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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 September, 2013

Book Review: The Garden of Sorrows, by John Hughes, with artwork by Marco Luccio

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 30, 2013

The Garden of Sorrows

The Garden of Sorrows is an astonishing collaboration between two creators: the award-winning John Hughes and the artist Marco Luccio. The book is a collection of fourteen fables that invert Aesop’s Fables and their successors, taking the reader back to the beginnings of time when the world was in a state of flux and animals were yet to acquire the human qualities that we associate with them. The fables are about New World fauna: the crocodile, platypus, lyrebird, turtle, possum, albatross and the kangaroo; the spider, Tasmanian tiger, mosquito, emu, koala, shark, and the ant. The settings are not the familiar peasant simplicity of Ancient Greece but rather the world still in formation, and Australia as its crucible. The Garden, itself an allusion to the Paradise that was, is a world of mangroves and paperbarks, and the rhythms of cicada song. But the creatures’ names that populate these fables often allude to Greek myth – Hades the Platypus, Orpheus the Lyrebird, and Prometheus the Possum – and so do some of the plots: Alcestis the Albatross uses the myth of Icarus to explain his missing feathers to a jealous mate, and Aesop’s race between the hare and the tortoise becomes a bitter contest between the green turtle and a frill-necked lizard, though the consequences are much sophisticated:

The old turtle smiled as Time seemed to pull her to him, warm and soft, and stroked her skin until it tingled with the touch and seemed to melt, poured through the cave like wax that Time then took in his gentle hands to crease and fold, slow like the night, first the knotted hands and feet, then the arms and gnarled legs, a body which was as the sand that holds the ghost of the sea in its wrinkles. The bent human figure crept forth from the cave and hobbled across the hard uneven path of sleeping turtles at last from the sea. (p.43)

The collection begins with ‘The Making of Sorrow’ in which Kaos the crocodile had never harmed another creature.

The story is haunting: these often violent fables are for older children and for adults, and the impact of trust betrayed and the emergence of cruel revenge is enhanced by the moody black-and-white etchings that are a lavish accompaniment to the fables. Kaos has a symbiotic deal with a small plover which eats the ‘wailful choir swarms of small gnats’ that ‘cluster on his tongue’: she will clean them out if he promises never to close his mouth while she is within because she must always be able to see the sky. The double-page etching which accompanies this scene superbly expresses the trust in this relationship along with the bird’s vulnerability.

But, one fateful afternoon, jabbing Kaos with her spurwing, the bird tried to fly out before his mouth had fully opened and cut her breast against his tooth. She rebuked him noisily for the mishap but flew off unconcerned to her nest where she rested until the bleeding stopped. She didn’t look back to see the change that had come like night over the giant crocodile. For unknown to her, the daylight world had disappeared for Kaos. His head was whirling and his body shuddered uncontrollably. The taste of the plover’s blood upon his tongue had made the crocodile mad.
For the first time in a hundred years he began to eat. First the mud in which he wallowed, then rocks and sand and blades of grass and tiny shrubs and flowers. He mauled great chunks out of the trunks of trees with a ravenousness terrible to behold and a sound that chilled the blood, and he began to look at the other animals in a way that made their legs tremble. But nothing would satisfy this strange new desire, nothing would fill the emptiness he discovered in the taste of the small bird’s blood. He had to devour her, all of her, or he would die. (p.7)

Panoramic in scope, these fables form an Australian creation myth , and complement indigenous Dreaming stories, as can be seen from the titles:

  • The Making of Sorrow,
  • The Tree of Knowledge,
  • The Birth of Tragedy,
  • The Making of Time,
  • The Irony of Medicine,
  • The Origin of Exile,
  • The Origin of War, (and how appropriate that it derives from the boxing kangaroo!)
  • The Birth of Architecture, (the spider, of course)
  • The Origin of Death,
  • The Birth of Politics,
  • The Birth of Wisdom,
  • The Birth of Agriculture,
  • The Fall of Icarus and
  • The Paradox of the Champion.

I suspect that secondary teachers would find this book irresistible.

PS Although this video depicts the creation of a series of paintings called The Island, do have a look at how Marco Luccio works en plein air. It certainly made me wonder what perils he might have undertaken for some of the artwork in The Making of Sorrow. You can also see a few of the images from the book at the Visit Melbourne website where you can also find details of the exhibition of these artworks at Steps Gallery from 8 Nov 2013 – 1 Dec 2013.

Author: John Hughes
Title: The Garden of Sorrows
Artwork by Marco Luccio
Publisher: UWAP (University of Western Australia Press), 2013
ISBN: 9781742585147
Source: Review copy courtesy of UWAP


Fishpond: The Garden of Sorrows
Or direct from UWAP.

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

Posted in Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Book review: Hannah’s Night, by Komoko Sakai, translated by Cathy Hirano

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 26, 2013

Hannah's NightHannah’s Night is a simple story about a little girl who wakes up in the middle of the night and explores her home without her family’s knowledge.  Written and illustrated by Japanese author/illustrator Komoko Sakai, it would make a lovely companion piece to Margaret Wild’s The Midnight Gang (2004).   The Midnight Gang

In both these stories, small children discover a world of adventure.  Hannah first tries to wake her sister, and then establishes that her parents are asleep too.  She is accompanied by her cat, Shiro, and she has a small taste of independence when she gives the cat some milk and eats some cherries without asking – and no one tells her off.  She borrows her sisters doll, her music box, and her drawing things, and takes them back to bed to play with.  She looks out of the window but does not venture outside, eventually falling asleep again on her sister’s bed.

Baby Brenda’s midnight gang is more adventurous.  The reader can tell that Brenda often ditches her nappy  and scrambles through the cat door because her friends are all waiting for her.  Her wild adventures in the park include a trip to the stars, but like Hannah, Brenda eventually toddles back to where she belongs and no one is the wiser.

