Hope Is The Thing
A&U Children’s, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Hope Is The Thing
A&U Children’s, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
A & U Children’s, 2022
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
‘Where are you from?’ they say.
What they mean is,
‘Why is your skin that colour?’
‘Why does your hair look like that?’
I am from the mountains,
The seas and the sky.
I am from children of millions of years,
A timeline of humanity.
I am from this planet
And all others.
Being African-American-Greek-Australian with dark skin and curly hair, the author wrote this poem in response to a lifetime of being asked questions like, ‘where are you from?’ in an attempt to show, that, ultimately, we are all from the same place … “the primate who decided to walk upon two legs for the first time” and all those who have followed through time and generations.
Powerfully illustrated by another who has also experienced that constant questioning, this is a book to challenge the reader’s thinking to look beyond the immediate physical appearance that makes us unique and consider all that has gone before to make us the same. It is an opportunity for more mature readers to step beyond the multitude of stories that focus on who they are as individuals and the importance of being true to oneself, and look at a bigger philosophical picture of humanity as a whole with a shared heritage and history.
Allen & Unwin, 2022
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
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.
Cat Spies Mouse
Rina A. Foti
Big Sky, 2022
32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
When Cat spies mouse, he grabs him and tells him he is going to gobble her up. But being a feisty mouse, she disagrees and asks, “Why would you do that?” And so begins a back-and-forth conversation about the fairness of bigger being allowed to eat smaller because “that’s the way it is”. Mouse, who must be terrified, nevertheless has courage and tries to convince Cat that it would be better to be friends, but Cat is not interested until along comes D-O-G!
Told entirely in conversation with different coloured text identifying each speaker, this is a charming story about assumed power invested by size – just because you’re bigger doesn’t make you in charge – and it will promote discussion about whether being little means giving in or having rights. Is Cat (or Dog) a bully? Mouse’s arguing against the status quo is very reminiscent of little ones who feel injustice keenly but who don’t quite know how to get something sorted, although they are determined to win and make their own world fairer. Having the courage to speak up for change is a big lesson in assertiveness, and while parents might end the conversation with “Because I said so!” it is nevertheless a sign that their little one is maturing and gaining independence.
The illustrations are divine – set on a white background, all the emotions and feelings are contained in the animals’ body language and facial expressions that even without being able to read the words for themselves, very young readers will still be able to work out the story and participate in that crucial pre-reading behaviour.
Don’t be fooled by its apparent simplicity – this is a thought-provoking read that we can all take heed of, regardless of our age!
Bluey: Baby Race
32pp., hbk., RRP $A16.99
It’s important to Bluey that she be better at things than Bingo and Judo, but when Mum says she should run her own race, Bluey doesn’t understand what she means. And so Mum tells her of the race she thought she was in when Bluey was learning to crawl and walk and Judo was don’t them first. Mum learned lots of important lessons during that time about letting Bluey, and later, Bingo, do things in their own way at their own time, because despite her self-doubt, it was neither a race nor a competition.
Based on the episode of the ABC series of the same name, this is another is this very popular collection of stories in print format that allows young readers to return to the story time and again, cementing in their minds the value of print as a medium as well as learning some of life’s necessary lessons.
Little ones always compare themselves to others, seemingly having a need to be better or the best, perhaps a trait learned from their proud parents even in those early months, and so learning to “run your own race” and accept yourself for who you are and what you can do at the time is a difficult concept to grasp. But it is a critical one because if our children are going to be mentally and emotionally healthy, they need to know that who they are right now is enough. If they are doing all they can, and the best they can with what they know and have available to them, as Mum was, then that is all that can be expected. While it is natural and healthy to have aspirations and goals to strive for, they need to learn the meaning of “walk before you run” so they are building a solid foundation on which to move forward.
So while this is an abstract philosophical concept for minds still working at the here-and-now level, stories like this can help parents teach them in a way they can understand. “Remember the story about Bluey and…” is a common refrain heard in early childhood circles and this is another example of that.
We Are Australians
Duncan Smith & Nicole Godwin
Wild Dog Books, 2022
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
“We are Australians. We are citizens of our family, classroom, school, community, church, street, suburb, team, town, state, country, world.”
“As citizens of Australia, we have rights, And we have responsibilities.”
There, in those few stark words alone, is so much food for thought and discussion with our students, particularly as we head into another federal election. What does it mean to be a ‘citizen’? And what are the “rights” and “responsibilities”? But team those words with the illustrations which accompany them and there is a whole new dimension to consider.
