Monday, February 12, 2024

The Power of Story to Teach, Enrich and Transform

I want to draw attention to the power of story in this post by discussing my work shared in two separate articles over 10 years ago. In 2013 I wrote an article for the 'International Journal of the Book'. In it I discussed the power of literature not just to offer engaging stories, but to actually "Teach, Enrich and Transform" us. The article was inspired by the work of D.W. Harding (1937, p. 257) who suggested “reading, like daydreaming and gossiping is a means to offer or be offered symbolic representations of life”. I quoted Harding NOT to relegate reading, and specifically literature, to the status of any representation of lived experience (quite the contrary). I'll come back to this.

In the second article that I wrote in 2010, I pointed to the "...folly of Deconstructive Post-modernism, whose most extreme advocates argue that all texts are equal, that the TV advertisement, graffiti, the bumper sticker, the poem, a Twitter ‘tweet’, blog posts, a play and the newspaper editorial are all texts that can have equal value."  

Of course, all 'texts' have meaning and we can learn from them, but they are not "equivalent" or "equal" (but let's not get side-tracked)! Story has a special place. I'm going to share my thoughts in two posts on this topic I will argue that:

 

• The storybook still has an undiminished role to play in early literacy development even in the age of digital literacy.

• Literature has a value well beyond its important utilitarian function as an excellent vehicle for the learning of literacy.

• Reading is acquired in the context of relationships with other significant people.

• Literature has the power to teach, enrich and transform.

I believe that any "civilized society which relegates literature to just one possible means to know and communicate is making a significant mistake" (T.H. Cairney, ’The International Journal of the Book Volume 8, 2010). Why is this a mistake?

Let me share my first two reasons in this post (and two more in the next).

Reason 1 - Literature offers opportunities to reflect on life and see it in new ways

Just as I am affected by human tragedy in my world, I can also be affected by the tragedy of characters in books. In a sense, as we read stories we can 'live through' the events, and experience emotions like joy, success, loneliness, pain,  disappointment and sadness. As a reader we can ‘enter into’ the lives of others through literature and deepen our understanding of life. It can help us to reflect on and understand our lives. And of course, we must never lose sight of the special place literature or story has as a vehicle for learning about written language and the shaping of human character.


I have been motivated to write this paper by a growing concern that in our excitement to consider the possibilities of digital literacy of all kinds, we might just forget about the importance of narrative as a vehicle for learning about written language and the shaping of human character. 

 

Stories "...allow us to reflect on these and other experiences and come to a greater understanding of our world and ourselves. As well, literature can act both as mortar to build rich personal and textual histories, and as a bridge between our lives and the lives of others" (Cairney, 2010).

 

Reason 2 - The undiminished role of Story

 

Children today experience stories in varied forms. They have opportunities to engage in stories by reading, but also through television, radio, online games and a myriad of pictures, images, signs, advertising etc. More than ever, today's readers, are confronted by stories in new forms and through multimedia of varied types. They also write in diverse forms and genres. Perhaps just a few words via emails, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and so on with images and signs to support text. But equally they share stories through music, jokes, symbolic language, movement and so on.


We still enjoy stories, but we use many varied forms, as well as different platforms and devices to receive them like Air pods, headsets etc. Some still read a paper or digital book, while others only ever listen or watch using devices. But there is still a common element; all centre on story!


As parents and teachers we need to engage children in the sharing of stories, delivered via whatever platform. As well, we must encourage them to share stories with others.

In our contemporary literacy world, there is greater interaction between multiple sign systems, particularly print, sound, image, and physical context etc. As I listen to one of my grandsons playing games online like Minecraft, or watch another preparing to lead a game of Dungeons and Dragons with her friends, I'm always struck by how much interaction there is between players as they create live stories on computers while sitting in separate locations. This still is story making and reflects a primary need as humans.

 Having shared the above, I will expand the discussion in the next post by considering two other ways Story has the power to teach, enrich and transform:

  • Reading is rarely a lone activity we read within communities.
  • Literature teaches, enriches & transforms us.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Six New Picture Books that are 'Must Reads'!

1. 'Mama's Love Language: Sometimes Love Tastes Like Hainan Chicken Rice'  by Written by Elisa Stad and Illustrated by Ry Menson (Illustrator)

Jade is a girl who lives in two worlds. When one's parents have different cultural heritages, sometimes children can wonder where they fit. In this very sensitive and tenderly written book, Elisa Stad explores something which increasing numbers of families and teachers see each day. Jade is on a quest to understand her identity and where she truly belongs. She feels different from the other kids at school. 
 
Back home, her Dad has an English speaking heritage, whereas her Mother has a Vietnamese heritage. Her parents also have quite different ways to express their love and care for her. Sometimes Jade is embarrassed by her Mama’s accent. She can’t understand why she is not just like the mothers of other children at school.

When Jade begins to rebel against her mother's traditional ways of showing love, great wisdom is required from her father, to help her understand that both love her deeply but show it in different ways. Mama doesn’t hug or say I love you, but the "healing aroma of ginger, green onions, and chicken broth does".

This is a is a special book that addresses a universal theme of belonging and the beauty of cultural diversity. Through it our children and students will learn "...that being different is not only okay but something to be celebrated, and that love can come in many shapes and forms."

A very special book that should be in every school library. It is ideal for children aged of 4-9 years.

2. 'The Secret Lives of Dragons: Expert Guides to Mythical Creatures' by Prof Zoya Agnis and Alexander Utkin

This wonderful fantasy picture book was first published in 2021. This is a stunning new illustrated edition(2023) is wonderful. It is a beautiful children's guide to the 'facts' and philosophy of dragons; from treasure hoards to breathing fire.

Hidden deep in the mountains, a kingdom of dragons once thrived. Dragon song echoed across the peaks, and priceless treasures were guarded in lairs. But what happened to this kingdom? 
Dragon sightings are incredibly rare now, so how can we spot one of these elusive creatures? And if we were to meet one, how would we talk to them and approach them safely? Luckily for you, the answers are recorded in this book by the famous 'Drackenosopher', Professor Zoya Agnis. It is beautifully illustrated by Alexander Utkin.
The book will help you to learn everything you need to know about dragons; from breathing fire and taking flight, to the brutal slayers that preyed upon them. This beautifully illustrated manual will guide you on your path to becoming an expert in the prestigious world of dragon studies.

3. 'An Amazing Australian Camping Trip' by Jackie Hosking & illustrated by Lesley Vamos

This picture book has three parallel and related texts going on for the reader to choose. You can read simply the narrative, or also find out about about Aussie language. What's a 'Mozzie', what is 'venom'? How do you "Boil a Billy"? What is a Wombat like? Is their poo really shaped like a cube? Ouch!

4. 'Friendly Bee and Friends' written and illustrated by Sean A. Avery

5. 'Friendly Bee and Friends - Woe is For Worm!' written and illustrated by Sean E. Avery

This follow on edition is available online, and also in paperback from Walker Books. It is worth chasing up!

Stunningly illustrated and well told!

6. 'Factopia! Follow the Trail of 400 Facts', by Paige Towler & illustrated by Andy Smith

This must be the funniest 'encyclopaedia' of all time. What's more, all the facts are verified by Encyclopaedia Britannica. True! The reader will be drawn into the book as every fact is connected to the next, and these are the type of quirky facts that all children love.

Did you know that a squid has a brain shaped like a doughnut? Or that some butterflies drink turtle tears? Hop from topic to topic in unexpected and delightful ways, and discover what connects a giraffe with the Eiffel tower, or a slice of pizza with Cleopatra. On your awe-inspiring journey, you will find out extraordinary facts about space, bones, dinosaurs, spiders, sharks, robots, ancient Rome, and more.

This is a book that children will love to read, and will want to share with others! It will be hard to read this book alone.


 

 

Friday, December 15, 2023

Holiday Ideas to Stimulate Children, Reduce Screen Time & Keep Parents or Carers Sane!

In Australia, our schools will close in the third week of December for the Summer holidays which last about 6 weeks. After over two years of COVID isolation, lock downs and disrupted schooling, life is just starting to return to normal. As we enter holiday periods with our children and grandchildren, it's helpful to plan a little. While some children might go to summer camps, or holidays with families, there will be plenty of time either at home or away for children to become bored. Hopefully, the solution is NOT just to simply increase their screen time.

