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The Bad Seed

The Bad  Seed

The Bad Seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bad Seed

Jory John

Pete Oswald

HarperCollins, 2017

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

 9780062467768

Born as one of hundreds of seeds of a sunflower, this little guy wasn’t always bad. He was close to his family and had fun, and, like them, ended up being harvested and put into a packet of sunflower seeds . But just as he thinks his days are numbered, he is spat out and lands in the rubbish of the bleachers.  And his life is changed,  Now he is BAD. In fact, he is baaaaaaaaaad! He has a bad temper, bad manners, and a bad attitude. He’s been bad since he can remember! This seed cuts in line every time, stares at everybody and never listens – although he does hear others’ comments about his behaviour which reinforce his belief that he is bad and unworthy. So he stopped smiling, kept to himself, drifted along, seemingly uncaring until one day he makes a big decision…

The illustrations take this book from being a bit morbid into a realm of mindfulness, self-reflection and at times, humour.  It’s message that how we are perceived by others is not only shaped by our behaviour but continues to shape it is an important one to learn as is that of being able to change but that change can take time.  So while we are, to a large degree, in charge of our own destiny, we need to work out what we want to be like, take the steps necessary to achieve that but above all, be patient with ourselves and others.

Something different to spark thought and conversations.

 

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried

Wemberly Worried

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wemberly Worried

Kevin Henkes

Greenwillow Books, 2010

32pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

9780061857768

Wemberly worried about spilling her juice, about shrinking in the bathtub, even about snakes in the radiator. She worried morning, noon, and night.

“Worry, worry, worry,” her family said. “Too much worry.”

And like many children,  Wemberly worried about one thing most of all: her first day of school. But when she meets a fellow worrywart in her class, Wemberly realises that school is too much fun to waste time worrying!

Wemberly Mouse’s anxiety is on an extreme scale though and regardless of her family’s reassurances she cannot relax.  She clutches Petal her doll and strokes her ears when the levels rise, but then worries if she strokes them too much they will fall off.  She is so good at thinking “What if” that she may have a career as a writer when she grows up! 

As the year ticks by and many of our younger children are going to start the transition from daycare and preschool to big school, there will be those who are starting to get a little anxious already with all the usual concerns that making such a big step encounters.  And those worries can become so enormous that they become fears and the anticipation and excitement of this new adventure that is somewhat of a rite of passage are overwhelmed. 

Often it is not enough to just say, “Don’t worry”, (as Wemberly’s family does) to children with a high level of anxiety – they need to have their fears listened to and, where appropriate, helped to develop coping strategies should the worst happen.  There are many resources available now to help parents help their child but sometimes when little ones go to big school there is a suggestion that it is time to leave their preschool lives behind, including their beloved toys that have been with them since birth and have been their confidante and security blanket in stressful times.  And yet with this huge change in their lives they are left without the companionship of their most trusted and comforting friend and ally.  Wemberly would have been unable to cope without Petal just as Jewel would have been lost without Nibblet.  The astute teacher will acknowledge that these are more than just a collection of stitches and stuffing, that they are imbued with love, safety and security, and perhaps having a special shelf so the special toys can come to school too with the child deciding when they want to wean themselves. Meanwhile the teacher librarian can encourage them to read to their special toy in school and at night and might even provide a collection of teddies for those who just need an extra hug or two. It worked for me!  

This book has been in continuous publication since its release in 2000 – that, in itself, says so much about how it resonates with little children and needs to be part of that transition process.  There will be  both a Wemberly and a Jewel in each new cohort.

 

I Am Enough

I am Enough

I am Enough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am Enough

Grace Byers

Keturah A. Bobo

Balzer + Bray, 2018

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

9780062667120

Like the sun, I’m here to shine…

Like time, I’m here to be, and be everything I can.

In a time where there seems to be an expectation that we will each be smarter, richer, thinner, bigger, better than anyone else, it seems to be impossible to just be – and let who you are be enough. But in this stunning new release, the little girl does not feel the need to compete with anyone.  She not only accepts who she is and is proud of that but also respects the individuality of others…

I know that we don’t look the same: our skin, our eyes, our hair, our frame.

But that does not dictate our worth; we both have places here on earth.

