About Janet Mclean

In 1946 I was born into my family, in Melbourne, Australia. This is when I started packing for my journey. Although the story starts before that. I went to school, became a kindergarten (preschool) teacher, got married, travelled, had three children, became a writer, and welcomed three grandchildren (so far). Recently I retired from teaching, after working on and off, for nearly 50 years. The last place I worked in was an Aboriginal Child and Family Centre. I left that job a different person from when I started. Being within that Aboriginal community changed my view of the world, and of myself. Now I am looking back. And I am thinking about what I have done, what I have learned, and who and what has influenced me to arrive at this point in the journey.

Teach children storytelling

 

 

Children are surrounded by stories from the time they are born, and they quickly become true storytellers if they have people (adults and other children of all ages) around them to listen and respond to their stories as stories and not as a way of teaching the rules of language. However, when adults and children create stories together the grammar of language is used naturally. We can teach the langauge and use of grammar to children through their own stories. We can do this from a very early age.

Storytelling in its way can have just as much complexity as music or mathematics. That we don’t really understand this craft – or that this is a craft – is partly because of the romantic myth of “inspiration” peddled by authors as much as anyone. It is taught (up to a point) in creative writing degrees – but it can be simplified enough to be taught to schoolchildren as well. Why, for instance, is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt such a compelling story? And what has it got to do with stories like Macbeth? (And yes, it does have something in common – all stories do.)

This is a fascinating, fruitful subject – and to a large extent, quantifiable. We should incorporate it into the curriculum in a way that will satisfy both sides of the debate. In this way, there can be a happy ending to what has so far been a very sad story.

Here is a link to an article about the value of teaching / allowing children the time and space to make up their own stories.   Tim Lott, The Guardian, May 19 2017

Ditch the Grammar and Teach Children Storytelling Instead

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/19/ditch-the-grammar-and-teach-children-storytelling-instead#img-Teach

Two more Mother’s Day drawings

Palimpsest 4

Otto's Janna portrait
Portrait of Janna

When Otto had finished his portrait of Andy
he put his pen to his lips and murmured
Hmm… what will I do now?
Half sitting on my lap
he looked at me and said
Want me to draw you?
I nodded, Yes.
He pointed to the chair
where Andy had been sitting
and said, 
Sit over there.
He set me in a pose
one hand on a hip
the other leaning on the table.
Like this, he said
showing me how.
Then drew me
in a standing pose and asked
is it  okay to put you in an Essendon jumper?
(That’s the team I barrack for
His team is St Kilda).
As he started to add more objects
he hesitated
and asked
Do you want  me to draw you 
here?
(at his house)
or at your house?
Before I could answer
he decided
to put me in my house.
In the big room. 

Dining table and chairs
a rug on the floor
a sideboard with
a bowl of round
wooden balls
and a jar of
pens and pencils
a lamp with
a plugged in cord
Fraser’s high chair
two shaggy dogs
one black
called Callan
one white
that’s Danny
a cat called Norah
a light overhead
a rocking chair
two couches with
people
a window
with  a 
puppet doll
hanging from the latch
a vine outside
an overhead light.

And a palimpsest
of an upside down
faded cat

showing through
from the back.

Palimpsest 5

Otto's bird
A bird

The dots
surrounding the bird are
from an earlier drawing
on another piece of paper.
They have bled through
onto this drawing.

palimpsest
ˈpalɪm(p)sɛst/
noun
– a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.

– something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

More Mother’s Day Palimpsests

Palimpsest 3

  • palimpsest
    ˈpalɪm(p)sɛst/
    noun
    – a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
    – something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Otto's Andy portrait
Portrait Andy

Otto sat on my lap while he drew this portrait of Andy – Grandpa. He observed his subject carefully to make sure that he included specific details, including the pointy beanie on his head, spiky hair, moustache and beard plaid shirt with collar. Andy showed Otto that drawing the stripes of the shirt with a curve showed how they go around the body. To the side, Andy also drew a sample hat showing the ribs of the wool and the rim of the hat. An earlier drawing on the back of the paper shows through and becomes part of the final drawing

 

NO POKING IN THE EYE!

No Smoking


Storymaking play – making readers, writers and thinkers

One Monday morning, at the making table, Euan stuck a cork on the end of an icypole stick and said, ‘My dad smokes a pipe.’ When his friends saw what he had made, they all wanted one. They perched  corks very carefully on one end of icypole sticks and attached them with lots of sticky tape. ‘My Dad, and Grandpa, and Great Grandpa smoke a pipe!’ said Fred. When I talked to Fred’s Mum later, she said that none of them smoke – let alone a pipe. You can put anyone you know in your own story, and you can decide what they are going to do.