Rather than the focus being on individual rights and responsibilities, what do those words mean when it comes to the bigger picture – the looking after each other, the caring for the land? And not just for those who have gone through the formal citizenship ceremony, but also for those born here? And not just for now, but also into the future?
Over the last two years, our students would have heard the phrase “for the greater good” often, particularly in relation to the safety procedures related to COVID-19, but what do they mean when it comes to living with each other despite our diverse heritages and histories, so that the present does have a future? What do we, as individuals, need to know, understand, do, appreciate and value about our own culture and that of others so that we can contribute to move forward positively, collectively? In particular, what do we need to know, acknowledge and embrace about those who have gone before, who have lived here for thousands of generations so we can connect and continue their legacy so we leave our children a deep attachment to the country they walk on that is more than the comings and goings of political parties, politicians and policies? For all that we have heard the voices of those with the power to access the microphone, whose voices have been silenced? And now that those who were once silent are now being heard, what are they saying that we must listen to? What do they know that we must learn if we are to survive as a cohesive whole?
From the vivid cover illustration of a young face vibrantly sporting a rainbow of colours to the more grizzled, aged face in its traditional hues, Jandamarra Cadd’s illustrations add a depth to the text that goes beyond his blending of contemporary portraiture with traditional techniques, suggesting that ultimately the way forward has to become a blend of the two – those First Nations peoples who have been here for 50 000 years and those “who’ve come across the seas”. The timeline at the end of the book suggests that there is a merging of the journeys but what more can be done to make them fully intertwined in the future?
This is a stunning and provocative book that has a place in every classroom to promote and grow that concept of “the greater good’ – from Kinder Kids making new friends and learning what it means to be a citizen “of the classroom” to those facing voting and having to consider the national, and even global aspects of both their rights and responsibilities.
32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99
Sometimes being a kid can be overwhelming – there are so many things to remember to do, to say, to be… Particularly with all the busyness and chaos in the lives of our children, these days.
Don’t forget to make your bed, and wear socks that fit your feet.
Don’t forget to brush your teeth, and don’t forget your homework!
In this charming book for young readers, acknowledged in the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Notables , little ones are reminded that as well as all that actual stuff, in the whirlwind of the day it is easy to forget the other things that are just as important…
Don’t forget to wonder, to be brave, to share.
Don’t forget to imagine, and to feel the touch of each season
For while we have to do that ordinary, everyday stuff, it is the long-term, intangible things that create memories, build dreams and shape us as we grow. While celebrating the joy of childhood, Godwin has carefully chosen events that will resonate widely but all the while it is the connections with nature, the being with and caring for others that are the most enduring – the things that cause us to wonder, to imagine, to share and to reflect that are both the building blocks and the stepping stones.
Alongside Godwin’s superficially simple text are Anna Walker’s exquisite illustrations which bring both them and the child’s life to life. The reader becomes part of the neighbourhood, rather than an observer, again reinforcing that connectedness on which families and communities are built. As we move out of such a long period of enforced isolation, books like this which celebrate the simple, that literally remind us to smell the roses, that ground us in the here-and-now rather than the what’s-next and the what-might-be that will help us realise that which really matters. It’s not about the extravaganza birthday party that was missed but the community street party that was shared by all.
And for those who want to explore the concepts further, there is a unit of work available through PETAA but for members only.
On The Origin of Species
Sabrina Radeva & Charles Darwin
56pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
On The Origin of Species has been the definitive explanation of the theory of evolution since it was first published in 1859.
Pulling together Charles Darwin’s observations from his travels around the world and his groundbreaking – and controversial – explanation of how species form, develop and change over hundreds of thousands of years, On The Origin of Species is as relevant and important now as it ever was.
So, this first ever picture-book retelling of Darwin’s work through stylish illustrations and a simple, easy-to-understand text brings evolution to the younger generation. Interspersed with relevant quotes from Darwin himself, and accompanied by many illustrations, this is a sample explanation demonstrating its ease of access…
“For most of human history, many people believed that everything in the world was created all at once. They thought that plants. animals. and people were always the same as they were now. But there were a few clever and curious scientists [such as Georges-Louis de Buffon and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck] who challenged this idea… ” But it was the travels and studies of Charles Darwin whose work and theories have endured. “In his book, Darwin explains that species are groups of living things that look alike and can have babies together, But even if they belong to the same species, no two animals are exactly the same.”
