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?

 

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

Hello, Horse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Horse

Vivian French

Catherine Rayner

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

 9781406349948

It is very daunting meeting Catherine’s friend Shannon for the first time – because Shannon is a horse, a very big horse.  But slowly and gently Catherine manages the meeting showing the little boy that even though Shannon appears huge, she’s actually very gentle and with an apple and some grooming she is very friendly.  But when Catherine suggests that he ride Shannon, does he have the courage?

Part of the Nature Storybook series which includes Dingo, Koala, and Python this new addition looks at a more domesticated animal, one that is familiar to so many of our students but which can appear formidable up close because of its size.  But in the company of an experienced person and armed with the information in both the narrative and the sub-text, like the boy in the story little ones will have more confidence facing their concerns and discovering one of the gentle joys of life – plodding along on the back of a horse. The story is based on the illustrator and her own horse and the detailed watercolour illustrations not only echo her familiarity with these animals but also mirror the child’s anxiety so the reader understands it. 

Those readers who are already familiar with horses will enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences when the book is shared, but it could also serve as a model for discussing the dos and don’ts of dealing with other domestic pets that may seem somewhat scary to start with.  It will also show that such concerns are common, not babyish, but they can be overcome by learning more.

 

 

Hello to You, Moon

Hello to You, Moon

Hello to You, Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello to You, Moon

Sally Morgan

Sonny & Biddy

Little Hare, 2017

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99   

9781760125462

When little people draw the curtains on the day, snuggle down and close their eyes, little do they know that a whole different world is waking up. 

From the fading of the light  through to the twinkling black and on until the dawning of the new day, as the constellations shift across the heavens and Moon completes its journey for another night, across the world nocturnal creatures are getting on with their lives, each paying homage to that timeless orb that will outlast and outlive them as it has done for generations of their forbears. From the kangaroo coughing at the moon at dusk in an Australian desert, to the jungles of Asia where sun-bears snuffle and grunt and to the still silence of the extra-long Antarctic night where penguins scurry and honk, the planet is populated by species that prefer the cool light of the moon to the bright heat of the sun. And while not all of them are strictly nocturnal, nevertheless all respond to the moon through movement and sound that little ones will like to mimic. 

Stunningly illustrated in the details, textures and colours of the night, and building as a counting story, author and illustrators have brought the after-dark to life introducing the youngest readers to the nocturnal world in a way that will make them want to learn more about what else is up and about while they sleep and why they choose dark over light.  It may also encourage curiosity about the Moon – why does it change shape; where does it go in the daytime; why can we sometimes see it in the day and not at night – but my favourite activity is to get them to listen to the sounds of night falling and imagine those things that are tucking themselves in for the night as they are and those things that are waking and greeting their new ‘day’.  

Formal  teaching notes are available.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unofficial Minecraft STEM Lab for Kids

John Miller

Chris Fornell Scott

Quarry Books, 2018

144pp., pbk., RRP $A27.99

9781631594830

Apparently, 74 million people play Minecraft each month, one of those is Miss 12 who is now hooked on coding, and many of whom are in schools where the game is being used in many scenarios as part of the everyday learning experience.  For some time, the teacher librarian networks I belong to have been peppered with queries about how it can best be used and so a book that specifically focuses on its use in the science, technology, maths and engineering strands will be of great value to teachers whose students are clamouring for these sorts of experiences but whose personal knowledge and skills of the game are not as developed as those of those they teach.

Beginning with a thorough explanation of what Minecraft is, how it works, how it can be used and played and purchased so that parents and teachers understand its value both in school and beyond – the book’s focus is ‘to connect the Minecraft player(s) in their life with STEM learning…to help bridge the gap between game-play and engaging STEM concepts” –  it moves on to six themed quests, each of which presents four labs, which, in turn, have two parts – an out-of-game activity that requires hands-on exploration and an in-game building and crafting activity.

Quest 1: Pistons, Rails, and Redstone
Quest 2: Construction Zone
Quest 3: The Sky is Not Your Limit
Quest 4: Rocks, Minerals, and Gems
Quest 5: Cycles in Science
Quest 6: Engineering Challenge

In terms of the quality of content, Miss 12 would probably be a better reviewer than I, but in her absence, this review by a Minecraft expert suggests that it is “outstanding” and gives a comprehensive tour of the contents and layout.  The credentials of the authors also convince me of its authority. However, as a non-Minecraft person who wears a teacher’s hat, it would seem to me to be the perfect tool to not only capture an audience who prefer gaming to reading but also to use its user-friendliness to explore things not necessarily intellectually or physically in the teacher’s toolbox.  Added to that is this article which shows that onscreen adventures are leading children to discover their origins in print.  

I’m beginning to see what all the conversations have been about and why there is such excitement about this game that demands so much more of the student than pressing buttons or manipulating levers.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

 

Duck!

