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The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

The Kindness Project

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness Project

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2024

338pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761340185

Nicolette’s favourite time of the day is when she visits her grandmother in “Alcatraz” – the local nursing home – each afternoon and together they complete a jigsaw, every piece fitting perfectly with its neighbour, just like Nanna and Nicolette.  Because Nicolette is a loner and a worrier and believes that her copy of the how-to-make-friends manual either got lost in the post or given to someone else.  School is a misery, for although she loves her teacher Ms Skye, she has to deal daily with DJ the bully who has always called her “knickers” and Layla, perfect, pretty but condescending and who apparently snubbed Nicolette’s birthday years ago and it still hurts.  

When a new boy with a weird name, peastick legs and oversized glasses comes to school – a boy with an amazing talent for drawing and creating stories about superheroes – tiny, tender tendrils of friendship twine them together, giving Nicolette a little bit of hope.  But then Ms Skye announces The Kindness Project and deliberately pairs the four children together, which has to be a recipe for disaster. Or is it?  

When Nicolette and Nanna bust out of Alcatraz for a day at the beach there are consequences far more wide-reaching than the police searching for them, particularly when Nicolette’s mum bans Nanna and Nicolette from seeing each other… consequences that open eyes, minds, hearts and doors for more than just the four children.

Written as a verse novel where every word is devoted to the who and their here-and-now, the choice of language is sublime and with clever use of fonts    and formatting that enhances the reader’s understanding of Nicolette’s emotions, this is one that moved me to tears as I binge-read it early one morning, and not just because of the story itself.  If we ever needed a reminder to not judge a book by its cover, to look beyond the behaviour to the circumstances driving it, for the story behind the story, then this is it.  Dealing with  issues like a grandparent with dementia, a mum with a mental illness, divorce and dealing with new parents and siblings, parents absent because of work deployments, over-the-top anxiety and feeling isolated if not abandoned,  the author has not shied away from exposing the real-life concerns that confront our students daily, and thus, the stories within the stories will resonate with many of our students – some of whom who will relate directly to the characters’ situations, others who might rethink their own words and actions.  

But it not only demands that we think about what is happening in the lives of our friends (and students) but also sheds light on the stories of those behind them.  While Nicolette may be having to come to terms with a grandmother who can no longer look after herself safely, that grandmother wasn’t always that way – she has her own backstory that guides her to guiding Nicolette; Leaf’s mum doesn’t spend every day in hospital receiving treatment for schizophrenia, DJ’s dad has made choices for altruistic reasons that a young DJ can’t yet understand. – and thus they, too have a voice in a world that seldom hears them talking.

Ms Skye sets the class The Kindness Project as a “way to change the world” and while Nicolette and her classmates are sceptical, Ms Skye assures them that “big changes come from small beginnings”.  And so it could be with this book.  One story shared could become the catalyst for so many more. 

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

Three Dresses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Dresses

Wanda Gibson

UQP, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A6.99

9780702266355

Three things are vivid memories of  the childhood of author and illustrator Wanda Gibson, Nukgal Wurra woman of the Guugu Yimithirr people – the harsh life on the Hope Vale on the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland; the annual two weeks holiday, the only time they got off the Mission, spent at the beach; and receiving three dresses and three pairs of undies from the Lutheran Church at Christmas time – “one to wash, one to war and one spare”.

But despite the hard life on the Mission – school in the morning, work in the afternoon, picking weeds out of cotton, pineapples and peanuts for no pay even in hot weather, – this is a story of the happy memories of those special two weeks spent with her family at the beach and the simplicity of a time shared and enjoyed just by being together,  

Taken at face value it is a joyful story of a holiday at the beach that could no doubt be contrasted to the holidays current students have at a similar location, or even the notion of being thrilled to get just three dresses a year, and even those were second-hand. However, thorough teachers notes help readers delve into the impact of  colonisation on our indigenous peoples and the various policies that governed their lives including extensive background information as well as points for investigation and discussion and classroom activities, making this a picture book to span all ages and aspects of the curriculum.  Indeed, there are links to further resources specifically for upper primary students. 

