The picturebook-writing professor and the adventures of a bear in lockdown, and other free Coronavirus picturebooks

April/ May 2020

Recently I spied a link to the Education Hub where I found a series of three picturebooks about a bear who goes into lockdown. The books contain great text and photographs depicting daily life from the diary of a bear. Given the currency of this situation and the bears in my window looking out onto the street I decided to investigate. I tracked down the author and emailed Professor Carol Mutch from the University of Auckland about her latest ‘output’. Carol replied, “I didn’t expect them to take off the way that they have but I’m delighted that people are finding them useful and fun. There will be one more book but then Bear will go into hibernation as winter is coming — and I need to get my life back :-).”

On the back cover of the first book, Carol wrote, “On March 25, 2020, New Zealand went into lockdown. This was the final step of a four-stage approach to fighting the COVID-19 virus. Bear’s story was originally written to entertain family and friends and each day a new episode appeared on the author’s Facebook page. The story gained wider attention as it is not just a story about a toy bear. It contains many aspects of life under lockdown that readers will resonate with. It can also provide parents and teachers with an opportunity to discuss Bear’s adventures with children and relate them to their own experiences.”

The first book is called Bear goes into lockdown. We meet Bear and follow his first week in lockdown as he begins to make sense of how his world and the world of his humans has changed. The second book is called Bear settles into lockdown. Bear finds that lockdown is not always easy but you can change your attitude and try to make the best of it. Having Easter weekend to look forward to provided a bright spot in Bear’s lockdown.

The third (and meant to be final) book in the series is called Bear stays in lockdown. Bear faces more highs and lows. He joins in as many household activities as he can but he misses his friends. To his delight, his best friend Alligator comes out of quarantine and makes a surprise visit. After some fun with Alligator, Bear learns that it is important to stay true to who you are.

Another email from Carol arrived just as this blog was going to press. She wrote, “I have had as much feedback from adults as children. They have told me that getting up each morning to see Bear’s adventures on Facebook was often the highlight of their day. One woman said, “I have to keep reminding myself that Bear is not real. I have had many people ask when they are coming out in hard copy — I guess that’s my next challenge to find a publisher”.

And surprise, surprise she sent another book in pdf form and the link is now available. The fourth book is called Bear ends his lockdown. Bear ends his lockdown, Bear and Alligator make their own fun, which doesn’t always go well. When it is announced that Level 4 lockdown will end after Anzac weekend, Bear has some hard choices to make. Should he stay and enjoy a little more freedom or is it time for him to go back to the toybox?

Picturebooks such as the Bear in lockdown series can act as both mirrors and windows on the world. As mirrors they can reflect children’s own lives (familiar objects and content), and as windows they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life (unfamiliar objects and content). These ideas are eloquently described by Bishop (1990) who states,

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror (p.ix)

Professor Carol Mutch’s delightful books are a fine example of the power of picturebooks and they exemplify this famous quote. Her photograph illustrations like those in many picturebooks can be children’s first visual introduction to an outside world full of people, places and things that are different from or similar to their own (Kelly-Ware & Daly, 2019).

The Bear in lockdown series mirrors what is happening in our lives at the moment with us having been in lockdown for the past six weeks. They are also windows and show us a bear living among humans with his friends – sometimes in the window or on the letterbox or up a tree near the footpath like I saw on my neighbourhood walk yesterday. I look forward to reading these and other books with my great grandchildren when this rahui (lockdown) is over.

Carol gave us permission to put links to these books up on our site, advising that they are not exclusive to any one outlet. Blog readers may also be interested in a digital book about Coronavirus illustrated by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler released in early April 2020. This information book is aimed at primary school age children, and is free for anyone to read on screen or print out, about the coronavirus and the measures taken to control it. Here is another list of 19 free ebooks about coronavirus.

Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3), ix-xi.
Kelly-Ware, J., & Daly, N. (2019). Using picturebook illustrations to help young children understand diversity. International Art in Early Childhood Research Journal 2019 Research Journal Number 1, Article 1.


