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Posted by Lisa Hill on December 29, 2009
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Posted by Lisa Hill on December 1, 2013
It’s when reviewing books like this that I wish that I had a proper degree in Australian history. Not, of course, instead of my degree in Literature and Classics (which included history subjects exploring Ancient Greece and Rome), but as well as. The Big Book of Australian History is a comprehensive history, which tackles some aspects of Australia’s past about which I have little expertise, and the new federal government shows signs of restarting those unedifying History Wars, so this review isn’t going to tackle questions of historiography or factual accuracy. That’s best left to professional historians. I am going to restrict myself to commenting as to its readability, coherence, and appeal to the young people for whom it is written.
I loved this type of general history book when I was young, but I don’t remember ever coming across one that was about Australia. My parents bought us many books when we were children, but they were (or purported to be) histories of ‘The World’ ancient and modern i.e. the 20th century world. In these books, published in the 1950s and 1960s (almost always, for some reason, with a red cover) Australia was an afterthought. They were probably published in Britain…
Written with the help of indigenous advisor and history editor and writer Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder (who won the 2012 NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize), The Big Book of Australian History covers many topics, conveniently arranged in ways that will suit students doing projects, but also appealing to kids who just want to browse through it to discover what they might be interested in. Chapter length varies from six to twelve pages and more, with clear layout and headings, and profuse full-colour illustrations, sourced from the NLA and other libraries. Most importantly it’s mostly written in kid-friendly language which may lure young people away from Wikipedia which is so often incomprehensible to them. Sentences are not too long, vocabulary is not too complex, and it’s mostly written in the active voice.
The book begins with Ancient Australia covering the birth of the continents. the fossil record and the period of megafauna. This chapter is a good starting point for students to follow an interest in palaeontology.
While there is much that is necessarily unsaid because of limitations of space and the complexity of indigenous issues, the chapter on The Dreaming seems respectful to indigenous Australians, and optimistic without denying Australia’s Black History:
Any human culture that survives for 40,000 years or more must be based on sensible, intelligent ideas. In modern Australian society, we have written laws to tell us what we must and must not do. Aboriginal society was based on accepted traditions that were passed down from generation to generation through the myths and legends that were taught to the young people.
For example, the story of Tiddalik the frog has a buried message about the value of sharing. From the earliest contacts with Aboriginal people, Europeans failed to understand that Aboriginal culture was based on sharing. In their hunter-gatherer society, the daily gathering of food by the women kept everyone alive, while the men’s hunting produced food on a less regular basis. Meat did not keep for long, and so, when an animal was killed, people shared it.
When white people arrived, they had no idea about this. Most of them did not even consider that other cultures might have different ways of doing things and different values which were as good, or perhaps even better than, their own.
This chapter includes an explanation of how our First People came to Australia from Asia, First Contact with Europeans, the story of survival and the role of Aboriginal art work in the transmission of culture. Big, bright graphics enliven every page and include artworks both by early settlers and Aboriginal artists such as William Barak.
There is a welcome overview on the voyages of exploration, which is a year 4 topic in the new Australian Curriculum, though I would have liked a timeline because kids in this age group so often find this topic confusing and tend not to have a very good grasp of chronology – especially when it stretches back over several centuries and events take place on opposite sides of the continent. (One of the best books around on this topic is Explorers: Filling in the Map of Australia, by Chris Milne and published by Black Dog Books. It does have timelines, and is manageable for capable year 4 readers).
The chapter entitled Founding Colonies is much longer, as you’d expect. It begins, of course, with Sydney, and the convicts, and includes Aboriginal Resistance. Unfortunately the section on Tasmania also includes the first settlement in Victoria at Sullivan Bay, which is not where students would expect to find it. Even more unfortunate is the opening paragraph of ‘Making Melbourne’ because most kids are not going to make sense of it without a bit of a struggle:
Those migrants who arrived in Adelaide knew nothing about Victoria but, logically, nobody should have gone to Adelaide when land was available at Port Phillip because it was far cheaper there – in fact, often land was just being taken and not paid for. (p. 49)
Apart from tidying up this sentence to make it shorter and more comprehensible, I would have liked this section to make it clearer that at the time Henty and Batman squatted on what is now Melbourne, the area was not called Victoria until Separation in 1851. And there isn’t anything about Batman’s scurrilous ‘treaty’ with the local Aborigines. Indeed, the section on Melbourne, Australia’s second city in importance, merits only six paragraphs.
