Monthly Archives: October 2015

A celebration of Australian picture books #6 — Jackie French

If-you-want-intelligent children

This post is the sixth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox, Kim Michelle Toft, Narelle Oliver and Jeannie Baker.

In this post I reintroduce you to Jackie French, prolific and well-known Australian author and advocate for literacy and the environment. She is currently the Australian Children’s Laureate with the task of promoting the importance and transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians. In January she received an Australian of the Year Award for her contribution to literacy. Jackie’s words from her acceptance speech “If you want intelligent children, give them a book” resonated with me.

You can listen to Jackie’s acceptance speech in its entirety here:

These are some of my favourite quotes from the speech:

Failure-is-not-an-option

A-book-can-change-the

There-is-no-such-thing

Jackie has written over 140 books and won more than 60 awards. I am not going to share all of Jackie’s books here; just a few of her picture books that I own. This complete(ish) list of her books indicates the range of genres in which Jackie writes. Although in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Mark Rifidi Jackie describes it differently. She says,

“People assume I write in different genres. From my point of view I don’t. Whether it’s history, ecology, or the fiction I’m writing about now, it’s all grounded in the way of life here and the landscape here.”

(Jackie lives a self-sufficient life in the Araluen valley on the edge of the Deua wilderness area.)

jackie french's books

These are the four of Jackie’s picture books that I currently own. I have read others and given others away as gifts. While these four are illustrated by Bruce Whatley, Bruce is not the only illustrator of her work.

2015-09-19 11.19.08

Diary of a Wombat is probably Jackie’s best known and most popular picture book. This is what Jackie says about it, as recorded in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants:

Diary of a Wombat isn’t fiction … (it) is pretty much a week in the life of Mothball, who is one of the wombats that got fed last night” 

The seeming simplicity of the text coupled with Bruce Whatley’s gorgeous illustrations make this book a joy to read, over and over.

In the book Mothball sleeps, eats, scratches, eats, sleeps, and easily trains humans to be “quite good pets”.

You can listen to Jackie read it here.

2015-09-19 11.16.36

A sequel to the Diary, Baby Wombat’s Week is pretty much a week in the life of Mothball’s baby. It is just as delightful and humorous as the original story with new adventures and escapades; but still lots of sleeping and eating.

There are two other books in the series: Wombat Goes to School and Christmas Wombat. The Secret World of Wombats is a non-fiction text exploring “everything you ever wanted to know about wombats.”

2015-09-19 11.15.56

Josephine Wants to Dance is a delightful story of a kangaroo who loved to dance but dreamed of dancing another way. One day the ballet came to town and Josephine decided that was how she wanted to dance. Though others discouraged her, Josephine was determined to give it a try. It is a lovely story of believing in yourself and following your dreams.

2015-09-19 11.18.32

Too Many Pears is another delightful and humorous story with illustrations that add interest and humour. (It reminds me a little of the battle Charli Mills had with gophers in her vegetable patch.)

Pamela, a cow, loves pears. She loves them straight from the tree, in pies, with ice cream … any way she can get them. Amy and her family have to figure out a way of stopping Pamela from eating all their pears. They do. But then Pamela spies the apples!

I am happy to recommend each of these books. They will not disappoint. Jackie’s text coupled with Bruce’s perfectly matched illustrations continue to delight during repeated readings.

Jackie’s website too is a treasure trove of interesting stuff. On her Kids’ Facts and Info for School Projects page she shares her writing process and a lot of other information that would be of interest to writers as well as to kids. She also has a page of Writing  Tips and Advice and a page about How to Get Kids Reading, topics close to my heart.

In addition to illustrating Jackie’s books, Bruce Whatley writes and illustrates books of his own as well as those of other authors. In a recent post I talked about drawing on the right side of your brain. In this video Bruce challenges everyone to have a go at drawing with their left hand. Is that engaging the right side of your brain?

I am very grateful to Sarah Brentyn, who blogs at Lemon Shark, for alerting me to Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Mark Rifidi just in time for this post. Thank you Sarah and Mark. I’m certain I will be having more to say about Mark’s book in future posts. It is a great resource celebrating the work of 20 Australian picture book authors and illustrators.

In the final paragraph of her biography chapter in Mark’s book, Jackie says,

“The one thing you show readers by writing about history is not to be afraid of change. Tomorrow always is going to be different from yesterday. It always has been. But human beings are extraordinarily good survivors, superb adapters. We are very good at creating a sort of world that we want. Books are perhaps the most effective tool to help us find it.”

