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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. 

 

Milo’s Monster

Milo's Monster

Milo’s Monster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milo’s Monster

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2022

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

9781526613011

Milo loves spending time with his best friend, Jay. But when a new girl called Suzi moves in next door, Milo starts to feel left out. The jealous feeling gets stronger and stronger – until suddenly, a GREEN-EYED MONSTER pops up beside him! Soon, the monster is poisoning Milo’s thoughts. It won’t leave him alone!
Can Milo find a way to free himself from the monster and repair his friendship?

Once again, Tom Percival has tackled a tricky emotional issue in this Big Bright Feelings series that helps young readers understand their responses to certain situations and how to deal with them.  The series which includes Tilda Tries AgainPerfectly NormanRuby’s Worry,  Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends ,  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, in this case jealousy.  It offers affirmation that the feelings are normal and common, which, in itself, helps the child confront and control them. Using a story format depersonalises the situation so no one has to disclose what they don’t want to, and by portraying the green-eyed monster as an actual thing rather than an abstract idea, demonstrates that it can be conquered and vanquished.

A perfect conversation starter for early childhood readers.  

The Very Hard Book

The Very Hard Book

The Very Hard Book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Very Hard Book

Idan Ben-Barak

Philip Bunting

A&U Children’s, 2022

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

9781760526221

Can you make up a joke that makes you laugh? Sit in an empty room?  Or be somewhere else for a minute?

At first, this book with its short sentences, large font and intriguingly ‘simple’ pictures looks like one of those fun ones that engage young children in the joy of reading through the power of the absurd,  And, indeed, it is just that – but a closer look, as well as the diagram on the final endpaper, show that it is so much more.

Because once again, the author of the very popular Do Not Lick This Book has put his scientific brain to work to create an introduction to the world beyond the words, this time about thinking about thinking. The act of thinking about thinking is known as metacognition and forms the basis of all critical thought. It is also a concept that comes easily to children whose inquisitive nature makes them able to engage in abstract questions and open-ended thinking without the constraints, learning and lenses that the adult brain automatically imposes.

Bunting, who teamed up with Ben-Barak to create We Go Way Back has very cleverly used characters that resemble dendrites , the brain cell’s message receptors, to further emphasise the confusion and complexity of the tasks that seem so simple on the surface.  

Some years ago when science made it possible for specialists to really start delving into how people learn, and people like Bob Sylwester, Renate and Geoffrey Caine  Eric Jensen and Robin Fogarty  began to interpret what this looked like in the classroom providing the foundations for the pedagogies we now use, students were encouraged to think about their thinking, to know how their brains worked and apply that to their learning.  And they were engaged and fascinated as they learned about “the magic trees of the mind” . Even though this might not be such a focus now, nevertheless this would be an excellent introduction to get them to start thinking about thinking and stretching and growing their brains beyond the screen and someone else’s imagination. 

For surely, if our students are to become critical thinkers, they must first know how and why they think and the influences that play on that. 

 

A Feather on a Wing

A Feather on a Wing

A Feather on a Wing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Feather on a Wing

Maria Speyer

UQP, 2022

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

9780702263255

Sometimes, when it’s dark and you’re lonely, the best thing to make you feel better is to have a big sister to reassure you that you are not alone.  Like a feather on a wing, a flower in a daisy chain, a raindrop in a shower, we are always connected to someone and together we make up a whole that has unlimited potential.

With illustrations as gentle as the rhyming text, imagery that calms as it connects,  and the whole put to music as an addendum, this is a charming story that not only soothes the little girl but also provides the reader with food for thought as they consider the connections in their own lives and the ‘something bigger’ that they are a part of.   Feeling alone, perhaps a little afraid, in the dark is such a relatable experience and in each spread not only does the big sister reinforce the concept of belonging, but gradually widens the circle so that it embraces shared sorties, toys, other children…

Through her use of metaphors, the big sister encourages her little sister to practise mindfulness, to be in the moment, to dream with her eyes open…

What wholes are you part of?

Teachers’ notes are available.

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.

Old Fellow

Old Fellow

Old Fellow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Fellow

Christopher Cheng

Liz Anelli

Walker Books, 2022

32pp., hbk., RRP $A25.99

9781760652395

The Swedish have a word for this story- fika [fee-ka]. It means “a moment to slow down and enjoy the good things in life”.  And that is exactly what the old man and his dog do from the moment they wake and stretch their creaky old bones, through their walk in the park meeting old friends and new and then home again for a well-earned cuppa. But is it the man or his dog that is the “old fellow”?

