Exploring Three Galarious Goods Picture Book Studies for Upper Primary

I love picture books. I love reading them. I love exploring them more thoroughly. And I love creating a range of activities to bring them to life in classrooms around the world. I have a house full of picture books and a list full of studies to tackle.

But right now, I wanted to introduce a couple of books to you, and the book studies which will help you to bring them alive in your classroom

 
Exploring three Galarious Goods picture book studies for upper primary. Looking at Drought, The Peasant Prince and Memorial, and my favourite parts of the comprehensive book studies for these books. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

The Peasant Prince by Li Cunxin and Anne Spudvilas

This is the autobiographical picture book story of Li Cunxin, who spent his early childhood living in a small peasant village in China until he was chosen to join a ballet school in Beijing. It’s a story of family, working hard and following dreams.

This lovely story is excellent to explore for classrooms looking at persistence, or classrooms exploring memoirs or biographical texts. Students can compare it to other biographical and autobiographical picture books (including The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanna Do or The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield).

This book study includes comprehension, reader response and review activities as well as activities exploring Li Cunxin, allegories and writing memoirs.

One of my favourite things is the interactive notebook activity which brings together a quick retell and student impressions of the book. You can see how this activity goes together here:

 
 

Drought by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

This is the fourth book in the natural disaster series from Jackie French and Bruce Whately and a beautiful, heartbreaking look at drought and its impact on the people, animals and land.

Drought is an incredibly important book and a great way to open discussion about drought and to prompt further research about what causes drought and how we can help communities who are going through droughts.

The extensive book study for Drought includes comprehension, reader response, vocabulary, language, theme, research and writing tasks. It’s everything you need to take a comprehensive look, with most activities available in a variety of formats to suit your classroom and your students.

I love this little interactive notebook activity within the book study which explores what happened before, during and after the drought. You can see how it goes together here:

 
 

Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan

I adore the work by both of these creators and this is a truly special book - the benchmark for books which deal with Australian involvement in wars. It tells two stories - the story of family and the impact of war on the family and the story of two war memorials - a statue and a tree - which have had a world grow up around them.

This is a must read if you are looking for activities around Anzac Day or Remembrance Day or when you’re exploring the impact of war on Australia and Australians. There are so many avenues for further discussion, from looking at whether the tree should be removed, to exploring how we can create memorials for those who fight (and die) in wars.

The book study for Memorial takes a really close look at the book, encouraging students to develop questions, to look at how the text is structured to tell a story through conversation and dialogue, to look at the symbols included within the picture book.

One activity asks students to look at what Memorial says about memories and what it says about war. Students discuss the message of the story, then put together an interactive notebook resource where they can record those messages. You can see how it goes together here

 
 
 
 

3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas

Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove is a book packed with great language and enticing pictures - making it perfect to read to an audience. It’s no surprise that it was chosen as the 2019 National Simultaneous Storytime book, and it’s sure to be a classroom read aloud staple for years to come.

But what else can you do with this great book? And what can you do if you’ve only got limited time and resources to explore it? Here’s three easy ways to explore Alpacas with Maracas when it’s your classroom read aloud book.

 
3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas. Easy Ways for teachers to take a closer look at Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove. Perfect for school story telling, this blog post includes a free resource as it looks at story telling, vocabulary, movement and character lessons. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. Make Dance Patterns with Maracas

The whole book Alpacas with Maracas is an invitation to get up and dance. While maracas are perfect for this, any shaking percussion tool - from bells to shakers to dried beans in containers - will also allow students to explore the patterns in movement and rhythm.

Students can start with a good old fashioned dance party. Once you’ve read the book, you can invite the students to move like Macca and Al, shaking their musical instruments and getting their groove and move on. You can follow this up with talking about how dancing makes you feel and why people might dance.

Students can also explore shaking to a beat. You can clap out a rhythm for students to follow, explore 4/4 time, explore what happens if you skip a beat or play with different groups of students playing at different times in different parts of the room. Your school music teacher may be able to help you come up with some interesting patterns to explore as well!

Finally students can explore making dance patterns by moving their maracas in different ways. Students can move their maracas (or shakers or bells) up and down, diagonally, to the left and right and in front of them. How can they use these directions to make up a dance routine? And how could they write it down or draw it for other students to follow?

2. Explore the Vivid Verbs of Alpacas with Maracas

Alpacas with Maracas is FILLED with wonderful words including some lovely verbs. Students can find the verbs throughout the text, using them to create a poster of great words. They can also act out the verbs that they find, working in small groups to share them.

Another way to explore verbs is to look for synonyms for some of the verbs in the book. Students might like to start with an easy verb like dance and see if they can brainstorm as many synonyms as possible. You can display these brainstorms in the classroom for students to refer back to in the future.

Students can also use the lovely language of Alpacas with Maracas to create their own stories. It might be a continuation of the story of Al and Macca or their own creation.

 
3 Easy Ways to Explore Alpacas with Maracas. Easy Ways for teachers to take a closer look at Alpacas with Maracas by Matt Cosgrove. Perfect for school story telling, this blog post includes a free resource as it looks at story telling, vocabulary, movement and character lessons. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

3. Reflect on the Character Lessons

There’s some lovely character lessons in Alpacas with Maracas, perfect little ideas for students to reflect and build on.

