Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How Can Teaching Change Learners? 6 Steps to transformation

What is Transformational Teaching? In the simplest possible terms Transformational Teaching (TT) is teaching that creates environments that change learners. It changes the way they approach tasks, the questions they ask of the tasks, their expectations for what they will learn from a task, and their expectations for its use and application. It in effect helps to change the way learners understand learning, co-learners, their teachers and themselves.


The opposite of Transformational teaching is 'Transactional Teaching'. This can be recognised by its characteristic transmission of knowledge from teacher to child and its focus on integrating knowledge of others largely as individual learners. Its major concern is what the learner knows and will learn.

While knowledge is important and there is a role for transactional approaches to developing it, there are other ways to learn. Transformational Teaching values knowledge too, but it is characterised much more by inquiry, discovery, firsthand experience, critical thinking and the use of varied communication and thinking skills, than simply knowledge transmission.

6 Key Steps to using Transformational Teaching.

Step 1 - Develop effective routines

What I mean by this is that a classroom that allows inquiry, experimentation, problem solving and lots of interaction needs to be VERY well organised. It is not synonymous with classroom chaos, although there will inevitably be a little more noise.

Step 2 - Organise classroom space & materials well

TT requires a room where materials are available, spaces are provided that permit interaction, additional access is given to computers and other key resources.

Step 3 - Establish clear expectations with students about what can and cannot occur

We need to establish some basic rules about sharing space, movement, sharing materials, how class members interact, time frames for task completion and so on. All must be clear and revisited regularly.

Step 4 - Implement routines for the sharing of ideas and discoveries

Classrooms where TT is practised need to be places where ideas are shared and celebrated. Audiences are very important to testing ideas, receiving feedback and learning from one another.

Step 5 - Place a high importance on quality outcomes and behaviour

Classrooms that are characterised by TT are places where standards are high. Near enough is not good enough, there must be accountability in terms of quality, task completion respect for others and so on.

Step 6 - Place a priority on communication, feedback, task evaluation, honesty & respect

This is the key to a vibrant engine room in any classroom. Classrooms where there is honesty, generosity and accurate feedback are places where members will take risks as learners. Ensure that these are present and part of you regular maintenance work as a teacher.


What do these classes do?

I'll probably say more about this in a future post but in general terms Transformational Teaching leads to classroom environments where you will see:
  • much greater interaction between students as well as much great interaction with the teacher;
  • much more group work (and these will vary based on topic, interest and expertise, not simply general ability;
  • the teacher leading from behind as much as from the front;
  • more celebration of work and achievements;
  • greater learner autonomy within clear boundaries;
  • regular demonstration, and expert resource people visiting;
  • increased use of multi-modal responses (shared use of images, words, drama, art etc);
  • increased risk taking, experimentation, problem solving and creativity; and
  • high expectations and standards for work and behaviour.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

20 Great Non-Fiction for Reluctant Readers

This is a repeat post but I will update but I hope that it's still as helpful. Some of these are ideal books for boys who are reluctant. Some young readers find non-fiction more engaging than fiction, so finding good non-fiction is worth the effort. In an earlier post I talk about this at length (HERE). This post is simply a quick review of some good books published in the last few years, it isn't meant to be comprehensive. I have arranged the examples I offer roughly in order of difficulty and age interest. It goes without saying that there are girls too for whom non-fiction is also more engaging.

'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning. 



'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide won the Eve Pownall prize for information books. This delightful true story of a great Australian character is based on Weidenbach's story of Tom Kruse who was the driver of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail. Once a fortnight for twenty years Tom loaded his Leyland Badger truck and drove 1,000 km across perilous territory on little more than a dusty dangerous rutted track. His job was to deliver mail and provisions to arguably the most isolated residents in the world. Tom was a great Australian character who lived in the middle decades of last century

The book is a version for younger children (aged 5-8 years) that Weidenbach has adapted into a delightful picture book for young readers. It offers just a small slice of the events of Tom's life. When floods cut the Birdsville Track, the station residents run out of supplies and worse still, the Birdsville Hotel runs out of beer! It takes Tom’s ingenuity to beat the floodwaters and get the mail and the beer through. Timothy Ide provides wonderfully detailed watercolour illustrations that add to what is already a compelling narrative account.

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'Locomotive', written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2013).

