Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 Great Non-Fiction Books for Reluctant 6-12 Year Olds

This is a repeat post as I haven't posted on non-fiction for a while. Some of these are ideal books for boys who are reluctant. Some young readers find non-fiction more engaging than fiction, so finding good non-fiction is worth the effort. In an earlier post I talk about this at length (HERE). This post is simply a quick review of some good books published in the last few years, it isn't meant to be comprehensive. I have arranged the examples I offer roughly in order of difficulty and age interest. It goes without saying that there are girls too for whom non-fiction is also more engaging.

'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning. 

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)

'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide won the Eve Pownall prize for information books. This delightful true story of a great Australian character is based on Weidenbach's story of Tom Kruse who was the driver of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail. Once a fortnight for twenty years Tom loaded his Leyland Badger truck and drove 1,000 km across perilous territory on little more than a dusty dangerous rutted track. His job was to deliver mail and provisions to arguably the most isolated residents in the world. Tom was a great Australian character who lived in the middle decades of last century

The book is a version for younger children (aged 5-8 years) that Weidenbach has adapted into a delightful picture book for young readers. It offers just a small slice of the events of Tom's life. When floods cut the Birdsville Track, the station residents run out of supplies and worse still, the Birdsville Hotel runs out of beer! It takes Tom’s ingenuity to beat the floodwaters and get the mail and the beer through. Timothy Ide provides wonderfully detailed watercolour illustrations that add to what is already a compelling narrative account.

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'Locomotive', written and illustrated by Brian Floca (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2013).

Floca is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including three Robert F. Sibert Honour Books: 'Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11', 'Lightship', and 'Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring', written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

'Locomotive' is the story a family’s journey across America in 1869 on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. The star of the story is the steam engine, but a mother and her two children and all those who keep the train moving are essential extras as it races down the Californian coast.

For the true enthusiast of trains the author gives us plenty of technical information about 19th-century railroading. This is not surprising, as Floca seems to have aimed at a very broad audience. Some will be pulled along by rhythm of the story, others will love the train details, and some will revel in the sense of history (even in the very typefaces used). Floca uses free verse and as you'd expect plays with words and sound to great effect. 

The technical craft and book design are both brilliant, as Floca uses every device to good effect to engage readers in this exciting journey by an incredible piece of 19th century technology.

Even the way he uses his pictures provides a cinematic style that is hard to create, but which adds to the richness of the text. The detail in the illustrations is superb; it is as much draftsmanship as it is fine illustration.

'Locomotive' won the 2014 Caldecott Medal.

'Kubla Khan: Emperor of Everything' by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Robert Byrd

Kubla Khan is not well known and has often been mentioned historically only indirectly or in passing. Who was the man who Coleridge described in his famous poem 'Kubla Kahn'? This is the presumed grandson of Genghis Khan who reputedly built the imperial city of Beijing, and fathered a hundred or more children. History and legend suggest that he ruled over the greatest empire of the time, and that it was more advanced than previous civilisations in science, art and technology. The narrative text is engaging and should hold the interest of young readers, and Robert Byrd beautifully illustrates the book. Readers aged 7-9 years will enjoy this 42 page illustrated book.

'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight-month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.
'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The words are used exactly as in the song. With Craig Smith's wonderful watercolour and line drawings they are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

'Tales of the Greek Heroes' by Green Roger Lancelyn (Penguin, 2009)

The beautiful land of Greece is haunted by more than three thousand years of legend and history. In this gripping retelling of the Heroic Age, you'll meet the mighty Poseiden, God of the Sea; Zeus, the King of Heaven and Earth; Hades, Lord of the Dead; Artemis the Huntress; Aphrodite, Immortal Lady of Beauty and Love; and many more mortals and gods. Their adventures are some of the oldest and most famous stories in the world.

This collection of well-known Greek myths will be enjoyed by readers aged 11+

'A Tale of Troy' by Lancelyn Roger Green (Penguin, 2012)

This book is a companion to 'Tales of the Greek Heroes'.

Step back into the Heroic Age with the story of Helen and the judgement of Paris; of the gathering of the heroes and the siege of Troy; of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. And join Odysseus, the last of the heroes – famous for his wisdom and cunning – on his thrilling adventures as he makes the long journey home to Greece.

Once again, perfect reading for children aged 11+

'Tales of Ancient Egypt' by Lancelyn Green Roger (Penguin, 2011)

In this thrilling collection of the great myths, you'll encounter Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; Iris, searching the waters for her dead husband, Osiris; the Bennu bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told purely for pleasure, about treasure and adventure – and even the first ever story of Cinderella.

