Tag Archives: Children’s literature

Introducing author Cynthia Mackey – Readilearn

This month I am pleased to welcome first time author Cynthia Mackey to the readilearn blog.

Cynthia has always loved children’s literature.  After years of teaching preschool and kindergarten, she is proud to have written her first children’s book, Katie Shaeffer Pancake Maker.  Cynthia writes in her spare time and has plans to publish more picture books for children.  She lives on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada with her family and her piano where she faithfully continues her weekend pancake tradition.

Synopsis: In Katie Shaeffer Pancake Maker, Katie is too young to use the stove so she dreams of making her very own pancakes. Join Katie and her friend Baxter in this fun story as they use a passion

for collecting and building to find a way to realize Katie’s pancake dream!  This upbeat energetic tale with great potential for reading aloud will appeal to adults and young children alike.  The book includes a predictable rhyme that will have children chiming in as the story unfolds.  Children will celebrate with Katie and Baxter as their pancake dream becomes reality!

Welcome to readilearn, Cynthia. We are looking forward to getting to know you a little better.

Thanks for inviting me!

Cynthia, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Continue reading: Introducing author Cynthia Mackey – Readilearn

“If you want intelligent children, give them a book …”

If-you-want-intelligent children

These words piqued* my interest as they wafted to my ears from the TV set in the other room.

Who is that?” I called out.

Jackie French,” he replied.

I jumped up, eager to see and hear more.

Jackie French is a 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”.

I was delighted to find that Jackie’s speech was in acceptance of an Australian of the Year Award.

The media announcement released by the Minister for Social Services explains that Jackie was recognised for her “long and distinguished career as a beloved children’s writer, earning more than 60 literary prizes for her books.”

 “Jackie embodies this commitment (to changing lives in our community) and I’d like thank her for the work she continues to do sharing the power of reading and story-telling for young Australians, and her work in conservation.” 

Here is Jackie, Senior Australian of the Year 2015, accepting her award.

Failure-is-not-an-optionA-book-can-change-theThere-is-no-such-thing

 

In this next video Jackie talks about her book “Hitler’s Daughter”. You don’t have to have read the book to glean much of interest from the interview. In the discussion Jackie shares her thoughts about reading and writing. She questions how the ‘world’ in which one is, influences thoughts about good and evil and decisions that are made. She discusses how the need for evil to be resolved in a work of fiction differs between children and adults. She talks about whether it is necessary for a child to apologise for the sins of the previous generation, and how still controversial issues can be dealt with in an historical situation. It is worth listening to if you simply want something to ponder over.

Being an early childhood teacher I am more familiar with Jackie’s picture books such as

Diary of a Wombat, Baby Wombat’s Week, and Josephine Wants to Dance, which are delightful.

IMG_4302

Here is a video of Jackie reading Diary of a Wombat.

I have just discovered that Hitler’s Daughter is available as an audiobook, so it is going onto my list!

 

I congratulate Jackie on her award and thank her for the contribution she is making to the lives of so many and the future of our planet.

 

 

 

*piqued

In this sentence, I am using the word “piqued” to mean “stimulated or aroused my interest”.

How can one word be used to express opposite meanings? I don’t know how anyone is expected to learn or understand the nuances of this language we call English!

When I checked with my thesaurus to ensure I had chosen the correct word, this is what I found:

piqued 1         piqued 2

How many other words do you know that could almost be listed as its antonym?

Thank you

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

I’m (not) dreaming of a white Christmas

Last week the flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch was to write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. There was quite an assortment of responses, including mine. You can read them all here.

This week Charli has continued in the same vein, challenging us to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs something seasonal with something odd. 

In Australia that’s easy. We’ve already got Christmas in summer. Most people around the world would say you can’t get much odder than that!

But it is summertime in Australia and Christmas is just around the corner.

