Sunday, January 27, 2013

Water (Part 3)

I said there was a fine line between drought and floods. Here on the east coast of Australia, we have moved on from bushfires to floods! They came before the Alvaro Villa  Flood book I ordered has even arrived. I spent last week at school finalising bulk loans and doing PD and in a quiet moment covered a new book The Water Dragon: A Chinese Legend retold in English and Chinese by Li Jian. The cover of the book is extremely enticing, the limited colour scheme appealed and the dragon looked very friendly so I found myself reading it to see if I should loan it to the classes doing the unit of study on water. The main character a small boy, Ah Bao, finds a red stone while out gathering wood. The stone is magical and brings about abundance of things ( a bit like Lily Toy Hong's magic pot in Two of Everything). It has not rained since Ah Bao found the stone and the villagers are suffering the famine caused by drought. Ah Bao dreams of a water dragon and sets off in search of him. Along the way he meets various animals who give him pieces of themselves and warn him about a greedy red monster. I can't tell anymore without ruining the story, but the water dragon does indeed save the villagers from drought.

This story also reminded me of Little Sima and the Giant Bowl, by Zhi Qu and Lin Wang, another Chinese folktale where a small boy, Sima, lives in a village that  is also in the grips of a long drought. A wizard gives his family a large porcelain bowl and says that their luck will change. It does and rain falls and fills this bowl which has pride of place at Sima's home. The full bowl then creates a new challenge for Sima.

It would seem from these and other stories set in China, that this country also sees the presence of water as a valuable natural resource that requires looking after.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Water (Part 2)

You certainly could travel the world while doing a unit of work on water using picture books. You could use a globe or world map and locate the places. The books also provide ample opportunities to use text-to-text and text-to-world activities. In this blog I want to highlight books that look at people and their relationship to water or a life-changing event that water features in.

First to Africa:
Limpopo Lullaby by Jane Jolly and Dee Huxley. This very moving story, which is based on a real incident in Mozambique tells of how Josette, a mother has to climb a huge milkwood tree with her two young children during a flood caused when the Limpopo River bursts its banks.
Rain School by James Rumerford tells the story of starting school at the beginning of the year and having to build the school, only to see it fall apart again when the rain comes.
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema and Beatriz Vidal is a cumulative tale that concentrates on breaking a drought.
• When the Rains Come  by Tom Pow and Malika Favre is really two stories. One is about how difficult life can be for some children in Africa and as they are cared for by Grandmother Rose she tells them the story of Tortoise and the Drought. Money from the sale of this book helps mothers in Malawi.
The Day the Rains Fell by Anne Faundez and Karin Littlewood. This is a creation story set in Africa. Lindiwe takes her daughter to Earth to show her beauty but finds drought and thirsty animals so has to find a way to make the Earth well again.

Children of the Yangtze River by Svend Otto S. This book is old but a gem. It should be republished. I have never shared this with a class without them being in total awe. Great for teaching empathy. It tells the story of Mei Mei who lives in China on the banks of the Yangtze River. The river breaks its banks and the whole village is involved in moving stock and belongings, but much was lost..."now all the houses and fields had disappeared...all the crops had washed away." As the river subsides Mei Mei and her family begin the massive clean up. The ending is joyous.
Grandfather's Dream by Holly Keller is set in the delta of the Mekong delta in Vietnam, where canals built during the Vietnam War affected the wetlands and the natural flow of water. In this story a grandfather tells his granddaughter, Nam about the effects of this and about the loss of habitat for cranes. The library's copy of this book has been so well read it is about to fall apart.
Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami and Jamel Akib is like many of the books set in Australia. It tells of a family waiting for rain in India and then the pleasure that comes with it. There is an interesting afterword explaining monsoons and their role in South East Asia.
Trishna and the Dream of Water by Carole Douglis and Adrienne Kennaway is also set in India. It is the time of Diwali and Trishna is sent to the well to get water. She dreams of living somewhere where there is water all year long.
The Flute by Rachna Gilmore and Pilak Biwas. This story needs discussion. It is also set in India and it starts with a catastrophic flood that sweeps away Chandra's parents. She finds solace in her mother's flute music and never gives up hope that her life will improve. She is extremely resilient The endpapers are very special and should inspire some interesting artworks.

