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Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

Bush Tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bush Tracks

Ros Moriarty

Balarinji

Allen & Unwin, 2018

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781760297824

“Follow the bush tracks over the rocks and stones to the coastal hunting grounds…” but be careful as you do because there are wondrous things to see and hidden dangers to avoid along the way. Make a spear, find the fresh water where there seems to be only salty, make a fire to tell others of your approach,  catch a crab in the light of the full moon…

Accompanied by vivid, authentic artworks full of colour and detail that we need to pay as much to as the track we are on, this is a call to venture outside and be as in tune with our surroundings as the traditional owners of this country are. The text speaks directly to the reader, inviting them to be part of this adventure and discovery.

This is the perfect introduction for littlies to the lifestyle of those who have been here for so long, as they investigate what is needed to sustain them.  Most will have accompanied a parent to the supermarket to buy food, but what if there were no supermarkets?  Help them track their thinking back to a time, which still exists, where self-sufficiency is critical for survival. 

Central to the illustrations is the track of the journey and while you might not be able to take your young readers to the “coastal hunting grounds”, you can take them around the school or a nearby park, mapping and photographing the journey and speculating on what might live or depend on the natural elements that you pass.  Investigating and demonstrating the importance of the flora to the fauna, the cycle of the seasons, and the symbiotic interdependence  of Nature regardless of the habitat within which it exists is critical if we are to grow children who appreciate and value their natural environment as much as their built one.

Like its companion, What’s That There? Bush Tracks has a translation of the English into the Yanyuwa language (spoken in families in Borroloola , NT) at the end allowing the young readers of those families to see and read stories in their own language as part of the author’s Indi Kindi initiative as well as demonstrating the power of story regardless of the language spoken, offering those who do not have English as their first language an opportunity to share their mother tongue and its stories. 

Both What’s That There? and Bush Tracks are prime examples of the power of picture books for all ages – done well, there is something for all ages of reader!

What’s That There?

What's That There?

What’s That There?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s That There?

Ros Moriarty

Balarinji

Allen & Unwin, 2017 

24pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781760297817

Australia is more than a landscape of endless red plains and grey-green gum trees, and in this vividly illustrated book younger readers are encouraged to look more closely at the landscape around them.

Using a predictable text pattern of both question and answer and repetition, the reader is invited to examine the bird’s-eye view of the landscape and engage with the illustrations to identify what it is the bird sees.

What’s that there?

“That’s the rushing river’s curly bend,” cries the sea eagle perched on a swaying, knotted branch. “There, look!”

And in stunning pictures, based on traditional Aboriginal designs and created by Balarinji established by the author and her husband, the astute young reader can indeed pick out the river winding through and the sea eagle from its on-high perch.  Or the hawk soaring over the “cliff face sharp with sun-scorched stones glinting”. Or “the dry, cracked billabong sleeping”  that the stick-bug clinging to the peeling tree bark sees.

As well as being a celebration of the country and its creatures, the poetic text and the stunning illustrations introduce landscapes that may be familiar but but are unseen as we race through life, not pausing to see things through artistic or linguistic eyes, Not only does it encourage us to slow down and think about what we are seeing, it also offers a different perspective.  What do the tops of the grey-green bush look like to the magpies, currawongs and crimson rosellas that are always flying over and around my house? What do they make of the dun coloured, drought-affected grasses that stretch between the trees? 

Understanding and using the bird’s-eye view perspective where things are seen from above, often an unfamiliar angle for our little ones, is a difficult concept to grasp and yet it is an essential skill of mapping and “unplugged coding” so this book is an intriguing way of introducing them to that concept, perhaps even challenging them to try their hand at interpreting their own surroundings from such a perspective. 

 For those who want to explore a different aspect, there is a translation of the English into the Yanyuwa language (spoken in families in Borroloola , NT) at the end which not only allows the young readers of those families to see and read stories in their own language as part of the author’s Indi Kindi initiative but also demonstrates that not everyone speaks English as their first language offering the opportunity to explore the languages spoken by classmates and families and celebrate the value of that first language.  

For a seemingly simple, 24 page book there is so much packed into this, it is a must-have in your collection.

More artwork created by Balarinji

More artwork created by Balarinji

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

Want to Play Trucks?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to Play Trucks?

Ann Stott

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781406378238

Almost every morning Jack and Alex play together in the sandpit at the playground while their mothers have a chat.  They enjoy playing together, Jack with the trucks, particularly those that are big and can wreck things,  and Alex with his doll, who has a pink, sparkly dress. When Jack suggests they play trucks, Alex counters with playing dolls that drive trucks. And this is a happy compromise until Jack chooses a crane and tells Alex that dolls with tutus can’t drive cranes.

