the power and beauty of a birth surrounded by home, hearth and love

HELLO BABY
by Jenni Overend, illustrated by Julie Vivas – Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd, 2008
age guide: birth to 10 years


I’ve never had a homebirth. Unless you count having a baby in a car. Which I do! As you can imagine that was messy, frantic and a bit stressful … and yet, lovely and personal and life enhancing. 

There’s an unforgettable beauty to birth – the kind of beauty that links generations.

And I can’t imagine a more tender and gentle tribute to mothers and the wonder of birth than Hello Baby. I still get goosebumps every time I read it.

Jack, who is the youngest in his family and who has ‘never seen anyone born’ tells the story of the night his baby brother comes into the world. 

It’s an uncomplicated perspective – one of anticipation coupled with a little bit of nervousness about the unknown. (Pretty much the same way every parent-to-be feels, even if they have seen someone born before.)

Jack’s family are at home for the birth of their baby so there’s work to do: a fire to kindle, a bed to be made in front of the fire, tiny baby clothes to ready, toast and soup to make.

And Jack’s apprehension is balanced by his curiosity and his delight at the prospect of a new baby.

Of course, this is a perfect book to read with a little person who is waiting on the birth of a baby.  It’s also breathtakingly beautiful for mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles – anyone touched by a new birth.

The words are soft and warm; they seem to want to be whispered. There’s a captivating reverence to the way the story is told – without any pretence or fear, Jack’s experience becomes our experience too. I especially love the very last line:

‘Goodnight, baby,’ I say.  ‘This is your first night in the world. Good night.’

If ever there was a perfect pairing of words and pictures, this must surely be it. Those gently evocative soft edges that Julie Vivas is famous for help to immerse us in Jack’s life. I don’t think I’ll ever see a more beautiful illustration of birth in a picture book.

 
 

Of course, we all know from life experience that not every birth is calm and peaceful and surrounded by love. Even so, this is a lovely way to talk to children about the wonder of birth regardless of where or how it will take place. 

We bought our copy the year before my birth-in-the-car, and I read it aloud over and over and over. We knew that we wouldn't be having a peaceful birth at home, but reading Hello Baby connected my little ones with the impending birth – and I even think it helped the two children in the car with me at the time to feel a tiny bit calmer!

Another favourite about birth is Limpopo Lullaby. And another favourite illustrated by Julie Vivas is Let the Celebrations Begin.

You can buy Hello Baby via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository 

Names in this book: Jack, Bea, Janie, Anna (who is the midwife), Harry (the neighbour who dropped off a load of wood), Meg (Mum’s sister)

farming + fibre production - how wool gets from the sheep's back to our back

GEORGE THE FARMER SHEARS A SHEEP
by Simone Kain and Ben Hood - Hello Friday Publishing, 2015
age guide: 2 - 8 years


A little while ago, one of our young friends was going with his parents and grandmother to pick out some wool for a new jumper. (Everyone knew it would be purple since that was indisputably his favourite colour.) He insisted on taking his ukulele. 

As any parent of a strong-willed child knows, sometimes it’s just easier to agree. And that’s what his parents did – lucky for them.

Once they were surrounded by beautiful skeins of wool, the young ukulele player found a spot, started to strum and sang … “Baa, baa black sheep…”

Gorgeous child. Lovely too that he knew where the wool originated.

In George the Farmer’s latest book, George is shearing a sheep. He brings in shearers from New Zealand to help – they have 900 sheep to shear over three days.

There’s a whole lot of expertise in growing and shearing sheep - there’s wool-classing to be done, cleaning, carding and weaving. Most of which we tend to overlook when we use wool products in the course of everyday living.

This is a great book for a quick and entertaining overview of how wool gets from the sheep’s back to our back. It’s woven around George and his family and gives little insights into their family at the same time, making it relatable even for children who have never seen a sheep station.

The George the Farmer books tell about farming life in story form and they're intentionally not written in a particularly lyrical fashion, they’re more about passing on information and knowledge in a relatable and fun way. 

For example –

Did you know that if a sheep is ready for shearing it’s important that they don’t get wet? Or that a shearer can shear up to 200 sheep a day? Or that the record for shearing a sheep is 1 minute and 30 seconds? All new information for me!

George the Farmer has a website where you can buy the book, complete with a plush toy, t-shirts and hats that your little farmers might like.

