Friday, June 29, 2012

1st July Scarecrow Day

The first Sunday in July is Build a Scarecrow Day, not something I have any experience of, but would like to, because it looks like fun. Recently a teacher came to the library to borrow a 'book with straw' in it. She had been sharing The Three Little Pigs and the class were going to construct buildings from straw, sticks and bricks. The children had asked lots of questions about straw and she wanted more resources to share with them. Well where to start? I looked in books about farms, found scarecrows and then went looking for more books with scarecrows and came up with a few. Our city children had little knowledge of straw or scarecrows.

Reading up on them I found that they have existed for a long time and that many farming communities have festivals where children can enjoy making them. This little book, How To Make a Scarecrow by Kim Wilde which is part of the Collins Big Cat Readers is textless but has lots of pictorial inspiration. Ken Brown seems to draw the best scarecrows in picture books. In my library I found The Scarecrow's Hat by him and Tattybogle by Sandra Horn and Ken Brown both of which gave the children some ideas about straw and what it could be used for.

30th June Malachy Doyle (1954) Petr Horacek (1967)

I was going to write about something else but when I looked at the date, I felt compelled to write about two books I have read recently by authors who have their birthday today.

Firstly, Malachy Doyle.
I have been searching out books to use with my preschoolers while the Olympics are on. I looked for books about races, sports, good sportsmanship etc and came across Digger and Lew by Malachy Doyle and Daniel Howarth. Digger is a mole and Lollopy Lew, a hare. The story starts a bit like the hare and the tortoise with the hare bragging and the mole being annoyed by his behaviour. Digger, the mole comes up with a plan to beat Lew. What happens will give readers plenty to discuss. Did mole cheat? Is what he did ethical?

I plan to use this together with books such as The Hare and the Tortoise, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, (Narelle Oliver), The Race (Christobel Mattingley) and Lightning Fred (Dick King Smith) to have some lively discussions.

Secondly, Petr Horacek.
Jonathan and Martha is Horacek's newest picture book and like all of his books, this too has stunning illustrations using wonderful collage. This is the story of two worms who both find the same pear. Like Digger and Lew they agree to share and eventually become friends. It too then has an ideal message for the children I teach.

29th June Beanie Festival

Alice Springs has just held their annual Beanie Festival and it never ceases to amaze me what some people can make from wool. There are beanies that take book characters has their starting point. There are yet others that tell a whole story. A beanie depicting The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a winner. There was another depicting The Rainbow Serpent. One lady even managed to fit the whole of Ned Kelly's Gang on a beanie.

One of the book displays last term was of all the books in the library about knitting and yarn. The newest inclusion was Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. This story celebrates a young girl, Annabelle's ingenuity as she goes about changing her monochromatic world by knitting for everyone. This book has also just won The Boston Globe-Horn Award for excellence in children's literature, but it was very hard to move off the shelf in my library. Compared to the colourful covers of other books it just did not appeal to my young audience. I will need to do more to sell it.

While on the subject of wool though, I need to tell you that two six year old boys in my Book Club were having a quiet chuckle and discussion about a page in Nadia Shireen's Good Little Wolf where the little wolf has wrapped the big wolf in wool.
I can't find it to show you so you'll have to find the book. It is funny and highly improbable and thus appealing. The book also has a good ending, one that not many authors would risk in this day and age for this age group!

Friday, June 22, 2012

22nd June Refugee Week

It is the last day of Refugee Week and there has been another boat capsize off the coast of Christmas Island and more brave people seeking asylum have perished at sea. Fitting then that the book today is Ziba Came On a Boat by Liz Lofthouse and Robert Ingpen.

This story begins:

Ziba came on a boat. A soggy old fishing boat

That creaked and moaned as it rose and fell,
Rose and fell, across an endless sea…

The people are adrift somewhere in the middle of the ocean and Ziba is a little girl who is on the boat with her mother. They are escaping the violence of war and searching for a new country. The illustrations are dark and the people look unhappy, but there are excerpts where memories of their village surface and hope shines through.

