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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie Chases Hector… 27 years on

Hector and Maggie Cover

We received a lovely message this week about our book Hector and Maggie which was
published in 1990.

“Hector & Maggie – My 29 year husband has a very well loved copy of Hector & Maggie that his late mum gifted him as a child. He is a farmer & kelpie working dog breeder & says this book was always his standout favourite & he has lovely memories of his mum repetitively reading it to him. Now our 3.5 year old also loves it, I just wanted to say thankyou & let you know that this beautiful book is still delivering lots of joy to the next generation :)”

We were thrilled to hear that Hector and Maggie are still running around the farm after all of these years. The idea for this story came from a family holiday we had with our children, Alex, Angus and Catriona at Auntie Heather and Uncle Kev’s farm at Glenroy (near Penola/Coonawarra) in south-east South Australia.

It was in 1988, the year of the Bicentennial. We were staying at their farm while they went to Sydney to join in the celebrations. As soon as we stepped out of the car we came face to face with the main characters in the book, Hector, Maggie and Old Tom. Auntie Heather told later that she called Hector, Sid Vicious. Maggie’s farm name was Bluey, and Old Tom was called Tom. 

Here are some photos we took at the time. We managed to capture Hector and Maggie in full flight, and the hens fussing around Hector, and his “beautiful tail was gone – except for on last feather.” Andrew did a few sketches too, in case we wanted to turn the story into a picture book later on. 

The girl collecting the eggs is our (then) seven-year-old daughter, Cat. Here, she’s been bailed up by Hector. She’s calling for help, “MU-U-U_UM’. Auntie Heather told us that she had to take a rake with her when she went to hang out the washing – Hector would chase anyone and anything.

Andrew & Janet 4

Serendipity

By chance, while I was writing this post, Andrew found this sketch of Old Tom, tucked into one of his art  books.Old Tom 

 

 

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… 

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

 

Who is the mother?

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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
After Vivian Paley –  ‘You can’t say you can’t play’

 

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.
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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’

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

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The lost footy jumper

Sunday night. Just settling down to watch TV when the iPad started buzzing.

Hello?

         Hello, Janna?

Oh! Hello Rory

         Hello Janna. Is my Essendon footy jumper at your place? 

Ahh, well, I think it might be. Let me go and look.

Hang on. It might take me a minute or two to find it.

Okay.

I went to the cupboard where I stash the clothes that get left behind for me to wash when the brothers come over. I pull out five pairs of trakkie daks – two Size 8s, two Size 6s, and one with a flying bat on each knee that looked about a size 4.

Then out tumbled five T-shirts.

  • One black, long-sleeved, size 18-24 months emblazoned with a Superman logo, and the words My Daddy is Superman.
  • One plain grey, size 8.
  • One black, size 6.
  • One white, size 8, with long blue sleeves, and a huge lion’s head wearing a stars and stripes helmet.
  • One red, size 6, with a picture of a bear holding a skate board and gazing pensively off to the right.
  • Another grey, size 6, with a bear wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and an orange T-shirt.

There’s also a bag of too-small nappies, two packets of baby wipes, four bibs, one pair of pajama pants, nine pairs of socks, and any number of odd socks, and…

…an Essendon footy jumper.

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Rory, are you there?

         Yes.

I think I’ve found it. Is it sleeveless?

         Umm…

Does it have KIA logo on the back?

         Urr. It’s…

I think this is it. Do you need it straight away?

         Yes

What do you need it for?

         Tomorrow is hot dog day at school and we are allowed to wear our colours.

What are your colours?

         Our footy team.

Oh, okay.

         So, how are we going to do this?

You need it tomorrow do you?

         Yes

I could bring it over in the morning before you go to school.

         Oh, okay. What time?

What time do you leave for school?

         We leave at 8.30.

Okay, I’ll be over there by 8.30.

         Thanks, ‘bye.

         ‘Bye.

 A few minutes later the iPad dinged with a message.

“Hi it’s Rory thank you so much for finding my jumper see you tomorrow I don’t know how to thank you send us another message to tell us what you want me to do.”         

I messaged him back.

I’m happy to bring the jumper over – If you want to do something for me maybe you could do a drawing of the Queen Fairy to go with this story. See you tomorrow at 8.30. xx

This is the story I sent. It is one of many that I have collected over many years of teaching in a story-sharing preschool.

THE QUEEN FAIRY

By: Anon. Aged 5 years

She is wearing a crown.

She has golden teeth

In one hand she is holding her wand, and juggling water

With her other hand she is juggling the whole moon, which she has picked out of the sky

She changed the moon into the world because she didn’t want it to be light at night

All of the people wanted to be scared so they told her to do that

Then she took the sun out of the sky, so every night and day it was dark

The snake in the grass bit her because she took the moon away

It was a good snake and if you did something bad it bit you

 It wasn’t long before the iPad dinged again. It was Rory sending a photo of his drawing…

…with the message:

is this ok for you                                                                                                  

Perfect – thanks Rory

(The snake says, ‘You took the moon’).

the-queen-fairy-rory

 

 

A 68-word story

Sorry for the poor quality of the reproduced drawing. I hope you get the idea how Tyler used the drawing to help process his thinking.

And there was the day Tyler asked me if he could ‘do a play’.

Sure, I’ll just go and get my writing book and a pen. 

Tyler fetched a large sheet of drawing paper, and the red, blue, green, black, and pink markers. He placed these side-by-side on the table, and said:

Captain Planet gave some rings, with diamond rings, to little kids.

While I was writing Tyler started his drawing. Up in the top right hand corner of the paper he used the blue marker to draw Captain Planet. Then he started on the rings, which he placed on either side of Captain Planet, and as he drew he said,

A red diamond on it.

A pink diamond.

A blue diamond.

Now, there’s two more.

Now let’s see – green, I think.

Now, one more.

Blue – water.

Red is fire.

The pink one’s heart.

The green one’s …

I’ll just make up a name for green.

The Black one’s wind.

I’ll just call green, earth.

 I need to draw the little kids.

Red is fire.

Now, what was the second one?

Heart Continue reading

Pumpkin, peas and carrots for lunch

Rory pumpkinOne day Rory found this photo. He showed it to his Dad, Damon and said,  ‘Dad’, tell me the story about this picture when I was a baby.’

‘Well…’, said Damon, ‘…this day I gave you mashed pumpkin, peas and carrots for lunch.You ended up with food in your hair, between your toes, on your eyebrows, up your nose. We had to have a bath! Looks to me like your enjoying yourself’. ‘I am!’ said Rory.