Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book borders

Often it’s only after the 85th reading of a picture book (because we do read them 85 times, don’t we?) that you notice the small details. Like the borders. We hunted down a few fabulous border books and found a whole array of styles.

We found Beatrix Potter’s neat squares, the curling ribbon around a nursery rhyme book, the tattered and torn paged look for a pirate book, an intricate border with highlights and shading, sequins and rick-rack for a felt-illustrated book and a border which included captions.

Tom, Annalise and I had a go at a few borders ourselves. Tom understood the pattern concept and decorated a menu with a squiggly border. I’d like to do this again, in particular with Annalise, as it’s a great way to practise patterns. And while technically I know that patterns are an important mathematical concept, I think it’s just good fun to swish a few paint brushes around!

By the way, Nicole at Planning with Kids asked me to write a guest post for her. I’ve started my Christmas preparations early this year and have written a post on our ten favourite Christmas books – have a look! Nicole has a brilliant blog about organising every aspect of your life so that there is more time to be spent with your kids. There is something for everyone there!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ABC learning with Alison Lester – and so much more

I attended a workshop with Alison Lester a week or so ago. Alison is a well-known Australian author and illustrator, and very generously shared her experience and knowledge of writing and illustrating children’s picture books. Inspiring is an understatement! She talked us through her various books and explained the ideas behind them, as well as the art techniques. We also saw many examples of the books she makes with children from remote indigenous communities – I’m really looking forward to exploring some of these ideas with my kids. Alison taught us to plan a storyboard and even let us loose with paints, crayons, stencils and watercolour paper!

While our family has many favourite books by Alison, I’ll write about just one today – ‘Alison Lester’s ABC’. This is perfect for Annalise at the moment – at four, she is beginning to recognise letters. Alison’s alphabet book has plenty of detail to keep her interested in the pictures, which of course, are all linked to a particular letter. Even though it is an alphabet book, the story behind it of Alice and Aldo’s day is a lovely thread holding everything together. It's also a fabulous opportunity to introduce the concept of alliteration! It's as simple as this - look, I can see lots of words together that start with the letter G!

Inspired by Jennifer’s post at the write start, Tom and Annalise painted these wooden letters I found at a craft shop. Not surprisingly, it was all about family for Annalise. She painted a letter K blue for me – “because your name starts with a K and blue is your favourite colour!” She also found a J for baby Joe – I didn’t know she could even recognise the letter J.

Such baby steps towards reading and writing, but so very important. Inspiration can start from anywhere ...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Frizzy hair day

Today was a frizzy hair day. I thought it was just me, but no, I had three random conversations today with other girls who bemoaned the wet weather. And it’s not just ordinary rain, but spring rain, which has a little warmth in the air which just adds to the frizz.

After the first frizzy hair conversation, I knew I wasn’t alone. After the second chat, I realised there were other girls out there who had also washed their hair – what a wasted effort! After the third dialogue, I thought of Ella Kazoo.

Just have a look at her hair! (It would be wonderful to paint a picture of Ella Kazoo, using finger painting to create those amazing locks. The illustrator, Cathy Wilcox, must have really had fun!)

"Ella Kaoo will not brush her hair" is a wonderful rhyming story by Lee Fox. If you have a daughter, who is even slightly reluctant to have her hair brushed, this will make you smile. For Ella refuses to have her hair brushed.

Ella Kazoo will not brush her locks.
She stashes the brush in the drawer with her socks.
She covers it well in the garden with rocks.
Her mother has called her a cunning wee fox,
But Ella Kazoo will not brush her locks!

The rhyming is really clever. It’s not a book with obvious, annoying, clich├ęd rhyming words – the rhymes enhance the story and offer fabulous vocabulary extension. Your three or four-year-old will now be able to refer to their hair as locks, mane, mop, curls, frizz or tresses!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

MasterChef learning

Gentle readers, be warned, this is not a post about a book. Nevertheless, it is a story, the story of a boy and his sister, a sponge cake, a television show and that old adage, 'Practice makes perfect.'

Let me set the scene. The television show is Junior MasterChef. The sponge cake recipe is from Lucy, one of the young contestants. The action takes place in our kitchen, with the peeling cupboard doors and Scarlet, our red kitchen mixer. The boy, is of course, Tom, with his able assistant, Annalise. And gosh, did we practise this cake.

We cooked it three times in a week - the first time, just for fun. The second time, we baked it for Pop and Nana to say thank you. The third time, we cooked it for Uncle SP - it has to be the most feminine cake my brother has ever eaten for his birthday!