These books appeal to small children, because they love the idea of having secret adventures that their families know nothing about.  Hannah’s Night is simpler and less venturesome, but the illustrations are darker and convey the mild sense of danger that Hannah feels.  Ann James’s illustrations for The Midnight Gang are more whimsical and the children have cute cheeky faces.

I have been thinking for a while of building a shelf collection of picture books from Asian countries to support the cross-curriculum priority Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia, and while all I have at the moment for my ‘Japanese shelf’ are books by Junko Morimoto, Hannah’s Night could be the start of a ‘country study’ of Japanese authors, exploring the sense of restraint, calm and containment that (in my experience with adult fiction and a few picture books) characterises Japanese literature.  I am mulling over ideas for how to approach this concept…

Author: Komoko Sakai
Title: Hannah’s Night
Translated by Cathy Hirano
Publisher: Gecko Press, New Zealand, 2013
Source: Review copy courtesy of Scott Eathorne from Quikmark Media

Hannah’s Night
The Midnight Gang (if you are lucky, there might be a second-hand copy there, if not try Brotherhood Books.

Posted in Asia & Australia's Engagement with Asia, Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Hannah’s Night, by Komoko Sakai, translated by Cathy Hirano

Book review: Deadly D and Justice Jones, Book 1: Making the Team, by Scott Prince and Dave Hartley

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013

Deadly DI’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.


Direct from Magabala Books.

Posted in Book Reviews, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Book review: Dance Like a Pirate, by Stephanie Owen Reeder

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013

Dance Like a PirateThe 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.

I think 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
ISBN: 9780642277794
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA


Fishpond:  Dance Like a Pirate
Book Depository: Dance Like a Pirate
Or direct from the NLA

Posted in Book Reviews, Fun stuff, Learning and teaching, Poetry, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Book review: Xander’s Panda Party, by Linda Sue Park

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 25, 2013

Xander's Panda PartyDid 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 cute 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

Or direct from UQP.

Posted in Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Xander’s Panda Party, by Linda Sue Park

Book Review: What’s Dad Doing? by Susan Hall

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 10, 2013

My students love lift-the-flap books, and I know they are going to love this one.  What’s Dad Doing? is a charming little book that subverts stereotypes very nicely…

Pat the Possum and his little mate Wesley Wombat go looking for dad in all sorts of places.  They check out the shed, they wonder if he’s mowing the lawn, they look to see if he’s reading the newspaper.

But no, he’s not doing any of these things:  when the flap is lifted, he’s feeding the baby, doing the dishes, cooking dinner and helping mum to hang out the washing.  That’s because ringtail possum parents share the parenting …

Which makes a ringtail possum a very good role model for people parents, eh?

This is an excellent little book for those Me and My Family units that all schools do with their Preps Foundation classes, and the facts section at the back makes it a handy addition to a school library’s collection about Australian animals.

The simple repetitive text makes it ideal for beginning readers, and the witty illustrations by Cheryl Westenberg with the pudgy little wombat in a superhero suit are just gorgeous.  The book is printed on robust card so it looks as if it will stand up to wear and tear for a while.

What's Dad Doing? Author: Susan Hall
Title: What’s Dad Doing?
Illustrations by Cheryl Westenberg
Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2013
ISBN: 9780642277916
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA


Fishpond: What’s Dad Doing?
Or direct from the NLA Bookshop

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Book review: Tell Me All, by Dorothy Plummer

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 4, 2013

Tell Me 001Tell Me All, A Story for Children is the latest in a series of rhyming books by Dorothy Plummer.   Dorothy’s previous titles, Tell Me, Tell Me; Tell Me Too; and Tell Me Please were anthologies of poems pitched at small children but this one is a story in rhyme.

Based on Dorothy’s memories of childhood in 1930s Melbourne, it tells the story of her friendship with Etheleen and at the front of the book there’s a gorgeous photo of the two of them together when they were aged four. The book begins like this:

Dorothy Mavis Prissy Missy Harris
was the most decorated girl in Australia

She wore ear-rings, a necklace and twenty-four bangles,
She wore every jewel that jingles and jangles
She carried a purse, wore a brooch and some rings
Held a cuddly blue teddy, and a muff with long strings.
On top of her head was a bow, holding curls
And dangling out back were her mother’s old pearls.
The smile on her face let everyone know
That this girl was keen to put on a show.
The sight was essentially fashion from Paris
On Dorothy Mavis Prissy Missy Harris –
Yes, this most decorated girl in Australia
Wore far too much fancy paraphernalia.

Queenie: One Elephant's Story Dorothy is the bravest girl in Australia, the strongest, the cleverest, the most daring, and the toughest.  She rides Queenie the Elephant at the zoo but disaster strikes when Etheleen wants a ride too.  In fact, poor Etheleen triggers disasters everywhere, but fortunately Dorothy is the friendliest girl in Australia too, so arm-in-arm they come to no harm …

Despite the pearls and paraphernalia, Dorothy is an adventurous little miss, with a lively imagination.  This book made me feel quite nostalgic for the days when kids played outdoors, and had the freedom to play more-or-less where they liked.  Emerging readers will (with a little help) enjoy reading this book as a window on ‘the olden days’ and on the joy of enduring friendship.

Disclosure: Please note that Dorothy is a friend of mine through the Mordialloc Writers Group.

Author: Dorothy Plummer
Title: Tell Me All, A Story for Children
Illustrator: Bill Straede
Publisher: Helen Merrick-Andrews, 2012
ISBN: 9781876761202
Source: review copy courtesy of the author.

Contact the author at PO Box 5267 Mordialloc 3195

Posted in Book Reviews, Poetry | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Tell Me All, by Dorothy Plummer