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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 July, 2013

Activities using shortlisted books for Book Week 2013

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 25, 2013

I’ve made a couple of simple worksheets linked to the CBCA Book of the Year shortlist, to support VELS Thinking Processes.  Except for the map activity for It’s a Miroocool, they’re suitable for all primary classes (depending on how much time you have):

  • Preps: ‘write and draw’
  • Juniors: Label and draw
  • Middles: Write sentences and draw
  • Write paragraphs

Using Thinkers Keys

Alex 4DW 001Too Many Elephants (What if? key)

Peggy (What if? key)

It’s a Miroocool (map)

I have also made one for The Terrible Suitcase but WordPress is being difficult today and won’t load it.  You can request a copy of it using the comment form below, and I’ll email it to you by using the email address that you have to include to make the comment.

Posted in Authors & Illustrators, Library activity sheets, Resources to share | Tagged: , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

New unit Year 5&6 Fame! (Biography)

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 16, 2013

I’ve just uploaded a new unit for Years 5 & 6: it’s called Fame (Biography) and you can find it via the Goodies to Share page.

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Review: Chook Chook, Little and Lo in the City, by Wai Chim

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 14, 2013

Chook Chook - Little and Lo in the CityChook Chook Little and Lo in the City is author Wai Chim’s follow up to Chook Chook: Mei’s Secret Pets.  It’s a nice little story exploring the perennial themes of family and identity as Mei has to learn to adjust to a new man in her family when her mother marries again.  I wanted to take a look at it because it’s the first children’s chapter book that I’ve come across, that’s set in contemporary rural China.

When I was a child, I devoured a whole series of ‘twins’ books.  I can’t remember the name of the series now, but these twins travelled the world – and I gained a glimpse of lifestyles in other countries.  This kind of reading is great for children because while it transports them to another world, it shows them that people are basically the same all over the world.  Children are less likely to grow up as adults insular and hostile to the Other if they have ‘met’ the Other in their reading.  For me, the test for books to meet this goal lies in the balance between depicting the ‘exotic’ culture and the familiarity of everyday life.

Chook Chook, Little and Lo in the City passes this test.  It’s the simple story of Mei, who keeps two chickens (Little and Lo) as pets.  She lives in a village with her widowed mother and her older brother Guo, and everything is fine until Mum marries the one-eyed butcher, bringing his son Bao along as a younger brother for Mei.  The cellar built as a shelter in case there is a typhoon is suddenly filled with smoked pigs, and Bao – who shares a room with Mei – snores, keeping her awake at night.  There is more unwelcome change when Guo leaves for the city of Guangzhou.

You can see even from this short summation that there are aspects of Mei’s life that are different to the life of an Australian child.  Very few Australian children live in villages; ours is a nation that lives clustered on the eastern seaboard in massive cities, and with the exception of hobby farms, farms here are massive concerns not small holdings.  With Medicare a long-established health insurance system in our country, it would be rare indeed to meet someone with only one eye.   When Jin finally acquires a prosthetic eye in preparation for the wedding it is noticeably ill-fitting, whereas here in Australia such a disability would be almost impossible to detect.  Houses here don’t usually have cellars – and if they do, the cellar is for wine, not for smoked pigs!

But the difference that most children will notice is that Mei shares a bedroom, with her new brother Bao, and Guo has to sleep in the living room.

Not long after the wedding, Jin and Bao moved into the farmhouse. Bao and I shared the room that Mum and I used to sleep in, while Ma and Jin took the only other bedroom.  Guo sectioned off part of the living room for his bed.

The house felt very, very small.  (p. 13)

Most Australian children reading this must surely get a glimpse of how privileged they are by comparison, but it’s not heavy-handed.

Aussie kids will identify with Mei being an independent young girl who’s not afraid to set out for the city to find her brother, but the character of Cap is a different matter.  He is an orphaned street kid, dirty, hungry and neglected.  His father was in the military, but now that his parents are dead there seems to be no one to care for him.  In this story he gets the opportunity to show how clever he is and is rescued, adopted into Mei’s family and sent to school, but sensitive young readers will wonder about how precarious life can be in countries without a ‘welfare safety net.’

