Friday, June 17, 2011

Children's Book Review, The Great Expedition

by Susan Stephenson,

How can any child or chook resist a book with "Expedition" in the title? Ever since Pooh and friends went on an expotition to the North Pole, I've loved to read books that lure with a promise of adventure and charting new territory. I think you and your kids will enjoy The Great Expedition as much as I did.

Written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas, it was published by New Frontier (2011). You might remember I've reviewed two other children's picture books by Carnavas, Last Tree in the City and The Important Things.

On August 20, a group of young explorers was charged with a dangerous mission. They were to travel across wild country to deliver a valuable parcel.

The journey would be punishing. It would test the resolve of the brave young explorers. Most of all, it would provide us all with a pair of unlikely heroes to admire and remember for many years to come.

This is their story.

Like all expeditions, this one has its problems. Parents and kids alike will laugh over situations like the team being ambushed by a Senior Officer who drags Ivy away - it's obvious from the illustration this is Mum who's carting Ivy off to her ballet lesson. The illustrations constantly reveal the subtext to add humour, as when the team locate a waterhole but the picture is of a bubbler/water fountain. The final double spread picture of the survivors overlooking the park and playground equipment completes the fun.

I like the way Carnavas tells his tale with a flavour of the slightly formal language used in expedition write-ups. We read that "They were a ramshackle bunch but each member had a duty essential to the journey", of "Henry, biologist: collect creatures native to the land" and "Ivy, botanist: gather plant samples along the way." It's so important for children to learn new vocabulary this way, and makes their reading experience rich and meaningful.

Carnavas took the story of real-life Australian adventurers, Burke and Wills, as his inspiration for The Great Expedition. Can your kids think of any other explorers they've heard of or would like to find out more about?

When you've read The Great Expedition, here are some more activities to help your children make connections to the book with their own adventures.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt at your local park - find leaves, seedpods, other natural items or manmade items. Help your kids develop visual literacy by making up a card with age-appropriate words and pictures of things they need to find. If you can't make it to the park, "salt" the backyard with things for your kids to find - you could hide toy dinosaurs, toy cars, plastic snakes, even letters of the alphabet for your child to discover.
  • Try archaeology in the sandpit, or at the beach. Salt the area with small plastic animals or toys, and give your kids plastic shovels and buckets to retrieve them.
  • Do some map making. Ask your kids to look really hard at the natural and man made environment in your park or yard. Have them represent that environment with sand and found objects. Older kids can take it a step further and try to make a 2D map of the environment with lines and shapes to stand for actual objects and terrain. If your kids love maps, make sure to read an excellent article in Literacy Lava 9 by Rebecca Newman, titled Maps and Literacy - Heading in the Right Direction.
  • Pack a picnic lunch and do some adventuring of your own. Has your family tried geocaching or canoing? While you're out in the fresh air, replay the story of The Great Expedition with some toys, or gather a group of friends together and assign each a role. Good luck!
Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook
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