Alice Bonnet lived with her grandmother on a hill in the middle of town and together they made a very good team as they did all sorts of things together, particularly cooking. But while Alice adored her grandmother and loved their time together, especially Fridays, there were times when she really longed for someone of her own size to talk to. And so one day she wrote a message, put it in a bottle and threw it in the river…
Set in France, with all sorts of French things to capture the reader embedded in the illustrations, this is a gentle, charming story of the power of healing that a special friendship can bring, particularly when dark clouds seem to hang around forever and the sun is hiding. Both Alice and Francois need each other because each is lonely and by using the randomness of messages in a bottle finding each other, and continuing to do so, illustrates the concept that we never know just when and where we find a special someone that we will connect with for the long term.
Adding to the charm of the story are the anthropomorphic characters who are completely unaware of their differences, and Gordon’s clever insertion of French elements that encourage the reader to use the illustrations to discover their meaning.
Every time you read this book, there is another layer to discover and because it’s theme is one that will resonate with readers of all ages, it is one that will be read over and over again.
Out for a walk with his father and dog, Jasper, Harry sees a flying pig! Well. it’s actually a cloud shaped like a flying pig and suddenly the walk is made more interesting as the two spot all sorts of shapes in the clouds overhead. Even when dark, ominous ones roll in with menacing shapes like a rhinoceros and a wolf that make Harry shiver, his dad shows him how they are good for the earth and all that grows in it.
Just as the clouds change shape and colour so does Harry’s mood, particularly when Jasper disappears, and Vescio has cleverly mirrored these changes so young readers can understand that while they may be sad and unhappy now, there will come a change to happier times, just as the sun will always return to peek through and fill us with joy and hope again. We just need to be patient and resilient to wait for it. That is the silver lining of clouds.
As well as being an engaging way to help young children understand the cycle of moods and feelings, this is also a wonderful way to build imagination and vocabulary as there are few things more peaceful than lying down and watching the endless patterns of clouds. Harry even touches on the question of what clouds are and why they can’t be touched, so that opens up another avenue of investigation while Bevington’s illustrations of Harry, his father and Jasper superimposed onto real cloudscapes will attract the artistic mind.
Living in a rural landscape with no pollution, reading the clouds to predict the weather and just appreciating their diversity of shape, colour, density and speed is one of the joys of the simple life. This book will connect our kids to these oft-overlooked phenomena while also showing them that there is always hope on the horizon.
Mabel is a fly. But despite being only as big as a fingernail, she has BIG plans which include climbing a mountain, hosting a dinner party and making friends with a shark! Despite the lack of encouragement from her friends, Mabel is determined to achieve her dreams and starts by looking for a mountain to climb – one that will challenge her. And challenge her it does, and even though at times she thinks about changing those plans, she believes in herself and perseveres.
With a now-familiar theme of believing in yourself, persevering and being resilient, this is another story to encourage our young children to dream big and have the courage to continue, perhaps even inspiring their friends to have their own dreams. By having Mabel choose climbing a mountain as her challenge, a familiar metaphorical concept in itself, Hillyard is able to demonstrate the hard work, the sustained effort and ignoring of detractors that goes into achieving goals – there will always be setbacks and obstacles to be negotiated and navigated but the effort is worth it if the dream is.
A good one for the start of the year, or now that the year has restarted, when we ask children what their goals are – perhaps they could map out a route and trace their journey as they go, giving a tangible record to help them stay on track.
There are 999 people living on the Isle of Mulch, most of them awful adults who do not like children. Even those who should like children, like those at the school, the local park, the toy shop and even the island’s ice-cream van like nothing more than making children miserable. And the island is owned by the most awful one of all – Aunt Greta Greed!
But then there is Ned, an 11-year-old boy in a wheelchair who is constantly tormented by his older sister Jemima who resents him because he gets all the attention. Despite being unable to walk Ned is perpetually optimistic and makes it his mission to change the miserable adults and the misery. While trying to get his own back on Jemima, he discovers one of the great mysteries of the world – slime! What is it? Who is it? Where does it come from? And how does Ned use slimepower to take on the horrible grown-ups of Mulch?
Using his characteristic humour which so appeals to that audience of newly independent readers, the wacky illustrations of Tony Ross and an intriguing visual layout, this story bounces along at a rapid pace that draws the reader in and keeps them as hooked as the local shoe fish that are the main diet of the islanders. Yet for all its wackery and humour, there is a solid story underpinning the adventures that make if more than a bit of floss read to pass the time. Everyone will be cheering for Ned and perhaps see themselves in him, always a winning element.
