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Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children’s Guide to Writing

Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children's Guide to Writing

Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children’s Guide to Writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unleash Your Creative Monster: A Children’s Guide to Writing

Andy Jones

Olaf Falafel

Walker Books, 2021

176pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99

 9781406396621

Over my 50+ years working with children, and particularly following my passion for developing their literacy skills, I have been exposed to as many “magic bullet” pedagogies for getting them to write well as there are theories of child development.  From a tightly structured approach where the writer is given topic, focus, essay-length and limited vocabulary to the revolution of the freedom of Donald Graves’ ‘process writing” – his books are still on my shelf – and back again, the one constant is that putting pen to paper is an individual task, and the ‘best’ approach is as unique as the individual doing the writing.

Some find writing to be their preferred way of expressing themselves, others like to sing, dance, paint or just talk. Of the writers, some like to write fiction, others prefer mon fiction; some like to draw first, others loathe drawing; some like to let the thoughts run free and edit at the end, others like to fix as they go… 

So this book is not a one-size-fits-all that a parent can give to their child and envisage another J. K. Rowling; it is not a step-by-step guide for a teacher to follow as their writing syllabus for the year; and it is certainly not a tool to teach all those obscure technical terms and techniques so beloved by today’s English teachers and curriculum writers. What it is is a guide for those who already like to write to help them hone their skills and develop their ideas. Begun as a way to amuse the author’s daughters on wet days, it presents a monster as a muse – because monsters are “exciting, unpredictable, powerful” – and by speaking directly to the reader, they are encouraged to work through the book (or dip and delve if they choose) engaging in a series of exercise and story prompts to learn the basics of stories, developing characters, settings and plots as they develop their vocabulary – all the fundamentals of story writing but at their own point of need and their own pace.  

With its easily accessible text and myriad of cartoon-style illustrations it takes the would-be writer on a personal journey of development, tapping into their existing desire to write.  However, while it is not that do this-do that guide for the busy classroom teacher, it is one that is more than worthwhile having because it offers explanations and explorations that the teacher can pass on to the student to encourage them to try new things, to delve deeper and expand their horizons.  It encourages originality and diversity rather than the cookie-cutter approach and there’s none of that technical jargon in sight.

Being the child of journalists, I could use a typewriter before I could use a telephone and it was expected that both my brother and I would be able to put words on paper as easily as we spoke. But even in such an environment, one of us went much further than the other and neither of us wrote in the style of our parents.  Certainly, my preferred genre is non fiction and mastery of my imagination eludes me.  But with this book in hand, perhaps I could try again and find a new path… 

Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig: Where's George's Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peppa Pig: Where’s George’s Dinosaur?

Peppa Pig

Ladybird, 2022

10pp., board book., RRP $A14.99

9780241543542

George is looking for Mr Dinosaur but he can’t find him anywhere and he’s distressed.  So Mummy Pig suggests they retrace their steps through the day, but no matter how promising things look, what’s revealed under the flap is not Mr Dinosaur.

In a book reminiscent of the advertisement for a particular brand of car in which a family retraces their steps in search of Gonzo the missing toy rabbit, little ones can not only follow George’s search as they resonate with his rising distress but they learn that there can be a logical sequence of events to follow rather than throwing a tantrum. So that when they misplace something, parents can draw on George’s experience to guide them in theirs.

Again, the use of a familiar plot, favourite characters and a lift-the-flap technique mean the book will engage even our youngest readers and those crucial concepts about the value of print will continue to develop.  There’s something special about quietly observing Mr Nearly 3 taking himself off to a quiet spot and retelling himself the story using his own vocabulary as he recounts George’s adventures.  But there was also something disconcerting when at the conclusion he said, “I bet his mum put it there out of her bag,” suggesting that maybe he had been exposed to that advertisement once too often!

Unicorn’s Christmas

 

 

 

 

Unicorn's Christmas

Unicorn’s Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unicorn’s Christmas

Lucy Golden

RHUS Children’s, 2021

12pp., board book., RRP $A14.99

9780593374856

It’s almost Christmas! Unicorn is so excited, but there’s still a lot to do: make a list for Santa, decorate the tree, make cookies, and more!

But this is a book with a twist… literally!  For within the text there are blanks, almost like a cloze activity, and the reader has to turn the wheel to find the best word to fit the context.  Helped by an illustration of each word so it is easily read, they can either make a story that is fun but doesn’t really make sense, or they can use the cues and clues to predict what is just right for the gap.

So apart from being a story featuring a familiar character doing all those things that herald that special day, it really encourages the young reader to focus their attention and use their existing knowledge to create the story so it makes sense, an essential concept about print and pre-requisite to reading. Physically turning a wheel adds another dimension to the fun, making this one of the most unique Christmas books for our youngest readers.  

