This list is collected from online chats about children’s books. Comments are from teachers who have used these books in class in 2020.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — American. Huge success with Years 9 and 10s. “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.”
Beyond Belief by Dee White — marketed at readers over 10 years old but works with Year 10s. “Inspired by the true story of Muslims who saved the lives of Jewish children in the Second World War. In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Rubens parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family. One hint of Ruben’s true identity and he’ll be killed. So will the people trying to save him. But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.”
Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell, Fiona Wood — Australian. Written by three different authors. “ADY – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be. KATE – brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves. CLEM – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy. All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.”
The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon — Australian. “Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention center after his mother and sister fled the violence of a distant homeland, Subhi has only ever known life behind the fences. But his world is far bigger than that—every night, the magical Night Sea from his mother’s stories brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories. And as he grows, his imagination threatens to burst beyond the limits of his containment. The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie—a scruffy, impatient girl who appears on the other side of the wire fence and brings with her a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it herself, she relies on Subhi to unravel her family’s love songs and tragedies. Subhi and Jimmie might both find comfort—and maybe even freedom—as their tales unfold. But not until each has been braver than ever before.”
Detention by Tristan Bancks — Australian. Year 7. “Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?”
When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah — Australian. Deals with serious topics without suicide, self-harm and sexual assault. An uplifting read. (Themes: race, class, gender, refugees, the role of media). Year 10. “When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides. Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre. Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.”
Lion: a Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley — Australian. Comes in movie, adult, younger reader and picture book versions. “Can you imagine being lost and not finding your way home again?Saroo Brierley became lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a family in Australia.Despite being happy in his new home, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. He pored over satellite images on Google Earth seeking out landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.Then he set off on a journey back to India to see if he could find his mother.This inspirational true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds is now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman.This edition has been specially edited for younger readers who want to discover Saroo’s extraordinary story for themselves.”
When The Ground Is Hard by Malla Nunn — Australian. “Edgar Award nominee stuns in this heartrending tale set in a Swaziland boarding school where two girls of different castes bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre. Adele Joubert loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school is going to be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders. But as they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and Lottie learns to be a little sweeter. Together, they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. Then a boy goes missing on campus and Adele and Lottie must rely on each other to solve the mystery and maybe learn the true meaning of friendship.”
Lost Souls Atlas by Zana Fraillon — Australian. “A boy awakens in the Afterlife, with a pocketful of vague memories, a key, a raven, and a mysterious Atlas to guide him as he sets out to piece together the mystery of his final moments”.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley — Australian. Not younger than Year 10 because of the ‘kissing bits’. “In this beautiful love story from the author of “Graffiti Moon, ” two teens find their way back to each other in a bookstore full of secrets and crushes, grief and hope–and letters hidden between the pages.”
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller — Indigenous Australian with paranormal elements. ” Stacey and Laney are twins – mirror images of each other – and yet they’re as different as the sun and moon. Stacey works hard at school, determined to get out of their small town. Laney skips school and sneaks out of the house to meet her boyfriend. But when Laney disappears one night, Stacey can’t believe she’s just run off without telling her. As the days pass and Laney doesn’t return, Stacey starts dreaming of her twin. The dreams are dark and terrifying, difficult to understand and hard to shake, but at least they tell Stacey one key thing – Laney is alive. It’s hard for Stacey to know what’s real and what’s imagined and even harder to know who to trust. All she knows for sure is that Laney needs her help. Stacey is the only one who can find her sister. Will she find her in time?”
Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke — Afro-Caribbean Australian. Studied with Year 12s. Might work with younger years. “In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings.”
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina — Year 10. Australian. “An extraordinary thriller, told from the perspective of two Aboriginal protagonists, which weaves together themes of grief, colonial history, violence, love and family. Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her, and he’s drowning in grief. Only a suspected murder, and a mystery to solve, might save them both. And they have a potential witness: Isobel Catching. Aboriginal by birth, like Beth, she seems lost and isolated in the world. But as the two get closer, Isobel’s strange tale of glass-eyed monsters and stolen colours will intertwine with Beth’s investigation – and reveal something dark and terrible at the heart of this Australian town.”
