Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Picture Books & Graphic Novels that You Won't Put Down!

I've always loved wordless picture books as well as the power of a picture book to tell deep and complex tales with little or no text. The rise of the graphic novel has pushed us even further with the craft of storytelling in new and novel ways. This post is a celebration of just how many wonderful books we have of this type today. I have arranged them from the simplest to the most complex text and the range is from 3 years to perhaps young adult in the case of the Patrick Ness modern masterpiece, 'A Monster Calls' that is out in a new collector's edition.

1. 'Dog on a Digger - The Tricky Incident' by Kate Prendergast

This book is so good that my 5 year-old granddaughter tried to take it home the very first time she saw it - even before I'd even looked at it. Kate's magnificent crayon drawings (with a hint of colour) use soft line work to create detailed images that you want to look into for ages. The expansive scenes make you want to linger on each page. The dog who is the central character, makes you want to snatch him off the page. Here Kate allows herself a splash of yellow for his little yellow work jacket, that matches his owner's and the digger that he operates. The pair set of for an 'ordinary' day on the digger. But this day there was to be a rescue and the little dog is to be the hero. No child will want to put this book down. Delightful to share or for any 3 to 5 year old to lie on the floor with and 'read' it for themselves.

2. 'Return' by Aaron Becker

Caldecott Honour book winner Aaron Becker takes us with a lonely girl unable to get the attention of her father, back to a fantastic world where she finds friendship and adventure. This wordless book is the third part of the 'Castle trilogy'. As with the previous books in the trilogy, the central character embarks on a fantastic adventure where the imaginary and reality slide back and forth. Bored with her day at home as her dad works at his design desk, the girl draws her own doorway exit on the wall, and steps into the soft light of a forest festooned with lanterns. Once again, she finds a magical craft that takes her to the castle with her Dad in secret pursuit.

As in the previous books 'Journey' (the 2014 Caldecott winner) and 'Quest', the images are so wonderful that you need to explore every detail. There is so much depth and complexity, that repeated 'readings' will provide new insights each time. Again we are carried along by the fantasy and adventure. Will she return this time to the mundane world she left? Or will there be a return through the power of the drawn line! Marvellous!

3. 'Hilda and the Stone Forest' by Luke Pearson

The city of Trolberg has some dark secrets to reveal… and our favourite blue-haired adventurer is about to discover them! Hilda is starting to shirk her responsibilities, seeking days filled with excitement instead of spending time at home… and her mother is getting worried. While trying to stop Hilda from sneaking out into the house spirits’ realm, the pair find themselves flung far away into a mysterious, dark forest – the land of the trolls! Will they be able to work out their differences in time to rescue each other and get back home? And are the trolls all as sinister as they seem?

This visually stunning graphic novel has simple text and comic-like images that will draw readers in. The reading level is about grade 2-3 level but the content is probably more appropriate for grades 3-4. It has a dark side that for most children will be easy to handle as fantasy, but some younger children might find the world of trolls more challenging. It is a fast moving tale that has a good ending and a resolution that promises that the story is "To be continued".
4. 'Peter in Peril' by Helen Bate

Peter is just an ordinary boy, who loves playing football with his friends and eating cake - until war comes to his city and the whole family has to go into hiding...This moving, true story of the Second World War, set in Budapest, Hungary, shows in vivid words and pictures how Peter, his cousin Eva and his mum and dad bravely struggle to survive in a city torn apart by warfare.

The great strength of graphic novels is that the format lends itself to varied literary genres. This wonderful example of a graphic novel for children aged 7-10 shows how complex stories can be told in very accessible ways. It is told from the perspective and in the voice of a young child. This moving story, unlike many World War II tales, ends well. At the conclusion of Peter's story, a biographical account is also included with family photos. This book will be enjoyed and understood by primary aged children and would also be suitable as a basis for a unit of work on war as well.

5. 'Geis: A Matter of Life and Death' by Alexos Deacon

As the great chief matriarch lay dying, she gave one final decree: Upon her death there would be a contest. Having no heir of her own blood she called on the Gods. Let fate decide the one truly worthy to rule in her place. The rich, the strong, the wise, the powerful; many put forward their names in hope of being chosen. But when the night came... only fifty souls alone were summoned.

This graphic novel is the first part of a gripping trilogy. It combines supernatural and historical fantasy in a tale where souls battle in a contest to become the ruler of an island. 'Geis' is pronounced 'gesh' and is a Gaelic word for taboo or a curse. To have 'geis' placed on you is to have a spell that cannot be broken. A curse is at the centre of this tale told through text and water colour and black line drawings that are haunting and mysterious. 

The Great Chief Matarka has died and leaves no heir. A number are called to choose a new ruler, the Chief Judge, High Priest, Lord Chamberlain, the Grand Wizard and daughter of the Kite Lord.  However, an evil sorceress takes control and tricks them into agreeing to a cursed geis, that results in them all heading off on varied quests across the land.

When readers reach the end of part one a cliff hanger will leave them wanting to continue with part 2 when it is available. Readers aged 10+ will enjoy the book.

6. 'How to Survive in the North' by Luke Healy

1912... Captain Robert Bartlett sets sail aboard the Karluk, flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. The journey ahead would be one of the most treacherous ever, with the loss of the ship and subsequent deaths of the crew. The survivors, Bartlett and an Inuk companion set out across the ice for the Siberian coast, in search of help... 1926... 23-year old Inuit Ada Blackjack signs on as a seamstress for a top-secret Arctic expedition. But soon she finds herself alone and stranded in the treacherous landscape of the arctic... Present day... A disgraced university professor, tracking the lives of these survivors soon finds history repeating itself as he follows in the footsteps of those before him... 