I like her thinking!

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

 

20 Lifetime changes

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin

When Bec was little she would often say, “Tell me a story of when you were a little girl.” She would listen in wonder (in my dreams!) as I told her about life on a farm, holidays with relatives and funny things that happened in a large family.

One day, with perfect comedic timing, she followed her request with the question, “What were the dinosaurs like?” We laughed at the time, and still do, but I think that question may have signalled the end of her interest in my childhood, for a time at least. Some aspects of my childhood would have been as unrecognisable to her as the world of the dinosaurs. It is even more so for the children of today.

 © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Learning about the past from parents and grandparents is one way of piquing young children’s interest in history. When I was in primary school we learned a little of history in what was then called Social Studies. Both ancient and modern history were available as discrete subject choices in high school but seemed to be primarily a list of dates, names and wars with little relevance to my teenage experience. Historical fiction brought otherwise remote and unfamiliar situations to life.

I have touched a little on the topic of history in previous posts, I’m new here, Understanding family relationships and Whose story is it anyway? including mention of an early childhood unit Getting to know you, which is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

 © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

It amuses me now when visiting museums, particularly small local historical museums as opposed to large national museums, to see artefacts from my childhood on display. Although I don’t necessarily consider myself “old”, definitely not passed my “use by” or even “best by” date, I do realise that to younger ones I am probably a relic from the past, holding as much interest for them as the objects on display. (I am not too old to remember what it was like to be young.)

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills declares herself a history buff who digs “hanging out in cemeteries where history reads in the names and dates carved in stone.” I confess that I have rarely visited a cemetery other than to farewell a loved one and haven’t taken to reading gravestones to feed an interest in history.

The teaching of history in my early childhood classrooms involved helping children to discover and record their own personal histories and the more recent histories of their families and local environment. Celebration or commemoration of historical events such as Australia Day, ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day required some elaboration, without too much detail, of their significance.

Many of the experiences of children growing up now in the early part of the 21st Century are vastly different from those I experienced growing up in the mid-20th Century. Some of the differences are subtle and others more significant.

Since I grew up in the 20th Century, as part of my historical record I decided to list 20 (random) changes that have occurred during my lifetime:

  1. I listened to music on vinyl records on turntables with manual arms. The records needed to be turned over after each side was played. There were no CDs, iPods, Youtube or streaming
  2. I spent hours in the sun, getting burnt to a crisp, without the protection of sunscreen.
  3. Polio was still a major threat and I knew children who suffered it. Now, thanks to immunisation, it is almost eradicated worldwide.
  4. We could purchase fireworks and set them off in our backyards and parks. I have no memory of huge firework displays such as are now part of most community celebrations.
  5. Shop opening hours were very different with shops closed half day Saturday and all day Sunday. No shops opened on Public Holidays and planning was required to ensure there was enough food in the cupboard to last the four day Easter Weekend.
  6. There were no huge supermarkets selling everything, mainly smaller grocery stores and some “corner” stores that sold a few “essential” items. Air conditioning was not common and chocolate was not readily available as it melted in the heat.
  7. There were no theme parks or water parks; just a few amusement rides such as merry-go-rounds and dodgem cars at local and state shows and fairs, and council swimming pools. Very few people had pools in their backyards.
  8. There were no computers, tablets or smart phones. When I started school I wrote on a slate, a tablet of a different kind.
  9. Fish and chips was the most popular and one of the few take-a-ways. There were no McDonald’s, pizza stores and few Chinese restaurants. There were no eateries in large shopping malls. In fact, there were no large shopping malls!
  10. We had an outside dunny with a pan that was collected and replaced weekly.
  11. Telephones were not in every home. They were attached to the wall and had a circular dial. Calls were manually connected by operators at telephone exchanges.
  12. Televisions first became available in Australia when I was a young child but my family did not own one until after I left home. I used to visit an aunt, who lived close by, to watch on her set after school some days.
  13. Cars ran on leaded petrol. I remember my Dad using a crank handle to start the car. The seats were hard and uncomfortable and there was no air conditioning (unless you count winding down the window).
  14. We would go to beach or the park to swim or play all day, without adult supervision. The only requirement was to be home before dark.
  15. Photographs were taken with a box camera and a roll of film which needed to be sent away to be developed and took weeks to be returned. It could take months to fill the roll and often the occasions were well in the past before the photos were received. It was expensive and multiple shots of the same image were not encouraged.
  16. There was little traffic and cars were slow so children often played in the street, which were sometimes still dirt and mostly without kerbs. It seemed to take forever to get from one place to another.
  17. To keep food cool we had ice boxes for which an ice man would deliver a large block ice daily.
  18. We used imperial standards of measurement including pounds and ounces, inches and feet; and shopped with pounds, shillings and pence before converting to decimal currency in 1966 and other units soon after.
  19. Smacking by parents and corporal punishment in school was the main form of discipline. If children were in trouble at school (I never was!J) then they were usually in more trouble at home.
  20. In school we sat in rows of desks nailed to the floor. We listened to the teacher and learned by rote lists of facts which were often chanted repetitively. There was definitely no talking in school and no group work.

