Developing ethical thinking, empathy and emotional intelligence with Ginnie and Pinney

  • Published on July 17, 2020

Developing ethical thinking, empathy and emotional intelligence with Ginnie and Pinney

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Penny Harris who is launching the first two titles in the Ginnie and Pinney Learn and Grow series of books and videos for young children. The series of eight books encourages the development of ethical thinking, empathy and emotional intelligence. The first two books are Ginnie & Pinney; ‘3, 2, 1 and Here I Come’ and ‘Pinney the Winner’. This interview is part of a Books on Tour promotion. You can find a list of other blogs in the promotion at the end of the post.

About the author Penny Harris

Penny Harris is a multi-national and international award-winning animator, author and multi-media developer. She has worked with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Film Victoria as well as a number of Australian universities and institutions.

About the Illustrator Winnie Zhou

Winnie Zhou has a Masters of Multimedia Design from Monash University and is a talented illustrator and multimedia developer. Winnie lives in Melbourne and has worked closely with Penny to develop the series.

About the Ginnie and Pinney Learn and Grow series

About the series Ginnie and Pinney Learn and Grow

The series consists of 8 story books, animated videos, teacher resources and finger puppets; aligns with Australian Early Years Learning Framework; and is consistent with social and emotional learning.

The stories feature Ginnie & Pinney and their friends. Their daily social interactions, concerns and decisions pose dilemmas that model positive self-identity and behaviours: selflessness, persistence, sharing, fairness, inclusiveness, responsibility, accepting difference and learning to say sorry.

The videos, accessed from QR codes supplied on the back of each book, are perfect for display on an interactive whiteboard in the classroom or used on any other digital device at home or at school.

Open-ended questions included at the back of each book can be used to stimulate deep discussion and encourage social and emotional learning.

The series was selected by the Finnish Educational Org.HundrEd, as one of a hundred of the most innovative educational programs for 2020 and was also selected by the Victorian Dept. of Education and Training as a recommended resource for 2020 for their School Readiness Funding program.

The books

3,2,1, Here I Come

‘3, 2, 1 and Here I Come’ is a story about fairness. Ginnie suggests a game of hide and seek. Pinney is reluctant as he doesn’t think it’s fair to Ginnie (a giraffe) as he thinks Ginnie isn’t good at hiding. Their friends were undecided whether they should play if Ginnie wasn’t good at it, but Ginnie insisted. What happens next in the story provides the starting place for many discussions about feelings and fairness.

Pinney the Winner

Pinney the Winner is a story about selflessness. On sports day, Pinney is determined to win a race and earn a chocolate medal. Unfortunately, Pinney is not good at racing except for in one race — the pogo stick race. What happens next in the story provides opportunities for discussing friendship, helping each other and selflessness.

Now let’s meet the author Penny Harris.

© Penny Harris, author
© Penny Harris, author

The Interview

Welcome to readilearn, Penny. These books have important messages for young children, indeed all of us, to learn. Could you tell us how the Ginnie and Pinney series of books came about?

It is an interesting story. We began this journey in 2011 and have been working together on Ginnie & Pinney since then. I was lecturing at Monash University in Multimedia Practise and Winnie was one of my Masters student at the time. Her Masters project included animations of some of the characters we have used in the Ginnie & Pinney series.

When both Winnie and I had left the university, we got together to more fully develop the characters as they are today. I was really drawn to the whimsical and sweet drawing style Winnie has done and could see their potential but was not sure how to apply them or for what purpose. My background is animation, digital media director and writer, so it made sense to think about writing books.

Initially we thought we would develop a series of books teaching English as a second language as Winnie had contacts with a university in her hometown of Jinan, Shandong Province, China.

We took our initial idea to the educators there. They suggested we needed more academic underpinning so returned to Australia to look for experts in this area. Not finding any one academic who was able to advise us on the best way forward, we hit a bit of a stumbling block.

