Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boys & Learning: 'Active Learning' works!

In an article in 'The Atlantic' Jessica Lahey called on schools to 'stop penalizing boys for not being able to sit still at school'. The article was motivated by her observations of boys as a teacher and her reading of the findings of research on boys published by the International Boys’ Schools Coalition’s 'Teaching Boys: A global study of effective practices'. Her teaching of boys suggested that while some struggled at school, others thrived. What is the ingredient that leads to inconsistency? Is it simply within the boys, or are there factors external to the boys that are at work?

As a young boy I experienced first hand what it means to move from being a talented and successful boy in the primary school years, to being a struggling student who was often in trouble as a teenager. At secondary school I slipped from A classes to B classes and then found myself struggling with a number of subjects. However, my achievements varied across subject. While in some classes I was rebellious and disengaged, in others I was motivated and successful. This is not an uncommon experience for boys. Some teachers, subject and even specific lessons work for boys, while others don't. Why? Is the answer in the curriculum? The content? The child? Or something else?

The research work by Dr Michael Reichert and Dr Richard Hawley set out to find answers to questions such as these, and concluded that the problem wasn't just within the boys. They interviewed teachers and students and observed effective lessons in eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia. They found that the most effective lessons for boys included a number of common elements:
  • They required students to be active learners (physical activities were a key)
  • The teacher embedded desired learning outcomes in the form of a game or fun activities
  • The lessons required individuals or groups of students to build, design, or create something that was judged competitively by classmates
  • They required students to present the outcome of their work to other students
  • They asked students to assume a role, declare and defend a position, or speak persuasively about something
  • The lessons held student attention by surprising them with some kind of novelty element
  • Lessons addressed something deep and personal in the boys’ lives; they engaged at a deeper personal level.
Getting a sense of scale!

Reichart and Hawley concluded that the learning problem wasn't due to the limitations of the boys, but rather the failure of lessons to actively engage them. What they found when they observed effective lessons in the eighteen participating schools from North America, UK, South Africa and Australasia, was that relatively simple changes in classroom pedagogy made a difference for boys.

The common features in successful lessons for boys were active learning, movement, teamwork, competition, consequential performance, risk taking, and surprise.  They concluded that successful lessons required teachers to engage and energize boys. They also found that boys were deeply relational and that the establishment of a positive relationship between teachers and boys is critical.

This last point is important. Over many years I have often asked students to name a great teacher and then to say why. The reasons given vary, and are typically idiosyncratic. But within each of the responses, invariably the student indicates that the teacher 'took an interest in them', 'understood them', 'saw some potential in them', 'got them interested in learning' and generally excited and engaged them. The general thrust of this work and its findings is that rather than simply blaming boys for their under performance, we need to seek different approaches in our classrooms to help to engage them as learners.

The excitement of chemistry

In my own life I can think of three teachers who made a difference to my life - Mr Campbell (Grade 4), Mr Blaze (Grade 7) and Mr Hoddle (Grade 11). My memories of them are rich but the methods they used to engage me were very simple (and in one case unconventional). All had a deep commitment to their teaching and empathy for their students. They wanted me to learn and saw potential within me that other teachers weren't able to see. Mr Campbell when confronted with a new aquarium in his classroom turned to me one day and said, "I'd like you to find out all that you can about tropic fish". He gave me a book and sent me off to find out about them and how to care for them. Several weeks later he asked me to present a mini-lesson to the class on tropical fish.  I was now the school expert on tropical fish!

My grade 6 maths teacher Mr Blaze (he was also my home room teacher, and cricket coach) overheard a student ridiculing me one day in class because I was overweight. He turned to the boy and said "I'll tell you what Meli, I bet TC will beat you in the cross-country race this week". He proceeded to set a wager, with the winner to receive $10 from his pocket. Now I had no intention prior to this of going in that race. But I did, and ended up $10 richer.

Mr Hoddle simply showed me that geography could be exciting by sharing his love of the subject and something of his life with a small group of senior students. He made it interesting by setting tasks that made us explore, solve problems and work collaboratively with others. And all the while he was interested in our lives and us.

The power of experience
None of these teachers used startling methods, and Mr Blaze used one that was positively dodgy, but all showed an ability to understand me and to try to reach and engage me. They also sought to understand me relationally, treating me with respect, believing in me and somehow, helping me to believe in myself. That's the art of good teaching for boys (and girls as well).