The pipe-making started again as soon as they arrived on Tuesday morning. ‘Janet look at this’, said Simon, laughing. He was holding a pipe up to a Teddy bear’s mouth. I’m sure he was thinking, Isn’t that funny – a teddy bear smoking! But I couldn’t help giving in to my own uneasiness about the children pretending to smoke and said, ‘I think we need a NO SMOKING sign up in here’. After a few minutes Simon came back to where I was working with some other children and said, ‘Janet, are you going to make that sign that says NO SMOKING?’ So I did.

Version 3

When the others saw Simon sticking his sign on the wall they stopped playing with their pipes and             started making their own signs. They came up with a basic set of rules. NO PULLING HAIR .  NO PUSHING . YOU CAN’T PUNCH PEOPLE . NO SNATCHING . NO POKING IN THE EYE . NO STEPPING ON DRAWINGS . MAKE SURE THE LADDERS ARE SAFE – this in response to my suggestion that there are too many ‘No’ signs. NO GOING INTO JANET’S OFFICE WHEN JANET SAYS NO .  NO LOOKING IN THE CUPBOARD IF JANET SAYS NO (you never know what might jump out and catch you!). These were the children’s concise ex
planations of how control was maintained on a day-to-day basis at kindergarten. I didn’t think there’d been much of this going on. (Well maybe, some snatching, and a bit of pushing and shoving that threatened to go a bit too far). I did think there were too many NO signs. ‘What about a sign that says “be friends”?’ I said. Deafening silence! I wrote it anyway, and I pushed my idea a bit: ‘Does this sound OK? Just, BE FRIENDS’? Rachel added, ‘To each other’. Yes. That made it just right. I tried again. WhatRachel's Mum about this one: ‘BE FAIR’? Again, no-one took any notice of me, so I set my plan aside to help the children make their signs.  They told me the signs they wanted, I wrote them, and they stuck them up on the walls, and the doors, and the furniture – places where they would be easy to see, and to point out to each other. Rachel made an announcement – a simple declaration.

Lucas was playing with the blocks, and at first he wasn’t interested in making signs. He picked up two pieces of wavy wood, held the ends together and said, ‘Look Janet I’ve made some pincers’. I asked him if he wanted a rubber band to join them together, and Jorge asked if he could have one of those things like Lucas has. So, in anticipation, I brought a handful of rubber bands for the group of children who had moved into the block corner. The pincers became mousetraps, which, of course could be dangerous if you didn’t know where they were. We needed more signs.

Beware of mousetraps1 copy

LOOK OUT FOR THE MOUSETRAPS.

No Guns copyMeanwhile, Michael had drawn a picture of a gun. ‘Can you write NO GUNS’, he said. Why does he want a No Guns sign? Earlier in the day he made an elaborate cardboard Power Ranger gun so he could be the Red one in a game he was playing with his friends. When his Mum picked him up, he described its powers to her in minute detail. On the other hand, he wanted a NO GUNS sign.

Within an hour or two he had considered two aspects of an issue that profoundly disturbs adults – the use of guns and violence in children’s play. We warn children about the dangers of real
guns. We worry about the terrible effects on children witnessing violent solutions to problems in our world. We pressure them not to play games that include weapons, fighting and killing, but however hard we try, they find a way. Michael, through make-believe / storymaking play Two placards are held above the crowd gathered in Sydney June 2 to show their support for the bannin..began to make a distinction between the make-believe world where he could safely imagine himself as a fighting Power Ranger, and the real world in which laws are made to restrict the use of guns.

************

At mat time I told the children a story. 

‘This is  a story about a man who wrote a sign. I heard this story from my husband’s   brother’s wife’s Uncle Otto. It is the story about an old man, called Peter, who lived in a hut, hidden among trees, in a place called Purvis Gully. Old Peter grew a small garden around his hut and one day a stray cow got in and ate his garden down. Old Peter took a large sheet of iron and with a paint brush, in very large letters, he wrote PLEASE MRS COW KEEP OUT! Do you think Mrs Cow took any notice of that sign?’ 

