Crickle, scratch, crackle, hatch – four little chicks pop from their eggs of proud Mother Hen. Each one cheeps as expected except for Number 4 who says, “Chickabee.” This startles Mother Hen and the other chicks who insist that “Cheep” is right and “Chickabee” is not. But Little Chicken is not deterred and goes off to see the world. However, she finds that even the other farm animals insist that chickens say “Cheep” not “Chickabee” although when Little Chicken challenges them, they have no real reason why not.
Showing amazing resilience, Little Chicken knows that while “Chickabee” might be different, it is right for her and regardless of the sound she makes, she is still a chicken. Even when her brothers and sisters reject her again, she has the courage to go back into the world and this time she meets different things that make different sounds which bring her joy, And then she meets a pig…
This is a charming story about difference, resilience, courage and perseverance and how these can lead to friendships, even unexpected ones. Beautifully illustrated by Danny Snell, this story works on so many levels. It would be a great read for classes early in this 2017 school year as new groups of children come together and learn about each other while even younger ones will enjoy joining in with the fabulous noises like rankety tankety, sticketty-stackety and flippety-flappity as they learn the sorts of things that are found on a farm.
Given the trend throughout the world towards convention and conservatism and an expectation that everyone will fit the same mould and be legislated or bullied into doing so, Little Chicken could be a role model for little people that it is OK to be different and that no one is alone in their difference.
Dennis was an ordinary who liked doing ordinary boy things – BUT instead of talking about them like other boys he expressed himself differently. His hero was the great mime artist Marcel Marceau and like his hero with his white face and top hat, Dennis would mime what he wanted to say. While other children climbed trees, Dennis was happy to be a tree. But trees get lonely and as the other children played happily, Dennis looked on wistfully, feeling invisible, as though he were standing behind a wall t . .. until the day he kicked an imaginary ball and a little girl called Joy caught it.
The blurb on the back of the book says it is “a heart-warming celebration of individuality, imagination and the power of friendship” and that is spot on. This is a subtle but powerful exploration of children who are different from the “norm”, who literally and figuratively don’t have a voice and who feel invisible because of that difference. It’s not that the other children are cruel or unkind but they are busy being children and don’t always see beyond their own horizons, let alone have time to understand Dennis and his special needs. Even though Joy is like Dennis in that she, too, does not speak, the power of friendship that exists between two children can open new worlds for not just them but others around them too.
Yoon’s illustrations are exquisite – a dotted red line captures Dennis’s actions so the reader knows what is happening and the final illustration using the imaginary skipping rope and all the other children running to join in the game is perfect.
While the storyline focuses on Dennis who doesn’t speak, it could apply to anyone who feels different such as a child new to the country with no English or someone with a physical disability or an emotional need – it will resonate with anyone who feels marginalised and who would just like a friend. But just as it is their story, so it can be a story for one of those “ordinary” children. As educators we must never under-estimate the value of teaching children how to make friends and be friends – it is a skill that will take them far beyond the first few days of Kindergarten.
Making and being friends is the theme of so many stories for young children that you wonder if there could ever be a new slant on it. Be A Friend has found it.
But it didn’t happen on the first attempt, or the second or even the third.
As the cow, the cat, the fiddle, the dog, the dish and the spoon sit on the barn roof and watch the moan soar gracefully overhead they decide to make the traditional rhyme come true.
But what they don’t say in the songs from that day
Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.
It seems a moon clearance takes great perseverance…
And that is the underlying theme of this superb story from Tony Wilson and perfectly illustrated by Laura Wood.
