Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Picture books that enrich and foster literate lives

Jenni Connor, recognised education consultant, shares her rich knowledge of children’s literature to make curriculum connections to four stunning Australian picture books dealing with fire and its devastating aftermath.
Literature needs to assert its place in the sun in these data-driven, assessment-focused times. The Literature strand which is central to the English Curriculum creates that place. The curriculum recognises that engagement and enjoyment should be key features of student experience with texts. The curriculum also aims to develop an informed appreciation of a variety of literary texts.
Following the recent bush fire season across the nation, including in Tasmania, I have taken four picture books dealing with that topic to highlight what they offer in terms of ‘aesthetic value and potential for enriching students’ lives and scope of experience’ (Shape of the Australian Curriculum, 2009. P.5). I connect each book to elements taken from the English Curriculum Content descriptions. The year levels selected are only a guide and, in fact, all four books could be used as comparative texts with older students.
Through the Smoke
Phil Cummings & Andrew McLean
Through the smoke, Phil Cummings & Andrew McLean(Scholastic, 2019) is a tale of three children, their imagination and the terror of bushfire. The picture book, suited to 5-7-year -olds, uses the extended metaphor of knights and dragons and recognises the immense contribution of firefighters as ‘the knights’ in question. Phil Cummings’ rich descriptive language captures the children’s initial delight as they roam unfettered through the bush and their growing fear as the world around them changes – We rode our charges through the rolling swell of windswept wheat fields…. the sleeping dragon woke. We suddenly heard the ferocious flap of its wings, its hungry and angry hiss’. McLean’s illustrations support the language text gently, avoiding any hint of trauma.
Curriculum connections - Literature Year 1: Understand how authors create characters using language and images. Make connection with own experience. Discuss features of plot, character and setting.
Fabish the Horse the Braved a Bushfire
Neridah McMullin & Andrew McLean
Fabish the Horse that Braved a Bushfire, NeridahMcMullin & Andrew McLean (Allen & Unwin, 2016) showcases McLean’s extraordinary talent for visually portraying the Australian landscape. It is a story of two heroes, the retired racehorse Fabish, who instinctively rescued seven yearlings and brave trainer John Evett who risked his life to save racehorses in the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. McMullin’s spare, evocative prose dramatically depicts the unfolding scene – the sun scorched the land…. Withered brown grass crunched underfoot…. That summer, every living thing was hot…. Billowing smoke turned the day into darkness. The farm was ablaze, and the sky was on fire. The author and illustrator notes provide historical and personal context.
Curriculum connections – Literature Year2: Compare opinions about characters, events and settings between texts. Explore how language is used to present features of characters and settings in different texts.
Fire      Jackie French & Bruce Whatley
Fire, Jackie French & Bruce Whatley (Scholastic, 2014) is another story of courage and strength in the face of natural disaster. Jackie French’s taut, sharp word text conveys the terrifying ferocity of nature out of control and drives the momentum of the narrative – Leaves like paper, burning, bleeding. Trees turned torches, flaming, feeding. Fire, the beast that ate it all. McLean’s vivid, atmospheric images provide a powerful contrast between the serene outback landscape and the fierce onslaught of the fire that threatens all life and engulfs the land. Again, the author and illustrator notes add valuable information for readers.
Curriculum connections – Literature Year 3: Discuss how language is used to describe settings and how settings shape and influence the mood of the narrative.

The House on the Mountain

Ella Holcombe & David Cox
House on the Mountain, Ella Holcombe & David Cox (Allen & Unwin, 2019) is a heartbreaking and poignant picture book about one family’s experience on Black Saturday and the long process of healing and rebuilding. Told from a child’s perspective, we feel their growing fear as the heat of the day builds to a crescendo – My chest feels hollow, like a bird cage. The word text is impressively restrained but doesn’t shirk the harsh reality - …we talk about all the kids and teachers and families who will never come back. Cox’s illustrations, while striking, maintain a light touch in conveying the drama. In this case, the author’s notes are essential to fully understanding the true story and we deeply respect her commitment to ‘continuity, movement and growth’. The book is marketed as YA fiction, but I would use it in conjunction with related texts from upper primary on.
Curriculum connections - Literature Year 6: Analyse and evaluate similarities and differences in texts on similar topics. Explain how metaphor influences personal response.
Contemporary research confirms that it is the quality of a child’s vocabulary that predicts their success in literacy; it’s not just the sheer number of words a child has heard, but the richness of the conversation that matters. The ‘language’ of these picture books – in words and images – is carefully crafted and poetic. This language offers new ways to describe the world and ‘enriches and extends the life experience’ of young readers and listeners.
Jenni Connor