Al and Macca are great friends - they work together, they complement each other and they look for ways to find happiness together. This is a wonderful lesson for students to reflect on, thinking about what makes a good friend and what good friendships look like.

Macca and Al are also persistent They try so many different talents when they’re looking for the right talent for the show. Even when they fail - and they fail quite spectacularly - they get back up to try again. This can lead to a wonderful discussion about persistence and what it can look like when we’re persistent at something which is difficult. We can also talk about trying different approaches to reach a goal - Macca and Al have a goal of being in a talent show, but they need to try different approaches to make it in there.

Macca and Al are also great losers in Alpacas with Maracas. They are the perfect representatives of ‘it doesn’t matter if you lose as long as you give it a try’. Students can discuss what it feels like to lose at something and what a good loser looks like. They might even like to role play some ways to be a good loser.

Are you looking to explore character lessons with your students? This free download includes three character ideas your students can write or draw about.

 
 

Alpacas with Maracas is a wonderful celebration of movement, music and having fun. It’s a great book to bring into your classroom and well and truly worth exploring a little more.

 
 

Exploring Australian Picture Books About Weather

Australia is well known for its wild range of weather - the drought and flooding rains. Already in 2019 the country has experienced floods, fires, an ongoing drought and the threat of a cyclone. One way to explore this weather in the classroom is through a range of picture books which highlight different weather conditions - using these picture books to help us to get a deeper understanding of this weather and its impact on Australians.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Flood, Fire, Cyclone and Drought by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

These are probably the best known picture books about extreme weather in Australia. Starting with Flood - a story of the 2011 Queensland Floods - these creators have built a powerful collection of text and illustrations which bring the events and the impacts of natural disasters in Australia to life.

Although these books are part of a series, there are little individual differences which are interesting to discuss as students compare and contrast the books. Two of the books are very clearly linked to specific events - the 2011 Queensland Floods in Flood and Cyclone Tracy (which hit Darwin in 1974) in Cyclone. Fire and Drought are more general - a look at natural events which can impact large areas of the country year after year.

One of the ‘must-do’ activities with these books is to explore the author and illustrator notes to look at the intentions of the creators as they come into the work. For both of the creators, there are personal elements or feelings to these creations and they have strived to create their work to show not just the events and impact of the disaster - but the way people come together to help and rebuild during and after the disaster.

Another great way to look at these books is to look at what is happening ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ - to explore the heavy stillness of the air in the heat before of fire or the endless days of rain before the waters being to rise in flood.

 
 

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe and David Cox

This beautiful book - probably best for middle primary and upper primary - takes us through a story of a bushfire which rages into the mountain home of the narrator and destroys her family house. It looks at the race to escape the fire and the fight to rebuild life afterwards - including looking at the emotional impacts of the fire.

The author includes a powerful author’s note about her own experiences with the Black Saturday bushfires, where she lost her home and her parents. This may or may not be something you wish to share with your students (depending on their age), but for older students it might be interesting to explore the author’s focus on regrowth after a fire. This is an interesting aspect of extreme weather which can sometimes be forgotten as journalists and other story tellers begin to move away from natural disasters in search of the next story.

A House on the Mountain would also allow for an excellent timeline activity, tracing the events of the story - and how the narrator feels - through from before the fire to the rebuilding after the fire.

All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cory Brooke and Megan Forward

This Christmas book is also an excellent look at drought for younger readers. Jane lives on a farm and wants rain for Christmas to break the drought. Jane believes that Santa is the perfect solution to the drought. This book highlights the difficulties of drought, the impact of a lack of rain on the environment and the people who work in it. It’s a particularly good introduction to drought for younger students.

There are a number of different activities which you can do with this book, including looking at what happens when there is a drought. Students can list some of the things which Jane highlights as issues, combining it with some videos of drought to enhance their understanding of drought.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood

This is a really gentle look at the impacts of drought - comparing a visit from a friend from one summer to another. As you progress through the book there are little mentions of how things are different, how things are harder.

This is a great book to use for looking at inference. There’s many places where the narrator just gives a little bit of the story, without fully telling the reader about the worry and concern they are experiencing. Even hearing that his friend will travel for seven hours gives the reader a little clue about the difference - the divide - between their life and the life of his friend.

The comparisons between one year and another is another things which students can use when talking about weather in the classroom. What is it like before a weather event? What is it like after a weather event? This could apply to floods and cyclones as well as drought.

Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft

Big rain is coming . . . but when? This lovely book, best suited for younger students, explores the anticipation of waiting for rain when it’s really, really hot. My favourite part is when the clouds gather, but it still doesn’t rain.

This is a great book for working on prediction, with its easy, repeating structure. Students can also use it as an example of what it’s like to wait for something - whether it’s rain or something else in their lives.

Big Rain Coming is also good for exploring what happens before it rains - whether it’s clouds gathering, a wind picking up, or even the sound of rain moving towards you. The beautiful illustrations also offer room for exploration, especially looking at how colour and lines are used to create a beautiful world. Students might like to compare this with some of Bronwyn Bancroft’s other illustration work as well.

