Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle.

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle, illustrated by Maggie Prewett is a fascinating story about life in the desert for three children and the trouble with the red dust that blows in and over everything in it’s path!


This group of desert children invite their school teacher, Mrs White, home for dinner to show her why they always bring in grubby homework. BUT – little do they know what mother nature has in store for them all!

They live in a higgledy-piggledy house with a higgledy -piggledy garden but they play outside, tell stories in the sand, have vivid imaginations and love learning.

Maggie Prewett’s illustrations highlight the spareness of the desert and dominance of the red sand after a sand storm! It reminded me of the many times I have spent in the desert and the fact that even months after returning home, I still found that red dust in pockets of clothes and gaps in the car seals!

I loved reading this story to my children and to classes at my school during library lessons as I was able to tell them about the desert and the amazing landscape we have in Australia. We were able to discuss how theses people live near waterways and if they don’t – water needs to be trucked in – a very foreign concept to city based children.

When we read books to children we open their minds to how other children live and therefore increase empathy and awareness of the world around them.

So what can you do with this story at home or in the classroom?

  • Look at a map of Australia and see where remote communities live. How do these people live in these areas?
  • How do children go to school when they live remotely? Explore School of the Air and Central schools. Compare how you go to school to how they do. Look at this school in Broken Hill 
  • How did the children in this story pass on stories and learn? Have you ever told a story without writing it down? Try and tell a story or two using only spoken word and perhaps a drawing or two as you talk.
  • How did they use their imagination when they heard unusual sounds? Close your eyes and listen to the outside world – imagine what those different sounds could be.
  • Explore personification throughout this story. How does making the objects alive add to the story? Create your own personification sentences.

Looking further:

 

 

Making a difference in Australia.

There is still low education achievement outcomes for Indigenous children in Australia. Indigenous children deserve to learn how to read and write as much as any one else does so that they can choose to move out of poverty cycles and educate the next generation.

In many indigenous communities books are scarce and literacy levels are low.

You may have heard in the media about the low literacy rates and perhaps wondered how you can make a difference? It is really important that we as an affluent nation look towards helping developing nations but we need to look at our own communities who at times are functioning at a developing nation level – which should not be happening.

Through education, empowerment and support anyone can achieve anything.

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The Indigenous literacy foundation are an amazing group who raise money and work with indigenous communities. Through their programs they empower communities to learn how to read by giving them books and publishing books that have indigenous links.

We are a national book industry charity, which aims to reduce the disadvantage experienced by children in remote Indigenous communities across Australia, by lifting literacy levels and instilling a lifelong love of reading.

Please check them out at www.ilf.org.au  and see if your school or community can  participate in the great book swap in August:  www.greatbookswap.org.au

I’m Australian too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

Australia Fair is ours to share, where broken hearts can mend. 

I’m Australian too by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh is a marvellous picture book which highlights the amazing multicultural country Australia is.


Throughout the story we hear about families from Ireland, Italy, China and Syria. We meet the ancestors of  the first people of Australia and also the refugees who are still waiting to be a part of Australia.

Mem Fox celebrates the diversity of Australia and the friendliness of the community through children’s eyes. Rhyme is used along with the thought provoking repetitive question:

How about you? 

Ronojoy Ghosh’s illustrations tell us more about each child, how they live and the different dynamics of the family unit.

As we read this story as a class the children were bubbling with excitement about the fact that they had a story to tell about where their parents came from. As I read it to my own two children we were able to talk about the different people who live here and perhaps who had a story similiar to ours.

We all have a story to tell and all stories should be told. By reading this book to your own child or a whole group of children, all voices can be heard and appreciated!

 

Links for your child, your students and you. 

Families – Find or draw a family picture and underneath write about where you all come from. Children always love to know where their parents and grandparents came from and perhaps even before that! Create your own rhyming paragraph just like in the story.