The cow’s first attempt was at 9.17 pm when with little preparation or assistance, the cow made her first leap and fell flat on her face! “She never did make it to space”. She’d tripped over the little dog Rover! But she was not to be deterred. Using all sorts of techniques including pole-vaulting and a trampoline, she tried and tried again with the help of her friends who were as determined as she was that she would succeed. Even taking a wrong turn and feeling the burn of the sun just made her more determined. Until on her seventh attempt just as day was dawning and the moon was disappearing…
It is no wonder that this was an Honour Book in the Early Childhood category of the CBCA Children’s Book of the Year Awards. As a standalone story about perseverance, resilience and friendship it is a masterpiece for offering children the hope and encouragement to keep trying and trying until they get all these new things they have to learn and achieve sorted – that growth mindset and determination to succeed that is becoming such a part of the focus on their emotional being these days. By using a familiar rhyme that the age group will relate to rather than an anonymous character for whom there is no connection and its familiar rhythm Wilson has engaged them straight away and right from the get-go they are willing the cow to succeed. They will even offer suggestions about how the friends can support the cow or what they would do to help, helping them to put themselves in the shoes of others and build empathy, respect and a feeling of responsibility to help – more of that consideration for others and positivity for their endeavours essential for mental wellbeing.
But the real story behind the story is its dedication to the author’s son Jack who suffers from cerebral palsy, the most common physical disability affecting childhood.
“Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. It is a permanent life-long condition, but generally does not worsen over time. It is due to damage to the developing brain either during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance.” Steptember, 2016
Every 15 hours an Australian child is born with cerebral palsy – that’s one in every 500 births. Tony Wilson’s child Jack is one of those ones and on his blog he talks about Jack’s daily struggle to do something as seemingly simple and everyday as putting a piece of pasta in his mouth. It’s about his goal of being able to walk 100 steps in a day over three sessions while nearly 70 000 people (including me, my son and my granddaughter) are endeavouring to do 10 000 steps a day to raise funds to help with treatment and equipment.
But it’s also about children like Ollie a little boy I met at the school I was teaching at last year; it’s about Jayden whom I taught years ago and who is now representing Australia at the Paralympics in Rio; and it’s about all the other 34 000 Australians living with the condition and the 17 000 000 worldwide. And with no known cure that’s a lot of people for whom living the normal life we take for granted is about as possible as the cow jumping over the moon.
There are many teaching resources to support The Cow Jumped Over the Moon available via an Internet search but if you want to learn more go to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and if you want to help, donate to Steptember. Our team is called The Waddlers but any donation to the cause is welcome.
Tony Wilson and Laura Wood – it’s an honour to review this book. I hope it spreads the message about all the Jacks there are and builds awareness and raises funds.
“’Gather round – prepare to be amazed! A sight so very gruesome that you simply won’t believe it. Ladies and gentlemen – THE ELEPHANT MAN!’
Joseph doesn’t look like other people. His skin is thick and lumpy, his limbs are oddly shaped, and his head has a big bony bump. People call him Elephant Man and scream in terror when they see him. But inside, Joseph longs for a friend to understand him.
As Joseph is bullied and rejected at every turn, his situation grows more and more desperate. But a meeting with a kind doctor holds the hope to change his life
Based on the famous true story of Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man is a powerful tale about being different, finding happiness in even the hardest circumstances, and discovering beauty inside everyone. The unforgettable true story of one young man’s immense courage and his unbreakable spirit.”
This is a heart-breaking but uplifting story of a young man so badly deformed that he was sent to one of the infamous workhouses of 19th century England at a time when any disability – physical or mental, visible or invisible – was treated with such suspicion that the only solution by ‘genteel society’ was to lock the sufferers away. “Out of sight, out of mind” would summarise the concept well. Seeking to escape, Joseph found that exhibiting himself in a human oddities show had more appeal than the life he was living – a sad indictment of the times, indeed. But out of the inhumanity comes Frederick Treves who changes Joseph’s life…
Merrick’s life has been the subject of books, films, plays and documentaries so that over 100 years on, it is still a fascination. This picture book, based on fact but ficitionalised by the inclusion of thoughts and conversations, and cleverly sprinkled with original photos and documents, might seem to have little place in the collection of a primary school of the 21st century. But it’s value is far-reaching for all Joseph really wanted was to be accepted for who he was inside, not his external appearance; as a person first and a person with an illness last. Extreme example it may be, but what a discussion starter for body image, racism, religious perspectives and all those other characteristics that judgements are made on. Older students might even examine Hitler’s view of ‘Aryan supremacy’ or Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise.
