Counting Lions: Portraits From the Wild

Words by Katie Cotton,
Drawings by Stephen Walton, Frances Lincoln Children’s Book, 2015.

This is much more than a charming kindergarten picture/counting /poetry book about 10 endangered wild animals across the world. Illustrator Stephen Walton’s beautifully and evocative charcoal illustrations and author Kate Cotton’s poetic descriptions draw you into these wild creatures’ “humanity”. These wild warriors feel contentment, sadness, courage, and love for their offspring. Ultimately, this book is about the biodiversity crisis that our contemporary society seems incapable of solving.

Virginia McKenna, actress and founder of the Born Free Foundation, writes a beautiful and eloquent foreword about the biodiversity crisis happening all over the world. She writes: “In Counting Lions children will start at number one and end at number 10. If it was true that there were, in reality, only five elephants or four tigers, then the world would know that the end of those species is in sight. This fearful moment has not arrived — yet.”

At the back of the book there are informative facts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature about how and why these animals urgently need action to protect them.

Coincidentally, at the time of writing this review, I received a petition calling on the South African government to ban the practice of allowing lion cubs to be reared and killed for tourist trophy hunting. Here's the link to the petition calling for a ban.

If Counting Lions can get us motivated to count our actions in saving threatened wildlife it has achieved much.

I Can Shine: Voices of the World Youth Education Trust

Edited by Katherine Thompson and Corrin Varady, World Youth Education Trust, 2015.

A book of poetry written by African children, this is a refreshing, uplifting and, in many ways, inspiring testimony of just how deeply African children appreciate a chance to be educated.

Corrin Varady, co-editor of the book, is founder of World Youth Education Trust (WYET), a registered charity that published I Can Shine. It was written after a group of 11 teachers from Australia, the United States and Uganda spent three weeks teaching at the independent Mwalimu Anna English Medium Pre- and Primary School in Tanzania.

Although aimed at upper primary and junior secondary school classes, these beautiful student poems invite the “teacher reader” to think about the exploitative threats that edu-businesses bring to African education systems.

Conversations in Peace: The Sydney Peace Prize Lectures, 1998-2011

Edited by Lynda-ann Blanchard and Hannah Middleton, The University of Sydney, Sydney Peace Foundation, 2015

This inspiring collection of past Sydney Peace Prize speeches challenges us to think about what peace really means to a society faced with poverty, disadvantage, prejudice, war and violence. One needs to ask whether peace is about having the courage to speak up against injustice even if it causes dissent, discomfort and embarrassment.

The acceptance speeches of the first 11 winners of the Sydney Peace Prize (1998-2011) are here, including speeches by Bangladeshi micro-banking reformer Muhammad Yunus, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, former governor-general Sir William Deane, former president of Ireland and United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson, the Palestinian academic and human rights campaigner, Hanan Ashrawi, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, the former UN Under Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, Amnesty International’s former leader, Irene Khan, the Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission who opposed the war in Iraq, Hans Blix, Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson, award-winning journalist, author and filmmaker John Pilger, environmental scientist Vandana Shiva, and academic activist Professor Noam Chomsky.

Chapter 1 is by Professor Stuart Rees, who founded the Sydney Peace Prize. The editors describe him as a dangerous man “because he brings important questions into the light as a catalyst for discussion and action. He shines a powerful light into the dark corners of power, money and injustice. “

The speech by Vandana Shiva about making peace with the earth has so much relevance to Counting Lions. Olara Otunnu’s speech about the child soldier crisis in northern Uganda provides a context to understand why the student voices in I Can Shine are so profoundly grateful for a chance to an education.

A wonderfully inspiring, informative and challenging book about peace.

All three books are available from Federation Library.

Janine Kitson is a casual teacher.

Classroom Activities

Counting Lions

Small group/pair discussion
1. Which wild animal do you like best?
2. What might be the conversations between the animals e.g. what might the mother gorilla say to her baby?
3. Why are grownups so bad at keeping wildlife safe?

Suggestions for learning activities
1. Art: Draw your own wild portraits of threatened wild animals.
2. Go for a short walk around the school. Count the wildlife you find.
3. In a group, act out some of the wild animals. Some students read a poem. The others act out the poem using silent and slow-moving actions that show what the wild animals are doing, feeling and thinking.

I Can Shine

Small group/pair discussion
1. What might be the similarities and differences between you and the young people who wrote these poems?
2. Which poems do you like?
3. Why is education so important to these young people?

Suggestions for learning activities
1. Write your own poems. Base them on some of the themes of the poems e.g. kindness tastes/smells/looks/feels/sounds like …
2. Research what life is like for a young person growing up in Tanzania or Northern Uganda today?3. Debate: Should good individuals with good intentions set up good schools for some children? Or should good governments with good funding set up good schools for all children?

Conversations in Peace

Small group/pair discussion
1. What do you know about any of the speakers?
2. The Sydney Peace Prize is Australia’s only international prize for peace. Why might it be important for Australia to have an international prize for peace?
3. What might be the qualities that people need to uphold peace?

Suggestions for learning activities
1. Choose one Sydney prize lecture. Edit it into a three-minute speech.
2. Make up a media conference with questions to ask one Sydney Peace Prize recipient and her/his reply. Act it out.
3. Use quotes from the speeches to help you with your entry for Federation’s 2016 Sam Lewis Peace Prize.