Archives

Backyard

Backyard

Backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard

Ananda Braxton-Smith

Lizzy Newcomb

Black Dog, 2018

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

 9781925381177

Dusk “in this city that is like other cities” and a “sleep-moony child and s star-eyed dog” sit on the back step of their home and watch and listen to the sights and sounds of night falling.  For the back yard is home to other animals apart from them and just taking the time to listen and look can reveal an astounding array of inhabitants that are otherwise often invisible…

While television programs may make us think that nature happens on the vast plains of Africa or the hidden depths of the ocean, in Backyard author and illustrator using poetic descriptive text and exquisite, lifelike illustrations, have brought to life a suburban backyard, exposing critters and creatures that so cleverly hide amongst the plants and bushes, showing that the marvels and miracles are so much closer than we realise. And while our own backyards might not have the particular species shown, that just sets up investigations into what creatures are there; why they are different from those in the book; the influence and impact of day and night; what conditions are needed to protect those that are and encourage more…the possibilities are so many!

But even if scientific investigations are not for you and yours, this is a lyrical lullaby that would serve as a perfect bedtime story as it is so calming and peaceful, encouraging the child to sit and listen and dream and gradually pull the curtains on their day. 

(For those of you wanting to use this as a springboard for a series of lessons that explore your playground or the students’ backyard, a great non fiction companion would be The Australian Backyard Naturalist  by Peter Macinnis who combines his deep skills in science, history and teaching to produce resources for Australian teachers and children.)

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

The Happiness Box

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Box

Mark Greenwood

Andrew McLean

Walker Books, 2018

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

 9781925081381

February, 1942.  Despite fierce battles, amazing resistance and extraordinary bravery, the fall of Singapore – known as “the Gibraltar of the east” because of its strategic position – was imminent as the Japanese steadily advanced through South East Asia. 

Amongst the women and children and more than 50 000 allied troops taken prisoner of war and herded into the notorious Changi Prison, was Sergeant David ‘Griff ‘ Griffin who tried to keep up the morale of the men by encouraging them to read and tell stories in what became a living hell for those interned, including my father-in-law.  Concerned for the children cooped up without books or toys and with Christmas approaching he and his colleague Captain Leslie Greener inspired the men to make toys with whatever they could find. Griffin was better with words than his hands so using paper scrounged from wherever he could find it, he crafted a story about three friends – Winston the lizard, Martin the Monkey and Wobbly the frog – who found a box that contained the secrets to happiness.  Greener illustrated it and it was typed and bound. 

But the Japanese commander had determined that he must inspect all the toys before they could be given to the children and when presented with The Happiness Box he declared it subversive because the lizard shared the same name as the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and thus it must contain secret messages.  A mate stepped in and declared he would ensure the story was destroyed, and Griff braced himself for the inevitable beating, although the greater pain was knowing that none of the children received any gifts at all – the Japanese general exacting the greatest retribution.

The full story of The Happiness Box and its creators is told in the final pages of the book, one of the few stories of happiness and hope that emerged from the misery and brutality of Changi and the Japanese occupation – one that needed the mastery of both Greenwood and McLean to bring it to a new generation, although five years ago it was made into a musical for young people and for those in Sydney, there will be a one-off performance of it on November 4.

The book itself survived the war, having been buried rather than destroyed, and toured Australia along with Sir Don Bradman’s cricket bat and Ned Kelly’s helmet as part of the National Treasures exhibition from Australia’s great libraries. Griffin, who eventually became Lord Mayor of Sydney, donated it to the State Library of NSW where it is currently held.

The original

The original

If ever there were a book that fits the deeper meaning of this year’s CBCA Book Week theme Find Your Treasure then this is it!

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White - Scott's Antarctic Odyssey

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey

Joanna Grochowicz

A&U Children’s, 2017

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760293659

In the early 1930s, living in the southernmost port in New Zealand, a young girl watched through her bedroom window at ships departing from the wharf heading south for Antarctica.  They fired her imagination and inspired her to learn all she could about this unknown continent and her personal hero, Robert Falcon Scott, vowing that one day she would follow in his footsteps.  This she did in 1968, becoming the first female journalist to go South and while she didn’t get to the South Pole like her hero, she did get to visit his memorial.

