A Peephole Effect In Storytelling and Art

In a position to know, Clarence Coles Phillips, 1921 eavesdropping

Peephole: a small hole that may be looked through, especially one in a door through which callers may be identified before the door is opened.

Though the graphic art below focuses on peepholes — from literal holes in walls to views through trees in a forest — in literature there are established terms for describing the unsettled feeling you get when you look through something to something else.

It goes back to Freud, of course. Freud and the uncanny, or unheimlich.

Freud described the uncanny as “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar”. The uncanny represents the liminal space between what is capable of being understood as outward in the world and what is hidden. Though we may get a sense of the familiarity, its true connection to the past is never quite in our reach. Through repression or burying, the uncanny is never able to be fully comprehended — it can, however, be sensed or felt.

The word ‘unheimlich’ is the opposite of ‘heimlich’, which has various definitions, all related to ‘the home’ e.g. ‘belonging to the home’. The home is (hopefully) where we experience peaceful pleasure and security.

Some writers are well-known for their ability to evoke a sense of the uncanny in readers. One standout example: Shirley Jackson.

In her novel Hangsaman, Jackson repeats door scenes to evoke in readers a sense of the inbetween. (Liminal space.) These doors runction as a gateway to “the shadowy part of self reserved for the double“:

A knock on her door was a strange thing to her as the fact of the door itself… as she looked at the inside, and meant to mark the next day whether the panels outside were the same as those inside; off, she thought, that someone standing outside could look at the door, straight ahead, seeing the white paint and the wood, and I inside looking at the door and the white paint and the wood should look straight also, and we two looking should not see each other because there is something in the way…

Hangsaman, Shirley Jackson

Below is an analysis of this passage. Before reading, know that lonely college freshman Natalie Waite is the main character and she has created this imaginary friend she calls Tony. (Many readers don’t pick up that Tony is imaginary, instead coding Tony as a same-sex romantic object.)

The knocking figure lurking behind the door, somatically signaling its presence but unknowable until the door is opened, is exactly the fear Freud describes in the uncanny. Natalie’s attempts to understand the odd situation relies her ability to “look” at the inside, to “mark” the day, to observe panels from various angles, to “see” the paint, wood, and otherwise normal harbingers of reality.

To decipher what is happening, Natalie attempts to reassert the concreteness of her room and the door. Jackson’s paragraph instills the fear in not knowing where the boundary between the real and the unreal lays, and leaving the uncertainty open after establishing the obvious.

The “we two looking” are Natalie and Tony, not yet able to meet due to that “something in the way,” whether it be logic, reasoning, perception, or simply, a locked door.

Beyond the locked door is the distance between two selves and mental activities. To look at each other would be to finally confront the shadowy other, an act that Natalie cannot fully confront.

What is beginning to emerge in this passage, though, is an inability to separate the real world self from the non reality. It is unclear who the “I” in the passage is, whether Natalie or Tony, real self or shadowed visage.

“Homespun” Horror: Shirley Jackson’s Domestic Doubling by Hannah Phillips

Useful words from that analysis:

Somatic psychology: The study of the mind/body interface, the relationship between our physical matter and our energy; the interaction of our body structures with our thoughts and actions.

Non reality: A place, situation, etc. that is not reality.

Visage: A person’s face or facial expression, with reference to the form or proportions of the features. And here it means the manifestation, image, or aspect of something. (A metaphorical face, for things which don’t normally have faces e.g. buildings or parts of architecture.)


Peephole, Norman Rockwell (1958)
Peephole, Norman Rockwell (1958)
Continue reading “A Peephole Effect In Storytelling and Art”

Buses In Art and Storytelling

Alfred Morgan - One of the People (Gladstone in an Omnibus)
Alfred Morgan – One of the People (Gladstone in an Omnibus)
1933 August, cover by Ernest Hamlin Baker red blue bus
1933 August, cover by Ernest Hamlin Baker red blue bus
September 1935 bus
September 1935 open air bus
Wonderbus 7,Perry Colour Books Ill. Leslie Butler, pub. Powell Perry c1942-44, Putney UK
Wonderbus 7, Perry Colour Books Ill. Leslie Butler, pub. Powell Perry c1942-44, Putney UK
Poster Art  1933  Autocar Citroën bus
Poster Art 1933 Autocar Citroën bus
by Bernhard REBER 1936, Switzerland, Alpine postal motor coaches
by Bernhard REBER 1936, Switzerland, Alpine postal motor coaches
Greyhound Bus Advertisement
Greyhound Bus Advertisement
Scratch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
A ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She’s a scientist, which is why she can’t think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she’s made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There’s something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour…he’s gone.

Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad’s ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.

Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something…and Claire needs to find out what before it’s too late.
Grace Golden (1904-1993) double decker buses
Grace Golden (1904-1993) double decker buses
Gay Company by Catherine Scales, illustrations by Moubray Leigh (H.F. and G. Witherby, Ltd, London 1938)
Gay Company by Catherine Scales, illustrations by Moubray Leigh (H.F. and G. Witherby, Ltd, London 1938)
From Onjali Q. Rauf, the award-winning and best-selling author of The Boy at the Back of the Class, comes another incredible story, told with humour and heart.

Told from the perspective of a bully, this book explores themes of homelessness, while celebrating kindness, friendship and the potential everyone has to change for the good.
Inspired by Onjali’s own childhood experiences of growing up in London and seeing the impact of homelessness on those around her, The Night Bus Hero follows an unlikely friendship between our narrator and Thomas – who lives in the park.

Can they get to the bottom of some unusual thefts taking place across the city, and discover what it takes to be a real hero?
M. Sasek. This is London bus stop
M. Sasek. This is London bus stop
Czech writer and illustrator (émigré) of children's travel books Miroslav Sasek red bus
Czech writer and illustrator (émigré) of children’s travel books Miroslav Sasek red bus


Stevan Dohanos, First Day of School, Saturday Evening Post magazine cover, September 2, 1944
Stevan Dohanos, First Day of School, Saturday Evening Post magazine cover, September 2, 1944
Junie B Jones Stupid Smelly School Bus
Meet the World’s Funniest Kindergartner–Junie B. Jones! Remember when it was scary to go to school? In the first Junie B. Jones book, it’s Junie B.’s first day and she doesn’t know anything. She’s so scared of the school bus and the meanies on it that when it’s time to go home, she doesn’t.
Charles Elmer Martin (American, 1910-1995) 1950 school bus
Charles Elmer Martin (American, 1910-1995) 1950
from Oliver by Birgitta Sif


Illustrator - Amos Sewell (1901-1983) bus
Illustrator – Amos Sewell (1901-1983)
Charles Keeping 1978 ‘A kind of wild justice’ bus
Charles Keeping 1978 ‘A kind of wild justice’ bus

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.


Molly Brett BUS STOP
Molly Brett

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A Glossary of Fairytale Words


Vladimir Propp counted the number of constituents all fairy tales are built from and came to 150.


Vladimir Propp counted 31 functions of a fairytale. Propp defines’ function’ as an act of a character, understood fromt he point of view of its significance for the course of the action.

Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index

An index of fairytales by type, devised by Originally composed in German by Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne in 1910, expanded by American Stith Thompson (1928, 1961) and developed further by German folklorist Hans-Jörg Uther (2004)

Our story is never written in isolation. We do not act in a one-man play. We can do nothing that does not affect other people, no matter how loudly we say, “It’s my own business.”

Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Andrew Lang

Born in Selkirk. Died at Banchory (1844 – 1912). Scottish writer and Journalist. Lang’s output was enormous and varied over many subjects from fairytales to anthropology and Greek literature. Importantly for fairytale study, Andrew Lang was the editor of well-known collections of fairytales, notably the ones with a colour in the title.

