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It’s OK to feel the way you do

It's OK to feel the way you do

It’s OK to feel the way you do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK to feel the way you do

Josh Langley

Big Sky, 2017

90pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925520965

The buzzword in many personal development programs these days is resilience and phrases such as “Eat cement and harden up”, “Build a bridge and get over it”, and “Suck it up, princess” are often heard bandied around. It’s as though expressing our emotions, particularly ‘negative’ ones, is becoming unacceptable and we are supposed to bottle up anger and disappointment and fear and let it fester away inside, becoming bigger and bigger, in case we offend or hurt someone else’s feelings.

This can be very confusing especially for young children who are recognising their range of feelings and learning how to control their actions in response to them.  Our emotions are controlled by chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin and we cannot control their release although we are expected to control and even suppress their consequences.  So a book written and illustrated especially for young children that explores the natural feelings of happiness, anger, sadness, loneliness, pride, fear and anxiety and shows that is OK to have the whole range of such emotions – in fact, it is unhealthy not to – is welcome, particularly as mindfulness programs gather momentum.

Understanding that emotions are what makes us human and that certain things trigger certain emotions, even though there are different triggers for each person, is a huge step in understanding ourselves and we need to do that if we are to understand others.  Acknowledging our feelings is the first step in dealing with them appropriately, developing responses and reactions and then being able to move on to choices is part of natural maturity.  Langley tells his own story of how a negative comment in his childhood spurred him on to greater things rather than sending him into a downward spiral and so children can learn it’s not the emotion that is the issue, but how we can deal with it for the better -do we express it or suppress it?

The bright, bold colours and cartoon-like illustrations will capture the young reader, the text that talks directly to them and the affirmation that feeling feelings is natural and OK will help to empower our young students and help them from feeling overwhelmed even confused.  In the past, health curricula have included exploring feelings and children have completed a zillion sentences starting “I am happy when…” but in today’s world we need to take this further and show that feelings are natural, that they are shared, that disappointment and anger are OK and can lead us in a new direction, that everyone has fears and doubts and highs and lows and life is not necessarily the glossed-up television version.

Indeed, it’s OK to feel the way you do.

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

What Makes Me A Me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Makes Me A Me?

Ben Faulks

David Tazzyman

Bloomsbury, 2017

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

9781408883327

Who am I?
I ask myself.
What makes me a ME?
I think hard with all my might,
And look around to see.

What is it that makes us unique, unlike anything or anyone else despite the similarities we see? Are we like our clothes -the same shape and the same age; maybe like a computer that knows lots of things; or perhaps a tree because our arms stick out like branches? But then, for everything we see a similarity with there are also subtle differences.  Super Guy helps the goodies and fights the baddies but he also likes to kiss girls!  Maybe we move like a snail, especially first thing in the morning, but where are our eyes on stalks and the slimy trail?

The author of Watch Out for Muddy Puddles  and the illustrator of You Can’t Take an Elephant on a Bus  have combined to create an intriguing story-in-rhyme that encourages children to think about their identity and what it is that makes them special.  Because no matter how like something or someone you are, there is always a subtle – or not-so subtle- difference that makes you, you.  

A perfect parent-child read-along, it would also be the ideal introduction to an early childhood unit that explores each child’s individuality while still acknowledging that each is human and has the same needs and dreams as their friends.  They could have fun thinking how they might be like something, especially if their thinking is extended by pulling the name of an object out of a hat (perhaps a woolly blue one) and looking for a link. My friend tells me I am an eggbeater but didn’t say if it’s because I’m always whirring around or whipping everything up!!!  Lots of potential for all sorts of activities in this one. 

Soon

Soon

Soon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon

Jessica Love

Echo Books, 2015

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9780994232397

My dad is leaving soon.

He is going to another country to help keep other families safe.

Soon is coming too fast…

It is Christmas today.

My dad is still gone. I am sad.  Christmas feels strange without him… but soon is getting closer.

Time is such an abstract concept for young children to grasp that adults usually resort to the seemingly innocuous “soon” when asked, “How long till…?”

But soon can seem to be a long time when you’re young, seemingly meaning  “forever” when it stretches over birthdays, Christmas and Easter, and almost touches “Never!” When creator Jess Love’s dad was deployed overseas with the Australian Defence Forces, she became one of many children, including my own grandchildren, who measured the concept of “soon” in special days, events and activities missed.  Even letters, emails and phone calls become bittersweet because while it is great to catch up, it just makes the pain of missing even more acute and “soon” seems just as far away as it ever was.  Even knowing the absence is because someone else is being helped doesn’t really register with littlies because they want their daddy or mummy there to help them.