Bluey: Sleepytime

Bluey: Sleepytime

Bluey: Sleepytime

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bluey: Sleepytime

Joe Brumm

Puffin, 2021

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

 9781761041198

It’s bedtime in the Heeler household and while Bluey is fast asleep, Mum finishes off the final story with Bingo.  As she turns out the light, she reminds Bingo that she is always there if Bingo needs her but Bingo really wants to do a Big Girl sleep and wake up in her own bed.  But will she?

Based on the television episode of the same name, this is a story that will resonate so deeply with the adult sharing it as the familiarity of children waking in the night, moving into their bed, wanting water, hogging the blankets, having good dreams and not-so that it will seem like there has been a camera in their own bedroom.  

Using a large format including foldout pages, now our young readers can return to their favourite bedtime episode time and again now it is in print format, while parents can use it to remind them that they are going to have a Big Kid night and stay in their own bed. And those that wish can also take their child on a journey through the night sky .

The connection between print and audiovisual versions of the same stories with their familiar characters and settings already in place is strong as children build their knowledge about what to expect from both formats.  To have such a superb series such as Bluey available whenever the child wants to return to it is such a bonus. 

Mr Men Little Miss in Australia

Mr Men Little Miss in Australia

Mr Men Little Miss in Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr Men Little Miss in Australia

Roger Hargreaves

Mr Men, 2021

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

9781761044342

Mr Topsy-Turvy is very excited – the Mr Men and Little Miss are heading  ‘up over’ . Little Miss Somersault is a little confused and then she realises he means Down Under. 

There is much to discover when they arrive in Sydney and make their way around the coast to visit the iconic sites, sights and scenery – Little Miss Somersault is excited about a game of cricket, Mr Tall is keen to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Mr Silly thinks he might enter the Melbourne Cup -before they head inland to the centre.

It’s 40 years since little ones were first introduced to these bold characters created by Roger Hargreaves, wrapped in their distinctive packaging of a bold block-colour illustration on a white background in a book the perfect size for little hands. Even after his death in 1988, his son Adam continued what his father started and the characters are as popular now as they were all those years ago.  So to have the whole crew come to Australia and go places and do things that will resonate with so many of our young readers is just perfect, setting them up to be fans and ensuring lots of reading ahead as all the previous titles remain available. With the characters being readily recognisable each time because of their consistent shape and colour,,their personalities reflected in their name and the antics they get up to told in a distinctive direct, unfussy narrative style,, even our youngest readers can develop and bring knowledge to new reads, so they will be pleased that Mr Wrong is still getting it wrong when he swims between the wrong flags and Mr Silly ends the story in a silly way.  

As parents and grandparents, we must never underestimate the power of sharing stories like this with our littlies, particularly if they are those we ourselves enjoyed.  The connections that that makes to the adult, the story  and literature is general are multi-faceted. Loving the books our parents loved can set us up for life. 

Where’s Wally? The Super Six

Where's Wally? The Super Six

Where’s Wally? The Super Six

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s Wally? The Super Six

Martin Handford, 

Walker Books, 2021

Boxed Set, RRP $A54.99

9781406396744

One of the most recognisable characters in children’s literature with his red and white striped hat and jumper and blue jeans, children have been poring over incredibly busy double-page spreads to find Wally hidden amongst the myriad of characters since 1987. And in my 50+ years of teaching, there have been only a handful of books (the Harry Potter and Goosebumps series are the only ones that spring readily to mind) that have had such a profound influence of children’s desire to learn to read. For even though there is very little text in these books , the powerful messages of books being fun and entertaining, and the essential skills of visual acuity and the perseverance to examine detail are crucial to successful reading development and engagement.

Such was the popularity of the series in my school library 20 years ago, it spawned a year-long activity for which students investigated a popular Australian destination and then wrote clues so their peers could discover where Wally was this week.  The display, which included the clues, pictures (scenic calendars are a great source) and a map that tracked his journey) was always ready for the Monday lunchtime crowd and entries were collected with the winner being drawn on Friday.  The prize was simply being the contributor to a future adventure within Australia for Wally, a prized reward.  And in the meantime I haunted second-hand bookshops constantly looking for copies to replace those that were so loved and used, they just wore out. And there was always a queue of reserves for new releases. 

So almost 45 years on, to have a boxed set which includes Where’s Wally?, Where’s Wally Now?Where’s Wally? The Fantastic JourneyWhere’s Wally? In HollywoodWhere’s Wally? The Wonder Book and Where’s Wally? The Great Picture Hunt as well as a puzzle and a poster so another generation can discover and enjoy the delights of books that entranced their parents is wonderful.  And at less than $10 per book, it is also a bargain. As lockdowns and restrictions have seen a resurgence in family time with board games, cards and so forth making a comeback, this is the ideal gift to continue that as families pore over the pages together and parents relive memories of fun times at school. 

