Elizabeth Honey and Sue Johnson: I’m Still Awake, Still (Picture Book and CD)

November 25, 2011
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I'm still awake, still by Elizabeth Honey and Sue JohnsonElizabeth Honey and Sue Johnson are a formidable team. They have worked together before on the song ‘All the Wild Wonders’, for which Sue was nominated at the 2003 APRA Music Awards, and their teamwork is again inspiring in Australian children’s picture book and CD, I’m Still Awake, Still!.

Fiddy is the main character of this book, which is a lovely celebration of sleep and music and dreaming. As the title indicates, Fiddy is having trouble going to sleep. Marlo and Parlo take turns giving Fiddy ideas to help him sleep, and when those don’t work, Possum, Koala, Wombat, Wallaby and Echidna tell him how they sleep. Then the flowers chime in with their ideas (as an aside, I particularly love the flowers’ song), and a large friendly bear sleepily explains hibernation. Still Fiddy is awake, until he remembers Nonno’s favourite song about the planets, and calls Nonno to sing it to him.

I bought this book for my daughter for her fifth birthday and it has quickly become a firm favourite. It helps that she enjoys listening to stories on CD lately, and this book includes a CD with the story read by the author, and it helps even more that when it says on the cover “Eight Beautiful Songs” it’s not exaggerating. The songs are beautiful, and the CD includes the story with the songs interspersed, and then repeats the songs sung separately. The songs are performed by Sue Johnson and others, including other members of acclaimed vocal group Cocos Lunch (of which Johnson is a member – see below).  The songs are also all printed in full at the beginning of the book, so as an adult it is easy to follow along and learn to sing them (and note, this may be required of you by keen children!). The total CD running time is about an hour, with slightly over half being the first track of story and songs combined.

But the book stands alone and is beautiful even without the CD. The illustrations – also by Honey – are colourful and engaging, and my daughter is happy to “read” the book without the CD, just browsing through, examining the pictures (as she goes to a Steiner school, she is not reading yet at all), and she also likes me to read it to her. She likes to point out the different kinds of flowers mentioned, the different animals and the colours mentioned in songs. She will sing along to the song if the CD is playing, and sing bits of them herself if it’s not.

Elizabeth Honey Biography

Elizabeth Honey is a an award winning Australian author of picture books and novels, and is also a poet and artist and illustrates her own books. In fact, she was illustrating other people’s books well before she began writing her own. She has had several books receive Honour Book commendations in the national Children’s Book Council (CBC) awards, as well as receiving the Picture Book of the Year award for Not a Nibble!. 45 & 47 Stella Street and Everything That Happened is perhaps her best known book, and was awarded three times over in 1997, winning the Young Australians’ Best Book Awards (YABBA) Fiction: Older Readers, the Premio Cento Prize for Children’s Literature, (Italy) and was also a Children’s Book Council Honour Book, Book of the Year for Younger Readers. Other Elizabeth Honey books include That’s Not a Daffodil! (2011), Don’t Pat the Wombat! (1996 – a CBC Honour Book), To the Boy in Berlin (2008, a junior novel written in collaboration with Heike Brandt), and many many more.

Sue Johnson Biography

Sue Johnson is a composer, musical director, educator and not least, musician, who has toured nationally and internationally. She was nominated at the 2003 APRA Music Awards for her song ‘All The Wild Wonders’ (which, as mentioned, had lyrics by Elizabeth Honey). She trained originally as a pianist and holds a Diploma of Arts (Music) from the Victorian College of the Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Education from the Hawthorn Institute of Education. As a singer she performs with internationally renowned vocal percussion group Coco’s Lunch, of which she was a co-founder.

Literary & Classroom Activities for I’m Still Awake, Still

It is almost impossible to find a book that cannot be used somehow in the education arena, but with such a rich mix of media, I’m Still Awake, Still, really lends itself to this area. Themes include bedtime, families, imagination, Australian animals (though I’m not sure where the big friendly bear fits in), dance, singing and music. The songs use acoustic instruments including voice, piano, percussion, accordion, violin, cello and double bass. The vibrant illustrations can be matched up with the songs or the story and provide lots of “story talk” in themselves.

How you use this book will depend on the age of the students. For pre-school and early primary students you might ask simple questions like:

  • What do you do when you can’t sleep?
  • What sort of voices do the different animals have?
  • What items from your own bedroom can you add to the song Goodnight Gumboots?
  • Which animal is not found in Australia?
  • What other Australian animals can you name? Or, if they are from a different country, can they name some animals native to their own country?
  • How many times is dancing mentioned? Can you find some dancing where the word dance is not mentioned?

Older readers might consider:

  • Which instruments are playing in each song? Why have they chosen those instruments to go with those ideas or animals?
  • There is one non-Australian animal included in the story. Why do you think it is there?
  • What is the effect of repetition in the story and the songs?
  • What is the significance of dance in the book?
  • Make up a different story to match the pictures, or draw or paint a different picture for one of the pages or songs.

Edited to add: I’m bringing this post back up to the top of this blog, only because I love this book – and especially the music – so much.

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