Thursday, July 30, 2015

Seven New Children's Picture Books

I receive many books for review. While I don't review all of them here are some that I've received in recent times. There are some wonderful books here.

1. 'Summer Rain' by Ros Moriarty and illustrated by Balarinji (Allen & Unwin)

This delightful picture book for younger readers is another excellent offering from Ros Moriarty who is well known for her work 'Listening to Country' as well as her creation of leading Indigenous design studio Baralinji. The language is simple and yet lyrical and the illustrations are vibrant and colourful.

First...the land wakes
in the morning light.
Turtles crawl
and lizards creep
Soon...wind scatters
dancing leaves
and splatters dusty ground.

This little book celebrates country, animals and painting. The textual devices used to accentuate key words work well and the evocative language will engage young readers. Language like:

...the "messy, sticky, slippery-slidey, oozy-squidgy, river bank.

The book also comes with a translation in the Aboriginal language of Yanyuwa, spoken by Aboriginal families in Borroloola in the Northern Territory of Australia.

 2. 'Splosh for the Billabong' by Ros Moriarty and illustrated by Balarinji (Allen & Unwin)

This is a second book from Ros Moriarty and Balarinji. Once again, the illustrations are vibrant and the language simple but beautiful. It celebrates the beauty and life of a quiet billabong. Each page begins with a powerful verb:

for the billabong
at shady bend
of river

for the flowers
that burst in
summer heat.

Once again, the simple illustrations are full of colour and life.

Both books are perfect early reading material for 5-year olds or as books to be read out loud to 5-7 year olds.

3. 'Sally Snickers' Knickers' by Lynn Ward & illustrated by Anthea Stead (Walker Books)

There's something very special about little Sally Snickers, for Sally never wears a hat, she'd rather wear her knickers! 

Now with a lead like this, why wouldn't children continue reading? This bright and colourful picture book will delight children aged 4-7 years. The preposterous idea that a child would wear a different pair of undies on their head each day will intrigue and amuse. And of course, there is a twist when Sally's teacher eventually intervenes. Children will be amused by the outcome.

The illustrations of Anthea Stead are bright and a perfect complement to the text. This is a wonderful picture book that children will love. Great to read alone, but better still with other kids.

4. 'Sam & Dave Dig a Hole' by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)

This wonderful picture book was published in 2014 but is reviewed for the first time here.

This is an exceptional picture book. Illustrator Jon Klassen is of course the Kate Greenaway winning creator of 'This is Not My Hat' and 'I Want My Hat Back'. The beautiful book design, soft images and deceptively simple text, combine to produce a wonderful story and clever ending.

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find ...nothing. Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary - and finding it in a manner they'd never expect.

5. 'Good Enough for a Sheep Station' written and illustrated by David Cox (Allen & Unwin)

This is the final book in David Cox's trilogy that began with 'The Road to Goonong' and continued with 'The Fair Dinkum War' (previously reviewed HERE). David Cox tells the story of his dad who is a horseman. The book describes their life on a sheep station in remote rural Australia. This book tells much more than the story of life in the bush, it offers an insight into the relationship between a father and son, and the different life of children in remote locations away from other children, but surrounded by the beauty and complexity and characters of remote Australia.

The line and water colour illustrations are full of action and interest and help to bring the authentic text to life and connect the reader to his life experiences.

6. 'Little Dog and the Christmas Wish' by Corrine Fenton and illustrated by Robin Cowcher (Walker Books)

Little Dog and Jonathan are best friends. They do everything together. But on Christmas Eve Little Dog finds himself lost and alone in a busy city. How will he find his way home? Can Christmas wishes come true?

 Robin Cowcher has a simple line and wash style as an illustrator, but her images help to bring greater depth to a simple tale of a dog that gets lost on Christmas Eve after a storm when he is left alone. He has a string of encounters with people as he battles to find his way home on a night when everyone else was also heading for their homes. And when finally he makes it to his home, 'there was a boy waiting'. This is a book that can be read at any time, as the strongest theme is 'home' not really Christmas. Children aged 5-8 will enjoy reading the book or having it read to them.

7. 'Looking for Tippo' by Sally Rickett (Matador Publishing)

This is an interesting little book. It has been self-published using the Matador imprint controlled by Troubador Publishing in the UK.  The use of a narrative style to present a factual text has been used often in the last decade as a way to present knowledge in engaging ways for younger children. And it works.

