Thursday, April 29, 2010

2nd May Mairi Hedderwick (1939)

Mairi Hedderwick is the Scottish author and illustrator of the Katie Morag series of books. Katie lives on the fictional Isle of Struay and has several adventures which often include her two grandmothers, Grannie Island and Granma Mainland. Read more about her, the characters in the books and see a complete list of the Katie Morag books including a novel as well as the picture books at

1st May Mother Goose Day!

Another month down! I've now done 3 months. Today is Mother Goose Day, a day to re-appreciate nursery rhymes. They may have once been seen as inconsequential rhymes, but now we see them as an important part of oral history and literature.

Nursery rhymes are often the first exposure children have to the rhythm and rhyme of language. They are fun. For generations children have laughed at Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall, Jack and Jill falling down and pies full of blackbirds. Babies laugh when someone play This Little Piggie on their toes!

Nursery rhymes
• introduce children to story structure in its simplest form. There is an orientation - Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater has a wife. There is a problem - He's having trouble keeping her. And, there is a resolution - He puts her in a pumpkin shell and there he keeps her very well.

• introduce children to a cast of characters who are going to keep reappearing throughout their reading life. You cannot enjoy and fully comprehend books such as Ahlberg's Each Peach Pear Plum, Anholt's Seriously Silly Rhymes and Libby Hathorn's Over the Moon if you don't get the allusions to nursery rhymes.

• enrich children's vocabulary. They use words that may no longer be in everyday use, but are still useful to know. It is your chance to explain words such as 'pail' (Jack and Jill); 'lean' (Jack Sprat); 'curds', 'whey', 'tuffet' (Little Miss Muffet).

• encourage thinking skills. Many of them are riddles e.g.As I was going to St Ives.

Many of the parents I interact with, feel that their children are past nursery rhymes, but it is not until they are able to read them for themselves that they can have maximum fun with them. They can now play with them, innovate on them, corrupt them etc. They can change Baa Baa Black Sheep to Moo Moo brown cow, Have you any milk? Yes Ma'am, Yes Ma'am, Three buckets filled. They can corrupt them as has happened in playground rhymes such as those in June Factor's books such as Far Out Brussell Sprout where Hickory Dickory Dock becomes
Hickory, dickory, dock,
Two mice ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
And the other got away.

Dig out all the Nursery Rhyme collections and encourage activities such as:
* compare how different illustrators depict the same character. Make sure you include older anthologies such as a Kate Greenaway one with a newer one such as a Rosemary Wells one. Which illustrator's picture most closely matches the one you have in your head?
* play games with the rhymes such as charades, who am I, and what is the next line?
* do some cooking or eating. Introduce children to curds and whey (an old term for cottage cheese) or peas porridge (a thick pea soup).
* research the origin of specific rhymes. Who was Mother Goose? Who was Old King Cole?
But, the best thing to do is to read aloud from an extensive collection of rhymes and find some that are new to you and the children.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

30th April Paul Jennings (1943) Sven Nordqvist (1946) Nadia Wheatley (1949)

Sven Nordqvist is a Swedish author/illustrator. I first experienced his work when I purchased Pancakes For Findus for the library. It was published by New Zealand Gecko Press and I had purchased other books of theirs that had been popular in the library so I bought it too. Gecko Press translates and publishes good books from international authors and illustrators where the original book usually isn't written in English. Since this purchase I have learned that there are other books about farmer Pettson and his cat Findus and I have added these to the library as well. The illustrations are warm and humorous and add immensely to the text. It is a fitting book to read on Sven's birthday as in this story Pettson is making pancakes for Findus' birthday!

Paul Jennings is almost an Australian institution! I don't know for sure, but if they were looking for
the Australian author who has sold the most books I think Paul Jennings would be up there on that list. His books are extremely popular with children and libraries. As you can imagine his Rascal books are a huge hit in my Early Childhood library with the beginner readers. Look at Paul's website to see what rascals these dragons can be.

