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It’s OK to feel the way you do

It's OK to feel the way you do

It’s OK to feel the way you do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK to feel the way you do

Josh Langley

Big Sky, 2017

90pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925520965

The buzzword in many personal development programs these days is resilience and phrases such as “Eat cement and harden up”, “Build a bridge and get over it”, and “Suck it up, princess” are often heard bandied around. It’s as though expressing our emotions, particularly ‘negative’ ones, is becoming unacceptable and we are supposed to bottle up anger and disappointment and fear and let it fester away inside, becoming bigger and bigger, in case we offend or hurt someone else’s feelings.

This can be very confusing especially for young children who are recognising their range of feelings and learning how to control their actions in response to them.  Our emotions are controlled by chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin and we cannot control their release although we are expected to control and even suppress their consequences.  So a book written and illustrated especially for young children that explores the natural feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, loneliness, pride, fear and anxiety and shows that is OK to have the whole range of such emotions – in fact, it is unhealthy not to – is welcome, particularly as mindfulness programs gather momentum.

Understanding that emotions are what makes us human and that certain things trigger certain emotions, even though there are different triggers for each person, is a huge step in understanding ourselves and we need to do that if we are to understand others.  Acknowledging our feelings is the first step in dealing with them appropriately, developing responses and reactions and then being able to move on to choices is part of natural maturity.  Langley tells his own story of how a negative comment in his childhood spurred him on to greater things rather than sending him into a downward spiral and so children can learn it’s not the emotion that is the issue, but how we can deal with it for the better -do we express it or suppress it?

The bright, bold colours and cartoon-like illustrations will capture the young reader, the text that talks directly to them and the affirmation that feeling feelings is natural and OK will help to empower our young students and help them from feeling overwhelmed even confused.  In the past, health curricula have included exploring feelings and children have completed a zillion sentences starting “I am happy when…” but in today’s world we need to take this further and show that feelings are natural, that they are shared, that disappointment and anger are OK and can lead us in a new direction, that everyone has fears and doubts and highs and lows and life is not necessarily the glossed-up television version.

Indeed, it’s OK to feel the way you do.

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes Me A Me?

Ben Faulks

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2017

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

9781408883327

Who am I?
I ask myself.
What makes me a ME?
I think hard with all my might,
And look around to see.

What is it that makes us unique, unlike anything or anyone else despite the similarities we see? Are we like our clothes -the same shape and the same age; maybe like a computer that knows lots of things; or perhaps a tree because our arms stick out like branches? But then, for everything we see a similarity with there are also subtle differences.  Super Guy helps the goodies and fights the baddies but he also likes to kiss girls!  Maybe we move like a snail, especially first thing in the morning, but where are our eyes on stalks and the slimy trail?

The author of Watch Out for Muddy Puddles  and the illustrator of You Can’t Take an Elephant on a Bus  have combined to create an intriguing story-in-rhyme that encourages children to think about their identity and what it is that makes them special.  Because no matter how like something or someone you are, there is always a subtle – or not-so subtle- difference that makes you, you.  

A perfect parent-child read-along, it would also be the ideal introduction to an early childhood unit that explores each child’s individuality while still acknowledging that each is human and has the same needs and dreams as their friends.  They could have fun thinking how they might be like something, especially if their thinking is extended by pulling the name of an object out of a hat (perhaps a woolly blue one) and looking for a link. My friend tells me I am an eggbeater but didn’t say if it’s because I’m always whirring around or whipping everything up!!!  Lots of potential for all sorts of activities in this one. 

Soon

Soon

Soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon

Jessica Love

Echo Books, 2015

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9780994232397

My dad is leaving soon.

He is going to another country to help keep other families safe.

Soon is coming too fast…

It is Christmas today.

My dad is still gone. I am sad.  Christmas feels strange without him… but soon is getting closer.

Time is such an abstract concept for young children to grasp that adults usually resort to the seemingly innocuous “soon” when asked, “How long till…?”