The Blue Fairy Book (1921)
The Red Fairy Book (1907)
The Green Fairy Book (1906)
The Grey Fairy Book (1905)
The Yellow Fairy Book (1906
The Pink Fairy Book (1904)
The Lilac Fairy Book (1910)
The Crimson Fairy Book


The True Story Book
The Red True Story Book
The Animal Story Book
The Red Book of Animal Stories
The Arabian Nights Entertainments
The Book of Romance
The Blue Poetry Book
and more

Beast tale

A prose or verse narrative similar to the beast fable but usually without a moral. So what’s a beast fable, then?

Animal characters are given human attributes with human feelings and motives. These tales have a moral. If you’re familiar with Aesop’s fables you’ll know what a beast fable is.


Certain trees crop up more frequently than others in fairytale. Fairytales featuring birch: “The Wonderful Birch”, “Aschenputtel”, “Katie Woodencloak”, “The Story of Tam and Cam”, “Ye Xian”, “Cap O’ Rushes”, “Catskin”, “Fair, Brown and Trembling”, “Finette Cendron”, “Allerleirauh”, and “Tattercoats”. Birch trees have thin, peeling bark.

Character archetype

Vladamir Propp categorised the dramatis personae of fairytales into 8 groups:

  1. The Hero (either Seekers or Victim-heroes)
  2. The Helper (appears at critical moments to provide support; the ally)
  3. The Villain (morally juxtaposed against the goodness of the hero)
  4. The False Hero (tries to get the glory; is a variation on the villain)
  5. The Donor (the character who gives the hero a magical aid)
  6. The Dispatcher (the character who sends the hero out on their mission)
  7. The Princess (she’s either the oibjectified reason for the quest or the reward)
  8. The Princess’s Father (may double as the Dispatcher; his job is to keep guard of the Princess)

The ‘damsel in distress’ is an outdated trope in line with Vladmir Propp’s Princess archetype. (However, the trope lives on in computer games.)

The damsel trope is a profoundly powerful representation of weakness. We authors must be wary of who appears weak or victimized in our books, as the message this sends can detrimentally impact an audience’s sense of self-worth.

The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carringer

The dragon is most often the villain which the hero must overcome, more popular in some cultures than in others. East Asian tales feature many dragons.


Dwarves feature heavily in fairytales, but our modern concept of dwarves has been largely shaped by Disney. In contrast to Walt Disney, Lord of the Rings author (and Hobbit creator) J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor, scholar and lifelong student of classical literature, history and mythology. Tolkien’s depications of dwarves was influenced by Germanic and Nordic myths. He considered Disney’s revisioning of dwarves in Snow White a kind of crude slapstick, and a “cheapening of ancient cultural artifacts“.


A mischievous fairy. The ‘elves’ in a tale such as “The Elves and the Shoemaker” are actually a type of hobgoblin (goblins who come into your house and perform tasks or carry out mischief). The names of the various fairies overlap and intersect when fairytales are translated and passed down.


To ‘enchant’ means to cast a spell over something or someone.


Fairy tales reflect their environment: The conditions under which they were created and evolved. It’s impossible to grasp fairy tales unless we think about the environmental circumstances which brought them into being.


A short story with a clear moral.


Why aren’t there actual fairies in so-called ‘fairytales’? You may be thinking of the Tinkerbelle type of fairy. But fairies more broadly refer to any creature, good or evil (or morally grey) which inhabits the nooks and crannies of our world and imagination. J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a famous essay called “On Fairy-Stories”. He defined fairy tales as stories about the adventures of men in Faërie, the land of fairies. This fairytale setting includes many magical species and marvels.

Fairy godmother

A common type of donor or mentor. The fairy godmother will appear and give the main character advice or magical aids to help them in their quest.


Fairytales are a subset of folktales and folk lore. The difference is, fairytales include fantasy. Think of ‘faery’ as a place or a state, which was its original use. A fairytale is set in this parallel fantasy world.


A folktale is the ‘generic’ tale that is used for all the tales/puns/jokes etc that can be lumped together, garnered from the oral tradition. Folklore includes superstitions/remedies/old wives’ tales. There are various categories of folk tales:

  • Folktales include many beast stories.
  • The character archetypes of Fools and Innocents often feature: Jack and the Beanstalk, [Simple Simon], Brer Rabbit, Anansi (a spider in African lore)
  • Folktales also include Pourquoi Stories: how and why things happen. [pourquoi means ‘why’ in French]

Folk songs “Happy Birthday To You” and “He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” are examples of folk songs. In Australia many folksongs derive from military songs. For example Melbourne’s Grand Old Flag is taken from an American song. Collingwood Forever was a marching song from the Boer War. Many folk songs are a cultural marker, used to help define a particular group because they derive from a shared history. The Brothers Grimm collected a huge number of stories particularly from the Germanic countries. (There was no country called ‘Germany’ back then. There were lots of separate Germanic states and each state was a separate country.) The Grimm brothers were trying to bring these groups together with a shared culture. Eventually they came together as Germany.


Foxes can often talk in fairytales. They are most often trickster archetypes.


A large opponent. Giants are distinguished from ogres in that ogres will eat you. (Both are large and formidable.) Giants are often stupid and can be overcome with wit and trickery.


Glass makes an appearance in various fairytales, notably the glass slipper of Cinderella and the Glass Mountain of another type of fairytale.


A legendary dwarfish creature supposed to guard the earth’s treasures underground.

Hans Christian Andersen

A Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is remembered for his fairy stories.

Happy ending

Most fairy tales are full of darkness and violence, and as often as not do not end happily. Fairytales were not always considered for children. However, when bowdlerised for children, more of them end on a hopeful, happy note (often in marriage).


a main character who fights for a cause


The main good female character in a work of fiction. Note that heroine is not simply the femme presenting equivalent of a hero. A heroine is simply ‘good’ (passive) whereas a hero is expected to fight for a cause.


In fairytales with Seeker heroes, these main characters set out on a journey because they lack something, though what they lack may not be on the page.


The king fairytale archetype maps onto the father archetype.


In fairytale, the forest represents the subconscious.


A legend is usually about a single person (sometimes groups), but focuses on the lives of individual people. These people might not be real. Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, Ulysses are all characters who make certain groups proud to be a part of that group. In Australia we have The Man From Snowy River and similar, which perpetuates a particular image of Australia. Legends can be misused. (See: The Nazis.) [See again, Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan.]


knowledge gained through tradition or anecdote


any art that invokes supernatural powers

Mother Goose

The imaginary author of a collection of nursery rhymes


A recurrent element in a literary or artistic work.


A myth is a story that explains the world. Many derive from early religions because they were the best explanation people could come up with at the time, with the evidence they had. These are not for entertainment, originally made up to explain how the world came about. Myths and legends all derive from reality and all function to explain the world to a particular culture. Related: What Is Mythic Structure?

Nursery rhyme

Until recently (perhaps), nursery rhymes were often a child’s first experience of literature. There are now nursery rhymes which have been ‘authored’ but many are passed down between generations with no known origin, like fairytales. (We know who wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.) Nursery rhymes are a mish-mish of the created, adapted, the melodied. They exist for the purpose of play, and are helpful with babies’ language development.


An ogre is a giant who also eats people. The defining feature of an ogre (apart from size) is his appetite.

Once upon a time

Fairytales open in a way that link their audience to the remote past. Various languages have various means of doing this; in English we say ‘Once upon a time’, or ‘Once’.


A simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.


Parents who take their children into the wilderness and leave them there are known as Parent-senders. The father in “Hansel and Gretel” is one example.


An episodic shape of story about the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero. See also: Road Trip Stories.

Prince Charming

There’s no Prince Charming per se in Vladamir’s 8 categories of fairytale character archetypes. The Prince Charming might be used by the storyteller as the hero, or he might be the False Hero who charms people but is not worthy of reward. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Wickham is the Prince Charming.


The word “puckish” derives from Puck, who in medieval English folklore, was a malicious fairy or demon. In Old and Middle English the word meant simply “demon.” In Elizabethan lore he was a mischievous, brownielike fairy also called Robin Goodfellow, or Hobgoblin. Puck is familiar to many from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Vladamir Propp said that religion (in the broadest sense of the word) is especially important when examining fairy tales. For exmaple, fairy tales are often about the religious concept of ‘the remote past’.