This article originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Children’s Book Council Australia (Victoria). It is an edited version of an article that appeared in Clearing House (date…?, published by FKA Children’s Services 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Palimpsests

 

Palimpsests 1 and 2

Friday, not Sunday, was the day we celebrated Mothers’ Day this year with Alex, Damon and the brothers, Rory, Otto and Fraser. Andrew, Cat and I were coming over early to cook the tea because Alex and the boys had footy training and wouldn’t be home ’til about 7 o’clock, and, at the end of his first week in a new job, Damon had to stay late at work. We thought that the hamburgers would be ready to serve up as soon as they walked in. As it turned out we all arrived at their house at the same time – about 7 o’clock As usual, we had left home too late, stopped to buy a bottle of wine, got caught up in Friday night can’t-wait-to-get-home-and-watch-the-footy traffic.

As we let ourselves in the side door, three boys aged nine, seven and two (one of them in a particularly bad mood) burst through the front door, closely followed by Alex who was taking in a few deep breaths. Damon had already arrived home.

We opened the bottle of wine, Andrew got on with making and cooking the hamburgers. and the rest of us found a place to be – in front of the tele, on a device, on the floor, on a bike, at the table, in a bedroom yelling MAAAAAM!!, on the couch calling out, ‘If you want to talk to me come out here.’

I asked Otto if he had found his SRC badge which he had lost somewhere in the house last Sunday. He and Rory have both been chosen (by their friends) to be on the school Student Representative Council – known as The SRC. No SRC at primary school in my day. The badge did turn up and they had been to their first meeting. 

“How was it, Otto? I asked.
– ‘Oh it was really good,’ he said.
‘What happened?’
– ‘We talked about respect. We all had a piece of paper and we had to write and draw about RESPECT!.’
Tell Janna about your idea,’ said Alex.
– ‘Oh yes. I had this idea for a Fun Group. It’s for people who don’t have a friend. They can come and have fun with me – play sport and, …have fun games.’
‘You could make a poster to put up around the school to let everyone know about  group – make copies and put them around the school to tell everyone about your idea.
– ‘I’ll have to talk to the principal first. I’ll talk to the principal, and if he says ‘yes’ then I’ll put them up and hand them out.’

Otto found a sheet of A4 copy paper and started on his his poster at the dining table. The ink went through to the table. Alex told him to put something under the paper. He got a few more sheets and slipped them under the poster, and went on writing with large outline letters for maximum impact. 

‘Where did you get the idea to start a Fun Group?’
‘Oh, well Lachie, he’s a boy in my class, he came up with the idea for a Nature Group, and then I thought I could make a Fun Group.’

I didn’t get a copy of Otto’s poster, but, if or when I do I’ll post it.

Here are the notes I took at the time. I need to do that these days. They are written on the back of a drawing Otto did of his favourite St Kilda footy player Nick Reiwoldt (see below).

Otto's Fun Group poster

  • palimpsest
    ˈpalɪm(p)sɛst/
    noun
    – a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
    – something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Otto's RoowyOtto also created his own distinctive signature. 

Who is the mother?

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-2-15-08-pm

Can I play?

    I ‘m the mother 
I want to play
    I’m playing with the baby

You can’t say I can’t play
    Yes I can – You can’t play
You can’t say you can play
    Yes I can – you can play
Yes – I can play
    You can play
    But
    I’m the mother

© Janet McLean, 3 March 2016 

Lucas and Jack – Teacher notes

Teacher Notes
by Janet McLean 

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-16-33-pm

Written by: Ellie Royce
Illustrated by: Andrew McLean

Every week Lucas’ mum visits Great Grandpop at the nursing home. And every week Lucas waits for her outside. Waiting, for Lucas, is boring. Then one day he meets Jack. Jack is tricky and Jack is fun, and he is a great storyteller. He understands how Lucas is feeling – ‘Not much to do in there with all the oldies, I suppose’. To help pass the time he tells Lucas stories about himself and other residents of the nursing home. Lucas & Jack is a great book for introducing young children to the idea that old people can be fun and that deep down we have more in common than we think. More importantly Lucas & Jack encourages children to ask questions, be curious, imaginative and empathetic.

WRITING & LANGUAGE

Ellie Royce has written a moving, understated story that invites us to see others differently and recognise the bonds we have in common.

Lucas, one of the main characters, is introduced on the first page of the book. Ellie reveals Lucas’ problem – he is bored. Then, throughout the rest of the story Ellie reveals how the other main character, Jack, helps Lucas to look at his world differently.

Ellie uses time-shift to move the story from the present to the past. The present: (Jack) points to someone in the distance, ‘And over there, what do you see?’ Jack asks. ‘An even older lady,’ I reply. – letting us know what Lucas sees. The past: ‘I see Evelyn. A girl who loved ballet so much, she once danced for the Queen of England.’  – revealing what Jack knows and recalls.