There is something scary in the statistic that 70% of primary school children have a concern about their body image, and when this is coupled with the greatest desire of post-restriction Australia is for beauty salons and gyms to re-open, it is easy to see why and that without intervention, this obsession with how we look is not going to change. From long before the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe to waif-like Twiggy to the more-rounded Kardashians, our obsession with how our bodies look rather than how they perform has dominated so many lives, and this is as true for our males as it is for females. How many young lads see themselves in the image of a Hemsworth?
In 2016 Taryn Brumfitt wrote and directed a documentary Embrace which encouraged us to love who we are as we are, but that doco received a MA15+ classification and so did not reach down to the roots of where the obsession starts.
So now she is addressing this with the establishment of a number of initiatives that speak directly to our children including another documentary , a song and, based on that song, this book. Based on the mantra that “your body is not an ornament:it is the vehicle to your dreams!”. children of every size, shape, colour and ability are engaged in all sorts of activities showing the extraordinary things our bodies can do proving that nobody has a body that is the same as anyone else’s and that it is capable of so much more than conforming to some arbitrary stereotyped look.
This book has an important role in the conversations and investigations we have with our youngest students and not just in the health and mindfulness programs we offer. Because we are all individuals it opens up the world of science and maths as we investigate why and how that is, delving into genetics and measurement and a host of other areas that give a deep understanding to the message of the book, including the language we use to describe others. ‘Smart’, ‘clever’, ‘athletic’ are so much better than the pejorative terms of ‘pretty’, ‘handsome’ and ‘strong’. For if, from an early age, we can grasp that we, as individuals, are a combination of the unique circumstances of both our nature and nurture, then our understanding of and appreciation for who we are is a big step towards valuing the inside regardless of the outside in both ourselves and others.
It is sad that there is still a need for this sort of book in 2020, just as there was in 1920 and 1960, but if you make and use just one purchase this year, this could be the one that changes lives for the better.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 and Tayla Harris goes to work as normal, just as she has every other day. But this was to be no ordinary day – not only was it the last round of the AFLW home-and-away matches to determine which team would be in the finals, but it was the day Tayla was propelled into the media in a way she never sought nor wanted.
During the match, she kicked a goal and photographer Michael Wilson snapped the action as it happened. Ordinarily, it would be no big deal but when it was published online to showcase her amazing athletic ability, suddenly the faceless trolls who hide behind their keyboards decided she was fair game and the photo went viral, along with a plethora of nasty comments that turned it into something it was not. Rather than being a photo of an athlete at work, it became a war of words – a war that hit the headlines here and overseas. And because 7AFL chose to remove the photo rather than hold the trolls accountable, it attracted even more attention.
In this frank and very personal memoir of that time, Harris speaks directly to the reader about the impact that it had on her as an individual and as a footy player and her concerns for herself, her family and the families of those who felt it was OK to write what was essentially sexual abuse. She notes that she was “lucky” because she had a manager, a family and a community who rallied around her to support her through the furore, but she is very concerned for those who suffer similar bullying and do so, alone and often in secret.
Whether readers are footy fans or not, know who Tayla Harris is or not, this is a powerful story that shows the power of social media and the consequences of those faceless remarks that so many seem to think they have the right to make. For our girls wanting to aspire to the highest level of sport, it is inspirational; for those who are suffering at the hands of these anonymous cowards it offers hope and guidance; for those who write such trash, it is an eye-opener into what their words can do. For Tayla, it resulted in a statue in Federation Square and a boost to women’s football that was unprecedented, but sadly, for some like Dolly Everett it is a burden too tough to bear. That’s why, despite not usually reviewing books for the age group that this is written for, I’m sharing Tayla’s story because this is a story that needs to be heard over and over and over – until the haters and trolls are held accountable and responsible for their actions.
Excitement is in the air as Elizabella – poet, fixer of fairytales and the biggest prankster in the history of her school – heads off to camp with the rest of her class. But when Larry the Lizard learns she’s headed to Lizard Lake he stows away in her suitcase, dreaming of discovering the other sentient lizards rumoured to be living there. Soon, Elizabella begins having strange dreams and wonders if Lizard Lake is haunted. Meanwhile back at Bilby Creek, Martin madly searches for Larry, eventually stumbling on another lizard who looks exactly like him. After discovering who is really haunting Lizard Lake, Larry and Elizabella return home to solve another mystery. Who is the imposter hanging out with Martin?
This is the third in this series for young independent readers – Elizabella Meets Her Match and Elizabella and The Great Tuckshop Takeoverhave already been published and Elizabella Breaks a Leg will be available in September. Described as a ” messy mix of Matilda, Pippi Longstocking and Horrid Henry”, this is a lively series for girls who like a light-hearted read but with a bit of substance as they see themselves in the situations that Elizabella manages to get mixed up in. Told from the perspectives of Elizabella, her father, her pet lizard and her principal Mr Gobblefrump, the adventures of Bilby Creek Primary School’s camp at Lizard Lake will entertain as the camp’s motto is “Don’t Worry, Be Happpy” (distorted for copyright reasons) and everything has a positive spin on it. While Elizabella and her friend Minnie really want to devise the greatest prank of all time, they are confronted by real-life issues that provide a serious side that makes for a story that offers more than the blurb would suggest.