Each time we cooked it, the kids contributed a little more. This is what we learnt:

* Tom read the list of ingredients, Annalise put them on the bench - sibling communication and teamwork - got to love it!
* We mentioned fractions - 1/3 of a cup - I did say mention, way too early to explain them!
* Tom turned the oven on - 175 degrees is halfway between 150 degrees and 200 degrees.
* Annalise was mainly responsible for turning Scarlet on, which meant reading the numbers on the speed dial - pre-school numeracy.
* By the third cake, Tom had learnt to separate eggs, slice strawberries and turn a cake out of a tin. He also assembled this one with Annalise, while I washed the dishes.

And as for me, I learnt to let go of my perfectionist tendencies. I certainly added the strawberry coulis swirls around the first plate as delicately as I could, but Tom decorated the next two plates. I sifted the icing sugar evenly over the first cake, but Annalise was in charge of the next two sprinklings.

And the moral of this story, gentle readers, is that a solo-baked cake in a clean kitchen is not as much fun as two proud kids with strawberry-stained clothes and cream around their mouths in a messy kitchen! Practice does make the imperfect perfect ...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More zoo stories

These zoo stories tick a lot of boxes for me - they make my kids laugh, the rhyming is phenomenal, they are fantastic read-aloud books and the illustrations are realistic and humorous.

"Edward the emu" by Sheena Knowles tells the story of a bored emu at the zoo who thinks the grass is greener on the other side of the fence - or cage - or enclosure. He hangs out with the lions, the snakes and the seals until he finally realises that being an emu is really the best, However, there is a surprise for Edward when he returns to his emu home. "Edwina the emu", also by Sheena Knowles, is the follow-up story, focusing on Edwina's attempts to find a job. It's probably worth reading Edward before Edwina if you can.

Humorous - well, have you ever heard of a bored emu, let along an emu attempting to emulate a lion or a seal? The picture are fabulous - look at how the illustrator, Rod Clement, has drawn Edward imitating the other animals. The matter-of-fact language plays up the humour -

Edward the emu was sick of the zoo,
There was nowhere to go, there was nothing to do,
And compared to the seals that lived right next door,
Well being an emu was frankly a bore.

Rhyming - the language is simple enough, but as a rhyme, it becomes a fast-paced action story.

'Yeek!' the man shouted, he seemed to be choking,
'An emu dance ballet? You've got to be joking!'
'I'm not,' said Edwina, 'but don't laugh at me,
I'll find the right job soon, you just wait and see.'

Reading aloud - as there's lots of conversations in both books, it's easy to read in an animated tone - try reading the two paragraphs above aloud. Besides, "Yeek!" is a wonderful word to say loudly!

Illustrations - these are a great contrast of realistic animals with animals in unusual situations.

We found the seals at the zoo but although we looked carefully, we couldn't find Edward. Perhaps he was being a kangaroo for the day?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zoo activities

“Mummy’s taking us to the zoo today …” I heard this refrain sung over and over and over again yesterday. The singing wore me out, but the trip to the zoo itself was great fun. Before we went, there was a lot of preparation.

- Tom wrote a list of must-see animals.
- Annalise imitated Tom and ‘scribbled’ her list, and then read it to me.
- Tom, Annalise and Joe played with the zoo duplo, building homes for the animals.
- We made butterfly cakes for morning tea to take to the zoo.

At the zoo, we saw our favourites – the elephants, tigers, butterflies, meerkats, seals and many more. Tom was quite good with following the map, (unlike his geographically dyslexic mother!) and drew his own version when we came home.

After we came home, all of us exhausted, we flopped on the couch with a pile of zoo books. This one is a great zoo book for toddlers. I’ll post about other zoo books later in the week for preschoolers.

Rod Campbell’s “Dear Zoo” is a lift-the-flap book, with lots of white background and bright, strong colours. The repetition is fun for toddlers and the different types of flaps to open make it interesting. The adjectives to describe each animal will extend vocabulary. We’ve been lucky enough to receive a couple of “Dear Zoo” books – and we have needed them as they have been well loved here! Joe at fifteen months is at just the right age to really enjoy opening the flaps and learning the animal sounds, so this is a perfect book for him.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dancing girl

My dancing girl turned four last week and requested the ballerina cake from Grandma’s Women’s Weekly Cookbook, the birthday one that I use to love looking at when I was a kid. We had a small family gathering on the weekend, and Annalise was very excited by a gorgeous ballet outfit, chosen by her kind Nana and Auntie L.

Josephine is a kangaroo who loves to dance. Jackie French’s book, “Josephine wants to dance”, is filled with beautiful language that makes you want to jump up and twirl. It makes you want to soar to the music of the wind and whirl like the clouds across the gully.

