Sometimes in our jaded-by-life, paying-bills world, we forget to ask questions like children – questions that reveal true wonder and curiosity. One way to relearn that curiosity is to spend time with children and watch how they discover the world for the first time.
As a relief teacher who teaches more than a hundred children a week, I encourage expression of that curiosity through sharing quality children’s literature. In my wheelie suitcase of tricks, I have a stash of my favourite picture books. They include books that have children giggling and gasping, books that reel them in with actions and phrases, books that will leave them silent in wonder, and books that encourage questions and develop imagination beyond the pages.
A book that I find myself reading several times a week is Circle by Jeannie Baker, published in 2016. Perhaps you recognise the author? Maybe you grew up admiring Baker’s extraordinary, well-researched and beautifully presented works. She has published fourteen illustrated children’s books since 1975, many of which question our dichotomous relationships with nature. Circle traces the flight of the Bar-tailed Godwits, the endangered Australian shorebirds that make the longest unbroken migration of any bird – a total of 11,000 kilometres. Each year, they fly from Australia and New Zealand to their breeding grounds in the Arctic and back again.
Baker’s stunning mixed media collages, inspired by visiting spectacular landscapes including Alaska and China, takes us on the extraordinary journey of the Bar-tailed Godwits.
It took Baker ten years to research the godwits, which involved camping out in their breeding grounds in the remote Alaskan tundra, and in the wetlands and tidal flats of the Yellow Sea where godwits break their trip to feed and fatten up. Baker saw firsthand how the godwits faced hunger and brutal conditions to reach their destination. Their annual flight demands bravery, grit and strength.
The godwits were apparently named after the sound of their whistling call, and their sound plays a key role in Baker’s book. Circle is a joy to read aloud as Jeannie writes spare prose with rhythmical cadence. The birds’ only dialogue gives them character without us understanding their language: ‘Awika-wika-wika- wikraaaaaaaaa-wika-wika-wik ...’
If you have a child in your life and would like to share this book with them, there are many ways you can extend the narrative together.
Baker explores cycles in the book which presents death to be observed and investigated by her young audience. The lifeless body of a sweet fluffy chick in the jaws of a fox could be seen as horrific for children to view. And yet, it is through literature that we can give children an understanding of death as integral to life, and then tools to process its meaning.
Circle describes migration as movement and as a journey. You could investigate the many animals who migrate, including turtles and whales, and how their journeys have changed through our changing environment. Teasing out a discussion about what is and isn’t a cycle can lead to some astounding insights. You could even write these discoveries down and store them in a time capsule to become a treasure in the future.
Recently, I watched Jane Goodall’s Masterclass on conservation. Building on her astonishing work with chimpanzees, Jane has travelled to Nebraska every year for the past fifteen years during the migration of sandhill cranes and snow geese. Like Jeannie, she is actively spreading the word about bird conservation. As if the 11,000 kilometre treacherous journey wasn’t enough for the godwits, now they (and other species) are under threat from human activity such as habitat loss and plastic waste-related fatalities.
Circle presents an educational experience for children and adults alike . The story presents a fantastic opportunity to introduce children to noticing cycles in nature, and to discover them together.
This post was produced by Siana Einfeld. By day, Siana is a visual arts teacher, mum, emerging writer, masters student and part of the editing team for the 2019 Antithesis journal. By night, in her living room, she dances tribal gypsy moves to the likes of Koffee and Leshur.