Ages 10+ will love this collection

'Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers' (Candlewick Press, 2013)

This is a true story that has been a long time coming. It tells in a fair but powerful way of the racism that has often existed in armed forces around the world. Americans may well have heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, but few would know of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion - the Triple Nickle. These were the first US black paratroopers. They showed that black soldiers could do anything their white counterparts could do. The text and over 100 carefully labelled photographs in this 150 page book offer us an insight into how some brave and persistent African American men paved the way for others to be a full part of the US armed forces.

Tanya Lee Stone (author of 'Almost Astronauts') has done extensive research to tell her true story for readers of all ages. Boys in particular will love reading and looking at the historic photos. The work took Stone almost 10 years and the meticulous care and passion shows in this wonderful book. This amazing story will challenge all readers irrespective of age, race or ethnicity. The book recently won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. It is a very worthy winner.

'The Dangerous Book for Boys' by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden (Harper Collins)

As they say, this book is an 'oldie' but a 'goodie'. It offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.

'You Can Draw Anything' by Kim Gamble

Kim Gamble is a well-known illustrator of Australian picture books. In this very accessible book he shows you how to draw just about anything you want to. Most how-to-draw books are either simple and recipe like or far too complex. The book offers principles and guidance for drawing many objects, including varied animals, people (bodies and faces), and landscapes including perspectives. He also offers techniques for shading and colouring. He intersperses the many diagrams and drawings with stories, jokes and examples that make the approach lots of fun, engaging and effective. It is ideal for children aged 7-10 years.

'Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea' by Stephanie Owen Reeder
This is a story about the courage of 16-year-old Grace Bussell. The year is 1876, when a steam ship, the 'Georgette', runs aground near Margaret River in Western Australia. On shore an ordinary 16 year-old girl sees the unfolding drama and heads off on horseback with the family servant Sam Isaacs to try to help the stranded passengers. Grace and Sam head into the water with their horses and rescue many people. Using eyewitness accounts and other historical documents as well as some slight embellishment to fill in details to sustain the narrative, Stephanie Reeder brings this true story to life.  This wonderful story is an excellent follow on from Stephanie Reeder's previous book, 'Lost! A True Tale From the Bush'. This previous story was also a true story. It told the story of 3 children who became lost on their way home in 1864 and spent eight days alone. It was shortlisted in the 2010 CBCA children's literature awards.  
'The Boy from Bowral' by Robert Ingpen

Robert Ingpen is known primarily as an illustrator but he is also a fine writer with 13 works of fiction and over 20 non-fiction. His most recent book as writer and illustrator is 'The Boy from Bowral' which tells the biographical story of Australian cricketer Sir Donald Bradman who is the greatest cricketer of all time. Bradman is seen as a legend in any cricket playing nation and Ingpen provides a lucidly written and historically accurate picture of Bradman's early life in Bowral, his rise to prominence as a cricketer, and his sporting career. The images are drawings based primarily on existing photographs, so the keen cricket fan (like me) will feel that they recognise some of them. The cover (which wraps around to the back) is a wonderful sequence of images that appear like a series of video frames that capture the classic Bradman cover drive. I loved this book and any cricket following child or adult will also enjoy it.

'Neurology: The Amazing Central Nervous System' by April Chloe Terrazas (Crazy Brainz, 2013)

Neurology explores the complexities of the Central Nervous System, beginning with the different sections (lobes) of the brain, continuing to the spinal cord and concluding with the structure and function of the neuron. Readers will learn how to pronounce key terms like Cerebellum, Occipital Lobe and Sensorimotor Cortex. They will also discover the functions of the Cerebral Cortex, Basal Ganglia and the Hippocampus! The book will also help them to understand the way the brain is organised - Forebrain, Midbrain, Hindbrain... and much more. 

The book has wonderful images that will engage them and color-coded text will reinforce lots of new learning. A great book for boys who love science and fancy themselves as brain surgeons! This is a book that will appeal to boys (and girls) of all ages.

'Into the Unknown' by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This wonderful hard cover book from tells the story of 14 famous journeys throughout history, including 'Pytheas the Greek Sails to the Arctic Circle in 340BC', 'Admiral Zheng He Crosses the Indian Ocean in 1405-07', 'Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin Land on the Moon in 1969', 'Marco Polo Rides the Silk Road to China in 1271-74' and many more.

