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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. 

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.

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.

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Incredibly Busy Mind of Bowen Bartholomew Crisp

Paul Russell

Nicky Johnston

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820881

Bowen Bartholomew Crisp’s mind doesn’t work like that of most children – it’s almost as big as his name!  When he is asked about the colour of the ocean, his is not the first hand up to answer because he is thinking –  he knows that the top can be green or blue depending on the sky, that the waves crash white but in the depths where no sunlight reaches it is black as the darkest night; he’s heard of the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Yellow river; he knows that algae can turn oceans green, brown, red or blue – but by the time he has decided on his answer the teacher has picked someone else.  

The most ordinary, everyday things spark deep questions to ponder on and consider but while he is doing that, his teachers, his friends, his family have all moved on.  Except his mother – she seems to have the patience to appreciate the moment, be in the here and now and understand her son’s need to wonder and takes the time to let him have the time. 

This is a unique story that follows Bowen as he grows up, always the outsider because of his propensity to look at all the angles, to see the world through a different lens. And it is not until he is grown up that his thought processes come into their own, and are at last appreciated. Bowen finds his place in the world.

There are many children like Bowen who don’t “fit the mould”. who take a different path to their peers and who often fall by the wayside, succumbing to all sorts of mental health issues as they struggle to be what other people expect rather than themselves, doubt their self-worth and underestimate their potential. The teachers’ notes  offer great insight into the story behind this story and suggest how we can put ourselves into Bowen’s shoes by putting ourselves into one of the situations he finds himself him and using a variety of thinking tools such as De Bono’s Six Hats to gain a new perspective.  Instead of paying lip-service to diversity we can experience it and develop greater understanding and empathy. 

Bowen Bartholomew Crisp’s incredibly busy mind shows the need for us to open ours and even enables us to do so. 

The Inside Day

The Inside Day

The Inside Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inside Day

Jane Martino

Annie White

Puffin, 2021 

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

9781761040085

It’s one of those day when the classroom windows rattle and shake as rain drums on the glass and rather than being able to go outside to play, it’s going to be one of those no-good, long, boring, inside days. Milly and her friends feel as gloomy as the weather but Miss Fish has all sorts of ideas that will make them feel sunny inside even though they are stuck inside. And soon, even Milly has joined her classmates in focusing on the things that make them feel good and has forgotten about the sandpit and all the attractions that the outdoors offers.

This is a timely release as so many children are stuck inside, not just because it’s winter but also the current public health orders.   So it’s the perfect time for teachers to become Miss Fish, adapt her ideas and help children see the possibilities and potential of this enforced stay-at-home time. As well as encouraging students to be in the moment, she also wants them to say how they are feeling so there are lots of similes and vocabulary to explore and illustrate.  If something makes you feel like “colours are bursting out of your mouth” what would that look like if it actually happened?

The final two pages of the book are devoted to directing the reader to focus on their own feelings and there is an activity pack available as well. The icing on the cake is that Penguin Random House is one of the publishers who have agreed to extending the exemptions of the 2020 Storytime Agreement to this period of lockdown so the book can be read online to a class behind a password-protected platform. 

 

The Colour of Music

The Colour of Music

The Colour of Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Colour of Music

Lisa Tiffen

Matt Ottley

MidnightSun, 2021

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

9781925227871

Molly can see the music. Colours flash brilliantly as she listens. The music takes her on a journey into places filled with colour, revealing connections between music, emotions, and the world we live in.  As she lies on the floor with her eyes shut and her ears open, and the vibrations of sound running through the floorboards to make her fingers tingle, she is transported to a world of colours and pictures, impressions and feelings that not only give her a whole inner body experience but also a whole outer body experience.

Tiffen’s lyrical text, accompanied by Ottley’s magical illustrations offer the reader just a taste of the river of sights and sounds and sensations that Molly undergoes when she is connected to her music, an experience known as synaesthesia – an involuntary merging of the senses  such as hearing colours or seeing sounds.  But even though we might not be synaesthetic, nevertheless music can still evoke amazing images with the same piece of music interpreted differently by each individual. 

