Archives

Sometimes

Sometimes

Sometimes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes

Jessica Love

Echo Books, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A24.95

9780995436435

Sometimes when you’re gone I wonder why your job seems more important to you…than me.

Sometimes when you’re gone I get upset and angry when you miss things that are important to me.

Sometimes I look at what you do and I realise that you don’t want to leave… but by making our lives harder, you are making other people’s lives better.

But even with that understanding, it doesn’t make the life of a child with a parent in the Defence Forces or any other profession which necessitates prolonged absences any easier.  

This is poignant true story based on the 16 year-old author’s own experiences of being a child in a military family grappling with the absence of a loved parent.  It was her way of telling her dad about her feelings while he was away and her confusion when he came home as the family had to adjust to another routine. In an interview with the Canberra Times she says, “When I showed it to Dad, it wasn’t really anything we had discussed before … it was quite a shock to him…

But Jess didn’t just write this book for her dad, she wrote it for all children of Defence families and in a letter to them she tries to reassure them that their feelings are common and normal,they are not alone and  even providing a page for them to write their own ending to the sentence, Sometimes when you’re gone…

Many of us have taught many children from military families who have struggled with having a parent deployed and there has been an expectation that they will “soldier on” and manage the separation and the emotions that go with it.  But this book has a wider application than just military families – many of our students will have parents away, either permanently or temporarily – and in sensitive hands this could be the perfect opportunity to support them by getting them to open up about their feelings; to help them understand that they are not alone and it’s normal to feel resentful at times and they don’t have to feel guilty; to help them help their parents understand the impact of the separation because often parents are so busy being adults that they forget what it’s like to be a bewildered kid.

This is one for all teachers, not just counsellors, and deserves a wide audience among our profession – it has the power to change lives. 

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.

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.

The Chalk Rainbow

The Chalk Rainbow

The Chalk Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chalk Rainbow

Deborah Kelly

Gwynneth Jones

EK, 2017

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

9781925335453

Zane is different to other kids – he lives in his own world with his own language, a need to line things up and has an inordinate fear of the colour black.  Black food, black clothes, black anything – he won’t go near it.  Not the pedestrian crossing, the soft fall at the playground, not even his own driveway.  So Zane is trapped on the front step unable to venture further, even when his dad yells at him.  Until one day his sister starts to draw a chalk rainbow on the steps to cheer him up.  Zane likes colour so he joins in. And then the magic begins…

Like so many children Zane is on the Autism Spectrum and while their issues might seem unreasonable and even be unfathomable to those around them, like Zane’s fear of black frustrates and angers his father, nevertheless they are very real to the child.  And because of the way their brain is wired they can’t overcome them any more than we can expect them to change their hair colour or foot size, so it is up to us as adults to adapt our way of thinking and working so we can enable the child to manage the world better.  It’s about acknowledging their disorder and treating them with respect and dignity.  If they can’t change then we must.  Through imagination and love, the rainbow bridges work for Zane’s family and instead of being frustrated even his dad is able to free Zane from the prison walls of black.  

Kids themselves are very accepting of others whatever their differences, but they don’t always understand how their actions can help or hinder.  Nearly every classroom had a child with ASD these days and while that child’s issues might not be the colour black, using this book as a springboard to introduce how peers can help the ASD child have a better time at school would be a brilliant start towards total acceptance and understanding.  Even if there is no ASD involved, using the imagination to make something like a chalk rainbow to take that next step into the unknown is a wonderful strategy.

An essential addition to the school library’s collection and the home library of the siblings of an ASD child.

Olivia’s Voice

Olivia's Voice

Olivia’s Voice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olivia’s Voice

Mike Lucas

Jennifer Harrison

Midnight Sun, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781925227192

Imagine waking to a world of silence – no traffic, no sirens, no strident voices; no birdsong, no waves crashing no children laughing.   That is Olivia’s world.  But despite the lack of sound, it is still a beautiful world for her as she sees the patterns and movement of the life in the gum tree outside her window; smells the tasty fragrance of hot toast with butter;  feels the soft warmth of her mother’s cheek against hers as they hug; and embraces life at school just like every child. 

In this charming journey through Olivia’s day she shows us that there is still a beautiful, wondrous world to be explored even if it doesn’t have a sound accompaniment, teaching the reader to observe, enjoy and appreciate what they do have rather than mourning what they haven’t.  Through photograph-like illustrations and first-person text, we see the joy Olivia finds in life and hear her voice so loudly that we can share her curiosity, her wonder and her contentment with what is rather than what isn’t.  

Children with hearing impairments are part of the fabric of a classroom and they have so much more to teach us than just to look at them when we speak.  Opportunities abound in this book to help our students walk a mile in Olivia’s shoes – through artwork, through music, through games and every other aspect as we encourage them to consider a world without a particular sense. Learning only occurs when we reflect on new information and situations and assimilate them into what we already know, so this would be the perfect book to encourage the children to engage with reflecting on three things that have changed their day each day, encouraging gratitude and empathy and perhaps understanding themselves and their circumstances better. Obstacles are just opportunities for us to learn, grow and know ourselves better.

Stunning, evocative, thought-provoking.

 

 

 

 

Little Paws (Series)

Little Paws

Little Paws

 

 

 

 

 

Little Paws (series)

Welcome Home, Harley

9780143781776

Ringo’s Road Trip

9780143781813

Meg’s Big Mystery

9780143781790

Goldie Makes the Grade

9780143781837

Jess Black

Gabrielle Evans

Penguin Random House Australia, 2017

88pp., pbk,, RRP $A9.99

 

Guide Dogs Australia provide essential services to those with vision impairment as well as those who suffer other conditions through their Pets as Therapy program, relieve the isolation and loneliness of the elderly through Companion Dogs and are piloting Autism Assistance dogs for children so this new series which highlights the training of these dogs as well as helping to raise funds for that training is as much a community service as it is a really good read for those newly independent readers.

Each book focuses on the children in different families helping to train the dogs for their special jobs, taking on the responsibility of all aspects of what is involved, providing an engaging story as well as guidance for how the reader might train their own four-legged, tail-wagging friend. They also shed some insight into how life can be for those whose vision is impaired and the impact having some of the stress removed can have, maybe even encouraging them to become puppy-raisers themselves.  So many refuse to do it because of the heartbreak of having to part with the dog, but there’s a lesson to be learned in suffering a little to give someone else so much.

2017 celebrates 60 years since Guide Dogs Australia placed the first dog and April 26 is International Guide Dogs Day. The purchase of each book supports their work so that even more puppies can bring help and joy to others.  But apart from that, each story is a good read and Miss Dog-Loving 6 who is on the cusp of being ready to read chapter books independently is going to love them.  They will give her that little push she needs to make the leap!

 

 

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Chicken Chickabee

Janeen Brian

Danny Snell

Raising Literacy Australia, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.90

9780994385338

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.  

 

Be A Friend

Be A Friend

Be A Friend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be A Friend

Salina Yoon

Bloomsbury, 2016

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

9781408869093

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.

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

Tony Wilson

Laura Wood

Scholastic Press, 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $24.99

9781743623534

 

Hey diddle diddle

You all know the riddle

A cow jumps over the moon.

It happened, all right,

On a crisp, cloudless night

On the second-last Friday in June.

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.

Chosen as the feature book for National Simultaneous Storytime 2017 .

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant Man

Mariangela Di Fiore

Hilde Hodnefjeld

Translated by Rosie Hedger

Allen & Unwin, 2016

48pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760292201

The publishers’ blurb says it best…

“’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