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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 May, 2013

Book review: New books from Belinda Murrell – The Lulu Bell series, and The River Charm

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 18, 2013

Here in Australia we really are remarkably lucky that we have a thriving children’s literature industry, and there are Aussie authors producing terrific books with an Aussie flavour for the emerging 6-9 year old reader.  It can be difficult for a children’s librarian to find books for this age group: they want to read ‘chapter books’ with interesting plots but the text needs to be easy-reading without being formulaic or patronising.

Lulu Bell and the Birthday UnicornRandom House’s new Lulu Bell series features a heroine who loves animals.  (Her pets include  two large dogs, two cats, and a rabbit.)  She, aged 8, is the practical one in the family: her siblings Rosie aged 6 and Gus aged 3 are into those fantasies familiar to us all from costumed appearances of angels and superheroes in shopping centres.   Their mother is an artist and their father is a vet, and since they live adjacent to the vet hospital Lulu helps to care for injured and orphaned animals, which in Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn includes a runaway pony.

With ten excited six-year-olds coming to Rosie’s birthday party Dad is needed on deck and Lulu needs to organise the lolly-bags, but nonetheless Lulu goes to help him rescue the horse. A gorgeous white pony, it is then brought back to the family’s backyard while the police try to find its owner.  Disaster strikes when Gus lets the pony into the kitchen where it demolishes the beautiful mermaid cake, half an hour before the guests are due to arrive.   It is Lulu who saves the day with creative ideas and a use for the naughty pony which readers can probably guess from the title.

Lulu Bell and the Fairy PenguinThere’s another runaway in Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin.  This time it’s a dog which chases a little penguin on the beach, and Lulu captures the dog and guards the penguin till Dad arrives to take care of its minor injuries.  This is a series for ‘girly’ girls: while Lulu is clever, resilient and resourceful, she is into colouring in and ‘decorating’, and *sigh* she squeals with shock when some boys squirt water at her instead of squirting them back.  She wants to do fairies for the school mural and she builds a fairy palace with the flotsam and jetsam at the beach.  It is *sigh* her brother who destroys the palace, but (this sounds mean, but teachers trying to avoid gender stereotyping will understand) I was pleased at least to see that it’s the girls who succeed in restraining the runaway dog and it’s the boy who grazes his knee that cries.

Lulu’s adventure with the penguin provides her with an idea for the mural that links with the school community, and there’s a happy opening ceremony at the end starring the heroine because it’s her design that is chosen.  (The happy ending also includes finding the missing cat and her kittens as well, but I was a bit mystified as to why a vet wouldn’t have had the cat de-sexed as any responsible cat owner would.)

The text is easy-reading, with lively B&W illustrations on most pages, and there are more to come in this series.

The River CharmRandom House have also sent me The River Charm by the same author, but that’s for older children.  According to the synopsis at the Random House website:

A river pebble on a charm bracelet has an astonishing true story to tell, of one family’s bravery and survival in harsh colonial Australia . .

When artistic Millie visits a long-lost aunt, she learns the true story of her family’s tragic past. Could the mysterious ghost girl Millie has painted be her own ancestor?

In 1839, Charlotte Atkinson lives at Oldbury, a gracious estate in the Australian bush, with her Mamma and her sisters and brother. But after the death of Charlotte’s father, things start to go terribly wrong. There are murderous convicts and marauding bushrangers. Worst of all, Charlotte’s new stepfather is cruel and unpredictable.

Frightened for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a stockman’s hut in the wilderness. Charlotte’s mother and the children must fight to save their property, their independence and their very right to be a family. Will they ever return together to their beautiful home?

Based on the incredible true-life battles of Belinda Murrell’s own ancestors, one of Australia’s early artistic and literary families, the Atkinsons of Oldbury.

It sounds an ideal book to appeal to 10+ readers but at 320 pages it’s quite long and I’ve got rather a lot of junior fiction to pre-read for school, so I’ll have to get back here with my review of The River Charm some time in the future.



Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn 
Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin
The River Charm

Or direct from Random House
The Lulu Bell Series
The River Charm

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Book Review: DK Atlas of Exploration

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 16, 2013

This book is a disappointment.