But this is not an argument about gender, although as it escalates it seems it is – Jack has a much more pragmatic perspective which Alex quickly solves and they are soon playing happily again until they hear the sound of the ice cream truck.

Time and again over the 45+ years I’ve been in education I’ve seen children squabble and adults intervening because they have imposed their beliefs and perspectives on what they think is the problem, when it is really a much more simple issue such as in this story. Rather than letting the children sort it for themselves and learning all sorts of critical social skills as they do, the adults are too prone to step in looking for peace above all else.  In my opinion, it is what is going on in the background that is as important as the foreground in this story, as the mothers continue to chat, nurse Alex’s baby sister when she wakes up and go with the boys to get ice cream, ignoring the boys’ conflict, if indeed they notice it. Graham also has lots of other characters passing by going about their lives with no reference to what is happening in the sandpit – there is no notice taken of the boys’ different ethnicity, their preference for particular toys or their minor squabble.  Life is what it is and is as it is. And therefore the boys are left to work things out for themselves,learning in their particular microcosm how to negotiate, compromise, change, accept, include… all those vital attributes that will help them navigate their expanding world.

While this book appears to be about challenging gender stereotypes because of the boys’ choice of toys, to me that is just the hook on which the broader issue of how kids deal with, negotiate and celebrate difference and diversity has been hung on.    Sharing this with little ones will open up opportunities for them to not only share their stories but to learn their own strategies as they are challenged by new situations. 

Won’t be surprised to see this nominated for awards in the future.

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse

Cat Spies Mouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat Spies Mouse

Rina A. Foti

Dave Atze

Big Sky Publishing. 2018

32pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781925675344

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!

 

Moth: An Evolution Story

Moth: An Evolution Story

Moth: An Evolution Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moth: An Evolution Story

Isabel Thomas

Daniel Egnéus

Bloomsbury, 2018

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781408889756

In a clean, fresh world, a shiny cocoon wriggles and jiggles and a moth with salt-and-pepper wings emerges. But there is no time to languish – as daylight emerges, it must fly to the nearby trees with their lichen-covered branches where its colouring camouflages it from its predators – birds, bats and cats!

But some moths are born with charcoal wings, easy prey as their colouring makes them stand out . While they become food for hungry birds and their chicks, the speckled, freckled ones are safe in their disguise and the next night they lay eggs of their own, and their babies will be just like their parents.

But then the world began to change and coal-burning factories and steam-driven trains changed it to a dirty, dark place full of pollution which stained the clouds, and darkened the branches where the speckled, freckled ones rested. And they became the vulnerable ones while their charcoal friends were safe.  So gradually, they changed and it was the dark-winged variety that was common and the salt-and-pepper ones became rare.

However, as people realised the harm they were doing, slowly the world began to change again – not quite as clean as before but so much better.  And a miracle happened…

Encapsulated in this beautifully illustrated book is the story of the peppered moth, an example of natural selection and the theory behind process of evolution – creatures changing themselves to adapt to and survive in their changing environments. With its explanation of the moth’s story and extrapolating from that to all creatures including humans, this is the perfect introduction to Darwin’s theories and the impact of human intervention on the environment.  Throughout though, there is hope – that we are not doomed as many would have us believe, but that we are changing and we must adapt to that change whilst doing all that we can to assist Mother Nature by keeping our planet pure and pristine because try as we might, not all creatures can adapt as readily and quickly as the moth does and the list of species, both fauna and flora, that have become extinct continues to grow.

A must in any library in a school that has students and staff concerned about the environment – what might be living in the playground that could use a bit of positive human intervention?

Ori’s Clean-Up

Ori's Clean-Up

Ori’s Clean-Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ori’s Clean-Up

Anne Helen Donnelly

Self-published, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A20

9780646984131

Ori the Octopus loves his home but he hates it when his friends leave rubbish everywhere.  They are quite willing to help him clean up when he asks but within a week it’s just as bad as it was!  So this time as they clean up again they  think of ways they can recycle and reuse their rubbish so that they are not only making it easier for themselves, but also helping the environment.

This easy-to-read story with its repetitive action sequences and bright, bold pictures is primarily for early childhood, showing our youngest students that they are never too young to make a difference, although my experience is that once they are aware of the possibilities, it is the very young who are most diligent and bad habits and laziness are more likely to be those who are older.  Nevertheless, providing information and  instilling good habits from an early age can only be a good thing as we become more and more aware of the problem of waste and litter, particularly with the removal of single-use items in the spotlight.

Perfect for preschool, especially if there is a discussion about what might happen if Ori’s friends don’t clean up and this is extended into speculation about the playground, their bedrooms or their homes.

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.)

