THE FABULOUS FRIEND MACHINE Written and Illustrated by Nick Bland

Publisher: Scholastic (2016)

Popcorn is a chicken, she is very friendly and has lots of friends in the farmyard. One day she finds a Fabulous Friend Machine (FFM), a mobile phone. She gets very involved meeting lots of new people on her FFM and forgets her farmyard friends. She decides to throw a party and meet her new friends in person. However ……………….. you will have to read the book to see what happens next.

I really loved the dedication. Loved how the ‘moral’ of the story wasn’t hidden in a cheesey way, like in a Cinderella story. I enjoyed everything about this book.

The illustrations were terrific, they had a cartoon feel to them, they also helped me to engage with the text. The illustrations had a fit with my imaginings of how a chicken would throw a party.

I would recommend the book to any age in any situation, except if you have a chicken phobia. It has an interesting provocation about our current tech age.

Lilly-Beatrice 12 years.

This book was purchased at the faboulous READER’S COMPANION book store in Armidale.

 A WORLD OF YOUR OWN Written and Illustrated by Laura Carlin


Publisher: Phaidon (2014)

This is a story about a girl who imagines what her world would be like if she created it.

I loved how it felt like you were seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I loved the side notes, they were very funny and made me giggle.

In parts where there were ‘teachery’ instructions, it felt like that was defeating the purpose of having your own world where you could create it any way you liked.

The illustrations were amazing, there were lots of styles used, like you were looking at the world as a child. Like you were 5 yr. old and looked at a plain, dusty building from the outside then your imagination went wild and you thought of all the fantastical things that could be inside.

I would definitely recommend this book to people. As a teenager, it will bring your imagination to life. To someone having a hard time in your life, it gives lots of ideas about how to escape your own world, even for a short time, and imagine a better one. The text and illustrations were well knit together.

It had me remembering some of the world’s I’d created over the years.

Lilly-Beatrice 12yrs.

Gary Written and Illustrated by Leila Rudge

Published by Walker Books

Gary is a pigeon, who dreams of adventure, he even keeps a scrap book of travel mementos but Gary has never been anywhere, because Gary can’t fly. The mementos that he has are ones his friends have shared. One day however Gary ends up far away from home and he finds himself lost and long way from home, but still unable to fly. To cheer himself up Gary opens his scrapbook that got lost with him and while looking at these treasures he gets an idea. Using his notes, memories and understandings Gary negotiates a new way of getting home that doesn’t involve flying. The illustrations are similar to a scrap book and include details that enhance the text.

It is a great back to school text for two reasons. The most obvious one being that the text could be used to open up a discussion about how recording and journaling our learning enables us to make future decisions by revisiting ideas, but the less visible idea that could be explored after reading this text is that as learners we will usually find a way to get to where we need to go. Sometimes lots of people will be able to do it the same way, but occasionally we will need to find our own unique way of doing something to get us to where we need to go.

Possible activity: Take the students to a local playground or even the school’s sports field (It works better if there are obstacles or play equipment set up in the place you and the students are in).

Ask the students to find what they call a ‘start place’, they will look a bit lost and may ask for guidance, but remind them that you trust they will be able to find a good’ start place’.

Ask them to think about how they might move to another part of the playground/field that they call the ‘end place’ and then let them go and do it. Every child will approach the space and moving from a to b differently, they will all find the end that they identified and move as quickly or slowly, in pairs, groups or solo to that point. Some will go over the obstacles, some will go around them, some will change the obstacles to different places.

You now identify and explain that this is a new ‘start’ point and that they are to move to a new end. Repeat this moving from A to B, to C a few times, as you repeat, students will become more adventurous in how and where they move.

Find a way to record their actions and choices as they move to the ‘end’.

Come back to your learning space and have the students brainstorm and reflect on how they identified the beginning and end, why they moved there and why they made the choices they made on their way to the ‘end’.

Ask them to reflect on why they think everyone did it a bit differently or even repeated what others did- this will give you ideas about how students’ thinking, ‘moving/learning’ might be approached.