None of this gentle depiction of a different kind of life would work for young readers, however, if the story were not engaging.  Didactic books do not work for today’s kids.  But Mei’s adventure in the city is hilarious, because she takes the chickens with her.  They cause all kinds of scrapes including helping to foil a robbery and faking a TV appearance.

What pleased me, however, because I’m alert to stereotyping in children’s books, is that the book positions China in transition.  The rural lifestyle is still simple, and by our standards, poor.  But Guo’s decision to further his education is prompted by his (now dead) father’s awareness that things must change, and Guo needs to learn new ways of farming that are more competitive.  Jin the butcher explains that everybody needs to be flexible and adaptable in the modern world:

‘I’m going to learn about farming. Your ma’s going to teach me, Guo’s going to teach me, you’re going to teach me.’

I couldn’t help snorting.  ‘But you’re a butcher.’

‘So? I can learn.’ Jin had a dreamy look on his face. ‘I want to learn from your father too and not do just one thing.  We can be a new type of family. We’re not farmers or butchers, but good businesspeople who do a lot of different things.’ (p. 138)

The computer on the university professor’s desk may be old, and nobody’s got a mobile phone to ring Ma to tell her that Mei is safe, but China isn’t standing still.

A word about the design: this book is for independent readers so there are no pictures apart from small drawings foreshadowing content at the beginning of each chapter, but the book-cover is a water-colour painting obviously created just for this book.  It’s charming, and it’s relevant to the story – and it makes me wonder how it is that publishers can afford to do this for children’s books which sell for $12-$15 but get by with those awful stale stock images on book-covers for adult books which sell for twice the price.

I think that able readers will enjoy Chook Chook, Little and Lo in the City.  Highly recommended.

Chook Chook – Little and Lo in the City

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Review: Gamers ‘ Rebellion (The Gamers Trilogy #3) by George Ivanoff

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 13, 2013

Gamers RebellionGeorge Ivanoff is the award-winning author of over 60 books for young people, including some titles on the reading list for the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge. According to his website,  Gamers’ Quest, Gamers’ ChallengeLife, Death and Detention and Real Sci-Fi, are on the Y7 & 8 list, and Books 1 & 2 of the Gamers trilogy are also on the Year 5 & 6 reading list.  Although I haven’t read those ones, I expect that Gamers’ Rebellion, Book 3 of the Gamers Trilogy,  will be on the updated list for next year: it’s the kind of book that appeals to kids who like computer games and it’s well-written.

I have to be upfront and say that speculative fiction is not a genre I really like. But  I’ve read a few (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, for example, and Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons and Galax-Arena) and I know that if anything’s going to lure a certain type of reader away from the computer screen,  books in this genre will do it.  The world that’s been created in Gamers’ Rebellion is a convincing one, full of digital devices, cloning, teleporting and all that sort of techno-stuff, and the characters – an assortment of real people and clones – interact in a dynamic way.

Gamer’s Rebellion also offers the possibility of interesting discussion with students.   Tark and Zyra have spent their whole lives as the playthings of a game designer who likes playing god.  (I have to admit to enjoying this myself when I play Sid Meier’s Civilisation).

‘When I first developed the Game it was simply an exercise in creation … I have studied creation myths from across the globe … There seemed to be an element of amusement in most of them.  As if in life, death, everything was for the entertainment of the specific deity 0r deities.

‘It struck me that perhaps that’s all that life was … a game.  A game for the amusement of its creator.  (p. 34) 

When this original designer (with the rather prosaic name of Robert) abandons his responsibilities to Designers Alpha and Beta, exploitation is moved up a notch to become really evil.  I think that classes will enjoy teasing out the subtleties of this ‘playing god’ scenario, but religious schools may need to take care how the discussion is framed.