Luke Healy manages to use charmingly simple line and wash drawings, with stripped down but rich narrative. The story weaves together real life historical narratives from 1912 and 1926, with fictional narrative in the present day. It is a story about love and loss, as well as human strength in overcoming harsh conditions to survive. Readers aged 12+ will enjoy this book.

7. 'The Stone Man Mysteries - Book One' by Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple & Orion Zangara

This is Book 1 in 'The Stone Man Mysteries' and combines dark fantasy and detective work, to create stories full of suspense and stunningly detailed artwork. Orion Zangara's art alone is incredible, but adding the talents of Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple as writers, makes for a wonderful team. What an exciting series for fans of this genre.

The story is set in Scotland in the 1930s. When Craig prepares to jump from a church roof he is saved by a demon trapped in the form of a gargoyle. 'Silex' solves murders as a way of seeking redemption, and he wants someone to run errands as part of his investigative service. But might there be an even larger, equally supernatural threat? Readers aged 12+ who enjoy fantasy will live this dark series.

8. 'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness (Special Collector's Edition, 2016)

This extraordinary book isn't really a graphic novel but an incredible illustrated novel for older readers. It won the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2012 (you can read my previous review HERE). However, it has just been released again in a well-priced Special Collector's Edition. It is an extraordinary book, on multiple levels. The book had its genesis in the final story idea of Siobhan Dowd who died in 2007 from cancer before she could act on the idea herself. Dowd was also a Carnegie Medal winner in 2009 for 'Bog Child' (awarded posthumously). Patrick Ness was approached by Walker Books and asked to take Dowd's idea, develop and complete it. Dowd had the premise for the book, the characters and the beginning. Ness never got to meet her, but agreed with a great sense of responsibility to write the story. He set out, in his words, not 'mimicking her voice' but rather taking the 'baton' and running with it.  Jim Kay the illustrator was enthusiastic from the moment he read some of the manuscript and was asked to do some illustrations for one chapter. The author and illustrator didn't meet before the book was completed, but both seem to have approached the task as an unusual collaborative partnership, between three people, two living and one deceased. 

'A Monster Calls' is the story of 13 year-old Conor whose mother has cancer. His parents are divorced and his father is now in another country, with a new family. His mother is undergoing chemotherapy and while there seems little hope, Conor appears to be trying to escape the scary knowledge that his mother is dying. He has a recurring dream each night at 12.07pm in which someone is slipping out of his grasp into a deep chasm. And in the midst of this dreaming he is visited by a monster. The book opens with the line: 'The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.'

If you missed this book in 2012 don't miss it this time. A brilliant book for readers aged 12 to 99 years!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

20 great memory, word & observation games for travelling

I've posted on this topic plenty of times in the past but family travel time will be part of many families in this season of holidays in most continents. In Australia it's summer and school will be out for 6 weeks across the nation by early to mid December. Many families will be heading for the beaches and waterways to enjoy Christmas in a particularly Aussie way. For some this will involve hours of travel as relatives are visited and exquisite coastal locations sought out. This is always a recipe for children getting bored and frustrated with one another - "...are we there yet!". While they can sit with devices and earphones, and view movies, play games and more... some family interaction is a great way to shorten any trip and at the same time teach many things in fun ways.

While this post is very similar to some earlier posts at this time of the year, the ideas are NO less relevant than when I used them last time. I would love to hear your suggestions for other great ideas for travel. Many of these great games an activities will keep children content for hours.

Above: Photo courtesy of the Australian Newspaper

I've included a number of games that we played with our children in the car when they were young, some I used when teaching and a few new ones that I'd love to play with my grandchildren. Some of the newer games are adaptations of some activities from a great resource published by Usborne Children's books, '50 things to do on a journey' (here). This resource has a range of written and verbal activities that cover literacy, mathematics and general knowledge. One thing to note about these games is that you don't have to play every one of them competitively. If you do, you might need to handicap older children.

1. Sound word categories

You start this game by agreeing on 3-5 categories (depending on the age of the children and their vocabularies) for which people will have to be able to think of words that belong to them; for example, an insect, flower, person, country, girl's name, action word. Someone chooses a letter (maybe Mum or Dad to make sure that it isn't too hard) that has to be used by everyone and is applied to each category. The fastest person to quickly name their words earns 3 points, the second gets 2 and the third 1. So for the letter 'f' and the three categories insect, country and girl's name you could say fly, France and Fiona. A parent usually acts as the timer.

2. Top 6 (or 10 if your children get to be good at it)

This activity is a variation on the previous 'Sound Word Categories'. You vary it by choosing a category and then seeing if someone can list 6-10 words that fit the category. For example, think of 10 car names, dogs, books, insects, snakes, footballers etc. The person who thinks of the most words in a category wins.

3. Rhyming words

Pick a word that is easy to rhyme with other real words. Each person takes a turn. The winner is the person who is the last one to think of a rhyming word. For example, heat, seat, meat, bleat, sleet, neat, pleat..... If the children are older they can write the words down simultaneously.

4. Don't say yes

This is a slightly harder game but lots of fun. One person has to answer questions and the others get to ask them questions to which the answer is obviously 'yes', but they must answer every question truthfully without saying 'yes'. If they do say 'yes', or can't answer, the turn ends and the person asking the question earns a point. For example, Karen is asked, "Do you like ice-cream"? To which she might answer, "Most people like milk-based products that are cold." The next person in the car asks a question, but it mustn't be simply the same question. For example, they could ask, "Do you like milk-based products in cones?" To which the reply might be, "Some I like to eat in a wafer case."

