Young Writers’ StorySchool with Tristan Bancks

Young Writers’ StorySchool with Tristan Bancks

Tristan Bancks is an Australian children’s and young adult author. His new book is Ginger Meggs, a 100th-anniversary book of stories based on the character created by his great-great-uncle, Jimmy Bancks, in 1921. Alongside writing, he’s recently created Young Writers’ StorySchool, an online video-based workshop for the classroom that I’m using with my students. It’s designed to help nurture the writing of kids aged 9-14.

I have been trialing Tristan’s StorySchool with an enthusiastic group of writers from Years 5 and 6. These students give up their lunchtime once a week to practise their writing skills. As a teacher, I love how StorySchool teaches these students about writing from an author’s perspective and not from a teacher-teaching-the-syllabus perspective. The video content is top-quality and the activities set in each video are accessible and unique. Australian children’s and young adult author, Tristan Bancks, shares how his fourth-grade teacher was pivotal in turning him into a writer.

(Pics by Amber Melody.)

Here, Tristan shares how his fourth-grade teacher was pivotal in turning him into a writer and how he still uses her writing tools now. (We have been using this writing tool in our StorySchool club too!)

My writing journey began when I was nine years old and my teacher, Mrs Bannister, introduced a simple daily writing practice she called ‘Anything Goes’. I re-discovered the technique years later in Julia Cameron’s life-changing work on the creative process, The Artists Way and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I believe that this simple practice gave me the guts to back myself, pursue a creative career and become a writer of fiction.

Every morning in fourth grade we would get out our Anything Goes books, about a third of the size of a regular exercise book, put the date at the top of the page, and write, flat-out for five minutes. It didn’t matter what we wrote, as long as we were writing. We were told not to worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation or handwriting. BUT we had to write for five minutes non-stop. At first it was difficult. I don’t remember being given story starters, in these sessions, but I do remember a sense of freedom. While Maths and Spelling and other subjects had hard and fast rules, inside the pages of that Anything Goes book, there was the opportunity to escape and be anywhere and anyone we liked.

Australian children’s and young adult author, Tristan Bancks, shares how his fourth-grade teacher was pivotal in turning him into a writer.I, of course, immediately started writing a serial drama titled ‘My Life as a Mars Bar’ – a thought-provoking tale about the plight of a chocolate bar being eaten by a human and moving down the digestive tract. I won’t tell you what happens at the end of that gut-wrenching saga.

I LOVED writing that story. And the one about the evil Meany-greeny-puff-puff-lalala. And the other hundred stories that came to me in moments of fevered inspiration. No story starters. No text types. No judgement.

Australian children’s and young adult author, Tristan Bancks, shares how his fourth-grade teacher was pivotal in turning him into a writer.

Anything Goes was writing for writing’s sake, with the intrinsic rewards of freedom, an escape into the imagination and, with any luck, the laughter of friends if we had an opportunity to read out our work.

Clearly, not every kid in that class became a writer. Some would have struggled with the task. Others may have outright despised it. But I’ve spent fourteen years visiting schools and working with young writers and, even the kids who find the Anything Goes concept challenging at first, take to it with practice.

I’ve shared Mrs Bannister’s approach with hundreds, maybe thousands, of schools in that time and, quite often, I have visited a school the following year. Those schools or classes that have adopted Anything Goes as a daily adventure for students see a marked improvement in students’ ability to express themselves on the page. I see it and hear it in my workshops. They dive down and start writing flat-out for five or ten minutes, finding their own voices. There’s a courage and confidence that comes with that dedication to writing.

Like anything, writing is a practice. Teachers have an extraordinary amount to get through in a day, a week, a year, but this five-minute daily practice – the licence for students to make mistakes, to try things out, to be themselves on the page – I believe, can do more for a long-term love of writing than anything else.

My talks, workshops and StorySchool cover drafting, rewriting, POV and so on but the real engine room for writing is Anything Goes. It gives young writers a blank slate to float raw ideas or concepts that they might otherwise dismiss.

