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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 August, 2014

Book review: My Dog Doesn’t Like Me, by Elizabeth Fensham

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 31, 2014

Picture of My Dog Doesn't Like Me Could there be anything worse than the belief that not even your own dog likes you?

Elizabeth Fensham’s new book begins with nine-year-old Eric running away from home, egged on by his ‘horrible’ sister Gretchen.  Worse, when it doesn’t work out, he gets sent to his room for being rude to her like the victim is in prison and the bad guy is free. (p.6)  No one in the family is ‘on his side’ – not even the dog.

He seems to have made a number of mistakes with the dog, not the least of which is its name.  Provoked by Gretchen who’s ten years older than he is, he names it Ugly.  And because he doesn’t keep his promises about looking after it, the dog’s loyalty is to mum, who feeds him.  And she doesn’t take kindly to Eric’s experiments with using the new idioms he’s learned at school: the dog was Eric’s eighth birthday present but since the dog loves her instead of him, he calls her an Indian giver.   It’s not a pretty scene.

Fortunately he has two good friends at school.  Milly and Hugh try out their newly acquired research skills by designing a questionnaire to solve Eric’s problem.  They survey other children who come up with a heap of suggestions, but Eric – who, it must be said tends to give up easily – says he’s tried nearly all of them.   But he hasn’t…

‘Well, next is this idea of Emily’s about letting the dog smell your hand and acting gentle around it.’

I knew all about that.  Grandad had told me before we went to the Dog Shelter.  ‘That’s the right thing to do when you meet any dog,’ I said, ‘but after that first introduction, you have to live with your dog every day of its life.  The same goes for Skye’s idea.  Ugly likes being tickled and scratched, but you can’t keep doing that all day.’

Milly crossed off Emily and Skye’s ideas.

‘Dog toys?’ asked Hugh.

‘Ugly’s a spoilt brat,’ I said.  ‘He’s got masses of toys, but he gets bored with them and sneaks off and chews up things that belong to us, like my Parthenon project.’ (p.41)

One experiment appeals, but alas, it doesn’t work out.   The idea of giving the dog bones fails after one try because his mother is none too pleased about Eric carving the bone out of the Sunday roast before it’s been cooked, and Dad is none too pleased about Ugly destroying the vegie patch to bury the bone. The rest of his crazy experiments don’t work out too well either.

The humour derives partly from the narrative voice. The book is written entirely from Eric’s point of view, so although young readers can see that Ugly’s flaws are caused by Eric’s behaviour, Eric doesn’t see that at all.  His whiny self-justifications and blaming of others are funny because they’re authentic.

Meanwhile the dog is growing, and the time comes when there’s an ultimatum.  Either Eric takes responsibility for the dog and trains it properly, or it has to go.  The humour limps a bit as the ‘responsibility’ theme kicks in, but I still think that young readers will enjoy the book and its unexpected ending.

The cover art by Jo Hunt is just perfect.

Author: Elizabeth Henshaw
Title: My Dog Doesn’t Like Me
Publisher: UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2014
ISBN: 9780702250170
Source: Review copy courtesy of UQP.

Fishpond: My Dog Doesn’t Like Me
or direct from UQP.

PS Elizabeth Henshaw is also the author of Helicopter Man which won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Award for Book of the Year: Younger Readers (2006).   It’s not a book for younger readers, IMO, because it’s a harrowing book about a boy whose father suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and they are on the run from the father’s imaginary enemies.  But in the hands of a skilled teacher it is an excellent book for older readers and young adults to comprehend what life can be like when there is mental illness in the family.


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Book review: Look and See, by Shane Morgan

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 5, 2014

As a librarian, it often falls to me to catalogue books for beginner readers, and it is in this genre that the ingenuity of Australian authors and illustrators never ceases to amaze me.  Working with a very limited vocabulary and designing the book so that illustrations provide context clues to support the reader, time and again these incredibly creative people manage to come up with something different.

This cute and quirky book by Shane Morgan is a good example.  At 24 x 18cm, Look and See, meet your favourite Australian animals is a bit bigger in size than most books of its type, but it follows the usual design rules: short easy-to-read sentences on one side of the page, and a picture on the other.

What makes it a bit different is the humour.  The sentences are rhyming pairs, and the first sentence introduces the animal, while the sentence on the ensuing page shows the animal getting the better of the human.

Look at the emu, running so fast.
See the emu, he caught me at last.

The picture that accompanies the second sentence shows the emu holding the human upside down by his undies – ouch!

The animals are not just the ones you’d expect, there’s also a lizard and a turtle, and all of them have very cheeky faces.  (My favourite is the frill-necked lizard with a great big cheesy grin).