The first Paul Jennings story I ever read to a class was Flutter about a budgerigar going up a vacuum cleaner. It was a huge success with my male poor-readers in Year 5. It had cult status by the end of that year. For those boys it was the start of seeing a purpose for reading, even if it was only to read more Paul Jennings books. For me, Paul Jennings is a reading guru and I was so happy when he published his parent reference The Reading Bug...And How You Can Help Your Child to Catch It. I have used it at parent sessions and if you haven't seen it, you have to check out the cartoons at least.

Nadia Wheatley needs a whole entry to herself. Why is there so much on the 30th April? Nadia is an accomplished Australian author of a wide range of books from amazing novels, such as the historical The House That was Eureka for young adults, inspiring novels such as Lucy in the Leap Year and Five Times Dizzy for primary-school students, picture books such as Highway and Luke's Way of Looking for younger readers. And then to top all of these off she is the author of My Place, which I wrote about on its illustrator, Donna Rawlin's birthday and the co-author of Going Bush, a collaborative project where eight inner-city schools got to learn much more about themselves and their environment. And, if like me, you are a school librarian then you will always read The Greatest Treasure of Charlemagne the King to classes during Library Week just in case they are not convinced about the wisdom and joys of books.

And talking about the joy of books, last year while I was in America I bought a beautiful book called Book Fiesta! I didn't know anything about the author or illustrator. I just loved its vibrancy and exuding joy for books. When I got home I found out that the author Pat Mora had initiated Children's Day Book Day as an annual family literacy event some years ago and that this book is about celebrating Dia, as it is known, an abbreviation of the Spanish El dia de los ninos/El dia de los libros for this event. This day, celebrated on 30th April by libraries, schools and homes in America highlights
the joy of reading in all cultures and in all languages, highly appropriate then to be looking at a Swedish author and an Australian author who both see reading and writing as being integral to life!

29th April Jill Paton Walsh (1937)

When I was at school, there didn't seem to be that many books specifically for children, but at High School I read Fireweed and Goldengrove and then had to read more by Jill Paton Walsh. She seem to know exactly what girls my age wanted to read! She is a very versatile British author who writes for adults, teens and very young children and in a variety of genres. I don't have many of her books in my library as it caters for children under eight, but she does do picture books. We have three
Connie Came to Play illustrated by Stephen Lambert
When I Was Little Like You illustrated by Stephen Lambert and
When Grandma Came illustrated by Sophy Williams
Each of these looks at close family connections and reinforces themes pertinent to the very young.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

28th April Amy Hest

I read somewhere that today was Amy Hest's birthday, but I can't confirm it and I do not know what year she was born in. Nevertheless, today is a good day to talk about her contribution to children's literature. She is well known to my clientele because of Sam and Baby Duck. Sam is a small bear who interacts with his mother in Kiss Good Night; Don't You Feel Well, Sam? and You Can Do It, Sam doing all the things that a young child does to and with his mother. They are made even better by Anita Jeram's bright illustrations. Similarly, the Baby Duck books are anthropomorphological. In them, Baby Duck learns to swim (You Can Swim, Baby Duck!), comes to terms with wearing glasses (Baby Duck and the New Eyeglasses), going to school (Off to School, Baby Duck) and other everyday events in a young child's life. With these Amy has been very fortunate to have Jill Barton as the illustrator because she adds 'charm' and humour to everyday life.

As well as these two series Amy has many single titles worth seeking out, the best of which are the P.J. Lynch illustrated When Jessie Came Across the Sea and The Friday Nightsof Nana. The first tells the story of thirteen year old Jessie who emigrates from east Europe to America, so it is for
an older, more sophisticated audience than many of Amy Hest's other books. The second is a wonderful way to introduce non-Jewish children to the specialness of the Friday night Sabbath family celebration.

27th April Ludwig Bemelmans (1898 - 1962) John Burningham (1936) Barbara Park (1947)

A big day, three birthdays, and two of them are 'heavies' in children's literature, Ludwig Bemelmans of Madeline fame and John Burningham of Mr Gumpy fame.

