Category Archives: Stories

Stone fruit salad

Soup, especially chicken soup is one of those foods considered good for the soul, mind, and body, and often suggested to speed recovery after an illness. There may be more to the belief than simple folklore. It’s healing properties are what inspired the popular series of Chicken Soup for the Soul books. As Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen saidthey wanted it to soothe and provide comfort, just like their grandmothers’ cooking.

I was reminded of this when Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch dished up her flash fiction prompt this week, challenging writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food.

How could I go past soup? But what soup? Chicken soup? Pumpkin soup? Tomato soup? No, stone soup.

I’m sure you are familiar with at least one of the versions of the story Stone Soup. Basically, some hungry travellers come to a village. They cannot afford to buy food and, although they ask, the townspeople refuse to share with them. Undaunted, the travellers heat up a pot of hot water with a stone in it. They explain to the curious villagers that their “soup” would taste better with the addition of certain ingredients. Intrigued, the villagers happily provide the ingredients. When the soup is ready, the stone is removed and the travellers share the delicious and nutritious soup with the villagers.

With its messages about sharing, working together, and improving things by combined participation, it is a great story to read to and discuss with young children. It could be used to introduce a class cooking activity, such as making soup or stew, to which each child contributes an ingredient.

Although English can be confusing with its multi-meaning words and phrases that have little apparent connection to the individual words used, I think children would understand the story and realise that the stone was not eaten but removed from the soup once it had served its purpose.

Wouldn’t they?

I wondered how it might be interpreted if children were asked to contribute a piece of fruit to a class fruit salad.

Fruit salad

Billy barely paused to say, “Hi, Mum,” as he tossed her a piece of paper and kept going.

The back door slammed, startling Baby. ‘In one door and out the other,” Mum said, as Dad appeared. “What’s he up to?”

Dad watched from the window as Billy took pebbles from the garden, inspected them carefully, then arranged them in neat piles.

“Strange,” said Dad. “I don’t know. He seems to be looking for something. Said they’re making fruit salad at school tomorrow.”

Mum read the note he’d tossed at her, then smiled.

“He’s to take stone fruit,” she said.

 

I guess if Billy contributes a stone, and the other children contribute fruit, they’ll have a delicious, nutritious, and refreshing snack to comfort them on a warm summer’s day. What do you think?

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

 

 

 

But why?

Just like scientists, children are curious, constantly asking questions, wanting to know why or how. Parents and teachers don’t always know the answers. In fact, there may not even be an answer – yet. The need to know is strong and “just because” won’t do. Coupled with creativity, thinking up new ideas and possibilities, curiosity has taken us beyond the imagination of myths and legends to knowing and understanding.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to “In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation.” As usual, she tells us to “Go where the prompt leads.”

Every culture has its own creation stories, told from the beginning of time when humans first walked the earth. Through stories, people attempted to explain their own existence and that of everything observable.

With only the skies for night-time entertainment, people found stories in the stars. As Duane W. Hamacher says in Kindred skies: ancient Greeks and Aboriginal Australians saw constellations in common in the Conversation, What we don’t yet know is why different cultures have such similar views about constellations. Does it relate to particular ways we humans perceive the world around us? Is it due to our similar origins? Or is it something else? The quest for answers continues.

As with stories told of the stars, there are some threads common to many creation myths, including stories of the first man and woman, stories explaining the existence of the animals and why they behave the way they do. I have read quite a few stories of floods, which I guess is understandable as these events occur worldwide.

What I love about the creation myths is that they testify to the innate curiosity and creativity of humans; the need to know and the sense of wonder combined with imagination and storytelling.

It is important to keep this sense of wonder and curiosity alive in children, and adults, also. Just a few days ago, as reported by Ray Norris in the Conversation, Exoplanet discovery by an amateur astronomer shows the power of citizen science. He says this discovery will help us understand the formation of our own Earth. It’s also a step towards establishing whether we are alone in the universe, or whether there are other planets populated by other civilisations.”

I think of questions asked by my granddaughter; for example, “Who came first, the mother or the baby?”, “If there’s gravity, why don’t the clouds fall down?”  or “Where does the sky begin?”

It is interesting now in this age of technology, almost everything we want to know is just a tap of a few keys or buttons away.

The other day I visited a nature reserve with my two grandchildren. (We went especially to see three baby bilbies which had recently emerged from their mother’s pouch, but saw other things too.)

