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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.

Under the Same Sky

Under the Same Sky

Under the Same Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under the Same Sky

Britta Teckentrup

Caterpillar Books, 2017

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

 9781848575868 

“We live under the same sky, in lands near and far… We live under the same sky, wherever we are.”

The dedication to this gentle, lullaby-like book is “For a united world”.  Using the softest palette, the creatures of habitats around the world,

rhyming  couplets and clever cutouts, Teckentrup emphasises this message of inclusivity perfectly. 

With so much angst and anxiety that is focusing on difference, we are reminded that despite the diversity of how we look, where we live and what we do, nevertheless we all share this planet and have so many things in common especially our dreams. 

Hopeful, reaffirming and the ideal discussion starter for children to focus on how they are the same and how they can live together in harmony. 

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You

I Just Couldn't Wait to Meet You

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Just Couldn’t Wait to Meet You

Kate Ritchie

Hannah Somerville

Penguin Random House, 2017

32pp., board book., RRP $A14.99

9780143785071

When the author discovered she was pregnant, typically she was very excited and so she began to write about her feelings as she waited for the time to pass.  The result is this gentle story-in-rhyme that mirrors the thoughts and feelings of most expectant parents and their families.  Who will this new little life be?  And what will their life be like?  It traces the things that are done during that nine months from ultrasounds to decorating the nursery, tracking a common journey that very young readers first asking about where they came from will love to know about. It might even reassure parents-in-waiting that anxiety is as normal as anticipation.

Even though this is Ms Ritchie’s story, it is a universal one and Hannah Somerville’s illustrations using such a soft palette take it beyond the personal so it becomes almost a lullaby of love that would serve very well as Baby’s first favourite shared each night.  There is so much evidence that even our very youngest children are aware of the harsh realities of life, the differences between their lives and that of their peers, so to have such an affirmation of being loved and wanted and cherished should bring enormous comfort and reassurance.

There is a place and a need for this sort of book and Ms Ritchie has fulfilled it well. 

The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess

The Cherry Pie Princess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cherry Pie Princess

Vivian French

Marta Kissi

Walker Books, 2017

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781406368970

“It’s not much fun being a princess: you have to be prim, proper and obedient. Princess Peony lives in a world full of magical creatures – hags, trolls, giants and fairy godmothers – but her father’s strict rules leave her feeling bored and lonely. She wants to learn how to DO things, and cooking’s at the top of her list. But when Peony borrows a recipe book from the public library, the king has the old librarian who tried to help her arrested for “speaking out of turn”. Can Peony stand up to her father and make things right?”

The publisher’s blurb sums up this engaging story very well. Despite being somewhat of a misfit in her family shunning shoes and pretty dresses to better herself, she counts down the days till her 13th birthday when she is allowed an unescorted “educational” visit but is dismayed to find that her plans to again visit the library which she first discovered when she was nine, are thwarted by Mrs Beef who believes a visit to the family’s mausoleum to study her ancestors would be much better for her. But she manages to escape, makes her way to the library and there her adventures really begin…   

For independent readers who like their princesses to have some attitude but also compassion, this is a new take on the more traditional tale.  Lovers of familiar  fairy tales will see it still has many of the features of the originals with a tyrant king with old-fashion views; older, self-absorbed sisters who treat the youngest one with disdain; the mean, miserable governess with the iron fist; fairy godmothers who can grant wishes; a neglected old hag who is cranky that her invitation to the new prince’s christening has not arrived; dark gloomy dungeons where innocents sit forgotten for years; a talking cat… and only one person who can save the day when trouble threatens.   But they will also like the determination, compassion, resilience and self-reliance of Peony who is more like them and isn’t relying on a handsome prince to get her out of bother.

Vivian French’s storytelling is accompanied by a sprinkling of illustrations that add charm and character, making this ideal for a bedtime read-along  or read-alone for the 7+ age group.

Chook Doolan (Series)

Chook Doolan

Chook Doolan

 

 

 

 

 

Chook Doolan (series)

James Roy

Lucinda Gifford

Walker Books, 2017

64pp., pbk., RRP $A7.99

Chook is not his real name – that’s Simon – but he’s earned his nickname because he is anxious and scared about many things, even everyday encounters, and “chook” is another word for chicken.  Let’s Do Diwali, Up and Away, On the Road and Unhappy Camper are the latest releases in this series  especially designed for the young reader making the transition from basal reader to novels. 

In each story, Chook faces a situation that scares him such as working with new people,  speaking in public, being in a crowd, playing with strangers, sleeping away from home and he has to draw on his inner reserves to deal with each one.  Often circumstances are that he becomes involved in events and doesn’t realise that he has overcome his fear and come out the other side until it is all over, each time gaining a little more confidence. All the issues he faces are those that will be familiar to the young reader so they can draw strength and confidence from Chook’s success. 

Short chapters, large font and plenty of illustrations support the newly emerging reader and with such relevant topics told well this is a perfect series to entice even the reluctant reader into more challenging books and show them that this reading thing actually has something to offer them and they can be successful at it.  

