Sunday 27 November 2016

Little Brother by Allan Baillie

Allan Baillie's book Little Brother was published in 1985 and tells the gripping story of two brothers, Vithy and Mang, aged about eleven and eighteen years respectively, who were the only members of their family left alive after the communist Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975.
Renaming the country Kampuchea, the Communist Party set out to establish a rural based utopia and systematically annihilated anyone thought to be intellectual or educated, the wealthy and the religious leaders. The cities were emptied and people were placed into labour camps out in the country or executed if they were not able to work.

Little Brother begins with Vithy and Mang running through the forest after their captors were attacked by Vietnamese soldiers. They were pursued and forced to separate when Vithy fell and hurt his foot. Mang hid him in the undergrowth and then ran off to divert the soldiers - but Mang didn't return and Vithy was left on his own to follow his brother's last words - 'Follow the lines out of the war...go to the border.'

Finding books that deal with situations such as those experienced by children in Cambodia that are suitable for younger children, allowing them to get a sense of what happened without traumatising them in the process, is quite difficult. Allan Baillie has managed to do this so well with this book. He tells the story through Vithy's eyes and employs a sort of flashback technique where Vithy recalls conversations with his brother or memories of certain events that fills in the details for the reader, without imparting the real horror that occurred. The character Vithy is based on a boy the author met at a refugee camp in Cambodia.

Mang had told him, many months ago, that the only way to survive in the Big Paddy was to be careful and dumb. Work hard, never let them know that you can read and write and handle arithmetic. Always rememeber your kid sister, Sorei. And above all, never think. But now he had to.

Vithy eventually finds his way to a Red Cross camp on the Thai border and wins his way into the heart of a crusty Australian doctor. I won't tell you any more but the book has a very satisfying ending...

Allan Baillie was born in Scotland and came to Australia when he was seven years of age. He has a background in journalism, has travelled to various parts of the world and many of his stories were inspired by his travels and experiences in foreign countries.

Recommended for Years 5 or 6. I use it as an Ambleside Online Year 6 free read.

Linking up with Brona's Books for AusReading Month 

Thursday 24 November 2016

Those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone...

Our Advent Reading

'...But his friends looked on with strange and alien eyes. A veil of doubt and mistrust came over their faces, like a fog creeping up from the marshes to hide the hills. They glanced at each other with looks of wonder and pity, as those who have listened to incredible sayings, the story of a wild vision, or the proposal of an impossible enterprise.

At last Tigranes said: "Artaban, this is a vain dream. It comes from too much looking upon the stars and the cherishing of lofty thoughts..."

But Abgarus, the oldest and the one who loved Artaban the best, lingered after the others had gone, and said, gravely: "My son, it may be that the light of truth is in this sign that has appeared in the skies, and then it will surely lead to the Prince and the mighty brightness. Or it may be that it is only a shadow of the light, as Tigranes has said, and then he who follows it will have only a long pilgrimage and an empty search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone. I am too old for this journey, but my heart shall be a companion of the pilgrimage day and night, and I shall know the end of thy quest. Go in peace."'

We started this story this morning and later in the day Moozle was finishing up the last couple of chapters from her AO Year 6 free read 'The Story of the Trapp Family Singers' by Maria Augusta Trapp. She suddenly called out to me, "Come quick, and see this Mum!" I thought perhaps she'd seen a wallaby or a bird outside but when I went to where she was, she held up her book opened at the last page to show me these words:

Whatever faults may be committed, big or small, whatever clouds may pile up on the horizon, dark and threatening, love will overcome all.

"Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are." *

* From the Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.

I love it when this sort of thing happens!

Wednesday 23 November 2016

AusReading Month: Silvertail: The Story of a Lyrebird by Ina Watson; illustrations by Walter Cunningham (1946)

Silvertail is a lyrebird. As everything has a beginning, I am going to start by telling you where Silvertail lived, and about his people, for of course he had a family just as you have.

