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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 March, 2014

Book Review: The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 29, 2014

The ANZAC Puppy

As you will know if you read my previous post sharing my school’s plans for a coherent approach to the Anzac commemorations this centenary year, I came across a New Zealand picture book called The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett.   I hadn’t seen it but thought it might be suitable as an alternative or supplement to Phil Cumming’s book, Anzac Biscuits which I’d chosen for Prep classes.  Peter contacted me, and very kindly sent me a copy of his book, which is now available in Australia from Wheeler’s Books.

Inspired by true events, The Anzac Puppy fictionalises the life of a Harlequin Great Dane called Freda, the mascot of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade that served in World War 1.   She was acquired by a Sergeant Ashby who probably named the dog after a young woman from a family that befriended the young soldier so far from home.  The dog survived the war, and thanks to a campaign led by a retired serviceman, her remains are commemorated by a headstone in Staffordshire, and her collar and the original headstone are in the Army Museum at Waiouru in New Zealand.

In Peter Millett’s hands, these events have become a love story, with a young soldier called Sam acquiring the dog from a girl called Lucy when her family couldn’t afford to keep it.  He takes the dog to the battlefront, and together they survive the war.  Sam keeps his promise to bring the dog back to Lucy safe and sound, and they fall in love and marry.  Their first child is named Freda.

Lofty's MissionIt is a charming story, yet authentic in tone.  We know that soldiers did smuggle pets of all kinds into the trenches and took comfort from having something to love and care for  – but I think I’d use it with older children.  While the text doesn’t labour the point, there are allusions to the earth rocking and shaking all around him with illustrations showing injured men; to rats that scuttled about through the trenches; to Sam and the dog sharing everything even their fleas;  and to Sam’s letters which never mention the horrible sights or the sounds that surrounded him.  The illustrations, vividly rendered by Trish Bowles, include a battlefield scene with explosions and a plane on fire, a burial scene, and a devastated battleground after the armistice.   These are not aspects of war with which to confront five-year-old children who’ve (in April) only been at school for a few short months.  The text would also be too difficult for some of our EAL children whose command of English is still rudimentary.  I don’t think I’d use it with children in Year 1 or 2 either.

However, I think it’s a very appropriate text to accompany the unit of work that I do with my Year 3 and 4 students, called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates.  There are (inevitably) plenty of picture books about Simpson and his Donkey that are available for this unit, and I also have one called Lofty’s Mission by Krista Bell and David Miller, but there are surprisingly few stories about the other animals awarded medals.  (There’s one called Sandy the Waler (a horse) which you can download as a pdf from the Army Museum but it’s not a proper picture book and it’s a bit long winded and not very engaging).  So The Anzac Puppy fills this gap nicely, and because the illustrations show the dangers faced by the dog, the book also enables the kind of gentle discussion I’ve had with these older students about the ethics of taking animals to war.   It’s also appropriate for Australian children to have an opportunity to learn about our Kiwi cousins’ contribution to the Anzac story.

To download our school’s Prep-Y6 plan for Anzac Day to use or adapt for your own school, click here.

You can find out more about Peter Millett at his website.

Author: Peter Millett
Illustrator: Trish Bowles
Title: The Anzac Puppy
Publisher: Scholastic New Zealand, 2014
ISBN: 9781775430971
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author, and kindly autographed by him which will impress the students at my school!

Fishpond (which delivers free in Australia and New Zealand) claim that it’s unavailable on their website, but I bet they’ll get copies in if there are enough enquiries! Try this link:  The ANZAC Puppy


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

Book review: Here in the Garden, written and illustrated by Briony Stewart

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 26, 2014

Here in the GardenHere in the Garden is an enchanting new addition to picture books for young children coping with grief and loss.

The book begins in autumn, with the words

The wind rakes through the autumn leaves and I wish that you were here.

A little boy is sitting on a tree stump, watching the leaves swirl about him, and he is alone.  As we turn the pages we see that he lives in an ordinary suburban house with a backyard full of the usual things: a vegie patch, a tyre swing, a table and chairs on the patio, and fruit trees in tubs.  And there’s a rabbit, never mentioned by name, but ever present in this boy’s memories.

As the seasons change he remembers  different things. In the autumn they searched for leaves together, and chatted and hummed as they planted seedlings.  In the winter they watched the garden turn deep and dark and green. They splashed in the puddles and watched the plants push up through the ground.  When daffodils bloom in spring, he remembers tracing the clouds in the sky and searching the garden for mysteries such as cocoons, and in summer there’s the rabbit beside him as he sips a cool drink in the shade.  In these pictures the rabbit is his constant companion, but in the alternating pages he is alone, wishing that the rabbit were there with him.

