leave because no one should live in fear.  Then one day Leaf burst through the forest covered in leaves and leapt off the hill with a giant roar.  Perhaps inspired by the crow’s feathers that helped it fly to freedom he has turned the leaves into wings, but sadly they lifted him but briefly and he tumbled into the lake. 

A meeting of the other creatures was held and attitudes started to soften, but like many such meetings, the only outcome was an agreement to disagree and nothing was done. But when Leaf tried to fly again a few days later, this time landing in the ocean realisation dawned and  things begin to change…

There is a quote on the dedication page of this book…

“Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught in life.” -Friedrich Schiller

And so it is with this book which is one of those that resonates more and more with each reading.  Accompanied by the most stunning, memorable artwork which is rich in colour, pattern and details, on the surface it is a tale about a polar bear who wants to go home.  But what is the message behind the polar bear arriving on a shard of iceberg in the first place? Climate change? Refugee? And what can we learn about and from the forest creatures’ automatic fear and distrust of this unfamiliar, different animal in their midst? Or is the whole a metaphor for a child or adult with a terminal illness who wants to die but who must endure the intervention of science and medicine before finding release? The dedication suggests this…

While the polar bear is the subject, the story is told very much from an objective observer’s eye, a narrator that states the facts and actions without emotion,even though there is so much emotion embedded in the illustrations. An intriguing book that makes the reader ponder.

 

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Bitter Enemies

R. A. Spratt

Random House Australia, 2017

254pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9780143784197

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  But right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend the school.

And so, in this the seventh episode in the series, Friday is well-known to all at the school , either having got them into trouble or out of it at some stage.  

But all is not well at Highcrest Academy because it is the start of the new academic year and Friday is not there.  She has been whisked off to a school in Switzerland by her parents leaving best friend Melanie and “boyfriend” Ian bereft and bewildered.  How will they get through the year?  

Luckily for them, Friday does turn up and all are immediately embroiled in a new adventure as the school celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder Sebastian Dowell, and as part of the celebrations four previous principals return, each with very different ideas and plans.  

Miss 11 had this series at the top of her reading wishlist for Santa this year as she has discovered a character not too unlike herself – intelligent, quirky, and a bit different from her peers but very comfortable in her own skin, yet deep down wanting to be just like them – and is eagerly reading her way through the earlier episodes.  She will be thrilled to see #7 in her Santa Sack and know that #8 Never Fear will be out in time for those long January days.

Can You Find Me?

Can You Find Me?

Can You Find Me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Find Me?

Gordon Winch

Patrick Shirvington

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781925059793

Mother Nature has provided many of our commonly seen creatures with the most amazing camouflage so that when they are in their natural habitat they are very hard to see.  In this stunning book by Gordon Winch, author of Samantha Seagull’s Sandals which has delighted so many children in my care over the years, readers are encouraged to spot familiar and not-so-familiar creatures hidden in plain sight in Pat Shirvington’s beautiful lifelike illustrations which really connect to the natural world.  

Apart from little ones loving these sorts of hide and seek books, it also encourages them to look with new eyes at their local landscape and wonder what might be living there.  Perhaps before they go stomping through the bush or the sand dunes they will stop and tread more carefully appreciating it more as a home for creatures, camouflaged though they may be.

Then using the text format as a model, they could investigate a different creature and then create their own page to add to the book – a new way of presenting information for the ubiquitous report about Australian animals that is in every early childhood curriculum.

What George Forgot

What George Forgot

What George Forgot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What George Forgot

Kathy Wolff

Richard Byrne

Bloomsbury, 2017

40pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781408884027

George is all ready to go to school but in the back of his mind he has that feeling that he has forgotten something.  Being a boy who never likes to forget anything, it troubles him and so he mentally goes through all his preparations for school.  He’s woken up, made his bed, greeted his patents, got dressed, had breakfast… So what could it be?

Aha! He realises at the very last minute as the school bus turns up that it is his shoes he has forgotten!  Or is it???

