Thursday, March 30, 2017

Drawing, Giftedness & Seeing the World Differently

Above: Creating a 'fairy' garden
I've written previously about the need to see giftedness as much more than simply intellectual skills and knowledge that can be established with a narrow range of intelligence tests. One person who has stretched our understanding in the area of giftedness is Howard Gardner in his work on Multiple Intelligences. While some gifted children demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc). In this post I want to focus on what drawing can show us about giftedness. If you are interested in more information on supporting gifted children you can read a previous post HERE which covers some common territory but has additional ideas for older children.
  
How Drawing Can Demonstrate Giftedness?

Evelyne's 'Horse in a T-Shirt'
A year or so ago, I observed some children using scribbles as part of an improvised drawing game. One made a squiggle and the others tried to turn it into an animal. The first child turned the first scribble into a monster. The squiggler responded, "you can't do a monster, the idea of the game is to draw a real animal, anyone can draw a monster".

He then drew another squiggle. The next child turned it into a horse which in her words was "a horse with a T-Shirt on" (see below). He replied, "but you can't have a horse with a T-shirt on, because they don't wear T-shirts". She replied "well this one does and that's the type of horse I drew with your squiggle".

Let me stress that all three children mentioned in the above example, are gifted in different ways, but two were demonstrating their giftedness in this activity. I should stress that while drawing can be a window on giftedness, it isn't the only way that different children, or even the same child on different occasions, can show their giftedness. But we can learn much from children's drawings that can be a pointer to giftedness?

Ten Things Drawing Can Teach us About Giftedness

Evelyne's drawing and some of the other drawings shared in this post can help us to identify giftedness. What might drawings help us to see?

1. They can show the ability to take a simple task and use it in a novel way, or for different purposes. Evie's drawing shows a preparedness to think outside the box.

2. They also help us to see if a child is able to see the unusual, think in novel ways, and observe possibilities that others don't. The camel drawing below shows this (note its shadow on the ground).

Sketch of 'A Camel & Its Reflection' (Lydia aged 3yrs)

3. It can also demonstrate the willingness of the child to experiment and take risks. These characteristics are evident in many gifted people, e.g. entrepreneurs need these qualities.

4. At the most fundamental level, they can demonstrate the ability to create something original. Not simply a drawing like all other drawings by children of the same age, but something different. For example, ask a 6 years-old to draw a house and you will usually see a hipped roof with chimney, two windows and a central single door.


Above: Child drawing of house (courtesy of 'Childhood Architecture')

5. Drawings can also demonstrate the ability to think abstractly, metaphorically and insightfully, as the child uses drawing to explore thoughts and ideas. Evie's drawing of the T-Shirt wearing horse shows this.

6. As well, drawings can show that a child can generate many solutions and possibilities for the simplest and banal tasks.

7. They can also demonstrate a preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.

Here a 6 yr old positions the pterodactyl above its prey

8. Drawings also offer a window into a more mature (and unusual sense of humour), and a different perspective and view of the world. Their orientation will be unlike that of the average person. The drawing above illustrates just such a different perspective.

9. Drawing can also show a depth of knowledge about a topic that is often required to create a special image. For example, awareness of the anatomical make-up of an animal, or the details of mechanical device can be seen in images that the child generates. As well use of shading to show multiple dimensions, clever use of light and shade and so on, show knowledge of image and design.

10. Finally, drawing can also show how the child's mind leads them to see different things and pay attention to the novel and unusual that is reflected in their drawings. The drawing below by a four year-old shows an image he drew after an outing to an aquarium. He created it as if it was viewed from the perspective of the fish. How did it see his granddad looking at it through the glass?

Jacob (4 years) draws Grandad from the unusual vantage point of the fish inside the aquarium looking out

Summing Up

Imagination & creativity starts early
All children are capable of demonstrating rich imagination and creativity, but some children demonstrate levels of creativity, insight, imagination and knowledge in drawing that suggests giftedness that is beyond the typical and normal. Drawing can help us to look for this and encourage it. I have many other posts that will help you to see some of the ways that you can encourage bright and gifted children. You can read another one of them HERE.



Thursday, March 9, 2017

Making Shakespeare Exciting For Young Readers

This is a new version of a previous post about the value of Shakespeare for children of all ages, even primary school children  I had little chance as a child to be introduced to Shakespeare until forced to read it at High School. What a terrible way to meet some of the world's greatest literature.  English classes boring and seemingly unrelated to my life.  Shakespeare's plays seemed remote and of little interest. And yet later in life I began to appreciate and love Shakespeare's work.
I've written previously on this blog about the value of Shakespeare for children of all ages, even primary school children (

Is it possible to make Shakespeare accessible for children as young as seven or eight years? Yes, I think it is! A good place to start is either with an abridged version of the great plays or using some of the wonderful prose versions of his work. A well-known theatrical company in Sydney has even begun to present live Shakespeare to primary schools. Bell Shakespeare has set itself the task of introducing primary aged children to Shakespeare's plays, with a plan to teach Shakespeare's work to children as young as six.