Silvertail, a superb lyrebird, was born in a forest deep in the hills of Southern Victoria. Suberb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are ground dwelling birds that have an amazing ability to mimic other birds - the calls of scrub wrens, parrots, kookaburras, cockatoos and whip-birds, are to be found in their repertoire. Although they can fly, their wings are rounded and not suited to any great distance. They build their nests in old tree stumps and roost in trees at night.

Silvertails's father and mother had a real name - one belonging to their family. They were called Mr. and Mrs. Menura...
They were a handsome couple...But the pride of the family was father's tail. It was very long and consisted of sixteen feathers...two broad, outside ones...twelve, very fluffy filmy feathers, and two lone, wire-like centre ones. On top they were the same colour as the rest of the bird, but underneath they were a beautiful silvery white.

The story of Silvertail began with nest prepartions mostly carried out by Mrs Menura while Mr Menura spent his time building his dancing mounds. A few weeks after the nest had been completed,  a solitary egg was laid in the nest and about six weeks afterwards Silvertail hatched out of his shell.
He spent about five weeks in his nest and then it was time for him to leave his cozy, safe home and begin the most dangerous part of his life. His mother taught him to find his own food and began to acquaint him with some of the other animals and birds that lived nearby and to avoid others such as the wily fox.


Mr Menura didn't spend too much time with his offspring at first, although he kept an eye out nearby for both the youngster and his mother; but as Silvertail grew, his father began to take more of an interest in him and to teach him how to sing. He also taught Silvertail how to use his tail in the dance but it would be a little while yet before he could boast a tail like his father's.
The seasons came and went, Silvertail grew and then one day, Silvertail found a mate...

Through all his own calls and the many others that he could now mimic perfectly, he pleaded his cause...

Silvertail is a delightful story written in such a way that a five or six year old would enjoy. There is just enough detail, depth and factual information embedded in the lively narrative for that age group and Walter Cunningham's illustrations enhance it even more.
In the foreword to the book, Australian naturalist, Crosbie Morrison writes:

Miss Ina not just a casual caller on the Lyrebirds of Sherbrooks; over the years she has become a friend of the family. She knows them so intimately that they no longer whip off their aprons and stuff them behind a chair and show her into the front room when she calls - they let her come into the kitchen, as it were, and help with the washing up. It is not until you know people - or birds - like that that you can write of them easily, and naturally, and entrancingly, and truthfully, as Miss Watson has done.

The book is out of print but available secondhand (eBay & AbeBooks)

Some links of interest:

Lyrebirds Mimicking Chainsaws?

Lyrebird Facts

The Royal Australian Mint - the suberb lyrebird is featured on our Australian ten cent coin.

Winter Call of the Lyrebirds

Linking up at Brona's Books for the AusReading Month 2016. Come and have a look if you're looking for some great Australian titles to read.

Saturday 19 November 2016

Weekly Review

We've just finished an exam week but as our scanner is defunct I'm not able to post any examples at present.
Instead, here are some places of interest and other links I hope you will find useful.

The High Quality Global University which costs next to nothing. Very interesting...our eldest daughter is nearly 28 years old and has just finished paying off her HECs debt from her degree. When my husband went through university in the 1980's, the universities in Australia had no tuition costs. It's a very different situation for our children now so we were very interested to read this article.

Their website is here.

Enjoying this audio:

David Clarke also narrates some other great books. See his page at Librivox.
There are some books that really need a British narrator (or someone who can make themselves sound British) - Sherlock Holmes is one of these, of course.
Ruth Golding is another British narrator and she has a list of other Librivox narrators she recommends on her blog.

I enjoyed listening to this Podcast during the week. Folksongs have always been a part of my life, growing up and afterwards. Some good thoughts here:

Moozle has been paper crafting and making Christmas presents (and much mess...)
This is a video she's used, one of the 'Sweet Bio Design' series on YouTube that she enjoys. It's in Italian but has English subtitles:

This is another she used for ideas...mostly for the actual box and then added her own decorations.

