Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Children’s Book Review, Bear Make Den

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Bear Make Den is a children’s picture book, written by Jane Godwin and Michael Wagner, illustrated by Andrew Joyner and published by Allen and Unwin (2016).

From the publisher:

Bear is great with his hands, but not so smart when it comes to relationships. If he fixes up his den, will everything else follow?

Bear loves to get things done. He can make just about anything! He even builds a wonderful den. But something is missing. What could it be?

From this talented trio comes a warm, playful picture book about what truly makes a home.

Bear won my heart at first sight and sound. We see him setting to with a will, carving a den out of a mountain with shovel and hard work. He has a book too: How Make Den. From the first pages, readers notice that while Bear is enterprising, he’s a man of few words. He realises that “Den not done” and attempts several projects until finally he concludes that what the den needs is more bears. So he puts a sign outside, appealing to bear psychology: “CAKe + GamE” and hollers: “Den need bears!”

The partnership of Godwin, Wagner and Joyner is inspired. The story is deceptively simple, but Bear’s enthusiasm and can-do attitude come through clearly. Joyner’s illustrations zing with cartoon-style humour and show us the details of all Bear’s projects. Lots to discuss with kids!

The wonderful side benefit of having a main character who uses few words is that it makes the book perfect for memorising by young readers. I can imagine kids “reading” Bear Make Den to all who will take time to listen. The benefit? Children cementing a love of books and taking another step along the path to reading. And…this charming children’s picture book will leave kids and adults sporting a bear-sized grin. Must read!

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer
by Susan Stephenson,

There are lots of things we can do as parents to encourage our children to enjoy writing and master it as a skill. As I did with Three Parents Plans to Create a Strong Reader, I have condensed creating a strong writer into what I see as three crucial plans:

1. Make sure your kids SEE you writing. Point it out to them and explain your purpose when you make a list, write a thank you note/invitation, or create a plan for your next holiday. Encourage kids to join in when you write. Little ones could help by drawing a picture; older kids might spell out part of a word or write their own ideas. Participate as a family in events like Put a Poem in your Pocket Day and International Book Giving Day. Writing something as simple as a poem for your pocket or a hello card to accompany a book gift definitely counts as writing.

2. SET aside writing time on as many days as you can. Just like reading should be a daily habit, so too should writing. Think about when you can fit writing in so it becomes a natural part of your day. Do you keep a journal? Writing time! Would your kids like their own journals to write in - whatever they want? Do you make a list of groceries to buy perhaps? Writing time! Can your kids help with that list, jotting down items they know you need? (You may have to explain the difference between needs and wants!) Some writing may be on paper, some will be typing - kids should see and experience it all.

3. GRAB any excuse for writing. Just read a great book? Let’s write down its name so we can keep a record of great books. Loved that author? Let’s write down her name so we can see if the library has more books by her. Just made up a silly story? Let’s type it up so we can send it to Grandma. Need some funny jokes for when our friends come over? Let’s make a joke book and write out some of our favourites. Reading and writing go very well together - kids might like to make a list of silly characters or scary villains and draw them. When kids are just learning to read and write, it can be fun and useful to draw or take pictures of all their toys, then label them and make a little book. Tracing over or just sounding our the words is a great way to embed that word in our brains.

The more we link writing as a natural extension of family activities and play, the more natural and habitual it becomes for kids. I believe natural and habitual writers grow into strong writers - and that’s cause for celebration!

(Image Credit: My Cute Graphics

NB: The Book Chook will be cutting down on articles over the next several months while Susan is studying. From next week, you will mostly find one article each Wednesday, and mostly book and app reviews. The more usual program of articles -though only on Wednesdays and Fridays - about children’s literacy, literature and learning will probably recommence later in August.

If you’re interested in encouraging kids to write, you might like to read Easy Ways Parents Can Encourage Kids to Write, Top Tips for Young Writers, and Nurturing Readers and Writers.

Or check out my Listly list on Teaching Kids to Write, embedded below.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Children’s Book Review, Paul Meets Bernadette

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

I first learned about Paul Meets Bernadette at Jen Robinson’s Book Page, a blog I try to read as often as possible because Jen makes me think, and finds great gems in children’s books. Paul Meets Bernadette is subtitled “ A goldfishy love story”, was created by Rosy Lamb and published by Walker Books Australia (2014).

