The Little Bookroom
by Jeffrey Brown
In ten words or less: funny, cool, awesome
Roan is just a normal boy planning to go to pilot academy until a little green guy invites him to go to Jedi Academy instead! Now he has to go to school with totally different people. Will he be able to cope with older bullies and tootal weirdos? Will Roan ever get back home or get his dream of going to pilot academy?
This is a really good book - I rate it 9/10. This book is worth the cost - it tells you how to make your own journal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (exclamation marks reviewer’s own)
Interest Age: 7-9 and if you read it to 5 year olds (like my little brother ) they will probably love it.Reading level: easy-average
This image is from a London department store in 2013.
First of all let me just say: this subject is a minefield. People can get very fired-up about gender roles, especially if it involves their children.
Otherwise intelligent people can collapse into confusion, wracked with indecision over the simple question of what colour wrapping paper they would like. Grown men have actually asked me to wait while they call their wives to check, because they are so afraid of making some kind of inadvertent political statement and bringing shame upon their entire family at a two year old’s birthday party.
There are more theories about gender roles than I could possibly cover in this blog post. Suffice to say that you either believe gender roles are in born, pushed on people by society or something inbetween. These days most parents I meet fall into the last category, they don’t mind their children making gendered choices as long as they feel they are actually making a choice and not just conforming to gender roles that have been pushed on them.
It seems that most parents are more accepting of traditional gender roles when it comes to boys than girls. Perhaps this is because traditional female gender roles are perceived to be submissive. Pink dresses (or indeed, book covers) can be taken as a kind of signpost of a child’s place in society. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the colour pink. Pink can be awesome. It’s just that so many little girls become obsessed with the colour for no apparent reason.
So when it comes to choosing books that won’t push traditional gender roles onto children what am I looking for? In my case, I look for books that; show males being nurturing, show females in positions of power, show non-traditional families, show males and females involved in equal and respectful partnerships.
Here are some books that have the kind have positive gender representations that I look for:
Free To Be You And Me edited by Marlo Thomas
This book is famous as one of the original 1970’s books (which was originally a record that was later adapted into an illustrated book) to embrace children’s differences. It is a mixture of poetry, stories and illustrations all designed to show diversity, with titles like; Parents Are People, William's Doll and It's All Right to Cry. Marlo was inspired to create the book/record after visiting her niece and seeing the books she was reading.
And here is a page form the book I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! that horrified Marlo Thomas so much she decided to create something different. In her words she thought: "I’ve got to make something that will obliterate this."
Dogger by Shirley Hughes
Dogger shows a little boy who is gentle and nurturing towards a small toy dog he has named Dogger. When things go wrong for him, his older sister saves the day. The underlying themes in this book indicate that boys can be caring and nurturing and girls can save the day.
Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Zog the dragon is really keen to well at dragon school, he tries his hardest but when he needs help he turns to a little girl. As the years go by the little girl helps Zog by bangaing his nose, mending his wing, giving peppermints to help his sore throat and eventually when Zog’s biggest task of all is capture a Princess she reveals that she is in fact Princess Pearl. When a brave Knight comes to ‘save’ Princess PEarl she informs him politely that she doesn’t need saving, she doesn’t want to go back to being a Princess and is much happier being a doctor.
Pettson and Findus by Sven Nordqvist
These are a great Swedish series of picture books about a farmer called Pettson and his beloved (and rather naughty) cat, Findus. Pettson spends his days tending to Findus’ needs and keeping him out of trouble. These books were originally published in Swedish and have been translated into many other languages and the character's names have been adapted in different countries, some English editions have re-named the characters Festus and Mercury. The kindness, patience and nurturing that Pettson exhibits are good examples of how men can behave.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Madeline the little French girl, is brave and strong, she helps her friends and is always kind. She has the best aspects of both traditional gender roles and demonstrates that her small size doesn’t stop her doing anything she wants.
The Story Of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf illustrated by Robert Lawson
Another classic in the genre. Ferdinand is a Spanish bull that doesn’t want to fight and would rather smell flowers and sit under the shade of a tree. The other young bulls laugh at him but he doesn’t mind. Ferdinand shows inner strength through following his own path and not conforming. It might seem incredible to modern readers that such a progressive book was written in 1936. There is a lot of speculation about the book's themes in the time just before
Princess Grace by Mary Hoffman illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
This is a wonderful book for any Princess obsessed little girls. Grace wants to dress up as a Princess for a school event, when she asks her grandmother to make a costume for her, her wise grandmother asks Grace what a Princess looks like and what exactly a Princess does. When Grace posses the same question to her teacher, she learns about real life historical Princess that have done amazing things like lead armies and become spies. These book is part of a series of book about Grace, but each can easily be read as a stand alone book. For more information on this series or Mary Hoffman see her website.
