The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Global support for the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t only about standing up against the injustice done to George Floyd, or Indigenous Australians in custody. People are also standing up against the entrenched racism that leads to a careless approach towards the lives of people who aren’t white.
Research shows 75% of Australians hold an implicit bias against Indigenous Australians, seeing them negatively, even if this is unconscious. Children absorb this bias, which becomes entrenched due to messages in the media and in books, and continues to play out at school and the broader community.
Making sure children have access to books showing diversity is one step in breaking the cycle that leads to entrenched racism.
Children develop bias from an early age
Children develop their sense of identity and perceptions of others from a very early age – as early as three months old. Because of this, young children are particularly vulnerable to the messages they see and hear in the media and in books.
Research over many years has shown books can empower, include and validate the way children see themselves. But books can also exclude, stereotype and oppress children’s identities. Minority groups are particularly at risk of misrepresentation and stereotyping in books.
First Nations groups are commonly absent from children’s books. Excluding the viewpoints, histories and suffering of First Nations Peoples can misrepresent history, and teach kids a white-washed version of the past.
A world of children’s books dominated by white authors, white images and white male heroes, creates a sense of white superiority. This is harmful to the worldviews and identities of all children.
Sharing stories through books
Evidence shows sharing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories helps break down stereotypes and prejudice. And this, importantly, helps empower Aboriginal children and improve their educational engagement and outcomes.
But research suggests many classrooms have books that are monocultural literature, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander books are notably absent.
There are some encouraging signs, with an increase in the publication of books by and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are also seeing bookshops and publishers reporting a rise in demand for books on race and racism.
This can also help adults become informed about Australia’s colonial history. Reading these books can help challenge their own unconscious biases and misunderstandings.
The challenge for teachers and parents is to access suitable children’s books and share them with the children in their care. We can use these stories as a foundation for conversations about culture and community.
This can help to drive change and support reconciliation.
Other ways of sharing diverse stories
Creating Books in Communities is a pilot project run by the State Library of Western Australia that helps create books with families about their everyday experiences. These books represent the families’ culture and language.
Projects like these are another way we can recognise and extend the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Another project, On Country Learning, involves children and teachers learning through culture alongside Aboriginal elders. A preliminary review of the program shows it enriches teacher knowledge and motivates all children to learn.
Reading and listening to the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can help teachers gain important knowledge and understanding. This helps them effectively engage with and teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
And it helps them teach all students about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, histories and cultures.
To see real and lasting change children need everyday story books with heroes and characters that reflect their diverse backgrounds. To help this happen we can support groups such as the We Need Diverse Books Movement and LoveOZYA , which actively call for and promote diverse books for young people.
Affirmation of all children’s culture, language and identity at this pivotal time in world history is critical to the future of all our children.
Parents and teachers can source Aboriginal literature from websites such as: Magabala Books, IAD Press, Aboriginal Studies Press, Fremantle Press, UWA Publishing, BlackWords, Batchelor Institute Press.
Helen Joanne Adam, Senior Lecturer in Literacy Education and Children’s Literature: Course Coordinator Master of Teaching (Primary), Edith Cowan University; Caroline Barratt-Pugh, Professor of Early Childhood, Edith Cowan University; Libby Jackson-Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Edith Cowan University, and Robert Stanly Somerville, Head of Teaching and Learning, Kurongkurl Katitjin Centre for Australian Indigenous Education and Research, Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University
The link below is to an article that looks at the importance of reading to the kids.
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With remarkable speed, numerous children’s books have been published in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis, teaching children about coronavirus and encouraging them to protect themselves and others.
Children’s literature has a long history of exploring difficult topics, with original fairy tales often including gruesome imagery to teach children how to behave. Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the wolf in a warning to young ladies to be careful of men. Cinderella’s stepsisters had their eyes pecked out by birds as punishment for wickedness.
But this wave of coronavirus books is unique, being produced during a crisis rather than in its aftermath.
These books explore practical ways young children can avoid infection and transmission, and provide strategies parents can use to help children cope with anxiety. Some books feature adult role models, but the majority feature children as heroes.
The best of these books address children not just as people who might fall ill, but as active agents in the fight against COVID-19.
Our top picks
Written in consultation with an infectious diseases specialist and illustrated by Axel Scheffler of The Gruffalo, this nonfiction picture book offers children information about transmission, symptoms and the possibility of a cure, reassuring readers that doctors and scientists are working on developing a vaccine.
The last few pages answer the question “what can I do to help?”
Coronavirus: A Book for Children shows a diversity of characters taking action to manage the effects of the virus. Children are told to practice good hygiene, not to disturb their parents while they are working from home and keep up with their schoolwork.
