Value of using picture books in geography

Jennifer Curtis presents teaching ideas for geography using picture books as a stimulus.

Portrait photo of Jennifer Curtis
Image: Jennifer Curtis, HSIE Advisor 7-12, Secondary Curriculum, Learning and Teaching Directorate

Why use picture books in geography teaching and learning

‘Reading is the thing that, when you’re young, can really make you see that there’s another life outside your world, no matter what sort of world you’re born into. And sometimes it reflects your own life – you get your own situation into perspective.’

Alison Lester, author and illustrator (2012)

Stories have always been a part of human culture and have been used for thousands of years to teach and entertain, impart laws and lessons, preserve culture and beliefs, and pass on values and knowledge. Picture books add visual representations to the story and enable us to engage with a multiplicity of people and places.

In geography teaching and learning, picture books can:

* increase engagement and stimulate interest

* open up the world and bring places to life

* engage students’ imagination and provoke curiosity and inquiry

* provide a diversity of perspectives and build empathy and understanding

* make connections to students’ lives and encourage reflection and comparison

* introduce geographical issues, themes and dilemmas which engage the emotions

* model visual representations and exemplify language forms and features

* inspire creative and imaginative interpretations and responses

* provoke an emotional reaction that translates to personal action

* cater for a variety of different learning styles

* bring joy to the learning.

Picture books should firstly be enjoyed in their whole, and for pleasure, rather than being geographically dissected as they are read. They can be re-read for geographical information, ideas and discussions but in doing this, care needs to be taken not to ‘ruin’ the book with over-dissection (Lewis, 2010).

Windows to the world

The place and setting of picture books provide geographical locations enabling students to virtually visit diverse places around the globe and to develop knowledge and understandings of difference and diversity. Places can be located on globes and maps, and satellite and Google Street View images can be examined for real views of vegetation, land uses and street level surroundings. Supplementary photographs and videos of people in places can introduce a global perspective and enhance intercultural understanding.

Books such as ‘Possum Magic’ by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas give Stage 1 students a taste of the diversity across Australia. ‘Mirror’ by Jeannie Baker immerses Stage 2 students in daily lives in a Moroccan village and an Australian city, as does ‘Sacred River: The Ganges of India’ by Ted Lewin for Stage 3 students. The deeply moving book, ‘A Thirst for Home: a Story of Water across the World’ by Christine Ieronimo and Eric Velasquez, engages Stage 5 students in a child’s connection between her birth country of Ethiopia and her new home of America as well as the issue of inequitable distribution of resources.

Variety of perspectives

Picture books enable students to ‘step into the story’ to imagine and infer the experiences and perspectives of the people within, and to build empathy and understanding of their lives. Perceptions of and connections between characters and places can be expanded and explored imaginatively using process drama strategies such as role-play, conscience alley and mantle of the expert that can then lead to written work.

In one Stage 1 class using ‘A New Year’s Reunion’ by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang, the students spoke of young Maomao as if she was an extra member of the class and explored her connections to people and places through writing, music, dance and art.

Book cover of Voices in the Park
Image: Book cover: Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

‘Voices in the Park’ by Anthony Browne enables Stage 4 students to explore varying perceptions of the liveability of places as does ‘Cat and Fish’ by Neil Curtis and Joan Grant for Early Stage 1 students.

The wordless book ‘Zoom’ by Istvan Banyai can challenge Stage 3 and 4 students’ perceptions of the world.

Visual representations

Illustrations in picture books are a major factor in their appeal. They are works of art in themselves and model creative representations of real and imagined worlds using a variety of media and techniques that can inspire creative responses in students (Dolan, 2013).

Using visual literacy strategies and geographical processing skills, critical analysis of illustrations enables students to extract meaning, purpose, perspective and bias and generate further inquiry. In picture books places are represented from a variety of view-points including eye level, oblique angle and vertical aerial (birds’ eye) view which can be deconstructed from a geographical tools approach, for example, Bronwyn Bancroft’s colourfully patterned ‘Why I Love Australia’ representing Australia’s diverse features for Stage 2 students and the black and white landscape silhouettes in ‘Round Trip’ by Anne Jonas for Stage 4 students.

Demonstrating a host of symbolic visual strategies, picture book illustrations communicate peoples’ emotions, experiences and perspectives in various life situations such as the challenges of homelessness in ‘Way Home’ by Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rogers for Stage 5 students.

Book cover: Way Home
Image: Book cover: Way Home by Libby Hathorn & Gregory Rogers

Communication of issues

Picture books deal with wide ranging issues as their context. These include environmental and social justice issues, natural and human-induced disasters, cultural diversity and connections between people and places. When investigating an issue, it is important that our students are left with hope for the future. ‘The Curious Garden’ by Peter Brown does this and illustrates the impact a small curious boy, and subsequently the community, can have on greening a city, modelling how to care for a place to Stage 1 students and how to enhance sustainability in urban places for Stage 5 students.

‘Sparrow Girl’ by Sara Pennypacker and Yoko Tanaka also demonstrates the power of one in changing biomes (Stage 5), in both creating devastation and restoring it. Whereas, ‘Cat on the Island’ by Gary Crew and Gillian Warden provides a confronting account of environmental devastation for Stage 3 and Stage 5 students and so should be balanced with good news accounts such as ‘Belonging’ by Jeannie Baker and ‘The Tin Forest’ by Helen Ward and Wayne Anderson.