Floca is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including three Robert F. Sibert Honour Books: 'Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11', 'Lightship', and 'Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring', written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

'Locomotive' is the story a family’s journey across America in 1869 on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The star of the story is the steam engine, but a mother and her two children and all those who keep the train moving are essential extras as it races down the Californian coast.

For the true enthusiast of trains the author gives us plenty of technical information about 19th-century railroading. This is not surprising, as Floca seems to have aimed at a very broad audience. Some will be pulled along by rhythm of the story, others will love the train details, and some will revel in the sense of history (even in the very typefaces used). Floca uses free verse and as you'd expect plays with words and sound to great effect. 

The technical craft and book design are both brilliant, as Floca uses every device to good effect to engage readers in this exciting journey by an incredible piece of 19th century technology.

Even the way he uses his pictures provides a cinematic style that is hard to create, but which adds to the richness of the text. The detail in the illustrations is superb; it is as much draftsmanship as it is fine illustration.

'Locomotive' won the 2014 Caldecott Medal.

'Kubla Khan: Emperor of Everything' by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan is not well known and has often been mentioned historically only indirectly or in passing. Who was the man who Coleridge described in his famous poem 'Kubla Kahn'? This is the presumed grandson of Genghis Khan who reputedly built the imperial city of Beijing, and fathered a hundred or more children. History and legend suggest that he ruled over the greatest empire of the time, and that it was more advanced than previous civilisations in science, art and technology. The narrative text is engaging and should hold the interest of young readers, and Robert Byrd beautifully illustrates the book. Readers aged 7-9 years will enjoy this 42 page illustrated book.

'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight-month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.
 
'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The words are used exactly as in the song. With Craig Smith's wonderful watercolour and line drawings they are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

'Tales of the Greek Heroes' by Green Roger Lancelyn (Penguin, 2009)

The beautiful land of Greece is haunted by more than three thousand years of legend and history. In this gripping retelling of the Heroic Age, you'll meet the mighty Poseiden, God of the Sea; Zeus, the King of Heaven and Earth; Hades, Lord of the Dead; Artemis the Huntress; Aphrodite, Immortal Lady of Beauty and Love; and many more mortals and gods. Their adventures are some of the oldest and most famous stories in the world.

This collection of well-known Greek myths will be enjoyed by readers aged 11+

'A Tale of Troy' by Lancelyn Roger Green (Penguin, 2012)

This book is a companion to 'Tales of the Greek Heroes'.

Step back into the Heroic Age with the story of Helen and the judgement of Paris; of the gathering of the heroes and the siege of Troy; of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. And join Odysseus, the last of the heroes – famous for his wisdom and cunning – on his thrilling adventures as he makes the long journey home to Greece.

Once again, perfect reading for children aged 11+

'Tales of Ancient Egypt' by Lancelyn Green Roger (Penguin, 2011)

In this thrilling collection of the great myths, you'll encounter Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; Iris, searching the waters for her dead husband, Osiris; the Bennu bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told purely for pleasure, about treasure and adventure – and even the first ever story of Cinderella.

Ages 10+ will love this collection





'Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers' (Candlewick Press, 2013)


This is a true story that has been a long time coming. It tells in a fair but powerful way of the racism that has often existed in armed forces around the world. Americans may well have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but few would know of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - the Triple Nickle. These were the first US black paratroopers. They showed that black soldiers could do anything their white counterparts could do. The text and over 100 carefully labelled photographs in this 150 page book offer us an insight into how some brave and persistent African American men paved the way for others to be a full part of the US armed forces.

Tanya Lee Stone (author of 'Almost Astronauts') has done extensive research to tell her true story for readers of all ages. Boys in particular will love reading and looking at the historic photos. The work took Stone almost 10 years and the meticulous care and passion shows in this wonderful book. This amazing story will challenge all readers irrespective of age, race or ethnicity. The book recently won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. It is a very worthy winner.

'The Dangerous Book for Boys' by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins)

As they say, this book is an 'oldie' but a 'goodie'. It offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.

'You Can Draw Anything' by Kim Gamble

Kim Gamble is a well-known illustrator of Australian picture books. In this very accessible book he shows you how to draw just about anything you want to. Most how-to-draw books are either simple and recipe like or far too complex. The book offers principles and guidance for drawing many objects, including varied animals, people (bodies and faces), and landscapes including perspectives. He also offers techniques for shading and colouring. He intersperses the many diagrams and drawings with stories, jokes and examples that make the approach lots of fun, engaging and effective. It is ideal for children aged 7-10 years.

'Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea' by Stephanie Owen Reeder
This is a story about the courage of 16-year-old Grace Bussell. The year is 1876, when a steam ship, the 'Georgette', runs aground near Margaret River in Western Australia. On shore an ordinary 16 year-old girl sees the unfolding drama and heads off on horseback with the family servant Sam Isaacs to try to help the stranded passengers. Grace and Sam head into the water with their horses and rescue many people. Using eyewitness accounts and other historical documents as well as some slight embellishment to fill in details to sustain the narrative, Stephanie Reeder brings this true story to life.  This wonderful story is an excellent follow on from Stephanie Reeder's previous book, 'Lost! A True Tale From the Bush'. This previous story was also a true story. It told the story of 3 children who became lost on their way home in 1864 and spent eight days alone. It was shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA children's literature awards.  
'The Boy from Bowral' by Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is known primarily as an illustrator but he is also a fine writer with 13 works of fiction and over 20 non-fiction. His most recent book as writer and illustrator is 'The Boy from Bowral' which tells the biographical story of Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman is seen as a legend in any cricket playing nation and Ingpen provides a lucidly written and historically accurate picture of Bradman's early life in Bowral, his rise to prominence as a cricketer, and his sporting career. The images are drawings based primarily on existing photographs, so the keen cricket fan (like me) will feel that they recognise some of them. The cover (which wraps around to the back) is a wonderful sequence of images that appear like a series of video frames that capture the classic Bradman cover drive. I loved this book and any cricket following child or adult will also enjoy it.

'Neurology: The Amazing Central Nervous System' by April Chloe Terrazas (Crazy Brainz, 2013)

Neurology explores the complexities of the Central Nervous System, beginning with the different sections (lobes) of the brain, continuing to the spinal cord and concluding with the structure and function of the neuron. Readers will learn how to pronounce key terms like Cerebellum, Occipital Lobe and Sensorimotor Cortex. They will also discover the functions of the Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia and the Hippocampus! The book will also help them to understand the way the brain is organised - Forebrain, Midbrain, Hindbrain... and much more. 

The book has wonderful images that will engage them and color-coded text will reinforce lots of new learning. A great book for boys who love science and fancy themselves as brain surgeons! This is a book that will appeal to boys (and girls) of all ages.

'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This wonderful hard cover book from tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

'Movie Maker' by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards

'Movie Maker' is another wonderful resource from Walker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, and a handbook that shows you how armed simply with a video camera, you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets. All it doesn't include is the popcorn.


'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

Related Posts

'Meet the Author: Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac' HERE
'Author & Illustrator Focus: Robert Ingpen HERE
'Getting Boys into Books Through Non-Fiction' HERE
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' HERE
'New Title for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12' HERE

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Australian Indigenous Literature: A review of 8 wonderful books

Magabala Books is Australia's leading Indigenous publisher. Based in the pearling town of Broome in the far north of Western Australia, it is one of the most remote publishing houses in the world. Since its incorporation in 1990, Magabala has been recognised as a producer of quality Indigenous Australian literature. Its books can be found on its own website or through other online stores and search engines. You can also find teaching resources for most of their books on the site HERE. This will be very helpful for teachers.

Magabala is a not-for-profit organisation that preserves, develops and promotes Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and cultures. It has released more than one hundred and fifty titles from a range of genres, many of which are still in print.

While I've enjoyed Magabala's books for some time, recently I had the chance to visit the publisher and consider all of their titles. As well, I was able to buy some for myself and as gifts for children in my family. In this post I want to review just some of the wonderful material that they publish.



1. 'Tjarany Roughtail' by Gracie Greene and Joe Tramacchi and illustrated by Lucille Gill

Tjarany Roughtail contains eight dreamtime stories from the Kukatja people of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley Region. Each story is complemented by beautiful artworks painted by Aboriginal artist Lucille Gill that visually explain each story using traditional dot paintings. Told in English and Kukatja.