"In a little house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines...the smallest one was Madeline", so begins each of the Madeline books and little girls all over the world, no doubt can say it and thus read it, long before they can read the rest of each book. It is the 'hook' that pulls you in! While I have lots of questions I would like to ask Bemelmans, such as why are these girls living with a nun called Miss, rather than Sister? Having taught in Catholic schools I was always asked this one, but practicalities aside they are still popular stories, made more popular by television.

Las year Will Hillenbrand published a new picture book called Louie! which is a biography of Bemelmans' life. For me it is unfortunate that he made Louie a pig because although adults get that the book is biographical, it isn't transparent enough for children and Bemelmans did have quite an exciting life in France before emigrating to America. It appears from this story that the vine covered house comes from Bemelmans' mother's childhood.

Now to the English author/illustrator John Burningham. How many illustrators win the coveted Kate Greenaway Medal with their first book? Burningham did with one of my favourite stories, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose Without Feathers. His books are amazing and have so much depth! They appeal to a very wide audience and work well with approaches such as Aidan Chambers' Tell Me Framework, Bloom's Taxonomy, and QAR. They certainly encourage children to think. Come Away From the Water, Shirley and Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley, Granpa and Oi! Get Off Our Train are good places to start. He has even written about himself in a beautifully illustrated autobiography, so much better than someone else illustrating his life. Another thing I like about Burningham is that he is married to Helen Oxenbury. Their approach to early childhood illustration could hardly be more different but I would like to be a 'fly on the wall' at their house while they are working.

And lastly Barbara Park, the American author who is well-known in my library because of Junie B. Jones a series of books that starts when Junie starts kindergarten and then follows her through many misadventures to Book 18 when she starts first grade and the remainder of the books follow her Year 1 exploits. While they are liked by children, many of the parents I deal with don't like that they are very American, Junie's language is not good in that it is often grammatically incorrect and she doesn't always make good choices. Read some for yourself and see what you think.


26th April Patricia Reilly Giff (1935)

Patricia Reilly Giff writes novels which have been Newbery Honor books and she is responsible for the Polk Street School series of readers, but I first met her when I started teaching because of her character, Ronald Morgan, a second-grader who everything goes wrong for in Today Was a Terrible Day. That year I had a child who always seemed to be having 'bad days' and I introduced him to Ronald and Alexander from Judith Viorst's Alexander's Terrible, Horrible, No-good, Very Bad Day and we used to joke about how Ronald nearly always rescued the situation, like he does in The Almost Awful School Play. Now when I get the Ronald Morgan books off the shelf, I think that they are dated and not the sort of picture book that a child would choose to take without some prompting, but nevertheless, Patricia's books, especially her newer ones still have a place in children's lives. As she says " "I want to see children curled up with books, finding an awareness of themselves as they discover other people's thoughts. I want them to make the connection that books are people's stories, that writing is talking on paper, and I want them to write their own stories. I'd like my books to provide that connection for them."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

25th April Anzac Day, Walter de la Mare (1873 - 1956) David Kirk (1955)


Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Some one came knocking,
I'm sure - sure - sure;
I listened, I opened,
I looked to left and right,
But naught there was a-stirring
In the still dark night;
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.

English poet Walter de la Mare was the first poet I remember learning a poem of verbatim. It was called Someone and I can still quote half of it decades later. It obviously had impact. The children at school love it when I can say a poem without a book or text in front of me. I was also interested to read that he believed that there was no such thing as a good poem for children, only a poem that children could understand.