Little Days Out: At the Park

Little Days Out: At the Park

Little Days Out: At the Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Days Out: At the Park

Sally Anne Garland

Catch A Star, 2021

16pp., board book, RRP $A12.99

 9781922326324

Whenever my littlies came to stay, they always asked to go to the park in town where there is a lovely playground for them to climb, slide, swing, run around and make new friends.  There were always other kids there and even more after a major refurbishment, even more when it became one of the few places open during lockdown, and even more again when restrictions were lifted.  Adults and children alike made it their meeting place. 

This new book in this series captures the fun and excitement perfectly and  its lift-the-flap format ensures that not only will our youngest readers resonate with the adventures but, because it is a universal experience, be able to predict what might be hidden.  Unlike some books that take children to ‘familiar’ places that really aren’t because they feature elements very different to the Australian experience, the fun of parks and playgrounds is common and easily recognisable so this one has a place wherever it’s read.

Catch A Star continues to recognise the need for even our youngest readers to have engaging stories that are sturdy enough in their own hands so they can mimic the reading of those who read to them, a critical step in becoming a reader, and this series is no exception.  Perfect as a gift or a day-care library, it will help develop those essential concepts about print that need to be developed long before the child tries to construct the text on the page.  And being on such a familiar topic makes it even moreso. 

Mummy! Where are You?

Mummy! Where are You?

Mummy! Where are You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mummy! Where are You?

Charmaine Oates

Jelena Jordanovic-Lewis

Little Steps, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

 9781922358912

Mummy! Where are you?’
Today is Charlie’s favourite day of the week – it’s stay-at-home-with-Mummy day!
But it’s Mum’s only day off from work and she has a lot to do! Moving from room to room, Mummy is too quick for Charlie to keep up but by lifting the flaps, he is always able to find her.

This is a charming story that will resonate with both parent and child as sometimes it seems the only escape from the cry of “Mummy, where are you?’ is to take refuge in the loo.  (And even then, it’s not always a hideaway.)  But because it is so familiar it is ideal for sharing with our youngest readers because they can readily recognise the situations, see themselves as Charlie, and by using their existing knowledge of the context, predict  where mummy is and what she is doing before lifting the flaps.   

Before even learning the skills of reading itself, there are many concepts about print to be understood, the first being that stories are fun, and this book offers all the elements of that as well as celebrating the special relationship between  mother and little one, even when doing the most mundane things.   Sharing the book together adds another layer to that bond. 

Cat Dog

Cat Dog

Cat Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat Dog

Mem Fox

Mark Teague

Puffin, 2021

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

9781761045868

This is an hilarious story about a dog, a cat and a cheeky mouse, who because they are traditionally enemies, are always a combination that can have any number of outcomes and this one does.

Its format  will appeal to very young readers because each page is based on a question that the reader has to answer Yes or No to, ensuring they use the clues to make their prediction. And not everything is what it seems.  And with the ending in the reader’s hands,  there is so much scope for imagining ‘what if’.

Mem Fox is the master of creating stories that not only engage young readers but draw on all her knowledge and expertise of early reading behaviour to ensure they discover the joy of stories and reading and sharing them from the earliest age.  Teague’s depictions of the characters not only add to the intrigue but also add humour and a touch of whimsy.  Definitely one for the younger readers in your life, but also for those studying the art of the picture book because this is an example of the very best at their best. 

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noni the Pony Counts to a Million

Alison Lester

Allen & Unwin, 2021

24pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760524395

Former Australian Children’s Laureate Alison Lester first introduced us to Noni the Pony in 2011 and it was shortlisted for the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year.  This was followed by another adventure Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach.in 2014 and then Noni the Pony Rescues a Joey  in 2018. So she has become a favourite of  many preschoolers over time, and this new adventure, written in rhyme and beautifully illustrated, will become a favourite too, particularly if today’s preschooler has an older sibling who remembers the earlier stories.

Little people know that learning to count is a sign that they are growing up and Noni the Pony is no different.  So as she watches her farm  friends play and frolic, she counts them – all the way to a million!! And while most counting books just introduce the words for one to ten, this one includes the concepts of dozens, hundreds, thousands and a million – as the stars shine overhead on what has been a very busy day.  

Featuring all the vital elements that help develop young readers’ concepts about print, this is one that they will be able to read to themselves within a very short while because the illustrations support the text so well, adding another layer to their belief that they will be a successful reader.  Who could ask for more?