Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Eight Great New Books for Children Aged 3-10 years

In this post, I’ve gathered together four new picture books for children aged 3 to 7 years, plus four chapter books for slightly older independent readers aged 7-10 years.

1. 'Ellie's Dragon' by Bob Graham


Anyone who reads this blog will know that I'm a huge Bob Graham fan. As usual, this book doesn't disappoint. With his usual economy of well-chosen words Graham traverses the experiences of childhood and lands in an interesting place - no friendship is imaginary. 

As a toddler, no doubt following a parent around the supermarket, she finds a newborn dragon emerging from an egg carton on a supermarket shelf. Scratch becomes her constant companion. Her mum and her teacher don't seem to see her cute and fiery friend, even though her friends can. Scratch grows over the years and so does Ellie. Scratch was with her at all of her birthdays, and as she grows, so does he. The worlds of Scratch and Ellie also grow larger too. But what happens as worlds change and so do we? You'll need to read the book to find out!

This is a beautiful tale that explores the imaginative world of the child and how this can intersect and diverge from the other 'real' world experiences of others. The usual Bob Graham literary and artistic genius is on display.


2.  'Bear in Space' by Deborah Abela & illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

Bear is different from other bears and so when he plans to fly into space, his other bear friends just laugh. But Bear knows he can change his world. He also knows lots about space, but I'm not sure that his friends listen much! He prepares for his great adventure not quite sure what to expect, and what surprises he has in store when he finds himself in the very different quietness of space.

This is a lovely and extremely imaginative story that seems (as much as an adult can tell) to have captured something of the imaginative explorations of the young child. I'm sure that many listeners and readers will see themselves in this delightful picture book.

The brightly coloured illustrations of Marjorie Crosby-Fairall also help to bring this story to life. Her representation of the lovable and clever 'Bear' adds greatly to the experience of reading or hearing the book.



3. 'Dry to Dry - The Seasons of Kakadu' by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli

This wonderfully illustrated factual picture book introduces young readers to one of Australia's most beautiful and ancient places, where Australia's Indigenous people have lived for at least 60,000 years. It is a follow-up to the award winning 'Desert Lake'. It tells of the yearly weather cycle across this ancient and beautiful land. 
In the tropical wetlands and escarpments of Kakadu National Park, seasons move predictably from dry to wet and back to dry again. Most of Australia has four seasons like other nations, but Kakadu has two! And these two seasons are marked by extraordinary change and diversity in plants, animals, birds, insects and the incredible migratory birds that come during the 'Wet' season. But there's more! There is a movement of insects, lizards, and water dwelling creatures (like fish, turtles and crocodiles), not to mention fruit bats and the changes in flowers and grasses. What I like this book and the 'Desert Lake' is that they offer two texts on each two-page spread. One to be read by or to the children, and a second short smaller font text at the bottom of each page, with more technical language for the teacher and older readers. There is also an excellent more detailed description of Kakadu at the end of the book with some Indigenous words translated. Finally, there's a wonderful map of Kakadu that children will love, as well as a detailed index.

4. 'Kookaburra' by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Tannya Harricks

This an exciting new addition to the narrative nonfiction "Nature Storybooks" series, about kookaburras. Another wonderful book from the exciting team of Claire Saxby an author well-known to children's literature fanatics like me! Her pairing with illustrator Tannya Harricks has been very successful. This their second collaboration and follows 'Dingo' that won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature in 2019. It was also shortlisted for the 2019 CBCA New Illustrator Award and Best Picture Book awards in 2019. It won the Royal Zoological Society of NSW Whitley Award in 2018. I just love Tannya's wonderfully 'simple' oil paintings. A perfect complement to the wonderful text.

In the crinkled shadows night-dwellers yawn, day-creatures stretch and Kookaburra laughs. Kook-kook-kook. Kak-kak-kak.  

This is a wonderful read aloud book, or a great personal read for children aged 5-8 years.


5. 'Weird Little Robots' by Carolyn Crimi & illustrated by Corinna Luyken


When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

This is a perfect book for 7-11 year-old readers. Penny Rose is a self-professed 'Science Geek' and is new in town. The robots she builds are her only company. But this is about to change when she becomes best friends with Lark and joins a secret science club. And with this, comes an amazing discovery, they are live robots! The once lonely girl has a new and very much changed life.

But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price. 