But soon can seem to be a long time when you’re young, seemingly meaning  “forever” when it stretches over birthdays, Christmas and Easter, and almost touches “Never!” When creator Jess Love’s dad was deployed overseas with the Australian Defence Forces, she became one of many children, including my own grandchildren, who measured the concept of “soon” in special days, events and activities missed.  Even letters, emails and phone calls become bittersweet because while it is great to catch up, it just makes the pain of missing even more acute and “soon” seems just as far away as it ever was.  Even knowing the absence is because someone else is being helped doesn’t really register with littlies because they want their daddy or mummy there to help them.

The predecessor to Sometimes   young author Jessica has articulated and illustrated the innermost feelings of any child missing a loved one who is absent for whatever reason, not just overseas deployment.  While the adults in their lives can understand calendars and do mental countdowns and fill their days, young children have to be satisfied with “soon” and it can be confusing.  Is it a long time, getting closer, almost here, or taking too long? And for some it can mean feeling bereft or even abandoned.

This is an important book for parents to know about so they can understand that “soon” isn’t enough in times of extended absence; that while their child might seem to understand time it can be confusing and there needs to be some sort of mechanism that help them have a picture of what “soon” means such as a calendar to cross off the days or the number of sleeps left; something that helps them realise that “soon” will come and it will happen. 

For the children of those in the Defence Forces or other professions that entail long absences, it is important for them to know that their feelings are real, shared and validated and that “soon” will come eventually. While crossing dates off a calendar might seem pointless and endless, perhaps instead of marking special things missed, they can set themselves a goal to achieve before “soon” happens.  Riding their bike, playing a tricky tune on the piano, knitting a jumper, achieving the next level in a sport – whatever is their passion can become their driving force for making “soon” hurry up. And even though it seems that it is dragging its feet, it eventually does arrive.

As teachers there is much that we can do to acknowledge the anxiety, help the understanding of time by making the countdown the kickstart for a series of lessons about how humans have measured time over millennia and make “soon” become “now”.

Another important addition to  our mindfulness toolboxes and collections.

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog

Lisa Papp

Old Barn Books, 2017

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

9781910646328

Madeline Finn does not like to read. Not books. Not magazines. Not even the menu on the ice cream van. Reading out loud in class is a nightmare and the words get stuck in her mouth “like peanut butter” and the other children laugh.  While they get stars from their teacher, all Madeline gets is a “Keep Trying” sticker.  She gets a lot of those.  But she desperately wants a star and so one night she makes a wish on a star for a star.  

Sadly, some wishes take a bit of time to come true and come the end of the week and it’s time for her to visit the local library she is truly despondent, is tired of trying and has all but convinced herself she will never be a reader.  But librarian Mrs Dimple has a surprise for her – a surprise that will not only turn her reading around but also her life…

There are children like Madeline Finn in every class – children who hate the out-dated practice of having to read aloud to the group because all it does is shine a public light on their struggles as they try to master the written word and self-talk themselves further and further down the rabbit hole of being a non-reader.  As a teacher and teacher librarian who has spent 45 years helping little ones to read I wanted to shake Madeline’s teacher and show her that stickers and stars and “keep trying” are fruitless – but then Lisa Papp wouldn’t have had a story and there wouldn’t have been a happy outcome, albeit fraught with anxiety, for Madeline.

Sharing this story with the class will help the Madelines understand that there are many kids like them who just haven’t quite got reading sorted yet, but that it is achievable and even enjoyable. They are not the only ones who find the squiggles on the page confronting but that it is OK to make “mistakes” and these become fewer as their understanding and confidence grows.  Reading is not about the stars on a chart, but the inner satisfaction of being immersed in something that takes you away from the here and now and into the land of imagination and possibility. 

More and more the power of dogs as pets as therapy is being recognised and they are turning up in all sorts of places. While it might not be possible to have one in your school library, it is possible to substitute Bonnie for a teddy – or a host of teddies – so those who have yet to develop confidence in their reading because they believe “real readers” don’t make mistakes can have a non-judgemental partner to read to.  My experience was children who dreaded coming to the library would be there before school and at lunchtimes reading to their favourite teddy – I ended up with about 50 in the collection – as they built their confidence and their skills in a safe, friendly, non-threatening environment. They even became regular borrowers!

While this story will bring comfort and hope to a lot of little people, hopefully it will also inspire teachers to reflect on their professional practice and consider whether they are doing things that inadvertently marginalise their not-there-yet readers and make changes.  