This is a deep topic for young children, but a better way to learn about the trials of other children in the world than watching the news or seeing the newspapers. It is a stunning book that appeals to a very wide audience, even adults. It stays with you long after you read it and it resurfaces for me every time another refugee boat makes the news.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

21st June International Surfing Day

Wikipedia says that International Surfing Day is held annually on or near the date of the summer solstice (which is the winter solstice in Australia). It is usually the 21st June, except in leap years when it is on the 20th. This day is designed to celebrate the sport of surfing, the surfing lifestyle and the sustainability of ocean resources. Another purpose is to attract new participants to surfing.

This new book Surfer Chick by Kristy Dempsey and Henry Cole is bound to enthuse young children and to make them think about giving surfing a go. If you haven't got the book look at the trailer. Once I watched this trailer I went in search of more information about Kristy Dempsey and found an interview with her on the Nerdy Chicks Rule blog. Wow she is one special woman! A school librarian who says,
"I am addicted to matching the right book to the right person. I work as a librarian at a Preschool-12th grade school and I love being able to put the right book – you know the one that will addict them to reading– in the hands of my students."
Every school library and every student needs a librarian like her! I am flat out doing it for my 3 to 8 year olds. I can't imagine doing it for 3 to 18 year olds!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

21st June Refugee Week

Today I want to introduce The Whispering Cloth: a refugee's story by Pegi Deitz Shea and illustrated by Anita Riggio. Some of the illustrations are stitched in the Hmong storycloth style by You Yang. This story is set in a refugee camp in Thailand and it is the story of Mai, a young Hmong girl who embroiders pa'ndau story cloths with her grandmother. The women in this refugee camp sit, sew and tell stories about their lives back in Laos and before that in China. They make the cloths to make money. Mai who knows no other home longs to go to the United States to join her cousins. She starts doing parts of her grandmother's cloths but soon does the whole of cloths herself. She is very gifted at stitching and storytelling. This picture book is all the more poignant for the foreword explaining the Hmong people and the refugee camps of Thailand.

Pegi Deitz Shea has also used Mai's story to write a novel, Tangled Threads.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

20th June World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day and there will never be a better day to focus on children, their needs and why they shouldn't be in detention centres. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his comment for today:

"...Despite budget constraints everywhere, we must not turn away from those in need. Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help."

When we look at a book such as Amnesty International's We Are All Born Free and see the inspiring artwork by many well-known children's book illustrators that has been used to illustrate each of the United Nations' Rights of the Child, we can't help but feel very privileged to have the life we have and to see that every child needs to live a good unencumbered life. If you don't have this book to share with your children, your library may have Unicef's For Every Child which also introduces children to their rights.

If neither of these books is available, look for a picture book such as Brigitte Weninger and Eve Tharlet's A Child is a Child which stresses for readers that it doesn't matter whose child you are, you still have the right to a family, care and comfort. In the story Mama and Papa frog are missing and the baby frogs are scared and alone. Mr. Mole, Mr. Hedgehog, and Mrs. Blackbird don’t know what to do. Then along comes Mrs. Mouse with her five babies, and she says she’ll look after the froglets. The adults remind her that mice and frogs are different, to which she replies: “A child is a child.” She sends Mr. Hedgehog for some worms, Mr. Mole to dig a burrow, and Mrs. Blackbird to fetch a bathtub-waterbed for the little orphans. In no time, the froglets are happy and playing with their new mouse siblings. While this is simplistic, and some preschoolers might be worried about parents who don't come home, in a discerning teacher's hands this story offers hope and shows children that even if children look different, behave differently or come from somewhere else, they have the same needs as them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

19th June Refugee Week

Day 3 of Refugee Week. Today I have chosen three picture books that highlight the difficulties children have when starting school in an environment that is very different from the one they have left.
1. My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed
Near the beginning the text reads,'Sangoel's father was killed in the war in Sudan. His family had to run from the fighting in the middle of the night. Sangoel was a refugee. He did not have a home. He did not have a country.' Straight away there is so much to discuss with children and the chance for readers to immediately empathise with Sangoel. He moves to America and his peers and teachers struggle to say his name correctly. Amazingly he is strong enough to solve this problem for himself and his positive step becomes a rebus activity for the whole class. The children I have shared this book with all wanted to do the rebus activity with their own name and while this may appear tokenistic, they all remember Sangoel and this book.

2. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
This book is also about names and classmates having problems pronouncing it. Uhei (Yoo-hay) is Korean and feels the pressure to choose an anglicised name. Unlike Sangoel, initially she thinks about it, but finally decides to keep her own name. This book is not as inspiring as the previous one but still worth reading and discussing. There are some great discussion starters for this book here. This book could also be used in conjunction with My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits to look at connections between texts.

3. Marianthe's Story by Aliki
This book is very novel. It is made up of two stories, Painted Stories and Spoken Memories. One story is at each end of the book. Like Uhei and Sangoel, Marianthe moves to school in America and doesn't understand English, but she is very good at drawing. In Painted Stories her teacher asks her to paint and then allows her to share her paintings with the class and in this way they come to appreciate what she is experiencing. In the Spoken Memories end is Marianthe's lifestory and how she came to go to America.

18th June Refugee Week

Day 2 of Refugee Week! Australian authors and illustrators have excelled at producing wonderful books on the themes of refugees, immigration, change, and coping in a new environment. Novels include:
Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman
Onion Tears by Diana Kidd
No Guns For Asmir by Christobel Mattingley and
Mahtab's Story by Libby Gleeson.
And two very powerful, outstanding picture books, that are often considered to be graphic novels:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan, and
The Island by Armin Greder.
All of these are designed for audiences older than my student clientele, but they are books that all teachers need to know about and have in their library for teaching using children's literature.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

17th - 23rd June Refugee Week

From Sunday 17th June till 23rd June is Refugee Week. World Refugee Day is on Wednesday 20th June. The theme for this year is Restoring Hope.

The CEO of the Refugee Council, Paul Power said at the launch of the week today,

"If you compare the political debate that we have in Australia to other countries in equivalent situations, it is pretty disappointing that the process of seeking protection from persecution is so politicised in Australia."

He went on to say, "Until we can attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has suffered through that, often people have misunderstandings of what being a refugee is about."
And so it is this ability to empathise with the plight of refugees that we as teachers need to focus upon when choosing books to read to and with young children. Luckily there is a large number of books which have refugees and 'restoring hope' as themes.

If you are looking for a one stop place to start planning some lessons this is an amazing resource for teachers. If you teach very young children and you want to have a discussion on 'hope' and what it means, this little picture book is a good starting point, Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams and Linda Saport.

During Refugee Week in 2010 I wrote about seven books that illustrate the plight of refugees, that I have used in my library with children aged between 6 and 8. They are listed here with links back to the original entries.
1. 20/6/2010 Refugees by David Miller
2. 21/6/2010 Petar's Song by Patrima Mitchell and Caroline Binch
3. 22/6/2010 Four Feet Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams
4. 23/6/2010 The Colour of Home by Karen Hoffman
5. 24/6/2010 A True Person by Gabiann Martin and Jacqui Grantford
6. 25/6/2010 Ali the Bold by Jane Jolly and Elise Hurst
7. 26/6/2010 Rainbow Bird by Czenya Cavouras

As well as returning to these I will talk about other books that can be added to this bookbank over the next few days.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

12th June Anne Frank (1929 -1945)

Jewish girl Anne Frank who became famous because of her wartime diary was born on this day in 1929. There are some very good websites which will give young children substantial information about her here and here, but if you want to know what the children are reading here are two books:
Anne Frank by Josephine Poole and Angela Barrett is a picture book version of her story. It includes her life as a child and her escape to Holland. The illustrations are understandably dark and I think this is a book best shared with an adult.
The Story of Anne Frank by Brenda Ralph Lewis is a biography for young children which includes photos.
Neither of these though are substitutes for reading the real diary when they are older.