From the publisher:

A stunningly original, funny, touching, luminous, exquisitely illustrated, thought-provoking, one-of-a-kind, must-read, must-read-again, laugh-outloud, myriad-more-eulogistic-adjectives, sparkling diamond of a story.

Goldfish are not the most common of characters in media. How much scope is there for Paul, living as he does in a bowl? He can swim in clockwise circles, then for a change try anticlockwise circles. Basically though, like many of us perhaps, Paul must feel as if he goes round and round in circles. One day, another goldfish - Bernadette - drops in. Suddenly she prompts Paul to look beyond the bowl, and reveals a whole new and entrancing world to him. No longer does Paul swim around his bowl. Now he swims around Bernadette.

I really like that you can share Paul Meets Bernadette with different ages, and they will not only enjoy the story but take different things from it. Littlies will love using their imaginations to look through Bernadette’s eyes at everyday objects: a banana is a boat, a tea pot is an elephant. Older children will love the humour but also appreciate the love story, subtly told through images and words. The oil painted illustrations are textural and unusual - they enhance what to me is a unique and thought-provoking children’s picture book.

Find teaching notes via Walker Books Classroom.

Check out more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Children’s iPad App, Tiny Tiger and Friends

Review by Susan Stephenson,

Here’s a cute app for under 5s.

From the developer:

Great for kids!
• Simple, graphical navigation. No reading required!
• Gentle animated help allows child to learn the app independently.
• Gorgeous, hand-drawn art by award-winning children's book illustrator Steven D'Amico.
• User-focused design lets the child set his or her own pace.
• Relaxed atmosphere makes Tiny Tiger and Friends perfect for young children.

Great for parents!
• Designed and tested by parents for parents.
• No voice-over instructions—Tiny Tiger and Friends can be enjoyed without audio when necessary.
• Perfect for any situation; it can be enjoyed alone, with a parent or with a friend.
• Frequent pauses provide convenient stopping points when it's time to turn off the game.
• Friendly animated characters will inspire your child's imagination and creativity even after they’re done playing.
• No advertising or in-app purchases.

What I liked:

The developers have definitely been successful in creating an app that works easily, is heaps of fun, and is likely to be intuitive for most kids to use. It capitalises on games like Peekaboo that all kids know - in the app, kids touch the BOO sign and a character pops out of a hiding place. Little ones will love dressing one of the three characters they choose: monkey, tiger or hippo. Dressing up is simple, involving making a choice from a range of different headgear, tops, bottoms, shoes etc and "trying them on". Youngsters can then put a dressed character into different scenarios and take his photo.

I love the idea of children creating an image in this way. It might prove to be the prompt they needed to make up a remarkable story. Poke-A-Nose is another fun game where kids need to concentrate to tap only the nose of their character amid multiple pop-ups. The games are all playable by kids on their own, but I believe children will benefit most by discussing what they’re doing with a parent.

Probably my favourite thing about Tiny Tiger and Friends is the art work. It’s attractive and suits the age group. I abhor the garish, huge-eyed characters I see in lots of children’s apps, so kudos to the developers for going with a talented children’s book illustrator.

Check out my iPad App Reviews on Pinterest, and find more apps and articles via my Listly page.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Children’s Book Week 2016 - Focus on Storytelling

Written by Susan Stephenson,

Storytelling is an ancient art form that goes right back to the days when humankind told stories while huddled around a campfire. Nowadays we have many fancy digital ways to tell stories, but they are still a combination of words and often sounds and images. A good story can entertain us, teach us a lesson, or even change the way we look at the world.

Australia: Story Country. Have children thought about that word, “story”? How many different ways do we hear it used? Is a story always fiction? Can a story be written in a book? People talk about “stories” and mean things as diverse as a televised oral description of a factual event, a written account of a series of life events, a fairy tale told orally, something with a beginning, a middle and an end as text, a ballad, a tapestry or a series of photographs. Why do people tell stories? How do people tell stories?

Storytelling is one way of conveying a story. A focus on storytelling is an excellent way to ensure children develop fundamental communication skills. Many adults have not developed these, for a range of reasons. They include speaking audibly and coherently to an audience, using one’s body and face to communicate, and preparing/practising a story before delivery. Story is hugely important in our society, is used by adults in a range of professions (e.g. advertising, sales, teaching, psychology, welfare) and is the basis of many educational and entertainment activities.

