Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Review of Children's Book Council of Australia Awards 2021


It's always a joy to review the Australian Children's Book Council Awards each year. This year my review is a little later than usual, but 2021 has been quite a year. In this post I review the winners and honour books for the following categories 'Younger Readers' (7-12 years of age), 'Early Childhood', 'Picture Book of the Year', and the 'Eve Pownall Award' (Factual material children 0-18 years).

1.     1. Younger readers (7-12 years)

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers from the middle to upper primary years. 7-12 years.



Aster’s Good, Right Things', by Kate Gordon, Riveted Press 

Aster attends a school for gifted kids, but she doesn't think she's special at all. If she was, her mother wouldn't have left. And if she isn’t careful, everyone else will leave her too. Each day Aster must do a good, right thing – a challenge she sets herself, to make someone else’s life better. Nobody can know about her ‘things’, because then they won’t count. And if she doesn’t do them, she knows everything will go wrong. Then she meets Xavier. He wears princess pajamas and has his own kind of special missions to make life better. When they do these missions together, Aster feels free…but if she stops doing her good, right things will everything fall apart?


This multi-layered novel for 10-13 year olds addresses the all too common issue of family breakups and its impact on children. As children deal with this friendships can make a difference. Aster isn't the type of child who everyone is drawn towards. She's anxious and lives each day with rituals. Her Dad and an Aunt understand her and her anxiety, insecurity and fears. School is a great struggle, and is made much worse by Indigo, an angry girl who has her own inner struggles that trigger anger, hatred and frustration, which she projects onto the hapless Aster.


Aster tries to deal with her challenges by doing a good, and right thing each day. She sets herself these challenges to make someone else’s life better. But she does them secretly, because she figures that if they know about her ‘things’, then they won’t count.  This is a complex novel for younger readers (aged 10-12) which any teacher or parent should read before giving it to a ten year old.

Kate Gordon grew up in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Previous titles include ‘The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn(UQP, in 2020), ‘The Juno Jones, Word Ninja’ series (Yellow Brick Books), Rhiza Edge, ‘Three Things About Daisy Blue’ (Allen & Unwin) and ‘Writing Clementine’ with Allen and Unwin.



1. ‘The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst’ by Jaclyn Moriarty (illus. by Kelly Canby), Allen & Unwin

Long ago, the little Prince of Cloudburst was stolen from the seashore by a Water Sprite. Now, ten years later, the prince has found his way home. The King and Queen are planning the biggest party in their Kingdom's history to welcome him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Kingdoms and Empires, Esther Mettlestone-Staranise is looking forward to another year at Katherine Valley Boarding School. But she arrives to find a number of strange and unsettling changes...

Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of a number of excellent novels for children, young adults and adults. These have included the international bestsellers 'Feeling Sorry for Celia' and 'Finding Cassie Crazy', as well as the 'Colours of Madeleine' trilogy. 


2. ‘Worse Things’, by Sally Murphy (illus. by Sarah Davis), Walker Books Australia

By Sally Murphy
Illustrated by Sarah Davis

This is a story of connections (and disconnections). 

When you’re part of the team, the sideline is a place of refuge, of rest, of reprieve. 

But when you’re out of the team, the sideline changes.

Suddenly it’s the loneliest place of them all.

Worse Things is a story about connections. How they are made, and what happens when they are lost or just plain illusive. Most children will experience these emotions from a very young age for a variety of reasons. 

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all. As well as being a great author Sally Murphy is a university academic who "teaches teachers how to teach". 

Sally Murphy grew up loving books, babies and beaches, and nothing much has changed. Now she is grown up (though she tries hard not to be), she thinks a perfect day is one which involves reading, writing, walking or swimming at the beach, time with her six (also grown up) children, her grandchildren, and long-suffering husband. When she isn’t doing these things, Sally is a university academic, teaching teachers how to teach.

Sarah Davis is a multiple award-winning illustrator, and associate art director for Walker Books Australia. You'll see her work in many well-known books like the popular 'Violet Mackerell' series from Walker Books. She won the CBCA Crichton Illustration Award for her first picture book, Mending Lucille, in 2009, and since then has gone on to illustrate more than 40 titles, in a range of styles and genres.

2. Book of the Year: Early Childhood


Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-6 years.



‘No! Never!’ by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman (illus. by Mel Pearce), Hachette Australia. 

This is such an easy book to love! Co-written by the legendary Libby Hathorn and Lisa Hathorn-Jarmon, it is a story that every parent will understand immediately, and I guess, every child (from a different perspective of course)! Every parent will remember how quickly children can stamp their feet and perhaps show the flat palm and shout "No never" or words to that effect. It is bound to get attention, but it's also an opportunity for parents to learn how to deal with it, and for children to learn just when these words are appropriate, and when they might not help one's cause.