 
Exploring Australian Picture Books about Weather. A look at a range of Australian picture books which bring the diverse weather of Australia to life. Plus how these books can be used by students and teachers in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle and Maggie Prewett

The children of Mrs White and the Red Desert are working hard to clean their house so they can entertain their teacher. They want to show her why their homework is grubby, but as she arrives a red dust storm also comes along, giving them the perfect demonstration.

As well as the dust storm at the centre of this book, there’s some lovely other exploration of weather. We hear about hot desert winds and the pitter-patter of rain. We see that the weather is a daily part of life, that is races around (and through) the house and soothes the children to sleep. And that it has an impact on the lives of the children when they are away from home.

This is another great book for inference - we don’t see what happens at school before the teacher comes to visit, but we can infer it. We infer how the dust storm destroys the dinner.

We also see what the impacts of a dust storm can be. Students can explore pictures of dust storms - both in the cities and away from the cities and discuss what the impacts of dust storms are during and after the storm. They may also like to explore the weather conditions which make dust storms more or less likely.

Mustara by Rosanne Hawke and Robert Ingpen

This is another book about a dust storm, but in this storm two children are caught in the middle of it, without warning, with a camel to protect them. Mustara is a historical fiction, giving a few glimpses into a different world of explorers and the use of camels in exploring inland Australia.

The historical fiction aspect of the book gives students another area to explore - what other weather events impacted people in the past? What other stories do we know of big weather events? Students might like to compare accounts of weather from the past with more recent accounts of weather and talk about how people deal with weather the same or differently.

 
 

5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca)

Have you met Macca?

He’s an alpaca! And the star of the great Macca the Alpaca picture book series by Matt Cosgrove. These books - four at the moment, including a Christmas book - have jumped into popularity (and many homes and classrooms) since the first was released in 2017.

We love Macca - and we think he’s great for the classroom. And here’s a few reasons why . . .

 
5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca) - a little look at the Macca the Alpaca series of picture books by Matt Cosgrove and a range of ways they can be used to supplement teaching in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

1. There is so much to learn from the illustrations

While picture book illustrations are often important to get the most out of a story, in the Macca books they’re super important. Often the word we need to finish the excellent rhyming structure is there, in the illustrations, not to mention the important image clues which help readers decode and comprehend what is happening on the page.

You can use this while exploring why illustrations are so important to tell the full story in a picture book. Students can explore matching text and illustrations to make sure they have the best combination or explore how the story might change if an illustration was changed.

Students can also explore the style of illustration, looking at how lines are used to show movement and how different fonts are used in the text. Again, they can question what would happen if it was different - without the lines and the different fonts, would the story feel the same to the reader?

2. The books are funny

There’s this lovely slightly frantic and slightly absurd humour in the Macca books, whether it comes through the joy of how Macca will outsmart the bully llama or the inevitability of the Christmas crackers creating chaos and creative present gifting.

In the classroom, it would be interesting to look at why the books are funny - is it seeing alpacas doing things that alpacas don’t usually do (or do they?) or does the humour come as the author builds anticipation for what is going to come next.

Students can also explore writing their own Macca stories. What would happen if Macca went travelling? What would happen if Macca opened a store? What would happen if he had to take those nephews and niece to school . . . .?

3. Macca is Nice

We have our fair share of selfish (but lovable) characters in picture books (looking at you Pig the Pug and Mothball the Wombat!), but Macca is just nice. He wants to defeat the bully, but does it with brains and kindness. He wants to win the competition, but is happy just to dance with the winners. He really, really wants to give his friends the best Christmas ever.

Looking at Macca’s qualities is a great classroom activities - and a great way to compare the different Macca books. You can create a comparison table for the class to fill in as they read the different books, or different groups could read each book and describe all of Macca’s great qualities to share with the rest of the class.

Students can also explore what lessons we can learn from Macca. What does he do that makes him a good role model? And how can we apply those lessons in our own life. This is a great way to explore qualities like giving to others, being creative and being persistent.

 
5 Reasons We Love Macca (the Alpaca) - a little look at the Macca the Alpaca series of picture books by Matt Cosgrove and a range of ways they can be used to supplement teaching in the classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

4. The Macca books encourage our students to move

Encourage them to move? But they’re books! Students sit down to read and listen to books!

But the Macca books are full of movement - and you can use this in your classroom. Macca uses all kinds of movement to defeat Harmer. He and Al try so many different ways to share a talent before dancing with their maracas. And those naughty little Alpacas move in all the wrong ways.

This is perfect if you would like to integrate dance into your literacy lessons. Students can explore different kinds of movements and what they might look like as dance steps. And then they can put those movements together to create their own dance sequences.

Students can also integrate this with physical education, designing an obstacle course which Macca and Harmer might compete over - and then setting it up and trying it out themselves!

5. Who doesn’t love alpacas?! (and the other creatures)

Alpacas are all the rage at the moment - and it’s not hard to see why. The Macca version has lovely big eyes and eyelashes, those great ears, and - thanks to the magic of books - he’s not going to spit at us! We also meet a number of other creatures in the Macca books - either directly (a llama and yaks) or indirectly (Al’s pirhanas or the cuddly sloth).

Students can research these animals and compare the real life versions with their book counterparts. They can explore why we really love some animals while other animals remain unloved. And they can use Macca and his friends as characters in other work - what happens when you have an alpaca as part of a maths problem or a sloth as part of a music lesson?