 


If Christmas falls in winter as it does in the US and other northern hemisphere nations, then outdoor activities will be hard. But there are plenty of things to be done inside that are stimulating and fun. In Australia, traveling to catch up with family and friends, the beach, hiking, boating, fishing and more take up lots of time. But there is still time to fill at home because some children end up home while parents go to work for at least part of the holidays.

 

At Christmas, many families have ongoing traditions that you continue in families or schools. One special tradition in our family is to make the traditional English Plum Pudding using a recipe passed down on my mother’s side first used by her English and Scottish ancestors in the 1800s. Family legend is that one of our relatives worked as a cook in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and that the recipe was passed down to family members generation by generation. I used to make the pudding as a child with my grandfather and I’ve carried that tradition on first with one of my daughters, and these days also a second pudding with one of my granddaughters. Perhaps you have your own traditions?


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

 

In this post, I thought I'd revisit some of the ideas and add a few new ones. Holidays offer an opportunity to stimulate your children's minds, and help prepare them for another year of school in 2023.

 

My criteria for choosing holiday activities are that they should:

 

  • Stimulate creativity
  • Encourage exploration and discovery
  • Involve using hands as well as their minds
  • Encourage interaction between you and your children
  • Foster language and literacy development 
  • Increase their knowledge
  • Keep them interested

  

1.      An Excursion

 

The untold great places for an excursion wherever you live. Are you near or in Sydney? Why not enjoy one of the wonderful walking tours of the historic rocks? We took 4 of our grandchildren on a self guided tour of the Rocks during school holidays a few years and had so much fun. The tour we used was free. We were provided with a map and commentary that allowed us to have an adventure together as we explored the historic area. We acted out varied scenarios along the way and took photos to share with other friends & family.

 

2.      Why not get your children to create an animation, with one of many apps. 

 

This sounds a big deal but it's not with the right app. I wrote a post about some wonderful apps for digital story telling a few years 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. Most apps are available for other devices as well. It's 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 as little as $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.

 

It's a very simple app to use that provides very easy story boarding. You can record dialogue, move characters around, create some simple effects, change backdrops and settings and characters. While ideally, before creating the animation, the writer/producer prepares plot summaries and story ideas, but I've seen my grandchildren make excellent animations on their first take. One they used is the 'Arthropod Armada' theme from 'Director's Cut'. 

As a teacher, I also could see myself using a smart board to collaboratively develop a story with my class before introducing individuals and groups to this smart little app.


3. Books with a difference

 

a)  Pick some special books they haven't seen - try to borrow or buy at least 2 books for each child. Based on their interests try to choose books they'll enjoy, not simply books you'd like them to read. Opportunity shops, book exchanges and libraries are also a great place to start looking for some cheap second hand books. I have another post on book exchanges, op shops and web exchange sites here. Alternatively, take them to your local library to choose some.

 


b)  Use Books as a creative stimulus - While the sheer 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.

 


Or 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.   Writing with a difference 

 

Introduce children aged from 5 to diaries or holiday journals.

 

a) Scrapbooks & journals - Make this fun, not a school activity. Some might prefer to just make a holiday scrapbook by pasting in tickets, leaves they collect, food wrappers etc. But you can also show them how to create a travel diary.


 

b) 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).

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

6. Craft

a) 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, works well.

b) 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).

 

 

c) 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.

7. 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.

a) 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.


b) Water play
 - This is hard in cold weather, but maybe you could make bath-time special for young children 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. Above, it's pick on Grandad day!

 

c) 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). Or you could try your hand at making one from large cardboard boxes. I've done both types and the fun was the same on both occasions.

 

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. 

 

I used to let my grandchildren have my cheap transistor radio from my shed (lots of fun). We also had a tea set. Sometime they had toys with them and games. If you're up to it, climb in as well and read some stories. 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).



d) Indoor and back yard fun

 

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).

 

e) 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.

 

Wrapping up - 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.

 

HAVE FUN!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Six of the Best! Wonderful New Picture Books to Share

1. 'Good, Night, Good Beach', by Joy Cowley & illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper

"An evocative and beautiful bedtime picture book that distills the essence of summer at the beach―skin sticky with salt, sandy feet, waves hush-hushing and a shell under the pillow."

This simple poem of just 42 words by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper will transport readers to the seashore and the fun of the beach.

