and what a lot of wattle!
A playful, irreverent counting book that celebrates the special things we know and love about Australia. Start with 'one little nipper', then count the pies, potaroos and blue wrens up to 'twelve kelpie legs' - in this friendly and amusing book you can count from one to a thrillion!
Elizabeth Honey is an award-winning author of poetry, picture books and novels. Her playful humour, originality and energy strike a chord with children everywhere. Elizabeth is also an artist and she illustrates her own books. Her picture books include Not a Nibble!, I'm Still Awake, Still! and That's not a Daffodil! Elizabeth's books are published in many countries around the world.
I do love Elizabeth Honey! After several quiet years, we have been privileged to see two of her picture books added to the shelves in 2011. Ten Blue Wrens and what a lot of Wattle! is a joyful and attractive Australian counting book. I was delighted with the original choice of subject matter – a refreshing change from the usual assortment of Australian animals. We count a variety of Australian icons, ranging from Aussie Rules football to wattle and favourite foods. My favourite page is the first: One little nipper dipping in the pools – such a strong Australian image! and one that children may identify with.
The rhyming text has some irregularities in meter, but this does not detract from the reading.
The illustrations, also by Honey, are vibrant. We are told on the endpapers that they were made with plastic paper stencils and acrylic paint. The results, which cover every inch of each page, are stunningly attractive.
I see many applications for Ten Blue Wrens and what a lot of wattle! in the classroom, for example:
• Rhyming words
• Spelling, eg double letters ‘one little nipper dipping in the pools
• History and geography
• Australian icons
• Australian plants, birds and animals
• Special events (fireworks over Sydney Harbour)
Let’s hope that we may see more picture books from this talented author and illustrator in the near future.
Marie Miegel, The Glennie School – Junior Years, QLD
What a lovely book! A completely different counting book with a distinctive Australian flavour. My 5 year old grandson loved it. While teaching young children counting is probably the main focus of this book, you are also exposing them to things that are completely Australian. Many Aussie icons, from pavlova to Aussie rules, are represented in the wonderful illustrations in this book. The design graphics are beautiful. The use of stencils to create each page really enhances the whole feel of the book. It could be used as a starting point for older students’ design ideas and inspiration for their own creations. It also lends itself to the discussion starting points about Australian icons, landmarks and celebrations, particularly with older students. I also like that way that it has numbers from 1 to 12 rather than stopping at 10 but before the difficult ‘ten’ numbers.
Kathy Hotz, Hercules Road State School, QLD
A delightful and absolutely Australian picture book which also happens to be a counting book too – albeit with some ‘made up’ (but rhyming) numbers at the end. From the front endpapers featuring lovely stencil cut outs for the artwork to the final endpapers which recap what’s just been seen, this is a very visually appealing counting book. Although the illustrations often feature more than what the text says, it isn’t too busy. The numbers one to twelve are spread across a double page, as are the final two numerical explanations for ‘big’ and ‘trillions’, ‘brillions’, ‘thrillions’ (the last two are new to this reader!)
What a great book to share and discuss with young and pre-readers! There could be wonderful chats about Aussie Rules for those kids in states of other footy codes, also finding out about nippers and learning about aged terrace houses as ‘old ladies’. Then the beautiful wattle depictions make you want to immediately find an assortment of jars and wattle as well as get into the cut-out stencils and paints. The hardworking kelpies nearly had me tricked – I had to count the legs, not the dogs! Also appealing to older seven year old readers, there was discussion around the word ‘wren’ and its silent ‘w’, as well as wanting to investigate if there were really one hundred flies, and posing the question: ‘what’s a truffle?’ Delightfully Aussie – I’m surprised it didn’t feature any of that pest, the mossie!
Pauline Dawson, Year 2, Mudgeeraba State School, QLD
Ten Blue Wrens is a new picture counting book by Elizabeth Honey. It also claims (on the front cover) to be an absolutely Australian counting book. It starts with one little nipper (of the lifesaver variety) dipping in the pools. On this page there is also a crab with big nippers in an adjacent pool. A clever use of words, this could lead to discussion of words/synonyms. The book progresses on through Australian objects all the way to twelve and then suddenly a big mob of tourists at Ayers Rock and then trillions and brillions of stars at a fireworks display. In between nine and ten are 100 flies on your back.
