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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for November, 2012

2012 NSW Premier’s Literary and History Award winners for children

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 30, 2012

The NSW Premier’s Literary and History Award winners were announced tonight.  Award winners for children and young people included:

Crow CountryThe Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature ($30,000)

Kate Constable, Crow Country (Allen & Unwin) (We’ve got this one in our library at school).

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature ($30,000)Only Ever Always

Penni Russon, Only Ever Always (Allen & Unwin)

Amazing GraceYoung People’s History Prize ($15,000)

Stephanie Owen Reeder, Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea (National Library of Australia) (We’ve got this one too).

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Recommended books | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2012 NSW Premier’s Literary and History Award winners for children

The Great Race, by David Hill

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 21, 2012

I’m not sure whether it’s because maritime exploration has resurfaced in the Australian Primary History Curriculum, or if it’s because there’s a resurgence of interest in Australian history in general, but there are now three recent books that I know of that trace British-French rivalry in the exploration of Australia. The latest one (launched 9.11.12) is Almost a French Australia: French-British Rivalry in the Southern Oceans by Noelene Bloomfield (UWAP, 2012); there is the one I reviewed a little while ago, Encountering Terra Australis: The Australian Voyages of Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders by Jean Fornasiero, Peter Monteath, John West-Sooby (Wakefield 2005); and – released just a little while ago – there is also The Great Race by David Hill.

Although I haven’t set eyes on Almost a French Australia my guess is that most school libraries will buy all three as reference material, but the one that most students will read will be David Hill’s. It’s written in a very readable style and although it’s not as profusely illustrated as Encountering Terra Australis and is certainly not such a beautiful book, it’s not as expensive and it’s not as long, so many schools will be able to buy more than one copy of it.

However, they should not IMO try to make do with David Hill’s book only. It does have illustrations and maps, but they are all placed in the middle of the book rather than beside the relevant text. When trying to follow the actual journeys taken by the various explorers. the placement of appropriate maps in the Fornasiero, Monteath, West-Sooby book, next to the voyages described makes it much easier to visualise what’s going on, especially where the place names have changed over time. This is not a small quibble for teachers: professionally, we know that there are different kinds of intelligences and different learning styles. For students who are visual learners, apt images contribute to efficient learning and retention of knowledge. Vast slabs of text make learning harder for these kinds of learners, even if the book’s readability is not a problem.

However, for general readers who are interested in the fascinating story of Australia’s maritime exploration, The Great Race is ideal. The early chapters trace two hundred years of exploration by Dutch and Portuguese mariners and the landings on the Western Australian coast by the British buccaneer William Dampier. It then continues with the very familiar ground of Captain Cook’s landing on the east coast in 1770 when he claimed the continent for England. From there the book goes on to the main game: it covers the contest between Nicolas Baudin from France and the Englishman Matthew Flinders to chart the map of Australia: neither knew of the other until their historic meeting at Encounter Bay. True to the ideals of the Enlightenment, they transcended the hostility between France and England to share not only information and maps but also their mutual delight in the discoveries they had made.

Hill charts their journeys, their travails and their triumphs, quoting extensively from the journals and correspondence of these men to bring them to life. Of necessity there is less of Baudin’s because of his premature death and the fact that his expedition was therefore written up by his spiteful rival Péron, but Hill’s portrait is a generous one. Baudin had his flaws, but there is one quotation which shows clearly that his expedition was an intellectual quest, not one motivated by a desire for new territorial possessions. I haven’t got Encountering Terra Australia to check it, (because I’ve lent it to a colleague) but I don’t recall reading in that account of Baudin’s interesting view of his quest …

At the conclusion of his epic voyage of exploration, not long after his departure from Sydney and en route along the southern coast of Australia, Baudin was surprised to find himself pursued by Captain Charles Robbins aboard the Cumberland. Governor King had sent the British ship after Baudin because there were rumours that the French were about to set up a colony in Storm Bay Passage on Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania). Baudin immediately scotched these rumours with his reply, which is worth quoting in full:

I now write to you as Mr King, my friend, for whom I shall always have a particular regard… To my way of thinking, I have never been able to conceive that there was justice or even fairness on the part of Europeans in seizing, in the name of their governments, a land seen for the first time, when it is inhabited by men who have not always deserved the title of savages or cannibals that has freely been given them; whereas they were still only children of nature and just as civilised as your Scotch Highlanders or our Breton Peasants, etc., who, if they do not eat their fellow-men, are just as objectionable. From this it appears to me that it would be infinitely more glorious for your nation, as for mine, to mould for society the inhabitants of its own country over whom it has rights, rather than wishing to occupy itself with the improvement of those who are very far removed from it by beginning with seizing the soil which belongs to them and which saw their birth.