Josephine is a kangaroo with determination and vision. She manages to ignore her brother’s insistent voice that kangaroos aren’t able to dance, and dreams of finding another way to dance. Josephine’s voice is always strong and certain – “I’m going to… I am …”

Bruce Whatley is the illustrator – lots of lovely clear white background so Josephine can jump and leap through the page. Notice how the text is placed – the surprised comments from the other characters are at an angle shooting up to the right of the page and the text describing Josephine’s dance movements is set in a wave-like motion. Clever! Something else to talk about to your listeners.

If you are a fan of this talented duo, you might notice Wombat and the shearers from their earlier books in the last few pages. Another talking point!

This book is a blend of the comical and lyrical, the hysterical and the beautiful. Exactly the emotions I feel when I watch my small ballerina twirl and fall over and laugh at herself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It’s all about the shoes …

Today is Annalise’s 4th birthday. But the book I want to share with you today is mine! When I bought this one, I couldn’t even pretend it was for one of the kids. Sometimes I do that, you know, buy a book that I just love and tell myself that really, it is just right for this particular child of mine because of this developmental reason or because the theme is so perfect for them.

This book, “The Red Shoes” I bought for me. Well, the girl in the story is called Karen. And I do own a beautiful pair of red peep-toes with heels so high that I can only wear them in a restaurant when I sit down for most of the evening!

Back to the book. This is a new version of the Hans Christian Anderson story, written in 1845. The original is a little dark, but this one written by Gloria Fowler is more positive. After the death of her mother, Karen wears the red handmade shoes her mother lovingly sewed for her. A spoilt princess demands Karen’s shoes but Karen is unable to take them off, and her feet will be cut off by an executioner unless she hands them over in three days. Karen must use her “own imagination, creativity, and hard work” to overcome this obstacle.

Well, that was the line for me. I repeat it to myself often these days, as I balance baking a ballerina birthday cake with editing projects, sewing a small pair of ballet shoes with getting up 85 times in the middle of the night to a sick child, playing grade one maths games while making dentist appointments.

The beautiful pen and ink illustrations are by Sun Young Yoo. It’s really refreshing to look at a book that uses only black and white. The style is so distinctive, and the pictures remain in my mind, long after the book is closed. The shoe pictures are so detailed - such a different way of depicting shoes to Sujean Rim but equally gorgeous.

I sewed a pair of “ballet shoes” for Annalise’s birthday, using the pattern for Mary Jane slippers in Sandi Henderson’s book, “Sewing Bits and Pieces.” The pattern was really easy to follow, and there are lots of other great ideas, which I’m sure I’ll eventually make. The Fabric-Covered Journal looked lovely, as does the Growing Tree Wall Hanging, and there’s also a fabulous patchwork skirt I’d love to make for Annalise.

My red shoes might be too uncomfortable to wear for more than a couple of hours but Annalise wore her ballet shoes with a big smile all day.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Literacy in Junior Master Chef

As many of you will know, Junior MasterChef started last night. Way too late for my little ones to watch it all, so I taped it for Tom and Annalise to watch this morning.

We don’t watch much television at our place – hence our thirteen-year-old rather chunky television. But as Tom is so interested in this MasterChef series, and it is a big topic of conversation at school, I don’t mind him following it. I found the adult version earlier this year really inspiring, and I hope that my kids will have a sense of what is possible for a kid to create in a kitchen. I loved the sense of family tradition that some of the contestants exhibited on last night’s show.

So as we are likely to be fully immersed in MasterChef for a little while, I gave both Tom and Annalise a new notebook and asked them to draw and write down any great cooking ideas they had as they were watching the show. Annalise drew a couple of plates with cheese on them. Annalise has never met a cheese she didn’t like – her favourite cheese is blue cheese. I’ve said it before, this girl has taste!

Tom, no doubt inspired by the bubbling chocolate fountain, drew and labelled a plate with strawberries, chocolate and ice-cream, and was very particular when explaining the way the chocolate was to be drizzled over the strawberries. He also had plans for a fruit kebab, based on one of the contestant’s vegetable dish.

My idea is for the kids to use these notebooks for culinary inspiration, and then to build on this in the kitchen. The kitchen is such a fabulous place for learning – reading recipes, measuring with spoons, cups and scales, writing a menu or a shopping list, taking turns to do the fun stuff like cracking eggs and of course, sharing the final product.

Thanks to my generous brother SP, we have in our possession a genuine MasterChef mystery box. It's empty at the moment, but I'm looking forward to filling it with some surprise ingredients for my aspiring chefs.

