Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 6, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: From Where the Wild Things Are, to …

And now for something completely different this month’s #6Degrees (hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best) starts with a children’s book.  And not just any children’s book, it’s the iconic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

But it’s not a book I used to read to the children when I was a teacher-librarian.  I figured there was no point in reading books that parents were most likely to read their children anyway, especially if the books were available in cheap editions in supermarkets and chain stores.  So I used to seek out books that I knew my students were less likely to come across.  And of course, I focussed on Australian children’s fiction, which many Australians do not know is highly regarded around the world.

My Preps did an author study of the inimitable Bruce Whatley (details of which you can find on my LisaHillSchoolStuff professional blog), and one of the books they loved most was Diary of a Wombat co-authored by Jackie French They loved the mischievous humour of this tale of a naughty wombat training her humans to know what her favourite foods are.

But my favourite was Whatley’s Wait No Paint! As you can see from my post about it at LisaHillSchoolStuff it’s a playful postmodern retelling of The Three Little Pigs: it features absurdity, playfulness and intertextuality, and the children got the joke straight away.

Grownups are not so good at playfulness and absurdity in fiction, but children love it.  This one’s for you, Sue at Whispering Gums:  My Nanna is a Ninja by Damon Young (whose name might ring a bell because I reviewed one of his philosophy books, On Patience, the Art of Reading).  My Nanna is a Ninja was a beaut book for teaching poetry with my year 4 classes:

Some nannas dress in blue while they bake sweet apple pies.
Some nannas dress in red as they fly about the skies.
Some nannas dress in pink while they jog around the track.
But my nanna is a ninja so she dresses up in black.

Rhyming couplets are always a success with small children, because they love the simple pounding rhythm. The National Library of Australia isn’t as well-known as it should be as a publisher of beautiful children’s books, and Night Monsters by Nina Poulos is a good example. The story confronts the fears that children have about monsters in the night, but the scary creatures are Australian.

Cackle Kookaburra sat in a tree
She was glad it was finally light.
For friends had told this wise old bird
Of monsters in the night.

So Cackle called her friends around,
She thought it would be best
To share their tales and find the truth
And put their fears to rest.

With #IndigLitWeek launching at ANZ LitLovers tomorrow (July 7th) there’s no better time to focus Australian children’s literature on books by Indigenous Australians.  You can find lots of reviews of these on the LHSS blog under the category Indigenous Teaching Resources. One of my favourites is The Spotty Dotty Lady by Josie Boyle and illustrated by Fern Martins published by Indigenous publishing house Magabala Books.  This book celebrates the way that gardens can bring people together, and also encourages young readers to be themselves, and to enjoy odd or eccentric things if they like.  And the paintings, of course, feature the dots that are associated with Aboriginal art works.

Like all the best books by Indigenous authors, this one includes information about the author’s country: Josie Wowolla Boyle is a Wonghi woman who was born in the desert of Western Australia, and Fern Martins is an Ngarabul woman from New South Wales.  (Whenever we read stories by Indigenous authors, we used to locate their country on a poster-sized IATSIS map of Indigenous Australia. A simple quick-and-easy-to-do activity like this teaches children from a very young age that Australia isn’t only a place comprising the six states that they recognise from the usual mapping activities.)

Yes, what about something by an Indigenous author for older readers? Also from Magabala Books comes Deadly D and Justice Jones – Making the Team a title specifically written to engage sports-mad young people.  It features an Indigenous boy who morphs into a Superhero to deal with the bullies, but he has to learn to manage the anger that is the catalyst for his transformation. As you can see from my review at LHSS this book made it into print in an unusual way:

A Kalkadoon man from Mt Isa, Scott Prince co-authored Deadly D and Justice Jones – Making the Team with primary school deputy principal Dave Hartley of the Barunggam people from the Darling Downs/Chinchilla region.  They wrote it over four years and then submitted it for a State Library of Queensland’s 2013  black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship.  They didn’t win, but the judges were so impressed that they created the kuril dhagun prize as a one-off, and the deal included publication of the story by indigenous publishing house, Magabala Books.

So that’s my #6Degrees: from temper tantrums to anger management techniques!

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


  1. A very entertaining Six Deg. this time round. I often whinge about my bookshop not having an Australian children’s section, but now I know to just check out the Magabala catalogue.


    • Thank you!
      If you ever up around Broome, please see if you can call in on them and give them my regards.
      (They publish Bruce Pascoe too).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a lovely chain. These books look lovely!


  3. I love your Australian theme and My Nanna Is A Ninja just begs to be read


    • Indeed yes, and I think there are more in the series:)


  4. I’ll take note of these for our young grandson – who is with us as we write, in fact. Very useful list. I love reading rhyming couplets to children. Such fun.

