Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Last Post

by Susan Stephenson,

Recently I realised that after ten years of regular writing, creating, reviewing and sharing, it's time for me to stop.

Being part of several warm and friendly internet communities, being able to immerse myself in children’s literature, having the fun of playing with apps and tools, brainstorming ideas that encouraged kids to read, write, think and create - all these and more have made life at The Book Chook a pleasure. I’ll truly miss them. But to balance that, there has also been the discipline of regular writing, making, creating and sharing, the time taken by social media, the hassle of stumbling and bumbling with technology and, alas, realising that spelling errors and typos are slipping by me more and more. It’s enough to make me think I’m getting old!

Both my websites will close. However, I will certainly pop up occasionally on The Book Chook Facebook page, Twitter etc to share useful creative and educational resources I find or re-find.

The Book Chook has been such a big part of my life for so long, that I have a lump in my throat just typing this. A million thanks to all The Book Chook readers for your feedback and support. It’s you and your kids who have kept me going this long!

Meanwhile, I leave you with some lines from Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day, lines which describe some of my future plans:

I do know …how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Friday, July 12, 2019

Let’s Celebrate Make a Hat Day

by Susan Stephenson,

Make a Hat Day is January 15 in the USA. There’s a Hat Day in Australia on October 7. But any day we choose is a wonderful time to celebrate the fun and practicality of hats. Indeed, the hat is an excellent concept to base all sorts of learning activities around. Teachers can bring in Sun Safety, History, Art/Crafts, Performing Arts, Literature and more.

Activities for Make a Hat Day

Design a hat relay. How many teams? How many people per team? What is the aim of the activity? Will there be a winner? Is it a competitive or co-operative activity? What will make it enjoyable?

What can we find in the house/outside/in the playground that we could wear as a hat?

Create an imaginary hat and improvise some dialogue about it with a friend.

What craft materials, found objects, natural things can we find that we can turn into a hat? Make that hat!

Plan a story about a character who wears a very strange hat. What is strange about it? What characters will you have? How will your story end? If you have time, write your story.

Design a hat from newspaper that you can wear on your head for at least five minutes.

Let’s look at hats from the past and reflect on how we can use those ideas in a hat we want to make for ourselves.

Who was the Mad Hatter? Ask an adult to help you find the book this character is found in.

Find some books and movies where a hat is important. Some of my favourite books with hats are Pig the Grub, I Got this Hat, Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day , Now that's a Hat by Heath Mackenzie, and Old Hat.

Learn the Mexican Hat Dance and teach it to someone else.

Organise a hat parade. Will there be prizes? What for? Consider things like Cleverest Hat, Fanciest Hat, Character Hat, Craziest Hat etc.

If animals wore hats, what kinds of hats would they wear? Design and label a hat for your favourite animal.

List some different kinds of hats.

Make up a story where a hat is a bad thing. How will your story be resolved?

Design hats for your toys/models and pose them against a background so you can photograph them. Bring the photo to school for a class display.

Bring in some hats from home and choose one. Develop a character who might wear that hat. How does the character walk? Speak? Interact with others? Swap hats and start over. Find a partner and create a scene based on your two characters.

You might also like to read Creative Prompt for Kids - Start with Some Junk.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Recent Children's Picture Books 2019 (4)

Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson,

Did you know that July 10 is Don’t Step on a Bee Day in the USA? Why not take your kids to the library to look for books about bees, think of words that start with B, sing songs about bees and celebrate with honey sandwiches? Failing that, check out all the great books reviewed bee-low!

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep is a children’s picture book written by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Nick Sharratt and published by Bloomsbury (2019.) RRP: $Au 14.99

From the publisher:

This book is bursting with cars, buses, planes, trains, trucks, diggers and many more things that go. Add to that a text that is read aloud to the tune of 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep' and ... What a combination!

Car, car, truck, jeep,
have you any fuel?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
three tanks full.

One for the red bus,
one for the train,
and one for the pilot
in her jumbo jet plane.

With bold, colourful illustrations by the instantly recognisable Nick Sharratt and text by talented newcomer Katrina Charman, vehicle-obsessed little ones will never want to put this book down.