Honour Books


1. ‘Anemone is not the Enemy’ by Anna McGregor, Scribble Kids

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

All Anemone wants is a friend, but friends are hard to make when you accidentally sting everyone who comes near you.

Perhaps Clownfish has a solution to the problem ...

This delightful picture book might look like another amusing picture book with minimal text, but it is a quirky and funny book that teaches us about the wonder of rock-pool life. Any child who can recall the first time they looked into a rock pool how wondrous it was. And for those children who haven't, they might just pester their parents to take them to the seashore to explore one.

The colourful and digitally produced illustrations and simple text will delight all young readers.





2. ‘We Love You, Magoo', by Briony Stewart, Penguin Random House Australia

Magoo is a dog who has his very own ideas about a dog's life. What he can and should do in the kitchen, the car, dinnertime and bedtime! But there are so many annoying rules! Why are there Sooo many things a dog can't do? This is a book especially for Magoo (and those who love dogs like Magoo). 

This is a wonderful read-aloud picture book that will be read many times. Perhaps we'll recognise some of the Magoo in our own dogs?

The author and illustrator Briony Stewart is known internationally as an author and illustrator, including several award-winning books for children. Briony completed a double degree in Fine Art and Creative Writing at Curtin University. After graduating she won a Queensland based writing prize. The story soon became her first published book, Kumiko and the Dragon, which won the Aurealis award for Children’s short fiction in 2008.

In 2012, Briony completed a nine-month creative development fellowship in the UK after being selected by the British Council as one of five young Australian artists excelling in their creative field. Since then, Briony has published numerous successful titles. Most notably, her book Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers won the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize for Children's Fiction.












3. Picture Book of the Year




'How to Make a Bird' written by Meg McKinlay & Illustrated by Matt Ottley

When you have Matt Ottley and Meg McKinlay working together you should expect great things to result, and 'How to Make a Bird' does NOT disappoint. What a stunning book! How on earth can you take the idea of a child making a bird, and then turn it into a moving and uplifting tale of beauty and wonder at creatures in our world? First you need a writer who can craft words with minimalism and power, and second you need an artist who can turn words into images that create a work that is greater than the sum of its two parts. That's what we have in this extraordinary work. One of the most stunning picture books that I've seen for quite some time. 

We shadow the protagonist as she contemplates the blue print of an idea, collects the things that inspire from the natural world to shape a bird. And breathes life into it before letting it fly free. It shows how small things, combined with a little imagination and a steady heart, can transform into works of magic.

The story commences “To make a bird you will need a lot of very tiny bones …” But only when you have cast your bird into the air and you have watched it "stretch out just a little and ... tremble as it fills, inside its tiny, racing heart, with the dreams only a bird can dream of open sky and soaring flight" will you know that you have actually created a bird.

Children will return again and again to this wonderful book.

 Suitable for readers 5 to 100 years!

Honour Books

1. 'Not Cute', Philip Bunting, Scholastic Australia

'Not Cute' from author and illustrator, Philip Bunting is a worthy Honour Book in the CBCA awards for 2021. The illustrations are delightful with a Quokka (as you'd expect from the title) is, well, very cute! As much as tries to convince others that he is actually VERY dangerous, Dingo, Redback, and Crocodile are not buying it!

Once there was a quokka.
Quokka was very cute.
But Quokka did not like being cute.
Not one bit …

Not Cute is a simple story about self-acceptance, listening to others, and not succumbing to your own delusions. This is a story about being yourself. The end pages include a quote from fable teller Aesop, “The stubborn listen to nobody’s advice and become a victim of their own delusions”. A great story that will help children to understand that they need to beware of the unintended consequences of their actions. Readers from 2-5 years will love this book.

Philip Bunting's previous books, which he both wrote and illustrated include MopokeKoalas Eat Gum Leaves and Kookaburras Love to Laugh

2. 'Your Birthday Was the Best!' Written by Maggie Hutchings & illustrated by Felicita Sala

Hutchings and Sala work in perfect union to introduce the reader to the amusing antics of these cockroach anti-heroes. The result is a series of witty situations which encourages the reader to consider that bugs might revel in all things gross such as hairy cheese and toenails. The minimal and powerful text gives room for the illustrations to carry much of the story.