It is also hopeful: reinforcing the idea that the combination of scientific research and practical action will lead to a point when “this strange time will be over”.
Written and illustrated by Helen Patuck, My Hero is You! is an initiative of a global reference group on mental health, and is a great book for parents to read with their children.
Sara, daughter of a scientist, and Ario, an orange dragon, fly around the world to teach children about the coronavirus.
Ario teaches the children when they feel afraid or unsafe, they can try to imagine a safe place in their minds.
Based on a global survey of children and adults about how they were coping with COVID-19, My Hero is You! translates the results of this comprehensive survey into a reassuring story for kids experiencing fear and anxiety. It also acknowledges the global nature of the health crisis, showing children they are not alone.
The Princess in Black is an existing series, with seven books published since 2014 and over one million copies sold. In the books, Princess Magnolia enlists children to help with a problem she cannot defeat alone: here, of course, that problem is coronavirus.
For fans of the series, Magnolia and her pals are familiar characters encouraging readers to solve the problem of coronavirus by washing their hands, staying at home, and keeping their distance.
The Princess in Black shows a deft use of humour to introduce children to complex ideas in a familiar and friendly manner.
Children’s books have often sought to entertain and educate children at the same time. The immediacy of these books, with their practical solutions and strategies for children to manage fears and anxieties about sickness and isolation, is a phenomenon we haven’t seen before.
With free online distribution and simple messages, these books present children with individual actions that have both personal and collective benefits.
Importantly, the heroes identified in these stories include children themselves. Their fears are acknowledged, but at the same time they are told they can fight the virus successfully.
A frequently updated list of children’s books on the pandemic is available from the New York School Library System’s COVID-19 page.
Shih-Wen Sue Chen, Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University; Kristine Moruzi, Research fellow in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University, and Paul Venzo, , Deakin University
The link below is to an article that takes a look at ideas for storing books for kids.
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The links below are to articles reporting on free audiobooks on offer from Audible for kids while schools are closed.
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Stories can be mirrors that help young people express feelings about a given situation. They give children a vocabulary for what is happening. But, because of how fiction works in the brain, stories can also be windows. When we read fiction, we inhabit other bodies and feel the concerns of other people. This helps young people to develop empathy – but has another profound effect. Reading stories makes us feel experienced and increases resilience.
I’ve chosen some wonderful books that all function both as mirrors and windows for children as the world faces the effects of Coronavirus. They are beautifully written and/or illustrated and should fire young imaginations, while comforting the whole family.
The Red Tree
This is a beautiful picture book – sparse of text – with lush landscapes in Sean Tan’s magical style. The reader loses themselves in pages that are achingly evocative of yearning, loss and wonder in a kind of heady cocktail of intense emotion, boredom and stoicism.
Dark leaves fall in our character’s bedroom, but by the end, they have coalesced into a beautiful red tree.
There is space here for even a very young reader to express what they think is happening page by page. The art could stimulate imitation. I can also imagine making a little red tree trunk and branches and adding a leaf to it, day by day.
There is very little reading to be done, so a slightly older child could also “read” it to a younger one.
The Mousehole Cat
Antonia Barber sets her classic story on the Cornish coast. The narrative is about a cat who saves the day when her community is threatened. It is wordier than many picture books, but narrated by the cat in clear, beautifully written prose – it’s a pleasure to read aloud.
Nicola Bayley’s illustrations are engaging and immersive – who wouldn’t like to go to the seaside right now? – and the characters easily inspire affection.
Touching on concepts of scarcity and sacrifice, this is a very empowering story for a young listener or reader. The smallest character in the story is the hero who saves everyone – by singing. It would be easy to live in this story for a while, going fishing from the laundry basket, practising storm singing, repeating some of the turns of phrase.
The illustrations are inspiring for young artists and could also be the basis of remembering visits to the seaside, pretend beach picnics or natural history lessons.
Comet in Moominland
A trip to Tove Jansson’s Moominland always makes everything better. Here, the family flee from an approaching comet, meeting many favourite characters on the way.
The much-beloved Moomins are eccentric hippo-like people, very accommodating of difference and otherness. That said, many of the characters have their little ways, and being accommodating isn’t always comfortable. The realism of the relationships gives even the silliest of Jansson’s stories the texture of real life.
Quirky line drawings are immensely endearing and the story, while exciting with elements of real fear, never feels as if it will end badly. The language is fun, with word play and characters’ attitudes and, again, the child is the hero. It’s not hard to draw a Moomin, and there are endless opportunities for drama. Year twos or threes can probably read it to themselves, with someone on hand for the tricky bits, but it’s fun enough to engage older children, and silly enough for littlies.