Exploring the Land includes all the major explorers – but I was surprised to find this little snippet about Major Sir Thomas Mitchell:
In many ways Mitchell was an unusual man. His men probably killed more Aboriginal people, especially near Mount Dispersion, than any other party of explorers, and yet he preferred to use Aboriginal place names on the maps he drew.
It is hard for us to judge whether the killings were Mitchell’s fault, but he was blamed for them in an inquiry that was completed just after he died. (p. 60)
I probably know as much about Mitchell’s expeditions as most primary teachers, but my knowledge is rudimentary. I have no idea what to make of this comment, and I suspect that students will be mystified by it. Why is it hard to judge these killings? Why wouldn’t the leader of an expedition be held accountable for what takes place? Considering how many inquiries into violence against Aborigines were whitewash, and how few were undertaken in the first place, if this one did blame Mitchell, it seems only too likely that shameful behaviour did occur. The implication is that there is some controversy about this matter, but will young readers interpret it this way? It seems to me that this comment is an attempt to be even-handed that’s gone awry. (Mitchell is, after all, a Big Deal in NSW where the State Library bears his name). This vague allusion will be confusing and frustrating for students who will, (as I did), reread the section to try to clarify what Mitchell did, or didn’t do, but without success. Because apart from a reference to ‘a clash’ at Menindee, from which Mitchell backed off, there’s nothing about killing any Aborigines. Students will go Googling for that (as I did) and unless their reading skills are up to dealing with the long entry at the Australian Dictionary of Biography, they may end up none the wiser.
The chapter about the Gold Rushes in the 1850s includes the Eureka Rebellion, while Settling the Land is a respectful homage to the hard life of the pioneers, and covers bushrangers, the Depression of the 1880s and the rise of unions. But having noted in the introductory paragraph that settlement was ‘not good for the Aboriginal people who inhabited the land’ the chapter doesn’t make any further mention of them except to note that:
‘In the early years at least, ‘wild blacks’ – who were entitled to be upset at the sheep eating the kangaroo’s fodder – speared the sheep. On the Murray River, the Aboriginal people gave this new food a name – ‘jumbuck’. (p. 78)
I think that being ‘upset‘ is a bit of an understatement. There was considerable indigenous resistance to settlement, and rightly so, since (to paraphrase Henry Reynolds) as the settlements expanded, there were fewer and fewer places where the indigenous people could legally place a foot. And they speared those sheep because they were starving.
The Growth of Cities is an excellent chapter, covering everything from transport to communications to entertainment, but I particularly liked the section about education in the early days. This topic is always fascinating for young people, and they’ll be interested in the illustrations showing children at state schools in 1878.
What else? Federation and the birth of Canberra is covered, and so is Mawson’s legendary expedition to the South Pole. There are 25 pages about WW1 and 18 about WW2; there are chapters covering advances in science, transport, and communications; and of course there’s a lot of stuff about sport but there is also a comprehensive chapter about achievements in literature, art and science – Patrick White even gets a mention! The Vietnam War is included in the chapter on Controversial Issues, and so are issues such as the Dismissal in 1975, the Tasmanian Wilderness campaign, and Aboriginal Land Rights, Mabo and The Apology.
Over all, this is an impressive book with much to recommend it. Of course there are omissions, it’s impossible to cover everything and while I might quibble about the inclusion of this rather than that, or the amount of space devoted to one topic rather than another, I think that The Big Book of Australian History is a useful addition to any school library and would also make a lovely gift for a certain kind of child.
Author: Peter Macinnis
Title: The Big Book of Australian History
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA
Posted by Lisa Hill on November 17, 2013
What makes it so clever is that each letter is hidden in an image, a photo taken of some place or object in Melbourne.