5. Spotto......

One of our family's favourite games in the car was 'Spotto windmill'. We lived in the country and often drove for 5-6 hours towards the coast. In key areas there were lots of windmills pumping water for stock. But you don't have to use windmills; you can spot billboards, bridges, trees, birds, and animals, almost anything that is common. The game can be concluded in various ways, such as the first to 30, ending it at a specific landmark or just stopping when you're tired of it or you run out of windmills (or whatever).

6. What's your job

This game starts with someone thinking of a job. Others then guess by trying to find out details about what the person does, where they work, they use tools, what skills you need etc. The skill is in asking just the right questions. Does this person work outdoors? Do they drive something? Do they use special tools? Can they work alone? etc. The aim is to see who can get it right. Every person in the car takes it in turns to ask a question and you keep rotating until someone gets it right. That person gets to pick the next job and it all starts over again.

7. Guess my song

Someone picks a song and they have to hum the first line. Everyone in the car has one guess then the person hums an extra line if no-one gets it after the first round. This continues until someone gets the song.

8. Guess the person

One person in the car thinks of a person everyone knows (e.g. a family member, TV star, book character, teacher, cartoon character, famous person), and then everyone takes turns to ask a question about them. Is it a man or a woman? Are they young or old? Does she have black hair? Does he wear glasses? Is she famous?

9. I Spy..

This is a well-known game. It can be varied for young children by simply asking for categories rather than insisting on letter names or sounds. So the variations can include: "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with" 'p' (letter name) or 'p' (sound name) or even, "that is green". The last variation is a good way to involve very young children and the categories can be very varied. "I spy with my little eye a thing that ...." is black...or, a little thing that bites... or, a person who likes coffee... or, a thing the car has to stop at etc.

10. Back to back words

People think of words that begin the way the last word ends. You will need to demonstrate this a few times and it isn't that suitable for children under 6 years. It might go like this: pot, tree, egg, goat, top, pot, turtle, elf, fog, goldfish. You can make the game harder for older children if you like by asking for the words to fit specific single categories like animals, names, places.

11. Who lives there?

This is a great game. Wait till you stop at traffic lights or you are travelling slowly enough to see a house long enough to remember some details. People take turns adding details to describe who might live there. This can be very creative or an accurate set of predictions. Each player builds (plausibly) on the previous person's clues. For example, first person says, "a mother lives there with her three children". The next person says, "the children are aged 3, 7 and 16". The next person says, "their names are, Sue, Pickle and Wobble.". The next says, "Wobble is named after his Dad (Bobble) who is on a round the world yacht trip" etc. When people run out of ideas you start again. You could vary this by choosing a car. The first person might say, "That car has a family of three children and their parents heading for the seaside".

12. Twenty questions

This starts with someone choosing an object, person, place, country etc that others have to identify. The others in the car have a chance to ask questions (maximum of 20 for each thing chosen). The questions are answered with a 'yes' or a 'no'. When someone thinks they know it they can guess. You can score this different ways (or not all). The person whose word is not guessed can score points as can the person who guesses correctly.

13. Memory game

There are many memory games, but a common one involves thinking of things that are in the car (or the boot/trunk), an imaginary backpack, suitcase, the kitchen at home, the beach where you'll visit. The people in the car add an item to a list and the next person must repeat previous details and add their own. People are eliminated when they forget an item. So it could start like this: "In the car we have a radio", to which someone says, "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel", which could become "in the car we have a radio and a steering wheel, plus a pesky sister.....". A parent might write them down as you progress to avoid disputes.

14. Never-ending story

This game has two main forms, a single word version and a sentence version. In the word version people in the car take turns adding to a story one word at a time. It might go like this: "It", "was", "the", "first", "day", "of", "the", "monster's", "summer", "camp"....and so on. The members of the game try to make it impossible to add to the story because the last word is pretty much the last word.

The sentence version is slightly more complex but just as much fun.

15. Word association

This game is a bit trickier but can be handled by children 6+. Someone starts with a word and the next person has to add a word that has an association. Using just nouns and verbs is easiest. The game ends when a word is repeated or someone is stuck. You can have winners and losers if you want but it isn't necessary. Here's how it might go. "Dogs", "bark", "bones", "kennel", "growl", "fleas", "wag", "tail", "scratch" etc.

16. Who am I?

The first player thinks of the name of someone who everyone will know then gives a clue about their identity, for example, Big Bird, a relative, a cartoon character etc. The people in the car then take turns trying to guess who it is. If they get it then they have a turn at choosing the identity. For example, if the player chose 'Bob the Builder' they might start like this: "I fix things".

17. Oh no!

This is a great idea for 3-4 people in a car. Someone starts a story with the words "Oh no!" followed by a simple statement. They might say, "Oh no! There's a spider in my pocket." People then take it in turns to add to the story using "but" as their first word to turn a serious circumstance into a not so serious one, and vice versa. They might add, "But it is only plastic". To which someone might say, "but it has dynamite in it". This continues until the players get sick of it or until everyone agrees that an appropriate ending has been found.

18. Special choices

This game requires people to choose between two options and give their reasons. Someone has to come up with the choice. For example, "If I had to choose between snakes or caterpillars" might receive the responses" "I'd choose caterpillars because I'm a robin", or "I'd choose a snake to surprise my teacher" and so on.