As the year passes, the garden grows and changes,. and the boy comes to terms with his loss.

The garden’s growing and changing, and, when I wish that you were here…
I go outside and find you …
In the memories, in the garden, in my heart.

Poignant but not sentimental Here in the Garden is a perfect text to use with young children experiencing the loss of a pet.  At my school it will join a collection of texts that we use for the juniors in our Whole School Drug Education program where teaching about resilience is an important component.  Follow-up activities could include innovating on the text using the activities that children share with other pets such as cats and dogs.

You can find out more about Briony Stewart here.

Author: Briony Stewart
Title: Here in the Garden
Publisher: University of Queensland Press, 2014
ISBN: 978 0 7022 5010 1
Source: Review copy courtesy of UQP


Fishpond: Here in the Garden
Or direct from UQP.

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Here in the Garden, written and illustrated by Briony Stewart

Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel visualisations

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 22, 2014

This is a brilliant slideshow by Zaid Ali Alsagoff  showing Bloom’s original Taxonomy and its many revised versions in visualisations.  Click the link to Slide Share.

Posted in Learning and teaching | Tagged: | Comments Off on Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel visualisations

Children’s Book festival, this weekend at the State Library of Victoria

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 18, 2014

Click the link to find out more and to download the festival program.  Take the kids if you can!

Childrens Book Festival 2014 – The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas.

Also, check out this article, In Praise of Children’s Books, by Judith Ridge: where she reflects on the characters who nurtured her childhood love of reading – and passionately argues that we need to recognise, reward and nurture great children’s writing, as separate from great writing for young adults.

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Book review: Chasing Shadows by Corinne Fenton

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 16, 2014

Chasing ShadowsChasing Shadows, by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Hannah Sommerville, is a wise and gentle book about grief.  Beth has lost her mother, an event signalled by photos of a family of three, which is now just a family of two, Beth and her father.  At Christmas, signalled only by the wreath on the front door, Dad brings home a dear little puppy called Patches, but it’s too soon for Beth.  What she feels is more than grief, it is depression, and she has lost interest in everything, clinging to her mother’s beads and lying awake at night watching the shadows.

Patches, as puppies do, frolics, explores, makes a muddy mess and seems to comfort dad as he walks alone outside.  The weather changes, showing the passage of months, and it is not until the weather warms again and Patches is bitten by a snake that Beth is able to care about him at all.  She spends an anxious night beside him after the vet has been, but in the morning wakes to his love as he clambers up on to the couch to share a cuddle.  Beth weeps, but her tears turn to smiles and laughter, and the last page is a triumphant celebration of her father’s relief as he works in the garden beside the child and the dog at play.

Corinne Fenton is an award-winning author, but her partnership with first-time illustrator Hannah Somerville is what makes this book so powerful.  Fenton’s text is transformed by the images: little Beth’s empty face contrasted with the exuberant pup; father’s own grief exacerbated by his anxiety about his child; the precious moment when Beth sees beyond her own needs and shrieks for help to dad.

Many of the books that attempt to express grief and depression in young children are, to my mind, sentimental and too quick to imply a swift resolution.  Chasing Shadows makes no pretence about that: it shows that incapacitating grief can linger for a very long time.

Highly recommended.

Author: Corinne Fenton
Illustrator: Hannah Somerville
Title: Chasing Shadows
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing, 2014
ISBN: 9781925000146
Source: Review copy courtesy of Ford St Publishing.


Fishpond:Chasing Shadows
Or direct from Ford Street Publishing

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Book excerpt: The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 8, 2014

The Simple Gift I read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest.  The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick interested me because I’d read Do-Wrong Ron by the same author to my Year 5 & 6 students.  They loved it, and I admired the free verse form, perfect for reading aloud.

Well, The Simple Gift isn’t going to be okay for primary school students because it’s the coming-of-age story of homeless 16-year-old Billy who runs away to avoid an abusive father, and it’s got some language that we don’t use at school, not to mention some … um … adolescent activity that we prefer to keep …um … theoretical for primary aged students – but I thought I’d share here an example of the power of Herrick’s style:


I was ten years old
in the backyard
kicking a soccer ball
against the bedroom wall,
practising for the weekend.
My first season of sport
and I’d already scored a goal
so I kept practising, alone.
And I guess I tried too hard,
I kicked it too high,
stupid of me I know,
and I broke the bedroom window.
I stood in the yard
holding the ball
looking at the crack in the pane.
Dad came thundering out.
He didn’t look at the damage.
He’d heard it. He came over, grabbed the ball,
kicked it over the back fence
into the bushes,
gave me one hard backhander
across the face,
so hard I fell down
as much in shock as anything,
and I felt the blood
from my nose,
I could taste it dribbling it out
as Dad stood over me
and said
no more sport
no more forever.
He walked back inside
and slammed the door
on my sporting childhood
that disappeared into the bushes
with my soccer ball.

