Book reviews for Aussie teachers and their students.

Archive for the ‘Bilingual Books’ Category

Book Review: “Stepping Stones” by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, University of Queensland Press (2017)

stepping stones

In my first year of teaching I learned the value of a carefully chosen picture book for the purposes of introducing a topic or addressing tricky issues.  Seventeen years later, I have a growing stash of these that I continue to revisit with students in the secondary classroom across a range of subject areas.  As an English specialist, I continue to appreciate the accessibility of these texts, the many layers of reading they encourage as they engage captive audiences in a reading activity that nearly always harnesses a range of interpretative skills.  Picture books are a blessing for the time poor educator.  They tick many boxes and set the scene for a high level of student engagement.

First published in Canada, Stepping Stones, is a welcome addition to my personal collection and is one that I will draw upon for use in the English, HaSS and Religious Education classroom.  Told in both English and Arabic, and narrated by a young girl, Rama; we follow her experience of persecution, death and loss in their war-torn homeland, her families’ escape, journey by foot and their crossing of an unforgiving sea to their eventual, albeit bittersweet, liberation.  While clearly drawing from recent history with the story illuminating the experiences within the Syrian context, the tale might easily be supplanted into another setting.  Nizar Ali Badr’s artwork which utilises stacked stones to recreate scenes in the story, is culturally neutral, thus inviting a transposing of other refugee narratives.  Within the Australian context, I imagine that educators might specifically draw upon experiences of the Vietnamese and Cambodian ‘boat-people’.  Similarly, Christian communities would certainly draw parallels to Gospel narratives (Matt 2:13-14) concerning the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.

The provision of both English and Arabic text adds additional linguistic dimension to the story that could be readily exploited by students as an extension activity.  While I would use this text exclusively in the secondary classroom, it will appeal to older primary students and, with discretion, may be an effective tool for engaging dialogue with new arrivals in our school communities.  The story will certainly find its place in many of our Syrian and Middle-Eastern communities in Australia with many families likely to embrace it as a vehicle for intergenerational sharing and a celebration of language.

I commend Stepping Stones as a text that provides an authentic voice for educators who seek to promote cultural diversity, while engaging frankly with their students on issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.

Tanya Grech Welden

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“Winter’s Book” written by Cameron White, translated by Tetsuta Watanabe and illustrated by Chaco Kato, Sandwich Press (2014)

WinterBook_Cover LoResSince 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.

Tanya Grech Welden

**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.**

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