We were looking at some black swans, which are native to Western Australia. GD informed me that white swans are not native to Australia. When I admitted that I’d never thought about that, she said, “Look it up. Look it up now. You’ve got your phone in your hand. Just look it up.” She was insistent and I did as told. She was right, of course.

How different this experience is from that of the first humans. Young children expect to be given answers based upon science or collective knowledge, not stories. But we still do not have answers to everything.  As Duane W. Hamacher says, “The quest for answers continues.”

In response to Charli’s challenge, I have not written a creation story. However, I have included the same ingredients that contributed to their creation: wondering, questioning, and imagination.

Unanswered questions

“What are you doing?”

“Pulling out weeds.”

“Why?”

“So the carrots have more room.”

“Why?”

“So they can grow big and juicy.”

“Why?”

“So they are good to eat for our dinner.”

“Why?”

“To keep us healthy?”

“I want to be healthy.”

“It’s good to be healthy.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t die. Not for a long time.”

“How do you know?”

Silence. How does anyone know?

“Silas died.”

“Who?”

“Silas.”

“Who is Silas?”

“Was. Silas was my friend.”

“I don’t remember Silas.”

“He was my imaginary friend.”

“Oh. How did he die?”

“I killed him.”

“Why?”

 

Perhaps there are some things for which we may never know the answers; for example, Can imaginary friends die?

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

 

 

Delivery – just in time for Easter! – Readilearn

 

Many children around the world eagerly await the arrival of the Easter Bunny and his delivery of coloured, candy, or chocolate eggs or toys. The Easter Bunny has been delivering his gifts for more than three hundred years.

When Europeans arrived in Australia a little over two hundred years ago, they not only brought the Easter Bunny tradition, they brought real rabbits as a food source and for hunting. Cute little rabbits, you may say, but the rabbits were quick to breed. Without any natural predators, they soon became widespread, and created an enormous environmental problem. They contributed to the destruction of habitats and the loss of native animals and plants. They also became a serious problem for farmers.

One of the animals that suffered as a result of the introduced species is the bilby, a now vulnerable marsupial, native to the deserts of Central Australia. The cute bilby with its long rabbit-like ears and cute face is considered a possible native substitute for the Easter Bunny in Australia.  Chocolate makers and other organisations used the idea of an Easter Bilby to draw attention to its plight and to the Save the Bilby Fund, established to help its survival. (Check out the Save the Bilby Fund’s free education resources.)

This week I have uploaded some new Easter resources featuring bilbies. I hope you and your children enjoy them.

Continue reading: Delivery – just in time for Easter! – Readilearn

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

Books make the #1 best gifts!

The love of reading is gift

I am notorious for gifting books. I’ve written about this before in Guess what you’re getting for Christmas and other posts. It would not surprise me if you are also a notorious gifter of books. Perhaps that could be our super power: The Book Gifters!

Reading is empowering. A book is a gift that continues to give, long after the occasion has past. It’s effects cannot always be measured.

books-life-memories

In this post, I suggest some books you may like to purchase for special people in your life. And why not treat yourself with one or two as well?

Most, but not all, are fairly recent releases. A few are long-time favourites.

Most, but not all, are written by people I know personally or through blogging. You might recognise their names from comments on other of my blog posts. A few are long-time favourites written by people who inspire me.

I have read most. The only two not read (the books of short stories) are very, very recent. However I am happy to recommend them as I am already familiar with some of the stories, and the writers’ work  from their blogs.

Disclaimer: These are books that appeal to me. They may not appeal to you. The important thing in choosing books for others is in finding something that they will like.

The list is not exhaustive. It is just a beginning to provide a few ideas that you may not have considered. There are many other wonderful books that could just as easily have been included.

I have arranged my list in this way:

For children:

Picture books (including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry)

Early chapter books (for readers of about 7 to 12 years)

For adults:

Books of short stories

Novels

Memoirs

Books for teachers and parents

If you follow the links you will be able to discover more about the writers and their other work.

For children:

Picture books – Fiction

picture-books

Lauri Fortino The Peddler’s Bed This heart-warming story demonstrates that a kindness given can encourage kindness in others. You can read a lovely interview with Lauri on the readilearn blog here.

Tara Lazar Little Red Gliding Hood In this fun fractured fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood needs a new pair of skates. The only way she can acquire them is by winning a skating competition. But which fairy tale character will be her partner?