Maggie Hutchings is a counsellor, family-dispute mediator, writer and artist who spends her weekends covered in paint and scribbling lists that are never completed. In this simple story, a feisty young cockroach gate-crashes a birthday party  – with hilarious results. Funny, silly and surprisingly cute, Your Birthday Was the BEST! is the perfect blend of downright gross and delightfully entertaining.

Felicitas Sala is an incredible illustrator and author who is gaining a big reputation internationally. She is the author/illustrator for the best-selling 'Mermaid!' and 'Unicorn!' Felicitas was born in Rome in 1981. She grew up in Perth, where she graduated in Philosophy from the University of Western Australia. She now lives and works in Italy. She has illustrated many picture books for American, Canadian, Italian and French publishers. Her Book 'She Made a Monster' (written by Lynn Fulton) was selected among the 10 best illustrated books of 2018 by the New York Times.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Recent Change of Importance to Followers

Followers of this blog have always had the option of being notified by email each time I post something new. This function was delivered by email from the blog through a service called 'Feedburner'. You accessed this simply by adding your email to the 'Feedburner' widget on the side bar of my site. 

Google has decided to end this service in about a week. So in order to ensure my followers remain subscribed, I have added a free equivalent service and transferred all email notifications to this new trusted service. This means you will continue to receive email notifications when I upload a new post. This service is called '' and is free. 

This change will ensure you receive an email notification each time I post something. If you don't currently receive a notification each time I post, you might like to subscribe as well, by using the link on the sidebar of my blog.

Thanks so much for following my blog

Trevor Cairney




Thursday, August 5, 2021

Children's Literature that Invites & Encourages Resilience - 6 Great Picture Books to Share

As I write this post in my home city of Sydney, we are locked down yet again due to our latest outbreak of Covid-19. Children are doing school at home disconnected from friends and their extended families. The world seems so different to them, and many wonder when things will return to normal. At such worrying times children's literature is a key resource to help them reflect and cope with life. Books can help children to see how courage and resilience give us strength to cope with many things. We talk much about resilience, but for children it is often hard for them to articulate why they feel sad, let alone know what they can do about it. Story is a wonderful way to shine a light on hidden fears, frustrations and deferred hopes. Bringing these to the surface can enable support to be given. Here are just six of the many books for children that address the broad theme of resilience.

1. 'Sad the Dog' by Sandy Fussell (Author), Tull Suwannakit (Illustrator)

This is the story of a clever little dog whose owners didn't even give him a name. Although they feed him and wash him, they don’t appreciate his many gifts, like his love of singing (“stop that yapping!”). When the people move, they simply leave him behind. He christens himself "Sad" and is heartbroken. But one day, a new family with a young boy arrives at Sad’s house in a big truck. Over time, it becomes clear that the boy is just the right person to make his life complete.


In its own way, this simple story offers an insight into how with support we can become stronger and more resilient even when our world is turned upside down.  

When his family leaves, Sad is heartbroken. But a new family with a young boy arrives at Sad’s house in a big truck, and it becomes clear that the boy is just the right person to make his life complete. Sandy Fussell's engaging story and Tull Suwannakit's illustrations combine to make this book memorable.

2. 'A Boy His Bear and a Bully' by Katie Flannigan & illustrated by P.J. Reece

For some kids, school is a place full of friends and fun. For others, though, it is a lonely place where bullies pick on them and it feels impossible to be brave. In this story we meet Scott, Buttons and Duncan, otherwise known as A Boy, His Bear and a Bully. All the ingredients needed for a special story.


The main character Scott, in his insecurity, takes Buttons to school every day to help him feel brave. But in spite of this Duncan the bully is still mean to him. He calls him "Scott no friends" tears up his painting, calls him names and steals his play lunch. But when Buttons goes missing he is devastated. Where does he look now to find his courage? But with inner strength, he surprises himself. On dress-up day he wears his dinosaur suit and somehow finds his 'brave' and no-one is more surprised than Duncan the bully.


Bullying is very real for many children which they often endure alone. But this sensitive book will allow parents and teachers to shine a light on challenges of this type. Scott's bravery inspires others to dig deep to find their inner strength.


Katie Flannigan is a full-time children's author. She worked once in the health industry as an Occupational Therapist. She was awarded a Maurice Saxby Mentorship award in 2016. Katie lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and many dogs.


PJ Reece is an Australian illustrator. His delightful pen/pencil and wash illustrations help to bring this lovely story to life.

3. 'The Most Magnificent Thing' by Ashley Spires

Award-winning author and illustrator Ashley Spires has written and illustrated a delightful book about a girl and her dog, that is her best friend. It's a story about a little girl with grand ideas. She decides one day that she wants to make something that is truly magnificent!


In her mind, she can see just what this grand thing will be like, so she sets off to make it with the help of her dog. While she can make lots of things, the "magnificent thing" she wants to make proves to be a challenge. While she can see it in her mind, it proves much harder to create it. Instead of it being "Easy-peasy" as she thought, it's hard, and her many attempts don't live up to the plans in her mind.


Eventually, the girl gets "really, really mad". She is so mad, in fact, that she quits. But her dog is having none of this and convinces her to take him for a walk. When they come back she suddenly decides that she should try again, and not give up.


She decides that she will “make” her magnificent thing. She sets out to do so and "tinkers and hammers", measures, smooths, wrenches, fiddles, twists, tweaks and fastens. And while it never quite lives up to the image she had in her mind of the magnificent thing, she does complete her project and gains great satisfaction from the creation.   


This wonderful book is helpful not just for allowing teachers and parents to discuss with their children what it means to persevere, but also to reflect on what it means to demonstrate resilience. It will help teachers and parents to open up many discussions about the human need to set personal goals and challenges. In doing this, it will help to be prepare them for challenges, and to know how to work through them with other people. It is suitable for children ages 5-8 years.

 4. 'Little Frida' by Anthony Browne

This isn't a new book, but Anthony Browne's book about the life of Frida Kahlo was a worthy winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. He is a former Children's Laureate and twice winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. It is a story that will inspire young readers when faced with difficulties and challenges in life. The life of Freda Kahlo demonstrated that with resilience, hope and determination we can get through many difficult things.

Freda Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón in Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico in 1907. Her father Wilhelm (also called Guillermo), was a German photographer who had immigrated to Mexico where he met and married her mother Matilde.


Around the age of six, Kahlo contracted polio, which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. While she recovered from the illness, she limped when she walked because the disease had damaged her right leg and foot. But her father encouraged her to play soccer, go swimming, and even wrestle. This was highly unusual for a girl in the early 20th Century, but he saw it as a road to recovery. 


There have been many books written about this famous artist but Anthony Browne has created a special picture book, that will bring the remarkable story of Frida Kahlo to a new generation and inspire them to consider what resilience can look like even when life throws up big challenges.


As well, the book explores the themes of belonging and hope. The story of Frida's lonely life, and how she discovered the power of her own imagination to open up new worlds of possibility, is inspirational. It is a wonderful book for 5-8 year olds. It also has a brief biography of Frida Kahlo at the back that parents and teachers will want to share after they've read Browne's story.

5. 'Dandelion' by Galvin Scott Davis and illustrated by Anthony Ishinjerro (Random House Australia and digital media company Protein)

Galvin Scott Davis and illustrated by Anthony Ishinjerro (Random House Australia and digital media company Protein)

This a wonderful picture book that focuses on the theme of bullying. Galvin Scott Davis explains its genesis:

The story for Dandelion came about when my son experienced bullying at school. As a parent, you are supposed to have all the answers, right? But as we all know, that is not necessarily the case. What to do? I needed to put myself in my son's shoes, draw on my own past experiences and offer him a solution to help him feel comfortable at school again.

This is an exciting project, starting out first as a concept by a Dad whose son was bullied which was then funded by people who like him wanted to say something about bullying to encourage those experiencing it. First there was the idea, then an app before finally a hard-covered book. The illustrations and animation are beautiful. In both formats the unusual sepia tone illustrations of Anthony Ishinjerro capture the reader/viewer and the white, block-letter text stands out from the black pages to support text in the form of rhyming couplets.

Whatever form you experience it, (app or book) it is a story that will encourage parents, teachers and children to talk about bullying and look at whether some problems can be solved with a little imagination and resilience.

6. 'Sunday Chutney' by Aaron Blabey

It's also exciting to see Aaron Blabey back again. This remarkable new talent is shortlisted for the second year in a row. His first book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' won the Picture Book of the Year award in 2008. You can read more about Blabey in my Author Focus on him (here).

The new girl at school has a glamourous life. What more could she want? Sunday Chutney is not your ordinary every-day girl. Sunday has lived everywhere and been everywhere. The only problem is this means she is always the new girl at school and she never really has a place to call come. But Sunday doesn't mind, not really. After all, she doesn't care what people think, she loves her own company, she has heaps of imaginary friends, so many important interests that keep her very busy . . . and traveling is so glamorous. What more could Sunday Chutney want?

