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Read aloud books for raising progressive children


One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to read to them from a wide variety of literature. The more stories and concepts they are exposed to, the more they will be able to form their own well-informed and well-rounded views. Forming that view themselves and coming to a progressive world view themselves is also important: education should never be about indoctrination. Rather, through wide exposure to literature and encouragement to think and reason for themselves, education should be an antidote to ignorance or wilful malevolence.

These are some of my (entirely subjective) favourite read-aloud books for raising progressive children. My list is never going to cover all the books that are out there. I’m always looking for more and I’d love to hear any recommendations of others!

1. ‘In My Heart: A Book of Feelings’ by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey.


This lovely book encourages emotional intelligence and mindfulness of the child’s own feelings and others’ feelings. Being able to recognise and articulate their own feelings and the feelings of others is a crucial skill in developing empathy.  The ability to feel empathy for others who are different to oneself is one of the cornerstones of raising a child who is thoughtful and compassionate.

2. ‘What Shall We Do, Blue Kangaroo’ by Emma Chichester Clarke.


A modern Australian classic, this makes my list because every time Lily asks for help and the grown-up is too busy, Lily says “I’ll have to try and do it by myself” and in the process she discovers she is far more capable than she thought. A good early introduction for fostering independence and having a go on your own.

3. The ‘Alfie’ Series by Shirley Hughes (especially ‘An Evening at Alfie’s’ and ‘Alfie Gets in First’).


Absolute classics. These make my list though because of a minor character: Mrs. McNally’s Maureen. This teenaged girl is a great role model for Alfie and all children. She is sensible and confident, and keeps her head and problem solves when things go wrong. One of the things she is thinking about being when she leaves school is a plumber. She is quietly yet unabashedly badass.

4. ‘Some Boys’ by Nelly Thomas


This book is the perfect book about inclusive masculinity and accepting boys as who they are, in every way that might look like. ‘Some Girls’ by the same author similarly celebrates all the different ways to be a girl.

5. ‘Just The Way We Are’ by Jessica Shirvington and Claire Robertson


A great ABC published book that celebrates families of every shape and size. It has as its core message “my family might not look like yours but that’s okay, we are perfect just the way we are”. It includes a family with foster kids, a family with two dads and a family of just one parent and one kid.

6. ‘I’m Australian Too’ by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh.


This picture book tells the stories of Australian children from different cultural backgrounds, including an Indigenous child, a child from Afghanistan who came by boat, and another child who is still in detention. Beautiful and not in the least bit subtle, the overall message is we share our country and everyone is safe and welcome here.

7. ‘When I Was Little, Like You’ by Mary Malbunka


I was educated for seven years in the Australian school system and six in the New Zealand school system. But my knowledge of Māori and Māori culture vastly exceeds my knowledge of Australian Indigenous cultures. I’m by no means an expert on Māori culture, history and language, but at least I feel like I have some understanding of it and in that sense I feel New Zealand does a much better job of honouring their Indigenous populations and including Māori in education. I’m trying to learn more about Australian First Nations cultures and make an effort to expose my children to an outlook that recognises that we live on land stolen by our ancestors from the world’s oldest continuous civilisation. This book is not about the Ngunnawal People, who are the traditional owners of the land we live on, but written by a Warlpiri/Luritja woman who grew up at Papunya, 250km west of Alice Springs. I love it because it talks about her childhood in a really relatable way for children and introduces Luritja words within the text in a similar way that I was exposed to Māori as a child in New Zealand.

8. ‘Ziba Came On A Boat’ by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen.


Based on a true story, a gentle but moving tale of a little girl who misses how her life used to be before she and her family lost everything and she went on a brave journey to make a new and safe life in a foreign land.

9. ‘A Year On Our Farm’ by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Andrew McLean.


