Monday, October 29, 2018

Is my Child Gifted? You'll need more than test results to tell.

Imagination & creativity starts early
Spotting whether your child is gifted requires more than success on school tasks. I've written previously about the need to see giftedness as much more than simply intellectual skills and knowledge that can be established with a narrow range of intelligence tests. One person who has stretched our understanding in the area of giftedness is Howard Gardner in his work on Multiple Intelligences. While some gifted children demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc). In this post I want to focus on how drawing can help us to assess giftedness. If you're interested in more information on supporting gifted children you can read a previous post HERE which covers some common territory, but has additional ideas for older children.
How Drawing Can Demonstrate Giftedness?

Evelyne's 'Horse in a T-Shirt'
A few years ago, I observed some children using scribbles as part of an improvised drawing game. One made a squiggle and the others tried to turn it into an animal. The first child turned the scribble into a monster. The squiggler responded, "you can't do a monster, the idea of the game is to draw a real animal, anyone can draw a monster".

He then drew another squiggle. The next child turned it into a horse which in her words was "a horse with a T-Shirt on" (see opposite). He replied, "but you can't have a horse with a T-shirt on, because they don't wear T-shirts". She replied "well this one does and that's the type of horse I drew with your squiggle".

Let me stress that all three children mentioned in the above example, are gifted in different ways, but two were demonstrating their giftedness in this activity. While drawing can be a way to assess giftedness, it isn't the only way that different children, or even the same child on different occasions, can show their giftedness. But we can learn much from children's drawings (especially the child under five) that can be a pointer to giftedness?

Ten Things Drawing Can Teach us About Giftedness

Evelyne's drawing and some of the other drawings shared in this post can help us to identify giftedness. What might drawings help us to see?

1. They can show the ability to take a simple task and use it in a novel way, or for different purposes. Evie's drawing shows a preparedness to think outside the box.

2. They also help us to see if a child is able to see the unusual, think in novel ways, and observe possibilities that others don't. The camel drawing below from a three year-old shows this (note its shadow on the ground).

Sketch of 'A Camel & Its Reflection' (Lydia aged 3yrs)

3. It can also demonstrate the willingness of the child to experiment and take risks. These characteristics are evident in many gifted people, e.g. entrepreneurs need these qualities.

4. At the most fundamental level, they can demonstrate the ability to create something original. Not simply a drawing like all other drawings by children of the same age, but something different. For example, ask a 6 years-old to draw a house and you will usually see a hipped roof with chimney, two windows and a central single door.

Above: Child drawing of house (courtesy of 'Childhood Architecture')

5. Drawings can also demonstrate the ability to think abstractly, metaphorically and insightfully, as the child uses drawing to explore thoughts and ideas. Evie's drawing of the T-Shirt wearing horse shows this.

6. As well, drawings can show that a child can generate many solutions and possibilities for the simplest and banal tasks.

7. They can also demonstrate a preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.

Here a 6 yr old positions the pterodactyl above its prey (see the creature in the bottom left-hand corner).

8. Drawings also offer a window into a more mature (and unusual sense of humour), and a different perspective and view of the world. Their orientation will be unlike that of the average person. The drawing above illustrates just such a different perspective.

9. Drawing can also show a depth of knowledge about a topic that is often required to create a special image. For example, awareness of the anatomical make-up of an animal, or the details of mechanical device can be seen in images that the child generates. As well use of shading to show multiple dimensions, clever use of light and shade and so on, show knowledge of image and design.

10. Finally, drawing can also show how the child's mind leads them to see different things and pay attention to the novel and unusual that is then reflected in their drawings. The drawing below by a four year-old shows an image he drew after an outing to an aquarium. He created it as if it was viewed from the perspective of the fish. How did it see his granddad looking at it through the glass? That's his Grandad in the middle.

Jacob (4 years) draws Grandad from the unusual vantage point of the fish inside the aquarium looking out

Summing Up

All children are capable of demonstrating rich imagination and creativity, but some children demonstrate levels of creativity, insight, imagination and knowledge in drawing that suggest giftedness, beyond the typical and normal. Drawing can help us to look for this and encourage it. I have many other posts that will help you to see some of the ways that you can encourage bright and gifted children. You can read another one of them HERE.

Above: Creating a 'fairy' garden

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Perfect Read Aloud Picture Book for Children Aged 3-7

In my latest review of 15 wonderful picture books, several are stories that are just perfect for reading aloud to children at bedtime or to a whole class.

'I Got a Chicken for My Birthday' is a perfect read aloud book. I love this slightly 'crazy' book that outlines the most outrageous gift scenario.

What a birthday girl wants more than anything from her Abuela are tickets to the amusement park. Instead she gets a chicken. But this chicken is no ordinary chicken; it has plans! With a lot of hard work, and help from lots of other animals, this chicken may just end up building the girl the best birthday gift ever!

Sarah Horne's wonderfully expressive and funny illustrations make Laura Gehl's clever story come alive and complements the carefully crafted and very funny text. Laura is of course, the author of many successful previous books. Together, they offer an hilarious romp through an unlikely birthday.