This wonderful book offers mysteries of the Dreamtime centred on the cultural history of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Told in English and Kukatja, the book includes magnificent paintings, maps, kinship diagrams, exercises and language notes. Children aged 7-12 will love this book and gain a greater appreciation of the richness of Aboriginal culture and story.

The book was the winner of the Australian Children's Book Council (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (1993), and was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

2. 'Two Mates' by Melanie Prewett and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

The true story of the special mateship between two boys who have grown up together in Broome; Jack is Indigenous and Raf is non-Indigenous. The boys share their daily life as they search for hermit crabs, go hunting for barni, fish for salmon, explore the markets, eat satays and dress up as superheros. At the end of the book it is revealed that Raf is in a wheelchair due to spina bifida. The book offers some additional information on this condition at the end of the book. 

This is a lovely story that shows that true friendship sees no barriers in race or disability.  This would be a wonderful book to share with children aged 5-8 years. There are also some teaching notes on the Magabala site HERE.


3. 'Joshua and the Two Crabs' by Joshua Button


Joshua Button is a young Indigenous author with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in. His observations of his family’s fishing trip to Crab Creek give us a unique opportunity to see this adventure through his eyes. Joshua’s illustrations evoke the beauty of Crab Creek—a tidal creek that lies in the mangroves of Roebuck Bay near Broome in Australia’s north west.

I had the pleasure of spending some time at Roebuck Bay just last week. This is an exquisite place where I spent hours looking at the sheer beauty and the rich marine life. Some of the stars of the wildlife are definitely the crabs. Watching them scurry (at great speed), eating, digging and leaving their intriguing marks on the red sand was a great joy. My photos below show a little of this beauty.



4. 'Our World Bardi Jaawi, Life at Ardiyooloon' written and illustrated by the students of One Arm Point Remote Community School 

Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This vibrant book is bursting with life and activity and takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community.

This wonderful book is inspired by the stories of the elders and the beautiful beauty of the land and culture of Ardiyooloon. The many chapters in the richly illustrated book consider the history, language, food and cultural practices of the Bardi Jaawi people. The children's illustrations enrich the many factual texts that consider fishing, bush food, special events, language and the wildlife of this wonderful place. For example, on one double page the children describe and draw 23 different saltwater creatures that are found in their world. The authenticity of the waters and the richness and colour of the illustrations, make you want to dip again and again into this beautiful book.


The book was the winner of the Speech Pathology Australia's Indigenous Book of the Year 2011 and was also shortlisted in the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards in the same year.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here

5. 'The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper', by Terrizita Corpus and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

This amusing tale takes place on a stormy wet-season night at the Broome lighthouse. Meet Cassius the hermit crab, Jacob the jellyfish, Bruce the bluebone and more sea creatures as they head down the beach and race up the lighthouse staircase to escape a wild storm — all while the lighthouse keeper is out checking the lamp for passing ships. When he discovers his bed has been taken over by slimy sea creatures, he is very grumpy.

This is a more contemporary work of fiction situated in the lighthouse at Cable Beach in Broome. The lighthouse keeper's house and the ruins of the lighthouse remain, plus a new less visually attractive unmanned lighthouse (see below). The beautiful watercolour illustrations complement the funny text. My final recommendation is that any book that has a crab named 'Trev' would have to be good! It will be well received by children aged 4-7 years.

Above: The modern lighthouse
'
The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper' is inspired by the iconic Broome lighthouse and the remains of the old lighthouse keeper’s house that sits on the edge of the world-renowned Cable Beach. This is a beautiful place with great wild beauty and the rich colours of the earth so synonymous with the remote north west.









6. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' by Daisy Utemorrah and illustrated by Pat Torres

This remarkable book weaves together the story of Daisy Utemorrah’s life with a collection of playful parables and poems. It explores themes such as Creation, tradition, memories, family and most importantly, country. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' imbues a simple autobiographical story with humour and depth, and will appeal to adults and children alike. Retold with love and honour, be transported to a place where time stands still...

Daisy Utemorrah was an elder of the Wunambal people from the Mitchell Plateau area in the far north Kimberley. She was born in 1922 at Kunmunya Mission and her family background gave her fluency in three Aboriginal languages. Daisy was recognised for her work as a poet and a teacher. This was her first book and of course was published by Magabala in 1991. It won the Australian Multicultural Children’'s Book Award the following year, and was also shortlisted for the Children’'s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) award for Younger Readers. As well, Pat Torres won the prestigious international IBBY award for illustration for her work on this book in 1994.