The book also stands as a testament to how far we have come in our perception and treatment of those who are not “perfect” in a very short time in human history. As we mark the centenary of World War I, students are reading of those who returned disabled and “shell-shocked”, often shunned by society and certainly with little social support as attitudes did not change. Indeed, the biggest turnaround was in 1981 in the UN-declared International Year of Disabled Persons and there was a global spotlight on each nation having a plan of action for “equalization of opportunities, rehabilitation and prevention of disabilities.” From looking at something as basic as entry into public buildings we now have federal government legislation Disabled Standards for Education which demands that we adapt our environments and our teaching for inclusivity. While there is still much to do, gradually we are getting there and it is the understanding, tolerance and idealism of our young that will continue the march. We should do these things because they are the right thing to do not because we are compelled by legislation.
Elephant Man is not a gratuitous story about some freak-show oddity – it is a story about a man whose message reaches out across time to teach us so much about belonging, compassion and identity. There is more information about Joseph Merrick at Biography.com
Like many children, Hugo would really like a pet – in his case, a gerbil. He raises the issue again with his dad just as he is finishing the repainting of Hugo’s room. Even though his father acknowledges that Hugo would probably look after it very well, he is not a fan of keeping things in cages and so the answer continues to be no. However, there may be a compromise. Hugo works out that the gerbil would only be in the cage for seven hours during the time he is at school, so his father suggests that Hugo experiences that by staying alone in his now-empty room for the same time.
Hugo accepts the challenge and at midday with just the newspaper already spread on the floor, a snack, three chosen toys (a ghost puppet, a bucket of bricks and a monkey on a stick) and his watch he enters the room to stay alone for seven hours. And even though he also has what gerbils don’t – an imagination – the time creeps by so slowly it seems like it stands still. Will Hugo last the seven hours?
This is an entertaining short story for emerging readers written some time ago but repackaged for the Little Gems series which is deliberately designed to support students with dyslexia. The font is “dyslexia-friendly” helping those who confuse letter shapes to see them more clearly and spaced to minimise confusion; the pages are tinted and the paper thicker so illustrations are not “shadowed” on previous pages; the stories short but engaging; and the book is just right for small hands to hold and read alone. Plots are linear and the language and its structure less complex than in other stories for a similar age group. “This process was developed by dyslexia and speech and language experts in response to research and feedback from thousands of readers on hundreds of Barrington Stoke manuscripts over the years.’
Dyslexic or not, Out for the Count is entertaining, witty and wise and will spark lots of conversations about people’s need to confine animals to cages and the “rightness” of this.
High in the mountains lived a mob of sheep – ordinary sheep with wool the colour of whipped cream growing in neat tight crinkles. With them lived Annabel who was the colour of a mud puddle and whose wool was straight and spiky. She couldn’t just stand and nibble grass all day – her legs went every which way, she flipped head over heels, she was always wriggling and jiggling. She was picky with her food because the grass prickled her tongue , she hid at shearing time and loud noises hurt her ears. No matter how hard she tried, Annabel just didn’t fit into the mob and they shuffled her to the outside.
“Hazy mazy, oops a daisy, wriggle your ears but don’t go crazy,” she’d tell herself whenever she felt alone or was trying to be brave.
Because she hid every time it was shearing time, for six years her wool grew and grew and grew. But even though it kept her warm and protected her from bumps, she couldn’t see or hear very well and one day…
Annabel is super-sensitive to the world around her and even when Farmer Shanks tries to help her, she can’t cope and makes a dash for the mountainside. But he is determined and calls in extra help, gives her headphones to block out the sound of the shearing machine and even puts a bucket of strawberry clover nearby so she can imagine herself still out on the mountainside.
Annabel is like those students we have who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, whose sensitivities are so heightened they can’t cope with being touched or hearing loud noises, yet all they would like to do is be part of the mob. To belong. But instead of their differences being accepted and their needs catered for, they are shunned and left to themselves until eventually there is a catastrophe.
