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We think CHILDREN are AMAZING and POWERFUL beyond measure. And we love picture books that are beautiful and smart; books that help young minds to grow the power and be joyful; books that make the world a better place  .... more

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Review: The Pig in the Pond

A tremendously fun book about a hot pig who looks longingly at a pond. The ducks and the geese are happy and cool, but …’pigs don’t swim’. 

 
 

Finally it all gets the better of her. She throws convention to the wind and dives into the pond. It causes quite the farmyard commotion:

“The pig’s in the pond!”
“The pig’s in the pond!”
The word spread about above and beyond,
“At Neligan’s farm, the pig’s in the pond!”

And then, Neligan, the farmer and owner of both pig and pond, comes home.

Neligan knows a good idea when he sees one and strips off to leap in the pond with the pig. It’s all very shocking – Neligan is swimming with the animals – and he’s naked! In the end the whole farmyard jumps in the pond – and everyone is cool and happy.

An absolute favourite for two generations of children in our family now – my kids loved it and now my grandkids love it too. (It was first published in 1992.) I think it’s the fun of joining in with the constant chorus of “the pig’s in the pond” and making quack and honk sounds that does it. Or it could be all about the naked farmer at the end – it’s pretty hilarious stuff.

The fun of making animal noises together and the laughter and embarrassment are reasons enough to add this one to your picture book library, but there’s more. Of course. The Pig in the Pond is great for:

  • early readers who can locate the familiar words over and over again.
  • little ones who can barely talk but can quack or honk – it’s a book they can join in reading.
  • reminding us that sometimes the ‘rules’ are absurd – who says pigs don’t swim, especially when it’s swelteringly hot.
  • reminding us that we can learn from each other – Neligan thinks about what the pig does and decides it’s a good idea for him too.
  • developing a sense of the absurd – a farmyard full of gossipy animals who then join in the very behaviour that shocked them reminds us of how absurd we can be as we go through life.
  • confidence building to go your own way.

The pictures are fabulous  and include the happiest pig you ever saw with lots of personality in every farmyard inhabitant.  The pictures are buoyant – they infuse the story with life and fun and that’s contagious for readers.

We've given this book, with a Schleich pig like this one, for dozens of birthday presents - and it just always became a favourite story for the birthday child. And, based on those successes, it was amongst our 2014 Christmas gift suggestions.

We've given this book, with a Schleich pig like this one, for dozens of birthday presents - and it just always became a favourite story for the birthday child. And, based on those successes, it was amongst our 2014 Christmas gift suggestions.

The Pig in the Pond is by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jill Barton

Review: Animal Opposites - a pop-up book

If you want to see a 1-3 year old child’s eyes glisten and their cheeks turn tight with grinning, their body tense in anticipation and their little hands curl in and out ready to reach out and touch – this is the book for you!

You’ll need to be prepared to read it again and again and to constantly go back to a favourite page – but what a joyful time that will be. I know that because our Ivy is on to her 5th reading in a row!

This is a pop-up book with opposites like:

“Still Sloth…Bouncy Kangaroo”,
“Heavy Hippo … Light Butterfly”

And so on. Lots of fun for slightly older kids too, on their first read through, guessing what might come next - most of the opposites are out of sight until you lift the flap. And lots of fun for little ones to repeat the words with the appropriate tone of voice: “ Quiet Rabbit … Loud Lion”.

It’s quite a mesmerising little book, ours sat on the coffee table for a few pre-Christmas weeks and entertained all ages. Aside from being tremendous fun to read, there are also some nice underlying concepts and teaching moments:

- It’s a fun way to look at opposites and easily branches into discussions of other ways to describe animals and what the opposites might be.

- Opposite qualities are equally valued – big/small; white/colourful etc.

- Good for discussions about relativity. For example: a peacock is certainly colourful, but is it the most colourful animal in the world? Is a lion louder than an elephant? Is an elephant bigger than a whale? Is a mouse really weak? (Here’s a fun link with colourful animals)  

The book itself is fairly sturdy for a pop-up, but still good for teaching little hands to touch carefully. It’s really great to own if there’s a little one in your life – or if you’re a lover of all things pop-up – or if there’s an animal lover in your household who would find it amusing.

Animal Opposites is by Petr Horacek - here's the bookseller link (free postage)

Talking explicitly about race

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have written about race in their truly fascinating book NurtureShock

They say that children as young as 6 months old notice differences in skin colour and, as young as 3 years old, they are already starting to classify based on race or ethnicity. 