The illustrations are absolutely lovely and are double-page spreads. Elizabeth has used stencils to bring life to her images – such as those of the crowd at an AFL-football match. I love how it is not just a straight-forward counting book. The six lamingtons have been eaten; so count the shadows on the plate made by sprinkled coconut. There are three dogs but twelve legs.
The endpapers are full of the stencilled images used in the book. As an art activity, it could be fun to read the book with your students and then get them to make their own. Elizabeth has chosen different animals from the usual suspects: koalas and kangaroos. Wrens, a bowerbird, flies, kelpies and potoroos are also featured.
Being English, but now living in New Zealand, I must confess that it took a while to see that the ‘old ladies’ were Victorian houses. And I thought the Pavlova was a kiwi dessert?? This would make a fantastic book for two to seven year olds learning to count or as a gift for Australian friends overseas.
Claire Cheeseman, Summerland Primary School, New Zealand
From the stunning cover of the blue wrens among the wattle this counting book is a gem. What makes it different from so many other counting books is that picks up on things that are uniquely Australian. From the little nipper dipping in the pools and the two straight fingers for a goal in Aussie Rules, to the meat pies with sauce, Aboriginal dot paintings, Pavlova, lamingtons, and potoroos to the brilliant display depicting Uluru and later on fireworks over Sydney Harbour, this book is a visual delight. And I loved the trillions and brillions and thrillions of stars! This is a delightful way to teach children to count, while at the same time picking up on our Australian heritage. Just to mention a few special pages, I loved the old ladies in lace, the double spread of blue wrens and the one of the bowerbird collecting treasures as well as the kelpies rounding up sheep.
This would be useful in pre-schools and kindergartens to teach children about our own country and some of its unique features. It could lead into lessons about the Aboriginal culture, rock formations, Australian flora or fauna as well as lessons about Sydney Harbour. The illustrations are vivid and eye catching. The illustrations combined with the text and especially those pesky flies, have a simple humour that will appeal to children and adults alike. Children and adults will enjoy this one.
Dale Harcombe, NSW
Ten Blue Wrens is a beautiful Australian counting book which features a vast array of Aussie icons, culture, buildings, food and animals. From lifesavers, Aussie Rules football, Aboriginal dot painting and Victorian terrace houses to pavlova, wattle, potoroos and red gum leaves, Elizabeth explores the numbers one to twelve with unique Australian identities that aren’t often used in this manner. She then goes on to highlight much larger numbers like a hundred flies, big mobs of people at Uluru and “brillions and thrillions” of fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge. I did find the rhythm awkward at times which could interrupt the flow of reading aloud but if prepared this would not deter from enjoying this book.
I LOVE the illustrations! They are just such a visual feast. The use of stencils is amazing. Each double page spread is completely full of colour and texture. My favourite page is the front endpaper where Elizabeth has used the cut out pieces of her stencils, together with the actual stencils that she used for the fern, wattle and a bottle to mirror the wattle page in the book. What a clever way to show the reader how her pictures were created. This book would be a fantastic stimulus for the children to explore the technique of stencilling and then try it for themselves. It is an achievable medium for children to attempt and Elizabeth shows how tremendously effective it can be. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this book. It is truly an Aussie delight!
Margy Heuschele, Concordia Lutheran College, QLD
Subtitled “an absolutely Australian counting book” this colourful book is a lovely representation of aspects of Australian life that are iconic but not typically found in alphabets or counting books. There are no kangaroos or koalas here; instead we have “two straight fingers for a goal in Aussie rules” and “six fat strawberries on a passionfruit pavlova” (and a line of marauding sugar ants marching across the page). It’s quirky too — the pages with “four old ladies dressed in lace” are in fact four adjoining terrace houses displaying their paper doily trims as wrought iron balconies and fences. It’s very much an Aussie book with the choice of motifs to the laconic humour in the minimal text; for example “one hundred flies hitch a ride on your back” (and there are at least 100!) but I did wonder about the significance of all those cockatoos on the “five meat pies” page! Well bound and beautifully illustrated, this delightful hardcover book deserves a place in all junior school libraries. Highly recommended.
Julie Davies, Sutherland Shire Christian School, NSW
This is a fabulous counting book that is truly Australian by design. The illustrations are surprisingly simple but unique and after explanation would give children ideas for illustrating their own stories. The numbers can be traced by the children with their fingers and the objects are obvious enough for them to count and develop one to one correspondence. The larger numbers would be more difficult for the younger children to get their heads around.