Sally has both written and illustrated this picture book about bowerbirds. A small female bower bird is looking for her mate Tipoo. She picks and hops her way through the New Guinea rainforest looking for the tell-tale signs of a bower that Tipoo would have prepared for her. She thinks she has found it only to be disappointed but eventually she finds just what she'd expect Tipoo to prepare.

The illustrations are delightful, a mix of collage, water colour and crayon.  The text has a logical plot and the expected outcome. While it could have been improved with some tight editorial work to shorten and simplify the language, it will be enjoyed by children aged 6-8 (self-read), or could be read to children (4-6) by a skilled reader.

Please Note

I have no connection to the publishers or writers of books reviewed.  I DO NOT accept payment for reviews. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

9 Tips for Managing Children's Media Time

There are few parents that don't worry about the amount of time their children spend using media of one kind or another. Thirty years ago our major fear as parents was how much television our children watched. I can recall as a teacher surveying a class I was teaching and being horrified that the average TV time was 21 hours per week.

A decade later we added electronic gaming and videos to the list of worries. But in the last decade, we've seen an explosion of options as media of one kind or another, have become available 24/7 at our fingertips (literally).

Of course, right up front let me stress that I LOVE media, but we do need to control it, rather than having it control us and our children.

Why do we worry? 

  • First, worrying about the mind-numbing potential that untold hours using media might have on our children.
  • Second, worrying about the potential impact on health of the mind and body (being withdrawn, depression, anxiety, obesity....).
  • Third, our fears about the 'stranger danger' risks of social media.
  • Fourth, the loss of time to do other things that we see as important (school learning, family time, exercise, developing 'real' relationships not just virtual ones....).

What can we do?

1. Control our own devotion to media. Ask ourselves how much time we spend on varied media. Is our iPad or smart phone almost permanently in our hands? Do I retreat for hours to my computer to check emails, do work and isolate myself from family and friends?

2. Establish some basic rules in families and schools. How much time on the computer, iPad, TV, watching videos, gaming etc? Limits on specific categories? Rules about clashes with family activities? For example, none at the dinner table or at family events, none before homework, none until after they are fed at the end of the day and perhaps get some exercise? Sites that they cannot access? Shared computers in open 'public' spaces at home? [These rules need to reflect your family circumstances and children]

3. Be prepared to make younger children understand that age makes a difference. Your 8-year can't simply do everything that their 15-year old sister does. Age makes a difference to the rules. Explain why.

4. Take the time to understand the varied social media options that your children are using. You'll be surprised by some of them.
5. Understand that media is part of life and can enrich it enabling us to keep in touch, make new friends, communicate instantly, learn and so on.

6. Keep media out of bedrooms as much as is practical. We once would advise that we shouldn't buy a TV for every bedroom. This still applies but today hand held devices are a TV and more that we allow children to take everywhere. Establish some limits on access. For example, why not have all handheld devices placed in a box in the kitchen when they go to bed, or when lights go off?

Above: Children enjoying media together in shared family space

7. Try something radical if the above proves difficult. Perhaps have a timer on the family WiFi router so that noone gets a signal between specific hours. Have kid friendly filters that restrict children's access to specific sites.

8. Do educate them about the risks of social media as well as the benefits.

9. Above all, act as good role models. I know, I've said it twice because I think that this one is SO important. We set the example for our kids to follow.

Other helpful advice on parenting

New York Times Parenting Page (HERE)

All my posts on Media (HERE)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

25 Short Story Anthologies for Children 5-15 years

This is a revised version of a post I did two years ago on the value of anthologies

There was a time when everyone read short stories. While school primers and reading resources still make good use of collections of stories, it seems that they are recommended less for general reading. This is a pity because short stories have a valuable place in the world of literature.

In many ways, the short story is a novel in miniature. Like the novel, they can draw on the full spectrum of writing. The short story is a written account of connected events, presented in such a way that they communicate significant meaning. They require well-developed sets of characters and like a novel, a series of subjects and objects. All this must be woven together in such a way that the author tells a story of significance to readers. Writers make short stories and we their readers are moved, challenged and shaped by them. They can be written in every available genre, including fable, parable, fairy tale, myth, mystery, science fiction, romance, humorous tale and so on.

There are at least 6 good reasons to include collections of short stories in children's reading:

1. They can be read and enjoyed at a single sitting. This can be motivating for the young or reluctant reader who may have a short attention span.
2. They offer young readers the chance to experience the complete narrative form many times over.
3. They can provide experience with varied genres and themes within the one book.
4. They offer the complete emotional experience of a story in one reading.
5. In a time-poor age, short stories avoid the frustrating breaks in narrative if reading is missed from one day to the next.
6. They provide an opportunity to read the work of many authors rather than just a few (particularly if they are anthologies).

