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Untwisted: The Story of My Life

Untwisted: The Story of My Life

Untwisted: The Story of My Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Untwisted: The Story of My Life

Paul Jennings

Allen & Unwin, 2020

336pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9781760525828

When you give a story to someone else to read, it is like sending out your love. If it is rejected it is a horrible experience. It takes courage to reveal your own soul to just one person, let alone put it into print. You make yourself incredibly vulnerable.” 

But since 1983 when he was searching for a lighthouse in a stormy sea of a marriage breakdown, being a single dad to four children, and an uncertain professional future because of the change in his personal circumstances, Paul Jennings has been making himself vulnerable and to the harshest of critics – children. 

And since 1985 when his first short story collection Unreal was published, generations  of kids have been grateful that he has had the courage to show his vulnerability. He has shared 125 individual stories and sold 10 000 000 copies of them, changing the reading lives of hundreds of thousands of kids. And I, as a teacher and teacher librarian for 50 years have been privileged to see those changes and the impact they have had.

Forty odd years ago the children’s literature world was starting to change and while there were the established authors like Southall and Thiele (both heroes of Jennings) there was  no one like this person who offered short stories that could be read in a sitting that brought a world of kids’ humour and interests to life. No one who touched on “unmentionable” subjects in a way that challenged more conservative teachers to read them aloud when the kids demanded them and certainly no one had reluctant readers, mostly boys, demanding time to read, lining up at the library door to be the first to get the new release, talking about books and reading in a way they never had before.  But here, in my classrooms, it was happening – this former lecturer in Reading Education and Children with Special Needs put his professional knowledge to work, wittingly or not, and wrote the sorts of stories that these readers were craving (even if they didn’t know it because they had already written themselves off as readers.)

And perhaps, with this memoir that shows that Jennings was no silver-spoon kid, the reading journeys of another generation will take a new turn as they explore new ground.  This is not a book written for children specifically; it is not one of those that picks out the salient turning points in a life and condenses the achievements into a quick-read factual account but it is one about someone whom the children know and love; whose work they are directly familiar with and which may open up the world of autobiographies and biographies to them. 

There have already been many reviews and articles and so forth written by luminaries of the literary world about this book, its contents and quality, that I don’t need to add to them. Suffice to say that it is as engaging as his stories and that in the hands of an independent aficionado of even a young age, it could be a turning point. Jennings himself says that he believes his journey as a writer has been a journey about seeking love and acceptance starting as a six-year-old dressing as a pirate for the attention it afforded him, a journey that cast him as the “silly son” who finally returns home to discover himself because he has learned what is important. So, if him, then why not me? As he says, a real story is told, not plotted.

Little Inventors Go Green: Inventing for a Better Planet

Little Inventors Go Green: Inventing for a Better Planet

Little Inventors Go Green: Inventing for a Better Planet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Inventors Go Green: Inventing for a Better Planet

Katherine Mengardon

Dominic Wilcox

Collins, 2020

152pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008382896

Little Inventors is a creative education organisation that inspires imagination by taking children’s amazing ideas seriously. Their mission is to give children across the world the opportunity to develop and showcase their creativity and problem-solving skills, build their confidence, curiosity and resilience to become caring citizens of our planet, all invaluable attributes that will support them as adults in their everyday life and chosen career paths.

The organisation is designed specifically to encourage and support children to invent things and they do this by

  • creating free resources for organisations, teachers and parents to encourage children to think up and draw great invention ideas, working with partners to run challenges, events and workshops
  • challenging skilled experts and makers to work with children to turn their ideas into reality, from the practical to the fantastical, no limits.
  • showcasing children’s inventions online and in books and exhibitions to inspire tomorrow’s inventors, scientists, makers and problem-solvers to believe in their ability to make a difference.

As well as offering children the chance to take part in mini-challenges, the organisers also offer them the opportunity to upload their own ideas to the website.  Little Inventors Go Green is the latest in a series of books (including The Little Inventors’ Handbook) which features information and ideas that will inspire young inventors to consider how they can make this planet a better, greener place for its inhabitants.  While there have been any number of books focusing on climate change and how even our youngest students can take action to help fix it, this one uses the children’s own ideas rather than those created by adults. 

Using diagrams and minimal text that is accessible and speaks directly to the reader motivating them to put their thinking caps on to address whichever problem resonates with them, its format oozes energy and an urge to get involved in doing something. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

With the support available from the website and an enthusiastic teacher offering guidance this is a book, and a series, that could easily morph into a lunchtime club attracting kids who like to explore their curiosity, who like to ask questions such as what if…, what could…, how would…, who have lots of ideas whizzing around their head which they just need an outlet for, and who enjoy the company of like-minded thinkers.

 

It’s OK to Cry

It's OK to Cry

It’s OK to Cry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK to Cry

Molly Potter

Sarah Jennings

Featherstone, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A21.99

9781472942425

Not so long ago, when boys got to about six or seven, they started hearing the familiar mantra of “big boys don’t cry”, encouraging them to “be tough” and suppress their emotions.  While such a philosophy is still acceptable in many parts of society, for the most part it has been phased out but there are still many other less explicit messages that we pass on to our boys which have the same effect.  Our words and our actions and reactions to particular circumstances all combine to pass on a subliminal message that somehow it’s not OK for boys to be in touch with and express their emotions.  To do so is “girly” and sadly, that is somehow is showing weakness.