Storytelling the Kamishibai way

Kamishibai is a Japanese story theatre tradition (kami = paper, shibai = drama) that I encountered for the first time on my recent European study tour. Initially I saw it at Lernwerkstatt der Zurich Schule – a Learning Workshop/ Atelier at a school in Berlin

The Kamishibai – Narrative Theatre featured in this image is manufactured by Betzold. This abridged quote from their website describes the special kind of theatre as follows:

Slowly the doors of the Kamishibai narrative theatre open and the spectators are spellbound by the first picture. Now the story can begin. No matter whether you tell the stories, the pictures captivate the children’s attention…’Image-based storytelling’ turns younger children into zealous and concentrated listeners – even over longer storytelling phases. The children are always in view. You won’t miss any of their gestures or facial expressions. Conversely, you can keep an eye on your audience and close gaps in understanding as soon as you recognize them. With Kamishibai picture stories you also support the acquisition of a new language

In Brussels Belgium, I was delighted to see Kamishibai again at ABC House (Art Basics for Children). I visited this dynamic research centre focused on arts, culture and education with a group of artists/ art educators from Amsterdam. Conceived as an interactive and artistic laboratory for play, work, research, discovery and expression, anyone committed to arts education and cultural mediation is welcome at ABC House.

Wim De Graeve, our host for the day told us about Kamishibai and pointed us to their website for further information which I have reproduced here for the benefit of WaiPRU Blog readers.

Wim pictured with a mobile kamishibai – a story theatre cabinet for showing paper dramas

The Kamishibai is a story theatre cabinet into which large (A3) prints with the text on the back are slid as the narrator reads or tells a story. With every new episode, the narrator shifts a print from the box, and continues with the next one. A kamishibai story is a bit like a delayed animation film – image and language go together perfectly.

ABC House produces approximately 50 kamishibai theatres each year for sale to schools and centres, libraries and out-of-school care programmes. They also organise kamishibai stories on request.  Cultural centres, schools, libraries or festivals are ideal places for storytellers to perform on a kamishibai bicycle, or in a kamishibai corner or a nomad tent.

ABC has more than 200 narratives for kamishibai storytelling and the collection is constantly growing. They transform existing picture books or give assignments to draftspeople and authors. The range includes Japanese ‘traditionals’, and stories from contemporary authors / illustrators. All stories can be borrowed for free or copies can be purchased online.

The website describes Kamishibai as part of an age-old visual narrative tradition that originated in Buddhist temples in Japan during the 12th century. Monks used image roles to pass on moralizing stories to a predominantly illiterate audience. The kamishibai storytelling technique continued for centuries and had an unprecedented success between the two world wars. For thirty years, from 1920 to 1950, this narrative technique caused a furore in Japan as Kamishibai storytellers rode around on bicycles which had the small wooden theatre mounted on them (like in the image above). They installed themselves on street corners or in parks and at that time more than five million children and adults enjoyed the Kamishibai almost daily. With the rise of television, the mobile storytellers slowly disappeared from the streets. Apparently this unique story theatre has been making a worldwide comeback for several years

I am keen to find a local craftsperson to make a Kamishibai theatre for use with student teachers and possibly at Picturebook Club. Maybe we can also produce Kamishibai stories following the Aotearoa New Zealand tradition of ‘blown-up books’.

Janette Kelly-Ware

March 2020


Picture books for Kupang

Blog post by Sonja Arndt, University of Melbourne

Early childhood settings (PAUD) in the Kupang region, in Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia, have never had picture books from their local culture. Mostly they have been using picture books that tell stories from other more dominant Indonesian islands like Java, or imported stories in picture books donated by international donors or NGOs. These books are often wonderful – but they do not tell the local Kupang stories. Nor do they use local languages. They tell stories about far-away places, sometimes in foreign languages, and they show images of children, animals or landscapes that the teachers and the children in Kupang do not experience or sometimes even know.

In 2018 and 2019 Donella Cobb and I, then both senior lecturers in the Faculty of Education at the University of Waikato, worked with UNICEF, supported by the New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFaT), on an early childhood teacher education programme in Kupang. Our aim was to strengthen the model of teacher education, amongst other things by elevating teachers’ contributions to their pedagogical practices through strengthening the idea of peer mentoring – this alone was a distinct shift from traditional often top-down teacher education models led by Western countries in Indonesia. Backed by our own research, we were extremely aware that, as outsiders, we were unfamiliar with the nuances of the local cultures, and could not make any assumptions about local practices, attitudes or orientations to very young children and their education that had been passed down over generations.