Introduce the idea that learning is not about following the same path; it can be done in different ways. Just as they identified different start points, every time you begin a learning engagement everyone has a different start point because of the prior knowledge, perspective, etc. that they bring with them. Everyone will move from that point to another point and that will become the start point for something new. Explain that in this class, learning is about finding ways for things to make sense, so they have some agency or a say in how the learning journey will and can look. This idea must be followed up with action, where the students are allowed to test and try their own way of determining their learning processes.

This book was purchased from READER’S COMPANION, the independent book store with the best range of picture books. Thanks Michelle and Roy.

‘Madeline Finn and the Library Dog’ Written and Illustrated by Lisa Papp

Published by Old Barn Books

This is a gentle story that explores the frustrations of a young girl as she struggles to learn to read. Reading is a chore and presents the peril of being laughed at or of failing to measure up to the skills held by her peers. Despite her teacher’s best efforts and intentions Madeline gets more and more frustrated with reading and even the encouragement that goes with getting her to read. Madeline is then introduced to Bonnie, the library dog, whose gentle skill of just listening and being present is the scaffold and support that Madeline needs. With this quiet companion Madeline doesn’t become a miraculous reader overnight, but she does become interested and curious about reading. It is a lovely book because if you go beyond the basic message that perseverance and trying will help you develop a skill, there lies an even more important idea. The book makes news of the notion that help, when it is offered or taken up, must come in the form that best suits the apprentice not the master. Help is not useful if it is given in a form that is decided on by the helping party, rather than the apprentice seeking scaffolding and support.

As a back-to-school text, this would be an obvious book to pick to espouse the virtues of keeping on trying and to share the ideas with all those struggling readers that one day they will break the code and be able to read and comprehend lots of books.

The book’s real value however, as a back to school text, lies in the invitation to people to move the focus away from the ‘frustrated learner’ and to think about what is the most useful way to provide help to each particular struggling reader. It is a gentle nudge to remind the ‘helper’ to negotiate with the learner what is, for him/her, the most effective way to provide help and support.

Possible activity: In many classrooms there are displays of what students can do to help others and what they are the ‘expert’ in. These are a great place for students to share all kinds of knowledges and skills with their peers. You and your class can create another display that can sit alongside this ‘expert’ site, the ‘apprentice’ board. On this board students get to display that lists what qualities and skills they, the apprentice, look for in a mentor and have them describe, name or list what help needs to look like for it to be useful to them. This is also a great opportunity for teachers to see what role they can play in different children’s lives in the apprentice/ mentor cycle.

It would also be interesting for the teacher to add her/himself to the apprentice board, so that students can see that no matter how old, expert or big you are, you need to keep trying, learning and sometimes seeking help.

Purchased from READER’S COMPANION in Armidale, the best independent book store in the  world, with an awesome selection of  picture books and young adult novels

“Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth’ by Oliver Jeffers

Published by HarperCollins Children’Books

Q: What drew you to pick up this book? I have always liked books by Oliver Jeffers and the title sounded interesting.

Q: What are your thoughts now you have read the book?  I thought the book used language well. Science books often use technical language, big words, that are hard to understand. The language in this book is basic so is easy to understand, but has ideas that are complex enough to stop me being bored.

Q: How important are the illustrations to the text? The illustrations are very important. They help explain the ideas in the text . By itself the text is not so interesting, the illustrations make you think about the text more, understand it more and enjoy it more.

Q: What did you love about this book? I loved how diverse the people were, the illustrations represented so many differences, I loved this way of seeing difference.

Q: What did you dislike about this book? There was nothing to dislike in this book, it really held my attention.

Q: Would you recommend this book to other readers? Yes I would definitely recommend it for any age. It is so basic in text that a 4 yr old could read it and so interesting in text and illustration a 90 yr old could read it and be amazed. I likes the way it gives the reader a new way to see some pretty familiar things. To know old things in a new way.

Review by Lilly-Beatrice 12 yrs of age.