How to use picture books in geography teaching

In geography lesson planning, picture books can be used:

* as an engaging stimulus when introducing a geographical inquiry

* as a core text for a geographical inquiry used as a reference point or springboard for inquiries

* to illustrate or explain a geographical concept or idea

* as a core text for an integrated conceptual unit of work of which a geographical inquiry is part

* to practise and apply visual literacy skills in both literary and geographical analysis

* as an additional resource for reference and research.

When one copy of a book is available it is preferable to sit in a comfortable relaxed space and read the picture book through first for pleasure as a shared reading. This creates the sense of storytelling. The book can be re-read with interpretations and explanations many times after the initial reading. In some cases a blind first reading may be appropriate: reading the text without showing the illustrations.

This enables the students to imagine the setting and features of places and to create their own visualisations of them.

Following a shared reading, having available a class set or several copies of the picture book enables students to actively engage with the book at their own pace either individually or collaboratively.

Picture books and the geographical inquiry process

Geographic inquiry process

Where do they fit?

Picture books can be used in all stages of the geographical inquiry process. They are particularly useful as stimulus material to launch an inquiry but also provide a valuable resource to dip in and out of during the inquiry.

In the acquire step, a picture book can set the context of the inquiry and stimulate curiosity. It can provide the springboard for formulating a set of inquiry questions to guide the inquiry.

As visual representations, picture books can be used as a geographical tool for acquiring information. They provide a secondary source of information represented from the perspective of the author and illustrator.

Picture books are created with a specific purpose and as such the intent of the creators needs to be evaluated by students in the process step of a geographical inquiry. Symbols and icons used in illustrations in picture books can be used as models when students represent their own geographical information. Students can replicate these in maps, infographics and diagrams.

A communication product in themselves, picture books provide an example of how geographical information and sustainable actions can be communicated in a mulitmodal form using words and pictures. Students can compose their own picture books, cartoon strips and digital texts to communicate information and to promote individual and group action.

The Curious Garden – an analogy for the geographical inquiry process

What would happen if an entire city decided to cooperate with nature? ... Peter Brown, author

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown can be used as an analogy for the geographical inquiry process.

The protagonist, Liam, is a curious boy with an inquiring mind who likes working geographically in the outdoors. His actions lead to extensive change.


The first step in a geographical inquiry is to formulate a geographical question and a set of inquiry questions that ask What is where? Why there? Why care? When Liam stumbled on a dark stairwell, he asked himself: What is up there? and Where does it go?

At the top of the abandoned railway Liam noticed plants that were brown and dying. He didn’t spend much time on the question: Why there? but moved straight to Why care? and returned to water and prune the plants.

Acquire data and information

… the plants waited patiently while Liam found better ways of gardening.

‘Liam found better ways of gardening’ is the acquiring data and information step in the geographical inquiry process. Liam acquired primary data in the field through fieldwork that immersed him in the patch of garden. He probably used the visible thinking strategy of ‘see-think-wonder’. We know he experimented with gardening methods and made insightful observations.

Over the next few months, Liam and the curious garden explored every corner of the railway.

In his fieldwork, Liam gathered primary data through immersive and sensory experiences. He learnt the smallest details of the natural and human features of the place, tuned into its sounds, smells, colours and textures. He observed the interconnections between plants and animals in the garden and of people in the city. He would be able to sketch it, map it and describe how it made him feel.

Rather than waste his winter worrying about the garden, Liam spent it preparing for spring.

Liam used his indoor time for researching secondary information. He acquired it from books, perhaps from gardening shows on television and by interviewing and surveying his family and neighbours about plant care.

Process geographical information

We don’t know how Liam processed his primary and secondary information in order to make connections and draw conclusions. Perhaps he generated a chart of plants and their habitat requirements, perhaps graphed their growth and/or mapped their spread. Maybe he created a KWL chart to list what he still wanted to know or created a futures chart to predict the spread of the garden.

After three cold months … Liam rolled his new gardening gear over to the railway.

Communicate geographical information

Through his visible actions, and through the expansive spread of the garden, Liam communicated what he had learnt. The community watched with interest and were inspired to join in.


As his response, Liam applied his knowledge and undertook individual action. He could predict that the garden would continue to explore the rest of the city as a result of his actions, but he didn’t expect its far-reaching impact of engaging the community and bringing them together.

But the most surprising things that popped up were the new gardeners.

Suggested learning and teaching activities

Stage 1 – Features of Places – The Curious Garden by Peter Brown


Liam is a curious boy who likes to be outdoors exploring his drab city. He notices a dark stairwell and discovers some struggling plants growing along an unused railway track above the city. He nurtures them and together they explore and spread into all sorts of unexpected places. Armed with new knowledge after winter Liam’s city is transformed through his actions and those of his community.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, space, environment, interconnection

* natural and human features of an urban place

* ways places change

* active role of citizens in caring for places.

English concepts

* advocacy, characterisation, setting.