While we enjoy warm days at the beach and in the pool, picnics in the park and barbecues in the back yard, hoping the big storm doesn’t get us this time (like the one that hit Brisbane on 27 November); those from whom we have inherited our Christmas traditions are cooling down in the Northern Hemisphere, many looking forward to a (not too) white Christmas.

 

Shops here are playing traditional (northern) carols with snow, sleighbells and mistletoe; decorations are tinged with fake snow and cards show snowy scenes with families huddled around the fireplace.

While there is an increasing number of songs and books with an Australian flavour many are merely innovations on the traditional such, as “The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas”, “Aussie Jingle Bells” or “An Aussie Night before Christmas”.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

One innovation that I particularly like is The Twelve Underwater Days of Christmas by Kim Michelle Toft. Kim is an Australian who uses her talents as author and illustrator to educate children about the things she feels passionate about: ocean life and coastal habitats. Her illustrations, hand-painted on silk, are absolutely stunning.

12 Underwater days

In addition to the visual beauty of the book there is great value in the supporting information through which Kim explains the importance of conserving each of the creatures included in the book. While written by an Australian, the application of the book is not limited to our shores. Creatures from all over the world adorn the pages.  If you ever wished to own a book simply for the beauty of its illustrations, this is a great choice.

One original song I enjoyed listening to on the radio as a child is “Six White Boomers”. Despite the reasons that make me reluctant to mention it this year, it is a delightful tale of a joey who rides on Santa’s sleigh, pulled by six huge white kangaroos, to be reunited with his mother on Christmas Day.

Peter CombePeter Combe has written two albums of original, but with a traditional rather than specifically Australian flavour, Christmas songs for children, including this one:

Some Christmas traditions popular with Australian communities are Nativity plays, carols by candlelight and Christmas parades. Many classes and schools perform their own end-of-year “break-up” concerts to which parents and the wider community are invited.

Using the traditional Nativity play as the setting, Mem Fox created an original and fresh story in Wombat Divine. It is a delightful tale of Wombat who loved everything Christmas. When finally he was old enough to be in the Nativity Play he rushed along to the auditions. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a part that was just right for Wombat. Can you guess which part he got? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Children all over the world will identify with Wombat and his predicament and enjoy the heart-warming tale.

Books are wonderful gifts to give or receive at any time. The titles I have mentioned here are perfect for giving, reading and sharing at this time of year. When I was growing up there was always a book for Christmas and birthdays, a tradition that I have continued with my extended family and friends. You can almost, but not always, guarantee that if it is a gift from Norah, it is a book.

After my siblings and I had grown up and swelled the family numbers with partners and children of our own, my Mum used to say, “There’ll be no presents this year.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t a giving person, for she was. It was just that there were so many of us! When she passed away this year she had about fifteen grandchildren and eight grandchildren, in addition to her remaining nine children and their partners. (I’m saying ‘about’ for grandchildren and great-grandchildren in case I’ve missed some in the count!) You can imagine how daunting a task it would be to go shopping for all these people ranging in age from six months to sixty! However it was always surprising how frequently she did not follow her own rules and had a small something wrapped up to present to many of us.

This year there will be no presents from Mum, and more sadly, we will be without her presence.

Although I have borrowed my Mum’s words, “No presents” for both flash fiction pieces included in this post, the stories do not cast aspersions on her generosity. I have simply explored how the oddness of no presents or presence at Christmas time may have impacted Marnie, a character I have been developing in my flash fiction pieces, at different times in her life. At this stage of my writing I am still investigating her character, discovering a little more with each flash piece as her once indistinct figure begins to step out of the shadows and take shape.

This first piece is written about a difficult time for teenager Marnie and a situation that may be the catalyst for her leaving home.

 

No presents

Marnie jerked backwards avoiding the predictable grope. In so doing she collided with her mother, sending her sprawling onto the tattered sofa.

“Aargh!” her mother screamed. “Look what you’ve done!”

Marnie watched the liquid from the upturned glass merge with the patchwork of stains collected in the carpet. If it was her blood it would not have mattered more.