This wonderfully quirky book will appeal to many readers, but I suspect that it will have a special appeal for the intelligent child who likes to imagine the unlikely and unexpected.


6. 'Agents of the Wild - Operation Honeyhunt' by Jennifer Bell & Alice Lickens


This creatively titled book for  7-10 year old readers will appeal to the creative child with a great imagination who loves to explore, discover and solve mysteries.

When 8-year-old Agnes is signed up for SPEARS (the Society for the Protection of Endangered and Awesomely Rare Species), she has no idea of the adventures that lie ahead with her elephant-shrew mentor Attie (short for “Attenborough”). 'Operation Honeyhunt' sends them to the Atlantic forest, on a mission to save an endangered, dance-loving bee named Elton. Will Agnes pass the test and become a full SPEARS agent? Species in danger? Girl and shrew to the rescue!

Jennifer Bell is the author of the bestselling 'The Uncommoners' series, which has sold over 50,000 copies in the UK. Alice Lickens contributes the wonderful illustrations that combine a simple two-colour pallette with striking images with a stunningly effective use of colour.

The book also comes with a fascinating array of end-matter, including fun-facts, and additional details about the real species in the book. I love this book and already have an eight year-old in mind to give it to.


7. 'Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray' by Kylie Howarth

This is a follow up book to 'Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja' which was the first book in the series. The series of books features a 'superhero' who has some very special skills. This time his Nan is lost. Will he be able to find her? It seems that problems are never very far away from the special kid. 

Trouble finds its way to Fish Kid’s shores once more in his second adventure! Will Fish Kid be able to find his missing Nan, hide his powers from Pops and save the day? Only with the help of Freckles the Mega Manta Ray.

Having swam with the Whale Sharks and Manta Rays on Ningaloo Reef off the incredible Western Australian coast, I was always going to love this book! The book's engaging and funny story is also filled with lots facts about sea creatures and wonderful illustrations. A great combination of fiction, humour and knowledge from this talented author/illustrator.


8. 'Hattie' by Frida Nilsson & illustrated by Stina Wirsén


This is a wonderful new novel for readers aged 7-10 years by internationally known Swedish author Frida Nilsson.

Hattie is a street-smart country girl in her first year of school. She lives just outside of nowhere, right next to no one at all. Luckily she's starting school and that brings new adventures.

Having driven large tracts of Sweden, living 'just outside nowhere' was always bound to be a special place. Her house is read like many, there are ducks and hens that wander where they will. Hattie has dog, like to swim and 'falls madly in love with a hermit crab', and meets a best friend.This is a funny little book from a talented internationally acclaimed writer. It will be quickly read by precoscious and interesting children who love fun and exploring their world. Ideal as a read aloud or a book for readers aged 7-10 to enjoy alone, or with a friend!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Slow Death of Imagination and Creativity at School - Part 1

Creativity and imagination are not simply a gift to some—they are available to all. Children are born with an innate desire to explore the world. From birth, they receive a vast array of stimuli as they use their senses to observe and try to make sense of their surroundings. The environment in which they live has a profound impact on them. We now understand that poverty, early stress, maltreatment, trauma, neglect and lack of stimulation have a negative effect on early learning. While children commence life with great potential - notwithstanding genetic variations in potential - their environment can have negative as well as positive effects on their learning.


Above: A 'Big' Sister reads to Lydia (age 1 day)

The potential impact of poverty and neglect on children's early development, simply underlines the need to ensure that children entering school are given every opportunity to be stimulated, inspired and taught. With this as background to the ‘outrageous’ title of my post, I hope you can understand why I am perplexed when I observe how schooling is being dumbed down. And let me say up front, I don’t see this as the fault of teachers. In fact, many others need to shoulder the bulk of the blame.

Neuroscience research has taught us a number of things about the young brain, including the immense capacity of children to learn, and for their minds to expand when stimulated. But across our school education system in Australia, I see a dumbing down of the curriculum, as state and nationally mandated testing, seems increasingly to shape school programs and classroom practices, as well as wider community expectations. The impact of these forces has driven schools to teach to the test. The Australian annual national assessment of schools (NAPLAN) tests children in Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 in spelling, grammar, punctuation and numeracy. Of course, these represent little more than basic skills and essential learning.