This is a humourous but poignant story that can be read on its surface level as being about an eccentric sheep or it can be explored more deeply to talk about how we, as people, are all unique each with our special needs and preferences. But some differences are not through choice and we need to be more tolerant and more inclusive, make allowances and reach out to help those who are struggling or marginalised through no fault of their own – just as Farmer Shanks did. There are many Annabels in our classrooms as there are many more children on the spectrum than those who qualify for special assistance so, as teachers, we need to vary our practices, help the child develop physical or mental strategies to cope, and inform the other students so they understand what is happening. Indeed, under federal legislation, we are obligated to do so but the crux of this book is that it puts us in Annabel’s world in a way few others stories do and gives some insight into a world that is too noisy and smelly and busy for some.
12 Annoying Monsters: Self-talk for kids with anxiety
12 Annoying Monsters: Self-talk for kids with anxiety
Shining Press 2013
pbk., 91pp, RRP $A14.95
As a teacher, Dawn Meredith has encountered and worked with many children suffering from anxiety – anxiety so debilitating that it interferes with their daily lives. As a sufferer herself she felt she had something to offer them to help them help themselves and so she has written this book in which she talks directly to the child to help them understand their fears and then overcome them.
Using language they can understand but which treats them with dignity and acknowledges their intelligence, she explains what anxiety is and invites them to analyse their feelings, offering lists of words that will help describe them. She also offers step-by-step suggestions for getting in control such as breathing deeply, letting yourself go floppy and banishing the bad thoughts. Because she has already taught the child about the physiological effects of feeling anxious, these steps connect directly to this and so make sense. That in itself is calming and helps the sufferer understand that they can be in control.
She then tackles the twelve annoying monsters that are the most common causes of anxiety in children such as “Bad things always happen to me”; “Everything must be perfect”; “I’m all alone and no one loves me” and “It’s my fault.” For each one there is an explanation of the message the monster is giving showing that the monster is wrong, is a liar, or is pathetic and then offers suggestions for self-talk to drown out its voice and practical steps to banish it.
Apart from all of the great advice in this book, the fact that it’s available shows that no one is alone with their fears, they are not freaks but a member of a larger group all with the same feelings, and offers the sufferers some comfort. ‘No one would bother to make the time and energy to write such a thing if your fear was unique and isolated – you are not alone in this’ can be the message that starts the road to recovery and control.
Given that as teacher librarians we are often the first port of call when someone wants a title that will help a child in a specific situation, this is a must-have on the shelves and worth a whisper in the ear of any students you know that need it. More information is at the author’s website
“There are three things that a respectable dragon needs …strong wings for flying, strong lungs for breathing fire and strong shiny scales.” So what happens if you are a dragon with none of those things? Instead you have wings that are weak and floppy, breath that is faint and wheezy and your skin is soft and furry and blue. And you are the only one of you in your school, laughed at and left alone? For that was Bluey’s story. He would climb trees and dream of flying even though he could only use his wings to hug. He was laughed at, scorned and shunned, and when he made the dreadful error of hugging another dragon, his wings were tied up until he could “behave like a proper dragon.”
However no matter what he did, Bluey couldn’t be a “proper dragon”. But one day his teacher gives him hope. She tells the class about a dragon who lived beyond the sea, who couldn’t fly and who couldn’t breathe fire but was so wise that others dragons flew to hear his wisdom. And so Bluey begins a journey that gives him hope and helps him find his place in the world and what his wings are really for.
While this is a charming story in itself illustrated with beautiful pictures in a soft palette that emphasise the gentle nature of Bluey, it is the back story that gives it its punch. Bluey started life as a soft toy given to the author’s son Noah who had just been diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder which affects boys and results in their muscles collapsing with most dying before they are 25. When he was approached by the Duchenne Foundation to write a story about Bluey, Patrick Guest said the words just came to him… the book is dedicated to all with DMD and part of the proceeds will go to the foundation. View this interview with the author.
But this is a story about more than just DMD – it’s a story about any child who is different and struggles with that difference within the school setting. While it is hoped that our students would not be as cruel as Bluey’s dragon friends and teachers much more compassionate than Mr Snakeskin, the truth is that a life of being different, especially physically different where the difference is constantly on show is a tough one. Even though there was a huge impetus in the provisions for those with a physical disability in 1981 with the International Year of Disabled Persons, discrimination still exists so much so that in 2005 the federal government introduced the Disability Standards for Education Currently under review, it is surprising how many in schools are unaware of their obligations under this Act and so stories like Bluey’s not only continue to inform us but are needed to give us the heads-up. It is so much more than providing ramps, wide aisles and doorways.