Selected geography syllabus content – features of places

* Students investigate features of places and how they can be cared for, for example (ACHGK005)

* description of the natural and human features of places

* consideration of how a place can be cared for, such as, a park, farm, beach, bushland.

Engaging with the text

Building the field

* define curious as eager to learn and as odd or unusual. Which definition does the cover suggest?

Sitting outdoors, in natural places, share the book with the students.

* What are the features of the place?

* How did they change?

* How would we describe Liam?

* How did he care for his place?

Making connections

* text to text – texts about place and environments

* text to self – school vegetable garden and natural spaces, own and grandparents’ gardens

* text to world – vertical gardens, community gardens.

Cross curriculum links


* characterisation – character web about Liam, personification of the garden, Venn diagram of how Liam and the garden are similar and different

* writing – sensory writing outdoors in nature, diary writing in Liam’s narrative voice.

science and technology

* living world – explore needs of living things and places where their needs are met, apply science knowledge in caring for living things

* built environments – places and spaces.

creative arts – representations of gardens in paintings, for example, Monet and Matisse

sustainability – caring for places.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘So Many Wonderfuls’ by Tina Matthews

* ‘My Country’ by Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Sally Morgan

* ‘Last Tree in the City’ by Peter Carnavas

* 'The Curious Garden Educator's Guide' by Peter Brown

* ‘Local Places and Spaces: Geography Teaching Framework’ by NSW DoE.

Curiosity – fieldwork

What are the features of our school grounds?

Liam was a curious boy who liked to explore outside. Take the students outside to explore the school grounds. Enable slow sensory exploration through:

* nature spot – sitting still and silently in a spot observing the surroundings

* collecting colours – collect and display loose leaves of various colours

* scrunch and sniff – aromatic leaves, cup hands to smell flowers (don’t pick)

* secret places – shine torches or mirrors into dark crevices and holes

* shoes off – walk on grass, rocks, sand.

Features of places

What are the features of, and activities in, Liam’s gardens?

Examine the series of frames of people in the gardens in The Curious Garden. What is happening in each frame? What are people doing in these spaces?

In which frame would you like to be? What would you hear, smell and see? What would you like to do in the spaces? How would the space make you feel?

On an enlarged copy of a favourite frame, students label the human and natural features and the imagined sounds and smells. They enact being in the frame then question each other about the space and what they imagine it would be like.

Tour of your place

What are the features of, and activities in, our school grounds?

In pairs, students take a favourite soft toy on walk through the school playground. They explain the natural and human features to their toy and show their toy how they use and care for the spaces.

Students take photographs of their toy in favourite places of the school grounds. These can be collated by the students into annotated photographic collages.

Survey students from other grades on favourite uses of the school grounds. Graph and analyse the collected data.

Dream garden

How can places change?

Ask students to examine the first and last double page spreads in The Curious Garden. Students use sticky notes to identify the changes that were made to the cityscape and then record them in a Venn diagram. What have been the consequences of the community’s teamwork? How did Liam lead and inspire the change?

In teams, students design and create a model of their dream garden. These can be ephemeral models constructed outside using loose natural materials. Students provide verbal explanations of the features and uses of their garden.

School habitat garden

How can we care for and improve our place?

View images of the High Line in New York City that inspired the writing of The Curious Garden. Is there an area of your school grounds that could be improved through a planting project? Perhaps a native garden could be restored or a vegetable plot planted.

Photograph potential areas for improvement and link them to a school site.

As a class, reach consensus on an area for improvement and develop an action plan. Take photographs and videos to record the project’s progress. Compile into a digital multimodal text for sharing with other grades.

Stage 1 – People and Places – A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Chen-Liang


Set in China, young Maomao’s father has been working away from home for the year. He returns for a few days to join the family in celebrating Chinese New Year. Almost a stranger to her at first, Maomao and her father become closer as they get ready for the celebrations. Together they put up banners, make sticky rice balls, go New Year visiting and watch a dragon dance from the roof top. After just a few days Maomao has to farewell her father again but she gives him her fortune coin as a connection across time and distance.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, interconnection, scale

* natural and human features of places in the world

* Chinese daily life, cultural customs and traditions

* connections and links people have with people and places.

English concepts

* culture, cultural identity, narrative voice (first person), symbol.

Selected geography syllabus content – local and global connections

* Students investigate connections that people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, have to local and global places, for example (ACHGK010, ACHGK011, ACHGK012)

* description of reasons people are connected to places in Australia and/or countries across the world, for example, birthplace.

Engaging with the text

Building the field

* What do you know about Chinese New Year?

* Share just the illustrations and ask for predictions. Then read with words.

Making connections

* text to text – What colours are used in Chinese New Year celebrations?

° text to self – Have you been a part of Chinese New Year celebrations? What cultural events does your family celebrate?

If you were with Maomao and her father watching the dragon dance, what else would you see? What noises would you hear? What have you learnt about Chinese culture from Maomao’s story?

Cross curriculum links


* visual literacy – framing, salience, angles, colour and symbols

* grammar – descriptive noun groups, proper nouns.

creative arts

* music and dance related to Chinese New Year

* visual arts – Chinese artworks and calligraphy; decorate red money envelopes.

Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

* Chinese culture.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year’ by Sally Rippin

* ‘Grandpa’s Mask’ by Jing Jing Guo

* ‘We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey through Tanzania’ by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns

* ‘Around the World: Geography Teaching Framework’, NSW DoE

* ‘People and Places - Chinese Australians’ unit, State Library of NSW.

Faraway places

What are some places far away from Australia?

Why does Maomao’s father build houses in places far away from his home? Define far away with reference to a map of Australia and the world. Do you have grandparents or relatives that live in faraway places?

Locate your approximate current school location on a globe. Locate China and birth countries of students and/or their families. Students use wool or string to measure distances to China and familiar countries from their current location.

Graph and compare the distances from Australia to other places. Which are the most faraway? (Each piece of string can be pinned or pasted to form the graph.)

Working with globes builds understandings of Australia’s location in relation to other parts of the world. Provide time for exploration in addition to the set task.

Lucky fortune coin

How do people connect to family and friends in faraway places?

What activities do Maomao and her father do together during his stay? Jointly construct a diary of the activities, writing in Maomao’s voice, for example, Day 1 – put up banners, made sticky rice balls, snuggled in bed. How do her feelings change?

Chinese fortune coins symbolise good luck and good fortune. Why was Maomao’s coin so special? Why does she give it back to her father?

What activities do you do with loved ones you see just once or twice a year? Is there a special activity that connects you together? Using a T-chart, students draw themselves with a grandparent, relative or friend that lives far away. On one side they draw and label how they stay in touch when apart, and on the other, special activities they do together when they visit.

Links between Australia and China

How is Chinese New Year celebrated in China and Australia?

How is Chinese New Year celebrated in Maomao’s town? How is it celebrated in Australia? View images and videos of Chinese New Year celebrations in the students’ suburb or city. Invite students with Chinese heritage to show and explain some of their family’s traditions for the celebration.

Students make banners and lanterns to create a Chinese New Year classroom display. Students could also make sticky rice balls, respond to music and participate in a dragon dance.

Why is Chinese New Year celebrated in Australia and other countries around the world as well as in China? Students put on their ‘expert hat’ to explain global connections through Chinese New Year celebrations in Australia.

Chinese New Year

What symbols are used in Chinese New Year celebrations?

The making and eating of sticky rice balls is a Chinese New Year tradition in Maomao’s family. They are a symbol of reunion. What other foods are eaten during Chinese New Year and what do they symbolise?

Examine the illustrations in A New Year’s Reunion and identify Chinese New Year symbols, such as red lanterns, banners, fortune coin, red envelopes, broom (cleaning).

Students collect and label images of Chinese New Year symbols. They create a table of symbols and write or provide verbal explanations of their meanings.

Stage 2 – Places are Similar and Different – Mirror by Jeannie Baker

Book cover of Mirror
Image: Book cover: Mirror by Jeannie Baker


Through wordless images, the daily lives of two boys are illustrated. One lives in inner city Sydney, Australia, and the other in a remote village in the Valley of Roses, Morocco. Commencing with breakfast with their families, they travel through contrasting landscapes to their day’s tasks. These two boys don’t ever realise their connection through a hand-woven rug. Written as two stories, the book is intended to be read simultaneously, one from left to right and the other from right to left.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, space, interconnection, scale

* demographic characteristics and daily life in a remote village in Morocco and inner city Sydney, Australia. What it would be like to live in each place. Similarities and differences between places.

English concepts

* culture, cultural identity, setting, theme.

Selected geography syllabus content – similarities and differences between places

* Students investigate the settlement patterns and demographic characteristics of places and the lives of the people who live there, for example (ACHGK019)

* examination of the varying settlement patterns and demographics of places

* comparison of the daily life of people from different places.

Engaging with the text

Building the field

* name each place and language. Locate Morocco and Sydney

Share the book with the students

* view the covers and ask students to predict what the book is about

* read both stories simultaneously. When reading, provide time for close observation of the images. Several copies will enable thorough examination by students.

Making connections

* text to text – stories of other places, stories in Arabic

* text to self – What does the Arabic on the first page say? What places do the images remind you of?

* text to world – rug store advertisements.

* What are the features of each place? What would it be like to live in each?

Note – This text is suitable as a core text for an in-depth conceptual unit of work.

Cross curriculum links


* visual literacy – layout, reading paths, framing, salience, colour, vectors.

creative arts

* collage techniques, weaving with natural fibres.


* financial literacy – travel budget, cost of freight for rug.

Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

* connections.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘Our Village in the Sky’ by Janeen Brian and Anne Spudvilas (Himalayas)

* ‘I Live in Tokyo’ by Mari Takabayashi

* ‘Herman and Rosie’ by Gus Gordon (New York)

* ‘My Father’s Boat’ by Sherry Garland and Ted Rant(Vietnam)

* Mirror – by Jeannie Baker’, Classroom Ideas, Walker Books Australia

* ‘Australia’s Neighbours: Geography Teaching Framework’, NSW DoE.

Where in the world

Where is the Valley of Roses, Morocco and inner city Sydney, Australia? Locate Morocco, and Sydney, Australia, on a globe.

Students examine the illustrations in Mirror, one story at a time, identifying the main geographical features of each place. Provide several copies for close examination.

