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.

A mountain of stories

“We know of course that there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.”

-Arundhati Roy, Sydney Peace Prize 2004[1]

everything out of home copy

I am currently sifting through a mountain of children’s paintings, drawings, collages and writing, transcripts of dictated stories, play-scripts, conversations, anecdotes and photographs of children’s play. I accumulated this collection when I was teaching at Yarralea Children’s Centre in Alphington, Victoria, on and off, between 1984 and 2006.

For the past nine years I have also been encircled in the life stories of my grandchildren, Rory, Otto and Fraser – ‘the brothers’.

Packing for the Journey – a spaciousness for sharing children’s voices over a timespan of thirty years.


Book Week visit – a week early

Yesterday Andrew and I visited Delta Road Pre-School to talk about our booksP1010591

We read The Riverboat Crew, our very first picture book, published so long ago, in 1978. The big book was published in 1988. Here, I have just read the first page: The Alice was a paddle steamer on the Murray River, and a little voice piped up, My name’s Alice – there’s always someone – or they know someone with that name – a brother or sister, a cat or dog, a mum or dad, or a mouse. Andrew told the children that the riverboat was named after his Mum, whose name was …Alice. 


I also read three of the ‘Josh’ books. They had already read Josh and the Monster, but hadn’t read Josh, Josh and the Ducks, and Josh and Thumper. Behind me is the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Short-List Poster. Fabish, illustrated by Andrew, and written by Neridah McMullin, has been short-listed in the Eve Pownall Information Book Category.  The children were excited to point out to us that they had seen the picture of the book on the poster.


Andrew drew some pictures with sticks of thin charcoal. He says that one of the best things about using charcoal is, if you want to change something you can rub it out with  kneadable rubber – by rubbing, pressing or dabbing. On this paper he drew a picture of our white Skye terrier, Danny. (We didn’t get a photo of the final drawing).


He also drew a picture of our cat, Norah, who got herself into a pickle one day when she found herself spreadeagled on top to the clothes horse. It took her a while to work out how to get back down, but it didn’t stop her trying again, and again… 

Who is the mother?

Poem, after Vivian Paley –  ‘You can’t say you can’t play’

Can I play?
      I ‘m the mother.
But, I want to play.
      I’m playing with the baby.
You can’t say I’m not allowed to play.
      Yes I can – You’re not allowed.
You can’t say I can play.
      Yes I can – you can play.
Yes – I can play.

You can play.

      But I’m the mother.

© Janet McLean, 8 August 2017
(Edited version of previous poem with the same name)

Phrases as play objects: Reflections on Vivian Paley and the Story Pirates (Part 2)

In Part 2 Meryl Alper draws some connections between Vivian Paley’s, and the Story Pirates’ innovative approaches to “honoring children’s agency as playwrights, and the ways that those approaches are underscored by sensitivity to each child’s evolving developmental, physical, behavioral and cognitive needs.”

Meryl Alper

In my previous post, I wrote about the associations between the social and cultural context in which children learn about storytelling, and children’s individual and collective relationships with objects that become props for their stories (e.g. physical objects for trading and sharing; sounds and words as objects with a social currency or cultural cache).

As a follow up, I’d like to highlight the work of University of Chicago Laboratory School kindergarten teacher and MacArthur Genius Grant winner Vivian Paley, as well as non-profit arts and literacy organization the Story Pirates (currently partnered with the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles).  These teacher-artist-researchers support children’s storytelling and playwriting as a form of object play with words and other literacy materials.

In highlighting sections of Paley’s book The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter (1991) and my own observations from recent Story Pirates performances, I hope to draw some connections…

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Phrases as play objects: Reflections on Vivian Paley and the Story Pirates (Part 1)

Like Meryl Alper in this piece from her blog, https://merylalper.com/2011/12/17/phrases-as-play-objects/, I too, like the way that Vivian Paley places the children, and their personal and shared stories, at the centre of their learning. After hearing Vivian Paley speak at a conference in Brisbane, Australia, in the early 1990’s I began to use her model of shared storytelling/storyacting, and story playing (with each other, and objects) to underpin my early education program. I quickly came to realise that allowing children to create their own stories (and there are many ways they can do this) established a holistic underpinning for individual and shared learning. As Meryl Alper says, “community building/destruction/re-building and socialization… underscored by sensitivity to each child’s developmental and cognitive needs.”

Meryl Alper

Who am I?  And what is this “I” capable of?

Who are WE?  And what is this “WE” capable of?

The process by which a child becomes conscious of her or himself and the limits on what she or he can do is deeply tied to that child’s growing understanding of where he or she stands within a social context, as well as what that child can or cannot accomplish in the presence or absence of other people.  For example, a three year-old can build a block tower, and can also knock it down when she wants to.  A three year-old and a four year-old can build a block tower together, and while the three year-old can knock it down when she wants to, that action might incite the opposite emotion in her play partner.  This development is culturally specific, heavily influenced by the value placed on individualistic or collectivistic…

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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


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 
(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
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.

– 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.