This is not just a book for schools where there are children on crutches and in wheelchairs – it’s a book for all school libraries so our children learn one of the most valuable lessons of life, that of everyone wanting to be accepted for who they are not what they can (or can’t) do. It’s a book to inspire children that there is hope and they will find their place in the world and make a difference.
Bella is just like every other little girl with a birthday on the horizon. She’s so excited preparing for it doing all the things that other little girls do. This is going to be a VERY special day for her.
On birthday morning, Bella wakes up really excited, like all other little girls, but unlike other little girls Bella’s body is wracked with pain. Her legs ache, her arms are stiff like rusty robots – it even hurts to brush her hair! Yesterday she could do anything she wanted, today she can scarcely move and all those things she was looking forward to will be impossible. While everyone else comes and has a fabulous time, she will only be able to sit and watch. For Bella has arthritis, a disease that strikes at least 1 in 1000 kids in Australia, particularly girls.
Arthritis is an invisible pain, so while her guests need bandaids, and ice and sign Ethan’s cast on his broken arm, no one sees Bella’s pain, particularly as she tries to hide it because even worse than the physical pain is the pain of missing out on the fun and NOT being like all the other girls. Even though she is in too much pain to eat her birthday cupcakes, to play the games or even open her presents no one notices until she bursts into tears when Dad takes the group party photo. That changes things…
Arthritis is an insidious, invisible chronic disease with many symptoms but it is characterised by pain and tiredness, and sometimes the meds for it can be as horrible as the disease itself. And the invisibility wears two cloaks – firstly there are no outward signs of it, no marks or rashes or bruises or deformities and that then makes it invisible to teachers, friends and sometimes families. So often it is not treated as seriously as more obvious things like cuts, breaks, diabetes, asthma and so forth. Yet it is very real and debilitating. This book, which is an essential in any collection and which should be brought to the attention of teaching staff, shines a light on this cruelty giving it visibility and validity.
But as Bella shows, even worse than the physical pain is the pain of being different, of being left out, of not being like all the other kids and so at the end there are suggestions for how schools can seek help to help students with the disease as well as ideas for individuals to manage it. Many of these are adaptable to the school situation such as wearing a badge so that others recognise the day’s pain level and having worthwhile, fun activities available as alternatives to activity when necessary. Having arthritis is tough enough without being marginalised because of the pain.
Seek out the Bellas in your school and talk to them, their parents and their healthcare worker to make the library a welcoming and safe haven for them on the days when the jumping castle is a bar too high.
Sophie is just like lots of other girls her age. She goes to school and learns lots of interesting things and plays with her friends; she enjoys doing home things on the weekend and riding her bike and looking at the clouds – but when night time comes she starts to worry. Each night she gets the what-ifs and lies awake worrying about them. What if there is no milk so she can’t have cereal for breakfast? What if her favourite shirt was still in the wash and she couldn’t wear it on the weekend? Her worrying made it so hard for her to relax and go to sleep that she was often so tired in the mornings she couldn’t do the things she loved to do. And no matter how her family tried to help her, it didn’t work until…
While its subject matter is serious, this is a whimsical approach that acknowledges that many children suffer from anxiety as Sophie does, often at night when the lights are out and no one notices without diminishing the worry or trivialising the concerns. This is a clever, well-written book that brings the problem out into the light and helps children understand that they aren’t on their own. It provides a wonderful opportunity to open up a conversation and the imaginative solution for Sophia’s concerns will delight everyone. You wonder what a teacher would do if a student wrote, “I wish my teacher knew I think about purple elephants at night.”
The colourful illustrations are full of fun and fancy and capture the carefree life of a child and then dramatically change to monochrome as night creeps in, offering the chance to explore how colour can depict mood and how we, as readers, can often predict the tone of a story from the palette used.
This is another title from this independent publisher that is not afraid to tell stories that many children resonate with and seek solace from. Teachers notes and a sneak peek are available.