Go, Go, Pirate Boat is a children’s picture book written by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Nick Sharratt and published by Bloomsbury (2019.) RRP: $Au 12.99/ $NZ 14.99 PB

From the publisher:

Join two seafaring pirates and their captain on a nautical adventure to find a treasure chest. Add to that a text that is read aloud to the tune of 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' and you have a book that will be enjoyed time and time again!

Go, go, pirate boat,
Across the salty sea,
Raise the anchor, hoist the sail,
It's a pirate's life for me.

Little pirate fans will have endless fun singing along to the tune of a favourite nursery rhyme and doing the pirate actions in this fun ocean adventure. With bold, colourful illustrations by the instantly recognisable Nick Sharratt and text by talented newcomer Katrina Charman.

I loved both Go Go Pirate Boat and Car, Car, Truck, Jeep (above). They are both such FUN! It’s a great idea to have two well-known tunes behind the rhythm of the rhyming stories, and Charman has chosen simple, active language perfectly pitched at the pre-school and Kinder set. Sharratt’s illustrations couldn’t be more perfectly suited to the books. Bright primary colours, cute child characters and toy-like objects will have strong appeal to kids.

Both these books would be perfect in any early childhood or early school situation. For starters, having the well-known tunes reinforcing the text is going to help kids memorise it. And we know that memorising is one of the steps in the journey to reading! The rhyming and rhythmic text will definitely appeal to kids, even without the tune, but the tune is icing on the cake. I envisage children eager to sing the new words to both tunes, and predict these books will be very popular.

B is for Baby is a children’s picture book written by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank and published by Walker Books (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

B is for Baby. B is for Brother. B is for going to see Baba!

Baby’s brother is getting ready to take a basket of bananas all the way to Baba’s bungalow in the next village. He will have to go along the bumpy road, past the baobab trees, birds and butterflies, and all the way over the bridge. What he doesn’t realize is that his cute, very curious baby sister is secretly coming along for the amazing bicycle ride, too!

B is for Baby works on multiple levels. It can be an elementary book for toddlers, one where they point to images and say the words. It is also a story, with text and illustrations combining to show us a journey and a surprise. Slightly older kids can use all their visual literacy and reading skills to learn about life in West Africa, and perhaps go on to study other texts that expand their knowledge.

Both Atinuke and Brooksbank grew up in West Africa, so the book has an authentic flavour of the area. The illustrations are brightly coloured and redolent of a very different life to the urban one many kids may be familiar with. However, children will still be able to recognise many of the things and people in the book that start with B, and perhaps go on to identify different B things in their own environment. But remember, Don't Step on a B(ee)!

The Wall in the Middle of the Book is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Jon Agee and published by Koala for Scholastic (2019.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB.

From the publisher:

There's a wall in the middle of the book, and a young knight is sure that the wall protects his side of the book from the dangers of the other side.

Dangers such as an angry tiger and giant rhino, and worst of all an ogre who would gobble him up in a second!

But the knight doesn't seem to to notice the crocodile and the growing sea of water that are emerging on his side. When the water's almost over his head and he's calling for help, who will come to his rescue?

This is a very appealing children’s picture book. I hadn’t encountered any books by Agee, but hope to meet more soon. His illustrative style is superb. I loved the muted colours, and the quirkiness of characters like the ogre and the little knight. Kids will love the way suspense builds as the knight continues his dialogue unaware of the worsening situation behind him.

Kids in junior grades will accept the story of the wall and what is on other side at face value. But The Wall in the Middle of the Book will work well as a discussion starter for older kids. Why do we build walls between ourselves and others? Are all walls physical? Can walls always protect us? Are all the fears we feel justified, or might we be afraid of something we just don’t understand? I’ll be adding it to my list of Picture Books that Celebrate Diversity.

Up to Something is a children’s picture book written by Katrina McKelvey, illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan and published by EK Books for Exisle (2019.) RRP: $Au 24 99. HB.