This was harder, I only could only think of one, the story of the boy who put his finger in the dike to stop his low-lying village in Holland from flooding. Here are two versions of the longer Mary Mapes Dodge's story that I know of:
The Hole in the Dike by Norma B. Green and Eric Carle.
The Boy Who Held Back the Sea by Thomas Locker and Lenny Hort.

Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse and Jon J. Muth. Like so many of the others, this is the story of a young girl who desperately wants it to rain and then it does and she celebrates by dancing with her friends... "wet slicking our arms and legs, we splash up the block, squealing and whooping in the steaming rain."
Flood by Mary Calhoun and Erick Ingraham tells the story Sarajean who lives through the 1993 Midwest floods when the Mississippi damaged homes and sent inhabitants to higher land.
Flood by Alvaro F. Villa This wordless book is new and I haven't yet seen it, so I have linked you where I learned of it. I have ordered it and I am waiting...a bit like waiting for rain!

Water (Part 1)

Given the bushfires, extreme heat, preparing for going back to school and doing the bulk loans for classes who are doing a unit of study on Water, I have got to thinking about the fine line between drought, bushfire and flood and how prevalent these are as topics in children's literature not only in the Southern hemisphere where they are prevalent now. Every culture seems to have stories based on the weather extremes experienced by people and animals. Today I want to highlight some Australian books that show these extremes and how people cope, and often develop a very strong community as a result.
Two books that look at the effects of drought are:
Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood. The young male narrator here explains the differences in the farm a visiting friend will see this visit when there is drought compared to a previous visit without drought.
Water Witcher by Jan Ormerod. Although set in the past, this story about Dougie and his family carting water and handfeeding animals shows the hardship and the stark environment drought causes.

Then there are books that show the pleasure and relief that rain brings when the drought breaks.
Here Comes the Rain by Clare Good and David Cox. Here Grace watches and waits. her grandfather has told her all the signs of rain to look for. She watches the ants, horses and other animals looking for the signs.
Rain Dance by Cathy Applegate and Dee Huxley. Here too, a young girl waits for rain, then ''the first drops beat out a hesitant rhythm on the corrugated-iron roof," and then the girl dances in pleasure..."the rain is so heavy, it almost hurts as it pelts my head and shoulders."
• Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft. Once again we see people waiting for rain, looking for signs of rain and then celebrating when it finally arrives.

And, then what happens when the rain comes or it is too much.
 The Story of Rosy Dock by Jeannie Baker and Flood Fish by Robyn Eversole and Sheldon Greenberg both tell of what happens when the Finke River, which is usually just a dry river bed, floods in outback Northern territory on the edge of the Simpson Desert. The first tells of the ramifications in detail. The second recounts the fun a child has swimming with fish in water that isn't usually there.
Flood by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley recounts the Brisbane floods of 20011 and the human drama that unfolded there. Whatley's illustrations 'make you feel the water and mud'.

While not all of these books are still in print, school libraries will have them and the visual imagery in all of these books is outstanding. You get to feel the hardship, the anguish, the horror, the joy and the suddenness of weather in parts of the harsh Australian environment.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

12th January Iza Trapani (1954)

Iza Trapani is an American illustrator who has a large number of picture books to her name, many of which are well known songs that preschoolers love, so they are often out of my library. I have just learned via Happy Birthday Author that it is her birthday and as she wasn't on my list I want to add her. I cannot improve upon or add anything to what Eric wrote so go there and look. Lots of activities and ideas for an author study. Also look at Iza's website. The opening illustration is beautiful! Don't you just love Itsy Bitsy Spider drifting down. If you are feeling hard done by or lacking in resilience read the beginning of her biography. No young child deserves that start in life!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's with the mice?