Young children will love trying to help George remember and by the end of the book they will be shouting at him just as they do in performances where the villain pops up just behind the hero and quickly disappears.  They will enjoy comparing his routine to theirs as they delight in Richard Byrne’s clever, funny illustrations and the clever use of font and print direction.  And they will probably start to do a mental check before they go out the door in future. They might even add the word ’embarrassing” to their vocabulary!

A good, funny read that will become a favourite.

Baabwaa and Wooliam

Baabwaa and Wooliam

Baabwaa and Wooliam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baabwaa and Wooliam

David Elliott

Melissa Sweet

Candlewick Press, 2017

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

 9780763660741

Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. However, one day Wooliam suggest they leave their comfortable caravan and seek an adventure. Even though they live in a field that is surrounded by a stone wall they do encounter an adventure as a  third sheep shows up -a funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance as the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.

This is an intriguing but interesting story for young readers that has a number of twists and turns to keep them engaged as they learn that even those considered too different, perhaps even a threat, can become a friend.  Funny, descriptive, and accompanied by illustrations that capture the personalities of both Baabwaa and Wooliam, and show the wolf in a variety of lights, this will capture young minds right from the front cover as they predict that this is not just about two sheep enjoying life and that there is trouble looming in paradise.

 

DK Children’s Encyclopedia

DK Children's Encyclopedia

DK Children’s Encyclopedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DK Children’s Encyclopedia

DK, 2017

304pp., hbk., RRP $A49.99

9780241283868

 

Miss 6, a newly independent reader with an insatiable curiosity for the world around her, came to stay for the weekend.  As usual, after dumping her bag where Grandad could trip over it she headed straight for my pile of review books to see what was new and this encyclopedia was on the top of the pile… and that was the last we saw of her till teatime.

Written for her age group with appropriate language, sentence structure, pictures and layout at last she felt she had found something just right for her.  No more having to get Miss 11 or a nearby adult to help her find things and then explain them – she was independent and LOVING it. (And no arbitrary phonics tests to test her skills – she was motivated, she expected to find out what she wanted to know and she had a range of strategies to draw on!)

Each page is devoted to a topic and with its alphabetical arrangement she was able to flip through to what she wanted, although after she learned how to use the Contents page she felt very grown up. Nine different key subject areas are covered – Art, People, History, Earth, Nature, Science, Technology, Space and the Human Body – all those which fascinate this age group and each is colour-coded so classifying is easy and the idea of grouping like with like is reinforced.  Each topic also has a “See Also” box so the reader can read more in related topics, and there is a comprehensive glossary, an index and a Reference section, each of which Miss 6 wanted to learn how to use “so I can use my book properly.” There are also several “Story of…” pages, double-page spreads which bring together information from different perspectives to take the thinking further.

While her bag was somewhat heavier when she left for home, Miss 6 didn’t mind the extra weight because she now had her “very own ‘cyclopedia”, had learned a lot of new skills and was feeling very smug. 

This is the perfect addition to your early childhood collection so little people can feel as empowered as Miss 6 and a perfect suggestion for parents for the Christmas stocking!

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

Why can't I be a dinosaur?

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why can’t I be a dinosaur?

Kylie Westaway

Tom Jellett

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760294724

Nellie is all dressed up in her dinosaur costume because today is a Dinosaur Day.  But it is also her Aunt Daisy’s wedding and she is supposed to be the flower girl and wearing her special purple dress. While some parents might exert their parental power, Nellie’s try a more negotiated approach,  as stubborn as any preschooler, Nellie refuses to change and despite her parents’ pleading she stands her ground.  Can a compromise be reached with Aunt Daisy having the pretty flower girl at the wedding of her dreams?

This is a funny yet familiar story that will resonate with both parent and child – parents because we can all remember some of the monumental battles we have had with stubborn, determined little people, the child because the adult world does seem to have some weird rules and expectations and having to wear a purple dress to a wedding is just one of them.

It’s refreshing to see a girl in the lead role in a book about dinosaurs and Tom Jellett has captured Nellie’s obsession with them and her feelings at being told no perfectly.  You can feel the tension in the air as powerful wills meet even though voices are not raised (except as a dinosaur roar) and the parents remain calm.  Lots of discussion points about feelings, doing what others expect, negotiating and compromising and whether clothes really do “maketh the man”. 