David Kirk is the author/illustrator of the Miss Spider series of books. Miss Spider is a vegetarian spider who only eats flowers!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

24th April Evaline Ness (1911 - 1986) Dorothy Butler (1925) Margaret Wild (1948)

I know very little about illustrator Evaline Ness, except that she is responsible for the Caldecott Medal winner Sam Bangs and Moonshine. This book is about a girl, Sam and her cat Bangs. She tells stories and one of these gets her into trouble. The resulting dilemma brings could bring up a discussion about morality or ethics. The book is dated, but still worthwhile. The illustrations are better than the text. The tone of the illustrations change as the tone of the story changes and they do get quite dark in places. Ness does cats really well!

Dorothy Butler, a New Zealand author and educationalist is probably better known for what she has written about books, children and reading than she
is for her picture books. I had read Cushla and her Books while I was at university and then years later, j
ust befor
e I had my first child I was introduced to her book, Babies Need Books. I used it in my consultancy work when running parent information evenings. I consulted it often to see what books Dorothy recommended, and I gave a copy of it to every friend who was having a baby. Then as my children grew I read the sequel Five to Eight. The library still has copies of these books in the parent reference section, and yes while the reading lists are no longer
current and the books maybe out of print, the theories and the sentiments expressed are as pertinent as ever. Used with current books which recommend book titles, such as Daniel Hahn's The Ultimate First Book Guide and the new Julia Eccleshare's 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up you can't go wrong.

And thirdly, it is prolific Australian picture book author Margaret Wild's birthday. It is hard to know what to say about her as she has done so much. She isn't afraid to tackle difficult themes. She has so much variety and because her stories are illustrated by a large number of different illustrators there is not a sameness about her books. My favourite is Fox, but Midnight Babies and The Pocket Dogs are most popular with the very young children.

P.S. What a wonderful birthday present for Margaret Wild, her book Harry and Hopper illustrated by Freya Blackwood has just made the shortlist for the Kate Greenaway medal! Freya's beautiful illustrations are certainly up against some interesting competition...Chris Riddell, David Roberts, Oliver Jeffers and Satoshi Kitamura among them.

23rd April William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

I often get requests from parents about reading Shakespeare to or with their young children. While I have mixed feelings about starting too young and putting children off or about reading versions in modern English, I have had to get over that because parents were doing it anyway. So now I keep picture book versions of some of the stories and the small 'reader' type versions from Orchard and Usborne. The Orchard books by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross have been around longer and they have been a big success. They make Shakespeare's stories accessible to children as young as seven or eight. The library's copy of the Usborne Midsummer Night's Dream though, is probably the most popular of the lot!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

22nd April Earth Day Kurt Wiese (1887 - 1974)

Today is Earth Day, but I wrote about it yesterday. Today I want to focus on the illustrator Kurt Wiese. Every child I teach would know him because of Marjorie Flack's The Story of Ping and Claire Huchet Bishop's The Five Chinese Brothers. I share these with Kindergarten during a unit of work which I call 'oldies, but goodies'. They are books they wouldn't pick up themselves because 'of their colour' or because 'they're old-fashioned', but once I have read them to them, these books become favourites. His Happy Easter also has its moment of glory as part of the Easter display each year.

While reading about him I was surprised to learn that German-born Wiese spent time living in Australia. The website for the James A. Michener Museum says, "On the outbreak of WWI, he was captured by the Japanese, and turned over to the British. He spent five years as a prisoner, most of them in Australia, where his fascination for the animal life inspired him to start sketching." After the war and a change in career Wiese became an animator and illustrator and moved eventually to America where he won the Caldecott Award twice.

21st April

Tomorrow is Earth Day, which is a global movement. This April is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. From its inception it has aimed to create awareness of environmental issues and to have people appreciate the Earth's environment. The initial success of the
first Earth Day is seen as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

There are an abundance of children's books which would be appropriate to share on this day. Any that I have already recommended for
World Wetlands Day (3rd Feb), Clean Up Australia Day (7th Mar) or World Water Day (22nd Mar) would do. You could choose non-fiction books about any environmental issue such as global warming, shrinking habitat, endangered species, etc, but with my young clientele I have chosen to highlight two beautiful non-fiction books which require readers to respond to nature with wonder and awe and which make you want to ensure that the natural phenomena of the Earth continue ad infinitum. The two books An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy are by the same author (Dianna Hutts Aston) and illustrator (Sylvia Long) team, and once you have seen these two books you will hope that they have more in mind.

