Bear is different. While all his friends were noisy and busy and never seemed to stop, Bear preferred his own company and the quietness and solitude of his books – particularly his books about space. Because even though the other bears sometimes laughed at him and called him names, Bear was absorbing all he could learn about the mysterious place beyond the planet because he had plans…
This is a charming story for early readers that has so many layers. Firstly, it is a tribute to those children who are more introverted, who are happy and complete in their own space and who single-mindedly pursue their dreams, prompting discussions about how there are all sorts of people in the world who may have different values and dreams to us. But it also shows how those dreams can be enriched and enhanced when they are shared with like-minded souls and friends, changing perceptions of relationships and how the world works. It also has lots of facts about space embedded into it so as well as sharing Bear’s adventures, the reader also learns a little on the journey.
This is one of those perfect pictures books where the text and illustrations are seamless and one would be so much less if the other weren’t there. Even though both themes of being a loner and having dreams of space travel have been visited in children’s stories before, this is a stand-out because of the story’s layers and that integration of words and pictures that entertain and educate at the same time. A marriage of imagination and information.
Often, as adults rushing to be where we aren’t yet, we miss the little things on the way, but no so kids. They see and they notice because they are so much more in the moment so when the little boy sees the homeless man begging on the footpath he does not hurry on like the adults who are either not seeing or choosing not to. Instead he stops and is rewarded with a chat and a beautiful yellow bird drawn in chalk on the path. And that chat leads to his mum seeing Pete and others in the community who had not seen him before…
But one day Pete gets sick and disappears. No one has seen him and all the little boy wants is a sign that he is OK….
This is a charming story, at times confronting, that really resonated with me because earlier this year a little person at a school that I have been associated with was just like the boy in the story. She saw, she thought and she acted, initiating a schoolwide fundraiser that raised enough money to purchase some sleepwear for those who were about to endure the coldest of winters on the streets of the national capital.
Homelessness is a significant issue in this country and sadly our students are likely to know someone not much older than them who will not sleep in their own bed tonight. While its causes and solutions are as diverse as each individual, nevertheless stories like this (dedicated to the author’s great-great grandmother who was homeless) can start to build social awareness in the same way we are actively promoting environmental awareness. While the issue itself is hard and spiky, this is a gentle story of caring, unselfishness and hope accompanied by equally engaging illustrations that might encourage all of us to look and really see, not to avert our eyes if we don’t like the scenery and have the courage of both the little boy and my little girl to act.
When Pink hatched from the egg, the only one left after a great storm washed away all the others, her parents were somewhat surprised because she was pink! She certainly stood out from all the other green and grey and brown dinosaurs and at first, Pink was okay with being different. But when it meant that she was always found first during her favourite game of hide-and-seek with the other dinosaurs, she soon grew despondent and wished she wasn’t so recognisable.
Being pretty and sweet wasn’t enough for Pink – she wanted to be brave and smart but wasn’t sure how she could be. The answer comes one afternoon during a wild and boisterous game of hide-and-seek when she discovers that there can be distinct advantages to being different.
Combining young readers’ fascination with dinosaurs with the theme of accepting and being yourself, Margaret Wild and Judith Rossell have crafted a charming story that will appeal across the ages. As well as opening up discussions about celebrating our differences and how we can be brave and smart, this is also a great opportunity to explore the differences between fiction and non fiction texts. The teaching notes are excellent – I wrote them! LOL!
Edie has settled into her new school and is starting to make friends, despite her somewhat catastrophic early attempts to treat the process like a science experiment. Her love of science and concern for the environment is as strong as ever – even though it causes the ire of her family when she turns the hot water off if their showers exceed four minutes – and she and her friend Annie B are looking forward to presenting their work at the upcoming Eco Fair.
But then a new student arrives, one who also loves science and who is determined to be the best. Dean Starlight sabotages Edie’s work, but when he sends her an apology card with a hidden nasty message Edie declares war…
This is the second in this series for independent readers who enjoy school stories, science and characters they can relate to. Each is an individual and each has flaws, as do we all, but there is a sense that they are real and Edie’s continued positivity is refreshing in a world that seems to carry only bad news these days. As with the first book, there are line drawings to break up the text and Edie’s experiments are all provided in case a reader might be inspired. There is also the possibility that the reader will learn something about human nature too, and be more insightful and compassionate when those around them don’t behave as they expect or desire. Dean has a backstory that drives his behaviour, as do we all.
Each year the baby elephants present themselves to Elephant Mighty who demands they perform unique feats that will suggest their new name. And so he watches elephants on stilts, on their heads, standing on one leg, swinging on vines … Nina pulls out a tree by its roots with her trunk so becomes Elephant Strong, while Norcus bellows so loud that even the vultures take flight so he is dubbed Elephant Noisy.