Underlying our programme design, implementation and follow up, was the critical importance of elevating teachers’ and children’s local culture and language. Home culture and language retention play a crucial role in meaningful teaching and learning. This was a critically important foundation in our workshops and engagements. Teachers told us of the non-existence of local picture books with local stories and images of local scenes, animals or people. Nevertheless, having books and the written word (e.g. in posters) in PAUD was clearly seen as important, and the imported picture books were desirable over having none at all.

One afternoon in a workshop in 2018 we asked teachers to go home and remember a story from their childhoods. It was to be one they could share the next day with their peers, aimed at giving a chance to play with the pleasure and the art of storytelling. Our work was focused on developing teachers’ and mentors’ work in PAUD in the region, including much attention to teacher identity. Childhood memories were an important component of this reflective work, and so the next morning the stories that teachers remembered from their own childhoods came pouring out.

A whirlwind of surprises arose from this story telling. Having shared the stories with each other, there was discussion, leading to a brainstorm: what makes a good story? And then: what makes a good picture book? Then teachers and mentors had the opportunity to illustrate and then narrate their own local stories into books, following their own brainstormed criteria. The outcome of this activity – and local and national support – was that 30 books were published, with over 100 more created by teachers and mentors (who continue still, to encourage others in their own cluster groups to continue making more).

Each of the 100 PAUD involved in the programme now has a full set of the published Kupang stories and picture books: that they made! Furthermore, PAUD and other early childhood settings across Indonesia now have access to the books, since the national ECE Directorate made all of the books freely downloadable. Each book ends with a teaching guide, supporting meaningful picture book reading and engagement with young children. And the teachers and mentors are now published authors: each picture book ends with a photograph and story about the author.

Readers of this blog are invited to visit and recommend the site and download them here. This is a momentous cultural achievement that embodies the tireless commitment of teachers and mentors to young children and their stories!


Conceptual PlayWorld

Picturebooks are a central feature in the Conceptual PlayWorld model launched in March this year as part of a larger five-year programme of research called the Conceptual PlayLab (2019 – 2024) at Monash University, Peninsula Campus in Victoria, Australia. The Conceptual PlayWorld is a model of intentional teaching that Monash Professor Marilyn Fleer developed based on extensive research and experience working with young children and how they form concepts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A Conceptual PlayWorld is an imaginary scenario created by an educator where young children are invited to go on imaginary journeys, meet and solve challenges, and learn STEM concepts – all while playing. A Conceptual PlayWorld can be inspired by a children’s book or a fairy tale story, and it can be setup in an average classroom. Imagination is the limit!

This imaginary world enables educators to deliver play-based programs for young children where they get to experience and live through concepts that would otherwise be difficult to explain. PlayWorlds might last for a week, a month or even a term whereas Pop-up PlayWorlds may last only for a morning.

There are five steps for creating a Conceptual PlayWorld and encouraging a love of STEM.

Step One: Selecting a story

Teachers are encouraged to start with a simple story such as Rosie’s walk (Hutchins, 1967), incorporate drama and learn about something like ‘prepositional language’ (on, over, under, behind, in front, etc.) and of course PLAY these concepts with children in your imaginary Rosie’s farm.

Some books used in schools and ECE settings to date include Rosie’s Walk (Pat Hutchins, 1967), Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White, 1952), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911).

Step Two: Designing the imaginary spaces

Step Three: Entering and exiting the PlayWorld

Step Four: Planning your problem to be solved

Step Five: Deciding what role you, as the teacher, will take in the PlayWorld

There is a downloadable App and a private Facebook page to support educators who want to be involved. For more information check out:

I recently visited the Conceptual PlayLab as part of a travel fellowship looking at STEEAM (STEM plus Environmental Education and the Arts). Now I am wondering what other Picturebooks might work as starters for Conceptual PlayWorlds. Remember they need to have a problem that needs to be solved – There’s a hippopotamus on our roof eating cake (Edwards, 1980) or a Possum in the house (Jensen, 1986); some emotional tension – Rosie the hen doesn’t know that the fox is following her; characters that children and teachers can be assigned in the PlayWorld, and possibly other characters that could be added to be part of the drama; and concepts related to STEM such as food security, spatial awareness or problem solving for example.