Shane Morgan is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta people of Victoria.  He lives in Shepparton and studied the Advanced Certificate of Koorie Arts and Design at Goulburn Valley Community College, so I am hoping that he will go on to create more gorgeous books like this one.  I haven’t come across too many other children’s books by indigenous people from Victoria and would like to see more of them.

PS I read it to Year 1 and 2 classes today, and they loved it.  Interestingly, they picked up on the fact that it was created by an indigenous author from the double-page illustration (before the story starts) because they recognised the distinctive style of indigenous patterning and colours.  I was rather pleased by this: it shows that our students’ exposure to indigenous literature is making them so familiar with it that they can identify it without being told, even when they are only seven and eight years old.  I took the opportunity to show them on our indigenous map of Australia (always on display in the library) where the Yorta Yorta people come from, and they were excited to know that they were Victorian Aborigines.   So now I’m even more keen to add to our collection with more indigenous stories from Victoria!  I just have to find them…


Fishpond: Look and See: Meet your favourite Australian animals
Or direct from Magabala Books

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Fun stuff, Indigenous Teaching Resources, School Library stuff | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Book review: Look and See, by Shane Morgan

Book review: To See the World, by Elaine Forrestal

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 2, 2014

To See the World

Just yesterday one of my students was very excited about her discovery of the excellent My Story series, and I suspect that another fan of historical fiction has been born!  I wonder if she might also enjoy To See the World which is based on a similar premise: bringing history to life through the story of a child who lived in a previous era.

To See the World is based on the true life story of a cabin boy named José, who went to sea aboard L’Uranie, a ship commanded by Louis de Freycninet in the early 18th century.  Elaine Forrestal has crafted his story from the journals of Rose de Freycinet, the adventurous young wife who disguised herself as a boy to stow away aboard L’Uranie, scandalising French society and worrying the superstitious sailors who thought that women brought bad luck.   The book begins with José’s alarm at being expected to take lessons with Madame Freycinet, and he finds reading and writing hard going at first after his free-and-easy life in Mauritius.

As the author explains in the historical notes at the back of the book, in 1818 many of the French officials on Mauritius had taken mulatto mistresses, and they were often generous to these women and their children.  When José’s father was recalled to France in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, he made provision for José by placing him in the care of Freycinet.  Teaching him would provide an interest for Rose (who by the time L’Uranie reached Mauritius was bored and homesick) and an education for José would give him a better chance in life.

As the lessons progress, José matures.  He comes to see Rose as a person, and to care about her.  At the same time, he adapts to life at sea, first taking on duties in the galley, and later when he is older, as a sailor.  (The voyage lasts more than three years so he leaves boyhood behind as well as his family).  He witnesses a death at sea, and is asked by the Commander to listen out for any incriminating conversations so that the murderer can be identified.  He survives massive storms, shipwreck and being marooned on an island.  He also witnesses historical events of interest to Australians: the removal of the Vlamingh plate; an encounter with the Malgana People of Shark Bay WA, and a visit to the fledgling Sydney Town at Port Jackson on the east coast.  (Alas, Rose had some of her precious belongings stolen in Sydney – but, well, what could she expect ‘when more than half the population has been sent here for breaking the law’!

The last part of the voyage where the ship’s company is at the mercy of a competing gun-runner and an American whaler is quite exciting, and José ‘s subsequent journeys are a bit of an anti-climax.  But over all, I think young people will enjoy this book for the glimpse of an adventurous life that seems appealing despite its discomforts and dangers.  Each chapter is illustrated with B&W reproductions of images from the National Library, including a painting featuring Rose and José that was censored from the official account of this voyage because Rose was not supposed to be on board.

Rose de Freycinet herself, of course, deserves to be better known because while not the first woman to circumnavigate the world, she was the first to journal her experiences.   (An image of a French publication of her journal is included in the book).  Her husband, Louis de Freycinet is known to Australians as the navigator who managed to publish his map of the Australian coastline (complete with French place names and claims of French discoveries already made by the British) ahead of Matthew Flinders’ map because Flinders was detained by the French governor at Mauritius for six years.  But time goes by, and petty rivalries can be set aside in honour of the brave men – and woman – who showed great courage and tenacity in the quest to explore the planet.

A most interesting and enjoyable book that deserves a place in school libraries everywhere.

Author: Elaine Forrrestal
Title: To See the World
Publisher: NLA Publishing (National Library of Australia)
ISBN: 9780642278494
Source: review copy courtesy of the NLA


Fishpond: To See the World

Or direct from the NLA Bookshop

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