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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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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.

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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).

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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… 

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.

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. 

Superheroes on the wall

Visual storytelling unlocks the images (children have) stored up from
cartoons, movies and video games and helps them make more sense of the 
media-transmitted stories that fill their environments.

Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters – why children need fantasy, superheroes, and make-believe violence. p.9

On this day in March 2015 when R and O came over, they raided the stack of recycle A4 paper, found the markers and began drawing. O began drawing his favourite superhero characters. He told me who they were and I wrote down the names. When we began to display them on the wall R decided he would draw some too.  O was 5yo and R was 7yo when they drew these pictures. R’s drawings were more detailed, and he wrote his own labels.When we ran out of space in this corner of the gallery R took all of his down and moved them to another wall. As well as doing his own drawings O asked for a copy of a black line master  to colour in – hence the lifelike Spiderman.

Gallery CornerR&O's superheroes1

Facing wallR&O's superheros5

L. to R: Top row: Wonder Woman, Hawk Guy, Green Gremlin
Bottom row:Poison Ivy (makes superheroes ticklish with her powers), Batman, Mr Beast

Side wallR&O' superheroes6

L – R: Top row: Captain America, Spiderman, Thor, Hulk, Spiderman
Bottom row: Gaston (He flies around the world), Asgard, Captain America, Superman,
Iron man

Palindromes and Drawings

One day O, aged 5 years, drew our house, wrote some palindromes, and had a drawing lesson.

The first drawing O did was a picture of our dog, Callan, sitting down. He showed it to Andy who did a little drawing in the corner of a sitting dog, then O had another go at grounding the feet.
os-drawing-lesson

callan-sitting-thinking

On the other side of the paper O drew a detailed picture of our house – with pitched roof, chimney, front door with transom window, decorated glass side panels, a number 2, and himself standing in the doorway. There are shrubs in the garden. The dotted line at the bottom of the page depicts the street, the solid line separates the footpath from the road, and there’s a path leading to the front door. Our car is parked in the driveway next to the house and, from the top of the gable a bird is pooping SPLAT! on the windscreen.

O signed his name and Andy told him it was a palindrome, then he wrote ‘pop’ and ‘poop’

otto-j-as-house

O carefully cut out a plain piece of paper from his drawing and, with Andy, wrote some more palindromes

os-palindromesjpg

Pirates – Part 1

Nudging Ned

a-sams-drawing

For many weeks Ned and Richard were playing pirates together. The day Richard said, quite politely, ‘Walk the plank, Ned’, things changed. Ned stamped his foot, got red in the face, and stormed off to the cubby house, shouting. ‘I’m the captain, Richard!’.

Ned refused to be in Richard’s story – the one where Richard was the captain. I had been watching this drama unfolding, aware that Ned always assumed the role of captain, and that Richard was getting a bit sick of being the pirate who always ended up in the shark-infested water.

I couldn’t help them work it out that day. I tried to help them find other ways to tell their stories.
‘You could paint or draw a picture about your pirate story.’
‘I can’t paint a pirate.’
‘You could each tell me the story that you’re thinking about, and I could write it down, and we could act it out at mat time.’

Richard was the first one to tell me a story.

‘There’s only Ned and Richard. There’s only two people. It’s about Ned and Richard. Ned and Richard fight with the swords and I’m the goodie and Ned is the baddie. There was a sea and I pushed him into the sea and I made him walk the plank.’

At mat time, Richard asked Ned to be the pirate who walked the plank. Ned shook his head, ‘No’, so Richard chose someone else. Ned wasn’t ready to take on that role – not in dramatic storyplay, and not as a character in Richard’s story. He as watched another child acted his part – a baddie being pushed into the sea. Continue reading

The day we found cat poo in the sandpit.

This post is in response to the Child Care Collection Online Course – “Potty” Story 1 http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/poop-machine , and “Potty” Story 2. Define “potty.” Define “scientific thinking.”

At kindergarten one day we had to warn everyone not to go into the sandpit until we had dealt with the overnight offering left there by one of the neighbourhood cats.

I was annoyed that we were still having to deal with this problem because the promised sand pit cover hadn’t arrived yet, but I did what I always try to do when these kind of problems arise. I paused, assessed the situation, and then set about fixing it as quickly and calmly as possible. At the same time I watched and listened to see how  the children were responding. I sensed a heightened level of excitement as the word ‘poo’ spread through the group.

There’s dog poo in the sandpit!
Where? Show me! 
Ooh!
Yuck!
Errgh!
Pooh!
My cat did a poo in our sandpit.
Mine too! Mum said we’ll have to get a cover for it.
(I sigh)
Let’s make a sign. Come on!

We put the signs up near the sandpit, and no-one went into the sandpit until it was safe to do so.

dog-poo-1In the sandpit.
Dog Poo

dog-poo-3
Poo

Throughout the year making signs had become an integral part of the program. These children knew how to make signs to warn, control, direct, make announcements, and advertise.They had learned the art of using words, images and symbols to get their messages across in simple and direct ways.

these-children-are-bricoleurs-copy