So, it’s not as simple as trying to produce ‘colour blind’ kids! One thing that seems to really help is lots of explicit talk about race, but that can be quite hard. How do you bring this stuff up in a way that doesn’t leave the parent cringing? 

Books, especially picture books, can help. They open a window to conversation. They give us a ‘real’ story to talk about without having to fumble around in the dark looking for examples. And they give us a chance to talk about skin colour for what it is – “a sign of ancestral roots.” 

It’s worth hunting down picture books with characters from a wide variety of races – and it is a hunt. They’re not as thick on the ground as we’d like! (You could click on our racism category for starters and the list will increase over the coming weeks). 

Stories that show ‘historical discrimination’ also seem to help. In one study cited in Nurture Shock, it was found that:

White children who got the full story about historical discrimination had significantly better attitudes toward blacks… Explicitness works.

 

Books like People by Peter Spier do a brilliant job of drawing attention to race and ethnicity – and it’s important that that happens early. And we've done a post with a handful of books that will alert children to historical discrimination or hardship, but won’t lead to the defensiveness which Nurture Shock says may be counter-productive.

Nurture Shock talks about a developmental window – ‘stages when children’s attitudes might be most amenable to change.’ It seems like the developmental window for a child to develop healthy attitudes towards race may be quite small and it typically happens when the child is quite young.

It’s possible that by third grade, when parents usually recognise it’s safe to start talking about race, the developmental window has already closed.

 

Apparently the brain starts to categorise very early. This can lead to some confusion since children often have limited information to work with. 

 

Children categorise everything from food to toys to people at a young age. However, it takes years before their cognitive abilities allow them to successfully use more than one attribute to categorise anything. 

In the meantime, the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.

 

Picture books can help with that too. By highlighting one or two particular aspects of a character’s life, they give clues about other ways to categorise in addition to the most obvious.

Race is only one chapter in Nurture Shock – the whole book is an eye opener and really worth owning. Most of the studies in the chapter I've quoted from were based around schools and the cross-over between school and home is obvious. It’s certainly nice to imagine the benefits to children who have both home and school working to overcome racism.

Don’t forget to have a look at our list of books that deal with historical discrimination or hardship - it's in Conversation Starters: talking to children about race - and here's a link to a little personal story on the blog.

(All quotes are from Nurture Shock, Chapter Three, ‘Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race”)

NurtureShock is by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman - and here's a bookseller link.

Conversation starters: talking to children about race

This handful of books provide good lead-ins to explicit conversations about race and ethnicity; some also highlight historical discrimination or hardship.

 

ZIBA CAME ON A BOAT by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen - The story of Ziba and her family and the circumstances that led to them choosing to become refugees and taking the risky step of travelling to a new country and to freedom in a refugee boat.

A SWEET SMELL OF ROSES by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez - Two girls join Martin Luther King Jr’s Freedom March. The feeling of pride the girls have is contrasted with the anxiety of their mother at the end of the story. The illustrations do a really great job of filling the story with humanity.

NELSON MANDELA LONG WALK TO FREEDOM abridged by Chris Van Wyk, illustrated by Paddy Bouma - A picture book version of Mandela’s autobiography, this is a hybrid of a picture book and a chapter book. There’s a lot of content here and it can be confronting – probably best read over a few days.

 

 
 

SAMI AND THE TIME OF THE TROUBLES by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland - Sami tells what it's like to live in a time when your home is being bombed and when there is no escape. He also shares the simple pleasures of his life when the bombing stops. This is a hope filled book even though it deals with very sad times.

A TRUE PERSON by Gabiann Marin, illustrated by Jacqui Grantford - Zallah is living in an Asylum Center and yearns to become ‘a true person.’ Her mother helps her to see that she has always been a true person, but the pain and anxiety Zallah feels are palpable throughout the book. There’s also a bit of a call to action in this one – a reminder to see and love others.

LET THE CELEBRATIONS BEGIN by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Julie Vivas – here's the link to our review

 

 
 

THE RED PIANO by Andre Leblanc-Barroux - Loosely based on the true life story of Zhu Xiao-Mei, a famous Chinese pianist, this is a book about triumph. It takes us into the world of Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.

FOUR FEET TWO SANDALS by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka - A lovely story of sharing and giving. Two girls share one pair of sandals in a refugee camp until one girl finally receives approval to go to America. Such a sweet and tender story that is great for talking about refugees and the hardships they face, but equally wonderful for thinking about service and sacrifice in everyday life.