Each story has multiple drawings, maps and a giant fold out cross-section. Boys will read and look through this book for hours. You will also enjoy reading this exciting book to boys. There are many other 'cross-section' books by Stephen Biesty and others (here), including 'Egypt in Cross Section', 'Castles' and 'Rome'.

'Movie Maker' by Tim Grabham, Suridh Hassan, Dave Reeve and Clare Richards

'Movie Maker' is another wonderful resource from Walker Books designed for primary school aged children (7-12 years). It is a kit that contains ideas for making movies, and a handbook that shows you how armed simply with a video camera, you can make movies. The handbook talks about techniques like storyboarding, production, equipment, sound and lighting, design, special effects, how to vary camera shots and so on. It also includes some very cute aids such as a binocular mask, an adjustable frame, sample story boards, character props (e.g. glasses, moustache) and even authentic theatre tickets. All it doesn't include is the popcorn.

'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

Related Posts

'Meet the Author: Mark Greenwood & Frané Lessac' HERE
'Author & Illustrator Focus: Robert Ingpen HERE
'Getting Boys into Books Through Non-Fiction' HERE
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' HERE
'New Title for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12' HERE

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Introducing Young Children to Shakespeare

I've written previously on this blog about the value of Shakespeare for children of all ages, even primary school children (HERE). I had little chance as a child to be introduced to Shakespeare until forced to read it at High School. What a terrible way to meet some of the world's greatest literature.  English classes boring and seemingly unrelated to my life.  Shakespeare's plays seemed remote and of little interest. And yet later in life I began to appreciate and love Shakespeare's work.

Is it possible to make Shakespeare accessible for children as young as seven or eight years? Yes, I think it is! A good place to start is either with an abridged version of the great plays or using some of the wonderful prose versions of his work. A company in Sydney has even begun to present live Shakespeare to primary schools. Bell Shakespeare has set itself the task of introducing primary aged children to Shakespeare's plays, with a plan to teach Shakespeare's work to children as young as six.

Sixty- Minute Shakespeare

I have no doubt that in classrooms where children learn to love words, language and narrative, that they will find Shakespeare exciting, challenging and enriching. There are many resources that will help you. Recently, I had a look at Cass Foster's abridged versions of Shakespeare's plays. The 'Sixty-Minute Shakespeare' series is an ideal alternative for those who lack the time to tackle the unabridged versions. Professor Foster has carefully condensed (without modernizing) the rich poetic language of each play so that it can be completed in about 60 minutes. The abridged versions offer the excitement of Shakespeare's tales, as well as the wonderful imagery in the prose and verse.

Each edition also comes with detailed footnotes on nearly every page explaining the more arcane words and phrases to help the reader better understand and appreciate each play. You will also find practical suggestions for staging, pacing, and thematic exploration very useful. Each script is approximately 70 pages.

'Shakespeare's Hamlet' staged on the page by Nicki Greenberg

This is a remarkable and ambitious work from Nicki Greenberg for high school children. This imaginative and epic 415-page graphic novel will excite many teenage readers. Hamlet has become an expressive black inkblot whose form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is not a kid's picture book! Rather, it is one more attempt to present Shakespeare in new forms. Not just to make it more accessible (for some might find some other word-only attempts less challenging) but to tell it afresh.

There is no doubt that Greenberg’s Hamlet is unique. At 400+ pages it is hardly an easy 'read'. But might it not help the young uninitiated reader of Shakespeare to see new things? Only readers 13+ will be able to help us to answer this question.

The language of Shakespeare is given new emphasis as the play is performed on paper. This is a play 'staged' in a book as the title suggests.  It is a very interesting book but I can't help but feel that a retelling like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories (see below) is not a better way in. It is hardly stuff for the poor reader, but more likely the gifted who wants to experience Shakespeare with new depth and relevance. It might just do this for some.

