Since the launch of the Australian Curriculum for English, teachers have been on the hunt for great books to use when exploring Asian perspectives in the classroom. This theme, which spans all year levels, seeks to “emphasise Australia’s links to Asia.” Cameron White’s simply titled picture-book, Winter’s Book, provides opportunities to engage students with Japanese culture and language with a range of applications across a range of subjects and grade bands.
Winter’s Book tells the story of Winter, left behind while her father is on a business trip to Japan to research his book on animals. Winter and her pet hamster Hamlet look forward to his messages and occupy themselves during his absence by creating their very own book. Told in language which is as beautiful as it is sparse, Winter’s Book is bilingual with the English prose accompanied by its Japanese translation. Chaco Kato’s delightful watercolour illustrations have a distinctly Japanese flavour and their simplicity is a perfect marriage for White’s story.
Upon first inspection, this book is an obvious choice for students in the lower years of primary school. It would lend itself well to being shared as a class text, opening up discussion to topics such as language, writing, Japan and its culture. As a follow up task, younger students will enjoy creating their own ‘little books’ that might be related to research on Japan, Australia or perhaps another Asian country. Similarly, the story could also inspire an investigation of water colour painting in the Japanese tradition, to be followed by some practical application of this knowledge. Winter’s Tale might also be utilised as a resource with Japanese language students in both primary and secondary classrooms. Older students will be able to translate the Japanese text into English (perhaps with the aid of some sticky notes to cover the English). Similarly, schools with Japanese exchange students, might also utilise the book within their ESL program with students using the Japanese to support their reading of the story in English.
I am fortunate to teach in a secondary school where Japanese is taught and where we have a nearly constant supply of Japanese exchange students. The book was well received by both groups who did not seem at all perturbed by reading something that is generally pitched at younger children. In fact, I wondered if they would ever give it back! My only gripe with White’s story is the admission of Hamlet, who while being talented and highly entertaining, is a hamster. I found this an odd choice, since children in Australia don’t have hamsters as pets. Perhaps for greater authenticity in the Australian market, Hamlet needed to be called Georgie the guinea pig!
Winter’s Book is currently available online for purchase in hard copy format or via specialist independent book stores. The author intends to release the story as an e-book in the future, making this a highly accessible resource for classroom use and electronic whiteboards.
**The author provided me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. I have otherwise not been paid for reviewing this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased opinion.**