Another distinctly Australian book that follows a family through the changing seasons and the cycle of life on their farm. I love that the months line up with the southern hemisphere seasons, and that the book doesn’t shy away from the reality of animals dying on the farm. Part of learning to care about our environment is learning about it through observation. Learning about our food chain, climate and broader sustainability is also introduced gently within the story. Animals are born, animals die, there are rain and dry periods.

10. ‘Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu’ by Dianne Lucas, illustrated by Ken Searle.


A weather nerd at heart, I love observing the changing seasons around me. This book is beautifully illustrated and describes the six seasons in Kakadu including the weather and what plants and animals are doing each season. Even though these seasons don’t align with what we experience here in Canberra, it is no more foreign than reading books about the four seasons of Europe and North America and in truth far closer to home. This story is another way I can remind my children about how relevant the ancient knowledge of the First Nations People is to this day. I would love to find a similar book about the seasons we experience here in Ngunnawal Country. I have Sprinter and Sprummer by Timothy Entwisle but I’d love to find a children’s book if anyone has any recommendations.

11. ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’ by Dr Seuss.


An activist’s guide to life. What’s not to love about a book that encourages children to get out there and make a difference, to weather life’s challenges, and all in verse to boot.

12. ‘The Barefoot Book of Children’ by Tessa Strickland and Kate De Palma, illustrated by David Dean.


Through the eyes of children from all over the world, this book is a celebration of diversity of cultures and families, while also drawing together the things and values that unite us as people. This is a multi-age book: younger children can connect with the story and illustrations, older children can delve into the encyclopaedic guide to the illustrations at the back to learn about what the illustrations are depicting.

A bonus entry: ‘The Bananas in Pyjamas’ series by Katrina Van Gendt
(Bedtime Book, Playtime Book and Holiday Book).

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Now sadly out of print, these sweet and simple stories have fantastically detailed illustrations that kids love. They make my list because I love how a quintessentially Australian icon promotes and normalises all kinds of families: even those consisting of six adult Bananas co-parenting 12 (somewhat) diverse Teddies.

There is an interesting point to make as I come to the end of my list and cast my eye over the authors on the list to check for gender balance. When looking for books in shops and in fact while raiding my children’s bookshelf looking for progressive texts, I have never specifically gone looking for any particular group or subset of authors: I judge what gets included purely by content of the book. In this context I feel it is noteworthy that the list I have compiled has 14 female authors to 1 male.


*** Disclaimer ***

These are books I have purchased myself over the years and that I read to my children. The list and the reviews are my own but the links to the books are affiliate links.



Happy winter solstice 2014

Happy solstice to all for tomorrow, and warm thoughts to everyone south of the equator. Tomorrow marks the shortest day of the year for us. Each day will bring us more hours of daylight thereafter: trickling slowly at first and then with increasing speed. This torrent of extra daylight will slow down again in autumn, stopping at summer solstice.

Tomorrow in Canberra it will be 9 hours 46 minutes between sunrise and sunset. By contrast that figure will be 14 hours 32 minutes in 6 months time.

Keep warm all: see you again on a longer day.

More food to die for


From gathered mushrooms to old meat: this is my attempt at sort-of bresaola. I hadn’t heard of it till about 3 weeks ago. It’s air dried cured beef. I picked it in a mixture of salt, special pickling salt containing nitrates, sugar, herbs and spices for about 2 weeks in the fridge. Then a quick bath in wine and balsamic vinegar.


It’s now wrapped in muslin and hanging under the house. It’s really a little warm for this kind of caper: should have been doing this a few months ago over winter. I’m also using the wrong cut of beef: chuck not round. But it’s only a little piece, so if it all goes horribly wrong I’m not throwing out very much. We’ll see in a month or so.

Foraging: a step forward

I’ve taken a step in foraging if only a little one: I’ve eaten a bit of mushroom I found. Not just any old thing: this was a slippery jack.