Teacher’s hat is now off!

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781408880982

Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! 

He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing  a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?

In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean?

 For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes.  They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed… 

Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be.  It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

Susan Hall

Cheryl Westenberg

NLA Publishing, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780642278890

Wesley Wombat really wanted to be a superhero.

‘If only I had superpowers like all my friends!’ he thought longingly.

If only he could fly like the king parrot, swim like the platypus, jump like the kangaroo or protect himself with body armour like the echidna.  But, sadly, no matter how hard he tries to be like his friends in the bush, his attempts end in near disaster.  He is feeling really despondent but his mother reassures him he will find his special talent and to look forward to the birthday party with his friends the next day.  And it is on his way to the party that Wesley discovers his super power and becomes a super hero.

This is a charming story written for the very young who are learning to identify our unique indigenous creatures and their special characteristics.  Using a lift-the-flap format, Cheryl Westenberg has created the most wonderful illustrations of Wesley’s mishaps that little ones (and bigger ones too) will roll on the floor laughing and really understand the fun to be had in stories while understanding that each of us has our own super power because we are all really good at something. Bright and colourful and accompanied by extra pages of facts about each of the featured creatures, this is a must-have addition for the early childhood collection.  

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.

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.

 

 

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

I just ate my friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just ate my friend

Heidi McKinnon

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760294342

I just ate my friend. He was a good friend. But now he is gone. Would you be my friend?

Monster has eaten his friend and now he is on a search for another one.  One by one he asls other monsters but each has a different reason why they can’t oblige.  Too big, too small, too slow, too scary – each has a unique excuse.  But finally another one agrees…but this is definitely a case of “Be careful what you wish for”!

Set against a background of a dark starry sky, this is a story that has a dark humour to it and the twist in the end may puzzle very young readers but older readers will appreciate it. Even though the illustrations appear quite simple, there is a lot of expression built into the large white eyes and the slitted mouth that offer a lot of scope for encouraging young readers to look at the details in the pictures and interpret feelings from the facial features. Teaching them to read the pictures as well as the words is a critical skill to get the most from stories, even those that appear to be fairly simplistic. 

Using the universal desire for having a friend as its basis, it offers scope to discuss what it means to be a good friend and how you keep them.  Perhaps eating them is not the best idea, but what can you do when you find you don’t agree on something. Even discussing the fundamental question of whether friends can disagree and still be friends is important in developing the concept of friendship. 

Fresh, original and offering all the things a quality picture book should.

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Reena's Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White

Tracie Grimwood

EK Books

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

97817755935223

Reena is deaf and the little brown dog in the park is homeless. But even though her ears didn’t work, her eyes did and she saw the things that others take for granted.  So even though she couldn’t hear the wind in the trees, she could still see the leaves swirling and Dog leap to catch the acorns.

When the children came to play hide and seek in the park she was very good at finding their hiding places, but when it was her turn to hide no one could find her and she couldn’t hear them calling so they left her there alone.  Luckily Dog was able to fetch her mother who explained that people are like the colours of the rainbow – each one different but together a strong and beautiful entity.  But both Reena and Dog felt like they didn’t belong in the rainbow.  Will they ever fit in?

As well as windows that show readers a new world, stories should also be mirrors that reflect their own lives.  Children, in particular, should be able to read about themselves and children like them in everyday stories so they understand they are not freaks and that others share their differences and difficulties.  Reena’s Rainbow is a wonderful addition to a growing collection of stories that celebrate the uniqueness of every person and not only show them they are not alone but also help others to understand their special needs.  Imagine how frightened Reena must have felt when all the children left the park because they assumed she had gone home.

Young children are remarkably accepting and resilient – they don’t see colour, language, dress or disability as a barrier to the child within – those are handicaps that adults impose on themselves – but the more stories like this that we share with them, the more likely they are to develop knowledge, understanding, tolerance and acceptance and thus develop into adults who embrace difference rather than shunning it.  Close inspection shows that rainbows actually include every shade of every colour, not just those visible to the eye, and through Reena and Dog and characters like them we can all learn to discern the not-so-obvious beauty.