Parvana by Deborah Ellis — Comes in a graphic novel. “There are many types of battle in Afghanistan. Imagine living in a country where women and girls are not allowed to leave the house without a man. Imagine having to wear clothes that cover every part of your body, including your face, whenever you go out. This is the life of Parvana, a young girl growing up in Afghanistan under the control of an extreme religious military group. When soldiers burst into her home and drag her father off to prison, Parvana is forced to take responsibility for her whole family, dressing as a boy to make a living in the marketplace of Kabul, risking her life in the dangerous and volatile city. By turns exciting and touching, Parvana is a story of courage in the face of overwhelming fear and repression.”
The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary L. Blackwood — Good introduction to a Shakespeare unit. Short. “Widge is an orphan with a rare talent for shorthand. His fearsome master has just one demand: steal Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”–or else. Widge has no choice but to follow orders, so he works his way into the heart of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s players perform. As full of twists and turns as a London alleyway, this entertaining novel is rich in period details, colorful characters, villainy, and drama.”
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — is still being taught. There’s plenty of teaching material out there on this.
A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park — Aimed at Year 7 but younger kids tend to love it. “In 1985, southern Sudan is ravaged by war. Rebels and government forces battle for control, with ordinary people — people like the boy, Salva Dut — caught in the middle. When Salva’s village is attacked, he must embark on a harrowing journey that will propel him through horror and heartbreak, across a harsh desert, and into a strange new life.”
“You’re Ugly, Too” is a short story by American writer Lorrie Moore, first published in a 1989 edition of The New Yorker — Moore’s first for the New Yorker. Find it also in her short story collection Like Life (1990).
New Yorker editors pointed out to Moore several “vulgarities” of the writing process she had committed in the story. “All through the editing process, they said, ‘Oooh, we’re breaking so many rules with this.’“Encyclopedia.com
Why did the crew at The New Yorker feel Lorrie Moore’s short story — the first of hers they’d seen/discussed seriously — broke the ‘rules’ of writing? What rules were they talking about.
I wasn’t there and can’t tell you for sure, but I’d like to consider this question.
- Zoë is a woman, but she’s not “likeable”. She’s not even likeably unlikeable. (At least, she’s not written that way, panding to readers’ desire to like their main characters).
- Zoë’s actions never fully make sense to the reader, even after re-reading. Her actions at the party, like her sense of humour, are absurd.
- Zoë is nihilist and therefore passive. A difficult character to write.
Birds are much older than we are — living dinosaurs. Across cultures, birds function as smart collaborators with humans. We now know how smart (some) birds really are, but we have long had a sense of their canniness. The smartest bird in the world is currently thought to be the New Zealand Kea, which isn’t so great if you live in New Zealand and the kea is chewing the bits of rubber off your car.
BIRDS AND THE ANCIENT GREEKS
Birds are frequently utilised in tales of transmogrification. Wings are frequently stuck onto chimerae. This surely has something to do with humans’ long-held wish-fulfilment fantasy of being able to fly.
Take the Ancient Greek mythological siren.
Bird symbolism in the Greek imagination was common. Reverse-engineering the meaning of all these story-birds isn’t easy. For instance, we’ll never know for sure why Sirens took the form of a hybrid bird-woman, but we do know that in ancient mythology birds represented a number of things:
- messengers of deities
- mediators (between the human world and the supernatural realm)
Continue reading “Symbolism of Birds”
Over the centuries, however, the Siren transformed. In the Middle Ages, the spread of Christianity throughout Europe saw the Siren morph from a bird-woman into a fish-bodied being, who personified the dangers of both the sea and female sexuality. The seventh-century medieval bestiary Liber monstruorum diversis generibus, or the “Book of Monsters,” is one of the earliest examples of this transition, describing Sirens as sea-girls who “are like human beings from the head to the navel, with the body of a maiden, but have scaly fish tails, with which they always lurk in the sea.” Illustrations from the period clearly reveal the difference; the Sirens now have voluptuous bodies, perform erotic moves, and exhibit brazen tactics of seduction, such as staring longingly into mirrors and combing their hair. These Sirens no longer symbolized the spirit, but rather, the pleasures of the flesh.Vice
Puns are often simple wordplay for comedic or rhetorical effect.