But when Num Num has no special skills or tricks, Elephant Mighty calls him Elephant Nothing-At-All, humiliating Num Num so much he feels compelled to leave the herd and find another waterhole. But there he makes friends with a lot of other creatures and learns that not only does he have a special talent but he also has the courage to return to confront Elephant Mighty – with surprising results.
Using his signature rhyming style and accompanied by the most glorious illustrations, this is a story that reaffirms for youngsters that who they are is enough, that it is not about what you can do or what you have or what you look like. Particularly pertinent at a time when its target audience is negotiating the wider world of school and navigating social boundaries within that, Num Num shows that you do not have to conform to a particular stereotype to fit in but that it can take a lot of strength and support to be yourself, a message that needs to be reinforced over and over, even with adults as Elephant Mighty learns.
Mabel is a fly. But despite being only as big as a fingernail, she has BIG plans which include climbing a mountain, hosting a dinner party and making friends with a shark! Despite the lack of encouragement from her friends, Mabel is determined to achieve her dreams and starts by looking for a mountain to climb – one that will challenge her. And challenge her it does, and even though at times she thinks about changing those plans, she believes in herself and perseveres.
With a now-familiar theme of believing in yourself, persevering and being resilient, this is another story to encourage our young children to dream big and have the courage to continue, perhaps even inspiring their friends to have their own dreams. By having Mabel choose climbing a mountain as her challenge, a familiar metaphorical concept in itself, Hillyard is able to demonstrate the hard work, the sustained effort and ignoring of detractors that goes into achieving goals – there will always be setbacks and obstacles to be negotiated and navigated but the effort is worth it if the dream is.
A good one for the start of the year, or now that the year has restarted, when we ask children what their goals are – perhaps they could map out a route and trace their journey as they go, giving a tangible record to help them stay on track.
There is something scary in the statistic that 70% of primary school children have a concern about their body image, and when this is coupled with the greatest desire of post-restriction Australia is for beauty salons and gyms to re-open, it is easy to see why and that without intervention, this obsession with how we look is not going to change. From long before the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe to waif-like Twiggy to the more-rounded Kardashians, our obsession with how our bodies look rather than how they perform has dominated so many lives, and this is as true for our males as it is for females. How many young lads see themselves in the image of a Hemsworth?
In 2016 Taryn Brumfitt wrote and directed a documentary Embrace which encouraged us to love who we are as we are, but that doco received a MA15+ classification and so did not reach down to the roots of where the obsession starts.
So now she is addressing this with the establishment of a number of initiatives that speak directly to our children including another documentary , a song and, based on that song, this book. Based on the mantra that “your body is not an ornament:it is the vehicle to your dreams!”. children of every size, shape, colour and ability are engaged in all sorts of activities showing the extraordinary things our bodies can do proving that nobody has a body that is the same as anyone else’s and that it is capable of so much more than conforming to some arbitrary stereotyped look.
This book has an important role in the conversations and investigations we have with our youngest students and not just in the health and mindfulness programs we offer. Because we are all individuals it opens up the world of science and maths as we investigate why and how that is, delving into genetics and measurement and a host of other areas that give a deep understanding to the message of the book, including the language we use to describe others. ‘Smart’, ‘clever’, ‘athletic’ are so much better than the pejorative terms of ‘pretty’, ‘handsome’ and ‘strong’. For if, from an early age, we can grasp that we, as individuals, are a combination of the unique circumstances of both our nature and nurture, then our understanding of and appreciation for who we are is a big step towards valuing the inside regardless of the outside in both ourselves and others.
It is sad that there is still a need for this sort of book in 2020, just as there was in 1920 and 1960, but if you make and use just one purchase this year, this could be the one that changes lives for the better.
The turn of the 20th century, a new nation and perhaps a new start for Hannah’s family as her father has been appointed schoolmaster of the one-teacher school at Port Harris, a town founded, owned and ruled by one man who built the local sugar cane industry, itself built on the slave labour of the Pacific Islanders “contracted” to work and live in conditions that would rival the worst of what we know about the southern states of the USA.
It is not an auspicious start with the Cecily McPhee foundering as she was caught in a storm of Pirate Bay, and the shipwrecked travellers having to fight their way to shore. While the men decide they will try to find a way to the port, the women shelter and are rescued by a young lad and taken to his family farm. But that young lad is coloured and the product of a mixed marriage between his white mother and his Kiribatian father and immediately the first ugly seeds of racism start to grow. While Hannah and her mother have no qualms, the other women immediately adopt the holier-than-thou attitude of European settlers of the time and demonstrate why Jamie and his mum have been ostracised.
