Sunday, 24 April 2016

Mud crabs, mangroves and memories

Reading the newly published picture book, Crabbing with Dad brought back so many lovely memories for me of growing up in Far North Queensland and fishing with my brother on the beach...well, he fished and I carried the bucket.  Memories of the cast net, the yabby pump, pippies, mangroves and mud crabs :)  

Reading this picture book also brought memories of my very favourite poem studied in high school in Cairns, "The Crabs" by Brian Vrepont.  I still vividly remember the lines in that poem and the sense of futility of the human condition in comparison to the simplicity of the existence of the crabs.  Disappointing that there are a couple of typos in the version hyperlinked here, but nonetheless, I remember it well...
"I laugh, knowing crabs wiser than man;
When man, suicided from his home, the earth

Shall see no lord sun spray gold on wave,

Nor moon come like vespers, go in full song,

Crabs still will ply their chop-sticks,

Knowing nor caring that man is dust."

Crabbing with Dad is written and illustrated by Darwin-based author and illustrator, Paul Seden who is descended from the Wuthathi and Muralag people of North Queensland.  This is the first children's picture book that he has both written and illustrated.  It is published by Magabala Books, Australia's oldest independent Indigenous publishing company, based in Broome, in the far north of Western Australia.

I love so many of the picture books published by Magabala Books and have blogged about some of them before.  You can read these other posts using the "search this blog" link on the right hand side or by clicking here.  Free teachers' notes for many of the picture books published by Magabala Books are available here.

Crabbing with Dad tells the story of Mahli and Sam who go out crabbing with Dad in their boat to their secret spot in the creek. They set their crab pots and wait patiently until they pull up an angry crab and then more crabs and their Dad teaches them how to handle the crabs so they don't get nipped.  Interestingly, nowhere in the text does it mention that the girl's name is Mahli (I found that out on the publisher's blurb about the book).  The story is told through the eyes of Mahli, the narrator.

This would be a terrific mentor text for writing personal recounts and retellings and also for children to write about their favourite activities with their own fathers (making it a great choice of text and activity for Father's Day).
Some teaching ideas for Crabbing with Dad
  • Writing a narrative recount/retell of a personal experience 
  • [Australian Curriculum: English Year 2 Achievement Standard:  Students create texts, drawing on their own experiences, their imagination and information they have learnt]
  • Exploring figurative language and literary devices e.g. alliteration, consonance, assonance and sibilance - for example, from the text: "The fish in the creek SHIMMY and SPLASH and play hide and seek." 
  • Examining subject specific vocabulary and phrases - e.g. longbums, shellfish, mangroves, fishing, tide, hunting, nippers, crab pots, untangle, crabbing, life jackets, mates, mud crabbing, sink the pots, glide to our secret spot, turn of the tide. 
  • Investigating adjectives and noun groups e.g. slimy fish bait, secret spot.  Students could expand sentences from within the text by using noun groups 
  • [Australian Curriculum: English Year 2 Strand: Language; Sub-strand: Expressing and developing ideas: ...noun groups/phrases can be expanded using articles and adjectives (ACELA1468)Understand the use of vocabulary about familiar and new topics and experiment with and begin to make conscious choices of vocabulary to suit audience and purpose (ACELA1470) ]
  • Questioning, inferring and justifying with evidence from the text: What's the difference between fishing and hunting? What does 'turn of the tide' mean?  What does the sign mean in the illustration that shows Dad's mates fishing? What are longbums?  What do the children do while they are waiting up the creek?  Why do the children have to wait in the boat up the creek, away from the crab pots?  What are mud crabs and where do they live?  Which parts of Australia can they be found in? Why do you think the first mud crab was angry?  
  • [Australian Curriculum: English Year 2 StrandLiteracySub-strandInterpreting, analysing, evaluatingUse comprehension strategies to build literal and inferred meaning and begin to analyse texts by drawing on growing knowledge of context, language and visual features and print and multimodal text structures (ACELY1670)]
  • Interpreting visual representations in the text: Why do you think the author/illustrator wrote the words about the first crab catch the way he did? 
  • [Australian Curriculum: English Year 2 StrandLanguageSub-strandExpressing and developing ideas:Identify visual representations of characters’ actions, reactions, speech and thought processes in narratives, and consider how these images add to or contradict or multiply the meaning of accompanying words (ACELA1469)
In preparing for this blog post, I did quite a few Internet searches and was really surprised by how few picture books or resources for children there are about mud crabs.  If you know of any, please share the links in the comments below this post.  It seems that hermit crabs are madly popular in primary schools, but other crabs have a very lean dance card. I will share some of the ideas I did find.  
If you have been following my blog for some time, you will know that I love using multiple text sources, text sets or companion texts to support students to make inter-textual connections (text-to-text connections and intertextuality).

Magabala Books publishes a series called, Deadly Reads for Deadly Readers and within this series I found the text, Claws, Eyes, Flippers, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Speech Pathology of Australia Book of the Year Awards (Indigenous Children category). Has anyone seen or used this series before?  I hadn't heard of it, so I decided to find out more.  In the blurb for the book, the publisher's website states:
"Do crabs have claws or flippers? One of the first of four books in a series of levelled readers.The series has been carefully designed to provide young Indigenous and non-Indigenous children with engaging, enjoyable and meaningful experiences with print that will support their reading skills and their desire to read."