“I … I’m sorry,” she stammered. But her sorry was for all the years it had been like this.

He smirked, raising his hand to strike, “No presents for you this year!”

“That’s right!” She ducked. “No presence!”

 

So as to not be too dismal at this time of year, I have written a second piece about a younger Marnie for whom there still seems a glimmer of hope.

 

No presence

With faces as bright as their Christmas wear, the children bubbled into the room, each carrying gifts for the Kindness tree, “for those less fortunate”.

Parents fussed, removing smudges and replacing wayward hair before blowing kisses and hurrying off for the parade.

And there was Marnie: no parent, no Christmas dress, no gift, no smoothed-down hair; no smile.

One last chance.

“Marnie!” I beckoned, and held out my Christmas cape and crown. “Will you be my special helper?”

Our eyes locked communicating more than any words. Her smile was my reward.

“I’m proud of you,” I whispered.

Thank you

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

December reflections

The end of the school year in Australia has approached swiftly and silently this year, for me at least. You see, now that I am not in the classroom I am not absorbed by all the things that the end of the school year brings.

In Australia the school year coincides with the calendar year so November and early December are frantic for teachers completing the final assessment and reporting for the year, preparing their students (and themselves) for separation after spending so much of the year together, and making preparations to welcome a new class in the new year.

The classroom remains busy with learning and curriculum matters until the last day. Both teachers and students begin to tire and the warming (hot, in most parts of Australia) days in classrooms without air-conditioning add to the fraying edges of all as they anticipate the long summer holidays.

teacher beginning and end

One thing I always enjoyed about the end of the year, that made all the extra work and the increasing heat tolerable, was the learning about family traditions and celebrations, including Christmas.

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Some Australian Christmas picture books

Last year I wrote about some of the Christmas activities I did with my class, such as making friendship trees

Friendship treeand a co-operative 3D display.

3D Christmas tree display

3D Christmas tree display

I shared some suggestions for parents to support their children’s  reading, writing and maths development in fun ways during the holidays. (These and other items are available in my TeachersPayTeachers store.)

I also provoked a lively discussion about whether Christmas should be included in a school program by suggesting tens reasons for its inclusion. Many readers joined in explaining their position either in support or against.

I always enjoyed this special time of year. I loved hunting through discount stores for items with which children could make cards and gifts for their families and decorations for their home. Often we talked about “free” gifts they could give and made vouchers for things like a free car wash, breakfast in bed or unlimited smiles and hugs.

As well as the gifts they made for each other in class, such as the friendship trees and Christmas crackers, I always gave each child a small gift, usually a book to read, a pencil and notebook for writing in; something to do over the holidays.

While it was never expected, but always very much appreciated, many of the parents and children presented me with lovely ‘thank you’ cards, letters and gifts, some purchased, many home-made; all treasured. While the consumables were long ago enjoyed, many other items still adorn my shelves!

A selection of gifts from over the yeats

A selection of gifts from over the years

Brian

Sometimes it was difficult to know what to give as a gift to recognise a special teacher. This year Bec has come up with, what I think, is the perfect gift, though she didn’t design it for that purpose. It’s the apple cozy: a special little bag for carrying an apple safely, protecting it from bumps and bruises. They are available in her Made It and Etsy stores. An apple for the teacher in its own special bag: how cute!

Apple Cozy // Joyce

Apple Cozy // Joyce

Although there are no preparations for Christmas at work this year (except for Secret Santa) there is still much to do at home. The traditional time for putting up the tree and decorations is December 1, and I usually have mine up by the end of the first week in December. Now that both my children are grown and living in homes of their own, I thought I would have the lonely experience of decorating on my own this year (Hub says he helps by not helping, but actually he gets tree and decorations down from the roof space for me!)

What a delightful surprise it was to have both my children and grandchildren (all two of each) visit on the day I was putting up the tree and help me out. The joy that the excitement of a 3- and a 5-year old bring to such activities cannot be matched. I think we did a pretty good job! When I look at it I relive the fun we had together.

