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The Dam

The Dam

The Dam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dam

David Almond

Levi Pinfold

Walker Studio, 2018

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

9781406304879

It looks like death will come to this valley as the dam is almost completed, and when it is and the waters rise, so much will be washed away, drowned and never seen again.  In tribute to all that have gone and for all that are still to come, the musician sings and his daughter plays her violin as they wander through the empty houses that were once homes. But even though the physical things may be gone or going, the music plays on, locked in the memories as new opportunities await.

Forty years ago when a great dam was built by the Kielder Water in Northumberland,  UK, the valley below slowly filled with water. But just before this, when the villagers had been moved out, two musicians went back to the abandoned valley. They tore down the boards over the houses, stepped inside and started to play – for this would be the last time that music would be heard in this place.  But while much of the natural landscape was lost, a new one was created, one which brought new activities and adventures and allowed for new memories to be created.

While this is the story of a dam in the UK, it could be the story of places in Australia like Adaminaby, moved in the 50s to allow for the creation of Lake Eucumbene, nine times larger than Sydney Harbour and part of the might Snowy Hydro scheme that changed Australia forever.  Yes the valley was drowned, and as droughts wrack this country, sometimes, as now, remnants of what was lost rise from the deep, but in its place is a haven for fishers, boaters and artists, and the influx of European refugees who came to help build it changed the shape of Australia forever.

It could be the story of parts of the South Island of New Zealand as dams like Benmore and Aviemore reshaped that landscape as the need for electricity grew; parts of Tasmania where building dams on Lake Pedder in the 60s and the proposed damming the Gordon below the Franklin River in the 70s shone the brightest spotlight on the environment and its conservation that this country had seen.

It could even be the story of those living near Badgery’s Creek where Sydney’s new airport is at last being constructed after 50 years of talk.  It could be the story of 1000 places where human needs have outweighed those of Mother Nature and “progress” moves inexorably onwards and outwards.  

But this is not a morbid book, despite its dramatic, monochromatic sombre palette, vignettes of things lost like fleeting memories and the haunting text which is like music itself.  While it is a memorial to those who have gone before it is also a promise that there will be new life, new different memories  waiting to be made and celebrated just as the change in colours and mood of the illustrations indicate. 

Change throughout our lives in inevitable – some visible and dramatic, others not-so and more subtle – but each alters the path that we have planned or dreamed of.  While this book might be overtly about a true story of the Northumberland wilds, it is a conversation starter for all those who are facing life-changing circumstances, physical or emotional.  The musician and his daughter chose to remember through a musical tribute but were also ready to embrace the new landscape, illustrating that it is how we deal with and embrace that over which we have no control that shapes us.  “That which doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger” has never been more apt. 

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forever Kid

Elizabeth Mary Cummings

Cheri Hughes

Big Sky, 2018 

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

9781925675382

Today is Johnny’s birthday. And as in many families, the birthday kid gets to choose the food, the games and the way they want to celebrate.  And Johnny’s family is no different.  Cloud stories are definitely on the list of must-do – lying on your back and looking for pictures in the clouds and making up stories about what you see. 

But this birthday is different to the others that have gone before. For this year, Johnny is no longer there.  He’s the Forever Kid – one who was part of the family but who has passed away leaving just memories.  And on the is special day, each family member remembers Johnny in their own special way as they celebrate and feel closer to him.  But they all gather together to look for and make cloud stories. 

Much as it saddens us as adults to think that the children we know are touched by death and grief, nevertheless it is a fact of life for many.  Illness and accidents take their toll and often the adults are so busy dealing with adult-things that the toll of the child is overlooked.  Kids are seen as resilient, as ‘not really understanding’, as bounce-back-and-move-on beings.  But anyone who has been with a child who has had to face such a harsh reality will know that the pain runs deep and the bewilderment is confusing so to have such a gentle book that focuses on the child left behind, their feelings, even their guilt, is a salutary reminder that as adults, we need to take care of their emotions too.  

