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

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Growing Children's Imagination & Creativity

Above: Relaxing in her cardboard cubby (Lydia age 4)
Children begin very early in life to imaginatively recreate story, experiences, life situations and ideas deep within. The human capacity to tell and recreate story is strong and is seen very early in life. This should not surprise us because imagination, creativity and story telling is basic to life, and together, distinguish us from all other creatures.

My youngest granddaughter Lydia has been fascinated by story since her first year of life. As a three year old she would use objects of every kind to create stories. Two lettuce leaves became two butterflies, the central characters in her mealtime story. Not all of her stories are retellings of known stories, in fact many are original innovative stories that she crafts using stimuli in her environment. Story for Lydia can also be stimulated by television (e.g. 'Everything's Rosie', 'Charlie and Lola', 'In the Night Garden'), books and all of life's everyday experiences.

The cardboard cubby above was created to her specifications from a box that our new washing machine came in. "I'll have the door here", "the window there". "Can I have a chimney please", and a "one on the roof". "A skylight I asked?". "Yes, of course!"

Imaginative play and storytelling are essential parts of learning. In previous posts I've called this re-creation (i.e. the reconstruction, presentation or retelling of a story in new ways), but it takes many forms.

Above: The fully furnished cubby

Story in its own right is critical to learning, communication and well-being. This is something that I've written about many times (for example HERE & HERE). For children, the re-creation or reliving of a story is a critical part of their growing knowledge of narrative as well as a way to gain knowledge.

Young children often quite naturally use imaginative storytelling to support and play with known stories or varied life situations and experiences:

Above: Beans become tusks for the walrus!
  • Changing rhymes and songs, e.g. 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to 'Baa Baa White Sheep' as Lydia does often.
    Acting out 'Little Red Riding Hood' with the resources of the dress-up box and some friends.
  • Dramatizing a well-known children's song from television or CD or a children's picture book.
  • Using art or drawing to imagine a story character, mythical creature or story setting. 
  • Using Lego (or other toys, props and objects) to re-imagine story alone or with others.
  • Creating something new that grows out of an experience of story. 

 Here are a few examples of how this can be encouraged at varied ages.

Examples of Imaginative Re-creation by Age Group

a) Toddlers (1-3 years)

  • Being encouraged to be a wild thing as the story 'Where the Wild Things Are' reaches the critical moment when Max declares 'Let the wild rumpus start'.
  • Finger Plays and rhymes ('This Little Piggy', 'Incy Wincy', 'Round and Round the Garden') 
  • Retelling Thomas the Tank Engine stories using the various engines that feature in the story.
  • Using dolls or soft toys to act out domestic scenarios.
    Using dress-up clothes in association with well-known stories.
  • Creating a story using toy soldiers, Polly Pocket toys, magnetic boards with characters, fuzzy felt and so on.
  • Joining in the television dramatization of a well-known story on a program like 'Playschool'. 

b) Early years (4-6 years)

  • Many of the better story apps for iPad or android devices are an innovative way for multiple re-created experiences of stories (see my recent post on this HERE).
  • Drawing maps, key characters (dragons, people) or scenes.
  • Acting out stories with a group of children or with adult family members.
  • Creating an adapted text to re-create part of a story (e.g. poetry, a character interview, telling the story from a different point of view).
  • Using puppets to re-create a story.
  • Using modelling clay or craft materials to create characters to re-create and retell a story.
Creating knights for storytelling

c) Later childhood (7-12 years)
  • More elaborate dramatization, with involvement in making props and costumes.
  • Simple animations using one of the programs readily available (see my previous post on animation HERE). 
  • Using materials like Lego to re-imagine a well-known story.
  • Creating a board game that recreates the plot or a specific part of a story (as Sam did).
  • Creating a complex map or plot summary as a device for others to use.
  • Create a script to be acted for a specific part of a story.
  • Write a newspaper report based on an event within a story.
  • Use a variety of written genres to create a new text ('The Jolly Postman' and 'The Jolly Pocket Postman' are published examples of this).
These are just some of the ways that storytelling and imaginative re-creation can stimulate learning and language.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

12 Stunning New Release Picture Books

1. 'A Stone for Sasha' by Aaron Becker

I've reviewed a number of Aaron Becker's recent picture books and his wordless wonders are always insightful and challenging. Somehow, the term picture books seems inadequate to communicate the sophisticated works that they are. They are always multi-layered visual texts filled with symbolism of varied kinds, and deep layered meanings. In this tale, a girl grieves when she loses her dog, but that's just the beginning. When her family takes her away to the seaside she stumbles upon something extraordinary. Another classic wordless picture book from this talented Caldecott Honor winner for his previous book 'Journey'.

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. In his first picture book following the conclusion of his best-selling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

2. 'Duck' by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Nathaniel Ecksrtrom

On a quiet afternoon Duck wanders through the farmyard. But when he sees something tumbling from the sky and suggests that they 'Duck!' But there is an unfortunate misunderstanding. The illustrations and the simple text make for a very funny picture book that readers aged 3-6 will love!