If you look at the ones on the cover at right, you can see the easy ones:
and other examples of easy ones are the T from the red tram signals at traffic lights and an F from a piece of graffiti in Hosier Lane.
But the tricky ones are the ones that our Preps really liked. I lent this book to one of our prep teachers, and she had a splendid time (and did some very useful revision of letters and sounds) with her class.
The O in the Flinders Street Station clock wasn’t too hard, but can you see the lower-case R in in the (lower LHS) Luna Park sign? My favourite is the letter S hidden in a massive sculpture by Clement Meadmore and the Q formed from a cycle pedal and gears.
Our preps know that they’re pretty clever because they can read now, but they were apparently beside themselves with excitement when they were able to puzzle these letters out. (And I think their teacher enjoyed it just as much as they did!)
Because it’s a board book it’s made of sturdy card and will survive repeated readings in a prep or kindergarten classroom, but Alison says that it’s best kept until the children already know their letters and sounds so that the children can enjoy the fun properly.
The ingenuity that has gone into this book is brilliant – I do so admire this kind of creativity! Maree Coote is an artist, writer, designer, and photographer and she’s as Melbourne as the trams and the floral clock. Some of her other books include The Art of Being Melbourne; 50 Neds: Ned Kelly Icon of Australian Art; and the children’s picture book When You Go to Melbourne.
This would be a lovely Christmas stocking present for some small person you love:)
Author: Maree Coote
Title: Alphabet City Melbourne
Publisher: Gingerbread Books, 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of Scott Eathorne from Quickmark Media.
Fishpond:Alphabet City Melbourne
PS Don’t forget to check out the Melbourne Style website!
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2013
I came across Two Trickster Tales from Russia via the ASA (Australian Authors Association) because they noted its launch in Sydney. Having been to Russia only last year, and still very interested in their fascinating culture, I couldn’t resist whizzing off an email to the publishers to plead for a review copy. And it is gorgeous!
The first story, Masha and the Bear is reminiscent of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but Masha, who stumbles into a log cabin and scoffs the porridge because she’s lost isn’t discovered sleeping in bed by a cute little baby bear. No indeed, it’s a very large, very scary Russian brown bear that comes home, and his reaction is to keep her captive so that she can cook and clean for him.
Every day, she cooked and cooked; berry porridge, mushroom pancakes, honey cakes, fish pies. The bear ate and ate, leaving only crumbs for Masha, so she got thinner and lighter while he grew fatter and ruder. She kept her spirits up by whistling her grandfather’s tunes, while she tried to think of a way to escape.
And then one day she had an idea.
I’m not surprised that a Russian folktale features an enterprising female character. According to our tour guide in Moscow, Russian women have to put up with a lot from their vodka-drinking husbands, and women need to have initiative. Masha is a rare example of a trickster female, and her way of escaping is very cunning indeed.
The story of The Rooster with the Golden Crest follows the traditional three-perils-before-rescue format. A cat, a thrush and a rooster live happily together until a fox turns up to lure the (not-very-bright) rooster to his almost-doom. Just like the Seven Dwarves who warn Sleeping Beauty about the Wicked Stepmother, the cat and the thrush tell the Rooster not to listen to the seductive words, but of course he does, and they have to rescue him. It’s a near thing, but all’s well in the end, and the fox finally makes a promise that she’ll leave the woods and never return.
The pictures by David Allan are gorgeous. He’s rendered them in a most appropriate classic style, which on his website he says is ‘reminiscent of illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Ivan Bilibin’. The pages alternate between full colour and sepia tones, and he’s especially good at depicting the facial expressions of the animals. The triumphant fox (about to get its just desserts) is especially good, click this link to see it.
The book is easy reading in a large clear font. My only complaint about the production qualities is that it doesn’t have a barcode for easy scanning into a library catalogue (or, presumably, at the bookseller’s till).