 
 

Explore the Pig the Pug Series with these Writing Tasks

We’ve talked about how we love the Pig the Pug series by Aaron Blabey before - and how it can be used in the classroom. But how can we use it to teach writing? These five writing tasks allow you and your students to take a closer look at the books, and a range of writing formats

 
Explore the Pig the Pug Series with These Writing Tasks - 5 Writing Task Ideas for classrooms and students exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and how teachers can teach them. A Galarious Goods post
 

1. Write a News Article About Pig’s ‘Adventures’

When Pig the Pug goes big, it’s usually followed by some sort of disaster. This is bad for Pig, but great for budding news article writers.

Writing a news article is a great task for a range of grades. For younger students who may be just learning about the format, it’s a great way to identify the ‘who, what, where, when and why’ - good reading questions - before participating in a shared writing of an article as a small group or a whole class. Students can follow this shared writing about one of the Pig stories with individual or paired writing about one of the other Pig stories.

For older students, the Pig books offer a great story to write their article about. They can report on the time that Pig ‘flew’ out the window (plenty of headline opportunities there - another aspect you can explore with the class) or the time he exploded a bathroom just because he preferred to be dirty.

2. Write a Diary Entry - or a Series of Diary Entries

What is Pig thinking? While that’s a slightly scary thought, it’s also a great way to explore the Pig the Pug books through writing.

You could ask your students to write one diary entry - focusing on the aftermath of an event perhaps, or what Pig is thinking before disaster strikes. Or you could ask your students to write a series of diary entries which explore the entire events of the week. What is Pig thinking about as he participates in the photo shoot and thinks of himself as a star?

Or - to change it up a little - what exactly is Trevor thinking? What would his diary entries look like after a big Pig Event or in the lead up to one.

This is a great activity to pair with diary led books like the Diary of a Wombat series by Jackie French or the My Australian Story books for older students. Students can look at the examples of diary entries and identify the elements of them before applying these ideas to their own writing.

3. Write a Comic Strip

How can you condense all - or a good part of - a story into just a few small boxes? This is the question which faces students when you ask them to create a comic strip of on of the Pig the Pug books.

Students can talk about which are the most important parts of the story, creating a list which allows them to create 4 or 5 panels of a comic. They can then explore what images or words they could fit into that comic strip.

Students can also explore whether they should keep Pig looking like the Pig of the books, or whether they should explore their own style of drawing in their comic strip - and why they might make some changes.

This is a great way to explore retell and main idea with your students - particularly those in middle to upper primary classes.

 
Explore the Pig the Pug Series with These Writing Tasks - 5 Writing Task Ideas for classrooms and students exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and how teachers can teach them. A Galarious Goods post
 

4. Review of the Book

Writing a good book review can be a great way to get other people to enjoy the books you enjoy. The Pig the Pug books are great for reviews because there’s usually a range of reasons why readers love them.

Students can explore a range of book reviews from different places before they write their own. You can also share write a review with the whole class before students head off to write their own reviews.

Some things students can concentrate on in reviews is comparing them with other books (maybe other books about dogs, other books which feature animals or other funny books) or focusing on why they are so enjoyable to read.

If your students didn’t enjoy the book, they can also write a review highlighting why. (This can be a great activity even if your students did enjoy it - what kind of review would you write if you didn’t?)

5. Podcast Episode

Podcasts are really popular, with a number of podcasts created just for children. You and your students could listen to some of them before getting into creating your own.

Successful podcasts have a question or a theme to work through. When it comes to Pig the Pug they might like to discuss why they enjoy a particular book, which Pig the Pug book is the best, what it would be like to own a dog like Pig or what to read after you’ve finished all the Pig books.

Students should write at least an outline before they start recording their podcast. If they’re working in a pair or small group, they might identify different parts to talk about or create a list of ‘talking points’ to tackle together. If they’re working on their own they might like to create a whole speech to write about.

 
 
 
 

7 Reasons We Love the Pig the Pug Books

My family loves the Pig the Pug books by Aaron Blabey. We love them so much that both my children have dressed as the not-so-well-behaved but lovable dog for Book Week. But what is it we love so much about Pig? My son sat down with me to put together some reasons we love Pig - and some ways you can explore that love in the classroom.

 
7 Reasons We Love Pig the Pug. A blog post exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and the ways these wonderful books can be used by teachers in the classroom. Perfect for teachers looking for reading resources. A Galarious Goods post
 

1. We Love the Lessons . . .

Every Pig book comes with a little lesson (or two) to learn - whether it’s sharing our toys with others, telling the truth about our misdeeds or sharing the spotlight.

While the lessons are pretty broad - and sometimes pretty specific to Pig (it’s unlikely our children will be eating their food bowls any time soon!), they’re a great starting place for further conversation about what good and considerate behaviour looks like. We can pose questions like what does a winner look like? Is it necessary to share everything? Is it better to get difficult things over and done with - or just try to avoid them.

2. . . . and How Pig Always ‘Learns His Lesson’

Pig always ‘learns his lesson’ by the end of the book - which is another aspect students can discuss. Does he really learn his lesson. Do students honestly think he won’t repeat his mistakes. And since he usually behaves well when he’s injured and physically unable to misbehave - what might happen when the bandages come off and he is well again. Students can follow this train of thought and develop their prediction skills!