A peek inside....

A peek inside….

Play a piece for your class while they shut their eyes and let their imaginations drift and then have then share or draw what their mind’s eye saw. It is a soothing way to relax and spend an hour or two. Good for the soul and so much simpler than any contrived mindfulness exercises. . 

Not being the slightest bit musical, and having no love of classical music, I was amazed at how I could listen to ABC Classics on the nights I couldn’t sleep during my recent illness and the places my mind went so I eventually drifted off into a technicolour dream world that mirrored the sounds I was hearing.  So synaesthetic or not, the colour of music can be seen by all of us if we are willing to look. 

Pear of Hope

Pear of Hope

Pear of Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pear of Hope

Wenda Shurety

Deb Hudson

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820867

At the bottom of Anna’s garden is an old pear tree that is her favourite place and secret hideout.  She loves being up in its branches, where it gives life and shelter to all sorts of creatures and allows her imagination to wander.  But as autumn and then winter roll in, it loses its magic and wonder, just as Anna does as she succumbs to a deadly illness. The tree stands bare and alone until one day Anna returns and gives it a soft hug. And together they start the journey back to wellness and fullness… 

Using the pear as a symbol of hope, as it is in many parts of the world, this is a delicate story of a young girl’s battle with cancer and chemotherapy tracing Anna’s journey in its illustrations more than its words so the reader really focuses on the parallels between tree and child. Just as the tree loses it leaves in winter but returns to its full glory as the warmer weather returns, so does Anna’s hope and resilience build until she is back able to celebrate her 10th birthday with her friends and family, under the shelter of the pear tree. 

While some of our students may be in Anna’s particular situation, there are many more who are facing other challenges and who need the reassurance that time will pass, and like the pear tree, they will prevail.  So this is one to share and talk about so each can take what they need from it. 

A Way with Wild Things

A Way with Wild Things

A Way with Wild Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Way with Wild Things

Larissa Theule

Sara Palacios

Bloomsbury, 2021

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

9781526628565

Poppy Ann Fields liked bugs.  In fact she liked them much more than she liked people and she much preferred letting the ants march over her or watching the spider spin her web than mixing with humans.   At any social occasion she kept in the background, often dressed in patterns that allowed her to blend in with the background so she could scarcely be seen.  Even when Grandma Phyllis turned 100 and all the family and friends were there to celebrate , she stayed well out of the limelight until a dragonfly landed on the top of the birthday cake, its wings shimmering in the light of the candles.  Then she found her voice, one she didn’t know she had and her life changed…

When I read this story it reminded me so much of a friend’s granddaughter who lost her mum at a very early age and who was so much more at home in the world of wildlife than people. For a little one she was like a mini David Attenborough (her hero) and knew so much more about the natural world than any of us adults who were “loud” and “scary” and “not nearly as nice” as the Goliath stick insect who was her particular pet.  (We don’t need to mention Frankie the snake who travelled entwined in her ponytail.)

So even though we don’t necessarily see them,  (and young readers will have fun trying to spot Poppy in the illustrations) there are lots of Poppies and Ks in the world, children for whom the limelight and the spotlight are too bright  and who are often overlooked or even unseen.  But regardless of how shy they might be, sometimes it is nice to be acknowledged and while we shouldn’t be looking for ways to  make them the focus, if we can defer to their special knowledge or interest (of any subject) in authentic ways, that can sometimes give them that warm glow that tells them we know they are there and we respect who they are and what they know.  Perhaps they, like Poppy, will also gain enough confidence to bloom like a wildflower, rather than always blending in with the background.  At the very least, sharing this story with younger readers will let them know that we know they are there – they are not invisible because someone has seen them and cares enough to have written a story about them.