    BTW Did you know that the first indigenous Australians I knew of were the Kalkadoons, from when I lived in Mt Isa from the age of 11 to 14. I never forgot them because it’s a great name.


  5. Very apt to do a full chain of children’s literature. My chain somehow ended up rather dark which is strange given the starting book.


    • Ah well, it was easy to do because I have so many children’s lit reviews on my other blog:)


  6. A wonderful selection Lisa.
    Diary of a Wombat was also a favourite of both my daycare children, and my own kids, so to was Wombat Stew.


  7. Hi readers,

    The emphasis on teaching national/regional literature to students, starting at an early age is important. Lisa, you raise some important points about selecting children’s books with playful narratives, rhythmic language, and imaginative characters that kids can relate to and be entertained by.

    In reflecting on my reading as a youngster, I don’t recall reading assigned books from school that explored the lives and experiences of ethnically diverse characters. Children’s and Young Adult literature in Australia and abroad has made significant headway in getting more children to read and explore different literary genres.

    The Australian book series, Yarn Strong, has promoted a rich array of books that authenticates the multifaceted experiences of black indigenous children, whether in the urban city landscape or in the outback. Magabala Books, Fremantle Press, and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation are doing a tremendous job in bringing indigenous children’s books in schools and diverse communities.

    In the United States, there was a campaign which transitioned into the nonprofit literary organization, We Need Diverse Books. Since the campaign was launched some years ago by the late African American author Walter Dean Myers, there has been a stronger outpouring of books produced by and featuring people of color. I would like to recommend a few books and authors in light of this blog post:

    Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke
    Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe

    United States
    Ling & Ting series, The Year of the Dog, The Year of the Rat, Dumpling Days, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin
    The Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
    Miles Morales: Spider-Man and Track series by Jason Reynolds
    Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (2013), Mango, Abuela and Me (2015), Burn Baby Burn (2016), and Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
    The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
    Dear Martin by Nic Stone
    Love, Hate & Other Filters and Internment by Samira Ahmed
    Dyamonde Daniel series and Jazmine’s Notebook by Nikki Grimes
    Miami Jackson Series by Patricia McKissack
    The Winter People by Joseph Bruchac
    For a Girl Becoming by Joy Harjo
    The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    Habibi, Sitti’s Secrets, and The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
    Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
    Untwine, Behind the Mountains, and Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, that’s a wonderful list of books to explore!

      When I was a child I was slavishly devoted to a series of books about twins (a boy and a girl) who lived in different countries. There were Dutch Twins and Chinese Twins and Scotch, Irish and Norwegian Twins. I borrowed these books from the library until I’d read every single one they had.
      To this day I have no idea who the author was, but obviously they were written for an English speaking audience and were probably by either an English or American author. I probably wouldn’t recommend them these days when there are much better alternatives. But still, though the narrative voice wasn’t authentic, and there was probably a fair but of exoticising going on (I remember ‘Eskimos’ in igloos, for example), the series did introduce me to childhood worlds that were not the same as mine, and the books stimulated an interest in other cultures that has stayed with me.


  8. You make a good point Lisa about reading books at school that they may not otherwise hear – at my kids school, the librarian does the some and my kids discovered some new ‘favourites’ over the years.


    • Librarians are inclined to do that. It’s when schools choose not to have a librarian and the class teacher takes a “library lesson” that kids miss out. With the best will in the world, a primary teacher who has to teach every subject from science to spelling, does not have time to develop a coherent literature curriculum as well. Apart from anything else, it literally takes years to know what stock you have in a library so that you can make good recommendations, especially for reluctant readers. Kids who are just exposed to endless Paul Jennings, antiquated Blytons and multi storeyed treehouses and being short-changed IMO.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Our primary school still has a library and a librarian – I think we’re lucky as I know many schools don’t have these things any longer.


        • They are an endangered species, something parents should be raising hell about…


          • They should, but unfortunately I don’t think most parents understand just how valuable and significant their role is. So sad.


  9. Super post. Where the Wild Things Are is one of my favorites. Your strategy of presenting your students with books that they likely would not have been exposed to at home makes perfect sense. All these books sound great, The Spotty Dotty Lady particularly so.


    • Glad you like it, thanks!
      PS Loved the way your spell-check turned ‘presenting’ into Presidential, LOL I guess it’s a much used word these days! (I fixed it up).


  10. […] answer is that we have to start with the book we finished with in July.  Bizarrely, for me, it’s a book for junior readers, about (of all things, my pet yawn) […]


  11. […] Children’s book: #Fail.  Not on my radar since retirement! (But I did feature some from A Past Life in a recent #6Degrees). […]


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