Geography – Using a world map, find out where the children are from in this story. How far have they or their parents travelled? Why did they all move here?
Thinking – Who is an Australian? What makes you belong to a country? Is there a checklist? Is there a feeling you must have? Explore what makes us belong to a country – how do we feel we belong and how do others decide if we belong? How does this feeling of who belongs create problems in the world
 

Punctuation – what sort of word is I’m? Look for other contractions within the story and discuss why we use them and what they ‘stretch’ out to become.

What is a question mark? How many are used within this story? Create your own questions about this book to share with each other. Make your own question marks out of different materials (such as a long piece of grass!)  IMG_4637

Keep tuned for my post on 4 levels of questioning when reflecting on reading.

All i want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke

All I want for Christmas is Rain by Cori Brooke and Megan Forward is an uplifting story about a young girl’s belief in Santa and the power of Christmas Spirit.

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A family of farmers are about to celebrate Christmas but the farm is parched, the dams are dry and spirits are low. The watercolored illustrations  by Megan Forward highlight the dryness of the country.

Jane, a strong and thoughtful young girl is an inspiration to any youngster who is yearning for more presents for Christmas. Jane encompasses the true meaning of Christmas when she travels into town on a ‘long shiny train’ and asks Santa for one thing – rain!

All I want for Christmas is Rain is a melodic read and the illustrations add to the emotions of the family over the Christmas period.

Children from the country will understand Jane’s position and children from the city will gain some insight into the harsh realities of farming life in Australia. Perhaps even gain more appreciation for the places our produce comes from.

All I Want for Christmas is Rainis a great new story from New frontier publishing would be an excellent addition to the Christmas gifts – alongside many local and handmade toys, tickets to shows and love rather than more plastic things.

How does this link in with sustainability?

  1. Precious water. 

Review or learn about the water cycle. Link this knowledge of the water cycle to a rain map of Australia or the country you live in. Why do some areas lack rain? Look at the influence of mountain ranges, coastal living and the role major rivers play in the outback.

2. Where does our produce come from?

Using supermarket brochures, local farmers markets and and social enterprise networks; work out where they get their produce from. Is it sourced local? Interstate or from overseas?

3. How is different produce made and does it rely on water? 

A great project could be delved into under this banner and interchanged with different produce. (Links with numeracy, geography and science)

EXAMPLE: RICE.

Where is rice grown in Australia? Create a map of the rice growing areas.

How is rice grown? What is needed – create a timeline of rice growing .

How much water does it take to produce a bag of rice?

Is white rice a good crop to grow in some areas of Australia?

Is there a better alternative to this grain that may not rely on as much water?

Create a more sustainable way to grow rice or a better crop for our environment.

4. Christmas gifts

Write down a list of things you can give to others for Christmas that have less of an impact on the environment. This could be tickets to shows or places, handmade items.

Thirst By Lizzie Wilcock

Thirst by Lizzie Wilcock was on the shortlist in the Wilderness Society’s  Environment award for children’s literature.

thirstI loved reading this book from start to finish. Perhaps I am a little biased as I do love the Australian outback and the flippant nature of it. I love the sense of freedom and would love to learn more about bush foods and bush survival. The two main characters in this story had their troubles but were so strong in their ability to survive under dire circumstances.

This is a great book for older readers and I think all students will love it. Thirst  follows two young children on a journey through the Australian desert. The imagery in the story is amazing and you can really feel that you are a part of the outback.

Kuranda and Solomon come across many difficulties both physical and mental as they search for freedom and somewhere to call home. There are lots of layers in this story but they’re not complex to unravel. I loved that it showed the kids’ deepening love for the outback environment while never trivialising the harshness of it. It might even inspire your family to take a trip into the desert to learn about the wonders that abound in it.