3. We Love the Humour

These are really funny books! They’re a dream for teachers and parents who are reading them out loud, as you can explore with voices (take care with Pig - the shouting can be a problem!) and the funny pauses as you turn pages. But even when you are reading them to yourself, you can’t help but wonder what hilarious hijinks that pug will get up to next . . . and what hilarious trouble he will find himself in.

A lot of the humour comes from the ridiculous nature of the trouble - we know it’s unlikely that these things would really happen to a dog - but it’s funny to imagine that they might. Students can explore writing their own ridiculous paragraphs or stories, seeing how far they can stretch their story before they lose their reader. They can also look for other examples of ridiculous humour in books - the books where the author just has fun with the reader!

4. We Love the Repetition

There’s something terribly comforting about opening a brand new Pig the Pug book and seeing those familiar words . . . ‘Pig was a Pug . . . “

The Pig books follow a comfortable formula which makes them perfect for students developing an understanding of how stories can be structured and for students who like to look for connections between different texts. The familiarity of the stories can also help students concentrate on the details of the book - like the language or the specifics of this particular story - giving students a framework to work within.

It also gives new and pre readers the opportunity to join in and read with the story - they know this bit! They’ve read it before. It can be a wonderful confidence boost or a way to engage with a text because you’re really reading it.

This repetition can be used in writing lessons as well. Students can brainstorm ways for Pig to get himself into trouble and then use the framework to create their own Pig stories. Or they can create their own framework as a class or group and then write a class series of stories which work into that framework.

 
7 Reasons We Love Pig the Pug. A blog post exploring Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey and the ways these wonderful books can be used by teachers in the classroom. Perfect for teachers looking for reading resources. A Galarious Goods post
 

5. We Love Trevor

Poor Trevor. While Pig is rampaging his way through the books, Trevor is the ultimate straight man. He’s kind, thoughtful, honestly cares about Pig . . . he just wants things to go right for him occasionally. Who didn’t cheer when Trevor was selected to be a star?

Trevor shows us what Pig could be like if he would just learn how to behave. He also shows us how a character can react to Pig’s antics. This is a great way for students to explore side characters - the characters who observe many of the actions rather than getting directly involved in them (unless they can’t help it!)

Students can also imagine what Pig’s world might be like if Trevor wasn’t around. How would that make things easier for Pig? How would it make things harder?

6. We Love the Language

I LOVE the way vocabulary is used in the Pig the Pug books. Aaron Blabey refuses to talk down to his young audience, using a wide range of words and terms from ‘quivering’ to ‘sook’. It’s not all big words - there are plenty of smaller, easier to digest words - but this is a great way to explore great words and the way they can be arranged and manipulated to create rhythm, rhyme - and a really funny story.

There are so many vocabulary activities you can do with this book - whether it’s exploring the different words or phrases around the word ‘pig’ or using vocabulary folding activities to record some of the great words you can find in the books. Students can create their own word walls of ‘Pig the Pug’ words and try to incorporate them in their own writing.

7. And We Love the Illustrations

When I had to come up with a Book Week costume on fairly short notice, we decided on Pig the Pug - with a crocheted hat doing the majority of the work. As my son walked out to the car to head to kindy, his friend from across the road yelled out ‘It’s Pig the Pug!’ - those eyes and ears immediately tell you who you’re dealing with!

As well as Aaron Blabey’s iconic Pig and Trevor illustrations, the books are filled with little drawings which expand the story - and sometimes fill in the spaces between the words. My particular favourite is Pig the Star, where we see Pig and Trevor dressing up as a wide range of famous people.

Students can explore how Aaron Blabey uses illustrations to tell the story - and how the story might change if there were no illustrations at all. They can also look at how they can tell their own stories - using just illustrations, or by combining illustration and words to create a complete tale.

Aaron Blabey has so many wonderful books, and I have a hard time deciding on a favourite. But there is definitely a place for the naughty Pig the Pug in your classroom - and many different ways you can explore these stories with your students.

 
 

What Does it Mean to Be Australian?: Using Picture Books in the Classroom to Explore Australian Identity

As you read through I’m Australian Too, written by Mem Fox, it is easy to see how this book can be used to explore Australian identity in the classroom. By adding a wide range of other Australian picture books, we can further facilitate these discussions and create a better understanding of what it means to be Australian for our students.

 
Introduction to Rowan of Rin - a look at Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda and teaching activities and discussion questions to go with the novel. Includes a look at novel study teaching resources
 

What it means to be Australian and how we define the ‘Australian way of life’ have been topics of discussion for a very long time. Many people, from politicians to journalists to public figures have weighed in on these questions and many different answers have been offered. It is a topic which features prominently in Australian discourse, especially from politicians - and a topic which can easily spill into our classrooms as politicians insist that ‘Australian values’ be taught to our students.

Getting adult Australians to agree on what it means to be Australian is a difficult task, but it’s important that we engage our students in what it means to them. By having these discussions in the classroom, we allow them to look at their own identity as Australians, the identity of the people around them and how Australia may be viewed by the world. We give them ideas and words which allow them to take part in a larger conversation.