Here are some tips for getting started with Storytelling:

** Why not make time for daily storytelling activities during and after Children's Book Week? Make a fake campfire with painted wood or cardboard logs and cellophane flames, and use this for regular storytelling sessions. Each day or time classes meet, have a storytelling activity around the campfire first. Marshmallows optional.

** One energy-charged activity your kids will love is to delve into a prop box or dress-up box and become a character who tells a story. Hats and clothes from op shops make a good start but also look for costumes at garage sales. Pieces of material become cloaks and belts. Great props tend to be ones that are general rather than specific e.g. a plastic triangle can be a shield, a hat, a sign etc. (NB I tend to ban any physical weapons, even cardboard swords, until students have learned to stage fight and can be trusted to look after each other.)

** If you know any storytellers or adults who like to share oral stories, grab them! Each will have a personal style, but ask your kids to note the fundamentals, then look for extra techniques they can use themselves. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids to think creatively: they might consider use of appropriate costume and props, audience involvement, voice - volume, tone, pitch, pace - sound effects and movement.

** Story is very important in Aboriginal culture. Model the telling of an Aboriginal dreamtime story with story stones. Help children become familiar with the text via cards, PowerPoint slides or similar. Ask children to re-tell the story with their own story stones. To make story stones, you need to find flattish smooth stones e.g. at a beach or craft shop. Then apply a picture by painting or using glue or mod podge and cutouts. Google “how to make story stones” and you’ll see more details.

** Encourage children to gather stories. Can they interview family members and neighbours to discover stories? How will they record them? Classes might try to come up with a list of classic stories just right for storytelling, and kids might choose one as a story for re-telling. Stories like folk and fairy tales are wonderful fodder for storytelling - imagine the rich possibilities in something like The Emperor’s New Clothes with young tellers acting out the King’s pomposity and the crowd’s shock and merriment! Kids could use a book-creating app to record stories they want to keep.

** Check out our new Laureate’s Story Calendar for inspiration - “A different theme for every month to inspire your story adventures.”

** Once children have had a chance to learn storytelling skills, look for opportunities for them to present a story to a group who will appreciate it. Children in younger grades make an ideal audience, and interaction like this is not only great modelling, but fosters inter-grade relationships. Students need to think about ensuring content and other elements are appropriate for any particular audience.

Storytelling Activities - for starters

What Next? Students sit in a circle and each receives a picture of something, or even an actual object. The teacher starts a story. The next student continues the story, incorporating their photo or object.

Storytelling Box or Bag These can be used in so many different ways. Some adults put little props in there that a child can use to tell a particular story. Another idea is to have a range of objects, pull out one and base a story around it. Or kids can pull out an object at a time and incorporate each into the story they tell. Find more ideas in Create a Story Box.

Word-at-a-time Story This works with small or large groups. One person starts telling a story, the next says the next word, and so on around the circle. The story can be strange but it needs to make semantic sense. For example, you can have:


but you can't have


Throw-in-a-word Story One person begins telling a story and one by one, and by degrees, the rest of the group throws in a word that the storyteller must incorporate into his story. Kids take turns being the storyteller.

Joe: One day I went to visit my grandma. She lived...
Penny: Hat
Joe: She lived under a pink hat in the woods with
Tom: Pickle
Joe: ...with her pickle named Albert.

Hive Story An excellent collaborative storytelling activity is to have kids tell a story one sentence at a time. Or move to the next level, and have them write a story one sentence at a time (change to a paragraph at a time for older kids.) This is not like mad-libs where the fun is in writing something totally unrelated. Instead, kids should read what has gone before and co-operate in creating a story that has some sort of cohesion. One way to do this is to open a word document on the class computer, and have kids contribute either as they're inspired, or according to a schedule. In a computer lab situation, you can dedicate a whole computer to this task.

Pinocchio To charge any storytelling activity with excitement, and free up kids' imaginations, why not task them with creating the most outrageous stories, or the biggest "whoppers”? You could have a Pinocchio award for this.

Make and Tell How long is it since primary kids created with play-do? Making a beginning scene or main character can be a great way to get kids started on storytelling, as they think and revise as their hands are busy. They might like to use what they make as props to tell the story to others.