Students use digital maps to view satellite images of Rozelle, NSW (the story’s setting) and the Valley of Roses, Morocco, locating some of the features identified in the book’s illustrations. They digitally label or annotate a screen shot of each place.

What are places like?

What are the geographical characteristics of Rozelle, NSW, Kalaat M’Gouna, Morocco, and my home town?

Students make comparisons between the following three places:

* Kalaat M’Gouna, Tinghir Province, Morocco – main town in the Valley of Roses

* Rozelle, NSW, Australia – an inner-west suburb of Sydney

* village, town or suburb in a neighbouring country, as described in one of the supporting texts, for example, ‘Our Village in the Sky’ or ‘I Live in Tokyo’

* identify natural features (climate, landscape, plants, animals) and human features (population, land use and settlement patterns, occupations, daily activities).

Using a jigsaw strategy, pairs of students create and share illustrated geographical fact sheets for each place.

Individually students create a three circle Venn diagram to show similarities and differences.

Daily life interviews

What is the daily life like of people in other places?

Revisit the breakfast and dinner scenes in each story in Mirror. Identify the characters on each page and examine the sequences of small images. Who lives in each house? What are their roles and responsibilities? Students construct a comparison table describing the roles of mother, father and son.

What were the activities of each family over the day? Students plot the daily activities of each family along a timeline of a day.

What would the family members be saying to each other at dinner? Students add sticky note speech bubbles to the characters in the illustrations. They either enact the scenes with dialogue, recounting their day, or ‘drop in’ and interview family members on their day’s activities.

Magic carpet

How would you travel to the Valley of the Roses and what would you see?

View the last page of the Sydney story in Mirror. Imagine that the Sydney family are inspired by their son’s painting of his family on the magic carpet and decide to travel to Morocco’s Valley of the Roses.

Students work as travel consultants and plan an itinerary for the family to travel from Sydney to Marrakech, then to the Valley of the Roses for the Rose Festival in May. Students plan flights, internal transportation in Morocco and sights to see in Marrakech and the Valley of Roses.

Stage 3 – A Diverse and Connected World – Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Book cover of Elephants have wings
Image: Book cover: Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro


Two children ask their father to tell them their grandfather’s story. He tells them his grandfather’s version of the parable the blind man and the elephant. The children then travel across a diversity of landscapes to discover the secret:

Everyone is different, but we’re the same, too. The elephant is in all of us.

The parable of the blind man and the elephant is found in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism (Islam) and contemporary philosophy.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, space, interconnection, scale

* retelling of the parable of the blind men and the elephant found in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sufism faiths

* cultural diversity

* intercultural understanding.

English concepts

* culture, narrative voice (first person), symbol.

Selected geography syllabus content – the world’s cultural diversity

* students investigate the world’s cultural diversity, including the cultures of indigenous peoples, for example (ACHGK033)

* identification of different cultural groups, including indigenous cultural groups, for example, Maori, Inuit, Sami, Dayak

* examination of various cultures, for example, customs, beliefs, social organisation.

Engaging with the text

Building the field

* What is the cultural diversity of the class? What religions and faiths are represented in the school and community?

Share the book with the students

* differentiate between grandfather’s story and the first person narrative. What is the moral (coda) of the story?

Making connections

* text to text – Is the story familiar? Are there familiar cultural symbols in the illustrations?

* text to self – Have you been told stories passed through your family? Text to world – media stories, such as the plight of elephants.

Cross curriculum links


* visual literacy – use of colour, symbol, offer, framing

* grammar – direct speech, noun groups


* enact the parable of the blind man and the elephant

creative arts

* Indian-style pattern making, mandalas using natural materials, for example, Making Mandala Art with Kids

* symbolism in artworks.

* Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia

* Indian and other Asian cultures.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘Amma, Tell Me About Ramayana!’ by Bhakti Mathur and Maulshree Somani (Ramayana stories are found in Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia)

* ‘Our Village in the Sky’ by Janeen Brian and Anne Spudvilas

* ‘Look What Came From’ series by Miles Harvey

* Elephants Have Wings: Page by Page Study Guide’, Susanne Gervay

* ‘Engaging with Asia: Geography Teaching Framework’, NSW DoE.

Asian religions

What are the major spiritual beliefs and religions across Asia?

Elephants Have Wings retells the parable of the blind men and the elephant found in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism (Sufi Muslim) Bahá’í.

What are the major religions or belief sets in Asia? What is the main premise of each? What is their spatial distribution?

Students construct a thematic map of the major religions in Asia.

Spiritual symbolism

How are important spiritual symbols similar and different in Asian cultures?

View the mandala in Elephants Have Wings. In Hinduism and Buddhism mandalas have deep symbolic meaning. In the story’s context the mandala illustration embeds across-cultural spiritual symbols and represents time for reflection (Gervay, 2014).

What are the main Hindu, Buddhist and Jain spiritual symbols and their meanings? Students generate a comparison table and discuss similarities and differences.

Spiritual symbols are interspersed through the illustrations in Elephants Have Wings, for example, hand, lotus flower. Can you find them? What is their purpose? What other symbols are used in the text?

(Page by Page Study Guide).

The Mandala (A Short Documentary of the Celestial Palace) by Trace5, Vimeo

Mandala gallery – Google Arts and Culture

Intercultural understanding

How does the parable of the blind men and the elephant teach intercultural understanding?