The trouble is that Sunday Chutney always feels different. And as the one who is always the "new kid" that has its challenges. But somehow, in spite of the challenges, she doesn't seem to care. Why? She has learnt to enjoy her own company. And the secret is her excellent imagination, many interests. While there are lots of things she doesn't like - her lazy eye, creamed corn, sand in her swimmers, the first lunchtime at each school, bullies and grumps - she likes lots of things too. Like her own company, her own imagination, crumpets, marine biology, worthy causes and her optometrist. It seems that while she wished she moved less, Sunday Chutney has worked out that while lonely at times, she isn't much she would prefer, except perhaps, keeping the same home.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A FREE Program to Help Parents Support Preschool Learning

I co-wrote an online preschool support program for parents of children 0-4 years a few years ago with a colleague. I've posted on this before, but I thought I'd remind readers just in case they've messed it. It was released in 2018 by the 'Australian Literacy Educators Association'. The program is free and available on the Australian Literacy Association's site HERE. There isn't a catch, just free support and practical ideas for new parents who aren't sure how to help their children to learn in the preschool years. The program started out with my co-author Anita Ayre preparing activities for her daughter to support their first child. I was asked to partner with her to extend and develop an extensive online program for parents and grandparents. 

The online resource program is available FREE via the 'Australian Literacy Educators Association' website. The resource is called 'Little People's Literacy Learning: A guide for engaging parents and carers'. It offers practical help for parents and carers of children aged 0-5. And again, it's FREE! You don't need to be a member of ALEA to access to the resource is open to all.

This FREE online guide comes with hundreds of activities that you can enjoy with your child. Initially, there were 17 units. Now it has grown to 27 with new modules on 'Maths', 'Maths Language', 'Technology Use', 'Measurement', 'Space' and 'Pattern' just released. The modules will help parents to use simple activities as part of life. Some are incidental and others have some limited planning required. But all you need to know is explained in the modules. All activities are designed with an emphasis on learning through collaborative play and shared discovery. Why are so many of the recent modules related to maths? Because language and literacy have many important relationships to these topics.

Anita and I are experienced teachers, parents, and also (these days) active grandparents who love spending quality time with our grandchildren. In this resource, we offer a wealth of suggestions and hints for parents and carers who want to engage with their children in language, literacy learning and mathematics activities. Technology is also linked to many of these topics as well as now having a separate module. All activities are designed with an emphasis on learning through collaborative play and shared discovery. They can all be incorporated into daily life with very little (or often no) preparation! We offer hundreds of integrated examples throughout, including how new technology and multimedia can also enrich the learning experiences of your child with the same richness as other non-technology applications. You'll also find some advice on how to monitor and control screen time.

The resource contains practical and VERY doable common sense activities. You will find it HERE.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Children's Books that Will Make You Think, Laugh & Perhaps even Cry

I'm never quite sure what books will arrive at my place to review. At times they bring surprises. In this post, I review 7 different and surprising books. 

1. 'The Rock From The Sky' by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen has that rare ability to fascinate the youngest of readers, and yet stimulate the mind of the adult with his 'simple' picture books. It's not surprising that 'The Rock From The Sky' (like many of his other works) has been an instant #1 New York Times bestseller! This is another incredible work from the Caldecott Medal winning creator of the hat trilogy and other wonderful books. 

Klassen is a genius of storytelling and art. With just three characters and a rock, he is able to create intrigue, tension, jealousy and fear of the unknown. In a recent video on his website HERE he explains that this book drew much of its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock he explains understood the difference between shock and suspense. Hitchcock was the master of how to build and use suspense, the unknown, and the unexpected, to engage the reader or viewer. In this 'simple' book Klassen uses the same devices. The story features a mole, a turtle and snake and seeks to take the reader on a journey that slowly builds tension with the reader, and invites us to imagine what might just be coming next.  

Does the young reader have to grapple with an elaborate plot as they experience this book? Not really, but they will experience tension, intrigue, curiosity and a desire to see what will come next. As Turtle greets Mole at a chosen spot the tension begins as Mole feels uneasy about his chosen spot.

"What do you think of my spot?
Actually I have a bad feeling about it.
A bad feeling?

In short, once again Klassen merges visual suspense with wry wit to create a work like no other children's author and illustrator.

2. 'Wombat' by Christopher Cheng & illustrated by Liz Duthie

Far underground, where dirt and tree roots mesh, are tunnels that lead to a burrow, and in this burrow Wombat’s day begins. A story about the life of a wombat, looking at the interesting way these animals build their homes, look after their family and protect themselves from predators. Wombat is a new addition to the Nature Storybooks series from Walker Books, which feature a lyrical narrative and engaging nonfiction combined with stunning artwork to pique the curiosity of young minds

Wombats might seem to be cuddly creatures you could take home, but they tough creatures with sharp teeth that never stop growing, and limbs that can shovel dirt like a mini bulldozer. They can also live for years without drinking water. The book series features a narrative as well as a factual description of life for the wombat.