Boys and girls are different and as such at times require us to seek different approaches and forms of engagement. It is easy to dismiss boys who act out in classrooms as simply a pain in the neck for the teacher, but the acting out usually has some source and foundation. Just what is it, and how do we respond? The work of Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley offer us some clues and ways forward.

Jessica Lahey concludes her excellent article with these wise words:

"Educators should strive to teach all children, both girls and boys by acknowledging, rather than dismissing, their particular and distinctive educational needs."

My Previous Posts on Boys

I have written a number of posts on education for boys HERE


Friday, June 19, 2015

Graphic Novels: Reviews of some recent arrivals

What is a Graphic Novel?

The term graphic novel has grown in popularity in the last decade, as an increasing number of authors have experimented with this format for presenting narrative accounts. In simple terms it is a text that makes added use of drawn images to communicate its meaning. In some cases, words are absent or largely secondary, whereas in other cases, word and image are used equally with clever integration.


Some include comics within the category, although the pairing of 'novel' with 'graphic' reflects the increased development of long fictional works. But this textual form can cover fiction, non-fiction, comics and anthologies. The definition is slippery. For example, Manga (Japanese for 'comic') are read by adults and children in Japan and can be substantial works with varied literary content. Other recent works by children's authors can have little or no words and once would have been called wordless picture books. Shaun Tan's brilliant book 'The Arrival' tells a complex tale of a man who leaves his wife and child to seek a better future as an immigrant in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. This 'graphic novel' tells the story with no words!


Some recent examples

I've had a number of graphic novels that have crossed my desk in recent months; here are just a few examples.

'Anders and the Comet' by Gregory Mackay (Allen & Unwin)

This is an adventure story for readers 6-9 years of age. Anders is a superhero; well a kid with a big imagination. The book celebrates the every day events of children's lives.  It's the school holidays, and Anders, Eden and a new friend, Bernie are amusing themselves in many ways. There are comics to be made, games to be played, ice-cream to be eaten, and rhinos to impress at Wekiwa water park. But when Anders and his friends meet the Green Grabber things take on a whole new direction, leading eventually to a dramatic rescue. The very simple line drawings in comic format with simple language will delight readers.



'The Return of the Queen' Vermonia, YoYo (Walker Books)

The 'Vermonia' series of graphic novels written and illustrated by YoYo (which is a Manga Studio) has now reached book number eight! Vermonia lies in the centre of the universe and its fate rests on the shoulders of four not-so-average kids. All of the heroes in the series have an adversary, avatar spirit, their own love interest and eventually their moment of truth. The illustrations are classic comic black line drawings with enough detail and quality to engage readers aged 9-14 years. This last book in the series ends with the triumph of the key characters. Not for me, but then again, the series wasn't written for me.




'Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc' by Tony Lee and illustrated by Sam Hart (Walker Books)
Tony Lee created his story from the original transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial before her death at the stake. He manages to portray powerfully the extraordinary life of a young farm girl who became the leader of an army of men. In 1424 she heard voices and had visions that helped save her village from attack in the Hundred Years' War. Was she touched by the devil or God? Shaping a story from the original transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial before her death at the stake, Tony Lee portrays the extraordinary life of a young farm girl who becomes the leader of an army of men. Her story tells of a young woman who has an unflinching faith in God and in herself. It is also a story of someone prepared to risk everything in the battle for freedom and independence. Joan of Arc's unflinching faith in God and in herself has inspired generations. After a trial for heresy she was executed. She was prepared to risk everything in the battle for freedom and independence. 

The graphic novel format seems ideal for this story and the illustrations of Sam Hart are wonderful, being full of colour and detail. Readers 11-14 will enjoy this story. 


This is book 2 in the series of 'The Bloodhound Boys' books following on from 'The Great Bloodbank Robbery'.  Beneath the earth Skull River is having mysterious earthquakes and yet, the Rocky and Vince have other things on their minds; they have a monster truck race to win. This dangerous and lethal race takes the boys off the track. But will they get back in time to stop the earthquakes? This fast moving tale with its simple (predictable) plot and simple line drawings will keep even the most reluctant boy readers turning the pages. Lots of fun for readers aged 6-9 years.