old school room

I add one wish for another change I’d like to see in my lifetime in the 21st Century:

For friendship, understanding, tolerance, empathy and peace to rule a sustainable and equitable world!

I don’t ask for much, do I?

Now back to the cemetery and Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a final resting place. I have taken Marnie to the place where her parents rest as she discovers more about them and their history than she had before realised.

Graveside

She wasn’t sure why she was here. Miss R., Annette, had suggested she come. So she did. What struck her most, as she read the grave markers, was their ages. She’d never thought of them as young but their life spans were short; both a mere 49 years, going within a year of each other. She worked it out. They were younger than she was now when she’d left home. Who’d have thought? She felt a strange sadness, a familiar hollowness, not for the loss of their lives but for the absence of love, love which had never been.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the S.T.E.M. push

Curiosity, questioning and science are recurring themes on my blog. How could a post entitled “Curiosity, dead chooks, science and the  S.T.E.M. push” not appeal to me? While I don’t think I’ve written about dead chooks, yet, when I was six I was the best chicken catcher in the family and I definitely saw a few chooks running around with their heads chopped off!
In this post Sheryl Gwyther talks about the awakening of her scientific questioning at age four when seeing a similar a spectacle. The transcript of a talk delivered to other authors “Children are born scientists … It’s called curiosity” (my words exactly!) is included in the post. Sheryl urges authors to include science in their writing for children and suggests three rules for doing so:
Never be didactic
Entertain
Create characters that children can connect with
While she doesn’t say it in so many words, I think the message of keeping the science accurate is implied. (I have questioned the inaccuracy in The Very Hungry Caterpillar in previous posts.)
Sheryl’s closing paragraphs motivate and inspire writers. She says,
“We have the opportunity, the passion and hopefully, the commitment to reach out to young Australian children through stories about the wonder of science, and the responsibility for their future custody of this planet.
Great stories, cleverly laced with scientific understanding not didactic waffle.
Great stories to make them feel and think, and question.
Great stories – for the sake of their future on this planet.”

Some of the authors from my celebration of Australian picture book series are doing just that:
Kim Michelle Toft
Narelle Oliver
Jeannie Baker
Please read Sheryl’s post in its entirety. She offers much good advice and inspiration. You can find out more about Sheryl by following these links:
Sheryl Gwyther SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor Queensland Public Profile
Author webpage
Author blog
Twitter

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

The right place at the right time

Charli Mills Serendipity

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about serendipity and describes it this way:

“Serendipity is the gift we find accidentally when we make a choice or life chooses a course of action for us.”

I often think of serendipity as being in the right place at the right time. There are many occasions in my life where that has occurred, and probably millions more when I’ve missed by a millisecond, but many of those I’ll never know.

Our lives have been improved by many discoveries made through serendipity. This article on NOVA lists seven Accidental Discoveries  in medical science that have changed health outcomes people around the world:

  • Quinine
  • Smallpox vaccination
  • X-rays
  • Allergy
  • Insulin
  • Pap Smear
  • Penicillin

Joseph Henry - seeds of discovery

Lexi Krock, author of the article reminds us that, though some elements of serendipity, of chance, may have been involved in the discoveries, there was also a great degree of hard work, preparedness, creative thinking and an openness to possibilities. In fact Krock says that having an open mind is the most important ingredient. She quotes the words American physicist Joseph Henry:

 “The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them.”