Shakespeare Stories for Younger Readers
 
Twelve of Shakespeare's greatest tales come to life in this entertaining collection of short, lively stories specially adapted for young readers. Capturing the vital events and using some of the original wording, the stories serve as a perfect introduction to Shakespeare for preteens and as literate refreshers for older folks.

A wonderful collection of twelve stories that the well-known author Edith Nesbit transformed for her own children. Here we have twelve of Shakespeare's most famous plays - tales of kings, queens, ghosts, and witches. An excellent introduction to the original works suitable for children aged 10+. The collection includes Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cymbeline, The Taming of the Shrew, Pericles, and The Winter's Tale.



Sixty- Minute Shakespeare

I have no doubt that in classrooms where children learn to love words, language and narrative, that they will find Shakespeare exciting, challenging and enriching. There are many resources that will help you. Recently, I had a look at Cass Foster's abridged versions of Shakespeare's plays. The 'Sixty-Minute Shakespeare' series is an ideal alternative for those who lack the time to tackle the unabridged versions. Professor Foster has carefully condensed (without modernizing) the rich poetic language of each play so that it can be completed in about 60 minutes. The abridged versions offer the excitement of Shakespeare's tales, as well as the wonderful imagery in the prose and verse.

Each edition also comes with detailed footnotes on nearly every page explaining the more arcane words and phrases to help the reader better understand and appreciate each play. You will also find practical suggestions for staging, pacing, and thematic exploration very useful. Each script is approximately 70 pages.


'Shakespeare's Hamlet' staged on the page by Nicki Greenberg

This is a remarkable and ambitious work from Nicki Greenberg for high school children. This imaginative and epic 415-page graphic novel will excite many teenage readers. Hamlet has become an expressive black inkblot whose form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is not a kid's picture book! Rather, it is one more attempt to present Shakespeare in new forms. Not just to make it more accessible (for some might find some other word-only attempts less challenging) but to tell it afresh.

There is no doubt that Greenberg’s Hamlet is unique. At 400+ pages it is hardly an easy 'read'. But might it not help the young uninitiated reader of Shakespeare to see new things? Only readers 13+ will be able to help us to answer this question.

The language of Shakespeare is given new emphasis as the play is performed on paper. This is a play 'staged' in a book as the title suggests.  It is a very interesting book but I can't help but feel that a retelling like Leon Garfield’s Shakespeare Stories (see below) is not a better way in. It is hardly stuff for the poor reader, but more likely the gifted who wants to experience Shakespeare with new depth and relevance. It might just do this for some.

Joint winner of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Picture Book of the Year 2011

Photo courtesy of the Guardian

Prose Forms for Young Children

You don't need a theatre company to help you to introduce Shakespeare to young children. One of the easiest ways to get young children interested in Shakespeare's work is to read some of his plays in adapted prose form. While there are some pretty awful attempts to do this, the collections written by Leon Garfield are superb. His first collection 'Shakespeare Stories' was illustrated by Michael Foreman and published by Gollancz in 1984. It features 12 of Shakespeare's best-known works, including 'Twelfth Night', 'The Taming of the Shrew', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'. Garfield is a brilliant writer of children's fiction and so if anyone was to tackle this project, he would surely be the most likely to succeed in presenting the plays with as much complete dialogue as possible but with adaptations that make the works more accessible without detracting from the language, plots and characterisation of each play. This is how Garfield begins 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':
Hermia, who was small, dark and perfect, loved Lysander; and Lysander loved Hermia. What could have been better than that? At the same time, Helena, who was tall, fair and tearful, loved Demetrius.
But Demetrius did not love Helena. Instead he, too, loved Hermia...who did not love him. What could have been worse than that? 
Garfield's adaptations are engaging and faithful to the plays and if read well to children as young as 7 or 8 will capture their attention. I have used them with children or varied ages and they love to hear Garfield's versions of Shakespeare's work and they want to pick them up and read them. My daughter has also found the Garfield collections wonderful to use with her children aged 6-10.  She has written about this on her own blog (HERE).

A shorter collection, 'Six Shakespeare Stories' was published by Heinemann in 1994 and 'Six More Shakespeare Stories' in 1996.

Other resources

There are a number of other helpful resources and sites for teachers who want to try Shakespeare with children aged 6-12 years.

'Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare' was written by Edith Nesbit in 1907 and is still available in more recent editions (HERE)

A good BBC resource that offers children a simple introduction to Shakespeare and his work (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare 4 Kidz' site is worth a look. Their tag is "Bringing the world of Shakespeare to the young people of the world" (HERE)

'Shakespeare is Elementary' is a great little site developed by an elementary school (Crighton Park) in Novia Scotia Canada. It has some great ideas for getting started (HERE)

You can buy some scripts adapted for young children but I haven't personally tested them (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare for Kids' site also has some helpful advice for teachers using Shakespeare with primary/elementary school children (HERE)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Newbery & Caldecott Children's Book Awards 2017

The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. It is presented to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Newbery Medal Winner 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, written by Kelly Barnhill and published by Algonquin Young Readers (Newbery Medal Winner 2017)

Kelly Barnhill has already given us the wonderful story of 'The Witch’s Boy', and now she has delivered an incredible coming-of-age fairytale that is simply stunning.

Each year a baby is given as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. Will this sacrifice keep her terror at bay? Enter Xan, a kind and gentle witch who shares her home with a Swamp Monster named Glerk and a little dragon named Fyrian. It seems Xan rescues the abandoned children each year, and delivers them to happy families on the other side of the forest.

But one year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight. An ordinary child now has extraordinary magic. She decides she will raise Luna herself. As Luna grows, so does her magic, where will this end?
 

The Newbery committee chair said of the book: 'This compassionate, hopeful novel invites children everywhere to harness their power, and ask important questions about what keeps us apart and what brings us together'.

Newbery Honour Books 2017
 
Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life, by Ashley Bryan, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
(Newbery Honour Book, 2017) 
 
Ashley Bryan was inspired by an 1828 estate appraisement, and uses original slave auction and plantation estate documents to develop her story.  In doing so she honours the lives of eleven slaves with a book that blends poetry and collage. The author offers an insight into how slaves were given monetary value and treated badly. But he manages to hold in tension the fact that no-one can take away dreams. Using wonderful paintings and powerful poetry, he offers insight into what each person’s life might have been like on the plantation. This is a memorable picture book.


The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly and published by Dutton Children's Book (Newbery Honour Book, 2017) 

Adam Gidwitz did six years of research before creating this wonderful book beautifully illuminated by Hatem Aly. The story is set in 13th century France. It is the tale of three 'special' friends who are on the run. Their travels see them taken captured by knights, meeting a king, and saving the land from a 'farting' dragon. They try to escape prejudice and persecution and along the way, save precious and holy texts. The story is told in multiple voices, and is reminiscent of 'The Canterbury Tales'. The illustrations of Hatem Aly work beautifully in concert with a wonderful text.

'A profound and ambitious tour de force. Gidwitz is a masterful storyteller.' —Matt de la Peña, Newbery Medallist and New York Times bestselling author 
Wolf Hollow, written by Lauren Wolk and published by Dutton Children's Books (Newbery Honour Book, 2017)

This is the story of how young girl’s kindness, compassion, and honesty in overcoming bullying.

Set during WWII in rural Pennsylvania, Annabelle has lived a largely ordinary and quiet life, until one day a new student walks into her class. Betty Glengarry soon reveals herself as cruel and manipulative. Annabelle knows only kindness, but needs to find the courage to be a voice against the injustice she is experiencing.

This is a story about America at a crossroads and it takes a young girl’s compassion and strength to act in dark times.

The Caldecott Medal Winner 2017 

The Caldecott Medal was named in honour of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.


Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, illustrated and written by Javaka Steptoe and published by Little, Brown and Company (2017 Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner and  Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award).
 
“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist.”

This wonderful picture book from Javaka Steptoe is a biography that centres on the childhood experiences of the great artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe pays tribute to Basquiat’s style with unique and intricate collage-like plates. Steptoe's excellent text and artwork that is an echo of  Basquiat's own style, introduces young readers to the message that art can be very different, and yet beautiful.

Rhonda K. Gould the Caldecott Chair said of the work:

'Steptoe’s engaging art makes Basquiat approachable for children without his complexities.'

Caldecott Medal Honour Books

Leave Me Alone! illustrated and written by Vera Brosgol, and published by Roaring Brook Press (Caldecott Honour Book, 2017).

An epic tale about one grandmother, a giant sack of yarn, and her ultimate quest to finish her knitting.

Granny is keen to finish knitting her sweaters. Some time alone is what she needs. 'Leave me alone!' she shouts and leaves for a journey to the moon to find some peace (as you do!).

Much happens along the way. There are ravenous bears, disgusting goats, and aliens! Nothing will keep her from her goal; she will knit her sweaters for all of her many grandchildren. A wonderful folktale that will work with many children.





Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Little Bee Books (Caldecott Honour Book, 2017).