Above: Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

19. Twenty-Five
The first person chooses a letter or sound at random. Each person then needs to write down (or say) 25 things inside or outside the car that begin with the letter. The game ends either by at the end of set time (say 3 minutes) and the points are tallied. You can score many ways, such as 1 point for every correct word or 1 for each word and 3-5 for each unique word.

20. Teapot 

This game starts with one player picking a verb (action/doing word). The other players in the car then have to ask questions about the verb, but they replace it with the word "teapot." For example, if the word is "swim", the first question asked might be, "Do cars teapot?" Of the course the answer is "No." Players keep asking questions until someone guesses the verb.
'50 Things to do on a journey', Usborne Activity Cards.

'Children's Holiday Activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning'.

'Holiday activities: 30 simple ways to stimulate learning'

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 1

'Stimulating language, literature & learning in holidays' - Part 2

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Eight ways writing 'teaches' reading to under 5 year olds

Children begin to write early - very early! In fact, they begin to make marks on their world as soon as they can dip fingers into food, water and dirt. Once they can hold a pencil or crayon, or use simple apps on a drawing tablet, they are ready to 'compose'! It is important in the first two years of life that children are given the chance to experience writing. By this, I don't mean structured learning activities, I simply mean being encouraged to make marks that might represent meaning they want to attach to them - "This is a frog"! "My cat's got a fat tummy". Very early on children will scribble or make marks and attribute meaning to them.

There are many simple ways to encourage children to write:

a) Provide them with varied writing implements and materials to write on.
b) Encourage them to try to write letters and words.
c) Let them see you writing words and letters.
d) Encourage them to write their name, numbers and letters.
e) Let them see you writing and reading words at the same time.

Rich experiences of early writing have an impact on language and learning generally, and certainly reading.   Offering varied early experiences for writing is as important as reading to and with your children. Children who have rich early reading experiences will often be more precocious as writers.  Here are eight ways that early writing reinforces reading.

Photo from TTALL Literacy Project
1. Being read to and reading oneself offers us a rich experience of story - I've written in other posts about the importance of story to life and learning (e.g. here). Harold Rosen once suggested that 'Narratives...make up the fabric of our lives...'.  Jerome Bruner and others have gone further to suggest that story is 'a fundamental mode of thought through which we construct our world or worlds.' And of course, story is fuel for writing.

2. Reading offers models for writing - Reading also introduces us to varied ways to share a story, and how to start a story and end it. It helps us to learn how to develop a character, the art of description, humour, rhyme and rhythm. Dr Seuss is a master at such lessons.

3.  Reading teaches us about 'readership' -When children begin to have books read to them, and later begin to read for themselves, they realize that these stories have been written for them, the reader. Good writing requires a sense of audience, and stories read teach this. When children begin receiving letters, cards, or simply being shown print in their world, they begin to grasp that language isn't just to be received, but can also be created and shared with others as a writer.  They also learn that if you write for readers, and receive responses, that this is enjoyable and strengthens relationships.

An early letter from Elsie

4. Reading enriches language - There is no doubt that reading feeds children's writing. It introduces children to new words, novel use for old words, and the very important need to 'play' with language if you are to be a successful writer. Robert Ingpen's book 'The Idle Bear' demonstrates this well. It is essentially a conversation between two bears but it is rich in language and metaphor. He starts this way:

"What kind of bear are you?" asked Ted
"I'm an idle Bear."
"But don't you have a name like me?"
"Yes, but my name is Teddy. All bears like us are called Teddy." 
Later in the story a very confused bear asks:
"Where do you come from, Ted?"
"From an idea," said Ted definitely.
"But ideas are not real, they are only made-up," said Teddy. "You have to come from somewhere real to have realitives."
"Not realitives, relatives!" said Ted trying to hide his confusion.

Elsie's TV instructions
5. Reading introduces us to varied written genres - While children experience story from a very young age, reading also introduces them to the fact that language can be represented in different genres. Through reading at home and within their immediate world, children quickly discover that people write and read lists, notes, labels on objects, poems, jokes, instructions, maps and so on. Parents read and point out these varied text forms and eventually children try to use them.

My granddaughter Elsie's 'TV Instructions' (left), written aged five years, is a priceless set of instructions that she wrote for her Nanna just before she went to bed, so that Nanna could watch her favourite programs while babysitting.

6. Reading helps us to understand the power of words - Stories and other texts quickly teach children that words can have power. Signs give clear instructions in powerful ways - 'STOP', 'BEWARE OF THE DOG', 'CHILDREN CROSSING', 'KEEP OUT'. But well-chosen words express emotions too - "I love you", "It was dark and scary". Children also discover that words can do other things. With help they will enjoy discovering language forms like onomatopoeia, e.g. atishoo, croak, woof, miaow, sizzle, rustle etc.

7. Reading offers us knowledge - Children also discover that reading offers us knowledge that can feed writing. Without content there won't be writing. Books can captivate children and offer new areas of learning and interest. As they are read books, they also learn about their world. For example, they might discover that trees don't just have green leaves, but sometimes these leaves change colour, fall off and create a habitat for many creatures. Trees drop seeds which animals eat, offer shelter for animals, material to build homes and so on. But they are also homes for elves and animals that talk, places where strange lands appear regularly, and where a lost dragon might rest. Reading feeds writing with knowledge as raw material for writing.