There are a wide range of Australian picture books which can prompt questions and discussions of Australian identity. From books which focus on a range of different characters from different backgrounds (like I’m Australian Too or My Place) to books which explore moments of history (like Sorry Day and the many ANZAC Day related books) to books which give us a sense of place (like Mrs White and the Red Desert) to books which explore big and devastating events which tend to shape up (like Jackie French’s natural disaster books). There are books which help out students understand who we are, how we got here and where we might go next.

 
A few Australian picture books which can be used in the classroom to explore Australian Identity with your students. These picture books can help students examine how they see themselves, how they see others and what stereotypes of Australians are. Perfect for the classroom
 

But how can we use these books effectively in the classroom when we talk about Australian identity? In a 2012 Australia Day speech on Australian Identity, the Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke points out that identity is a tricky concept - that it is linked to our perceptions of ourselves, the way we view others and stereotypes which may or may not be accurate. These three links to identity allow us to form a great framework to explore Australian picture books which deal with Australian Identity.

How we view ourselves

If we offer a wide range of Australian picture books in our classroom, students should be able to find moments which offer a connection to their own experiences. They may talk about their local war memorial like the one in Gary Crew’s Memorial, or hearing about drought like the one in Jackie French’s book. They might recognise the tall buildings in Narelle Oliver’s Home or the tram in I’m Australian Too.

Students can keep a list of these connections or note them on sticky notes as they read through the books. They can examine these lists or collections of notes and reflect on how their experiences connect them to the ideas of Australian identity.

Using compare and contrast graphic organisers, students can explore how they ‘fit’ within the Australian identity shown in these picture books and how they are different.

Students can also dig deeper to see what ‘hidden’ messages the authors and illustrators have included about Australian identity and what that means to them. What is the author saying when talking about helpers cleaning up in Flood (by Jackie French)? What qualities are those people showing? Are they Australian qualities? How do I reflect those qualities in my own life?

How we see others (and the world around us)

As well as showing us connections to our own experiences, Australian picture books allow us an insight to other Australians, Australian places, Australian history and Australian experiences.

As students read these books they can take notes of questions they might have:

  • Why do farmers have to feed animals in drought?

  • Why were some children not allowed to swim in the pool?

  • Why did they take horses on the boats to war?

  • What would it be like to escape your country on a tiny boat?

Students can work in pairs or small groups to sort their questions, finding questions which are similar. They can discuss which value might go with those questions.

Students can also look at which books are connected to other books. They may put books about the Australian environment together and books about our history in another group. They might talk about how different books show different aspects of drought and how it impacts Australian identity. They can discuss how the authors might define Australian identity.

 
Three questions we can bring to the classroom when we explore Australian identity with our students. These questions can help teachers frame a bigger conversation about what it means to be Australian through the lens of Australian picture books
 

Exploring Stereotypes

As I write this post, I have just retrieved our family’s Christmas books from the cupboard. One of the books is an old Australian version of the 12 Days of Christmas, complete with a swagman in his singlet, boots and cork hat. What does that tell us about Australian identity?

As our students explore these picture books, it’s important to discuss the stereotypes of a ‘typical’ Australian. Students may like to draw a picture or write a description of a ‘typical’ Australian before they start reading any of the books.

Students can see that many Australian picture books offer an image of Australia which is mostly different from the ‘typical’ image. They can discuss why that it, why a stereotype may not be accurate, how we can better illustrate and describe Australian identity in the future. By using an understanding of stereotypes, they can identify the choices authors and illustrators make when they do and don’t follow those stereotypes of ‘typical’ Australians.

Every year we’re seeing more picture books telling us the stories of Australia and Australians. These are useful tools in our classrooms in a number of ways - especially as they guide us to a better understanding of what it means to be Australian.

 
 

Using I'm Australian Too in Upper Primary Classrooms

You will find I'm Australian Too (by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh) in classrooms across the country. But while it has been celebrated as a book for younger children, I'm Australian Too can be used as a teaching tool with classroom activities well beyond the early years. This is an important book - a book that students of all ages can learn from.

 
Using I’m Australian Too in UPPER PRimary classrooms - Teaching ideas and Teaching Activities for the mem fox book
 

I'm Australian Too introduces us to a wide range of children who live in Australia, exploring the history they and their family have with Australia and giving the reader a little insight into how they experience life in Australia. The story shows us that Australia has been a safe place for generations of immigrants and refugees, a place for those facing hardship and danger. And we can question whether we are honouring that legacy today.

There are a range of learning activities which can accompany this book, including

1. Discussing Australian Identity

I'm Australian Too shows the readers children who all consider themselves Australian, even if their family comes from other parts of the world. This is a great introduction to concepts of Australian identity, to explore what makes Australians Australian.

This is a particularly useful book for students to explore at those times of the year when we examine what it means to be Australian like Australia Day, Harmony Day and those times when Australians are involved in large international sporting competitions. These occasions often raise questions about Australian identity and this book gives students a starting place to work from to discuss these questions. Students can use I'm Australian Too as part of a discussion activity, exploring the text and illustrations to draw conclusions about what the author and illustrator believe. They can use these understandings from the text to shape and write their own belief statements, or compare and contrast with other books which look at Australian identity.