Ellie uses dialogue to develop the characters’ personalities and to move the story forward – for example, Jack’s dry sense of humour. When telling Lucas about Evelyn he says, ‘She still has her favourite red ballet shoes under her bed. Says she never knows when she might need them.’

Lucas is gradually drawn into Jack’s stories, and wants to know more about Jack. He asks Jack, ‘Do you hate being old?’ and he learns he and Jack have something in common – a border collie dog. The next time Lucas visits the nursing home he brings his dog, plays a game of cards, and wonders about Great Grandpop, ‘Pop, before you were old, what did you do?’ Great Grandpop tells him a story about when he was a boy ‘I was about eight when I drove a cart and delivered ice for pocket money.’ This simple sentence captures how vastly different life was between then and now. Lucas wants to know more about Great Grandpop and he is eager to come back next week to hear more stories.

screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-42-00-pm

At the end of the story Lucas has a new friend, and through Jack’s stories he has learned a way to find out – ask questions, listen, explore, and imagine.

ILLUSTRATIONS

Andrew McLean created the illustrations for this book by making rough drawings with charcoal and watercolour on paper then photographing them and scanning them onto an iPad.  Then on the iPad he coloured the drawings using an illustrating app: Sketch Club.

Andrew’s expansive and expressive illustrations complement and enrich Ellie Royce’s subtle text. There are only two single page drawings in the book – the first and last pages. These highlight how, with Jack’s help, Lucas changes from a bored, unhappy boy, into someone who is lively and friendly.

In between these pages the full bleed, double-page spreads reveal information that is not carried in the text. Andrew uses a mix of close up and distant views, with the illustrations always focusing on the characters.  

The growing connection between Lucas and Jack is depicted through their body language and facial expressions – the way they make eye contact with each other, Jack’s wide-spread arms and kindly face, the subtle changes in Lucas’ face from downcast and gloomy to open and interested.

Lucas and Jack see things from different perspectives. Lucas sees ‘an old man in a wheelchair’ and ‘an even older lady’.  Jack knows that these people have led rich lives, and the illustrations bring his stories to life.

Alternating pages contrast the current quieter lives of the elderly residents with the stories of the the full lives they have led in the past.  Andrew has used different colour palette to contrast the present (soft warm colours) and the past  (vivid, rich and sunny)

DISCUSSION POINTS AND ACTIVITIES

This book introduces young children to themes of aging, storytelling and oral history. Lucas and Jack can be used to generate discussion and exchange of stories and ideas about family, the past, and our links with our older members of society.

  • Before reading the story to a large group of children, spend time reading with small groups. This will provide an opportunity for children to share their own responses to the story, and for educators to draw attention to how the words and the pictures work together to tell the story.           
  • As you read through the story respond the children’s spontaneous reactions – which pictures do they respond to most eagerly. Is it the pictures of the detective and the ballet dancer?
  • Ask how we can tell from the pictures that Lucas is interested in what Jack is saying.
  • Ask the children if they know anyone who is old – grandparents or great grandparents?
  • Do they know what this person does now, or did when they were younger. If they don’t know they can find out by asking the person.
  • With the children make up a list of questions they could ask.
  • Ask the children’s families to share any interesting stories about past generations.
  • Make these stories into a book.
  • Invite families if they have any souvenirs or memorabilia from the past – photos, ballet shoes, detective tools, farm implements?
  • Invite families to an event where they can talk about their souvenirs and share their stories of the past.
  • Invite other older people into your classroom to talk with the children about their past lives. You can include people from the school and local communities.
  • If possible establish a relationship with a local nursing home. Invite the residents to visit the class. Find out if you can visit the nursing home with the children. Ask these visitors to share their stories. Find out what songs they used to sing. Learn some of these and sing them with the visitors.
  • Everyone has memories and stories to share about what they have done in the past. Tell the children a story about your past. Ask them to tell a story about what they have done in the past.
  • Look at the pictures of the people in the story. Talk about how Andrew McLean made people look old – wrinkles, white hair, baldness, wheelchairs, walking sticks
  • Ask the children to draw pictures of people they know who are old. They can draw a picture of what they are like now, and one of them when they were younger.
  • Talk to the children about how colour helps set the atmosphere of a drawing. For instance compare the ‘now’ and ‘then’ pictures of Evelyn.
  • Find out more about Ellie Royce and Andrew McLean.