This book has been written to demonstrate to boys, particularly, that it is OK, in fact beneficial, to know and understand and express their emotions. Starting with a collage of some of those ways we parents make statements that suggest that to cry when you’re hurt is not tough and followed by another that has all sorts of similar subliminal media messages, it is clear that it is no wonder our boys can be confused.  The pages that follow offer insights into a range of feelings, positive and negative, situations in which they might arise and words to describe them so when they occur they can be shared.   There is a strong message that experiencing a variety of feelings over the day is completely natural – in fact it is what makes us human. It demonstrates that we won’t all have the same response to the same situation and that at any one time, there can be all sorts of emotions happening within a group of people.

It acknowledges that sometimes our feelings can make us uncomfortable and offers strategies to deal with these and there are also notes to enlighten parents about helping their children acknowledge, own and deal with their emotions in a healthy way rather than just suppressing them.

Even though this book has particular application at this time when life is not normal and adults are struggling with their mental health in an unprecedented way, it has application far beyond that as we pay more attention to the mental health of our students and address them. It could form the basis for a term’s work exploring much more deeply than the more traditional “I feel happy when…; I feel sad when…” offering students insight that could be the foundation for lifelong learning that takes us all to a calmer, more empathetic place.

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals

Sami Bayly

Lothian Children’s, 2020

130pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9780734420015

Not content with introducing us to some of the world’s ugliest animals (shortlisted for the CBCA Eve Pownall Award,  natural history illustrator Sami Bayly has now collected 60 of the planet’s most dangerous creatures into another stunning volume.

Whether it’s the tiny hooded pitohui that weighs in at just 65 grams but is the world’s most poisonous bird, the boomslang whose venomous bite stops blood from clotting, or the more familiar crown of thorns starfish, each page introduces the reader to something new and mind-boggling.   Should we be threatened by these animals or appreciate them for their incredible features?

As well as the usual information about what they look like, what they eat and where they live, there is also a paragraph about why they are so dangerous to humans or the environment and whether we are at risk of meeting one on our daily walks, especially as so many of them are Australian!.  Fun Facts give each a bit of personality but it is the lifelike drawings that will hold the fascination of even the youngest reader.  (This copy is going to a preschooler who could not get enough of Ugly Animals, even though he’s not quite reading yet.) 

Unlike my mum I am unlikely to have an encounter with a leopard seal in the Sub-Antarctic Islands, but I am grateful that the local magpie couple have good memories and remember the hand (head) that feeds them and leaves our fibres for their nests during this swooping season! Time to offer them a little more mince as I’ve just noticed a teeny-tiny head rising above the nest!

One that will keep the reader entranced, particularly those boys who have a need to gather around one book and discuss what they find,

 

A Climate in Chaos

A Climate in Chaos

A Climate in Chaos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Climate in Chaos

Neal Layton

Wren & Rook, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781526362315

Planet Earth has been very good to us. But 150 years ago, humans began making machines powered by burning things…

You’ve probably heard about climate change. At least I hope you have – because it’s REALLY IMPORTANT. It affects all of us living on Planet Earth right now, and everyone and everything that will live on our planet in the future.

This year seems to have been the year for books about climate change, its impact on the planet and what we, as individuals, can do to help revert the damage that has been done.  Given that any book begins life well before it is published, it would almost seem prophetic that production must have started well before 2020 and its planet-changing events evolved.  What sets this book apart though, is that it helps our youngest readers understand the difference between climate and weather and just what is causing the climate to change.  Using the picture book format and easily accessible language in a narrative style that speaks directly to the reader, the impact of industrialisation over the last 150 years or so is explained simply and clearly using examples that little ones can understand and relate to.  It then moves on to showing how simple activities and lifestyle changes can make a difference and help sustain the improvement that has been caused by the pandemic.

With the environment at the forefront of so much curriculum work, this is one that will help even the youngest readers understand the words they hear every day while offering practical help and hope so that chaos doesn’t become disaster.

Catvinkle and the Missing Tulips

Catvinkle and the Missing Tulips

Catvinkle and the Missing Tulips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catvinkle and the Missing Tulips

Elliot Perlman

Laura Stitzel

Puffin, 2020

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9781760894382

Catvinkle lives in Amsterdam, with her barber-owner Mr Sabatini, and she likes to think that the world revolves around her, as cats generally do. From her basket near the fireplace in what she considers to be her room, she watches the legs and feet of the passers-by as they walk past her window, delighted when she sees someone with socks that don’t match and occasionally swishing her tail that has a big red bow tied to it. All is well with her world.

Now best friends with Ula the stray Dalmatian this second adventure in this series  with its subtle message about inclusivity and acceptance is as delightful as the first, even to a non-cat person like me. This time Catvinkle and Ula find themselves defending two sheep accused of eating Amsterdam’s tulips, and they’re not sure what to believe. The sheep say they’re innocent, but they do look very sheepish. But to win this case, Catvinkle will need the help of a wolfhound, a llama, two travelling koalas, a pair of Russian bears . . . and a very special bird.

