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.
Graeme Base likes to be in a garden filled with puppets.
Frances Hodgson Burnett is rather fond of a large hat.
Terry Pratchett aslo sometimes indulges in comical headwear.
Edward Gorey enjoys the company of his teddy.
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 gets mad.
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.
What could be nicer than giving a child a delightful hard cover edition of a family favourite to cherish for ever? Some of you may be lucky enough to still have books from when you were very young or even from when you were first born. Some may even have a cherished book with a handwritten message in the front from someone you love. These are the books that sent us off to sleep, soothed us when we were afraid of the dark or cheered us up when we were sick. So, wouldn't it wonderful to these very same books with the little ones you love?
Please always remember that things that are in print today, may not be there tomorrow and even Classics can become unavailable. With authors that have large backlists (like Enid Blyton) publishers don't tend to keep their full catalogue in print at the same time. So, if there is a book that you absolutely love, please don't make the mistake of thinking it will always be easily available!
Ages 3 to 5
The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
Ferdinand The Bull by Munro Leaf
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr Seuss
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Let me begin this blog post by saying that I absolutely adore everything Mem Fox does, says and writes. In my opinion, if you have small children, not having Mem Fox books in your house is virtually a criminal offense. I think the high quality of children’s book publishing in Australia is largely because Mem raised the bar so high for everyone that followed and so many of our wonderful young authors grew up reading her books. There, now that’s off my chest I can continue.
Mem Fox (Merrion Frances Partridge), AM, was born on the 5th of March 1946 in Melbourne. Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Zimbabwe, where her parents were missionaries. She studied drama in London, where she met and fell in love with her husband Malcolm. They have one daughter, Chloe, whom Mem dedicated her first book (Possum Magic) to.
As well as being an author, Mem spent much of her working life as Associate Professor, Literacy Studies in the School of Education at Flinders University; or as Mem puts it “I worked in a university, teaching teachers how to teach reading and writing.”
Mem has written dozens of books for children and many non-fiction books about teaching and literacy. Her best known book Possum Magic, is still the best selling children’s book in Australian history.
Now let me share 10 of my favourite Mem Fox books:
Possum Magic illustrated by Julie Vivas
This has to be top of my list. Published in 1983, it was Mem’s first book. Personally, I’ve never quite forgiven the CBCA for not awarding it book of the year (although I do like Bertie and the Bear by Pamela Allen).
Hunwick’s Egg illustrated by Pamela Lofts
The name Hunwick was inspired by John Hunwick, who Mem worked at Flinders University with, he was working on a campaign to save the bilby and trying to raise public awareness about their plight.
Time for Bed illustrated by Jane Dyer
This is a great book for helping relax little folk before bed, with gentle repetitive text and soft illustrations of animals snuggling down to sleep children find it very soothing. It is great for newborns all the way up to four and five year olds.
Whoever You Are illustrated by Leslie Stub
This book is about children all around the world, just like you. Children that go to school, eat dinner and play games, just like you; there may be differences but they are only superficial.
Where is the Green Sheep illustrated by Judy Horacek
This is a must have book for every toddler. If you want to understand the kind of power this amazing book has, just ask any group of toddlers “where is the green sheep?” I can pretty much guarantee that they will all answer in unison “fast asleep”.
Koala Lou illustrated by Pamela Lofts
This is a wonderful story for children struggling with the idea of new siblings. Koala Lou is the apple of her mother’s eye but as she grows up and her mum has more babies, she has less time to spend with Koala Lou. Of course she’ll always be there just when Koala Lou needs her.
Tough Boris illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Boris von der Borch is a big tough fearless pirate, he and his pirate crew travel in their pirate ship digging up treasure and having fun. Boris' constant companion is he parrot (all pirates have to have parrots), when the parrot dies one day Boris cries and cried, because everyone, even big tough pirates cry sometimes. This is a great story for talking about gender roles and how even massive, scruffy pirates cry sometimes.
Ten Little Fingers And Ten Little Toes illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
From two of the most gifted picture book creators of our time, here is a celebration of babies and the joy they bring to everyone, everywhere, all over the world! It was on the New York Times bestseller lists for 18 weeks and has become an instant classic.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge illustrated by Julie Vivas
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge lives next door to an old people's home and the residents are his friends. His favourite person there is Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper. Miss Nancy has lost her memory and Wilfrid decides to help her get it back with unexpected consequences.