Four years ago, Miss Then 8 lost her precious great-grandmother, my mother, and as we grieved and made funeral arrangements and all that grown-up stuff, it would have been easy to overlook her distress.  I asked her if she would like to say something at the memorial service and she said yes.  My heart broke when this little one, who was such a chip off her great-gran’s block, stood up and just said, “I love you Great Gran.” That’s when the tears began to flow, and we knew that she knew what she had lost but she would never forget her even though she was so young. So this year, when her other grandmother died and the wake was to be at a local restaurant, it was no surprise that Miss Now 12 did not want to go because that’s where she had had so many good times with her Great Gran and “didn’t want them spoiled by sadness”.  Just as Johnny is the Forever Kid, so we have a Forever Great Gran.

This gentle book, with its soft, sympathetic illustrations, is a reminder to us all that we need to acknowledge our children’s feelings and their grief, and allow them the opportunity to remember and celebrate and know that it is perfectly okay to do so. Take the time to lie on the grass with your child, make up cloud stories and let them remember and reminisce.  It will help you both. 

Ruby’s Worry

Ruby's Worry

Ruby’s Worry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby’s Worry

Tom Percival

Bloomsbury, 2018 

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

9781408892152

Ruby is very happy being Ruby, happy to be by herself and content in her own company. But one day she discovers she has a companion, one that is invisible to all but her.  It is a worry.  And the more she thinks about it, the bigger it grows, the more persistent and pervasive it is.  No matter where she goes or what she does, it is there with her until she gets to be worrying so much about the worry that there is no room in her brain or life for anything else.

Then, in the park one day, she spies a young boy looking as sad and forlorn as she is.  Taking her courage in her hands she speaks to him, and together they discover something quite miraculous.

Anxiety in children is at an all-time high these days as they try to meet all the expectations put on them – academic, sporty, physical, creative – and as they try to please all those they hold in high esteem- parents, family, friends, teachers… It is no wonder that so many of them are like Ruby, carrying around worries that threaten to swallow them whole if they haven’t done so already. So this book which brings to life the old adage of “a problem shared is a problem halved” is a critical part of any mindfulness program or anything that deals with children’s mental health.  Children take on board all sorts of things that adults don’t realise, bits of overheard conversations or things that they see start to play on their mind, growing bigger with imagination and become all-consuming because not only do they not have the ability to detach themselves from the here and now, but they also don’t have the strategies to deal with them.  Living in the bubble that is often the way of children’s lives these days, they believe that they are the only ones with the problem and that only they can solve it. Despite their apparent connections to others, they actually feel very isolated. 

Therefore to have an easily accessible picture book that starts the conversation is so important. Because Percival does not identify Ruby’s particular worry, the story has universal application- it could be the story of any child in our care. By using the story as the starter for a discussion that demonstrates the importance of reaching out to family and friends for support and that this is as important for children as it is for adults, we are offering them a beginning strategy that can be built on as they mature.  

An important addition to your mindfulness collection.

 

Lucia and Lawrence

Lucia and Lawrence

Lucia and Lawrence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucia and Lawrence

Joanna Francis

New Frontier, 2018 

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

9781925594157

Lucia and Lawrence live next door to each other, but two more diverse children would be hard to find.  Lucia is creative and lives in a world of fantasy with “dreams that reach as high as the sky and as deep as the sea.” She loves playing outdoors, cloud-dreaming and letting her imagination soar. Lawrence, on the other hand, has “a head full of numbers that are predictable and safe.” He prefers to stay indoors, using his imagination in a different way.  Lucia is outgoing, loud and confident; Lawrence is quiet, shy and prefers his own company. She is a risk-taker, he prefers the logic and order of his calculations. Hers is a world of colour ; his more monochromatic. 