I went exploring in a pine forest today, with the expectation of encountering interesting fungi to view and photograph. But when I found these, I had to take a few home!


clockwise from bottom left, here is:
-old ammonia test: started pink then turned blue
-whole mushroom
-fresh ammonia test (pink)
-raw slice
-cooked slice (fried in olive oil)

In the interests of caution, I ate precisely one slice. It was pleasant: mushroomy and nutty. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully I have many more years of exploring and blogging ahead though.

Edit: 3 days on and I’m still here! I dried the rest of the mushrooms, which has not affected the lemony, almost apricot smell they have. I’ll try a bit more again in a few more days.

Companion planting

This is a post from a while back that didn’t get published at the time.

These days we’re coming to think of our garden as a tiny created ecosystem. I’m now trying to expand what started with companion planting and the chickens to another kingdom: fungi. The idea of foraging for mushrooms is a tempting one, but comes with its dangers. Foraging for spore-bearing mushrooms for companion planting had many of the benefits without the risk!

The ink caps are endemic it seems and grow on decomposing matter. We have a ready supply of decomposing matter in our chicken manure, so I hope to be able to keep a colony supplied. And curiously, structures in the fungus are damaging to nematodes. Nematodes are a natural part of the soil, but some species eat vegetable roots.

We have what appears to be a species of ink cap that grows naturally in the garden:


Using some shaggy manes (I think!) that I found in a garden, I’ve inoculated my garden beds.



Hopefully they’ll flourish and I’ll have a poo-digesting, nematode-busting, soil-stabilising and curiously autodigesting ally in the garden!

Slow and steady

Here’s today’s progress on the laundry:


We’ve started varnishing the bench top in marine grade polyurethane. This is coat number 1 (of 4!) on the underside, so lots to go.

Laundry progress

There’s nothing like putting a 430 mm hole in an expensive bit of wood to get the heart pumping. Lacking a 2 foot wide hole saw, I broke out the jigsaw. But these are notorious for making wobbly, wonky cuts.

Enter the diy jig!


I found a bit of board and popped holes in the right places.


Screwed it to the foot plate of the saw


Screwed the board to the centre point of the hole to be and around we went…


Success! It’s not perfect, but much better than I could have achieved freehand.

This is another testament to the usefulness of a box of screws rescued from an old fax machine:


After sanding, this is the trial fit:


Next step: varnishing.

Autumn rabbits?

This was meant to be an Easter post but circumstances conspired.

This shouldn’t be overly surprising: we don’t celebrate Easter. At least not at the same time as most of the world.

It’s autumn here in Canberra. The days are getting shorter and cooler, and the ground is looking forward to its leafy blanket. It’s harvest time too and we’re enjoying tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, figs, berries and stone fruit.

With chickens moulting, there are few eggs to be found, and I’ve not seen a rabbit in a while. The imagery of spring, so relevant in the northern hemisphere, is seriously out of place here.

But what’s a parent to do when the shops are full of chocolate bunnies and eggs? Even though we can tell our kids that the festivals of the northern hemisphere are six months out of phase here, I wouldn’t want them to miss out on anything tasty! And the point of celebrating the sessions as they happen is not about privation.

Here’s what we’ve done this year. While chocolate spring is in season, we’ve stockpiled it’s gooey bounty for the real, southern hemisphere spring: September. And for right now, we’re celebrating the abundance of autumn with something slightly more seasonal.


Punnet of raspberries, melted chocolate, and some sticks


Drizzle a little chocolate into each raspberry and insert the stick. Pop them in a tin.


It’s fiddly but goes faster than you’d think. Pop them the fridge to set.

Once set, dip in the remaining molten chocolate.


Three-year-old had great fun with this.

I call them “raspberry pops”, but three year old thinks “chocolate raspberries”is more appropriate.

We bought our raspberries this year but hopefully our canes will be established enough next year that we have our own to use.

End of today’s tiling


Here’s where we got to. Lots of cutting tomorrow, which slows things down, but only about 25 tiles before the tiling is finished!

Tiling update


This is where we broke for lunch: about one third done on our final wall! Once you get started it gets faster: that first row is the slowest.

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