Category Archives: Stories

reading the Iron Man by Ted Hughes to spark imagination, inspire writing and motivate making

Reading the Iron Man to spark imagination, inspire writing and motivate making – Readilearn

One of my favourite read-aloud books is The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. The influence of poetry is obvious in this compelling modern fairy tale that begins as it might end.

When I introduce this book to children, I conceal it so they cannot see from which part of it I am reading. I tell them the title of the book and ask them to tell me whether I am reading from the beginning, the middle or the end of the book.

I then read, mostly without interruption though I do explain that ‘brink’ is the very edge, the first two pages that describe the Iron Man and how he stepped off the top of a cliff into nothingness and crashed into pieces on the rocks below.

The children listen in awe, fascinated by the size of the Iron Man, incredulous that he would step off the cliff, mesmerised by the telling of each part breaking off and crashing, bumping, clanging to lie scattered on the rocky beach.

They invariably tell me it is the end of the story. How could it be otherwise? When I tell them it is just the beginning, they are amazed and excitedly discuss how the story might continue. This could lead to writing if the children are keen, but there are other opportunities further into the story.

When this initial discussion has run its course, I go back to the beginning and read it again, stopping to encourage further discussion and to spark the children’s imaginations.

allow their imaginations to contemplate possibilities

Continue reading: Reading the Iron Man to spark imagination, inspire writing and motivate making – Readilearn

interview with Elizabeth Mary Cummings author of The Forever Kid

readilearn: Books on Wednesday — The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Cummings

This week I have great pleasure in introducing Elizabeth Cummings author of The Forever Kid. This post is but one of several celebrating Elizabeth’s beautiful picture book in Romi Sharp’s Books on Tour. Please read to the end of the post for details of other posts celebrating Elizabeth’s work.

About Elizabeth Cummings

Elizabeth Mary Cummings is a British author based in Australia. She writes, advocates for and speaks about storytelling and health matters for families and youth. She is a qualified Primary School teacher and has worked in many schools in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. She is a member of the American Psychology Association and studied psychology and business studies at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland before training to be a Primary School teacher and travelling around the world with her family.

The topics in Elizabeth’s books are of both local and global significance. Elizabeth travels globally to talk about family and mental health matters as well as creative writing.

About The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid, a sensitively written picture book about life after the death of a sibling, is a culmination of four years’ work.  Beautifully illustrated by Cheri Hughes, it is published in Australia by Big Sky Publishing.

Synopsis

It is Johnny’s birthday and, although Johnny is no longer with them, his family gather to celebrate. Johnny’s brother explains to the reader how much Johnny meant to every member of the family and how the family feel closest to him when they remember him on his birthday. The story finishes with the family lying together on the grass telling each other cloud stories, just like they used to with Johnny.

Continue reading: readilearn: Books on Wednesday — The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Cummings

how much of history is fiction, is fiction simply history that might have been

Fiction: History that might have been

I have just listened to When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom and was intrigued by the thought that fiction, perhaps more so historical fiction about real characters, tells a story that might have been, of situations that are equally as plausible as the real events. The only difference is, they didn’t happen. The author explains how the events he wrote about, a fictional meeting between the doctor Josef Breuer and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, could almost have happened, were but a hair’s breadth away from happening.

(Note: The book was a recommendation by author Anne Goodwin. Read her review here.)

I often wonder about coincidences, those chance events and meetings that influence our futures, those things that may not have occurred had we been even one second earlier or one second later. It can be fun to contemplate the possibilities of our current situation had an alternate major decision been made. But what of the little events that slip by us every moment. How could a difference in any one fraction of time change our lives?

Memoirist Irene Waters asked a related question in her article Life is a Memoir: What is Fiction? shared at the Carrot Ranch a few weeks ago. Irene begins by saying that Truth is considered fundamental in writing memoir” but then tells us that memory is not exact, and that it is “a construct and will vary at different times and places”. She asks, As our remembering creates our identity, then, is our self a fiction?”

Knowing that each witness or participant may tell a different version of an event adds layers to that question. Which versions are fact and which are fiction? Are all enhanced with the fiction of our own perspectives?