2. I'm Australian Too Character Postcards

There are a wide range of 'characters' in I'm Australian Too. The bright distinctive illustrations tell students additional information and allow them to draw conclusions. These conclusions and the illustration styles can then be combined as creative learning activities.

One option is for students to be inspired by the illustrations and characters to create a postcard which features one of the characters as well as a short piece of text about what it means to be Australian. They can touch on where the character family comes from, how it feels to be Australian, the atmosphere of Australian places or participation in Australian past times.

The postcard is a useful tool when students are trying to summarise their thoughts since they are restricted in space - therefore are restricted in how much they can say. This allows them to keep their character reflections succinct and to the point.

Students can then expand on this by creating a postcard which reflects their own experiences and understandings of what it means to be Australian.

Interested in creating your own postcards? Get the free folding template here.

 
 

3. Create a Character Diagram

The wide range of characters and their different backgrounds in I'm Australian Too also allows for visual comparisons. Students can combine text, shapes, arrows and lines to show different characters and how they are alike or different or connected.

Students might also like to explore how they can create different styles of diagrams to show different types of information. Students can then apply this knowledge of diagrams and organisers as they explore other books and novels.

Get I'm Australian Too resources here

 
 

5 ANZAC Day Picture Books to Use in Your Classroom

ANZAC Day is an important date in the Australian calendar, but it can be a complex occasion to discuss with students. Much of ANZAC Day and its place in the Australian story is based in the actions of countries and individuals more than 100 years ago. How can we explain that to students in the often short time we have? How can we show them what it was like and how that echoes into our world today.

One way to bring ANZAC Day to our students is through some of the fabulous picture books which have been written and released to bring stories and reflections to young people. Here I look at five of them and suggest some ways they can be used in the classroom.

 
5 ANZAC Day Picture Books to Use in Your Classroom. A look at picture books and suitable activities for students in your classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

The Beach They Called Gallipoli by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

This book, which is probably best suited to upper primary and beyond, is more of an overview of the Gallipoli campaign than a narrative. Like French and Whatley's natural disaster books, it takes us through a timeline, using highly descriptive phrases and effective images to give us a glimpse into what it would have been like. We start before the landing, seeing calmness, work through the Gallipoli campaign with short pieces of text and photos, drawings and primary source ephemera giving us more information, then see how people came to remember the campaign 100 years later.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can discuss the use of real images in the book. What do they tell the reader? How do we react to real images rather than drawings or paintings? How are they manipulated and what effect does that have?

  • -Students can examine the descriptive words and phrases used and what feeling they add to the book.

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan

This book is suitable for younger and older students. It tells two parallel stories - the story of a young girl and her mother making ANZAC biscuits for her father, and the story of the father - away from home at the war front. It's a story of love and family, but also a story of the fear and harsh conditions at war. Keen readers will want to flip back and forward between pages, looking for the similarities and connections the author and illustrator have included and some of the differences between now and the world of the story (I love the wood stove which reminds me of the one my great-grandmother had). 

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can research ANZAC biscuits and how they came to be called that. If you have access to a kitchen, this could be a good time to bake ANZAC biscuits and look at procedure writing and reading

  • Students can create a chart of the connections, similarities and differences shown in the book

The Little Stowaway by Vicki Bennett and Tull Suwannakit

This book is suitable for younger and older students. It is a relatively simple tale of a French orphan adopted by an Australian airman who has to take significant measures to bring him home after World War One. In some ways, though, it is the details which aren't provided which allow for greater exploration. What happened to other French orphans? What were the Australian air men doing? What was it like being an air man in World War One? 

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can use this book as inspiration to brainstorm questions about World War One and what it was like for soldiers

  • Was it right to smuggle Honoré home? Students can discuss whether he should have been left in France or whether bringing him back to Australia was the right thing to do

 
5 ANZAC Day Picture Books to Use in Your Classroom. A look at picture books and suitable activities for students in your classroom. A Galarious Goods blog post
 

Lone Pine by Susie Brown and Margaret Warner (Illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione)

Suited to middle primary and older, this book tells the story of the Lone Pine and how trees were grown in Australia from a pine cone sent home. As these trees - and later trees - grew, they have been planted around Australia as memorials to World War One. As well as telling the story of trees, this tells the story of a family looking for and coming to terms with losing a brother and son. A particularly strong symbolic moment comes when only two of the three saplings survive to grow into strong trees.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Lone Pine uses very strong, bold lines in the illustration. Students can experiment with their own bold line artwork using paint or oil pastels

  • Students can research more about the battle of Lone Pine and why it is still remembered today

Memorial by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan

Suited to middle primary and older, this book is the story of a family who have experienced war across three generations, a World War One memorial and the tree which was planted at the first memorial service. It deals with memories and how we make sure things are remembered after we are gone and what happens when part of a memorial is removed. This is a particularly good book to read alongside Lone Pine, since both books deal with some similar themes and ideas.

Exploring this book in the classroom:

  • Students can visit a local memorial or even one of the bigger memorials in their state. They may draw it, discuss its features and talk about how we preserve those memorials and why its important to preserve them.

  • Students can discuss the rituals and symbols used at their school or local community ANZAC Day services. They might like to discuss the words which are used and the different elements which are included and how they are memorials as well.