It is a remarkable book for various reasons. It integrates Daisy's unique autobiographical story with a variety of traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime themes, focussing on memories, family, creation and country, the important relationship between a people and their land. It is beautifully told with simplicity and economy of words, and it weaves Daisy's traditional languages with her stories and the wonderful illustrations of Broome-based Djugan artist Pat Torres. Here is a sample:

I am the native cat, I dance everywhere.
I hop, skip and jump.
I jump on the flat stone
and dance and wobble my bum and hold my hips
And then I dance again.


7. 'The Mark of the Wagarl' by Lorna Little and illustrated by Janice Lyndon

Maadjit Walken is the Sacred Rainbow Serpent. She is the mother spirit and creator of Nyoongar Country in the south west of Western Australia. She formed the landscape and the waterways, and made her first child Maadjit Wagarl, the Sacred Water Snake, the guardian spirit of all the rivers and fresh waters. The Mark of the Wagarl is the story of how a little boy dared to question the wisdom of his elders and why he received the Sacred Water Snake for his totem. Janice Lyndon’s pastel illustrations resonate with the cultural power of the Maadjit Wagarl and the landscape of the south west. This is a revised edition.

This is a traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime story featuring a well-known character - the Rainbow Serpent - who appears in other books for children, most notably 'The Rainbow Serpent' by Dick Roughsey. The slightly more contemporary illustrations are designed to appeal to a new generation who should love this book.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here from the Magabala website.


8. 'Ngay janijirr ngank. This is my word', by Magdalene Williams, illustrated by Pat Torres and with photos by Maria Mann.

A beautifully illustrated account of the life of Magdalene Williams of the Nyulnyul people. Raised in the confines of Beagle Bay mission in the Kimberley, she was nevertheless exposed to her traditional culture through her Elders. Magdalene's account of the coming of the missionaries, and the destruction of law and culture is interwoven with the richness and diversity of her Nyulnyul stories.

I love this book for the beauty of the language and the power of the stories that Magdalene Williams tells. The work is also well illustrated by Pat Torres and has wonderful photos from Maria Mann. The opening line gives a sense of what is to come as she tells the story of the Nyulnyul people of Beagle Bay:

"A long time ago in Ngarlan, the place where Beagle Bay now stands, a very strange and frightening thing happened."

The book also contains several wordlists. Helpfully, these include Nyulnyul to English and English to Nyulnyul, selected phrases, traditional names of the family members mentioned, and also a pronunciation guide. This is a book that works at many levels, it has an engaging story, it raises cultural awareness, offers language study and more.  Children aged 7-12 will enjoy this excellent book.


Further reading

Other previous posts on Indigenous literature HERE.
Other reviews on children's literature HERE.




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Literature that Deals with Human Diversity: Helping to overcome fear of the 'other'

People have a tendency to fear the unknown, and this includes people who are different to us. I have argued in previous posts (here & here) that literature can teach us a great deal about life, including giving us greater understanding of people of other races, personalities, genders, faiths and so on.  Literature brings great pleasure but it also teaches us and can impact on us emotionally. It passes on aspects of our cultural traditions, it introduces us to other cultures and it teaches us about our world, its history, its people and what it is to be human. A piece of literature is more than just a good story. I wrote in one of my books (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature can act as:

  • A mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
  • A source of knowledge
  • A source of ideological challenge
  • A means to peer into the past, and the future
  • A vehicle to other places
  • A means to reflect on inner struggles
  • An introduction to the realities of life and death
  • A vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues
In this post I revisit (essentially re-publish a previous older post) to look at a group of books that I would loosely term books that help children to become aware of the 'other'. The concept of 'otherness' has its roots in continental philosophy. The German philosopher Hegel was one of the first to use the concept. The notion of the 'Other' is important in defining our sense of self.  In the social sciences it is also used to help us understand the way we exclude groups within our society or across broad cultural boundaries.  The emergence of a sense of the ‘other’ is one of the ways that children first become aware of those who are different and to differentiate between that which can create fear, and that which is familiar and certain. Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas helped to popularise the term in modern times and suggested that a sense of the other comes before our need to respond by ignoring, rejecting, helping and so on.


Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale 'The Ugly Duckling' first published in 1843 is a fairytale that speaks directly to this theme.  As the young ducks grew older they could see that the last 'duck' was not like them: 'He's too big!" "You're appallingly ugly!" "I wish you were miles away". They struggle to work out how to deal with his difference, "But why should we care so long as you don't marry into our family?"  While the 'Ugly Duckling' and other stories often speak of many things, some have the wonderful quality of shifting children's focus beyond themselves, to become aware of the other, to understand their difference, and to re-shape their sense of self as they see themselves in relation to those who are 'other' than themselves.

The books that follow are just a 'light' sample of the many books available for young readers. I have mainly chosen picture books but there are many children's novels that include this theme. I may re-visit this theme for older readers later. I have also used some sub-headings to offer a sense of just some of the senses of 'difference' that are brought into focus.

1. The Aged

'Remember Me' by Margaret Wild & Dee Huxley (illustrator)

Margaret Wild's delightful book centres on the first person narrative of a grandmother who talks about her life and how frustrating it is when she forgets things. Her granddaughter is her little helper, enabling her to survive the day. While Wild's intent is to look specifically at memory loss and how it impacts on the aged, it also offers an insight into how this is read and responded to by others. In time the woman even forgets her granddaughter; but by mentally reliving her experience of the little girl (from birth to the present) she remembers her and the little girl promises that she'll be around to help her remember.  The older person with failing memory is not a problem, but someone to be loved, supported and learned from. And of course, in the process, our lives are enriched.

Other examples in this category include 'Wilfrid, Gordon McDonald Partridge' by Mem Fox & Julie Vivas (illustrator). This is probably my favourite Mem Fox book.  Another example is 'Waiting for May' by Thyrza Davey. In this wonderful story a social worker wants an old man 'Old Alec' living on a houseboat in Queensland with his dog to move to a retirement home. He 'escapes' to avoid this fate but in escaping his fate, a fierce storm and a little young boy change everything.

2. The person of different race or ethnicity

'The Burnt Stick' (1995) by Anthony Hill & Mark Sofilas (illustrator)

This novel for younger readers (8-10 years) is set in Australia prior to the 1960s.  It is the story of a young Australian aboriginal boy named John Jagamarra, who had been taken (like thousands of other Indigenous children) from his family. John was taken from his mother by the Welfare Department of the day, and sent to live with his white Father at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children. He grew up in this beautiful place, but he knew it was not like being home with his mother and his people.  He remembers how the 'Big Man from Welfare' had come and taken him away. His story illustrates how well intentioned government policy at the time failed to deal with the problems of Indigenous communities and failed to understand the full needs of people 'other' than themselves. While the story positions us as reader to see the tragedy of the 'Stolen Generation' through John's eyes, at the same time it offers child and adult readers the chance to consider the issues of racial difference and how we understand, live with and when necessary, reach out to people other than ourselves.

Mark Sofilas' wonderful charcoal images add a haunting and powerful additional dimension to the story. The Children's Book Council of Australia named it Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1995.

Another more recent exploration of this theme is Matt Ottley's epic picture book 'Requiem for a Beast' (which I have reviewed HERE), that uses story (in picture book form), image and music to explore the painful experiences of the 'Stolen Generation' and in the process helps us to learn much about ourselves and how the non-Indigenous are positioned relative to Indigenous Australians. This book is a picture book for secondary aged readers, not young children.

Yet another wonderful book that offers a greater understanding of Indigenous Australians is 'Playground' (2011) that was compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle. It was short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Indigenous Australian Elders, 20 Indigenous secondary students and with Indigenous Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present.

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Indigenous children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Indigenous life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Indigenous children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Indigenous children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Indigenous people not simply read their stories.

I have written more about Indigenous literature here.

From the difficult, to the simpler rendering of this theme, Dr Seuss has also written a number of examples that touch on 'otherness'.  'The Sneetches' is an obvious one that tells of two types of creatures (Sneetches) one with a Star on their bellies and the other without. Needless to say one felt superior and the other inferior. One day a man arrives with the perfect solution, a machine that can add a star to the belly. But without the stars how could the 'superior' group differentiate itself? The man had the solution, his machine could take the stars off (!) the Sneetches who were the original 'Star Belly' kind.