How many times must you tell your grandmother what you want?! It seems three isn't enough. Ana concludes, perhaps a chicken is better than socks, a sweater, or underwear. Now this chicken seems to have been born with an independent spirit that would challenge anyone. But it also has a 'list' and some demands. Don't miss this funny book. I can't wait till I can read it to children aged 3-8. It will also be read and re-read by young readers aged 5-8. And believe me, they will want to read their favourite bits to other children and you!

Have a look at some of the other great books in my recent post HERE

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Fantastic New Picture Books for Readers Aged 4-9yrs

1. 'Giraffe Problems' by Jory John & illustrated by Lane Smith

Another very funny book from Jory John and Lane Smith. It was penguins with problems last time, but this time its Gerald the giraffe with a complex about his long neck. Just why is his neck so long and bendy and problematic! He tries to disguise it but that doesn't work.
"Yep, I feel bad about my neck.
I've tried dressing it up.
I've added a scarf.
Two scarves.
A bundle of scarves.
A mountain of scarves."
Poor Gerald, ties don't work, nor trying to hide it behind bushes, in ditches, in a river...
Every other animal seems so much more practical to Gerald. The zebra and elephant don't have this problem, nor turtle. But turtle has some wisdom that helps.

Just when he has exhausted his neck-hiding options and is about to throw in the towel, a turtle swoops in (well, ambles in, very slowly) and helps him understand that his neck has a purpose.

This is a wonderful follow on from the companion book 'Penguin Problems'. Lane Smith's images are stunning; including a memorable pull out page. With a thinly disguised message about accepting yourself, even if different, this team offers up another page turner that is fun and meaningful.

2. 'In-Between Things' written & illustrated by Priscilla Tey

This is a delightful debut picture book from Priscilla Tey. She sets a very high benchmark for herself. The words and images provide the young reader with a funny exploration of what the concept of 'between' means in all of its many facets.

To be 'in-between' is to be the dog in the middle of the two cushions on the sofa, while the pipes and a mouse are hidden, 'between' the floor and the ground. You can cross "an in-between bridge for dray paws and dry feet", in fact, if you "keep looking, eyes open, and in-between things will come clear. All kinds of wacky and weird will appear."

This is one of the more interesting recent 'concept books' for young readers aged 5-6 years.

3. 'Maya & Cat' written & illustrated by Caroline Magerl

Caroline Magerl is a well-known Australian author-illustrator, and the quality of this latest book shows why. She was born near Frankfurt in Germany and came to Australia when she was just two. If you're fortunate enough to be an illustrator who has great ideas for books, and can write as well, then you are in a special group of people who are able to craft special picture books. 'Maya & Cat' is one such book.

It is a wonderful tale about friendship and resilience. A mysterious cat appears on Maya's roof. Is it lost? Can she coax it down? Apparently not with feather boas, or a pompom on a stick. But a tin of sardines? "Cat came to see - and ate every oily silver morsel!"

But where does the cat really belong? Maya sets out to find out. This is a delightful and evocative tale with beautiful line and watercolour art that is rich in detail and interest.

Caroline won the Children's Book Council of Australia Crichton Award for new talent in children's book illustration for her picture book Grandma's Shoes (written by Libby Hathorn). This book demonstrates the work of a gifted artist and story teller. The book will be enjoyed by 3-7 year olds as a read aloud, or individual reading for readers aged 5-8. Wonderful stuff!

4. 'I Got a Chicken For My Birthday' by Laura Gehl & illustrated by Sarah Horne

I love this slightly 'crazy' book that outlines the most outrageous gift scenario.

What a birthday girl wants more than anything from her Abuela are tickets to the amusement park. Instead she gets a chicken. But this chicken is no ordinary chicken; it has plans! With a lot of hard work, and help from lots of other animals, this chicken may just end up building the girl the best birthday gift ever!

Sarah Horne's wonderfully expressive and funny illustrations make Laura Gehl's clever story come alive and complements the carefully crafted and very funny text. Laura is of course, the author of many successful previous books. Together, they offer an hilarious romp through an unlikely birthday.

How many times must you tell your grandmother what you want?! It seems three isn't enough. Ana concludes, perhaps a chicken is better than socks, a sweater, or underwear. Now this chicken seems to have been born with an independent spirit that would challenge anyone. But it also has a 'list' and some demands. Don't miss this funny book. I can't wait till I can read it to children aged 3-8. It will also be read and re-read by young readers aged 5-8. And believe me, they will want to read their favourite bits to other children and you! 

5. 'Beware The Deep Dark Forest' by Sue Whiting & illustrated by Annie White

Every child has to conquer their own special fears. And while others can help along the way, the final hurdle is always within. It is only the courage of Rosie to face her fears that can finally overcome the dangers of the Deep Dark Forest.

While she has been told: "You must beware the deep, dark forest!" and you she must "never, ever go in there" her tiny puppy Tinky doesn't get this and goes in alone. Tinky won't come back, so Rosie decides to follow into this dangerous and muddy place. And why would she?! It has "carnivorous plants" (well at least they say), "venomous snakes", wolves and even a ferocious troll!!

