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The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller

The Shark Caller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Shark Caller

Zillah Bethel

Usborne, 2021

368pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781474966849

Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller like her waspapi Siringen. 

“I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways,” she begs him for the hundredth thousandth taim but he refuses, telling her she knows why he will not. 

Instead she must befriend infuriating newcomer Maple, who arrives unexpectedly on Blue Wing’s island. At first, the girls are too angry to share their secrets and become friends. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, they must journey together to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all… and it’s not a great white.

Papua New Guinea is just as a mysterious land now as it was when I lived there 50 years ago, steeped in history, legends and traditions going back to the earliest civilisations and when the author moved from there to the UK (and had to wear three jumpers even in summer) she was peppered with so many questions about her life there that she wrote this book to help answer them.  And in doing so, she has woven an intriguing tale of adventure, friendship, forgiveness and bravery with such a real-life background that I was taken back to the days when I was there with all sorts of memories that I thought were forgotten, including the pidgin phrases.  

Even though physically it is at the upper end of the readership for this blog, competent independent readers of all ages will immerse themselves in the story which, even though it has such a diverse backdrop, still has a universal theme threaded through it. For those interested in finding out more there are the usual Usborne Quicklinks, as well as a most informative note from the author and some questions for book clubs that delve deeper.  One for those who are ready to venture into something a little different.  

I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Every Good Thing

Derrick Barnes

Gordon C. James

Egmont, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP  $A14.99

 9780755502707

I am a non-stop ball of energy.
Powerful and full of light.
I am a go-getter. A difference-maker. A leader.

“Step inside the mind of the confident narrator of this book! He is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and will see them through. He’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny. A good friend. A superhero. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s often misunderstood. So, slow down, look and listen as he shows you who he really is …”

Oprah Magazine says this book is “one of its essential books for discussing racism with kids” and other quotes from reviews all refer to the main character’s above all else.  Yet, when I read it I didn’t even notice his colour, although the illustrations are so lifelike and full of energy, because I saw it through the lens of the performances at the Olympic Games – and not just those by Australians.  So often, as I watched (as an alternative to the ad infinitum of COVID 19 and lockdown), the back story of the athlete was shared and so often it was a story of triumph over tragedy, of hard work, perseverance, resilience, overcoming hurdles and obstacles, staring the impossible in the face… and that is what I took from this book.  

So many of our students would have seen performances that have inspired them – the silver lining of lockdown being the access to real-time coverage rather than a news snippet – and dreams will have been dreamt, particularly with some of the sports being so accessible, like skateboarding, and the age of the competitors so close to their own..  And within this book is the sort of motivational, inspirational language that will fan the flames of the spark of those dreams. 

So while this book may have been intended to help young black children to rise above the racism and be the person they are, and sadly, will resonate on that level with some of our students,  it can be used in lots of ways to affirm and reaffirm, to challenge and to change, to build not just dreams but hope and expectation.

There are so many clichés about it being the inner person that counts, and while that is true, we all know it’s not that simple.  So help students see their potential by having them identify the highest wall facing them right now, whether that’s understanding a science formula or improving their lap time, and then help them put in place a plan to climb over it.  Dreams. beliefs and goals can be the driving force but sometimes we need some strategies to make them happen. Have them add a page to the book that celebrates them.

Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mina and the Whole Wide World

Sherryl Clark

Briony Stewart

UQP, 2021

120pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702263231

More than anything else in the whole wide world Mina wants her own bedroom . And it’s almost ready! Just one more lick of sunny yellow paint and it’s hers.

But then Mina’s parents take in an unexpected guest, and give her room away. At first, Mina is too upset to speak. She is so devastated by her loss and she doesn’t care that this new boy, Azzami, needs a place to stay. Her loss is almost too great to bear. 

At school, the other kids call Azzami names but throughout the bullying, he stays silent.  Mina wishes he’d stand up for himself especially after she ends up in strife for hitting Oliver, the worst of the culprits.  But although Azzami doesn’t speck he draws and he as a tale to tell in his drawings,  a tale made all the more poignant when Mina goes with him to visit his very sick mother.  For the first time she really thinks about the life and loss of the quiet boy, what he has seen and escaped from, the death of his father and the illness of his mother, being the least of them, and gradually the loss of her own bedroom is put into perspective. 