Award-winning author Meg McKinlay is brilliant as usual, and illustrator Nathaniel Eckstrom offers delightful watercolour drawings. Kids will love this. Perfect for group readalouds for children 2-7 years or independent reading for children aged 5+.
    3. 'Peg + Cat: The Eid al-Adha Adventure' by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson with art by Erica Kepler

    Peg and Cat visit their friends Yasmina and Amir as they celebrate Eid al-Adha. They learn some new things about this special festival.

    Amir explains many things to them. For example, a key part of Eid al-Adha is dividing the meat into three equal parts. One part is shared with someone less fortunate. But with three bowls of meatballs being shared, things become rather confusing. They have a problem!

    But with some scales, some help from a soup kitchen and a better understanding of 'more' and 'less' they sort things out. And with lots of lessons about giving and receiving, all have a great time.

    'Peg + Cat' is from the Emmy Award–winning animated TV series created by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson. Readers 5-7 will enjoy the book.

    4. 'Tropical Terry' by Jarvis

    This is a brilliant book, with so many good themes. Terry the tropical fish wants to stand out. He isn't the most popular fish with the 'in' crowd. Not fancy and flashy enough for others. But he is to learn a great life lesson. Sometimes, it's helpful to blend in and in life there are more important things than being flashy and being in the cool crowd.
    Grey old Terry feels dull. And his skills at playing "Hide A Fish" don't impress many. What if I was flashy like the rest? But how...?

    With the help of some to some others he changes! Will they love him? Will love himself?

    “Hello-o-o everybody! Just call me TROPICAL Terry!”

    He's now part of the in crowd. Now surely, this will end well? Will life as a tropical fish be everything he dreamed of?

    A great little book. Beautifully crafted text and stunning vibrant illustrations from the award-winning Jarvis. The creator of Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth and Mrs Mole, I’m Home!

    A book that readers and listeners aged 3-7 will love.

      5. 'Spirit' by Cherri Ryan and illustrated by Christina Booth

      What happens when things don’t go the way you plan? Can you try and try again? Can you try and try again? 

      This is a delightful book about hope, resilience and the importance of others who support us.

      This is a book with an almost metaphysical tone that points to without revealing the things that trouble and how resilience can grow and help to conquer the life when things don't turn out as we expect.
      The author Cherri Ryan has been inspired by the children and families she cared for as a family doctor in Australia. She now works in medical education, and enjoys helping people and organisations who help others. 

      The simple but vibrant illustrations are a perfect complement to the text. Her simple flowing lines evoke the experiences of life (for me at least). Even the buttons on her basket boats look like sad faces as they drift along. Delightful. Readers aged 4-6 will enjoy it

      Christina Booth was awarded a CBCA Honour Book Award for her book, Kip, and has won numerous awards including the Environment Award for Children’s Literature for her previous book, 'Welcome Home'.

      6. 'The Day War Came' by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb

      This is an amazing book! With an economy of words from Nicola Davies and delightful pencil and crayon illustrations from Rebecca Cobb, they create a book that packs a powerful emotional punch. When I read it to a group of parents recently, the room was so still as the story unfolded, that I could almost hear them breathing. This is a story that needs to be told. How do you shine a light on the UK government decision in 2016 not to accept 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children?

      When the government made the original decision, Nicola Davies was so angry that she wrote a poem and the Guardian published it. A campaign began in which artists contributed drawings of chairs, to symbolise a seat in a classroom, as well as education, kindness, hope and a future. The poem was to become this moving book.  

      What might one of these children's story look like? Feel like? Rebecca Cobb's images are so evocative. A small child wakes one morning and sits down for an ordinary breakfast and heads off to school, and 'War Came'! It came and took all of her school. So she struggles home, but it is no longer there. Here school, her family, her home, everything had gone! She struggles through broken streets and follows a stream of people to camps, leaky boats and then another nation. But they don't want her at their school, they don't have a chair for her. No place! She retreats to curl up alone in the corner of a lonely hut. But hope and rescue comes in the most amazing way. It is not the grown-ups who rescue her, but children.

      This book will work at many levels from age 6-adult.

      7. 'A First Book of the Sea' by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton

      Another wonderful book from Nicola Davies that celebrates the sea. This 107-page picture book is filled with wonderful poems of the sea and is an outstanding collaboration with Emily Sutton. Together, they celebrate the sea in all its glorious moods; in image and verse. Children will thumb their way through this book for hours

      In a volume brimming with information, Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton capture the magic and majesty of the ocean with stunning words and pictures. Poems about manta rays, flying fish, and humpback whales mingle with verses about harbors, storms, and pearl divers. Glimpses of life in the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans flow into spreads about tropical islands, coral reefs, and ancient shipwrecks on the seabed. 