So, what has this to do with creativity? In a nutshell, as schools spend more of their time teaching to the test, they inevitably need to discard activities that expand horizons, stretch minds, introduce new skills and encourage self-directed and motivated learning. But can schools actually kill creativity in the young? Sadly it can, and contrary to some views, I believe all children have the capacity to imagine, create and explore from the moment they can observe and use their senses to explore their world. From birth, children are gifted with an ability to observe and assess their world and ultimately explore it.  

The famous Social Philosopher Martin Buber suggested at an education conference in 1925 that imagination and creativity are not developed over time. As a philosopher, he was surprised to be invited to open an education conference. But he was intrigued, or perhaps annoyed by the title - "The development of the creative powers in the child". Buber opened the conference by saying he was troubled by the conference theme.

Above: Philosopher Martin Buber

Buber commenced his talk by declaring that the only words in the title of the conference that didn’t trouble him were "in the child". While the "child" he conceded is a reality, he saw no purpose in the idea that we can "develop creative powers in the child." Why? Because Buber suggested each child is born with a disposition inherited from the "riches of the human race" to be creative. That is, creativity is within all children from birth. This he described as an "originator instinct." They are born with innate ability to be creative and I'd add, to imagine. All that parents, teachers or schools can do is either suppress this inbuilt creativity, or drive it from them with banal activities. Such work I’d suggest is often set at a level that does not invite our students to push beyond what they know and can do. That is, they lack the encouragement and activities to help them explore their world and learn new things.

Buber went on to suggest that this disposition was to be found in every child from birth, and is nothing more than the capacity "...to receive and imagine the world... that is the whole environment, nature and society." This of course is primarily a capacity that only humans possess. As we help to form the world we create around the child, we can do one of two things: "draw out these powers", or stifle them if done badly. What we offer in schools is the provision of "...a selection of the world." In short, each child is born with an innate ability and desire to explore, imagine and create. We can shut this down by our actions, or encourage it and build on their innate desire to explore, create and imagine.

Of course, 'freedom' is an element of the child's education that is vitally important. A level of freedom to explore and create, that can either open up, or perhaps shut down their innate quest to know, explore, experiment, imagine and create. For most children, the first few years of life offer ample opportunities to explore, experiment and seek to push beyond their capacity to do most things. Preschool for most children can still offer freedom to explore, find out, imagine and act upon the creative urge they have to know and create. But by Kindergarten they begin to be trained to produce that which is seen as acceptable.

Above: A three year old doing some 'creative' writing

Within a year or two of the commencement of school the die is cast. The pressure to learn what is seen as the basics, increasingly dominates all that most parents and schools end up doing. With each passing year, less freedom is allowed for children to imagine and explore 'what if'? What might be? How might schools do this? I will offer just five ways that schools can potentially kill imagination and creativity.


  • First, ensure that they teach everyone the same thing. There was a time when virtually all primary school teachers would assume they should operate with three or more ability groups for subjects like reading, writing, spelling and maths. Today, our schools frequently use the same activities for the whole class, with only minimal activities to extend or offer remedial help.
  • Second, primary school teachers can send home identical homework for the entire class. With single worksheets in spelling, mathematics and so on.
  • Third, make sure content and teaching aims to teach the average child to ensure that all class members will do well on state mandated tests of basic skills for testing regimes. Forget activities that stretch, just teach to the middle.
  • Fourth, empty the curriculum of ‘non-essentials’ activities like the creative, open ended, unpredictable, and explorative.
  • Fifth, begin to judge our teachers at a systemic level based on their ability to produce 'cookie cutter' children who do well on basic skills tests. And give school leaders a key role to ensure that teachers drill and offer practice for weeks in the lead up to any state or national testing regimes.

If my claims are only 'half-true', what a terrible indictment it is for our education system, that in the quest to give all children opportunities to learn and reproduce what is seen as basic and essential, we limit the extension of schooling for those who can do better than average. As well, in some cases we also end up doing too little for children with need of additional support. Of course, mandated testing isn't the only reason for the slow killing of the ability of our children to demonstrate creativity and imagination. But it has delivered a deadly blow! 


But before the teachers who read my blog feel I’m blaming them, this isn’t so. Families, some employers, politicians, and educational administrators, are all complicit collaborators with state and federal governments in the sanitizing of curricula, the removal of teacher professional development, and the crowding of the curriculum with much dross that deflects from learning that matters. All of us must share the blame for the slow death of the stimulation of imagination and creativity in our schools. Yes! This is a shared responsibility.


