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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 October, 2014

Book review: Meet… Nancy Bird Walton, by Grace Atwood, illustrated by Harry Slaghekke

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 26, 2014


Meet... Nancy Bird Walton (Meet...)Meet… Nancy Bird Walton is another in the Random House series of picture books about notable Australians.  It’s a useful series for introducing biography for younger (or less able) readers  in the library and it now includes these titles:

I am hoping that the series will include some notable indigenous Australians before long.  A bio about Jandamurra, or Tunnerminnerwait & Maulboyheenner would be a lot more useful than yet another title about Ned Kelly who was a common criminal.

Nancy Bird was Australia’s first female commercial pilot.  I read (and reviewed) her autobiography My God, it’s a Woman a little while ago,  and although I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it as an audio-book to listen to, I was impressed by the remarkable achievements of Nancy Bird.  Meet … Nancy Bird Walton compresses these achievements into a crisp, effective summary that focuses on the exciting early days of aviation.  The illustrations are almost all double page spreads to convey the sense of scale and with their bold lines and authentic dress styles are reminiscent of adverts of the period.  Most importantly the pictures show the fragility of the aircraft in which this brave woman pioneered aviation across Australia’s outback.

This title would be a handy resource for Year 3 History:

ONE important example of change and ONE important example of continuity over time in the local community, region or state/territory; for example, in relation to the areas of transport, work, education, natural and built environments, entertainment, daily life (ACHHK061)

There is a timeline at the back of the book, but I think the endpapers could usefully have included maps as well.

Author: Grace Atwood
Title: Meet … Nancy Bird Walton
Publisher: Random House, 2104
ISBN: 9780857983879
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House.

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Book review: Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? by Bruce Pascoe

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2014


I first became aware of this remarkable book when two of my favourite bloggers posted reviews of it on the same day: they are both historians, and they were both impressed.

Yvonne at Stumbling Through the Past piqued my interest with her comment that Pascoe used the journals of Australia’s explorers to make his case:

Pascoe draws on the work of Bill Gammage, R Gerritsen and others as well as his own research make a strong argument for the reconsideration of our understanding of the way Aboriginal people lived in colonial times. He draws extensively from the journals of explorers to present a remarkable array of evidence about the agricultural and technological sophistication of Aborigines before contact.

And Janine at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip linked the book to some recent unfortunate remarks made by our blundering Prime Minister.

Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu argues directly against the idea that Australia was ‘scarcely settled’. It was, he argues, very much settled in a way that forces us to reconsider the ‘hunter-gatherer’ label that is often used to describe pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians.

Like many teachers, I’ve used the term hunter-gatherer in exactly that way, and so I felt impelled to read the book. I’ve had Bill Gammadge’s award-winning The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia on the TBR for ages, and I will get round to reading it one day, but it was an indigenous voice I wanted to hear. Now that I’ve read it for myself, I think that this is an indigenous voice Australians should hear…

In 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he’s not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily debunked, his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complex civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority. These diaries describe systematic agriculture and aquaculture; permanent dwellings; storage and preservation methods and the use of fire to manage the difficult Australian environment. The reader can sense Pascoe’s pride in asserting that all these complex systems were managed through stable government that was fundamentally democratic in nature. (Elders, after all, earned their role through initiation and learning the law: they did not inherit their power or grasp it through conquest.)

There is much more to this exciting book than I have outlined here so I urge you to follow the links above to Yvonne’s and Janine’s reviews. They interrogate the book as historians do, with the expertise of their profession.

As a teacher, however, I recommend it as essential reading for any educator.

Dark Emu has been shortlisted for Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing.

Author: Bruce Pascoe
Title: Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident
Publisher: Magabala Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781922142436
Source: Casey-Cardinia Library

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Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers.

Posted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Book Reviews | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Alfie’s Big Wish, by David Hardy

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 17, 2014


Alfie's Big WishAlfie’s Big Wish is a sequel to Alfie’s Search for Destiny which I reviewed on this blog last year.  It’s another title from Magabala Books, the indigenous not-for-profit publishing company based in Broome, Western Australia, and again the story is written in rhythmic rhyming couplets.

This time Alfie is in search of a friend.   This is a common theme in books for young children, and increasingly as families become more mobile and divorce is more common, the theme features a treasured friend moving away, leaving the other child bereft.

…his mates had moved on with their mum and their dad,
leaving him lonely, leaving him sad.

