Tag Archives: family history

A Story with a Lie #99WordStories

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills was talking about family histories not always telling the truth. There are parts of my family’s history that may not be totally accurate too. There are different versions of some tales, and not just of events from different perspectives.

Last year when I wrote a brief book about her female ancestors for my granddaughter on her tenth birthday, I included a version of a story that my father related. When his only remaining sister read the account, she informed me that it was wrong. Somehow, she said, all the males of the family told my father’s version, but my aunt was sure she had the correct version.

My father said that my great grandmother Hannah was born in England and met her future husband George in England before emigrating to Australia. He said that George came to Australia as a paying passenger and that Hannah masqueraded as a cabin boy and worked her passage out. He said that George called her Jim so as to not give her secret away. They arrived in Brisbane in1891 and married on 11th June that year. Hannah gave birth to six children, two of whom died in infancy. Fortunately for me, one of the survivors was my grandmother.

According to my aunt, it was Hannah who paid her way out and George who worked as a cabin boy. I think. Perhaps I’d better check while I can and before I spread too many other lies.

As well as untruths, many families have skeletons that they like to keep locked in the cupboard. My family has a few of those too. When my mother’s brother was researching the family history, he discovered that one of our ancestors had been transported to Australia for a minor misdemeanour, as many were, such as stealing a loaf of bread. I can’t be sure. Both my mother and uncle were horrified and didn’t want to tell anyone, but somehow the word got out. It’s not so bad really. We found out that there’s a similar ancestor on my father’s side. Nowadays, it’s more acceptable to have a convict way back in the family tree than it was for previous generations. Most are no longer fazed by it.

When Charli challenged writer to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes a lie. What is the lie? It can be subtle or blatant. Who tells the lie and why? Is it an unreliable narrator? Go where the prompt leads! how could I go past family lies and skeletons? I’m sticking with my two little girls again, sans their red car this time. I hope you enjoy it.

A Skeleton in the Cupboard

Lucy was opening and closing every cupboard in the house.

“What’re you doing?” Amy asked.

“Mum lied,” said Lucy.

“About what?”

“The skeleton.”

“What skeleton?”

The skeleton. Mum said Dad has a skeleton in the cupboard. I can’t find it.”

“You won’t find it.”

“Why not?”

“Cause it’s not a real skeleton.”

“Skeletons are so real. I’ve got one and you’ve got one. Everybody’s got one.”

“Not those sorts of skeletons.”

“Then what?”



“Things they don’t want nobody else to know.”

“So, Mum did lie.”

Amy sighed. “Mum didn’t lie, but there’s no skeleton in the cupboard.”

Thank you blog post

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

Note: The collection of stories made in response to the previous prompt Something Squeaky, excluding mine because I didn’t get it done in time, can be read at the Carrot Ranch.

Grandmas are Greater than Great by James Solheim – #readilearn

How could I resist a picture book titled Grandmas are Greater than Great? I was captivated by Kaitlyn Sanchez’s interview with author James Solheim on her blog Math is Everywhere and knew immediately that I would have to buy this book for my granddaughter’s tenth birthday later in the year.

When I was turning ten, my grandfather impressed on me how grown up I was becoming now that I had reached double figures. I’d never forgotten how important it had made me feel. When my grandson turned ten, I wrote him a letter telling him about the significant milestone and what my grandfather said to me. With his little sister’s tenth birthday fast approaching, I knew I had to do something similar for her, but not the same. Solheim’s book seemed just the thing, so I ordered it immediately. I wasn’t disappointed. (I wasn’t disappointed either when I received a free copy from the author, simply because I’d commented on Kaitlyn’s blog. How awesome is that!)

About James Solheim

James Solheim’s books circle the globe and travel through centuries.  They explore the wackiest foods on earth and tell the stories of history through our grandmas.

Born in rural North Dakota in the U.S., he grew up mostly in Missouri.  As a child he wrote and illustrated his own books and looked for lost civilizations and dinosaur bones in his backyard.

He met his eventual wife when he was assigned to sit by her at a spelling bee in eighth grade, with the result that he misspelled “paisley.”  She is now a scientist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.  Their two children are imaginative, talented grownups—grown up compared to their dad, that is.

Invite James to your school or organization to give one of his “Think Big!” presentations. These programs help kids set big goals and see the importance of books in reaching them.

He’ll even do an online visit with your school or book group!

About Grandmas are Greater than Great

Grandmas Are Greater Than Great is a humorous, animated, and informative look at the lasting power of ancestors. Explore families, generations, and kid power in this heartfelt collaboration between James Solheim and bestselling illustrator Derek Desierto.

Everyone has two grandmas, and every grandma has her own two grandmas. This cycle continues back through time and history.

Traveling from generation to generation, this dynamic picture book offers young readers a bird’s-eye view of how daily life has changed over time. But despite all the differences, one thing has remained the same: a grandma’s love.

James Solheim’s lively text and Derek Desierto’s exuberant illustrations capture the delights and challenges each daughter, mother, and grandma encountered through the centuries. This rich multigenerational story explores the idea that we are all the product of those who came before us, and it will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Grandmas Are Greater Than Great includes basic information on exponential growth and a family tree.  It’s a gift of a book for all ages to read with their families, friends, or on their own.

My Review

Continue reading: Grandmas are Greater than Great by James Solheim – 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.


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.



20 Lifetime changes

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin

My big sister and me © Norah Colvin

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

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

 © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

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

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

 © Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

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

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

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

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

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

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

old school room

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

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

I don’t ask for much, do I?

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


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

Thank you

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