Joint winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Picture Book of the Year 2011

Photo courtesy of the Guardian

Prose Forms for Young Children

You don't need a theatre company to help you to introduce Shakespeare to young children. One of the easiest ways to get young children interested in Shakespeare's work is to read some of his plays in adapted prose form. While there are some pretty awful attempts to do this, the collections written by Leon Garfield are superb. His first collection 'Shakespeare Stories' was illustrated by Michael Foreman and published by Gollancz in 1984. It features 12 of Shakespeare's best-known works, including 'Twelfth Night', 'The Taming of the Shrew', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'. Garfield is a brilliant writer of children's fiction and so if anyone was to tackle this project, he would surely be the most likely to succeed in presenting the plays with as much complete dialogue as possible but with adaptations that make the works more accessible without detracting from the language, plots and characterisation of each play. This is how Garfield begins 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':
Hermia, who was small, dark and perfect, loved Lysander; and Lysander loved Hermia. What could have been better than that? At the same time, Helena, who was tall, fair and tearful, loved Demetrius.
But Demetrius did not love Helena. Instead he, too, loved Hermia...who did not love him. What could have been worse than that? 
Garfield's adaptations are engaging and faithful to the plays and if read well to children as young as 7 or 8 will capture their attention. I have used them with children or varied ages and they love to hear Garfield's versions of Shakespeare's work and they want to pick them up and read them. My daughter has also found the Garfield collections wonderful to use with her children aged 6-10.  She has written about this on her own blog (HERE).

A shorter collection, 'Six Shakespeare Stories' was published by Heinemann in 1994 and 'Six More Shakespeare Stories' in 1996.

Other resources

There are a number of other helpful resources and sites for teachers who want to try Shakespeare with children aged 6-12 years.

'Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare' was written by Edith Nesbit in 1907 and is still available in more recent editions (HERE)

A good BBC resource that offers children a simple introduction to Shakespeare and his work (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare 4 Kidz' site is worth a look. Their tag is "Bringing the world of Shakespeare to the young people of the world" (HERE)

'Shakespeare is Elementary' is a great little site developed by an elementary school (Crighton Park) in Novia Scotia Canada. It has some great ideas for getting started (HERE)

You can buy some scripts adapted for young children but I haven't personally tested them (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare for Kids' site also has some helpful advice for teachers using Shakespeare with primary/elementary school children (HERE)

Read more about the Bell Shakespeare work in Sydney HERE

Friday, November 6, 2015

New Titles for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12

I'm always looking for good literature that children who can read independently will find engaging. Lots of books come across my desk for review and here are eleven that caught my interest. I have arranged them in rough age order so that the first books are the easiest (children 6-8 years) and the latter books best for children 10-12 years.

1. 'Lilly the Elf' by Anna Branford and illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)

Anna Branford emerged as a writer of excellent fiction for younger readers in the last five years and writes enjoyable page-turning books mainly (but not exclusively) for girls. There are now four books in this little 'Elf' series, I have seen just two at this stage. The books are centred on the main character that is a little elf who faces varied situations and challenges. The books are meant for very young independent readers who want to step up from picture books to something that 'looks' like a novel and is more challenging. The texts are very simple with between 20 and 30 words per page of large type and simple (but delightful) black and white line and wash drawings.

'The Elf Flute' tells how little Lily receives a surprise package with a silver flute one day from an aunt. But the flute proves more difficult to pay than she thought and emits only whiffles, not sweet sounds. Will she ever make it to the special concert?

'The Wishing Seed' tells how one day Lily (who lives in a tiny house under a bridge) has an encounter with a dandelion seed. She lets the dandelion drift away on the wind and makes a wish. But will her wish come true?

The books are engaging and will be a good source of reading material for children who can read alone at the grade 2 level.

Walker has also published 'The Midnight Owl' and 'The Precious Ring' in the series.

2. 'The Cleo Stories' by Libby Gleeson & illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin)

Libby Gleeson is one of Australia's finest children's authors and Freya Blackwood one of our best and most successful illustrators. This is a wonderful collection of stories about Cleo a little girl with a giant imagination and curiosity. She is a wonderful character that five to six-year-old emerging readers will love. The situations and characters will be well known to these young readers. The stories cover friendship, life's frustrations and patience when waiting for special times, giving and receiving, being accepted.

Freya Blackwood beautifully illustrates the book with her characteristic watercolour images. All in all, it is a wonderful book for 'first' readers. The book was the winner in the Younger Readers category of the 2015 CBC Australia Book of the Year Awards.

3. 'Roses are Blue' by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Gabriel Evans (Walker Books)

Sally Murphy is a highly awarded and acclaimed Australian author who has written many fine books. She is a master of the verse novel that has characterised many of her works, the most successful perhaps being 'Pearl Verses the World' and 'Toppling'.

This is another wonderful book for younger readers (aged 7-9 years). Amber Rose and her family are dealing with tragedy and much change. Amber Rose struggles to accept that her wonderful Mum has gone, and while she loves her new mother, she misses her old mum. A beautiful touching book.

