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:

 

 

At the Zoo I see by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells and published by Magabala books  is a vibrant board book for younger readers.

At the Zoo I See is a colourful parade of creatures found in zoos around the world including many wonderful Australian animals. As you turn each page your child will be delighted by the vibrant pictures of animals you can see at the zoo.

I loved the adjectives used in the short board book as it gave each animal more meaning to how they move about in their daily life. We loved discussing why the cassowary was queenly!

At the Zoo I see is another harmonious collaboration between Joshua Button, a descendent of the Walmajarri people and artist Robyn Wells who resides in the Kimberley area. Each animal is true to it’s colour in nature and is depicted as alive and alert. This board book is part of the Young Art Series which showcases the work of young indigenous artists.

Zoo’s are an important part of a natural world especially with the destruction of animal habitats every day all over the world. It is important that we make our children aware of the wonderful animals that their local zoo takes care of. Although zoos may seem cruel in that the animals are caged, without this many of the animals we see at the zoo would already be endangered or extinct.

Board Books are a wonderful way to start your child reading and At the Zoo I See connects creative sentences alongside colourful pictures to mesmerise young readers and allow them to learn more about animals and reading.

So how can you link this book to other activities?

Sustainability

  • Talk about the animals in the book and perhaps explore theses animals further through research, other books and videos of the animals.
  • Go to your local zoo and find out more about the work the people at the zoo do for the animals.
  • Wombats, Quolls and Cassowaries are all Australian animals – find out where they live, how they live and how they are effected by feral animals and habitat destruction.
  • Find other picture books that include animals

Literacy

  • After finding out more about each animal, try to think of other adjectives that could describe the animal.
  • What other words start with the same sound as the animal? Have some fun with alliteration such as wobbly wombat, quokka on a quest and calm cassowary.
  • For older readers work out which animal is first if put in alphabetical order.
  • Ask your child – what do you think these animals are doing? Use the pictures on the pages to help answer these questions (look at the eyes, movement of animal and anything else in the drawing)

Indigenous Australia

  • Find out what the animal names are in your local indigenous dialect.
  • What is the young art series and how is this helping young indigenous artists?
  • How are different Australian animals important to different Indigenous groups of Australia? Which Australian animals live in your area?