Even for those who have different beliefs about life’s first beginnings, this is a must-have in the school library’s collection if we are to provide students with a variety of viewpoints, and it is the perfect adjunct to those books that I’ve reviewed so far this year that may have created a curiosity about this planet and its inhabitants…
It also helps them understand all those books that have the “same but different” theme – having explored this work, they will understand the why that underpins the message. It encourages them to develop their own powers of observation and thus the discoveries they make so as well as comprehensive teachers’ notes , the endpapers also offer an immediate challenge. As well as the narrative, the book also includes an appendix (unusual in a primary-school text), a glossary and other elements that underpin the development of information literacy skills.
While, for some, this book may raise more questions than it answers, it is nevertheless an important addition to the library’s collection as we cater for those with a deep-seated curiosity about where they have come from.
The Velveteen Rabbit
Margery Williams Bianco
New Frontier, 2021
32pp., hbk., RRP $A14.99
Sitting at the top of the Boy’s Christmas stocking is a stuffed rabbit, sewn in a snuggly fabric called velveteen, and by far the most impressive present amongst the nuts, oranges, chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse. But in a time of new-fangled mechanical toys the wonder doesn’t last long and the Velveteen Rabbit is soon discarded for toys with more whizbangery and it sits forlorn and forgotten in the nursery.
Wondering what it has done to deserve this fate, it confides in wise Skin Horse that he longs to be a real rabbit. Skin Horse tells him that toys do become real when they are loved by children. But the chances of that happening seem unlikely until the Boy becomes ill with scarlet fever and his nanny gives him the rabbit for company…
Reimagined with new illustrations in the softest of palettes, this is a classic story first published in 1922, that epitomises this year’s CBCA Book week theme of Dreaming with eyes open. It is not only quite an intense story with a number of twists and turns meaning it is probably one better shared and discussed with a child over a few sessions, but as with the stories of that era, it was intended to teach young children lessons about life and there are a number of these embedded in the narrative. So it throws up issues such as whether one’s looks really matter – it is who we are rather than what we look like; that there are hills and dales and ups and downs in everyone’s life and having the resilience to see them through shapes who we are and builds us for the next drama; that loving someone can be painful and that it can mean letting them go; to be careful what you wish for because the grass may not always be greener; and most importantly, IMO, is that who we are is enough. We don’t need to depend on the validation of others for our self-worth and confidence.
It might even spark a philosophical discussion about reality – what is real and how do we distinguish between the various versions of reality that the author presents with such conviction and so convincingly? If reading is dreaming with your eyes open, where is the border?
The World Awaits
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
As one little boy lies in bed one morning, not wanting to face the day, it’s up to his older brother to show him the extraordinary potential within him and how even the smallest of his actions will make the world a better place . . .
In the child’s world of the here and now, where it seems that their world has been dominated by restrictions and limits for ever, and even just the regular routine of going to school is a list of must-dos and dont’s, where even they, as littlies, are subjected to an uncomfortable nose-swab test every other day, it is easy to see why the prospect of staying in bed and hiding under the doona is an attractive option. Without the adult’s ability to see the big picture and know that each day they get up and face is a day closer to the end of this situation, even the child’s natural resilience can be tested and their robust (or not-so) mental health can be chipped away.
But how do you explain to the child who mostly lives in Piaget’s world of the concrete operational stage where they are becoming more aware of the world around them but are straddling the phases of things needing to be real and that of being able to think and act in the abstract, that they have something called potential and that they can make a difference? Cleverly, in this poem, which is a conversation between adult and child, Roberts breaks this concept down into things the child does understand – the concepts of adding and subtracting to a larger element known as the ‘common good’ and identifying simple everyday things, like ringing a grandparent, that they can do that contribute rather than withdraw.
“In our core is a plus and minus, and they’re eternally at play.
They give us the power to add goodness to the world or to take some good away.”
As with The Great Realisation, Roberts shows his ability to take himself to the child’s level, to talk to them in language they understand, yet at the same time provide layers of meaning that more mature readers can delve into. So while he talks to the child of making its bed or helping a struggling beetle back on its feet, there are also more oblique references to the global situation –
A little look at human history tells us all we need to know
It’s no surprise the toughest times were when that number got too low.
As with that first book, throughout this one are the threads of hope, of better times and of the child having the power to make the decisions and take the actions that will improve things for all, not just themselves.
Roberts’ poems have been described as “a manifesto for our time” and with his ability to connect with kids of all ages, he is certainly one whose works need attention and further explanation. Perhaps exploring this poem with a child in your realm, and offering them a way forward, is your addition to the bucket of common good for today. one that will have a long-term benefit that, as a teacher, you may never see or know. As important as it is invisible.