In a future post, I’ll outline what might just help to turn this ship around.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Literature ‘STILL’ Has the Power to Teach, Enrich and Transform


I presented a paper at the 8th International Conference on the Book at the University of St Gallen, in St Gallen Switzerland in November 2010. It was a memorable conference and not just for the venue. Ten years on, I feel like the message I presented then needs to be communicated again, for I fear that we are all losing sight of the truth that my title suggests.


I’ve also been motivated to return to this key truth by the recent death of a wonderful colleague Margaret Meek. I learnt so much from Margaret (as did many others) about story and its power to influence, enrich and even change lives. I intend to share some of my thoughts shared at that conference in three or four posts on ‘story’. One of Margaret’s great messages was to remind us with wonderful examples from literature, of the way lives are changed by story. Many of her ideas can be found in a tiny book called ‘How texts teach what readers learn’.


Lesson 1 - Literature Teaches


In the first post, I will consider how literature can teach, for stories teach us many things, and these can be intangible and unexpected. At one level, stories teach us about language and words; to understand their meanings and to use them. They can also teach things which are abstract and on the ‘edges’ of understanding. Let me share a simple personal anecdote that illustrates some of what I am arguing. I think it’s an anecdote that answers one of the questions that Margaret Meek (1988) thoughtfully poses in her book. Her question is “how do children learn to distinguish the hero from the villain?” I was given the answer to this question one day, while reading with Jacob my eldest grandson, who was just 19 months old at the time. He was to partially learn this lesson during a shared reading of the simple predictable picture book by Brenda Parkes titled ‘Who’s in the Shed?


The story is situated on a farm. A truck arrives in the night and is held in a large crate. The story begins:


Down at the farm

One Saturday night,

The animals woke

With a terrible fright.


There was howling

And growling

And roaring

And clawing

as something was led

from a truck

to the shed.


“Who’s in the shed?”

everyone said.

“Who’s in the shed?”


Page by page different farm animals take turns to peer through a hole in their shed trying to work out what had been put in the shed? The climax of the story comes when the pig finally looks just as a giant circus bear roars “HOW DARE YOU STARE!"

When I tried to read this to Jacob (aged just 19 months) the repeated readings had an unusual impact. In the first two readings I wasn’t able to sustain his interest long enough to reach the end of the story. But by the third reading a few days later, I reached the climax of the story, and growled in a loud voice as the terrifying bear was revealed in full with large teeth and claws. Jacob jumped slightly and said “again”, meaning of course he wanted it read again.


On the next reading when the final page was reached and I roared the words of the bear, he jumped and ran to the door of my study, peering back at the book. He didn’t want to hear it again that day.


On subsequent visits for a few weeks he would enter my study where my books were kept, and move tentatively towards the book left on a coffee table. He would open several pages then retreat to a safe distance just outside the door of my study and make a growling noise.


Jacob learned many things from the reading of this simple book. Of course, learning is cumulative, so he didn’t completely learn these things in the one reading. However, the reading of this book was what my colleague Jerome Harste calls a ‘critical incident’. And as part of this critical incident he experienced, and to some extent learnt, some new things from the encounter. So what were they?


    * Not all bears are cute and cuddly like his Pooh Bear that he carried everywhere

    * Books have the power to shift the emotions

    * Authors often reveal the most important bit or secret at the end

    * In the normal events of life things can happen that will scare us

    * Authors structure and layer their meanings to tell their story

    * Words and pictures have a relationship in books


In this simple example, we see illustrated the partial answer to Margaret Meek’s question in her title. 'How do readers learn from texts'1 , in fact how does a text read or heard, have the power to teach? Books and stories offer children experiences that are transformative in many ways. In this case, it provided Jacob with an opportunity to explore the at times troubling territory of fantasy and reality, truth and fiction. He might never have such a scary real life encounter, but through this book he was taught a little more about his world aged 19 months.


In the world of literature, as he grew up he would encounter new fears but also wonderful lessons concerning justice, love, life, death, human diversity, hope and despair.


In my next post, Lesson 2 is on how ‘Literature enriches’


Reference: I wrote a book some years ago titled ‘Otherworlds: The endless possibilities of literature’ (1990). The title pointed to one of the key concerns of the book, literature opens up worlds not always available to be experienced firsthand by children.