From the publisher:

One day, Dad invites Billy into his shed to build something, but Billy soon finds out that he is only allowed to watch. As Dad becomes engrossed in his project, Billy takes Dad’s off-cuts and other items from around the yard and starts to copy what his Dad is building. When they reveal their creations, Dad discovers that Billy has more talents than his dad had ever imagined! Up to Something explores the father–son relationship, and the satisfaction to be gained from making things ourselves.

The premise of Up to Something certainly resonated with me, and I am sure it will with many kids. Dad reckons Billy is too young to build, and relegates him to sweeping - NOT what Billy had in mind when they agreed to work together on a billy cart for the big race. Instead Billy creates his own cart, thereby making Dad realise that they can, indeed, work together.

Lonergan’s illustrations are perfect for the story and provide lots of gentle humour and subtext. I loved that Billy wears his own version of safety goggles - his snorkelling goggles - and that his own billy cart appears utterly achievable and child-built.

This heart-warming story will appeal to both kids and parents. It might even remind some dads of the joys of co-building! It makes a great makerspace resource for schools and a lovely story to read aloud.

My Friend Fred is a children’s picture book written by Frances Watts, illustrated by A. Yi and published by Allen and Unwin (2019.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

A delightful picture book about a friendship between an exuberant but loveable dachshund and his more retiring, tidy housemate.

My friend Fred eats dog food for breakfast.
I think dog food is disgusting.

My friend Fred howls at the moon.
I don't know why.

He does a lot of funny things.
But even though we are different, Fred is my best friend.

Do children know a dog like Fred perhaps? If so, there will be a lot of giggling, head-nodding and story-sharing when you read this book with them! Watts points out the differences between Fred and his cat friend, with humour and charm, and gently nudges young readers to the realisation that despite many many differences, a friend is a friend. Yi’s illustrations contribute much exuberance and fun to the story, bringing the characters to life on every page.

My Friend Fred will make a wonderful gift for any dog-lover, and an excellent resource for libraries. There’s something about that slightly goofy and adorable dachshund on the front cover that woofs out “Buy me! Borrow me!”

I Would Dangle the Moon is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Amber Moffat, and published by MidnightSun Publishing (2019.) RRP: $Au29.99 HB.

From the publisher:

What would you do if you could pluck the moon from the sky? Would you scoop it up in an ice cream cone, or ride it like a snail shell across the night sky? I Would Dangle the Moon is an imaginative and playful story about all the wonderful things a mother would do with the moon for her child if she could do anything in the world.

Lyrical and poetic, this unique and beautifully illustrated story evokes the love and warmth between a parent and child.

In this charming children’s picture book, we witness the moon being transformed by a child and mother’s imaginations. Rather than being a straight forward linear narrative, it is more a reflection and almost a dialogue where the characters muse about the moon and special things in their lives. The illustrations are simple, naive and follow the text.

I Would Dangle the Moon is a great choice for parents and teachers who want children to visualise and use their imaginations. It is uplifting and will appeal to those gentle souls who love to wonder and dream.

Wandering Star is a children’s picture book written by Natalie Jane Prior, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, and published by Scholastic Australia (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

I have a horse, a beautiful horse, and her name is Wandering Star.
We roam wild and free, from the hills to the sea, and it's magic wherever we are.

Follow this truly enchanting story of discovery, adventure and wonderful friends by two much-loved Australian picture book creators.

It’s always satisfying to find a picture book where neither author nor illustrator overtly dominate. Instead they combine seamlessly to deliver a story, and indeed to beguile youngsters into a love of reading. This is certainly true of Wandering Star, a rhyming tale about a beautiful horse and her owner. The two have charming adventures - in a circus, on a farm - until they chance upon a talisman and go on a quest to find its magical owner. They brave the perils, find the Fairy Queen and are given a reward. At last the two reach home and snuggle down together. Was it real, or a dream? Does it even matter?

I know Wandering Star will appeal to kids who love horses. But I'm certain it will interest youngsters who love stories about quests, magical elements, animals, and adventures. There is a wonderful ethereal feel to the book, which will feed children’s imaginations and give them pleasant dreams.

The Panda Problem is a children’s picture book written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Hannah Marks and published by Scholastic Australia (2019.) RRP: $Au 15.99 PB.