Duck!

Duck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duck!

Meg McKinlay

Nathaniel Eckstrom

Walker Books, 2018

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

9781925381535

It was a quiet afternoon on the farm with the horse, cow, pig and sheep going about their horse, cow, pig and sheep business when the tranquility was interrupted by a little duck shouting “Duck!”  Annoyed at being disturbed and so egocentric is each creature that they are more intent on pointing out their differences from and therefore superiority over the duck that they don’t notice the darkening sky or that Duck has donned a bucket-helmet.  Until…

Those familiar with the other meaning of the word ‘duck’and who have keen eyes will pick up on what is about to happen and those familiar with that classic tale by L. Frank Baum will delight in the final page.

Meg McKinlay, author of No Bears  and Once Upon a Small Rhinoceros always tells a great story that is worthy of a dozen reads and this is no exception.  The illustrations are so perfect for the story you would think that the two were in the same room collaborating on each spread, rather than being on opposite sides of the country.

Pure charm!

Spirit

Spirit

Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spirit

Cherri Ryan

Christina Booth

Black Dog Books, 2018

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

9781925381771

A small, woven basket, a couple of handkerchiefs , a stick, some buttons and thread and a scrap of fabric for a flag and Spirit is ready for her inaugural voyage sailing across the garden pond. 

A victory dance,  some attention to her mast and hull and she was ready for the next challenge – bobbing and dipping as she rides the currents of the creek. 

Another victory dance and some more tweaking – will she be ready for the greatest adventure yet?  All was well as she rode the calm waters of the river with her fishy attendants, her rudder true and her bow leading the way, but after the bridge jagged rocks churn and froth the water and Spirit faces the biggest dangers of all.  Will she survive or will she be broken?

On the surface, this is a charming story about a little girl building a boat and testing it, increasing the degree of difficulty of each challenge.  But just like the creek and the river, there are hidden depths as children navigate life and have to learn to be steadfast, resilient, imaginative and have faith in themselves and their abilities to survive the setbacks.  Much as we would like our children’s lives to be smooth sailing, character is built through adversity and they need to learn to pick themselves up, oil their hulls and smooth their masts, or let someone more experienced help them do that, and move on to the next challenge, persevering, learning about failure as well as success, commiseration and celebration.  They need to know they have an inner spirit, one that can’t be broken but like Spirit one which gets stronger and stronger particularly when they are knocked down, but sometimes they have to dig deep into the unknown to find it.

As busy classroom teachers, we often just see the surface of our students’ lives, only sometimes being privileged to catch a glimpse of the depths beneath -some of which are joyful; some of which are deep and dark with jagged rocks but all having as many twists and turns as the river. So this would be an ideal read-aloud sharing both the words and pictures that intertwine with each other perfectly, and talking about the underlying thoughts behind them. Discussing the name of the boat, the girl’s feelings, determination and courage, the invisible hands guiding her while letting her try that are not revealed until the penultimate page, the role of the fish as they support Spirit on its journeys,  and the connection of the girl’s story to their own lives may help those who are troubled and struggling realise they are not alone and deep down they too have the courage to take the next step forward, even if it is into the unknown.

A perfect addition to your mindfulness collection. 

 

Teacher

Teacher

Teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teacher

Gabbie Stroud

Allen & Unwin, 2018

352pp., pbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760295905

Even though I requested this book for review I didn’t know if I could read it let alone review it, because even now, 12 years into “retirement”, I am still heavily invested in the world of education, constantly leaping to the defence of my colleagues whenever I hear disparaging comments or “helpful” suggestions.

Not a week goes by without someone who has never stood in front of a class of 30 expectant children uses their power of position to say that Australian education is failing; that teachers need to be held accountable; that this or that should be in the curriculum (although nothing is ever taken out); that teachers are underworked, overpaid and have too many holidays.  They seem to believe that while every child has an innate desire to “reach their potential” that potential or success is defined by academic ability encapsulated in a meaningless score on a one-size-fits-all test administered on a particular day when who knows what else might be going on in the child’s life at the time. 

For my own sanity and peace of mind, these days I use the OFF button whenever I hear this sort of stuff so to request a book that has the subtitle “One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching” seemed stupid.  Did I really want to read about a teacher going through all that remains so familiar  to me (I went back and did another year in a school in 2015) and which is still the life of 90% of my friends?  