It wasn’t until 2014, when I read an article in The Age newspaper, about teaching ethics and empathy to young children, that Winnie and I finally had a clear vision of what we wanted to do.

This time we engaged three high level academics as consultants and took the idea of developing a series of books teaching ethics, empathy and EQ back to China. The educators loved what we showed them which resulted in a publishing deal in China.

We wrote the books in English and had them translated into Mandarin Chinese. Coming back to Australia we struggled to get a publisher so decided to self-publish. We trialled the books in two high performing schools before we began selling into schools.

We had interest from various publishers at this time, but it wasn’t until we spoke with Big Sky Publishing that we were offered a publishing deal that finally catapulted us to where we are now.

It has been a very long journey to get to this point but both Winnie and I have loved the adventure and enjoyed working together to create the Ginnie & Pinney Learn & Grow series.

Why did you think it was important to write these books? 

In today’s world I believe there is an absolute need to help children to develop their emotional intelligence and social and emotional well-being.

I felt a strong need to write stories that encourage young children to think and discuss emotional issues with each other and with parents, caregivers or teachers, to develop their ethical thinking and empathy, enabling them to grow into well-functioning and well socialised adults.

There is much evidence supporting the teaching of ethics, empathy and emotional intelligence to very young children, not least the Harvard Graduate School of Education which states, in its Making Caring Common project that ‘Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. It’s a foundation for acting ethically, for good relationships of many kinds, for loving well, and for professional success. And it’s key to preventing bullying and many other forms of cruelty.’ (, 2018).

A page from Pinney the Winner © Winnie Zhou and Penny Harris
A page from Pinney the Winner © Winnie Zhou and Penny Harris

Do you intend the books to be read by families at home, or do you consider them to be more suited to classroom use? 

The books are equally suitable for both families and in a classroom setting. The stories and open-ended questions found on our website and in the Teacher Resource aim to stimulate lively discussion between adult and child. The stories and emotional themes aim to encourage dialectic reading. The animated videos accessed by the QR code on the back of each book allow for viewing on a personal device in a family setting or on a digital whiteboard in a classroom setting. 

How would you like teachers to present the books to children?

I would like teachers to familiarise themselves with each of the eight stories and the open-ended questions written specifically to address the emotional themes of the Early Years Learning Framework. Before reading to the class it is essential to talk about the major theme in each book and explain what that theme means. It is also important to discuss the characters identified at the front of the books. Almost each page of each book addresses an emotional issue. For example, in Flight of the Kite, Ginnie Giraffe is anxious about flying kites on a windy day but is not able to say what she feels. Her friend Pinney doesn’t pick up her anxiety and insists on flying kites. This is just one example of many conundrums throughout the stories. It is also important to read the books to the children multiple times for them to get the most out of the stories.

If you could sum up the most important message of the books in just one phrase, what would it be?

The most important message is for children to have fun with the stories, and develop their ethical thinking, emotional intelligence and social and emotional wellbeing so as to ‘Learn & Grow’.

A page from 3, 2, 1, Here I Come © Winnie Zhou and Penny Harris
A page from 3, 2, 1, Here I Come © Winnie Zhou and Penny Harris

The books are unique in that they are available in print form as well as animated videos. Why have you presented them this way?

I have an animation background so creating animations was something I had always thought we would do with this series, particularly as the characters lend themselves well to animation. To add to this, I researched the idea with a number of teachers and realised how, in a classroom setting, it would be valuable to project the videos onto a digital white board for easy viewing.

The series has received accolades from different educational organisations around the world. Please tell us about them.

Ginnie & Pinney, Learn & Grow’ was chosen as a unique innovation by the prestigious global education, not for profit organisation, HundrED, based in Finland and the UK, as one of 100 most inspiring K12 innovations across twenty-seven countries to be recognized for 2019.