The predecessor to Sometimes   young author Jessica has articulated and illustrated the innermost feelings of any child missing a loved one who is absent for whatever reason, not just overseas deployment.  While the adults in their lives can understand calendars and do mental countdowns and fill their days, young children have to be satisfied with “soon” and it can be confusing.  Is it a long time, getting closer, almost here, or taking too long? And for some it can mean feeling bereft or even abandoned.

This is an important book for parents to know about so they can understand that “soon” isn’t enough in times of extended absence; that while their child might seem to understand time it can be confusing and there needs to be some sort of mechanism that help them have a picture of what “soon” means such as a calendar to cross off the days or the number of sleeps left; something that helps them realise that “soon” will come and it will happen. 

For the children of those in the Defence Forces or other professions that entail long absences, it is important for them to know that their feelings are real, shared and validated and that “soon” will come eventually. While crossing dates off a calendar might seem pointless and endless, perhaps instead of marking special things missed, they can set themselves a goal to achieve before “soon” happens.  Riding their bike, playing a tricky tune on the piano, knitting a jumper, achieving the next level in a sport – whatever is their passion can become their driving force for making “soon” hurry up. And even though it seems that it is dragging its feet, it eventually does arrive.

As teachers there is much that we can do to acknowledge the anxiety, help the understanding of time by making the countdown the kickstart for a series of lessons about how humans have measured time over millennia and make “soon” become “now”.

Another important addition to  our mindfulness toolboxes and collections.

The Beast of Hushing Wood

The Beast of Hushing Wood

The Beast of Hushing Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beast of Hushing Wood

Gabrielle Wang

Puffin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143309178

For the close-knit residents of Dell Hollow, Hushing Wood is dark and sinister but for nearly-12 year old Ziggy it wraps itself around the town like a sleeping cat, protecting it from the outside world – not that there are any towns or villages anywhere nearby  Lately though, since her dad left because no matter how long they live there, “foreigners” are still outsiders,  its reputation seems to be coming true as strange things seem to be happening, not the least of which is the recurring nightmare that Ziggy has that has convinced her she is going to drown on her 12th birthday. A place that has offered her solace and comfort now seems menacing and unfamiliar.

So when Raffi Tazi begins at the school, the first new student there ever, not only is he an outsider but he has black wavy hair and skin the colour of burned butter, very different from the Dell Hollow norm of fair skin and light hair.  And instead of wearing his shirt tucked into his belted pants, he wears a loose white cotton shirt that hangs over baggy trousers.  Fodder indeed for the narrow minds of the town, particularly class bully Harry Arnold. So is he friend or foe? How does his arrival coincide with the strange happenings and appearances that Ziggy experiences?

A mixture of mystery, magic, and adventure this is an imaginative tale that will appeal to  independent upper primary readers who are starting to be aware of themselves and their place in the world and perhaps experiencing a little insecurity at the changes happening within and without.  Even Grandpa who has been Ziggy’s rock for so long can not help as he is sliding into dementia and although there is a hint that Hushing Wood used to be different, his memories are muddled and so Ziggy must find her own path to understanding and acceptance .

An intriguing read that will resonate long after the last page is read.

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

Perfectly Norman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfectly Norman

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781408880982

Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! 

He had imagined growing taller or even growing a beard like his dad, but not growing  a pair of wings!

Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly – and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different can prove tricky and upsetting. The coat became a burden, even an embarrassment and Norman began to resent the wings until he realised it was the coat making him unhappy, not the wings. After all, no-one else has wings, so why him? Can he find the courage to discard the coat? What does he discover when he does?

In this poignant story about being different, Percival has set the text against striking backgrounds of various shades of grey depicting normal and dull while giving Norman bright colour and light so that his feelings of being unique are highlighted physically as well as emotionally. He has also chosen to depict a diversity of characters, each unique in their own way and each of whom accept Norman as normal, so really, what does “normal’ mean?

 For a wonderful part of their lives, children don’t see difference and they just love who they are but then awareness starts to develop and they start to see themselves with new and often unkind eyes.  They want nothing more than to be the same as their peers, to not stand out, to be normal and anything that makes them unique, whether it is skin colour, wearing spectacles, being an only child or growing a set of wings, becomes a burden that they would rather not carry. But the freedom when the coat is shed… 

Accepting and celebrating who we are and what we are, especially those things that make us special and unique is so important for our mental health and at last, we are starting to understand that the self-talk and messages we give ourselves as we interpret our interactions and experiences as a child can have an incredible impact on the well-being of our older selves. The more children can encounter books like Perfectly Norman and discuss them so they understand that there is no ‘normal’ or “perfect” the healthier they will be.  It is our responsibility as teacher librarians, teachers and other significant adults in their lives to make sure they meet lots of Normans and not only grow to love their own wings but to use them to fly!