I borrowed the DK Atlas of Exploration from the library for my Year 3 and 4 students whose project this term is to identify the best (most useful) books for finding out about Explorers of Australia.  (I will upload this new Australian Curriculum History unit later this year when I’ve finished teaching it and have tidied it up).

Like most books of its type, Atlas of Exploration is meant only to be a general overview and students can’t expect to find a great deal of detail about an area of interest.  Even though we might expect that the exploration of the last continent might be considered rather important to the rest of the world, Australians are used to being a bit of an afterthought in non-fiction texts published in America or the UK.  If there’s a page or two acknowledging our part of the world that’s about the best we can hope for, even in a book that purports to follow the world’s great explorers.

However, when it came to checking out the interactive CD-ROM, even these low level expectations weren’t met.  There are icons to click so that students can follow the voyages of various explorers – but not one of them is an explorer who came to Australia.

Don’t waste your money.

Title: DK Atlas of Exploration
Publisher: DK (Dorling Kindersley) 2008
ISBN: 9781405322089
Source: Kingston Library.

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Book Review: The Little Fairy Sister, by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenbry Outhwaite

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 13, 2013

The Little Fairy SisterIda Rentoul Outhwaite is one of the authors mentioned in Bottersnikes and Other Lost Things, which I reviewed here just recently.  I had never heard of her until then, but I should have, because she was one of Australia’s preeminent author-illustrators of enchanting books for children in the first half of the 20th century.

First editions of The Little Fairy Sister – first published in 1923 – sell for hundreds of dollars but it’s possible to have a copy of this lovely book for any small person in your life who is besotted by fairies because the National Library of Australia has produced a facsimile edition, and it is beautiful.

It’s hard to believe but according to the Introduction by S.O.R. Ida Rentoul Outhwaite initially didn’t have enough confidence in herself to write the texts for her books: until the late 1920s she used to create the illustrations first and then her mother, sister or husband would write the story.   The Little Fairy Sister was written by her husband Grenbry to complement the exquisite pictures that are so beautifully reproduced in this book.  By the way. it’s not just little fairy-lovers who would admire it, anyone interested in pen-and-ink and watercolour illustration would find it an irresistible ‘collectible’ too.

The story is quaint and sentimental, and some of the language is dated, but that’s part of its charm.  Bridget is a little girl whose sister Nancy has died, and she sets off on a quest to the Land of Heart’s Delight to see her.  As well as the fairies, Bridget meets other ‘wee’ people along the way: a dragon-fly, a Kookaburra, a lizard, some teddy bears, a pelican and the Mannikins.  There is some low-level scariness with the Merman who lurks in the Merman Pool on the way, and she must be careful to avoid staying where her sister is forever, but of course she makes it back home safe and sound  to the anxious but loving arms of her Nurse.

It’s a book that’s suitable for 8-10 year olds who are not yet too world-weary to enjoy it. While I wouldn’t read the whole book to a class because at 102 pages it’s quite long and attention might wander, reading a snippet or two and exploring these classic illustrations would be something different for classes covering the Australian Curriculum Literature content at Levels Foundation to Year 2:

  • Foundation: Respond to texts, identifying favourite stories, authors and illustrators (ACELT1577)

  • Year 1: Discuss how authors create characters using language and images (ACELT1581)

  • Year 2: Discuss how depictions of characters in print, sound and images reflect the contexts in which they were created (ACELT1587)

The Little Fairy Sister is a lovely addition to any school library for those little girls who are obsessed with those interminable fairy book series.  I can think of quite a few at my school who – while perhaps not able to read it themselves, will be interested to see the context from which contemporary fairy fandom springs.

Or it might just be the perfect gift for a small someone that you love.  Perfect for bedtime reading…

Authors: Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Grenby Outhwaite
Title: The Little Fairy Sister
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780642277725 (hardback, colour & B/W illustrations, 26.0 x 20.0 cm)
Review copy courtesy of the National Library of Australia

Fishpond: The Little Fairy Sister

Or direct from the National Library of Australia: The Little Fairy Sister

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