Other great graphic novels reviewed previously on this site

'Requiem for a Beast' by Matt Ottley

'When the Wind Blows' by Raymond Briggs

'One Minute's Silence', by David Metzenthen and illustrated by Michael Cammileri

'The Afghanistan Pup', by Mark Wilson

'War Brothers: The Graphic Novel', by Sharon E. McKay and illustrated by Daniel Lafrance

'Slog's Dad', by David Almond and illustrated by David McKean

'The Adventures of Scarygirl', by Nathan Jurevicius

'Hamlet', by Nicky Greenberg

'Rules of Summer', by Shaun Tan

'Tales from Outer Suburbia', by Shaun Tan

'The Lost Thing', by Shaun Tan

'Into the Unknown', by Stewart Ross and illustrated by Stephen Biesty

'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mt Morris Lessmore', by William Joyce








Saturday, June 6, 2015

Why we need to read to our boys: Ideas & suggestions

Why boys need to be read to

Here are my top 6 reasons why we must read to our boys:

1. We know that books widen knowledge, increase vocabulary and help to teach them about language and the world.
2. We know that being read to at home is linked to later success in reading at school.
3. We know that it helps to build common ground and strengthen relationships.
4. We know that it helps them to develop attention span.
5. We know that it helps us to build stronger relationships with the boys in our lives.
6. We know that it helps to divert them from too much screen time.

For a long time we've known that girls make a faster start in reading in the early years. In the last 2-3 decades the gap between the literacy achievements of boys and girls has widened in favour of girls. Professor William G. Brozo who is co-author of the book 'Bright beginnings for boys' shared this summary of boys' literacy achievements (primarily American data) at an American Literacy conference in October 2008:
  • By grade 4 an average boy is two years behind an average girl in reading and writing
  • Boys make up 70% of special education classes
  • Boys are four times more likely to have ADHD
  • Boys are 50% more likely to repeat a grade than girls
  • Boys are three times more likely to be placed in a reading disability or learning class
So we know we have a problem, but what do we do about it?

Helping boys to become readers

Four fundamental building blocks to get boys reading:

1. Boys are more likely to be attracted to books and reading when the books and the reading events (whether at school, or reading with mum and dad) offer opportunities to discover, experiment, explore, learn new things, make them laugh, consider the curious or unusual, help them to play, see how things work, share trivia tricks and facts with other boys, explore the unknown, and generally do interesting things (see my previous post on this topic here).

2. Boys need to understand the value of story and storytelling from an early age. This can be acquired through early books, the stories you share with them (anecdotes, memories, tall tales etc), traditional stories and fantasy. Until boys value story, they will struggle to cope with reading.

3. Fathers and mothers need to learn how to listen to and read with their sons. Reading to and with boys is often different. You sometimes have to work harder to make it enjoyable. It mustn't be boring or a chore. See my previous post on this topic (here).

4. Fathers have a key role to play in boys literacy and learning development (see my post on research in this area here).


At a more basic level:
  • Boys need a lot of help choosing books that they will not only like, but which they will be able to read. Take the time to help your sons choose books, if they pick up a book with an exciting cover and find that they can't read it this will be a disincentive.
  • Fathers have a special role to play in encouraging boys to see reading as a worthwhile pursuit. Fathers who read will have sons who read. Fathers need to read to and with their sons. A good way to do this with older boys who struggle is to read the first few pages aloud and then ask your son to read on. In this way you'll find that your son can read for longer and cope with harder books.
  • Don't forget the importance of non-fiction. Boys want to learn and non-fiction is often a good way in. Try books about sea creatures, space, sport, transport, technology of any kind (see previous post here). There are varied paths into reading (see previous post here).
  • There is also a place for riddles, joke books, cartoons, poetry and silly rhymes (see my post on this here).
  • Comics, graphic novels and magazines are also a good place to start - get them reading. But don’t forget that it is the quality of the story that will ultimately motivate boys to want to read and so quality literature is important to develop long-term readers (see previous post here).
  • Online reading and research is also a good source of reading challenge for boys.
I hope I haven't given the impression above that only fathers can motivate boys to read. Let's face it, more often than not it is mothers who read more stories to their younger children. But there is an important place for men reading books to and with boys, and research evidence shows that fathers have a key role to play with boys' literacy and learning (see my previous post on this here).

Some sure fire starters for young boys


If you can't get your 3-5 year old boy to listen to a story try one of these ideas to turn this around:

1. Read a book dramatically that lends itself to lots of action, loud noises and maybe a rumble half way through (when the wolf eats Grandma, or the boy gets falls out of the tree). Be dramatic, get their attention!