The possibility of maybe doing something associated with the Monash Conceptual PlayLab in Aotearoa New Zealand in the future is very exciting. Any picturebook suggestions can be emailed to


Taniwha, Gods and Monsters by Gerri Judkins

The 4th annual WaiPRU Picturebook Seminar on 28 October featured ‘Taniwha, Gods and Monsters’. The day was held in the Division of Education at the Hamilton campus of the University of Waikato, and featured a range of perspectives on the topic from presenters including teachers, EC Educators, librarians, illustrators, authors and a publisher.

This year the keynote speaker was illustrator and lecturer in Digital Media at Auckland University of Technology Zak Waipara (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Ruapani, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu). In reference to his illustration of Tim Tipene’s Māui – Sun Catcher (Oratia, 2016). Zak talked about Māori myths as codes for living. He elaborated on the artistic and creative process and cultural knowledge used in placing this famous demigod and hero in a near future South Auckland setting with flax growing on the roadside, robot rugby on TV and GLOBAL WARNING sunscreen.

The programme this year included two Early Childhood Educators who discussed how they used traditional literature in their ECE settings. Helen Aitken, a preschool teacher at Wondernauts, shared an early childhood perspective of a selection of picture books on this theme. She reported that the children she works with viewed taniwha as good, bad and cute with Robyn Kahukiwa’s Taniwha (Viking Kestrel, 1986) seminal. Monsters were scary or imagined like The Gruffalo (Macmillan, 1999) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler and Pamela Allen’s Inside Mary Elizabeth’s House (Puffin, 2001). Using these books, they were able to explore guardianship/Kaitiakitanga, fear, and notions of power and protection. Kate Morgan from Auckland Point Kindergarten in Nelson focused on the Māori creation story In the Beginning by Peter Gossage. She told us about how this book is shared in many ways with their children, with wall stories and performances in addition to reading it; the children are sometimes overheard retelling it to one another.

Nicola Daly shared Darryn Joseph’s presentation. His book characters “ride on taniwha, hide from Atua, or attempt to tame massive Māori monsters”. He outlined his creative process and how he treated supernatural beings in Kaito (2007), Tinirau rāua ko Kae (2007) and Hewa (2009). He has referred to 14 Māori gods in his most recent bilingual picturebook, Whakarongo ki ō Tūpuna / Listen to Your Ancestors (Oratia, 2019), illustrated by Munro Te Whata.

Joan Gibbons, a retired librarian, looked at what picture book monsters traditionally are, from cruel, wicked and inhuman to harmless and friendly. She explained that monsters can be avoided or tricked or will kill us if we don’t kill them first. We were astonished by Alice M Coats’ The Story of Horace (Coward-McCann, 1939) and delighted by Good Rosie (Penguin Random House, 2018) from Kate DiCamillo and cartoonist Harry Bliss.

The programme also included two presentations from librarians- both local and national. Leigh Takirau and Suzanne Hardy from the National Library’s Reading Services for Schools Team celebrated their range of books on taniwha including hard-to-find older New Zealand titles like Robyn Kahukiwa’s The Forgotten Taniwha (Puffin, 2009). They have picture books on Atua and gods from many cultures. Gameedah Jonas and Shannon Cooper from Hamilton City Libraries showed, with examples, how exploring stories of taniwha, gods and monsters passes on traditional and cultural ways of knowing and lessons are learnt. Gameedah read The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Falkner (Dial Books, 1996).

Julia Marshall from Gecko Press, just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair, suggested looking fears and monsters in the eye to scare them, or invite them in and experience the frisson of fear in the safety of a lap. We learnt about the funny side of bad in books like Inside the Villains (Gecko Press, 2018) by Clotilde Perrin and I am Strong (Gecko Press, 2011) by Mario Ramos. Fear, in a picture book, said Julia, is to be recommended.

The day ended with an engaging presentation from Helen Villers from The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education who suggested that teachers capitalize on freaky, ferocious and fearsome monsters as critical sources for effective teaching and successful learning. She used wolves, vilified in many picture books as an example. She showed us how wolves can be seen in another light in When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone (Bloomsbury, 2008) by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

All in all, this was a stimulating day, full of new and old picturebooks. We gained insights into how they are created, and how they can be used in educational settings. The topic for the 2020 WaiPRU seminar (to be held in November) was announced as ‘Silent or Wordless Picturebooks’. We’re looking forward to it already!