I came to that article through The story of serendipity on Understanding Science, which also talks about lucky coincidences, such as the story of Newton and the apple. This article states there is more than being in the right place at the right time to make a serendipitous discovery, including:

  • Background knowledge
  • An inquisitive mind
  • Creative thinking
  • The right tools, and
  • Good timing

Another who attributes success in part, to serendipity, to being in the right place at the right time, is Malcolm Gladwell. Thanks to a serendipitous recommendation by Rowena, who blogs at Beyond the Flow, I have just finished listening to Gladwell read his book “The Outliers, The Story of Success”.

Gladwell argues that there is more to success than just intelligence and hard work. Yes both are important: intelligence to a certain level and hard work to a greater degree. Through “The Outliers” Gladwell popularised the idea of 10 thousand being the “magic” number of hours to practice for success to occur, citing sporting heroes, The Beatles and Bill Gates, amongst others..

However there is much dispute to this “rule”; and I must admit that, although I thoroughly enjoyed listening to and thinking about this book, it raised as many questions as it provided “answers” and I found myself wondering how much manipulation had gone into the figures to make them match his ideas, rather than the other way round. I am not saying there was any manipulation, I just wondered.

However, one point he was making, that I think has value and fits with the theme this post, is that one’s circumstances; one’s family, environment and time, including birth year and month, play an enormous role in one’s success. These are things over which we have no control.

According to Gladwell’s discussion of timing, I am correct in describing myself as “born too soon” in my Twitter bio. I was born just a few, but too many, years before the twelve month period that saw the births of Bill Joy, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I didn’t have the opportunities they had either.  Gladwell explains the importance of their timing, environment and opportunities in his book.

In this Q and A Malcolm explains what an outlier is, what he thinks of as success, and how he thinks we should think of success. As well as the coincidence of Joy, Jobs and Gates, Gladwell says that “a surprising number of New York’s most powerful and successful corporate lawyers have almost the exact same biography: “they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930′s to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. “ He also says that “a hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March.” Coincidence? He explains why.

In her post Charli Mills states that

“Serendipity holds no guarantees, but we can take the gifts it offers.”

The gifts were there for the hockey and soccer players born in the first quarter of the year, but stacked against anyone born in the final months of the year. Likewise, serendipity held false promises for me when I was working towards establishing an alternative school.  Meeting the expectations of the Education Department proved no barrier. Meeting town planning requirements was much more elusive.

The first property with any real potential we investigated was in Skew Street. Not surprisingly the odds were skewed against us and we couldn’t proceed there.

Shortly after we located a much better property: more central, with ample indoor and outdoor space and a large playground. The arrangements seemed ideal, and the street names were much more promising. It was on the corner of Water and Love Street. Surely that had to bode better for us than Skew Street. Serendipity.

Unfortunately, though it was definitely the right place, the timing was wrong. At the final moment, when leases were to be signed, a member of the organisation, who had been absent from previous meetings and discussions, turned up, objected and put an end to our plans.

While some of us did continue to search for another location, it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack; there were few that met town planning requirements, and even fewer that met ours. Parents who had expected their children to start with us decided they could wait no longer and made other arrangements for their children’s education. The last minute loss of the ideal property rocked us to the core. With much heartbreak we finally admitted defeat and disbanded. Having read Gladwell’s book I am now willing to accept that it was not because I didn’t work hard enough but because there were other factors working against us.

I decided that, in response to Charli’s flash fiction challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that reveals or explores a moment of serendipity, this time I would provide Marnie with a positive experience, the beginning of a new phase in her life; serendipity working it’s magic.

doors

The wrong place at the right time

Marnie was puzzled. The card definitely said 225; but there wasn’t any 225. There was 223, and 227, but no 225. She peered at the crack between the apartments as if willing 225 to materialise. Exhausted and confused, unsure of what to do next, she slumped on the step.

“Can I help you?”

The question interrupted her muddled thoughts. Seeing kindness in the eyes, Marnie explained her predicament.

The woman read the card.

“Street, not Avenue,” she said, pointing to the sign. “Are you Marnie? Lucky I got the wrong bus today. I’m Josephine. Come on. It’s not far.”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

A Celebration of Australian picture books #5 — Jeannie Baker

Jeannie Baker - planet changing

This post is the fifth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox, Kim Michelle Toft and Narelle Oliver.

In this post I introduce you to Jeannie Baker, a collage artist and author. Jeannie was born in the UK but has lived most of her adult life in Australia, and most of her books, though having universal themes, are set in Australia.