This whimsical tale from award-winning author Sue Whiting will delight children aged 3-7, and will be read many times by young readers aged 5-8. Annie White's delightfully rich and colourful illustrations are a wonderful complement to the text and help to bring the fears to life. Annie has illustrated over 60 books.

6. 'The King with Dirty Feet' by Sally Pomme Clayton & illustrated by Rhiannon Sanderson

There once was a king who hated bath time so much that he never washed. He was a very smelly king! The king finally consents to bathe in the river but no matter how clean he is, his feet stay dirty.

The people sweep away all the dirt in the land – but the air is choked with dust. The dust gets washed away but now the land is flooded with water. An enormous tapestry is sewn to cover the whole kingdom but now nothing will grow on the land... What is to be done?

The responsibility for a solution to the problem falls upon the 'head' of Gabu a loyal servant. What does the king command?

"You have three days to rid the land of dirt, and if you fail, do you know what will happen?" asked the king. "No, Your majesty" Gabu replies. "ZUT!" And what is ZUT? The king responds, it " the sound of your head being chopped off." A lovely book (truly) with a delightful and novel resolution before "ZUT" needs to happen.
Sally Pomme Clayton is a well-known writer, and a storyteller of some note, having co-founded the Company of Storytellers, that has had a big impact on storytelling in the UK. This story is based on a traditional Indian folktale. Rhiannon Sanderson is a Welsh illustrator and artist. She is a recent graduate of the Hereford College of Arts. Her stunning illustrations are created with a range of digital media. This is her first published book.

7. 'Square' by Mac Barnett & illustrated by Jon Klassen

This is the second book in the wonderful picture book trilogy by multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.

First there was 'Triangle', now we have 'Square'. Square lives in a cave, and each day he goes down into the cave, collects a block and carries it to the surface. He pushes it to the top of a hill and begins his work. What is the work? You'll need to read the book. Enter Circle, who is quite taken by Square's talent. "Square!" said Circle. "You are a genius! I did not know you are a sculptor?" But Square isn't quite sure about this high praise. But when Square decides he must sculpture one of his blocks of stone into the likeness of circle, there is a surprising result.

Once again, this great creative team has come up with an understated tale, funny in its very simplicity, and intriguing for young and old readers.

And guess what the final book in the trilogy will be called? "Circle" of course (out in 2019).

8. 'Backyard' by Ananda Braxton-Smith & illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb

Australian author Ananda Braxton-Smith and fine artist Lizzy Newcomb have created a stunning picture book. A work of art in its own right, and a team that has created a lyrical tale in word and picture that is set in life in a suburban backyard.

In this city,
that is like
other cities,
a sleepy-moony child
and a star-eyed dog
are watching 
the world

The book is also a stunning celebration of the natural wildlife of Australian backyards. 

Tawny frogmouths still as wood, with lamp-eyes lighting tiny movement everywhere.
Picking with fussy knitting legs, orb weaver nets her web.
A circus of evening midges spiralling always up.
Honeyeater gaping to catch tiny winds in her beak.

The backyard is viewed from a child's perspective as they stand on the back step at dusk and scans the backyard. The backyard can be teeming with life - birds, possum, native rat, bats, insects and bugs. This beautiful book encourages parents and teachers to reconnect children with their backyards and the natural world.

9. 'Want to play Trucks?' by Ann Stott & illustrated by Bob Graham

Jack and Alex meet almost every morning in the sandbox at the playground. Jack likes trucks — big ones, the kind that can wreck things. Alex likes dolls — pink ones, with sparkles. And tutus. But Jack doesn’t want to play dolls, and Alex doesn’t want to play trucks. Readers will smile at the quintessential playground squabble on display in this amusing, relatable tale from Ann Stott and Bob Graham. Luckily for Jack and Alex, the day is saved with a little bit of compromise — what about dolls who drive trucks? — and the easy acceptance that characterizes the youngest of friendships. Not to mention a familiar jingle from nearby that reminds Jack and Alex of something else they both like: ice cream!

In an age where discussions of gender stereotypes can feel contrived and almost over done in the school, this is a story that simply speaks of difference and acceptance. American author Anne Stott and Australian legendary illustrator Bob Graham create a delightful picture book for readers aged 4-6 years.

10. 'Hello, Horse' by Vivian French & illustrated by Catherine Rayner

Shannon is very big, but she’s beautiful, throwing her head up and looking at him with her dark eyes as if she knows everything there is to know. Catherine patiently teaches the boy how to talk to a horse quietly, how to feed her carrots, how to lead her across a field, even how to blow at her softly to show that he likes her. But is he really ready to climb up on Shannon’s back and take a ride?

This beautiful picture book combines a simple narrative about a horse named Shannon who meets an unsure little boy. With the loving coaching of his friend Catherine, he bravely learns about the joy of horses. The simple narrative has a parallel commentary on horses and their care. The book should attract horse lovers and those who are less sure of these wonderful animals. Perhaps children who have other fears and challenges.

