Australian Author of Children’s Books and Teen Books: May 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

See, Think, Wonder : Two Wolves / On the Run

Teacher, Matthew Seeney, has been using an innovative inquiry-based learning strategy called 'See, Think, Wonder' to get his students excited about a book and making early observations and predictions about the text. He recently contacted me about the fine work his class had been doing on my novel Two Wolves (published as On the Run in the US) and, here, he shares the students' journey...

'The students in 4/5/6S eagerly waited as they watched the new book for our novel study come out of the tub. It was Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks. The students were highly intrigued and couldn’t wait to turn the pages to see the story unfold.

Before any new book, it’s important to get the students thinking about what they are reading. In the beginning, whilst enthusiastically waiting to begin their journey with Two Wolves, the students in 4/5/6S used a strategy called ‘See,Think, Wonder’ from the book Making Thinking Visible. The purpose of this strategy is to emphasise the importance of observation as the basis for thinking and interpretation. The ‘seeing’ provides the students with an opportunity to look closely and notice before interpreting the picture. The ‘thinking’ allows students to ask themselves what they think is going on in the image. Finally, ‘wondering’ ensures students have had time to take in new information through observation, then think about and synthesise this information.

See, Think, Wonder

This strategy worked marvellously with Two Wolves. Students looked carefully at the front cover of the book to see what information they could gather. Students carefully described the cabin and the bushes on the front cover, some chose to sketch the cabin for more details.

Thinking led to many statements from the students like 'I think the person running on the cover is Ben Silver' and 'I think the cabin represents an evil wolf'.

As students reflected on their ‘seeing’ and thinking’, a whole world of wonder opened up for them. 'I wonder why it’s a picture of a cabin instead of wolves?' 'I wonder why there is a light on and who turned it on?' 'I wonder if the cabin is haunted?'

One of our students, Sophie Cross, said 'Each student has got a different opinion on what Two Wolves really means, but in this case there is no right or wrong answer. Students have been taking thinking to the next level by thinking more deeply about what they see. We have truly made the most of ‘See, Think, Wonder’ which has helped most of us get our ideas out there'.

As you can imagine, when the opportunity came to open the book, the students did so at breakneck speed, eager to see what lay ahead.'


Monday, May 16, 2016

Collaborative Short Storytelling in the Classroom

I recently visited Varsity College on Queensland's Gold Coast. It was a fantastic day and the students in teacher Mark Buzolic's class, 7I, had written a collaborative story in the style of the My Life books, using this food-based story starter and the story 'Hot Dog Eat' from My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up for inspiration.

I loved the story so much that I wanted to share it with you. (Beware of the 'groaner' joke at end!) I'm going to develop a kids' content section on my website so leave a comment or send me an email if you have a funny / weird / gross or thrilling story to share.

Switchin’ in the Kitchen

I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I unzipped my sports bag and opened the shoe box to take out my favourite footy boots, it was the last thing I would have imagined. Inside the shoe box was not my boots. It wasn’t even someone else’s boots. It wasn’t even a pair of shoes. It wasn’t even footwear. My heart sank. It was… lasagne. Sealed inside a plastic container was two boot-sized servings of lasagne. But this was no ordinary lasagne.

Without a doubt, lasagne is my favourite food. Normally I could eat it for dinner every night of the week and every lunch and breakfast for that matter. But not this lasagne. This was my sister’s infamous special spaghetti lasagne and I’d have to say there is no lasagne like it anywhere in the world. Not in all of Italy and not in the dodgiest Italian restaurant known to man. Let’s just say, if you took a bite out of my sister’s special spaghetti lasagne on Monday, you would still be chewing it on Friday. Normally cooking makes any kind of pasta softer, but somehow my sister’s cooking makes it tougher than year 10 algebra. And there were strands of spaghetti between the sheets of lasagne. It took the Italians two thousand years to perfect lasagne pasta and my sister thinks she can improve it by adding spaghetti. Not only that, there were olives. I can’t stand olives.

Staring into my sports bag, into the open shoe box, my mind raced back to the morning’s events – the morning of my under 13 soccer cup final. Sure I’d packed my entire kit – shin pads, socks, shorts, shirt and boots. Yes - definitely the boots. Laced, cleaned and polished. My sister had been nowhere near it because she was busy with her entry in the year 9 cooking competition. But what was it Mum had said?

‘Leave your boots on the kitchen table dear. You know your father and I can’t be with you for the match so the least I can do is to give them one more polish.’