This is a series worth promoting to your students in that Year 3-4 range who are ready for the next step on their reading adventure.
There was a child,
The sweetest ever,
Until she learned these words:
No matter what activity her parents suggest, including those that have always been her favourites, Georgie’s response is No! Never! It becomes very frustrating for her parents who are at their wits’ end until they try a little reverse psychology.
Written in clever rhyme that bounces the story along, and illustrated in a way that emphasises the discord in the household because of Georgie’s attitude, this is a book that will resonate with preschoolers who are testing the boundaries and parents who are trying to manage that. While parents might like to use the strategy with their own children, or just remind their children of what happened to Georgie when their children try a similar tactic.
A fun, modern cautionary tale that will have broad appeal.
Howler Monkey loved to climb. He learned as a baby from his father and he practised and practised until he got so good at it that animals from all over the world would watch him. But one day he fell and damaged his tail so badly that he could not climb any more. He hid his injury because he was ashamed and scared that his family and friends would not like him because he couldn’t do the one thing that gave them pleasure. He became so sad that he sought the advice of Oldest Monkey who asked some really pertinent questions that helped Howler Monkey understand that he still had family and friends who loved him, he could still be the role model he was – just in a different way – and that what he did did not define who he was.
Rance, the author, was an elite Australian Rules player for the Richmond Tigers and was a member of the team that won the premiership in 2017, a feat that they hadn’t achieved since 1980. But in 2019 he ruptured his ACL in the first game of the season, ending his playing days for the year, and most likely for ever. These life-changing events have been the inspiration for this series of stories including Tiger’s Roar and Rabbit’s Hop, to help young children deal with the highs and lows of life and understand that why they do things is much more important that what it is they do. If they understand their motivation, then their actions (whether positive or negative) can be chosen, challenged and changed to suit the circumstances and it is the whole of who they are that defines them, not just one aspect.
Even without knowing the author’s personal story, young readers will appreciate this book and Howler Monkey’s predicament, particularly as they return to school and even to team sports where their lives may have changed considerably post-pandemic. The playing field might now be closer to level.
When we look back over a period in our lives, it seems that the memories that stand out are those of the times we failed, made a mistake, stuffed up… It seems to be human nature to remember the bad rather than the good; to dwell on those times when we don’t meet our own or others’ expectations; and sadly, we often let those times shape and define us, changing our purpose and pathway for ever.
The catchcry of “learn from your mistakes” is often easier said than done but in this book, Josh Langley, author of It’s OK to feel the way you do shares uplifting affirmations and simple strategies to help deal with those inevitable times when, in hindsight, we realise we could have done things differently or made better choices. Perhaps the most important of these is understanding that EVERYONE has times that they wish they could do again but that, at the time, we were doing the best we could with what we knew and had. No one gets it right all the time.
To prove this, Langley expresses his motivation for writing this book in this interview…
I remember as a kid, I was constantly making mistakes and getting into trouble, so I wanted to show kids that it wasn’t the end of the world if you stuff up every now and then. We’re human and we’ll keep making mistakes and that’s how we can become better people. I was also hearing from a lot of teachers saying that kids were having difficulty recovering from when things went wrong and would awfulise over the smallest issue. I wanted to help in some way by sharing what I’ve learnt.
I also wanted to show kids that failing isn’t a bad thing and that many wonderful things can arise out of failure. I wouldn’t have become an award winning copywriter and children’s author if I hadn’t failed high school.
Using his signature illustration style set on solid block colour and text which speaks directly to the reader continually reaffirming that the world is a better place because they are in it, he encourages kids to look for the opportunities that might arise from their “failures”. In his case he discovered his love of writing and illustrating after constantly being the worst in the class at sport.
However, IMO, while self-affirmation, self-talk and positive action are critical in building resilience, we, as teachers and parents, also need to be very aware of how we respond to the child’s “mistakes” and look beyond the immediate behavioural expression to the underlying cause. This graphic is just one of many available that encourage this.
No amount of self-talk will ever drown out the voices of those we love and respect and hold as role models, so we ourselves need to be mindful of the messages we are giving those who are just learning their way in the world.
Langley’s work is so positive and so constantly reaffirms for the reader that who they are is enough, echoing my own personal mantra of many years, that it is no wonder I am such a fan. And it is So good to have yet another resource to add to the Mindfulness and Mental Health collections, something that was scarcely heard of for kids just 10 years ago.