Galvin Scott Davis Daisy Chain This is a beautifully illustrated, animated and interactive, anti-bullying book app, narrated by Kate Winslet.

Non-fiction

non-fiction-picture

Rebecca Johnson The Insect Series This series of ten little books, each about a different insect, combines both fact and fiction with stunning close-up photographs. You can read a lovely interview with Rebecca on the readilearn blog here.

Sue Fliess The Bug Book This book about bugs is beautifully illustrated with stunning photographs. Written in rhyme, it introduces children to many tiny creatures.

Poetry

book-cover

June Perkins Magic Fish Dreaming This gorgeous book of poems with its focus on nature will uplift and inspire you and your children. You can read a lovely interview with June on the readilearn blog here.

Early chapter books (about 7 to 12 years)

early-chapter-books

Rebecca Johnson Juliet nearly a Vet This lovely series of books tells of the adventures of ten-year-old Juliet who aspires to be a vet, just like her mother.

Karen Tyrrell Song Bird Superhero This story tells of Rosella Bird and her quest to fly. While she battles the bully at school and at home, she is empowered and discovers the joy of flight when she finds her voice.

Bette A. Stevens Pure Trash: The Story Set in New England in the 1950s, this story tells of a Saturday afternoon adventure of two young boys. The Kindle version is free on Amazon until 29 November (today – be quick!). 

Hazel Edwards & Ozge Alkan Hijabi Girl In this story, when eight-year-old Melek is deciding what to wear to the book parade, she is unable to find a super-hero who wears a hijab, so she creates her own.

Robert Hoge Ugly (a memoir) Robert’s story is one of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. While coping with difference and bullying, Robert shows that strength of character is a trait of survivors. I have introduced you to Robert previously here and here.

Books of short stories

short-stories

Sarah Brentyn Hinting at Shadows This book is a collection of very short stories, each 100 words or less. While each may be a quick read, they will give insight, inspiration, and a greater understanding of what it means to be human.

Hugh Roberts Glimpses Launching on 2 December, available for pre-order “28 short stories that will take your mind on a rollercoaster of a ride into worlds that conceal unexpected twists and turns.”

Novels

novels

Anne Goodwin Sugar and Snails In this mid-life coming-of-age story, Diana Dodsworth has some tough decisions to make as she comes to terms with who she really is. Anne has previously talked about her book on my blog here and here.

Geoff Le Pard Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle This story about nineteen-year-old Harry Spittle, who is home from university for the hottest of hot holidays, will have you laughing out loud at his misadventures.

Terry Tyler Best Seller This intriguing novella is about three writers, all of whom wish to write a best seller. One does; but which one?

Memoirs

memoir

Robert Hoge Ugly (a biography) Robert’s inspirational story is one of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. While coping with difference and bullying, Robert shows that strength of character is a trait of survivors. I have introduced you to Robert previously here and here.

Lesley and Tammy Williams Not Just Black and White Told as a conversation between mother and daughter, this inspirational story tells of the importance of family, of difficulties experienced by many Indigenous Australians in relatively current times, with a drive to ensure that history is neither forgotten nor repeated.

Malala Yousafzai Malala The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Changed the World The story of Malala, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is one of courage and of the difference that one person can make in the world. I have previously written about Malala here.

Magda Szubanski Reckoning: A Memoir With a Polish father, a Scottish mother and an Australian childhood, Magda’s story is complex, courageous, compassionate, and inspirational.

Books for teachers and parents

for-teachers-and-parents

Mem Fox Reading Magic This book provides lots of practical advice and support for parents in developing a love of reading in their children. I have introduced you to Mem many times previously, including here and here.

Michael Rosen Good Ideas: How to be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher This very readable book is packed full of suggestions for encouraging curiosity and learning in children (and you!) I have previously introduced you to Michael here and here.

Vivian Kirkfield Show Me How Vivian passion’s for picture books and her understanding of the importance of literacy are obvious in this book that provides great ideas for reading and extending the learning experience associated with many picture books.

Or, for a special early childhood educator, gift a subscription to readilearn, a collection of teaching resources that can be used throughout the year.

special-gift-for-special-teacher-ad

It’s easy. Simply send an email to hello@readilearn.com.au, arrange payment for the currently discounted subscription, and you will be emailed a voucher with a coupon code, unique to your special teacher. Print the voucher and personalise it with your own message before presenting your gift.