8. Reading helps us to imagine and think - As children are introduced to varied literary genres and traditions, imaginations are awakened to the realms of fantasy, time travel, recreation of life in other times, the perils of travel through space. But at a more realistic level, reading can help young writers to imagine childhood in other places and times, 'within' the bodies of other people and with varied life roles. Through reading, children are given the examples and the fuel to imagine and write about themselves in the shoes of others, sharing their life circumstances as well as their challenges, fears and hopes.

  You can read all my other posts on writing HERE

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Boys & Learning: Build, Design, Create & Experiment

Above: Experimentation & play
In an article in 'The Atlantic' Jessica Lahey called on schools to 'stop penalizing boys for not being able to sit still at school'. The article was motivated by her observations of boys as a teacher and her reading of the findings of research on boys published by the International Boys’ Schools Coalition’s 'Teaching Boys: A global study of effective practices'. Her teaching of boys suggested that while some struggled at school, others thrived. What is the ingredient that leads to inconsistency? Is it simply within the boys, or are there factors external to the boys that are at work?
As a young boy I experienced first hand what it means to move from being a talented and successful boy in the primary school years, to being a struggling student who was often in trouble as a teenager. At secondary school I slipped from A classes to B classes and then found myself struggling with a number of subjects. However, my achievements varied across subject. While in some classes I was rebellious and disengaged, in others I was motivated and successful. This is not an uncommon experience for boys. Some teachers, subject and even specific lessons work for boys, while others don't. Why? Is the answer in the curriculum? The content? The child? Or something else?

The research work by Dr Michael Reichert and Dr Richard Hawley set out to find answers to questions such as these, and concluded that the problem wasn't just within the boys. They interviewed teachers and students and observed effective lessons in eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia. They found that the most effective lessons for boys included a number of common elements:
  • They required students to be active learners (physical activities were a key)
  • The teacher embedded desired learning outcomes in the form of a game or fun activities
  • The lessons required individuals or groups of students to build, design, or create something that was judged competitively by classmates
  • They required students to present the outcome of their work to other students
  • They asked students to assume a role, declare and defend a position, or speak persuasively about something
  • The lessons held student attention by surprising them with some kind of novelty element
  • Lessons addressed something deep and personal in the boys’ lives; they engaged at a deeper personal level.
Getting a sense of scale!

Reichart and Hawley concluded that the learning problem wasn't due to the limitations of the boys, but rather the failure of lessons to actively engage them. What they found when they observed effective lessons in the eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia, was that relatively simple changes in classroom pedagogy made a difference for boys.

The common features in successful lessons for boys were active learning, movement, teamwork, competition, consequential performance, risk taking, and surprise.  They concluded that successful lessons required teachers to engage and energize boys. They also found that boys were deeply relational and that the establishment of a positive relationship between teachers and boys is critical.

This last point is important. Over many years I have often asked students to name a great teacher and then to say why. The reasons given vary, and are typically idiosyncratic. But within each of the responses, invariably the student indicates that the teacher 'took an interest in them', 'understood them', 'saw some potential in them', 'got them interested in learning' and generally excited and engaged them. The general thrust of this work and its findings is that rather than simply blaming boys for their under performance, we need to seek different approaches in our classrooms to help to engage them as learners.

The excitement of chemistry

In my own life I can think of three teachers who made a difference to my life - Mr Campbell (Grade 4), Mr Blaze (Grade 7) and Mr Hoddle (Grade 11). My memories of them are rich but the methods they used to engage me were very simple (and in one case unconventional). All had a deep commitment to their teaching and empathy for their students. They wanted me to learn and saw potential within me that other teachers weren't able to see. Mr Campbell when confronted with a new aquarium in his classroom turned to me one day and said, "I'd like you to find out all that you can about tropic fish". He gave me a book and sent me off to find out about them and how to care for them. Several weeks later he asked me to present a mini-lesson to the class on tropical fish.  I was now the school expert on tropical fish!

My grade 6 maths teacher Mr Blaze (he was also my home room teacher, and cricket coach) overheard a student ridiculing me one day in class because I was overweight. He turned to the boy and said "I'll tell you what Meli, I bet TC will beat you in the cross-country race this week". He proceeded to set a wager, with the winner to receive $10 from his pocket. Now I had no intention prior to this of going in that race. But I did, and ended up $10 richer.

Mr Hoddle simply showed me that geography could be exciting by sharing his love of the subject and something of his life with a small group of senior students. He made it interesting by setting tasks that made us explore, solve problems and work collaboratively with others. And all the while he was interested in our lives and us.

The power of experience
None of these teachers used startling methods, and Mr Blaze used one that was positively dodgy, but all showed an ability to understand me and to try to reach and engage me. They also sought to understand me relationally, treating me with respect, believing in me and somehow, helping me to believe in myself. That's the art of good teaching for boys (and girls as well).

Boys and girls are different and as such at times require us to seek different approaches and forms of engagement. It is easy to dismiss boys who act out in classrooms as simply a pain in the neck for the teacher, but the acting out usually has some source and foundation. Just what is it, and how do we respond? The work of Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley offer us some clues and ways forward.

Jessica Lahey concludes her excellent article with these wise words:

"Educators should strive to teach all children, both girls and boys by acknowledging, rather than dismissing, their particular and distinctive educational needs."

My Previous Posts on Boys

I have written a number of posts on education for boys HERE

Monday, September 12, 2016

Quizzical & Querrelsome Quails: An Integrated Unit for Grades 2-4

Above: Father Quail with his 1 week old son
In this post, I talk a little about quail, introduce some kids' books that focus on them, and then offer a possible integrated unit outline.

