Janine Kitson


By Sue Whiting and Mark Jackson
Walker Books, 2015

This beautifully written and illustrated picture book captures the world of the platypus as it dives, rolls, backflips and paddles in perpetual motion, foraging for food in the freshwater rivers and streams along Australia’s eastern states.

The author reflects on how the platypus is utterly dependent for its survival upon a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

The book ends with the platypus snugly curled up in the warmth of its earth burrow. This, however, is no fairytale where the platypus necessarily lives “happily ever after”: the dark side of the story is acknowledged in the appendix that notes “their biggest threat is loss of habitat through drought, flooding, land clearing and water pollution”. The platypus habitat is extremely vulnerable to toxic chemical pollution and climate change.

At the time of writing, the NSW government is promising to bring in legislation that would reduce environmental protection for wildlife, including the platypus. Perhaps the people who need to read this beautiful book are the politicians.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change

By Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2015

The Great Barrier Reef is currently experiencing its worst climate change attack with 95 per cent of reefs between Cairns and Papua New Guinea showing signs of severe bleaching, so this young person’s book on climate change is very timely and relevant. Author Carole Wilkinson adeptly explains the science of climate change in easy-to-understand language. It is an excellent resource for across-the-curriculum studies for science, chemistry, history and English.

Atmospheric’s chapters alternate between narrative texts based on historical incidents followed by a factual texts on the science of climate change. The book opens with Vincent Dwyer, a 15-year-old student, having no idea why his friend’s granddaughter, Sophia, is so determined to “make a difference” at a climate change rally.

The book contains excellent timelines, illustrations, graphs and summary boxes to help the reader understand how the planet’s average temperatures have increased since the beginning of human civilisation. These temperature rises have been caused by our hydrocarbon economy that “puts profit before the health of people and the health of the planet”.

The Summit of Her Ambition: The spirited life of Marie Byles

By Anne McLeod
Anne McLeod, 2015

Marie Byles, the first woman to practise as a solicitor in NSW, led a life striving for her feminist, conservationist and pacifist causes. Her involvement in the bushwalking conservation movement of the 1930s led to the establishment of the Bouddi National Park near Gosford.

As a young woman, she pursued a life of adventure climbing pristine mountains when few people travelled and even fewer women travelled.

Her first around-the world trip, in 1928, began on a Norway cargo boat. In 1938, just on the eve of World War II, she travelled to climb Mount Sansato, in the remote south-west corner of China. From the 1950s-1960s she travelled to Burma, China, India and Japan to study the secrets of inner peace through Buddhist meditation.

Marie Byles was ahead of her time and rejected consumeristic culture by living sustainably on her bushland property, Ahimsa, at Cheltenham, Sydney. She replaced the question, “Do I want it?” with “Do I need it?”.

This valuable biography reveals much about Australia’s history in relation to women’s equality, the bushwalking conservation movement and Byles’s contribution to promoting mindfulness meditation in Australia.

These books are in the Federation Library.

Janine Kitson is a casual teacher



Small group/pair discussion

1. What other living creatures share the home of the platypus?

2. Why are trees along the river bank so important for the platypus?

3. Where might the platypus in the book live? Near the city? Suburbs? Farms? Wilderness?

Suggestions for learning activities

1. Art: Make a collage of a platypus’ ecosystem that include the other living creatures that share the creek with the platypus. Include natural material e.g. gum tree sticks.

2. Drama: Mime the actions of a platypus swimming, rolling, diving, crawling and sleeping.

3. Make a platypus puppet out of a brown sock. Make up a story about the platypus and its daily life.


Small group/pair discussion

1. What is your view on the effectiveness of the book’s title, Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change? What other titles might you suggest?

2. “Next thing I know she’s giving me this lecture about ‘clothing miles’ and waste and methane and Brazilian rainforests” (chapter 1, page 14). How do these issues relate to climate change?

3. Which three photos/illustrations/tables/graphs/summaries are the most revealing about the causes and threats of climate change?

Suggestions for learning activities:

1. Make up 10 quiz questions and answers about Atmospheric.

2. Make a short PowerPoint presentation on climate change based on the facts in this book. Present it to whoever you believe needs to understand these issues most.

3. Act out one of the “historical incident” chapters from the book.

The Summit of Her Ambition

Small group/pair discussion

1. What might motivate people to climb mountains?

2. Why might Marie Byles have been so motivated in protecting the natural environment?

3. How was Marie Byles such an extraordinary woman ahead of her time?

Suggestions for learning activities

1. Create two timelines — one for Marie Byles’ life, another for key events that affected women’s rights and equality.

2. Make a scrapbook of Marie Byles’ life that includes a map of all the mountains she climbed and visited.

3. Listen to a variety of mediation tapes. Write one that reflects the voice of Marie Byles.