Archives

How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to be . . . The New Person

Anna Branford

Walker Books, 2022

128pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760655839

Hazel Morrison has a secret habit – pretending to make videos about everyday things. Eight important tips for successfully buttering toast! Putting your hair in a ponytail: a step-by-step guide! But when her family move to the outer suburbs, Hazel has to cope with starting at a new school where she doesn’t exactly feel welcomed. However, she does meet a new friend – her elderly neighbour Veronica,  But then Veronica has to move too.

So when a school project inspires her to create a real video, she knows just what her focus will be – a how-to guide for being “the new person” . . . because everyone, sometime, will meet one, or be one!

Having laughed and cried through Old People’s Home for Teenagers and having seen the impact of the isolation of lockdown on all ages, it would seem to me that loneliness is at the root of the mental health issues of today’s generations.  While older people finding themselves alone after the death of a partner has always been a trigger point, and one to be aware of regardless of their “I’m OK” protestations because they “don’t want to be a burden”, the anti-social nature of social media is a new phenomenon.  Although it allows for easier connectivity, that connectivity can be done alone and in private without having to have face-to-face contact, without having to develop the skills of interaction or relationship-building, and without regard for the impact of the words on the recipient.  No wonder the teens in the television show, most of whom admitted that they spent hours upon hours in their bedrooms, lacked the confidence to mingle with others.

Thus, as we approach the end of another school year and children are facing having to start a new school, whether that’s in a new location or just moving on to high school, anxiety will be starting to build already as they contemplate being “the new kid” and all that that entails.  This book, written for young independent readers, deserves to be shared with our students to open up conversations that allow them to share their anxieties, to learn that they are all feeling the same way, and to develop strategies so they can believe in Veronica’s observation that “Wherever there are lots of people, there is always at least one nice person. You don’t always find them right away but sooner or later you usually do.  And after that, things get easier.”

IMO, instead of focusing on academics and grades and stuff in the last few weeks of the year, the greatest thing we can do for our students is to guide them along the pathway ahead, to show them that there are many walking beside, behind and in front of them, that the apprehension they are feeling is universal and that they can and will find that “one nice person.”  It starts with being one yourself.   

 

If someone has lost their smile, give them one of yours.

Storm Goliath

Storm Goliath

Storm Goliath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Goliath

James Sellick

Craig Shuttlewood

New Frontier, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99

9781922326546

Goliath the Gorilla is always angry.  He wakes up angry because the jungle birds sing too loudly, and even though he tries to not lose his temper, it’s not long before he does.

Anything can spark his anger and it means that not only does he have a miserable day, but all the animals around him do too as they fear the consequences of even the most simple pleasures like celebrating a birthday.  Things come to a head when Paco the Parrot mimics everything he says, and Goliath is set to blow his top but then….

Written for young readers who are just learning to understand their feelings and manage them, this is an ideal one to share with them because as well as offering them an opportunity to develop their own strategies to employ when big feelings overtake them, it also demonstrates how these feelings and subsequent actions impact those around them.  

This is the first in a series of picture books focusing on Dealing with Feeling in which the author wants children to recognise and manage their emotions by talking about them, learning their trigger points and developing ways to cope with them when they are overwhelmed.  He has written teaching notes  to guide those sharing the book with the sorts of questions to have children think about as well as helping them name and understand their emotions – in this book, as well as anger the focus is empathy as Goliath starts to realise how his emotions affect others. 

Such books play an important role in the development of our little ones who experience these natural emotions but who don’t yet have the insight to understand them nor the words to articulate the reasons behind them. Learning their anger is usually a result of frustration at expectations not being met can not only help them control their outburst but also help them build the vocabulary to express it and the resilience to cope with it.  Helping them understand that everyone has similar feelings at times, so they are neither alone, unique or naughty, and that they have the power to manage them is a huge step forward for positive mental health in the future. 

A second book, Saving Piku featuring a penguin learning to sing, will be available in November.

 

The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Missing Piece

Jordan Stephens

Beth Suzanna

Bloomsbury, 2022

92pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781526618139

Sunny loves jigsaw puzzles – the bigger the better. When she completes one, she gets a warm, happy honeybee buzz and it’s a feeling she chases time after time, constantly looking for another puzzle to complete, like a drug addict seeking another fix.  One day, her Gran gives her a ONE-THOUSAND-PIECE puzzle. Piece after piece, all by herself, she puts together the picture, until … DISASTER! The final piece is missing. Sunny may be small, but she is very determined –and when Gran says that the puzzle had been lent to the family next door,  Sunny she sets off to find the missing piece but finds so much more in the meantime. 

