It is Jimmy the honeyeater’s first day at flying school and just like all new students he is somewhat anxious. Would there be other small birds? Would they sip nectar like him or would they be worm eaters? As he approaches the school he is surrounded by birds of all sorts and sizes- all much bigger than he is. Full of fear and doubt already, his anxiety is increased when Cockatoo almost crashes into him and immediately blames Jimmy. “No one bumps into me and gets away with it” screeches Cockatoo who demands Jimmy’s lunch. The other birds laugh at him and Jimmy feels so humiliated he huddles at the bottom of the tree and cries. School is not a place for him.
But then Eagle takes him under his wing and Jimmy (and the other birds) learn a lot of lessons about self-belief, individuality and the eagle inside.
In his dedication to this book, the author writes. “If you have ever felt alone, undervalued or doubted yourself, this book is for you. No matter what people say, you can be what you want if you are willing to believe in yourself and back it up with hard work, hard work and more hard work.” This is a story for everyone who has ever felt intimidated by situation or circumstance, showing that we all have our strengths and an eagle inside. It’s perfect for the preschooler about to journey on to “big school” but also a reaffirmation for those about to start any new journey into an unknown word.
Renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft has interpreted her son’s words in her distinctive style full of colour, pattern and movement which put Jimmy’s tiny size perfectly in perspective, not only emphasising the reasons for his concerns but how we all feel when we are intimidated if not humiliated. The natural symbiosis between mother and son is evident in the relationship between the text and illustrations and it is no wonder that Ms Bancroft has been nominated for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Awards for 2016!
An early contender for the next CBCA Picture Book of the Year nomination, in my opinion!
What little person doesn’t dream of being a great, BIG dinosaur? This little boy can think of nothing better as he parades around in his dinosaur mask and dinosaur tail. And when a dinosaur comes along to teach all he needs to do like being able to R-O-A-R and stomp then he’s in seventh heaven. But things change when he discovers he needs to eat lots of meat!
“Lots and lots of meat? Just MEAT?”
“Of course! What else is there?”
What, indeed! And suddenly the dinosaur finds himself in the world of the little boy and a host of culinary delights as well as other little-boy pursuits like reading, playing soccer, and playing video games.
Heath McKenzie has crafted a charming story that will appeal to very young readers and the twist in the ending will leave them laughing and wanting to read it again. But first they need to examine the endpapers – so much fun. I believe that you can tell when an author and illustrator have had fun creating their characters and bringing them to life, and this feeling permeates this book. McKenzie talks about its evolution beginning as a sequel to I wanna be a pretty princess but taking a life if its own with the characters appearing fully formed on his blank page.
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.
A day at the beach. The sky darkens and the sea turns a sinister shade of green. Thunder rumbles. Shh. Listen. What can you hear? It’s coming closer. Time to pack up. Can you feel it? It’s ominous and a bit scary. Sit beside me.
In a paucity of words accompanied by the most evocative pictures, a storm brews out to sea, rumbles in and hits with powerful fury. But instead of letting the fear take over, Daddy makes the fierce into fun as he encourages his family to be the storm. He is the wind whizzing and blowing, howling and growing, making trees whoosh! making seas swoosh! Tommy is the clouds and Poppy the thunder, Lachie is the lightning and Mummy the rain – everyone swirling and swishing into the most outrageous cacophony of sound and exuberance of movement taking the storm on at its own game. Making it fun and not frightening. Until it passes and all is calm and safe and Granny brings the sun and the last page is the most beautiful of all.
With its fantastic vocabulary, rhyme, rhythm and repetition the story is the storm full of the most amazing and inspiring energy – you just want to get up and move and make noise and join in the fun. It is a joyous celebration of something that can be scary and intimidating and is the perfect example of how careful colour choice and the use of line and expression are integral to creating mood and atmosphere. Just like a storm, it builds to a crescendo and then suddenly there is peace and serenity until… Even without yet having read it to my Year 2 audience, I can hear it in my head and know they are going to adore this and it will add so much to what they have been learning about setting, characters and plot.
But apart from that it’s just a rollicking good read that encourages us to embrace our fears, stare them in the face and poke fun at them by making ourselves their master.
I currently have a display in the library based on “A Poem in Your Pocket Day” which includes teachers sharing their favourite poems for the students to illustrate. When I asked the teachers to share their favourites, I was surprised to find how many had selected a poem by Australia’s most iconic poet, A. B (Banjo) Paterson. That this book, the latest in the Meet… series, then arrived for review was totally serendipitous.
While most children know of Banjo Paterson’s works, at the very least through learning the words of Waltzing Matilda, not much is known of his life generally and the things that shaped him and made him such a devotee of the life of ordinary Australians. So this journey through his life told by Kristin Weidenbach and accompanied by the detailed artwork of James Gulliver Hancock is an important addition to any library collection. With snippets from his poems like Clancy of the Overflow illustrating his life and yearning to be away from “foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city” we are connected to his life and his writing and understand their beauty and power that meant they were loved by the ordinary person who, in those days, would not normally read anything let alone poetry. Just as he wrote in The Man from Snowy River that the ride would be talked about everywhere and always, so Paterson’s poems spread throughout the bush so that they are now part of the Australian psyche.
The Meet…series is a must-have in school libraries as it brings the lives of our heroes and history-makers to life through accessible, illustrated texts in a way that brings the biography genre to life. They add an extra layer to an historical study and the accompanying teachers’ notes open up new ideas for exploration. Because Paterson was writing during World War I, and although too old to enlist he drove an ambulance in France and was in charge of the Australian Remount Squadron in the Middle East, this could be a timely opportunity to introduce his works to students. We’re All Australians Now would be an ideal starting point. Teaching notes are available.
Arlo the armadillo from Brazil is always up for an adventure – a love he inherited from his grandfather Augustus who wrote a series of journals about his favourite destinations so that one day Arlo could see them for himself. On this, his first adventure, Arlo is off to Paris to explore its art, history and life and the mysterious La Dame de Fer –the Iron Lady- whom he might get to meet if he follows his grandfather’s instructions.
Written in two strands – the first the journal entry of Augustus and the second the narrator’s description of what he sees and does, the reader is taken on a journey through the iconic sights of Paris beginning with the mad traffic circle whirling around the base of the Arc de Triomphe, eating flaky croissants at a traditional French café and on to meeting the Iron Lady. Who could she be? Throughout the journal entries, Augustus provides information and clues about this enigmatic figure until finally she is revealed.
Beautifully illustrated with a delicate palette this is an intriguing book which straddles the faction -fiction and fact- genre perfectly, entertaining and educating at the same time. It will introduce a fascinating city to new travellers and bring back memories for those who have had the pleasure of visiting. The inside of the dust cover is an imaginative use of what is usually blank space and there are snippets of extra information about the Iron Lady at the end. It has broad appeal – there is the cuteness of an armadillo having an adventure and solving the mystery of the Iron Lady for the younger readers while there is an introduction to Paris and its culture for the more advanced reader. So much more interesting than some of the strictly factual books we ask our students to learn from.
For the students, an author visit to their school is often better than a visit from Santa because instead of just once a year, they get to revisit the warm, fuzzy feelings every time they pick up a work by the author.
For the author, it might not be so memorable but the authors I know say it is always fun and often inspirational. Take the visits that Marie-Louise Gay has made. She knows she is going to get a barrage of questions, questions she hears each time from each audience like “What inspired you to write this book?” and “Where do your ideas come from?’ and “Where does a story start?”
It is this last one that has inspired this unique book from this talented author/illustrator. Where does a story start. “A story always starts on a blank white page… and if you stare long enough at a blank piece of paper, anything can happen…” A white page could become a snowstorm, old yellowish paper might take you back to the time of the dinosaurs and purple paper could put you in the middle of a thunderstorm. Or sometimes a story will start with words and ideas floating around, captured, recorded, saved or discarded. And so it begins to build… who lives in this setting and what might happen to them?
Capturing the beginnings of a story in text and graphics helped by those children who were asking the questions, Ms Gay takes the reader on a journey through the imaginative process that is as creative as her ideas. Then having taken those ideas and shaken them and turned them upside-down she discovers that her central character is a shy, young giant with birds nesting in his hair. And for a few pages she tells his story until something happens and the story is turned over to the children to continue as a collaborative effort. Then she steps in again to finish it. Except the children don’t want it to end and are inspired to write another one.
This is a most intriguing book that invites the reader’s imagination and interaction. Text and illustrations are integral, particularly the words of the children and this might make it tricky to share as a whole-class read-aloud but it is perfect to share with a small group about to start on the writing process. Young writers often sort out their ideas by drawing first and the concept of letting the colour of the paper suggest the setting is inspirational, particularly if you are focusing on the meanings of words like setting, characters and plot. Have a brainstorm session of possibilities with various sheets of coloured paper, have them draw the setting then think about the characters that would fit into it and from there develop the story. It works! It brought those ideas to life in a way that breathed life into my explanations and allowed them to explore them in a really practical way.
This book will excite teachers as much as it inspires their budding writers. There is a queue of reservations for it!