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

Although to most it would appear simply a Christmas tree, and some may consider many decorations to be ready for the discard pile, most decorations have a story to tell. For me it is a memory tree. It holds decorations made by my own children over the years, and now some by my grandchildren.  There are gifts from family and friends, and children I have taught. Each item, as it is placed on the tree, provides a time for reflecting upon the wonderful people whose lives have touched mine over the years. Each has its own story to tell of the joy that others’ kindnesses can bring. But it is more even that just a memory tree. It is a giving tree; a time for remembering and being grateful.

What are you family traditions? What and how do you celebrate?

Thank you

 

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

 

How much of a meliorist are you?

Recently I was sent a link to an article titled Cheer up, it’s not all doom and gloom published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s The Drum.

This article mentioned a book by Steven Pinker called Better Angels of Our Nature which had been recommended to me by Geoff Le Pard in a comment on my post about childhood illness. The premise of this book is that humanity, over the ages, has become less violent. After to listening to Pinker’s history of violence, I’m pleased that I live these relatively peaceful times.

 

The article also introduced me to a new term ‘meliorism’ which means having a belief that the world can be improved by the actions of humans. While the term may have been unfamiliar to me, the attitude is not and I attest that I am a meliorist.

I have a very strong belief in the power of education to improve the world. Education empowers individuals, and educated individuals empower societies to build improved futures. It becomes very difficult to sustain negative practices in the face of overwhelming evidence and information.

What better place is there for education to begin than in the home?

In a recent post I referred to a new book by Michael Rosen called Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (And Your Own) Best Teacher. At the time I had not read the book but now I can say, with great delight, that I have listened to most of it. With messages such as those contained in Michael’s book, it is easy to be a meliorist.

I think Rosen’s book should be available to, perhaps compulsory reading for, every parent; I consider its message to be that important. In fact, I am off to the shops today to purchase copies to give to parents of young children I know.  It will become part of my gift to new parents that also includes Reading Magic by Mem Fox and a selection of picture books. I have previously blogged about that here and here.

The “Good Ideas” contained in Rosen’s book, if implemented, will keep alive the natural curiosity of one’s children and oneself. They will encourage the development of thought, creativity and responsiveness.

In the next few weeks I will post a more detailed review of the book and some of Michael’s ideas for stimulating curiosity, whoever and wherever you are.

What about you? Are you a meliorist?

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.

Thank you

Reading is all it’s cracked up to be: 10 tips for an early childhood classroom!

This post almost didn’t get published. It almost fell through a crack into the never-never. But just in time the safety net sprang into action and saved it from obscurity.

That may matter more to me than it does to you, but as an educator I hear too often about children who ‘fall through the cracks’, who fail to thrive in the school system, who miss out on the inspiration and timely support that would empower them on their journey to life-long learning.

Like those children, this post was an also-ran. It didn’t quite get it, didn’t quite reach the expectations. But then I read something that confirmed for me the importance of sharing my message.

You see, the love of reading is contagious. It can be caught from anyone, anytime.

However, it can just as easily be extinguished; and the danger of that happening seems to be lurking in school systems packed too tight with lists of must do, must learn and must achieve expectations.

I consider it imperative that teachers prioritize time for children to develop a love of literature and reading that will expand their horizons and create a worthwhile companion on the journey of their lifetime.