Many educators predicted that children returning to school after COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation would face a range of well-being issues from missing the critical socialisation aspects that are the core of the school experience, and principals and teachers around the world are indeed, reporting anxiety, depression and changed behaviours.  Experts, such as those of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute have examined the phenomenon and, in conjunction with state education authorities , have identified and put in place a range of strategies to help children relearn the skills and attitudes necessary to cope with getting along with other children in groups that are more than just family members. 

So while this may seem like just another story about a child learning that they are more than they imagined, that their self-worth is not dependent on their being able to excel at one thing, and their self-esteem being shattered if they “fail”,  at this time it could have a vital role to play as we each and all try to support those who have not come through the past three years as resiliently as we would have liked.  Although Sunny’s isolation from her neighbourhood friends is unexplained, it is immaterial – it is her courage to knock on doors to find that vital piece, a goal larger than anything that may have prevented her from reaching out before, that drives her and she is able to rediscover much she had lost.   

While sharing stories such as this is just one part of the healing process, nevertheless it can be helpful particularly if followed by a discussion about why her Gran did what she did, why Sunny might not have seen her friends or been willing to play with them and so on – all addressing individual’s concerns but at arm’s length so no one feels exposed but they can feel comforted and perhaps more confident. 

Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance

Tarni’s Chance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tarni’s Chance

Paul Collins

Jules Ober

Ford Street, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781922696052

When Tarni’s mum says goodbye, all the colour and joy of life seem to go with her. Tarni retreats into her bubble. Her world became smaller and the air seemed thinner. But then Chance steps in . . .

As much as the text in this narrative of family breakdown, self-doubt and anxiety echoes the feelings of loss and loneliness that so many readers will have felt, it is the illustrations that make it so special.  Beginning in deep shades of grey as her parents argue, with the only colour being Tarni and her guitar, her bubble of music, a monochromatic scheme that continues as Tarni comes to grip with her loss, finding solace only in solo activities like drawing and reading, gradually being consumed by the grey of her grief.  Using handmade miniatures set against black and white photography, the reader is drawn deeper into Tarni’s world, but then Tarni spots a stray, ragged dog, seemingly as lost as she is, and there is a ray of hope.  Brief though it is, it shows both the reader and Tarni that there is still a glimmer of colour in the world, and when the dog returns the grey gradually disappears. 

While this is not the first book to use colour to depict mood and emotion in this way, and the use of miniatures and photography was a feature of the 2020 CBCA shortlisted The Good Son, nevertheless it is a powerful representation that those who have passed through the grey of grief will relate to, and those who are still in it will be buoyed by the prospect that colour still exists and step by step they will find it. 

 

Dancing with Memories

Dancing with Memories

Dancing with Memories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing with Memories

Sally Yule, Maggie Beer & Prof. Ralph Martins 

Cheryl Orsini

ABC Books, 2022

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

9780733342578

I am Lucy and I dance with memories.
Sometimes I remember.
Sometimes I forget.
Sometimes I remember that I forget.
Sometimes I forget that I remember…
My doctor says I have dementia.
I wish I didn’t but I do.
‘Your brain has changed’, she says, ‘but you are still Lucy.’
She knows that I have a brain AND a heart.

Sometimes Lucy remembers that she forgets, and sometimes she forgets that she remembers. But even if her memory plays tricks, she still has all the love in her heart for the people and activities she has always enjoyed.  On this particularly important day, the day of her granddaughter’s wedding, she is determined to get to the wedding on her own even though her daughter has left her a note telling Lucy she will pick her up.  But things go a little astray and she ends up lost….

As grandparents and great-grandparents live longer, more and more of our students are coming into contact with those with dementia and so this is an important book to have on hand to help them understand and cope with the condition. The author, Sally Yule, has been working with people with dementia, including her own parents, for over 30 years and as she says, her main purpose was to help children “learn the role they can play supporting people living with dementia in their family or community.”  Lucy’s story and the lively illustrations which accompany it demonstrate that there is still plenty of love and joy in a patient’s  life even if the memory is muddled, and that the person deserves the same respect and dignity as well as being able to continue to do the things they can for themselves, regardless.  

As well as the story itself, Professor Ralph Martins, Foundation Chair in Ageing and Alzheimer’s Disease at Edith Cowan University WA, and Professor of Neurobiology at Macquarie University NSW has contributed a Q & A that helps anyone understand the disease. In my opinion, the core message of this story is summed up in this one paragraph…

Q. Is someone with dementia still the same person on the inside, even though they act differently on the outside?

A. Yes, they are definitely the same person inside.  They can feel so much, even if they cannot tell you about it…

While there is not yet a cure for dementia, scientists are working towards discovering its cause, and, as with many diseases, a healthy diet is always a good start so Maggie Beer’s recipes for healthy lunchboxes that could be shared between child and patient add another dimension and there are some simple teachers’ notes that can offer suggestions for supporting those we know who are living with the illness. 