11. 'Sleep: How Nature Gets its Rest' by Kate Prendergast

How do animals sleep? Some alone, some in packs, some upside-down, some in the daytime...Kate Prendergast takes a close look at the sleeping habits of a wide range of animals, birds and fish. Includes meerkats, bats, horses and dogs - and who knew that fish slept with their eyes open? A first information book, illustrated with beautiful close-ups of the animals featured, the book ends with a question - do animals dream? and four pages of curious animal facts.

This wonderful non fiction book is the creation of Kate Prendergast. Kate is such a talented illustrator and writer. Her drawings of animals are exquisite, and her text, simple but elegant. I wanted to reach out and pat the tiger as it sleeps. I just love her work.

12. 'Bonkers About Beetles' by Owen Davey

I've reviewed Owen Davey's work before on this blog, including 2 of the other three books in this wonderful series of factual picture books for children. The previous titles were 'Mad About monkeys', 'Smart About Sharks' and 'Crazy About Cats'. They are scientifically accurate, beautifully illustrated and engaging reading. Children will spend hours with every one of the books in the series. Every non-fiction collection should have some of Owen Davey's work.

Did you know that there are roughly 400,000 different species of beetles? These incredible creatures make up about 25% of all animals on our planet! Beetles are superbly adapted to life in various climates across the world, wherever trees and flowers are found. From the mighty Goliath beetle to the beautiful iridescent scarab beetle, this captivating and stunningly illustrated guide will teach you everything you need to know about these fascinating insects.

13. 'The Happiness Box: A wartime book of hope' by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Andrew McLean

This is an inspiring narrative non-fiction picture book by award winners Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean. It is based on an incredible true story that is one of many from the horrors of the infamous WWII Changi prison in Singapore. This poignant tale centres on some toys and a small illustrated storybook that the prisoners wrote and illustrated for the children also interned in the prison. The book survived after being buried in a box to stop the guards destroying it. After the Japanese surrendered at war's end, it was dug up and returned to one of its creators and is now held in the State Library of NSW in Sydney.

The award-winning team of Mark Greenwood and Andrew McLean bring to life this inspirational true story of a book that became a National Treasure.

14. 'Under the Southern Cross' by written & illustrated by Frane Lessac

This is another stunning picture book from Frané Lessac. This new narrative nonfiction picture book, explores the Australia skies after dark. 'Under the Southern Cross' is a companion book to 'A is for Australia' (2015) and 'A is for Australian Animals' (2017). I reviewed both of these books in the past.

What makes ribbons of colour swirl in the sky? What are the spooky balls of light that bounce across the outback? What animal lays eggs that look like squishy ping-pong balls? Where can you watch a movie with bats circling overhead? Discover the answers to these questions and more in this factastic picture book tour of Australia after dark.

In Darwin after dark, families "snuggle in beanbags and deckchairs, to watch movies and munch popcorn - under the Southern Cross". At Mon Repos in Queensland, "tiny turtles scramble down the beach and paddle out to sea". In Hobart, "ribbons of colour swirl and twist and dance on the horizon - under the Southern Cross". So many wonders in the sky after dark! Alongside the simple narrative text is more detailed factual information about the natural wonders to be found in Australia under the night sky.

15. 'The Dam' by David Almond & illustrated by Levi Pinfold

A haunting, stunningly illustrated story of loss, hope, and the power of music from multi-award winners David Almond and Levi Pinfold.
This wonderful picture book has been created by David Almond and Levi Pinfold. David Almond is an author of extraordinary talent. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the prestigious Carnegie Medal, two Whitbread Children's Book Awards and the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international prize for children's authors. Levi Pinfold is also a widely awarded illustrator. His awards include the most prestigious award of all for any illustrator, the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2013. This is a stunning and haunting book from an amazing team.

Kielder Water is a wild and beautiful place, rich in folk music and legend. Years ago, before a great dam was built to fill the valley with water, there were farms and homesteads in that valley and musicians who livened their rooms with song. After the village was abandoned and before the waters rushed in, a father and daughter returned there. The girl began to play her fiddle, bringing her tune to one empty house after another -- for this was the last time that music would be heard in that place. With exquisite artwork by Levi Pinfold, David Almond's lyrical narrative -- inspired by a true tale -- pays homage to his friends Mike and Kathryn Tickell and all the musicians of Northumberland, to show that music is ancient and unstoppable, and that dams and lakes cannot overwhelm it.

A wonderful picture book for readers 7 to 97 years. A great option as a read aloud as well.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Testing Our Children Towards Mediocrity

In Australia, we have adopted a number of school-wide tests, of which NAPLAN is just one. NAPLAN does three-yearly sample assessments in science, literacy, civics and citizenship, and also information and communication technology (ICT). This is done for grades 3, 5, 7, & 9. To quote government documents, NAPLAN is designed to test "... the sorts of skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling and numeracy." The results have just been released, and as usual, we are castigating our schools and teachers for failing to teach well enough to the test (see HERE).

