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