Connecting through messages on paper aeroplanes and tin cans joined with string, they build up a friendship, respecting each others’ differences.  But when Lucia asks Lawrence to her birthday party, he declines and watches through his window as Lucia and her friends gallivant around her backyard in fancy dress and having a magical time.  And that gives him an idea, one that will combine his world of numbers and physics and her world of imagination and fantasy.

Children usually make friends easily, prepared to play with whoever is at hand ignoring all but the game in motion.  But every now and then they meet someone who is not quite like them, the yin to their yang, and yet still there is a connection that suggests this will be a deep and lasting relationship. But sometimes, even that connection is at the risk of fracturing as Lucia and Lawrence’s is when he refuses his party invitation and it can be tricky to build a bridge.  But if and when that bridge can be built it can lead to something that is better than before. 

Stunningly illustrated with images and colours that depict their characters’ personalities, this is a different story about a familiar theme that opens up much to explore about Lucia’s imaginary world and Lawrence’s more practical one.  Readers might identify with one child more than the other and this in itself lends itself to discussions and responses that will show a personal connection to the story.  Everyone will know either a Lucia or a Lawrence and be able to reflect on their similarities and differences as they learn the art of compromise, the glue that holds relationships together. 

Chalk Boy

Chalk Boy

Chalk Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chalk Boy

Margaret Wild

Mandy Ord

Allen & Unwin, 2018

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

9781760630683

As the city rushes by on its way to who-knows-where intent on who-knows-what, pavement artist Barnaby begins to draw with his thick blue chalk.  His focus is a portrait of a boy, but unlike his other drawings this one has a head that thinks, eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that feels.  Barnaby warns the boy that when the rain comes he will wash away, and the boy accepts that, but in the meantime he will enjoy the life he has been given, no matter how short it is.  

But when the cold, cold night comes with its ominous dark clouds, and the inevitable is near, the boy cries out because he does not want to die alone.  Is his fate sealed?

Margaret Wild has a knack for packing a punch into her stories using a minimum of words, and this observation about the fragility of life and the need to enjoy what we have rather than wish for what we haven’t, is no exception.  Although it starts as a third-person narration about Barnaby creating his picture, it switches to the boy being the teller of his own story making it even more powerful.  Mandy Ord’s edgy, street-art illustrations are not only perfect for the setting but reflect her background with the Melbourne underground comic community. The concept of people hurrying, always seeking the next thing rather than being in the moment and appreciating it for what it is is very strong. The almost monochromatic palette with the boy in symbolic light blue being the only relief puts the focus where it needs to be.   

Despite the seemingly simple text, this is a book for older readers who can delve beneath what is on the page and consider what is actually being said. 

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Play Trucks?

Ann Stott

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2018

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

9781406378238

Almost every morning Jack and Alex play together in the sandpit at the playground while their mothers have a chat.  They enjoy playing together, Jack with the trucks, particularly those that are big and can wreck things,  and Alex with his doll, who has a pink, sparkly dress. When Jack suggests they play trucks, Alex counters with playing dolls that drive trucks. And this is a happy compromise until Jack chooses a crane and tells Alex that dolls with tutus can’t drive cranes.

But this is not an argument about gender, although as it escalates it seems it is – Jack has a much more pragmatic perspective which Alex quickly solves and they are soon playing happily again until they hear the sound of the ice cream truck.

Time and again over the 45+ years I’ve been in education I’ve seen children squabble and adults intervening because they have imposed their beliefs and perspectives on what they think is the problem, when it is really a much more simple issue such as in this story. Rather than letting the children sort it for themselves and learning all sorts of critical social skills as they do, the adults are too prone to step in looking for peace above all else.  In my opinion, it is what is going on in the background that is as important as the foreground in this story, as the mothers continue to chat, nurse Alex’s baby sister when she wakes up and go with the boys to get ice cream, ignoring the boys’ conflict, if indeed they notice it. Graham also has lots of other characters passing by going about their lives with no reference to what is happening in the sandpit – there is no notice taken of the boys’ different ethnicity, their preference for particular toys or their minor squabble.  Life is what it is and is as it is. And therefore the boys are left to work things out for themselves,learning in their particular microcosm how to negotiate, compromise, change, accept, include… all those vital attributes that will help them navigate their expanding world.