But perhaps an example even closer to the theme is 'What was I scared of?' a funny story about a small creature who while walking at night is confronted by a pair of pale green pants that are out walking by themselves. He is terrified when on each walk he sees them. But of course it turns out that the pants were just as scared of him and finally all is resolved:

And, now we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble.
We both smile
And, we say
"Hi!"




3. The person in different social circumstances

'Way Home' by Libby Hathorn & Gregory Rogers(illustrator)

This is the story of Shane, a young street kid (which isn't revealed until the end of the story), who finds a lost kitten. The story takes us through the city streets to Shane’s ‘house’; which the kitten will share with him. The illustrations by Gregory Rogers portray Sydney at night. They show the constant shift (which is part of Shane's life) from busy streets ablaze with lights to dark and sometimes threatening back alleyways. There are hazards and dangers for Shane and the tiny kitten at every turn. The story offers an insight into the life of the homeless and is a poignant story of two survivors. Suitable for 7-10 years olds.

4. Understanding the 'other' gender 

There have been many books that look at differences of gender. A recent author who has focused on this theme is Aaron Blabey. His first book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' is about friendship and relationships. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are the best of friends, but they are different in almost every way. Pearl likes solving mysteries and moves rather fast in the world; Charlie likes taking baths and watching his garden grow. So how can Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley be such good friends? Because that which is in the 'other' can complement that which is in him or her.  The book won the Children's Book Council Award for Picture Book of the year in 2009.

Blabey continues tangentially with a variation on theme in his second and third books 'Sunday Chutney' and 'Stanley Paste'.  In these, his first person narratives are more focused on how the child copes with their difference rather than us coping with the other. The rather unusual girl Sunday Chutney is always moving from school to school due to her Dad's jobs, coping with difference and awkwardness all the time. 

In 'Stanley Paste' we learn of the very small boy (Stanley Paste), who hates his size, until one day a new girl arrives at school who is very tall. Like Stanley, she hates the way she is. They become good friends and see different things in each other than many of the other kids at school who have made their lives miserable.

Summing Up

Each of the books above does much more than just present the theme that I have pointed to. In high schools teachers might also include books that deal with sexual orientation as part of the English curriculum for older students. The concept of 'otherness' is important and books such as the above offer children the opportunity to consider how do they situate themselves relative to the 'other'.

Other posts

All previous 'Key Themes' posts HERE

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ten Great New Books for Readers Aged 4-16 Years

1. 'Yak & Gnu' by Juliette MacIver & illustrated by Cat Chapman

This delightful example of rhyming prose is a lot of fun. Yak & Gnu love to row down the river, one in their kayak, and the other in their canoe. Of course, a simple paddle on the river turns into a grand tour with others joining them along the way. A goat in a boat (can that be true?), and a laughing raft, on a raft. You should now get it. All is as expected until the "hippopotamus would have gotten us" without a quick turn. Eventually they survive and reach the sea.

Yak and Gnu conclude that there is no other beast quite like either of them. Climb aboard for a nonsensical voyage featuring an eclectic collection of animals, awash in rhyme and tongue twisters perfect for reading aloud.



2. 'Something About a Bear' by Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris is a wonderful illustrator and writer. This beautiful picture book is a factual picture book about bears. She uses a narrative form and her rich illustrations to introduce us to some of the world's most wonderful creatures. It has pretty much all of my favourites - Brown bears, Spectacled bears, Moon bears, Polar bears, Sun bears and more. The book begins with a large brown bear staring at a child's toy bear, and then launches into wonderful double page spreads showing nine bears. The first is the Brown bear:
 
'Where the water churns with salmon, thick and rich with leaping fishes, there the brown bear stands and catches the wild king of the river. On the shore the young bears watch him; still others swim the waters, but they are careful not to challenge, for he is the strongest of them all.'

With stunning watercolour paintings, this lyrical picture book describes eight bears from all over the world, all shown in their natural habitats: Black Bear, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear, Spectacle Bear, Sun Bear, Panda, Moon Bear, and Brown Bear.

But which is the best bear of all? Your own teddy bear of course!

3. 'Footpath Flowers' by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

This wordless picture book is a visual delight. The ink and watercolour illustrations of Sydney Smith are incredible. The 'story' told by the illustrations is subtle and multi layered. Your journey through the full page and comic-sized multi-framed pages is through the eyes of a small girl with red hooded top who sees a world of flowers in a dense urban landscape. She collects them on her walk with her Dad (largely unnoticed by him), and distributes them in the most delightful way.