Other posts I've written on Children's literature HERE

1. Margaret Meek develops this thesis at length in her small monograph How texts teach what readers learn. South Woodchester (UK): The Thimble Press, 1988. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Encouraging More Girls (and Boys) to Explore Engineering, Technology and Coding

I have six grandchildren and as they grow older their interests become clearer. All love learning, but not all have the same learning interests. Even when they were very young, some would love to dig in the compost heap with me, and others, not so much. Some would bring every insect inside to examine it, others were less keen. One still heads to our upstairs living area where all the books are, so it isn't hard to find her at mealtimes. Her brother loves books too but when he was young, he was always more likely to head to the back yard (garden) to dig around, look to the sky for birds and so on. His interests have broadened in recent years.

All my grandchildren love books in their own way, but have different tastes, genres that they like and so on. Interestingly, one granddaughter loves books and writing, and is also interested in coding and is very good at mathematics. A younger grandson already shows incredible early talent in coding and computing and has more recently discovered books. All children are different, but I suspect all could code if taught well. What will the girls and boys in our families become? All will have varied interests in life. But vocationally, what might they become? Research evidence suggests that statistically, my grandson has more likelihood of ending up in a career where he will use his strengths in STEM, particularly coding, than my granddaughter. I see this is a problem, because computer coding will be such a critical language to know and use in the future in varied careers. In fact Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is so critical to the future and gender diversity in this field is important.

Gwendolin Tilghman who is a Senior Investment Analyst at Viking Global Investors, wrote an interesting post last year that I shared on LinkedIn at the time, which argued for proactive efforts to get more girls into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She writes:

"I have always been interested in topics relating to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). So, when I started college and was able to learn any subject of my choosing, it was no surprise that I decided to pursue an engineering degree. However, what was surprising was that I seemed to be the only girl to do so, or at least that’s how it felt sitting in a room full of boys throughout many of my classes. Perhaps it should not have been because even though women now represent 47% of the workforce, only 12% engineers are females." 

Clearly action is necessary to encourage girls and young women to consider careers that build on their knowledge and interest in STEM. One the most critical needs will be to encourage girls with an early interest in science and maths to explore coding.

Gwendoline is part of the 'Girls Who Code' initiative in the USA that is seeking to close the gender gap in technology. She comments:

Get Coding (Walker Books)

Where can we start to inspire young girls (and boys as well) to explore coding?  There are some great resources appearing on the market that will help. I was sent a great little book about 6 months ago designed for primary or elementary school children - Get Coding (Walker Books) that has been produced by Young Rewired State (see below). This is a wonderful little book, it made me want to get to a computer, and to start doing some coding myself.

It is well designed and very inviting. Each page combines text, step by step instructions and projects to undertake. The first 15 pages are text-based with some headings, pictures and diagrams to make sense of the limited amount of the word descriptions. The reading level is about 8-10 years. Once the reader is through this introduction they can begin a series of missions with Professor Harry Bairstone, 'a famous explorer' who is '... in desperate need of [our] help'. Once we are introduced to the mystery of the lost 'Monk Diamond', we are ready to code our way towards completing our mission. Yes, we will need to know what HTML tags are. And we will learn how to use them as we learn to write HTML code, on our way towards completing the mission. Very soon, we are writing the code for a simple web page, with text and images. Eventually we build our own 'Monk Diamond Discovery Web Page'.

By Mission 5 our young coders will be making their own game 'The House of Volkov's Security Team' that is responsible for protecting some valuable jewels on display in the The House of Volkov'.

This is wonderful stuff, and should be part of every child's primary school education.

Information of Young Rewired State

Young Rewired State was created in 2009 and is a network of 3000 data specialists with a female founder - Emma Mulqueeny. It has 30% female developers with 60% aged 18-25. It has an interesting methodology based on the principle of rapid prototyping, using the MVP concept of working towards a minimum viable product (MVP). It runs events and programs for technically gifted young people aged 18 and under. It draws together young developers, designers, and those with other technical skills to build projects (mainly phone and web applications) that attempt to solve real world problems. Most of the developers participating in Young Rewired State events have taught themselves or learned coding skills outside the traditional school curriculum.