Apart from the powerful message that all children, indeed everyone, needs to take away from this book, it’s other strength is its diversity – each child is different in ethnicity, religion, and even physical ability although their gender is the same and that perhaps is its one negative.  Perhaps in a world where gender equality is still an issue. showing girls and boys together could have added just a little more.

Nevertheless, this is an important book to share and discuss as we try to promote positive mental health from an early age and that needs to start with the acceptance of ourselves as we are with no compulsion to compete to match someone else’s expectations. 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

My Grandfather’s War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s War

Glynn Harper

Jenny Cooper

EK Books, 2018

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

9781775592990

On this most solemn of days on the Australian and New Zealand calendars, and as the centennial commemoration of World War I come to a close, My Grandfather’s War tells us of a more recent conflict, the Vietnam War, a war where those who served are now the grandparents of its target audience, our primary school students.

At a time when the world had almost emerged into a new era following World War II, the USA and the USSR were the new superpowers and the common catch-cry promoted by prime ministers and politicians was “All the way with LBJ”, Australian and New Zealand joined forces with the USA in this new conflict to stop the “Yellow Peril” of China moving south and overtaking nations just as Japan had tried to do between 1941 and 1945. Among the 65 000 troops of both nations committed between 1963 and 1975 was Robert,  Sarah’s grandfather who now lives with her family and who is “sometimes very sad.” 

Possibly a natio, drafted because a marble with his birthdate on it dropped into a bucket, old enough to die for his country but too young to vote for those who sent him, Robert, like so many others of his age whose fathers and grandfathers had served, thought that this was his turn and his duty and that the war “would be exciting”.  But this was a war unlike those fought by the conservative, traditional decision-makers – this was one fought in jungles and villages where the enemy could be anywhere and anyone; one where chemicals were used almost as much as bullets; one where the soldiers were not welcomed as liberators but as invaders; and one which the soldiers themselves knew they could not win. It was also the first war that was taken directly into the lounge rooms of those at home as television became more widespread, affordable and accessible. 

And the reality of the images shown clashed with the ideality of those watching them, a “make-love-not-war” generation who, naive to the ways of politics and its big-picture perspective of power and prestige, were more concerned for the individual civilians whose lives were being destroyed and demanded that the troops be withdrawn. Huge marches were held throughout the USA, New Zealand and Australia and politicians, recognising that the protesters were old enough to vote and held their futures in their hands, began the withdrawal.

But this was not the triumphant homecoming like those of the servicemen before them.  Robert came home to a hostile nation who held him and his fellow soldiers personally responsible for the atrocities they had seen on their screens.  There were no welcome home marches, no public thanks, no acknowledgement of heroes and heroism, and Robert, like so many of those he fought with, slipped back into society almost as though  he was in disgrace.  While the official statistics record 578 killed and 3187 wounded across the two countries, the stats for those who continued to suffer from their physical and mental wounds and those who died because of them, often at their own hands, are much more difficult to discover.  Like most returned servicemen, Robert did not talk about his experiences, not wanting to inflict the horror on his family and friends and believing that unless you were there you wouldn’t understand; and without the acknowledgement and support of the nation he was supposedly saving  and seeing his mates continue to battle the impact of both the conflict and the chemicals, he sank into that deep depression that Sarah sees as his sadness but which is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Disturbed by his sadness but told never to talk to her grandfather about the war, Sarah is curious and turns to the library for help.  But with her questions unanswered there, she finally plucks up the courage to ask him and then she learns Grandad’s story – a story that could be told to our students by any number of grandfathers, and one that will raise so many memories as the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh approaches, and perhaps prompt other Sarahs to talk to their grandfathers.

Few picture books about the Vietnam War have been written for young readers, and yet it is a period of our history that is perhaps having the greatest impact on our nation and its families in current times.   Apart from the personal impact on families as grandfathers, particularly, continue to struggle with their demons,  it opened the gates to Asian immigration in an unprecedented way, changing and shaping our nation permanently. 

Together, Harper and Cooper have created a sensitive, personal and accessible story that needs to be shared, its origins explored and understanding generated.  

Lest We Forget.