Follow up activities

  •  Grab a map of Australia and work out where Kuranda and Solomon may have been.
  • Explore the six seasons of Kakadu. 
  • What is bush food – could you survive in the desert for days or weeks?
  • Explore foster care – discuss the pros and cons of the system that is currently in place. Look at the emotional effects foster care can have on children – both positive and negative.
  • Plan a family camping trip. Work out what you would need to take for at least 3 days of camping where there are little amenities.

 

 

The importance of nature play. 

There is a lot of new research coming out on the importance of play and the importance of play outside.

As a teacher I have always observed children learning best when they are in a relaxed and informal environment. In saying this, there is always a place for teaching and mentoring but there is also a place for exploration, making mistakes and collaboration.


I love being outside – it just makes me happier. I love being in natural areas where there is less human activity and more time to sit back and admire what is around us. So when I became a librarian I couldn’t think of a better way to get children outside than through books!

Research shows that playing outside increases happiness, problem solving and motivation. When children play outside they use more imagination as there are less boundaries, they can problem solve and they can learn about the world they live in through their 5 senses.


Now, you often think of books as an inside activity – which they can be (and often are) and this is fine BUT what if we can take ideas from these books and use them to inspire some outdoor play?

Here are some books which might inspire you to take a trip outside!

 

Go on an adventure

We are going on a bear hunt

This is a classic book that we all know and love. It is so much fun to read and sing to and is a favourite of ours.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Go on your own bear hunt! Find some swishy grass, splashy water and sloshy mud – lots of fun!
  • Can you go on a native Australian animal hunt? Which animals live in your area?
  • Pack a bag and go on a short hike. Think of the different things you need to cope with storms, rain, wind and sunshine!

Worm explorers

The worm who knew karate by Terry Denton and Jill Lever

The worm who knew karate By Jill Lever and Terry Denton is a hilarious book about a worm who decides to become a braver and stronger worm through the art of karate! Which made me think….how can we help our children to build their confidence? And what do those worms in my worm farm really get up to? Maybe it’s a secret dojo I have never been aware of….

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • go and dig up some dirt – find some earth worms!
  • Go and buy a worm farm or explore your local community garden worm farm.
  • Feed the worms – what do they like best?

Create a garden

The curious Garden by Peter Brown

One boy’s quest for a greener world, one garden at a time.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a book based on fact. The Highline is an abandoned railway line that people began to take back over and return it back to nature and open spaces for people to enjoy.

It is a poignant book as many cities, suburbs and towns are starting to explore how they can become greener, literally.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Keep a seed diary – plant a seed and watch it grow! (use quick growing seeds like herbs, beans or sunflowers)
  • Look at a local park or your own backyard and redesign it so there is more growing and more green.
  • Make an inventory of the nature in your area. Discuss biodiversity of plants and animals.

Explore insects

Mechanics by Lance Baldachin

Mechanica: A beginner’s field guide by Lance Baldachin is a picture book for those who love the earth but wonder what is to become of it if we keep treating it the way we do.

It is circa 2250 and the earth is devoid of any natural life due to human destruction and consumption. However, mechanical creatures have been made to replace what was lost – though these are not always as kind as they look!

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Find some insects and sketch them. Look at how they move their arms and legs. Try to recreate an insect out of natural material.
  • Create an insect house for your local insects. Many insects are lacking in city gardens as there are not enough small holes for them to live in.
  • Look for signs of life cycles of insects  – these can be hard to find but it will make your child look in the small places that we often overlook.

Explore new places

Bogtrotter by Margaret Wild

The Bogtrotter is a delightful creature that lives in the bog – a gloomy, marshy, mushy bog! Bogtotter, written by Margaret Wild is a book that focuses on belonging, trying new things, playing outdoors, loneliness and discovery.

The illustrations by Judith Rossell are marvellous, really bringing to life the Bogtrotter and his feelings.

The reader steps through into the life of the Bogtrotter, watching him start off doing the same thing every day, not knowing how to make a change. It is through talking to other animals around him and picking a flower that he sees that there is more to his bog.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Go to a new park, a new national park or any outdoor space.
  • Walk a path you walk everyday but do it slowly and try to notice the small things as you go along. Talk to people, say hello and notice what is happening.
  • Take something outside that you normally do inside – does it make a difference?

