Guest Post: Virginia Lowe #1

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Today Packing for the Journey features two stories from Dr Virginia Lowe. These wonderful anecdotes show how shared book reading enriches children’s knowledge and their ever-expanding understanding of life.

 

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I’ll tell you a story Mum’: Two children tell
by Virginia Lowe      

I kept a record of my two children’s contact with books and their responses. Rebecca is almost three years and three months older than her brother. The children’s own stories arose naturally from contact with books. These two stories demonstrate how the children use this literary material – in this case at least, one shows her scientific bent, the other works on relationships.

1. Nick the whale. One morning, Rebecca and I had a row before school – the reason for it is not recorded, but Nick disliked us arguing and was tense about it. Later he was helping me hang out the washing, as usual handing me pegs. (He was 3y1m old.) 
This time he was picking them up in his mouth because he was being alternately a shark and a whale.

       N: I’m picking them up in my mouth cos I can’t use my flippers. I’m a friendly whale.

       V: You’re clever to do that Mr Whale.

      N: Yes, I can do that ‘acouse I’m an excellent whale who can do everything that is magic. 

He talked a bit about his mother who had gone shopping underwater. Then,

        N: I’m having an argument with my mother [imaginary whale one that is].

       V: Oh yes. Do whales like arguments? [Expecting him to say that like him, they didn’t. It’s obviously different for whales]

        N: Yes. Argumenting [sic] is good for whales.

He carried the monologue on over lunch. His [whale] mother was sitting beside him.

        N: I’m sharing my food with my mother. She said to put the plate in the middle.

        V: What am I?

        N: You’re people

He carried through fairly logically, as a completely anthropomorphised whale.

        N: Do you know how we get out of the water? We use our flippers on the steps.

        N: Do you know how we wash our clothes?

        V: No.

        N: In a washing machine! [etc etc].

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Whale’s Way Written by Johanna Johnston, Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard.                                   Originally published in 1962

Anyway, at rest time, I fetchedWhale’s Way (Johnston) to read to him. He at once identified himself with the largest whale on the endpapers and first few pages.


        N: That’s me and that’s my mother. I’m bigger than my mother.
       N: That’s me and that’s my mother [the lower, closer one]. I’m bigger than my mother. I’m a grown up whale.

 

 

Some pages later he chose the smaller of two on the page

        N: There’s me looking small.

        V: Do you look small because you’re further away?

        N: Yes.

        N: That’s me and that’s my mother [lower, closer one]. I’m bigger than my mother. I’m a grown up whale.

On several pages he commented on the more distant whale as ‘that’s me looking small’ presumably to make sure that we both understood it was only through perspective that he looked smaller.

        N: I have those flukes. I swim and splash with my flukes (etc. mainly echoing the book’s text).

But the book is fairly long and very complicated, and he was restless before the end of most pages. 

        N: I’m tired of this whale book

So we stopped and he cuddled down to sleep with it clutched in his arms.

When he woke from his nap, his grandparents were visiting. I asked him if he was still a whale, he grinned and said ‘yes’ and told them with excitement –

        N: We’ve got a book about whales!

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2. A story-game from Rebecca. She was 4y 4m, and we were exploring Italy in a campervan.

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The Fairy Tale Collection selected by Virginia Haviland, illustrated by Raymond Briggs, first published 1972 by Hamish Hamilton

A day of turnips inspired by ‘The Turnip’ (Tolstoy) which is in two of the collections of stories we had with us, Bamberger My First Big Story Book and Haviland The Fairy Tale Treasury.

First, in a park, by a delightful pond (Florence) – Rebecca pointed to a large clump of grass.

        R: That’s a great big turnip, Mum! There must have been a show here to grow such a big turnip (presumably she meant the biggest vegetables would be grown for and sent to agricultural shows). 

That evening, while tea was preparing, she played ‘turnips’ outside in the campsite for half an hour or so. She was pulling up clumps of grass. This is just a few jotted phrases of an interminable conversation.

    R: Look at this great big turnip, Mum! It’s so heavy, and it was hard to pull up. We’ll have turnip for supper.

   R: If I find more than four turnips I’ll invite some friends to tea (a partial quote from Potter’s The Tale of Mr Jeremy Fisher).

    R: Look at them on the scales. See how heavy the big one is? (One in each hand, arms  straight, bigger one low, smaller high)

Later:
     R: Now I’ve got two little turnips and one big one. Nick will have a little one, and I will have a little one, and you and Daddy shall share the great big one.

      R: Three of them are boiled now. I can’t wait to eat them.

    R: I’ve planted some more of that brand of turnip. They’ll be ready in the morning. They’re the sort that grow overnight. I hope they’re as nice as the ones we’ve just eaten.

As might be expected, this one is now a scientist (a permaculture one) and the other a teacher, coping with relationships all the time.

