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Dear Unicorn

Dear Unicorn

Dear Unicorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Unicorn

Josh Funk

Charles Santoso

Viking, 2023

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

9780593206942

It is the beginning of the school year and Connie’s art class is partnering up with pen pals. Both Connie and Nic’s teachers encourage them to to ask their pen pals questions, to talk about their own lives, to be creative, share their likes and dislikes and to enjoy themselves. Even though Connie is a little reluctant to start with, soon both love exchanging letters despite the two of them seeming so very different. Connie takes her art seriously and thinks things like kittens are nothing more than a distraction, while Nic has a more whimsical approach to painting and knows the value of a good cupcake. Both are eagerly awaiting the end of year pen pal art festival where their two classes will finally meet, but what is the surprise that is in store for both of them?

Building on the original concept of Dear Dragon, the story has some clever wordplay (like Connie’s surname summing up her pessimistic outlook) that leads to some misunderstandings that carry both the letter-writing and the story along, and young readers will immerse themselves in the fantasy particularly as, through the illustrations, they can see what Connie and Nic don’t.  What would it like to have a friend such as Nic? Can we be friends with those who seem to be so different from us (even if that is not as extreme as this relationship?)

As well as being useful for exploring the essential give-and-take nature of relationships, and how we can learn from those around us to seek common bonds despite being unique individuals, the book also opens up the almost-extinct concept of penpals, letter-writing and the anticipation of a letter in the mailbox.  Perhaps it will be the spark for building some new connections between classes in this new school year, 

 

Say My Name

Say My Name

Say My Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say My Name

Joanna Ho

Khoa Le

HarperCollins, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780063205338

There is an old riddle that goes, “What is yours alone but used by everyone else? Your name”. 

There is so much embodied in a person’s name that it can be (and was) one of the most popular units of work that I did with my students at the beginning of each year.  They loved to discover why they had the name they did, its history and significance within their family, its meaning, its cultural connections  and how it shaped their own identity. They enjoyed having conversations with family members about why it was chosen, seeing their birth announcements and sharing their stories.  But most importantly, they wanted to teach us how to say it properly because that demonstrated that we respected them, cared enough about them,  to make the effort to learn it and use it and acknowledge that they were not invisible.  Even though some chose to use a more common “European” name, there was always a spark in their eyes if their birth name was used and pronounced correctly.

In this new book by Joanna Ho, whose stories  Eyes the Kiss in the Corners and Eyes that Speak to the Stars embody and celebrate diversity in a perception-changing way, six children of Chinese, Tongan, Persian, Diné, Nahuatl, or Akan descent share the meaning and history of their names. Names that are “full of tones and rhythms, melodies and harmonies, chords and cadences, Each syllable, each sound, is a building block in an architecture constructed over oceans and across generations.” (And there is a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to help you out.)

Accompanied by stunning illustrations that are rich in the symbolism of the culture of the child, the lyrical text shows us how important it is to each child, indeed each person on the planet, to say their name correctly because “My name is a window to my world, a door to my destiny, a key to unlock the dreams of my ancestors, the hopes of my family and the divine that lives within. Anything less is not me.”

Sadly for some children having someone say their name and smile is the only positive acknowledgement that they will get in a day and it is that affirmation that they exist that is enough to bring them back to school for one more day.  If ever there was a book that demonstrates just how important your name is and how we each cling to its uniqueness, this is it.  With a pronunciation guide and other material included in the final pages to serve as a model for each child’s story, here, embedded in this literary treasure,  is your program for the first few weeks of Term 1 2024 sorted…

The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden

The Concrete Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Concrete Garden

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781529512649

At last, winter is over, lockdown is lifted and the children spill out of the large apartment block ” like sweets from a box”.  Last out is Amanda and she is carrying a large box of chalks because she has an idea. Choosing green first, she draws a large circle with some smaller circles radiating from it – and from there the fun begins… Firstly, Jackson made a dandelion from Amanda’s circle, and then Janet added a mushroom and then the twins added flowers and then…

This is Bob Graham at his best offering the reader so many ideas to explore as the book is read and re-read.