This verse novel for younger readers is an important addition to the collection and a vital inclusion to any study of refugees because it gives the silent among our students a voice.  Even though Azzami himself doesn’t speak, his silence is powerful because it echoes that of so many of those we teach who have experienced trauma and fear that we will never know.  Sadly, there are those like Oliver in every class who cannot cope with difference and manifest their lack of understanding and empathy through a display of power and disdain, but there are also Minas who have a more open mind and benefit by finding friendship and tolerance and gratitude. And there are also wise teachers like Ms Smart who know when to step back and when to step up.

This is a story about finding friendship where you least expect it and making room for everyone across this “whole wide world” and the teachers notes will help guide students’ awareness, knowledge, understanding, compassion and tolerance so that the conversation about acceptance, diversity, and caring for others has a new tone.  In addition, there is much to be learned about Clark’s choice of format, vocabulary and using only Mina’s perspective as a vehicle for  a narrative that needs to be had (seemingly over and over, even though refugees have been a critical part of this country’s fabric and fibre since the end of World War II). 

Look for this among the award nominees in 2022.  

 

All About Diversity

All About Diversity

All About Diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Diversity

Felicity Brooks

Mar Ferrero

Usborne, 2021

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

9781474986649

“Being different from each other is called DIVERSITY”  and this entertaining book explores a range of ways people can be different such as what they look like, where they live, the sorts of families they live in, the foods they eat and the way they spend their time.  Using a two-page spread , lots of illustrations accessible text and speech bubbles, its design encourages the young reader to explore each vignette and learn something new each time. There is also a glossary to explain some of the trickier words as well as notes for the grown-ups that explain why promoting diversity and inclusion is critical for the healthy well-being of our children.

 

A peek inside....

A peek inside….

Although this is a topic that early childhood teachers focus on each year this books gives a real focus and explanation to those aspects that their students are most aware of, making it an excellent foundation for an ongoing unit of work.  Inspired by the stimuli provided, children could create their own class pages featuring themselves and their lives making it a powerful resource for both social and language development. 

Story Doctors

Story Doctors

Story Doctors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Story Doctors

Boori Monty Pryor

Rita Sinclair

Allen & Unwin, 2021

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

9781760526559

What do you do when you are expected to review a book like this when you know you don’t have the knowledge, the skills or even the authority to do so?  And the text is so lyrical, the illustrations so sublime and the message so powerful that you just feel overwhelmed.

You let the words of others do your work because you know they will convey the power and the beauty so much better.

This is from its blurb…

This is a book for everybody. Welcome! Take a seat! And listen carefully, because this story has a heartbeat. Can you feel it, there in your chest?

Legendary storyteller Boori Monty Pryor invites us to travel with him from the first footsteps through 80,000+ years of strength, sickness, and immense possibility.

From the very first stories and art, to dance, language, and connection with the land, Boori offers a powerful, beautiful, and deeply rich account of Australia’s true history, drawing on a lifetime of wisdom, and on his generous instinct to teach and heal.

An exquisitely illustrated celebration of the power of storytelling to unite us, how nature connects us, and the wonderful truth that the medicine needed for healing lies within us all.

This is an interview with the author from Radio National which gives so much insight.
And this, the first few lines that demonstrate not only their origins and the thinking behind them but also the lyricism of the entire text… the language used is masterful and so clever, particularly the written version rather than just the audio.

And finally this – the explanation of the mesmerising, thought-provoking afterword on which the whole book was founded…

 

With the theme of the 2021 NAIDOC Week being Heal Country, this is indeed,  “an empowering story for all Australians, acknowledging our true history, embracing inclusivity, and celebrating the healing powers of nature and culture” from Australia’s Children’s Laureate 2012-2013.  If ever there were a book that epitomised the theme of Australia: Story Country, then this is it and it is one for all ages. 