MOSES: WHEN HARRIET TUBMAN LED HER PEOPLE TO FREEDOM by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson - our review

 

 
 

STOLEN GIRL by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Norma MacDonald - An absolute favourite. A young Aboriginal girl is taken from her mother and sent to a school to be taught domestic duties. Yet she finds the courage and the strength to run away from the school and find her way home.

THE BUTTER MAN by Elizabeth Alalou and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli - our review, this one is out of print at the time of writing, so next trip to the library maybe?

 

I hope you find something in that starter list to appreciate and love - and just a reminder that I'm more than happy to expand on them or answer any questions at all, just click here to email me

Short Thoughts: education should be free from fear . . .

Short Thoughts: education should be free from fear . . .

A teacher's thoughts:
"As I busily prepare for school to start in two weeks this is a harrowing reminder of Pakistan's situation. I guess I could talk about how grateful I am for my circumstances but this isn't about me. It's about them...
 To remember that amongst all the problems in the world right now . . .

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Review: My Uncle's Donkey

First of all, happy 2015!  We're kicking the year off with funny - via a most appealing donkey who lives in a house, watches TV and talks on the phone!

The thing I really love about My Uncle’s Donkey though, is that it's a complex story that leads to complex thoughts.

It’s widely agreed that life is complex – and so the ability to notice complexities can be a tremendous boost to self confidence, resilience and skilled decision making. When children begin to recognize that there are often competing interests to be balanced and that there will often be more than one right answer (and more than one wrong answer) they are better equipped to be compassionate and caring towards others. This world could sure use more of that!

A book as simple and funny as My Uncle’s Donkey is ideal, because it presents the child with two familiar ideas and then sets those ideas outside of the everyday. Most children have an uncle and most children are familiar with the idea of having a pet. But a donkey falls outside of the norm – and leads to all sorts of possible thoughts like:

  • Does my uncle have a pet?  How does he treat the pet?
  • What are the rules about pets?  Is there any chance that I could have a donkey for a pet? Would it be allowed inside?
  • Can someone else have a whole different set of standards for how pets are treated?
  • Is having a donkey in the house shocking or cosy?
  • Would I even want a donkey in the house? The donkey does seem to get in the way sometimes.

Once a child has settled on the idea that someone else can act differently and that can be fun and still not be something the child might want to do, they are on the way to be able to think in similar ways about a whole lot of other more important issues.

So… this is a great book for raising complex issues in a simple non-confrontational way. 

Plus, it’s heaps of fun to read - and that’s the key. No one wants to be preached to or interrogated. But pretty much everyone likes to think and to wonder and to share a joke.

There are a whole bunch of little gags through the book, like: “My uncle’s donkey is toilet trained … luckily.” Visual gags too - like a donkey in striped socks. 

The last page is the clincher though: “I wonder if my uncle’s donkey would be allowed in our house?” There’s no answer – not even an implied answer. The perfect ending.

This is a simply told story with few words and clear pictures, making it ideal for younger children, but older kids will probably still find it funny and could use it as a conversation starter or to springboard ideas for writing. 

One last thing – it also works as a starting point for gender conversations: the donkey is never assigned a gender, but most children tend to assume it must be a boy – there’s a good conversation to be had here about why that is.

My Uncle's Donkey is by Tohby Riddle. Available from booktopia, very reasonably priced.

PS If you like cool and funky art, do check out Tohby Riddle's website - he sells prints of his art, signed and numbered. They'd be great for a kids' room. There's a sample revolving at the top of the post and here's the link.

Review: Caramba

‘Caramba’ is a cat who can’t fly.  Which is a worry because, as everyone knows, all cats can fly!

 

Our young cousins Michaela and Marley brought this book as a present for us when they visited from Canada recently. (And I must say that ‘Caramba’ sounds best with a cute four year old Canadian accent!)

Caramba was the 2010 TD Grade One Book Giveaway. In Canada, since 2000, all grade one students are given a book to keep and read with their families and own forever. What a great gift – and what a great choice Caramba is for beginning students.

Caramba’s friend, Portia, can’t fly either – but that’s ok because Portia is a pig and everyone knows pigs can’t fly. But poor little Caramba is the only cat who is solidly planted on the ground. He tries. And when he fails he has to do some quick work to cover up his embarrassment, like the time he lands in his grandfather’s lap after leaping from a chair and pretends to be admiring grandfather’s slippers.