2. Read a story that they've heard before but mess up the story line as you go along. This is probably how writers invented fractured fairy tales. For example:

The first little pig built his house from straw, but he wasn't stupid, so he used super glue to hold the straw together. The wolf knocked at the door and said, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in." The pig replied, "No, no, no, I've used super glue, get lost." "Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you're house down," roared the wolf. "Two chances wolfey, get lost" and so on. It doesn't matter if the story logic breaks down, they will still love it anyway.

3. A simpler version of the above is just to change the odd word. Boys (and girls) love listening for the words you change. They will roar 'Hey, you changed it from dog to frog'! To which you reply, 'Did I?' Even a story with some limitations will suddenly become more interesting.

4. Get out some dress-up clothes and get them involved in acting out the story. Try to involve all members of the family and have lots of fun. You can sacrifice the accuracy of the story in favour of having a great time. Creative and dramatic play based on stories can be a great motivator for story.

Some Great Books for Boys 

I've written a number of posts on good books for boys (including here, here & here), so I won't repeat them here, except to list just 18 wonderful books to read to and enjoy with boys. These books will rarely fail if you read them with boys aged 7-12 years and do it with excitement and passion.

'The One and Only Ivan' by Katherine Applegate (2012)
'Dragonkeeper' by Carole Wilkinson (2003) [And other books in the Dragonkeeper series]
'Boy: Tales of Childhood' by Roald Dahl (1984)
'Prince Caspian' by C.S. Lewis (1951)
'A Monster Calls' illustrated by Jim Kay and written by Patrick Ness (2012) 
'The Hobbit' by J.R. Tolkien (1937)
'Crow Country' by Kate Constable, Allen & Unwin
'The Silver Donkey' by Sonya Hartnett (2004)
'Rowan of Rin' by Emily Rodda (1993)
'The Machine Gunners' by Robert Westall (1975)
'Strange Objects' by Gary Crewe (1990)
'The Iron Man' by Ted Hughes (1968, new edition 2010)
'The Pinballs' by Betsy Byars (1977)
'Watership Down' by Richard Adam (1972)
'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' by Mark Twain (1876) 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
'The Wheel on the School' by Meindert DeJong (1972)
'Incident at Hawk's Hill' by Allan W. Eckert (1971)
'Vinnie's War' by David McRobbie (2011)
Graphic novels like 'Messenger: The Legend of Joan of Arc', the 'Vermonia' series, or the more simple 'The Bloodhound Boys'.



A final comment on literature

As I've stressed above, while it isn't essential for children to begin reading via books or fiction, there is a critical place for traditional forms like children's literature because of the importance of narrative to people. What I'm saying is that while boys might start reading in many different ways, they shouldn't be allowed to avoid the narrative form. As I commented in the third part of a series of posts on the 'Power of Literature' (here) I believe that while it is possible to learn to read without a rich tradition of books and literature, I would argue that it isn’t possible without a foundation of narrative and story. Why? Expert in narrative Harold Rosen offers the perfect answer to my question:
Narratives in all their diversity and multiplicity make up the fabric of our lives; they are constitutive moments in the formation of our identities and our sense of community affiliation.
We build our relationships with one another, share our humanity through the stories we tell about our own lives and those that we have heard from others. So our aim in using factual forms of reading, and alternative forms like graphic novels and factual texts is of worth in it's own right, but it shouldn't completely replace rich narrative forms like literature.

Some books about Boys and reading

Some of the following books offer good general advice about boys and reading

'Bright beginnings for boys: Engaging young boys in active literacy', Debby Zambo and William G. Brozo, International Literacy Association
'Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys', Pam Allyn which I reviewed here
'The trouble with boys', Peg Tyre
'Best books for boys: A resource for educators', Matthew D. Zbaracki
'Raising bookworms: Getting kids reading for pleasure and empowerment', Emma Hamilton
'The Reading Bug', Paul Jennings

Other Resources


All my posts on boys and education (here)
'Making Reading Exciting for Boys' (here)
'Guys Read Website' - I don't like the design of this site but it has a great set of links to authors who write books that boys might like.
The UK Literacy Trust has a great list of resource links dealing with boys and literacy (here).
The Hamilton Public Library in Canada has a useful site with some good booklists and advice (here)
Max Elliot Anderson's blog 'Books for Boys' has some very useful material and links (here)
You can read all of my posts on boys (here) and boys education (here) using these links.
Family Action Centre at Newcastle University has an Excellent Fatherhood Network and many programs (here)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How Children's Reading Habits Are Changing & Six Ways to Support them

The National Literacy Trust in the United Kingdom has just published its annual report on children's literacy and there are some encouraging signs. The trust is the only national charity dedicated to raising literacy levels in the UK.