Follow one of these powerful marsupials through a suspenseful day in Christopher Cheng’s engaging narration, paired with endearing illustrations by Liz Duthie and interspersed with intriguing facts. An endnote provides additional information about wombats for readers curious to learn more.

3. 'Florence & Fox' by Zanni Louise and illustrated by Anna Pignataro

'Florence can't share her toys with Fox today because today is not Sharing Day. In fact, Sharing Day is not for hundreds of days. Fox has never heard of Sharing Day and he has some questions, but luckily Florence has all the answers.'

This is a delightful book that tackles the challenge of every preschool child - as well as parents and teachers - what does it mean to share things? When Fox reaches for the hammer Florence has put down, he is surprised to find out that it isn't 'sharing day' so he can't use it. But the next turned out not to be sharing day either. In fact Florence tells Fox that it isn't for 100 days!

The author and illustrator have a strong friendship that no doubt helps them to have a seamless connection between the words and pictures. Wonderful!

The author Zanni Louise comes from Byron Bay. She has written 16 books for children, including picture books and junior fiction. She has been twice listed in the CBCA Notables.

4. 'The Great Barrier Reef' by Helen Scales & illustrated by Lisa Feng

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the world. It has almost 400,000 square kilometers of amazing coral and sea life. It is one of the most complex ecosystems and has global significance. But that's not all!! This wonderful book looks at the science of the world's greatest reef, ships that have floundered here, and the history of human habitation across at least 40,000 years.

This wonderful non-fiction book from Helen Scales and Risk Fend is almost as vibrant and dynamic as the real thing! The artwork illuminate dazzles the reader with the animal inhabitants of the reef and the people who have embraced it as a centerpiece of their cultures. 

This wonderful book in the series from 'Flying Eye Books' will be read and bring joy to readers aged 7-11 years.

5. 'Bootsy Flies at the Robert Eric Big Top Circus' by Richard Unwin & illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Bootsy is a Cockapoo. That is a Golden Cockapoo, which is a cross between a English Cocker Spaniel and a standard, miniature or Toy Poodle dog. If you didn't know this, don't worry, I didn't either until I came across this delightful book. The book is suited for children aged 3-8 years.

It tells the story of a special circus owner who loves animals and doesn't want them to be caged and forced to perform things that aren't natural for them. But after the clowns have performed and people laugh, the trapeze artists are done, the drummer has played, is there anything else? How can Robert add to his circus a special act? Especially as Prince Charles is coming to a performance with his grandchildren turns up.

It turns out a little Golden Cockapoo just might have some skills that will make the crowds (and the Prince & his grandchildren) cheer. Can something special be added? Read the book to find out just what this little Cockapoo does that brings the crowd to its feet.

This delightful book is from Fun Nature Books new series featuring a lovable Golden Cockapoo. You might also like to read 'Bootsy's Picnic Adventure'. 

6. 'Ernest The Elephant' by Anthony Browne

This delightfully simple story from the legendary Anthony Browne tells the tale of a baby elephant who gets lost in the jungle.  Ernest is a happy and safe baby elephant who walks every day with his mother and the rest of the herd. But he begins to wonder what else might be out there in his world?

His curiosity gets the better of him. He sneaks away from his mother and the herd, and ventures into the jungle. Deeper and deeper he goes and becomes lost. He sees many other animals including a rude gorilla, a weary lion, an impolite hippo and an uncaring crocodile. None of them can or will help him find his way home. Will he ever find the herd? You'll have to read it to find out. 

As usual, the illustrations are brilliant as you'd expect from this Kate Greenaway Medal-winning author-illustrator and former Children's Laureate. It might not bring the belly laughs of some of his other incredible books, but children 1-5 will love hearing it read. As well young and older readers (5-7) will love reading it themselves, and will relate easily to the key themes of the book.

7. 'The Lost Child of Chernobyl' by Helen Bate

This remarkable Graphic Novel might look at first peak like a children's picture book, but you'd be mistaken. This wonderful book is a haunting and challenging fictional retelling of
the global environmental disaster that occurred in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl in April 1986. It was to have significance for the whole world.

While it is an imaginary story, with imaginary characters, it is inspired by the real events in Chernobyl and disaster that was a great wake up to the world. It begins:

"One April night, people around Chernobyl felt the earth tremble and shake. 
Looking out of their windows, they saw a strange light in the sky."