When we first started using NAPLAN, Australia was ranked highly in international assessments like PISA. But, as our education systems have increased the volume of testing with tools like NAPLAN, we have lost sight of their original purpose.
They were meant to provide advice to teachers and systems, about the areas of curriculum where students need additional help; they were never meant to be the key driver of pedagogy and classroom practice. It is clear now that teachers have (not surprisingly) increasingly taught to the test. But who could blame them!
Over the last 10 years our results in the international PISA assessments have been dropping in some areas. I believe that this, at least in part, is due to tests like NAPLAN shaping the curriculum and methods that teachers use. Such 'shaping' is inevitable in an environment of constant system-wide testing. I believe that this pressure shapes behaviour and priorities, as teachers and principals contemplate and predict what might be in the test. Is this the best we can do? Is the key goal of education to teach content in order to pass a test, devised by people who don't know the specific needs and background of the children from varied communities? I believe that the answer is no! 

Tests like NAPLAN are what assessment experts call summative assessment tools. They are designed to assess in objective ways what children know and don't know, as well as what they can and cannot do. They assess overall student achievements, monitor system wide student progress, identify areas of under and over performance, assess skills development, and in some cases, give direction guidance in relation to curriculum content.
But there is a problem with such system wide summative approaches. Key among these weaknesses is that no matter how hard you try to ensure that such tests are used to inform classroom pedagogy and right choices with curriculum content and skills development, teachers end up simply teaching to the test!
This type of assessment involves someone other than the teacher, to set a test that is designed to evaluate student learning at the end of a period of time, or a course of work. In summative assessment, performance is evaluated against a specific standard that is decided by people other than the teachers who knows the students.

The challenge for schools and their teachers is that they end up being criticized if the school 'under performs'. So, they try make sure that they teach to the test next time. Even worse, some parents send their children off to additional classes after school to be better equipped for the test. Practice tests abound in shops. We then end up in an endless cycle of teaching our students with one major purpose; to do well on tests. What's lost in such a vicious cycle is any sense of formative assessment of children by their teachers. The goal of formative assessment sets out to monitor student learning and provide feedback that teachers can then use to improve their teaching, and to help their students to improve their learning. Worse still, we lose sight of the overall key aim of education to shape the character of our students. School education was never meant to be a skill factory, it was meant to serve as a safe place where children could grow in knowledge, skills, human virtues and capabilities that would allow them to live and cope with life.

Above: My one-teacher school (guest teacher)
As a young primary school teacher, I was free of the ongoing incessant use of summative state-wide assessment. And so, I was free to use my own formative assessment strategies that were tailored to assess my students learning. Of course, I used lots of informal observation as well. I did this not just for individuals who had learning problems, but also for groups of learners of similar abilities, and also for my class as a whole. My observations and formative assessment occurred in subjects across the curriculum, including reading and writing, spelling, mathematics, social sciences, science and more. As a result, my students improved and made significant progress. In the case of students with specific weaknesses I devised my own activities and programs to help them improve. I'd then assess their progress and reassess my methods in light of their progress or lack of it. I used varied instruction programs and methods for up to four ability groups in my regular classes. I taught even more when in a one-teacher rural school with up to 31 students in the one room across grades Kindergarten to Grade 6. Freed from the need to teach to a national test, I was able to concentrate on my students as learners in many varied ways. But as well, I would administer key summative tests in areas like reading, spelling and maths on a regular basis, simply to see whether my students were reaching age related standards.

Overall, my 'formative' assessment was designed to help me teach so that students grew in skills and knowledge, as well as being equipped for life. Would they grow up with positive self esteem, could they cope with failure? Did they have human qualities of humility, kindness, a desire to serve and so on. Teachers today spend so much time testing, I wonder how they find time to know their students well enough to help shape them as people. My simple point is that if we over use summative testing regimes, we end up with many unintended consequences that do little to help children grow as learners. 

How can we stop this nonsense?

Step 1 - If we must have central system wide curricula, then let's involve the best of our teachers at every grade level in curriculum development. Let's always inform the process of review with the work of our best teachers. And let's limit it as much as possible.
Step 2 - Help teachers to understand thew role of formative assessment and identify the best of our practitioners to teach other teachers how to use formative approaches to grow and shape their students as learners and people.
Step 3 - Only use summative assessment regimes to inform system wide performance and to guide curriculum content, not to dictate and shape the methods and pedagogy of individual teachers. 
Step 4 - Offer additional professional development courses and ensure that there are expert teachers in every school, who help to equip colleagues with pedagogies that will assist them to grow children as learners and people. 
Step 5 - Treat teachers as professionals and stop the constant abuse of schools by politicians, media and the community at large.
Step 6 - Lets reward teachers for success in helping all of their students to grow as learners, not against external measures, but in relation to the individual growth and achievement of their students. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Children's Literature CBCA Award Winners 2018

The Children’s Book Council of Australia announced the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Awards on Friday 17th August. Each year across Australia, the CBCA brings children, teachers, families and books together to celebrate CBCA Book Week. Generally, Book Week commences the day after the awards are announced. The theme in 2018 is 'Find Your Treasure'.