Even the cover was confronting- once upon a time teachers were symbolised with a ripe, red apple, wholesome and nutritious, but the one on the cover is just a core.  Is that all we are worth now? Or does it represent all that is left of a teacher after they’ve been in the system, chewed up and spat out with only their essential core of themselves remaining, and that very much exposed?  There are also quotes (and three pages of commentary) about the value and the integrity of the book from people that anyone in education will recognise but none from anyone whose opinion of teachers was changed by reading it.  With such illustrious company already spruiking its value, what could I, as just one of tens of thousands of Gabbie Strouds, without a fancy title or a string of letters after my name add to what had already been said? All I have is 46 years  of experience in schools, a mixture of successes, failures and mistakes, and a deep and abiding passion for children who deserve more than they get at home and school. They are the ones who will be making the decisions about my life in my old age and I want them to be the best they can be!

And so I started – and I couldn’t put it down.  Here was my teaching experience, and that of almost every other teacher, laid out in front of me reminding me of what I did and why I did it.  Every one of us remembers the bright eyed, bushy-tailed, eager graduate who finally bid farewell to Uni knowing that all those worst-case scenarios we’d been told about would never happen in our classroom. Every one of us recalls that first day in front of our first class and watching four years of university learning fly out the window. Every one of us has a Grayson, a Ryan, an Ed, a Warren, a Billie for whom life at school was better than being at home, whose role models there set them up for failure in a society that demanded manners, proper language, and a range of acceptable strategies for dealing with frustration and who learned that what they had learned only got them into strife but who didn’t learn any other ways. Every one of us has had a principal who is too scared to rock the boat, who is driven by the numbers of bums on seats and the public perceptions of the school.   Every one of us has had colleagues who support us, hold our hands, offer chocolate and empathy when it is needed in a way that no one else can because they’ve been there themselves, and those who would rather compete than collaborate.  Every one of us knows the drawn-out staff meetings, the endless professional learning about the-new-best-thing-to-revolutionise-education when we know it’s a case of everything-old-is-new-again, the hours devoted to writing individualised reports that will only get a cursory glance or an angry please-explain phone call. Every one of us has known the partner who doesn’t get that this is a 24/7/365 commitment and the consequent juggling of the needs of family and the needs of kids who see us more than our own do.  Every one of us knows the times we’ve had to miss a family event because of planning and preparation and the endless paperwork that soaks up the hours that are not 9-3.  (I’ve always said that 9-3 is performance time; the other 18 hours are preparing for the performance.)  And the lucky ones among us have taught at Belmora and made lifelong friendships just as we have all experienced Paradise.

Every one of us has walked in the author’s shoes, even if it was to a different destination.

When Gabbie’s brother Phil committed suicide an astute teacher who knew she was hurting but was probably invisible as the rest of her Catholic family wrestled with his death and it implications, told Gabbie that she was a writer and she needed to “write her way through this.”  And just as she did then, so she has done now – working her way through a tale so familiar to those “on the inside” from the child who knew she wanted to teach to one who was outstanding but for whom the cost became too much and the price to pay unbearable.  In a narrative that makes you laugh and cry as you remember, empathise and sympathise, even those who have not been teachers get such a clear insight into the life, struggles and emotions that make up what it is to stand up in front of 30 expectant little people each day, putting yourself aside so that you can help them be the best they can be. 

Will this book change Australia’s public perception of teachers? No – because those who should read it, won’t.  Will it stop the politicians and power-brokers constantly meddling in what teachers should teach? No – because they are too bound up in their own “success” that is dependent on being seen to be fixing things (even when they aren’t broken) and teachers are such easy targets that anything that humanises them is off-limits. So, apart from coming to terms with her own situation, what will Gabbie achieve from this?  I believe it will be something more important – because teachers will read it, recognise themselves,  remember that inner drive that compelled them to teach, review what they do, realise that people are more important than paperwork,  renew their passion and revitalise themselves so they get back to the core of teaching – relationships! 

And that can only be good for the kids in our care.  

When I review children’s books I look for those in which children can see themselves and understand that they, their issues and problems are not unique – they are shared by many others and so they can gain comfort from not being alone, from not being the ‘freak’ they often perceive themselves to be. Teacher is such a mirror.  With many students starting this new term with an unfamiliar face in front of them because yet another teacher has moved on this is a book that needs to be shared widely and discussed in staff meetings.  With long-term tenure in politics so fragile, it is unlikely we are going to extract the meddling fingers of the politicians from our profession – fiddling with education and blaming teachers is a crowd-pleaser – so we need to sit down with our colleagues, have the courage to speak openly, share the issues impacting us and work out strategies that can support each of us now and into the future.  We need to create a collaborative culture that allows for the sharing of problems knowing that there will be support and understanding, not condemnation and a feeling of failure as reality meets ideality, particularly for those less-experienced. Each child belongs to all of us.   “No man is an island…”

Reviewers get to keep the books they review, but instead of this one sitting on my shelf, I’m sending it off to a colleague with instructions for her to pass it on and for it to be passed on and on and on until it falls apart from being read by teachers who are feeling swamped by the system and need a reminder of the personal rather than the public, of the individual rather than the crowd, and the  people they have touched rather than the paperwork which has piled up, of the fact that they are the nurturers of the future rather than the fiction that they are the failures of society. As deputy principal I know she will use it as a catalyst for reflection and discussion in her school and knowing her principal, they will work together to make it a force for improvement.