This stunning book had already been chosen as New York Times Best Illustrated Book for 2016. It is a poetic work of nonfiction about an unusual and largely unknown piece of African American history. In 19th century Louisiana Congo Square in New Orleans was a place that slaves were able to and set up an open market, where they would play music, dance and sing. This was a rare place of relative freedom where they could forget their cares. As the slaves worked in the hot sun of Louisiana they counted down the days till they could once again go to Congo Square.

'Mondays, there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop. Slavery was no ways fair. Six more days to Congo Square.'


Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis and published by Candlewick Press (Caldecott Honour Book, 2017).

A diverse community of anthropomorphic bugs is intrigued by an unfurling sprout. Carson Ellis deftly depicts the mysteries of life in an imaginary, natural world. Through intricate details and the witty humour of a made-up language, “Du Iz Tak?” is a treasure trove of visual and linguistic literacy.

This is follow-up book by Carson Ellis to her acclaimed book 'Home'. The reader is invited to imagine the possibilities with stunning illustrations and playful language. What might we find in the natural world, even our own back garden? The illustrations are detailed and beautiful, and will appeal to children and adults alike.


They All Saw a Cat, illustrated and written by Brendan Wenzel and published by Chronicle Books LLC (Caldecott Honour Book, 2017).





A cat's walk through its everyday world is full of surprises. The cat encounters many creatures along the way. With minimal language that features repetition,  Wenzel uses his art and his words to show the essence of a cat might just be in the eye of the beholder.

It walks through its world, observing curiously. What do we see? Wenzel's work is full of surprises as he explores empathy and perspective.

'A stunning example of the art of weaving poetry and illustrations into an inextricable whole; gracefully pulling the reader into a world where an ordinary insight becomes something beautiful, delightful and profound.' Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator of the New York Times Bestsellers 'Duck! Rabbit!', 'Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site' and 'I Wish You More').

'Both simple and ingenious in concept, Wenzel’s book feels like a game changer.' The Huffington Post

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

240 Great Children's Books for All Ages

Coming up with a list of books for children is always risky.  How do you judge each book? Do we use our personal preference as adult readers? The popularity of the books with children? The book's longevity? I could list other criteria.
It is also difficult with a list like this to allocate an age level. Some of the books in one age category can be read by children of different ages depending on their ability and maturity. For example, a book like ‘Charlotte’s Web’ can be read to and enjoyed by children of any age. As well, many picture books can be enjoyed from 1 to 99 years!

The list that follows is not meant to be comprehensive.  Rather, I’ve tried to give a flavour of the varied authors, styles and topics.  You should use the list to find other books by the same authors.  For example, I could have listed all of Bill Peet’s books. The same could be said for many other authors on this list. The books chosen for the list all:

a) have been loved by children and adults;
b) have quality language, story and illustrations (in the case of picture books); and,
c) make you want to turn the page

I've offered links to these books most of which are still in print and pretty much all that can still be found, borrowed or bought. Happy reading!

Books for Preschoolers (to be read to and with children aged 0-4 years) 

A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers & Sam Winston

All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton
Battles in the Bath  by Peter Pavey
Bears in the Night  by Stan and Jan Berenstein
Belinda by Pamela Allen
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
Do You Know What Grandad Did? By Brian Smith
Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubenstein
Don’t Forget the Bacon by Pat Hutchins
Duckat by Gaelyn Gordon
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allen Ahlberg
Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles
Edwina the Emu by Sheena Knowles
Flight illustrated by Armin Greder and written by Nadia Wheatley
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen
Grandpa and Thomas and the Green Umbrella by Pamella Allen
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox
Looking for Crabs by Bruce Whately
Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake 
Mother, Mother, I Want Another by Maria Polushkin Robbins
My Dad by Anthony Browne
One Hungry Spider by Jeannie Baker
One Dragon’s Dream by Peter Pavey
Peepo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg 
Something about a Bear by Jackie Morris
The Day the Crayons Quit' by Drew Daywalt
The Lion & Mouse by Jerry Pinkey
The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister 
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise
The Singing Hat by Tohby Riddle
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Story of Chicken Licken by Jan Ormerod
The Trouble with Dad by Babette Cole
The Trouble with Mum by Babette Cole
The Waterhole by Graeme Base
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Time for Bed by Mem Fox
When I’m Feeling range of books by Trace Moroney
Willy's Stories by Anthony Browne

Books for Children Ages 4-7 (the following titles are suitable to be read to younger readers or can be read by beginning readers)

A.B. Paterson’s Mulga Bill’s Bicycle by Kilmeny & Deborah Niland
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Animalia by Graeme Base
Aranea: A Story About a Spider by Jenny Wagner
Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman 
Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown
Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall
Counting on Frank by Rod Clement
Cowardly Clyde by Bill Peet
Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey
Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Conner
Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl
Fox in Socks by Dr Seuss
Granpa by John Burningham
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss
Hubert’s Hair-raising Adventure by Bill Peet
I Was Only Nineteen by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
In My Back Yard by Nette Hilton & Anne Spudvilas
Irving the Magician by Tohby Riddle
John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat by Jenny Wagner
Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Lester and Clyde by James Reece
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Locomotive by Brian Floca
Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
My Hiroshima by Junko Morimoto
My Two Blankets, illustrator Freya Blackwood, text by Irena Kobald
No Kiss for Mother by Tomi Ungerer
Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
One Minute's Silence, illustrator Michael Camilleri, text David Metzenthen
Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year of Colors, by Joyce Sidman
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo 
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola
The Banana Bird and the Snake Men by Percy Trezise and Dick Roughsey
The Bears’ ABC Book by Robin & Jocelyn Wild 
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
The Christmas Eve Ghost, by Shirley Hughes
The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins
The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton
The Fisherman and the Theefyspray by Jane Tanner
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters by Janet & Allen Ahlberg
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda & David Armitage
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter 
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
The Story of Shy the Platypus by Leslie Rees
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Tough Boris by Mem Fox
What Made Tiddalik Laugh by Joanna Troughton
Wheel on the Chimney by Margaret Wise Brown
Where’s Julius by John Burningham
Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker
Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Whistle Up the Chimney by Nan Hunt
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox


Books for Children Ages 8-10 (many of these books can be read to children aged 6-8 or can be read by most children aged 9-10 years)

A Dream of Stars by Brian Caswell
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
A Little Fear by Patricia Wrightson 
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Callie’s Castle by Ruth Park
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles. America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone 
Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl
Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales by Dianne Bates
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling 
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
James and the Giant Peach: A Children’s Story by Roald Dahl
Jodie’s Journey by Colin Thiele
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Mike by Brian Caswell
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Paw Thing by Paul Jennings
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
'Requiem for a Beast' by Matt Ottley 
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Rowan of Rin series by Emily Rodda
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner 
Stuart Little by E. B. White
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race by Morris Lurie
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
The Eighteenth Emergency by Betsy Byars
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Pinballs by Betsy Byars
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide
The Super-Roo of Mungalongaloo by Osmar White
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
The Village Dinosaur by Phyllis Arkle
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon written by Grace Lin
Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein

Books for children aged 10-13+

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay
Boss of the Pool, by Robin Klein
Boy by Roald Dahl
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Cloudwish by Fiona Wood
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, by Mark Haddon
Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda
Dragonkeeper Trilogy (Carole Wilkinson)
Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by K.G. Campbell
Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian 
Lord of the Rings, JR Tolkien
Merryl of the Stones by Brian Caswell
Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Old Kingdom series, by Garth Nix
Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Slave Girl: The Diary of Clotee, Virginia, USA 1859 by Patricia McKissack
Sounder, by William H. Armstrong
Strange Objects by Gary Crew
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
The Hobbit by JR Tolkein
The Fire in the Stone by Colin Thiele
The Ice is Coming by Patricia Wrightson
The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall
The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn 
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula Le Guin

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tips for Parents & Teachers as Children Start School


In Australia children are returning to school soon and some will be turning up for the first time. There will be many tears, and that's not just the parents and teachers! Yes, there will be anxious children as well. As always, it's a challenging time for everyone. Having received children on their first day at school as a teacher, having sent my own children to school in Kindergarten, and having worried over grandchildren heading off on day one, I have some experience as a worrier! So I thought I'd offer some quick Do's and Don'ts for parents and teachers.

PARENTS

DOs

#1 Assume the best of your child's teachers, not the worst. Give them a chance to get to know your child and encourage your child to show them respect.

#2 Try to help teachers understand your child by telling them things that will help (when you have a chance). This might include health issues, fears about school, special interests (help them with points of connection).

#3 Try to get to know some other parents from day one. This will help to give you a small support group, maybe someone to call to see if their child has the school note your child has lost, or to discuss the project work that is due, how the swimming carnival works, are parents expected to attend the school fete or fundraising day etc.

#4 When they get home (especially in the early weeks) let them rest, feed them, & allow them some down time before asking the 20 questions you've stored up.

#5 Pace yourself, there will be MANY years of school. Let your child grow into school, and as a parent try to learn afresh what school is like now compared with when you were at school or when you sent your first two children. 

DON'Ts

My eldest daughter on her first day of school
#1 Don't assume that your child is the only bright kid at school and tell the teacher as much on day 1. EVERY parent thinks their child is gifted. Let your child show their teacher some of the great things they can do.

#2 Don't criticize your child's teacher in front of your child. This will make it harder for your child to respect their teacher.