Pawcasso

Pawcasso

Pawcasso

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pawcasso

Remy Lai

A & U Children’s, 2021

240pp., graphic novel, RRP $A16.99

9781760526771

Every Saturday, Pawcasso trots into town  on his own with a basket, a shopping list and cash in paw to buy groceries for his family. One day, he passes by Jo’s house, where she’s peering out the window, bored and lonely. When Jo sets out to follow him, a group of kids from school mistake her for Pawcasso’s owner and, excited to make new friends, she reluctantly hides the truth. But what starts as a Chihuahua-sized lie quickly grows into a Great Dane-sized problem when Pawcasso gets his own internet fan club … will Jo be able to solve the mystery of the dog’s owners before she is caught out in her web of lies, will Jo risk her new friendships by telling the t? Are hew new friendships more important than telling the truth?

This is a graphic novel which provides many hilarious moments as it delves into Jo and Pawcasso’s adventures as well as setting up a dilemma that students may well debate the solution for as the various layers impacting Jo’s life are considered.  What drives us to tell “little white lies” and when do they become untruths that can trap us?  Is a “little white lie” ever acceptable?

The community which Jo finds herself venturing into reflects the communities that we all live in – there are always everyday issues that take on a life on their own and divide residents – and Lai uses clever techniques such as having Jo join a book club to discuss philosophical questions such as “If love comes from the heart, does hate come from the brain?”  offering scope for lively class discussions within an at-arms-length context.

While its graphic novel format may entice hesitant readers  to engage with reading, this is a story that poses questions in a way that demonstrates the power of story to address those big questions while being entertaining at the same time.  There are several downloads for teachers available on the publisher’s website.  Intriguing.

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger

Night Ride into Danger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Ride into Danger

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781460758939

Braidwood, NSW.  June, 1874 and a typical cold, wet winter’s night.  But despite the weather, the Cobb & Co coach to Goulburn carrying passengers and mail must run on schedule and so, as usual, as they do night after night, Jem and his father are preparing to leave. But this is not the modern-day hour’s run on sealed roads between the two towns – this is an overnight journey with a uncomfortable coach and four horses that involves many twists and turns, each with its own danger. And added to the regular perils  like fording the Shoalhaven River, tonight each passenger has their own particular secret, each of which is gradually exposed as the journey continues and each of which shapes the way events will unfold. 

Nevertheless, with a mission to achieve, a contract to fulfil and a timetable to keep, Jem and his Paw set out as usual until disaster strikes and Jem finds himself in a situation that not only puts his physical strength, courage and determination to the greatest test, but also exposes Paw’s own secret, one which has a profound bearing on Jem’s life.

There are few authors whose new works I pick up and read as soon as they arrive, but Jackie is one of them, because I know I will be in for an engrossing read, meticulously researched and one that will have more layers than an onion. This is not just a story about Jem needing to dig deep to draw on his knowledge and skills and self-belief. It is about self-discovery, finding out who and what we are really made of, how our heritage has shaped our present and will influence our future and understanding that the public face is often a mask for the private persona. 

Competent, independent readers who crave a story that will engage them, entertain and educate them, challenge them and stay with them long after the final page is read will thoroughly enjoy this read, and if it is their first encounter with Jackie’s works, have them seeking more such as The Ghost of Howler’s Beach.

If you are looking for a new class read-aloud over the cold wet, wintery days to come, this is it. 

 

 

Main Abija My Grandad

Main Abija My Grandad

Main Abija My Grandad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main Abija My Grandad

Karen Rogers

Allen & Unwin, 2021

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

9781760526030

As the loss of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is dominating headlines, the special relationship we have with our grandfathers has been thrown sharply into focus – the memories we made, the things we were taught… particularly if he, too, has passed and so there can be no more.