Puns are at the heart of “Dad Jokes”, though in Dad Jokes, the “dad” generally pretends he doesn’t understand the speaker’s intended meaning. The Dad feigns stupidity, the Victim knows he’s only playing stupid, and the joke succeeds if it elicits a groan from the Victim.
The Victim: “I’m hungry.”
The Dad: “Hello, Hungry. Pleased to meet you.”
Both Victim and Dad understand that the victim needs to eat; the Dad pretends to believe the Victim’s name happens to be homophonous with the common adjective ‘hungry’.Continue reading “Dad Jokes, Puns and Related Words”
You plug these into a computer then draw onto the tablet while looking up at your monitor.
Wacom calls them ‘pen tablets’.
I’ve been using digitiser tablets for a decade — first a cheap Wacom Bamboo, then a large Wacom Intuos. I’ve heard people say it takes a couple of years to get fully used to using a digitiser tablet. That depends on how many hours you’re putting into it, of course, but the takeaway point is this:
There is an upper limit to the control you’ll achieve on a digitiser tablet no matter how many hours you put in.
Don’t expect to ever freehand a line with a digitiser tablet as well as you can freehand a line on paper. No matter how many hours of practice you get, you won’t get there. The tablet does not allow for it.
Acknowledging this fact, ingenious software developers, such as the people who made Rebelle 3, accommodate by adding a digital ‘ruler’ which allows artists to draw a straighish but still wobbly-looking line. But really, nothing compares to drawing straight onto a surface. If you’re more of a painter than a drawer, the digitiser tablet will work well. But if you want to start creating digital art with heavy use of linework, you will either need to do it on paper, scan it in and clean it up… or, you’ll need a monitor tablet.
Benefits: Your hand never gets in the way of your art. The small ones without touch sensitivity are reliable and affordable.
Drawbacks: Line work. Drawing a straight line? No problem. Art software lets you draw as many perfect lines and shapes as you like. Ditto for vector art workflows. It’s freehanding the ‘almost’ perfect line that’s the problem.
The Wacom Intuos Pro Medium paper edition lets you clip a piece of paper onto the tablet. You are literally drawing on actual paper, and the tablet digitises your strokes as you work. You then transfer this to a desktop (or iPad Pro) to do the rest of your digital work there.
Benefits: This would be great for artists who love to work on actual paper with real pens, and would also limit eye strain if you’re working long hours on a big project.
Drawbacks: Faffing about with paper (the minor nuisance of getting it from the paper tablet onto the computer)
This tablet is literally a monitor you plug into your computer and draw on. It is backlit.
Wacom calls them ‘pen displays’. Top of the range monitor tablet: the latest Wacom Cintiq Pro.
Other companies are now starting to catch up to Wacom regarding hardware quality. The Huion Kamvas is gaining popularity among artists. I recently bought one myself. Sure enough, Huion’s hardware is now rivalling Wacom’s, but Huion’s software lets it down. The driver does not allow for different settings with different applications, and every time it updates it wants you to completely uninstall and reinstall it, which means you need to recalibrate the pen, which is a minor nuisance. There is no touch gesture on the Huion. However, it is heaps cheaper than the Wacom equivalent. I mean, a third the price. I am currently having issues with my Huion randomly disconnecting then reconnecting (which sets off the ding-dong on a PC). I haven’t had these sorts of pain-in-the-neck issues with my Wacom digitiser tablet. But, it was cheap, and it draws well.