Wombat Divine illustrated by Kerry Argent
A great Australian Christmas book. Wombat really wants to be in the nativity play, but every part he tries, poor Wombat seems to get wrong. Finally, there are no parts left for him to try, when Wombat is in deep despair wise old Emu has a brilliant idea.
Books with great rhyming text have a way of capturing children's attention and keeping their focus for much longer. Most parents and educators have noticed this, especially with authors like Julia Donaldson and Mem Fox. They love the predicability, the rhythm and often have the story memorised after just a few readings. We are often asked for books that will hold the attention of even the most active and squirmy pre-schooler, so here is a list of ten of our favourites.
The Gruffalo - by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler - This must be one of the most popular rhyming to ever be released and anyone who reads it to a small child will see why!
“A mouse took a walk through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.”
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld - Going to bed books are always very useful and this rhyming text helps calm and relax children.
“Down in the big construction site,
The tough trucks work with all their might
To build a building, make a road,
To get the job done- load by load!”
Thesaurus Rex by Laya Steinberg and Debbie Harter - Not just great rhyming text, this book also introduces children to synonyms.
"Thesaurus Rex starts his day: stretching, reaching, extending, bending.
Uh oh, his pants need mending!"
Mr McGee by Pamela Allen - The short rhyming text, large print and silly humour in Mr McGee work really well fro pre-schoolers. They won’t take long to have the words memorised and be able to ‘read’ it to themselves.
“Mr McGee lives under a tree.
One morning he woke up and said,
‘It’s time that I got out of bed.’”
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans- This book has rhyming text with more complex sentences and even the occasional French word thrown in.
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines.
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees - Longer rhyming text (about a paragraph per page), great fun to read aloud and a great message about fitting in.
"Gerald was a tall giraffe,
Whose neck was long and slim,
But his knees were awfully bandy
And his legs were rather slim"
Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss- Of course we had to include at least one Dr Seuss and what could be better for children to grow up hearing than this?
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!”
Time for Bed by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer - Every baby should grow up hearing this book at bedtime. Mem Fox’s lyrical rhyming text blends perfectly with Jane Dyer’s touchingly warm illustrations.
“It’s time for bed, little mouse, little mouse,
Darkness is falling all over the house.”
Mister Magnolia by Quentin Blake - The rhyming and very repetitive text in this book help children to be able to predict the next word even if they can't read it (good for building confidence).
"Mr Magnolia has only one boot.
He has a trumpet that goes rooty- toot-,
And two lovely sisters who play the flute-
But Mr Magnolia has only one boot."
Mulga Bill's Bicycle by A.B. Paterson illustrated by Kilmeny and Deborah Niland - rhyming text, great Australian classic. Children will giggle at the idea of a bicycle being a new invention.
"'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;"
For any unfortunate people that haven't met the Moomins yet, here is a little bit of background on those dear little philosophers and their creator; Tove Jansson.
Although not very well known in Australia, the Moomins have a huge following around the world especially in Scandinavia, the UK and Japan. Beginning life in a series of books there are now Moomin movies, television shows, toys, lollies, all kinds of merchandise, a museum, a theme park (pictured below), there has even been a Moomin Ballet (1952) and a Moomin opera (1974).
Tove Jansson is one of our all time favourite author/ illustrators. Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1914 (when Finland was still a Grand Principality of Russia) she spent much of her childhood surrounded by art and artists (both her parents were artists). Her family was part of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland and all her books were originally published in Swedish. She studied art in Helsinki and Paris in the 1930's. After finishing her education Tove had work in a number of galleries and her first solo exhibition was held in 1943.
Tove wrote and illustrated The Moomins and the Great Flood (which was her first book featuring the Moomins) during WWII as a way of bringing back something naïve and innocent at this dark time.
Tove had a studio in Helsinki but her summer home was located on an tiny island called Klovharu with no electricity and no running water.
She spent every summer with her partner (a professor and graphic artist in her own right) Tuulikki Pietila (nicknamed Tooti) for almost 30 years. Jansson said the character Too-Ticky who appears in Tales from Moominvalley and Moominland Midwinter was based on Tuulikki.