Add into the mix Mrs Gilbert’s liberal views, her passion for women’s suffrage and universal education that includes girls and non-whites, so much so that she starts a secret school for Hannah and Jamie, and you have another powerful historical novel that is as much fact as it is fiction. Once again, Jackie French exposes the reader to times past that have been hidden because men wrote the history books and directed the classroom curriculum by bringing her own family history to light and to life. As the nation moved through the early months of Federation, the first tentative steps towards women’s suffrage and the introduction of the White Australia Policy that prohibited all non-European immigration and was not abolished until 1973 when it at last became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, Hannah and her mother unpeel those carefully constructed layers subtly and softly through staying true to their beliefs without fanfare or fuss and certainly not offence. Hannah’s mother is very well aware of the impact of scandal and how it would affect the progress of change. Now, 120 years on, we are starting to see and appreciate the determination and strength of those shoulders on which we stand as we become and celebrate a nation of many cultures, enjoy universal education whose value is even clearer in current circumstances, and even our personal lives as we choose to marry or not, divorce or not, have children or not.
Definitely a read for older, independent readers, this is a story that has both the deepest of depths and the widest of implications as we really consider where we have come from as both individuals and a nation, and where we want to go. For this is a unique time in which the world has paused and we can choose the future, personally and collectively.
Howler Monkey loved to climb. He learned as a baby from his father and he practised and practised until he got so good at it that animals from all over the world would watch him. But one day he fell and damaged his tail so badly that he could not climb any more. He hid his injury because he was ashamed and scared that his family and friends would not like him because he couldn’t do the one thing that gave them pleasure. He became so sad that he sought the advice of Oldest Monkey who asked some really pertinent questions that helped Howler Monkey understand that he still had family and friends who loved him, he could still be the role model he was – just in a different way – and that what he did did not define who he was.
Rance, the author, was an elite Australian Rules player for the Richmond Tigers and was a member of the team that won the premiership in 2017, a feat that they hadn’t achieved since 1980. But in 2019 he ruptured his ACL in the first game of the season, ending his playing days for the year, and most likely for ever. These life-changing events have been the inspiration for this series of stories including Tiger’s Roar and Rabbit’s Hop, to help young children deal with the highs and lows of life and understand that why they do things is much more important that what it is they do. If they understand their motivation, then their actions (whether positive or negative) can be chosen, challenged and changed to suit the circumstances and it is the whole of who they are that defines them, not just one aspect.
Even without knowing the author’s personal story, young readers will appreciate this book and Howler Monkey’s predicament, particularly as they return to school and even to team sports where their lives may have changed considerably post-pandemic. The playing field might now be closer to level.
When we look back over a period in our lives, it seems that the memories that stand out are those of the times we failed, made a mistake, stuffed up… It seems to be human nature to remember the bad rather than the good; to dwell on those times when we don’t meet our own or others’ expectations; and sadly, we often let those times shape and define us, changing our purpose and pathway for ever.
The catchcry of “learn from your mistakes” is often easier said than done but in this book, Josh Langley, author of It’s OK to feel the way you do shares uplifting affirmations and simple strategies to help deal with those inevitable times when, in hindsight, we realise we could have done things differently or made better choices. Perhaps the most important of these is understanding that EVERYONE has times that they wish they could do again but that, at the time, we were doing the best we could with what we knew and had. No one gets it right all the time.
To prove this, Langley expresses his motivation for writing this book in this interview…
I remember as a kid, I was constantly making mistakes and getting into trouble, so I wanted to show kids that it wasn’t the end of the world if you stuff up every now and then. We’re human and we’ll keep making mistakes and that’s how we can become better people. I was also hearing from a lot of teachers saying that kids were having difficulty recovering from when things went wrong and would awfulise over the smallest issue. I wanted to help in some way by sharing what I’ve learnt.
I also wanted to show kids that failing isn’t a bad thing and that many wonderful things can arise out of failure. I wouldn’t have become an award winning copywriter and children’s author if I hadn’t failed high school.
Using his signature illustration style set on solid block colour and text which speaks directly to the reader continually reaffirming that the world is a better place because they are in it, he encourages kids to look for the opportunities that might arise from their “failures”. In his case he discovered his love of writing and illustrating after constantly being the worst in the class at sport.
However, IMO, while self-affirmation, self-talk and positive action are critical in building resilience, we, as teachers and parents, also need to be very aware of how we respond to the child’s “mistakes” and look beyond the immediate behavioural expression to the underlying cause. This graphic is just one of many available that encourage this.
No amount of self-talk will ever drown out the voices of those we love and respect and hold as role models, so we ourselves need to be mindful of the messages we are giving those who are just learning their way in the world.
Langley’s work is so positive and so constantly reaffirms for the reader that who they are is enough, echoing my own personal mantra of many years, that it is no wonder I am such a fan. And it is So good to have yet another resource to add to the Mindfulness and Mental Health collections, something that was scarcely heard of for kids just 10 years ago.