Free teacher notes are available here.  The teaching notes, written by Trish Bremner, have links to the Australian Curriculum across several curriculum areas.  The English notes include book sharing, modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading, repeated reading and independent reading ideas.  They introduce teachers to the GRREaD strategy for repeated readings of the text.  If you haven't heard of the GRREaD approach before, it is worthwhile reading the teaching notes as a comprehensive explanation is included.

I found this other picture book, published in 2006 by the Batchelor Institute in the Northern Territory through the Book Depository, however I do not have a copy so cannot review it.  The description of the book states that the book is:  
"The story of the mud crab, the magpie goose and the pied cormorant who meet together to dance a corroboree. They all dance until they are exhausted when the magpie goose man and his family decide to become birds, the pied cormorant and his family decide to grow feathers and swim in fresh water and the crab man grows a shell."
I also found the title, Pet Crabs published in the series of Indji readers (for little fullas, for big fullas, Series 2).  The blurb states:
"An old Koori lad tricks some 'gungies' (police) about his seafood hunting practices, highlighting laws about Native Title fishing rights."
Information about the Indji readers can be found here.

I love Bruce Whatley's illustrations and especially those in his picture books, The Ugliest Dog in the World and That Magnetic Dog.   They are just terrific for teaching visual literacy.  Looking for Crabs by Bruce Whatley is sure not to disappoint and I cannot wait for my copy to arrive in the post.  You can read about Bruce Whatley and his works here.
The description of "Looking for Crabs" states:
"When you are on holidays and it's too cold to swim, what can you do? You can look for crabs! But search carefully, they are very hard to find. *Shortlisted, Young Adults Best Book Awards (YABBA) (VIC), 1994 and 1995 Ages 3+"

Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon is written by the children of One Arm Point Community School.  Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi-Jaawi people at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the north-west of Western Australia.  In this book, readers follow the children as they go 'Camping at Gooda', and learn how to make mens' spears, how to dig for mud crabs, how to find fresh water and how to make damper.  It sounds like it could be a useful mentor text for procedural writing.

I found the picture book, "Spearing Crabs" published in 2013 by Black Ink Press on Booktopia.  The description states:
"Written and illustrated by youngsters, these small books tell some stories that are far-fetched and others very down-to-earth. They all share a lively Indigenous sensibility and sense of humour. With bright, spontaneous illustrations they will be enjoyed by other primary and even secondary students. They might even make books seem relevant and their short texts will be enjoyable for reluctant readers."

I also found another picture book published by Magabala Books, "Joshua and the Two Crabs".  The description states:
"Joshua Button is a young Indigenous author with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in. His observations of his family’s fishing trip to Crab Creek give us a unique opportunity to see this adventure through his eyes. Joshua’s illustrations evoke the beauty of Crab Creek—a tidal creek that lies in the mangroves of Roebuck Bay near Broome in Australia’s north west."

I didn't know about Zombie Crabs until I started reading for this blog post.  I am sure children would be highly motivated to read and learn about this phenomenon.  This is the blurb from Fishpond for this non-fiction children's book published in 2015:  
"A parasite exists that can make a male crab believe its a female crab. It forces the crab it infects to care for parasite eggs and even help release the larvae into the ocean to infect other crabs! These zombie crabs are never aware that they are infected nor do they harm the parasite."
I wonder if there are zombie crabs in Australia?

Not about mud crabs, but "Catching Blueys" looks like an interesting title written and illustrated in Cherbourg and published by Budburra Books.  The description reads:
"Brave Mim knows the best way to catch blueys! Robyn shares her special family story about catching crawfish with her sister at the waterhole."

So, what all of this hunting around the Internet about mud crabs has reinforced to me, is that "Crabbing with Dad" by Paul Seden is a wonderful and welcome addition to a very sparsely published topic for kids - mud crabs and crabbing in Australia.  

Just for fun, for an Art activity, I love this paper plate crab on the Crafts by Amanda website. Another idea for a "crab" hat was found on pinterest here.  Ideas for Indigenous resource activities are provided by the Queensland State Library here.

More information about mud crabs can be found at these websites:
Fish Facts: Mud Crabs
Australian Tropical Foods: Mud Crabs
Cape York Travel Guide: Mud Crabbing

Please leave a comment if you know of any other picture books about mud crabs and crabbing in Australia.

If you love picture books as much as I do, you may be interested in joining our new Facebook group, Picturebook Fanatics - a support group for sharing ideas and picture book titles for people who are obsessed with picture books, like me :)

Please make sure you are following my blog, because I can feel a resource coming on... 

Have a terrific week everyone.


  1. So many great books and ideas! Interpreting visual representations is so important. I'm glad to see ideas which can be used for this concept.


  2. Thanks for your feedback Anne. I was shocked by how few picture books there were on mud crabs over here in Australia, but maybe others know of some I don't know of...

    I found a few on Horseshoe Crabs - are they over your way?