Category Archives: Picture books

Can you imagine a world without The Arts?

Salvador Dalí [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How much time do you think should be devoted to the creative arts in school? How much time do you think is spent on creative arts in school? Is it a match?

The arts include such things as:

  • Visual Arts
  • Drama
  • Music
  • Dance

Educational policies promote The Arts for their potential to develop creativity and critical thinking. For example, the rationale for The Arts in the Australian Curriculum states that

“The arts have the capacity to engage, inspire and enrich all students, exciting the imagination and encouraging them to reach their creative and expressive potential.”

Creativity and critical thinking are mentioned first in the aims.

How do The Arts contribute to our world?

If nothing else, they add beauty to uplift and inspire. In many ways, they are time capsules, carrying stories from the past through our present and into the future. While I am neither artist nor art connoisseur, I see the value in each form and the importance of sharing them with younger generations.  I also consider it important for young children to have freedom to explore each of the arts as a medium of self-expression.

I have shared some thoughts about each of the arts in previous posts, including

Let’s Dance!

image courtesy of openclipart.org

I’ve got the music in me!

Imagine that!

and introduced you to some amazing illustrators including Jeannie Baker, Kim Michelle Toft, Narelle Oliver, Helene Magisson. Today I have received two beautiful picture books illustrated by the very talented Muza Ulasowski who I’ll be interviewing later this year.

At the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills challenges us to consider what a nation may be like if art was gone. The picture she creates of a possible “post-truth era dystopian” future is not pretty. I’m not into dystopian futures where “everything is unpleasant or bad”. Tell me, we’re not there yet, are we?

Although The Arts get a good rap in the Australian Curriculum, and other curricula too I’m sure, many teachers grumble that time for creativity and the arts is pushed out as schools focus on the formal tests that pit school against school, state against state, and country against country.

Hopefully that situation is not as dire in early childhood situations. Fortunately, young children are constantly exposed to some aspects of the visual arts through beautifully illustrated picture books. Hopefully they also enjoy copious amounts of music, song, and movement each day, and lots of time for imaginative play. How much more than that, and how much time for self-expression, may vary from school to school and teacher to teacher.

Involvement in art programs can also be therapeutic, giving children opportunities for quiet, almost meditative times, in which they can turn off their brains for a little while, relax, and express themselves.

For Marnie, a character I have been developing through responses to Charli’s flash fiction prompts, art is more than just a release. Art classes with her favourite teacher Miss R., who sees and encourages the possibilities and potential that lie within, offer her welcome respites from the harshness of her reality.

I introduced this notion in a flash piece Safety, and extended the idea in a longer piece The story behind brown paint.

In this response to Charli’s prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? I have considered what it might be like for Marnie should her should she be robbed of her treasured art class. I hope you enjoy it.

No Art

She’d survived! In just minutes, art class with Miss R. Without Art today, she’d be somewhere else; anywhere. Or nowhere. Breathing deeply, imagining sunshine and calm waters, as Miss R. taught, helped quell the warmth rising from her feet, threatening to explode her heart and head. Somehow she’d avoided Brucie and his bully mates, escaping their lunchtime taunts. Now Art: sanctuary. Suddenly, tears obliterated hope as she read: “No Art today. Classes cancelled.” Where was that white rabbit with a hole down which she could disappear?

Later, during class, Miss R. asked, “Has anyone seen Marnie?” Brucie just smirked.

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

Time for rhyme – Readilearn

Yesterday, 2 March was Dr Seuss’s birthday. How did you celebrate? Did you read a favourite Dr Seuss story – maybe even more than just one or two? Which is your favourite?

Children love the rhythmic, rhyming stories written by Theodor Seuss Geisel who was born in 1904. (A question for your children – how old would he be if he was still alive today?)

Having fun with rhyme is a great way for children to learn about the sounds of language.

In the beginning, the rhymes can be real or nonsense words, as are many employed by Dr Seuss, training the ear to hear. Children are delighted when they discover pairs of words that rhyme. It is great when parents and teachers share their excitement of discovery too.

Like those of Dr Seuss, many stories and poems for young children are written in rhyme. The rhyme is pleasant to the ear, and encourages children to join in with the reading or telling, using meaning and sound to predict the next rhyming word.

When children are ready, familiar rhyming texts are often the first they read independently, using a combination of memory and print. How many children do you know who first started reading with a Dr Seuss book; such as The Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks, One Fish Two Fish, Ten Apples Up On Top, or any other favourite.

For my part in the celebration, I joined in with a challenge extended by Vivian Kirkfield to write a story in 50 words. The reason behind the 50 word challenge is that, although the total word count of Green Eggs and Ham is over 700, only 50 unique words were used. (Some of your children may like to check if that is so. How could they do it?)