Information about Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code is a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology. Its programs inspire, educate, and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. They have been especially effective in impacting skills development for girls in their formative years. At the completion of this academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached 40,000 girls in total, covering all 50 US states during its five-year history. In fact, an impressive 93 percent of their summer program participants said that they now want to major in, or are interested in, computer science because of their participation in the program — this might well mean that for woman in the future that they might not be in such a minority in Coding, Technology and Engineering classrooms!

Want to read other posts?

For other blogs that cover education and literacy why not visit the Top 100 Children's Book Blogs globally. I'm listed here as one of the blogs

Other posts that I've written on technology HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Five fantastic new picture books for 2-7 Year Olds

This is my latest review of five wonderful new picture books. These 5 books will inspire and entertain young readers. My blog has recently been listed on Feed Spot as one of the Top 100 Children's Book Blogs globally.

1. 'Isla's Family Tree' by Katrina McKelvey & illustrated by Prue Pittock

This delightful book tells the all too common story of a first child whose Mum is expecting a second. Isla's family is changing and she's not too happy! Isla already thinks her family "is too full!" But her mother has an idea. She creates a clever family tree to teach Isla how to accept the growth in her family.

Her mother makes a paper tree and explains where their new baby should go. Isla doesn’t think they belong. "There’s no room left on our branch — it’s full!" she says. She tries to make them fit, and places them on Aunty Violet's branch, and then with her cousins, at Aunty Violet and Aunty Jasmine’s house. Maybe at Aunty Daisy and Uncle Doug’s? She is convinced that there is no room on her branch!

Eventually, she accepts that the baby can fit on their branch. Her Mum replies, so where do these TWO leaves belong? "Two leaves? Two babies!" she gasped. But she falls in love and says to her Mum, "our branch grew a little ... our family is never too full." And when she meets her new brothers she quickly accepts and loves them.

This lovely story is well supported by Prue Pittock's delightfully simple and expressive line and minimalist use of colour. This is a lovely book for any child with siblings, but perfect for any family that needs to introduce new family members, or to help them understand what a family is.

2. 'Bedtime Daddy' by Sharon Giltrow & illustrated by Katrin Dreiling

Any parent who has had to handle children at bedtime will instantly appreciate this delightful picture book. But this book has a serious twist, it isn't children who resist going to be, it's really Daddy!

"Putting Daddy to bed can be hard work. Especially when he starts crying! This story will show you how to wrestle your daddy into his pajamas and read just one more bedtime story. 'I’m thirrrrrrrrssssssty,' says Daddy. 'I need to poop … I’m hungry … But I’ll miss you,' he says, while he looks at you with cutie eyes."

Katrina Dreiling's crayon illustrations have a 'softness' that matches the text perfectly. This will be an instant favourite that will need to be read and reread by Daddy's, I mean "Children"!! Those Daddy's can be so frustrating! A funny and engaging picture book at readers 1-5 will love.

3. 'Ten Little Figs' by Rhian Williams & illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom

A child sits beneath a large fig tree and tries to count them. He has a plan to get the figs with his ladder. But others have their eyes on his figs. He watches as the figs disappear one by one.

He counts down the figs on the backyard fig tree, as each one is snatched away by a different Australian animal.

Ten little figs are on my tree.
I love figs and they're all for me.
A flying fox dives, fast and low.
Where, of where, did that fig go?

Nine of the ten figs are eventually claimed by an assortment of Australian creatures. Leaf-curling spiders, Zebra finches, Green Ants, Rainbow Lorikeets, a Wombat, Hercules Moths, an Echidna, Spotted-tailed Quoll. Just one remains but it's too high in the tree. Who will get that very last fig? Luckily Dad comes to the rescue and surprises his little one with the very last fig.

4. 'Old Enough to Save the Planet' by Loll Kirby & illustrated by Adelina Lirius

I just love this inspiring book, based on the passions and projects of real children looking at how all of us have responsibility for the ecological well-being of our planet. While it has a strong call to address climate change, it goes much further than this by sharing the projects of children challenging other children as well as adults and leaders to address the varied challenges to our world caused by human waste, pollution, deforestation, culling wildlife, polluting our waterways and oceans, saving our fresh waterways, reintroducing native plant species and grasses, reducing traffic pollution, reusing waste and much more.