#3 Don't make comparisons between your child and other children, especially to your child.

#4 Don't hassle teachers from day 1 about homework, allow the year to get rolling before firing such questions at them.

#5 Try to avoid projecting your anxieties as a parent onto your child.  If they're worried about their teacher, don't fire questions at them to see if they've had some problems. If there are problems, they'll come out in the child's good timing.

#6 Don't expect the teacher to know your child as well as you do from day 1

TEACHERS

DOs

#1 Be patient with parents, especially those sending their first child to school, especially in the early weeks. This is a tough time for many.

#2 Inform them as soon as you can about your expectations on things like homework, special activities, and your approach to discipline.

#3 Let them know how they can contact you if they have questions. An email address will reduce many fears (perhaps make it a generic one if you wish to limit access) and DO try to answer them as quickly as possible but outline some simple rules.

#4 Look for good things in each child. While not all will be brilliant (even though their parents might think they are), there will be things that are worthy of praise and encouragement.

#5 Make yourself available at pick-up time to chat, answer the odd question and simply show that you're interested in connecting children with their parents.

DON'Ts

#1 Don't overwhelm parents with information early, keep guidelines to a minimum at first.

#2 Don't assume that parents have little to offer, while some may have unrealistic expectations, they will know their children well. Tap into their insights when possible.

#3 Don't ever talk about a child to the parents of a classmate.

#4 Don't expect too much of parents too early in relation to homework. Like you, they will be busy at the start of the year. A few might pester you for it, but try to maintain a balanced approach.

Other Related Posts

1. 'Starting School: Is there a best perfect age?'

2. 'Making Homework More Relevant and Useful for Learning'

Thursday, December 22, 2016

26 Children's Books About the Christmas Story

I've done a number of posts on children's picture books for Christmas on this blog. As teachers and families approach Christmas you might like to consider the many books that can be shared. In this revised version of a previous post I feature 26 books that are quite varied. Some of the books are quite faithful to the traditional Christmas story, while others are based on elements of the Christmas story or themes from biblical teaching on Jesus life, including love, devotion, kindness, forgiveness and sacrifice. They are just some of best examples you can find. Many of these books can be used even with children aged 8-12 years. The illustration below is used by permission of Walker Books and is from Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' illustrated brilliantly by Robert Ingpen (reviewed in this post).


At the heart of the Christmas story is the birth of Jesus, which Christians celebrate on the 25th December. While for many, the celebration of Christmas has become disconnected from its traditional purpose of remembering and celebrating Jesus' birth some 2,000 years ago, it is told and retold in varied forms each year at this time.

1. Books based closely on the biblical story of Jesus birth

The Nativity by Julie Vivas is a wonderful book. The story is close to the Bible narrative and the illustrations as you'd expect from Julie Vivas are superb.

The Christmas Book, written and illustrated by Dick Bruna. Bruna's delightful and simple telling of the nativity story is special. He manages to tell the greatest story ever told with his typical simplicity. This one is suitable even for preschool children.

Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell & illustrated by Jason Cockcroft

That cold winter's night, 
beneath the star's light... 
...a Little One came for the world. 

First kind Ox welcomes Old Dog, then Stray Cat, Small Mouse, Tired Donkey, and finally the baby Jesus into his stable on the first Christmas night. Delightful story that tells of the momentous event.

A Baby Born in Bethlehem, Martha Whitmore Hickman's retelling is based on the gospels of Luke and Matthew. It begins with the revelation to Mary that she will have a child who will be the son of God and ends with the visit of the Wise Men. The text emphasizes the joy of Jesus' birth. Giulliano Ferri's pencil and watercolour illustrations contribute to making this a great book for four to eight year olds.


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever tells the story of how one of the "worst Kids" in the world finds out about the real Christmas story for the first time as he takes part in the church Christmas pageant. The story itself is very funny but it also manages to communicate the Christian message accurately.

The Baby Who Changed the World by Sheryl Ann Crawford, Sonya Wilson (Illustrator). In this imaginative retelling of the Christmas story, the animals get together and discuss the approaching arrival of a new baby that some say will grow up to be a strong and powerful King. When Mary and Joseph enter the picture and the events of the true Christmas story unfold!

The Christmas Story: According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke from the King James Version by Gennadii Spirin (Illustrator). This telling of the Christmas story begins with Mary's meeting with the angel Gabriel then proceeds to the birth of baby Jesus in a stable, the visit of the shepherds and the three wise men. Spirin's Orthodox Christian faith is reflected in the wonderful art that makes this a special retelling of the story of Jesus (although not all will find the images match their idea of what Jesus might have looked like).

