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What if … ?

What if … ?

What if … ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What if … ?

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820973

Issy’s mind was always very busy. She was always wondering “What if…” and then imagining all sorts of situations that scared her.  She worried about monsters in her cupboard, aliens taking her in the middle of the night, her bedroom floor turning to quicksand and sucking up both her bed and her.

But her wise mother recognises the anxiety her imagination causes and the power of those two little words, and as she tucks Issy into bed she takes her turn at the “What if…”” But instead of scary things, she takes Issy and her imagination on an amazing and humorous trip of people walking on their hands and wearing their undies on their head; of clouds of different colours that smell of fairy floss and popcorn… Then she invites Issy to try and when she takes her mind in a new direction, her anxiety vanishes.

This is another beautiful offering from the pairing that gave us stories like Tree, and the Little Anxious Creatures series as the author draws on her expertise and experience as a clinical psychologist to acknowledge children’s big feelings and then articulates them in a way that both resonated with the child and helps them develop strategies that empower them to deal with them for themselves.  Changing thinking from what if a storm brews, a tree crashes through my window and a vampire bat flies into my bedroom to what if there were hot air balloons that could take me anywhere I wanted to go following a path made by the stars is as powerful as those two words themselves. As Jenkins says, “we are the bosses of our brains” and thus we can choose what we want to think. Lonergan’s illustrations in soft pastel colours are as gentle as the story itself,  and would be the ideal model for little ones to think of their own what if and then illustrate it, thinking of the way colour can portray mood as much as any other element.  A physical reminder to look at whenever their mind starts to wander down dark paths…

There has been much talk about the impact that the last 18-20 months has had on the mental health of our children and so this book, and the others by this couple, are more critical to know about and share than ever.

As well as teachers’ notes, Jenkins shares the story herself.

 

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again

Tilda Tries Again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tilda Tries Again

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2021

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

9781526612991

Tilda’s world is just the way she likes it.  She has her toys, books and friends.  But then something happens that turns everything upside down and nothing is the way it was.  Nothing seems to be right and gradually Tilda retreats into herself, into a dark place where she doesn’t want to do or try anything.  What’s the point?  

Toys, books and friends are abandoned and she is swallowed by the darkness.  Until one day she sees a ladybird on its back, struggling to get back on her feet again…

This is another in this series  which includes Perfectly NormanRuby’s Worry,   Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends , that examines the big feelings that are a natural part of a child’s life, feelings that they might not yet be able to articulate and don’t have the strategies to deal with.  It gives the reader some guidance into coping with tricky situations that threaten to overwhelm,  to help them build resilience and embrace a ‘can do’ approach to life. It offers affirmation that everyone has to confront those times when nothing works out quite as they wished, usually because there are factors beyond our control, and that we have to deal with the altered circumstances rather than what we dreamt of.  That even though the clouds may surround us in gloom, they move on to show the sun is still shining and the birds still singing, if we put our brave on and stare them down. 

This is a series that is going to be particularly important in the weeks ahead as children return from weeks of isolation and all the negative feelings and events that that has entailed and emerge to be with friends again, navigating and negotiating the new boundaries -emotional, mental, social and physical – that separation has altered and shaped who we now are. By starting with a story and inviting others to share theirs, little ones can start to understand that their big feelings are normal and can be managed. 

The Camping Trip

The Camping Trip

The Camping Trip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Camping Trip

Jane Martino

Annie White

Puffin, 2021 

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

9781761040092

Henry’s greatest delight is finding out about things, particularly the animal world, from his Big Book of Animals.  Even when he is outside amongst nature, he uses his book to discover new things about the creatures he sees.   But on a camping trip in the bush with his dads, brother and best friend Ruby and her family, Henry discovers his book is missing! How will he learn about all the fantastic things he finds and sees on the trip without it? At first he sulks and misses out because he doesn’t have his book to consult but then he discovers there are other ways to learn. 

This is the final in this series which includes The Inside Day, Noisy Tom Super-Me and The Thank You Present  developed in collaboration with Smiling Mind, Australia’s leading not-for-profit organisation in the pre-emptive mental health space. Like its predecessors it includes activities to engage the child after the book is read, in this case inviting them to explore nature using all their senses.  There is also a three-minute Nature Sounds meditation written especially for 3-6 year olds available on their free app.