There are other moral issues for discussion too.  By playing skilfully, Tark and Syra have transcended their original digital selves and become ‘real’, but now, having exited the game, they are sent back into it on a quest to rescue children kidnapped for use by Alpha and Beta in the game.  In the real world of warfare, people have long been sent ‘behind the lines’ for sabotage or for surveillance but these adults have been fully aware of the risks.  Tark and Zyra are not told until it’s too late that nobody knows whether they can re-exit the game.  I think that there could be interesting discussion about whether means justify ends, or not…

This plot is exciting, and the characters are sufficiently complex for the reader to be not quite sure who’s on which side for a while, which heightens the tension.  I expect this to be a popular book in my school library.

Author: George Ivanoff
Title: Gamers’ Rebellion
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing, 2013
ISBN: 9781921665974
Source: Review copy courtesy of Ford St Publishing, an imprint of Hybrid Publishers


Fishpond: Gamers’ Rebellion (Gamers Trilogy)

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Review: Chinese Lives, The People Who Made a Civilization, by Victor H Mair, Sanping Chen and Frances Wood

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 8, 2013

Chinese Lives: The People Who Made a CivilizationChina is becoming ever more important in world affairs, and for Australians, the inclusion of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia as a curriculum priority for all students of all ages, means that teachers need to get up to speed with a multiplicity of countries, their cultures and histories.

That’s where a book like Chinese Lives, the People Who Made a Civilization is so very useful.  The blurb at Fishpond has this to say:

China is the most populous country on earth, with the longest history of any modern nation. In the 21st century, it is clear that China’s future, as a political and economic world power, is set to be as significant as its past, and its achievements still depend upon its people. This book tells the story of China through 96 short biographies. We see the range of Chinese cultural and scientific achievements, as well as its military conquests, wars, rebellions and political and philosophical movements, through the eyes of real people who created or were caught up by them. Here is a colourful array of very different men and women: emperors and empresses, concubines, officials and political figures, rebels, exiles, philosophers, writers and poets, artists, musicians, scientists, military leaders and committed pacifists. Their careers, achievements, misdeeds, disasters, punishments, ideas and love stories make this an unforgettable read. The expert authors have drawn on a huge range of sources to assemble information about the widest possible range of individuals from all periods and parts of China, from an early warrior lady of the 13th century BC, Fu Hao, to the late-20th-century Communist leader Deng Xiaoping.

Dream of the Red Chamber (Real Reads)What is so useful for busy teachers is that these short biographies really are short – only 2-3 pages long at the most, so they are quick and easy to read.  It’s a book made for dipping into, so although it’s handy that the Table of Contents lists the subjects by Chinese dynasty, i.e. corresponding to chronological sequence, it’s a pity that there isn’t also a listing by occupation.  I had to browse through it to find my first ‘pearl’ which was a bio of Cao Xueqin, said to be China’s greatest author, who has a status similar to Shakespeare in English-speaking countries. It was a quick and easy task to whip up a potted version simple enough for my Year 5 & 6 students who are about to embark on a Biography project, and it was also quick and easy to find a children’s version of Cao Xueqin’s novel, Dream of the Red Chamber (Real Reads) which I have ordered for our school library.

Mind you, it was not exactly a hardship to browse through the book to find interesting people worth knowing about.  And what this experience made me realise was that whereas every school kid knows the famous names of western civilization (Benjamin Franklin, Marie Curie, Einstein, Jane Austen, Beethoven et al)  and adults would be thought ignorant if they did not know who these people were, we in the West (apart from a few Sinophiles) have absolutely no idea about the comparable roll-call in China, one of the most advanced and enduring civilizations in history, and one that now matters to us all.  (Notwithstanding aspects of China that we don’t like, such as its appalling human rights record, its censorship and the dreadful conditions under which its workers create the cheap goods that we are forced to buy because Chinese manufacturing has put our own manufacturing industries out of business.)