Once the iPad Pro came out I thought, good, that’ll bring the price of Cintiq’s down. Sure enough, Wacom’s top of the line model has got a little cheaper than it was. The existence of Huion is probably helping.
Benefits: Great line control, as you are drawing directly onto something (a screen rather than paper).
Drawbacks: If you’re used to a digitiser tablet, in which you look at the screen while drawing on your desk, you now need to revert to that nuisance of drawing with your hand partially obscuring the canvas. Also, you’ll probably want to wear a palm rejection glove. These tend to be made of nylon and your hand gets sweaty. Monitor tablets are the most expensive of the tablets. If you’re used to using an iPad or other computer tablet with gestures, you’ll find yourself wanting to use those gestures on your monitor tablet, and the cheaper ones don’t have touch gestures.
THE IPAD PRO
If money is no object, and you don’t mind supporting Apple, many illustrators will tell you: The iPad Pro is the way to go. The iPad is a graphic computer which doubles as a graphics tablet because, well, that’s the way it works.
Benefits: iPads have another massive advantage for illustrators: The app Procreate from the App Store, which is increasingly loved by professional and hobby illustrators alike. It’s the least buggy of all the art software I’ve used.
Drawbacks: Not only are iPads expensive, Apple doesn’t mind asking its user base to keep forking out for things we shouldn’t have to. For instance, the newest Apple Pencil is not backwards compatible, so even if you spent a hundred bucks on an Apple Pencil, you won’t be able to use it when you upgrade your iPad. Also, Apple products get slower and slower (by design) so you won’t get more than about 3 or 5 years out of an Apple device no matter how carefully you look after it. In contrast, my Wacom Intuos digitiser tablet has lasted over a decade so far. I only thought of upgrading after my Apple Mac fell over and striped a big gouge in it (before smashing).
Owl At Home is a 1975 picture book written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel. The book comprises five very short early reader stories about a kind, anxious and lonely owl. These owl stories, along with the frog and toad stories come from the second phase of Lobel’s creative career, in which he tapped into his own emotions and acknowledged he was writing “adult stories, slightly disguised as children’s stories”.
Owl lives by himself in a regular Western-style dream house (with the upstairs, the hearth, and everything you’d expect to see in a picture book dream house). Although published in the 1970s, there’s nothing 70s about this dream house — there are 1800s/early 1900s details, such as the candle beside the bed. (There doesn’t seem to be electricity.) Picture books set in this era feel atemporal to a modern audience. I’m not sure if this house is in fact inside a tree, because we don’t get an establishing shot.Continue reading “Owl At Home by Arnold Lobel”
American writer Carson McCullers published “The Jockey” in 1941, when she was just 24, which seems young, until you realise she’d published “Sucker” at the age of 17 and a novel at age 22.
McCullers belonged to a generation who spent their youth living through world war. Surely that affords a measure of maturity. She had also endured a number of strokes, which were to eventually paralyse one half of her body. She was married by the time she wrote this. Apparently, when her husband forged his signature to get the money she received for this story from the New Yorker, that was the last straw, and she (temporarily) left him. They reunited later, he tried to persuade her to double suicide with him, she refused, and he suicided on his own.Continue reading “The Jockey by Carson McCullers”
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) is remembered as one of America’s greatest wits. If you watch Gilmore girls, you’ll be familiar with her name, as Rory is depicted reading a 1976 edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker. The creator of Gilmore girls, Amy Sherman-Palladino, was clearly a huge fan, naming her production company Dorothy Parker Drank Here. I feel the character of Miss Patty is straight out of Dorothy Parker’s world.
“Dance In America” is a short story by Lorrie Moore and can be found in the collection Birds Of America, published in 1998. Find it also in The Collected Short Stories. “Dance In America” first appeared in The New Yorker in 1993.
This story may get you thinking about big ideas such as:Continue reading “Dance In America by Lorrie Moore”