Archives

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761340185

Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

Grace the Amazing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace the Amazing

Aleesah Darlison

Wombat Books, 2024

192pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781761111174

Like many 11-year-olds, Grace Marshall is struggling to straddle that divide between childhood and independent young woman. While she would like to be seen as Grace the Awesome, Grace the Incredible and Grace the Miraculous, she believes others have a different view of her, particularly her mum, a zookeeper who is juggling work and home almost as a solo parent. A chance remark to the “most popular girl in school” some time ago means she appears to have no friends at school, her little brother is a pain, and while her dad loves her to bits she misses him terribly, he is a FIFO worker only home one week in four.  

Grace recognises that she is different, perhaps eccentric, certainly straight-talking, a girl of “many moods [and] many colours” but never boring.  But sadly, she also believes that being just Grace is never enough. Currently, her passion is doing magic as she strives to be known as Grace the Amazing, and when she discovers her one true friend at school is Pamela, her art teacher, has been away for the past few weeks because she has terminal cancer, Grace is determined to find the magic to fix her.

But even though the reader secretly hopes for a different, miraculous ending, there can be only one and this is an engaging, endearing story of how a child deals with the news and its consequences, while at the same time learning much about herself and life, love and friendship along the way. From a little boy in a foster family with a weird name, to Dr Granger the Stranger, to Emma who she thought despised her, to Pamela herself, this is a coming-of-age story that will resonate with many who also feel isolated, a misfit and misunderstood, as once again, Darlison has created credible characters who could be the kids we know and so the reader fits right into the story.

In a Q&A with fellow reviewer TL Sue Warren, Darlison says, “A great story often starts with a simple idea.  Ideas for stories bombard me each and every day. Ideas are everywhere I go. In everything I see and do. And in everything I hear.  If you’re interested in writing stories, you can find ideas in the world around you too. You see, stories abound in all the many subtle nuances of our life – you just have to keep your eyes and ears and mind open to them…” Given the dedications in this book, there is a suggestion that this story is more than one of imagination -it’s one of those ideas that Darlison has seen or lived, and that, in itself, gives it a reality and poignancy that is going to have wide appeal. 

 

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

Test Trouble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Trouble

Serena Patel

Louise Forshaw

Barrington Stoke, 2024

88pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781800902756

When his teacher announces that there will be a timed maths test the following Monday, Arun goes into meltdown.  Even though he is bright and attentive, tests, especially timed ones, make him feel extremely anxious as he feels the pressure to perform.  And so he is determined to get out of it by any means possible staging a protest about tests altogether (which only gets him into more trouble) and even pretending to be sick.  But then a conversation with his neighbour helps him see things in a different light….

This is a story that nearly every reader will relate to. The anxiety that comes with the expectation of being tested, and being expected to do well, no matter how often teachers and other adults try to reassure you that it is “just a test” to let them know how you’re coping and that they can know where you need support.  The fact is that the fear of not living up to expectations, particularly your own, can become bigger than the test itself and that is what distorts the results, not your lack of knowledge and understanding.  

But even though we, as teachers, know this and that there are better ways of assessing a student’s progress and program, boffins wanting to protect their positions insist on imposing tests to measure achievement as though a score on a paper on a particular day indicates anything other than that, and using the results to make all sorts of high-stakes claims and decisions.  So until there is enlightened leadership, such as the implementation of the ACT Senior Secondary Certificate, which does not require a final exam,  our students are going to find themselves in Arun’s position, sadly from their Kindergarten year. And so this is a worthwhile addition to every teacher’s toolkit, especially those who teach that middle primary area where the fear and anxiety really start to take hold, so it can be shared over and over, especially the conversation that Arun has with Mr Patel on pp48-49. Sometimes just turning up for something that we are afraid to do is the biggest achievement, and, having done that, the rest is not so hard.  

This is a little book that has the potential to have the most enormous impact.

This book is from a new imprint, Barrington Stoke, that HarperCollins UK has acquired. Many will know that Barrington Stoke print all of their titles using dyslexic-friendly paper stock, formatting and fonts. Many of their books, including this one, are hi-lo texts written by popular authors but which have been edited to have a lower reading age than interest age so it’s great that they are now going to be readily available in Australia.

When The Fog Rolls In

When The Fog Rolls In

When The Fog Rolls In

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Fog Rolls In

Pam Fong

Greenwillow, 2024

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

9780063136540

On a clear day, when the sea and the horizon stretch endlessly around, the flock of puffins takes flight from their rocky island home – except for one, who is a little tentative and anxious.  But, when he has the courage to follow his mates, the fog rolls in and things become murkier and murkier until it is so thick, he stumbles and can’t find his way forward.  Perhaps it would be safer to stay just where he is, but when a walrus looms in front of him, he realises that that can be dangerous.  And so, he summons his brave that let him leave his home in the first place, and goes forward learning that “the closer you get, the more you see. And the more you see, the clearer the path becomes.” And eventually, the fog lifts and the world and the horizons spread in front of you again.

