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Listen

Duncan Smith & Nicole Godwin

Jandamarra Cadd

Wild Dog, 2023

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

9781742036731

Listen, and you will hear the voices of Ancestors.

At a time when there is such an important focus on Australia’s First Nations peoples,  this is a timely release to help students better understand the need for the referendum, where it has come from and what it is based on. 

Accompanied by the stunning artworks of Yorta Yorta man Jandamarra Cadd, each of which has its own story and significance, this is a book that has the minim um of text but the maximum of meaning.  While our students may have some knowledge and awareness of the importance of Country to indigenous people, this book explains the weight behind the acknowledgement of the phrase “elders, past, present and emerging” that is expressed in any Welcome to Country address.

This is a book that should not be shared without also using the teachers’ notes because they provide critical background information…

The Uluru Statement from the Heart
Key elements from the Uluru Statement from the Heart underpins the text … The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to all Australians to walk together towards a better future. It provides a roadmap with three key pillars – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

It explains why and what The Voice is, why it requires a referendum to be put in place, and what it will achieve if the referendum is successful.

But beyond that, it also has a strong element of text-to-self as readers are encouraged to consider the hopes and dreams of the children on the front cover and relate that to their own, while also having them investigate the Country they live on, its indigenous languages and stories. 

 If the referendum is unsuccessful, it is unlikely to be the end of the narrative of the requests and rights of our First Nations people to be recognised, so this book, in conjunction with We are Australians should form the core of a modern indigenous library collection as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures strand of the curriculum.

Together, they are a powerful and essential resource on which to base positive change for the future. 

The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle

The Gargoyle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gargoyle

Zana Fraillon

Lothian, 2023

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

9780734421241

Forced off his rooftop to make way for a new urban development in a barren cityscape, the old gargoyle packs a battered suitcase and boards a train going who knows where. But he is unseen to all those who are packed on it, except for a child  who has the time and the presence to ponder the gargoyle’s story…

He’s old, this gargoyle. Very old. Older than me. Older than anyone. He looks tired. If I had a seat, I would give it to him.

He shuffles past me and stands near the door and watches the city smushing past.

I think I hear him sigh. An echoey, achy, hollow sort of sigh, like the wind when it gusts down lanes and through tunnels and in and out of the big drains that stretch under the city.

Invisible to all who are so engrossed in what is to come that they don’t see the here and now, except for the ticket collector who forces him off the train when he cannot produce a ticket, the gargoyle is a forlorn sight, testament to the often unnoticed and ignored elderly, disabled and homeless among us.  But he leaves his suitcase behind and when the child, overcome by curiosity and compassion, opens the case he unleashes the gargoyle’s many memories of the city and its inhabitants. When the case crumbles, leaving nothing but a small seed, the child decides to find a place to bring the gargoyle, and the soul of the city, back.

This is a poignant picture book that works on many levels both for younger and older students as they explore it, each visit exposing something different.  For example, on a literal level, the meaning and history of “gargoyles” could be investigated  to build vocabulary and children could be encouraged to not only identify structures in their town that feature them but also learn architecturally related words such as buttress and belfry, perhaps even compare modern and bygone construction styles and methods.   

Others might like to consider what memories are contained in the gargoyle’s case, and if he were a gargoyle from one of their town’s structures, what changes and events might he have seen and packed into that case.

Older readers who can dig deeper into the messages that lie beyond the words might look more at the humanitarian issues that are addressed- the trials and tribulation of ageing and how those who are in their senior years become invisible and often ignored as though they no longer have anything  to contribute; the way buildings and structures are often valued and preserved more than those who constructed them; the destruction of those buildings in the ever-growing need for quick-fix housing; the knowledge and memories of people and places past that could be drawn on to build a better future so the same mistakes are not repeated; society’s attitudes towards and treatment of the homeless… And having examined those issues, consider and plan what might grow from the seed that the boy plants.

Teachers’ notes offer discussion points about these as well as ideas for exploring its language, literary devices and visual literacy – both the author’s and illustrator’s notes add much – but the lingering emotion for the reader is one of empathy and compassion, of a desire to acknowledge and celebrate the legacies of those who have gone before us and consider the legacy that we, ourselves, might leave. 

I do expect to see this among the award winners of the upcoming year. 

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home

When The War Came Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The War Came Home

Lesley Parr

Bloomsbury, 2022

320pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781526621009

Wales, 1920. Twelve-year-old Natty is quite happy living with her mam in their flat, going to the village school with its yummy free lunches, and special fish and chip teas on Fridays just like her dad used to do when he was alive. 