      Emily Suttons water colour drawings make you want to pore over every page. The fishing village for the poem 'End of the Journey', or the teeming life of penguins and leopard seals for the poem 'Antarctic' A riot of colour and to support Davies wonderful poetry. I love this book and so will children aged 4-8 years.

      8. 'My Grandfather's War' by Glyn Harper & illustrated by Jenny Cooper

      The award-winning team of Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper share this poignant story about a Vietnam veteran and his relationship with his granddaughter. While the relationship is a positive one, the young girl senses her grandfather’s pain and is curious to find out the cause of it. As she innocently seeks answers, she unknowingly opens old wounds and discovers her grandfather’s sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there. This is a sensitive exploration of the lingering cost of war and of the PTSD so many returned servicemen experience. 

      This is a lovely book. The 'softness' of Jenny Cooper's beautiful illustrations match the tenderness of Glyn Harper's text. In a simple text that is an authentic representation of the conversation between a young girl and her grandfather, we listen in on a gentle conversation that deepens a relationship between a little girl and her grandfather, and at the same time, helps us to understand a little of the reason the men and women who served in Vietnam felt like the forgotten ones. It is a timely book to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh (the Vietnam War’s longest battle). This lovely story will help another generation not to allow this to be a 'forgotten war'. We owe this to the men and women who served. Some lost their loves, many were marked and scarred by it physically and emotionally. This book will help a new generation to understand just a little better all war, but particularly this one. 

      Suitable for readers aged 5-9 years

      9. 'Is it a Mermaid?' by Candy Gourlay and illustrated by Francesca Chessa

      When Benjie and Bel find a strange creature on a tropical beach they know it’s a dugong. But the dugong insists she is a beautiful mermaid and to prove it, she shows them her mermaid’s tail and sings them a mermaid song.

      This is a lovely simple book. It is set in the Philippines it seeks to educate children about Dugongs, a species that is threatened due to the destruction of the seaweed they feed on and the dangers of ships. With the additional themes of friendship and kindness it will appeal to readers aged 4-7.

      10. 'Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin' by Sean Taylor & Khayaal Theatre. Illustrated by Shirin Adl

      Why does Mulla Nasruddin spoon yoghurt into the river? What is the reason he rides his donkey backwards? Why does he paint a picture that is blank? And is he crazy to move into the house of the man who's just burgled him? Find out all about the amazing antics of Nasruddin in these twenty-one hilarious stories and riddles, famous throughout the Middle East for their jokes, riddles and wisdom.

      This book will appeal to a rich multicultural readership and 'audience'. Set in a middle eastern context it is a collection of short stories (100-150 words per 2 page spread). Each is a tale with a funny trick or joke. Along the way, young readers will learn a little about language and traditional tales.  Shirin Adl's illustrations complement the delightfully simple texts that will be enjoyed by independent readers aged 6-9 years. All the tales are set within believable daily contexts for people of Muslim heritage, where expectations of generosity might just be taken to extremes at times. "Would it be possible for me to borrow your washing machine?" but also where fun with the literal interpretation of words might well cause funny misunderstandings. Can you "draw a blank", is it okay to answer one question with another question?

      Delightful as a read aloud or for young independent readers aged 6-8 years.
      11. 'Waves' by Donna Rawlins and illustrated by Heather Potter & Mark Jackson

      Waves is a narrative non-fiction book about the waves of migration to the shores of Australia.
      Every journey is perilous, every situation heartbreaking. Every refugee is a person forced by famine or war or fear to leave their home, their families, their friends and all they know. Children have travelled on the waves of migration to the shores of Australia for tens of thousands of years. This book tells some of their stories.  

      Donna Rawlins presents a collection of short stories centred on the almost universal experience of all people groups who have ancestors who came from across the sea. Mark Jackson and Heather Potter's gentle, slightly abstract line and watercolour images help to bring the book to life. While the characters are fictitious, they are typical of the stories on non-Indigenous Australians who all came to Australia across the sea. At the end of the book Rawlins includes a short history of the many people who have made the journey to Australia. These include the Anak people from what we now know as Indonesia, to British, Portuguese, Jewish refugees, Muslim and many more. This will be a great book to share as teachers or for independent readers aged 7-10 years.

      12. 'Professor Astro Cat's Human Body Odyssey' by Dr Dominic Walliman & illustrated by Benn Newman

      This is the latest Professor Astro Cat adventure. Children who are 'would be' scientists and who have an interest in science and in this case the body! They will love to pore over this book for many hours. It is book that children will read and re-read as they discover new things, and share them with friends. 

      What's a nervous system? How do we understand the brain? Why do we sneeze? What is the point in having skin? How does a mouth work? The human body is complicated! But it is also so fascinating.

      Dominic Wellman's text is beautifully illustrated by Ben Newman as they help Professor Astro Cat and the gang teach us about the body. This will be read and re-read by young scientists aged 6-10 years.