4. 'Kitten Kaboodle - Mission Two: The Lightning Opal' by Eileen O'Hely & illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Walker Books)

This is the second book in the 'Kitten Kaboodle' series.

Kitten Kaboodle is not just a cat, he is a detective! In fact, he is a very surprising cat; even his collar can freeze a dog at twenty paces. Kitten Kaboodle is the number one secret agent at CAT - the Clandestine Activity Taskforce. When the Disaster Organisation Group (DOG) sends an opal-chipped robot to find Kitten Kaboodle, he leads the canines to CAT Headquarters, and then all the way to Lightning Ridge. Can Kitten Kaboodle stop DOG from using the opalised dinosaur skeleton that lies beneath the desert sand?

The simple comic-like illustrations add to the fun of the text in these simple books of about 130 pages with large print and no more than 150 words per page. They are an easy read for readers aged 7-9 years. Younger boys will love the action and fun.

Children will also enjoy 'Mission 1: The Catier Emerald'

5. 'Diary of a Golf Pro' & 'Diary of a Basketball Hero' by Shamini Flint & illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint has been producing a number of these funny books (up to nine now) that appeal to that desire within most young boys and girls to become a great sporting stars. She covers varied sports including Taekwondo, Rugby, Cricket, Track & Field, Soccer and more.

In Diary of a Golf Pro, Marcus who is a maths whiz and not good at sport, tries valiantly to convince his far too persistent father that he does not want to play golf. Poor Marcus and his Dad end up in a match play event with hilarious results and a surprising ending. These are fun books that are a light and enjoyable read for children aged 6-8 years. The line drawings from Sally Heinrich make a great contribution to these amusing books. Tentative and reluctant boy readers will enjoy them.  

6. 'Ten' by Shamini Flint (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint is in her own words "an ex-lawyer and stay-at-home mum who is determined to change the world through writing!" She has a good instinct for what young somewhat reluctant readers want in a book. Her Asian heritage and experience shine through in this book set in her native Malaysia.

Ten-year-old Maya lives for soccer. But no one in her small seaside town in Malaysia shares her obsession: her brother prefers hockey, the girls at school think it's a boys' game, and her grandmother just wants her to be a 'good Indian girl', even though with pale skin and an English father she's already a disappointment. Maya has other problems too. Her parents are constantly arguing, the new girl at school is getting everyone in trouble, and, worst of all, Brazil has just lost the World Cup. But Maya is determined that none of this will stop her from becoming a professional soccer player - the only problem is she's never even kicked a ball.

This is another fresh and authentic tale that grapples with intersection of sport, parental aspirations and children's efforts to he their own person, in spite of what others want or expect.

7. 'Tashi and the Wicked Magician and other stories' by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg & illustrated by Geoff Kelly & Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin)

Tashi is bold and clever, and tells the best stories ever! There's a Magnificent Magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

This is another delightful book in the series of Tashi books that span a number of years. This latest offering is beautifully designed. My review copy was in hard cover and is a delight. It has 90 pages that are interspersed with beautiful illustrations. The stories are engaging and fresh.

Tashi and his friend Jack set out on four fabulous adventures of mystery and magic. Tashi tells tales of courage and daring when faced with a magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house that is about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

8. 'Cartboy Goes to Camp' by L.A. Campbell (Allen & Unwin)

This is a sequel to 'Cartboy and the Time Capsule' and the hapless Hal Rifkind (a.k.a. Cartboy) is off to summer camp. But this is a camp with a difference. This is a history camp where you churn butter, get to plant maize, get your own water from a local stream and can be punished for not doing chores! Hal's hillarious journal is filled with drawings, timelines and photos of this 'special' adventure to a camp where nothing has changed for 400 years. It's a very funny book that readers aged 8-10 will love.

9. 'The Ravenous Gown and 14 More Tales about real beauty' by Steffani Raff (Exisle Publishing)

In a day when princesses have been boiled down to beautiful ball gowns comes a new kind of fairy tale. Fall under the spell of a “Once upon a time…” where beauty is bigger than a reflection, where wisdom makes girls extraordinary, and where curses are broken through the strength and character of unlikely heroines. A magnificent collection of short stories written in fairy tale prose The Ravenous Gown captures the essence of a stronger, smarter princess – the kind that actually lives happily ever after.