1. First, a little about Quail

Readers of this blog may have read some of my posts on 'Key Themes' in children's literature before. As well, some will know that I like birds and you may have seen my post titled 'Birds in Children's Literature: 35 Great Books to Read'. This post shares a thematic unit of work that has a focus on a very particular type of the bird - the quail!

In the last few years I've been keeping some native Australian birds and have loved caring for them and watching them have young and rearing them. Some of my favourite birds are quail. As a young child I had the chance to keep some Australian native King Quail and experience the joy of seeing their eggs hatch to reveal young who from birth could feed, run and act with a degree of independence. The King Quail does well in captivity and breed rather easily and provide hours of interest for adults and children.


Above: Two chicks seek the protection of an aunt.

We always love it when animals take on almost human qualities and even quails do things at times that remind us of special human qualities (Anthropomorphism). Here are some of the characteristics I've observed:
  • They arrange themselves into family groups with typically one male and 2-3 females
  • They defend this nuclear family against outsiders, especially another male quail. Their presence will result in aggressive attacks from all the adults in the family group. 
  • The young are cared for by mother, father, aunts and even some of the older chicks.
  • The male defends the territory by making its beautiful call, puffing its wings out, and ruffling its feathers as it rushes towards you when you get close to the chicks.
  • Once the chicks grow to the adult stage they move on in the wild to form their own family groups. In captivity males need to be separated when nearing an adult stage, but daughters are less keen to leave.
  • Unlike human babies, the chicks are able to eat, drink and scavenge food within minutes of hatching. I watched one of my chicks just 4 days old steal a live meal worm from its father and swallow it whole (probably not so good for it as it was bigger than its head).
  • They can challenge their parents in the first days for their share of the food and like to scurry around in a playful way.
  • They also respond well to the human voice and eventually will take food from known handlers.
What I love most about King Quail is that they tend to rear chicks as a family group. Typically, owners keep one male and 2 to 3 females together. When one hen has chicks, all family members help to raise them. The father protects the young, all sit on them to keep them warm in cold weather and every adult male or female shares duties to protect and help them to find food.

It's hardly surprising that these cute birds would have had a number of children's books written about them, or with quail of one type or another as central characters. Your children might simply enjoy some of the books that follow or they could become part of an integrated unit for a class, or a home project for others. Here are some books that might be part of a unit of study. I follow this with a plan for a unit of work

2. Some Books on Quails

'The Hunter and the Quail', by Nazli Gellek

A hunter captures many birds each day until a wise quail teaches the flock how their cooperation will allow them to escape. By avoiding petty arguments, the wise ones outwit the hunter and live in peace.

'Quail Can't Decide', by Jacquelyn Reinach

This is one of the forty books in the Sweet Pickles series. These are all set in the fictional town of Sweet Pickles and are about anthropomorphic animals with different personalities and behavior. There are 26 animals—one for each letter of the alphabet. Quail has an interesting problem; she can't make up her mind how she will spend a dollar. What will she do?

'How the Quail Earned His Topknot', by Richard Oldenburg & illustrated by Elizabeth Lauder

A young quail loves running so much that he's never even tried to fly. All the other quail tease him and think he's strange. Tired of being made fun of, he decides to learn to fly as well. The quail enters a contest that requires him to run and fly, and he's set to race against a fast road runner bird. Will his running skills come in handy? Has he had enough practice flying so he can win the race? This cute story teaches children to value each other's differences. Richard Oldenburg has included science as an integral component in his teaching career. A graduate of California State University, Long Beach, he has been a teacher and administrator at all levels of education. A member of the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators, as well a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature, he continues to write on animal themes. In his spare time Oldenburg concentrates on golf, fishing, and spending time with the grandchildren.

'The Quail, Robert', by  Margaret Stranger

This may well be the most popular quail book of all. It is a bestseller and acclaimed classic. It tells of a little bird who preferred human companionship to other quail.

GQ GQ. Where Are You?: Adventures of a Gambel’s Quail, by Sharon I. Ritt & illustrated by Nadia Komorova

'Where Are You? Adventures of a Gambel's Quail' "...is a lovely introduction for young readers to one of the desert's cutest critters. Her verse is simple, yet eloquent, and lots of fun to read. Artist Nadia Komorova's beautifully rendered illustrations add a dazzling splash of color that makes turning the page to see what comes next a true pleasure. I have a place reserved for this book in my library." (Conrad J. Storad)

'Quails : Amazing Pictures and Facts about Quails', by Breanne Sartori [Non-fiction]

Let's Learn About... Quails - Amazing Pictures and Facts about Quails. Have your children ever wondered EXACTLY what a quail is? There are so many awesome things to learn about quails. Where do they build their nests? Why do they live alone? In this book you'll find answers to these questions and many more in simple, fun language. Each fact is accompanied by incredible pictures to keep even the youngest child fascinated. In school our children aren't taught in a way that makes them curious and want to learn. I want to change that! This book will show your children just how interesting the world is and help excite a passion for learning. Your children will learn how to: Become curious about the world around them, find a motivation to learn, use their free time to discover more about the world - and have fun while doing so! And much more!