But when her activist mum loses her job for sticking up for the workers’ rights, and they are forced to move in with relatives in a nearby village, things change dramatically.  Firstly, she has to share a room, even a bed, with her cousin Nerys who is very bright and never stops talking.  Then there are the unpredictable Huw who lied about his age to enlist but who has come home a totally different 17 year old suffering from shell-shock, and the mysterious “Johnny”, another young lad who has returned from the Western Front but who has no idea who he is or where he came from.  She also has to attend a school ruled over by a brutal principal who uses his cane freely, particularly on those who are poor and hungry because there are no free dinners at this village school because their provision is the prerogative of the local council.

Even though she is angry at her mother’s desire to right wrongs that are not even her problem because of the impact it has on her own life, Natty is surprised to find herself drawn into a student strike demanding free school lunches so those who don’t have enough to eat can think about their studies rather than their stomachs. Perhaps she is more like her mother than she realises.  But it is her friendship with both Huw and Johnny that has the most profound effect on all their lives, particularly as the message about never giving up is one that comes from all angles.

Once again, Lesley Parr takes the reader back in time to an era of Welsh history, but, as with The Valley of Lost Secrets and  Where the River Takes Us , the issues she addresses will resonate with today’s readers.  For although World War I is over a century ago, many children will know someone who is experiencing PTSD  or the impact of some extraordinary trauma -or it may even be themselves- and so they empathise and perhaps find a little more compassion. And even though women now have the vote and workers have rights, this can serve as a starting point for  an investigation into why such change was inevitable as well as discussions into what remains the same.  Homeless, hunger and abuse are still rife in our society so what is the answer?  Is there an answer?

At the very least, the story shines a light on what happened in so many homes and families around the globe after the guns fell silent.  Sometimes, having your loved one home wasn’t the be-all and end-all – the war came home with them, shaping lives in a way that has impact today.  As Nerys tells Natty,  “The war took him away, Natty. And it gave him back, only not every part of him. And it took away some of the good parts and gave him bad ones instead.”

Lesley Parr has written three books now, and each one has been the most absorbing read – stories of kids of another time and place but whose lives seem so familiar, making them an opportunity to reflect and respect and understand the power of well-crafted, well-rounded characters, a story that seamlessly embraces critical social issues as it flows along, and the joy and satisfaction of being just a little wiser for the experience.  Definitely an author to introduce to those who like meaty, engaging stories. 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Gabrielle Wang

Puffin, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781761046513

Zadie Ma’s passion is writing stories, and she has discovered that sometimes they come true – as they did with the story of Little Ant Cassandra when the ants miraculously disappeared before her mother could spray them , and Little Kit who was a fox who could sing and the next day, she saw exactly that outside her window.  

Shy and without a close friend until Sparrow moves in next door, Zadie’s dearest wish is to have a dog of her own and so she starts to write the story of a poor unwanted dog called Jupiter, who’s just waiting to be rescued by a loving girl like Zadie. Although Zadie can’t control which of her stories come true, perhaps this might be one of those that do. 

Interspersed with both Zadie’s stories and graphic novel elements, this is a new release from Australian Children’s Laureate, Gabrielle Wang, for independent readers who like a down-to-earth story featuring characters they can relate to.  For when Zadie sets off to find Jupiter, instead of minding the family’s shop, she does indeed find him and rescues him.  But then she realises that she can’t keep him because her mother will not let her have a dog, particularly as their relationship is somewhat strained… Will her story have the happy ending she dreams of?

Gabrielle Wang is the author of a number of books for primary-aged readers, including The Beast of Hushing Wood , each different and intriguing. This one, set in Melbourne in 1955, has a personal tinge to it as it is prefaced with a photo of her with her grandfather and the family dog and dedicated to “Rusty, and all the other dogs who were lost and never found their way home”. In fact, in an interview, Wang says “This novel is a special love letter to my very first dog, Rusty, who my grandfather found wandering around lost at the Victoria market in Melbourne. “

It also touches on some of the attitudes that were prevalent at the time, including issues of racism and the place of women and animals in society offering an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed – or haven’t.  Other stories with a similar timeframe  that could be companion novels are 52 Mondays  and The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan, both quite different but also with themes of family, friendship, determination and courage.  

 

 

 

 

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Activists Who Are Changing Our World

Rebecca Schiller

Sophie Beer

Walker Books, 2022

48pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406397024

In the USA school students are walking out of school to protest the lack of gun control laws; in Australia, they walked out of school in 2021 to protest the lack of action on climate change… The names of Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and other young activists are as well-known to them as those of their favourite singers and movie stars as the mantle of protest moves from its traditional university setting to the classroom.  