This is a wonderful and funny book that intelligent young girls (in particular) will love. It is a collection of 'twisted' new fairy tales. Twisted in the sense that they don't follow the expected plot, or dish up the same 'unreal' characters. All that you have come to expect is turned on its head. Here is a sample in the first story from which the collection takes its name. A princess finds herself in the scullery of a castle in a mess and a fairy godmother comes to her rescue. The princess exclaims:

"I didn't think you actually existed. I thought you were just some convenient literary device used in fairy tales to grant wishes to deserving princesses who found themselves in need."

Each tale has more than a few twists and turns. You will find magic mirrors, dragons, a princess who could fly, a crystal castle and more.

Wonderful stuff!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Giftedness: How to Identify, Develop & Support It

Once giftedness was defined primarily in terms of intellectual skills and knowledge that could be tested with a narrow range of intelligence tests. But increasingly we recognise that giftedness has multiple dimensions (see for example my post on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). While some gifted children demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc). If you are interested in more information on supporting gifted children you can read a previous post HERE which covers some common territory but has additional ideas for older children.     
How do I recognise giftedness in my children?

6yr old drawing of Blue Tongue from predator view
If you live with a gifted child or have one in your class there is a good chance you will begin to recognise a number of characteristics that differentiate them from most children, even most capable children.  While many parents feel their children are gifted as they learn new things (we all think our kids are amazing), exceptional intellectual giftedness is much more rare. While some teachers tend to assume that gifted children can take care of themselves and so require less attention, this can be a dangerous assumption. Life for the highly gifted child can be an extremely frustrating, confusing and at times lonely experience if their giftedness isn't identified and supported. If your child demonstrates, to a significantly greater extent a large number of the following characteristics, they may be gifted and will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents.

  • The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways (and I'm not talking about a six year old making a paper aeroplane). 
  • The desire and ability to investigate their immediate world, to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.
  • Extreme curiosity demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in depth study.
  • Using extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.
  • Understanding and using imagery and metaphorical language at a young age (often under 5 years).
  • Exploring varied interests often at depth, well beyond their years.
  • Being able to learn rapidly and easily compared to other children.
  • Gaining great pleasure and excitement when they are learning new and difficult things.
  • Outstanding memory demonstrated by encyclopaedic recall.
  • A desire to spend time with older children or adults and to learn with and from them.
  • Being able to cope with the introduction of many new ideas, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Wanting to spend large amounts of time learning about a favourite topic.
  • Capable of generating many solutions to verbal or mathematical problems.
  • Enjoying and seeking out frequent intellectual challenges.
  • Demonstrating unusual imagination that is stimulated easily and sometimes independently.
  • Ability to generate multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Showing preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.
  • Often preferring individual work rather than group work and able to work well independently.
  • Demonstrating a highly mature and unusual sense of humour.
  • Sometimes having expectations of themselves that are too demanding and unrealistic.
  • Demonstrating single-mindedness and extreme determination when pursuing interests.

If you think about the above characteristics it should be easy to see how they might well be misinterpreted by teachers and parents who don't understand giftedness. For example, wanting to work independently could be seen as anti-social, single-mindedness can be seen as self-focussed, questioning the assumed knowledge of the teacher could be seen as rudeness and so on. This is why the gifted need to be understood and supported; they are different.

Sketch of 'A Camel & Its Reflection' (Lydia aged 3yrs)
One aspect of giftedness is rich imagination. While all children demonstrate imaginative qualities at a very young age, many seem to lose much of their uninhibited almost natural ability. But some grow and demonstrate this to a greater extent as they age. The gifted demonstrate high levels of imagination, which in turn reflects high levels of creativity and significant knowledge. The latter is important, for creativity requires knowledge (e.g. knowledge of subject, language, mathematics etc), and in most instances associated high levels of skill and proficiency (e.g. hand-eye coordination, observation, computation, bodily dexterity, memory, verbal fluency etc).  

Imagination requires the mind to take existing data or knowledge and reintroduce it in a variety of new forms. If your child demonstrates to a significantly greater extent than most children - a large number of the following types of imaginative activity, they are likely to be gifted. If so, they will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents. I will list just some ways in which imagination is demonstrated and how each form can be stimulated.

1. The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways?

Here a 6 yr old looks at prey from above
Encourage children to look for different perspectives with lots of 'what if?' questions. What if the penguin's wing was bigger? What if we tried to do this another way? What if we had a small city in Antarctica? What if 'The Wind in the Willows' was set in Australia not England? What if you spent most of your life flying, how differently would you understand the world?