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Dr Virginia Lowe has been a Judge for the Children’s Book Council’sBook of the Year Award and Convenor for the CBCA Crichton Award for new illustrators. She is now an honorary life member of the CBCA (Vic) and recipient of the Leila St John medal from them for services to children’s literature in Victoria. She has taught children’s literature, English and creative writing at university. She is a published poet (her latest, with her husband John, is published by the Melbourne Poets Union, Lines Between), and has also written extensively on children and books with some forty academic articles and a regular column ‘Two Children Tell’ in Books for Keeps  http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/. Virginia’s book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell was published by Routledge (London, 2006).

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Virginia Lowe’s book  Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell is based on a reading journal of over 5000 hand written pages in which she recorded all the books read to her two children and their responses to them. 

Links:

https://createakidsbook.com.au

http://www.shelleychappell.com/blog/introducing-virginia-lowe

http://booksforkeeps.co.uk/member/virginia-lowe

https://monash.academia.edu/VirginiaLowe

”Encounter” by Virginia Lowe — Australian Children’s Poetry

Quote

Encounter They met at the back door He was going out She was coming in Bemused, enchanted They stood face to face Eye to eye She was charmed by His long fluttering eyelashes Then she took a peck We rushed to sweep him up Before she reached his eye Only eight months old Though already […]

via ”Encounter” by Virginia Lowe — Australian Children’s Poetry

Ideas that end up in a book

Let’s Go baby-o! – The Setting
This story started as a moment in time, and grew into a book.

Let’s Go Baby-o! Janet and Andrew McLean, 2011, Allen and Unwin
–  a book sharing 

          The seed

One day in 2008, our newly-born grandson, Rory, lay on the floor in the back room of our house surrounded by the people and animals he would be growing up with. There was his mum and dad, his auntie, two dogs – Rupert and Bella, a cat – Norah, and his Janna and Pa (that’s us, Janet and Andrew). Outside a pair of blackbirds was building a nest in the ornamental grapevine that stretches across the back verandah. Three years later, in 2011, Let’s Go Baby-o! was published. Now it’s 2018 and Rory has just turned ten. He is one of The Brothers whose stories are told elsewhere on Packing for the Journey!

          Our place

Our own place was the perfect setting for this book. Baby-o and Cuz could be inside the house playing together, and every now and then stop to look out the window and watch what was happening in the garden.

          The garden

Our garden has led us down may different paths since we first moved here thirty-two years ago. The patch of concrete that was big enough for a usable handball court is long gone, paved over with bricks salvaged from elsewhere in the garden. The bamboo forest along the south side fence that took so long to remove has been replaced with wild salvias, a cherry tree, a lemon and a lime. The crabapple tree that appears in Let’s Go Baby-o! has been replaced by a weeping cherry that, so far, seems to be holding its own.

The ever-changing garden

While the garden is too small to call rambling, it has become an intriguing place for children, grown-ups, dogs, cats, birds, possums, spiders and insects, and slugs, snails and skinks. Children follow paths and climb, cats stalk, dogs chase, mosquitoes bite, spiderwebs trap, and birds fill up on ripe fruit and scrabble for worms – and all of them find secret places to hide.

Everyday life in the backyard

For thirty years the garden has also been a bone orchard for two cats, Dinah and Norah, and four dogs, Maggie, Kipper, Rupert and Bella. Every one of these animals has made their way into our books (There’ll be more about Dinah, Maggie and Kipper, and the books they turned up in, in a later post). Norah, Rupert and Bella are characters in Let’s Go Baby–o!

Our Skye-boy terriers, Callan and Danny, are still waiting to be in a book.

IMG_1885 On the day Bella was buried
Callan, for a few moments
settled himself over
her grave

         

          Where the birds nest.

Nesting just outside the window

One of the preferred spots for the birds to nest is in the ornamental grapevine that stretches across the back verandah. The brown female and and the black male fly from tree to vine, from creeper to bush, sussing out the best place to build their nest. Once they have chosen the right spot the brown one scavenges in the garden for leaves and grasses, and the odd bit of plastic. She binds these together with mud to make a scrappy, cup-shaped nest, and lines it with soft grasses and tufts of dog hair from whichever of our dogs is around at the time.

IMG_5584The vine where the blackbirds nested again this summer

This year we  found a nest just three feet off the ground in the Rosa Perle D’or. It was filled with half-eaten, dried out quinces. I like to think of the brown, the black, and the fledgelings filling up on these before taking off.

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A nest of quinces

            From inside the house

The windows and doors in the back room of our house overlooks the backyard – perfect for seeing what’s happening out there.

Inside looking out

So, we had our setting, and some of the characters.

COMING SOON:
1. Let’s go Baby-o! – The characters.
2. Re-imaginging setting and characters to make a book