1. The report highlights

The 2014 report (released in 2015) of 32,026 children in grades 3 to 11 suggests some interesting trends:
  • Levels of enjoyment have risen with 54.5% enjoying reading quite a lot.
  • Daily reading rates have increased substantially with a 28.6% increase in children who read outside the class on a daily basis.
  • Twice as many children read outside the class for fun each day (now 29.6%).
  • Except for magazines all forms of reading increased, with musical lyrics (50.3%), text messages (72.6%), websites (60.2%) and social networking being the highest (53.6%). Interestingly, 46.7% of all children read fiction at least once a month outside class.
  • The majority of children said they have a favourite book (61.0%).
  • Girls continue to be the most devoted readers
  • Girls and boys read different material outside school - more girls than boys read computer-based formats.
  • Children who enjoyed reading are three times more likely to read above their appropriate level than children who do not enjoy reading (34.9% compared to 10.7%).
2. Six Tips to Help Children to Grow in Enjoyment for Reading

Once again, results of this kind show why it is important for parents and teachers to work hard to increase children's enjoyment of reading. Here are six tips that will help to make a difference:

#1 Work hard to connect children with books that they will enjoy - try to supply books that match interests, that are at an appropriate level, and provide time and space in their lives to read.
#2 Help children to manage their time so that they have time to read - this might require us to restrict screen time for activities those activities that offer only limited reading opportunities.
#3 Provide opportunities for children to experience many forms of reading - books, careful use of social media for class, group and exchange with students in other places. Create varied opportunities for reading magazines, graphic novels, books, music, non-fiction, poetry, cultural texts (e.g. advertising, news, political posters).
#4 Show interest in the things children read - talk to them about their reading, ask them to share what they are reading and why, engage with them concerning the content of their reading and their interests.
#5 Encourage opportunities for children to share their reading interests - try discussion groups on specific texts or genres, one-on-one reading conferences, 'dining room table' discussions with small groups of students (as developed by Nancie Atwell).
#6 Help children to become writers as well - reading feeds writing and writing feeds reading. Get children excited about both by allowing them to take greater control and by supporting them at every step. Encourage them to write for real readers and try to establish ways for others to read their writing as well.

Other related posts on giving children READING SUPPORT





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sketching and imagination as tools for close reading and comprehension


*This is a revised version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago.

Every teacher wants to help children to read deeply, to grasp the richness of characterisation, the devices the author uses to create mood and tension, the intent and purpose of the writer and the language devices employed. We also want them to be moved by the text and able to reflect and respond critically to it. I've written lots of posts about comprehension, but in this one I want to revisit a previously discussed strategy that I've used with children aged 3 to 12 years and which I continue to see as one of the most powerful comprehension strategies I have used.

‘Sketch to Stretch’ is essentially a strategy that involves asking children to sketch in response to reading, hearing or even viewing a story. It requires them to use drawing to 'stretch' or enhance the meaning as they are reading. You can do it during and after reading and there is even a place for drawing as an ‘advance organizer’ before reading, but that’s another post. It can involve varied directions including:

Sketch what just happened.
Sketch what he/she [insert character name] did, lost, saw, heard etc.
Sketch how this [insert and event] makes you feel.
Sketch a picture that shows what might happen next.
Sketch a picture of [insert character].

The sketches on the left are from my book 'Teaching Reading Comprehension', and show just some of the responses from a group of 10 year-old children I had been teaching as part of a research project. I had interrupted a reading of the graphic novel ‘The Wedding Ghost’ (1985) written by Leon Garfield and illustrated by Charles Keeping.

Garfield's book is set in the late 19th century, in a small village in Hertfordshire in England. Like all of Garfield’s books it is rich in historical detail and a depth of language and mastery of storytelling that few children’s authors have ever achieved. The book tells the story of a young couple (Gillian and Jack) who are about to be married. It follows the normal sequence of events for a wedding in the 19th century, beginning with the invitation, preparations, then the rehearsal, present opening, more preparations and eventually the wedding.