If you will reflect on the conduct of the natives since the beginning of your establishment upon their territory, you will see that their aversion for you, and for your customs, has been occasioned by the idea that they have formed of those who wished to live among them. In spite of your precautions and the punishments undergone by those of your people who have ill-treated them, they have been able to discern your projects for the future, but being too weak to resist you, the fear of your arms has made them emigrate, so that the hope of seeing them mix with you is lost, and will soon remain the peaceful possessors of their heritage, as the few who now surround you will no longer exist. (p. 262-3)

It will be really interesting to read Almost a French Australia to see how Baudin’s view was at variance with official French plans of the time!

As Hill points out in his admiring analysis, it shows that [notwithstanding Baudin’s opinions about ‘objectionable’ cultures]

Baudin’s letter is unusual for its insight into the injustice of European annexation of territory, and enlightened for its time. It is also remarkable for its accurate prediction that white occupation would devastate Aboriginal civilisation. (p. 263).

Alas, not all Frenchmen were as reasonable, as Flinders himself was to find on his return journey to his long-suffering wife Ann in England. Although he had a ‘passport’ issued by Baudin, he was detained on Mauritius by the governor for seven years due to the renewal of war between France and England. This delay meant that Péron’s highly critical account of Baudin’s leadership of the French expedition was published first and Flinders’ map of Australia was preceded by a French one (which used French names for some places including Golfe Napoleon for Spencer Gulf!) which caused major indignation in England.

On modern maps, however, while there are still some places in Australia that retain their French names (e.g. Freycinet Peninsula) it is the name that Flinders chose as the name of our country that is used, and the place names that he bestowed are those that mostly remain. (While Aboriginal names have been reinstated in some places in Australia, notably Uluru, I do not know if any of the places Flinders named have been). Today Flinders is acknowledged as the first to circumnavigate Australia, it is Baudin’s reputation which is gradually being rehabilitated, and Péron is remembered for his petty jealousy rather than anything else.

Flinders died when he was only forty, just a few years after being reunited with his wife.

The book has extensive notes and is fully indexed.

Author: David Hill
Title: The Great Race: The Race Between the English and the French to Complete the Map of Australia
Publisher: Random House 2012
ISBN: 9781742751092
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House

BTW David Hill is no relation of mine.

Fishpond: The Great Race: The Race Between the English and the French to Complete the Map of Australia

This review is cross-posted at Lisa Hill’s ANZLitLovers LitBlog.

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Book review: The Elf on the Shelf by Carol V Aebersold and Chanda A Bell

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 10, 2012

I don’t often review American children’s books here on LisaHillSchoolStuff but when The Elf on the Shelf came my way, it was irresistible and I know that some of my readers will be enchanted by it. This is all the more remarkable because the book includes one of my pet hates, that is, that it’s packaged with the toy-that-goes-with-the-book. My instinctive response to this kind of packaging is usually, what’s wrong with kids today that they’re not satisfied with just a book, they have to have a toy as well, eh?

But this one is different.

The premise is simple. As we all know Christmas is not so far away now, and before long Father Christmas will be keeping an eye on children to see if they are behaving themselves. The elf that comes packaged with this book is Santa’s scout, who arrives at the beginning of the Christmas season, and gets adopted by the family. So, just when all the excitement is likely to lead to, a-hem, excitable behaviour – he/she is there to observe what’s going on and report back to The Bearded One each night. Each morning the Elf who sits on the shelf returns from The North Pole, and will be discovered by the children sitting in a slightly different spot. (This could be the hard part, if remembering to do this last-thing-at-night is affected by, -ahem, over-indulgence in Christmas cheer).