Note: The subscription is for 12 months from date of activation, not purchase: a gift that will go on giving all year long.

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I hope there is something in this list that you can add to your gift list.

Thank you

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

 

 

 

Around the campfire

camping-1289930_1920

You could count the number of times I have been camping on one hand with a few fingers chopped off. And those times, in the main, could not even be considered real camping. They involved cabins, water on tap, and flushing loos. Only once was I required to sleep in a tent, and the experience wasn’t one I wished to repeat: as much to do with other campers as with facilities.

I am not into roughing it. I like the convenience of warm showers, flushable toilets, and power at the touch of a button. I acknowledge my privilege in being able to take these things for granted and, when I holiday, to choose accommodation at which they are available. I recognise that for much of the world’s population, that privilege is as unattainable as a dream.

toilet-1033443_1280

So, for this week, in which the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills coincides with World Toilet Day, it is fitting to combine the two.

World Toilet Day is a day to raise awareness and inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis – a topic often neglected and shrouded in taboos. Today, 2.4 billion people are struggling to stay well, keep their children alive and work their way to a better future – all for the want of a toilet.

Anne Goodwin who blogs at Annecdotal has also combined Charli’s flash fiction prompt in her post about Fictional Toilets for World Toilet Day. Anne has included snippets of toileting issues from novelists whose characters, unlike most “fictional characters, (who) like royalty, don’t have to suffer the indignity of urinating or opening their bowels”, deal with the inconveniences of life. Her own novel Sugar and Snails is among those quoted. You can read the post here.

who-gives-a-crap

For a while now I have been supporting Who Gives a Crap, a company that takes toileting seriously. In its production of toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels it uses only 100% recycled paper, bamboo, or sugarcane. It also donates 50% of its profits to providing toilets for those in need. I am in favour of both those practices.

I am also in favour of helping children recognise their privilege and to understand that not everyone in the world can take for granted what they can. With Christmas celebrations just around the corner, a picture book that encourages children to think of others, rather than just what they can get, is useful in starting the discussion.

dear-santa-please-dont-come-this-year

Dear Santa: Please Don’t Come This Year written by Michael Twinn and illustrated by Patricia D. Ludlow explains that Santa has tired of children’s requests, of their always wanting more, and of their lack of gratitude. He considers making this Christmas delivery his last; until he receives one final letter that turns his thinking around.

The letter is from a group of children who write:

“Dear Santa,

Please don’t come this year … we have almost everything we want.

So, we don’t want presents for ourselves this year  …

We want to help other children, instead.

And old people and animals in need …”

Santa feels heartened by the children’s selflessness, and he spends the year travelling the world, sharing the gifts suggested by the children:

“The gift of food

The gift of health

The gift of sight

The gift of water

The gift of technology

The gift of hard work

The gift of peace

The gift of learning

The gift of survival”

At the end of the year, Santa realises that “The greatest gift is yourself.”

(Note: I’m not sure if it is still so, but at the time of its publication, sales of the book helped raise funds for UNICEF.)

Now, I seem to have strayed a little, but I’m thinking that’s probably what happens when a group is sitting around the campfire discussing life. I’m sure no subject is taboo, Blazing Saddles proved that, and that the conversation would flow from one topic to another with just a few meagre threads to hold it together.

Song, too, would be a big part of the campfire tradition. I learned a campfire song from Bill Martin Jr. at a reading conference years ago. (I’ve written about that previously here.)

The song “I love the mountains” is perfect for teaching to children and as a structure that children can use to write poems of their own. Sample innovations; for example, “Christmas in Australia” have been included just for that purpose in readilearn resources.

poetry-examples-and-templates

Writing “I love” poems is also a good way for children to express gratitude in their everyday lives, which fits perfectly with Thanksgiving celebrations in the United States, also this week.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is told around a campfire. It can be a bonfire, burning trash can, a fire pit, something flaming outdoors. It can be a prop, and you can tell the story of anything — ghosts, ancients, jokes. Who is gathered and listening?

Even if you don’t intend joining in the challenge, and there is an extra week with this prompt if you are tempted, please pop over to the Carrot Ranch to read Charli’s fascinating report of her explorations of The Zion Valley area and of the historical artefacts and remnants she found there. You’re sure to find a gem or two, as she did.

Here is my response to her challenge.

Around the campfire

“Smile,” they said. “It could be worse.”