HundrED aims to share best practice ideas and K12 innovations across borders to help improve the future of education globally. To achieve this, a team of researchers investigated innovations from around the world to determine 100 projects that are already changing the face of education. Over 1,000 innovations were identified through research, events and recommendations and then 160 were evaluated by HundrED’s academy made up of educational experts, educators and students (ages 11-19 years old) from 28 countries on their innovativeness, impact and scalability.

The Ginnie and Pinney program was chosen due to its unique pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact, reaching across China and Australia. At a time where there is much discussion about issues of bullying, exclusion, peer pressure etc. these materials address emotional themes and major learning outcomes in a gentle and humorous way for young children.

The books were also selected by the Victorian Department of Education and Training for the 2020 School Readiness Funding Menu which was an exciting affirmation of the Learn & Grow series

As well as some questions to accompany each book and character cut outs and colouring pages, a teacher resource is also available. What support can teachers expect to find in the resource?

This 64-page resource is based on the Australian Curriculum and is a springboard of ideas for educators to use when reading, discussing and sharing the Ginnie & Pinney program with young children. In addition to discussion questions, the included activities are aimed at children from three to eight years and can be adapted as needed, based on the child’s developmental capability and skill. They provide exciting, relevant learning opportunities. Each activity has been explained clearly, with suggestions for relevant resources and materials. We recommend a general sharing of information with families to reinforce the philosophy and approach.

The resource has much information relating to the EYLF. It is divided into eight chapters corresponding to the 8 books. Each chapter has the following:

  • Objectives based on the EYLF
  • Introduction to each story
  • Relationship to the EYLF
  • Discussion questions from shared reading or viewing
  • Concepts and actions linking to the framework
  • Key Words used in the story
  • Activities (average of 10 activities per chapter)
  • Educators Practice

For further information a sample of the teacher resource can be found at

The books are available in Mandarin Chinese as well as English. Do you have plans for them to be translated into other languages?

We are open to translating into other languages if a need arises.

What else would you like teachers to know about this series?

One of the most important things from my perspective, is to ensure teachers have a good grasp of the intent of our Ginnie & Pinney ‘Learn & Grow’ series and use the books in a way that encourages lively discussion around the themes of ethics, empathy and EQ. The other very important thing is for both the teachers and the children to have fun reading these books!

thank you writers and illustrators for sharing information about your books and your creative process

Thank you, Penny. It’s been interesting to learn more about you and this wonderful series for teachers and parents to use with young children. Thanks for stopping by to let us know about them today.

 More information about Penny and the books can be found

at the website:

Or on social media




From the website you can also download some questions to stimulate discussion about each of the books, some free characters to cut out to accompany retelling and story creation, and some colouring pages.

Check out the other posts in this Books on Tour promotion:

Ginnie & Pinney Campaign Schedule Books on Tour


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    I’m not sure if I told you that one of my courses this term is Teaching with Emotional Intelligence. I appreciate this topic and seeing how educators can also teach their students (not just manage the classroom with EQ).

    Your course sounds interesting, Charli. I think it should be part of all teacher education courses. Perhaps it is now but it wasn’t back in mid-last-century when I trained. We were just expected to do it.

    Thank you for your lovely comment, Susan. It is very important.

    Wonderful interview, Norah! Developing social and emotional skills is the most important part of early childhood education. Now more than ever with children unable to attend school during the pandemic, we need to red these stories to children.

    I agree, Jennie. The books with their animations make them perfect for sharing online as well as in person.

    A lovely idea, Norah. Penny responses to your questions are also interesting, Norah. It is always nice for an author to share exactly how they would like their books shared with children and in a class room.

    I’m pleased you enjoyed Penny’s responses to my questions, Robbie. I always enjoy finding out what effect an aurthor hopes their book will have on readers.

    What a fantastic topic for a children’s book. I agree, should be read by parents at home and a great teaching tool for teachers to reach a bigger audience for messaging. Thanks for the introduction to Penny and her wonderful children’s series. <3

    Thank you for your comment, Debby. Yes, these are very important topics for children to learn and us all to embrace.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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