I've started putting together a page with all of the Australian/Asia Pacific living books we've used. It will take a little while but it's here in its beginning stages: Towards an Australian Charlotte Mason Curriculum.

Linking up at Weekly Wrap-up

Thursday 17 November 2016

30 Books to Read Aloud with Very Young Children - Updated

This post was started just over a year three years ago but I added in a few books recently so here it is updated for the second time.

I couldn't wait to start reading to my children so I started early. I wasn't thinking about education or learning as such at the time; it was more about just being with them and sharing my love of books with them but in doing that for a short period each day I was unwittingly imparting some other benefits at the same time.

This little habit of sitting on my lap having a book read to them - jiggling them up and down, keeping the book away from little hands and drool, keeping them interested and attentive - was going to pay dividends later on when we were in situations where we needed to keep little ones quiet: like sitting through  long church services, weddings, concerts, doctors' waiting rooms and graduation ceremonies.

One stinking hot summer's afternoon when I was 38 weeks pregnant and had to go to an emergency dental appointment, my husband rushed home from work, dropped me off at the dentist and headed for the nearest air conditioned building (a crowded MacDonald's restaurant filled with screaming kids). He squeezed our then 5 children aged 2 to 11 years of age around a table and told them to wait while he went to the bathroom. He returned to find them all sitting there with ice creams in their hands looking slightly bemused and a lady rushed over and said she just had to buy them an icecream each because they were all waiting so patiently & hoped he didn't mind! It was no big deal for them to sit and wait but we've often been surprised that other people think that it's beyond the realm of a child's ability to do so.

Attentiveness doesn't just happen, and my children, although very cute in our eyes, were not quiet by nature or angelic in those early years. Attentiveness was something we had to cultivate. Reading aloud  regularly with our children from an early age definitely helped them to acquire the habit of attentiveness.

The following books worked well for the little ones in our family:

1. Miffy  by Dick Bruna
The girls loved the books in this series. We still have a t-shirt Grandma made with Miffy appliqu├ęd on the front.

2. Spot by Eric Hill
Our boys loved the Spot books. There are oodles in the series  - lift the flap and see where Spot is hiding. We have a very worn large book of Spot's Bedtime Storybook which was our youngest son's favourite.


3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. My daughter, Zana, said this book was voted as the favourite child's picture book in a survey taken in her Children's Literature class at university.

The next 4 are rhyming books which I think work really well with reading aloud to young children. These aren't books I was familiar with until my mother-in-law gave me copies when we started having children. They are great to read aloud with littles because of their simple rhythm and rhymes and I do believe they were a good precursor to reading poetry aloud a little later.

4. Ten Apples up on Top by Theo. LeSieg

5. Put me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire

6. I Want to be Someone New by Robert Lopshire

7. A Big Ball of String by Marion Holland. This book is longer than the others but the rhyming keeps it flowing.

8. Go Dog Go! by P.D. Eastman - I think everyone in our family could recite this book from memory. My mother-in-law gave us a copy when we were expecting our first child (she's nearly 28 years old now) as it was one of my husband's favourites when he was little. We've still got the original but everyone wants to take it with them when they leave home so I'll have to get some new copies. Definitely a favourite.

9. The Precious Pearl by Mick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen - The Lost Sheep, The Two Sons and the House on the Rock are others in the series.

10. Little Chick's Story by Mary DeBall . A sweet story about Broody Hen and her little Chick.

11. Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik. Four stories about Little Bear are included in this book: What will Little Bear Wear? Birthday Soup, Little Bear Goes to the Moon and Little Bear's Wish.

12. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion - Harry hates having a bath so he runs away from home. There are at least two other Harry titles.


13. Sam and the Firefly by P.D. Eastman. Gus the firefly's tricks have got him into trouble but with the help of Sam the owl, he manages to intervene and avert a collision.

14. The King, the Mice and the Cheese by Nancy and Eric Gurney. A fun story about a King who tries to get rid of the mice in his kingdom but ends up with bigger problems. My kids loved the illustrations in this book.