The publisher's blurb is a bit misleading. Yes, the positive impacts that these children suggest will help to stop climate change, a but these young activists don't mention climate change, they aren't chanting slogans. They have simply got in and sought to make a difference to their world for the good of all. And yes, if we do these things (and more) we will help to arrest climate change. Read their stories of action! For example:

  • Felix from Germany is passionate about reforestation
  • Hunter from South Africa is trying to protect Rhinos
  • Himangi from India is taking action to reduce traffic pollution outside her school
  • Vincent from France has created a community garden to reduce food waste
  • Jordan from the USA is fighting against palm oil products to help save native forests
  • Shalise from Australia is campaigning to protect our oceans from human pollution

5. 'To the Bridge' by Corinne Fenton & illustrated by Andrew McLean

The award-winning team of Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean tell the story of Lennie Gwyther and Ginger Mick, a boy and his pony who crossed Sydney's Harbour Bridge on 19th of March, 1932 and marched into history.

Any child who has been inspired by human ingenuity and invention will relate to this book. Whether it was the Moon Landing, people scaling Everest, deep sea exploration, or scientific discovery, many 6-12 year olds have been captured by great events in history. In this Aussie picture book, Nine-year-old Lennie Gwyther from an Australian farm in rural Leongatha was captivated by the steel arch bridge to span Sydney Harbour. With his father's blessing, he rode his pony 'Ginger Mick' across Australia, inspiring crowds of supporters to greet him in cities along the way, as he made his way to Sydney. It was there that he saw the bridge that had captivated his imagination and inspired his brave journey. And it was then that he and Ginger Mick became a legend. As a child in the 1950s I can recall my grandfather talking about 'Ginger Mick' with no idea what on earth he meant! Now I know.

This is an inspiring true story about a young boy who rode a cross a continent with persistence, resilience, bravery, courage and hope. Many children have big dreams, this book might just inspire some other children to pursue their own.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Children as Bloggers: How Class Blogs Can Promote Literacy, Learning & Thinking

As an educator, I've been blogging for almost 15 years and have written a number of blogs for varied purposes. But how might we make better use of blogging with children? I wrote about this topic ten years ago! I thought maybe it's time to return to the topic. Many teachers have experimented with blogging for children as have some parents. But could we make better use of the Blogosphere? In this post I thought I'd outline a few basic ways in which children could become bloggers, and why it's worth considering.

Why might blogging be good for children?

There seem some obvious reasons for using blogs in the classroom or at home:

1. Encouraging children to explore new internet applications for communication and learning is important.

2. Children need to experience web applications like blogs as creators, not just as consumers. Just as we want children to use written narrative forms like literature as readers and writers, so too we want them to explore web applications as creators not just users or consumers.

3. Each application that we experience on the Internet requires a range of web-based generic skills as well as some that are unique to the application.

4. The act of writing a blog post can lead to significant research and related learning. For example, it is an excellent way to develop web comprehension and research skills. Skills like checking your sources, not plagiarising content engaging readers etc.

5. Blogs also offer authentic readers and audiences for children. So much classroom writing is simply for the teacher 'as examiner', but blogs offer 'real' readers who will respond as learners and fellow writers. This is powerful.

6. Blogs can offer a means for children of many nationalities to communicate and share their ideas around the globe.

7. Blogging can offer a wonderful means for children to practice a second language.

8. Using blogs as creators as well as consumers highlights the need for children to consider issues such as truth and fiction, privacy, copyright and so on.

How can teachers and parents use blogging to promote learning?

a) Showcase blogs

One of the most common ways teachers use blogs is to showcase children's work. The blog can be set up to showcase work in specific subject areas or can vary by form. For example:
  • Poetry and narrative writing. Here's a blog just about poetry blogs.
  • Units of work. Here's one for a 5 year old 'Prep' class based on a 'Kindness' unit (The term 'Prep' class is used in some Australian states)
  • Drawings and art units (here)
  • Videos (class activities, class performances, readers' theatre etc)
  • Podcasts (personal stories, public speaking, family history, oral reports etc)
Kathleen Morris tells how she got into showcase blogs for her students (here) as well as how colleagues have used them.

b) Classroom News blogs

This is a common way for teachers to blog. It can have an important role in keeping parents informed about the work that their children are doing as well as being an excellent way to showcase children's work. Here is a 4th Grade class blog in the USA (here). News blogs offer less opportunities for children to compose than other forms of blogging but has a place.