Whether it is shared as a story of the importance of a family making and sharing memories or one that opens doors to a different aspect of Australia’s history, this is one that has the potential to make a big impact. 

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

Words Between Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words Between Us

Angela Pham Krans

Dung Ho

HarperCollins US, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9780063224544

Felix and Grandma have always lived oceans apart—until the day Grandma arrives in the city from Vietnam. Felix is so excited to meet Grandma and spend time with her. But it’s tricky when he speaks no Vietnamese and she speaks no English. They get by with both showing each other special things like Felix’s pet iguana Pete and Grandma showing him how to care for the garden but one day, when Felix and Grandma are visiting a big festival,  Grandma gets lost and doesn’t know how to ask for help.  It is then that Felix decides to teach her English, and by working together and teaching each other, they bond closely as they learn to share words as well, culminating in their shared love of pizza.

With end papers that have flashcard translations of common words, (and Grandma’s recipe for pizza), this is another story like I Hear a Buho and Giovanni  that allows us to share and celebrate the languages spoken by our students as they take the opportunity to teach us the common words for the things that unite us regardless of our heritage.  Having bilingual books in our collections and actively promoting them is a way that we can build bridges and open doorways for those who are not native English speakers by showing them that we value what they can bring to the teaching and learning experience.  

For many newcomers to this country not speaking the common language can be a very isolating experience, compounding the difficulties of what must have already been a difficult decision, but if we can reach out to families through stories – perhaps even inviting them into the library to share the stories of their childhood in their own language to encourage those of the same background to hear them and learn about them – we show the parents, particularly the mothers, that we care and that their child will not be lost.  And, in return, we all gain so much!!!

Grandad’s Pride

Grandad's Pride

Grandad’s Pride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandad’s Pride

Harry Woodgate

Andersen Press, 2023

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781839132667

Milly and her family, including Gilbert the dog, are back for their annual summer holiday with Grandad, and while she is rummaging in the attic to build a pirate fort, Milly discovers a beautiful rainbow flag.  It sparks a discussion about how Grandad used to march in the Pride parades, celebrating the diversity of the community and sharing the message that regardless of who they love or their gender, everyone should be treated with equality and respect. 

When Milly suggests going to a parade in the old camper van, and Grandad tells her his partying days are over, she has an idea… and Pride comes to Grandad and the village!

Not only is this a joyous celebration of Pride and all that it means, it is also a down-to-earth explanation that young children can understand immediately, and many will delight in seeing children just like them portrayed in the illustrations as the villagers come together to make this a brilliant celebration.  Like its predecessor, while gender diversity is at its core, it is more about relationships and communities and connections regardless of differences like skin colour, beliefs or living arrangements.  After all, we are all humans striving to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.  

The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie Albert and the Amazing Animal Gang: The Curse of the Smugglers’ Treasure

Paul O’Grady

Sue Hellard

HarperCollins, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A11.99

9780008446857

Somewhat-unhappy and never-quite-fitting in 10-year-old Eddie Albert is the only one who knows he can speak to animals, including his pet dog Butch, his hamster and his two goldfish (who claim they were once pirates). But when Eddie is sent to stay with his aunt in Amsterdam, who, rather than being the miserable old lady who stank or cats and peppermints that he expected,  turns out to be a wealth, eccentric spinster called Lady Buddelia Sprockett who prefers to be called Aunt Budge he discovers that not only does she enjoy adventures but she too has this gift…

Now, Eddie is living in a new old house in London with is dad spending their time doing it up,  and with the Easter holidays approaching, he is looking forward to staying with her on the English Romney Marshes in an old cottage she has renovated, and she has even invited him to bring his best friend Flo, and his animals Butch the dog, Bunty the hamster and pirate goldfish Dan and Jake. The Romney Marshes has a rich history of smugglers and pirates, so when the terrible Rancid Twins arrive in town, set on uncovering the secret mystery of the smugglers’ treasure, Eddie and Flo are drawn into a thrilling new adventure. Eddie must use his ability to speak to animals to enlist the help of two elegant alpaca, a friendly sheep called Doris and a famous film-star rabbit to save the day and reveal a treasure of epic proportions…