Below are some examples of short stories for children aged 5-15 years. They are arranged in order of difficulty. Of course, all can be read to children as well as by them. Typically, we can read more difficult material to children than they will read themselves. 

'My Big Book of Nibbles' (Penguin, 2012)

If you've ever wanted to zoom into outer space like an astronaut, be brave enough to ride a roller-coaster, care for a lost dog, sail the seas on a pirate ship or dress up as a gorilla, then this is the book for you! This exciting collection of Nibbles from the much-loved series has been specially put together just for boys!

This is a wonderful collection of five stories that are drawn from the very successful 'Aussie Nibbles' series of books. To be honest they are probably a collection of short novels rather than short stories at 60-80 pages per story, but with authors like Victor Kelleher and some outstanding illustrators, they will delight readers 6-10 years.  It's available in paperback or a Kindle edition.

'Roald Dahl Treasury' by Roald Dahl (Penguin, 2003)

The Roald Dahl Treasury is a wonderful collection of 448 pages of fun from the master of storytelling. It has four themed sections – Animals, Magic, Family, Friends and Foes; and Matters of Importance. The collection brings together extracts and short stories from across Dahl's work. It introduces some of Dahl's best-loved characters, including Willy Wonka, the BFG, James and Matilda. It includes previously published complete stories, poems, memoirs and letters, as well as some unpublished poetry and letters.

The Roald Dahl Treasury is beautifully illustrated in full colour by Quentin Blake, as well as by other leading artists such as Raymond Briggs, Babette Cole, Posy Simmonds and Ralph Steadman.

As you'd guess, this isn't the only treasury or collection of Dahl's work. You will also find 'Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes', 'Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes' and more.

'Stories From Our Night Sky' by Drewery Melanie (Penguin, 2009)

A beautiful collection of stories and poems about our southern skies. From the legends of Matariki and Rona and the Moon through to how tuatara made the stars, Melanie Drewery weaves a special magic through all her stories that will ensure we never look up at the night sky in the same way again. Accompanied by Jenny Cooper's stunning illustrations this will be a book to treasure and read over and over again

Melanie Drewery is a writer, illustrator and artist who was born in Palmerston North (New Zealand), who now lives in Nelson. She is perhaps best-known for her 'Nanny Mihi' series (illustrated by Tracy Duncan) about two little children and their visits to their beloved grandmother’s house.

Melanie's concern as a writer is to introduce the Maori language and culture in a way that is both non-threatening and engaging. She believes that story offers children easy access to Maori language and culture, and leads them to want to learn more. Readers aged 6-10 will enjoy this collection of stories and poetry that offers a goods introduction to her work.

 'Tickled Onions: And other funny stories' by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, 2010)

Morris Gleitzman is one of my favourite Australian children's authors. He has written some wonderful novels for children and adolescents, including 'Once' and 'Two Weeks With the Queen'. This collection of short stories is ideal for reluctant readers and in particular boys who find reading a challenge. In this collection of nine very funny stories for readers aged 7+ we have the story of Draclia(!) in the kitchen, and the challenge of school lunches and Tickled Onions. These are like the pickled variety but with rose petals, chilli powder and fermented fish paste. We also meet a 'Good Dog' named Anthony who causes chaos at parties and many other funny characters and story scenarios.

'Just So Stories' by Rudyard Kipling (Penguin, 2008)

The Camel gets his Hump, the Whale his Throat and the Leopard his Spots in these bewitching stories which conjure up distant lands, the beautiful gardens of splendid palaces, the sea, the deserts, the jungle and its creatures. Inspired by Kipling's delight in human eccentricities and the animal world, and based on bedtime stories he told to his daughter, these strikingly imaginative fables explore the myths of creation, the nature of beasts and the origins of language and writing. They are linked by poems and scattered with Kipling's illustrations, which contain hidden jokes, symbols and puzzles. Among Kipling's most loved works, the Just So Stories have been continually in print since 1902.

Part of a series of new editions of Kipling's works in Penguin Classics, this volume contains a General Preface by Jan Montefiore and an introduction by Judith Plotz exploring the origins of the stories in Kipling's own life and in folklore, their place in classic children's literature and their extraordinary language.

'Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales' by Andersen Hans Christian as retold by Naomi Lewis (Penguin, 2010)

The work of Hans Christian Andersen is timeless. There have been many collections of his short stories. This book contains twelve of Andersen's most loved stories. It includes 'Thumbelina', 'The Emperor's New Clothes, 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Princess and the Pea', 'The Ugly Duckling' and 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier'. This is a wonderful collection that children aged 6-10 years will enjoy.

The Word Witch The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy By Mahy, Margaret (Harper Collins, 2009)

Margaret Mahy (1936-2012) is one of the greatest authors of children's literature that New Zealand has ever produced. She is one of thirty writers to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for her "lasting contribution to children's literature". As well she won the Carnegie Medal in 1982 for 'The Haunting' and in 1984 for 'The Changeover'. She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories. Her collections of short stories are a wonderful way to introduce children to this special writer. It was my great privilege to meet with her and share speaking platforms on a number of occasions. She was inspiring.

The 'Word Witch' is of course Margaret Mahy herself, and this book contains 66 of her much-loved poems and stories in rhyme. They are drawn from school readers, other collections, picture books, anthologies, magazines and her private papers. They span 50 years of her writing.

There are many other excellent collections from Margaret Mahy for readers aged 6-10. These include:

Watch Me! by Margaret Mahy (Dolphin Books, 2004; originally published in 1973) 

Like its companion volumes 'Wonderful Me!' And 'Wait For Me!', these stories and poems are alive with the sort of magic and fun that children's dreams are made of. In these pages you will meet Aunt Nasty the witch, the boy who bounced, a few magicians, a ghostly girl, a princess who marries a clown and endless other surprises. Originally published as 'The Third Margaret Mahy Storybook', and newly illustrated by Peter Bailey, these tales remain as well-loved now as ever.

Wonderful Me: Stories and Poems! by Margaret Mahy (Orion Children's Books, 2004)

Witches, mermaids, dragons, a dog who plays the violin, a girl who finds a dinosaur egg and a boy who wanted the world to be flat - all these and more appear in this book of stories and poems by a born storyteller. Written with warmth and a gentle humour, they read aloud beautifully and are rich in surprises and imaginative twists. First published in l972 as 'The First Margaret Mahy Storybook', many of these stories have been loved so much that they have appeared in many anthologies - and in many countries - over the years. They are now freshly presented with charming line drawings by Peter Bailey.

Wait for Me! by Margaret Mahy (Orion Children's Books, 2003)

This is a wonderful collection of stories that feauture bird-children, kind wizards, kings in broom cupboards, butterflies, goats, kites, woodland creatures and more.  The previously published stories stories in this book are freshly presented with wonderful line drawings by Peter Bailey.

'Kids' Night In' Various authors (Penguin Australia)

There are already three books in this series of short stories. They consist of never before published bedtime stories, rainy-day jokes, holiday stories, funny cartoons, art, recipes, poems and illustrations. They are written by a diverse range of well-known children's authors and illustrators including Sally Rippin, Ursula Dubosarsky, Libby Gleeson, Leigh Hobbs, J.K. Rowling, Tohby Riddle and a number of other celebrities (see list here). Ideal reading for readers aged  7-10.

Some of the proceeds of the sale of the books go to the organisation 'War Child' that helps children all over the world, affected by war.

Visit for more details on the three books so far.

'The Happy Prince and Other Stories' by Oscar Wilde (Penguin, 2009)

In this haunting, magical fairy-tale collection, in which Oscar Wilde beautifully evokes (among others) The Happy Prince who was not so happy after all, The Selfish Giant who learned to love little children and The Star Child who did not love his parents as much as he should. Each of the stories shines with poetry and magic and will be enjoyed by children of every age.

This is a wonderful collection that introduces children aged 7-10 to the work of Oscar Wilde.

'The Puffin Book of Five Minute Stories' by Various Authors (Penguin, 2010)

This lively collection of 19 five-minute stories, is perfect for read aloud session for young children (aged 6-10), or for individual reading for slightly older children. The stories will be enjoyed many times by varied age groups. They include traditional and contemporary tales in the same collection. These include Dick King-Smith's 'Norty Boy' and the traditional tale of 'The Three Little Pigs'. The wonderful illustrations of Steve Cox are a perfect accompaniment to this wonderful collection of stories.