I was ten years old.
I didn’t go inside for hours.
I looked through the back window
watching him
reading the paper
in front of the television
as if nothing
had happened.

Billy takes refuge in a library, and picks up Lord of the Flies:

Lord of the lounge

It’s a good library.
Lots of books, sure,
and lounges soft and comfortable
for real reading,
and I choose one
in the corner
and I settle down
with a book about these kids
stranded on a desert island
and some try to live right
but the others go feral
and it’s s good book
and I’m there, on the island,
gorging on tropical fruit,
trying to decide
whose side I’m on.
And then it hits me.
I’m on neither.
I’d go off alone,
because you can’t trust
those who want to break the rules
and you certainly can’t trust
those who make the rules,
so you do the only thing possible,
you avoid the rules.
That’s me,
on the deserted island
of a soft lounge
in Bendarat Library.

from The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick, UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2000, reissued 2014, ISBN 9780702231339, p. 15-16, and p23-24.

To read an excellent review of this novel, visit the blog of my friend Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker.


Fishpond: The Simple Gift: A Novel Or direct from UQP

Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers

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

Book review: Meet the Anzacs, by Claire Saxby, and a whole school Anzac program

Posted by Lisa Hill on March 4, 2014

Meet the AnzacsThis year, as everyone knows, is the centenary of the beginning of the Great War, and next year is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing – and it is obvious already that there is a flood of new books about the Anzacs. Teachers are going to have to be discerning about what they use and how they use these new books, because if there’s one bit of research that every teacher of history should know, it’s that students get very tired of covering the same topic again and again.

At my school, we already have a good collection of picture books from commercial publishers and numerous kits from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the Shrine of Remembrance and the Australian War Memorial.  Some of them are better than others, because it takes writerly skill to treat this topic in a way that’s suitable for primary school children yet isn’t too sentimental, mawkish or jingoistic. We want children to know their history, but we also want them to learn the processes of history: investigating evidence, exploring different points of view, and recognising that there’s more than one way of telling the story of Australia’s participation in this war.  At my school, we also need to tread warily: some of our refugee students know about war at first hand.   And I needn’t remind readers of this blog that we now have politicians revisiting interference in the history curriculum with nationalistic demands that sit uneasily with the spirit of teaching the history of this or any other topic.

Meet the Anzacs is the fifth in the the Random House Meet … series of picture books focussing on men and women of Australia’s history, but it’s the first that’s not about a particular person.  (The other one in this series that I’ve reviewed was Meet Mary McKillop)  but we’ve also got Meet Ned Kelly and due for release soon is my own personal hero, Meet Douglas Mawson.  Meet the Anzacs is pretty much what you’d expect it to be: it’s suitable  for primary aged children in content and style, explaining the assorted reasons men had for enlistment and the amateurish training they had, but tactfully omitting the hooliganism and worse of the Anzacs in Egypt, and leaving the carnage on the beach to the imagination.  I really liked the way this was handled: text telling the reader that the landing was not at all what the soldiers had expected, with a double page picture showing what a lost cause the venture was because of the geography of Anzac Cove.   This would be a great page for discussion, I think.  The art work, by Max Berry is particularly good because, as you can see from the front cover, it de-sentimentalises the men.  These soldiers look like real Aussie blokes.

But the arrival of Meet the Anzacs made me realise that my school needed a plan for 2014, so that each area of the school is covering a different aspect of the Anzac Story.  Using content from the Australian Curriculum for History, we’ve sorted out who’s doing what this year, and have left ourselves ‘wriggle-room’ for 2015.  Meet the Anzacs is well suited for the Gallipoli centenary next year because it explains the facts in simple terms that make it suitable for Year 1 & 2 and the illustrations by Max Berry are excellent.

The plan for Preps
We’re keeping it low-key for the preps.  anzac-biscuits_002No stories of blood and suffering for five-year-olds, it’s not appropriate.  Prep history is mainly concerned with learning about the past through photos and artifacts, so they’re going to read Phil Cumming’s lovely book, Anzac Biscuits about a child baking biscuits for her father, and the soldier eventually receiving the biscuits from his daughter at the front.  It’s a beautiful, tender book, and the pictures by Owen Swan link the family separated by war using visual symbols such as snowflakes at the front and flour being sprinkled on the kitchen table.  Classes will bake some biscuits too, of course.  I also found a terrific photo of a soldier posing with his wife on the eve of his departure for war: the children can talk about clothing of the past, including the uniform, and they can also investigate the concept of photos as evidence of events that happened long ago.  But I am hoping that someone will issue something else that’s suitably gentle for this age group, in time for next year.  (I found one called The ANZAC Puppy by New Zealand author Peter Millett at Fishpond, and it looks as if it might be suitable, but I haven’t got a copy of it yet.  Update: Peter Millett kindly sent me a copy and my review is here.)

