A river of stories: Tales and poems from across the Commonwealth compiled by Alice Curry
illustrated by Jan Pienkowski
I really like that the book has been organised from an indigenous context. You won't find themes like Water, People, or Animals - you'll find 'Down by the Water Hole' and 'Why a Rainbow Follows Rain' and 'Ghosts, Giants and Mermaids of the Deep' and 'Water Gods and Ice Kings'. It sets the tone of the book.
You will find poems, retold myths, and stories from many of the Commonwealth countries including New Zealand, Australia and United Kingdom, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, Kiribati, St Kitts and Nevis, Cyprus, Grenada, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Bangladesh. Many children won't even heard of some of these countries. Teachers can show where the country is on a map or globe before reading the story aloud.
The poems and stories capture the essence of the countries the authors have come from. For example, in 'Prescription' by Emma Krus Va'ai
"Gather some sunshine
and warm rain
and a pocket of air from your kitchen
a pot pourri of frangipani, sandalwood, mosooi
into a parcel
with a long letter
home in Samoa"
You can imagine the poet missing home and all the scents that represent their country.
In 'Nkalimeva' a Swaziland story retold by Tom Nevin:
"The elephant was a good-natured and kindly animal. He was very big, and because of his size he was very clumsy. Not that the other animals were very much bothered by this, although they became annoyed when he kept knocking things over. They understood this was because of his size and made allowances for him.
But the elephant had another problem which was to be his downfall: he was very, very inquisitive."
You can imagine where this story is leading - its inquisitiveness resulting in a very long trunk.
Each of the stories have Jan Pienkowski's silhouette art juxtaposed with vibrant illustrations. They're perfect for the stories and poems. On the front cover two Islanders are silhouetted in black gloss laminate in their waka-like boat, behind them is a large yellow moon, and in front a swirly blue sea.
At the front of the book is a positive message from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Jan Pienkowski talks about how he drew inspiration from his many trips abroad for the pictures, Alice Curry says the stories and poems are like rivers "they flow from country to country. Tales flowing from ear to ear might change style or length or form, but they will always retain the flavour of their origins". At the back of the book you will find a very handy glossary giving the meaning to unfamiliar words from each country. There's also information about the Commonwealth Education Trust.
Teachers could use the book to introduce students to the Commonwealth countries in Social Studies, or for a unit on myths, or poems. The average classroom has children from all over the world. They could make their own anthology of multi-cultural stories and poems inspired by this book.
Though compiled overseas New Zealand's Learning Media created the education package to go with this wonderful book. You can visit http://www.ariverofstories.info to buy their teaching resource and the Anthology.
South Pacific Press is running a special deal on 'A River of Stories'. You will receive a 20% discount if you mention 'Commonwealth Day Blog Post' with your order. Read their post for ideas on how to celebrate Commonwealth Day too.
I personally can't get enough of poems written for children. I love their honesty, use of language, and representation of culture. In 'Give the ball to the Poet' you will find a wonderful mix of poems in this anthology from the Caribbean. From a chant for a cricket hero, to poems about the delightful fruits of the Caribbean, to the beating of the drums - they are poems that reflect the culture of these people.
The first poem is very appropriately about a Rastafarian:
Goodmornin Brother Rasta
"Good-days wash you mi brother
a-make peace possess you
and love enlighten you
e-make you givin be good
and you everymore be everybody
a-make Allness affect you always
and you meetn of eye to eye be vision
and all you word them be word of wonderment"
by James Berry, Jamaica
These poems are meant to be read aloud. Children will enjoy rolling the words off their tongue. They could include music to help with the rhythm. You'll also find some cricket poems - how very handy for our World Cricket series!
"When they were young,
She kept wicket for her brothers,
And ratcheted up the score.
She crouched behind the stumps
keeping wicket. ..."
by Valerie Bloom, Jamaica
Every poem has an illustration by Jane Ray. They're colourful with added gold to make them even more vibrant - like the Caribbean countries. A must-have Anthology for your classroom reading library, and to use in a poetry unit.
Buy from online bookstores such as Book Depository, or ask your local bookseller to get it for you.
128 pages, ISBN: 978-1909931008 $17.48 (discounted at present from Book Depository)