c) Literature response blogs

This application offers children a greater opportunity to respond to the writing of other students. It is simply a way to take activities online that require children to respond to literature that they have read (or which has been read to them). Often the teacher posts the first entry or task and students then respond to the book that has been read. I love Kath Murdoch's children's response blog (here).  

d) Writing blogs

These are simply blogs that allow children to share their writing. Here is a wonderful site that shows you how to help children to write their own 'Choose Your Own Adventure' story (here).

d) Science blogs

Using blogs to share ideas on science or activities for science is also a great way to give children a chance to read and write scientific texts. Here's a great example 'Science Fix'.

e) STEM blogs

Sites that offer opportunities to share the outcomes of Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) projects and ideas are another great application of blogging for children. Here's a great one called 'Learning is Messy'.

Summing Up

Encouraging children to explore blogging is a useful way to get them to use technology to share and promote writing and reading for varied real world purposes and with authentic audiences. As well, it encourages children to write for 'real' audiences.

The above should not be seen as the only options, try to be creative with blogs. Once you are familiar with the various options for setting up a blog, play around with your site and think creatively about how you might use this powerful technology application to stimulate children to read, respond, write, reflect and learn.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Could Dr Seuss Help us Deal with the Corona Virus?

I've always found that children's literature offers great human wisdom and insights for many situations in life. As the world has struggled with the Covid-19, I think we've observed some of the best and worst of human behaviour. There have been numerous stories of human sacrifice from medical staff and age carers treating others at great personal risk and cost, airline staff transporting patients home from foreign countries, generous people sharing food, shelter and belongings with unemployed workers. As well, families separated in different countries with little prospect of getting home, have been given help from varied countries and agencies to journey back to loved ones. These are all examples of human cooperation and generosity. Where does children's literature come in? Children's literature can teach, challenge, inform, and offer emotional support while shining a light on the human condition and how we relate to one another.

In times of crisis, human traits like generosity, sacrificial care and a willingness to forgo self-interest, might just help us to overlook our differences and difficulties together. Yet, there is a darker side to humanity in times of trouble. Selfishness can also be shown by some. There is no place for stubborn self-interest in a crisis; whether it's hoarding food and essential goods (while others have little), or something as simple as stubbornly refusing to keep social distance when asked to by authorities. Young backpackers having parties in parks and on beaches, a man leaves enforced isolation to visit his girlfriend, unnecessary travel is undertaken, putting others at risk and potentially spreading the virus, and so on.

If you've experienced or observed such selfishness, why not share a bit of Dr Seuss wisdom with your children. This might just help them to understand why we all need to do different things in these difficult times, like stepping aside to allow social distance on walking trails or pathways. Or perhaps, not riding your scooter or bike down the centre of a path, and instead, keeping your distance in the interest of others. Dr Seuss has always had a way of embedding social commentary within funny stories. 'The Zax' is a little story that might just help to open up such conversations with our children.

'The Zax' is a wonderful story within the Dr Seuss collection titled 'The Sneetches and Other Stories'. While the other three stories in the volume are also excellent and have much to teach us about human behaviour, 'The Zax' shines a light on the futile nature of stubborn self-centredness. And of course, this has been seen in abundance around the world as interests of varied kind have often got in the way of quick responses to Covid-19. The story begins with two unusual creatures walking on a straight path towards one another with great purpose.

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-going Zax.

Trouble was, they were in a direct line for a collision.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said. "I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of the way, now, and let me go forth!"

And so, it continues:

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way! And I ask you to move...

How might this story all end? Well, it seems that the rest of the world moved on while they remained fixed in their stubbornness.

Of course the world didn't stand still. The world grew..
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

Thankfully, the crisis we find ourselves into today around the world has also led to acts of great generosity, kindness and sacrifice. I pray that we might see more of these positive virtues as we support one another in the midst of this global challenge.

I would love to hear your thoughts on other children's books (for all ages) that might be helpful to share with our children right now, as they try to deal with a frightening time while at the same time growing as people.

Here's another lovely example of how a Dr Seuss classic story has been used for social commentary at this challenging time.  Kristi Bothur published this lovely example on YouTube just a few weeks ago. "How the Virus Stole Easter". If you loved 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' you'll enjoy this video based on the Dr Seuss classic picture book that offers a reflection on Covid-19 and reinforces the need for 'hope' and prayer.