If the same form occurs both in a religious monument and in a fairy tale, the religious form is primary and the fairy-tale form is secondary. This is particularly true of archaic religions. Any archaic religious phenomenon, dead today, is older than its artistic use in a fairytale.

Vladimir Propp

For example, if a serpent appears in a religious story and also in a fairytale, it came from the religious story first.


Vladimir Propp makes the distinction between religious/epic material (which fairytales draw from) and ritual/cult material.

Religious/epic material: There is direct kinship along descending lines. These stories are like descendents in human families.

Ritual/cult material: We can only talk about parallel kinship. Propp gives the example of Samson and Delilah. There’s both a fairy tale and a biblical text about Samson and Delilah. In this case, both stories may go back to a common source.


The folktale hero may be one of two types. Seeker is one; the other is victim-hero.

If a damsel is kidnapped, and her father disappears beyond the horizon and the prince goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is the prince (and not the kidnapped damsel).

As suggested by the name, Seekers are all about ‘the search’. In contrast, the Victim-hero isn’t searching; they’re being carried along by events.


Fairytales were originally for all ages. When fairytales started to be marketed at a child audience, there were attempts to make them a bit less frightening. One way fairytales became a bit less frightening (dubious) is by turning mothers into step-mothers. Why less frightening? Because the idea that your birth mother can betray you is more confronting than the idea that your father’s new wife might betray you.


A rare word for a story book.


Talking objects (also animals) can serve as the ‘donor’ (helper/mentor/provider) in a fairytale, but the bad thing is, the villain may have one, too. The villain might have gained information about your whereabouts from a talking axe or something.


“In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Symbolically, the tower is similar to the well. Both are round structures associated with women and girls on the cusp of marriage, pregnancy and childbirth.

Towers are often used in fairytale in place of an interdiction. (If you lock your daughter in a tower, you don’t really need to give her warnings; it’s not like you expect her to go anywhere.)


a dwarf or giant in Scandinavian folklore inhabiting caves or hills.


The prefix ur- means primitive, original, or earliest. If you put ur- in front of something you’re donating that someone or something embodies the basic or intrinsic qualities of a class or type.


The folktale hero may be one of two types. Seeker is one; the other is victim-hero.

Whereas a seeker goes off to rescue someone else who is passive within the story (e.g. a damsel in distress), a victim-hero is the star of their own fairytale. There is no seeker in a story which centers the victim-hero.

As suggested by the name, Seekers are all about ‘the search’. In contrast, the Victim-hero isn’t searching; they’re being carried along by events. Victim-heroes are the main characters of melodrama.

Vladimir Propp

Using the Aarne-Thompson index of fairytales, Propp proposed that all fairytales share the same plot points in the same order, though not every single one. Theorists have since expanded upon and modified these 31 functions of fairytale, arguing that some stories aren’t built like this but we should still consider them fairytale.


Symbolically, the well and the tower are linked. Both are round, enclosed structures. Both are to do with female coming-of-age, in which “coming-of-age” means menarche, marriage and childbirth.

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Domestic Abuse Addressed In Children’s Books

If you’re looking for children’s book which deal with domestic abuse, there are many examples at all reading levels across various genres. While young adult authors are well-known for their willingness to confront difficult subject matter head on, readers can also find the domestic abuse addressed in picture books.

Stories about domestic abuse and stories which address homelessness overlap.


Faith is joy is love is hope in this novel of exquisite power and everyday miracles, reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s THE POISONWOOD BIBLE.

Thomas can see things no one else can see. Tropical fish swimming in the canals. The magic of Mrs. Van Amersfoort, the Beethoven-loving witch next door. The fierce beauty of Eliza with her artificial leg. And the Lord Jesus, who tells him, “Just call me Jesus.”
Thomas records these visions in his “Book of Everything.” They comfort him when his father beats him, when the angels weep for his mother’s black eyes. And they give him the strength to finally confront his father and become what he wants to be when he grows up:



Mary Murphy feels like she’s drowning. Her violent father is home from prison, and the social worker is suspicious of her new bruises. An aunt she’s never met keeps calling. And if she can’t get a good grade on her science project, she’ll fail her favorite class.

But Mary doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. She has a plan: build a real submarine, like the model she’s been making with Kip Dwyer, the secretly sweet class clown.

Gaining courage from her heroine, Joan of Arc, Mary vows to pilot a sub across the Chesapeake Bay, risking her life in a modern crusade to save herself.


No one has ever asked Izzy what she wants. She’s about to change all that…

In a house adept at sweeping problems under the carpet, seventeen-year-old Izzy feels silenced. As her safety grows uncertain, Izzy know three things for sure. She knows not to tell her mother that Jacob Mansfield has been threatening to spread those kinds of photos around college. She knows to quiet the grief that she’s been abandoned by her best friend Grace. And, seeing her mother conceal the truth of her stepdad’s control, Izzy also knows not to mention how her heart splinters and her stomach churns whenever he enters a room.

When the flimsy fabric of their life starts to unravel, Izzy and her mum must find their way out of the silence and use the power in their voices to rediscover their worth.

For fans of Sara Barnard, Louise O’Neill and E. Lockhart, The Sky is Mine is a powerful exploration of rape culture and domestic abuse, and a moving story of women learning to love themselves enough to demand to be heard.


It has been a long time since Alice has felt safe.
Because of him. Ross. But now she, Mum and her little brother Henry have finally moved far away, where Ross will never find them. It’s a fresh start, Mum says. This time, she is never going back.

Slowly Alice starts to build a life for herself, at a new school with new friends. But she can’t escape the feeling she is being watched. That he might be lurking, waiting to ruin everything again. That Mum might be about to break her promise. That, just when Alice is starting to feel safe, everything will be taken away from her.

A story about healing, home and new beginnings from acclaimed author Eve Ainsworth.


I walk up the back steps and then stand there, waiting for the goosebumps on my arms to go away. They don’t. I almost don’t go in. But then I think of Baby Ella. And Mom. I push open the door….

When twelve-year-old Hershey must run away with her mother to a women’s shelter, she wonders how, among other things, she’ll compete in the town talent show with her best friend, Phoebe; who will take care of her cat, Augustus Gloop; and if she’ll survive being on a new bus route with her sworn enemy.


When Amber runs, it’s the only time she feels completely free – far away from her claustrophobic home life. Her father wants her to be a dutiful daughter, waiting for an arranged marriage like her sister Ruby.

Running is a quiet rebellion. But Amber wants so much more – and she’s ready to fight for it.

It’s time for a revolution.


Frequently berated for breaking his hyper-fussy house rules, as well as for her lack of looks, confidence and friends, Beauty lives in uneasy fear whenever Dad’s home. Her pretty, sweet mum is equally afraid of him.

Eventually, after an unbearable birthday party, amidst fears that Dad’s temper is out of control, Mum and Beauty run away. They find themselves in an idyllic seaside resort where their new-found freedom and a moment of culinary inspiration give them a hobby, an income and even a new nickname for Beauty whose dreams all come true — and she deserves it!


When life with Jayni’s violent-tempered father becomes too frightening to cope with, Jayni, her mum and her little brother Kenny are forced to escape in the middle of the night. Slipping out of the house unseen, travelling up to London by train and checking into a hotel – it’s almost like playing an elaborate game. They even make up false identities to protect their secret, and Jayni becomes the glamorous-sounding Lola Rose. But when money runs out and reality bites, what will they do next?


Middle grade novels frequently deal with the developmental phase in which children learn that ‘lying’ is not as black and white as adults have been telling them all along.

There are two ways to keep a secret: silence or lies.

I can feel the anger bubbling up inside me. ‘Grace, we’ve got a brand new life now. We can be anyone we want.’