Any teacher of young children, or perhaps anyone involved in jury duty, or any viewer of news stories knows, there can be many alternate histories of an event. Deciding where most truth lies can be the difficult part.

“He did it.”

“She started it.”

“It’s mine.”

“He punched me first.”

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Fannie Hooe

When Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Fannie Hooe. Although she is a legend in the Kewenaw, feel free to go where the prompt leads, I wondered what I could possibly write. I know nothing of the Keweenaw or of Fannie Hooe.

However, in her post, Charli explains that much of what is known about Fannie Hooe is from snippets of things “They say”, alternate histories perhaps, with either some or little resemblance to the “truth”.

Charli wrote, “legend has it, Fannie was a little girl, perhaps the daughter of an officer, who went missing. As they circled the lake they called, “Fannie…! Fannie, hooe! They say, they never found her body.”

Further in her article, Charli goes on to say, “Two historians … knew a great deal about the real Fannie. She was from Virginia and came as a single woman to Fort Wilkins to help her pregnant sister. She was not a girl, but a young lady. They say she went missing, mauled by a bear or murdered by a spurned lover.

Truth is, she returned to Virginia, married and lived a long life.”

This disparity between truth and fiction reminded me of a television program from years ago. As I recall it: three contestants professed to be the person described by the host. Each presented information about “themselves” to panellists whose role it was to judge who was telling the truth. The real person had to be truthful but the imposters could lie. After votes had been cast the ‘real’ person was asked to stand up.

This is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Truth or Fiction: Will the Real Fannie Hooe Please Stand Up

Contestant 1: I am Fannie Hooe. My pregnant sister was an excuse to escape my abusive husband. After the baby’s birth, I ‘disappeared’, started a new life in Canada, and never remarried.

Contestant 2: I am Fannie Hooe. While visiting my sister, I was abducted by miners and forced to be their slave. When I escaped, I was so disfigured, I wanted no one to see.

Contestant 3: I am Fannie Hooe. I was pregnant, unmarried, and begged my sister to hide me. She refused and banished me. I started a new life in Virginia as a widowed mother.

Thank you blog post

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

 

 

Interview with prolific author Jennifer Poulter about her pictrue book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance

readilearn: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance

Meet Australian author J.R. Poulter as she discusses her beautiful picture book Hip Hop Hurrah Zoo Dance which is great for reading and getting kids moving.

This week I am delighted to introduce you to prolific Australian author Jennifer Poulter. Jennifer writes fiction and poetry for children, education and the literary market. She has had over 50 traditional books and thirteen digital picture books published. She writes under the names J.R. Poulter and J.R. McRae and has received numerous awards for both fiction and poetry writing.

Throughout her career, Jennifer has been employed in numerous roles including Senior Education Officer with the Queensland Studies Authority and Senior Librarian with the State Library of Queensland. She even once worked in a circus. In addition to writing, Jennifer is also an editor and artist. Now, under the banner of Word Wings, Jennifer collaborates with other creatives from over 20 countries.

Today I am talking with Jennifer about her picture book Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance.

What initially attracted me to this book is its ability to get children moving. What a great way to incorporate fun with movement and reading into any day.

The book also fits perfectly with a dance curriculum that encourages children to become aware of their bodies and how they move in space, to explore and improvise dance movements. Children can be encouraged to move like the zoo animals in the book or improvise movements for other animals and objects that move.

But Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance can also find its place in the literacy curriculum. Written in rhythmic verse, it encourages children to join in with the reading. It has a treasure of words to delight and extend vocabularies and add sparkle to writing; words like ‘limber, fandangle, prance and shimmies’. Children will laugh at the hippos with the backside wobbles and be intrigued by the combination of illustrations by Jade Potts and the variety of media used by designer Takara Beech in creating the double page spreads.

If you throw in some counting of animals and legs, needs and features of living things, and places they live, you can cover almost the entire curriculum with this one little book. But enough from me, let’s find out what Jennifer has to say.