While this book appears to be about challenging gender stereotypes because of the boys’ choice of toys, to me that is just the hook on which the broader issue of how kids deal with, negotiate and celebrate difference and diversity has been hung on.    Sharing this with little ones will open up opportunities for them to not only share their stories but to learn their own strategies as they are challenged by new situations. 

Won’t be surprised to see this nominated for awards in the future.

Spirit

Spirit

Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit

Cherri Ryan

Christina Booth

Black Dog Books, 2018

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

9781925381771

A small, woven basket, a couple of handkerchiefs , a stick, some buttons and thread and a scrap of fabric for a flag and Spirit is ready for her inaugural voyage sailing across the garden pond. 

A victory dance,  some attention to her mast and hull and she was ready for the next challenge – bobbing and dipping as she rides the currents of the creek. 

Another victory dance and some more tweaking – will she be ready for the greatest adventure yet?  All was well as she rode the calm waters of the river with her fishy attendants, her rudder true and her bow leading the way, but after the bridge jagged rocks churn and froth the water and Spirit faces the biggest dangers of all.  Will she survive or will she be broken?

On the surface, this is a charming story about a little girl building a boat and testing it, increasing the degree of difficulty of each challenge.  But just like the creek and the river, there are hidden depths as children navigate life and have to learn to be steadfast, resilient, imaginative and have faith in themselves and their abilities to survive the setbacks.  Much as we would like our children’s lives to be smooth sailing, character is built through adversity and they need to learn to pick themselves up, oil their hulls and smooth their masts, or let someone more experienced help them do that, and move on to the next challenge, persevering, learning about failure as well as success, commiseration and celebration.  They need to know they have an inner spirit, one that can’t be broken but like Spirit one which gets stronger and stronger particularly when they are knocked down, but sometimes they have to dig deep into the unknown to find it.

As busy classroom teachers, we often just see the surface of our students’ lives, only sometimes being privileged to catch a glimpse of the depths beneath -some of which are joyful; some of which are deep and dark with jagged rocks but all having as many twists and turns as the river. So this would be an ideal read-aloud sharing both the words and pictures that intertwine with each other perfectly, and talking about the underlying thoughts behind them. Discussing the name of the boat, the girl’s feelings, determination and courage, the invisible hands guiding her while letting her try that are not revealed until the penultimate page, the role of the fish as they support Spirit on its journeys,  and the connection of the girl’s story to their own lives may help those who are troubled and struggling realise they are not alone and deep down they too have the courage to take the next step forward, even if it is into the unknown.

A perfect addition to your mindfulness collection. 

 

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry

Tropical Terry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tropical Terry

Jarvis

Walker, 2018 

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

9781406376425

Terry is a very plain fish who lives with his best friends Cilla the crab and Steve the sea snail, playing games like Dodge-a-Dolphin, Shark Speed and Hide-a-Fish. But while he enjoys their company and the games, he secretly covets the glamour of the other residents of Coral Reef City as they flit about showing off their colourful, glittery finery.  But they see Terry as dull and boring and shun him leaving Terry sad and isolated. 

But then he has an idea and after a bit of this and a bit of that he emerges as the most stunning, dazzling tropical fish in the ocean.  Immediately those who shunned him the day before are attracted and beg him to play with them.  Swishy, swishy, swooshy, swooshy – Terry joins his new friends leaving Cilla and Steve behind.  But as well as attracting his new friends, Terry has also caught the eye of Eddie the Eel who has just one thing on his mind…dinner!

This is a new take on the old themes of being satisfied with and proud of who you are, being comfortable in your own skin, being careful about what you wish for and the value of real friends.  It builds to a climax and young readers will want to know if Terry escapes and whether his new “friends” will still be friends.  The bright illustrations contrast with Terry’s feeling of being dull and with their rich blue background, the reader feels they are part of that undersea world with all its riches and colours. 

