LisaHillSchoolStuff's Weblog

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

Archive for February, 2013

Book review: Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter series

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 16, 2013

Random House has just sent me a new release that is bound to be popular with adventurous 7+ readers who love dinosaurs: the series is called Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter and there are four titles, with a further four due for release later this year:

The Discovery (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter) Ambush at Cisco Swamp (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)Armoured Defence (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter) The Dinosaur Feather (Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter)

The books feature Robert Irwin of Australia Zoo fame and his adventures as a keen dinosaur hunter.  The first one, The Discovery, features Robert enjoying his ninth birthday present, a trip to the Dinosaur Museum at Winton.  He has a friend called Riley (who is the object of some rather patronising characterisation) and he makes an improbable discovery of a fossil which leads to some not very convincing time travel.  No 2, Ambush at Cisco Swamp finds Robert and Riley at Cisco Swamp in Texas for an alligator survey where his dinosaur fossil takes him back in time again, and yes, Armoured Defence, set in the Canadian Badlands (No 3) and The Dinosaur Feather (back in Australia at the Australia Zoo (No 4) are more or less exactly the same formula.  I suspect that most kids are not going to mind the rather weak narrative at all, but will appreciate the familiarity in much the same way as they appreciate the weak narratives and predictable characterisation of Enid Blyton books.  At least these are Australian!

For older students investigating marketing, decoding the copyright page might be an interesting exercise.  The publicity material and the website tell us that the books are ‘co-created’ by nine year-old Robert Irwin and his name is the one that’s on the copyright page.  His cute picture is on the front cover too – but the title page suggests that the series is actually written by author Jack Wells.  Robert Irwin is also  ‘proud that his illustrations appear in the books’, and so they do, identified as ‘drawn by Robert Irwin’ at the back of the book where the facts about the dinosaurs are, but the copyright page names the illustrator as Lauchlan Creagh who presumably did the full-page B&W drawings that feature within the text.  (The books aren’t as profusely illustrated as you might expect in books for this age group).  There is also a message enticing the reader to scan the QR code on the back of the book, which could lead to an interesting discussion about the use of these codes as part of an advertising strategy.

It’s tempting to dismiss the series as a clever marketing exercise, latching onto the popularity of young Robert Irwin and the tourism that goes with him, but the books will appeal to young readers, especially boys at that difficult age when they start to abandon reading.   They will like the adventure, the humour, the field guide at the back of the book and the easy reading, and unless they have been under a rock and have missed the hype about the junior Irwins, they will enjoy identifying with the famous young hero as well.  I think they will be very successful in school reading schemes of one sort or another, and that parents will happily respond to pleas to buy the next one in the series.

However, they’re not as well written, well plotted or as exciting as Penguin’s Extreme Adventure series (Puffin) by Justin D’Ath, which I read to my Year 5 & 6 students when we do our Extreme Holidays projects (researching landscapes of the world, you can download the unit from here).  Hopefully the Dinosaur Hunter series would lead young readers on to explore these titles as well:

Killer Whale (Extreme Adventures) Anaconda Ambush (Extreme Adventures) Devil Danger (Extreme Adventures) Spider Bite (Extreme Adventures) Grizzly Trap (Extreme Adventures) Bushfire Rescue (Extreme Adventures)

Posted in Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Book review: Robert Irwin, Dinosaur Hunter series

New books from Ford St Publishing

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 11, 2013

There was a really nice parcel of books waiting for me when I got home from work tonight …

Last week I mistakenly entered a ‘New Zealand only’ give-away to win a book for my school’s library but was delighted to receive a friendly email back from Ford Street Books – who today sent me three lovely new titles destined to make my students very happy indeed.

Round 'em UpFirst up is a new title in the ever popular TooCool series written by Phil Kettle.  These books walk off the shelves at school because they’re funny (though some teachers reading aloud may wish to skip the baked beans humour).  They appeal to boys because they’re about action not emotion, and also because boys identify with TooCool’s  adventurous spirit and the outdoor activities he gets involved in, from surfing to cricket to BMX bikes.  The books have easy-to-read text and the distinctive B&W illustrations by Tom Jellett enhance the humour while also providing some reading support for readers in the 8-9 year old age range. The topics are distinctively Australian, which I think is really important: they reflect our multicultural society and our culture, and the laconic Aussie humour really appeals.