What is with the mice? So many children's novels for six to ten year olds have mice as characters. I have students who are addicted to Geronimo Stilton and will read any of the series of books that started with him. I have Year 2 students who 'just love' Emily Bearn's Tumtum and Nutmeg series, even boys. In a quest to stretch these good readers I bought some other titles with mice as main characters. Four that I bought were beautiful hardback books, 'ooh just like Despereaux' said one of my girls and readily embarked on Cynthia Voigt's Young Fredle. Back she came saying, 'this was good, what next?', so then she read Bless This Mouse  by Lois Lowry. Such good authors writing for younger children, what a joy! The other two were Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck and  A Nest For Celeste by Henry Cole, also good reads with quality black and white illustrations.

So you can imagine my joy recently when I saw a small hardback novel about a mouse written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by the Redwall illustrator, Christopher Denise called Following Grandfather. I bought it and went home to read. It is not in the same category as the books above. In fact I am not sure who it is for.  What audience did Rosemary Wells have in mind? It is about a very close, warm relationship between Jenny and her grandfather. He seems to have raised Jenny because her parents are busy running a restaurant, but then he dies and Jenny is left 'searching' for him. So yes, it is a book about death and the severing of strong ties. Is this for all eight year olds or specifically for a child in need of reassurance after the death of a grandparent? It is set in Boston and draws on the history of Italian immigration to that area and this context, I think will be difficult for young Australian readers. Jenny is named for her grandmother, Jennie, so why change the spelling of the name?  It is a warm, well-written story and the opening paragraph kept me reading. It is also a lovely looking book with crisp white paper and appears to be the perfect size, but for me, it just falls short of hitting a target.

Monday, January 7, 2013

7th January Bushfires

Once again parts of Australia are being ravaged by bushfires. It feels as if there have been so many years in my teaching career when I have gone back to school at the end of January to talk of bushfires and children asking questions about them. There are resources such as this put out by the Victorian Education Department to help teachers and students who have been 'touched' by the fires, but for children who know they have occurred but haven't experienced them first hand what do you give them to read?
I have used these picture books:
• Bushfire by Marguerite Hann Syme and David Cox. This is a picture book for 5 to 8 year olds showing very evocatively a hot blustery day when the sky fills with smoke and bushfires break out. Marguerite lived through the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 and has relived her experience through this book and a novel for older children called Burnt Out.
Applesauce and the Christmas Miracle by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King. This gives children a clear picture of the aftermath of fires, but also shows the sense of community that can develop during and after a crisis.
Where There's Smoke by Robin Lovell and David Miller. This picture book comes with notes. See here for a clear precis and what can be done as follow up.
 Fire Engine Lil by Janet and Andrew McLean. This is old, but gives children an accurate picture of the urgency involved.
Bushfire by Tricia Oktober. This too is old, but may be in your library. Here you get the animals' point of view of bushfires.

I am sure there is more, but as I teach very young children I am not as familiar with books for older children. I thought I could use this newspaper-like article and I can also use other books about firefighters and fireman such as these that I have written about before.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

4th January 2013 Sir Quentin Blake

The children I teach will be thrilled to hear that Quentin Blake has 'won an award' even if they do not fully understand what it means to get a knighthood. Blake was knighted in the 2013 New Year Honours for his services to illustration. He is probably the most recognised-by-children children's illustrator because of all the Roald Dahl and David Walliams novels he has illustrated. And these two authors are 'big' with the young audiences I work with.

He has been illustrating for so long, so this award has been a long time coming compared to those given to sportsmen, and he has such a wonderful stock from which to choose. He has the books he has both written and illustrated like  my favourites Mr Magnolia and Mrs Armitage, those he has done with Russell Hoban like my favourites ACE Dragon Ltd  and How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and those with John Yeoman's like Beatrice and Vanessa and The Bear's Winter House. It is fitting that this new anthology of favourite stories he has both written and illustrated has appeared at this time.

You can watch him illustrate here.

PS Perhaps publishers could reconsider republishing ACE Dragon Ltd now that it is illustrated by a Sir!