There are only a handful of authors who can take such an everyday occurrence as an old man and his dog taking their daily exercise and turn it into such a charming story that has so many possibilities.  Indeed, Chris Cheng has dedicated this story to the “Old fellows of Campderdown Memorial Park”, suggesting that he. himself, has spent an hour or more there just  practising fika as he watches all the meetings and greetings and connections that are made, for a walk in the park is as much mental and emotional exercise as it is physical.

While, in previous generations the old man might be represented by a grandfather, that stereotype has been replaced and so our children might not have as much contact with those whose birthdays start with a 7 and beyond and so this is an opportunity for them to engage with this age group and as programs such as Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds showed so well, there are huge benefits for both sides. Teachers’ notes are available.

In the meantime, Liz Anelli’s illustrations are so rich in detail as she captures not only the community who enjoy the park but their connections and friendships that you can almost feel the camaraderie coming off the page. And the reader’s next walk in their park will be viewed through a different lens.

With titles such as Bear and Rat  and One Tree , among many others to his credit, Chris has once again shown his incredible ability to capture the emotional essence of a situation that can open up a whole new world for young readers as they learn to identify, express and manage their own feelings.  

In the meantime, here is that elusive fika in action!

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. 

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marshmallow Clouds: Poems Inspired by Nature

Ted Kooser & Connie Wanek

Richard Jones

Walker Books, 2022

72pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9781529507072

There have been a number of books reviewed on this site over the last couple of years like The Secret Signs of Nature that have encouraged young readers to explore their immediate environment with  critical, sensitive eyes to discover the detail hiding in the big picture. 

But what if, as well as their senses and science brain, they also took their imagination out to play? And what they saw really did become a clown on the top of the hill, up on one leg, juggling a pie, rather than just a winter tree with a long-vacated squirrel’s nest on the end of a branch? 

The subtitle of the US version of this book by former US poet laureate Ted Kooser and and poet Connie Wanek is ” Two Poets at Play Among Figures of Speech” and while a bit dull, nevertheless, it sums up this stunning collection of blank verse poems perfectly.  By letting their imaginations out to play, and using similes and metaphors and other literary devices beloved of English teachers, a thunderstorm becomes something that has become lost in the dark of the house, not wanting to wake us but crashing into walls as they stumble about, occasionally striking a match to see their way; tadpoles become commas making them “the liveliest of all punctuation” ; and a book is transformed into a sandwich with all sorts of goodness between its folded pitta covers!

 Organized by the elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth and accompanied by distinctive, sparse illustrations that interpret the words but which don’t interfere with the picture created by the reader this is an intriguing anthology to dip and delve into, for letting the imagination roam free, wander, and stay healthy. So while we understand that a fire has no stomach, is “never full, never satisfied” and thus must never be set dree, it is an entirely different story for our imaginations.

 

An Artist’s Eyes

An Artist's Eyes

An Artist’s Eyes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Artist’s Eyes

Frances Tosdevin

Clémence Monnet

Frances Lincoln Children’s, 2022

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

9780711264830

When Mo looks at the sea, she sees “dazzling duck-egg blue, a swirl of peacocks and the inky indigo of evening” but all Jo sees is blue.  

When Mo looks at the forest, she sees “shiny apple-green, the lime of gooseberries and the springy zinginess of moss” and shadows that make the green go darker.  But all Jo sees is green, making him more and more frustrated because he can’t see what Mo does.  But Mo is patient and gradually Jo begins to use his imagination although instead of seeing the shades and hues that Mo does,  he starts to see something different…

This is a powerful yet gentle story that reminds the reader that two people can look at exactly the same thing and see it differently- that each of us has artist’s eyes that are shaped by our imagination, experience and perceptions and it can take us a while to align them.  Monnet’s watercolour interpretation of Tosdevin’s lyrical text is enchanting and with their shapes, lines and colour choices the reader will view them through Mo’s eyes or Jo’s eyes or their own eyes…

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

At the age where our children are exploring a new independence and making a wider friendship group, they look at those around them and think that being like them is the key to “success:” and they try to change who they are to be like those they admire.  So this familiar message of being comfortable in your own skin, being the unique individual you are, perhaps even being the ‘you’ that others admire and seek to emulate is important and cannot be shared too often.  So this iteration of that truth is not only important but being a completely different interpretation gives it added reach and recognition.  Whether our eyes kiss in the corners or speak to the stars, sees shapes or colours or sparkles, what we see is unique to us and is as valid as what our neighbour sees.