Much of the story centres on a journey taken by Jack after he opens an unusual gift addressed only to him. This is the first moment of intrigue. Jack sets off armed with an old map sent by an unknown person, and the events and discoveries that lead ultimately to the dramatic events of the wedding and the outcome.

On the occasion that sketches above were drawn I had introduced the book by sharing the title, showing the cover and then explaining a little about the author. I told the class that Leon Garfield usually wrote what is known as historical fiction, and that this is the writing of fictional stories that are inspired by real events, setting and characters.

I interrupted my oral reading after a few minutes at a point where Jack is to open the mysterious present. This is just a few from the start of the story and the guests are gathered around watching the groom to be. People are making jokes and speculating about the gift and why it might just have his name on it.

I asked my students to quickly sketch what the gift might be. As you can see from the sample of the sketches, the responses varied greatly and included a ghost, map (an uncanny prediction), book, hourglass (suggesting time), a genie’s lamp letter and so. The sketches offer an insight into the level and depth of children’s comprehension of this complex picture book up to this point. As well, they illustrate that they are trying to make sense of what’s going on, where the story might go next and the extent to which they are picking up on the themes in Garfield’s book. As well, they show something of their literary history and the background knowledge that they bring to the reading and the sketching.

Even when children drew the same object there was great diversity. For example, a number of students drew ghosts probably basing their prediction upon the book's title (there had been nothing explicit in the text to suggest this); and yet, the drawings showed a diverse range of ghosts. One student drew a genie type 'ghost' emerging from lamps, several drew 'Casper like' ghosts and others drew ghosts more human in form. Each reflected different literary histories and background knowledge. Where they were at the point of the sketch involved each in a different literary journey and experience of this book.



Summing up

'Sketch to Stretch' as its name implies, stretches children’s understanding, and their knowledge of and appreciation of literature. It is enhanced of course by discussion and skilful teaching, as sketches are shared and responded to by students as well as the teacher. It isn't really an easy strategy; in fact it is a very sophisticated multimodal strategy that requires reading, discussion, response, drawing and sometimes writing in association with it. It can also be used with film in a similar way to the way I used it with the 'Wedding Ghost'.

One of the strengths of Sketch to Stretch and in fact drawing generally, is that it offers an alternative to word-based strategies for heightening engagement. Each response whether it is written, spoken, drawn or displayed in any form, helps children to read more ‘deeply’. The sketches also help us to understand how our children are empathizing with characters, evaluating the text, what they are predicting will come next, how they are reflecting upon earlier events, how they are connecting with life situations and so on. This offers us greater insight into our children’s comprehension as they read and it helps us to enrich the mental journey children are making as they read a book.

Related Resources

Previous posts on 'Comprehension' (here)

'Pathways to Literacy', Trevor H. Cairney (1995). This is a book I wrote and which has more material on reading comprehension and 'Sketch to Stretch'. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Six reasons we sometimes need to say no to our children

It seems in this age that parents struggle increasingly to say no to their children. "No you can't have another biscuit". "No you can't have a mobile phone because Ralph has one". "No you can't stay over at Annette's place when I don't know the family". "No we aren't going to McDonalds tonight".  "No you can't play that online game any longer tonight". Parents vary in terms of their parenting styles along a continuum from permissive to more authoritarian, and I've seen fine young people emerge from families with quite different styles. But it seems to me that irrespective of whether your style is permissive or towards the more authoritarian end, all children do need to hear the word "No" at times.

Why? Here are my top 6 reasons we need sometimes to say 'no'.

#1  Failing to get something that you want, helps to make you more grateful when you do.

#2  We learn from failures, and by not always getting our way or the things that we want.

#3  Being told 'no' is arguably the greatest contributor to understanding the failures of others and developing empathy.

#4  Learning to accept a 'no' helps you to learn how to say no to others; an important key to self-control and preservation.

#5 Having people who love you saying 'no' teaches you a great deal about what true love is.

#6  Being told 'no' helps to develop endurance and determination.

Of course teachers can also have the same problems with saying no. Being able to say 'no' is a great gift from a parent or teacher to a child. But when you do say no it is important to remember a few basics:

  • First, always try to explain why you are saying no. This will help children to grasp that you actually want what is best for them and that you value them.
  • Second, be consistent! There is no point saying 'no' once and then giving in to the same thing an hour later.
  • Third, never say 'no' simply in anger. Yes, at times kids make us angry, but your delivery of a 'no' should be delivered while under control and focused on their good not just punishment.
  • Fourth, don't allow your children - when faced with a no - to engage in a debate; they need to respect your authority as a parent and your right to say no.
  • Fifth, don't allow your children to work one parent against the other. In my family a no to one parent was enough. You need to shut down this type of manipulation by not allowing the child to split parent opinion down the middle.