15. What Would Jesus Do? by Mack Thomas, illustrated by Denis Mortenson. We bought this book when our oldest children were 4 and 2 years of age and we've read it countless times to each of our 7 children so it's just holding together. It's been one of our favourite books to read aloud to young children.

'When I'm faced with a fear or a bad attitude, When I want to be angry or worried or rude, When I don't want to serve, and don't want to love- When only MYSELF is what I'm thinking of - Right from the start I will ask in my heart, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?'

16. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese. A little duck stays out on the Yangtze River all night in order to avoid a spanking for being late to return  home to his master's houseboat. First published in 1933.

17. The Bike Lesson by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Our oldest son bought this for his little sister because he loved it and thought it was hilarious when he was little. Some of the Berenstain books make the Dad in the story look like a dodo but there is no way our kids ever identified him with their Dad! I think my son thought it was so funny because he couldn't ever imagine his own Dad (no nonsense, logical, engineer...) being so stupid.

18.  The Josephina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr. Josefina's Pa reluctantly allows her to take her pet hen on their wagon journey west and on the way Josefina sews patches for her quilt. One of my daughters loved this book when she was about 4 years of age.


19.  Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone. Little Tim desperately wanted to be a sailor and so he becomes a stowaway. Great boy book and quite a few in the series.

20. The Little Red Hen by Paul Galdone. This was our fourth son's favourite book when he was about three years old & I loved reading it to him. It is a great little teaching device for helping children to see that every one needs to help out around the place (especially in a large family or everything goes pear-shaped) but it's done in such a sweet and non-moralising way. Paul Galdone has some great books for older readers or family read alouds also.

21. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. When our children were about 3 years of age they loved this story and others in The Complete Tales book.

22. Peepo by Janet & Allan Ahlberg - my little ones really enjoyed this book but to be honest I probably enjoyed it more because it took me back in my memory to Scotland where I was born and spent the first eight years of my life. The house in the book is so much like I remember homes in Scotland. My Grannie lived with us at different times and there is a picture of a Grannie having a snooze with the washing hanging up all around her trying to dry by the fire and a dad in his army uniform. My dad had to do National Service when we were little so that was another link to the past.

23. Mother Goose  - I've linked to a post I did on Poetry with young children.

24. Charlie Cricket - I just had to add this. Our eldest, JJ, got this on her first birthday. It was just a simple little story about a cricket whose friends helped him overcome his fears and at the end of each page there was a button to press which made a chirping sound. It was her favourite book for a good year and all seven kids liked it and played with the button. When JJ got married & moved out of home we went through all our books so she could take hers with her (sob!) and we found Charlie Cricket. He'd lost his chirp but the sound button had lasted over 20 years. So here he is as a tribute to the company who made such a long lasting product:

25. How to Make an Apple Pie & See the World - a book my children loved at a young age but also one that they've enjoyed later on. You can see why here.

26. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury

27. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram

28. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell - another favourite

29. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

Although we read the book, these audios were great travelling companions on long interstate drives. I asked my now 19 year old for his favourite book when he was little and straight away he said, 'Winnie the Pooh.' Alan Bennett would have to be the best narrator the BBC could have chosen for these. For children about age 4 and up if they are used to listening to stories.

30. The House at Pooh Corner

Wednesday 16 November 2016

AusReading Month 2016: Miles Off Course by Sulari Gentill

Miles Off Course is the third book in Sulari Gentill's Rowland Sinclair Novels set in Australia in the 1930's.
Rowland and his three Bohemian friends were enjoying the serenity of The Hydro Majestic in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, far from the scene of their previous troubles and misadventures (which you can read about in A Few Right Thinking Men and A Decline in Prophets) when their peace was interrupted by the attempted abduction of Rowland.