I decided to write a rhyming nonsense story in exactly 50 words (title not included). I hope you and your children enjoy it.

Lucky Duck

Duck.

Old Duck.

Couldn’t see –

Lost his glasses by the tree.

Continue reading at: Time for rhyme – Readilearn

Who’s on the move?

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills raised the subject of migration and challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a migration story.

Although Charli always provides suggestions, she also permits writers to go where the prompt leads, allowing their thoughts to migrate in whichever direction they choose. This is good for me as my thoughts always bring me back to early childhood education and, if I can somehow squeeze it in, butterflies.

Migration is a part of human history. We are told that humans originated in Africa, and that migration out of Africa began about 60 000 years ago (well, that’s one of the stories). That we are now spread across the world is no mean feat, particularly when we acknowledge that most of the migration occurred before the industrial age, long before steam ships and ocean liners, before motor cars and air travel.

But migration continues still, and our countries and cities become home to those whose lives began far away and who share different cultural traditions. The purpose of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project is to discover more about our shared genetic heritage. In an early childhood classroom, we, too, can discover how much we have in common and learn to appreciate our differences.

Whoever you are.

Mem Fox’s beautiful book Whoever You Are is great for encouraging children to recognise, respect, and  appreciate each other, similarities and differences included.

mem-fox-im-australian-too

This year sees Mem publish another beautiful book I’m Australian Too which shows appreciation for everyone who is part of our wonderful multi-cultural Australia. (Follow the links to both books and you can listen to her read them too!)

A number of readilearn resources support teachers in developing an appreciation for everyone’s heritage, including a history unit which helps children learn more about their own family history and traditions, and the histories and traditions of their classmates’ families.

Just as amazing as stories of human migration, are those of animal migration. I was surprised when I first heard of the migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico in the autumn, and back again in spring, a distance of over 4800 miles or almost 8000 kilometres. What a long flight for a butterfly, I thought, the poor butterfly’s wings must be ragged by the end of the journey. But the round trip involves at least four generations.

And although monarch butterflies are native to North America, they are now part of the Australian landscape, having arrived, possibly during the gold rushes of the mid-1800s.

Even longer, twice as long in fact, than the monarch’s migratory flight, is that of a dragonfly which, also over four generations, makes a complete circuit of the Indian Ocean – almost 1000 miles or about 16 000 kilometres. The story of how this tiny insect’s epic journey was discovered is fascinating. Who knows what one may discover when wonder is mixed with observation.

There’s obviously plenty of diversity from which to draw inspiration for a migration story. I’ve chosen to write a story set a little bit closer to home. I hope you like it.

Please pop over to Charli’s post to see where the prompt has taken other writers.

Adventurous plans

His bag was packed. He was ready. He stopped at the door for one last look, then stepped outside, pulling it closed behind him. At that moment, he was certain; he would never return. There was nothing for him here. Exotic places and untold adventures awaited. At the stop, he hailed a bus and climbed aboard. “Where are you off to?” asked the driver. “I’m on an adventure,” he said, tendering a fistful of plastic coins. “But only if you take me with you,” said his out-of-breath mother, smiling. “Okay,” he said. The driver winked as she climbed aboard.

Thank you

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

P.S. I’m excited to announce the launch of a new app for beginning readers created by my son, Robert. If you know anyone with young children who may be interested, please let them know about Word Zoo, available now in the App Store.

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Of puddles and rainbows

wonder-socrates

In her beautiful picture book Once Upon a Picture Sally Swain asks readers to wonder about famous artworks by Renoir, Klee, Van Gogh, and Rousseau.

once-upon-a-picture

I am very much in favour of wonder, and have written about it before in

Is it any wonder? about reclaiming your right to wonder;

Breathe – a sense of wonder! about watching nature close-up with live butterfly kits in the classroom;

Wondering in the everyday reminds us to pause and observe our surroundings; and

Noticing and Wondering: Kicking off and supporting enquiry shares a post in which Aaron Eden on Edunautics, Exploring a World of Learning questions whether there could be any skills more important than noticing and wondering.

questioning-einstein

This week Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch got me wondering about rainbow puddles with her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a rainbow in a puddle. Is it a silver lining of sorts or a false reflection? Think about what it might mean or convey. Simple science? Hope? Or the doom of humankind? Create action or character reflection.

I wasn’t sure if rainbows would be seen in puddles that weren’t coated with oil, but it did make me wonder.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Umbrellas ca. 1881-86

Pierre-Auguste Renoir The Umbrellas ca. 1881-86

Sally Swain invites readers to wonder about the girl with the hoop in Renoir’s painting “The Umbrellas”. Swain asks, “What does she want to do? Play?” and illustrates her thoughts with pictures of the girl playing in the muddy puddles that are inevitable on a rainy day. There is not a hint of rainbow though.