Everyone is different, but we’re the same, too. The elephant is in all of us.

Read or tell a Hindu version of the parable of the blind men and the elephant and compare it to the version told in Elephants Have Wings. How is the story similar and different? What is the author’s intent of the children journeying across a variety of landscapes? How does the moral of the story vary between religions?

In groups, students enact the parable, adding elements (for example, multicultural costumes) to emphasise the coda of intercultural understanding.

Symbolic elephants

What are the symbolic meanings of elephants to people in Asian cultures?

Re-read Elephants Have Wings, examining the illustrations for representations of elephants. View images of the Hindu deity Ganesha and share cultural traditions for the Festival of Ganesh. What else do elephants symbolise in Asian cultures?

In groups, using a jigsaw strategy, each student selects one Asian culture and creates an annotated collage of images that illustrate the symbolic meanings of elephants for that culture. They present and explain it to their group. This can be followed with students composing an informative piece of writing on elephant symbolism in one Asian culture.

Cultures – China, India, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand.

Stage 4 – Place and Liveability – Gary by Leila Rudge

Book cover of Gary
Image: Book cover: Gary by Leila Rudge


Gary is a pigeon who lives with a flock of racing pigeons. But Gary can’t fly and so stays at home organising his scrapbook when the flock race. One day he accidentally lands in the racing basket and finds himself in the city, lost. He uses his collection of travel mementos to help him interpret the signs and symbols in the city, to access the transport services, and to eventually find his way home.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, environment, interconnection, scale

* effects of access to services and facilities that enhance mobility and people’s wellbeing.

English concepts

* characterisation, setting, symbol.

Selected geography syllabus content – access to services and facilities

* Students investigate the influence of accessibility to services and facilities on the liveability of places, for example: (ACHGK044)

* identification of services and facilities considered important to people’s wellbeing

* examination of variations in access to services and facilities between urban, rural and remote places

* explanation of how limited access to services and facilities affects the liveability of ONE place for different groups of people, for example, young people, people with disabilities, the aged, rural and remote communities.

Engaging with the text

Share the book with the students. Enjoy its humour and subject matter.

Making connections:

* text to text – books about journeys

* text to self – travel adventures, access or lack of access to public transport, alternate modes of transport

* text to world – accessibility issues.

Leila Rudge has used symbols to represent what the racing pigeons are saying and what Gary is saying after his adventure. What might they be saying?

Cross curriculum links


* visual literacy – reading paths, colour. Impact on viewer of combination of illustration and words.

* use of language and images to create character.

visual arts

* Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s artworks – paintings 88, 125, 175, 241, 433, 525 available at


* everyday life of men, women and children in an ancient society.

* difference and diversity

* identify and empathise with varying perspectives.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘Peggy’ by Anna Walker

* ‘Voices in the Park’ by Anthony Browne

* ‘Home’ by Narelle Oliver

* ‘Place and Liveability: Geography Teaching Framework’, NSW DoE.

Travelling to school

How does access to services and facilities affect journeys from one place to another?

In ‘Gary’, view the double-page spread of Gary’s route home. His experiences are represented in symbols on the following page. Compare these to personal travels.

Students log the time taken, modes of transport and distance for their journey to school. Compile the data into a class data table.

Students analyse the class data to determine the most common mode of transport to school and mean journey time. Discuss factors that affect travel time, and positive and negative aspects of transport modes.

Compare the class modes of transport with a random sample of 50 students from another area of NSW using the ABS CensusAtSchool Australia Random Sampler. If a city school, compare to a rural area and vice versa. (Adapted from GEO 12: Journey to School, Australian Bureau of Statistics.)

Journey map

What services and facilities enhance our journeys to school?

Artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s work, 175 The Almost Circle, shows a route around a city by bicycle. He comments, ‘I have a bicycle. Paris is big. I want to say that the lines that I draw with my bicycle through this great city are extraordinary’.

Inspired by Hundertwasser’s artwork, and Gary’s route map, students create a representation of their journey to school. This can be created using spatial technologies, be an annotated printed satellite image, or a sketch map. Students use symbols to represent the services and facilities they have access to and/or use along their journey.


How does limited access to services and facilities affect liveability in our local area for people with disabilities?

Share the supporting text, Peggy, with the students. Enjoy the book’s light-hearted humour. How would it have been different for Peggy and Gary, lost in the city, if they had a physical disability such as a vision impairment or limited mobility?

For the students’ journey to school, students identify the accessibility services and facilities available for people with disabilities.

Students imagine they are newly elected to the local council and want to improve access to services and facilities for people with disabilities. They research what is currently provided and, in role, present a verbal statement on the impacts on liveability of limited access. They provide suggestions for increased access.

City vs rural and remote

What effect does access to services have on people’s wellbeing?

Use the illustration of Gary in the city with his open scrap book as a springboard for a discussion on the provision of services and facilities in cities versus rural areas.

What do the symbols in the illustration represent? Which of these services and facilities are available in your suburb or home town? Which of these services are not usually available in rural areas? What other services and facilities do cities provide that are not available in rural and remote places? Does this impact significantly on people’s reasons for living in a place?