2. Using real world objects and knowledge in unusual ways?

Most 'what if' questions can end up here but there are other paths. It requires children to investigate their immediate world (this requires skills), to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.

Simple cubby made from a box
  • Make a cubby house from boxes, old sheets etc (see previous post on cubbies HERE).
  • Create a clubhouse in the back yard with membership rules, club motto, a logo and so on. 
  • Create a new board game with a theme of interest. You can use many formats adapted from existing games or create a new form. It requires them to think of a theme (dragons, 'Polly Pocket', Spider Man etc), a format (e.g. series of boxes with a start and finish), rules for playing and scoring etc. 

3. Encourage the child's extreme curiosity that is typically demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in-depth study

Encourage the study of a topic of interest (but don't be afraid to nudge them on to new areas) by helping to find books, key websites, by taking them to movies, enrichment activities, museums, zoos, special sites, and by helping them to acquire knowledge, buying key tools (e.g. binoculars, microscope, sewing machine, tools). Help them to start an insect collection, a resource book on whales, a short history of your community, a study of one animal, a short talk on the challenges of interplanetary space, a short video on a topic (see my previous post on simple animation HERE), or write their own blog (see my post on children as bloggers HERE).

4. Encourage children to use extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.

  • This is perhaps the easiest area to enrich. Immerse your children in a rich diet of poetry, literature and drama. Share literature and talk about it, make it a key part of the home or classroom. 
  • Play with language, rhyme, introduce new words and technical terms never use an approximate word in the face. 
  • Play with words as part of life, as you play with your children, drive with them in the car, walk with them along the road. 
  • Play word games with them and make it fun! Dr Seuss is a great place to start with general language silliness (see my post on Dr Seuss HERE). 
  • Give them new words in the midst of real life experiences. 
  • Introduce them to literature beyond their immediate experience.

5. Introduce your children to imagery and metaphorical language.

The gifted child will begin to become aware that language has more than literal meanings. Point out some of this richness, encourage them to observe it, and eventually to use it. Point out that language is enriched by simile, metaphor, homophones, homonyms and so on. Again, this can be done in everyday life as you play, travel, share meals (see my previous posts that deal with this HERE , HERE & HERE)

6. Encourage imaginative discovery in as many varied situations as possible.

Play is one way to achieve this, sometimes with adults, sometimes alone, and also with other children (see my previous post on this HERE).

Another way is to provide rich firsthand experiences from a very young age. Many of these are very basic:

  • The squelch of mud between toes on a wet day in the back yard.
  • Running on a sandy beach for the first time.
  • Watching a worm wiggle in the palm of a small hand.
  • Going outside on a dark and cloudless night to gaze and talk about the stars (if you have an iPad, you might use Star Walk).
  • Watching a bird build its nest in a tree in the playground in spring.
  • Doing hand painting.
  • Observing chickens as they grow bigger day by day, collecting the eggs, sweeping the cage.

7. Encourage your child to try to imagine and generate multiple solutions to problems of varied kinds

This will include problems that are verbal, mathematical, scientific and even practical in nature. Let your children see how you or others solve problems. Draw attention to novel solutions that engineers, doctors, builders and artists come up with. Encourage them to discuss and generate novel solutions to hypothetical as well as real problems.

Summing Up

Imaginative play starts early
Some will look at the above list and feel as if all children could benefit from them. There is truth in this, but it's a matter of degree and regularity. All children need to have their imaginations stimulated, not shut down. But the gifted child will experience painful boredom and frustration if their school experience is filled with repetitive and unchallenging work that does little to stimulate their imaginations.

You might like to consider some of the other ideas in my previous post on giftedness HERE
Jacob (4 years) draws Grandad from the unusual vantage point of the fish inside the aquarium looking out

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Helping Children to Love Poetry: 9 ideas and some books

Poetry is a much-neglected part of literature. I've written before about its power to allow us to express and explore varied aspects of the human condition (HERE). I also regularly review good poetry books on this blog. Poetry should be read, listened to, experienced and enjoyed with our children. It can amuse, entertain, challenge, teach and change us. Our aim as teachers and parents should be to seek to share good poetry often, and help children to 'experience' poems as significant literary and life events.

Ariel Sacks wrote a great post a couple of years ago in which she offered some great tips to immerse children in poetry. This is my adaptation of her suggestions: 

1. Giving poetry space in the curriculum to poetry don't just use it as an add-on to other things

2. Offer a variety of reading, speaking and listening experiences with poetry that don't require analysis and dissection.