Continue reading: Introducing Jennifer Poulter, author of Hip Hop HURRAH! Zoo Dance – Readilearn

Kathy Hoopman on teaching children with ASD in the classroom

readilearn: Teaching children with ASD — ideas for the classroom- with guest author Kathy Hoopmann

Do you have children with Asperger Syndrome in your classroom and wonder how best to cater to their needs? Do you have friends with Asperger Syndrome, or maybe have it yourself? This week’s guest Kathy Hoopmann has a wealth of suggestions to help you understand, appreciate and enjoy the complex syndrome that is known as ASD.

Combining her knowledge of Asperger Syndrome with her teaching background, Kathy has written over twenty books for children and adults.  She is best known for her photo-illustrated books that deal with Asperger Syndrome, ADHD and anxiety.  The simplicity, charm and insight of these books has made them must-haves for children and adults around the world.

Kathy has won and been shortlisted for many literary awards including the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award, and she has four times been awarded a silver Nautilus Award (US).  Her books have been translated into thirteen languages and sell widely in Australia, the UK, the US and the Middle East.

The books help children and adults with ASD recognise that they are not alone and provide support to carers, teachers and other professionals working with people with ASD.  In any home, school or classroom library Kathy’s books would help everyone learn to understand and support each other.

Welcome to readilearn, Kathy. Over to you.

The boy crawled under a table, his cap pulled low.  All eyes were on me to watch what I would do.  I was the relief teacher, or ‘light relief’ and the class was eager for a good show.  But I had been a relief teacher for too long to take the bait.  Besides, I recognised the behavior.  The boy displayed many characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder and frankly under the table was the very best place he could be, for his sake and mine. 

‘Miss?’ a child ventured, ‘Billy’s under the table and he’s wearing a hat indoors.’

Continue reading: readilearn: Teaching children with ASD — ideas for the classroom- with guest author Kathy Hoopmann – Readilearn

and be sure to check out the generous discount offered to readers during the month of July.

sketchy perceptions

Sketchy Perceptions

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompt sketches

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a sketch or about a sketch. It can be “A Sketch of a Romance” or “The Sketch of Aunt Tillie.” Go where the prompt leads you to scribble.

My thoughts were a bit sketchy. This is what I came up with. I’d be interested to know your perception.

Sketchy Perceptions

He sketched the outline with chalk then filled in the details, outside-in. Curious passers-by gathered as the image emerged. Was the artist a paid entertainer or busker earning a buck? Some pushed coins into children’s hands to add to the chalk-drawn cap. When satisfied with his work, the artist stood in its centre and tossed the cap and contents high. As they fell, he spread his arms and disappeared into the painting. Perplexed on-lookers reported different perceptions. Many said he plummeted into darkness. Some said he flew on gold-tipped wings. Others described him simply as absorbed by his art.

It is easy to make snap judgements about others and situations from sketchy information, even at first sight. We do it all the time as we try to make sense of what we perceive, evaluating it against our existing knowledge and beliefs.

I have strong beliefs about education and how children learn so can quickly judge whether I will agree with the content of articles or not. However, I don’t confine my reading to articles that I know will support my beliefs. I read articles from a variety of viewpoints to gain some understanding of others’ positions. If I don’t know what they think, how can I interrogate those thoughts and evaluate them against my own, perhaps even reassess my beliefs? I would rather be informed than base my ideas upon sketchy information.

This week, I had the pleasure of reading two articles in popular media which reiterate things I have written about a number of times previously.

The title of an article by Angela Mollard in my local Courier-Mail intrigued me: We should be ashamed of how we treat teachers. The media is often quick to criticise teachers, blaming them for almost all of society’s ills, it sometimes seems. I wondered at the intent of this article. Mollard wrote that, although she is the daughter of a teacher, sister-in-law of a teacher, and friends with many teachers, she had no idea of a teacher’s life until she read the book Teacher by Gabbie Stroud. I am yet to read this memoir, but it is now high on my TBR list.

Mollard says, “She (Stroud) writes of the sacred bond between teacher and pupil, of advocating exhaustively for their needs, of loving them even when they were abusive and damaged and victims of the most heartbreaking of family circumstances.”