Gerri Judkins has worked in school libraries for twenty-five years. During her eighteen years as Librarian at Southwell School in Hamilton, she shared her passion for children’s literature and trained teams for the Kids’ Lit Quiz

A member of SLANZA (School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa) since 2001, she served two years on the National Executive and presented at six of SLANZA’s biennial conferences. In 2005 she received a SLANZA Merit Award for Literacy and Enjoyment of Reading. Secretary of the Waikato Children’s Literature Association, she received the 2012 Storylines Betty Gilderdale Award for services to Children’s Literature


Blog from IRSCL

Recently I have been really privileged to attend to attend the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) conference in Stockholm, Sweden. This conference is held every 2 years and is a gathering of children’s literature scholars from  all over the world presenting many different facets of their research. This year the theme was ‘silence and silencing’, and this brought forth a great range of presentations. I presented on how some languages in multilingual picturebooks get less space than others, and so are in effect, relatively silenced. I was also part of a panel of four from Italy, New Zealand, Norway and the United States discussing how we teach children’s literature in our different contexts. The link to silence here was that this topic has rarely been discussed, so we proposed that we were ‘breaking the silence’. I learned a great deal from my colleagues about the different ways in which we all teach a similar topic. My colleague from Norway discussed how she brings eco-critical dialogue into her teaching of children’s literature; my colleague from the United States discussed using themes such as ‘journey’ and ‘borders’ to enable children’s literature students to engage at a personal level with the literature they read and analyse for their studies; my Italian colleague discussed how she uses visual literacy in her teaching, engaging students with developing exhibitions concerning children’s literature. I learned a great deal from all three colleagues which I hope will develop my own teaching in new ways.

Highlights from the rest of the sessions I attended include talks about silence in Moomin stories by Tove Jansson; sessions about the silences associated with refugee voices in the picturebooks telling refugee stories, silences in the translation of picturebooks, an analysis of the silences in world tours made by Munro Leaf, author of The Story of Ferdinand based on itineraries in his archived papers; the presence or silencing of indigenous voices in children’s literature; voices present in children’s lullabies.

I was also able to have a tour of Astrid Lindgren’s apartment (the creator of Pippi Longstocking), still furnished exactly as it was when she died; and we were given a city reception at the Town Hall of Stockholm, in the beautiful golden hall where the Nobel Awards are given each year. So it has been a full and privileged experience which will benefit both my teaching and research into the future. I have taken the opportunity to download biographies of Astrid Lindgren  and Tove Jansson, two amazingly prolific and talented writers (with several picturebooks each among their works) from the region to read. Somehow the connection of having been in the country which each of them had connections to makes reading these biographies even more of a pleasure.


My Two Blankets

Several days after the Christchurch Mosques terrorist attack on 15 March 2019, I struggled to think what to do/say in my classes with early childhood student teachers at the university. Following my inquiry, Nicola recommended My two blankets written by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (2014), and loaned me her copy of this picturebook that I was not familiar with.

  • Winner of the 2015 Children’s Book Council Award for Picture Books
  • Shortlisted for the 2015 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Books

I found this beautiful book easy-to-read to a captivated audience. The stunning illustrations and narrative struck a chord with many of us at this emotional time. Ruby Jones’ internationally acclaimed artwork depicting two women embracing – one a Muslim wearing a hijab – with the message, “This is your home and you should have been safe here” was in my mind as I read.

Since then I have been looking for picturebooks that may act as mirrors and windows on the world to use with young children in the context of diversity and social justice, and to help children cope with tragedy. The following website is worth investigating.

Here’s a synopsis of My two blankets thanks to Booktopia:

Cartwheel has arrived in a new country, and feels the loss of all she’s ever known. She creates a safe place for herself under an ‘old blanket’ made out of memories and thoughts of home. As time goes on, Cartwheel begins to weave a new blanket, one of friendship and a renewed sense of belonging. It is different from the old blanket, but it is eventually just as warm and familiar.

This beautiful tale about friendship and culture, paired with award-winning Freya Blackwood’s stunning illustrations makes for the most exquisite book.


Blog about bilingual picturebooks

Recently my colleague Dr Andreea Calude from Linguistics in FASS asked me to make a guest contribution to her blog entitled Lippy Linguist. I’ve written about a really beautiful bilingual picturebook I found at the Internationale Jugendbibliothek in Munich.