The awards given in six categories. This post has descriptions of all winners and honour books.

1. Picture Book of the Year

Entries in this category should be outstanding picture books in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations. Ages 0-18 years [NB: this wide age range reflects the fact that picture books can be enjoyed at many levels. As well, at times picture books are written for older readers and include mature adult concepts and themes]


'A Walk in the Bush', by Gwyn Perkins (Affirm Press)

Little Iggy doesn’t want to leave the house, but Grandad insists – they always have fun together.

What follows is a wonderful journey in the great Australian outdoors with singing birds, wallaby surprises, secret caterpillar messages and oodles of grandad humour.

Here is a story about the wonders of nature, the funny side of life and spending time with the ones we love.

This is a wonderful picture book from a new entrant to the field.

Honour Books

'The Great Rabbit Chase' by Freya Blackwood (Scholastic)

Gumboots is a soft and beautiful pet rabbit. He has very sharp claws for scratching and very strong teeth for chewing. But what he does best is . . . escape. Everyone joins in on the great rabbit chase. A story that celebrates what it means to live in a community and a reminder that life is full of surprises.

Freya Blackwood is a well-known illustrator of many wonderful acclaimed books. This stunning book has been both written and illustrated by Freya.

'Mopoke' by Philip Bunting (Omnibus Books)

Philip Bunting has written a number of special picture books for young readers. 'Mopoke' will not disappoint. In Philip's words:

‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, our smallest and most common species of owl. They are known for a love of peace and quiet, and their eponymous “mo-poke” call.

My first picture book tells the story of one little owl’s struggle to find peace. With a deliberately dry and clipped tone, Mopoke is designed to sound like Australian banter, channel the look of a Glenn Murcutt house, and feel as warm as a midsummer night out in the bush.

2. The Eve Pownell Award 

Entries in this category should be books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style.
Ages 0-18 years


'Do Not Lick this Book' by Idan Ben-Barak. Illustrated by Julian Frost (Allen & Unwin)

Min is a microbe. She is small. Very small. In fact, so small that you'd need to look through a microscope to see her. Or you can simply open this book and take Min on an adventure to amazing places she's never seen before—like the icy glaciers of your tooth or the twisted, tangled jungle that is your shirt. The perfect book for anyone who wants to take a closer look at the world.

Honour Books

'Left & Right' by Lorna Hendry (Wild Dog Books)

Left and right are all around us. From our hands and feet to our eyes and ears, the notion of left and right is inescapable. Left and right control how we travel and play sport, and even how we eat. The vast extent of how this deceptively simple subject shapes our lives is revealed in the Left And Right book!

'Koala' by Claire Saxby. Illustrated by Julie Vivas (Walker Books Australia)

When a young male koala outgrows his mother's pouch, it's time to find a new home for himself — braving perils and adventures along the way.

In a high tree fork, a grey ball unfurls. Koala seeks his mother's milk, but for the first time, she won't let him into her pouch. It's time for Koala to make his own way in the world. Rival koalas, fierce storms, and frightening snakes force Koala to keep moving — until he finds a safe place to call his own. 

This is a wonderful book from a great Australian author and a legendary illustrator. 

At one level, this a wonderful story about a young koala growing up in the world. However, at the same time readers can learn a lot about this rare marsupial. A wonderful book for readers (or 'listeners') aged 4-7 years.

3. Early Childhood

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at the prereading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-7 years


'Rodney Loses It!' by Michael Gerard Bauer. Illustrated by Chrissie Krebs (Omnibus)

Rodney was a rabbit who loved nothing more than drawing. He never found it tiresome, tedious or boring. But then one day, disaster struck, the one thing Rodney feared, while working at his drawing desk his pen just...DISAPPEARED! A truly hysterical search for a missing pen, by award-winning author Michael Gerard Bauer.

Honour Books

'The Very Noisy Baby' by Alison Lester (Affirm Press)
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Here is the story of a very noisy baby. She could bellow like a buffalo, And roar like a lion, And howl like a wolf for a very long time.

The baby loves to make all kinds of sounds. She's really very loud. But when some animals in the town go missing, can the very noisy baby help? Find out in this wonderfully boisterous story, full of action, fun (and noise!).

Alison Lester is one of Australia's most accomplished and popular writer/illustrators who has been awarded many prizes. Fans will love this book.

'Hark, It's Me, Ruby Lee!' by Lisa Shanahan. Illustrated Binny (Hatchette Australia) Lee is a little girl with a very big imagination. Every week Ruby's teacher, Mrs Majestic-Jones, asks special people to do special jobs in her class. Ruby would do anything to be the messenger, as she's the best in her class at announcing. But will her wild imagination get in the way?

A delightful story about an adorable and irrepressible heroine.

4. The Book of the Year: Younger Readers

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers from the middle to upper primary years.
Ages 8-12 years.


'How to Bee' by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. Will Peony's grit and quick thinking be enough to keep her safe? 

A story about family, loyalty, kindness and bravery, set against an all-too possible future where climate change has forever.

 Suitable for readers 8-12 years.