Good luck saying no.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

11 Memorable Picture Books for Anzac Day

1. 'I Was Only Nineteen' by John Schumann and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen & Unwin)

John Schumann wrote an unforgettable song 'I Was Only 19' in 1983 with the band Redgum. It had the memorable refrain 'God help me, I was only 19'. The lyrics of this well-known Australian song have been brought to life in a children's picture book illustrated by the widely acclaimed Australian illustrator Craig Smith. The lyrics are used exactly as in the song and with Craig Smith's wonderful water colour and line drawings are a moving reminder of the Vietnam War. This was a war that was fought in different ways to the previous great wars and had less universal support than previous conflicts in which Australia and other nations had fought. This was a war that for many didn't seem 'quite real', and our servicemen still carry the physical and mental scars. The book is a moving insight into a war fought by young men who knew little about the country in which they fought and why they were there. It would be an ideal book to share with children aged 6-12 years as we approach ANZAC Day in Australia on April 25th.

2. 'Simpson and his Donkey' by Mark Greenwood & illustrated by Frané Lessac

Every Australian and English child who grew up in the 1950s to 70s in Australia would know of the story of Simpson and the donkey he used to retrieve wounded men on the WWI battlefields of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was one of the greatest of all defeats for the forces of Britain, France and of course the Australian and New Zealand armed forces (the ANZACs). In the midst of the massacre of thousands of allied troops and the eight-month siege of this isolated beachhead, a man and his donkey were responsible for saving many lives, before Simpson was eventually killed on yet another mission.

Mark Greenwood offers a moving story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick and how he and his donkey, Duffy, rescued over 300 men during the campaign at Gallipoli. It traces his life from his home in South Shields in Newcastle (England) and his journey from the Tyne Dock to Turkey. Informed by detailed research, the text includes a brief biography of the man, details of his work at Gallipoli and also the little known story of how one of the many he rescued was actually a childhood friend.

Frané Lessac's illustrations are a wonderful complement to the story and have strength of colour that is not controlled by conventions. There are skies of yellow, orange, aqua, purple and all shades of blue. Her unique style draws your eye deep into each plate; no details can easily be missed.

3. 'Do Not Forget Australia' by Sally Murphy

A poignant picture book about Henri, about France, about Billy and about Australia. It is based on the true story of how strong bonds are developed in the face of adversity.

Sally Murphy wrote the first draft of this special story on ANZAC Day, 2008, while her son was there in Villers-Bretonneux the place where Australian troops fought to save a French town in a foreign war. It took hr four years to complete, and the time spent on this special book shows.

4. 'My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day' (2006), illustrated by Benjamin Johnson

'My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day' was written by Catriona based on her children's grandfather who fought with the British army in World War II. It tells the story of one family's involvement in this day, but at the same time it is a similar story to that of many families who wake up early on the 25th April each year to remember the fallen of war and to celebrate the mateship of those who survive.

This book is an ideal way to help very young children learn something about Anzac Day. It is a simple, thoughtful and touching tale told through the eyes of a little girl. It explains what happens on the day and its significance for a young child.

I sit on Daddy’s shoulders.
It’s a very long wait.
But my grandad will come.
My grandad marches on Anzac Day.

Teaching activities and notes for this books are available for teachers and parents HERE

5. 'Anzac Ted' by Belinda Landsberry (Exisle Publishing)

'Anzac Ted's a scary bear
and I can tell you why.
He's missing bits, his tummy splits,
he only has one eye'

That's how this beautifully illustrated book begins. A battered old teddy, that never wins a prize in the best toy competitions at school and frightens all the kids. But this bear has a secret. No one 'knows my Anzac's woes or just how brave he is.' Like the narrator's Grandpa, Anzac Ted is very old (100 this year in fact) and he made it through two wars as a mascot.

This is a lovely picture book for children aged 4-6 years that will allow very young children to access just as little of the Anzac legend.