Than what: a compulsory “adventure”? navigating scrub lugging a loaded rucksack? avoiding plant and animal nasties? digging a toilet? erecting a recalcitrant tent? enduring inane chatter and laughter roaring as insanely as the campfire flames?

“You’ll learn something,” they’d said.

Fat chance.

Darkness hung low like her spirits.

Along with the dying flames, the mood quietened and, one by one, each told a story of horrors beyond her imaginings: of fleeing famine, war, abuse, hate …

Along with the sky, her heart softened with the light of a new day, and gratitude.

Thank you

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

 

The end

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

I have always loved working with beginning writers, rejoicing with them, and sharing their excitement, as they make meaningful marks on paper for the first time.

Their stories may be just a few writing-like squiggles, one word, one sentence, or one event in length; but the stories in their heads are much more, with elaborate settings, characters and events. Their ability to create stories, for a long time outstrips their ability to express them in written words.

It is the role of the teacher to acknowledge the effort and, armed with an understanding of the writing process, knowledge of how writing develops, and awareness of each writer’s learning journey and needs, support the learning.

As soon as they can, many of these beginning writers add the words “The end” to their stories. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished with nothing more to be done.

But don’t all writers enjoy that sense of accomplishment, of completion, of a job finished?

However, the reality is that there is usually much more to be done: revisions and rewrites, edits and proofreads, and feedback from readers to consider. The end of the story is only the beginning of the publishing process.

It is the process of writing that children must also learn. They need to know that not every piece must carry the perfection required of publication. Unrealistic expectations can quickly demolish a child’s willingness to have a go. Appropriate and timely feedback and encouragement is important to the development of beginning writers.

love of writing

Providing them with real audiences for their writing provides a purpose and incentive to engage in the process of revision, rewriting, editing and proofreading. Of course, the publication expectations of beginning writers are not as rigorous as for older or professional writers.

There are many ways of providing young children with readers; including:

  • class books of stories and poems (not unlike the flash fiction compilations of our stories)
  • books made for siblings or children in earlier grades
  • letters written to parents, grandparents, children at other schools
  • blogging, now widely accepted and implemented
  • journal writing

If all drafts of writing are kept in a folder or portfolio, a favourite can be chosen for improvement and publication. I wrote about this in a previous post: Writing to order. Conferences between the teacher and individual writers are important when choosing a piece and deciding on preparations required for publication.

The initial conference would be about the content; specifically what the writer wanted to convey, the intended audience, and how the writer wanted the audience to feel.

When the writer was happy with the message, usually after revisions, edits, and possible rewrites, discussions would focus on choice of words and sentence structures.

The final conference would target surface features such as spelling and punctuation.

No red pen is ever used by the teacher to mark a child’s work. All changes are made by the child in pencil. The purpose of conferencing is to help children develop independence in their own writing process. The number of conferences and revisions required would be tailored to an individual writer’s development.

In order to respond to what has been achieved, it is necessary to understand the individual’s development, and to ascertain whether this piece of writing is reflective of that. Consideration must be given to all aspects of development displayed in the work; for example:

  • is the message clear?
  • is the piece complete?
  • what words are spelled correctly?
  • what language structures are incorporated?
  • does it sounds bookish?
  • does it have elements of figurative or poetic language?

There is always something new to celebrate in each piece of writing.

In the end, what is important is to encourage children to write, to wonder, and imagine. The process for young writers is not much different from that of all writers, and their egos are just as tender. We want their engagement with writing to have happy endings.

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills wrote that

“Every good story has a beginning, middle and end. It might be the end of the world as we know it, what comes next?”

She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pivots around an unexpected ending.”

The end of my story, I hope, implies a new beginning; and a better one than that of the original I penned. (I’ll let you know at the conclusion.)

Pretty Princess

Once upon a time there was a princess, pretty in pink and smothered in cottonwool. In constant preparation for the life arranged for her, there were few opportunities to think outside her royal expectations and obligations: Stand straight. Point your toes. Smile sweetly; and on, and on.

But think she did: Why does the moon shine? What makes the rain fall? How does the grass grow? Why can’t I: play outside? straighten my hair? eat with my fingers? go to school with other kids?

One day she said, “That’s it. I’m going.”

And she did. The end.

In the original the parents said she’d only leave over their dead bodies. She said that could be arranged!

“And she did. The end.”

thank-you-1200x757

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