The mental health of our little ones who have been deprived of their friends’ company at such a crucial time of their socialisation development is finally being recognised with NSW now allowing a “friends bubble” and so any guidance that enables parents to keep their little ones emotionally okay as well as physically safe is to be welcomed.  The suggestions for the senses scavenger hunt outdoors when picnics are making a huge comeback is perfect and so this is a title that parents need to be made aware of. That the stories features a two-dad family, the norm for many of our students these days, is an added bonus. 

Making Friends: A Book About First Friendships

Making Friends: A Book About First Friendships

Making Friends: A Book About First Friendships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Friends: A Book About First Friendships

Amanda McCardie

Colleen Larmour

Walker, 2021

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

9781406394542

Sukie is starting a new school and shares the concerns of every child in the same situation – will she make friends.  But she soon learns that making friends can happen in all sorts of ways, big and small, even unexpected.  However, it is not enough to make friends – you have to work on maintaining the friendships by respecting others’ differences as well as the things you have in common.

So many children who have been restricted by stay-at-home orders in parts of Australia are separated from their friends right now – even though they have visual contact through online sources or audio through the phones, it is the physical, spontaneous face-to-face contact they are missing and which is impacting on their mental well-being.  Even Miss 10, the family social butterfly, is  worried that she will be forgotten and won’t have any friends when school eventually returns.  

If nothing else, this time at home has demonstrated the critical role schools play well beyond the formal academic teaching and this book would be a worthwhile addition to any teacher’s toolkit as they help their students navigate making friends and being friends again after such a long social isolation. It has a wider reach than just supporting those who will be starting a new school as a new year approaches.  Readers are invited to agree, disagree and add to the situations in which Sukie finds herself – should be embarrassed and uncomfortable that Mikkel refuses her help with his jigsaw puzzle or is it OK to say no sometimes? And cleverly, illustrator Colleen Larmour has included a picture of someone sharing kindness on almost every page, opening up not only an opportunity to look closely but also the concept of doing a random act of kindness every day.  

Our children are negotiating a tricky time at the moment, different but just as confronting as children in past generations, and the strategies and coping mechanisms we help them to develop now will play a large role in how they will survive and thrive. This book has a role to play in that. 

What If, Pig?

What If, Pig?

What If, Pig?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What If, Pig?

Linzie Hunter

HarperCollins, 2021

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

9780008409470

Mouse has never had a friend quite like Pig. Pig is so incredibly kind, endlessly thoughtful and fabulously fun, that he is the best friend anyone could ever have. But Pig also has a big secret… he’s a tremendous worrier!

So when he decides to throw a party for all his friends the concern kicks in and he worries about everything from a lion eating the invitations to his guests comparing this party to others.  In fact, he worries so much that he decides to call it off.

Luckily, Mouse is attuned to Pig’s mental health and suggests a walk so they can talk things over before he makes a final decision…

Anxiety about the what ifs are becoming a real part of the psyche of so many of our students these days because adults seem to be attaching such high stakes to the smallest things. And with lockdown in many places stretching out seemingly endlessly the lack of that interaction with their peers that normally provides some perspective and balance is lacking and so molehills become mountains very quickly.  So sharing stories like this in which we are assured that “things don’t stay grey for very long” is an essential part of helping our little ones cope and develop strategies for when the what ifs seem to take over. 

As well as the positive story which is charming in itself, the quirky illustrations and visual tricks with the text really make this book stand out, offering an introduction to the ways illustrators and designers can add so much to words on a page.  It demonstrates the differences in style between artists -compare this pig to one from Three Little Pigs for example and talk about the similarities and differences yet the legitimacy of each style.  This is the age when children become super-critical of their own artwork, and if it doesn’t look like the real thing or what they envisage, many dismiss their efforts, tell themselves they “can’t draw” and this self-talk destroys  their creativity.

So, all in all, this is a must-have for so many reasons. 

A Different Sort of Normal

A Different Sort of Normal

A Different Sort of Normal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Sort of Normal

Abigail Balfe

Puffin, 2021

240pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9780241508794

It begins with a poem, the last stanza of which says,

This is for ANYONE

Who has ever felt out of place

You don’t have to be the “odd one out”

You’re unique and that’s just great.

It continues with a childhood memory of a Punch and Judy birthday treat that she hated and when she later asked her mum why, her mum said, “I wanted you to be a normal child.  I didn’t want you to be an outcast like I was.”

The blurb says the rest…

Hi! My name is Abigail, and I’m autistic. But I didn’t know I was autistic until I was an adult-sort-of-person*.

This is my true story of growing up in the confusing ‘normal’ world, all the while missing some Very Important Information about myself.