Rainbows are common in works for children.

rainbow-fish

There is the beautiful series of Rainbow Fish books by Marcus Pfister with a simple message about the joy of sharing, of making oneself happy by making others happy too.

There are songs such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sung by Judy Garland in her role as Dorothy in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, and Sing a Rainbow.

Rainbows are also popular for helping children learn maths facts and colours.

Of course, there is the science of rainbows too; but before the science comes the wonder: looking at rainbows in the sky, and wondering.

rainbow-wonder

When I was a kid we loved playing with the hose or in the sprinkler. Depending on the angle of the water and the sun, we could make our own rainbows, we didn’t need to wait for rain.

sprinkler-926779_1920

This got me thinking of children who might go for years without seeing rain, or therefore a rainbow, and how exciting their first sighting might be. I have combined a few of these ideas in my flash. I hope you enjoy it.

Of puddles and rainbows

For children of the drought who had never seen rain, the gush when the pipe from the bore burst a seam was a rare opportunity for water play and unexpected learning. While Dad and his Station Hand worked to repair the hole, the children danced in puddles under the cooling spray.

“Look at the colours,” a child exclaimed, trying to capture each one. The men paused to smile at the children’s delight, remembering their own childhood glee. Mum watched from the verandah – without their precious resource, there’d be no washing off mud or cooking the dinner that night.

Thank you

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

 

 

What do you create?

symbol

I am a fan of creativity. I like to develop my own creativity, and I like to encourage the development of creativity in others.

One thing I always loved about teaching was the opportunity it gave me to be creative: writing stories, units of work, and lessons plans to interest and excite the children about learning. It is this love that drives me to write my blog posts each week, and to create new early childhood teaching resources for readilearn nearly every week.

Just as exciting was the opportunity to support the development of children’s thinking, imagination, and creativity. I am more in favour of treating children as individuals, than as one of a homogeneous group from which any difference is considered an aberration.  After all, imagination and creative thinking are what inspire and drive improvement, innovation and progress.

I affirm my belief in the power of creativity in my tagline: ‘Create the possibilities . . .’, a tagline I previously used for an independent school I was establishing.

create-the-possibilities

Preceding both was my first independent undertaking: Create-A-Way.  Create-A-Way provided a richer educational and social setting for my young daughter than what was generally available, allowed me to share my educational philosophy and knowledge, and provided the same rich learning opportunities for other children and their parents. The development of imagination and creativity was a focus.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

Guiding parents in play sessions for parents and children.

One of the things I love most about responding to the weekly flash fiction challenges set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch is the additional opportunity to engage in something creative and to hone my writing skills. The supportive environment of a welcoming community makes it a safe and enjoyable experience. There is something affirming about belonging to a community of other creatives, online or in -person.

karen

On Saturday I, along with a whole bunch of other women creatives, attended an excellent Book Marketing Masterclass conducted by authorpreneur Karen Tyrrell. (I am looking forward to interviewing Karen for the Author Spotlight series on readilearn in March.) The class was attended by writers of a variety of genres; including memoir, romance, science fiction, fantasy, YA, and picture books.

One of the attendees Chrissy Byers has created a lovely picture book The Magic in Boxes which “aims to capture the imagination of young readers and inspire creative play.”

the-magic-of-boxes

Not only does the book suggest ways of stimulating creativity using recycled materials such as cardboard boxes, the book is made from recycled paper. I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s a beautiful book with a wonderful aim.

lemons and grapefruit

For a little more on creativity; in a previous post, Are you a lemon or a grapefruit? I shared ten articles about creativity. They are still relevant and worthy of a read if you haven’t yet done so.

I also shared one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson How schools kill creativity. If yours is not yet one of the over 41 million views, I urge you to watch it. As well as sharing a very important message, Ken is hugely entertaining.

I hope I have convinced you of the importance and power of creativity. I thank Charli and her flash fiction prompt for the opportunity of revisiting some of my favourite articles and talks about creativity. This week her challenge is to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme, “women create.” It can be art, sewing, ideas, babies. What is at the heart of women as creators? Go where the prompt takes you.”

I’m a woman, and I create, and education is in my heart.

In response to Charli’s challenge, I thought I’d get a little dirty. I hope you like it.

Prize pies

“Life’s not on a plate. It’s what you create.”

Two little girls in their Sunday best

Snuck outside when they should have been at rest;

Splashed in the puddles, laughed in the rain,

Shared mud pies and murky champagne.