From the publisher:

Every story needs a problem.
But Panda doesn't have a problem.

Unless Panda IS the problem!

Lots of children understand that when you’re writing a narrative, you need a character with a problem. The narrator in this book has a very cute panda character but sadly, he has no problem! What he does have is attitude, and it brings lots of opportunities for humour.

Marks’s illustrations are adorable. My favourite page was when Panda x 2 is in the Antarctic and there are a couple of Emperor Penguins observing the action as the story takes a sudden swerve towards resolution. One looks at the other and says, “I find that hard to believe.” The other says, “This is fiction, anything can happen.” It’s nice when picture book creators add a little something extra for adults reading aloud, without interrupting the flow!

Kids will adore the invitations to interact in this book. There is lots of dialogue between the narrator and the panda, and once they have heard the story a couple of times, I know children will be keen to play one part or the other. The Panda Problem would make an excellent model for a re-telling, and for reader’s theatre. It’s a delightful story to share and to read-aloud.

Duck Duck Moose is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford and published by Allen and Unwin (2019.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Who can resist a gloriously goofy moose? These ducks apparently. Or can they?

Duck duck … moose?

A hilarious and heart-warming story about finding friends in unexpected places.

This entertaining children’s picture book reminds me a little of Oink which I reviewed in May. Using only a couple of words, Gifford nonetheless shows us how eloquently a story can be told, and how we can infer so much more than those words because of the illustrations.

I loved the palette Gifford chose and the clarity and charm of her characters. Kids will appreciate the animal’s expressions, particularly the moose. As an almost wordless picture book Duck Duck Moose would make an excellent choice for schools looking to expand their visual literacy resources, as well as being a fun book to share with kids.

Goat on a Boat is a children’s picture book by Nick Dent and Suzanne Houghton, published by Omnibus for Scholastic (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

Although suitable for children 4+, this picture book works well on two levels. Little ones will enjoy the fun, the drama, the interesting and clear pictures and the rhyming text. Older children will admire the cleverness, the way the book provokes thought, and characters like Bighorn Bill who sounds a lot like people we know. They will be bursting to share the humour of, and explain, lines like “Stop the Goats!” Goat on a Boat would be great to share with older kids when exploring topics like sharing, benefitting from other cultures, refugees, acceptance, fear of what we are not familiar with etc.

I’ll be adding Goat on a Boat to my list of Picture Books that Celebrate Diversity. Regardless of your purpose, I very much enjoyed and admired this book, and hope I’ve persuaded you to purchase it for your class, home and library!

You will find earlier lists of my 2019 Picture Book Reviews here, and here.

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Writing Tips for Kids 11 - Write Great Dialogue

by Susan Stephenson,

Last year I began a series of Writing Tips for Kids. This is the eleventh in the series. Over coming weeks you’ll see more short articles, each of them addressing young writers and dealing with a topic helpful to them. I’ve created a new List for these articles and will add to it over time. The List is embedded below.

How to Write Great Dialogue

In real life, people have conversations. Listen to your family chatting and you might hear:

"Hi Mum."
"Hello Jack. How was school?"
"Okay I guess."
"Did you hand in your homework."

It might be realistic, but it's not interesting to a reader, and it doesn't tell us much about the people talking.

Writers use dialogue. It needs to sound realistic, but it isn't a real conversation like the one above. Dialogue does something in your story. Maybe it reveals something about a character. Maybe it gives some information we need to understand the story. It should also move the story along.

Here's another snippet of dialogue, this time from a story. Notice how we always start a new paragraph when someone new or different speaks.

"Hi Mrs Mangle," said Jack, sliding toward his room fast.

"Stop right there, young man." Mrs Mangle narrowed her eyes. "What's that behind your back?"

Jack tried to swallow the lump in his throat. Was there anything he could say to convince his foster mother to let him keep his new pet? "Huh? Oh, you mean this?" He brought his trembling hands to the front. "Isn't it great? It's a white mouse. Tam gave it to me and he says I can keep it."

“Oh, he did, did he?” She stared at the mouse and licked her dry lips.

What did you learn? What do you think MIGHT be going on?