These books are beautiful, full of description and adjectives but remain scientific. There is a myriad of lesson plans using them on the web. The publisher, Chronicle issued them with teachers notes.

Monday, April 19, 2010

20th April Mary Hoffman (1945)

Mary Hoffman is a very versatile author. I love Amazing Grace and the way it tackles sexism and racism sensitively. Grace is a character, that my children readily warm to, once I share the book with them. They will then borrow Grace and Her Family and Princess Grace for themselves. The children I teach have very little experience of children with very dark skin. Unlike teaching in America or Britain, in suburban Sydney where school is they would rarely meet a child who looks like Grace. All the more reason they need to read books such as those by Mary Hoffman.

Another book by Mary, The Colour of Home looks at an Islamic refugee family and what it is like for the family starting life in a new place. Once again not an experience my children have first-hand, but reading this story and sharing Hassan's experiences elicits many questions and much discussion.

Today while looking on the shelves for other books by Mary Hoffman, I was reminded that another book that I really like, Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is also written by her. Like the Leonardo book I wrote about, this is a fictionalised account of Callimachus, the Royal Librarian of Alexandria who takes his apprentice, Philip on a journey around the Mediterranean to visit the seven wonders. It includes factual information embedded in the narrative, but together with M.P. Robertson's illustrations it makes an awe-inspiring read for children who are used to travelling by plane and looking at modern buildings.

19th April

There isn't any birthday to highlight today. Instead I thought I would alert you to two books suitable for sharing with a very young audience for Anzac Day which is coming up next Sunday, 25th April. While there are non-fiction books giving factual information, such as Jill Bruce's Anzac Day, imparting it as 'dry information' to young children is always hard. It is always easier to make it significant by relating it to their experiences and these two books view Anzac Day from a young child's perspective, something that they may also have experienced and be happy to talk about. My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day by Catriona Hoy and Benjamin Johnson, is Australian and relates a young girl's account of how and why her grandfather takes part in the Anzac Day march. Grandad's Medals is by New Zealanders Tracy Duncan and Bruce Potter. Its narrator is a young boy and while it is a longer story that includes more than just the Anzac march it also does look at the march and how it affects the grandfather and the family. I am not particularly fond of the illustrations in either book. Compared to other illustrators I have written about , these two are not in the league. However the books are not great literary tomes either. They are perfectly serviceable picture books written for a purpose and they do that well!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

18th April Leigh Hobbs (1953)

Leigh Hobbs is an Australian author, artist, cartoonist and the creator of the Old Tom series of books about an endearing cat (aka a seven year old boy) that lives with Angela Throgmorton (aka the mother figure). He also has other characters of note - Horrible Harriet, Fiona the Pig and Mr Chicken. There is nothing I can say about Leigh that he hasn't said himself in his comprehensive and creative website. Check it out! Also there are teaching notes for his Old Tom books at the Puffin website.

17th April

No birthday, so I thought I'd focus on a couple of books that are excellent resources for Autumn. They both happen to be by author/illustrator Lois Ehlert and it isn't her birthday until November when you will have missed the chance to use them at an opportune time for discussions that connect the reader with their own experiences of Autumn. The books are Leaf Man and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf. The first has as a main character a man made from collected autumn leaves, who has to go where the wind blows him. Making a collage of a leaf man is something that would be fun to do as a follow-up-to-reading or before-reading activity. The second book, Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf follows a maple leaf through the seasons. The illustrations are a visual feast!