Contest With older kids who’ve developed storytelling skills, consider having a storytelling contest where they prepare a story to be recorded. They can use costume, props, sound effects and other dramatic devices to invest their story with pizzaz.

You’ll find many more ideas to adopt or adapt in my article, Sixteen Sensational Storytelling Ideas and Story Bags as Prompts for Storytelling.

Storytelling Activities linked with books

** Share a book like Narelle Oliver’s Sand Swimmers with kids and ask them to create a story about a character that might live in such an environment. They could use a tool like Blabberize or an app like Chatterpix Kids to animate a picture of their character and tell its story.

** Share Thunderstorm Dancing with kids and have them re-tell the story, helping bring it to life with instruments, body percussion, sound effects, dance and whatever else works. Find other books with strong sound elements and ask children to prepare a scene from one, using voice and sound effects.

** Ask groups of children to find a traditional story they can re-tell using puppets. In the library, there will be many treasures lurking in the 390 shelf! Kids may need little supervision and be able to confidently choose a tale, source materials, create puppets, prepare a script, rehearse and present to an audience independently. Or you may need to focus on a step at a time. Consider using simple puppets like spoons or paddle pop sticks with younger children, and guiding them to choose a story they all know e.g. an oft-repeated read-aloud, a fairy tale or even a nursery rhyme. Older kids might like to make simple but life-sized stick puppets over dowel, rakes or brooms. These can look very effective in a storytelling presentation, and are such fun to design and make. (NB I made the one below very quickly, just to give you an idea, but if you present it as a problem solving activity to kids, they will  think of things like making limbs from stuffing old panty hose, using old gloves or card for hands, adding a wig etc and perhaps even of wearing dark clothes so they "disappear" as puppet masters.)

Baroness Beatrice Broomhead

Two storytelling projects for kids:

1. Take an Australian song like Waltzing Matilda and re-write it as a story. Practise your story, adding in visual and sound effects to bring it to life. You could also consider developing a character, and telling the story as that character. Perform your story for your classmates and ask them for constructive feedback. Polish the story some more and choose a different audience to tell it to. Keep polishing and tweaking until your story works very well. Consider also stopping the action in a storytelling, and asking audience members or helpers to re-enact a scene.

2. Look at and read some different versions of the same story. In what ways are they the same/different? Discuss which parts work well and which might be changed. Write your own version of the story, trying to use your own words, but incorporating the things that you thought worked well. You might include sound effects, repetition, movement opportunities, interaction parts etc.

For instance you could try to find and read or watch some different versions of The Hobyahs, a story about a hero called Little Dog Turpie. What age would be an appropriate audience for your story? Now re-tell the story for the audience you decided on, using all the storytelling skills you have learned.

Teachers: If short on time, there are some different versions of The Hobyahs story below in Resources.

Teachers: As a culmination to many weeks of storytelling, record students’ storytelling performances and consider going in the YR 5 and 6 storytelling competition.


A free PDF available at my website of the traditional tale of The Hairy Toe. I've re-told it as a model for kids to use for their own ventures into storytelling, or indeed to learn by heart and deliver as a story presentation.  

Lesson plans and activities about storytelling in general.

Plots for re-telling.

Storytelling Australia website. 

Australian Storytelling Guild NSW  has a list of accredited NSW storytellers as well as links to storytelling guilds in other states and countries.

Aaron Shepard’s Storytelling Page is a wonderful resource! Kids will find lots of advice on preparing a story on his website. He also offers scripts, including those for beginners.

You and your kids might like to adapt reader’s theatre scripts from Timeless Teacher Stuff.

Excellent sample storytelling lesson at MENSA for Kids including an evaluation rubric.

A text and slightly Australian version of The Hobyahs, another text version, video of a Storyteller telling The Hobyahs, video of a very atmospheric animated version of The Hobyahs.

Today is the third in my series of articles about Children's Book Week in Australia in 2016. On Monday, I introduced my ideas for discussion starters and educational children's activities related to the theme, Australia: Story Country. On Wednesday, I suggested a list of some books, videos and other resources that might be useful for Children's Book Week this year.

  May you have a wonderful time reading and telling stories in Children's Book Week!
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