Following research on the provision of services and facilities for a city and rural area, students construct a Venn diagram that compares services and facilities provided in a city with those provided in a rural or remote area.

Stage 5 – Environmental Management – Nyuntu Ninti = What You Should Know by Bob Randall and Melanie Hogan

Book cover of Nyunti Ninti
Image: Book cover: Nyuntu Ninti = What You Should Know by Bob Randall and Melanie Hogan


Meaning ‘what you should know’, Nyuntu Ninti is written in the words of Bob Randall (c.1934–2015), a Yankunytjatjara elder, songwriter and NAIDOC Person of the Year, 1999. Bob explains the longevity of Aboriginal people and the connection of the Anangu people to Uluru, the surrounding country and to all living things. He highlights the importance of looking after the land and living in harmony with it.

Geographical concepts and ideas

* place, environment, interconnection, sustainability.

English concepts

* culture, cultural identity, setting, theme.

Selected geography syllabus content – environmental management

* students investigate environmental management, including different worldviews and the management approaches of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, for example (ACHGK071, ACHGK072)

* discussion of varying environmental management approaches and perspectives.

Engaging with the text

share the book with the students. Provide time for carefully observing the photographs, in particular, people’s interactions with the environment.

making connections:

* text to text – Aboriginal Dreaming stories

* text to self – nature connections, environmental experiences, travel to Uluru and Kata Tjuta

* text to world – land claims, land management

* Why is the book titled Nyuntu Ninti? What is the author’s purpose? How do the words and photographs work together to achieve the purpose?

Cross curriculum links


* explain and analyse cultural assumptions, including texts by and about Aboriginal Australians.


* living world – contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural practices and knowledge to conservation and management of sustainable ecosystems.

visual arts

* Western Desert Aboriginal Art Movement, for example, Papunya Tula artists.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

* relationship with Land and Place, caring for Country.

Supporting texts and resource links

* ‘One Small Island’ by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch

* ‘Phasmid: Saving the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect’ by Rohan Cleave and Coral Tulloch

* ‘Nyuntu Ninti Teacher notes’, Harper Collins

* Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Plan 2010–2020’, Australian Government and Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of Management

* ‘Environmental Management: Geography Teaching Framework’, NSW DoE

* ‘HSIE Learning Across the Curriculum: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures’, NSW DoE.

Value of Country

What is the importance of the economic, cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value of Country and Place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples?

Share the book Nyuntu Ninti and learn about the values of the Uluru environment. Read the lyrics of Bob Randall’s song, ‘Where We Came From’ (last page) and view the author singing: Bob Randall: Where We Come From, Global Oneness Project.

Students create a concept map identifying the values of Country to Aboriginal people, as explained by Bob Randall.

Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park management

How do worldviews of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples influence approaches to environmental use and management?

Re-read Nyuntu Ninti and observe people’s interactions with the environment. Anangu are the custodians and owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Nguraritja) which is jointly managed with Parks Australia. Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu life and of the joint management of the park.

Read the following pages from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Plan 2010–2020 to understand the guiding principles of environmental management

* Board of Management Vision and Foreword (pp. i-ii)

* ‘Working Together’ painting and its explanation (p. iv)

* Tjukurpa (pp. 3-4/8).

Students discuss how the worldviews of Anangu influence the approach to environmental use and management of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. In the role as a newly trained tour guide for the park, they prepare and deliver an introductory statement to park visitors that express Aboriginal people’s interactions and connections with the environment.

Caring for Country

How do Aboriginal people use fire in caring for Country?

Students use the following videos and explanations, and other sources, to create a cause and effect chart on the Aboriginal use of fire in caring for Country:

* Through Our Eyes - Using Fire To Care For Country with Roy Barker (Murrawari language group), Local Land Services Western Region, 2014.

* Aboriginal Fire Management, Creative Spirits

* Fighting carbon with fire, Arnhem Land, Australia, UNUChannel.

Aboriginal knowledge and advice

Why is Aboriginal input and knowledge essential to effective environmental management? Students: * collaborate with local Aboriginal community members who have a role in environmental management of local natural areas

* visit a local area managed with input from Aboriginal people

* view Through Our Eyes - Sustaining Animal Populations with Roy Barker (Murrawari language group), Local Land Services Western Region, 2014.

* read extracts of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Plan 2010–2020

Students discuss the statement, ‘Aboriginal input and knowledge is essential to effective environmental management’.

References and further reading

‘Aboriginal fire management’, Creative spirits, accessed 30 June 2017.

Baker, J. 2008, Belonging, Walker Books, London.

Baker, J. 2010, Mirror, Walker Books, UK.

Bancroft, B. 2010, Why I love Australia, Little Hare, Surry Hills, NSW.

Banyai, I. 1995, Zoom, Viking, New York. Bob Randall: Where we come from, Global Oneness Project, accessed 30 June 2017.

Brian, J. & Spudvilas, A. 2014, Our village in the sky, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW.

Brown, P. 2009, The curious garden, Little Brown and Co., New York.

Brown, P. & McMahon, J., ‘The curious garden’ Educator guides, LB School & Library, accessed 30 June 2017.

Browne, A. 1998, Voices in the park, Doubleday, London.