Two Trickster Tales from Russia is the first title from new publishing venture Christmas Press, whose motto is ‘Picture books to cherish every day’. According to their website it’s ‘the brainchild of three creators, working in partnership: writer Sophie Masson, artist David Allan, and artist and designer Fiona McDonald’ together with editor Beatriz Alvarez:
Why did we start Christmas Press? Well, we love the gorgeous classic picture books that we grew up with, the kind which featured retold traditional stories and beautiful illustrations, opening children–and their families–to a wealth of wonderful tales from around the world, books you often got as presents and that made you feel like every day was Christmas. Sitting around discussing these one day, we were musing about how there just weren’t enough of them around any more. But rather than complain about it, we decided to do something about it–and Christmas Press was born!
They’re based in Armidale, NSW, and there are contact details on their website.
This is a lovely book for widening children’s exposure to other cultures, and it’s a must-have if you have students from the Russian Federation at your school. Students in years 2-4 will enjoy comparing it to similar folk tales, and they will love joining in the rhymes.
To buy Two Trickster Tales, click here.
Author: Sophie Masson
Illustrator: David Allen
Title: Two Trickster Tales from Russia
Publisher: Christmas Press, 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of Christmas Press.
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 11, 2013
The Copyright Agency Limited has just launched the Reading Australia website which aims to offer teachers resources to support the teaching of great Aussie books, matched to the Australian Curriculum. The books are selected for both primary and secondary schools and the resources, commissioned from PETA (the Primary English Teaching Association) are free.
I’m not very excited about their choices so far, but they are seeking feedback and suggestions – so now’s the time to get in touch with them and tell them about the beaut books they could be featuring.
Click the link below.
Posted by Lisa Hill on October 9, 2013
Australia ranks fifth in literacy and 13th in numeracy, says OECD | World news | theguardian.com
And *sigh* still our politicians criticise the profession, underpay Aussie teachers and waste our time trying to import dumb ideas like performance pay from the US.
Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013
I’m probably the only person in Australia who’s never heard of the Broncos, much less its star player Scott Prince, but I reckon that makes me the best person in Australia to review his new book, written for children. Who could be less biased, eh? Even though I was very proud that my son played representative rugby as a teenager, I know nothing about the game (or indeed any other kind of football). So, for me, Deadly D and Justice Jones, Book 1: Making the Team has to work as a story. For my students (who mostly follow soccer) this book will need to have a compelling plot, credible characters that they can relate to, and an engaging style.
Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that it does. Written specifically to engage active sports-mad boys, Deadly D and Justice Jones in written as a straightforward chronological first-person narrative, related by 11-year-old Dylan Conlan, who has to move from Mt Isa to Brisbane because his mother has a new job. On his very first day at his new school he encounters the School Bully, Jared Knutz and his thuglike father, terrorising the principal because he’s had the temerity to discipline Jared for throwing rocks at a teacher’s car. By afternoon, he’s seen him bullying a smaller Kiwi boy, Justice jones. By page 33 it dawns on the reader, reluctant or otherwise, that young Dylan is no ordinary boy: when angry he explodes out of his clothes like the Incredible Hulk – and he promptly chucks Jared off the jetty and into the water, leaving his gang to scarper as fast as they can.
In the best tradition of superheroes, Dylan has to keep this transformation a secret. His mother has taught him anger management techniques, but Jared provokes him again when they’re on a school excursion to visit a Broncos’ training day. And when Dylan explodes onto the ground, the Broncos are impressed, and invite him to join the team! Of course there is a slight problem that Dylan has to get mad in order to morph into Deadly D, but Justice manages to come up with some hilarious ways of achieving it. So Dylan is able to make amends for losing a game for his team back in Mt Isa, and not only that, Jared gets his comeuppance too, (though I suspect that he will make a comeback in Book 2).
While not heavy-handed about it, the book also contrasts the Waitangi treaty that is commemorated every year in New Zealand, with the unresolved reconciliation process here in Australia. (If constitutional recognition is something that you care about too, visit Recognise and find out more.)
A Kalkadoon man from Mt Isa, Scott Prince co-authored Deadly D and Justice Jones – Making the Team with primary school deputy principal Dave Hartley of the Barunggam people from the Darling Downs/Chinchilla region. They wrote it over four years and then submitted it for a State Library of Queensland’s 2013 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship. They didn’t win, but the judges were so impressed that they created the kuril dhagun prize as a one-off, and the deal included publication of the story by indigenous publishing house, Magabala Books.