Here are 10 easy tips for keeping the love of books alive in an early childhood classroom:
  1. Read aloud to children every day, ensuring that a variety of books and genres are being read and shared.
  2. Have a great supply and variety of children’s books available: picture books, fiction and non-fiction, collections of poetry, beginning chapter books, funny books, sad books, books about animals, space, people . . .
  3. Display books with covers facing out and give them pride of place. Make a display of ‘favourite reads’.
  4. “Sell” books to children (you won’t have time to read them all) by showing the cover and some illustrations; by telling what they are about, what happens, and what the children will enjoy about them.
  5. Make a reading corner with carpet, pillows and bean bags that invites children to get comfy while they read.
  6. Provide time for children to choose and read independently.
    • This can occur during quiet times set aside on a daily basis in which everyone, including the teacher, reads for 10 – 15 minutes. e.g. D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) or U.S.S.R. (uninterrupted silent sustained reading).
    • It can also be integrated into reading group or literacy centre activities.
  7. Share the enthusiasm for books by providing time for children to excite each other about the books they are reading in a sharing circle.
  8. Display books written by the children and allow access to them for independent choice. Include them in the sharing and ‘selling’ sessions also.
  9. Make a time to visit the school library for reading and borrowing.
  10. Invite other adults to the class to read to the children e.g. teacher-librarian, administrators, support personnel, parents and grandparents.

Let me know in the comment box a favourite tip of yours.

This week I have read some fabulous posts by teachers who are making sure there is time for joy and independent choice in their literacy classrooms. I will share these with you below.

The article that convinced me to share my thoughts was one that was not so joyful.

Written by Alexander Nazaryan, a first-year teacher, the article appeared in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times on July 6, 2014. He talked about not being able to meet the needs of his students and explained that it was not the fault of the students though, the fault was that they were mostly of poor and immigrant families.

He felt that asking these students to write about their own experiences did not have ‘the pedagogical value of a deep dive into sentence structure or a plain old vocab quiz.’

I was immediately struck by the similarity of a statement made to me by my son’s teacher thirty years ago. At the time I was leading an in-service workshop about teaching writing. I would have been talking about ways of engaging students in the writing process by giving them opportunities to write at length about things of interest to them; by encouraging the writing of a first draft to get the ideas down; by providing opportunities for redrafting, rewriting and editing; and opportunities for feedback by sharing their writing with peers; and by making the most of teachable moments through individual conferences with each student.

This teacher exclaimed that there was no way the children would be able to write anything of length as not one knew what a paragraph was, or indeed what a sentence was. The students were ten years of age and in their fifth year of school. I believe the statement to be more an indictment of the teacher’s inability to appreciate what the children could do, rather than an accurate estimation of their abilities. I knew for a fact that at least one student was more than capable of writing at length with a variety of sentence structures and correct paragraphing. I was certain he wasn’t the only one.

I am inclined to agree with Nazaryan that ‘Expecting children to independently discover the rules of written language is like expecting them to independently discover the rules of differential calculus.’

However trying to teach the skills of literacy through a barrage of meaningless drill and practice exercises in a joyless classroom is doomed to failure, and the children, sadly, will fall through the cracks.

What the children need, in my opinion and unlike that of Nazaryan, is a balanced approach. The skills of literacy need to be taught in a meaningful context.

That article and others, like this one from HuffPostParents about a year one girl who had to sit on the floor for weeks while her classmates sat at desks make me want to cry.

However it is not all bad, and there are some wonderful things happening.

Below are links to posts by or about teachers who are being far more inspirational to their students and other teachers on a daily basis.

very inspiring blogger

Tracking back to my post of July 9 The Very Inspiring Blogger Award (nominated by Geoff le Pard) I hereby nominate them for A Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

Vicki Vinton, blogging at To Make a Prairie

Matt Renwick at Reading By Example

This article by Brett Vogelsinger and posted on the Nerdy Book Club

Steven Peterson at Inside the Dog

Julianne at To Read To Write To Be

Carrie Gelson at There’s a Book for That

Used Books in Class

Three Teachers Talk

 

This brings me back to the reason that got me thinking about cracks, and children falling through the cracks in the first place. This week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a crack. 

Here’s my response:

The Crack

She willed the earth to open up and swallow her whole. But it didn’t. She just stood there trembling, attempting to hold back the deluge that threatened to engulf her.

She strained to remember, knocking her head with her fist. Quick. Try. Try. What’s the rule: i? e?  