But what was the ragged creature in fur of a wolf?

On that fateful day in 1986, animals instinctively ran from the danger, families stopped in fear worried about loved ones working in the power station. And all eventually saw the deadly cloud and wondered, what does this all mean? It was to change everything.

We jump to a time nine years later, and forest wolves bring a ragged and dirty child to a house. The child growls like a wolf. The child has been living with wolves in the forbidden nuclear zone. But who is this lost child of Chernobyl? Will Anna and Klara be able to find the child's family after all this time?

This is a challenging and haunting book that all children aged 9-12 should read. Preferably, they will read it with the ability to talk to parents or a teacher.

Helen Bate is an award-wining author, known previously for her book 'Peter in Peril' and 'Me and Mrs Moon'.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Holiday Ideas to Stimulate Thinking, Creativity and Language

In Australia we're in the middle of the Easter/Autumn break for all school children and with COVID-19 still active across the world ideas to engage our children in some stimulating (& fun) creative and intellectually challenging activities is from and centre.

Many of these well known activities can also reduce screen time and boredom. All are fun, simple and can be done at home. Of course, while it's a post about holiday activities any of the ideas can also be used at other times. 

I've also written a number of posts in the past about things to do in the holidays with kids (here) and simple travel games to fill the time on trips with your children (here). There is also a post on Planning With Kids that offers '20 Great Holiday or Travel Activities for Kids (5-15)'. To maintain some balance you might also find my post on 'Boredom is still good for children!'

In this post I thought I'd offer my top 16 activities that can work inside and outside, in any type of weather. My criteria for choosing them are that the activities should:
  • Stimulate creativity
  • Encourage exploration and discovery
  • Involve using their hands as well as their minds
  • Encourage interaction between you and your children
  • Foster literacy development 
  • Increase their knowledge
  • Keep them interested

Encourage your children to make a film 

1. Use a simple animation app to get them started - This sounds a big deal but its not with the write app. I wrote a post about some wonderful apps for digital story telling a year or so ago (HERE). One of my favourites is 'Puppet Pals, for one thing, it's VERY easy to use. Your children will work it out in minutes. Puppet Pals is available as a free app for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. It is essentially a simple way to create an animated movie using 'cut-out' themed characters and a variety of backdrops and scenes to create an animated 'puppet' play.

There is a free version that comes with Wild West backgrounds and actors.  However, you can also purchase different themes for $US0.99 or the 'Director's Cut' in which you can access all the themes for $US2.99. These allow you to obtain a range of additional scenarios and characters based on themes such as monsters, space, pirates, arthropod armada, Christmas and so on. You can even make your backdrops and characters.

This is a very simple to use app that provides very easy storyboarding. You can record dialogue, move characters around, create some simple effects, change backdrops and settings and characters. Below is an example that my eight year old grandson produced with little instruction and next to no preparation at his second attempt using the app. While ideally, before creating the animation, the writer/producer prepares plot summaries and story ideas, Jacob made this excellent animation as a first take. He used the 'Arthropod Armada' theme from 'Director's Cut'. 

Puppet Pals is a wonderful resource for supporting story telling, writing, language development, creativity, and problem solving, while at the same time introducing them to film making and animation. I could see myself using a smartboard to collaboratively develop a story with my class before introducing individuals and groups to this smart little app.

Books with a difference

2. Pick some special books they haven't seen - try to borrow or buy at least 2 books for each child that you think they'll enjoy. Opportunity shops, book exchanges and libraries are the place to start. I have another post on book exchanges, op shops and web exchange sites here. Take your children with you to the op shop or library to choose them.

3. Books as a creative stimulus - While the shear joy of the book is usually enough, sometimes books can stimulate many wonderful creative activities. For example:

After reading Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things are" go outside and dramatise it. Let one child be Max and let others take turns at being the wild things. Make a boat out of bits of wood, or even have a go at making one out of a large cardboard box (or several).

After reading Jeannie Baker's book "Where the Forest Meets the Sea" (a book about the Daintree Rainforest in which all the pictures are collage) encourage them to make a collage out of natural materials (and maybe some wool, straws etc to supplement) in response to Baker's pictures. Or read a second book and have them use collage in response.

After reading Graeme Base's "The Waterhole" get them to paint the waterhole (they can draw the animals, cut them out and paste them around the waterhole).

4. Dramatisation - Dramatisation is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!


5. Diaries and journals - Introduce older children to diaries or holiday journals. Make this fun, not a school activity. If they just want to make it a scrapbook by pasting in tickets, leaves they collect, food wrappers etc, then let them. But you can also show them how to create a travel diary.