The back inside cover brings together all twelve numbers and illustrations while the front inside cover provides great stencil art ideas for the teacher to explore with her students. I can see very young children getting excited about making their own number books after reading this colourful book. Older art students could be presented with a practical piece of assessment—to make a number book for a young child using this same art technique after having this book read to them. The finished product could be donated to schools in underprivileged areas.
If you are not an Australian, this is a lovely way to introduce your class to Australian icons, food, plants, animals, birds and culture. Most Australian school children will have seen all of these things and be familiar with them. Whether it is the Australian bush, Aboriginal culture or major tourist attractions many conversations and explicit teaching could be introduced by the reading of this book to a wide variety of ages.
Heazle Shore, Ruamrudee International School, Thailand
This distinctive Aussie flavoured counting book is full of surprises. Elizabeth Honey in her comical way plays little games with her text, rhyme and illustrations. Even her method of counting is not straight forward. Her word plays begin on the first page with her twist on the words ‘little nipper’. Children will be delighted as they discover the same words can mean different things. This page immediately inspires the reader to search out the tricks in the text. How do ‘two straight fingers’ mean a goal? And where are the ladies dressed in lace? The reference to the pies having faces will mean the reader will never again see the pastry on their pie in the same light. The rhyming too is playful. Just when you think you have got the meter right, Elizabeth tricks you with an odd beat in the rhyming. ‘Three clever artists painting with dots Lot and lots and lots’ and ‘Seven golden branches, each one in a bottle What a lot of wattle!’ She does not stick to conventional rhyme. She surprises us too with her choice of Aussie icons, Little Nippers, two straight fingers, four old ladies, meat pies and pavlovas, bower birds with treasure and kelpies herding sheep. These great discussion starters touch on our great traditions covering our heritage, natural flora and fauna, lifestyle and culture. The illustrations are full of surprises too. Every page is graphically unique in style and colour. The use of stencilling and sponge dabbing to create the many varied pictures will inspire the budding artist with an array of ideas. But Elizabeth’s biggest surprise is that by the end of the book the reader has counted to ‘trillions and billions and thrillions’. This will thrill the early reader who probably began with the idea that this was another counting book to ten. Once again Elizabeth Honey has created a book that will be loved and treasured for its comical and playful cleverness that will inspire the reader to think outside the square and develop the creative mind inside.
Jill Howard, Canberra, ACT
There have been boundless counting books based on Australiana over the years, but Ten Blue Wrens has to be one of my favourites. Full of iconic but different images, it is a celebration of this nation in pictures and rhymes that will capture the imagination of any little person. Who could resist "One little nipper dipping in the pools/Two straight fingers for a goal in Aussie rules."
Each page brings something that the reader will relate to and want to talk about as they discover the detail in the enchanting illustrations. “Six fat strawberries on a passionfruit pavlova. There were six lamingtons…none left over.” Unlike most counting books that end at 10 or 12, this one gives opportunities to count up to some of those ginormous numbers that little ones like. The endpapers are gorgeous but my favourite is the final page and the clever use of words that sums up everything.
Shared bedtime stories can be as much about the learning as the bonding and there is research to show that chatting to children about maths concepts as they read can improve their understanding (https://theconversation.com/bringing-maths-into-bedtime-stories-can-help-children-learn-and-make-the-subject-less-scary-for-parents-too-49495 ) so there are riches and rewards in one that is so full of fun.
Putting on my teacher librarian hat, I love stories like this – not just for the joy and energy they bring to our littlest listeners but also for the model they provide for older students to create their own. What better way to investigate what it is to be Australian than to use this as a kickstart for thinking beyond the obvious and drawing on personal passions to say who you are. Honey created the images using acrylics sponged onto stencils http://www.mylittlebookcase.com.au/books/experimenting-with-stencil-art-inspired-by-elizabeth-honey-that%E2%80%99s-not-a-daffodil-and-ten-blue-wrens/ adding another element to explore as students create their own interpretations.
The hardback edition of this book was a CBCA Notable Book for Early Childhood in 2012. Its release in paperback in 2015 means not only has it endured but also a new generation of young readers can enjoy it. A classic in the making.
Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, NSW