Mollard follows this by telling us that “Ultimately, Stroud gives up being a teacher. She’s broken by the profession but she maintains that she didn’t leave teaching, it left her”, and describes her book as “a clarion call to educators to change a system that values standardisation over creativity, curiosity, progress, self-belief and autonomy.”

Oh, yes! I applaud. I know many teachers who feel the same way.

Mollard then goes on to say that if parents want inspirational teachers for their children, they must be inspirational too, that they must stand beside and support teachers and do what they can to lighten their workload so more help can be given where it is truly needed. If you are a parent, please read the article for her suggestions. I have sketched out just a few of her ideas here.

If you can do only one thing for your children, it should be shared reading is the title of an article by Ameneh Shahaeian and Cen Wang in The Conversation. To any regular readers of my blog, the idea behind the title will be very familiar. It gladdens me when I see others promoting such good advice for parents.

However, in the article Shahaeian and Wang surprised me with the question, “is it really book reading that’s beneficial or is it because parents who read more to their children also provide a lot of other resources, and engage in a range of other activities with their children?

Does the question intrigue you as much as it did me? Shahaeian and Wang share the results of a longitudinal study they carried out to find an answer. Please read the article for their conclusions and suggestions for parents.

I’ve provided you with just the sketchy outlines of both these articles. If you are interested enough to read them, I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you blog post

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

 

there'll be good days like this, all is not lost

Days like this

Not the End of the World

Ever have one of those days? You know—it seems the world is against you, and everything you do goes wrong. Maybe you oversleep and in your rush, you fumble, make mistakes and get even later. You hurry to the stop as your bus pulls away. You flop down reviewing life’s punishments, and some jackass walks by telling you to “Smile, it’s not the end of the world.” What would he know? You open your phone and scroll: trivial drivel. Then this one story blows your insignificancies away. You phone your appointment, apologise and reschedule. All is not lost.

All is not lost Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge

I wrote this in response to the challenge that Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch set for writers this week, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “not all is lost.” It can include recovery from disaster, an unexpected insight after a fall, or however the phrase moves you. Go where the prompt leads.

In her post, Charli tells of her friend Cynthia who normally sleeps outside in a tent, even in the snow, but not on the night of June 16. As Charli explains, “In a few hours, the thunderstorm stalled over the lower Keweenaw and dumped 7 inches of rain. Cynthia, who usually sleeps where a mountain slammed into her house, slept inside that night. She and her daughter woke up when her refrigerator tumbled over. Water filled her stairwell to the bedrooms on the second floor and pushed against their doors in a torrent, preventing escape.”

Though much was lost during that storm and its aftermath, Cynthia did not lose her spirit or her optimism. As she looked around at the devastation, she had thoughts other than loss (as quoted in Charli’s post):

“This is what I saw: beloved neighbors talking with selfless helpers and eating something finally as they gazed over tge work of some long days, people still digging and puzzling in the waterway, laughter ringing, dogs barking, a moon rising… and I was so pleased, so happy, so fulfilled. This is life, this is who we are capable of being. This is who we are. It was such a beautiful scene. It is our new reality. Blessed be.”

All around the world, there are tragedies of enormous proportion: wars, floods, fires, droughts, volcanic eruptions, illness. The list goes on.

What I attempted to show through my flash is that it can be easy to get caught up in the trivialities of our daily lives and forget to look from afar and see how small they are. When our problems seem overwhelming, we don’t need to look too far to see someone in a worse position. For those of you who are truly suffering, I apologise, I in no way intend to trivialise your concerns.

I also intended it as a reminder that we don’t always know what someone else is going through and an off-hand remark to tell them to “cheer up” may not helpful.

It is the same for children in our schools, in our classes. We don’t know what bumps they may be experiencing to make them withdrawn, moody, hostile or aggressive.

To truly understand another’s position we need to listen, put ourselves in their shoes and consider how we would feel. We need to accept that the world doesn’t always work in the way or timeframe we wish.

If we could lend a helping hand, a listening ear, kind words, and an open heart what a more beautiful world it would be.

Just as Cynthia chose to see beauty in the scene around her, it is important to remember there’ll be days like this, that all is not lost.

Thank you blog post

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