There is more and more evidence that intergenerational relationships offer so much to all involved, and this is yet another essential addition to the collection to not only promote this but encourage them. 

 

Phyllis & Grace

Phyllis & Grace

Phyllis & Grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phyllis & Grace

Nigel Gray

Bethan Welby

Scallywag Press, 2022

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

9781912650514

Phyllis and Grace live next door to each other, and Grace like to take Phyllis little gifts like a slice of cake Mum has baked, or biscuits she has baked herself.  Phyllis is always grateful and invites her in, even though she doesn’t always remember Grace’s name or even her own…

This is a delightful story that is being replicated in many communities and families as the Baby Boomers move into senior citizenship and choose to stay in their own homes rather than “being a burden” on family.  Not only does it echo the difficulties faced as their independence declines, but it reflects the rewarding relationships that children and older people can share.  Grace sees Phyllis through the clear lens of a child, accepting her for het she is in the moment and responding to the moment, rather than getting impatient and frustrated as some adults do because they wish the old “Phyllis” who was sharp-thinking and focused was still there.

Grace’s visits give Phyllis the connections she needs, not just with her immediate community but also those she has known before, bringing back the memories of childhood in a gentle way,. Even when Phyllis can no longer live on her own, encouraged by her parents who clearly see this as a friendship that is as important for Grace as it is for Phyllis, Grace continues to visit, meeting Phyllis’s son and learning that this old lady is more than her dementia; that there is so much more to her than an illness or disability.

With soft illustrations as sensitive as the story, this is one to not only help little ones understand dementia better, but also to help them understand that whatever a person’s illness or disability, they are more than that with a rich life to share or dreams and wishes to fulfil.  While their condition might shape their life in the now, there is so much more that was and will be in the sufferer’s story. And that should be our focus as friends.

Kind

Kind

Kind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kind

Jess McGeachin

Allen & Unwin, 2022

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

9781761066047

The publisher’s description of this book as a ” beautiful ode to the wonders of our natural world” is spot on.

In this book you’ll find

Many kinds of things

Some have slippery scales

Some have feathered wings

But kind is more than type

Kind is how you care

For creatures that you meet

And places that we share. 

There have been a plethora of books in the last couple of years that encourage us to take greater notice of our immediate surroundings, particularly as that has been where we have been confined to, and implore us to take greater care of where we step, what we see and how we act.  Leaving a shell on the beach means a lot to the little creature who seeks shelter beneath; not stepping on an ant means  even more to the ant! So this is another reminder to take the time to acknowledge,  appreciate and applaud Mother Nature, to remember that the real seven wonders of the world are at our fingertips.

But it is her final verse that really has great impact if we are to continue to be healthy and happy individuals who have the compassion, empathy, strength and energy to be kind to everyone and everything else. 

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Whale

Hannah Gold

Levi Pinfold

HarperCollins, 2022

320pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008412944

Rio is lost – both physically and emotionally.  

He has been sent from London to Los Angeles to stay with his grandmother while his mother is in hospital trying to recover from her chronic mental illness. But the tiny, quiet seaside town of Ocean Grove is so different from busy London; and so is his grandmother’s house – so much bigger than their tiny city flat, especially when he is to sleep in his mother’s childhood bedroom.

As if that weren’t enough, not only does he scarcely know his grandmother who is all shiny jumpsuits, sharp elbows and hard angles and whose hugs are not the deep, warm snuggly type he is used to, but he believes that if he had just tried harder and done more he could have prevented his mother’s downward slide into the psychiatric hospital.  At first,  Rio shuts everyone and everything out, unable to do anything but think about his mother and fears for her safety if he is not there.  After all, he’s been her carer for most of his 11 years. He is consumed by guilt if he relaxes or has fun, or even feels at peace. He is fixated of fixing here, despite being so far away, and when he discovers her childhood sketches of a grey whale named White Beak he hatches a plan that will surely save her, one made even more possible when he at last makes a friend in Marina who is passionate about the whales that migrate past Ocean Beach each year and whose dad happens to own a whale-watching business.  

After his own incredible encounter with White Beak, Rio is even more determined but then the reports of her being sighted as she journey s south to the lagoons of Mexico stop. Rio is determined to find her  because White Beak and his mother become one and the same person in his mind, and he and Marina hatch an audacious plan…

As with Gold’s debut novel, The Last Bear  this is a story  that stays in the mind long after the final page has been turned, and as with that story, it is a journey of discovery for the child as much as the focus animal. Rio is so used to being the grown-up, the responsible one, that he has to learn to forge relationships with his grandmother, Marina and her father and to be able to trust others to have his mother’s interests at heart, accepting that he can’t fix everything by himself. But the parallel story about the life and times of the world’s whales, whatever species, and the perils they face as their habitat is threatened is equally important.  It could easily have been set in coastal New South Wales about the humpback highway.  