And that must have been when the switch was made. It must have been a mistake. My mum would never mean to spoil my big day and my sister was surely too stupid to plan such a disaster.

Now here I was, standing in my thongs, staring dumbfounded at a container of my sister’s cooking while my team mates pulled up their socks and laced up their boots. No time to phone for help, not a spare pair of boots in sight and kick-off only seconds away.

Then I did something no sane person would even attempt to do. I grabbed two long strands of spaghetti and started strapping on those slices of lasagne, first to my left foot and then to my right. Maybe, just maybe, from a distance those leathery slabs of lasagne with a few random olives sticking out like studs, would look enough like boots to get me onto the field! But as I ran out there, I could already feel my plan starting to come unstuck.


That night, around the dinner table, I proudly retold the story of how, as my ‘boots’ unravelled into a gooey mess of cheesy sauce, I’d accidentally slid into the goal mouth and knocked in the winning goal.

Not only that, but my sister proudly produced two cooking competition medals for her boot-shaped ‘lasagne’. Who would have thought? Most original presentation and most improved!

‘Wow, Sis!’ I said. ‘Sounds like your cooking really kicked a few goals today.’

By Mark Buzolic & 7I, Varsity College

Illustration by Gus Gordon from the story, 'Hot Dog Eat', in My Life & Other Stuff I Made Up.

Mark's comments on the way the story was created:

'It was a joint construction with the class, inspired by an activity idea on your website and following on from The Dog Eat story, namely composing a story involving your favourite food. I tried to involve students in the decision making process and get them to appreciate that a story is something created by an author who makes choices. I think sometimes that students believe the story is pre-determined and the author just writes it. Hence we shared decisions such as whether to give a commentary of the football match or to leave that out and cut to the aftermath. We also decided that the original title Pasta Boots gave away a big part of the plot.

I wrote most of it ‘live’ in class on the projected screen so kids could witness the changes, the editing and the thought processes and help out with the writing as much as possible to make it our class story.'


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Recent Tweets on Literacy

There are some extraordinary articles, podcasts and discussions around literacy, #edtech, libraries, creativity and children's literature happening on the Webs. I've been sharing as much as possible on Twitter. In case you've missed my recent tweets or you're not on the Twits, here's a selection. Just click on the links to read, watch and listen. (Apologies for some of the funny text formatting!)

Great Ideas to Inspire Kids to Write & also for #Library Writing Programs … @sljournal @lrj417

Three Parent Plans to Create a Strong Writer via @BookChook #literacy #education #kidlit

Great chat! @GeneLuenYang & @PulitzerPrize winner Michael Chabon @readingrockets … #kidlit

Have you played the EXPLODING CHICKENS game inspired by my book? … #edtech @PenguinKidsAus

Check out @JensBookPage’s review of @itspeterbrown’s THE WILD ROBOT … #kidlit #literacy

Love this: Holly Smale on Why Kids & Teens Need Funny Books @GuardianBooks @holsmale #yalit

Mr Lemoncello author @CGrabenstein Unravelled on @colbysharp’s #Kidlit Podcast #TheYarn @100scopenotes …

Our @RoomtoRead_Oz #WorldChange Challenge is on again! Changing the world one book at a time …

Children’s Book Week 2016 @bookchook - Educational Activities #bookweek16


Review: Squishy Taylor series by Ailsa Wild

Review of author Ailsa Wild and illustrator Ben Wood's Squishy Taylor series by guest reviewer Ella Sharpe, bookseller at The Younger Sun Children's Bookshop in Melbourne.

Eleven-year-old Squishy (real name Sita) Taylor has just inherited a ‘bonus family’ - an extra mum, two new sisters and a brand new baby brother. Living in Melbourne, Squishy and her twin sisters, Jessie and Vee, get up to all sorts of fun and mischievous adventures.

The top news story in Melbourne has been that of the diamond smugglers believed to be operating  in the heart of the city. Squishy is convinced that her cranky next door neighbour Mr Hinkenbushel is the culprit. With her amazing acrobatic skills, reckless bravery and loyal sisters, Squishy is on the case and will prove once and for all that Mr Hinkenbushel is a criminal mastermind.

Squishy Taylor is an amazing new series for early to middle primary school children. Squishy is fun, smart and quirky and won’t let anything hold her back. Ailsa Wild has created a wonderful role model for both girls and boys to look up to. Ben Wood’s illustrations really make the story of Squishy come alive and some will definitely provide a laugh-out-loud chuckle. There are currently four Squishy Taylor stories available and more on the way so keep your eye out for them.

Recommended for age 7 +
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