'The Quail Club', by Carolyn Marsden [For Older Readers, 10+]

"A compelling sequel to 'The Gold-threaded Dress' . . . . Marsden handles a perennial topic with poignancy and grace." (School Library Journal) 

Oy lives in America now, but she loves learning traditional Thai dances almost as much as being in the Quail Club - five friends who meet after school to hatch and care for baby quail. When their teacher announces a talent show, Oy knows how proud her family would be to see her step onstage in her gold-threaded dress from Thailand. But bossy Liliandra vows to kick Oy out of the club if she won't team up for a very different kind of dance. In this finely crafted novel, Carolyn Marsden explores what it takes to be a true friend and still be true to yourself.

3. What might an integrated unit on quails look like?

Here is a sample unit that children in grades Two to Four would enjoy.

a) Introduction & Observation

There are varied ways you could begin the unit. This includes:

Read one of the books above and discuss and perhaps simply enjoy and discuss it the first time. After this perhaps reconsider it and see what it teaches us about quails, including their habits, characteristics, food, family patterns, enemies, food and so on.

Or, have a friend or contact (perhaps even a local pet shop) bring in a quail (or two) to show the class. This would need to be done carefully and probably with quail used to human handling as they are generally shy creatures. Alternatively, you could show them a video of a group of quail either wild or in captivity. The class could observe them and discuss what they saw. How did they move? What were some of their habits? What was their food? Were there differences between male and females?

b) Learning about their habitat & life

Using varied resources (books, film, observation, talk by a handler etc) consider the habitat of the quail, food, shelter, nesting habits, reproduction, food.

c) Response

There are many ways that students could respond to their reading, viewing or direct observations. This could include:
  • Draw a quail and label its physical characteristics.
  • Have your students create a picture story board of their observations of quail.
  • Attempt some creative writing about quail (e.g. a simple haiku poem, a simple graphic novel or wordless picture book).
  • Offer a series of photographs of quail and ask your students to add a caption to each one.
  • Perhaps several students could do some further research on one aspect of the life of quail

Monday, August 29, 2016

2016 Australian Childrens Book Council Award Winners

The Children’s Book Council of Australia announced the 2016 CBCA Book of the Year Awards on Friday 19th August. The theme this year was Australia! Story Country. As usual, there were many stunning books. In this the 70th anniversary of the awards, there were over 400 books entered for the varied awards. Australian schools have completed a variety of Book Week activities including thousands of traditional book parades, displays in school libraries, author visits and readathons. It is always an exciting week in schools.

This year there have been many wonderful books, including some that have broken new ground.

The Winning Books

1. Picture Book of the Year


Flight illustrated by Armin Greder and written by Nadia Wheatley

Flight is a wonderful picture book that tells of a small family that flees in search of refuge. It is of course based on the Christian story of Jesus and Mary escaping with Jesus from a wicked King Herod, to seek refuge in Egypt. The traditional story has been used as a parable for our times being applied to the plight or refugees.

Nadia Wheatley explained the genesis of the story in an excellent interview that she did recently.

As the idea took shape, I knew that what I wanted to do was to write the story of the Flight into Egypt in a way that initially lulls readers into thinking that it is set 2000 years ago; then suddenly, by introducing a bombardment and tanks, the story would become something that could be happening on the evening television news. Simultaneously, there needed to be a shift in the ‘back story’ of the characters and the peril that they are fleeing. After all, if the Holy Family were to be depicted as contemporary refugees, then I needed to think afresh about their cultural identity. (Interview with Nadia Wheatley, 'Reading Time').

This is a stunning picture book with its powerful text illustrated brilliantly and with stunning simplicity by Armin Greder.

Honour books:

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! illustrated by Shane Devries and written by Phil Cummings

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! is a powerful picture book that deals with war. Set in World War 2 where our main character Ricardo lives in an Italian village. He loved to ride his bike through the village and life seemed good as he peddles roads under endless perfect and peaceful skies. But one day this changes as the shadows of war arrive. This is beautifully written and delightfully illustrated.

One Step at a Time illustrated by Sally Heinrich and written by Jane Jolly

This is a wonderful picture book that tells of a relationship between a young boy named Luk and his elephant named Mali. This is an unusual tale of love and commitment. It is set on the border of Thailand and Burma where landmines are common. One day Mali steps on one with disastrous consequences, and so Luk helps her to recovery and in a wonderful twist, helps to get her another chance to walk. Heinrich’s wonderful illustrations offer a perfect enhancement to a delightful story. 

2. Early Childhood

Mr Huff by Anna Walker

Mr Huff is a story about the clouds and the sunshine in each of our lives. Bill is having a bad day. Mr Huff is following him around and making everything seem difficult. Bill tries to get rid of him, but Mr Huff just gets bigger and bigger! Then they both stop, and a surprising thing happens…

This sweet story will delight readers aged 4-7 years.

Honour books:

Perfect by Danny Parker (illustrated by Freya Blackwood)

Danny Parker says that this lovely story was inspired by a simple response from his daughter.

One happy day I asked her what she wanted to do. Her reply was simple. ‘I just need a crayon and somewhere to scribble.’ And so began a little story about simple pleasures.

Any parent will be able to relate to Parker's simple story. Freya Blackwood's watercolour images show the delight of children as they roam the beachside immersed in the light, sounds and smell of a perfect summer day.

This is a story that children aged 3-7 will love.

The Cow Tripped Over The Moon by Tony Wilson (illustrated by Laura Wood)

This is an amusing recreation of the traditional nursery rhyme that all children know.

Hey diddle diddle
The dish and the fiddle
The cat mucked around with the spoon,
The cow felt quite lazy
The details are hazy
And nobody went near the moon.