Ok, the Elf-as-Spy concept is from an adult PoV rather creepy and the book itself has Little Golden Book values i.e. weak illustrations and forgettable writing. A quick look at some of the reviews on GoodReads shows that more ‘knowing’ children and plenty of adults think so too. But the same reviews are evidence that for children old enough to understand Christmas but young enough not to be cynical about it (a phase of childhood innocence that sadly seems to narrow every year) the Elf itself is an enchantment and they love it.

(Check out this YouTube video to see the excitement for yourself. ).

My reservation about this charming concept is one that derives from the religiosity of America: one of the criteria in the book for Santa’s approval is that the children should say their bedtime prayers. In a secular society like Australia, this might be limit its appeal a bit, and even if you are believer, there is something rather sordid about the idea of praying so that you can collect Christmas loot. I thought that the whole idea of praying was to make you a better person, not a strategy to get what you want. The Australian distributor might consider modifying this line, so that the book is truly inclusive. In the meantime pagans can skip the praying page, and (as you can see from the YouTube clip) anyway the book itself needs not to be resurrected in ensuing years, eh?)

Slick marketing? Yes. But a family tradition that brings a little bit of magic into children’s lives is rather nice, IMO.

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

Author: Carol V Aebersold and Chanda A Bell
Title: The Elf on the Shelf
Publisher: CCA and B Publishing 2005
ISBN: 97809769907
Source: Review copy courtesy of publicist Scott Eathorne, Quikmark Media

Fishpond: The Elf on the Shelf Boy Light Doll with Book: A Christmas Tradition

Or see the range at the Book Depository. (The elf comes in inclusive versions: boy/girl and light or dark skin).

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 3, 2012

Out of the Well, subtitled My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression is an important little book. I came across it when by chance I was introduced to the author at a theatre night a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to look it up and see what it was about.

Over the getting-to-know you conversation that occurs when you meet someone for the first time, Lisa and I had shared a laugh as well our first names, and then I asked her the usual ‘What do you do?’ She explained that she wasn’t able to work because she had severe depression, and she went on to tell me that she had had a terrible time being bullied at school, and had sued the Department of Education.

I remembered this: I’d read about this in the newspaper when it happened, and the succesful lawsuit triggered a wholesale review of the Department’s Student Wellbeing policies which included a requirement that all schools develop new policies under strict guidelines. There was a very sharp deadline, and there was no allowance for Term 4 being the busiest time of the year. So a colleague and I worked on our new Student Engagement Policy over the remaining weeks of the term so that it would be ready for implementation in the new school year, and we had a Professional Development Day at my school to introduce it to staff.

For my school there were no major changes. We already had a research-based anti-bullying program and we had unambiguous school rules with clear-cut consequences for infractions. Every teacher responds immediately to reports of bullying in exactly the same way, and in a series of lessons that is taught every year and then reinforced throughout the year, children learn what bullying is; when, how and who to ask for help; and most importantly that every student bystander has a responsibility to report bullying. We had had this program in place for years, and although there are incidents from time to time, my school’s zero tolerance for bullying makes it a safe place for our students to learn.

But Lisa Eskinazi was not so fortunate. In this courageous memoir, she explains:

I didn’t write this book to complain or to receive sympathy. I wrote it in an attempt to educate the public on the issues of homelessness, mental illness and victimization’.

While the psychiatrist who testified in her court case and Lisa herself acknowledge that she lacked certain self-help skills (such as bully-blocking techniques), the reason why her suit was successful was because the school knew about the bullying and had discipline and welfare policies – but it didn’t implement them. Not even when after months of hateful verbal attacks, she was knocked unconscious to the ground. Lisa asked for help at home and school and didn’t get it. The school, and the individual teachers who worked there, failed in their duty of care. In the end this student – who had been a high achiever in primary school – left school early. She spiralled into severe mental illness, homelessness, and a brief period of prostitution.

It’s not a long book, only 120-odd pages. I think it should be essential reading for every teacher, and every parent. Because no one should have to endure relentless verbal and physical abuse, not in any circumstances. All of us need to work together to develop a culture of zero-tolerance for bullying, in any context, and this little book is a brave attempt to speak up for the victims of it.

Author: Lisa Eskinazi
Title: Out of the Well
Publisher: Melbourne Books, 2008
ISBN: 9781877096860
Source: Kingston Library

Fishpond: Out of the Well: My Battle with School Bullying and Severe Depression

This review is cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Learning and teaching | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Book Review: Out of the Well, by Lisa Eskinazi