Honour Books

'Henrietta and the Perfect Night' by Martine Murray (Allen & Unwin)

"Hello everybody, it's me. Henrietta the Great Go-Getter, and I'm having a big think. Right now I'm thinking I'd like a baby sister, so I can dress her up in different sorts of hats. But Mum says we'll have to wait and see. I'm terrible at waiting. Meanwhile, I'm an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries. I'm going to school for the very first time, which means I might have to go as a spy so that I can have a secret peep inside."

When Henrietta sees Olive Higgie crying in the classroom, she goes on a rescue mission and finds that you only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy. Henrietta's stories are full of funny thoughts and discoveries, and maybe the best are the ones that take a long time to come.

'Marsh and Me' by Martine Murray (Text Publishing)

There’s a hill out the back of Joey’s house. Hardly anyone goes there—it’s not a beautiful place, just a covered-over old rubbish tip. But Joey likes it up there. It’s his hill—somewhere he likes to go to wonder about life. He longs to be the best at something, to be a famous astronaut, or mountain climber, to stand out.

Marsh and Me is a story about friendship and trust and learning to believe in yourself and what makes you special.

The fact that Martine managed 2 honour books from separate publishers is impressive!

5. Book of the Year: Older Readers

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers in their secondary years of schooling. Ages 13-18 years. These books are for mature readers, so guidance is desirable for readers in their early teens.


'Take Three Girls' by Cath Crowley, Simone Howell & Fiona Wood (Pan Macmillan Australia)

This is a story about three girls which readers in their early teens will understand and enjoy.

Ady - not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
Kate - brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
Clem - disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda's antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try - but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

Honour Books

'Mallee Boys' by Charlie Archbold (Wakefield Press)

"Sometimes I feel like I'm neither one thing nor another. I live in the Mallee but I don't like the desert. I live on a farm but I get hay fever and I'm scared of goats. I like school but my best mates don't. I'm stuck between stuff. It's like I'm not meant to be here but I am." 

Sandy Douglas knows that life at fifteen is hard, but it's even harder when your mother died a year ago and nothing's gone right since. His brother Red, on the other hand, is eighteen now and working the farm. He's amped up on rage and always looking for a fight. And then there's their dad Tom. He does his best, but - really - he doesn't have a clue. As Sandy and Red deal with girls, dirt biking, footy and friendship, both boys have to work out who they want to be, without their mum around. The Mallee, where they live, may seem like the middle of nowhere, but it turns out this is going to be one hell of a year.

'In the Dark Spaces' by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

This is a genre-smashing hostage drama about 14-year-old Tamara, who's faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her kidnappers. Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive. But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis.

This excellent debut novel is a wonderful SCFI that will engage teenage readers.

6. Crichton Award for New Illustrators

The Crichton Award aims to recognise and encourage new talent in the field of Australian children's book illustration. Ages 0-18 years.


'Tintinnabula', by Margo Lanagan. Illustrated by Rovina Cai (Little Hare)

In wild times and in wartime, in times of fear and illness, I go to Tintinnabula, where soft rains fall.

Tintinnabula is a story about moving from discomfort to peace, from violence and uncertainty to a still, sure place. It reminds us that our best friend in hard times can often be ourselves.

This is a wonderful book about resilience. The book is a powerful contribution to the exploration of this theme that uses free verse and wonderfully evocative drawings to great effect.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Why Picture Books Matter, Even for Teenagers & Adults

I've written about this topic a few times in the last 10 years, but it is worth revisiting. Many people think that picture books are for little kids and that as soon as possible, we need to move them on to chapter books.  Some parents and teachers encourage their children to 'move on' to chapter books almost as soon as they become proficient and fluent in reading. This is a bad idea, for a range of reasons. All stem from four myths that underpin this well-motivated error.

Myth 1 - 'Picture books are easier reading than chapter books'. While some are simple, they can have very complex vocabulary, syntax and visual images & devices.  For example, Nicki Greenberg's graphic novel adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' is in effect a print-based staging of Hamlet's struggles with truth, meaning, morality and action. She brings the play to life in a riot of colour and visual acrobatics that makes 'Hamlet' accessible to new teenage and adult readers. And the text of Maurice Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' is a single sentence that is extremely complex, with a mix of embedded clauses, direct speech, unusual verbs and rich metaphor. Good picture books often use complex metaphors to develop themes, and the limitations of the number of words used requires the author to use language with an economy and power that many chapter books simply don't attain. The subtle use of image, word, page layout, colour and text layout variations can create sophisticated texts. Graphic novels and electronic picture books like 'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore', which I've reviewed previously (here), are taking this to a completely new level.

Myth 2 - 'Illustrations make it easy for children to read and they reduce the need to read the words'. While illustrations do work in harmony with the words, and authors can use 'stripped down' language that allow greater use of images, the interplay of illustration and words is often extremely complex, allowing the reader to discover new meaning each time they re-read the book, often over a period of many years.  So a child can read John Burningham's classic book 'Granpa' as a simple story about a little girl and her grandfather, but can revisit it years later and discover that it tells of the death of the little girl's Grandfather. And many adults may never see the underlying themes in children's books, like that of death in 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat'.