There’ll be scary moments involving toilets and crowded trains, heart-warming tales of cats and pianos, and funny memories including my dad and a mysterious tub of ice cream. Along the way you’ll also find some Very Crucial Information about autism.

If you’ve ever felt different, out of place, like you don’t fit in . . . this book is for you.

While there are a lot of books that explore autism so others can have an insight, such as Annabel’s Dance; The Chalk Rainbow; and A Boy called BAT this is the first I’ve read that is written by someone on the spectrum for others on the spectrum.  It maps her journey through childhood through a time when she didn’t know that there was a scientific reason for her difference, just all the while feeling confused, unwanted and left out.  

It is a unique book, one for children and adults alike and made all the more poignant because of its honesty, truthfulness and lack of sugar-coating.  The author explains her reasons for sharing her story and while she had to navigate the world alone because she did not have a diagnosis, to help others pave a different path she has produced a poster that helps us to be an ally to those we know. 

Even though it is written directly to encourage children who are autistic to understand that while they ae unique, what they experience is not unique to them and they are not alone, it is one for anyone who has anything to do with children.  Because if we don’t understand we can’t empathise.

Mini Rabbit Come Home

Mini Rabbit Come Home

Mini Rabbit Come Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini Rabbit Come Home

John Bond

HarperCollins, 2021

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

 9780008264932

Mini Rabbit is making a camp in the garden.
He can’t wait. It’s going to be the BEST DAY ever!

But there are still a few last things he needs to get – rope to hold the den down, wood for the campfire and marshmallows to toast on it. And it looks like it might rain. 

There are few things as much fun (or as scary) as sleeping out under the stars, particularly if it’s the first time.  So setting up camp in the backyard is always a good start – how well I remember the grandies spending the first night in their Christmas tent in the country-dark when the city-light was what they were used to!  So this new adventure with Mini Rabbit will resonate with a lot of little readers, including the ending.

So many of our little ones are confined to home at the moment so perhaps suggesting a backyard sleepout could give them something to plan for and look forward to.  Working out what they need, how they will build their den, making lists like Mother Rabbit and bringing it all together not only make for a great adventure but also offer lots of screen-free learning.  And if photos are shared with classmates…

Dr Margaret Merga has written an interesting article about how books can be a healing retreat during isolation – this one fulfils that concept both physically and metaphorically.

Frankie and the Fossil

Frankie and the Fossil

Frankie and the Fossil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frankie and the Fossil

Jess McGeachin

Puffin, 2021

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

9781760898847

Frankie knows all there is to know about dinosaurs because not only is she fascinated by them but she has memorised all the labels at the Natural History Museum, a place she loves to visit.  

But one day she notices a new sign, one that says “Don’t feed the fossil”. Thinking that was unfair, she pulled a cheese sandwich from her pocket and sneakily gave it to the dinosaur. 

That single action leads to a whole new ‘career’ for Frankie as her knowledge about dinosaurs deepens to understanding…

In an earlier time, the significance of this book may well have passed me by but with so many schools currently in lockdown and students isolated at home. no plan to get them back to school because school staff have still not been identified as front-line workers (and where they have, vaccinations are stretched too thinly), and many surveys examining the effect of the lack of contact with others on children, particularly their mental health, this underlying message of this story  was crystal clear.  Both people and dinosaurs are herd creatures and lack of contact with others can and does have a long-term impact.  (My friend and I still laugh that going for our flu shots in 2020 (on her birthday) was the best outing we had in weeks! So now we make the most of our days as we can.)

So in these days of enforced confinement, how can we as teachers, promote our students connecting with each other?  Can we design collaborative projects? Can we develop a team game or challenge? Can we plan an online celebration like a dress-up for Book Week or an unbirthday party? Can the walk around the neighbourhood looking for teddies in windows be expanded to something more? What are the students’ suggestions? How can they connect with a family member, a neighbour, someone else they know so they can make that person’s life easier?  Classmates are the equivalent of the dinosaur’s herd and the teacher is the leader of that herd, so apart from setting lessons, what else can we do to promote connectivity and well-being so when our kids do return to school their resilience and enthusiasm for life is intact?  

When Jess McGeachin first started planning this story, she would have had no idea of what was to come and how timely its release would be.  But what a windfall that we can share the story (Penguin Random House, the parent publisher are permitting online readings) and then use it to help our students and help them help others.