 

Imagination

Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn

I loved reading Incredibilia by Libby Hathorn and illustrated by Gaye Chapman to my children, the pictures really transport you to an imaginative world full of crazy creatures, whispy clouds and natural beauty. We loved looking at each page and imagining what Georgie was thinking about, what she was playing and how the others could play to.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Take some ribbons, balls, string and scraps and see what you can do with them outside rather than a specific toy.
  • Create new names for the local insects, trees and flowers in your garden or local park – imagination!
  • Go somewhere or find something that you think is incredibilia!

Being Green

Leaf by Stephen Michael King

Leaf shows the love of nature that children can have when given the chance. It also shows the adult world and how everything needs to be neat, tidy and regimented. A sad story on adults behalf!

In this magical story a little boy  grows his own seedling in his hair and loves it, cares for it and shares many adventures with it. He spends every waking minute finding the best way to care for his seedling.

Unfortunately it’s time for a haircut and the adult world tries to take his small tree away from him. However, his determination and resilience shines through and he continues to care for the tree as he grows older.

This is a beautifully drawn book which not only intrigues the reader but really hits the spot on how we need to take a step back and let the natural world become a part of our daily lives.

After you read this book, with your child you can…..

  • Perform a puppet show outside with leaves as the characters – draw on them and create a story!
  • What can you grow out of different substances? Explore how seeds grow and what they need to grow.
  • How heavy are different trees. Use problem solving to try and work this out.

 

I hope this has inspired you to read some books and play outside! I have many more ideas each week on my blog so please sign up to flickingonthebook.wordpress.com

 

 

The worm who knew karate! By Jill Lever and Terry Denton

 

If a worm has no back bone, is it really that tough?

We are often told to aspire to be the early bird…what would a worm aspire to be like?

Is it fair to say that all worms hang out with bad apples?

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There are too many worm analogies floating through my head right now…I’m sure you can come up with some more – would love to hear them!

 

The worm who knew karate By Jill Lever and Terry Denton is a hilarious book about a worm who decides to become a braver and stronger worm through the art of karate! Which made me think….how can we help our children to build their confidence? And what do those worms in my worm farm really get up to? Maybe it’s a secret dojo I have never been aware of….

Confidence building in young children is vital. We need to set them up so that they can make it through life’s ups and downs at any stage. By reading books that have characters who make positive changes in their lives allows children to see what they can do when they are in a difficult situation. I know your child is not a worm

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but this book shows them that they can make changes – they can learn something they are unskilled in, they can change friendship groups, they can be different and they can make themselves the best they can be. Books are a great way to tackle those bigger issues and make conversation around them a lot easier.

BUT HOW CAN WE LINK THIS BOOK TO SUSTAINABILITY?

Get yourself a worm farm! Do you need convincing? Here are ten reasons why you need one today:

  1. Worm farms are relatively cheap and need little maintenance.
  2. All your fruit, vegetable and loose leaf tea scraps can do in there
  3. They provide nutritious fertiliser for your garden through their wee. No more store bought chemicals!
  4. They are pets that do not need walking. Your children can easily look after them. There will be no arguments!
  5. You only have to outlay money on your first purchase – worms do their own thing after that!
  6. We have had ours for 5 years and haven’t had to do anything to it so I would say they last for a long time.
  7. They do not smell – great lid design and ventilation.
  8. Easy to use tap to get rid of the worm wee and easily removed lid to feed your worms.
  9. No more stinky bin juice or changing the bin daily.
  10. Your moving one step closer to having a more sustainable household!

 

Literacy lesson ideas:

Think of other sayings like ‘The early bird catches the worm’ Create a story or picture to go with one of these so that the meaning changes.
 – Barking up the wrong tree