My end-goal is to instil in young writers a love of writing, a love of creativity and a faith in themselves and their own ideas. I would like kids to read my books, I want them to read everything they can get their hands on, and I want those books to inspire them to create their own narratives, to tell their own stories.

My goal is to arm students with the tools and confidence to create authentic, personal stories and to encourage them to do it every single day. In the first StorySchool video, I introduce the concept of free-writing based on students’ own memories and I’ve included tips to help navigate this, as well as an activity sheet and teachers’ notes to get things started. You can watch the first video here at Oh Creative Day. Happy writing. 😉

You can access the entire StorySchool program and supporting materials at and, if you’re in NSW and have a creative kid, you can use your Creative Kids voucher to access the program for free! Just click on the Creative Kids tab at the top of the site.

The Best Picture Books of 2020

The Best Picture Books of 2020

Well 2020 has been a YEAR, hasn’t it? In other news though, there have been so many amazing picture books published this year.
Silver lining? Imma gonna take it. Here are the best picture books of 2020, as enjoyed by the young and old at my place.

Clicking on the blue title of each book will take you to Book Depository. These are affiliate links.
This means that if you purchase from this link, I will receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

Best Non-Fiction Picture Books of 2020

Egg and Spoon by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson
My kids go into battle for this book. COVETED IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT.
It is a magnificent illustrated cookbook for mini chefs and their families that celebrates the joy that food brings. It’s guaranteed to get you in the kitchen concocting delicious things. Check out this video of it.

Poems Aloud by Joseph Coelho and Daniel Gray-Barnett
This book presents the argument that poetry is made to be performed. It provides tips and tricks on how to take the poetry from the page and breathe life into them. It is a joyful celebration of poetry and the illustrations are a kaleidoscope of colour. See more of it here.

The Encyclopedia of Dangerous Animals by Sami Bayly
Sami’s Encyclopedia of Ugly Animals has been a HIT in my teaching and at home. We were SO excited for the sequel and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Facts from it are quoted on the daily here. (This link will take you to the Ugly Animals Encyclopedia. Book Depository don’t appear to be stocking the Dangerous Animals version yet.)

This Small Blue Dot by Zeno Sworder
A big sister explains the world to her newborn sibling. Broccoli! Dancing Silly Dances! Darkness! Light! All of the really important stuff on our small blue dot. A poignant and hopeful “Welcome to Earth” story. It will be my Baby Shower Go-To book forevermore. See more of it here.

Be Your Own Man by Jess Sanders and Robbie Cathro
This book encourages readers to embrace multiple perspectives of maleness and to rewrite the stereotypical narrative of what it means to “be a man.”
It encourages boys, and those who identify as boys, to embrace vulnerability and to feel all the feels. It lists some practical self-love tips to help process emotions. This is a powerful book.
Take a flip through here.

Shirley Purdie: My story, Ngaginybe jarragbe by Shirley Purdie Gija Translation by Eileen Bray
This book is like holding a piece of art in your hands. It’s beautiful. Told in English and Gija, this is the story of Shirley Purdie, a famous Gija artist. Find more stories from First Nations authors here.

Azaria: A True History by Maree Coote
This oversized visual feast gives me goosebumps every time I read it. This non-fiction book uses lyrical text and exquisitely heart-wrenching illustrations to sensitively recount the famous tale of the Chamberlain family’s Uluru camping trip when a dingo took baby Azaria. Read more and see more here.

If you have a non-fiction lover at your place, you might want to check out my IG post below with my top picks for fact-loving kids.

Best Fiction Picture Books of 2020

Pandemic by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
This book is sublime. It tells of how communities pulled through the Spanish Flu pandemic by banding together and uniting with kindness. Jackie French pulled it together in a matter of days to give young readers hope in the current pandemic. Bruce Whatley illustrated this book whilst in hotel quarantine.

If you’re after some more books to help with processing all that 2020 and COVID-19 has been, check out this post.

Izzy and Frank by Katrina Lehman and Sophie Beer
Izzy and Frank is an exquisite ode to old friends, new beginnings and the carefree adventures of a childhood well-spent. Read more here.