2015-09-19 11.09.45

Jeannie had already published a number of books prior to 1992 when I first became aware of her work through “Window”, winner of the Australian Picture Book of the Year Award.

Window tells, in beautifully detailed collage, of the transformation of a landscape from natural bush to city-scape. The changes are observed through a window by a boy as he celebrates alternate birthdays from birth to 24 years. Like many of Jeannie’s books, “Window” carries a strong environmental message. In her note at the end of the book, she says,

“Our planet is changing before our eyes. However, by understanding and changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference.”

The intricate details in this textless picture book provide many opportunities for discussion. Children and adults are enticed to study and compare the changes that take place in each successive picture. The carefully constructed collages give a sense of being able to almost step into the scene and experience the sights, sounds and smells of each landscape.

Jeannie Baker - time

I was fortunate to attend an exhibition of Jeannie’s artwork for “Window” as it toured the country in 1992. What surprised me most was the size of the collages. With all their detail I had expected them to be quite large; but they weren’t. They are miniature, much smaller than a page of the picture book on which they appear. The collection and arrangement of a mix of natural and artificial materials is amazing. Jeannie describes the process of constructing her collages here.

2015-09-19 11.11.04

In 2004 Jeannie published a companion book to “Window” called “Belonging, which, in 2005, also received a number of awards, including one from the Wilderness Society. This textless picture book tells a story of a changing landscape over a number of years as a city is transformed with plants and welcoming spaces for children and families. In a note at the end of this book, Jeannie says,

“It takes time … But by understanding the land on which we live and by caring for it we can choose between just having a place to live or belonging to a living home.”

2015-09-19 11.10.25

One Hungry Spideris the third of Jeannie’s books I own. Unlike “Window” andBelonging, the illustrations in this one are accompanied by text. One Hungry Spideris a counting book, but a counting book with a difference: it includes information about the spider. For example when one of seven ladybirds gets caught in the web we find out that “the spider took no notice (because) spiders don’t like the taste of ladybirds.” And when nine wasps fly by the spider left the web and hid because wasps catch spiders. Additional details about the spider are provided at the back of the book. Once again the illustrations throughout the book are magnificent.

Surprisingly I own only these three of Jeannie’s books. However I am familiar with others. At school I had access to many of her titles in big book format (approximately 50 x 40 cm) which were perfect for sharing with a class of children.

4 of Jeannie Baker's books

These are other favourites:

Where the Forest Meets the Sea”, “The Hidden Forest”, “Mirrorand The Story of Rosy Dock”.

Are you familiar with Jeannie’s work? If so, which ones and what do you think of them?

Please check out these and other titles of Jeannie’s if you have a chance. Their illustrations will intrigue you and their positive messages will inspire you.

As a writer, I found inspiration in Jeannie’s response to the question,

“Of all the books you have made, which is your favourite?”

She answered,

“When a book is finally finished, I find it hard to think about it anymore …I want to fill my
head with something totally different, with a new book.  My favourite book is the
‘new’ book I’m working on, still working out and trying to make better than the books I
made before it!”

I think that indicates a strong growth mindset and Jeannie’s joy in the “continual challenges this medium gives … to invent techniques and explore and experiment with materials and their textures.”

Jeannie Baker - favourite book

It affirms the quest for improvement and a reason to embrace the challenges we both set for ourselves and meet along the way.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

It’s a steal

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about theft; of family pets, of the apples from her garden, of property, and even of good name through myths and false accusations.

I didn’t have to think for long to come up with three fairy tales that deal with the issue of theft. Why three? Because three is the fairy tale number. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with these two traditional fairy tales: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Some will not be familiar with Joan Aiken’s more modern (1968) fairy tale A Necklace of Raindrops.

girl and bear

If you were to search online for teaching resources to support use of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in an early childhood classroom, you would have much from which to choose. Many of the available resources are worksheets and printables with few requiring children to think beyond the surface level of the story.

The same is true for Jack and the Beanstalk. A search for supporting teaching resources also brings up a plethora of worksheets and printables for colouring, cut and paste and writing activities.

While it’s no secret that I am not a fan of worksheets, activities such as those may have a place if they are used to stimulate language development through retell and role play, support beginning readers and writers in a meaningful context and develop basic mathematical concepts. Children might also be involved in activities associated with the story such as making porridge or growing beans.

