Kate De Goldi discusses children’s literature with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand Saturday Morning.

Reading theatre in children’s literature was pioneered by Paul Fleischman, who has done heaps and heaps of books, many different forms, for many different age groups. He is a one man master.

Bull Run by Paul Fleischman

American geography, civil war history… Even the adult reader will learn a lot from this. Photography came of age during this war so was the first war to be photographed. Fleischman writes this book with a series of monologues. There’s a woodcut at the top of each chapter which changes according to who it’s by — this woodcut serves as a beautiful example of a pictorial aid, but a very quiet one, which allows the reader to remember who is who.

There are also fantastic maps in the front, with great detail.

Bull Run was the first big battle of the Civil War. His basic theme is about what we bring to our expectation of battle as a country — excitement, a sense of righteousness. What we might regard as virtuous causes are actually not. He beautifully shows the dashed expectations and the horror of the battle through the different monologues. There’s a multicultural cast, pale of skin (so able to sign up, since the unions don’t want the blacks fighting for them). The photographer doesn’t really care who he’s photographing — capturing both sides. One of the photos is blurred to make the soldier look like a spirit, even before he is killed in battle.

The women are beautifully caught. Lily never actually goes to battle but is living a pretty degraded life.

The striking thing to a modern reader is how long it takes to hear of any news about what’s happening during war.

Flora watches all three of her sons go to war, but later on is called upon to nurse union soldiers.

Another man goes to war to find a family among the horses. What cuts him to the quick is what happens to the animals on the battle field.

This book stands out because it crosses race and gender lines in its telling.

This book will appeal to good readers and history buffs, but also to less good readers because the pieces are very short. This book would be a great teaching tool. While history buffs can become obsessed with the way a battle is actually fought, this book deals with the humanity in the war.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a medieval village

Laura Amy Schlitz is an increasingly well-known writer and very good. Schlitz is a librarian at a middle school in Baltimore and this book arose out of her love for history. She wrote a play set during the middle ages and all 17 children wanted a part, so she wrote a series of monologues so that each part would be as important as another. There are 22 different voices in this, all young characters, all different ways of looking at life around a medieval manor in 1255. From this you learn an awful lot about the period. For example what a ‘sniggler’ is — the vocabulary is amazing. She brings back words that have gone out of our language, but also she doesn’t stint on an adventurous vocabulary simply because of the younger age of her readers. She writes with a poet’s ear, with beautiful rhythm and phrasing. Interpolated between the monologue she gives little essays with factoids that can be skipped over or read in order. The pictures are beautiful woodcut illustrations by Robert Byrd. (He has also illustrated at least sixteen books for other authors, including Jack StokesRobert KrausBruce KrausLaura Amy SchlitzKathleen KrullMarilyn Jager Adams, and Paula Fox.)

This would be one great way of a primary school classroom working together to learn about the middle ages. This book really brings this period to life.

Winner of the Newbery Medal 2008

This author has just published Splendors and Gloom, a Victorian Gothic mystery involving puppet masters.