And so it is for Ngukurr great grandmother Karen Rogers who reflects on all that she learned from her grandfather, the adventures they add, the memories they made and how she is passing it all on to her grandchildren and great grandchildren in this enchanting story told in both her own Kriol language and English and illustrated with her bold illustrations, a talent inherited from her grandmother and great-aunts.  From school holidays spent on his outstation at Wuyagiba “near the saltwater” where he was a stockman, she recalls travelling in the old Toyota troopy to go fishing and swimming, and learning about  the land, its bounty and its secrets while they were there. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The stories are told in words and pictures that are inseparable, as the best picture books are, and the feelings of connection and the unending circle of life are strong.   It offers a wonderful opportunity to not only see how the author’s memories are common to all of us – there will be many, like me, who have sat and listened to their granddad tell stories as the sun sets over the ocean (or anywhere) or had their first fishing lessons under his guidance – but also to reflect on other memories and what they have already learned, despite being so young, that they will pass onto their own children.  Sitting in my loungeroom, untouched for years because I never mastered it is an expensive Yamaha piano, bought purely because of the memory of sitting on my grandfather’s knee while he played to me! 

Even though this is a story personal and unique to Ms Rogers, it is, at the same time, a universal one – and stories come no better than that. 

Hello and Welcome

Hello and Welcome

Hello and Welcome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello and Welcome

Gregg Dreise

Puffin, 2021

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

9781760898328

Hello and welcome to our corroboree.
Hello and welcome to our gathering.
Father Sky, Mother Earth, together here with me.
Different colours, different people, together in harmony.

Welcome to Country has now become the norm before any formal gatherings in Australia and in this stunning book by Gregg Dreise, a companion to My Culture and Me, the reader is taken through this traditional welcome in the traditional Gamilaraay language of the Kamilaroi people.

Paying tribute to those who have gone before, their stewardship of the land they live on, the generosity of that land and thanking them for those who are here now and yet to come, the words are interpreted in traditional dance moves that have been passed down through generations.

If we want our students to respect these sorts of traditions, rather than pay lip service to them, then the more they understand the meaning and movements associated with them , the better. To enable this,  the initial words of welcome and their actions have been included so all children can join in.  The illustrations that depict ancestors sit alongside and intertwine with illustrations of how the modern day Kamilaroi people celebrate and thank Father Sky and Mother Earth demonstrating that this is a ceremony that embraces everyone and all can participate. Despite there being 250 Indigenous Countries within Australia, each with its own language and cultures, each shares a respect for Mother Earth, each other and sharing resources, so this book could inspire a new way of sharing that Welcome to Country.

Students in a Canberra school were challenged to examine the meaning of their local Welcome to Country text and to develop one that had meaning for them which would be used at the start of each day. This is the result from the Year 3 class in the Bungle Bungles unit. With students from preschool to Year 6 all undertaking this task at the beginning of the year, the principal reports there is not only greater understanding but greater harmony and respect for the environment across the school.

Welcome to Country

Welcome to Country

Antiracist Baby

Antiracist Baby

Antiracist Baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antiracist Baby

Ibram X. Kendi

Ashely Lukashevsky

Puffin, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780241512388

“Antiracist Baby is bred, not born.”

Beginning with this premise, this book takes the reader through nine steps to ensure that they and their offspring can learn how to be tolerant, compassionate individuals “to make equity a reality.”

  1. Open your eyes to all skin colours
  2. Use your words to talk about race.
  3. Point at policies as the problem, not people.
  4. Shout.  There’s nothing wrong with the people.”
  5. Celebrate all our difference.
  6. Knock down the stack of cultural blocks.
  7. Confess when being racist.
  8. Grow to be antiracist.
  9. Believe we shall overcome racisms.

Each principle is expanded by a rhyming couplet and, given the recent disclosures within the Royal Family as well as this being Harmony Day, there is scope for discussion and debate as we are encouraged to consider the things we say and do, often without thought, that could be deemed racist by another. The author has included additional discussion prompts to help readers recognise and reflect on bias in their daily lives as well links to US organisations that can offer more support.  A teachers’ guide is also available.

Despite looking like and being promoted as a book for babies, this is more one for those who understand the concept of racism already and are ready to learn more.  Reviews are very mixed mostly because while the intentions and purpose are valid, the confusion over who the intended audience is, is strong.