It is quite a gift to be able to use so few words and yet, so clearly evoke from the reader the wonderful joy of the beach in summer. The rhythm of the poem reflects so perfectly the rhythm of such a special day.
Hilary Jean Tapper’s water colour drawings offer a corresponding 'simplicity' to the text. This can only be achieved by a very accomplished artist. I just love this book.

2. 'Always Never Happens' by Meg McKinlay & illustrated by Leila Rudge

"A poetic and quirky one-of-a kind classic-in-the-making, that encourages readers to explore their world, from two award winning creators."
Not to be outdone, Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge have created another wonderful picture book. This text has over 250 words and uses rhyme so well. It is aimed at slightly older readers. But once again, author and illustrator create a wonderful picture book. Leila Rudge's images offer delightful detail and an older key character who is very relatable.
 
I love the 'wisdom' McKinlay communicates in her story. Sometimes with tongue in cheek, but also with a special message. For example:
"Always carry useful things - a torch, a notebook, fairy wings."
"Never throw a key away. Who knows what lock you'll meet today?" 
"Always follow secret tracks – the paths that wind and wend through cracks."
"Never worry where they go. When you get there, then you’ll know."
This is a wonderful book that every library needs. Any lucky child who owns one will treasure it.

3. 'A Way to the Stars' by David Almond & illustrated by Gill Smith

In this book David Almond
Hans - a Christian Andersen Award winner - shows how a father and son bond as they collaborate to "defeat gravity and realize a dream."
Joe is starstruck, and determined to find his way up, up, up to the magical lights in the night sky. 
“In your dreams!” his pals say. But when Joe and his dad put their heads and hearts together, there is no stopping them. Together they climb ladders, construct towers, and launch rockets in a tireless quest to reach the unreachable. 
David Almond's wonderfully playful book, and Gill Smith’s dynamic illustrations, lead to a story of great courage, and the power of the imagination.

4. 'Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab', written & illustrated by Sean E. Avery

5. 'Dasher Can't Wait for Christmas', written & illustrated by Matt Tavares

Matt Tavares’s sequel to the New York Times best-selling Dasher is a joyful ode to helping others—and another holiday classic in the making.

“If you ever get lost, just look for the North Star.”


With only one sleep left before Christmas Eve, Dasher can’t contain her excitement for her favorite holiday. With the sound of Christmas carols on the breeze and twinkling lights radiating from a nearby city, she sneaks off to visit the festivities. But as night deepens and snow starts to fall, Dasher realizes she can no longer spot the North Star in the sky to lead her home. Will the kindness of a child, an unexpected gift, and a dose of Christmas spirit get her back in time to help guide Santa’s sleigh? The New York Times best-selling creator of Dasher has crafted another delightful journey featuring everyone’s favorite reindeer doe, in a story full of giving, joy, and holiday magic.

6. 'Cosmic Wonder: Halley's Comet and Humankind', written & illustrated by Ashley Benham-Yazdani

I love this book! And when I learnt that Ashley Benham-Yazdani worked on it while pregnant with her second child, I was even more impressed. Unlike many of us, she can clearly do many things at the one time. A wonder in itself!!
As the sub-title indicates, this beautiful picture book is about Halley's Comet. It was first recorded on Earth in 240 BCE. While it only 'appears' every 73-75 years I was fortunate to 'see' it when it last appeared in 1986. Even then it was hard to see, and was little more than a bright star without a telescope. We caught sight of it from the banks of the Murrumbidgee using telescopes of enthusiasts in the dark of night and could see its blazing tail.
 
This innovative and visually stunning picture book imagines Halley’s Comet observing Earth and its inhabitants at every pass, tracing human evolution over millennia. It tells the story of the comet when it showed itself in 1986, but also traces the history of the Earth through its 'eyes'. It follows on a journey with the comet 200,000 BC to the present. If the comet 'looked down' what would it have seen?



Friday, October 20, 2023

Some Great New Books from Newer Publishers

 1. 'Riz Chester: The Fingerprint CODE' by R.A. Stephen and illustrated by Em Hammond

I'm pleased to be able to review some books from Wombat Books a new Australian children's book publisher. 'The Fingerprint Code' is a fascinating little short chapter book for young readers (aged 8-10) just beginning to embrace longer 'chapter books' as many children call them.

The main characters are 'Lachie A', Lachie B' and 'Lachie C'. Yes, they all have the same first names. As well, we meet other friends along the way including 'Sabrina', 'Lizzie' and a key character 'Riz'.