(Just a note - George the Farmer lives in a fairly male dominated environment. That’s probably an accurate reflection of some areas of primary industry, even though women like my sister are fully involved in running cattle stations. Ruby is referred to as George’s wife – which she is of course - but I’d probably call her Ruby the Farmer as I read, and I’d probably do the same with Susan who is Kev the shearer’s wife.)

Names in this book - George Ruby Kev Susan Lucy Jack Will

Lest We Forget - Anzac Day 2016

Always solemn, joyful, poignant. Tear-inducing, gratitude, appreciation. Here's what Anzac Day looked like in Samford Valley.

1. flag at half mast    2. waving to the pilots in their WW2 flyover planes; they waved back!
3. pic on the the service program, via our local RSL: Australians Resting, Ypres Dugouts

The Memorial Service started with a parade: the band came first, playing It's a Long Way to Tipperary, followed by army jeeps carrying waving WW2 veterans and mostly driven by Vietnam vets, followed by many medals on many representative chests, followed by community groups. 

It was a beautiful service, they all are. But 'the moment' for me was when the reader of Jeff Cook's poem "Grandpa, what did you do in the war?" wept at the final verse. Here's how it starts:

I’d been mowing the lawn and pulling some weeds, and slipped inside for a breather
I picked up the paper and turned on the news, not paying attention to either
When my grandson came in with a look on his face and a question that hit me full bore
An innocent question, no intention to hurt, “Grandpa, what did you do in the war”?

My skin went all creepy, I had sweat on my brow, my mind shot back fifty years
To bullets that thudded and whined all around, to terror, to nightmares, to tears
I was crawling through mud, I was shooting at men, tried to kill them before they killed me
Men who had wives and children at home, just like mine, just like my family.

“What did you do in the war?” he had asked, a question not meant to cause pain ....

and the last lines:

But maybe some day when he’s older than now, I will tell him what war did to me
But with luck he won’t ask me ever again, about wars that never should be.

Amen to that. Wars never should be.

Five exceptional Anzac picture books here, more here and here and here. Or just pop Anzac into the search box to get the lot.

Blessings to you on this beautiful day xo

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an amusing look at body image - from an elephant’s perspective!

A PIECE OF CAKE
by Jill Murphy - Walker Books, 2006
Age guide: 2 to 8 years


Who can resist a book about a dieting elephant!

Poor Mrs Large - somehow she has the idea that she is fat and puts the whole family on a diet. And we all know that is just how it works.

The family suffer badly - no TV - no crisps!

When a cake arrives from Granny, Mrs Large puts it up high in cupboard: "Just in case we have visitors" But it is all too much for the family. No-one can stop thinking about the cake. Finally, Mrs Large gives in and during the middle of the night decides she must have a piece of cake - only to discover there is just one piece left. The family catch her in the act and she eats the last piece because as one of the children tells her: 

"I do think elephants are meant to be fat."

This is such a happy elephant family going through what many a happy human family has been through. Many a child (and father) will be able to relate to being put on a strict diet because Mum decides she is fat, even when no-one else in the family can see it. Mrs Large has a very expressive face - we can tell just what she is thinking.

It’s a great book to talk about body image. The very first line is “I’m fat!” which is clearly not true - so conversations about body shapes, healthy eating, and exercise can easily follow.

The poor elephant family felt terrible because they weren’t eating enough of the right foods for elephants, but ultimately Mrs Large is probably right – no crisps!

All in all it’s a nice look at a family working together, and a good opportunity to talk about the way people see themselves.

 

There are funny repeated lines, a fun and familiar plot, happy outcome. Just the thing for any family who ever had to have watercress soup and a healthy jog instead of cake for dinner!

You can buy A Piece of Cake via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

science, philosophy and courage in one remarkable book

STARRY MESSENGER 
by Peter Sis, published by Square Fish, 2007
age guide: 4 to adult


There’s a terrific line at the beginning of Peter Sis’s book: 

They did not doubt or wonder if this was true. They just followed tradition.” 

Following tradition rather than thinking deeply is so often the course of least resistance. In a way it’s a necessary evil, to follow some of the traditions that surround us. But the wonder is that there are people who are able, in the midst of life, to see traditions and separate the silver from the dross. 

Galileo was one of those remarkable people who looked at something as commonplace as the night sky, and, while marvelling at what he saw, questioned the way he saw it.

Starry Messenger takes its name from the book Galileo himself produced.

It’s the story of Galileo’s life and his work, beginning at his birth when:

In the city of Pisa, a little boy was born with stars in his eyes. His parents named him Galileo.

This beautifully designed book then follows Galileo’s life from his invention of the telescope to publication of his book, to his incarceration by the church, and finally to his death. 