On the surface this is a story about a little puffin separated from his flack, lost, afraid and bewildered until he finds them again, but it has been deliberately written as an allegory for helping young ones navigate uncertainty, open their minds and finding their way back to a place of safety and certainty. It helps them understand that, at times, we all face feeling lost and unsure, having to make decisions and having faith that what we decide will lead us to clarity.  

While there are lots of stories that celebrate being happy and positive, and others that deal with anger and sadness, there are few that confront confusion and uneasiness in such a way that makes it easy to start conversations and explore those emotions so that the child not only understands that there can be a pathway through without becoming too anxious, but others feel the same way at times.

An exceptional addition to your mindfulness collection for little ones, while useful for teaching older students about allegories and learning to read between and beyond the lines to what the author is really saying – an essential skill in being a critical reader.   

Ready, Set, Big School

Ready, Set, Big School

Ready, Set, Big School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Big School

Jan Stradling 

Jedda Robaard

ABC Books, 2023

24pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9780733342875

Maurice has a funny feeling in his tummy – because while he is excited to be starting big school, he is also nervous because of the new people he will meet, the new things he will do and the new routines he will have to learn. But his Play School friends are feeling the same way, especially after Mr Bao comes to talk about some of the things to expect, so they all go home to practise the things they will need to do – trying on new shoes, putting on their uniform, packing their backpack, using a checklist to make sure everything is included, and even learning how to introduce themselves to new friends.  

And then it is time for THE day,,,

This is another in the excellent Mindfully Me series in which the familiar characters of Play School put themselves in the shoes of children facing common situations and offer suggestions and strategies for coping with what might arise.  As many young readers are about to take this big step themselves, this is another story to share to show them that not only will they be okay but the apprehension they are feeling is common to everyone so they are not alone. But being prepared is a big start to building resilience and doing the sorts of things Maurice does will help them feel in control. 

Lawrence & Sophia

Lawrence & Sophia

Lawrence & Sophia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawrence & Sophia

Doreen Cronin

Brian Cronin

Rocky Pond Books, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9780593618301

Lawrence stays close to home because “out there” is too big and loud and crowded. Sophia stays high up in the tree branches because “down there” is too bumpy, dark and dangerous. When they meet and become friends, they find ways to enjoy each other’s company without leaving their own safe spots . . . until a storm comes, and both are so worried about the other that they are finally able to take a huge, scary leap into the unknown. Together they feel brave, and the future is suddenly a lot more interesting.

This is a story about feeling vulnerable and scared, and your imagination making things more fearful than they actually are. How gradually taking the first step and then another, can lead to something so amazing that the things you feared just fall away. How sometimes your concern for someone or something else can lead you to do things you would never have considered possible when you are the only one in the picture. And it’s particularly appropriate for this time of the year and new schools loom for so many of our young readers and anxiety increases.  So much easier to stay in your comfort zone than risk being where it seems big and loud and crowded. Talking about the joys that Lawrence and Sophia shared because one day Sophia got the courage to walk to the very end of her branch might just be the impetus for encouraging your child to take their first step.

On a broader scale, research and data gathered since COVID, particularly, are showing that the levels of  anxiety in children and school refusal  is at an all-time high, and while one gently written and illustrated picture book is not going to solve such a complex problem, nevertheless it may be a starting point.  With its deceptively simple text and soft palette, this is a story that offers neither solution nor judgement but allows the anxious child to see themselves in a story and offers them some hope that there can be a life beyond their self-imposed prison that they can be a part of, and that might start with a conversation after sharing the story.  Perhaps musing on why both Lawrence and Sophia only feel safe and comfortable in their own space, putting the conversation at arm’s length so the child doesn’t feel threatened, will offer an insight into what is causing the child to feel so anxious, because it is certainly more than “laziness” and “being okay to stay home” as one commentator recently opined.

This interview between creators Doreen and Brian Cronin offers an insight into the story behind the story including how there is a bit of both Lawrence and Sophia in both of them. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

I Try

I Try

I Try

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Try

Susie Brooks

Cally Johnson-Isaacs

Farshore, 2023

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

9780008648282

One of the common complaints from kindergarten teachers is that new-to-big-school children often demonstrate little resilience – the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again, solving the problem through trial and error.  And they need to develop special lessons and programs to teach this  to compensate for the helicopter parenting where all the child’s potential problems have been eliminated in advance by over-zealous adults and thus the child hasn’t had the opportunity to learn to cope with setbacks and sadness.  So this book would seem to have been written especially for them to aid in those lessons.

Addressed directly to the child reader, it offers ways to encourage them to be adventurous and learn something new; be brave and do something tricky; be strong and don’t give up.  Using examples from the animal kingdom, this book motivates little ones to try new things, build their confidence and become resilient in all aspects of life.  If you’re too short to reach, ask someone to help; if something doesn’t go as you expected, try again; if you’re afraid, take the first step….  The cute and relatable cast of children work together and support each other, showing that there is always help around, especially when venturing into the unknown.

