Janine Kitson

These three books celebrate both the creative power of art and poetry that makes us laugh, think and reflect on life, and the power of friendships.

Frida and Bear

by Anthony Browne and Hanne Bartholin

This collaboration between award-winning British picture book author and illustrator Anthony Browne and Hanne Bartholin is a delightful affirmation about the power of art for children.

Frida awkwardly holds her pencil with her elephant trunk and loves to draw. She helps Bear overcome his blockage when he can’t think of anything to draw. Frida challenges Bear by asking him to turn a shape into something. This leads them to play the Shape Game where each presents the other with a shape which they then transform into an artwork.

The story shows the power of friendship and art and how two friends, through play, can enrich each other’s creative talents.

Classroom activities

Small group/paid discussion:

  1. How do you start drawing when you can’t think of anything to draw?
  2. How did Frida help Bear draw again?
  3. What qualities does Frida and Bear have to make good artists?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Draw some shapes and play the Shape Game with a partner.
  2. Using ideas from the book draw a puppy, fish, pig, funny little man, monkey, butterfly.
  3. Imagine you are a teacher talking to Frida’s or Bear’s parents. What do you say about them and their artwork?

Crazy Classrooms

Poems by Paul Cookson
Drawings by Steve Wells
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This collection of more than 60 poems include poems about loners, bullies, misfits, eccentrics and students who love to misbehave in school.

“Wasn’t Me” is about a student who argues his innocence about a misdeed, only to later admit, “I was quite near him, though.”

There are sad poems too. “Mothers’ Day Cards” is about a student who made a card “but it never got sent” even though “it was the best one in the class”. The poem finishes with, “Samantha cried at playtime.”

”Mr Radar’s Ears” reminds me so much of a wonderful colleague I taught with who was a genius at using humour to discipline his class:

Beep beep beep — everything he hears
Beep beep beep — Mr Radar’s ears
Beep beep beep — every whisper, every word
Beep beep beep — every single noise is heard
Beep beep beep — left and right and far and near
Beep beep beep — Mr Radar’s ears...

The poems are a tonic for when things get tough. Something to read to the class — just before the bell rings!

Classroom activities

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. Which poems do you like?
  2. Talk about some funny stories of things that happened at your school.
  3. Can you describe the shoes or ties that different teachers wear?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Illustrate one of the crazy poems.
  2. Act out one of the poems.
  3. Write your own crazy poem.

Stardust Painter-Poet

Edwin Wilson: Paintings and Poems

Edwin Wilson’s poems and paintings form a “visual memoir of the main preoccupations of my life” and his achievements as an artist.

The book also serves as the catalogue for Wilson’s upcoming exhibition Stardust Painter-Poet at the Royal Art Society of NSW on Friday, April 8, 2016 at the Lavender Bay Gallery, Walker Street, North Sydney (it is walking distance from North Sydney Railway Station). The exhibition will run to May 1.

This fascinating and beautiful collection deals with the different periods of Edwin Wilson’s life — Early Works, Mesozoic Era (Middle Period) and Late Flowering. All of the paintings in the Late Flowering period have been produced since Wilson’s retirement in 2003.

Born in Lismore in 1942, Edwin Wilson spent his formative years growing up in Mullumbimby. This was a time when the North Coast rural communities were isolated, parochial and gripped by bitter sectarian division and pressures to conform. He was able to escape his rural poverty through a scholarship to Armidale Teachers College and in 1962 began teaching at the Forest High School. Later he worked at the Australian Museum and Royal Botanical Gardens.

Wilson writes of what some think are the 10,000 necessary hours to develop one’s talent. He describes the artistic process where things “flow” once one enters the painting “zone” and gets lost in certain “bliss of doing”, and sometimes the “angels sing”.

The poem that is probably the most significant for teachers is “Education”, which warns of the “parade of farce and mime/ to parrot and not understand” and teaching facts that leaves “the soil... barren” Facing this poem is a self-portrait as a young university graduate gazing out looking depressed. This is contrasted with the joy he finds in his career as an Education Officer for the Australian Museum where he feels like he is a “round peg in a round hole/for the first time”.

There are also fun poems that can be used in teaching junior secondary English such as “How much is that Giant Stegosaurus?” and “Thunalgunaldin”.

My favourite oil painting from the book is “Harbinger of Rain”, which shows the magnificence of five red-tailed black cockatoos soaring over the Gondwanan forests of Mount Warning.

All books are available for borrowing from Federation Library.

Janine Kitson is a casual teacher.