Carnavas, P. 2010, Last tree in the city, New Frontier, Frenchs Forest, NSW.

CensusAtSchool Australia random sampler, Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Cleave, R. & Tulloch, C. 2015, Phasmid: saving the Lord Howe Island stick insect, CSIRO Publishing, Clayton, VIC.

Crew, G. & Warden, G. 2008, Cat on the island, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

Curtis, N. & Grant, J. 2003, Cat and fish, Lothian, South Melbourne.

Dolan, A. M. 2013, ‘Exploring geography through stories’, in S. Scoffham, (ed.) Teaching geography creatively, Routledge, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, UK.

Fox, M. & Vivas, J. 2004, Possum magic, Omnibus, Malvern, SA.

Friends of the High Line, Flickr, accessed 30 June 2017.

Garland, S. & Rant, T. 1998, My father’s boat, Scholastic, NSW.

Gervay, S. & Pignataro, A. 2014, Elephants have wings, Ford St, Ormond, VIC.

Gervay, S. & Pignataro, A. 2014, Elephants havewings – Page by Page study guide, accessed 30 June 2017.

GEO 12 – journey to school, Australian Bureau of Statistics, accessed 30 June 2017.

Gordon, G. 2012, Herman and Rosie, Penguin Books Australia.

Guo, J.J. & Wu, D. 2001, Grandpa’s mask, Benchmark/ Cygnet in association with University of Western Australia Press, Sassafras, VIC.

Harvey, M. 1999, Look what came from [series], Franklin Watts, New York.

Hathorn, L. & Rogers, G. 2003, Way home, Andersen, London.

Hundertwasser, F. 2017, Hundertwasser, accessed 30 June 2017.

Ieronimo, C. & Velasquez, E. 2014, A thirst for home: a story of water across the world, Bloomsbury, New York.

Jonas, A. 1983, Round trip, MacRae, London.

Krebs, L. & Cairns, J. 2003, We all went on safari: a counting journey through Tanzania, Barefoot Books Ltd, UK.

Kwaymullina, E. & Morgan, S. 2011, My country, Fremantle Press, Fremantle, WA.

Lester, A. & Tulloch, C. 2011, One small island: the story of Macquarie Island, Penguin/Viking, Melbourne.

Lewin, T. 1995, Sacred river: the Ganges of India, Clarion, New York. 1995.

Lewis, L. 2010, ‘Geography and language development’, in S. Scoffham, (ed.) Primary geography handbook, Geographical Association, Sheffield, UK.

Li-Qiong, Y. & Cheng-Liang, Z. 2011, A New Year’s reunion, Walker, London.

Local Land Services Western Region 2014, ‘Through our eyes - sustaining animal populations with Roy Barker’, YouTube, LLS NSW Government, accessed 30 June 2017.

Local Land Services Western Region, ‘Through our eyes - using fire to care for Country with Roy Barker’, YouTube, LLS NSW Government, accessed 30 June 2017.

Making Mandala art with kids’, Playful Learning, accessed 30 June 2017.

Mandala gallery’, Google Arts and Culture, accessed 30 June 2017.

Mathur, B. & Somani, M. 2011, Amma, tell me about Ramayana!, Anjana, Hong Kong.

Matthews, T. 2014, So many wonderfuls, Walker Books Australia, Newtown, NSW.

NSW Department of Education 2016, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Learning and teaching directorate, NSW DoE.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Around the world’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Australia’s neighbours’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Engaging with Asia’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Environmental change and management’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Local places and spaces’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

NSW Department of Education, ‘Place and liveability’, Geography teaching framework, NSW DoE, accessed 30 June 2017.

Nyuntu Ninti teacher notes, Harper Collins, accessed 30 June 2017.

Oliver, N. 2006, Home, Omnibus, Malvern, SA.

Pennypacker, S. & Tanaka, Y. 2009, Sparrow girl, Disney/Hyperion Books, New York.

Randall, B. & Hogan, M. 2008, Nyuntu Ninti = What you should know, ABC Books, Sydney.

Rippin, S. 1996, Fang Fang’s Chinese New Year, Omnibus Books, Norwood, SA.

Rudge, L. 2016, Gary, Walker Books Australia, Newtown, NSW.

State Library of NSW 2016, People and places – Chinese Australians, accessed 30 June 2017.

Stewart, L. 2012, ‘Interview with Australia’s children’s laureates: Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor’, Books and Publishing, 27 April 2012, accessed 30 June 2017.

Takabayashi, M. 2004, I live in Tokyo, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Tanner, J. & Whittle, J. 2013, The everyday guide to primary geography: story, Geographical Association, Sheffield, UK.

Trace5 2013, ‘The mandala (a short documentary of the Celestial Palace)Vimeo, accessed 30 June 2017.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Management Plan 2010–2020, Australian Government and Uluru-Kata Tjuta Board of Management, accessed 30 June 2017.

United Nations University 2009, Fighting carbon with fire, Arnhem Land, Australia, UNUChannel, accessed 30 June 2017.

Walker, A. 2012, Peggy, Scholastic, Lindfield, NSW.

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How to cite this article: Curtis, J. 2017 'Value of using picture books in geography' Scan 36(3), pp. 15-30

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