The Boy Who Cried Fabulous by Leslea Newman and Peter Ferguson
Leslea Newman was a groundbreaking author of Heather Has Two Mommies, she has gone on to write so many wonderful and insightful books about gender roles and non traditional families. This story is all about a boy who sees the fabulous side of life, everyone tells him to be more practical and conform. Of course in the end he shows everyone the error of their ways. Here is a wonderful article by Leslea Newman about her experience as a writer of inclusive books for children.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi needs no introduction. She is the ultimate in adventurous girls. First published in Sweden in 1945, Pippi’s irreverence and independence struck a chord with children around the world and she became an international hero. Pippi isn’t aware of any rules especially those of gender conformity.
Tough Boris by Mem Fox illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Boris Von Der Borsh is a big tough pirate and as you would expect he is mean, greedy and scary but, you might be surprised to find out that sometimes he cries, all pirates cry. This book is perfect for young boys struggling with concepts of masculinity.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell illustrated by Henry Cole
This is a great book that shows males being nurturing towards children and parenting well. It is also based on a true of two Penguins that lived in Central Park Zoo in New York. First published in 2005 it follows the story of Silo and Roy, who adopt an egg which they care for, hatch and the eventually raise the chick (called Tango). You can find some helpful teacher's notes on this book here.
Happily Ever After Is So Once Upon A Time by Yixian Quek illustrated by Grace Duan Ying
This anti-Fairytale possess a myriad of questions; Will Prince Charming and Snow White still love each other after ten years? Is magic real or is it just a lot of tricks? Does anything ever last? Thoroughly modern Belle takes readers on a tale of what it takes to live happily ever after; no Prince required.
One of the best parts of my job is meeting fabulous Australian writers and illustrators. It is such a wonderful thing to meet a writer or illustrator whose work I really enjoy and find that they are great people too.
So, when Belinda Murrell and Serena’s publicist asked if they could come into the shop and sign some of their new Lulu Bell books for us, I was rather excited. It was so much fun to meet them both, I had a great laugh and was genuinely interested in the behind the scenes info on the books.
Of course I just had to be cheeky and ask them for a follow up interview for my blog. They both very kindly agreed and imagine my surprise when Belinda Murrell sent through her reply first thing on Monday morning, after spending the whole weekend touring Melbourne bookshops and only just getting back to Sydney. That’s the kind of work ethic writers need to have to publish as many books as Belinda!
1. What is your latest book; The River Charm about?
The subject of death is such a hard one to explain to children as it can be fraught with our own fears and lack of surety about our beliefs. Many people will turn to traditional faiths and of course there are many children’s versions of religious texts. But, there are many people that do not follow a traditional faith and have different beliefs about death and what happens after we die. In this situation it can be almost impossible to find a book that perfectly reflects your family's feelings about death. I normally recommend getting a few books that show a range of ideas and then using them as a starting point for conversations with your child.
If possible it can be useful to have conversations about death before the need arises. Most children under the age of 5 will have trouble understanding the finality of death but his doesn’t mean it is a concept to be avoided. Many children will start asking questions at around 3 or 4 years old and this is a good time to start introducing concepts that can be built on later in life. For example when seeing a dead animal by the side of the road, a child might ask what the animal is doing; while it may be tempting to say ‘sleeping’ and quickly change the subject, it can be helpful to have early conversations about death in relatively safe ways. Other situations arise when children see images on television of natural disasters or advertisements for organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières. One of our little 3 year old regulars recently told me during Storytime that when people die “they go in the ground and it’s not like going to sleep because they don’t wake up again”. She had apparently been asking her family a lot of questions after seeing this kind of add on television. Her parents felt it was important to tell her what they believed in an age appropriate way.
As much as we would like to protect our children from anything bad, it is inevitable that at some point in their lives they will have to deal with loss (although, hopefully not for many years). So, it's a good idea to help find ways of dealing with grief.
Often books for young children that are about death or grief feature animals. This helps to provide a degree of separation so that while children are learning about the concepts they feel slightly removed from actual situation.
There are so many wonderful books about grief for young children these days there are bound to some that will be suitable for your child. Here are a few of my personal favourites. Of course there are many more books I could recommend Talk to us or your local librarian about your circumstances and we'll help you find the right book. All of these books are available to order from The Little Bookroom and are most likely also be kept in your local public library.
Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
This is the touching final book in the Mog the Forgetful Cat series. One day Mog feels sleepy, so tired in fact that she doesn’t want to do anything except sleep. So that’s what she does. Mog dies and becomes a spirit that watches over the family that loved her. She stays around long enough to see that they are alright without her. This is a helpful book for those that want to tell their children that our loved ones will come back to check on us after they have passed away.