 

 

 

Maya & Cat

Maya & Cat

Maya & Cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maya & Cat

Caroline Magerl

Walker Books, 2018

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

 9781921977282

On a roof, as wet as a seal, as grey as a puddle, Cat was rumbling, a rumbly purr.  Through the window from the warmth of her bedroom, Maya spots Cat and tries to entice her inside, safe from the wet and wild outdoors. But feather boas, pink shoelaces and a pompom on a stick are not what Cat wants.  And although a can of sardines placed at the back door brings her hungry tummy down, Cat returns to her perch on the roof, wet and forlorn. 

Determined that one of the windows shining its warm light on the bleakness, Maya is determined to  find Cat’s home but every door she knocks on is not the one. Until she finds Cat in her bicycle basket as though it is saying, “Let me show you…”  

This is a stunning story of a little girl’s determination to help reunite a pet with its owners and the beautiful reward she is offered. The heartache of separation for both humans and pets is  a familiar one as anyone with a Facebook feed would know and so it will resonate with so many readers, adult and child alike.  The language is poetic, the ink and watercolour illustrations are exquisite with the one where Maya is cycling along the jetty taking me straight back to my 1950s childhood favourites in Edward Ardizzone’s  series about Tim. Having seen hundreds of thousands of illustrations over my time as a teacher, one that instantly brings back such warm memories means the book is an instant winner for me! The subtlety of the palette, the blend of colours, the intricacy of the linework, the detail in every illustration not only bring the words to life but offer so much to see as it is read again and again, providing a stark contrast to the bright, bold computer-generated works that our students are so familiar with.  This is a series of lessons about visual literacy and the need to look deep within, the purpose of picture books and the connections between text and graphics, author, illustrator and reader all wrapped up in one engaging, enthralling story. 

This is more than just a story about a girl and a lost cat – it’s a celebration of words and pictures that is likely to become an enduring childhood memory for many.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

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!

 

My Storee

My Storee

My Storee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Storee

Paul Russell

Aška

EK Books, 2018

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

9781925335774

When he is at home the stories running through his head keep him awake at night – stories about dragons and rainbow eggs at the bottom of Grandma’s garden; his teacher being eaten by a gruesome ogre; unicorn detectives chasing robotic pirates up alien volcanoes.  The wonderful, magical ideas just keep flowing and he writes and writes and writes.  It’s all about the adventures and not about the writing rules.

But at school, the adventures dry up because the writing rules rule. And the red pen is everywhere,

“But at school their are too many riting rulz and with all the rulz I can never find my dragons.”

At school he doesn’t like to write

Until a new teacher comes – one who is a storyteller himself and knows writing is about the story and not the rules.

In the 80s I was lucky enough to be deeply involved in the process writing movement where we truly believed that writing had to be about the ideas and the adventures and that the processes of reviewing, editing and publishing came later once there was something to work with.  Children were just happy to express themselves and as teachers, it was our job to guide them with spelling, punctuation and grammar, semantics and syntax, so that if one of their ideas grabbed them enough that they wanted to take it through to publication then we would work together to do that. Words were provided as they were needed in context and punctuation and grammar tackled on an individual’s needs rather than one-size-fits-all lessons. And if the effort of writing was enough and the child wasn’t  interested in taking it further, then we had to accept that – flogging a dead horse was a waste of time.   In pre-computer days, how many nights did I spend on the typewriter with the big font so a child could have the joy of their own creation in our class library?  Children enjoyed writing for writing’s sake, were free and willing to let their imaginations roam free and were prepared to take risks with language conventions for the sake of the story. 

But when publicity-seeking politicians whose only experience with the classroom was their own decades previously declared that “assessment processes need to be more rigorous, more standardised and more professional” (a quote from Teacher ) we find ourselves back to the red pen being king and our future storytellers silenced through fear. While the teachers’ notes tag this book as being about a dyslexic child, it really is about all children as they learn how to control their squiggles and regiment them into acceptable combinations so they make sense to others, a developmental process that evolves as they read and write rather than having a particular issue that is easy and quick to label and therefore blame.  We need to accept what they offer us as they make this journey and if they never quite reach the destination, or are, indeed, dyslexic, then as well-known dyslexic Jackie French says, “That’s what spellcheck and other people are for.”  So much better to appreciate their effort than never have the pleasure of their stories.

So many children will relate to this story – those whose mums have “to wade through a papar ocean to wake [them] up” – and will continue to keep writing regardless of adults who think they know better. But who among those adults will have the conviction and the courage to be like Mr Watson? Who among the powers-that-be will let them do what they know works best? If the red pen kills their creativity now, where will the storytellers and imaginative problem-solvers of the future come from?