'The UN Collection' by Paul Jennings

This series of books includes 'Unreal!'  'Unmentionable!'  'Undone!' 'Uncanny!' 'Uncovered!'  'Unbelievable!' 'Unbearable'

No Australian boy aged 7-11 who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s would have missed the outrageous short stories of Paul Jennings. Sometimes gross, over the top and edgy, they are engaging stories that boys love. In 'Unreal!' we have a story about a ghost who haunts the outside dunny (i.e. the toilet), a pair of very embarrassing underpants, glue that will stick almost anything, a manure mix that will make hair fall out, some magic lipstick, and two musical ghosts who try to save a lighthouse.

More recently Jennings has complied some of the most popular stories from the 'UN' collections into a series of new books, including 'Weirdest Stories'  'Spookiest Stories', 'Trickiest Stories'. For more information on Paul Jenning's books visit his website HERE

'Kibitzers and Fools' by Taback Simms (Penguin, 2008)

[There is] a saying: It pays to have a little chutzpah (nerve).

With Old World charm, universal humour, and just a bit of chutzpah, Simms Taback offers this lively spin on thirteen playful tales – as only he could. Paired with his trademark vibrant and hilarious artwork, these stories illustrate ultimate universal truths and important life lessons, from the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel to the idea that just because you can talk doesn't mean you make sense. Taback delivers the perfect combination of wisdom and humour – just the way your zayda (grandpa) would.

This collection of funny stories with brilliant and quirky illustrations from the US will be enjoyed by children aged 6-10 years.

'A Dream of Stars' by Brian Caswell (University of Queensland Press, 1991)

From the surprising tale of a chocolate addict to the futuristic dreaming of the title piece, these stories are as varied and thought-provoking as the stars. Are a pair of the world's best boots worth a human life? Can romance survive between a fifteen-year-old boy and a very attractive "Tralfamadorean"? Humourous, suspenseful and above all entertaining, this collection of thirteen short stories by Brian Caswell poses questions to challenge and delight the imagination. A Dream of Stars was listed as a 1992 Notable Book by the Childrens Book Council of Australia.

Brian Caswell is one of my favourite Australian authors for tween and adolescent readers, his thoughtful work is challenging but always engaging. In this incredible collection of stories he challenges children to think about issues of significance in ways that will surprise you.

'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

'Boy: Tales of Childhood', by Roald Dahl & illustated by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape,1984)

Roald Dahl has been described as the master storyteller, and there is little doubt that he is one of the best children's writers that we've seen in the last 50 years. His collection of stories from his childhood are so memorable. Who having read about his visit to the doctor, can forget the description of the removal of his adenoids in the local doctor's surgery, and his half-hour walk back home. Or Mrs Pratchett the owner of the sweet store dishing out gobstoppers with disgustingly dirty hands, followed by the great mouse plot.

Each of these short stories can be read in less than 20 minutes and will leave any child screaming for just one more.

'Leon Stumble's Book of Stupid Fairytales' by Doug MacLeod & Smith Craig (Working Title Press, 2007)

Read entirely ridiculous stories about Jack and the Branstalk, Snow White and the Seventy Dwarfs and the Gingerbread Mane. Once you've read this book, you'll agree that Leon Stumble's new fairytales have that magic ingredient - stupidity!

Make no mistake, literary silliness is not easy to write. Doug MacLeod has been doing it well for a long time. This is a wonderful collection that is jam-packed with loads of jokes. It will appeal (as his work often does) to boys.

Shock Forest and Other Stories by Margaret Mahy (A&C Black Children's Books, 2004)

In each of these five stories fantasy is at work in unusual and powerful ways. There's also a common theme of the pull that buildings have over people, whether they become houses in which characters find safety and comfort or prisons that can trap and oppress. 

These enchanting stories have been taken from some of Margaret Mahy's best collections that are sadly no longer available. Their return to print will be welcomed by parents and teachers and will also be an exciting introduction to the work of a master storyteller for children themselves.

These wonderful stories were previously published in volumes that are now out of print. But this collection is still available and will be well received by readers 12+.

'Loop' by Brian Caswell (Penguin, 2007)

'Loop' is a collection of 15 short stories written in Brian's unique style. The stories range from humorous to serious. The title story, 'Loop' follows Bernie through an inexplicable journey while he falls through 'the Black'. But how does he explain that every time he stops falling he's back where he started? Readers will hear echoes from 'The Matrix' and maybe even 'Groundhog Day' in this intriguing story. Another story, 'Jigsaw', is the story of a young woman who buys a dress from an op-shop. When she wears it, she experiences images and flashbacks of the life of someone else. Once again the collection is ideal for classroom study and discussion for children aged 12-15 years.