However children can be encouraged to think more deeply through discussion of the motives and feelings of the characters and the morality of their actions. After all, both Goldilocks and Jack were guilty of break and enter and theft; Jack repeatedly so. Jack didn’t follow his mother’s instructions and was “conned” by the man with the beans. Goldilocks was also guilty of vandalism.

A strategy for encouraging thinking:

Ask children to:

  • retell story events
  • tell about the character and character traits
  • make a judgement about  the character’s actions: Was what Goldilocks did good or bad? Was what Jack did good or bad? (Note: It is best for children to make and record this judgement independently of others before sharing their thoughts. The method of recording would be dependent upon the age and ability of the children. They could, for example, write the word “good” or “bad” in a book; or colour a picture of the character e.g. green for good, red for bad.)

Tally and/or graph children’s responses.

Invite individuals to explain the thinking behind the decision. A lively discussion may ensue, particularly if there are mixed responses. It would be of interest to note which children maintain their position, which waiver and which change their opinion.

Other questions can also be asked, and children can be encouraged to ask questions of their own, for example:

Questions re Goldi and Jack

Hopefully the events of these stories will be just as fanciful to the children as the settings. Most children will not have records of breaking and entering, and any incidences of petty pilfering or even vandalism will have occurred as part of their learning about property and ownership. Some appropriation of another’s toys or breakages in frustration or misuse are common and nothing to cause concern about future morality.

a necklace of raindrops

While the setting of A Necklace of Raindrops is equally fanciful with the personification of the North Wind, talking animals and a magic necklace, the situation, involving schoolyard jealousy and theft, may be more familiar. You will find few teaching resources to support it in an online search.

book 3

Here is a brief synopsis:

A man frees the North Wind from a tree.

The North Wind gives the man a necklace of raindrops with magical powers for his baby girl, Laura.

Each year a new raindrop with new powers is added.

Laura must not remove the necklace.

At school Meg is jealous of Laura’s necklace. She tells the teacher who insists Laura remove the necklace.

Meg steals the necklace.

The animals help Laura get the necklace back.

The North Wind punishes Meg.

(Note: My few words have not done justice to Joan Aiken’s beautiful story. If you can, please read the full version.)

The story is rich with opportunities for discussion with children, including:

Envy and jealousy — feelings familiar to many children who may have taken, borrowed or used something that didn’t belong to them. They may have squabbled about ownership or use of an item or had someone take something of theirs. Learning a sense of ownership as well as sharing is important in early childhood.

Telling the teacher — sometimes called “dobbing” in Australia. When is it important, when doesn’t it matter? What were Meg’s motivations?

Honesty — Was it okay for Meg to tell her father that she had found the necklace on the road? Why did she tell him that? What would he have done if she told him the truth?

Finders keepers” — Is it ever okay to keep something you find? When might it be okay to do so?

Following the rules – The teacher insisted that Laura remove the necklace. What could Laura have done or said? What else could the teacher have done? Was it fair for Meg to tell the teacher?

Stealing the necklace — Was Meg good or bad to take the necklace? Why?

Why did the magic not work for Meg?

Was the North Wind’s punishment of Meg appropriate? (He blew the roof off her house so she got wet.)

Thinking of these issues familiar to many in the schoolyard and playground made me think of Marnie who has experienced some similar situations. In this episode a boy dobs on Marnie for having a unicorn at school. Toys weren’t allowed, but this boy knew it meant Marnie was troubled again and needed the teacher’s help. A teacher is also called upon in this episode when Marnie has locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out. In both those instances the children were dobbing for good reason.

In this episode Marnie is purposefully tripped and falls into a puddle losing hold of her “security” unicorn, and in this longer episode we find that, later that day, the same boy took her paint brush, and stashed it out of reach on a high shelf. He hadn’t taken it because he wanted it, as Meg had taken the necklace. He had taken it simply to torment, be mean and bully.

Children, like Brucie, who tease, torment and bully are often themselves victims of similar behaviour. They feel powerless, lacking control in their own lives, and probably lowest in the pecking order at home. Targeting someone more vulnerable provides an opportunity to find a sense of power; for a while at least.

So that’s where I’m headed for my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a thief or a theft. 

Motives

The morning started badly; nothing unusual in that. He’d been woken in the night by shouting, slamming doors, and screeching car tyres. Nothing unusual there either.