Dorothy Braxton - Scott's Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Dorothy Braxton – Scott’s Memorial Cross, Observation Hill, Antarctica, 1968

Her love of the Antarctic was passed on to me, her daughter, and by the age of 10 I had already read The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott’s final expedition. One of my earliest writing memories was deciding to write my interpretation of that expedition, and an enlightened teacher allowing me to skip all the other lessons for the day as he realised I was gripped, on a mission and interruption would have been disastrous.  He even lent me his fountain pen so I didn’t have to keep dipping a nib into the inkwell and blotching my missive.  While that essay has disappeared somewhere in the last 57 years, I still remember the comment he wrote – “This is the best essay on this topic I’ve read from a child of your age, ever!”  Although my passion for the ice in general waned as other interests took over, my mum’s remained and the stories of Scott were common conversation in our household for many years.

So to see a new book emerge focusing on the events of 1910-1913 that would bring the story to a new generation, the great grandchildren of my mum, was exciting and I knew I had to read and review it, so other children could learn about real-life derring-do just over a century ago and Miss 7 and Miss 12 could have a better understanding of what had shaped them, the legacy that has been left and be inspired to create and chase their own dreams.

Told in present-tense narrative that makes the reader feel part of the adventure, rather than an observer of facts or the consumer of a diary, it follows the journey of the Terra Nova from Dunedin’s Port Chalmers through the wild Southern Ocean and then the expedition to one of the last unconquered destinations that lured men like Robert Falcon Scott and his crew as they battled not only the extraordinarily difficult conditions with just ponies, dogs and wooden sleds but also time as they strove to be the first, knowing that Norwegian Roald Amundsen was on a similar mission coming from the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.

Even though the outcome is known before reading starts -“If you’re into happy endings, you’d better look elsewhere. This story does not end well” – nevertheless the reader hopes against hope that history will be rewritten and that this band of men who so willingly followed another into the deepest of unknown territories, who never gave up on themselves or each other, would pull off a miracle like the recent rescues from that cave in Thailand.

A finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards 2018  this is one for those who like their superheroes to have been alive and real; who like to delve into a time gone by when the world was very different and who like real-life adventure.  But my copy is for two little girls who know and loved their own superhero, one who had a dream and followed it and inspired them to follow theirs. 

 

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Horse

Vivian French

Catherine Rayner

Walker Books, 2018

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

 9781406349948

It is very daunting meeting Catherine’s friend Shannon for the first time – because Shannon is a horse, a very big horse.  But slowly and gently Catherine manages the meeting showing the little boy that even though Shannon appears huge, she’s actually very gentle and with an apple and some grooming she is very friendly.  But when Catherine suggests that he ride Shannon, does he have the courage?

Part of the Nature Storybook series which includes Dingo, Koala, and Python this new addition looks at a more domesticated animal, one that is familiar to so many of our students but which can appear formidable up close because of its size.  But in the company of an experienced person and armed with the information in both the narrative and the sub-text, like the boy in the story little ones will have more confidence facing their concerns and discovering one of the gentle joys of life – plodding along on the back of a horse. The story is based on the illustrator and her own horse and the detailed watercolour illustrations not only echo her familiarity with these animals but also mirror the child’s anxiety so the reader understands it. 

Those readers who are already familiar with horses will enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences when the book is shared, but it could also serve as a model for discussing the dos and don’ts of dealing with other domestic pets that may seem somewhat scary to start with.  It will also show that such concerns are common, not babyish, but they can be overcome by learning more.

 

 

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

John Miller

Chris Fornell Scott

Quarry Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A27.99

9781631594830

Apparently, 74 million people play Minecraft each month, one of those is Miss 12 who is now hooked on coding, and many of whom are in schools where the game is being used in many scenarios as part of the everyday learning experience.  For some time, the teacher librarian networks I belong to have been peppered with queries about how it can best be used and so a book that specifically focuses on its use in the science, technology, maths and engineering strands will be of great value to teachers whose students are clamouring for these sorts of experiences but whose personal knowledge and skills of the game are not as developed as those of those they teach.

Beginning with a thorough explanation of what Minecraft is, how it works, how it can be used and played and purchased so that parents and teachers understand its value both in school and beyond – the book’s focus is ‘to connect the Minecraft player(s) in their life with STEM learning…to help bridge the gap between game-play and engaging STEM concepts” –  it moves on to six themed quests, each of which presents four labs, which, in turn, have two parts – an out-of-game activity that requires hands-on exploration and an in-game building and crafting activity.