Mary's Christmas Story, by Olive Teresa. There are a number of different retellings of the Christmas Story available in the Arch Books series. Most are told from the perspective of different witnesses to the birth of Jesus or draw more heavily on one of more of the gospel accounts. This one retells the Christmas story from Mary's point of view based on Luke 1:5-2:18.



The Life of Our Lord, by Charles Dickens.

First published in 1934 (64 years after his death), this is the story of the life of Jesus and was written by Dickens for his children. While rarely included in his complete works, it is a delightful retelling of the Bible's account of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection. Dickens takes the King James (Authorized) version of the gospel of Jesus, and makes it accessible to his children. There are elements of his telling of the biblical tale that some Christians might feel offers only some of the many facets of Jesus character. But, as well as being a beautifully written retelling of the Bible's account, what I love about it is that it offers an insight into the man Dickens writing in the middle of the 19th century. It shows his Christian faith, his love for his children and even some of the family prayers. Lovers of Dickens will enjoy the book, as will children, who will respond well to the story itself, as well as its literary qualities, and the personal nature of the telling. There are a number of editions of the book including the Simon & Schuster (1999) version pictured left that is still available.

2. Books that use the Christmas theme to offer moral lessons

This category of books is quite large. They typically use the Christmas celebration or season as the setting for a human story that teaches something about one or more fine human qualities that are consistent with Christian teaching; for example, love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and sacrifice.

The Christmas Eve Ghost, by Shirley Hughes (2010)

Walker Books has just published this wonderful book in time for Christmas. It is written and illustrated by one of my favourite English author/illustrators, Shirley Hughes. At 83 years of age Shirley is still producing wonderful books. It is a classic example of books in this category. It doesn't really mention the Christmas story at all but uses Christmas as one of its themes to highlight kindness against the background of sectarian differences between Catholic and Protestant residents of Liverpool in the 1930s (the place and time of her childhood). Without saying it, Hughes offers the message that Christmas is a time when people should connect with one another in love, kindness and service.

The book tells the story of a mother and her two children, living in poverty. The mother cares for the children and earns just enough to survive by washing other people's clothing. On Christmas Eve 'Mam' has to leave the children in bed while she goes off to deliver a batch of washing. The children awake to strange noises (as it turns out they are 'natural' noises) and flee the house in fear straight into the arms of Mrs O'Riley from next door, a person their mother doesn't speak to for reasons not clear until the end. It's a wonderful book with a touching resolution.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (2008). This probably deserves to be in a category of its own. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is taught the true meaning of Christmas by a series of ghostly visitors. This is essentially a fable that stresses that Christmas should be a time of goodwill towards mankind. There have been many versions printed of this classic story first published in 1843 with wonderful illustrations by John Leech. Published in 2008 this new edition has to be one of the best illustrated versions that I've seen, which isn't surprising as Robert Ingpen is one of the finest illustrators we have seen in the last 50 years. The edition also contains Dickens story Christmas Tree that offers an insight into a Victorian Christmas of the 1850s.

How the Grinch stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. This is one of my favourites within this category. The Grinch lives on top of a mountain that overlooks Whoville. As he watches the villagers getting ready to celebrate Christmas he comes up with a plot to stop them. But instead of stealing Christmas he learns that Christmas means much more than the trappings such as gifts, decorations and food. I used to read this to my children at Christmas time and now they read it to their children as part of their Christmas traditions (my daughter did a post on this here). You can also watch the video version of this story that has been popular with children for over 50 years (here).

Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This story focuses on Jonathan Toomey who is the best woodcarver in the valley. But he bears a secret sorrow, and never smiles or laughs. When the widow McDowell and her son ask him to carve a creche in time for Christmas, their quiet request leads to a joyful miracle, as they heal the woodcarver's heart and restore his faith.

Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. This wonderful story tells of the quest of a wombat to find the perfect part to play in the annual Nativity play. He tries out every part without success until he finds one that he carries off with distinction.

The Nativity Play, by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. This is the story of a group of children who put on their own nativity play. There is a much creativity that is needed to get the show on the road.

 

3. Stories based on Christmas traditions

For those who are more interested in Christmas traditions than the traditional Christmas story, there are masses of books that take the Christmas theme in all sorts of directions (some quite strange). However, there are some that have literary merit and are enjoyable stories to read at Christmas and suit the needs of families that are from non-Christian traditions. Some of the better examples follow.

Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida

This wonderful Christmas tale from Mexico was written in 1959 and won Marie Hall Ets the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1960. It is the story of 5 year-old Ceci, who ready for her first Posada. This is a a fourteen day festival (ending on Christmas Eve) in which entire towns participate. There are great things to eat, music, ritual and traditional dress to wear. But for Ceci, she is most excited that she will have her own piñata to fill with special things that all the village children can share. As well as being about Christmas, this is a wonderful insight into Mexican culture. Marie Hal Ets collaborator was Aurora Labastida who grew up in Mexico and this his her story and her memories of Christmas.