As well as being an entertaining read for those who like something a bit different that is engaging, this also has an underlying theme of justice, fairness and those other qualities that are so important at this time to that age group that hasn’t quite discovered shades of grey and compromise yet.

Even though Perlman has received many awards for his adult novels, he certainly knows how to spin a tale for children and these two together would make an excellent gift for newly independent readers who enjoy animal stories that are just good, clean fun. 

 

That’s Not My Wombat

That's Not My Wombat

That’s Not My Wombat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Not My Wombat

Fiona Watt

Usborne, 2020

10pp., board book., RRP $A14.99

 9781474980470

The latest in this series of over 150 charming board books for our very youngest readers that encourage them to use their senses to discover the world around them focuses on t e wombat, such an iconic Australian creature.

With shiny claws, smooth paws, soft tummy and several other distinctive features. little hands will enjoy exploring the textural elements that are the hallmark of the series.  Like its companion which highlights the koala, it teaches our littlies to look more closely at the details that distinguish the wombat from other marsupials .  The repetitive text and clear pictures encourage prediction, thus developing those early concepts about print that are so essential while engaging them with the reading experience in a way that only print books can.

Definitely one to add to the Christmas stocking or baby shower gift!

 

Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles (series)

Puffin Littles (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ANZACs 

9781760897024

Robotics

9781760897680 

The Ocean

9781760897666 

Puffin, 2020

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

 

A familiar symbol in and on children’s literature for 80 years, Puffin introduces our young readers to a whole range of interesting information in this new series of non fiction titles, the perfect size and format for little hands. Voiced by Puffin Little and speaking directly to the reader in a narrative style which ensures engagement, there is much to carry interest and open up new fields to explore.  The contents page and glossary help develop those early information literacy skills while the quiz on the final page consolidates what has been learned.

Joining the first collection of three are Little Explorer Ocean,  Little Scientist Robotics and Little Historian The ANZACs offering  a variety of topics to tempt a diverse range of interests for those who prefer non fiction and are looking for something that will satisfy their curiosity but not overwhelm with detail. They are ideal for answering those questions that are a step beyond initial curiosity offering enough information using accessible language that respects their existing knowledge and skills. Young readers will appreciate this series because there has clearly been a lot of thought put into addressing their unique needs as emerging readers as well as tapping into subjects that appeal. 

When Allen Lane first established Puffin 80 years ago with a dream of establishing a publishing house devoted to children’s literature, he began by publishing four non fiction titles for children who had been evacuated to the country to keep them safe from German bombing and invasion – War on Land, War at Sea, War in the Air and On the Farm – so it seems fitting that the dream has turned full circle and this anniversary year has been marked by this no-frills non fiction series for little ones. 

 

 

The World of Roald Dahl

The World of Roald Dahl

The World of Roald Dahl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World of Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Quentin Blake

Puffin, 2020

96pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9780241447970

Even though it is almost thirty years since Roald Dahl died, his characters are such household names with young readers that there are few who would not have read at least one of his stories.  And even though Dahl might have passed onto the greatest storyland, illustrator Quentin Blake is still with us and sharing his iconic graphics in this latest book that sets the reader all sorts of activities to do, games to play and puzzles to solve.

Beginning with a brief biography of Dahl including some fascinating facts like his birthday being September 13 and thus spawning annual celebrations on Roald Dahl Day ; and a similar though less familiar introduction to Quentin Blake, there are tips about bow to be a storyteller like Dahl followed by a host of other engaging, interactive pages that build on the stories and the characters bringing them to life. And once all the challenges have been completed, the successful reader can call themselves a World of Roald Dahl Superstar with an appropriate certificate.

Miss 9 adored the Dahl puzzle books and boxed set she found in her 2019 Christmas stocking and was so excited when her 2020 school year was devoted to exploring his works.  Imagine how much more she will bring and be when she discovers this one! In fact, with winter dragging on and Term 3 being the longest ever, she might discover it sooner than later! A reward for the days and days spent at home with none of her usual distractions.

Helping Our Planet

Helping Our Planet

Helping Our Planet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helping Our Planet

Jane Bingham

Usborne, 2020

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781474982764

As our students become more independent they start to hear the message about the plight of the planet more loudly and realise that even though they are still young, there is much they can do as individuals to contribute to the solution rather than the problem.

Focusing on issues such as saving energy, reducing waste, cutting down on plastic, water conservation, shopping and travelling thoughtfully and caring for the planet’s plants and creatures., this book presents more in-depth information that respects the reader’s growing maturity and understanding.  It includes a section on how they can make their voice heard so others take notice so rather than just becoming aware of the issue, they understand that they can also take action on a broader scale. 

By this age, students will also have a feeling for which particular area attracts them the most, so the accompanying Quicklinks  also offer a way forward for greater awareness an action. 

With information in manageable chunks alongside lots of illustrations, this is one for those who are ready to take their journey to the next step.