‘So what happens when your new friends find out you’ve just spun them a story?’

‘They won’t. I’m not going to let anyone spoil things. Never again.’

Ellie and Grace have left their old life behind. The future seems better, brighter, more exciting. But as their past threatens to catch up with them, how long can silence and lies keep their dark secret safe?


Humorous and heartbreaking debut novel with the fresh, funny, honest voice of a 14-year-old Geordie lad recounting the trials and tribulations of family life and finding first love.

Danny’s mam has a new boyfriend. Initially, all is good – Callum seems nice enough, and Danny can’t deny he’s got a cool set up; big house, fast car, massive TV, and Mam seems to really like him.

But cracks begin to show, and they’re not the sort that can be easily repaired. As Danny witnesses Mam suffer and Callum spiral out of control he goes in search of his dad.
The Dad he’s never met.

Set in Newcastle and Edinburgh, this supremely readable coming-of-age drama tackles domestic violence head on, but finds humour and hope in the most unlikely of­ places.


Nothing in the marketing copy suggests more than a love story, but Eleanor’s step-father is an example of a coercively controlling abuser.

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn’t stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book – he thinks he’s made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor… never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you’re young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.


June’s life at home with her stepmother and stepsister is a dark one—and a secret one. She is trapped like a butterfly in a net.

But then June meets Blister, a boy in the woods. In him she recognises the tiniest glimmer of hope that perhaps she can find a way to fly far, far away from her home and be free. Because every creature in this world deserves their freedom… But at what price?


Jo Kwan is a teenager growing up in 1980s Coventry with her annoying little sister, too-cool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents. But unlike the other kids at her new school or her posh cousins, Jo lives above her parents’ Chinese takeaway. And things can be tough – whether it’s unruly customers or the snotty popular girls who bully Jo for being different. Even when she does find a BFF who actually likes Jo for herself, she still has to contend with her erratic dad’s behaviour. All Jo dreams of is breaking free and forging a career as an artist.

Told in diary entries and doodles, Jo’s brilliantly funny observations about life, family and char siu make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.


Evie’s shattered ribs have been a secret for the last four years. Now she has found the strength to tell her adoptive parents, and the physical traces of her past are fixed – the only remaining signs a scar on her side and a fragment of bone taken home from the hospital, which her uncle Ben helps her to carve into a dragon as a sign of her strength.

Soon this ivory talisman begins to come to life at night, offering wisdom and encouragement in roaming dreams of smoke and moonlight that come to feel ever more real.

As Evie grows stronger there remains one problem her new parents can’t fix for her: a revenge that must be taken. And it seems that the Dragon is the one to take it.

This subtly unsettling novel is told from the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old girl damaged by a past she can’t talk about, in a hypnotic narrative that, while giving increasing insight, also becomes increasingly unreliable.

A blend of psychological thriller and fairytale, The Bone Dragon explores the fragile boundaries between real life and fantasy, and the darkest corners of the human mind.


When the Second World War breaks out, young Willie Beech is evacuated to the countryside. A sad, deprived child, he slowly begins to flourish under the care of kind old Tom Oakley. But then his cruel mother summons him back to war-torn London…


The domestic abuse in this story may not be obvious to readers who are not yet ready to deal with it.

My mum is up there somewhere. She’s waiting — I can feel it. I just have to find her in time, that’s all … Because when I do, I’ll know the truth about who stole her. ‘

Told through the innocent voice of a child, this is a story that celebrates the power of hope and resilience, from the author of The Boy at the Back of the Class.

On her tenth birthday, Aniyah makes a wish — a wish for her mum. After school that same day, Aniyah and her brother are rushed out of school and driven far, far away.

So Aniyah sets out to find out the truth — about the wish and about what happened to her mother. And in doing so she ends up on an adventure she never could have foreseen…one that involves a very clever squirrel, a homeless man named Harry, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, and the biggest star in Hollywood…


Nate and his mother are running away, hiding out in a tumbledown cottage in the middle of a forest. When Mum heads off for provisions, and then doesn’t return, Nate is left alone and afraid, with the dark closing in all around him.

But comfort can come from the most unexpected of places – a mysterious girl trying to solve the clues of a treasure hunt and the reappearance of an old friend from his past.

Will Nate find the bravery needed to face the troubles of his present and ultimately illuminate the future?


After an incident shatters their family, eleven-year old Samantha and her older sister Caitlin are sent to live in rural Oregon with an aunt they’ve never met. Sam wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were… before she spoke up about their father’s anger.

When Aunt Vicky gives Sam a mysterious card game called “A Game of Fox & Squirrels,” Sam falls in love with the animal characters, especially the charming trickster fox, Ashander. Then one day Ashander shows up in Sam’s room and offers her an adventure and a promise: find the Golden Acorn, and Sam can have anything she desires.

But the fox is hiding rules that Sam isn’t prepared for, and her new home feels more tempting than she’d ever expected. As Sam is swept up in the dangerous quest, the line between magic and reality grows thin. If she makes the wrong move, she’ll lose far more than just a game.


Notice how secret-keeping is a major part of stories about domestic abuse. When to keep a secret and when to share? This is a huge (impossible) moral dilemma for the children of abusive homes.

The dramas, the traumas, the rumours – it’s time to expose it all… The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Mean Girls in this scathingly funny and relatable high-school takedown from the queen of UKYA.

Most likely to…be forgotten
Working on the school newspaper, Paige is used to dealing with fake stories. How popular girl Grace is a such an amazing person (lie). How Laura steals people’s boyfriends (lie). How her own family are so perfect (lie).

Now Grace and friends have picked their “best” high-school moments for Paige to put in the all-important Yearbook. And they’re not just fake. They’re poison.

But Paige has had enough of all the lies in her life. And with the help of Elijah – the only boy who could ever understand her – she’s going to reveal the truth.


What I feel most days is that nothing is ever
going to change. That my life won’t even start,
and that I’ll be stuck like this forever.

Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be not so lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao — whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants — both dream of escape from their unhappy circumstances,
and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to
get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.


Seventeen-year-old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets —once laid bare — can never be forgiven.


When his dad moves out, Jamie tries to fill his shoes. He needs to become head of the household — right?

With his mum dealing with the aftermath of toxic masculinity at its finest, and his little sister Bex struggling to understand what’s going on, Jamie has to navigate the choppy waters of what he thinks it means to be a man.

Having learned that the best way to deal with feelings is to push them down as far as they’ll go, he finds help from an unlikely source. Drinking makes him feel invincible — Super Jim can take on anything — and anyone…

But how long will it be before this particular well of wisdom runs dry? And what will it take for Jamie to realise that help was at hand all along?


Domestic abuse is a part of the backstory of the main character of Ghost, book one of the Track series.

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?


There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question — How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?


Cynthia Voight is one of the very few authors of children’s books who dares write absolutely awful mothers. Almost every other neglectful mother in children’s literature ultimately loves her children, despite how flawed she is.

This is book two of The Tillerman Cycle.

Now that the four abandoned Tillerman children are settled in with their grandmother, Dicey finds that their new beginnings require love, trust, humor, and courage.


Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?


All Becket wants is for his family to be whole again. But standing in his way are two things: 1) his dad, his brother and him seem to have run away from home in the middle of the night and 2) Becket’s mum died before he got the chance to say goodbye to her.

Arming himself with an armchair of stories, a snail named Brian and one thousand paper cranes, Becket ploughs on, determined to make his wish come true.


Anke’s father is abusive. But not to her. He attacks her brother and sister, but she’s just an invisible witness in a house of horrors, on the brink of disappearing altogether. Until she makes the volleyball team at school. At first just being exhausted after practice feels good, but as Anke becomes part of the team, her confidence builds.

When she learns to yell “Mine!” to call a ball, she finds a voice she didn’t know existed. For the first time, Anke is seen and heard. Soon, she’s imagining a day that her voice will be loud enough to rescue everyone at home—including herself.