Firstly, there has to be that glorious feeling of being free to connect with others, including those whom you have never met, when isolation has been imposed on you. The reader can hear the shouts of delight of the children and the babble of busyness as they get to be kids again, and imagine that their new and renewed friendships will spread to those of the adults in their lives too, meaning that there will be a greater sense of community in the apartments once inside beckons again.  But what if that isolation isn’t COVID related?  What if there is a child confined to a hospital bed, or isolated by language or being new to the area or… How might the reader reach out to them?

And while many will resonate with living in an apartment building where there is no opportunity to have the sort of gardens that feature in In My Garden , that doesn’t mean the children are oblivious to Mother Nature and the colour and magic and togetherness that she brings.  As so many of the young artists add natural elements to the drawing, there is an unspoken acknowledgement of what is missing from this hemmed-in concrete jungle, perhaps inspiring something more than a transient chalk drawing to be done. And, as with In My Garden, there is much to explore about the connectivity of gardens, real and imagined, in “The picture crossed deserts and mountains and oceans and cities.  It bounced around the world, returning to fill the screens in all the dark rooms over the concrete garden”. 

Others might like to explore why it is the seemingly simple activity of drawing a picture with chalk that brings so much imagination, friendship, co-operation, optimism and joy rather than the more formal, organised, prescriptive activities that seem to be such a part of children’s lives.  They might be let loose with chalk in their playground, or start a chain picture to which everyone contributes in the classroom, or even work together on a physical project to beautify their school or local community.  The possibilities are endless.

This is not only Bob Graham at his best but also the picture book at its best.  The links between text and illustration are woven so tightly together, one can’t stand without the other and each thread of the tapestry offers something to explore and ponder.  Expect to see this one up there in all the awards in the coming year.   

I am Lupe

I am Lupe

I am Lupe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Lupe

Sela Ahosivi-Atiola

Yani Agustina

Lothian, 2023

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

9780734422538

Unlike her classmates, Lupe has curly black hair just like her dad, deep brown eyes just like her mum and the coconut oil her mum lathers into her brown skin each day makes it glisten in the sunlight.  And her friends ask about those differences, making Lupe feel awkward because she doesn’t know what to say.  And her mother’s answer shows that in reality, Lupe is just like every other kid – she is a daughter, a big sister, a friend, fearless and funny… she is who she is and that is enough.

This theme of a child being physically different from their peers is common  among picture books for young children such as the magnificent Eyes that Kiss in the Corners as is the revelation that despite our appearances, we share more similarities than differences.  Written by a Tongan-Australian writer this story opens up a different part of the world for many because Lupe is of Tongan descent – “I was born in … the first place on earth to see the sunrise each day” – and stories that have children from the Pacific Islands as their lead characters are rare. From the teachers notes we learn that the fish dish her mother is preparing is ota ika, a raw fish salad, offering the opportunities to not only investigate the traditional foods of Tonga, but also the traditional ways that fish is prepared in other cultures – it’s not always fried and served with chips.  And that can lead to all sorts of investigations about our Pacific neighbours allowing our students from those countries to share their stories and have their heritage acknowledged.

Over my 50+ years of working with children, I have never worked in a classroom where there were only “white Anglo-Saxon” children as Lupe’s class appears to be,  and there would be few nationalities I haven’t encountered, and the greatest joy has been not only seeing the children all meld together as one getting on with the business of being a child and learning and playing together, but all that they have taught me over the years.  And while I’ve not directly experienced the sort of open conversation that Lupe has with her peers, I do know that often kids see their own differences as being bigger than they really are and that this can lead to self-consciousness and anxiety, so the more we share these sorts of books and reassure them that regardless of red hair, wheelchairs, purple skin or knobbly knees, who they are is enough and welcome, the better. To have one in which our Pacific nations kids can see themselves, is a bonus. 