Children love to do their own imaginative recreations of stories and this one will amuse and engage them. Laura Wood's simple images are rich in colour and cartoon-like details, children will love them. A perfect and fun book to read to or with children aged 3-7 years.

3. Younger Readers

Soon by Morris Gleitzman

Soon continues the incredibly moving story of Felix, a Jewish boy still struggling to survive in the wake of the liberation of Poland after the end of World War Two. The Jewish boy shares:

I hoped the Nazis would be defeated. And they were. I hoped the war would be over. And it was. I hoped we would be safe. But we aren’t.

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan

This is a story about a young Aboriginal girl. She is taken from the northern Australia to an institution in the southern Australia. The story takes us through the events of her life as she creates a new life for herself. In spite of tragedy she finds great strength in friendships.

The novel is in free verse, and as you'd expect from Sally Morgan, she doesn't waste a word. It is a powerful story which affirms the power of family and kinship. It should be enjoyed by 13-15 year olds. This is another stunning book from Fremantle Press that keeps turning out many wonderful titles. 

Shadows of the Master by Emily Rodda

Britta has always wanted to be a trader like her father, sailing the nine seas and bringing precious cargo home to Del harbour. Her dreams seemed safe until her father's quest to find the fabled Staff of Tier ended in blood and horror. Now his shamed family is in hiding, and his ship, the Star of Deltora, belongs to the powerful Rosalyn fleet. But Britta's ambition burns as fiercely as ever. When she suddenly gets the chance to win back her future she knows she has to take it whatever the cost. She has no idea that shadows from a distant, haunted isle are watching her every move.

4. Older Readers

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Scholarship student Vân U’oc Phan is all work and no play – until star athlete Billy Gardiner develops a sudden and seemingly irrational interest in her. Worried that she’s at the centre of an elaborate joke, Vân U’oc starts to wonder if magic could actually exist. For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fell into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar. 

Fiona Wood moved from writing film scripts after 10 years and has had great success as a writer of children's fiction. 'Cloudwish' is her third novel, her second YA novel 'Wildlife', won the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers.

Honour Books

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.

Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.

But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?

This is a delightful tale set in a dystopian world where Jenna's village has been cut off from the outside world. They have no way out so the villagers need to adapt their lives to this existence. Girls of fine bones are desirable and special, but boys have little value. Jenna begins to question the work that she was born to do. This is a shocking tale in its own way, but there is also hope.

Inbetween Days by Vikki Wakefield

At seventeen, Jacklin Bates is all grown up. She’s dropped out of school. She’s living with her runaway sister, Trudy, and she’s in secret, obsessive love with Luke, who doesn’t love her back. She’s stuck in Mobius—a dying town with the macabre suicide forest its only attraction—stuck working in the roadhouse and babysitting her boss’s demented father.

A stranger sets up camp in the forest and the boy next door returns; Jack’s father moves into the shed and her mother steps up her campaign to punish Jack for leaving, too. Trudy’s brilliant façade is cracking and Jack’s only friend, Astrid, has done something unforgivable.

Jack is losing everything, including her mind. As she struggles to hold onto the life she thought she wanted, Jack learns that growing up is complicated—and love might be the biggest mystery of all.

5. Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Lennie The Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony by Stephanie Owen Reeder

This is the inspiring true story of 9-year-old Lennie Gwyther who, at the height of the Great Depression in 1932, rode his pony from his home town of Leongatha in rural Victoria to Sydney to witness the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Lennie’s 1,000-kilometre solo journey captured the imagination of the nation, and his determination and courage provided hope to many at a difficult time in Australia’s history. 

In its day, this true story captured the attention of a world that was looking for good news stories at a time when all was gloomy and hopeless. This is a great read and a very worthy winner in this category.

Honour books:

Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect by Rohan Cleave (illustrated by Coral Tulloch)

Phasmid presents the amazing true story of the Lord Howe Island Phasmid – aka Stick Insect. Once thought to be extinct, the phasmids were rediscovered on Balls Pyramid, a volcanic outcrop 23 kilometers off the coast of Lord Howe Island, Australia, prompting an extraordinary conservation effort to save this remarkable insect. It is now officially known as a “Lazarus species” and has attracted the attention of zoo goers, tourists, naturalists Dr. Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough and millions of viewers on Vimeo.

This is a wonderful book. It has stunning watercolor illustrations by Coral Tulloch. It is a positive story about the survival of one 'species’ when many others are dying.  It will hopefully challenge young readers to think about the survival of all species and become more ecologically engaged.

Ancestry: Stories of Multicultural Anzacs by Robyn Siers (illustrated by Carlie Walker)

Ancestry is the third book in the Century of service series. It tells the stories of individuals and families from a range of cultural backgrounds who served with Australian units during the First World War. This image-rich publication draws on the Australian War Memorial’s diverse collection, including private records, photographs, works of art, and relics.

You can download a version of this delightlfully produced free of charge.

6. Crichton Award for New Illustrators

The Underwater Fancy Dress Parade by Allison Colpoys and written by Davina Bell

This is a delightful book for younger readers that explores social anxiety and how a boy copes with it. Faced with the fancy-dress parade. Parties, school events and other social occasions are worrying times for him and now he isn't brave enough to participate. He doesn't want to take part, so his mum takes him to the aquarium. He wanders round miserable and depressed and seeing himself as a failure, until a fish pokes its nose out from amongst some coral and captures his interest.

This lovely picture book introduces the work of Allison Colpoys an exciting new illustrator, who manages to capture the reality of insecurity and vulnerability. An interesting book for children aged 3–8.