Quest 1: Pistons, Rails, and Redstone
Quest 2: Construction Zone
Quest 3: The Sky is Not Your Limit
Quest 4: Rocks, Minerals, and Gems
Quest 5: Cycles in Science
Quest 6: Engineering Challenge

In terms of the quality of content, Miss 12 would probably be a better reviewer than I, but in her absence, this review by a Minecraft expert suggests that it is “outstanding” and gives a comprehensive tour of the contents and layout.  The credentials of the authors also convince me of its authority. However, as a non-Minecraft person who wears a teacher’s hat, it would seem to me to be the perfect tool to not only capture an audience who prefer gaming to reading but also to use its user-friendliness to explore things not necessarily intellectually or physically in the teacher’s toolbox.  Added to that is this article which shows that onscreen adventures are leading children to discover their origins in print.  

I’m beginning to see what all the conversations have been about and why there is such excitement about this game that demands so much more of the student than pressing buttons or manipulating levers.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

Teacher

Teacher

Teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher

Gabbie Stroud

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760295905

Even though I requested this book for review I didn’t know if I could read it let alone review it, because even now, 12 years into “retirement”, I am still heavily invested in the world of education, constantly leaping to the defence of my colleagues whenever I hear disparaging comments or “helpful” suggestions.

Not a week goes by without someone who has never stood in front of a class of 30 expectant children uses their power of position to say that Australian education is failing; that teachers need to be held accountable; that this or that should be in the curriculum (although nothing is ever taken out); that teachers are underworked, overpaid and have too many holidays.  They seem to believe that while every child has an innate desire to “reach their potential” that potential or success is defined by academic ability encapsulated in a meaningless score on a one-size-fits-all test administered on a particular day when who knows what else might be going on in the child’s life at the time. 

For my own sanity and peace of mind, these days I use the OFF button whenever I hear this sort of stuff so to request a book that has the subtitle “One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching” seemed stupid.  Did I really want to read about a teacher going through all that remains so familiar  to me (I went back and did another year in a school in 2015) and which is still the life of 90% of my friends?  

Even the cover was confronting- once upon a time teachers were symbolised with a ripe, red apple, wholesome and nutritious, but the one on the cover is just a core.  Is that all we are worth now? Or does it represent all that is left of a teacher after they’ve been in the system, chewed up and spat out with only their essential core of themselves remaining, and that very much exposed?  There are also quotes (and three pages of commentary) about the value and the integrity of the book from people that anyone in education will recognise but none from anyone whose opinion of teachers was changed by reading it.  With such illustrious company already spruiking its value, what could I, as just one of tens of thousands of Gabbie Strouds, without a fancy title or a string of letters after my name add to what had already been said? All I have is 46 years  of experience in schools, a mixture of successes, failures and mistakes, and a deep and abiding passion for children who deserve more than they get at home and school. They are the ones who will be making the decisions about my life in my old age and I want them to be the best they can be!

And so I started – and I couldn’t put it down.  Here was my teaching experience, and that of almost every other teacher, laid out in front of me reminding me of what I did and why I did it.  Every one of us remembers the bright eyed, bushy-tailed, eager graduate who finally bid farewell to Uni knowing that all those worst-case scenarios we’d been told about would never happen in our classroom. Every one of us recalls that first day in front of our first class and watching four years of university learning fly out the window. Every one of us has a Grayson, a Ryan, an Ed, a Warren, a Billie for whom life at school was better than being at home, whose role models there set them up for failure in a society that demanded manners, proper language, and a range of acceptable strategies for dealing with frustration and who learned that what they had learned only got them into strife but who didn’t learn any other ways. Every one of us has had a principal who is too scared to rock the boat, who is driven by the numbers of bums on seats and the public perceptions of the school.   Every one of us has had colleagues who support us, hold our hands, offer chocolate and empathy when it is needed in a way that no one else can because they’ve been there themselves, and those who would rather compete than collaborate.  Every one of us knows the drawn-out staff meetings, the endless professional learning about the-new-best-thing-to-revolutionise-education when we know it’s a case of everything-old-is-new-again, the hours devoted to writing individualised reports that will only get a cursory glance or an angry please-explain phone call. Every one of us has known the partner who doesn’t get that this is a 24/7/365 commitment and the consequent juggling of the needs of family and the needs of kids who see us more than our own do.  Every one of us knows the times we’ve had to miss a family event because of planning and preparation and the endless paperwork that soaks up the hours that are not 9-3.  (I’ve always said that 9-3 is performance time; the other 18 hours are preparing for the performance.)  And the lucky ones among us have taught at Belmora and made lifelong friendships just as we have all experienced Paradise.