11th June Jacques Cousteau (1910 - 1997)

Jacques Cousteau was a French naval officer who pioneered marine conservation, photographed under the sea and wrote about it. His contribution to diving and the general population's knowledge of under the sea is immense. It is fitting that today's children should know about his contribution so here are three books in our library that I would recommend.
Manfish by Jennifer Berne and Eric Puybaret
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.
These two picture books are biographies of his life, the first emphasising Jacques curiosity as a very young boy.
Cousteau: an unauthorized biography by Kevin Comber is old and in our school it is in big book format. It was part of a series of big books put out by Era Publications and your school may well have a copy too. It is worth digging out! It has a lot of photographs in it and will give readers a sense of the time.

It is fitting that Jacques Cousteau's birthday is also the date that the Western world explorers, namely Captain James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. He discovered it by accident when his ship, the Endeavour crashed into it and the coral ripped a hole in its bottom. Cook and his crew managed to stop the ship from sinking and made it to shore at what is now called Cooktown in the very north of Queensland. It took seven weeks to repair the ship and then their journey was resumed.

There are myriads of books about the Great Barrier Reef that show the wonder of coral and its underwater world. It is a pity though that so many of them are not Australian. It would be good to see some more Australian factual texts for very young children such as marine biologist Dr Mark Norman's The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solarpowered. For beautiful artwork and a sense of the wonder of the reef see Kim MichelleToft.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

4th June Aesop's Birthday


Many websites say that today is Aesop's birthday. How they know given all the inconsistencies about everything else that is written about him I don't know. But it is a good excuse to tell you about favourite fable picture books.

Aesop was a fabulist or story teller credited with a number of fables now collectively known as Aesop's Fables. Although his existence remains uncertain and (if they ever existed) no writings by him survive, numerous tales credited to him were gathered across the centuries and in many languages in a storytelling tradition that continues to this day. In many of the tales, animals speak and have human characteristics.

Of all the fables The Hare and the Tortoise and The Lion and the Mouse are probably the two most well-known to children, probably because they are often used to produce beautiful picture books. There are a large number of beautiful anthologies of Aesop's fables, many with wonderful illustrations and just the right amount of text for each story, but here I want to share six picture books that I love sharing with children.

1. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal in 2010. The artwork is exquisite and it demands to be perused closely. In fact the story is textless and whether children know the story or not, they will still be able to 'read' the story here.

2. Mouse and Lion by Rand Burkert and Nancy Ekholm Burkert. This is the most recent version of this story and it too is made exquisite because of Nancy's illustrations. The fact that she collaborated with her son I think makes this a real work of love and commitment. The cover doesn't make it leap off the shelf but once you open it you will be enthralled.

3. The Lion and the Mouse by A.J.Wood and Ian Andrew. This version too, is mainly illustrations. This time phenomenal lead pencil drawings with a lot of close-ups. You get to know the mouse in particular, intimately. My copy has a different cover from the one depicted here. It is old-fashioned red book material on the cover with just a tiny drawing of the mouse in the centre, so straight away you know that the book is 'old' and special.

4. The Hare and the Tortoise by Helen Ward. I like this version of the story because there are a lot of visual secrets for the reader in the illustrations and the children love discovering them. When the hippos make stepping stones to help the tortoise across a river the children love the fact that the hare has been tricked.

5. The Tortoise and the Hare by Angela McAllister and Jonathan Heale. This version has beautiful illustrations done with woodblocks which I can't resist. The children and I always have interesting discussions about why the tortoise comes first in the title of this book when it is usually the hare first.

6. The Fox and the Stork by Karl Ruhmann and Roberti Allesander. I have included this one not so much for its illustrations, but because it is a good retelling in picture book format of a fable that the children know less well, but enjoy. Also they easily ascertain the moral.