The Pocket Chaotic by Ziggy Hanaor and Daniel Gray-Barnett
Alexander is a young kangaroo who, being a marsupial, lives in his mother’s pouch. Unfortunately, his mum has questionable organisational abilities and is constantly storing things in her pouch and taking over his space. This one tugged all my maternal heartstrings as it explores an adorable mother-child relationship and the pushing of boundaries towards independence. Disclaimer: Daniel Gray-Barnett is one of my very fave illustrators so I basically love anything he does.

The Fire Wombat by Jackie French and Danny Snell
Last year, Australia faced catastrophic bushfires. This is a retelling of that event told from the perspective of the animals on the ground. Anything by Jackie French is gold and this beauty is a touching treatment of a traumatic experience.

Bear in Space by Deborah Abela and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall
This is one of my 5-year-old’s fave fictional books for 2020. It’s a gorgeous story about embracing who you are, your passions and imagination. Facts about space are interspersed through the book. I love how it gently explores the beauty to be found equally in solitude and friendship. You can see how we turned it into a READ + CREATE activity here.

Julian at the Wedding by Jessica Love
Weddings are a celebration of love and this sequel to Julian is a Mermaid is a celebration of love, youth, friendship and being yourself.

The Biscuit Maker by Sue Lawson and Liz Anelli
This book is a gorgeous celebration of community, connection and biscuits and it is one of my top picks for 2020.

Barkley by Rebecca Crane
My 3-year-old’s favourite picture book of the year. The teacher in me LOVED all the descriptive language.

Sometimes Cake by Edwina Wyatt and Tamsin Ainslie
A sweet and dreamy read for the 3-6 year-old set. More in my review here.

Ribbit Rabbit Robot by Victoria Mackinlay and Sofia Karmazina
This one is a fun read aloud where the illustrations must be studied carefully. A visual literacy feast! See more footage of it here.

Give Me Some Space! by Philip Bunting
This one has been picked for National Simultaneous Storytime 2021 and I APPROVE. Illustrations in Bunting’s signature style with a narrative that is littered with space facts. PERFECT for the space-obsessed little reader.

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles and Brian Collier
This powerful book only arrived here last week and I am stoked that it can be a last minute inclusion. It is so, so moving. It is an ode to Black and brown children everywhere that reads like a Mother’s love letter, assuring them of their place in the world.

Good Question! A tale Told Backwards by Sue Whiting and Annie White
This book is clever, so insanely clever. This is a fab text for the fairy tale lover. See more of this beauty here.

How to Make a Bird by Meg McKinlay and Matt Ottley
Sometimes I get this weird fear that my review of a book will never do it justice. This is one such book.
It for anybody who dares to take a creative risk and shows up to put their creativity out into the world. I fully expect it to be shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia 2021 Book Week Awards.
It is no secret that I am a passionate advocate for Australian picture books and stories. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bookstagang on IG this festive season. The Bookstagang is an association of #KidLit Bookstagramers world wide, who gather to support and share exceptional picture books. This year there was an Aussie division of the Bookstagang who  reviewed many of the Australian children’s picture books released this year. You can check out this post for all our top picks and be sure to follow all the amazing Bookstagang who took part and share their passion for books all year round.

Many of the books featured here were sent to me by publishers as review copies. All opinions are my own. Thank you to the legends at Walker Books, Scribble, Scholastic, Thames and Hudson, Magabala Books, Harper Collins and Hachette.


Easy and Simple Creative Projects for Kids

Easy and Simple Creative Projects for Kids

Looking for some low-mess and simple creative projects for kids to set up at home?
I got you!

I’ve been hanging out in Casey’s Little Play Club, chatting all things creativity and kids.
I’ve gathered together some easy ideas that are quick and simple to set up.

Cardboard Canvas

Cardboard is the Hero of the Crafty World. If you stockpile cardboard boxes like me (Thanks online shopping!) this is a perfect way to reuse them.

Pull the box apart and draw different-sized frames across the cardboard. Offer different markers and invite your mini-maker to create masterpieces inside the frames.

Washi Masterpiece

Draw an outline of your child’s current obsession (animals? dinosaurs? unicorns?)
Or maybe a symbol of a celebration that you are about to enjoy? (This ghost was from Halloween.)
Bring out the washi tape and model how to use your thumb and pointer to tear the tape.
Invite your mini-maker to press the tape down inside the shape.

Beaded Letters

Beads are an excellent way to develop fine motor skills.
Find all my tips for creating beaded letters tips for creating beaded letters here.
These make perfect homemade Christmas ornaments.

Ribbon Threading

Again with the cardboard! Cut out a shape and use a hole punch to create holes around the edges.
Thread some twine or ribbon downwards, like the black twine in the picture, to create a weaving frame.
Provide your little artist with some ribbon and show them how you can thread the ribbon over and under, over and under.

Mixed Media Masterpieces

Dinos are so hot right now at my place. I provided my kids with crayons, paint sticks, markers, a glue stick and paper scraps to decorate the dino. Instant collage masterpiece!

Collage is one of my favourite art processes for kids.
Here are some different paper techniques. And just look at all that vocab!!

Tips for Drawing

Need some tips for drawing with little artisits? Here you go!

(We also LOVE this Pass the Portrait game.)

If you try any of these ideas, I’d love to see! Tag me on @ohcreativeday

10 Non-Fiction Books For Kids Who Love Facts

10 Non-Fiction Books For Kids Who Love Facts

Do you have a little fact fiend at your place? My 5-year-old is a HUGE lover of non-fiction books. He runs around our house reeling off facts at a rapidfire pace. Here are 10 of our current favourite non-fiction books for kids.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals written and illustrated by Sami Bayly

Look this is a big call- but this is possibly my 5-year-old’s favourite book of the year. The left side of the spread contains a beautiful watercolour portrait of the animal being showcased. The right side of the spread contains a detailed information report about the animal.

Magical Creatures and Mythical Beasts by Professor and Millie Mortimer and illustrated by Victor Ngai

This is a magical book for the child who loves history, mythology and mystical creatures like Loch Ness, pegasus and dragons. It’s best read in a cosy, darkish spot- so you can use the magic torch to illuminate the mythical creatures hidden on the page.

Searching for Cicadas by Lesley Gibbes and illustrated by Judy Watson

Walker Books are the trailblazers when it comes to what they called narrative non-fiction, or FACTion. This beauty follows a grandpa and grandson as they go camping and searching for cicadas. Facts are interspersed throughout the narrative. Non-fiction books can make for tricky read-alouds, but this style of narrative non-fiction is a joy to share and read aloud.

Old Enough to Save the Planet by Loll Kirby and illustrated by Adelina Lirius

A beautifully illustrated book where each spread contains the biography of a child activist who are implementing environmental change. It features a how-to-help section with simple steps to empower young readers to take action at home and at school.

Extinct by Lucas Riera and illustrated by Jack Tite

An oversized book featuring amazing illustrations and details of animals that have disappeared.

The Ultimate Animal Alphabet Book by Jennifer Cossins

My 5-year-old has lost hours poring over this book. Each spread, organised in alphabetic order, is filled with animals beginning with the corresponding letter. A book that is chock-a-block filled with facts.

The Bushfire Book: How to Be Aware and Prepare by Polly Marsden and Chris Nixon

A practical and reassuring book for children to help them understand bushfires and what action they can take to feel less anxious and more prepared as Australia faces longer and more intense bushfire seasons. This is an amazing book.

Kookaburra by Claire Saxby and illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Another excellent example of FACTion from Walker Books as part of their Nature Storybooks series. The illustrations are divine. A fabulous book that informs, engages and entertains.

Dry to Dry: The Seasons of Kakadu by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli

A beautifully written narrative that explores the seasons fo Australia’s Kakadu.

I Love the World by Tania McCartney

This book takes the young reader on a fantastical round-the-world-trip. Dense with facts about different countries with glorious illustrations, this is a definite keepsake book.

All books, except I Love the World and Extinct, were sent by the publishers for review purposes. Thank you!