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

Lessons of a LAC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons of a LAC

Lynn Jenkins

Kirrili Lonergan

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335828

In one village on one side of the mountains live the LACs – Little Anxious Children who constantly look for danger and who only have negative self-talk; in another village on the other side of the mountains live their enemies the Calmsters who can take life as it comes because of their positive self-talk.  The two sides are constantly battling because when one wins, the other shrinks.

One day Loppy the LAC decides to climb the mountain and spy on the Calmsters but his anxiety goes through the roof when he spies a Calmster looking back.  And not only looking back, but coming to meet him! Who will win the impending battle? Does there have to be a winner and a loser?

Anxiety amongst children in on the increase.  According to a recent national survey of the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children and adolescents, approximately 278,000 Australian children aged between 4 and 17 struggle with clinical symptoms of Anxiety. (For a summary see kidsfirst children’s services) Therefore books which shine a light on this condition which affects 1 in 7 of those between 4 and 17 and which can be used as a starting point to help the child manage the symptoms are both important and welcome, particularly as mindfulness and mental health are gaining traction in school curricula. While there are almost as many causes of anxiety as there are children affected by it,  such as not being perfect, helping children turn their self-talk around, as Curly did for Loppy, is a critical starting point and many classrooms are now displaying images such as these…

 

Not only do such explicit statements give the anxious child prompts for the new words, but they also acknowledge that anxiety is real and that there are others who are anxious too.  While climbing that internal mountain as Loppy did can be hard, knowing that there are others who also battle can be reassuring. While teachers are not clinical psychologists like the author, having tools like the Loppy books in the mindfulness collection and using them not only to help the Loppies move forward but also to help the Calmsters learn that some of their friends may be like Loppy so deserve  and need understanding rather than ridicule can be a starting point in achieving harmony in the classroom.

Teachers’ notes which extend the story into practical applications are available.

 

ABC Mindful Me

ABC Mindful Me

ABC Mindful Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABC Mindful Me

Christiane Engel

Quarto US, 2018

36pp., board book, RRP $A19.99

9781633225107

“Being mindful means paying attention to the present moment” and in this book the creator takes a journey through the alphabet stopping at each letter to link it to an activity or concept that will enable younger readers to be more in touch with the here and now and where they are.  

From Awareness to Zen children are encouraged to learn about being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy as they learn how to limit and manage stress and anxiety through rhyming text and bold pictures which feature a diversity of children.  There are also instructions to make some of the suggestions like a thankfulness tree and a mandala.

With mindfulness such a part of the curriculum these days, this could  almost be the basis of a semester’s program as each child creates their own book showing what the concept for each letter means for them.

Oma’s Buttons

Oma's Buttons

Oma’s Buttons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oma’s Buttons

Tania Ingram

Jennifer Harrison

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143786573

Ruthie loved going to visit her Oma and doing all the wonderful things that grandmothers and their grandchildren do together – baking, singing, playing … One day she discovers a small tin under Oma’s bed – a small tin which holds BIG memories!  For in it were lots of buttons, each one representing a special person in Oma’s life.

And so Ruthie learns about the people who had passed through Oma’s life, each one special and significant like the red button that was from her mother’s apron because she loved to bake; the little wooden button from her father who taught her how to be brave; the blue button from the suit Opa was wearing on the day he proposed…   Even Ruthie is in there through the green button off her first dress. 

Fascinated she listens to all the stories , until she finds a beautiful button at the bottom of the tin – from Oma’s favourite coat and so Ruthie asks if she can have it to remind her of Oma.  That button goes with her everywhere that day, even to the park where it slips through a hole in the pocket in her jacket and is lost forever.  Ruthie is devastated but then Oma shows her the best memory button in the world…

This is a most beautiful book dedicated to the author’s mother-in-law who  was born in a displaced persons camp in Kematen, after her family had to flee the occupation in WWII and whose early experience as a refugee gave her an appreciation of family traditions and holding onto the memories of those we love.  Her button tin inspired the story and the love between her mother-in-law and her daughter shines through on every page as the story and memories of each button is shared and celebrated, clearly based on real events.   