 

Two young girls with flour in their hair

Climbed on the bench from the back of a chair;

Opened up the cupboards, emptied out the shelves,

Less in the bowl and more on themselves.

 

Two young women watching TV

Decide master chefs are what they will be;

Enter the contest, invent new pies,

Wow the judges and win the prize.

thank-you-1200x757

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

 

 

Introducing Illustrator – Helene Magisson – Readilearn

This week I am very excited to be interviewing the wonderful illustrator Helene Magisson, my first guest for the Illustrator Spotlight series.

Before we begin the interview, let me provide you with a little information about Helene.

Helene began her artistic career as a painting restorer in Paris, where she also trained in the art of medieval illumination*.

Helene has lived in countries all over the world, including Africa, France, and India. Her travels both inspire and enrich her work. She now calls Australia home, and it was when she settled in Australia, that Helene began a new career illustrating children’s books.

Helene has illustrated four books for New Frontier Publishing including The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco, and The Night before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. She is now working on her seventh book for Wombat Books.

In this interview, Helene and I are discussing her work illustrating Magic Fish Dreaming, a beautiful book of magical poems by June Perkins who featured in the Author Spotlight in November 2016.

Continue reading at: Introducing Illustrator – Helene Magisson – Readilearn

Happy as a possum in a pouch

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about getting cozy. While we swelter in the heat of our Australian summer, getting cosy is the last thing we are thinking of. Keeping cool is our current priority. (Note: cozy in North America, is cosy in Australia!)

When I think of cosy, I think of huddling in front of a fireplace, shawl over my knees, cat at my feet, and a glass of wine, perhaps Prosecco, in my hand. This is not something I have ever experienced. It is an image portrayed on Christmas cards, book covers, and in movies.

It’s a bit of a stretch for me to contemplate cosy at the moment, and I wondered how young Australians with little experience of “cosy” might respond to the word.

I asked 7-year-old grandson what he thought of when he heard the word “cosy”. He said,

“Nice and warm in bed.”

His Dad thought there could be no better definition. In fact this is the definition provided by Google:

cosy

I asked grandson if he thought we would want to be cosy in summer and he said, “Well maybe not warm, but snuggly.” I think he did pretty well in defining the word.

Snuggly makes me think of the children in bed as shown in Helen Magisson’s version of The Night Before Christmas. (Look for the interview with Helene on the readilearn blog later this month.)

No doubt you have heard the expression, “snug as a bug in a rug”. Like cosy, the expression refers to being in a pretty comfortable position. I figured that being in a pouch would be about as cosy as a creature could get and, since Australia is home to many marsupials, it seemed a perfect fit for the post.

Marsupials are mammals that give birth to live young before they are fully developed. The young, usually referred to as joeys, continue to develop in the mother’s pouch for a number of months, suckling on their mother’s milk.

feeling-prickly-marsupials

As explained in Feeling a little prickly, Australia is home to almost 70% of the world’s marsupials. Other marsupials are found in the Americas, mostly South America. Kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, wombats, Tasmanian devils, numbats, bilbies, and quolls are among the species of marsupials found in Australia.

Brushtail possums are common in Australia and frequently share our homes as well as our neighbourhoods.

At the moment, a mother and baby have taken up residence in Hub’s carport/workshop. We’re not particularly happy when they share our homes, but I love to hear and see them in the garden. Although I must admit that hearing a male brushtail possum for the first time can be a disturbing experience. I wrote about this in Sounds like …

While possums are not popular in New Zealand and efforts are being made to eradicate them, and other introduced pests, from the island nation; I think they are rather cute. When I was young I climbed everywhere and got into everything and, as a result, was nicknamed “Possum”. (What happened to that inquisitive child?)

I have previously written about some of my favourite picture books about possums, including  Possum in the House and Possum Goes to School in Listen to the sounds, and Possum Magic by Mem Fox in A celebration of Australian picture books #2 – Mem Fox

Possum goes to school2015-09-19-10-55-23

When Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a cozy story, how could I not write about a cute little possum joey getting cosy in the mother’s pouch. I hope you like it.

Happy as a possum in a pouch

Warm and cosy in mother’s pouch, for months he did no more than suckle and sleep. Lulled by her gentle heartbeat and rhythmic breathing, he barely noticed as she scurried about at night; foraging for food, leaping from branch to branch, avoiding neighbourhood cats, sometimes scouring dogs’ bowls for leftovers, or accepting humans’ sweet titbits. For him, nothing else existed.  Until … one night, a strange feeling stirred inside. He poked his whiskery nose outside. Sniff, sniff. The most delicious scent beckoned him out. Mother offered him something red. Zing! His senses ignited. Milk was forgotten, nightly foraging began.

Thank you

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