Wednesday, December 28, 2011

23rd December Keiko Kasza

Reading Happy Birthday Author blog today I learned that on the 23rd, it was Keiko Kasza's birthday. She is an illustrator that I only have a couple of books by so I was pleased to learn about her and that she has more books for me to search out. She was born in Japan, but lives in the USA and while studying there she learned about Leo Lionni. What a wonderful introduction to children's book illustrating he would have been! On her website there is also a particularly good teacher's guide for many of her picture books.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

25th December Christmas Day

Happy Christmas. It has been a very happy family Christmas here and instead of going to the country, the country cousins have come to us for the first time. Despite dire long-term predictions, the weather was warm and we ate our hot lunch outside. But it was not a scorcher, there were no bushfires and we did not swim. In fact the only words from C.J. Dennis' A Bush Christmas that applied were
Ah, well," says Dad.  "I got to say I never spent a lazier day."
This poem first published in the Herald on Christmas Eve in 1931 tells the story of an outback family who invite a lonely neighbour to join them for Christmas. Although it is a hot day, and the family struggles with heat and the hardships of rural life they enjoy the neighbour's tales of Christmas in the colder climate of the Northern hemisphere. This poem has been made accessible to young children through Dee Huxley's illustrated picture book. It depicts a Christmas that is far removed from the urban, multicultured Christmas most of us enjoy, but it is good to be reminded of rural Australia and what it was like for early settlers.

Friday, December 16, 2011

13th December Russell Hoban RIP

Terrible news. Russell Hoban has died aged 86. Together with Dick King Smith this means two greats of the Children's Literature world have gone this year, one at the beginning of the year (January 5) and the other at the end.

I get so much pleasure watching and listening to children when I read Hoban's Whitbread prize winner How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and my favourite Ace Dragon Ltd to them. They are also very animated about the Frances stories because they realise that Frances is really them not a badger.

Perhaps publishers will acknowledge Hoban's great contribution to children's books by reissuing Ace Dragon Ltd and I will pay homage to him by watching the wonderful Glenda Jackson movie of his book Turtle Diary.

Monday, December 12, 2011

14th December Whose view?

Yesterday while writing and thinking about nativity stories, I realised how many there were where the narrator was an onlooker at the birth of Jesus and how often this was an animal. This is an interesting way to add some new interest to a well-known story. It allows the reader to look anew, to move their focus and to see different perspectives of an event.

I particularly like Michael Foreman's Cat in the Manger. I love the illustrations and the way they move the focus. I love Foreman's use of the colour 'blue', not a colour that you necessarily think of when you think of the nativity story and I like that the narrator is a cat, not the donkey, a sheep or a cow, animals you expect in the stable.

But there are others:
The Witness: A Christmas Story by Robert Westall and Sophy Williams is also told from a cat's point of view. Here the cat is looking for somewhere to have her kittens and she finds a stable, the one where Mary is about to also give birth. The cat witnesses the birth and forms a bond with the family.
On This Special Night by Claire Freedman and Simon Mendez. Here a mother cat and her kitten are asleep in their own barn when they are visited by other animals who are travelling to see a bright star in the sky. They too decide to set off to see what the star is for and they learn that it is indeed a special night.
Room For a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell and Jason Cockcroft. Here Kind Ox invites all weary travellers to share the stable, including Old Dog, Stray Cat, Small Mouse and Tired Donkey who is carrying Mary by saying, "There's always room for a little one here."
The Ox and the Donkey: A Christmas Story by Gunter Spang and Loek Koopmans. Here there is a lazy ox who eats more than his share of the food and a gentle donkey sharing the stable. When Mary and Joseph arrive, their kindness transforms the ox into a decent caring animal and the protagonists who were enemies, inspired by the miracle of Christmas become friends.
Home For Christmas by Sally Grindley and Karin Littlewood. Unlike the others, here the focus is on a homeless child who sees Mary and Joseph at a market in the village and he wonders what it would be like to experience the warmth of a family. During the night he is awakened by a crying child and a bright light. This story explores the themes of home, family and belonging in more than one way.

While none of these books offer anything amazingly new, they are all by well known and revered picture book authors and illustrators, they do offer a different slant, a more personal touch for readers to connect to, each is specifically designed for a very young audience and each has very beautiful artwork which adds to the specialness of the event.

13th December

An Australian Christmas Part 2.
Two Australian books that look at the nativity story:
1. The Nativity by Julie Vivas
In this book Julie Vivas has illustrated the nativity story using the Gospel of St Luke from the King James Bible version with characters who look very human and earthy. There is no mistaking Mary's pregnancy and there is no doubt that Julie Vivas is the illustrator. This book was first published in 1986 and has had many reissues with numerous covers. The biblical language is old fashioned and may be hard for very young children to understand but those who know the story are more than absorbed by the illustrations and the lull of the reader's voice. Who can resist an angel in Dr Martens? What joy!

It is interesting that a new, albeit not illustrated by an Australian, nativity story has been issued this year (The Story of Christmas by Pamela Dalton), so many years later, that also uses the King James version and relies on its amazing illustrations to relay the magic and awe of the birth of Jesus. Publishers must still think it is relevant.

2. Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
This is a modern twist on the nativity story set in Australia among droughts and bushfires and told from a pig, Applesauce's point of view. The text is so far removed from that in the Julie Vivas story, but the analogy is not missed by very young children and we had fun listing the similarities and differences.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12th December

For many schools in Australia this is the last full week of school before the summer holidays. Most classes will be reading about Christmas in other parts of the world where there is snow, it is green and probably cold. It is wet here at the moment and for the first time in many years it is green, there are not water restrictions, there is not the threat of bushfires and there isn't drought. Usually Rain for Christmas by Richard Tulloch and Wayne Harris is what I get out to share with classes each Christmas, but this year it is time for a change.

So what to read at Christmas that is Australian? Today some fun, tomorrow those with a more serious message.

New this year is the third book about that wombat, Mothball, Christmas Wombat. Here Santa's reindeer have to fight with Mothball for the carrots that the children left out for them. Mothball then gets to ride on the sleigh and as always Mothball is causing mischief. It seems as if wombats are a hit at Christmas as this follows the success of Mem Fox and Kerry Argent's Wombat Divine and Michael Dugan's Wombats Don't Have Christmas.

Also by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley and also about those characters from Shaggy Gully is Emily and the Big Bad Bunyip. Here Emily the emu is determined to make grumpy bunyip smile and be happy on Christmas Day. This book is joyous and noisy and fun to share with preschoolers who want to make tuba noi

Grug and his First Christmas by Ted Prior is one in a very long series of books about Grug, a creature created from the top of a native Australian burrawang tree. Hard to explain to someone who hasn't read a Grug book before, but Grug and his friends make good reading and he has a dedicated following of young readers.

And the last one about an animal, albeit not an Australian animal, I Love Christmas by Anna Walker. This is one in a wonderful series of books for very young children. The magic and excitement of Christmas is brought to the fore through rhyme and by Ollie, a zebra who loves wrapping presents, making decorations and partaking in all the Christmas preparations. A good starting point for discussions and writing about what the children in your class like about Christmas.

And a non-animal one that also has illustrations by Anna Walker is Santa's Aussie Holiday by Maria Farrer. In this story Santa goes on a well-deserved holiday. He travels around Australia visiting places such as the Great Barrier Reef and Rottnest Island that everyone wants to visit.