 

 

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pea Pod Lullaby

Glenda Millard

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760290085

I am the lullaby

You are the melody

Sing me

It starts like a gentle lullaby, perhaps a story you would share with your very youngest children to help them slip into sleep at the end of a long happy day.  But turn the page and a different story emerges from this remarkable collaboration between author and illustrator that grew as a special project at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in NSW.

The first hint that this is not a traditional lullaby comes when you turn the page and you are confronted by the image of a baby being passed into a tiny boat despite the stormy sea, safe into the arms of a young boy, while high on the rugged, isolated cliff barbed wire tangles it way down, clearly designed to prevent such departures. Yet despite this ominous scenery, the words evoke a feeling of trust, safety and comfort…

I am the small green pea

You are the tender pod 

Hold me.

This message of security and belief that there will be protection threads throughout the rest of the story in its gentle, lyrical text and despite the pictures portraying a somewhat different, more threatening story, the inclusion of the red bird constantly with them and appearing somewhat like the dove from Noah’s Ark towards the end of the journey is reassuring.  

The symbolism is strong  – a polar bear found floating on a fridge is taken on board and returned to its family with the help of the whales, the boat expanding to accommodate all shows that this is a story about the planet, not just its people – and all the while the little peapod boat sails on towards it destination regardless of the sea’s moods, just as love carries us all through life. While the final stanza – I am the castaway, you are the journeys end. welcome me – might suggest the story is over, the final pages and the endpapers show that this is a bigger story than that of the family in that little boat. 

While the family in the boat give a focus to those who find literally launching themselves into and onto the great unknown a better prospect than staying where they are, this is about that uniquely human emotion of hope – the family believe they will reach a better destination and they will be welcomed with warmth and compassion and even in their midst of their own struggle they find the wherewithal to help others, just as they hope they would be helped.

There are teachers’ notes available that take this so much deeper than any review can, but don’t be surprised to see this amongst the CBCA Book of the Year winners in 2018.

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Danny Parker

Matt Ottley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781742974675

When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it.  A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier.  And so it proved to be.

Prodding and pushing didn’t move it,  surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless.  And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down.  How was she going to see her friends?

Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long.  And the next day…

This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.

If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and  analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them,  believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.  

This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.  

Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.

 

 

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros

Meg McKinlay

Leila Rudge

Walker Books, Australia, 2017

3299., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925126709

 

While her family and friends wallowed in the mud and bathed in the sun and did all the other things that rhinoceroses do, the little rhinoceros gazed at the boats sailing past on the nearby river and dreamed…

“Don’t you wish that you could see the world?” she asked the others.

But they were not dreamers  or adventurers – they had everything that a rhinoceros needs right there and told the little rhinoceros so.  “You belong here”, they told her. 

However that didn’t stop the little rhinoceros dreaming and one day she began to put her plans in action.  First, she gathered the things she needed to make a boat blocking out the negative comments of the older rhinoceroses, and one day all the mud-wallowing, grass-grazing, tree-scratching, sun-bathing rhinoceroses gathered in alarm as they watched her sail out of sight…

As soon as I picked up this story it resonated with me.  It could have been the story of my mum who watched the ships leave Bluff, her home town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand, headed not just for the vast oceans of the world but also the Antarctic.  And her heart was captured, her hope stirred and her determination to follow in their wake cemented.  Despite all the comments about where she belonged, what she as a child of the 1940s should be doing, the belief that Antarctica was a men-only domain, she “built her own boat” and in 1968 she sailed south too – the first female journalist to do so, a trailblazer for women in both Antarctic exploration and journalism.  Its publication on the 3rd  anniversary of her death is particularly poignant.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Cape Hallett Station, Antarctica, February 1968. The first woman to set foot there.

Others will write about the literary and artistic merits of this book – I just adore it because of its power to show that stick-in-the-muds can stay stuck; nay-sayers can be ignored and that dreams can come true.  This is one I will be sharing over and over with my grandchildren who were privileged to know their great-gran and to be inspired by her.