The other kids who are still around are older than he is  and the things he used to do with his friends are suddenly no fun anymore.  Appropriately in books for this age group the problem is reassuringly resolved when Alfie makes a wish upon a star and a little friend emerges from the bushes the next morning.

While this is a sweet little book for pre-school children, it has value for older students too.  As I explained in my previous review, David Hardy is an indigenous freelance artist descended from the Barkindji people of Brewarrina, NSW.  He worked for eight years with Walt Disney Studios in feature film animation, and has now come home to live in Sydney.  Hardy’s success in a high-profile international arena makes him a great role model for students of any background, but especially for indigenous students who are so often subjected to negative stereotypes of their people.

While he was with Disney, Hardy worked on The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata, Tarzan II, Lilo and Stitch2 and Return to Neverland.  He was also ‘clean-up animation director’ in Manila, Philippines, where he worked on  The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning and The Fox and the Hound 2.  Older students will immediately identify the classic Disney facial expressions and gestures in the Alfie series of illustrations, while also identifying the symbols of indigenous identity such as the red and ochre head and arm bands; the boomerang; the face painting and the dancing.   The clever way that Hardy has adapted his ‘Disney’ style for the indigenous Australian context provides the opportunity to talk about career possibilities in animation and other forms of digital art.  I also use it to encourage students not to slavishly copy the pop art and Manga that they come across, but to adapt it and make it their own.

Author: David Hardy
Title: Alfie’s Big Wish
Publisher: Magabala Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781922142535
Source: Review copy courtesy of Magabala Books

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Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Indigenous Teaching Resources, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Book Review: Alfie’s Big Wish, by David Hardy

Book review: Tea and Sugar Christmas, by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 16, 2014


Tea and Sugar Christmas

Robert Ingpen was an inspired choice of illustrator for this delightful book, Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly.  Awarded the Hans Christian Anderson in 1986 for his lasting contribution as a children’s book illustrator, Ingpen has transformed a simple Christmas story about outback life into a work of art that teachers will love to share with their students at any time of the year.

Teachers in metropolitan areas know that it’s not easy to convey a sense of the outback to urban children.  But the cunning design of this book does it well.  Each page of text is accompanied by a B&W drawing of the characters in the story, but it opens out to reveal a double page colour spread  of the landscape and of the train which brought goods and services to the remote Aussie outback until as recently as 1996.  And so we see little Kathleen holding an empty tin of tea on the first page, which then opens out to the muted colours of the small settlement where she lives, the town bisected by the all-important railway line.

As the illustration shows, if the family ran short they went without.  There was no shop, and no other source of goods and services than the ‘Tea and Sugar’ train.  It ran along the Nullarbor Plain between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie just once a week, its vans stocked with household goods, groceries, fruit, vegetables and meat.  People could do their banking, use medical and welfare services and catch up with news from elsewhere.  And once a year, there was a special Christmas train…

The text and the illustrations work well together to convey the sense of anticipation.  Kathleen – shown through the pictures to be the child of a mixed-race marriage –  is an active, independent child.  Barefooted, she climbs the hill-face at the back of the house and sits on a rocky outcrop staring into the distance across the vast plain.  When it arrives she is ecstatic:

Katherine slid down the hill and ran through the drowsy town.  She burst inside.

‘It’s coming! It’s coming!’ she shouted.

Dad looked up and his eyes danced a jog.

‘Now, what might be coming, girlio?’

‘You know, Dad.  Come on.  Let’s go.’

‘At last, more tea and sugar,’ said Mum, from the end of a paper chain.

Kathleen grabbed the wheelbarrow and started running with it.  Her feet pounded the hot track, searing like scones on a griddle.  She could hear the screeching of the train as it pulled into the siding.  As she ran, others emerged from their tin castles, cheering and calling out across the shimmering landscape.

The portrait of Kathleen when it’s her turn to see Father Christmas is stunning.  Just beautiful.

At the back of the book there are photos accompanied by historical information about the train, including the migrant men who worked on it after World War II, and the way that the people dressed up to meet it because it was the highlight of their week.  The endpapers are used to show a map of the route.

As a window onto a vanished lifestyle, Tea and Sugar Christmas is brilliant.

Author: Jane Jolly
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen
Title: Tea and Sugar Christmas
Publisher: NLA Publishing (National Library of Australia), 2014
ISBN:9780642278630
Source: review copy courtesy of NLA Publishing

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