But who are they inspired by? On whose shoulders do they stand? 

Defining an activist as one who uses their knowledge, skills and energy to make the world a better place by protecting human rights, ending prejudice and inequality and protecting the planet from harmful human activities so all its creatures are safe, this book introduces young readers to 20 people who have made a significant contribution to changing the world – some names familiar, others not-so – including Sonita Alizdeh; Rachel Carson; Favio Chavez; Mahatma Gandhi; Jane Goodall; Helen Keller; Martin Luther King Jr; Nelson Mandela; Wangari Maathai; Aditya Mukarji; Emmeline Pankhurst; Autumn Peltier; Boyan Slat; Gareth Thomas; Harriet Tubman; William Wilberforce; Ai Weiwei Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah as well as both Yousafzai and Thunberg.

Each person has a double-page spread that includes an outline of what they have achieved, the core motivation for their actions, the particular powers that they employed, as well as a significant quote to inspire the readers to continue their work.  There is also an activity suggested so that this can be done so the reader begins to realise that no one is too small to make a difference. For example, they are encouraged to build their public speaking powers so when they have something important to say they can speak out with confidence as Mahatma Gandhi did, or perhaps create something that will solve a problem as Boyan Slat did when he was confronted with an ocean of plastic rather than marine creatures on his first scuba diving trip.

Conservative, right-wing, middle-aged men in suits (and those who follow them) condemned those children who left their classrooms to protest – they should have stayed there to study and learn –  yet it could be strongly argued that those same children were actually putting their learning into practice, determined to make the world a better place for themselves and others, because “there is more to life than increasing its speed” as Gandhi said.  By introducing our students to those who have gone before, and those who are already forging a new path, through books such as this,  Children Who Changed the World , and others, perhaps we can plant the seeds that will grow the future.  Encourage each to “dream with their eyes open.” 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2022

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

9781460760208

When Ming Qong put up her hand in Mr Boors’ history class and asked him why they only ever learned about men in history, never girls, she had no idea the chain of events that she was about to set off.

Suddenly the class was silent and still, as though frozen in the moment, except for a strange, almost ethereal woman dressed in purple sitting in the window sill -someone Ming feels she knows but doesn’t.  The woman introduces herself as Herstory, the sister of History, a woman passionate about the part women have played alongside men as the centuries have rolled past and as frustrated as Ming that those stories have not been told because “men wrote the history books and they mostly wrote them to please kings or generals or male politicians.” Even though the women’s stories are there in letters, diaries and even old newspapers waiting to be discovered, the past was always viewed through a male lens. and then she offers Ming a way to travel back to the past for just 42 days, to see it for herself (even though it wouldn’t always be pleasant, pretty or comfortable) and be part of it although she, herself, would not be seen or heard and she couldn’t change anything that happened.

Ming is eager to accept, to be a girl who changed the world, and suddenly she is Flo Watson and she has what she wished for  It’s 1898, she’s scratching a living alongside her mother on a farm in the middle of nowhere and a severe drought, anxiously awaiting the return of her father with his drunken, violent temper and handy fists.  But that life changes when Ma dies of a snakebite and she finds herself living with wealthy Aunt McTavish in Sydney who believes in women having the vote, financial and legal independence, racial equality and universal education for children and who puts her time, money and energy where her mouth is. 

Ming, as Flo, sees, hears and engages in much as she works by her aunt’s side as they work with Louisa Lawson (mother of Henry whose later writings would be one of the windows to this world) and the Suffragist Society seeking signatures on a petition that will eventually see the entire continent united, yet it is something apparently insignificant that is actually the world changer…

Those familiar with Jackie French’s meticulously researched historical fiction know that she has been telling herstory in her stories such as The Matilda Saga for years, but this new series The Girls Who Changed the World focuses particularly on the stories of girls of the readers’ age.  (And, in fact, the final pages leave Ming and Tuan on a cliffhanger in the battlefields of World War I. )

However, the significance of this particular story at this particular time cannot go unnoticed given the results of the recent federal election and other recent events. For while Ming believes that what happened in the past explains the present, and we know that Australia became a federation in 1901 those original divisions, parochialism and desire for autonomy quickly became apparent during the response to the COVID 19 pandemic; and while women did, indeed, get the vote, the wave of female voters voting for women candidates in the federal election shows that there is still much about women’s lives and status that needs to be addressed and changed.

While the groundwork was laid by the likes of Louisa Lawson and Aunt McTavish, who were those who carried it forward, who continue to do so and who might be dreaming with their eyes open to take it even further?  Seems to me that there might be scope for each of our students to investigate and write a story to add to this one…

We Are Australians

We Are Australians

We Are Australians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are Australians

Duncan Smith & Nicole Godwin

Jandamarra Cadd

Wild Dog Books, 2022

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

9781742036328

“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.  

 

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan

Felice Arena

Puffin. 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781761044366

Before Daisy Pearce, Darcy Veccio and Tayla Harris, even before Barb Hampson, Lisa Hardeman, and Debbie Lee, there was Maggie Flanagan.

Melbourne, 1942. So many husbands, fathers and brothers have enlisted including Maggie’s older brother Patrick, whom she idolises, although she idolises his football skills more and treasures the ball he left in her safe-keeping. Wherever she goes, when she is not at school, it is with her and she continually practises her skills, keeping a running commentary of an invisible game going in her head. 

And so when the new parish priest inspires the Year 5/6 students at her very traditional Catholic school to hold a fund-raiser for the troops abroad, Maggie knows that the sew and bake stalls are not for her (and being a girl, she’s not allowed to enter the build-and-race billycart event) and so she decides to stage an all-female football match.  But while women are slowly emerging from the domestic drudgery imposed on them by men who believe a woman’s place is, “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” as they take over the roles left vacant by those who are now soldiers, playing football is not seen as something females do and so Maggie is faced with the enormous task of finding enough players to field two teams who not only have the skills but also the courage to stand up against the prejudice and ridicule. Can Carrots (as she is known to her dad, as I was to mine) prevail? Will her praying to the picture of Mary in Sister Gertrude’s office give her the people she needs? If she does, will they be allowed to play?  Will there be enough people interested in watching to actually raise some money?   

Inspired by a chance reading of a discarded newspaper on a train to Scotland,  as much as this story is about Maggie’s struggles to find players as she contends with the fearsome Sister Gertrude, the bullying Mickey Mulligan and the disdain of her own female friends, it is also about having the courage to be yourself and follow your dreams in the face of such odds.  Arena offers us Gerald whose dream is to sing and dance on stage; Elena who, of Italian heritage, is seen as a traitor even though she was born in Australia; Nora who seems to be the shadow of the haughty Frances but who has her own secrets, and a host of other “miss-fits” who make this such an engaging read for everyone. Who would think that Maggie would ever have any sympathy for Mickey Mulligan or that Grumpy Gaffney could save the day?  What is Sister Clare’s secret? 

While this is a fictional story, it was the courage and determination of the Maggie Flanagans of yesteryear who refused to be pigeon-holed, who refused to accept that they were less intelligent and less capable than men who paved the way for what is now not only the very successful AFLW but also for all those in what have been traditionally men’s sports and occupations. (Being the daughter of one such pioneer, I empathise with her strongly.) It’s a thoroughly researched, totally absorbing insight into a time not so long ago that is about so much more than footy that will appeal to independent readers who like historical fiction.  As Maggie would say, “A-women.” 

 

The World Awaits

The World Awaits

The World Awaits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World Awaits

Tomos Roberts

Nomoco

Farshore, 2021

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

9780008502058

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. 

Diamonds

Diamonds

Diamonds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diamonds

Armin Greder

Allen & Unwin, 2020

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

9781760877040

A young girl watches her mother get ready for a night out, curious about the diamond earrings she is wearing.  Using a child’s logic and train of thought she asks about their origins, but her mother cuts the conversation short ostensibly because it is time for her to go but perhaps she doesn’t really want to delve too deeply into their story.  

When the young girl is put to bed by the maid, clearly of African descent, the story continues without words, tracing the journey of those diamonds from the African mine workers through the hands of various “brokers” each seemingly driven by the riches they will bring regardless of the poverty and plight of those whom they exploit until the earrings are presented to her mother by Winston.

Greder is well known for looking beyond the story to the story beneath and presenting this with a minimum of text but the most powerful illustrations, and this is no exception. What really does go on in the mysterious netherworld of international trade so that those with a lust for power and riches can satisfy their hunger?

This is a picture book for older readers that, like The Mediterranean and Australia to Z,  is confrontational but it is one way to raise awareness and start conversations.  The afterwords by Francesco Boille and Riccardo Noury are not only powerful but also add extra information and insight making this a unique must-have for any school curriculum and library collection that has a social justice focus.