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:

 

 

Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood

Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood is a moving and informative story told through the eyes of a young boy who lives on a farm through abundance and scarcity.


Nature rules the lives of so many whose livelihood depend on the great cycles of nature causing great joy and also great distress.

As most of the population live in cities and suburbs of those cities we really need to take the time to appreciate what goes on on those farms and how much weather patterns plays a role in what the farmers can and can’t do with produce and live stock.

The young boy in this story is waiting for his friend Rick to come and visit him again over summer and is making comparisons to last year when  the river flowed, the green grass, the number of animals around and the extra time they have to put into the farm when the grass isn’t there for the animals to feed on. He hopes that perhaps Rick will bring some rain with him.

Two Summers is a beautifully written book with soft and emotive illustrations. You can feel the emotions of the family through their daily life on the farm and begin to understand what farming life is like when times are tough.

So how can you link this book with your children and family to make more meaning? 

Geography: Taking a trip to the countryside is so important but if it can’t be done there are many local farms that are often within an hours drive of a major city.

Take some time to see where your food comes from and learn how the amount of rain, the fluctuations in temperature and the pressure from large multinationals plays a role on the lives of the people who provide food for us.

English: Look deeper into perspective – how would you feel if you lived on a farm? How does this boy feel?

Science: Look at the rainfall and temperatures of a large farming area where your food comes from. How do you think this climate effects produce?

Welcome Home by Christina Booth

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors we borrow it from our children

– Chief seattle.

Welcome Home by Christina Booth is a story of a young boy who can hear whales singing when no one else does. He hears sounds of joy and sadness and listens to stories she tells while he is asleep.


The whale tells of fear and darkness in tales of whaling of the past.

Why did they hurt us and chase us away?

The illustrations illuminate this fear and emptiness and make you wonder why whaling was such a sport.

The whale tells the young boy that she wanted to come home but they do not feel safe –

Sorry – the boy whispers.

The journey the reader embarks on is one of critical thought – why did people go whaling? How has this sport impacted the ocean? How can activities we take part in today impact the future?

Although whaling and the issues that surround it can come across quite strongly – this picture book approaches the dark past in a more gentle manner allowing children to explore the issue without feeling fear or guilt but rather a sense of empowerment.

Welcome Home was inspired but the birth of a whale calf in the Derwent river in 2010 – the first for over 190 years.  It is a beautiful read and one that needs to be read to the future.

So where to from here:

Welcome Home

SUSTAINABILITY

  • How do actions we take every day impact the future?
  • Do people have a right to hunt whales today? Explore the pros and cons of whaling as you try to understand why some countries still whale. Look at whaling from their perspective and see how you could change their mind using their perspective on whales.
  • Create a story about an action in the past that has impacted our current environment in a negative way? Create this story so that readers can learn from this mistake.
  • How are we connected to whales? Do we need whales for our ecosystem to survive? Look at life cycle charts and food chains to explore this question.

NUMERACY

  • Investigate the whale numbers around the world and compare to previous years. How are the numbers changing?
  • Look at the different shapes of whales and the patterns of symmetry.
  • Whales can have barnacles living on them. Which species have this? How many barnacles could fit on a whale?

LITERACY

  • Storytelling is an important gift that we all have. What would the world be like without storytelling? Can you think of what your life would look like without stories?
  • Write a letter, create a magazine advertisement that implores people to think about whaling and the horrific side effects. Great way to use persuasive and emotive language.
  • The whale told this story to the young boy  – could this story be told to an adult? How would the story be different.
  • Explore personification used throughout the story: Tugs at my heart, the moon danced on the waves. How does this language make you feel?

Out of the Blue by Alison Jay

Out of the Blue by Alison Jay is a stunning wordless picture book which draws you into each image, searching for stories within stories.

A young boy lives in a lighthouse and spends his days beach combing – where he meets a young girl and together they play until a storm rolls in.

The boy retreats to his lighthouse home, to only find once awakening, that a giant octopus has emerged from the storm and is stranded on the beach – alive but tangled in old netting.

The boy and girl rescue the octopus along with other caring beach goers and release it back into the sea to all of the other sea creatures.

No words are needed for this story to make you feel warm with hope, blue with sadness and energised with joy. The illustrations allow your mind to wonder throughout the story and long after it has been read.

Take your time to read this story again and again – and draw fact from the back pages to learn more about the creatures of the ocean and how we can take better care of them.

So where to from here?

SUSTAINABILITY

  • The Ocean Clean up is an amazing company who are working on creating an eco friendly way to clean up the ocean by removing plastic bags that lie around in the ocean, harming wildlife and their habitat.
  • Investigate organisations which act to look after the ocean.
  • Should plastic bags be banned? Debate this – look at the pros and cons and work out why large companies are reluctant to ban them.
  • Visit the beach or a local waterway and see how much plastic you can find while you are there. Categorise the plastic – what is turning up the most? What state is the plastic in? How might these pieces of plastic be harming wildlife (links to numeracy: graphs and creating categories)

SCIENCE

  • Investigate ocean animals that live in the deeper parts of the ocean. What do they look like? How are their survival techniques different from animals who live on the upper levels of the ocean?
  • Have there been occasions where a deep sea creature really has appeared on the beach out of the blue?

LITERACY

  • Rewrite this story from the octopuses point of view or even the little girls point of view.

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

 

 

 

Colours of Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft.

Bronwyn Bancroft’s poetry brings the vibrant colours to life as we sail through shadows,ferns, clouds and raindrops.

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Each page brings another part of Australia to life with shades, hues and patterns.

As you read Colours of Australia, a calmness sweeps over the readers, immersing them in the Australian landscape.

We loved reading this story, looking at the different shades of colour and wondering about the beauty of Australia.

This is an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to link picture books to nature through Indigenous art techniques.

So how does this link to sustainability?

PLAY OUTSIDE!!

This book encourages us to go outside – everyone! There is so much research pointing us in the direction of outside play. We need to get more in touch with the land, the plants and the animals that are part of our world. Nature is important in so many different ways. See my blog post on nature play.

CREATE

Compare pictures of some wonderful Australian locations and create them in your own way using colours and shades like Bronwyn Bancroft has.

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Go to your local paint shop and grab some paint cards. You can find so many different shades of every colour and this can help children to discern between the different shades and how they wish to use them.

Look a local river, a river in the daintree, a river in a farming area and a river in flood through the desert. Notice the different colours of the river at different times and different locations.

Learn about Bronwyn Bancroft and her amazing artworks.

 

LITERACY

This book contains fantastic vocabulary to start drawing on the importance of synonyms in creative writing. Create your own synonym wall for each drawing in this book.

Touch and feel words – which words in this story make us ‘feel’ the word? Discuss and find more of these.

How do colours make you feel? What if you had synaesthesia. How would this effect how you ‘see’ colours?

 

Happy reading!