6. 'One Minute's Silence' by David Metzenthen & illustrated by Michael Camilleri (Allen & Unwin)

This non-fiction, it is a moving and powerful story about the meaning of Remembrance Day drawing on the ANZAC and Turkish battle at Gallipoli. It is based on true events, but is written in a way that encourages the reader to imagine sprinting up the beach in Gallipoli in 1915 with the fierce fighting Diggers. The reader is also encouraged to imagine standing beside the brave battling Turks as they defended their homeland from the cliffs above.

In the silence that follows a war long gone, the hope is that you might see what the soldiers saw, and feel a little of what the soldiers felt. And if you try, you might just be able to imagine the enemy, and see that he was not so different from 'his' enemy. The purpose is to challenge us to imagine, remember and honour soldiers on both sides of the conflict. All are heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives for their countries.

This is a very moving and powerful reflection on the meaning of Remembrance Day, which is brought to life by Michael Camilleri's incredible pencil drawings. Each double page spread is wonderful. One of my favourites is one that depicts the engineering, physics and impact of a bullet. I found this to be quite dramatic and challenging.

Readers aged 7-10 will enjoy this book.


7. 'The Poppy' by Andrew Plant

Stunningly illustrated in over 70 paintings, The Poppy is the true story of one of Australia's greatest victories, and of a promise kept for nearly a century. On Anzac Day, 1918, a desperate night counter-attack in the French village of Villers-Bretonneux became one of Australia's greatest victories. A bond was forged that night between France and Australia that has never been broken. Villers-Bretonneux is 'The town that never forgets'. What was achieved that terrible night - and what happened after - is a story that, likewise, Australians should never forget. 

8. 'A Day to Remember' by Jackie French, illustrated by Mark Wilson

Anzac Day is the day when we remember and honour Anzac traditions down the ages, from the first faltering march of wounded veterans in 1916 to the ever increasing numbers of their descendants who march today. Containing reference to the many places the ANZACs have fought, and the various ways in which they keep the peace and support the civilians in war-torn parts of the world today, this is a picture book that looks not only at traditions, but also the effects of war.


9. 'Anzac Biscuits' by Phil Cummings

Phil Cummings adopts a dual narrative - each double page switches from Rachel and her mother in their kitchen, to Rachel's Dad who is fighting in the war - referred to as 'the soldier'.

Rachel and her mother busy themselves making ANZAC biscuits, in the kitchen. The language is light and fun filled describing their antics as they prepare their home cooked gift.

Each double page focusing on the soldier picks up on an element from the cosy kitchen - the crash and bang of pots and pans becomes the 'bang bang' of gunfire shots for the soldier. The warm smoke touched kitchen with its delicious aromas from the fireplace, becomes the 'choking smell' of 'angry guns'.

Cummings uses structure brilliantly here, this would be a great book to utilise in story crafting activities.

The poetic overtones to Cumming's language choices are a real highlight, and they are matched perfectly by Owen Swan's illustrations. The delicate soft lines reflect the tone of the narrative. They sweep the reader through the alternate scenes of the soldier, then the warm home.

ANZAC Biscuits is wonderful way to remember ANZAC Day, it offers many discussion points both relating to the subject of war and the use of language.

10. 'The Anzac Puppy' by Peter Millett

Inspired by true events, The Anzac Puppy demonstrates the strength dogs often provided soldiers during war. Freda, born during the war, became a good luck mascot for a soldier and his friends and inspired them to stay safe so they could honour a promise to bring the dog home.


11. 'Anzac Tale' by Ruth Starke and illustrated by Greg Holfield

When Australia pledges its support to Great Britain at the outbreak of World War I, mates Roy Martin and Wally Cardwell are among the first to enlist.

But what the friends first thought would be an adventure soon turns to disaster The day after the landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, more than 2000 of their fellow Anzacs are dead. As the campaign drags on, life for Wally and Roy and their new friend, Tom, becomes a battle of endurance against a plucky enemy, a hostile landscape, flies, fleas, cold and disease. The story of the Anzac campaign, including the battle of Lone Pine, is interspersed with scenes of Australians at home to show the shift from popular support of the Empire at the start of the war to profound disillusionment as the casualties begin to mount.



This is a wonderful book recommended by Justine who has used it with her class to great effect. The experiences of the soldiers landing at Anzac Cove are offered with animals filling the main characters roles of soldiers, officers, enemies and family at home. This is a different but powerful way to introduce children to this important story of courage, suffering and defeat.

Post modified 25th April 2015

Lest We Forget!