It’s one of the great stories of science. 

 

There are extracts from Galileo’s own writings on most pages as well as timelines and interesting additional facts.

But it’s still as story that can be read with young children because the story stands alone. (When we bought this book in 2004, Max was 4 years old and Thomas was 17, and the careful design meant that they could read the book together and both find it interesting. There’s not much better to bond over than shared knowledge, I think.)

The pictures have a nice medieval feel to them – they're cheerful and evocative of the time Galileo lived. There’s plenty to look at and find on each page.

This is a lovely book for:

Talking about progress and learning – Galileo learned, the scientific community learned, and ultimately we all learned. Because one person dared to think deeply.

Talking about the stars – Galileo, of course, lived in a time without significant light pollution. A camping trip to a remote place can be a magnificent way to understand what Galileo might have seen. Starry Messenger is a beautiful way to begin thinking about stars.

Talking about tolerance – fear when coupled with power is a dangerous thing. The reaction of the church to Galileo’s findings is presented in a way that is uncompromising but respectful. 

Talking about courage – Galileo’s determination to hold to the truths he discovered in the face of overwhelming authority and power is inspirational.

 

From Galileo’s own writings (translated to English), included in the book, come these beautiful thoughts:

“…If they [the ancient philosphers] had seen what we see, they would have judged as we judge.”*

“It is a beautiful thing, and most gratifying to the sight to behold the body of the moon …”

“In the sciences the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.”

 

* Galileo’s first telescope magnified by 8 times. Fairly quickly he increased that to 20 times.  Now, even a moderately priced home telescope has a magnification of 400 – 500 times.   Imagine what Galileo would have thought of that!

(I have a few of Peter Sis's books and love them – two that are on my wish list are
Tibet Through the Red Box and The Conference of the Birds)

You can buy Starry Messenger via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia

Names in this book - Galileo

ICYMI :: 8 beautiful books from our 'community' category

In case you missed them - or perhaps to remind you of something you loved - here's a small revisit to our 'community' category: 

1.  I Am Henry Finch  - sometimes, for a community to stretch a little, it needs a bit of shaking up.

2.  The Kites Are Flying! - communities can be built on something as complex as a shared dream.

3.  Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie - producing food is a communal activity even when we are removed from the other members of that community.

4.  At the Same Moment Around the World - we’re all part of a world wide community and our connections are infinitely greater than our differences.

5.  My Place - community is not always about timing, sometimes it’s about places that connect us.

6.  Space Travellers - life circumstances can help us to form communities that result in abiding friendships.

7.  The Gardener - communities are built by people who follow their passion and care for those they meet.

8.  Mr Nick’s Knitting - friends who knit together strengthen each other through difficult moments.

 

Community is such a gift, it's about valuing other people – their lives, their dreams, their values. It’s about how an individual can build a sense of belonging for themselves and others. 

It can be large and sprawling or small and intimate. Two friends who discuss the day's events make their own little community and when they separate they take the joys of that little community into the next community and so it continues.

Is there something you'd like to share about your own community?

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conversation starters for dreams, worries, hopes and fears

conversation starters for dreams, worries, hopes and fears

Age guide: early childhood and upwards. When Louisa was reading the Tomorrow When the War Began series, she had a stay-awake-at-night-worrying fear: the fear of not being able to drive a manual (stickshift) car. 

She was worried that in the event of a war she might not be able to save her family from disaster by driving a manual truck. Her fear was not so much about driving as it was about loss of freedom.

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history worth remembering

history worth remembering

Age guide: 10 to adult.  Recently (on a family road trip) we had a discussion about the-state-of-the-world. It revolved around terror, corporate greed, and the nature of evil. (There was a certain irony in that discussion happening in the car with Taylor Swift playing along.) But as we talked our way through it, Roger said “That’s all true but there is still not a time I’d want to go back to.” 

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The Fantasy Advantage :: a grand intersection of education and play

The Fantasy Advantage :: a grand intersection of education and play

Sometimes I'm asked what the children call me at school. The most common answer is, of course, Jesse.

However I've been awarded other names too, the most recent of which was Master Splinter by three of my new little boys (I was beginning to worry that they didn't actually know my name but all is well).

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Easter novels :: books to read in crisp mountain air

Easter novels :: books to read in crisp mountain air

Do you have Easter plans this year? We’ll be camping in the New England area of New South Wales – one of our favourite places. (These are pics from our last trip down there, you can probably see why we love it.)

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