If you want to write great dialogue, try these ideas:

* Pay attention to dialogue between the characters in your favourite books.

* Many adult writers nowadays use "said" in dialogue, rather than always trying for more interesting words like "chortled" or "exclaimed". It helps a reader’s eyes race down the page.

* It can still get boring if what each character says has a speech tag, like "she said". Take a look:

“The robots are coming,” he said.

“Oh no,” she said.

“Yes, and their crazed leader has sparks shooting from his eyes!” he said.
“We’d better leave now,” she said.

“I agree,” he said.

* Try action tags for variety. Here's an example of an action tag. We know Joe said it because what he said is followed immediately by what he did.

"You mean there's an elephant on the roof?" Joe flinched and stared at the ceiling. "Should we call the fire brigade?"

* Sometimes you don't need any tag because it's obvious who's speaking. But be careful to use a character’s name if you need to. Ask others to read your story and point out if they get confused.

* Remember that sometimes, having a character not speak will make a scene more dramatic and tell us a lot about what's going on between characters. Here's an example:

Mrs Mangle glared at Jack, and her nostrils flared.

"Please let me keep him. I want to call him Mickey. Please, please, please," he pleaded.

Mrs Mangle picked up the carving knife. Without a word, she whacked it down hard on the cutting board, and two potato halves flew up and plopped onto the floor.

Write more dialogue the way you want the story to go. Don’t forget to use your writing skills!

You might also like to read Writing Tips for Kids - How to Start, Writing Tips for Kids 2 - Write What You Know, Writing Tips for Kids 3 - Developing Characters, Writing Tips for Kids 4 - Writing Funny Stories, Writing Tips for Kids 5 - Start with a Hook, Writing Tips for Kids 6 - Remove Repetitions, Writing Tips for Kids 7 - Use Strong Verbs and Writing Tips for Kids 8  - Use Specific Nouns., Writing Tips for Kids 9 - Remove Fluff Words and Writing Tips for Kids 10 - Use Your Senses.

Clipart Credit: Phillip Martin

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Nullaboo Hullabaloo

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Nullaboo Hullabaloo is a children’s chapter book written by Fleur Ferris, with occasional illustrations by Briony Stewart, and published by Penguin Random House (2019.) RRP: $Au14.99 PB. I have previously reviewed Ferris’s YA book, Found.

From the publisher:

A spark of magical fairy dust causes a hullabaloo in one Australian country town!

In faraway Nullaboo, Gemma Hart's day isn't going well. Her family might be evicted from their farm, and her science competition topic is march flies. How can she possibly win against perfect Nina, who gets to study butterflies?

But wait, that's not a feather in Gemma’s special bug catcher . . . it's a fairy!

Janomi the fairy isn’t supposed to talk to humans, but desperately needs help. Her grandfather has been captured by the silver spiders. Gemma agrees to help Janomi, and to keep the fairies' existence a secret. But her bug catcher has recorded their conversation - and Nina finds it.

With a media frenzy taking over Nullaboo, a secret government agency barges in to take control, and suddenly the fairy colony is under an even bigger threat. Gemma and her kooky family, school and resourceful neighbours must take matters into their own hands in an against-all-odds bid to save the last fairy colony on Earth.

When I was in Primary School, I had the same kind of belief in fairies as I did in Santa Claus. I was skeptical, but oh, I wanted them to be real! I suspect there are many children who feel the same. They will grab Nullaboo Hullabaloo with glee! It’s a chapter book, but I found it hard to pin down re age recommendation. Middle-grade, yes, but the slightly larger font and occasional illustration will definitely appeal to good readers on the younger end of that spectrum. Regardless, it is an exciting and action-packed read that kids 7+ will enjoy.

Stewart’s black and white sketches definitely add an extra charm to the story. I loved the way Ferris takes us through the scenario of what would happen if someone really DID discover fairies were true. There’s strong dramatic tension, lots of details to bring the world to life, and plenty of characters we can relate to. I know kids will look at the whole fairy trope with new eyes after reading Nullaboo Hullabaloo.

Consider asking kids to create their own fairy worlds after a shared reading of this book. There’s also a very cute activity pack about the book on Penguin’s website.

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