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Baillie Tolkien)

This book is a collection of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children over a period of 23 years. Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or painting. The letters were from Father Christmas.

Tolkien shares wonderful tales of life at the North Pole. A reindeer gets loose and scatters presents all over the place, an accident-prone North Polar Bear climbs the North Pole and falls through the roof, Santa accidentally breaks the moon into four pieces and the Man (in the moon!) falls into the back garden and many more. This is Tolkien at his creative best, but what's special is that they are personal communications between him and his children. His last letter is a beautiful farewell from Father Christmas with an underlying message of hope and continuity. If you love Tolkien you will like this collection. It's available in an enhanced eBook format as well, which has a number of other features (see video below). These include audio recordings of many of the letters read by Sir Derek Jacobi and the ability to expand each of the images of the original letters and envelopes
(some never published before).

The Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (2010). This is a wonderful new release from Walker Books. Just the mention of Robert Ingpen's name will get me excited, because surely he is one of Australia's greatest illustrators. This is the best illustrated version of the classic Clement Moore poem that I know of. Moore wrote the poem for his children and first read it to them on Christmas Eve 1822.  A friend sent it anonymously to a New York newspaper in 1823 and once published it quickly became well known. Only in 1844 did Moore claim authorship. Many attribute much of our contemporary portrayal of Santa Claus to this poem. Who can forget the start:

'Twas the night before Christmas
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
not even a mouse...

Ingpen's depiction of Santa as a mischievous and happy old man sits well with the traditional myth. His usual immaculate line drawings are in evidence, but this time they are softened by a gentle wash that gives an ethereal feel to the drawings. The 'soft' lines also sit well with the traditional northern white Christmas.

Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star, by Petr Horacek (2010).  This is another new release from Walker Books. It is a perfect book for preschoolers or young children up to 6 or 7 years. Suzy and her farmyard friends are gathered on Christmas Eve around their Christmas tree and she notices that something is missing - a star on top of the tree! She cries to her friends, "It needs a star on top....Just like the one in the sky. I'll get it." So she sets off to 'get it' with some amusing episodes along the way before the surprising solution. Young kids will love this book. It is well written and beautifully illustrated by Petr Horacek. Again, it barely mentions Christmas, but parents and teachers could speak more about Christmas using this story as the springboard.

Finding Christmas, by Helen Ward. This slightly mystical book was voted in the top 10 Christmas books in 2004. It tells the story of a little girl in a bright red coat and bright green boots who wanders at dusk from shop to shop looking for “the perfect present to give to someone special.” Things look hopeless until she is drawn to the bright window of a toy shop filled with colourful toys.

All I want for Christmas by Deborah Zemke. What does a skunk want for Christmas? French perfume! What does a spider want? A spinning wheel! Deborah Zemke's wonderful art and great sense of humour makes this a hit. I wonder what they will want?

Emily and the big bad bunyip, by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whateley. It′s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully. Can Emily Emu and her friends possibly make the Bunyip smile this Christmas? All the animals are in a good mood except the Bunyip. He proclaims, ′I′m mad and I′m mean! Bunyips don′t like Christmas!


Twinkle, Twinkle Christmas Star by Christine Harder Tangvald.

This delightful story is based on the familiar children's rhyme but re-words it to parallel the Christmas story.


'Bear Stays Up' by Karma Wilson & illustrated by Jane Chapman (McElderry Book)

This poor bear has never seen a Christmas because of he hibernates each year. This year, his forest friends vow to wake him up and keep him up for their Christmas celebration. This is a delightful story told in rhyme. Bear's friends give him a wonderful Christmas. They decorate his den, find a Christmas tree, make some decorations and sing Christmas carols. Does Bear stay up?
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Henry Cole (Illustrator). This one is a lot of fun




The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman & E. T. A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Renee Graef. A version of the classic tale.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. A magical train ride on Christmas Eve takes a boy to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa Claus. This book won the 1986 Caldecott Medal and of course has been made into a movie.
Summing Up

There are endless books that have written about Christmas. When choosing a suitable book to read to your children try to find one that is faithful to the Christmas story and which is appropriate for your children's age. Even those books that mention only tangentially the real Christmas story can be a good springboard for the discussion of the central meaning of Christmas. 

Parents or teachers who want to share the traditional Christmas story can use one of the many wonderful children's Bibles available for children of varying ages in modern translations. For example, Lion Hudson has published a variety of versions that paraphrase the Bible accurately and with illustrations that children will find meaningful and enjoyable (more information here). You can also use an adult Bible with primary aged children and can simply read the appropriate section from the gospels of Matthew (here) or Luke (here).