With anxiety levels apparently at an all0time high amongst our children, one of the kindest and most powerful things we can do is help them develop the belief in themselves and the strategies they need to face new situations so these simple suggestions provide an excellent starting point for that.  

Erin Hanson Poetry

Erin Hanson Poetry

 

Giant-Sized Butterflies On My First Day of School

Giant-Sized Butterflies On My First Day of School

Giant-Sized Butterflies On My First Day of School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giant-Sized Butterflies On My First Day of School

Justin Roberts

Paola Escobar

Putnam, 2023

33pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9780525516439

When a little girl wakes up on the first day of school, the butterflies in her stomach feel positively giant-sized! She really wants her mom to stay with her, on this first day. As she and her mother make their way to school, her mother explains how the butterflies are a good thing. Everyone gets them (including parents) and they are a sign of something exciting happening—that we’re about to learn and grow from a new experience and they can help us through it.
So with the butterflies as her guide, the girl soars into her first day.

As little ones’ thoughts turn to the next big step in their lives – moving from preschool to big school – it is natural that there are going to be nerves and anxiety as the transition will be daunting for many. So this is another one to add to that collection to share to reassure them that their feelings are natural but they can be managed if they look through a positive lens.  Even though it is American, it carries the universal message that everyone shares a fear of the unknown to some degree and that, in itself, can bring peace and calm.  It also reassures them that they are old enough and brave enough to take this step, and it will only be a short time with new and familiar friends  before their butterflies have disappeared. 

 

 

 

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Especially Weird Week with Tess

Anna Woltz

Translated by David Colmer

David Dean 

Rock the Boat, 2023

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780861542963

Sam is a deep thinker – his older brother, Jasper, calls hum ‘the professor’ – and since attending the funeral of a schoolfriend’s father recently, many of his thoughts have been centred around death, particularly its impact on those left behind.  And it is his questions about the loneliness of the last dinosaur that leads to a chance meeting with 12-year-old Tess who seems to be on his wavelength and turns a run-of-the-mill holiday on the Dutch island of Texel into a life-changing time for both of them.

Within minutes of the meeting he finds himself learning to waltz in a carpark, offering to bury an old man’s canary and then discovering that Tess, who has never known her father, has found out who he is and has hatched an audacious plan to bring him to the island so she can observe him and decide whether she will disclose her identity. Through the filter-free conversations that kids have when life is still about them and theirs and not impinged by what others might think, they share their thoughts and do things that help them work through Sam’s fear of the loneliness caused by death and Tess’s relationship with her father that is completely credible for any reader who is the same age or who knows how that age group thinks and works. The setting, the situation and the characters are authentic and I binge read it in one session!

 Made into an award-winning Dutch film titled My Extraordinary Summer with Tess ,translated into 13 languages and awarded  The Times Children’s Book of the Week in March 2023, this is a heart-warming story of friendship and compassion for independent readers, even a class read-aloud,  that will envelop the reader like a warm hug.  Loved it in the same way as I loved The Girl who brought Mischief.  

 

 

 

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart

Samera Kamaleddine

HarperCollins, 2023

288pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781460762653

Evie Hart likes rules and routines. A lot. But as she embarks on her very last year of primary school, it feels like all the rules around her are being broken and the routines are definitely being upset, starting with mum not eating dinner with the family any more. 

Then she discovers her mum, a journalist, is the author of the horoscope page for the local newspaper, and because it has her photo, her friends and their families know too, and they don’t hold back letting Evie know they think her mum writes and tells lies.  To make things worse, she learns her beloved stepdad Lee is moving to Dubbo for at least a year, perhaps splitting the family in two forever! So when Evie’s class starts learning about the Earth’s place in the universe, it makes Evie think about her own place in the world and where she belongs. 

But the more Evie learns about the sky and the stars, guided both by her kind, compassionate and knowledgeable teacher Miss Owen and her mother’s insights, the more she learns that changes in the world can’t always be controlled. And maybe that’s not a bad thing as she starts to make sense of and map out her own life as a more confident person.

Even though the title is The Sideways Orbit… there are many parallels to the lives of the readers that this book will appeal to, and so it will resonate with them as they make that sometimes tricky transition from tween to teen and young adult. While so much of her life so far has focused on the here and now, as she becomes more independent, bigger questions raise their heads – questions whose answers seem bigger and more complex than the universe – and Evie, like her readers, has to learn to navigate these in the context and boundaries of their own lives. And that doesn’t even include puberty!  Straddling the reality of the day-today while contemplating the huge world of what-ifs and what-could-bes that is opening before her, including high school on the horizon, can be overwhelming but there is comfort in knowing that there is a path forward and a way through.  So even if you feel like you’re going sideways in an endless spin, there is hope…

Many who write for and work with very young children talk about helping them understand and navigate “big feelings”. This story helps those who are at a different transition navigate theirs.