Every one of us has walked in the author’s shoes, even if it was to a different destination.

When Gabbie’s brother Phil committed suicide an astute teacher who knew she was hurting but was probably invisible as the rest of her Catholic family wrestled with his death and it implications, told Gabbie that she was a writer and she needed to “write her way through this.”  And just as she did then, so she has done now – working her way through a tale so familiar to those “on the inside” from the child who knew she wanted to teach to one who was outstanding but for whom the cost became too much and the price to pay unbearable.  In a narrative that makes you laugh and cry as you remember, empathise and sympathise, even those who have not been teachers get such a clear insight into the life, struggles and emotions that make up what it is to stand up in front of 30 expectant little people each day, putting yourself aside so that you can help them be the best they can be. 

Will this book change Australia’s public perception of teachers? No – because those who should read it, won’t.  Will it stop the politicians and power-brokers constantly meddling in what teachers should teach? No – because they are too bound up in their own “success” that is dependent on being seen to be fixing things (even when they aren’t broken) and teachers are such easy targets that anything that humanises them is off-limits. So, apart from coming to terms with her own situation, what will Gabbie achieve from this?  I believe it will be something more important – because teachers will read it, recognise themselves,  remember that inner drive that compelled them to teach, review what they do, realise that people are more important than paperwork,  renew their passion and revitalise themselves so they get back to the core of teaching – relationships! 

And that can only be good for the kids in our care.  

When I review children’s books I look for those in which children can see themselves and understand that they, their issues and problems are not unique – they are shared by many others and so they can gain comfort from not being alone, from not being the ‘freak’ they often perceive themselves to be. Teacher is such a mirror.  With many students starting this new term with an unfamiliar face in front of them because yet another teacher has moved on this is a book that needs to be shared widely and discussed in staff meetings.  With long-term tenure in politics so fragile, it is unlikely we are going to extract the meddling fingers of the politicians from our profession – fiddling with education and blaming teachers is a crowd-pleaser – so we need to sit down with our colleagues, have the courage to speak openly, share the issues impacting us and work out strategies that can support each of us now and into the future.  We need to create a collaborative culture that allows for the sharing of problems knowing that there will be support and understanding, not condemnation and a feeling of failure as reality meets ideality, particularly for those less-experienced. Each child belongs to all of us.   “No man is an island…”

Reviewers get to keep the books they review, but instead of this one sitting on my shelf, I’m sending it off to a colleague with instructions for her to pass it on and for it to be passed on and on and on until it falls apart from being read by teachers who are feeling swamped by the system and need a reminder of the personal rather than the public, of the individual rather than the crowd, and the  people they have touched rather than the paperwork which has piled up, of the fact that they are the nurturers of the future rather than the fiction that they are the failures of society. As deputy principal I know she will use it as a catalyst for reflection and discussion in her school and knowing her principal, they will work together to make it a force for improvement.

The author’s final words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching. Teaching left me”.  For Gabbie, the only outcome for her was to leave what she loved so she could become the whole apple again. After devoting over two-thirds of my life to the profession, my words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching.  Teaching left me…proud, privileged, exhilarated, satisfied, fulfilled, with a profound knowledge of how people tick so I can bring out the best in them yet a little saddened that not every teacher can be so positive and not every child can be taught by those who have inspired, guided and mentored me.” For I have been privileged to work with the crème de la crème for most of those 45 years, relationships I still treasure and draw on. 

Teacher gives each of us an opportunity to read, review and reflect on our own stories and write the next chapters so that when that time comes we can say, “Teaching left me…” 

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat's Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Dominic Walliman

Ben Newman

Flying Eye Books, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781911171140

Young readers can join Professor Astro Cat, his helpers Evie, Martha, Gilbert, Felicity and Astro Mouse as they journey through author Dr Dominic Walliman’s body to discover its bits and pieces and how they work. 

