Book raps and travel buddies

I’ve received a question about the current rap, the Beijing Olympic Games and Book Week 2008 rap, which is going to incorporate a wiki activity.

To join the actual rap, go to and follow the prompts. The rap blog itself, where you enter your class responses, is over at

There’s still time to join, do jointly-constructed introductions and then Rap Point 1.

I’ve also been asked about one of my school’s Stage 1 teachers’ “Cranky the crocodile” project. This is like a “Travel buddies” set-up, but just for the one class to share. Cranky is a stuffed class mascot/puppet, who goes home with a different selected student each weekend. That child is responsible for documenting the adventure with photos, stories, drawings and small, flat souvenirs (such as cinema ticket stubs).

The teacher took Cranky home the first weekend, then Cranky went home with the most able students first, so there were some good model examples in the first few pages of scrapbook. This set a high standard.

Another school ran a “Travel buddies” project to complement the NSW DET’s “Possum Magic” book rap a few years ago. Grandma Poss and Hush – and their bicycle! – were posted off to numerous schools who’d signed up, and Grandma Poss collected photos, postcards, souvenirs and diary entries along the way.

Details on “Travel Buddies” is at

When local schools all have their interactive whiteboards (IWBs), I’d love to do something similar and maybe send a stuffed animal from school to school. I have a great flying fox toy the students have named Phoenix. currently, he’s helping the Stage 2 students with the new rap.

Here’s the wiki page we’ve set up.

Gold, gold, gold… and plenty of silver

Did I say “a bit of a frenzy” last night?

The Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards were announced at noon today, and at 12:12 pm I was breathlessly delivering the decrees of the CBCA judges to our K-6 school assembly. Breathlessly because I took the opportunity to jog back to the library, at about 12:02, to see if I could gain access to the CBCA website… and then when I found that I could, I also had to retrieve one of the titles from a classroom on the opposite side of the school. Whew!

Talk about enthusiastic responses! The students were cheering wildly for all of the winning titles, author and illustrators. (I remember a previous principal, of a previous school, saying, “I’ve never seen these children cheer for a book before”; and about a week later I suddenly had a library budget to spend on new books, where there’d been no such budget for many years! Not bad for about seven months work as a fledgling teacher-librarian, trying to win over a community.) it was certainly rewarding to see the students respond with passion and interest, especially since their opinions held no sway in which books wore these particular medals. The CBCA Awards aren’t a “popular choice” selection process, and the panel of judges is made up of adult “experts”.

So how well did we predict in 2008?

Picture Book of the Year? Gold went to “Requiem for a beast” by Matt Ottley, our prediction. So well-deserved! And no surprises with the silvers for “Dust” and “The Peasant Prince”.

Books for Younger Readers category saw gold go to “Dragon moon” by Carole Wilkinson, and silvers to “Sixth grade style queen (not!)” and “Amelia Dee and the peacock lamp”. This was a hard category to pick simply because our library sessions don’t allow much time to serialise six novels. Nonetheless, the students were thrilled to see their favourite, “Sixth grade style queen (not!)”, get silver.

Books for Early Childhood category: the group of Kindergarten students who did a poster display for Aaron Blabey’s “Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley” were ecstatic that “their book” won the gold! And no surprises with silvers for the wonderfully warm “Lucy Goosey” and the amusing “Cat”.

And no surprise at all with Information book: gold for “Parsley Rabbit’s book about books” by Frances Watts & David Legge. What a thrill! Harder to pick were the silvers – for “Girl stuff: your full-on guide to the teenage years” and “Kokoda Track: 101 days” – but the students seemed pleased with the results. I know I’ll have to do some consultations as to how I might allow the Year 6 girls and their parents to borrow out “Girl stuff” through the library without causing any ripples. The book certainly doesn’t hold back on too much so it won’t be on the open shelves; it has a very wide range of “stuff” of interest to teenaged girls. A potential for… controversy, especially in a primary school.

I joked to myself in recent weeks that the artist to win the Creighton Award (for first time illustrators) would likely be Anna Walker of “Santa’s Aussie Holiday” (text by Maria Farrer) because – being a Christmas book – it was the only Creighton Award nominee which hadn’t been reprinted yet. Well, I should have had money on it. It certainly had some very stiff competition this year.

Look out: Book Week is upon us!

CBCA announcement looms

My students are so excited. In recent weeks, I’ve worked them into a bit of a frenzy over which books will win the gold and silver medals. Not the Beijing Olympics medals, but the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, which are announced at noon tomorrow.

Like last year, each class has been creating a column graph of their preferences. Everyone’s voting in the picture book category, plus Stage 1 is doing Early Childhood, Stage 2 information books and Stage 3 the novels. This helps them to invest a little more into the announcement of winners.