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be a Superhero

Susan Hall

Cheryl Westenberg

NLA Publishing, 2017

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780642278890

Wesley Wombat really wanted to be a superhero.

‘If only I had superpowers like all my friends!’ he thought longingly.

If only he could fly like the king parrot, swim like the platypus, jump like the kangaroo or protect himself with body armour like the echidna.  But, sadly, no matter how hard he tries to be like his friends in the bush, his attempts end in near disaster.  He is feeling really despondent but his mother reassures him he will find his special talent and to look forward to the birthday party with his friends the next day.  And it is on his way to the party that Wesley discovers his super power and becomes a super hero.

This is a charming story written for the very young who are learning to identify our unique indigenous creatures and their special characteristics.  Using a lift-the-flap format, Cheryl Westenberg has created the most wonderful illustrations of Wesley’s mishaps that little ones (and bigger ones too) will roll on the floor laughing and really understand the fun to be had in stories while understanding that each of us has our own super power because we are all really good at something. Bright and colourful and accompanied by extra pages of facts about each of the featured creatures, this is a must-have addition for the early childhood collection.  

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

Pea Pod Lullaby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pea Pod Lullaby

Glenda Millard

Stephen Michael King

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760290085

I am the lullaby

You are the melody

Sing me

It starts like a gentle lullaby, perhaps a story you would share with your very youngest children to help them slip into sleep at the end of a long happy day.  But turn the page and a different story emerges from this remarkable collaboration between author and illustrator that grew as a special project at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in NSW.

The first hint that this is not a traditional lullaby comes when you turn the page and you are confronted by the image of a baby being passed into a tiny boat despite the stormy sea, safe into the arms of a young boy, while high on the rugged, isolated cliff barbed wire tangles it way down, clearly designed to prevent such departures. Yet despite this ominous scenery, the words evoke a feeling of trust, safety and comfort…

I am the small green pea

You are the tender pod 

Hold me.

This message of security and belief that there will be protection threads throughout the rest of the story in its gentle, lyrical text and despite the pictures portraying a somewhat different, more threatening story, the inclusion of the red bird constantly with them and appearing somewhat like the dove from Noah’s Ark towards the end of the journey is reassuring.  

The symbolism is strong  – a polar bear found floating on a fridge is taken on board and returned to its family with the help of the whales, the boat expanding to accommodate all shows that this is a story about the planet, not just its people – and all the while the little peapod boat sails on towards it destination regardless of the sea’s moods, just as love carries us all through life. While the final stanza – I am the castaway, you are the journeys end. welcome me – might suggest the story is over, the final pages and the endpapers show that this is a bigger story than that of the family in that little boat. 

While the family in the boat give a focus to those who find literally launching themselves into and onto the great unknown a better prospect than staying where they are, this is about that uniquely human emotion of hope – the family believe they will reach a better destination and they will be welcomed with warmth and compassion and even in their midst of their own struggle they find the wherewithal to help others, just as they hope they would be helped.

There are teachers’ notes available that take this so much deeper than any review can, but don’t be surprised to see this amongst the CBCA Book of the Year winners in 2018.

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Sarah and the Steep Slope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah and the Steep Slope

Danny Parker

Matt Ottley

Little Hare, 2017

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

9781742974675

When Sarah opened her door one morning she was confronted by it.  A steep slope. Blocking out the sun and casting a shadow across everything. Rising in front her like an insurmountable and impenetrable barrier.  And so it proved to be.

Prodding and pushing didn’t move it,  surprising it didn’t shake it and trying to sneak around it was hopeless.  And when she tried to climb it, even with her climbing shoes, she got halfway and then slid all the way back down.  How was she going to see her friends?

Nothing worked – even ignoring it didn’t make it go away and neither did the help of the slope doctor so he left clutching a lot of notes for Sarah’s friends and going out the door to a flat, sunlit landscape. Next day her friends visited her and they didn’t see the steep slope either. They stayed and played all day long.  And the next day…

This is a sophisticated picture book for older readers who will appreciate its symbolism as Sarah tries to negotiate the steep slope that is only visible to her. Younger readers who are still at a very literal stage of development may not understand that the slope exists only in Sarah’s mind and that it is a representation of a problem that she perceives to have no solution.