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Young Dark Emu

This week Patsy Jones gives us an excellent overview of Young Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe’s younger readers’ version of Dark Emu, which he discussed in a session at the CBCA National Conference in Canberra on June 1. Mary Blake emailed notification of its arrival at the Aboriginal Education Library on May 21.

Australian writers have recently been addressing the need to broaden our Eurocentric history and literature regarding the colonisation of Australia. For example, Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth : how Aborigines made Australia, published in 2012, and Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu : Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture, first published in 2014 with a second edition in 2019, have attracted much interest not only among academics but among the general public. We remember Bruce as the author of Fog a Dox, Mrs Whitlam, and other books for younger members of the community.

Now there is a version of Bruce’s book written especially for young people: Young Dark Emu : a truer history, recently published by Magabala Books Aboriginal Corporation.
Page 7 tells us ‘Dark emu is a shape in the dark areas between the stars of the Milky Way. It’s a different way of seeing’. The text contains, besides Bruce’s remarks and explanations, material from well-known contemporary explorers and commentators such as George Augustus Robinson, Thomas Mitchell, and Charles Sturt, and  quotations from contemporary diarists whose names we have not heard before. Indigenous agriculture, aquaculture, and food storage methods are described at firsthand by the Europeans who benefited from these methods and often, in their ignorance, destroyed what they saw.
My twelve-year-old grandson was specifically interested in the chapter on Aquaculture and remarked on the reminiscences of a local farmer, written in 1897, about the fish traps on the Murray River in previous years. Tom was indignant at the perspective of the writer, who described in detail the method of fishing with these traps, but referred to the ‘indolence’ rather than the ingenuity of the trap user.
The book is profusely illustrated, with a challenging variety of Indigenous and European art works reproduced in black, white, and ochre. A bibliography and picture credits provide other sources for a reader who wants to know more, and an index allows a reader to find specific information.
It is to be expected that copies of this book will find their way into every school library in Australia, and that the English classification of Australia as ‘terra nullius’ will be even more widely acknowledged to be inaccurate as a result.

Patsy Jones
Retired Librarian, Retired Teacher

Monday, 10 June 2019

A Review of The Wicked King

This week Pennii Purton shares her response to a recent read of Holly Black’s latest young adult addition to The Folk of the Air trilogy. Find out about The Wicked King in this review.

The Wicked King - author Holly Black

Series: The Folk of the Air #2
Released 2019
YA novel. Genre: Fantasy
You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
This book follows on from The Cruel Prince (Released 2018) SeePennii’s blog post from March 2, 2018
The story picks up straight after the intense ending of The Cruel Prince, with Jude saving her brother Oak and binding Cardan to her, where she manages to secretly manoeuvre alliances behind the throne.
The plot thickens with a new realm introduced and we meet the Queen of the Undersea, Orlagh. This introduction was one of the best features in the story and added just another exciting layer to it. I loved reading about this tempestuous realm and the underbelly of its factions of Merfolk and Selkies.
With old and new characters - Jude, Cardan, Madoc, Nicasia, the queen of the Undersea, Balekin, Taryn and Locke just some of the schemers in this crazy world, grabbing for power at every chance they get, the action leads to some very interesting twists and shocking moments, all under Faerie’s glamour, and I loved it. 
Jude tries to foresee every eventuality but as with life, things don’t always go to plan. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Jude and Cardan as their relationship changes, especially in the second half of the book.
The Wicked King surpassed all my expectations for the second installment in the Folk of the Air series. If you thought the ending in The Cruel Prince was a cliffhanger, then you had better prepare yourself. The ending leaves no doubt that an epic battle is imminent, of wits and hearts, realms and crowns, and human and Fae. 
Jude - In The Cruel Prince we see the very human girl Jude is just trying to survive in the realm of Fae. With this installment we continue to see her change and grow, taking on a mantle that falls somewhere between Fae and human. I love that she is smart and daring, fallible and sympathetic in character. She has become one of my all-time favourite heroines and I can’t wait to read what is in store for her in book three.