Eventually, his cousins give him a flying lesson and let go of him over the ocean – for a soft landing if necessary. Caramba plummets into the ocean! But then something wonderful happens: 

Cats can’t swim. Everyone knows that.
'Well, I can,' said Caramba.

Caramba is a funny story – there are flying cats after all. It’s also a story that is ideal for children transitioning into new stages of life. 

Children are often in a similar position to Caramba: there are things that ‘everyone’ can do, like remembering the days of the week, or writing your own name – but that they still struggle with. Perhaps a child will find that little bit of extra confidence when reading Caramba. Confidence to try again, but also confidence to know that there are things they do very well even if they still struggle with other things. 

A child may see a bit of themselves in Caramba, but they may also see a bit of themselves in Portia – interested in many things, supportive, and willing to try new things.

It also cleverly addresses embarrassment, and failure, and friendships, and even a little bit of bearing ridicule.  It’s a great book to read often before setting out on a new adventure, or when feelings of being different weigh heavily.

Caramba is by Marie-Louise Gay. Here's the link to Book Depository with free shipping.

Books of comfort and reassurance . . .

One of life’s blessings is being able to sit with a loved and worried child and read and read, until peace and calm and order are restored. That type of restoration is liberating, not just for children, but also for the adults who love and read to them. When the world seems to stop following the rules of civility, it’s time to settle into books that offer comfort. Books that promise a return to simplicity, safety and security. 

Awful events like the Sydney siege call for stories that reassure and allow time away from the clamour. For many children there is a need for comfort, and reading picture books aloud help to meet that need. Old favourites always win and it doesn’t so much matter which books they are if they're familiar and well loved. There are some though, that do an especially great job. Here's a small selection that fall into that category:
 

Koala Lou by Mem Fox & Pamela Lofts. The constant ‘Koala Lou I do love you’ is just what we all need to hear.


Koala Lou by Mem Fox & Pamela Lofts. The constant ‘Koala Lou I do love you’ is just what we all need to hear.

Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. Shows how even a child’s actions can change the world for the better.


Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. Shows how even a child’s actions can change the world for the better.

Dogger by Shirley Hughes. About hope in the midst of distress and about kindness and willingness to sacrifice.


Dogger by Shirley Hughes. About hope in the midst of distress and about kindness and willingness to sacrifice.

Father and Son by Geralidne McCaughren & Fabian Negrim. A story of love and family commitment


Father and Son by Geralidne McCaughren & Fabian Negrim. A story of love and family commitment

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Sometimes we rescue others and sometimes they rescue us.


Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Sometimes we rescue others and sometimes they rescue us.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. There is good to be done in all circumstances.


Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. There is good to be done in all circumstances.

 
The Journey Home by Alison Lester. Home will always be waiting with arms open wide.


The Journey Home by Alison Lester. Home will always be waiting with arms open wide.

 

Distress and anxiety can enter a child’s life so easily. With very little life experience, hardly any ways to collect information, a limited vocabulary to explore the problem and a limited sense of geography of either the physical or political landscape, children can be quickly overwhelmed when the world seems to spin out of control. At those times, reading helps because -

- there’s physical comfort in a lap to snuggle into and arms that reach around in a hug.
- there’s escapism as the world takes backstage to the story in the book.
- there’s knowing that the world has many stories. 
- there's knowing that very many of its stories are good and uplifting.
- and there’s the promise that life goes on.

We have a selection of books that provide good starting points for conversations about war, terror and their effects on people who are living good lives here.  There’s also a top 5 selection of books that connect us to our worldwide fellow citizens here

Both selections will help to make sense of the world - and for some children, they will be just what they need right now.  Ideally, both types of books would be read and re-read to children often so that they are prepared with a framework of ideas, values and responses to times when situations make the world feel scary and unsafe.

There are also some good general principles for talking to children about war and terror here  and an article specifically about talking to children in the wake of Sydney’s siege here. And if we can be of any further book-based help, please do send an email to this address

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Kim

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Sadness

Today, there is terrible sadness in Australia.  Two innocent hostages and their crazed hostage-taker have died. Lives have changed forever, comfort for the families is beyond the reach of words.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was deep in family and national tragedy (25 December, 1864) when he composed the poem that became one of the world's most loved Christmas carols - his confident hope of peace has rung out for the last 150 years and I think it could seldom have been more appropriate than now:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  

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