I’m also keen to increase their food vocabulary, talking about food texture, presentation and flavour, but my first priority is just to find a more polite way of saying “Yuk!”

Friday, September 10, 2010

Painting rainbows

This book is a similar format to “Puff, the Magic Dragon”. The CD is not just a bonus – it is an essential component of the book. The traditional song from “The Wizard of Oz” is sung by Judy Collins. She explains that she “went to see The Wizard of Oz when I was a little girl, with my pigtails tied on top of my head, with my Aunt Betty in Los Angeles. I felt so grown up, and so free, and the song has followed me, like a bluebird, all my life.” You can really hear the connection Judy has with the lyrics in her singing. There are also a couple of extra songs on the CD, including our favourite bedtime song, “I see the moon”.

The book is illustrated by Eric Puybaret with acrylic paint on linen. Eric writes in his note at the end of the book that he saw “tenderness, hopefulness, reverie, and a little melancholy … What an inspiring song!”

Well, we had to have a go at painting some of these whimsical birds, and of course, a rainbow or two. I think a rainbow has to be one of the most satisfying objects a child can draw or paint. It ticks all the boxes – colourful and instantly recognisable. And even though a rainbow might seem a little prescriptive to some budding artists, you can follow Eric’s lead and play with the possibilities of stars, clouds, dancing children, birds, music notes and smiling moons.

By the way, I am starting a new editing project, so will be posting here two or three times a week instead of every weekday. Thank you again to all those who are reading my blog and leaving comments. Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A book of possibilities

One of my favourite words is “imagine”. Anything is possible. There are no boundaries. There’s lots of dreaming. Lots of challenges, but in a good way. Anything can be created. No limits. Authenticity is the key. Imagine. I have the word written above the fireplace on the room where I write, edit, sew, blog, read, and gather (a fancy word for 'unfile') all the household papers.

Norman Messenger’s “Imagine” is full of all sorts of possibilities. This book deserves to be explored again and again. Each page has many hidden elements, and once you have discovered that last giant or found the witch’s cat, there is still much pleasure to be had in admiring the way the illustration has been put together.

This is a book with minimal text and maximum impact from the illustrations. There are also small puzzles on the corner of each page, which means you need to find pen and paper to work them out. Another bonus.

It was difficult to know where to start. Where exactly would this fascinating book lead us, artwise? We started with this page.

And then we made our own versions, using paper, scissors, pencils and a split pin. (Next time, I would use cardboard as the paper circle stops lying flat after a few spins.) Annalise had a go – after all, anything with a split pin and a spinning circle in it has to be pretty cool. Tom really got the hang of it, and understood how each individual person had to be lined up exactly to match. Who knows, this could be something he does every day for the next month or it could be a one-off creation. But I would love to see what they both do with this activity in another twelve months, and even another five years. Imagine the possibilities – ballerinas, robots, animals, monsters, people, babies, superheroes, dinosaurs, fairies, sports stars, people in uniforms, families. You could use family photos, magazine pictures, newspaper photos … just imagine!

Many thanks to my friend and neighbour J for lending this book to us!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book vs. film

On the weekend, my cousin J invited me to see the film of John Marsden’s “Tomorrow, when the war began.” I hadn’t read any of the Tomorrow series for young adults, (the first book was originally published in 1993) but I quickly read the book over three days, because I wanted to experience the original story first. Not surprisingly, my local library’s copy was reserved for probably the next six months, so I ended up by buying a copy. Not surprisingly, the only copy of the book had a scene from the movie on the cover. I am probably just being a purist, but I would prefer a book that is just about the book, rather than being used to market a particular film.

I finished the book about three hours before I saw the movie, became immersed in the movie, then listened to a panel discussion about the merits of book versus film. I think this is the “engaging with text” my English teachers used to talk about!

The story focuses on a group of seventeen-year-old teenagers from a small Australian country town and its rural surroundings. Their parents agree they can go camping in a remote area for a few days, and it’s only when they arrive back, that they realise something is wrong. Australia has been invaded by a foreign army, their parents, families and most of the town have been imprisoned in the Showgrounds during the annual show day, the town has been looted, burned, and people have been killed.

Ellie and her friends face a different world, where they must look out for each other, think strategically, act like guerillas, learn new survival skills and find courage within themselves.

After the movie, there was a panel discussion on the book and film, with contributions from the audience. There was a general consensus that the movie was good and reasonably faithful to the book.