Look out for:      The Queen of Nothing: book #3 due 2020.

Pennii Purton
Library Technician, Reece High School

Monday, 3 June 2019

Who doesn’t love a bear?

This week join Maureen Mann and a host of bears – fictional and factual - 
in all their furry glory.

Bears are such an archetypal children’s toy, beloved around the world. So it’s no wonder that authors enjoy creating stories with this loveable creature as the main character, and readers – both child and adult – enjoy sharing them.
There seems to have been many recent picture books so here are some which I have enjoyed.
Another Book about Bears by Laura and Philip Bunting
Bear is tired of being the star of all stories and suggests other animals none of whom fit. There’s clever use of puns and plenty to make readers of all ages stop and think as well as discuss the concepts.
All Right Already: A snowy Story by Jory John and Benji Davies
Duck excitedly cajoles an unwilling Bear out into the snow, where he doesn’t want to do anything. Bear finally goes inside when he starts sneezing and coughing. Duck looks after him. And then it’s Bear’s turn to reciprocate. Two font styles show which character is speaking, and the illustrations are in a restricted colour range. It’s a bit of a silly story really but kids will enjoy it.
Polar Bears on the Hunt by Meg Marquardt
This non-fiction book for primary school aged students has four chapters: living on the ice, hunting, made for the cold and polar bear behaviour. It concludes with a fact file, glossary, index and where to go for more information.
Bear’s Book by Claire Freedman & Alison Friend
All Bear’s books have fallen to pieces because they have been read so often, so he decides to write his own story. Inspiration doesn’t come. While waiting he meets his friends. He helps Mouse practice for the mouse ball; Rabbit when he dropped his oars; Baby Owl stuck out on a tree limb. These adventures lead to Bear’s story about pirates.
10 Reasons to Love a Bear by Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
This non-fiction book looks at the 8 kinds of bears around the world, their habitats and behaviours which are shared, or which are unique to just one. A good introduction.
Little Bear’s Big House by Benjamin Chaud

Little Bear is tired of living with his sleepy brothers so sets off on an adventure, just like a little boy. On the way, he’s tempted by his former forest playmates but he keeps going till he reaches an uninhabited house. He’s delighted by the adventures in it, until the night noises spook him, and he scurries back to the security of home. This fun story, in its large format with detailed illustrations, was originally published in France.

A Bear Sat on my Porch Today
by Jane Yolen and Rilla Alexander

Though full of North American animals, children here will enjoy the cumulative and repetitious text. After the bear visits the porch, and the young owner reluctantly agrees to his presence, he is joined by other animals until the added weight causes it to sway and break. All the animals cooperate to fix it all up.
Rainbow Bear by Stephen Michael King
King’s illustrations always hit the spot for me, and this one is no exception. After Father Polar Bear returns from the city with presents for everyone, he discovers that his coat changes colour every morning. He finally realises how and why and reciprocates one night. It’s full of humour and at times, bright child-like colouring, with many unexpected details to keep young readers searching the pages and learning this isn’t reality.  The end pages are reminiscent of a child’s colouring book.
A Book of Bears: At Home with Bears Around the World by Katie Viggers
This is a good introduction to bears with a double-page devoted to each of the eight bear families and another section with double pages about swimming, eating, climbing, running and hibernating. Each page includes size, Latin name, descriptions and a humorous comment about them. The latter occasionally seemed inappropriate in a non-fiction book but children will enjoy this.
Archie and the Bear by Zanni Louise and David Macintosh
Neither of the characters in this fun book is who he seems to be. Archie leaves home to go to the forest, as he should, being a bear. There he meets the Bear and together they teach each other to fish, skip stones and read, until the evening chill reaches them both and they return home to snuggle under the quilt. Lots of discussion, about being who you think you are, is sure to result.

But we mustn’t forget the wonderful stories from the past: Paddington Bear, The Very Sleepy Bear, Hugless Douglas, Corduroy, Where is Bear?, the Berenstain Bears as a series, and of course the many versions of Goldilocks.
What’s your favourite book about bears?
Maureen Mann
Picture book lover