Janine Kitson

Once upon a northern night

By Jean E. Pendziaol
Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Walker Books, 2013

The wonders of Nature reveal themselves one winter’s night in this lullaby as a child falls asleep, cosily tucked up in bed whilst the snow is falling outside.

Artist Isabelle Arsenault illustrates the book with monotone greys and blacks and subtle splashes of colour that highlight how nature can transform a landscape into a magical wonderland.

In our deeply troubling times of climate change with record-breaking searing temperatures and television news filled with natural disasters, this book reminds of the restorative powers of nature that we are creatively connected to.

The book’s dedication is revealing in understanding the depth of the author’s feelings — “To Josiah, Katy and Alex, in loving memory of their mother, my beautiful sister, Theresa”.

What would parents want for their children if they knew they were to die tomorrow? Surely their wish would be that their children will grow up in a beautiful and pristine environment that is both awe-inspiring and safe?

Our Home is Dirt by Sea: Australian poems for Australian Kids

Selected by Dianne Bates
Walker Books, 2016

Some of Australia’s finest poets for children, such as the late Lydia Pender and David Bateson, Bill Condon, Elizabeth Honey, Steven Herrick, Robin Klein and many more, are celebrated in this collection. Many of their works have been published in one of Australia’s most significant children’s literature publications, the Department’s The School Magazine.

Children in upper primary and junior will enjoy and be motivated to write their own poetry when reading this collection.

The poems are grouped in themes: Mostly Me, Families, People, Animals, Sport, School and Special Times.

“The Tree”, by Chris Mansell, is a great poem to motivate students to enter Federation’s 2016 Sam Lewis Peace and Environment Prize.

This book makes you want to go off and read more of these Australian children’s poets’ works.

Jigsaw: Poetry activities and approaches for middle secondary students

Edited by Ken Watson with contributions from Jeff Guess, Brenda Pinder, Wayne Sawyer
Phoenix Education, reprinted 2016

This teacher resource is an anthology of classic and contemporary poetry accompanied by great teaching ideas. I was privileged to have Ken Watson, a renowned and highly-respected English educator, as my lecturer when I did my Diploma of Education at the University of Sydney in 1982.

It was Ken who taught me — something I never forgot as a teacher — that the authentic powerhouse of literacy development is using language, whether speaking, listening, reading and writing, for real purposes and to real audiences.

This photocopiable resource provides an abundance of exemplar strategies on how to engage students with poetry. It is based on using interactive small group work that empowers students with poetry’s multitude of meanings.

The collection includes thoughtful modern and classic poems such as “The Tiger” by William Blake, “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne, “Plato Told” by e e cummings, as well as contemporary Australian poems including poems by Jeff Guess and Peter Skrzynecki.

This is a wonderful resource with an abundance of interactive ways to engage with poetry.

These books are in Federation’s library.

Janine Kitson is a casual teacher


Once upon a northern night

Small group/pair discussion:

1. When did it last snow where you live or once lived?

2. What might the child see as he looks out the window on the last page?

3. What Australian animals might come out at night whilst you are asleep?

Suggestions for learning activities:

1. Write a "Once upon a southern night" story that includes the magic of Australian native animals coming out at night.

2. Mime some of the animals described, such as the deer, her fawn, the great grey owl, snowshoe hares, the fox and mouse.

3. Art: Use the book to inspire you to paint/draw/crayon snow falling and transforming a winter landscape. Perhaps paint white on black cardboard?

Our Home is Dirt by Sea

1. Write your own poem based on the style of the different poems: "A Beach of My Own" by Michelle A. Taylor (based on a set of rules) or "For an Inglish Teecher" by Doug MacLeod (based on a parent’s absent note) or "Imagination Circus" by David Gateson (based on imagining different circus acts) or "Unwrapping" by Lorraine Marwood (based on unwrapping a present).

2. Performance poetry: Choral Speaking for "Advance Australia Fair" by Elizabeth Honey or "Swimming Lessons" by Aithne Dell or "Netball Final" by Jill McDougall or "Surfer" by Lydia Pender; Dramatic monologue for "Revenge" by Robin Klein; Dialogue Performance: "The Stupid Cow and the Dim-wit Bat"by Steven Herrick or "Don’t Touch!" by Elizabeth Honey or "Fishermen" (Anon); Readers Theatre: "Wrecked" by Dianne Bates or "Swimming Lessons" by Aithne Dell or "The Tale of Wayne Sims" by Stephen Herrick; Role play parent-teacher interview: based on "Jake" by Janeen Brian.

3. Turn a poem into a sequence of illustrations/cartoons: "The Lady" by Ann Coleridge or "Auschwitz Flower" by Ian McBryde.


A few interactive approaches to teaching poetry from Jigsaw:

Split the poem into fragments. Choose some phrases and add your own words to them to make up a short prose description.

Get students to ask questions.

Split the poem into fragments. Jumble them up. Work in pairs to put the fragments into sequence that makes sense to you. Compare your version with the original.

“Nothing sheds more light on the techniques of poetry than writing your own”. Try different genres, for example, verse riddles and haiku.

Cloze approach – remove key words from the poem. In small groups, guess the missing word. Compare with other groups.

Performance poetry including choral speaking, dialogue performance and readers’ theatre.

Jumbling up the stanzas from three poems that deal with similar themes. Putting the "jigsaw" back.