The Very Best Of Friends by Margaret Wild
This is a beautiful book which shows the aftermath of a death and the difficulty some people have coping with grief. It doesn’t give any kind of religious view point. Told from the perspective of William James’ cat. Jessie and James live on a farm and are The Very Best of Friends. When James suddenly dies Jessie stops going outside, she is angry all the time, she stops looking after herself and she stops looking after William. William misses James too. William becomes skinner and more feral with every passing day. After a long time when Jessie sees what has become of William she suddenly realises what she’s done and what William would want. Although she still misses him she knows that he wouldn’t want her to feel this way.
Samsara Dog by Helen Manos
This is an absolutely beautiful book for anyone that believes in reincarnation. It follows the many and varied lives of a dog. He has some tragic lives and and some good ones, some long ones and some short ones but, in each life he becomes a better version of himself. Eventually he attains enlightenment and isn’t re-born again.
Badger’s Parting Gift by Susan VarleyBadger is old and he knows it won’t be long before he dies. He wants to make sure all his young friends will be alright when he dies and he tries to prepare them. Of course when he does die they all struggle with the grief they feel. Eventually though, they start to talk about all the lovely things Badger taught them and realise that in a way he is still there. This book shows how those that we have loved live on in our memories.
The Little Bookroom’s Degraves Street shop was lucky enough to have a visit from the charming Tina Matthews. She is a Sydney based author/illustrator best known for Out of The Egg. Tina was on her way back home after a tour of Victoria. She was such a nice lady and I was feeling a little forward so, I boldly asked her if she would like to write an article for our blog. She kindly said yes and took my details and to my delight she sent through this wonderful piece as soon as she got back to Sydney!
I absolutely adore Philip Pullman's writing. I remember years ago when I worked at a different book shop (yes, there was a time in my life before The Little Bookroom, but it was so long ago and so sad, it has basically passed into myth). Anyway, one of the other staff was always telling me that I HAD to read His Dark Materials as a matter of urgency. I got a bit tired of hearing about this AMAZING-WORK-OF-UTTER-GENIUS, so eventually I just bought the boxed set to get him off my back. So here’s the thing; I called in sick for work for the next two days so I could stay home and read this completely brilliant trilogy. Of course my co-worker was extremely smug when I (ahem) recovered from my illness and he couldn’t wait to talk to me all about my new favourite books. When I went to Finland (aka Moomin Valley) I spent five long and bumpy hours on a bus traveling deep into the Arctic Circle to Lake Inari, so I could see the lake that is home to Serafina Pekkala, the witch that plays a central role in His Dark Materials. As a side note, if you would like to visit Lake Inari, I would suggest going in summer, I went in December when the average daytime temperature was -36 brrr.
So when Philip Pullman himself puts together a list of must read books for Pre-Teens, I pay attention (and you should too). Here is the great man’s list and short comment on each book. Please especially take note of his Moomin recommendation, we couldn’t agree more.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Indispensable. The great classic beginning of English children's literature.
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. What effortless invention looks like.
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner. A great political story: democracy in action.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. As clear and pure as Mozart.
Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken. If Ransome was Mozart, Aiken was Rossini. Unforced effervescence.
The Owl Service by Alan Garner. Showed how children's literature could sound dark and troubling chords.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Superb wit and vigorous invention.
Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. Any of the Moomin books would supply the same strange light Nordic magic.
A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna. A particular favourite of mine, as much for Richard Kennedy's delicate illustrations (in the English edition) as for the story.
The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé. Three generations of this family have loved Tintin. Perfect timing, perfect narrative tact and command, blissfully funny.
And to finish here's Philip Pullman with a monkey reading over his shoulder.
Here are five books we love for Year Nine classrooms:
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
I absolutely loved this book. It covers some fascinating aspects of modern history and opens up so many moral questions that have no answer. Teenagers are notorious for thinking in black and white terms, this book is about what happens in between. If you want meaty and challenging classroom discussion, this a great choice.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Everyone you know has probably already told you to read this book; now we are telling you again. Beautifully written, dense with ideas and language.
Cry Blue Murder by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts
A psychological thriller for teens. This book is real page turner and covers a range of literary devises. If you want to introduce discussion about internet safety into the classroom this book is a great opportunity.
The Dead I Know by Scot Gardiner
The main character works in a funeral home, which instantly brings up a number of discussions, but this is a great book for discussing different family situations, mental illness (especially dementia) and what happens after high school.
