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A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boy Called BAT

Elana K. Arnold

Charles Santose

Walden Pond, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9780062445834

Bixby Alexander Tam, known to those who know him as BAT because of his initials, his love of animals and the way his arms and hands flap when he gets excited, prefers life to be logical, predictable, routine and without surprises. He’s not good with noise (so wears his sister Janie’s earmuffs often), doesn’t like the mushy texture of some foods, is sensitive to the feel of fabrics on his skin and finds it difficult to make eye contact and hold casual conversations. Clearly, to even a non-teacher who doesn’t know the signs of being on the autism spectrum, this is a little boy with  special needs. But Bat is not unhappy or frustrated – his mum, sister and teacher are sensitive to his needs, his peers seem to accept him for who he is, and although his father, whom he stays with “every-other-Friday” seems to struggle a little with his non-sporty son, generally Bat is content and just gets on with things.

But when his mum, a vet, brings home a newborn skunk that needs special care, Bat comes into his own, devoting his life to caring for the kit and planning how he will be able to keep it and care for it beyond the initial few weeks before the local wildlife refuge can take over. He needs to show his mum that he is responsible and committed enough, even contacting a skunk expert for advice. 

This is an engaging story that shows the reader the world through Bat’s eyes but which is not patronising, sentimental or emotional.  Bat’s autism adds a different and interesting perspective to the relationships between the characters but the concept of an eight-year-old taking care of an orphaned animal and hoping to keep it longer is a story that could be about any young person.  I believe that all children should be able to read about themselves in stories, and those about autistic children are rare, so this one which has such a solid, familiar storyline so every reader can relate to it while learning about the world through unfamiliar eyes, is a must-have.  Its sequel Bat and the Waiting Game is also available in hardcover. 

 

 

 

 

My Storee

My Storee

My Storee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Storee

Paul Russell

Aška

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335774

When he is at home the stories running through his head keep him awake at night – stories about dragons and rainbow eggs at the bottom of Grandma’s garden; his teacher being eaten by a gruesome ogre; unicorn detectives chasing robotic pirates up alien volcanoes.  The wonderful, magical ideas just keep flowing and he writes and writes and writes.  It’s all about the adventures and not about the writing rules.

But at school, the adventures dry up because the writing rules rule. And the red pen is everywhere,

“But at school their are too many riting rulz and with all the rulz I can never find my dragons.”

At school he doesn’t like to write

Until a new teacher comes – one who is a storyteller himself and knows writing is about the story and not the rules.

In the 80s I was lucky enough to be deeply involved in the process writing movement where we truly believed that writing had to be about the ideas and the adventures and that the processes of reviewing, editing and publishing came later once there was something to work with.  Children were just happy to express themselves and as teachers, it was our job to guide them with spelling, punctuation and grammar, semantics and syntax, so that if one of their ideas grabbed them enough that they wanted to take it through to publication then we would work together to do that. Words were provided as they were needed in context and punctuation and grammar tackled on an individual’s needs rather than one-size-fits-all lessons. And if the effort of writing was enough and the child wasn’t  interested in taking it further, then we had to accept that – flogging a dead horse was a waste of time.   In pre-computer days, how many nights did I spend on the typewriter with the big font so a child could have the joy of their own creation in our class library?  Children enjoyed writing for writing’s sake, were free and willing to let their imaginations roam free and were prepared to take risks with language conventions for the sake of the story. 

But when publicity-seeking politicians whose only experience with the classroom was their own decades previously declared that “assessment processes need to be more rigorous, more standardised and more professional” (a quote from Teacher ) we find ourselves back to the red pen being king and our future storytellers silenced through fear. While the teachers’ notes tag this book as being about a dyslexic child, it really is about all children as they learn how to control their squiggles and regiment them into acceptable combinations so they make sense to others, a developmental process that evolves as they read and write rather than having a particular issue that is easy and quick to label and therefore blame.  We need to accept what they offer us as they make this journey and if they never quite reach the destination, or are, indeed, dyslexic, then as well-known dyslexic Jackie French says, “That’s what spellcheck and other people are for.”  So much better to appreciate their effort than never have the pleasure of their stories.

So many children will relate to this story – those whose mums have “to wade through a papar ocean to wake [them] up” – and will continue to keep writing regardless of adults who think they know better. But who among those adults will have the conviction and the courage to be like Mr Watson? Who among the powers-that-be will let them do what they know works best? If the red pen kills their creativity now, where will the storytellers and imaginative problem-solvers of the future come from?

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335828

In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…

 

Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.