The story of a strange and disturbing friendship seen through the eyes of Natalie as she gets to know Tulip Pierce, a deliquent girl most others go out of their way to avoid. Nobody wants Tulip in their gang. She bunks off school, is rude to the teachers and makes herself unpopular with her classmates by telling awful lies. But none of this matters to Natalie who finds Tulip’s behaviour exciting and dangerous. At first she doesn’t care that other people are upset by Tulip’s bizarre games but as the games become increasingly dangerous and sinister, Natalie realises that Tulip is going too far. Way too far… Tulip becomes even more destructive and after a row with Natalie she commits a terrible crime.This is a compelling story in which Anne Fine explores the dark side of a friendship bordering on obsession, and sensitively depicts one girl’s gradual decline into hostility and violence.


Willie, seven years old, wants to dance. Emma, his older sister, wants to be a lawyer. Is there something wrong with them? Or is there something wrong with their parents, whose dreams for their children, the ordinary dreams of New York’s black middle class, have little to do with what the children want? For Willie won’t stop dreaming of the day he will dance with his uncle Dipsey on Broadway, and Emma is determined that someday she will address a courtroom. Emma finds an answer for children with families that will not change.


In the beginning there was me and Mum and Dad and the twins.

And talk about happy families, we were bountiful.

But it came to pass that I started doing sins.

And lo, that when all our problems began.


Damien is horrified when his father, a violent man known to his motorcycling peers as 88, moves back to live with him and his mom

88 is angry. Damien can feel it prickling the air between them. Every muscle in his body is taut, ready to run, planning his escape over the fire between those chairs and straight down to the creek. But he can’t run. Not yet. Nothing has happened, yet. He’d just make a fool of himself. Out of the corner of his eye he watches as 88 slowly packs tobacco in a cigarette paper, rolls it into a cylinder, gets up and moves to sit right next to Damien, so close Damien has to clench his teeth and hang onto the chair to stop himself from bolting.

Damien can’t bear the thought of 88 coming back to live with him and mom; memories of past violence are too strong. But there’s glamour in having a father who rides a Harley Davidson, and it leads Damien to run with the in-crowd at school and abandon his real friends. Set in a small-town community in northern Australia, this gripping contemporary tale takes you inside the mind and under the skin of a troubled boy with a vivid imagination who must wrestle with his own violent impulses and minor betrayals.


‘Deadly, unna?’ He was always saying that. All the Nungas did, but Dumby more than any of them. Dumby Red and Blacky don’t have a lot in common. Dumby’s the star of the footy team, he’s got a killer smile and the knack with girls, and he’s a Nunga. Blacky’s a gutless wonder, needs braces, never knows what to say, and he’s white. But they’re friends… and it could be deadly, unna? This gutsy novel, set in a small coastal town in South Australia is a rite-of-passage story about two boys confronting the depth of racism that exists all around them.


A shivering of worlds.

Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength.

This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and new, a blurring of edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land.

There will be a reckoning…


Now for some picture book examples.

Danny is frightened of his dad. Every night he goes to bed and pretends to be asleep. He listens to his dad mistreating his mum. Danny thinks his life is normal until he goes on a sleepover at his best friend Alex’s house. Alex’s dad is kind and fun to be with, and Danny feels happy.

Danny wishes his dad could be more like Alex’s dad.

But what can he do?

Brave Danny is about a small boy who makes a difference by being brave enough to speak up.


There’s someone in the living room. 

It’s Dad. 

It is Angryman.

Boj’s father can be very angry and violent. Boj calls this side of his father’s personality “Angryman.” When Angryman comes no one is safe. Until something powerful happens…

Gro Dahle’s astute text and Svein Nyhus’s bold, evocative art capture the full range of emotions that descend upon a small family as they grapple with “Angryman.”

With an important message to children who experience the same things as Boj: You are not alone. It’s not your fault. You must tell someone you trust. It doesn’t have to be this way!

A double spread from Angryman. Note that the art is not meant to be inviting.


For classroom study, I recommend “Daughters Of The Late Colonel” by Katherine Mansfield.

The Problem Novel in children’s literature

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Homelessness In Children’s Stories

The Eviction (1946) Oil painting by Akron painter and tire factory worker Ray Grathwol (1900-1992)

Home-away-home. That’s the classic pattern of a children’s story. When we’re talking about stories in general, we might say the Odyssean Mythic pattern. A hero goes on a journey, meets a variety of opponents and allies along the way, then either returns home or finds a new one.

Unfortunately, not all young people have a solid home base. Fortunately, there are representations of homelessness across children’s literature which can function as a mirror for young readers. Sometimes the homelessness is central; at other times less so.


The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordan (2015)

Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

The Shadow Girl by John Larkin (2011)

The unnamed narrator escapes the dangerous imploding world of her parents and wider family in order to survive. Not wishing to be chewed up and spat out by the red light district she hides out in her local church, spends her weekends in the sand dunes on a Central Coast beach, and—with the help of her aunt’s credit card—has the occasional stay in a five-star hotel. Most of her time on the run, though, she spends on the trains—generally sleeping in the shunting yards. When the trains become too dangerous she manages to find a derelict house in a leafy suburb and moves in with the possums and resident ghosts, ready to prove once and for all that she can take care of herself.

The Symbolism of Trains


Tiny is homeless. Nola has everything she could ask for. They meet when Nola is forced into volunteer work for the writers’ group at the homeless shelter where Tiny is staying, and at first it seems impossible that two people who are so different could ever be friends. But despite her initial prejudice, Nola quickly learns that there isn’t much separating her from the people who live on the streets. And Tiny begins to see that falling down doesn’t mean you never get back up. Because of You is a story about homelessness, prejudice and the power of words to provide a little hope.

At its heart is the friendship between Tiny and Nola, and how this relationship changes both girls at the core. Pip Harry doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics—Tiny’s story is heartbreaking and the details about life on the streets of Sydney is horrifying—but Because of You is ultimately a hopeful story about human resilience and the life-changing power of discovering your best friend. YA readers aged 14 and up who loved John Larkin’s The Shadow Girl and Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue should be diving for this powerful coming-of-age story.


Can two broken boys find their perfect home?

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.


Sixteen-year-old Carol Patterson is a girl in the middle: in the middle of her sisters, in the middle of her adolescence, in the middle of her family’s problems.

It is the early seventies and the world is in turmoil, but hardly anything from the outside ever seems to creep in to effect the Pattersons, who live in half a house at the wrong end of town. But there is turmoil enough in Carol’s own life. The family is barely getting by on her mother’s waitress salary. Carol’s bookishness and shabby clothes make her an outcast. Then Carol’s older sister gets pregnant.

Still, in the midst of it all there is hope: Carol’s first fledgling romance; her unexpected friendship with the preacher’s daughter. And suddenly a door opens, providing Carol with a glimpse of the world outside Claypitts and a glimpse of her own inner strength.

Richard Peck’s first novel, published in 1972, was adapted for film 20 years later in 1992. The film is called Gas Food Lodging.

Gas Food Lodging is a 1992 American drama film written and directed by Allison Anders and stars Brooke Adams, Ione Skye, and Fairuza Balk. It tells the story of a waitress trying to find romance while raising two daughters in a trailer park in a small desert town in New Mexico. It was adapted from the young adult novel Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt by Richard Peck.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (2018)

A middle-grade story about family, friendship, and growing up when you’re one step away from homelessness.

Twelve-and-three-quarter-year-old Felix Knutsson has a knack for trivia. His favorite game show is Who What Where When; he even named his gerbil after the host. Felix’s mom, Astrid, is loving but can’t seem to hold on to a job. So when they get evicted from their latest shabby apartment, they have to move into a van. Astrid swears him to secrecy. He can’t tell anyone about their living arrangement, not even Dylan and Winnie, his best friends at his new school. If he does, she warns him, he’ll be taken away from her and put in foster care.