 

Amazing Dad

Amazing Dad

Amazing Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Dad

Alison Brown

Farshore, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A 19.99

9780008555474

Dads can be busy, whizzy, caring, sharing . . . and so much more. But there’s just ONE dad who gives the best hugs of all. Can you guess who it is?

This is a companion to Amazing Mum and like that, it features all sorts of anthropomorphic dads  doing all sorts of things with their little ones with rhyming captions that really encourage young readers to examine the pictures so they can predict the text. Often these sorts of books focus on actual activities that kids and dads can do together but this one is more diverse and includes acknowledgement of dads who have taken on others’ children, dads who live apart and may only be weekend dads, and even dads who can  only live on in the child’s heart.  So there is something for almost every child to relate to and to share about their own dad.

As well as being a tribute to dads and helping the young reader focus on all the things their dad does, it encourages the development of a lot of essential foundation literacy skills not the least of which is that print is fun.  

Dolly Parton’s Billy the Kid Makes it Big

Dolly Parton's Billy the Kid Makes it Big

Dolly Parton’s Billy the Kid Makes it Big

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dolly Parton’s Billy the Kid Makes it Big

Dolly Parton

MacKenzie Haley

Puffin, 2023

40pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761342837

French bulldog Billy the Kid was born with an ear for music. And not just any music. He loves barking to the beat of country music! So Billy sets out to Nashville to sing his heart out.

But when he meets some big bullies at the Battle of the Bow-wows, Billy worries he’s barking up the wrong tree. But when they start to pick on one of his new friends, one much smaller than all the others, he knows it is up to him to stand up and call out the bad behaviour.  But he knows he will need the help of his new friends, and so he comes up with a clever plan…

Based on the theme of one of Dolly Parton’s own songs, Makin’ Fun Ain’t Funny, based on her own life experiences, the anti-bullying message is strong as young readers are encouraged to celebrate differences rather than mocking them, a theme underlined in the illustrations which show dogs of every shape, size and colour. But as strong as that message is, there is  an equally strong one about following your dreams, believing in yourself and persevering to make them happen as Billy the Kid faces adversity and rejection before he finds his niche. 

Parton, herself, is well-known for her Imagination Library, a free book gifting program devoted to inspiring a love of reading in the hearts of children everywhere (including in some parts of Australia) with over 211 million books given to young children to help foster a love of reading and encourage them to dream. “The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world.” So this copy will find its way into the local community as part of the hidden books initiative that is growing daily. 

Grandad’s Camper

 

 

 

 

Grandad's Camper

Grandad’s Camper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandad’s Camper

Harry Woodgate

Andersen Press , 2022 

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

 9781783449927

There’s nothing she loves more than to visit her Grandad, snuggle up on the sofa and listen as he tells all about the amazing places he and Gramps would explore in their camper.  But these days, Grandad’s camper van is hidden away in the garage – now Gramps isn’t around any more, the adventures they shared travelling in it just wouldn’t be the same. As she listens to his wonderful stories, Grandad’s granddaughter has an idea to cheer him up…

This is a delightful story of a little girl’s relationship with her grandfather, a bond that those of us who have been fortunate to experience it never forget.  But this story has a twist because there is no grandma – rather there is Gramps, her grandfather’s much loved partner. And while it is a reminder that there are many definitions and designs of “family” – the rainbow flag on the camper on the cover is an indicator- it is the little girl’s complete acceptance of the situation that is heart-warming because it shows we have come a long way, albeit there is still a way to go.  So while gender diversity is not the obvious in-your-face focus of the story, it is the memories that are so inextricably bound together by Grandad’s and Gramps’ relationship that are at its heart. 

Family diversity is so widespread and little ones need to see theirs in stories, so this is another opportunity to share and celebrate. 

