Meet Cleo, a little girl with a big imagination - a memorable character created by children's book legends Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.
Libby Gleeson AM has published over 40 popular, highly acclaimed books for children and teenagers, been shortlisted for 15 CBCA Awards, and won three. Libby has been a teacher and lecturer and contributes regularly to national conferences. She chaired the Australian Society of Authors from 1999-2001, and in 2007 was awarded membership to the Order of Australia. She won the 2011 Dromkeen Medal, awarded for contributions to children's literature.
Freya Blackwood grew up in Orange, NSW. The daughter of a painter and an architect, she began drawing at a young age. She produced many illustrated books at school, but completed a design degree and became interested in filmmaking. She worked for several years in the special effects industry in Sydney and Wellington, NZ, before eventually returning to illustration. In 2010, Freya won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for Harry and Hopper.
The Cleo Stories contains two individual tales about a creative and independent young girl named Cleo. Both these stories are simple, sweet and reflect the thinking and behaviour of an inventive young girl. Much time could be spent examining Freya Blackwood’s illustrations as they really bring the story to life. The look on Cleo’s face when she has both her hands glued inside the bowl will really make you giggle.In the first story, The Necklace, Cleo attends a friend’s 6th birthday party. While there, she is talking to some friends about special gifts they received for Christmas. Three of the girls had been given necklaces and Cleo decides that she must have a necklace too. After her mum and dad suggest the necklace as a gift for her next birthday, Cleo takes matters into her own hands and solves her problem in a very colourful way!
The Present is about the lead-up to Cleo’s mother’s birthday. Cleo has decided that she would like to get something special that she knows that her mum would love. Despite being told that she herself is the best gift her mother could ask for, Cleo uses her creativity to surprise her mum with a very personal present.Both these stories are well-suited to reading aloud with young children. As they are about gift giving and receiving, they provide a good opportunity to talk about how and why we give gifts. Coming up to Christmas, it may be nice to look at ways that children can give gifts that are all about the ‘thought’ and not ‘cost’. In addition to the lovely stories and stunning illustrations, part of the joy of this book is its beautiful presentation. A copy of The Cleo Stories would make a beautiful gift... if you could bear to part with it!
Gaby Gutjahr, Teacher Librarian, Thirlmere Public School, Thirlmere NSW 2572
This book is warm and inviting. The illustrations are delightful and capture the mood and emotion of the characters. This assisted the young learners identify with the emotion of the story, particularly visual learners.As a teacher in the junior school, I found this book to be warmly accepted by my students (and my daughters, aged 6 and 8). In the classroom, we read through the text and this led to a philosophical discussion. We were able to stop during significant parts of the story to reflect and discuss feelings. How did Cleo feel when all the kids at the party were only focused on Isabella's card and not her homemade one? Was hers of less value? Did Cleo feel embarrassed about her Christmas t-shirt (which was of great personal value to her). Why did Cleo feel the need to have her own necklace? What was the relationship between her and Nick? Did he accept her as she was? How do we know?
The issues relating to the text: friendship, peer approval, fitting in/acceptance, celebrating differences, problem solving, honesty as well as what is more important? Monetary value/Possessions of personal value and relationships/needs versus wants.
Art based - sketches based on the story/drawing emotion... what do feelings look like?
English - Writing: write and draw what will happen next? Will the texta wash off in the bath? Will her parents get her a necklace? Will Cleo change her mind about the necklace?
Character profile - list characters... Cleo, Nick, Mum, Dad, Isabella, Sophie, Mia...
The 6-9 age group I believe would be most suitable, as the students can relate to the similar age/stage of Cleo. We look forward to more reading more Cleo stories.
Alyssa Chalhoub, North Fitzroy Primary School, North Fitzroy VIC 3068
The book The Cleo Stories contains two stories about a little girl called Cleo who has a wonderful imagination and a big heart. In the classroom, The Cleo Stories would be perfect to read to any students from Foundation to Grade 4, but could easily be expanded to higher grades. Although the book is about a little girl, I believe that the problems that Cleo encounters are typical of any school aged child, male or female and can create great class discussions. In the first story The Necklace, Cleo really wants a necklace, but doesn’t want to wait until her birthday as her parents suggest. With a little bit of imagination, Cleo solves the problem herself. In the classroom, I would use the story to start social activities such as the ‘yes/no’ game, posing questions such as ‘I like’, ‘I own’ or ‘I like to’. The activity could be used to initiate discussions about how everyone likes, owns or participates in different things, just like Cleo and her friends at the party, and that this is okay. The story could also create great class discussions on patience. Beyond the social side of the book, the story would be a good part of a persuasive writing unit. Students could write a letter to Cleo’s parents, as Cleo, outlining arguments as to why they should buy her a necklace.
The second story The Present follows Cleo trying to think of the perfect gift to give to her mother for her birthday. The story could be used as a prediction exercise where students predict what will happen before reading the story, and just before Cleo’s mum opens the present. The story also presents the opportunity to talk about adjectives and synonyms using the same format as when Cleo describes her head as being ‘as empty as my shoes are when I take my feet out’.
Melissa Nichols, St Aloysius Catholic College, Hunting Field TAS
What a charming little book; another great collaboration of Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. It’s small enough to be held by a younger reader. Its cover induces the reader to feel the embossing; the stories are delightful and down to earth, with Cleo, the wonderful main character. She is an ordinary, level headed girl with great ideas. Younger readers, especially girls, will be able to relate to her and be inspired by her individuality and inventiveness. Using her trademark colours, detail and style, Freya Blackwood begins the story on the end papers and title page. The book then invites the reader to take a closer look at a specific house - first seen on the end papers - from a different perspective, on a double page spread. Peering inside one of the windows, we see a young Cleo, busy on her hands and knees. The following page invites us to a closer look at Cleo and her activity; her parents in the background - and the story begins. We learn that Cleo is making a birthday card for Nick.
The story, enhanced and elaborated by Freya Blackwood’s illustrations, tells us Cleo has a unique dress sense, wearing a Christmas T-shirt and spotty shorts from the dress-up box, not the party dress her mum had chosen for her, to the party.
At the party her friends discuss the necklaces they both received for Christmas. Cleo decides she needs a necklace too. The story goes on to tell the reader how Cleo happily and creatively solves the dilemma of ‘really, really, truly, ruly’ wanting a necklace. In the second story, ‘Cleo and the Present’, Cleo solves the problem of what to give mum, for her birthday, in a delightfully whimsical way. Once again the story is truly enhanced by Freya Blackwood’s illustrations and the interesting and changing page layouts.
This book could be a great discussion starter on how we solve issues of the kind Cleo had - it could encourage young readers (Year 2/3) to discuss how they feel when others have something they do not. The book could also be used to develop student’s visual literacy skills, discussing how the illustrations enhance, support and expand the text and how perspective can change the way the reader understands and feels about a situation, e.g. the aerial view of Cleo on her parents’ bed, double page spread, at the beginning of the second story.
Caren Wyngaard, Mountain District Christian School