This new title (Book 35, Series 5) is called Round ‘Em Up, and it begins like this:

When I told Mum that I was going to spend the entire summer holidays practising my drum playing, she smiled.
It was the same smile she had smiled when my next-door neighbour Wong gave me the drum kit.
Wong had explained to Mum that anyone with a son like me deserved to have a drum kit in their house.  Mum had smiled and told Wong that she would never forget what he had done. (p. 5)

TooCool and his mate Spike head off to Uncle Buck’s farm where they learn the rudiments of jackarooing, and there’s some handy tips at the back of the book for kids who want to look the part themselves.  There’s a glossary and some kid-pleasing jokes too.

Award WinnersMarcy, Award Winners is Book 15 of Series 2, due to be released in early March.  The narrative voice is not quite as successful as the authentic-sounding TooCool.  The plot revolves around a newspaper reporter interviewing Marcy and her friend Bella about winning the Animal Carer of the Year Award, and it’s a little bit long-winded and there is less action.  But the jokes are good, and once again it’s easy-reading for 8-9 year olds.

The Lost TailThe book that really enchanted me was The Lost Tail by Patricia Bernard and Tricia Oktober. It’s the first picture book I’ve ever come across that is set in New Guinea, and it’s a beautiful introduction to the rich and complex culture that’s on our geographical doorstep.  The story features little Nura, who lives in a traditional society where the Bundi Boys dance group are all set to perform their snake dance at the Goroka Show.  It’s his job to carry the snake’s tail, but he has a long and sometimes scary journey to get there first, and it’s very easy to get lost in the crowd when he gets there.  When he sleeps in on the big day, he finds himself alone for the first time in his life, and he mustn’t let his group down….

The pictures by Tricia Oktober are gorgeous, depicting the stunning facial and body decorations of the different tribes that attend the Goroka Show and bringing alive little Nura’s emotional journey.  This is a must-have for any primary school library.



Round ’em Up (TooCool, Series 2 Book 15) 55 pages
Award Winners (Marcy, Series 2 Book 15) 55 pages
The Lost Tail
Or direct from Ford St Publishing, see also their Upcoming Titles page, and the Teachers’ Notes.

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on New books from Ford St Publishing

Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things: A Treasury of Australian Children’s Literature, by Juliet O’Conor

Posted by Lisa Hill on February 6, 2013

Bottersnikes and Other Lost ThingsI was recently reminded just how lucky I am to have access to a good library. There was one of those old ladies who loves to chat in the queue at the post office the other day, and before she tottered off on her walking frame, she told our genial postmaster Eddie all about the parcels she was posting (at significant expense). They were books that she’d borrowed because there had been a fire in the library at her retirement home, and she did not know that our local library has a special service for housebound readers, with volunteers delivering and exchanging the books to their homes. Because this old lady was so slow on her pins, I was able to catch up with her after I’d posted my parcel and share what I knew about this valuable service. She was delighted, and by now I expect that the library has a new borrower.

But great as this service is, there is no substitute for actually being able to visit and browse around a library. I often make serendipitous discoveries on my visits, and Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things: A Treasury of Australian Children’s Literature was one of these. It really is a treasure.

You don’t need to have a professional interest in children’s literature as I do to appreciate this book. I’ll bet most Aussies who leaf through it will delight in the reminders of the books which we cherish from our childhood. It’s a survey of Australian children’s literature from the 19th to the 21st century, grouped in five chapters:

  • Schooldays;
  • Morality and the Family;
  • Home and Land;
  • Journeys (which includes the pervasive theme of The Lost Child); and
  • Other Worlds.

Each chapter features full colour illustrations representing the best of our books for children, so the nostalgia factor is high. You really have to get hold of a copy for yourself to see just how gorgeous the illustrations are, especially the ones from the early days of colour printing.

A is for AuntyAnimalia (Viking Kestrel picture books)John and Betty feature in Schooldays, and as well as Graeme Base’s gorgeous Animalia, (1986) and indigenous author/illustrator Elaine Russell’s A is for Aunty there are quaint alphabet books from long ago:

A for Australia/Which I am told/Is famous for Corn/For Wool and for Gold.
C is a Cockatoo/With a gay crest/He chatters and thinks he is/One of the best.