I haven’t finished reading the book, and probably won’t have read it cover-to-cover by the time it has to go back to the library, but I shall be cherry-picking the profiles of people of some interest to 10-12 year-olds and adding them to my wiki.  If I had money to burn in my school library budget I would buy a copy, because it would be worth it even if only one or two of my colleagues were to read it.  For secondary schools, I think it’s a must-have.  Just as a quick sample, there are stories of

The Shang to Han Dynasties (c. 16th century BC to AD 220)

  • Fu Hao, a woman warrior of the Shang
  • Confucius (of course)
  • King Wuling of the Zhao, a warrior, and the man who brought trousers to China!)
  • Zhang Qian, an explorer
  • Sima Qian, an historian
  • Cai Yan, an exiled woman poet
  • Shi Le, a slave who became an emperor

The Sui and Tang Dynasties (220-907)

  • Kumarajiva, who translated Buddist sutras for the court, apparently kidnapped from Central Asia to do it
  • Wu Zetian, the only female emperor of China

As well as poets, there are plenty of politicians, rebels and bandits in this era because it was a period of disunity.  But not so many interesting people, which perhaps proves that peace is better for making progress than war.

Disunion to the Yuan Dynasty (907-1368)

  • Shen Gua, historian of science
  • Su Dongpo, not only a literary genius but also a legendary cook whose Dongpo-style pork is still a delicacy
  • Yue Fei, a patriot and national hero
  • Zhang Zeduan, a painter (the pictures in the book are gorgeous)
  • Khubilai Khan (yes, that one)
  • Guan Hanqing, founder of Chinese drama

The Ming Dynasty to the People’s Republic of China

(This section, as you’d expect, takes up about half of the book)

  • Zheng He, the eunuch admiral who sailed to Africa
  • Hai Rui, who is famous for being incorruptible, and Heshen, famous because he wasn’t
  • Xu Xiake, a traveller and geographer, who did most of his exploring on foot, covering nearly all the provinces of Ming China
  • Feng Menglong, a popular writer of bestsellers (the Dan Brown of his day?)
  • Pu Songling, a popular writer of ghost and horror stories (the Edgar Alan Poe of his day?)
  • Lin Zexu, who took on the British at the height of their power and banned the opium trade
  • Qiu Jin, feminist heroine and martyr (who learned martial arts in spite of having bound feet)
  • Lu Xun, greatest Chinese writer of the 20th century

Of course there are bios of the Usual Suspects: Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong, but you have to have been under a rock not to know who they are.  The last entry is about Deng Xiaoping, the leader who transformed post-Mao China into a market-driven economy while also maintaining its iron grip on dictatorial powers and the suppression of all dissent.

Authors: Victor H Mair, Sanping Chen, Frances Wood
Title: Chinese Lives, the People Who Made a Civilization
Publisher: Thames and Hudson, 2013
ISBN: 9780500251928
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library


Fishpond: Chinese Lives: The People Who Made a Civilization
Book Depository: Chinese Lives, the People Who Made a Civilization

(On the day I looked, it was significantly cheaper at Fishpond)

This review is cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

Posted in Asia & Australia's Engagement with Asia, Australian Curriculum, Book Reviews, Recommended books | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Review: Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo, A journey around Canberra, by Tania McCartney

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 8, 2013

Riley and the Jumpy KangarooIt’s Canberra’s anniversary this year, and among all the other memorabilia, this cute little picture book is bound to attract a tourist or two…

The Riley books are a series which take the intrepid young aviator Riley around the world.  So far he has visited Beijing, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, and now Canberra, Australia’s bush capital.  This time he pursues a kangaroo around the city streets, with the cartoon images of Riley in his plane and the kangaroo against a backdrop of Canberra’s major tourist attractions.  The photography is very good indeed, conveying the atmosphere of Canberra’s wide (and mostly empty) streets, its bush atmosphere, its modern architecture and spacious streetscapes, and its variable weather.

Which is why, even though this book is clearly pitched at 8-9 year old children to introduce them to our national capital, the book has some value for older ones too.  Our school takes a bunch of Year 5 & 6 students to Canberra every second year, and there are always a few ‘leftovers’ who are required to do a project on Canberra while the others are away.  We make this project as palatable as possible with lots of fun online activities, and I think the students will enjoy this light-hearted look at the places their classmates are visiting.

Little visitors from overseas would like it as a souvenir too, of course!

Author: Tania McCartney
Illustrator: Kieron Pratt
Title: Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo
Publisher: Ford St Publishing, 2013
ISBN: 9781925000030
Review copy courtesy of Ford St Publishing (and donated to my school library)


Fishpond: Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo

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