The author’s final words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching. Teaching left me”.  For Gabbie, the only outcome for her was to leave what she loved so she could become the whole apple again. After devoting over two-thirds of my life to the profession, my words are, “I don’t believe I left teaching.  Teaching left me…proud, privileged, exhilarated, satisfied, fulfilled, with a profound knowledge of how people tick so I can bring out the best in them yet a little saddened that not every teacher can be so positive and not every child can be taught by those who have inspired, guided and mentored me.” For I have been privileged to work with the crème de la crème for most of those 45 years, relationships I still treasure and draw on. 

Teacher gives each of us an opportunity to read, review and reflect on our own stories and write the next chapters so that when that time comes we can say, “Teaching left me…” 

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat's Human Body Odyssey

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Astro Cat’s Human Body Odyssey

Dominic Walliman

Ben Newman

Flying Eye Books, 2018

64pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781911171140

Young readers can join Professor Astro Cat, his helpers Evie, Martha, Gilbert, Felicity and Astro Mouse as they journey through author Dr Dominic Walliman’s body to discover its bits and pieces and how they work. 

Using cartoon-like illustrations, diagrams and simple narrative text that speaks to the reader, this is a wonderful first information book that helps young readers understand what’s under their skin from the very aspects that mean they are alive (they grow and reproduce) through to the minute organisms that combine together to make the organs which in turn work together to make the body work. 

While the explanations are simple, nevertheless they are complete and use the proper language and labels so there is no sense of things being dumbed down for the reader – it fulfils its intention of teaching young people about their bodies, how they work and how to care for them.  Complete with a comprehensive glossary and index so that questions can be answered as the need arises, this is an exciting new addition to the 612 section of your library. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Kensy and Max

Kensy and Max

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kensy and Max – Breaking News

Jacqueline Harvey

Random House Australia, 2018

366pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99  

9780143780656

Imagine getting in a car in one country and waking up in a strange place in another!  That’s the beginning of a whole new adventure for twins Kensy and Max who started their journey in Zermatt, Switzerland and 16 hours later find themselves in the grounds of an unfamiliar mansion in England.  While it seems their carer Fitz knows his way around as he follows an unfamiliar fellow wearing a red dressing gown with matching slippers inside and up the stairs, Max is mystified but the warmth and comfort of a large, soft bed is too tempting and he is soon asleep again.  But when they wake in the morning to find themselves locked in the mystery deepens and the adventures begin…

Breaking News is the first in a new series by the author of both Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series, featuring feisty twins Kensy and Max.  At just 11, Kensy is feisty, impulsive and has two speeds – full-tilt or out-cold – while Max is more measured and perceptive, They are smart and athletic and fiercely competitive, particularly between themselves, but also tough and determined, which seems a perfect combination of characteristics for amateur sleuths who find themselves in a strange and mysterious situation as the real truth about their parents’ employment emerges and they are separated from them for their own safety.

As well as writing another cracking story that will engage independent readers who love a good mystery, Harvey also invites the reader into the story by enabling them to try to solve the clues as they read and using the mysterious Caesar code to encrypt the chapter headings.

With the second in the series, Disappearing Act just weeks away from release this is the perfect time to hook young readers into an intriguing series from one of our best authors for the age group.

 

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea

A First Book of the Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A First Book of the Sea

Nicola Davies

Emily Sutton

Walker Books, 2018 

104pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781406368956

With evocative blank verse poems and stunning watercolour illustrations, Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton take the young reader on an amazing journey to the sea, under it and beyond it in this new anthology that is the third and final in the series.  Beginning with First to See the Sea the reader is immediately engaged because who has not wanted to be the first to see that elusive glimpse of blue as the coast draws nearer and the air sharpens?  

Encapsulating the most common experiences of the ordinary beach-goer in short poems – paddling, building sandcastles,  catching waves, fishing, gathering pebbles, being mesmerised by the lighthouse flashing its warnings- the net is cast wider and wider and explores the creatures beneath the endless waves and in the ocean’s depths from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Those for whom the sea is home, for whom it is their livelihood or an adventure to be conquered, all are featured in words that are as informative as they are picturesque.  And the stunning fold-out of the humpback whale with instructions for singing a whale song is just superb.

If you buy just one poetry anthology this year, this should be it – there is a poem for every day to spark the imagination and the wonderment of the magic that covers more than two-thirds of this planet. As one born and raised by the ocean and a dream to return, this is one book that is staying in my personal collection.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…