The Big Bad Mood

The Big Bad Mood

The Big Bad Mood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big Bad Mood

Tom Jamieson

Olga Demidova

Bloomsbury, 2017

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

9781408839201

George is having a very bad day – an I can’t, I won’t, I don’t kind of day as he grumbles and shouts and stomps.  His mum tells him there is a big bad mood around him but George can’t see it and when he goes searching for it with no luck he gets even crankier.  Then suddenly, The Big Bad Mood is standing right in front of him!  Rough and smelly, it takes George by the hand and off they go to create mischief and mayhem.

At first it is fun but eventually…

Young children, and those around them, are no strangers to temper tantrums born of frustration as they push the boundaries of independence, but sometimes the stars are just not aligned and we wake up on the wrong side of the bed.  But right from the get-go we learn that expressing our displeasure through shouting and stomping is not acceptable and so there can be an expectation that we should be happy and cheerful all the time, never giving into whatever is making us feel less so.  Yet there can be no rainbows without rain and our lives are full of the ups and downs that give us light and shade so this is a wonderful kickstart to a discussion with little ones about whether it is ever OK to be angry and moody, and if so, how to deal with it. 

As George goes about his day with The Big Bad Mood, he slowly begins to realise the impact his mood and behaviour are having on those around him and his attitude starts to change and then his actions follow suit.  Little ones need to understand that being cranky is part of everyday life and it’s not a sin or a personality defect but it’s how they deal with the anger and frustration that shapes who they are, not just in the moment but long term as the responses we have become ingrained habits.  Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Often young people don’t have the vocabulary and the language skills to be able to articulate their frustration and that leads to even more tension but by having Olga Demidova’s illustrations that make the invisible visible they realise that bad moods are real, can be tangible and can be dealt with.  Equally important is acknowledging the feelings of those who have been affected by their attitude and actions and the power of saying sorry and trying to do better. Even though the target audience of this book are still too young to be able to step back and look at what is causing their mood objectively, nevertheless the patterns of their behaviour are being laid down so discussions about why they get cross and what they can do about it, as George did, are vital.

A perfect addition to your mindfulness collection!

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Ava's Spectacular Spectacles

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles

Alice Rex

Angela Perrini

New Frontier, 2017

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

9781912076536

Ava does not like wearing her spectacles at school so she finds it difficult to see the board and read her books.  Her teacher understands this and knows she has to help Ava feel okay with wearing them so she begins to talk to Ava.  “If only Little Red Riding Hood had put on her glasses the day she went to visit her grandmother…she would have seen the big teeth and big eyes.”

Ava stops crying and Mrs Cook continues, gradually getting Ava to understand that wearing glasses is helpful and a good thing, not a badge of shame.

Every now and then you pick up a story that really resonates with you and Ava was me 60 years ago, right down to the red hair tied up in bunches. It’s as though illustrator Angela Perrini had been looking at my family photo albums (although we didn’t have coloured photos way back then!)  And then six years ago, it was my granddaughter who was Ava and in the intervening time, hundreds of other kids too. No one likes to be different when they are little and wearing glasses seems like a huge placard that tells others you are not 100% perfect and that somehow you are less than the other children in your class.  As a teacher of 45 years, I’ve seen it over and over although luckily there is much greater acceptance these days.  Oh, to have had a teacher as understanding and as smart as Mrs Cook.

This is a book that not only belongs in any collection for young readers but which should be actively promoted to both teachers and parents as a strategy for getting little ones to be comfortable with wearing their glasses rather than ashamed.  While Mrs Cook sticks to well-known stories and rhymes where 20/20 vision would have been helpful there would be plenty of incidents, real and imaginary, that teachers and parents could draw on to play the what-if game.  

So many children will see this book as a mirror and learn to love reading even more as they read about themselves, while others will see it as a window and begin to understand how self-conscious Ava and others feel and how they can be more empathetic. They might even explore other “disabilities” and the sorts of ways that science and technology can now assist in overcoming them comparing the advances to the days when no such help was available and life became a misery. 

Superb.

I’ll Love You Always

I'll Love You Always

I’ll Love You Always

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll Love You Always

Mark Sperring

Alison Brown

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A13.99

9781408873335

How long will I love you?
A second is too short.
A second is no time
for a love of this sort.
A minute is no better,
for minutes fly by!
They’re gone in a moment
like a sweet butterfly.
Moving through the day, the seasons and then the years, Mother Mouse’s ode to her child and everlasting love will reassure children that they are lovable and loved and will be always.  “Love you to the moon and back” is something our little ones hear often but this story, told in rhyme and accompanied by charming pictures that just ooze warmth and love, expresses that concept in a way that little ones can understand.  The affirmation that a mother’s love is never-ending, even when our offspring challenge us, is so important and this is a wonderful way of helping them understand that, especially as there are lots of other mums depicted in the pictures. This is a universal feeling, not one confined to Mother Mouse and her baby.

Time is such a nebulous and abstract idea that children find it difficult to get their heads around it, but this delightful story helps to explain it by quantifying the measurements in order.  A second is so short we can but blink, but there are many things we can do in an hour or a morning, while nighttime brings its own unique activities and each season its features.  

A perfect lullaby-type story to draw the curtains on the day for our little people.