Each year the baby elephants present themselves to Elephant Mighty who demands they perform unique feats that will suggest their new name. And so he watches elephants on stilts, on their heads, standing on one leg, swinging on vines … Nina pulls out a tree by its roots with her trunk so becomes Elephant Strong, while Norcus bellows so loud that even the vultures take flight so he is dubbed Elephant Noisy.
But when Num Num has no special skills or tricks, Elephant Mighty calls him Elephant Nothing-At-All, humiliating Num Num so much he feels compelled to leave the herd and find another waterhole. But there he makes friends with a lot of other creatures and learns that not only does he have a special talent but he also has the courage to return to confront Elephant Mighty – with surprising results.
Using his signature rhyming style and accompanied by the most glorious illustrations, this is a story that reaffirms for youngsters that who they are is enough, that it is not about what you can do or what you have or what you look like. Particularly pertinent at a time when its target audience is negotiating the wider world of school and navigating social boundaries within that, Num Num shows that you do not have to conform to a particular stereotype to fit in but that it can take a lot of strength and support to be yourself, a message that needs to be reinforced over and over, even with adults as Elephant Mighty learns.
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.
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.
As our little ones restart their school journeys and have to relearn how to mix and mingle with others beyond their family bubble, many may need some extra guidance in how to build those relationships with their peers again. This collection of eight books, which offer QR access to videos and teacher resources, could be a valuable tool in this process.
Designed to help our very youngest readers develop ethical thinking, emotional intelligence, and social and emotional intelligence, each book focuses on a key concept such as selflessness, persistence, sharing, taking responsibility, fairness, inclusiveness, self-identity and learning to say sorry. Featuring a recurring cast of characters including Pinney ‘Potamus, Ginnie Giraffe, Miranda Panda, Dodo Komodo, Lulu Kangaroo, Tao Tiger and Kevin, Kelly and Kylie Koala, all portrayed as stitched felt creatures, young readers will enjoy the different adventures as well as pondering what the best course of action would be to solve the problem.
One of the greatest concerns of this pandemic that has engulfed the globe is the mental health of those who have been in lockdown for some time. Humans are sociable creatures, particularly our young folk who haven’t yet developed the wherewithal to be comfortable in their own company for long periods and who need the contact with their peers to validate and boost their sense of self-worth. Even though governments may have offered millions of dollars to help with the crisis, including for organisations like Kids Helpline , not all will reach out to such bodies and so books like this that talk directly to them and offer positive affirmations such as
we are all in this together
we all need a bit of TLC
we have all survived every bad day and overcome every obstacle we’ve faced
can be very valuable in the hands of those who can help. With chapters that include headings such as
Hey, you’re awesome!
Why is this stuff important?
We all have times when life is a bit rainy
You can be a good person with a kind heart and still say ‘NO’
Say yes to self-care
each page has an affirmation, information and often an activity that can offer a pathway forward. For example, in chapter 7 which focuses on self-care, the advice goes much deeper than temporary fixes like bath bombs and candles and offers some strategies for a 5-minute self care as well as identifying those things that matter to the individual so they can build their own circle of self-care and make sure they complete it each day.
As well as being an essential tool in the teacher’s well-being box so that students consciously learn the strategies of mindfulness and taking care of their own mental health, this could also be a gift to a young one who might be adrift because of the loss of their immediate peer support at this time. Even as students gradually return to school, that return is different from coming back from school holidays because families will have had to have faced a whole range of unprecedented experiences unique to them, some might feel shame or anxiety about the loss of income or whatever, and so working through the things in this book should form part of each child’s learning over the next weeks. Help them to understand that while each has had a unique set of circumstances to deal with and these will continue to be endured for some time to come, we are in this together and together we can survive and thrive. That said though, help them build the mindset and strategies that will build resilience and help them to help themselves when those difficulties arise.