6. A holiday blog - Tech savvy mums and dads might encourage their children to write online. Why not set up a family blog that can be read by friends and relatives (even if only for two weeks). You could use this as part of a trip away, or just use it at home. Older children could set up the blog themselves and all family members could contribute. Let them have access to a digital camera and a scanner and the sky is the limit. See my post on 'Children as bloggers' (here).

7. Start a family joke or riddle book - give them some jokes as models ("Knock, knock", "Why did the centipede cross the road"....)


8. Structured Craft ideas - simple beadwork, noodle craft, mask making, making plaster moulds (and painting them), anything for young children that requires paper tearing, gluing, glitter, stickers.

9. Unstructured creative craft - Stock up when you go to the supermarket with simple materials like paper plates (good for masks), brown paper bags, sticky tape, glue, cotton balls, tooth picks, paper cupcake holders, straws (cutting up and threading), noodles (for threading).

Creative Play

I've written a number of previous posts on play (here) but planning for play is important. While you can say to your children go outside and 'play', doing some simple planning at times will lead to more stimulating play times.

10. Dress-up box - If you don't have one take the kids to an Op shop to start one. You might even pick up some gems like old helmets, hats, belts (you can cut them down), handbags etc.

11. Water play - This is hard in cold weather, but maybe you could make bath-time special for littlies with extra bubbles, different stuff to take into it . In warmer weather give them a bucket of water and some things to scoop, sieve etc - obviously only UNDER SUPERVISION.

12. Play dough - You can buy cheap coloured modelling clay but home-made playdough works well. My wife 'Carmen's can't fail' recipe is 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 cup of plain flour, 0.5 cup of cooking salt, 2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar, 1 cup of water, colouring. Mix together and put in a saucepan on medium heat until it binds together, stirring all the time. Fold together by hand. If you keep it in a sealed plastic bag it will last for ages in or  outside the fridge.

There are endless things to do with play dough. Try to move beyond just cutting out shapes (which kids still love). Encourage them to make a house, a farmyard, a bed, and an aquarium. Use some plastic animals with the play dough or small plastic people. If you don't mind tossing the play dough out you can let them use sticks, plants etc to make simple dioramas. Kids will create complex stories as they manipulate the play dough.

The blanket cubby!
13. Build a cubby house - No not with wood, just use a table, some chairs, wardrobes (hitch the blankets into the top of the doors, some pegs and sheets and blankets. By draping them over other objects you should be able to create a special space (about 2x2 metres is enough for three small kids). Try to get at least 1.5 metres of height. Have the kids 'help' and then get them to collect some special things to have in the cubby. Use a toy box for a table, some cushions to sit on. I always let my grandchildren have my cheap transistor radio from my shed (lots of fun). Girls might like a tea set; boys will collect animals and toys, both will like books. If you're up to it, climb in as well and read some stories. They'll like the edges tucked in to cut out light so you might need a torch. I've seen a cubby of this kind amuse kids for half a day. Then of course for the adventurous you can share some snack food as well. You can even build a cubby inside! See my post on cubbies (here).

Above: A 'house' one of my grandchildren made (with help) from a box we saved

Indoor and back yard fun

14. Treasure hunts - Write the clues on paper using words and pictures depending on ages and make the treasure worthwhile (chocolate, a coupon for an ice cream in the kitchen etc). For something a little more challenging why not try a map with grid references (see picture opposite).

15. Cooking - Kids love cooking with their mothers or fathers. Do simple stuff. Nicole (Planning With Kids) has lots of great ideas for cooking with kids on her site. Don't forget to make it a language activity as well by getting them to follow the recipes.

16. Insect scavenger hunt - Try an insect scavenger hunt (one of my grandchildren's favourite activities). You'll be surprised just how many you can find. You'll to be careful turning rocks over and digging around, but even in Australia it's low risk if you supervise. Place a pile of bricks in a damp place and then let the kids help you to uncover them a few days later - watch the critters scurry. We always enjoy a good snail race afterwards!

A few basics hints
  • Have a strategy for the holidays - map out a timetable (post it on the wall) and try to plan a few significant events and think through the general structure of each day.
  • If you have younger children still at home, being joined by school kids on holidays, try to think about how you will cope with all their interests and think about varying daily routines a little.
  • Pace yourself - don't use all your best ideas in the first few days (you'll wear them and yourself out and you'll struggle to keep up the variation later).
  • Expect bad weather - think about some ideas that will work in rainy weather as well. It's called the "Law of Holidays" - expect lots of wet weather and a day or two of sick kids.