She stammered an answer.  Wrong again!  Too many rules! Stupid rules! Broken – just like her.

She fled, eyes stinging, mouth twitching; and as she passed, with one hand grasped the confiscated unicorn sitting askew the teacher’s desk.

Away they flew, the assault of mocking laughter fading far below.

 

 

Thanks for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post, including my flash piece.

 

 

Whose story is it anyway?

Nor and Bec reading

Children love stories.

They love being read stories and beg for them to be read, over and over again.

Equally as much, if not more, they love being told stories, especially stories of their own lives. They beg for them to be told over and over, listening attentively and with wonder as their own stories (her story and his story) are being revealed. They commit these tales to memory so that eventually it is difficult to distinguish the genuine experiential memory from the telling. Even as adults they seem to not tire of hearing tales of the cute things they did when they were little, or of shared experiences.

They also love being told stories of their parents’ lives. These are the stories that help define them and their existence: how they came to be. The stories tell of times gone by, and of how things used to be. They marvel that their parents were once children and try to imagine how that might have been.

My daughter would often ask for stories about herself, her brother, myself or other family members. One day when she was about six, she asked again, ‘Tell me a story about when you were a little girl.’ Before I could respond she jumped in with, ‘What were the dinosaurs like?’ She was teasing, of course, and her comedic timing was perfect. A story was created, one that has been shared many times.

History is a story, though at school I never saw it as such. Had it been a story of lives, as its name implies, I may have been interested. But history at school was a list of wars and dates, and kings and queens to be memorised and regurgitated for a test at the end of the term. There was no story, no human emotion, no semblance to any narrative that may have lured me in.

I hope that today’s students of history are not required to commit sterile lists of facts to memory without the stories that would give them meaning and significance, some human element to help the information stick.

History, as a subject, had always been relegated to high school. It was not a discrete part of the primary school curriculum, though aspects were explored in other subject areas such as ‘Social Studies’ when I was at school, or more recently ‘Studies of Society and Environment’. With the introduction of the new Australian Curriculum, History is now a stand-alone subject.

As an early childhood teacher I was a bit terrified that young children would be required to memorise lists of seemingly random facts and dates. I’m pleased to say that, for the early years anyway, this is not so. Children in the early years start by exploring their own history and the history of their family, considering similarities and differences between their lives, the lives of their parents, and of their friends.

I applaud this as an excellent starting point. I believe, when working with children, connections must always be made with their lives and what they know. What better starting point than investigating the traditions of their own family and culture.

In Australia, as I am sure it is in many other places, a great diversity of cultures is represented in each classroom. Encouraging children to share similarities and differences of traditions with their classmates helps to develop understanding of each other’s traditions and beliefs, which in turn fosters respect and empathy. For this purpose, I developed some materials to make it easy for children to share their traditions. These are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Whoever you areMem Fox has written a beautiful picture book Whoever you are that I love to share with children when discussing their cultures and traditions. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes, eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.

I also like to sing I am Freedom’s Child by Bill Martin Jr.; and in Australia we have a great song that tells about our different beginnings, I am, you are, we are Australian by Bruce Woodley.

Heal the World by Michael Jackson is another great one for appreciating diversity and fostering inclusivity.

What got me thinking about history in particular for this post is the flash fiction prompt posted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli’s challenge is to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far.

 

This is my contribution:

washing 1949

Washing day

Her freckled, calloused hands were red and chaffed as they gripped the wooden stick and stirred Monday’s sheets in the large copper pot heating over burning blocks of wood.

The children played in the dirt nearby, scratching like chickens, hopeful of an interesting find.

The dirt embedded under her torn and splitting fingernails began to ease away in the warm sudsy water as she heaved the sodden sheets and plopped them onto the wooden mangles.

The children fought to turn the handle, smearing dirty handprints on the sheets.

She sighed, and hung them over the line. One chore done.

 

I welcome your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash fiction piece.