 
 
 
 

5 Ways to Find Joy in Your Classroom and Teaching

 

Teaching can be really hard. So much is expected of teachers in so little time and with so few resources. Sometimes we find ourselves facing problems which we just can’t unravel, no matter how hard we try. And there are days when we ask ourselves why we persist.

Each year I choose a word to aim to - I think about what the word means and how I can bring more of those concepts into my life. In 2018, that word is JOY. I realised that joy is one of those things which can make the classroom an easier place to be, something which can bring light, even on the dim, dark days. But how can we find joy in the classroom and in our teaching?

 
5 Ways to Find Joy in Your Classroom and Teaching from Galarious Goods
 

1. Bring things of beauty and joy with you

There are some objects which just bring a sense of joy with them. It might be their colour or their shape or the reminder of a happy moment. We can bring these things - or things inspired by them -  into the classroom with us.I have a collection of bells which bring me happiness - one was bought on a holiday with friends, another has a unique sound, the third was given to me by a student. They were perfect for my desk in the classroom and brought joy whenever I saw them or rang them. You might have a framed photo of family or friends, an image of an amazing place you’ve been or would like to go or special pens, pencils or highlighters which make you happy.

You might take it further and decorate your whole classroom to make it a happy place. You might fill it with rainbows or images of plants, you might include happy quotes or use your favourite colour  as a background on a notice board.

What if you don’t have a dedicated classroom space? Bring some joy with you! It might be a beautiful lanyard or a lovely pencil case. You might like to buy a special planner (like this one from Mrs Strawberry, these planning sheets from Green Grubs, this library planner from Little Library Learners, or this planner from Oceanview Resources); a planner cover or decor like these beautiful options for New Zealand teachers from Green Grubs or binder covers like these from Jewel's School Gems. Use beautiful pictures as your computer background or screen saver. Buy some nice folders to hold your items or add lovely labels to your cart.

2. Reframe the mundane

A lot of teaching is repetitive . . . and a little bit boring. And while we can make some of it fun, some of it has to just be what it is.

But we can make it a little more joyful by reframing what’s happening in our heads. We can look for the little pieces of joy and remind ourselves that they’re there.

Staff meetings are a perfect example of this. The workplace health and safety officer might be going through the fire drill process for the 10th time in the year - but that means all teachers will be better prepared if there is a fire. And isn’t it great that they take their job seriously - it might really save a life or prevent and injury one day.

Marking can also seem endless, but look for those moments where students have shown improvement or really taken on something you’ve taught in class. Find those little pieces of joy in their work and celebrate them.

3. Work in the Affirmative

I love using affirmations - they’ve been part of my life since I was young and my mother used them with us. I use them quite a lot, these days - as motivation, for calming, for reflecting on what I’m doing and what I’d like to be doing.

Affirmations can definitely be used to bring joy into the classroom. It might be in the form of a lovely quote or poster which you hang in your classroom, or you might like to take a few moments to write your own at the beginning of the day or week. You can keep them in your teacher diary or on your desk or use them as part of a display at home or school. 

Looking for some teaching affirmations? Download my free set of teacher affirmations here.

 
 

4. Get Dancing

Well, you don’t have to dance. You could sing. Or run. Or make yourself the nicest coffee . . . 

The idea is to treat yourself - find activities or rituals which make you really happy and make sure to build them into your weekly schedule. It might be something you can do at school - one year a group of teachers at my school organised an exercise boot camp on the school oval after school, or you could always begin your school day with a song which makes you happy. Or it might be something which you participate in outside of school - a few years ago, I participated in adult ballet classes on Wednesday nights. It made me happy and gave me exercise!

If you have something you do every day, think about how you can make it happier. Always start the day with a cup of tea? What about having a pretty tea cup or tea thermos to drink it from? Like to eat a nice salad for your lunch at school? Could you add a nice relish or dressing or some lovely herbs to make it happier? Buy a nice hat for playground duty, treat yourself to joyful sticky notes, theme your daily whiteboard reminders to your favourite children’s books - treat yourself in ways which bring joy!


5. Bring joy and passion to your subject matter

Do you enjoy what you teach? Really enjoy it?When you enjoy what you’re teaching, your students feel it. If you share that joy, the excitement level in the room often rises and you’ve got a greater chance of having one of ‘those’ lessons which you want to repeat over and over. 

But what if you’re not teaching something you love? Is it possible to get really excited about mixed fractions? (Well, I enjoy them, but I’m occasionally strange!).Can you connect them to something you enjoy? Maybe you can combine mixed fractions and a chemistry or baking exploration? Or use them in a graphing or mapping exercise? Or use them to talk about how many books your class has read?

Or, you could connect them to something your class really enjoys. Challenge them to connect mixed fractions to unboxing videos or superheroes or making slime. Feed off their excitement and see how far it will take you. 

Don’t forget to keep a record of those really great lessons. It might be a photo or a short description. You might collect some feedback from your students or make a video about it. Use photos and descriptions to make a special noticeboard of happy lessons you’ve had with your class. These records can be great for your teaching portfolio, but they can also serve as a reminder of all the happy teaching moments you’ve enjoyed.


How do you bring joy to your classroom? Let me know in the comments!