Picture Book of the Year? Even though the graphic novel, “Requiem for a beast” by Matt Ottley, is aimed at a Stage 6 (Years 11 and 12) readership, I bought a copy for myself and took it into school to expose the students to the book’s unique qualities: they were fascinated how the style changed from picture book, to chapter book, to storyboard, to almost-motion picture widescreen, to comic book, to scrapbook, and back to chapter book. Many of the students had the gut feeling that it may well win Picture Book of the Year. “Dust” and “The Peasant Prince” have also been well-received and, for a few classes, I ended up presenting these books in the same lesson and the students enjoyed their similarities and differences. “The island” is as confronting and challenging as “Dust”, and it will be interesting to see which books end up winning.

We ran out of time to do much justice to the longer novels in the Books for Younger Readers category, but an unexpected favourite (of both theirs and mine) has been “Sixth grade style queen (not!)” by Sherryl Clark. Many students picked up on its similarity in style to the work of poet Stephen Herrick, who visited our school last year for National Literacy & Numeracy Week. The senior students are keen on Emily Rodda’s work, especially since she visited a few years ago and told the students she was “happily retired” but then we discovered she’d secretly been writing “The key to Rondo”, much to the surprise of even her agent and publisher! Writing without a deadline was a special treat she’d given herself. “The Shaggy Gully Times” is also a bit of a dark horse, but I’ve had to work with the students to appreciate the cleverness of its humour and wordplay; luckily the current book rap is helping with this.

It’s always hard to pick the Books for Early Childhood category! As a teacher reading to groups of students, I think I had the most fun with “Cat” by Mike Dumbleton & Craig Smith. As the owner of two ginger cats in my life, I could relate to every page! (I actually have a photograph of Dugil sprawled over the mat where I was trying to mark papers, and an earlier shot of Meggsie stealing the heater from both my younger brother and the family dog! This will be an impossible category to pick; all six entries are so worthy.

Information book category? My prediction (from this time last year!) has always been “Parsley Rabbit’s book about books” by Frances Watts & David Legge. Oh, how i wish I’d written this book. It says everything ‘ve ever needed to say about “parts of a book”. “Parsley Rabbit” turned up in my local bookshop the week before Book Week last year, and was my special treat for each class. It’s remained a much-coveted, much-read – and much-requested – book in our school library. Most of the students are expecting this book to win. And so am I. We also have a soft spot for several others, including “The Antarctica book: life in the freezer” and “Australia’s deadly and dangerous animals”, which seem to be very accessible books for primary students.

Noon on Friday can’t come soon enough…

Enter the dragon!

Ah wonderful serendipity!

Yesterday, my last group of Olympic Games rappers had to miss their scheduled rapping session in the library and I had to play catch-up with them today. They were supposed to name the last of our animal mascot “reporters”: a large, cardboard, papier mache, crepe paper and fabric Chinese dragon, who has been a decorative fixture in the library since early 2007, and a frequent participant in our school’s annual Chinese New Year Parade.

This morning, one of the teachers of another Stage 2 class – having no idea of my plans to use the dragon during the rap – asked if she could borrow my dragon for her class item at Assembly next Friday. I told her that, by the end of the day, he’d even have a name (choosing a name was to have been a Circle Time activity for the rappers) but she said that the story being told in their item involved a Chinese dragon called Nian.

So Nian it is! Now one class is ecstatic that Nian is performing in another group’s item, and the budding actors are impressed that Nian will also be reporting on Olympic events for the rappers… between play rehearsals, of course. Anticipation for the rap events (and the Games) is at fever pitch!

I wish I could say I’d planned it that way. A typical week in the library.

Beijing, books and bungee-jumping

This term, I’m working with at least seven very enthusiastic groups of Stage 2 students on the New South Wales Department of Education & Training’s Beijing Olympic Games & Book Week 2008 rap.

Firstly, as with the other raps which ran this year, I’m promoting the rap blog URL in the school newsletter so that students can show off their group’s rap responses with their families each week.

In case the URL doesn’t make it home, I’m also explicitly modelling a search strategy (ie. how to use Google to find the rap pages) each time the students come for their blogging session. I show them what happens when we type in raps and book raps as search terms (almost 1.5 million hits!) and how the abundance of riches can be reduced by using inverted commas. (ie. “raps and book raps” gives only 5000 possible sites – and, in any case, the NSW DET Raps webpage appears as choice #1).

Also I demonstrate the pathway to get to the blog itself. For the last two raps, many students tried out visiting the rap blog from home, and we received great parental feedback.

Secondly, I brought in a collection of stuffed animal toy mascots (plus others that were already decorating the library). The Bruce Whatley drawing of Tammy the Tortoise (in the Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlisted book, The Shaggy Gully Times) is uncannily like a toy tortoise I had at home, especially with the addition of a battery-operated pocket fan strapped to her back.

Now each group is selecting (and often naming) one of the animal “reporters”, who’ll represent them in the upcoming newspaper article rap point. Each one has his or her own “Press card” to get them into Olympic venues. The animal characters (a flying fox, the aforementioned tortoise, a Puffin Books puffin, a Chinese New Year dragon, a large green frog, Selby the taking dog, and my trusty big, black, furry, bungee spider – it’s a long story) might prove useful for some f(p)unny photojournalism in the playground. We’ll be able to upload the pictures to the Gallery of the rap blog – and they should provide inspiration for some typically Jackie French-esque animal puns.