There had been a run of kidnappings in Sydney in recent times, and as the Sinclair family was known to be very wealthy, it was concluded that this was an attempt to obtain a ransom. On top of this, Rowland's older brother, Wilfred, turned up unexpectedly to ask for his brother's help. One of Wilfred's most trusted men, Aboriginal stockman Harry Simpson, had vanished and Wilfred needed Rowland to go to the High Country to investigate and take charge of the drovers looking after the Sinclair stock.
As usual, Rowland friends were adamant they go with him and so the whole party headed off unaware that they are about to become caught up in a web of betrayal, treason and mystery.

As with the author's previous books in the series, the setting of this novel brings Australia in the 1930's alive, and her skill in weaving a cast of characters into the storyline continues to impress me. A feature of these novels is the use of extracts from the newspapers of the day at the beginning of many of the chapters. One, for example, was about the Lindbergh kidnapping, while others mentioned politics and business.
Miles Off Course features characters such as the artist Norman Lindsay, August Eichorn, Miles Franklin (in cognito and working on her novel later published in 1933 as 'Bring the Monkey') and the sculptor, Frank Rusconi.
It is connections like these and Gentill's enjoyable and thoughtful writing that keeps me coming back to her books.
The next book in the series is 'Paving the New Road,' which takes Rowland Sinclair to Germany at the time of the rise of the Nazi Party. It's not necessary to read the books in order (although that's what I've been doing) but starting with the first book helps to introduce the main characters who feature in each of the books.

Some interesting historical topics in this book:

Mark Foy and The Hydro Majestic

August Eichorn: 'The Snake King' - here & here

Frank Rusconi & The Dog on the Tuckerbox  

Norman Lindsay - Lindsay illustrated Franklin's book, 'Bring in the Monkey.'
Miles Franklin - wikipedia biography

Friday 11 November 2016

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara)

Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington/Nugi Garimara is the true story of the author's mother, Molly. In 1931, Molly, aged about 15 years of age and her younger sisters Gracie and Daisy, about 12 and 11 years,* were removed from their remote Aboriginal community at Jigalong in the north-west of Western Australia and taken to the Native Settlement at Moore River, north of Perth.
(*There's some discrepancy in the girl's ages as their births were not registered.)

The Story

The first three chapters of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence sketch a picture of the early days of white settlement in Western Australia in which a military outpost was established at Albany and the Swan River Colony was founded at Fremantle.

By the 1900's the boundaries of white settlement were extended and government policies were introduced that allowed large areas of land to be claimed by farmers and pastoralists. No provision was made for the traditional landowners which meant that the Aboriginal people in those areas became dispossessed of their traditional lands, and therefore their social structures.
In 1907, Jigalong, in the Pilbara region, was established as a government depot and base for the men who maintained the rabbit-proof fence. The Superintendent of the depot was also the Protector of Aborigines for the area. It was into this community that the first 'half-caste' (muda-muda) baby to be seen amongst the Jigalong people was born to a 16 year old Aboriginal girl named Maude. The baby's father was a white maintenance inspector, Thomas Craig.

Molly grew into a pretty little girl. Her mother was very proud of her and her father brought her gifts of clothing and pretty coloured ribbons...
As she grew older, Molly often wished that she didn't have light skin so that she didn't have to play by herself...The Mardu children insulted her and said hurtful things about her. Some told her that because she was neither Mardi or wudgebulla (white man) she was like a mongrel dog.

One morning, when Molly was about four years old, her mother told her some exciting news. Two of her aunties had babies, little girls and they were both muda-mudas like her.

At this time, the Chief Protector of Aborigines was the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child in Western Australia up to the age of 16 years, and he had the power to remove Aboriginal children from their families and place them in Homes or in 'service' (work).

The Superintendent at Jigalong had been taking a great deal of interest in Mollie and Gracie and he noticed that the attitude of the Mardi children towards the girls was unfair and reported the situation to the Department of Native Affairs in Perth saying that the girls would be better off if they were removed from Jigalong.

The common belief at the time was that part-Aboriginal children were more intelligent than their darker relations and should be isolated and trained to be domestic servants and labourers. Policies were introduced by the government in an effort to improve the welfare and educational needs of these children. Molly, Gracie and Daisy were completely unaware that they were to be included in the schemes designed for children who were fathered by white men. 