This is one for independent readers who are seeking a well-written story that has substance and authenticity, but it would also make an excellent class read-aloud.  

 

The Bravest Word

The Bravest Word

The Bravest Word

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bravest Word

Kate Foster

Walker Books, 2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781760654719

Last year Matt did really well at school, loved being a star football player, hanging out with his friends Kai and Ted and playing jungle Warfare, while avoiding bully-boy Joseph. But this year things are very different – and it’s much more than the changes that being at high school bring. 

Instead of enjoying football, he has a panic attack when he steps on the field; he avoids Kai and Ted; he’s not paying attention in class or doing his homework – in fact, he feels like he is so worthless that he is ruining the lives of those around him, including his loving parents and is beginning to wonder whether he should really be here at all. He is always tired and wanting to sleep and the tears come all the time, especially when he doesn’t want them…

While his mother dismisses his issues as “growing pains”, his father has a suspicion that there is something deeper going on and he takes Matt on a walk to see if Matt will open up.  But before he gets the chance, they hear a whimper in the bushes and discover a severely neglected and abused dog tied to a tree.  Together they release it and take it to a vet where Matt promises Cliff, whom he has named after his recently passed, dearly loved grandfather, that life will get better. But is that a promise he can keep when he is in such a dark place and his mother has said no to having a dog so many times before… And when it all boils down, who helps whom the most?

While this is a story probably more suited to the upper end of the target audience of this blog, nevertheless it is a poignant, compelling story for both teachers and parents as it gives such an insight into childhood anxiety and depression demonstrating that these are real illnesses for our kids, and also for the students themselves, because there will be some who will see themselves in Matt and who may, through him, build the courage to utter that bravest word.  Although the story is written very positively, the characters are very real and there were times when I was close to tears as I read. Why is there still such a stigma attached to having a mental illness but not-so when it’s a physical illness?  Why is it OK to take medication long-term to have a healthy heart but not to have a healthy brain?

However, shared as a classroom read-aloud in conjunction with the teachers’ notes  and other authoritative resources,  this could have a positive outcome for someone, especially when suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians aged 15-24 and “for every youth suicide, there are 100 to 200 more attempts.”  At the very least it will raise awareness and understanding and even if the sick child doesn’t or can’t open up, one of their classmates might trigger a conversation.

Kate Foster is also the author of Pawsin which she drew on her own son’s experience to give us a look into the world of the autistic child and this book is every bit as eye-opening as that.  If we are to acknowledge and recognise the struggles that some of those we know are experiencing, then this is a must-read in my opinion.  

 

 

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Sue Whiting

Walker, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760653590

When the special phone rings in the middle of a storm, a phone that is a secret landline of the Adventurologists Guild and only meant to be answered by qualified members of that group, Pearly Woe is sent into a panic,  Her parents are members, she is not, but they should have been home hours ago and it keeps ringing – MOOOO, MOOOO, MOOOO. Should she answer it and break the rules or does she use her initiative and pick it up because such non-stop ringing is so unusual?

For despite being able to speak 27 languages, including some animal tongues,  Pearly Woe is one of the world’s greatest worriers and her over-active imagination creates a dozen different scenarios for even the most common situation. But when she does finally lift the receiver, hearing her mother’s voice does not bring her comfort – instead the strange message with its cryptic clues set off a chain of events that even Pearly’s imagination couldn’t have conjured.  Pearly’s parents have been kidnapped by Emmeline Woods, who is not the nice character she portrays on screen, and who demands that Pearly hand over Pig, her pet pig  whom she talks to all the time to ease her anxiety.  Alarm bells are ringing loudly already but seeing Woods shoot Pig with a tranquiliser gun  galvanises Pearly into mounting a rescue mission that sees her in the icy wastes of Antarctica and having to confront her worries, fears and imagination in ways the she would not have dreamed possible. 

This is a fast-paced, intriguing adventure for young, independent readers who are beginning to want some depth to the stories they read and the characters they meet.  While there are subtle environmental messages embedded in the story, it is Pearly’s anxiety and self-doubt that many will relate to personally, while others will cheer her on to believe in herself and overcome those fears.  It can be amazing how our love and concern for those who are most precious can spur us to do things we never though we would be capable of… even if we can’t speak 27 languages to help us out.

To me, the mark of a quality story is if I can hear myself reading it aloud to a class, and this is definitely one of those.