Lois Ehlert would be on my list of top ten picture book illustrators. I love her books, the collage, the bright colours, the large print and labelling. Often they have die-cut pages and unusual shapes or cutouts. They are easy to use as a literature focus, a science focus or even an art/craft focus. Earth Day is coming up and most of her books emphasise the natural world and show Lois' passion for it. She has also done sufficient books to make her a good choice for an author study.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

16th April Garth Williams (1912 - 1996)

Garth Williams was the illustrator for many books that are now classics. His first illustrating job was E.B White's Stuart Little. He went on to illustrate Charlotte's Web and the Little House on the Prairie books.

For me, he is an expert at anthropomorphising animals, so I was very pleased when I read this in an article by Gordon Campbell, "a critic once called Williams the Rembrandt of animal portrait artists...The creatures in his drawings are fully
animal, but the human emotions they are expressing are also palpably and vividly present."

I especially like his rabbits in The Rabbit's Wedding and Randall Jarrell's The Gingerbread Rabbit. I didn't know that The Rabbit's Wedding was controversial at its time of publication because a black rabbit marries a white rabbit at a time when interracial marriage was 'frowned upon'. When I read it to children we all just see it as a nice story about rabbits!

I also find it interesting that my favourite of Russell Hoban's Frances books is Bedtime For Frances, the only one illustrated by Garth Williams. I thought it was the story, but maybe my subconscious likes the story because of the Williams' illustrations.

Monday, April 12, 2010

15th April Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1459 ) Pamela Freeman (1960)

It is Leonardo da Vinci's birthday! Year 2 where I teach undertake an extensive enquiry of his life, inventions and artwork. They thoroughly enjoy it and make some wonderful discoveries. The library has a very large collection of books to support this unit, but the newest book is the one I want to highlight here - Leonardo Da Vinci by Steve Augarde and Leo Brown. It has a subtitle on its front cover - Discover the world of Leonardo through his apprentice's diary - and that is exactly how its starts, as a diary written by ten year old Paola who tells about his life between 1490 and 1498. When the diary finishes with the painting of the Last Supper, then there are some other sections about what happened next, a timeline of Leonardo's life, information about the Renaissance and Italy at the time, information about his inventions and paintings. It is comprehensive but not overpowering for young readers. It is a highly visual book, albeit without great illustrations, it includes reproductions of Leonardo's drawings and paintings and its presentation is done in a fun way.

Now to the birthday of someone who is very much alive, Pamela Freeman, an Australian author who is writing books for young people many of which draw them into the fantasy genre and make them make connections with other things that they have read. Most popular of her books are Victor's Quest and its sequel Victor's Challenge. Dr Freeman teaches writing courses and visits schools enthusing children about writing. Learn more about her at her website.

14th April Titanic Hits Iceberg 1912

I find it hard to believe how interested children are in the Titanic. They don't seem that keen about other aspects of history. Is it because it was a disaster? Whatever the reason, there was a time when books about the Titanic were the most borrowed books in the library. Year 2 boys would be squabbling over who was having which book next. They are not the most borrowed at the moment, but some of them are still very popular and we have at least ten different titles. Among the more popular books are:
Story of the Titanic by Steve Noon
The Story of the Titanic by Deborah Heiligman
Titanic by Anna Claybourne & Katie Daynes
Survivors; The Night the Titanic Sank by Caryn Jenner
Polar the Titanic Bear by Daisy Corning Stone Spedden, and
Tonight on the Titanic Mary Pope Osborne

13th April Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell is a British illustrator/author whose books often seem to turn reality on its head. He has a zany sense of humour and immense creativity in his books. He works closely with Paul Stewart on several series of novels for primary-school-aged children, but he has done picture books and the Ottoline books by himself. The third Ottoline will come this year.

Two of his picture books that are fail-proof with children are The Emperor of Absurdia and Mr Underbed. Both of these are full of amazing imaginary creatures that appear to be so friendly that no child would ever be scared.
There is minimal text, but detailed illustrations with plenty to look at and wonder about... such as umbrella trees, sky fish and dinner coming before lunch.

If you want to walk around smiling all day go to Chris' website and read the section about him and then go into fun stuff and watch him draw while he chats.