Using cartoon-like illustrations, diagrams and simple narrative text that speaks to the reader, this is a wonderful first information book that helps young readers understand what’s under their skin from the very aspects that mean they are alive (they grow and reproduce) through to the minute organisms that combine together to make the organs which in turn work together to make the body work. 

While the explanations are simple, nevertheless they are complete and use the proper language and labels so there is no sense of things being dumbed down for the reader – it fulfils its intention of teaching young people about their bodies, how they work and how to care for them.  Complete with a comprehensive glossary and index so that questions can be answered as the need arises, this is an exciting new addition to the 612 section of your library. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Sleep – how Nature gets its rest

Sleep

Sleep -how Nature gets its rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep -how Nature gets its rest

Kate Prendergast

Old Barn Books, 2018

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

9781910646229

As little ones snuggle down into their beds and listen to a bedtime story to pull the curtains on the day, most of Mother Nature’s creatures are also getting ready for the night ahead.  But none of them have a cosy bed with a quilt and a pillow – for them it is very different.  Some, like tigers, sleep in the heat; others, like penguins, sleep in the cold.  Giraffes sleep standing up while sloths sleep upside down!

This is a charming first information book that little ones will love to explore as they think about where and how their favourite creatures might sleep.  Are they curled up in front of the fire like a cat or dog, or are they huddled in the corner of a barn like a cow?  While the main text comprises simple statements and stunning illustrations, there are pages at the back which provide a little more information about some of the animals so the child learns that books can educate us, not just entertain us.

Not only does it pose lots of questions that the curious will like to explore, it also emphasises the necessity for sleep for all living things so they can grow and be healthy, which might be an added bonus for the child who resists bed!   Although they can’t close their eyes, even fish sleep but…do animals dream?

.

 

 

How to Be Good at Science, Technology, and Engineering

How to Be Good at Science, Technology, and Engineering

How to Be Good at Science, Technology, and Engineering

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Be Good at Science, Technology, and Engineering

DK Children’s, 2018

320pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00

9780241227862

As soon as our little ones begin their formal education in preschool (or its equivalent) they start to engage with STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – as they participate in all sorts of activities that have one of these critical areas as their foundation.  And, as is normal with inquisitive minds, questions beget answers which just pose more questions so in this one volume, DK have tried to address the key areas of early science and not only provide some answers but also offer things to try that will open up new worlds.

Beginning with an introductory section which looks at how science works and how to work scientifically by making an observation, forming an hypotheses, carrying out an experiment, collecting data, analysing the results and then repeating the experiment to test the validity of the results it then takes readers through the main facets of science -life, matter, energy, forces, and Earth & Space. Using the typical DK layout of small pieces of information, clarity of language in the explanation and  hundreds of easily-understood diagrams which serve as models for how students can showcase their own work,, this becomes a ready reference book for budding young scientists that will support learning, answer questions and inspire more.  

As usual, there is an informative glossary for those needing a quick explanation and a comprehensive index so desired topics are found easily. 

Perfect for both the home and school libraries. 

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys

Mike Unwin

Jenni Desmond

Bloomsbury, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99

9781408889916

“Animals of all shapes and sizes make epic journeys across our planet, through harsh weather, avoiding hungry predators, in their efforts to survive. Travel around the globe with some of the world’s most incredible animals and discover their unique migration stories. “

The stories of twenty creatures -Arctic tern, barn swallow, bar-headed goose, ruby-throated hummingbird, osprey, wandering albatross, whooping crane, emperor penguin, African elephant, blue wildebeest, caribou, straw-coloured fruit bat, humpback whale, green turtle, Southern pilchard, salmon, great white shark, monarch butterfly, globe skimmer dragonfly, Christmas Island red crab – are told in this large format book, each set on a double-page spread that has the creature and its habitat as its background.

While full of information and interest, this is one that will appeal to readers who prefer non fiction because the journey of each creature is told in a narrative format rather than one sorted under headings and topic sentences and so forth.  Some creatures, such as the humpback whale, will be familiar to young Australian readers but others will open new pathways to explore, perhaps even encourage the budding naturalist to start observing their own surrounds and investigate whether the wildlife changes as the months and seasons pass and why.

Fascinating.