Jennifer Harrison’s stunning illustrations are so photograph-like that each person comes to life so the reader not only feels they know them better but is also transported back to memories of their own special people – a grandmother who made porridge and served it with brown sugar as the familiar fanfare heralded the 8.00am news and taught me to make the traditional Kiwi favourites like pavlova; a grandfather who walked miles with us over the beaches and rocks of one of the southernmost towns in the world and who taught me to love the eternal, restless sea; a father returned from being a POW in World War II determined his kids would be brought up in peace and who taught me to look for the silver lining in everyone; a mother who insisted on keeping her hard-fought for career and who taught me to follow my dreams

Sadly, all are gone now as is my Nanna’s button tin, lost in international moves and the passing decades – but the memories are rich and alive. 

Tania Ingram and Jennifer Harrison have written an important book that will encourage reminiscing, perhaps even an investigation into why families are who they are for we all belong to someone, somewhere and we are all loved.  One to be treasured as much as the buttons.

Rescue & Jessica: A life-changing friendship

Rescue & Jessica

Rescue & Jessica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rescue & Jessica

Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes

Scott Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9780763696047

Rescue thought he would grow up to be a Seeing Eye dog – after all, that’s what his family does.  However, his handler thinks he would be better as an assistance dog and Rescue is worried that he wouldn’t be any good at that.  He did not want to let anyone down.

Meanwhile, Jessica has had to have one of her legs amputated and will need either a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair to be mobile.  This is not what she thought her life would be like and she worried about whether she will be able to manage the changes.  And then she and Rescue are teamed up…

Based on the true story of a young woman injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, just five years ago, this is a story of how Jessica and Rescue manage the unexpected changes in their lives and how they rescued each other.  Five years on, it is not only a tribute to assistance dogs the world over,  it also highlights the struggles of those who survive these disastrous events and continue to cope long after the headlines have moved on – in this case, more than 260.  

As well as the personal story of Jessica and Rescue, it also highlights the resilience, the perseverance, and the continuing hard work that it takes to go forward from such a life-changing event including those that do not make world headlines. The cause of Jessica’s unhealthy legs is not disclosed within the story and so there are many children who, sadly, can relate to the realisation that life as they know it has changed and life as they had dreamed is irrevocably altered.   Divorce, family break-ups,illness,  car accidents, deaths… these (and more) are part of the fabric of our students’ lives that they may be dealing with in silence and while they might not require an assistance dog, we need to be mindful of their struggles. Sharing this story and discussing Jessica’s feelings of despair and hope, taking one step at a time, one day at a time may help them progress just a little further.

 

 

Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

GoGo and the Silver Shoes

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Go and the Silver Shoes

Jane Godwin

Anna Walker

Penguin Viking, 2018

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

9780143785521

When all your clothes are the hand-me-downs from your three wild brothers,  it is important to make the most of what you have.  Even though they were fourth-hand, Go Go had a knack for making them interesting and wore them proudly even if “friends” like Annabelle made unkind comments.  

And when the only new things you get are your knickers and sneakers, then it is especially important to choose the most beautiful you can find.  So when Go Go chose a pair of silver sneakers that sparkled in the sun she wore them everywhere.  She loved them and was so proud of them, even if they were a bit big to last longer.  But disaster struck the day the family went on a picnic and while Go Go and her brothers were having an adventure down through the rocks in the river, one of the precious shoes is lost.  Go Go is heartbroken and very cross as her mum points out that perhaps she should have worn older shoes that day.  

But undeterred and despite her brothers’ suggestions for what she could do with the remaining shoe, Go Go is determined to wear it still – even if it means teaming it with an odd shoe and facing the jeers of Annabelle.  This is a decision that leads to an unexpected friendship as both Go Go and the lost shoe have their own journeys to make…

There is so much to love about this story… as the grandmother of one who never wears matching socks and is so unaffected by a need to be trendy, I love Go Go’s independence and confidence in creating her own style and being a bit different; as one who grew up in the middle of eight boys (all but one cousins), I love that she is me 50+ years ago and all the memories that evokes; and I love Anna Walker’s illustrations that are so subtle and detailed and tell a story of their own.  And I love the ending… you just never know where or how lasting friendships are going to happen.  From its sparkly cover to its stunning endpages, this is a unique story that had me enthralled to the end.

So many will identify with Go Go  and draw strength and confidence from her independence and ability to get to the nub of what being a child is about without all the frills and fripperies. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…