This series has wide appeal for independent readers who like adventures, mysteries mixed in with an affinity for animals.  Unlike other series, it is not assumed that the reader has read previous episodes and  much of the background of the characters and their relationships are woven into the easy-to-read narrative.  Readers might like to seek out the first in the series, or even be drawn into reading the classic Dr Doolittle series by Hugh Lofting or perhaps the adventures of either the Famous Five or the Secret Seven, both by Enid Blyton – all stories that have proved their appeal and endurance over generations by still being in print and readily available..  

 

 

 

 

 

Our Family Dragon: A Lunar New Year Story

Our Family Dragon: A Lunar New Year Story

Our Family Dragon: A Lunar New Year Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Family Dragon: A Lunar New Year Story

Rebecca Lim

Cai Tse

Albert Street Books, 2023

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

9781761180637

Starting on  February 10, 2024 will be the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese calendar, and the family, like so many around the world, are making all the traditional preparations ready for this special celebration.  The house is clean so all the bad luck is outside with the rubbish, special foods have been cooked, and so much else has been done as the anticipation of the dragon’s arrival reaches fever point. 

The advent of the Lunar New Year is celebrated not just in Asia but around the globe as people from many nationalities honour the traditions and customs of their heritage and this new picture book is the perfect introduction to this time as its sense of expectation and energy builds through both words and pictures. As both a classroom teacher and teacher librarian, this was always one of the richest festivals to draw on, not just because of all the teaching and display opportunities that it offered but also because it touched so many children and their families. Then, as well as exploring all the possibilities that that topic offers, it can be extended into a broader investigation of how and when New Year is celebrated by the school’s families.

Many of our students will be starting the new school year with the excitement of such an important occasion looming, and this is a great way to share that joy as well as acknowledging their culture. 

 

A Chinese New Year display

A Chinese New Year display

 

What’s In A Dumpling, Grandma?

What's In A Dumpling, Grandma?

What’s In A Dumpling, Grandma?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In A Dumpling, Grandma?

Linda Meeker

Sandra Eide

Thomas Nelson,2023

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

 9781400244225

It’s a special day for  Grey and his cousin Mila because they are going to  Grandma’s and she is going to teach them how to cook bánh loc, traditional Vietnamese dumplings.  But it becomes more than just a cooking lesson as Grandma tells of her memories of sharing this heritage comfort food with other loved ones.

Celebrating the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, this is a story that shows that there is so much more in traditional family recipes beyond the physical ingredients. As well as inspiring young readers to investigate their traditional family recipes so they too can learn to make them and pass on their heritage, it has the recipe for Grandma’s fish sauce and a guide to the pronunciation of some of the key Vietnamese words used in the story, perhaps an encouragement for them to learn their ancestral language too. 

The names we have, the way we look and the food we share are perhaps the most important cultural ties that families share, so used with Joanna Ho’s Say My Name , Eyes that Kiss in the Corners,  and Eyes that Speak to the Stars, this could form the basis of a significant unit that not only welcomes all children to the class but encourages each of them to explore and share their heritage. 

Butterfly Girl

Butterfly Girl

Butterfly Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Girl

Ashling Kwok

Arielle Li

EK Books, 2023

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

9781922539564

When she lived in the country, Olivia had plenty of space for her Butterfly Garden and each day she was surrounded by all sorts of butterflies, content in her own company and theirs.  But when they move from the country cottage to an apartment in the grey city, there are no butterflies to be seen.  Even though she waited and waited, sang to them and danced and whirled and twirled as she had done to attract them in her old home, none came. 

So she decided to plant a little garden on her balcony so she could offer the butterflies the things they liked, but still none came.  Despite the little bright spot in her corner, the buildings around remained grey and bleak, seemingly only being populated by pigeons. And she still had no friends.  She sang louder, danced faster and coloured her world… Then,  one day she saw something amazing- and it wasn’t a butterfly.  Before long, she not only had butterflies but more friends than she could ever had wished for.