As their circumstances go from bad to worse, Felix gets a chance to audition for a junior edition of Who What Where When, and he’s determined to earn a spot on the show. Winning the cash prize could make everything okay again. But things don’t turn out the way he expects. . .

Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy (2020)

15-year-old Tyler’s teenage angst turns to outright rebellion when his family leave London for a new life in Yorkshire. He’s angry with his parents about the upheaval and furious at losing his home. With only the dog to confide in, Tyler has no idea that a chance meeting with a skinny girl called Spider will lead him into a world he never even knew existed. Spider is sofa surfing and Tyler finds himself spinning a tangled web of lies in his efforts to help her escape her world of fear and insecurity.

Where I Live by Brenda Rufener (2018)

Linden Rose has a big secret–she is homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her position as school blog editor, her best friends, Ham and Seung, and the promise of a future far away are what keep Linden under the radar and moving forward.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea’s life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay more attention. And attention is the last thing she needs.

Linden knows the only way to put a stop to the violence is to tell Bea’s story and come to terms with her own painful past. Even if that means breaking her rules for survival and jeopardizing the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.

Behind Closed Doors by Miriam Halahmy (2017)

Josie has a secret: her mother is a hoarder. Tasha has a secret, too: her mother’s new boyfriend keeps trying to sneak into her room and seduce her. The two 16-year-olds don’t get along at school, but one night Tasha bolts from her dangerous home and finds herself at Josie’s door. Josie’s mother is in jail for debt, and the girls are alone in the cramped, crowded, bursting home. Slowly, they begin to talk about the challenges they face, a process of sharing that lessens their shame, guilt and fear. With each other’s support, they may even find a way to save themselves from their parents’ demons. Behind Closed Doors is an unflinching examination of the stigmas surrounding mental illness, abuse and poverty, and an affirming portrayal of the power of female friendships and the power of honesty to heal.

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman (2019)

When Viji and her sister, Rukku, whose developmental disability makes her overly trusting and vulnerable to the perils of the world, run away to live on their own, the situation could not be more grim. Life on the streets of the teeming city of Chennai is harsh for girls considered outcasts, but the sisters manage to find shelter on an abandoned bridge. There they befriend Muthi and Arul, two boys in a similar predicament, and the four children bond together and form a family of sorts. Viji starts working with the boys scavenging in trash heaps while Rukku makes bead necklaces, and they buy food with what little money they earn. They are often hungry and scared but they have each other–and Kutti, the best dog ever. When the kids are forced from their safe haven on the bridge, they take shelter in a graveyard. But it is now the rainy season and they are plagued by mosquitos, and Rukku and Muthu fall ill. As their symptoms worsen, Viji and Arul must decide whether to risk going for help–when most adults in their lives have proven themselves untrustworthy–or to continue holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

Zeroes (series of 3) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti (2016)

Contemporary adventure young adult literature about 16-year-olds with superpowers who appear negative (they call themselves zeroes rather than heroes). There are six main characters. One of them has an unfortunate power that renders him forgettable to everyone. (His name is Anonymous). He has been homeless for years because his family literally could not remember him and gave his room away.

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale (2018)

I’m at the police station. There’s blood splattered across my face and clothes. In this tiny room with walls the colour of winter sky I hug a black backpack full of treasures. Only one thing is certain . . . no one can ever forgive me for what I’ve done.

An unspeakable event changes everything. No more Mum, school or bed of her own. She’s made a ward of the state and grows up in a volatile world where kids make their own rules, adults don’t count and the only constant is change.

Until one day she meets Gwen, Matty and Spiral. Spiral is the most furious, beautiful boy Sophie has ever known. And as their bond tightens she finally begins to confront what happened in her past.

The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick (2000)

Written in free verse.


I’m not proud.
I’m sixteen, and soon
to be homeless.

Weary of his life with his alcoholic, abusive father, sixteen-year-old Billy packs a few belongings and hits the road, hoping for something better than what he left behind. He finds a home in an abandoned freight train outside a small town, where he falls in love with rich, restless Caitlin and befriends a fellow train resident, “Old Bill,” who slowly reveals a tragic past. When Billy is given a gift that changes everything, he learns not only to how forge his own path in life, but the real meaning of family.

Trash by Andy Mulligan (2010)

A gripping and desperate story of three young, poor, boys forced to live on a trash pile. They go on the run after finding a wallet. Chapters alternative point of view.

In an unnamed country, in the not-so-distant future, three “dumpsite boys” make a living picking through the mountains of garbage on the outskirts of a large city.

One unlucky-lucky day, Raphael finds something very special and very mysterious. So mysterious that he decides to keep it, even when the city police offer a handsome reward for its return. That decision brings with it terrifying consequences, and soon the dumpsite boys must use all of their cunning and courage to stay ahead of their pursuers. It’s up to Raphael, Gardo, and Rat—boys who have no education, no parents, no homes, and no money—to solve the mystery and right a terrible wrong.

Andy Mulligan has written a powerful story about unthinkable poverty—and the kind of hope and determination that can transcend it. With twists and turns, unrelenting action, and deep, raw emotion, Trash is a heart-pounding, breath-holding novel.

The movie adaptation is set in Brazil, but the book seems to be set in the Philippines.


Woolvs in the sitee by Margaret Wild AND ANN SPUDVILAS (2006)

In a mostly abandoned city, Ben lives in a musty basement room, terrified of the “woolvs” that dwell in the shadows outside, with only an upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Radinski, to help him cope with his fears.

I Saw Pete and Pete Saw Me by Maggie Hutchings and Evie Barrow (2020)

When you are small
you can see
things that
are too busy
to notice . . .

Everyone walks right past Pete – except for one little boy. He sees Pete’s big smile and bright drawings, and they make a connection. The boy can’t give Pete a home, but when Pete gets sick, he can show he cares.

A heartfelt, moving story about the importance of really seeing the world around us and the power in tiny acts of kindness.

PRISCILLA THE PRINCESS OF THE PARK by Pat LaMarche and Bonnie Tweedy Shaw

ELEANOR J. BADERLet’s start with Priscilla the Princess of the Park. What led you to write a children’s book about homelessness?

PAT LAMARCHE: When my grandson Ronan was about to turn six, we were talking about homelessness — I talk about it constantly because it’s my life — and he turned to me and told me I should write a chapter book about homelessness for kids like him. I thought it was a great idea, a way for me to soft-pedal the issue by introducing some of the endearing characters I’ve come to know.

Priscilla the Princess of the Park is the first book in a four-part series, sort of like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. (The second installment was released in mid-November and the next two will come out in 2021.) I see the Priscilla books as a way to tell the story of homelessness differently. The subject is introduced in a way that is sweet, fanciful. It introduces the subject so that it’s not scary. The action unfolds through a diverse group of kids who develop a meaningful relationship with a charming woman named Priscilla, who happens to be homeless.

The Myth of the Undeserving Poor
I Am A Bear book cover_1000x1313

A homeless bear lives in a city full of people who are repulsed by him.

When a young girl smiles at the bear one day, he realizes that a friend might make his life a little better. A remarkably effective portrait of human prejudice from multiple angles, and a beautiful tale of compassion and friendship.

Poor Hermit Crab! He’s outgrown his snug little shell, so he finds himself a larger one — and many new friends to decorate and protect his new house. But what will happen when he outgrows this shell and has to say good-bye to all the sea creatures who have made Hermit Crab’s house a home?
Children facing change in their own lives will relate to Hermit Crab’s story — and learn a lot about the fascinating world of marine life along the way.

Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr’s stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Yuyi Morales tells her own immigration story in this picture-book tribute to the transformative power of hope . . . and reading.

In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.

She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams…and her stories.

Told through the eyes of a young girl, the story chronicles a family’s difficult and powerful journey to pack up what they can carry and to leave their world behind, traveling to a new and unknown place in a crowded boat. 

With haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis this beautifully illustrated book explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war.

When twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes and her mother move to Vermont, Ruby’s goal is to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She doesn’t want kids at school asking about her missing father or discovering that her mother has been arrested. But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee in her class, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house. No one in town understands Abigail — people whisper about her, about her boarded-up house and the terrible secrets she must be hiding.

As Mom’s trial draws near and Abigail faces eviction, Ruby is forced to make a choice: break her silence or risk losing everyone she loves. Ruby’s story is about the walls we hide behind and the magic that can happen when we are brave enough to break free.


Reimer, Mavis. Mobile characters, mobile texts: homelessness and intertextuality in contemporary texts for young people, 2013.

Youth Homeless Matters Day: aims to raise awareness and public discussion about youth homelessness so that we can develop sustainable and innovative solutions for not only supporting the needs of homeless young people but supporting their dreams.

Abandoned land in Japan will be the size of Austria by 2040: Unclaimed land and “ghost homes” can be found all over Japan, thanks to the country’s dwindling population. From Quartz

On the Dangers of Romanticizing Gentrification in Your Novel: Tobias Carroll Examines a Perennial Concern of New York City Lit from LitHub

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Header painting: The Eviction (1946), an oil painting by Akron painter and tire factory worker Ray Grathwol (1900-1992).

A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li Short Story

“A Sheltered Woman” is a short story by Chinese-American writer Yuyun Li, and a subversion on the trope of the domestic suspense story. In a subcategory of these stories, an unstable woman enters the family home and threatens the family unit.

These domestic suspense stories — in which the woman a mother trusts most turns out to be a homicidal killer — have been around for a long time, but found a new lease of life with The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (1992) about an evil nanny.

After her humiliated husband kills himself, an embittered pregnant widow loses her child, and embarks on a mission of vengeance against a woman and her family.

Logline of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Domestic suspense was already back in fashion with the 1987 success of Fatal Attraction. Some commentators have no ideological issues with the Hand That Rocks The Cradle, and consider the opening scene of molestation followed by miscarriage an accurate insight into the lack of agency afforded women during the period of time around childbirth. Writer Amanda Silver inserted some feminist talking points and the story was taken as feminist (a trick utilised later by Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl, cf. The Cool Girl paragraph).

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Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

“Queen of the Falls” is a picture book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Some years ago, Van Allsburg gave a TED talk on this book and the history behind it. This post will focus on the storytelling techniques.

On Amazon, Chris Van Allsburg shared some of his roughs, when he thought the trim was going to be horizontal format. It’s interesting to see how different illustrators create drafts. Van Allsburg’s drafts look something closer to other illustrators’ finals. If Van Allsburg stuck with this rougher style of art, with the hand of the artist clearly evident, the mood of the book would be different. The realism of Van Allsburg’s final illustrators achieve a photographic realism which makes the story all the more harrowing.


PERIOD — 1901 and the years following

DURATION — The drama plays out around the preparation for the event and pace slows down for the dangerous event itself. We don’t find out what Annie was like as a child or as a young woman via backstory, or even if she had children of her own. I find myself craving this information, trying to work her out, but this is a pleasant kind of unsatisfied craving, similar to a shadow which promises something sinister happening just off the page.

LOCATION — Niagara Falls, United States of America

MANMADE SPACES — We see a view of Annie’s charm school. I had to look up what a ‘charm school’ even is: As I’d deduced, it’s basically an American word for ‘finishing school’. It exists to teach children social graces. This juxtaposition is fascinating, because what Annie ends up doing is the opposite of what we might expect from the trope of the charm school ma’am: A stiff, unyielding, conservative woman who has no time for nonsense, frivolities and dare-devilry. Annie defies categorisation.

NATURAL SETTINGS — The Niagara Falls; magnificent waterfalls which attract many tourists. In English words don’t carry gender, but many things do carry symbolic gender. Waterfalls are generally gendered feminine. The illustrations below may partly explain why; the fall of water is reminiscent of a young woman’s cascading hair.

The Maid of the Mist is a sightseeing boat tour of Niagara Falls, and is also a feminisation of waterfalls.

"Legend of the White Canoe", Indian Postcard, 1909, created just 8 years after Annie tumbled over Niagara Falls.
Legend of the White Canoe“, 1909, created just 8 years after Annie tumbled over Niagara Falls. Illustration is for a postcard, I think by Frank Vincent DuMond.

TECHNOLOGY CRUCIAL TO THIS PARTICULAR STORY — Annie’s techinical knowledge was “modest at best” and the best vehicle she could think of was a barrel lined with pillows.

LEVEL OF CONFLICT — As explained clearly in the book itself, older women were in a vulnerable economic position. No one was going to care for Annie in her old age. The life she could expect without income was no life worth living. Van Allsburg suggests on the page and in his talk that Annie could have done something else. I’m not quite so confident about that. Could she really have chosen to be a domestic laborer? The labour of a housewife or domestic servant in 1901 was hard, hard physical work, akin to the physical labouring job typically done by men today (with twice the upper body strength). A 62 year old woman was an elderly woman, who possibly needed her teeth fixing, who possibly needed better glasses, hearing aids, and didn’t have those advantages.

THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE — The most amazing thing to me (and clearly also to the author) is that Annie was the first to ever pull this stunt. Three men went down before (half a century before) and plunged to their deaths. Many who came after were younger, fitter and had the huge psychological advantage of knowing that it had been done before.

…it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. 

Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

Annie had no such reassurance, and although it’s impossible to know what was going on in the mind of someone who decided to do something I can’t imagine doing myself, I do suspect there was a suicidality to Annie’s decision.

Annie may also have been influenced by a strong belief in an interventionist God, and in an afterlife. She may have thought that she’d put God to the test; if she was meant to live, she would. If not, that was God’s plan. Perhaps.

An estimated 5,000 bodies were found at the foot of the falls between 1850 and 2011. On average, between 20 and 30 people die going over the falls each year. The majority of deaths are suicides—and most take place from the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, and many are not publicized by officials.

List of people who have gone over Niagara Falls

Of those who we assume attempted the navigate the falls without dying, there have been 13 fatalities and 17 survivals. To say nothing of injuries, this isn’t great odds.


Researching Mrs. Taylor’s life provided details that made it clear that her story was not one that fit into a conventional narrative of the determined underdog who triumphs over the challenges and obstacles placed before him or her, and emerges with admiration and rich rewards. Annie’s story was more complicated than that—and, to me, more interesting.

Chris Van Allsburg


Chris Van Allsburg himself has spoken frequently about his interest in the life of Annie Taylor and this provides some of the paratext.

The shape of the picture book is also significant:

My initial design for the book was horizontal, partly to accommodate longer text in a thirty-two-page format. I ultimately changed to a vertical shape when it became clear a forty-page format would allow for a more effective balance of text and pictures. (I was also persuaded by my colleagues at the publisher that a vertical format was more appropriate for a book about a monumental fall.)

Chris Van Allsburg


Annie’s stunt, and the pragmatic way in which she went about preparations for it, paint the picture of a woman with a definitive, black-and-white, dualistic world view. Once she’d decided to do this, nothing would stop her. She would either live in abject poverty, or be wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. There was no in-between with Annie.

Writers are often told to give a character both a psychological and a moral shortcoming when writing. Van Allsburg decides that Annie was ‘proud’. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, who ends up washing his students’ cars over summer, Annie is assumed to be too proud to do domestic work. But as I said, I think there’s more to it than that. Interestingly, when it comes time to get inside the barrel, Annie is described as ‘modest’ when she requires the men to turn away. ‘Modest’ is in some ways the inverse of ‘proud’. But perhaps you can be both. Also, sometimes ‘modest’ refers only to the wish not to display yourself in an exposing manner, which might be another outworking of ‘proud’.


What did Annie really want, deep down?

It’s well-known that when turning about 50 or 60, society makes women feel invisible. Over and above financial security, I suspect Annie wanted to feel seen.


The opposition is a natural one; the Falls. There are also human opponents, for example the man who refused to have any part of Annie building a suitable barrel.