Myth 3 - 'Getting children reading longer texts earlier will maximise their reading growth'. Not necessarily! While having the chance to consolidate reading skills by reading lots of similar chapter books is good, pictures still have a place. In fact, pushing a child too quickly into long chapter books isn't necessarily best for young readers. At the point where readers 'take off' and want to read everything, to give them a series of books is satisfying for them and reinforces their knowledge of the world and knowledge of language. But this can offer less stimulation than good picture books and less challenge in terms of developing comprehension ability (see my post on 'Emerging Comprehension'). Picture books present multiple sign systems in one text. The parallel use of language, image and many other devices (e.g. colour and print layout), stimulates creativity and the imagination in ways that chapter books cannot. A book like Graeme Base's 'The Sign of the Seahorse' uses language, brilliant illustrations, a play text structure and other devices (including a map and hidden clues), to offer a complex text to be explored, read, enjoyed, 'worked out' and revisited many times. Or consider John Schumann's moving lyrics for the song 'I Was Only Nineteen' that tells the story of conscripted Australian teenagers being sent off to war in Vietnam. When combined with the illustrations of Craig Smith a powerful picture book is created that can challenge readers from 6 to 60 years of age.

Myth 4 - 'Picture books are just for children'. Not so! Pick up any Shaun Tan book and you might at first read think, "Wow, is this a book for adults?" 'Tales From Outer Suburbia', 'The Arrival', 'The Lost Thing', in fact any of his books, have a depth and richness that can 'stretch' and challenge any child or adult. My first reading of his more recent book, 'Rules of Summer', left me perplexed and with so many questions I had to read it again, and again to grasp the depth of this deceptively simple story about the relationship between two boys (one older and more dominant than the other). This is a story about rules and power with Tan's characteristic images prodding your imagination at every turn of the page. Like all quality picture books, it can be entered by readers of all ages and leave them enriched in different ways.

While the majority of picture books are designed for readers under the age of 7 years, more and more are written for much wider readerships and the rapidly developing genre of the 'Graphic Novel' (see previous post here) because they allow the author to use word, image and other modes (including related audio, video and music) to create more complex tellings of the story the author has in mind.  For example, books like 'My Place' and 'Requiem for a Beast' and 'When the Wind Blows' were never meant just for children. In fact, Matt Ottley's book was actually meant for high school readers. The great thing about picture books is that children and adults can both enjoy them, sometimes separately, and sometimes together. The latter is an important way to grow in shared knowledge and understanding as well as a key vehicle for helping children to learn as we explore books with them.

So, what do Picture books do for older readers?

Picture books communicate complex truths in relevant and economical ways - 'Harry and Hopper' by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood helps readers of any age to have a light shone on the challenge of accepting and dealing with death so that life for those left behind can move on, even though death changes things in big ways.

Picture books offer special pathways to deal with deep emotional challenges and springboards for discussion - 'Dandelion' by Calvin Scott Davis (illustrated by Anthony Ishinjerro) allows the inner pain of bullying and the fears it brings, to be visited and opened for reflection and growth.

Picture books also enliven and reintroduce wonderful classic short stories - Oscar Wilde's 'The Selfish Giant' is made fresh and relevant again through the illustrated picture book of Ritva Voutila. This tale of forgiveness is enriched by Voutila's contribution. So too Ted Hughes classic 'The Iron Man' is enriched with the illustrations of Laura Carlin and the graphic and paper craft design. 

Picture books bring the power of image and graphic layout to words in ways that add layers of meaning that would take thousands of words to communicate - Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks work 'The Dream of the Thylacine' shows this with great power when Brooks surreal images of the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger have embedded within them grainy black and white photographs of the last miserable creature caged in a Tasmanian zoo in the 1930s.

Picture books can achieve things at times which the novel cannot - Irene Kobald & Freya Blackwood's brilliant picture book 'Two Blankets' manages to offer insights into the inner struggles of a girl who arrives from a war-torn nation to the strangeness of a new land. It is primarily through the metaphorical use of an object - a blanket - that the author and illustrator jointly communicate a significant story about the strangeness of language and place in a unique way.

Summing up

It's good to encourage younger children to progress to chapter books as they become proficient in reading, but we shouldn't simply discard picture books assuming they have little challenge for them anymore.  The stimulation and challenge of the mixed media opportunities that picture books offer, are very important for language stimulation and development as well as creativity and the enrichment of children's imaginations. Children may well be growing in language proficiency quickly, but their emotional maturity might not. Picture books do more than offer words and language, they help children to grow in knowledge of the world as well as emotionally and intellectually. They also serve as mirrors into their lives and windows into their world.

Picture books are important for children aged 0-12 years, so don't neglect them or discard them in a perhaps well-intentioned but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember, books are foundational to language, writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They also represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text.
Other reading

Previous post on 'Requiem for a Best' and graphic novels HERE

Previous post on 'Emergent Comprehension' HERE

All my posts on picture books HERE