There was no milk to moisten his cereal, only a slap to the head for daring to ask. He grabbed his bag and disappeared before she used him as an ashtray, again.

Looking for a fight, he couldn’t believe she was just sitting there clutching her stupid unicorn. He snatched it; danced a jig to her wails, then threw it onto the roof.

“I’m telling,” said a witness.

“Who cares?” was his response.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

A celebration of Australian picture books #4 — Narelle Oliver

This post is the fourth in a series celebrating picture books by Australian authors. If you missed earlier posts, please follow these links to the introduction, Mem Fox and Kim Michelle Toft.

Narelle Oliver

In this post I introduce you to Narelle Oliver, a Brisbane-based author and illustrator. There is much to explore on Narelle’s site, including: information about her writing process and tips for would-be picture book authors; the research involved in creating her books, many of which are about nature; and illustration techniques that involve the use of linocut printing and rubbing, and other assorted media.

Narelle conducts workshops for children and adults. She visits schools to share with children the wonder of her books and talks to them about her writing and illustrating processes. When she visited “my” school she brought along first thoughts and illustrations for, and a dummy book of, The Very Blue Thingamajig, plus a soft toy prototype – and we all wanted one! She also brought a fox from the museum and talked about illustrating Fox and fine feathers. She read to the children, involved them in activities and gave them an experience of linocut printing. It was fascinating for both children and teachers.

Narelle talks about her workshops and sessions in this video.

While you can find a complete list of Narelle’s books here, I will share those I have on my bookshelf (in no particular order).

2015-09-19 11.14.10

The Very Blue Thingamajig is as story about difference and acceptance told in a fun way involving mathematical concepts of patterns, counting and days of the week. The colourful illustrations made using hand-coloured linocuts are appealing, and children love to find the little bird who provides a secondary story throughout the book. On Narelle’s fun page you can colour and decorate your own thingamajig.

2015-09-19 11.11.44

Dancing the Boom Cha Cha Boogie is a gorgeous tale of three little murmels who are washed out to sea in an arkel and arrive on a foreign shore where they are not welcomed by the resident snigs. They are imprisoned until when, the arkel is repaired, they are to leave. At night a young snig releases the murmels who teach the snig to have fun. In the end the murmels are accepted and stay happily in Snigdom with the snigs, learning from and enjoying each other’s company. This book is illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts.

2015-09-19 11.13.26

Fox and fine feathers is a story of friendship, of looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. The attention to detail in these linocut illustrations coloured with pencils and pastels is amazing and accurately depicts the five creatures and the forest setting. Narelle has supported the story with information about the birds, their habitat and the dangers imposed by the feral fox, which is now a serious threat, along with other feral animals, to native species in Australia.

2015-09-19 11.12.23

Narelle Oliver Collection of three stories: Leaf Tail, The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay and The Hunt.

  • Leaf Tail, Narelle’s first picture book, illustrated by beautiful linocuts, tells the story of a leaf tail gecko and the importance of camouflage to survival in the Queensland forest.
  • The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay, also illustrated with hand-coloured linocuts, tells of a squabble between five different birds, each professing its own beak to be the best. Finally clever pelican holds a contest that enables the birds to see that each beak is best in its own way. As well as a delightful story about wildlife, it also provides a springboard into discussions about, and appreciation of, differences.
  • The Hunt is another beautifully illustrated wildlife story of camouflage and survival. The story is supported with information about its setting and the workings of animal camouflage and disguise. There are also black and white drawings showing where to find the animals camouflaged in each illustration. It is fun to see if all the animals can be found without referring to the guide.

2015-09-19 11.15.11

Home, referred to in a previous post Home or away, is perhaps a favourite if only because it is based on a true story of a pair of peregrine falcons that nested at the top of a 27-storey building in the city of Brisbane. The birds, named Frodo and Frieda, fascinated a city and, for a while, had their own reality show “Frodocam”. The story, beautifully illustrated using a combination of media including linocut rubbings, collage, photographs, pencil, pastels and watercolours, tells of the adaptation of wildlife to new landscapes and environments.

Each of these books can be appreciated for its story or used as a springboard for discussion. The illustrations appeal to adults and children alike for the attention to detail and accurate representation of wildlife. The addition of supporting information encourages an appreciation for wildlife and their habitats and develops an awareness of the need for their protection. They would be a wonderful addition to any book collection and be much appreciated as gifts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.