Possible activity: Read the story together and discuss the elements and details that Oliver Jeffers provides in the text.
Invite students to to think about what they would include if they were  to write a book called “Here We are Notes for Living/Learning in Our Class…”
Then brainstorm with the students their ideas with some prompts if needed. e.g.  Where the class is located,  parts of the class, people or learners in the class, how stuff works in the classroom, etc.
Let the students choose people (if any) they want to create part of the ‘class guide’ with and then have the pairs, groups, or individuals  choose a part of the text they want to recreate and have fun with.
Encourage the students to bring humour and fun to the ideas they include. Illustrating the their ideas could also be encouraged.
This class book could be offered for reflection at the end of the year when students could be invited to rewrite it from their older and wiser understandings .

This book was purchased at Collins Book Store Armidale- The one with super friendly staff.

back to school book

‘Mike I Don’t Like’ Written Jol & Kate Temple, Illustrated by Jon Foye

Published by ABC Books – Under the licence of Harper & Collins

FROM THE AUTHORS: “Thanks so much for this great review. I particularly liked your activity ideas! I’m sure we’ll be using these when visiting schools.  Best, Kate”

Mike is the lead character in this text, he goes on to list the myriad of things he doesn’t like. It’s a rhyming text with simple, appealing and funny illustrations. There is a lovely use of font and punctuation to highlight how much Mike really doesn’t like anything. By anything, I mean everything from lizards, dogs, cats, food, baths, shoes, hills, etc. Mike really doesn’t like anything, and can find fault with anything and everything. This not liking and automatic dismissal of something new is turned on its head in the last few pages, when Mike discovers that maybe saying ‘I don’t like” all the time, may not be the best thing to do. The story is premised on an interesting idea which is humorously developed and delivered through clever text and illustrations. The story’s premise is funny, engaging and may just invite the ‘Mike, I Don’t Like’ characters in our lives to find a space to begin looking for possibilities instead of always finding problems.

It is a great back to school story because many students who return to the classroom often quickly remember all that the things they don’t like about being back at school. This remembering and use of the ‘Don’t like’ statement can be a way to protect him/her self from events or situations that in the past have been frightening or scary or even humiliating. The text invites the reader, in the gentlest of ways, to begin thinking about some things she/he might possibly like.

Possible activity: Look at the cover together and as a class get everyone to make a list of things they don’t like, then as you read mark any things on the list that were the same as Mike’s list. Have fun with the list creation and crossing off. After reading the text compare the students’ list with Mike’s list and discuss how and why they are the same or different. Bring forward ideas about what and why people don’t like things. Then revisit the part of the story where Mike begins to engage with the possibility of liking something. Invite the class to think about things at school that they think they might not like, but maybe there is a possibility that they might find something to like about it. Ask the students to then find someone who likes what they think they won’t like and share ideas on the problems and possibilities attached to it and what attitudes and actions might be help them approach this aspect of school.

Invite the students to create a ‘Maybe’ box or folder and put in it pictures, words, symbols, etc. of the things that maybe they might discover is ok or even likable this year at school. Keep revisiting this box/folder as the year unfolds and to discuss the ideas of possibilities and problems that were noted down and how they help or hinder us as learners.

This book was purchased from READER’S COMPANION the best independent book store in the world. Thanks  Michelle  and Roy for having such a great selection of books.

back to school book

‘I Just Ate My Friend’ Written and Illustrated by Heidi McKinnon

Published by Allen & Unwin

A delightfully clever story with an ending that’s sure to make you smile. The text is simple with marvellous illustrations combining to make a story that explores the pitfalls, problems and possibilities of finding a friend.

It was lovely to read a children’s book that moves beyond the moralising that can often be directed at children as they develop the skills of friendship making. The main character has eaten its friend and is on the search for a new one. After encountering several other creatures that have a variety of reasons why they can’t be its new friend, finally the friendship problem looks to be solved. However, the solution isn’t as simple as might be anticipated.

This is a funny and light-hearted text that can be used as a back to school story to open up discussions about the problems and possibilities connected to making new friends. It avoids being preachy or prescriptive about how to make a friend.

Possible activity: After reading the story, have each student create their own character and list the pros and cons of being a friend with this character. This gives the students a chance to identify that it is ok to say no when invited to be a friend while remaining open to the possibilities that new characters and people might bring.

This book was purchased from the READER’S COMPANION in Armidale, the best independent book store in the world.