The book is 122 pages long and includes half-a-dozen B&W drawings by Dave Hartley. It’s suitable for independent readers, has brief (and funny) ‘deadly notes (a.k.a. a glossary) at the back, author bios, and some information about the black&write! project which aims to foster indigenous writing.
There are teacher notes at Magabala Books.
Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013
The blurb for this new lift-the-flap book Dance Like a Pirate is says it’s the perfect way to encourage kids to get active and to teach them body parts, but more than that, I think it’s a wonderful stimulus for imaginative play.
Each page has its own theme for dressing up. The children can be fantasy characters like witches and wizards, fairies, mermaids and mermen or dragons; they can be dancers, firemen, rock stars, or sailors; and they can be pirates, superheroes, royalty, clowns, or rabbits. The brightly coloured pictures of children in costume is accompanied by verses in rhyming couplets with a strong, bouncing rhythm, perfect for children to join in:
Let’s leap like a dancer in tutu and tights,
Soaring across the stage like a bird in flight
So stretch your ankles and flex your calves,
Raise your hands and aim for the stars.
Glide and pirouette, slide and twirl,
Head held high, both arms curled.
Twist around and around like a top.
Do you feel dizzy when you stop?
Up, up and away! Let’s leap!
(underneath the flap) How high can you fly?
The body parts vocabulary is highlighted in bright colours, and at the back of the book there are labelled diagrams of a boy and a girl.
(But they’ve omitted the label for calves!) No, they haven’t, but it’s printed in orange which makes it a little bit hard to see, see the author’s clarification below. Sorry, Stephanie!
There are also, at the back of the book, small reproductions of some of the photos and drawings that Inspired the illustrator’s images. The hopping rabbits, for example, draw on a photo of a mincing male dancer from the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet. Although I suspect that the inclusion of these images might ‘go over the heads’ of the target audience for this book, as one who is interested in art but has no skill at all in creating it, I found it fascinating, to see how the movements of the adult dancers in these images have been transformed.
prep Foundation and kindergarten teachers will love this book. A few props in the dress-up box, and the children will have a great time!
Author and illustrator: Stephanie Owen Reeder
Title: Dance Like a Pirate
Publisher: NLA (National Library of Australia), 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA
Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013
Did you see those gorgeous 14 panda cubs in the news this week? By coincidence, I have a lovely new book starring pandas which has been under the publisher’s embargo - until today!
Newbery medal winner Linda Sue Park has written a delightful rhyming story about a cure little panda called Xander who wants to throw a party, and since he is the only panda in the zoo, he decides to ask all the other bears. He sends an invitation to the black bear, the brown bear, the two polar bears, and the grizzly. But when the guest list extends to the koala, she objects – because as every Aussie school kid knows, koalas are not bears, they are marsupials.
From her tree, Koala uttered, ‘Xander, I am not a bear.’
Xander didn’t understand her. ‘Koala Bear, you’re not a bear?’ He stared at her in consternation.
‘Sorry for the complication. I know I’m called Koala Bear, but I am not a bear, I swear. I am a marsupial. Marsupials – we’re rather rare. Will I not be welcome there?’
Xander nibbles away on some bamboo and comes up with a solution:
‘Fur or hair or hide can come. All the mammals, every one!’
But then of course there are other taxonomies excluded, and in the end Xander invites all creatures – no matter what they are, and he is rewarded by the arrival of a dear little panda called Zhu.
It’s a lovely story, the full-colour illustrations by Matt Phelan are delightful, and it’s a perfect fit for primary teachers introducing Biological Science at Year 3:
Living things can be grouped on the basis of observable features and can be distinguished from non-living things (ACSSU044)
There is also a loose association with the cross-curriculum priority Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia because the book can be a launchpad for finding out more about China and its wildlife.
Pandas are so adorable, I can’t resist sharing this enchanting video from the San Diego zoo.
Author: Linda Sue Park
Title: Xander’s Panda Party
Illustrated by Matt Phelan
Publisher: UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2013
ISBN: 9780702249983 (hbk).
Source: Review copy courtesy of UQP
Fishpond: Xander’s Panda Party