Originally published March 4, 2022

Updated February, 2023

You Need To Chill

 

 

 

 

You Need To Chill

You Need To Chill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Need To Chill

Juno Dawson

Laura Hughes

Farshore, 2023

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

9780008488284

When Bill can’t be found at school one day, the imaginations of the other children run wild. Is he on holiday? Is he lost in the park? Has he been eaten by a shark?! It’s up to Bill’s sister to explain…

This is a fun-filled celebration of family diversity that is filled with love, acceptance and humour as the suggestions of Bill’s whereabouts are contemplated and the only response is, “Hun, you need to chill.” But finally the answer is disclosed and it’s not what a lot of readers will expect, but knowing little kids, one they will accept. It opens up the opportunity for discussions about not only Bill’s new circumstances but also family diversity in general and the children will soon realise that no two families are the same.  Such growth in tolerance in the years I’ve been teaching, led by books like this which expose our young readers to new situations so they are ready for them when they encounter them.   

 

Out of the Blue

 

 

 

 

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the Blue

Robert Tregoning

Stef Murphy

Bloomsbury, 2023

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

9781526627964

What happens if you live in a world of blue –

ONLY BLUE ALLOWED, by Blue government demand

Anything that isn’t blue, by colour law, is banned

-but your favourite colour is yellow?

What if your favourite toy is a little yellow rubber duck but you have to hide it even from your family?

This is a story that not only champions diversity, difference and pride but encourages those who are different to have the courage to come forward and celebrate that.  In a world that is hopefully disappearing rapidly – despite those in some US states clinging to the “old standards” by banning books and educators facing criminal charges for breaches – and conformity was the key, there were always those who preferred yellow in a world of blue whether that was colour, religion, political or gender identity, or any of the millions of other ways that humans differ.  And it’s been a theme in many children’s books now for some time, but this one stands out for its simplicity in explaining the concept. Liking yellow in a world of mandated blue is something even the youngest readers can understand and they can start to think of things that they like that perhaps others don’t, like brussel sprouts and broccoli., then consider if that is necessarily something to be shunned for. 

A friend recently posted a message to social media about a daughter who “marches to the beat of her own drum” (whatever rhythm that might be) and my response was that it was wonderful that she now lives in a world that is willing to accept and embrace so many different tunes because while it might sound like a cacophony, it is actually the harmonious sound of humanity.  

So it doesn’t matter how many times our little ones hear this vital message about being yourself, of celebrating difference, of having the courage to stand out, because now we are finally reaping the benefits.  

 

May be an image of 1 person and text that says 'When you dance to your own rhythm life taps its toes to your beat. Terri Guillemets the oogie boogie witch'

 

Peg Leg Pedicure

Peg Leg Pedicure

Peg Leg Pedicure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peg Leg Pedicure

Eliza Ault-Connell

Aimee Chan

Angela Perrini

Little Steps, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.95

9781922358424

Eva is so used to her mum having artificial legs because she had lost her real ones after a childhood illness, that she is quite taken aback when a school friend calls her mum “weird” because of them.  Eva sees her mum as strong and brave and busy just like all the other mums, one who makes light of her metal legs by pretending to be a pirate and who lets Eva give her old, more traditional peg-legs pedicures and paint the toes like rainbows.  

But rather than be cross with Rishab for upsetting Eva, her mum has the perfect solution – and so she shows the kids how being different in one way or another is what makes them extraordinary.

While stories about children being different are quite common for little ones, it is not often there is one about the parent, particularly one based on a true situation because co-author Eliza Ault-Connell, an Australian wheelchair track athlete who has competed at the Olympics, Paralympics and World Championships after losing her legs and most of her fingers but surviving meningococcal disease is Eva’s “mum”. 

Thus, by celebrating her “disability” – something that opened more doors for her than she could probably have imagined as an able-bodied person – young children can be inspired to make the most of what they have.  That that which sets them apart is what makes them unique and extraordinary. I can always remember my mum telling me as a young child in the 50s that with red hair, glasses and freckles I probably wouldn’t win a beauty contest but I had brains that would outstrip anyone and so that is what I used as I grew up and they lasted much longer than any pretty face might have.

This is an uplifting story that encourages our young readers to focus on what they perceive to be their weaknesses and then work out how they can use them to be brave and bold and smart, no matter what.