The Wee Free Men
Tiffany Aching comes from chalkland, where nobody has it easy, and everyone works hard. When a rift opens on her doorstep and her despised little brother is taken, she discovers she’s not ordinary, after all. Armed with a cast-iron frying pan, she takes on the full force of Fairyland.
This is a riotous out-loud read from the late Terry Pratchett, featuring a tribe of “pictsies” who speak in a Scottish accent that sounds a lot like the stand-up comic Billy Connolly. Tiffany’s gran has recently passed away – and the danger feels quite real – but we know that Tiff will get us through. She certainly does, battling forces of depression and self-doubt to do so – another young leader in a time of community danger. Even hardened teenagers might smile at the best bits and tweens will devour it whole. Children as young as six or seven can follow along.
The narrative is a role-play bonanza and there are opportunities to investigate British folklore, identities in the United Kingdom and gender roles. Illustrations in the text might inspire art and mapping the settings would be an interesting exercise. Further adventures of some of the characters could be written, and geography lessons about chalk grassland would be easy to work in.
The Book Thief
For resilient older children and teens, Markus Zusac’s story is set in a time of many lives lost – Germany during the second world war – and narrated by Death. It is gorgeously written (an international bestseller, adapted for film) and, while the subject matter is difficult, the narrative pulses with life and hope.
For a young person engaged with current events, questioning authority and impatient of parental efforts to shield them from the grimmer elements of our current reality, this book could be a lifeline.
Liesel Meminger is illiterate when the story begins, but takes a book that has been dropped at her brother’s graveside. As she begins to read and to leave childhood behind, she steals many more books. Love, death and the importance of even futile actions inform the story of Liesel’s coming of age and provide ways of thinking about what it means to be human.
This could be read together silently, perhaps taking chapters in turn, rationed out as a treat for discussion or not. It’s a natural accompaniment to history lessons, geography, or some online German instruction and watching the film could lead to a discussion of adaptation. But perhaps you could just leave a copy of it out for anyone who needs it to find and make their own.
Many of these titles are available electronically, but local bookshops are delivering and posting orders. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than snuggling behind the protective embrace of an open book.
The link below is to an article that looks at how to raise a reader.
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Why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick? – Jane, aged 10, from Coburg North, Australia.
Hi Jane, your question about why reading in the back seat makes you feel sick is a very good one. The answer has to do with our eyes, our ears and our brain.
Reading in the back seat can make you feel sick because your eyes and ears are having an argument that your brain is trying to settle!
Curious Kids: Why do our ears pop?
When you’re reading in the back seat, your eyes see that your book is still. Your eyes then tell your brain you are still.
But your ears feel the car is moving. Your ears then tell your brain you’re moving.
How can your ears tell you’re moving?
Your ears don’t just hear, they help with your balance too.
Your ear has three main parts:
- the outer ear is the bit you can see on the side of someone’s head
- the middle ear is your eardrum and some tiny bones and muscles
- the inner ear is the part of your ear that can help with your balance.
Your inner ear contains cells that have hairs sticking out the top. Scientists call these “hair cells”.
Some of these hair cells help us to hear. When sound hits those hair cells, the hairs move and the cells send signals to the brain. Our brains use those signals to hear.
Other hair cells help us to keep our balance. When the car we’re sitting in moves, that movement makes the hairs on those hair cells move too, and they send different signals to the brain. Our brain uses those different signals to tell we’re moving.
Why doesn’t the brain like this?
Some people’s brains don’t like it when their eyes say they’re still but their ears say they’re moving.
When eyes and ears argue like this, the brain can think that something dangerous might be about to happen.
If this happens, the brain can get the body ready to fight or run away (scientists call this the “fight or flight” response).
One of the things the brain can do is take blood away from the stomach to give to the muscles.
Giving blood to the muscles can help us to fight or run away. But taking blood away from the stomach can make us feel sick.
What can you do about it?
If reading in the back seat makes you feel sick, you might need to settle the argument between your eyes and your ears.
One way to do this is to stop reading and to look out the car window. This could help your eyes to tell your brain that you’re moving as you see the world whizz by, and your ears to tell your brain that you are moving as you feel the car moving.
But this suggestion won’t work for everyone. Some people will still feel sick when they ride in a car, even if they aren’t reading.
This is because while our eyes and our ears help us to balance, so do our skin and our muscles. This creates many opportunities for arguments that our brain has to settle!
Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org
The link below is to an article that claims children who own more books read better – which is fairly obvious I suppose.