When Molly was about 14 or 15 years of age, the Protector of Aborigines came to their camp to announce that he had come to take the three girls down to the school at the Moore River Native Settlement north of Perth. A car and a train ride took them to Port Hedland and from there a ship conveyed them to the Port of Fremantle. They were then transported by car to Moore River.

It was intended that this would be their home for several years, and where they would be educated in European ways.
Only twelve months before this...the Superintendent at the Government Depot at Jigalong, wrote in his report that, "these children lean more towards the black than white and on second thoughts, think nothing would be gained in removing them."
Someone read it. No one responded.

The girls had only been two nights at the settlement when Molly made up her mind that they were not going to stay. On the morning of what was to be their first day of school, Molly announced to her sisters that they were going home. They would find the rabbit-proof fence and follow it all the way to Jigalong. Molly's father had told her the fence stretched from coast to coast, south to north across the country, and though stupefied by the idea at first, the two girls trusted their older sister and said they would run away with her.
Barefoot, wearing two dresses and two pairs of bloomers each, with no food, maps, or supplies, they made their dash for freedom in the rain.

Almost nine weeks and 1500 miles later, two of the girls returned home to Jigalong having avoided capture by police, an Aboriginal tracker, and a plane search in the course of their travels.

The author made use of oral and archival records to reconstruct the events of her narrative: interviews with Molly and Daisy who were in their late sixties and seventies when the book was written, and records of geographical and botanical explorations of the area, for example. There were so many factors that had to be taken into account by the author, not least the fact that the Aboriginals used the seasons, incidents and events to measure time, not dates and numbers. Illiteracy and lack of numeracy skills were major obstacles to be overcome before the events of the story could be determined. However, the author managed to accomplish this daunting task and write a compelling, heartfelt, and vivid account of this incredible episode in Australia's history.

The book was published in 1996 and the film based on the book - 'Rabbit Proof Fence' was released in 2002. The film departs from the book in places and having read the book, I think it was a more powerful story than the film as it focussed on what actually happened rather than trying to make a political statement.

Any discussion of the 'Stolen Generation' opens a massive can of worms and I spent a lot of time reading various articles and thinking back on the time my family spent in the Pilbara region when I was a child in the 1970's.
The school we attended was separate from the Aboriginal school situated almost next door where 'full blood' Aboriginals were taught in their native language. The 'mixed blood' kids were in with the rest of us and didn't identify at all with those in the other school. We lived next door to an Aboriginal family and I was good friends with their daughter. We didn't consider them to be any different to us any more than if they had been Italian or Greek.
My mum doesn't have a racist bone in her body. Her stepfather was a Pakistani and married my Grannie after he moved to Scotland around the time of Partition, I think. Inter-racial marriage was very unusual at the time and mum had a terrible time at school because she had a black dad, so she was sensitive to this type of treatment. However, when we moved to Australia and eventually went to the Pilbara region for dad's work, I remember mum commenting with disgust on seeing Aboriginal men in the pub spending their welfare cheques on alcohol while their wives and children sat around outside, sometimes getting into fights, and often leaving young children to their own devices.

The prominent and respected Aboriginal leader, Noel Pearson, has said that more should be done to empower Indigenous communities, and thinking back to my own experiences I can see the truth in what he is saying. While I believe that there is a definite place and need for acknowledgment and redress of past injustices, it can't be at the expense of fixing today's problems. However, the truth remains that it's not a simple issue and there is no simple solution.

The book is recommended for Year 9 students but it could be saved for a later year so that some of these very important issues could be explored when the student is more mature. Chronologically, it fits into Year 10/11 of Ambleside Online but regardless of that, it's one of those important topics that needs to be covered in a balanced way by Australian students.
This unabridged audio narrated by Rachael Maza is excellent and her Torres Strait Island background gives an authentic and intimate feel to the story:

Linking up with Brona's Books for the AusReading Month