You can read about the ‘social values and moral codes’ embedded in the School Paper and the Victorian Readers, edited by Charles Long between 1928 and 1940. Generations of us were raised on these readers which consisted of abridged versions of works of literary merit that also featured ‘sound morality’. I was enchanted by the Grade Four Reader when I arrived in Australia, and devoured it in a day, only to discover on my first day at school that this one book was the text for the entire year, supplemented only by the School Papers…

Where the Forest Meets the SeaBaby Bilby, Where Do You Sleep?The Bottersnikes feature in the chapter on Morality and the Family. I am aghast to find that this series is now out of print because these tales of the sweet and lovable Gumbles outsmarting the nasty Bottersnikes every time was a great favourite for 8-9 year olds in its day. In this chapter there is also a profile of Louisa Anne Meredith (1812-1895) who was the first woman to write about life in Tassie in My Home in Tasmania (1852). Like Ethel Pedley (who wrote Dot and the Kangaroo, which most children today encounter in video) she was a keen conservationist, and would be pleased to see how this theme continues to feature strongly in Australian children’s literature, by author/illustrators such as Jeannie Baker and Narelle Oliver.

Grandpa and Thomas and the Green UmbrellaMr Archimedes BathPamela Allen, of course, is queen of children’s literature on the theme of home and family, and her sweet little books win awards year after year. My favourite is Mr Archimedes’ Bath because it teaches science concepts as well as being gently funny, but the kids love the Grandpa and Thomas series best of all. Ruth Park gets a mention for The Muddle-Headed Wombat, and Margaret Wild too in an interesting section on ‘the fox fable’, as well as one of her ‘edgier’ titles, Woolvs in the Sittee.

There is so much in this lovely book to enchant and all our favourites are there including Mem Fox, Bob Graham, Libby Hathorn, Gregory Rogers, Tohby Riddle, Jenny Wagner, Leigh Hobbs, Anna Fienberg’s Tashi series, and Shaun Tan’s brilliantly quirky tales, as well as old favourites such as May Gibbs, and Ethel Turner. (There is a wonderful assortment of covers for Seven Little Australians, drawn from the collection at the State Library of Victoria, which apparently has the most comprehensive collection of Australian children’s literature in the country.)

Down the Hole: Running from the State and Daisy Bates

I also liked the inclusion of several indigenous authors who are beginning to tell the stories of The Stolen Generations in ways that are suitable for children to understand. It bothers me that everybody knows the story of Anne Frank who hid from the Nazis in a cupboard in Holland, but not too many people know that fair-skinned Aboriginal children in Coober Pedy spent much of their childhood in a hole in the ground, so as to escape capture by authorities who wanted to remove them from their families under the misguided policies of the day.
Stradbroke DreamtimeWhy I Love Australia (large Format)I was also interested to learn that there were three different illustrated versions of Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s Stradbroke Dreamtime, (which is now also out of print). Our school copy is the third edition illustrated by the celebrated artist Bronwyn Bancroft from the Djanbun People, and we have many of her books too, of which my favourite is Why I Love Australia: the children have written some beautiful poetry of their own after sharing this book.

Not all of the authors and illustrators were familiar to me, so it was interesting to discover Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Pixie O’Harris, the John Mystery series, Blue Peter, and Little Grey Colo the Koala. As a teacher-librarian what I found most useful was the way the author has used titles old and new to illustrate trends over the years, but the book also reinforced for me just how distinctive our Australian children’s literature is. It’s important for our children to see and hear stories about our animals, our places, our way of doing things, and even our slang – so we must make sure that we nurture our children’s authors and illustrators in the best, most practical way, that is, buying their books as birthday and Christmas and No Reason At All presents for the children we love.

It’s going to be hard to part with this book and take it back to my local library …

Author: Juliet O’Conor
Title: Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things: A Treasury of Australian Children’s Literature
Publisher: Miegunyah Press, 2009
ISBN: 9780522856514
Source: Kingston Library


Fishpond: Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things: A Treasury of Australian Children’s Literature

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »