150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, by Asia Citro, MEd
About: This is hands-down one of my favourite books and a regular go-to for “What can we do this afternoon?”, “Mummy, please play with us” and “I don’t know what to DOOOOOOO” moments. I look through the book myself for something I’m willing to face up to, or I hand the book to the kids and get them to pick something out that they like the look of. I’ve also handed this book to Daddy for his nights-doing-stuff-with-kids and told him if he picks something he wants to do, I’ll make sure we have the ingredients. I really like Citro’s approach – she encourages a lot of the fundamentals of very-early-childhood science, which is basically investigating substances and the way they behave when you do stuff to them. It’s all play. Much of it is messy. It’s fun, it’s delightful, it’s imaginative, it can be wondrous. Many recipes and activities are suitable for kids who put things in their mouth, or who have allergies. Some take more prep or cleaning up than others, so I can choose what I’m capable of on a given day and find something fun. There’ll be a few activities I post up on this blog that have come from this book, or from Citro’s blog, FunAtHomeWithKids.com, which is well worth an explore. The age range of activities is probably 0 to 10 years, at least, so it’s a book you’ll get plenty of use out of.
Wide age range suitability
Lots of ideas with accessible ingredients
Well laid out and photographed
Kids can look through the book themselves
Good science fundamentals (and literacy and numeracy and manual dexterity)
Basically, all-round good early childhood resource
The Unbreakable Code, written by Sara Hoagland Hunter and illustrated by Julia Miner.
About:In World War II, the Americans needed a code that couldn’t be broken by the Japanese – and they recruited a group of Navaho to develop one. This book tells the story of the Navajo code talkers, put together out of interviews with many of the surviving code talkers, and framed in fiction as a grandfather telling his grandson not to be afraid to move to a new home. It’s an important part of American and WWII history, a discussion of how codes, languages and alphabets intertwine, and a clear portrait of what advantages cultural differences can bring to a multicultural society. It also tells clearly and effectively of the sadnesses of war, the punishments applied to Native Americans who tried to hold onto their culture and some of the barriers they faced to acceptance. The reading level is quite high and the themes quite strong, so I’d put this book at at age level of say 5-10 years old, despite it being a picture book with stunning illustrations.
Positive indigenous contribution to society
Central characters are Native American
War descriptions effective but without undue emphasis on the terrible
Places the code talkers in cultural and historical context
Talks about language and codes and how the code was developed
Winter is Coming
written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
About: One autumn a girl goes into the wood, day by day, with her notebook and pencils. She climbs up on a platform in a tree and sits there quietly, watching, listening, drawing and writing what she sees and hears. Slowly the season changes, the animals come and go, they prepare for the cold. Winter is coming. Then one day the snow falls, and winter is here. I love the way seasonal change is described, how the skills of nature observation are blended into the story, the detailed observations of animals. I haven’t bought this one for ourselves, because it’s very North American – the animals that visit, the snow and cold and frost, all things we just don’t see where we live. I’ve been tempted though because it is so good at describing the nature observation, the patience, the stillness and listening and watching, the tracking of changes over time. Anyone who’s learnt about “sit spots” will resonate with this book.
Nature observation skills
Animals and behaviour observed and described in detail
Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan.
About: A simple little child’s tale with a little bit of silly to it. It’s not an Aboriginal fable or Dreamtime myth, or a morality tale of any type, just a story with animals and stars and the Moon in it. There’s not too much text on any one page, or at all, just enough to lay out the story in support of Morgan’s glorious-as-always illustrations. And what text there is is simple enough that a beginner reader can attempt to make their way through it with some help.
An Aboriginal take on the typical genre of animal and nature characters
Authors and illustrator are both Aboriginal
It’s not a traditional myth or legend or tale (I fully support the idea that Indigenous people are more than just what they were at the point of colonisation and that they don’t need to stay in that box).
Text is suitable for an early reader with assistance.
About: It’s okay to be different – to look different, to do different things, to come from different places, and Todd Parr illustrates this with bold, bright pictures and plenty of silly. Physical differences, having and expressing your emotions, doing totally random things just because. They’re all OK. I like the way useful social and emotional pointers are slipped in amongst the hilarity.
Social and emotional pointers
Hilarity in text and pictures
Promotes acknowledgement and acceptance of diversity
Small number of words on each page, big and easy to read.
About: This is a true story of rescue and adventure, retold for a picture book. In December 1876 the steamer Georgette came aground at Calgardup Bay in the south west of Western Australia. Many of the passengers were rescued from the waves by stockman Sam Isaacs and sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell, both from a nearby homestead. The two received medals of bravery for their actions.
Strong artwork close to graphic-novel style
Western Australian setting
Young woman acting independently and collaboratively to rescue others
About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.
True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
Aboriginal author and illustrator
A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly
written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So
About: A cute little tale about finding the magic within, told in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Plus, noodles! That made it an instant hit with my kids. The author spent 16 years living, working and studying in Asia, the illustrator is Hong Kong-born and British Empire raised. This book goes nicely in my collection of books about makers.
Non-Eurocentric / Western-centric setting and characters
Little girl finding her own ability to do incredible things
A maker story
Author and illustrator both having a genuine connection to the culture they’re depicting
Written by Annaka Harris, illustrated by John Rowe.
About: This book was written to provide an example of admitting “I don’t know”. It’s big on emotional intelligence, honesty, the idea that some questions are bigger than we are, and that some ideas are so big that nobody knows the answer to them. There’s a great sense of wonder and mystery, beautifully underscored by the luminescent and spacious semi-realistic artwork. A great gateway-to-science book.
Wonder and mystery
Luminescent beautiful artwork that could easily stand alone from the book
Supportive parental/adult relationship with a present parent
Gateway to science and natural philosophy
Admitting “I don’t know”
Includes change – the idea that things in life (including ourselves!) change and don’t stay the same
About: This book is set in a refugee camp. It’s about the friendship between two girls brought together by a pair of sandals. It’s also a very human vignette into life in the camp. The artwork doesn’t stint on either colour or the sense of heat and dryness and dust, and I love it.
Two girls as lead characters, and it’s delicately shown that they have both had to shoulder some part of the family leadership in the course of their escape to the camp.
The lead characters are Islamic, POC and refugees.
The story is, at its heart, about sharing and giving even when you have almost nothing of your own.
The lead characters have to develop empathy for each other.
Humanises and makes real both refugees and life in the camps.
Grief is acknowledged, though given that it’s a children’s book it’s not lingered upon.