When the Hipchicks Went to War by Pamela Rushdie
Set in the 1960's when it was completely normal for a 16 year old girl to leave school and get a job as a hairdresser, but good girls didn't drink alcohol or go out alone in the evening (very confusing for today's girls). Kathy changes from being a completely sheltered girl into a young woman who has seen too much. As well as topics like, war and modern history this great to bring up discussions about the changing role of women in this time.
Children's book authors and illustrators are a strange bunch. It’s an occupational hazard; they tend to spend a lot of time working alone drawing or writing about talking pigeons, caterpillars eating salami or trying to find just the right turn of phrase for a tree.
Here are a few pictures of some of our favourite children’s book authors and illustrators being a little silly.
Sometimes Tove Jansson just wants to be a pirate.
Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) likes to stand on the beach playing the piano accordion while dogs run around him. Of course he does.
Eric Carle is just adorable.
Mo Willems likes pigeons
Sometimes Maurice Sendak goes a little wild.
No one can really explain what is going on here with Shel Silverstein.
Yes, this is the man that wrote The Giving Tree.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Steven Lochran, the author of the awesome new series “Vanguard Prime”. Vanguard Prime is a fasted pasted, quirky and action packed series for 9-12 year olds (think X-Men for tweens). It can be so hard to find books for that age group that appeal to both the children’s sense of fun and adventure and the parent’s reading objectives and aspirations. Vanguard Prime are well written, modern sci-fi, adventure books with a quirky (Australian) sense of humour and plenty of action. At this stage there are two books in the series with more on the way.
Here is what Steven Lochran had to say:
I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old. I started off using exercise books to write and draw my own picture books, moved onto an electric typewriter when I was 10, and finally made the jump to my first computer when I was 13. In other words, I’m old.
I attempted writing my first full-length novel when I was studying Creative Writing at uni. It was a blend of steampunk and sword-and-sorcery fantasy. And it was terrible. The characters were thin and the story was unfocused, but I learnt a lot in writing it and trying to get it published.
I spent quite a few years sending it out to agents and publishers, and while a handful requested to see the full manuscript it never got further than that. Eventually, I realised I had to go back and try writing something else. But if I was going to do that, I knew I had to be more focused in my approach.
I also knew I wanted to write a book for younger readers, so I went into bookshops and looked at what else was being published. I read the Artemis Fowl books, as well as books by Garth Nix and Jack Heath, to get a better sense of what was popular and how far the authors went in terms of depicting action and violence.
Teen Spy books were big at the time, but I wasn’t interested in writing something that felt derivative of those ideas. Going through some old files on my computer, I found a story I’d started writing at 15 and had quickly abandoned. It was about a teenager getting dropped off at a military facility by his parents to join a superhero team. I felt like there was a lot of potential in that idea, so I decided to flesh it out.
I drew on the books I loved as a kid, as well as my lifelong love of superhero comics, to create the world of Vanguard Prime. It’s a world identical to ours, save for the existence of ‘neohumans’. Much like mutants in the X-Men comics, neohumans are people who develop extraordinary powers, generally in adolescence, which is usually triggered by a traumatic or extremely stressful experience.
The book's main character is Sam Lee, who ends up joining the elite superhero team Vanguard Prime and being given the codename ‘Goldrush’ after he develops the ability to run at superfast speeds. The reason he’s called ‘Goldrush’ is because he also generates a golden force-field that protects him from the G-forces at which he’s running, as well as from any obstacles he may encounter. I found the name ‘Goldrush’ in one of my old exercise books, where I’d created a superhero team when I was 12. I thought the name was just the right amount of ‘cool’ and ‘quirky’, and so it stuck.
In writing for Sam, I draw a lot on my own experiences of growing up, using the anxieties I faced while transitioning into high school life – and from there into adulthood – as the basis for what Sam is thinking and feeling. Sam and I also share a very similar sense of humour, though other than that I’ve deliberately made Sam different from me in terms of his interests, background and family life.
The reason for that is because the fantasy book I tried getting published featured a lot of characters based on my friends and me. I think that's something that a lot of writers do when they start out as it makes creating characters easier to do, but it also leads to the characters being quite thin; you don’t want to insult your friends, so you write everyone as happy and well-adjusted and getting along.
Eventually, you have to take the step of creating a character from scratch, and while you can draw on elements from people you know, it’s better to focus on inventing a character that serves the purposes of your story, rather than trying to flatter your friends and family.
Of course, I’d feel very flattered if someone gave me the chance to be a superhero like Sam. Though my costume probably wouldn’t be yellow like his. Or skin-tight. I don’t care what the market-testing says.
Next week we will feature a list of Steven's top five genre books for young readers (if he's not too busy saving the world, that is). In the mean time, see Steven's website for more details on Vanguard Prime.