If used in a class situation, students may make suggestions about the slope that is facing Sarah and be willing to share the “slopes” they have had to navigate – physical, academic, mental and emotional – and how they found their way, while others with slopes in front of them still may draw comfort and even hope that they are not alone and that there is a pathway they can follow. We are all faced with “slopes’ as we live and learn – some steeper than others but without them there is no progress in life – and part of the success of climbing them lies in being able to acknowledge and  analyse the issue, break it into small steps, develop strategies to tackle each step, understand that others are willing and able to help and it is no shame to ask them,  believe success is possible and engage in positive self-talk.  

This is a story about the power of friendship, of having the courage to take the next step forward, of being resilient and acknowledging we are part of a village that we can seek support from and that there is always help and hope. The absence of Sarah’s family in her solution and her reaching out to a doctor rather than a parent suggest that sometimes the issue is within the family or it is not something the child feels comfortable talking about with a family member for a range of reasons, giving the reader the approval that it is okay to seek advice and assistance beyond the traditional helpers used as they have grown up without feeling guilty that they have betrayed anyone or hurt their feelings.  

Apart from the concepts of symbolism, similes and metaphors and all that technical English language stuff, this is an important book in the mindfulness collection as we finally start to acknowledge the mental health issues for even the youngest children and help them develop the strategies and skills that will enable and empower them. Those are the important lessons teachers, and I use the word in its broadest sense, teach.

 

 

Two Rainbows

Two Rainbows

Two Rainbows

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Rainbows

Sophie Masson

Michael McMahon

Little Hare, 2017

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760127794

The little girl looks out from her city window and sees a cloud and part of a rainbow.  At first, it seems like it is the only colour in this grey, drab city landscape and she thinks longingly of the rainbows she used to see in the country on the family farm – rainbows that spanned the whole sky and lit it up, not just a small arc peeping from a cloud because the sky is full of buildings. 

But gradually she begins to see spots of colour in her new surroundings – not the full-blooded red of the tractor of the farm but the red postbox in the street; not the orange of the sunset and the twine around the hay bales, but a curl of orange peel on the pavement; not the blue of her sheepdog Billy’s eyes but the paint of a neighbour’s fence…  And there is one colour that both landscapes have in common.

This story is a marriage of text and illustration, each interdependent as they should be in quality picture books.  At first the little girl sees only the rainbow, even though there are other spots of colour around her, as she thinks nostalgically of the colours of the country but as she starts to see more of her environment, so too the colours in the pictures increase although the city remains grey and the country bathed in light. And as her thoughts slowly attune to the city environment she begins to see more objects, different from the farm but perhaps with something to offer as she peers over the blue fence and sees a treehouse with a rope ladder and maybe a friend.

Perhaps, after all, there is but one rainbow – it just sees different things.  An interesting contrast between city and country living that poses the question about why the family may have moved; about nostalgia as we tend to yearn for the things we remember when we are out of our comforts zone and hope as we learn to adjust and adapt to new places, new things and new experiences. 

Reena’s Rainbow

Reena's Rainbow

Reena’s Rainbow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reena’s Rainbow

Dee White

Tracie Grimwood

EK Books

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

97817755935223

Reena is deaf and the little brown dog in the park is homeless. But even though her ears didn’t work, her eyes did and she saw the things that others take for granted.  So even though she couldn’t hear the wind in the trees, she could still see the leaves swirling and Dog leap to catch the acorns.

When the children came to play hide and seek in the park she was very good at finding their hiding places, but when it was her turn to hide no one could find her and she couldn’t hear them calling so they left her there alone.  Luckily Dog was able to fetch her mother who explained that people are like the colours of the rainbow – each one different but together a strong and beautiful entity.  But both Reena and Dog felt like they didn’t belong in the rainbow.  Will they ever fit in?

As well as windows that show readers a new world, stories should also be mirrors that reflect their own lives.  Children, in particular, should be able to read about themselves and children like them in everyday stories so they understand they are not freaks and that others share their differences and difficulties.  Reena’s Rainbow is a wonderful addition to a growing collection of stories that celebrate the uniqueness of every person and not only show them they are not alone but also help others to understand their special needs.  Imagine how frightened Reena must have felt when all the children left the park because they assumed she had gone home.

Young children are remarkably accepting and resilient – they don’t see colour, language, dress or disability as a barrier to the child within – those are handicaps that adults impose on themselves – but the more stories like this that we share with them, the more likely they are to develop knowledge, understanding, tolerance and acceptance and thus develop into adults who embrace difference rather than shunning it.  Close inspection shows that rainbows actually include every shade of every colour, not just those visible to the eye, and through Reena and Dog and characters like them we can all learn to discern the not-so-obvious beauty.