Award winning poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith have produced a gem!



4. 'Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War' by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & illustrated by Robin Cowcher

This is a very simple but powerful picture book that encourages us to remember those who serve in war. Each double page has but one or two sentences. It parallels images of war with images of adults and children observing commemorative services and ANZAC Day marches. We see images of legs marching; some soldiers in battle, others ordinary families. It begins:

'Left! Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.'

Next we see soldiers on the battle field huddled writing to loved ones, while on the next page we see families battling terrible weather conditions as they head of for commemorative services.

The delightful water colour drawings and text work beautifully together to offer a wonderful tribute to our service men and women and at the same time, an encouragement to remember them.


The book ends with an author's note that gives short descriptions of different theatres of war that Australians have participated in.

5. 'Willy's Stories' by Anthony Browne

This isn't a new title (published 2014), but I hadn't seen a copy until recently. Any new Anthony Browne title is always an exciting discovery.  Browne is one of the most celebrated author-illustrators in the world.

This book, like many before it, is a wonderful celebration of Browne's ability as a storyteller who stimulates the imagination. Once a week, Willy walks through an ordinary-looking set of doors and straight into an adventure with echoes of other great imaginative tales like 'Alice in Wonderland'. Each day we wonder where the doors will take him - a mysterious desert island with footprints in the sand; an adventure with Friar Tuck in Sherwood Forest; an encounter with Peter Pan and Captain Hook; falling down a deep, dark rabbit hole full of curious objects; or being swept away like Dorothy on the head of a tornado. Each page a new adventure, and an echo of another tale. Willy is unmistakable as we are drawn into the book and the memory of our favourite tales. A great example of Browne's genius!

6. 'The Cat with the Coloured Tail' by Gillian Mears & illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

Mr. Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail travel through the countryside in their ice-cream van. They enjoy looking for heart shapes (their favourite game) and making people happy with their delicious moon-creams. But a dark feeling is following the cat. Something is wrong. When the ice-cream van enters the forest, Mr Hooper and the cat realise the heart of the world is in danger. Will they be able to save it? A lyrical fable about love and healing.

This is a wonderful tale of two companions. But this cat with a face shaped like a heart is no ordinary cat! This is a special book about kindness and hope. The work of Danalie Dabarera as illustrator adds greatly to this 74 page book for readers aged 7-9 years.

7. 'The Rest of us Just Live Here' by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has twice won the Carnegie Medal the UK's premier children's literature award to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people.

Mikey is the main character. He is an anxious 17-year-old who worries about the same things that other young adults worry about: relationships, sex, popularity, love, parents, their future and so on. Does life make sense?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

This new offering from Ness reminds readers aged 14+ that there are many different ways to live your life, and many ways to be remarkable in the 'unremarkable' in it.
A delightful book filled with empathy and hope for adolescents!

8. 'A single stone' by Meg McKinlay

Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.

Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.

But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?

This is a delightful tale set in a dystopian world where Jenna's village has been cut off from the outside world. They have no way out so the villagers need to adapt their lives to this existence. Girls of fine bones are desirable and special, but boys have little value. Jenna begins to question the work that she was born to do. This is a shocking tale in its own way, but there is also hope.

9. 'I'll Give You the Sun' by Jandy Nelson

This is another book from the acclaimed author of 'The Sky Is Everywhere'.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close - until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don't realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

This is a novel that will pull the reader's emotions in all directions. The reader will move from laughter to tears as they enter the story of two inseparable twins who are torn apart of a tragedy. 

10. 'The Cardturner' by Louis Sacher

This is the latest young adult novel from Louis Sachar, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Newbery Medal in 1999 for 'Holes'. 'The Cardturner' is an exploration of the human condition. "How are we supposed to be partners? He can’t see the cards and I don’t know the rules!"

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him, he has no money and no job, and his parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester, who is old, blind, very sick, and very rich, to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner.

But Alton's parents aren't the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp's good graces. There is Trapp's longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family.

 Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda, as he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
In this excellent novel Sachar explores the disparity between what we know and what we think we might know. What is the difference between perception and reality?

All My Posts on Children's Literature HERE