Perfect for inspiring discussions about individuality and valuing the differences of others as well as artwork!.

Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire

Girl on Wire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl on Wire

Lucy Estela

Elise Hurst

Puffin Books, 2018

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

9780143787167

High above the city buildings, a cold breeze biting her cheeks,  a young girl stands  alone for hours.  Stretched before her is a wire that she must cross to be able to move forward but fear holds her back.  But as dark thunder clouds gather and a storm threatens, she knows she must make a move. To stay where she is, is impossible and so  she takes that first tentative step. As she inches forward, her skirt swishing around her legs, the storm breaks and she realises how far she will fall if she fails.  Overcome, she falters, stoops and cries for help.  

A swooping eagle reassures her that all will be well but she has to “walk the wire by yourself”.  Will she find the courage to move forward?

All around us people, adults and children alike, are having to step out onto their own personal wires, and no matter how strong the support from those around us are, we still have to walk it by ourselves.  Sometimes it seems an impossible journey and we may have to start several times before we dig deep and find those inner reserves that allow us to tiptoe towards the other end.  While the personal route of the journey and its destination may be unique to each of us, nevertheless the fear of the unknown and of failure, the feelings of trepidation and nervousness are universal and in this beautifully and evocatively illustrated allegory, we learn that we are not alone.  Life cannot go forward if we don’t take that first step, wherever it is leading us. 

With the mental health of our young people finally acknowledged as a critical issue in their well-being, this, at first, seems a book for older students, but in the hands of a skilful adult even little ones will be able to tell of something they were afraid of that they have conquered and begin to reflect on their inner strength as well as acknowledging that some things are hard to get right first time but with courage and confidence and a belief in yourself it’s OK to try again and to seek help if it is just too much. Like the girl on the wire, we can curl our toes tighter, stand a bit taller, and raise out arms to embrace what is on the far edge.

From the author of Suri’s Wall, this is an important addition to your mindfulness collection. 

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

Finding Granny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Granny

Kate Simpson

Gwynneth Jones

EK Books, 2018

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

 9781925335699

Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny, a bedtime, story-time pantomime granny, as I’m not afraid of some slime Granny.” She loves Edie and Edie loves her.  But when she has a stroke and has to spend a long time in hospital, Edie is confused by her ‘new’ Granny. Her Granny doesn’t need help eating her dinner!

Gradually, Edie discovers that even though this Granny is a bit different in some ways, at her heart she is still the same – a love as fierce as a lion Granny.

With stroke being the third leading cause of death in Australia and one of the top 10 leading causes of death among people aged 45 and over, Edie’s predicament is one that is faced by so many of the children in our care and so this is a really important book that has to be in the collection.  It’s superbly chosen text describes Edie’s and Granny’s relationship perfectly in a unique way so that the reader automatically sees that this is a close and loving relationship; the wordless page that just shows the ambulance with its lights flashing; and the simple explanation by the doctor that Granny’s “brain isn’t working the way it used to” are all that is needed to set the scenario for the big changes and challenges Edie is going to have to face.  Coupled with illustrations that show the emotions that don’t need words, this could be any child who is confronted by this situation – any one of them could be Edie. 

I know from recent experience how confronting and difficult it is to see the impact of age and illness on a loved one and to come to terms with this ‘different’ person, establish a new relationship and burrow down to the love that is still there albeit not so evident at times – and that is as a mature adult.  So it is even trickier for a child, although, again from experience, they seem so much more able to cut to the chase and work with what they are presented with, just as Edie does.  Nevertheless, there can be some confusion about feelings -“That’s not my Granny,” says Edie when she first sees hers in hospital – and so to learn that these are natural, acceptable and shared by other children will bring comfort and together, like Edie, they can move forward and develop a valuable, if different, relationship that still has love at its core. 

A book that should spark conversations and bring comfort…