 

Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

Flamingo Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flamingo Boy

Michael Morpurgo

HarperCollins, 2018

288pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780008134631

Time and circumstance have led Vincent to the Camargue in south-western France, the vast delta of the Rhone River,  cut off from the sea by sandbars  with over a third of it shallow lakes or swampy marshland, a haven for birdlife particularly the flamingo. Drawn there by a van Gogh painting that has hung in his bedroom since he was a child and an old story about following the bend in the road, Vincent succumbs to a mystery illness and finds himself in the care of Kezia, a middle-aged gypsy woman and the autistic Lorenzo who has significant intellectual challenges but who has a remarkable affinity with the wildlife, particularly the flamingos, his beloved “flam, flam”. 

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

Seascape at Saintes-Maries

 At first, Vincent assumes that they are husband and wife but as he slowly recovers, Kezia gradually tells him the story of how they became best forever friends and how when the Germans came and occupied their town, another unlikely friendship with a German soldier enabled ‘Renzo to cope and survive with the unexpected and unwanted changes that were inevitable under Occupation  where those, including children, who were different were always under threat.

“Lorenzo loved everything to be the same, even goodbyes. Goodbyes, hellos, sausages and songs, he loved what he knew, never wanted anything to be different. The trouble is that things do change, whether we like it or not. And for Lorenzo any change was always difficult. It still is sometimes.”

Morpurgo has a gift for telling unique, utterly engaging stories that appeal to all ages, and this one is no different. Inspired by his autistic grandson, Sir Michael Morpurgo describes it as “a story of love and friendship, of how people from different cultures and backgrounds can come together, especially when they are under threat.” 

The narrative style of being a story within a story has drawn criticism from some reviewers – all adults; and Morpurgo himself says that his knowledge of autism is “too shallow” but for the younger audience it is intended for, it is gentle and compelling. If the reader takes nothing away from this book beyond Morpurgo’s description of Lorenzo …“He was like no one I had ever encountered before. He joined our world – the real world as we like to think of it – and left it as and when he felt like it. Everything he did was both spontaneous and meant. His words and his ways were his own” which so superbly sums up the autistic child, then it is worth the time taken to absorb yourself in it. 

Rescue & Jessica: A life-changing friendship

Rescue & Jessica

Rescue & Jessica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rescue & Jessica

Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Scott Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2018

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

9780763696047

Rescue thought he would grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog – after all, that’s what his family does.  However, his handler thinks he would be better as an assistance dog and Rescue is worried that he wouldn’t be any good at that.  He did not want to let anyone down.

Meanwhile, Jessica has had to have one of her legs amputated and will need either a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair to be mobile.  This is not what she thought her life would be like and she worried about whether she will be able to manage the changes.  And then she and Rescue are teamed up…

Based on the true story of a young woman injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, just five years ago, this is a story of how Jessica and Rescue manage the unexpected changes in their lives and how they rescued each other.  Five years on, it is not only a tribute to assistance dogs the world over,  it also highlights the struggles of those who survive these disastrous events and continue to cope long after the headlines have moved on – in this case, more than 260.  

As well as the personal story of Jessica and Rescue, it also highlights the resilience, the perseverance, and the continuing hard work that it takes to go forward from such a life-changing event including those that do not make world headlines. The cause of Jessica’s unhealthy legs is not disclosed within the story and so there are many children who, sadly, can relate to the realisation that life as they know it has changed and life as they had dreamed is irrevocably altered.   Divorce, family break-ups,illness,  car accidents, deaths… these (and more) are part of the fabric of our students’ lives that they may be dealing with in silence and while they might not require an assistance dog, we need to be mindful of their struggles. Sharing this story and discussing Jessica’s feelings of despair and hope, taking one step at a time, one day at a time may help them progress just a little further.

 

 

Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias

Perfect Petunias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect Petunias

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335583

Loppy LAC is very worried about not doing his homework well enough. He is always focusing on what he hasn’t done rather than what he has, and he becomes very frustrated. So, his friend Curly teaches him about how petunias grow — in lots of different, imperfect directions that we can’t control! Loppy learns that by trying to control whether he makes mistakes or not it’s as if he’s always trying to grow ‘perfect’ petunias.  Sometimes he just needs to accept that things go a certain way and to change his definition of ‘perfect’ to mean trying his absolute best.

This is the third in a series to help Loppy the LAC (Little Anxious Creature) deal with his anxieties. in this case not being satisfied with anything that he sees as being less than perfect. Children like Loppy are present in every class, either being afraid to start something in case it is not perfect on the first attempt or giving up in tears, frustration and even anger, so a story and strategies that help them focus on the things that they have done well rather than the ‘mistakes’ they have made can go a long way towards helping them accept themselves, their activities and other people with all their imperfections. Helping them to see the glass half-full, the silver lining, the rainbow rather than the rain can lay the foundations for strong mental and emotional health in the future. Developing a mantra of “I can” rather than “I can’t” is so important if they are to take risks to try new things that will open up so many new worlds to them.

Another one for your mindfulness collection and if you want to be able to help children understand how we must make mistakes to learn then watch this TED talk – The Benefits of Failure.

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!

 

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.