Here are some ideas contributed by our peers that might kick-start your thinking…

Clare Bell suggests

  • Write a letter to a neighbour or a relative
  • Decorate a pebble for a school garden
  • Create a picture to be hung on the school fence as an art gallery

Elise Ellerman  suggests

  • An online book club (For ideas allowing readers to respond to any book see here. )
  • Celebrate birthdays … We prepare some party food and a bake a birthday cake. We then create birthday boxes with this food. Deliver the boxes (contactless) and then have a Zoom party with some games. Everyone shares in a piece of cake together (over Zoom).

This is a link to the power and healing of reading during this COVID=19 crisis.

The Adventures of Mittens

The Adventures of Mittens

The Adventures of Mittens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Mittens

Silvio Bruinsma

Phoebe Morris

Puffin, 2021

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

 9780143775850

Mittens is the most famous cat ever to parade the streets of Wellington, New Zealand with his noble nose and fabulously fluffy tail in the air. Mittens is on a mission to leave no corner of the CBD unexplored, no passerby unsmooched, no business, school or residence uninspected. He naps in shop windows, hails cars, crosses busy roads on the green light and, like any self-respecting cat, he lives for attention – but only when he’s in the mood for it.

The Turkish Angora caught the the attention of the world when, just by being his inquisitive and charming self, his antics cheered up Wellingtonians during the 2020 lockdown. Wellington’s mayor awarded Mittens a Key to the City and HRF (His Royal Floofiness) was even nominated for New Zealander of the Year!

With thousands of followers on a Facebook page, a hit song, and an exhibition of fan art called Floofy and Famous, this book of how he touched the heart of so many building social bridges during his wanderings brings to life has been written by one of his guardians, a family of four, using a days-of-the-week format and rhyming text .Even those who have not met Mittens, and don’t know Wellington but do know cats will resonate with that arrogant, I’m-doing-you-a-favour attitude that emanates from Mittens. For those who detest the idea of cats roaming freely, there are tips for how to keep them at home and the fact that Mittens has raised a lot of money for both animal welfare and mental health charities through his profile, may mitigate that. 

Mittens came to fame because of the lockdown in Wellington during 2020, providing a daily connection to people in isolation and thus his story could be the springboard to getting children to talk about their pets, their lockdown connections and how they coped and are coping, perhaps even considering how they can reach out to those in their community even more isolated than they are.  Perhaps when restrictions are lifted it can be a time to forge new friendships with all ages…

I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

I Am Every Good Thing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Every Good Thing

Derrick Barnes

Gordon C. James

Egmont, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP  $A14.99

 9780755502707

I am a non-stop ball of energy.
Powerful and full of light.
I am a go-getter. A difference-maker. A leader.

“Step inside the mind of the confident narrator of this book! He is proud of everything that makes him who he is. He’s got big plans, and will see them through. He’s creative, adventurous, smart, funny. A good friend. A superhero. Sometimes he falls, but he always gets back up. And other times he’s afraid, because he’s often misunderstood. So, slow down, look and listen as he shows you who he really is …”

Oprah Magazine says this book is “one of its essential books for discussing racism with kids” and other quotes from reviews all refer to the main character’s above all else.  Yet, when I read it I didn’t even notice his colour, although the illustrations are so lifelike and full of energy, because I saw it through the lens of the performances at the Olympic Games – and not just those by Australians.  So often, as I watched (as an alternative to the ad infinitum of COVID 19 and lockdown), the back story of the athlete was shared and so often it was a story of triumph over tragedy, of hard work, perseverance, resilience, overcoming hurdles and obstacles, staring the impossible in the face… and that is what I took from this book.  

So many of our students would have seen performances that have inspired them – the silver lining of lockdown being the access to real-time coverage rather than a news snippet – and dreams will have been dreamt, particularly with some of the sports being so accessible, like skateboarding, and the age of the competitors so close to their own..  And within this book is the sort of motivational, inspirational language that will fan the flames of the spark of those dreams. 

So while this book may have been intended to help young black children to rise above the racism and be the person they are, and sadly, will resonate on that level with some of our students,  it can be used in lots of ways to affirm and reaffirm, to challenge and to change, to build not just dreams but hope and expectation.

There are so many clichés about it being the inner person that counts, and while that is true, we all know it’s not that simple.  So help students see their potential by having them identify the highest wall facing them right now, whether that’s understanding a science formula or improving their lap time, and then help them put in place a plan to climb over it.  Dreams. beliefs and goals can be the driving force but sometimes we need some strategies to make them happen. Have them add a page to the book that celebrates them.