Riz and her friends have successfully led a Counterfeit Bust, and discovers she has a passion for forensic science. One day she has the opportunity to use a new forensics kit to solve a mystery. On her way to school with her friends they notice a commotion outside the music room. Something has been stolen! Riz’s notices the principal, deputy, office staff, and their music teacher speaking with removalists outside the classroom window. Riz tries to lipread their conversation and deciphers it at break with the help of her friends and Peiter from Grade 6. Some Instruments had been stolen from the music room during renovations! They need some fingerprints. Riz and her friends sneak in to collect them.They need to find a match...

This is a delightful book of 89 pages with relatively large text that will engage many readers. It's delightful.

2. 'Pepper Masalah and the Giant Bird' by Rosanne Hawke & illustrated by Jasmine Berry

Pepper Masalah and the Flying Carpet by Rosanne Hawke is a series of five or more chapter story books featuring an adventurous black cat called Pepper Masalah, and her nine-year-old friend, Zamir. Pepper Masalah lives with Zamir and his family on an olive farm in Australia. Zam’s grandmother is from the old country (Kashmir) and she brought with her an ancient carpet. She believes the carpet can fly, and that it will try to find its previous master in Kashmir. 

It hasn’t flown for hundreds of years so it is shaky at first, and can’t find its bearings. It lands in many countries on the way to Kashmir, where Pepper Masalah and Zamir have dangerous but exciting adventures. In the 3rd book in this series, Pepper Masalah and the Giant Bird, the ancient carpet is closer to finding Kashmir and flies over Afghanistan. A huge bird (the Simurgh from Persian folklore) whisks Pepper off the carpet and up to her nest of eggs, high on a mountain. The carpet is disorientated without Pepper and disappears after Zam falls off. Zam makes the long climb to save Pepper before she becomes food for the bird’s huge chicks. 

Pepper makes a friend in the nest, a girl called Dana. When a cobra comes to eat the eggs, Pepper manages to save the chicks by telling the cobra riddles. But Pepper and Zam still need to find the carpet in order to get home to Australia. But will they make it?!

3. 'Butterfly Girl' by Ashling Kwok & illustrated by Arielle LI

Olivia lives in the country with her Mother and enjoys time in their garden; a special garden where butterflies become her friends. She spends many hours in the garden until one day her mother decides to move to an apartment in the city. Olivia is heartbroken.

On her balcony in the city she waits for the butterflies to come and visit, but they didn't. She tried everything. She danced, sang out to the butterflies, and then filled the balcony with pot plants and many flowers that she knew were their favourite things. Then one day, an old lady begins to plant things on her balcony and then other children, until one... then two... then rainbows of butterflies danced across the sky. "Olivia now had more friends than she could ever have imagined."

4. 'Giovanni' by Crystal Corocher & Illustrated by Margeaux Davis 

This delightful picture book is based upon the true story of a four year old boy named Giovanni who left Veneto in Italy with his family in 1880 to seek a new life. They were promised 'paradise' by a corrupt people smuggler. But instead of disaster, with the help of Sir Henry Parkes, the Premier at the time, they were to find safety and a new life.

Combining extensive research, family anecdotes and gentle narrative prose, his Great Great Granddaughter Crystal Corocher, shares this true story of resilience and courage. This is a story that resonates with anyone whose ancestors came from another land. And other than our Indigenous first people, that's all of us!

The wonderful watercolour drawings of Margeaux Davis help to bring the story to life.

5. 'Xander and the Pen' by David Lawrence & illustrated by Cherie Dignam

 Xander is a small 12 year old boy with bushy hair and a special sense of humour. He wishes he could be brave like many super heroes but he's a wimp. But one day, he buys a pen that gives him special powers to change his family's fortunes. But there is also a key lesson, having special powers can also bring problems.

He uses his powers for the good of the people around him like his family and friends. But as his secret is slowly revealed and he is trapped in the need to keep using his powers, he faces many problems and dilemmas.

This is a clever idea for a book has many connections to bullying, family dynamics, disability and the environment. While I felt, it took a little long (it has 267 pages) to reach a  resolution and it felt (for me), just a little contrived, I think readers aged 10-12 will find it enjoyable. The many wonderful illustrations of Cherie Digman add much life and interest to support the story.