I can understand that movies need to change the events in order to keep the pace flowing. I don’t mind when circumstances change slightly, when tiny parts are left out or the order rearranged slightly. But I don’t like it when they change the characters! One of the panellists didn’t like the way one of the teenagers had been typecast, and made weaker. Another panellist commented on a movie scene where a character had almost destroyed a defensive attack – this didn’t happen in the book.

Audience members noted that the film had been given a reasonably large budget for an Australian film, and that there were great hopes for its success in the international market. Hence the characters’ use of “second grade” instead of Grade 2, and “vacation” instead of “holiday.”

There are plans for another two movies, and I certainly have plans to read the remaining six books in the series. Here's hoping they aren't on the library reserve list!

Friday, September 3, 2010

A book for Dads

Warning – this book may leave the average Dad feeling rather inadequate. The Dad in “My Dad” by Anthony Browne

isn’t afraid of anything, even the Big Bad Wolf
[and can] win the fathers’ race on sports day, easily.

This is a great book for toddlers, especially with the repetitive line, "He's all right, my Dad." It reminds me of my lovely grandmother-in-law - she would say the same about anyone in her family.

My favourite double page shows the Dad “as wise as an owl, and daft as a brush.” Such a fabulous contrast, because there are many Dads out there who are both perceptive, knowledgeable – and daggy in their dressing gowns!

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Flat is sleek and sophisticated. Flat is the latest in technology. Flat is the stomach you have after months of gym work. Flat is the satisfying snap of cardboard once the boxes have been collapsed.

Flat is Stanley, Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley wasn’t always flat, oh no. He was a regular kid, until his bulletin board fell on him during the night and squashed him flat. Just like that. Flat as a pancake.

When Stanley Lampbchop is flat, his younger brother can fly him as a kite. His parents can post him in the mail from their home in New York to a friend’s house in California. He even helps the police to solve a crime.

But after a while, Stanley admits to his brother Arthur,

“I’m just not happy any more. I’m tired of being flat. I want to be a proper shape again, like other people.”

Arthur has a brilliant idea, and uses an old bicycle pump to pump Stanley full of air. It works!

Although this book was first published in 1968, the adventures are still fresh and original. I think it’s fabulous for kids to hear language styles from decades ago. I can remember hearing something similar to this from my parents –

“Hey! Come and look! Hey!”
Mr and Mrs Lambchop were both very much in favour of politeness and careful speech. “Hay is for horses, Arthur, not people,” Mr Lambchop said.

The slight sibling rivalry between Stanley and Arthur is not out of place today. Of course you would be jealous of a flat brother who had marvelous adventures, wouldn’t you?

You can grab a Flat Stanley colouring card from your local bookshop. Once it has been coloured in, you can take a photo and email it to www.FlatStanleyDownUnder.com

Thanks to Grandma for the large Stanley who now resides with us. Apparently he looks after Annalise's dolls when she's not here!

Thanks to my youngest brother whose old copy of “Flat Stanley’s Fantastic Adventures” by Jeff Brown we are now reading. This includes the first story, “Flat Stanley”, as well as “Stanley and the Magic Lamp” and “Stanley in Space”. You can also buy “Flat Stanley” as a picture book.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Turning nothing into something

Grandma bought this book, “Milli, Jack and the Dancing Cat” for Tom, but really, I know she bought it for me too! You might think me unsophisticated when I confess this, but I can really identify with Milli. Now what does that say about me, that I feel a strong affinity with a character in a children’s picture book? Hmm ….

Stephen Michael King uses glorious watercolours to paint the story of Milli, a shoemaker, who spends her days making boring brown and black shoes for the people in her town. What she really wants to do is to make different things, for

Milli could take a thing that was a nothing… and make it … a something!

It is only when Jack and his dancing cat come into town and offer to teach Milli how to dance in exchange for new shoes, that something changes for Milli. A beautiful friendship begins, for the

dancing made Milli feel brave and free.

In return, she made her new friends wonderful things, made out of objects, old and forgotten. And she made things for herself, so

her shop was so spectacular that people came from far and wide to see it.

And nothing, after that, was ever the same as before.

In the beginning of the story, the colours are predominantly subdued browns, oranges, greys and greens, with splashes of colour around Milli. By the end of the story, there are brilliant yellows, blues, reds, greens and purples. I love how the illustrations create a sense of movement around Milli and Jack, of things happening. And I love how the text creates a sense of possibility, of imagining a different reality.

Tom made a fantastic ‘junk sculpture’ in his art class at a local centre. Because there is no glue or tape, he can take it apart and put it back together in new ways as often as he likes, adding bits and pieces as he finds them. Hmm, perhaps Grandma knew that Milli’s character might be reflected in both mother and son …