Annie plans to end her poverty by tumbling over the Niagara Falls in a cushioned barrel then finding fame and fortune. Unfortunately her plan has a hole in it. Aside from the obvious threat of death, it is a strange decision to try and pass yourself off as 20 years younger. Surely it would have been more impressive had she revealed her true age. We are impressed by unusual combinations. The combination of a grandmotherly figure performing a stunt would have drawn the crowds. I feel she should have tried instead to pass herself off as 82 rather than 42.

But I can understand why she did it. Annie would not have felt invisible at the age of 42. She was running her charm school and had a place in the world. By pretending to the world that she was 42, she was proabably trying to reclaim some of the contentedness she felt at age 42.


Annie’s journey down the falls is clearly the climax of this story.

It’s interesting to note what Van Allsburg left out. What he did not include: That a cat was sent down in a barrel a few days previously, and survived. Kids like cats, cats do well in picture books; why would Chris Van Allsburg leave this interesting detail out?

Because it’s grim, I guess. They were sacrificing the cat.


During the 1950s and 1960s the Soviet space program used dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights to determine whether human spaceflight was feasible. In this period, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The number of dogs in space is smaller, as some dogs flew more than once. Most survived; the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures, according to the parameters of the test.

A notable exception is Laika, the first dog to be sent into orbit, whose death during the 3 November, 1957 Sputnik 2 mission was expected from its outset.

Soviet Space Dogs

Sad as these stories are, picture books do cover the topic of animals sacrificed for the sake of science.

There is probably a narrative reason why Chris Van Allsburg did not include the cat. A cat in a picture book is as important as a human character. Readers will be as anxious about the cat as they are about the woman, leading to a double climax in which the first survival inevitably saps emotion away from the second.


Sure, she survived. But she was somewhat injured, and I wonder if she lived with some pain for the rest of her life. (Get injured at that age and it’s likely.) So even her ‘survival’ wasn’t binary; she could have broken her neck, sustained significant head injury and lived out the rest of her life incapacitated rather than dead. I’d be interested to know if she considered that inbetween possibility.


But the riches did not follow.


Then as now, you need a platform and a fanbase before you can turn stunts into cash.


By creating this book, Chris Van Allsburg has made many people aware of a character from American history which we would never have known about otherwise.

There’s a much wider issue here worth delving into. It applies here in Australia as much as in America; the historical figures we celebrate are white and they are men. As often as not, the ‘adventures’ of these men were as stupid as they were brave.

Other types of braveries from other demographics are less celebrated, if not entirely forgotten.

Annie’s fall from the top of Niagara Falls is nonetheless the sort of bravery you’d find in young men. We don’t celebrate the bravery of a woman giving breach birth in the Australian Outback in 1901, but to my mind, the forgotten woman is equally ‘brave’.


James Dickson Innes The Waterfall 1910 rocks
James Dickson Innes The Waterfall 1910
Landscape with Waterfall, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, c. 1668
Landscape with Waterfall, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, c. 1668
Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, 'Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls' 1922-6
Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, ‘Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls’ 1922-6
Nautical Roller Coaster, said to be Niagara Falls (1895)
Nautical Roller Coaster, said to be Niagara Falls (1895)
Edwin John Prittie, Washer the Raccoon written by George Ethelbert Walsh, 1922
Edwin John Prittie, Washer the Raccoon written by George Ethelbert Walsh, 1922
Remigius Adrianus Haanen, (1812 - 1894) Stream in the Moonlight, 1840


It’s usually not a good idea to get into a box, hoping it’ll take you somewhere. Another near death experience was had by a Welsh man who airmailed himself home from Australia in a crate in the 1960s.

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Cats Up Trees In Illustrations

Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) for the book Wonderful Tales of Haunted Fields cat tree
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) for the book Wonderful Tales of Haunted Fields
illustration by Arthur Rackham for a nursery rhyme Diddley Diddley Dumpty cat
illustration by Arthur Rackham for a nursery rhyme Diddley Diddley Dumpty
Up a Tree from ‘Little Folks Annual’ published in 1900. If this weren’t signed, I wouldn’t have guessed it were done by Arthur Rackham.
Mockingbirds and cat in tree April 1951
Mockingbirds and cat in tree April 1951
Mog's Birthday Mog went to sleep in the tree
from Mog’s Birthday by Judith Kerr
Comic Curious Cats, pictures by Martin Leman, words by Angela Carter (published by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London 1979)
Comic Curious Cats, pictures by Martin Leman, words by Angela Carter (published by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London 1979)
Illustration by Barbara Cooney for Helen Kay's book City Springtime, 1962
Illustration by Barbara Cooney for Helen Kay’s book City Springtime, 1962

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Which colours are in which Copic Sketch marker sets?

Which colours are found in the smaller Copic Sketch marker sets? This information should be easier to find in one place. Now that I’ve worked out which numbers are in which Copic basic sets, I’ll post it here in case anyone else finds it useful.


Note: The Lemon Yellow doubles with the Primaries set of 6.

G17Forest Green
B14Light Blue
B39Prussian Blue
E09Burnt Sienna
YRChrome Orange
Y13Lemon Yellow
YG03Yellow Green


The pack contains blue, red and yellow in both darker and lighter shades.

Note: The Fusion Blue pack of three also includes a Tahitian Blue.

B00Frost Blue
B04Tahitian Blue
R46Strong Red
Y13Lemon Yellow
Y19Napoli Yellow


G02Spectrum Green
G09Veronese Green
YR61Yellowish Skin Pink


R01Pinkish Vanilla
RV13Tender Pink
YG41Pale Cobalt Green
YG45Cobalt Green


B41Powder Blue
B45Smoky Blue
YG17Grass Green


BG11Moon White
BV0000Iridescent Mauve
YR31Light Reddish Yellow


I’ve seen two ‘skin colour’ sets for sale here in Australia. The first is called ‘Skin tones’, the other ‘Portrait’.

Note that three of the colours in the Portrait set overlap with colours in the Skin Tone set, so you won’t want to buy both sets of six.

Notice also how these labels skew white. ‘Skin white’ is the giveaway, but also the darker ‘suntan’ colours, which for many people has nothing to do with sun exposure.

E000Pale Fruit Pink
E00Skin White
E11Barely Beige
E15Dark Suntan
E93Tea Rose


Note that three of the colours in the Portrait set overlap with colours in the Skin Tone set, so you won’t want to buy both sets of six.

E00Skin White
E11Barely Beige
E13Light Suntan
E15Dark Suntan


The Fusion sets come in at least two different kinds of packaging.


V22Ash Lavender
V25Pale Blackberry


RV000Pale Purple
RV52Cotton Candy


E04Lipstick Natural


YR20Yellowish Shade
YR23Yellow Ochre
YR27Tuscan Orange


G40Dim Green


Note: The Primaries pack of six also includes a Tahitian Blue.

B01Mint Blue
B04Tahitian Blue
B06Peacock Blue

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Sledding, Sleighs and Sleds in Storytelling and Illustration

BOBSLEIGH: (British) a mechanically steered and braked sledge, typically for two or four people, used for racing down an ice-covered run

SLED: another term for sledge

SLEDGE: (British) a vehicle on runners for conveying loads or passengers over snow or ice, often pulled by draught animals. e.g. “a dog sledge”

SLEIGH: a sledge drawn by horses or reindeer, especially one used for passengers.

TOBOGGAN: a long, light, narrow vehicle, typically on runners, used for sliding downhill over snow or ice

Illustrations of snowy landscapes quite often feature yellow skies.

Martta Wendelin 1893 -1986 Finnish

A young boy who is in a new town and doesn’t have much, but with the help of a loving community he discovers the joys of his first snowy day.

On the day it snows, Gabo sees kids tugging sleds up the hill, then coasting down, whooping all the while. Gabo wishes he could join them, but his hat is too small, and he doesn’t have boots or a sled.

But he does have warm and welcoming neighbors in his new town who help him solve the problem!

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