Moving house, whether it is across town or state, or from country to city, can be daunting for little ones, and the fear of having no friends is common.  So much so that it is theme in many books for young readers.  So this new story, well timed for those for whom a move to a new town or new school is on the horizon as year’s end nears, is one not only of reassurance but also suggests a pathway forward.  Olivia’s need for her butterfly friends and her creating of her balcony garden to attract them leads to the building of a community that crosses age and cultural borders and creates the connections that we all need.  Even if you live in a crowded apartment building you can still be isolated and lonely. There are instructions for building a butterfly garden in a small space, but even if that’s not a practical answer, it is the message of how reaching out to those with similar interests can bring untold rewards. 

 

 

A Life Song

A Life Song

A Life Song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life Song

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Puffin, 2023

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

9781761047640

When you are born, you make up a song
It doesn’t rhyme, and it isn’t long
A song of everything you hold dear
It’s your own tune, it’s loud and clear

And your whole world is in it…

One of the favourite units my Kindy kids loved to explore was one based on A. A. Milne’s poem, The End. They loved to discover how much they had grown and changed and learned since they had been born and feel the sense of empowerment and excitement of being in charge of what was to come next. 

The End

When I was One,
I had just begun.When I was Two,
I was nearly new.

When I was Three,
I was hardly me.

When I was Four,
I was not much more.

When I was Five,
I was just alive.

But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever

So I think I’ll be six now
Forever and ever.

This new release is the perfect complement to that showing how the child has grown, building on the song of their life as they mature, learn and do more things, and meet more people, each of whom contributes something to the lyrics, loud or soft. Likened to a tiny stream at birth, it grows stronger and bigger as does the child, meandering this way and that as new people and experiences occur, until it becomes one with the river flowing ever onward.  The key difference between Milne’s poem and this, though, is that the poem focuses on the child exclusively while this has the suggestion that there is much more to the child’s song that their own melody – that it started before they were born, will gather momentum during their lifetime and rather than reaching a crescendo at the end, will continue on afterwards.  So it adds to that reflection and appreciation of where they have come from by speculating and anticipating what might come next.  

One for the collection and toolbox of any teacher working with little ones who need reassurance that they are unique, that there are brighter days coming and that they have much to offer and contribute not only to their song but to the orchestra playing it. 

Listen

Listen

Listen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen

Duncan Smith & Nicole Godwin

Jandamarra Cadd

Wild Dog, 2023

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

9781742036731

Listen, and you will hear the voices of Ancestors.

At a time when there is such an important focus on Australia’s First Nations peoples,  this is a timely release to help students better understand the need for the referendum, where it has come from and what it is based on. 

Accompanied by the stunning artworks of Yorta Yorta man Jandamarra Cadd, each of which has its own story and significance, this is a book that has the minim um of text but the maximum of meaning.  While our students may have some knowledge and awareness of the importance of Country to indigenous people, this book explains the weight behind the acknowledgement of the phrase “elders, past, present and emerging” that is expressed in any Welcome to Country address.

This is a book that should not be shared without also using the teachers’ notes because they provide critical background information…

The Uluru Statement from the Heart
Key elements from the Uluru Statement from the Heart underpins the text … The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to all Australians to walk together towards a better future. It provides a roadmap with three key pillars – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

It explains why and what The Voice is, why it requires a referendum to be put in place, and what it will achieve if the referendum is successful.

But beyond that, it also has a strong element of text-to-self as readers are encouraged to consider the hopes and dreams of the children on the front cover and relate that to their own, while also having them investigate the Country they live on, its indigenous languages and stories. 

 If the referendum is unsuccessful, it is unlikely to be the end of the narrative of the requests and rights of our First Nations people to be recognised, so this book, in conjunction with We are Australians should form the core of a modern indigenous library collection as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures strand of the curriculum.

Together, they are a powerful and essential resource on which to base positive change for the future.