Years 1 & 2

We Remember KitWe Remember Big BookThe AC content for Years 1 & 2 suggests investigating local buildings of historical significance, so these classes are going to walk to our local war memorial for the school’s wreath-laying ceremony.  They’ll also use the ‘We Remember’ kit produced by the Australian War Memorial: it has useful posters of memorials and symbols such as honour rolls and wreaths, and it includes a Big Book ‘Remembering Charlie Cooper’ about some kids who become interested in the names on their local memorial.  It’s not great literature and the illustrations are a bit pedestrian,  but the story covers the topic well without being too heavy-handed for this age group.  We’ve also got a full-sized poster of the Shrine of Remembrance, and they’ll use that too.  (There is a book called My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day but they had that one last year).  Publishers could usefully check out the Australian Curriculum for this age group and commission a really talented writer of children’s books to produce something appropriate for 2015 as well.

Years 3 & 4

The PromiseThe House That was Built in a DayThe AC for Years 3 & 4 includes looking at commemorations around the world, and we’ve tweaked this a bit so that we can use three books that we have in our collection.  The first is a new one called The Promise, by Derek Guille, and it’s a bilingual book, written in French and English, about how Australian soldiers liberated the village of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918, and how school children from Victoria raised money to help rebuild the village school.  With an unusual plot-line involving a commemoration by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the books shows how the villagers have kept their promise that they would never forget Australia. (There is another one on this theme called Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved by Glyn Harper which might be worth getting hold of too.)

A War far AwayAnzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a Day  by Valerie Everett isn’t a story from overseas, but this tale of a house that was built by 200 people in Perth for one of the first wounded ANZAC soldiers to return from Gallipoli is about the 90th anniversary of this community event, and I think it’s an appropriate text to use.  The other text is rather old one called A War Far Away by Pauline Cartwright.  It may be hard to find: it’s about a Kiwi teacher who goes away to war and is killed.  It’s a bit sombre, but I like the way it shows the human cost of war in the wider community and I think it’s all right for this age group.  (ISBN: 0170078205, EAN 9780170078207 & originally part of a set of books called The Highgate Collection, now out of print.  A smart publisher would reissue this).

Years 5 & 6

DevotionAustralian Women in WarYears 5 & 6 are going to research the role of women in WW1.  They’ll use a DVA publication called Devotion and another called Australian Women in War  (both of which you can download for free here) – we also have some posters typical of their era: one that shows the nurses of the 1942 Banka Island massacre needing to be avenged and another which proclaims that war is a man’s job.  I would also recommend that anyone doing this topic also read Kitty’s War by Janet Butler: it is a superb history which interrogates Nurse Kitty McNaughton’s diary, analysing what she included and what she left out, and why.  It’s also a vivid picture of the dangers nurses faced and the discrimination they dealt with, and any teacher who reads it will be able to enliven her lessons with an authentic and riveting story.  If you can’t get hold of it, read my review instead: it’s a poor substitute for the real thing but it’s better than nothing.  It’s high time that a publisher produced a picture biography of the nurses of WW1, and Kitty McNaughton would be an ideal subject.

M is for MatesIn the Library, I’m developing a unit for Years 5 & 6 called Indigenous Service.  Last year with Y 3 & 4, I taught a unit called Animals at War, using the DVA kit, M is for Mates. (Again, download it for free by clicking the link).  Students researched ways in which animals were used: donkeys (yes, including the famous one), horses, carrier-pigeons, dogs and camels.  This is an interesting way of making children aware of war beyond the trench warfare images: they learned about how the animals were and weren’t cared for, and at the end of the unit we had a lively discussion about the ethics of using animals in warfare, given how we now feel about animal welfare issues.  I’ll teach this unit again next year in 1915.  Update: Peter Millett’s book The Anzac Day Puppy is ideal for this unit, see my review here.

Indigenous ServiceThe Indigenous Service unit for this year will be closely based on advice in the Indigenous Service kit for Primary schools. (Make sure you download the one for Primary schools.

Other books you might use can be found at Kidsize Living.

Download our plan in Word and adapt it to suit your own school.  ANZAC COMMEMORATIONS (Whole School Plan) 2014-5 (2)


Click the book covers to buy these books from Fishpond.

Anzac Cottage: The House That Was Built in a DayThe ANZAC Puppy My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day Meet the ANZACs (Meet...) Kitty's War

Posted in Australian Curriculum, Australian History, Book Reviews, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »