Over 2600km north-west of Perth, Christmas Island is a tiny dot in the Indian Ocean, just 135 square km and most of that, national park. This geographical isolation and its dense rainforests mean it is a sanctuary for plants, animals and birds with hundreds of species calling the tiny island home. There is so much more than the red crabs we usually associate with the island.
In this unique book which draws on the format of the traditional Christmas song, young readers are introduced to just a handful of those birds species, so very different to those they usually see on mainland Australia. From the bright-red plumage of the Frigatebird to the iridescent green of the Emerald Dove, these rare and special birds are depicted with brief notes about each species, the lilly pilly tree in which they gather and the island itself complete the pages making the complete package.
If you’re looking for a Christmas book that is not the cardinals and robin redbreasts of the northern hemisphere, or even those in the song, this one is special.
On a family holiday to Thailand, Noah’s mum has a fall with devastating consequences – confined to a wheelchair for the future.
On a stormy night in Sydney’s Northern Beaches a little magpie has a fall from its nest – a broken wing for a magpie is like a broken back to a human.
But the two are miraculously connected and from that has emerged a story of hope, love, kindness and the lessons we can learn if we are ready to learn them.
Sometimes bad things happen to people and no matter what, you have to deal with it and in this edition of this story for young readers the focus is not so much on the accident and all the medical stuff but how a family had to come together to deal with it. There is Sam Bloom, angry, bewildered and trying to come to terms with who she was, who she now is and who she thought she would be. There is her husband photographer Cam Bloom, father of Noah, Reuben and Oli who is walking the fine line of holding the family together juggling the balls of dependence and independence; there is Nana Jan whose daughter has catastrophic injuries and she can’t fix them; there are Noah’s young brothers Oli and Reuben, who despite his mother’s predicament still continue to leap off the roof to bounce on the trampoline below. And there is Noah who is convinced his mum blames him for the accident because he discovered the viewing platform that gave way when she leaned on it, And binding them together, eventually, is a little magpie chick named Penguin.
Noah tells the story of the family’s healing from his perspective talking directly to the reader, openly admitting that there are bad bits and bad days and exposing these as part of the process of becoming a family again, one that is different to what they thought it would be but still one that is whole.
This story spoke to me on many levels, not the least of which is because my own sister-in-law is in Sam’s situation after an afternoon walk with her dog went so very wrong. We live in the bush with our resident family of magpies who raise their babies on the lawn in front of us each year so Penguin’s antics were so familiar. And there are the kids who have been in my care as a teacher over the years who have had to face similar circumstances and somehow have had to navigate a way through.
Students may well have seen the movie Penguin Bloom – Noah’s story will give them an extra layer of understanding.
There are a few modern characters in Australian children’s literature that are a must-have in the literary and literacy journey of every young reader, and one of those is Mothball the wombat. It is 16 years since we first met her in 2003 in Diary of a Wombatand here she is, back again in a new adventure.
Today is her birthday and while her human friends are set to enjoy a party for her, birthday parties seen through a wombat’s lens are different to those through a child’s lens. A jumping castle may be fun for the children but it’s an enemy to vanquish to a wombat! The result is an hilarious adventure that combines the minimal text of Mothball’s thoughts with the classic illustrations that tell so much of the story, and which thoroughly engage the young reader as they follow Mothball’s day.
Anyone who follows Jackie’s Facebook page will be aware of the adventures she shares about Wild Whiskers and friends, and knows of her love for and affinity with these creatures, including that they bite and they can be very destructive. But her portrayal of these characteristics as being almost childlike in their single-mindedness not only appeals to the audience for whom she is writing, but also raises awareness of these creatures in our environment, encouraging a love to protect them from an early age. Living in the country as I do, sadly wombats are often the victims of cars and I will never forget having to pacify Miss Then-3 when she saw “Mothball” on the side of the road and clearly in wombat heaven. It took a lot of talking to assure her it was a distant cousin who hadn’t learned the road rules and Mothball was very happy still living with Jackie near Braidwood.
Long may she go on to have many more adventures that will bring such delight and empathy to our very youngest readers.
For those who need to satisfy curriculum outcomes, teachers’ notes are available.
It took millions of years of isolation and a diverse range of habitats for Australian birds to evolve the way they did. The result is many of the world’s most striking and beautiful birds, including some that are stranger than fiction. In Australian Birds, artist Matt Chun showcases 16 remarkable species that have captured the imagination of the world.
This is a beautifully crafted book, superbly illustrated with great attention to detail and colour, which is the perfect introduction to Australia’s unique birdlife. Each of the birds featured is one that will be well-known to many of our students because it will be a part of their environment, but at the same time, will be new to others who live in a different part of the country. Living in the bush as I do, I’m privileged to see lots of varieties on a daily basis, whether it’s the little finches who have just raised a family in their little nest in the honeysuckle outside my window, to the magpie family who bring their babies down to feed and learn each year, the cheeky crimson rosellas who delight in splashing in the birdbaths we have around or the raucous kookaburras who are better than any alarm clock.
Children will delight in telling you which ones they already recognise, while it would serve as a wonderful resource to start identifying, spotting and tallying the species and numbers of birds found in your school playground throughout the various seasons and investigate ways that it could be made more bird friendly, perhaps even being involved in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count in October this year.
The last female thylacine tracks through the forests of Tasmania, lands this top predator once owned and roamed at will. But now she watches the strange creatures who are invading the land with their firesticks as they hunt and kill, not caring about the impact they are having on the environment and its creatures. She finds a mate and pups are born, but life becomes ever more precarious. Will she be the last of her kind?
Darlison brings to light the possible story of the final female in this story for younger readers who want to know more about this intriguing creature while McGrath’s illustrations help them imagine a different Tasmania, one that is full of menace and fear as European settlement continues to encroach on the indigenous inhabitants.
While Australia has lost 27 mammal, seven frog and 24 bird species to extinction since the first European settlement in 1788, and another 506 species are considered endangered, vulnerable or threatened, the thylacine is the one that has captured the imagination and is the perfect introduction to investigating the concept of extinction and human impact on the environment. Unlike the dinosaurs which were wiped out by a natural disaster, extinction and endangerment is now linked directly to human habitation so using Stripes in the Forest as a starting point to ask why the men were intent on shooting every thylacine they saw and then investigating what happens to both fauna and flora when such an important part of the food chain is gone can be a key part in creating awareness of the need to nurture our environment for our youngest readers. A perfect example of using fiction to lead into an investigation that will go way beyond just the initial reading of the story.
Experience has shown that there is great interest in the thylacine but not a lot written for younger readers so this is a must-have for the collection.
Teachers’ notes fitting the Australian Curriculum can be found here
Ants are the most numerous insect in the world -scientists estimate there are more than 10 000 species and maybe 100 000 trillion individuals – which is a good thing because Millie the echidna loves them. No matter where they are – on the path, beneath the bath, in the kitchen, in the shed, on a picnic, in the bed – Millie is on an endless quest to eat as many as she can. Whether it’s a hunter ant, a soldier ant or even a queen flying before rain, she is on their trail because she is on a special mission…
Echidnas are not uncommon in the bush environment from rainforests to dry sclerophyll forests to the arid zones and with their formidable spines and remarkable ability to grip the ground, even hard concrete so they cannot be disturbed, it is no wonder they are are the oldest surviving mammal on the planet today. Knowing that author Jackie French lives in the bush environment in south-east New South Wales, one can imagine her watching an echidna snuffle across her backyard on the trail and this delightful book being born as she pondered its search and brought it to life in rhyme.
While Millie continues her dogged pursuit, which is such a steady but remarkably speedy pace, artist Sue deGennaro adds movement and humour in her portrayal of the ants who are as clever as they are numerous. We’ve all seen them carrying food bigger than they are but who would have thought they could manoeuvre four cupcakes and a suite of garden tools!! And in amongst the frivolity there is a lot of information about the benefits of these tiny creatures to our landscape and lives, even if we do see them as pesky annoyances in the sugarbowl!
Having endeared us to the ants through these charming pictures, we then discover the reason for Millie’s journey and hearts melt all over again – while a lesson in life is learned. We need food to provide food. Little readers will not only understand echidnas a little more after experiencing this book but they will also view ants in a different light and perhaps take time to observe and think about what the ants are doing before hitting them with a spray or a foot.
Extensive teachers’ notes are available as well as a poster but this copy is winging its way to Queensland for Miss Almost 2 just for the share joy and delight of the words, the rhyme, the pictures and her love of stories that is already well-cemented because of tales like this.
Juliet and her best friend Chelsea love animals, and Juliet KNOWS she will be a vet. Problem is, she’s only ten years old so she has a bit of time before she can go to university and start the study. But she’s getting a head start by helping her mum in her veterinary practice, keeping her vet diary meticulously and making sure her emergency kit is always on hand. Chelsea is also an animal fanatic but her dream is to be a world famous trainer and groomer.
In this, the 11th in this series, Juliet and Chelsea are involved in rescuing a variety of creatures after rain has deluged the land and left it flooded. The first task is to get their neighbours’ alpacas to higher ground and while the cria goes willingly on the boat, its hembre (mother) is a little more hesitant. Once that task is complete, they head for home but Juliet is sure she spots movement on an island and wants to stop. However, her mother is anxious to get back to the surgery in case neighbours have brought in any emergencies and so Juliet is left frustrated.
She is determined to confirm what she saw and so with the help of Chelsea and her dad (who is afraid of animals, particularly mice) she sets off in Chelsea’s brother’s canoe to investigate. And sure enough, there is a whole menagerie there including mice, lizards, stick insects and an echidna who is struggling to breathe.
This is a series that is loved by young girls who love animals and who are independent readers. The combination of strong, independent girls who are “clever, almost grownups” and animals mixed with a touch of humour is unbeatable. It’s written by Rebecca Johnson who is the author of so many of those delightful junior non-fiction titles photographed and published by Steve Parish, and illustrated with cute pictures by Kyla May. Interspersed throughout are excerpts from Juliet’s vet diary which actually include some interesting facts such as those about the alpacas and which could be a model for the other Juliets in the offing. There’s also a quiz at the end of the book that enhances the learning.
All the books in the series are listed here. If your library doesn’t have them they are a worthwhile investment because they tick so many boxes for the Year 2-4 reader.
The little wombat from One Very Tired Wombat is back in a new counting book adventure! But this time, instead of being kept awake by all the daytime creatures, it is his nighttime friends who are coming out to play. Hopping mice, quolls, Tasmanian devils, sugar gliders and fruit bats are all there in their nocturnal romp from dusk till dawn until the ten little owls hoot a goodnight tune and signal that the sun is rising and it’s bedtime.
So many baby animals exploring their nighttime surrounds under the cover and care of darkness show the very young reader that this is not a time of rest for everyone and that for many creatures once the sun goes down is a time of safety and security. They can speculate about why some animals feel safer at night and learn new words like ‘nocturnal’ and ‘diurnal’, perhaps even seeking to find out more about the creature that most appeals to them. Anticipating how many creatures might feature on the next page is always fun as counting skills are consolidated and confirmed is a bonus.
Slightly older children might even do a compare and contrast with One Very Tired Wombat or use this as a model for a class book as they explore what other creatures prefer night to day, where they live and what they find on their nocturnal wanderings.
Renée’s exquisite scratchboard illustrations bring each creature to life in great detail and the rhyming texts provides a rhythm that’s going to ensure the little listener will be joining in enthusiastically.
For those of you in Melbourne, the book will be launched at The Little Bookroom at 759 Nicholson Street at 3.00pm, this Saturday August 27. More details here.
The children are so distressed at the waste and rubbish littering the ground, the polluted land and the dry rivers which threatened that habitats of Australia’s creatures that they built an ark to rescue them. Then they travelled around Australia to find the creatures that needed their help most. From the orange-bellied parrot of Victoria to the Spectacled Flying Fox of Queensland to the Gove Crow Butterfly to the native bee of Western Australia, the most endangered of our creatures get on board, all of whom are looking for a safe place to be. Each is listed as ‘critically endangered’, ‘endangered’ or “vulnerable’ according to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and each has their story and situation described in the pages at the end with illustrations from the NLA collection and other publications.
Using the familiar rhyme and rhythm of the well-known children’s song, and beginning with a map of the ark’s destinations around Australia and then a series of clever collages, readers are introduced to some of Australia’s lesser-known creatures and how they are suffering because of human impact on the landscape – a powerful way to inspire a new generation to be more aware and to right the wrongs of previous ones. With Clean Up Australia Day as strong now as it was when it began in 1989 (7092 sites were officially registered for this year’s clean up on March 5) there is clearly an awareness that there is a need to do better if our children’s children are to see these unique creatures.
The good news is that in the story the ark sails the seas “for many a day” but eventually can return to our shores because the children have achieved their goal of making the land safe for them again.
This is not just a book for pre-schoolers – it has great scope for introducing elements of the Australian Curriculum focusing on human impact on the environment and sustainability. While most are familiar with kangaroos, koalas and our other unique iconic wildlife, telling the stories of the less visible is critical if we are to improve our conservation record. Australia has more than one million known species and a huge proportion of these are endemic to our shores, yet “Australia has the highest loss of mammal species anywhere in the world”. So even though this book was published in 2014 it remains very relevant not only as a springboard to an investigation and community action but also as a model for the students to create their own version of the rhyme or to design a partition in the ark that would meet the needs of their chosen creature.
Teaching notes, including blackline masters of the creatures, are available.
Baby Bilby would love to dance. Everything around him seems to do so, even the ants on the swirling leaves and the willy-willies. Even Bilby’s shadow dances. Will he be able to? He’s doing quite well and delighting in the shadows he makes until a big scary shadow looms over him…
On the surface this is a most charming story beautifully illustrated by one of my favourite illustrators, perfect for preschool with its simple text, colour and movement. But it has the potential to be so much more if the reader starts to explore the concepts of movement, wind patterns and shadows and how they change. The ending also offers scope for discussion.
One of the reasons I love Oktober’s illustrations is her eye for detail and these are no exception. Bilby is very appealing yet very realistic while the meticulous detail of the contents of the willy-willy contrast perfectly with the ballet shoes on the emus!