It can be fun to spend time by yourself, You can play whatever you want and you don’t have to share your toys or your snacks…
But what every one of us has learned over the isolation of the last few months is that friends are critical and a crucial part of our mental well-being. As schools gradually return to full-time face-to-face teaching, some little ones may have been at home for so long that they have forgotten what it is like to work and play with others and how to be a friend, so this beautifully designed book will be the perfect platform for getting things back on an even keel. Each double page spread focuses on an issue such as what are friends, why we need them, what makes a good friend, who can be friends and so on, offering lots of scope for sharing personal stories and contributing to discussions in a way they haven’t done for some time. There are also pages devoted to how friendships grow and change, how they can be destroyed and how they can be mended so that the children realise that there will be ups and downs and part of growing up is knowing what to do and doing it, developing tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and resilience.
The final pages include a “friendship puzzle” offering the reader a few scenarios for which they have to select the most appropriate behaviour, and two pages of information for new parents about their children’s friendships, skills and strategies to help them develop and some reassuring words about imaginary friends and dealing with conflict. – the most important being to give the child time to try to sort it out. That perspective alone tells me that this author knows her stuff and her advice is sound.
Nearly 50 years ago Judith Viorist wrote a book that has become a classic called Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and that is exactly what Tabitha is having. From the moment she wakes up in the morning there is a dark raincloud hanging over her head and nothing goes smoothly. Her scrambled eggs are soggy; her teacher thinks her picture of a giraffe is a dinosaur; and no one wants to sit with her at lunch. It really was a terrible, horrible, no good , very bad day! But then Tabitha remembers that every raincloud has a silver lining…
This is a story that will resonate with every reader for who hasn’t woken up with a raincloud hanging over them, at some stage. Sadly though, whether we get out of bed on the wrong side or not, we have to get up and deal with what eventuates. The redemption is though, how we choose to respond to those events and although it takes Tabitha a while, her resilience and natural optimism help see her through. The most damaging and hurtful things we hear are those our inner voice tells us (particularly if they’re confirming what others tell us) but as we know from The Proudest Blue , we have to learn to“[Not] carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.” Instead we need to be like Tabitha and look for the silver lining and change the messages and our actions into something positive. We can’t always get rid of the problems, but we can learn strategies to help manage them so we become more resilient and better people for having to cope. The close relationship between the text and the graphics (a unique form of collage) meld in the final picture that sums up Tabitha’s new knowledge perfectly.
This is an important addition to your mindfulness collection and there are comprehensive teachers’ notes to tease out all the strands of the story.
There is a fire coming, and we need to move quickly. Mum and Dad start packing bags, grabbing woollen blankets, the first-aid kit, torches, and then the photo albums. Dad puts Ruby on her lead and ties her up near the back door. My chest feels hollow, like a birdcage.
At first, it was just another hot day as summer days can be in Victoria, with the heat lingering well into the night. But this hot day turns out to be like no other… For this is February 7, 2009 – a day that is forever etched in Australia’s history as Black Saturday. Over 400 fires took 173 lives and left thousands homeless.
And sadly, it could have been any one of a number of deadly days of this past summer as fires again tore through the landscape, on a much larger scale devastating homes and lives in every state on an unprecedented scale. In this particular story, the author draws on much of her personal experience of 10 years ago to tell of the fear, the anguish, the devastation, the unknown but she has changed the ending of one of family tragedy – she knows that story too well – to one of hope and continuity and renewal.
But this could be the story of so many of our students this year – those who have witnessed the fires first-hand, those who have had to evacuate, those for whom there is no home to go back to; those for whom life is going to be topsy-turvy and very different for a long time to come. But while it is a bleak story to begin with, one that will stir memories for many, it is that message of connection and continuity, that one day (that might seem too far away just yet) their children may play on land they once called home that can offer succour and strength to try one more day. And it may be the catalyst for some to open up about their experiences and begin to share and process what they can.
Even if students have not been able to return to their own schools, nevertheless it is the routines of school that are the constants in students’ lives right now so anything we, as teachers, can read, understand and do to support them is so important. Used sensitively at this time, this could be an important part of the help we offer.