3. Create an anthology for students - a packet of poems as wide-ranging and diverse as possible (rhyming and non-rhyming, contemporary and ancient poems, easy poems easily comprehended, curious & mystifying, classics & unknown, some written by students.

4. Sometimes create an anthology around a particular theme or image (ecology, justice, humanity...).

5. Provide time to read the poetry collection with no strings attached.

6. Allow students to read poems they like aloud to the class. 

7. Try some choral reading. Perhaps have the class pick one of the poems for choral reading.

8. Experiment with poetry - tone and volume, mood, expression, method of presentation...

9. Perhaps have everyone memorize a few poems. Perhaps a poem that they will know for life!

For some great ideas on poetry and access to great book lists visit the Centre for Excellence in Primary Education (CLPE) which has an annual award for poetry written for children. 

I wrote a post on notable poetry books a few years ago that you might still find useful (HERE).

Here is a short sample of some good recent poetry books and anthologies that might be helpful. They are suggested simply to offer an insight into the variety of poetry books available. I would love to hear of your favourites.

Poems to Perform, Julia Donaldson (editor), illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan)

This is a careful selection of poems, both familiar and new; they contain poetry that lend themselves to being performed in a range of collaborative ways. Progress through the book is subtly themed: gliding through poems about school, football, food and many other matters. It offers succinct suggestions for how they could be presented both verbally and dramatically at the back, leaving plenty of scope for teachers and pupils to make their interpretations. The poems range from classics by Edward Lear, W H Auden, and Eleanor Farjeon, to contemporary work by Michael Rosen, John Agard, and Clare Bevan. It is illustrated throughout with exquisite, expressive linocuts, this is a book for teachers, parents and children; in fact anyone who loves great poetry. I bought this to use with children myself! The descriptions are edited versions of the judge's comments on each book.

The Dragon with a Big Nose, by Kathy Henderson (Frances Lincoln)

This collection has many city poems that capture the feel and vibrancy of urban life. These are odes to the urban environment - its buildings, its transport, the people and creatures that inhabit it and the effects of weather on it. The dragon on the cover disguises the contents. Fantasy and reality converge in poems like ‘Under the Stairs’ and many of them describe wonder in the apparently ordinary, but there are varied poems. The child’s eye viewpoint is foremost and this contributes to this being that rare commodity – a single poet collection for younger children. The poet’s own illustrations work wonderfully with the text.

Bookside Down, by Joanne Limburg (Salt Publishing)

This is Joanne Limburg’s first collection for children. It has a unique and contemporary feel, catching the voice and ear of the intended audience providing thoughtful observations of modern childhood. What happens if you read a book while standing on your head? Dare to discover the answer within these poems that provide a fresh take on school and family life, complete with computapets and a Wii with a Mii channel. Take a prefix lesson that doesn’t deal with grammar too seriously while requiring some understanding to get the joke. Sample the mouth-watering potatoes Dad cooks, tantalising all your senses ‘for truly they are epic’. Don’t lose your temper or you may find important things are lost too.

Wayland. The Tale of the Smith from the Far North, by Tony Mitton, illustrated by John Lawrence (David Fickling Books)

This is the story of Wayland Smith, the strangest of all I know. This beautifully told tale reinvents the northern legend of Wayland the blacksmith, whose craft and skill spread his fame far and wide. But Wayland's talents bring him nothing but pain. It is poetic in form, and is epic in nature. It is a complete piece of art, poetry and legend. Readers are quickly drawn into this 'story' set in a landscape of forests and mountains depicted in John Lawrence’s extraordinary engravings. It is definitely a publication for older children. There is the love of Wayland for his Swan-Maiden and beauty in the way words and pictures reunite them.

Cosmic Disco, by Grace Nichols, illustrated by Alice Wright (Frances Lincoln)

This is a collection of poetry with beautiful rhythms, language and imagery that Grace Nichols always captures with such mastery. This collection whirls us out into the cosmos to dance ‘in the endless El Dorado of stars stars stars’ and back again to ‘that little old blue ball spinning in the corner over yonder’. Nature is personified in many guises. Lady Winter raps out a warning and chastises a cheeky robin. Autumn is a knight with ‘cape of rustling ochre, gold and brown’ and ‘spurs made of sprigs’ and ‘medals made of conkers’. Colours speak, giving persuasive arguments why the artist should choose each one of them. Venus is addressed majestically and a ‘star that time forgot’ given a new name.