What are your favourite non-fiction books for kids?

Curious Creatures, Wild Minds Collage Project

Curious Creatures, Wild Minds Collage Project

It has been a hot minute since I last blogged, because LIFE, but I had to share these collages inspired by the CBCA Book Week 2020 theme of “Curious Creatures, Wild Minds.”

This year, I am lucky enough to be teaching in the school library. On Fridays, I teach 7 Kindergarten classes.
We had explored the collage technique of Jeannie Baker. As we read shortlisted Book Week books each week, I would model a process that would add to the collage. I’d arm the classroom teacher with materials, and then students would work on their collages in class during Learning Centres. The whole process covered 3 lessons/ 3 weeks.

We now have 140 Curious Creatures from the Wild Minds of Kindy on display in the school library and I am. in. love. with. them. all.

I think this would also be a very rad process art project for Halloween.

How to create your own Curious Creature collage

You will need:
A baseboard cut from a cardboard box
Paper scraps
PVA glue
white paper
black marker
Yarn, paper straws, matchsticks and other bits and bobs

We created our collages on a square piece cut from a cardboard box.

The first step was to cover the baseboard in colourful scraps of paper.
We discussed how you could have overlapping pieces of paper.
We explored some vocabulary around the textures of the paper.

Secondly, we discussed the meaning of the word ‘creature.’
I displayed literary examples of creatures from picture books.
We examined Gwyn Perkins’ tutorial on how to draw your own curious creature.
Students then drew their own curious creatures. I encouraged them to draw a black line drawing on white paper. Some students chose to colour in their curious creatures and I am here for it.
At the outset, we discussed how there is no right way or wrong way to create. We also talked about how I expected all of the creatures to be different.

In the third week, we discussed borders. I presented each class with a bag filled with crafty bits and bobs. Cut up paper straws, matchsticks, yarn- all kinds of fun materials to explore! I modeled how to create a border on the edge of the baseboard.

Once the glue had finally dried, teachers brought their collages into the library and several students discussed their collages and what they enjoyed most about the process.
One of my favourite responses was from a little boy who declared that the collage process made him feel “craftable and older.”
The. Best.

If you make collages inspired by this post, I’d love to see them! Tag @ohcreativeday on social media.

Reading with Children Tip: Play ‘Libraries’

Reading with Children Tip: Play ‘Libraries’

Looking for a way to make reading fun for children? Y’all know that I’m a massive advocate for reading all day and every day with children. I am, however, the first to acknowledge that sometimes things can get a bit stale on the reading front and it’s fun to shake things up a bit.

make reading fun for children with the tip of playing libraries

Whilst we were in the thick of at-home learning thanks to COVID-19, I had to create online library lessons for my Kindergarten students. One of the suggestions I made in my vids to the kids was to play “Libraries” at home. This is an idea that isn’t restricted just to Kindergarten ages.

I thought I’d give you the inside scoop on this activity in case you’re after a way to make reading fun for children.

📚 Ask your mini-librarians to gather a few books from the bookshelves and let them create displays around their “library.” Will they display the books with their front covers out? Or spines out? (See how we’re already using the metalanguage around the parts of a book?)

📚 Do you just want to drink your tea? If so kick back and ENJOY THAT CUPPA.
Or do you want to inject a bit of #playfullearning? You can ask the librarian to recommend a read. What is this book about? Why do they recommend this book? What was their favourite part?
Talking about a book is JUST AS IMPORTANT as being able to read a book.

📚 You can start to point out the features of a book – the front cover, title, author, illustrator, spine, back cover, blurb, endpapers….

📚 My objective with my lessons is to get the kiddos to remotely role-play the borrowing process. Once you’ve found the book for you, where do you go? What do you say at the circulation desk? You’d best find a random household item to be a barcode scanner here because scanning the book and going “BEEP!” is the most gratifying part of the process.
We have an old computer keyboard that we use at the “circulation desk” to type in the names of our “patrons.”
And please make sure your patrons all have a suitable bag to take their books home in.

Want some more reading with children tips? Here are 5 ways to get children to read more.