Tove Jansson was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1966.
Like many other illustrators (for example Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey) she collaborated with a number of theatre companies, designing sets, costumes and writing dialogue.
Tove Jansson is best known for her Moomintroll books although, she wrote many books for grown ups too including The Summer Book, Fair Play, The Honest Swindler and Sculptor’s Daughter (a book of short stories based on Jansson’s childhood memories).
Tove Jansson died in 2001 her Moomin books are sold all over the world and have been translated into 44 languages.
Is the special person in your life the literary type? Does your beau spend hours reading and re-reading their favourite book? Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and it got me thinking about what on earth to get the literary paramour in my life.
There is an emotional openness and sincerity in children’s books that reminds even the most cynical grown-ups among us what it feels like to be a child, this is the same kind of feeling you get from being in love.
There has definitely been a noticeable trend over the past few years for grown-ups giving each other children’s books with special meaning. Naturally, as people obsessed with and constantly surrounded by children's books, all the staff here at The Little Bookroom are very much in favour of this. My own beloved won my heart when he gave me a first edition signed copy of Possum Magic (my favourite book as a child) for our first Christmas together. It was simply the most heart felt, beautiful gift I had ever received. With this in mind, I’ve made a list of some of my all time favourite children’s books that make beautiful gifts for grown-ups on Valentine’s Day.
The Velveteen Rabbit
This book is all about the power of love to change you in wonderful ways you never knew were possible.
I went to a wedding once where the reading was from a children’s book instead of the more traditional poem or bible passage. It was so romantic and so personal. The book was The Velveteen Rabbit. It had been the Bride’s favourite book as a child and she said it described the way she felt about her new husband. This is the reading from that wedding:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Baby Lit: Romeo and Juliet is a counting book suited perfectly for the Shakespearean in your life. If your amour is prone to quoting from The Bard or sits at home on cold nights watching (again) Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, this might just be the gift of choice.
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney is an extremely sweet and gentle tale of Little Nutbrown Hare trying to tell Big Nutbrown Hare how much he loves her. The story ends with the Big Nutbrown Hare saying: "I love you to the moon - AND BACK"
The Owl and The Pussycat by Edward Lear
The story of the unlikely love between usually opposing species. (Ignore the liberal use of the word ‘pussy’ and focus on the romance):
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
Most of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books have gorgeous quotes about love in them. Not least, the dedication Milne wrote to his wife Dorothy, in The House at Pooh Corner
If the object of your affection has a musical bent, they would surely love Gus Gordon's book of star crossed lovers; Herman and Rosie.
"Once upon a time in a very busy city,
on a very busy street,
on top of a very tall building,
Rosie found Herman. And Herman found Rosie.
The city was never quite the same."
Of course I have to finish (pun intended) with the gorgeous Tove Jansson. Tove Jansson’s Moomin books are rife with achingly beautiful quotes to share with your loved one.
Here is one of our favourites; when Snork Maiden is feeling less than beautiful, Moomin knows just what to say:
“The Snork Maiden dropped her ears, and he hastily brushed his snout against hers and said: “There's no need to imagine that you're a wondrous beauty, because that's what you are.”” (from Moominsummer Madness pages 19 and 20)
Georges Remi was born in Brussels in on May 22nd 1907. He developed the pen name Herge in 1924, based on the pronunciation of his own initials reversed (R.G.).
He was very involved with the Boy Scout movement as a child and his first published works were in Scout magazines.
In 1928 when he was just 21 years old, the editor of Le XXe Siècle (The 20th Century) asked Herge to create a children’s supplement to be published in the newspaper every Thursday.
The character Tintin made his debut on January 10th 1929 in Belgian newspaper Le XXe Siècle’s children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtième (The Little Twentieth) created by Herge.
In 1932 Herge married Germaine Kieckens, who was his editor Norbert Wallez's secretary.
In 1940 Belgium was invaded by the Nazis and the newspaper Herge worked for was shut down. He then went to work for German controlled Le Soir, where he continued publishing his Tintin comic strip with a few discrete changes. For example at this time Tintin changes from a reporter to an explorer and Herge steers away from political topics.
In the post-war era Herge was banned from working on newspapers due to his work at Le Soir under German control. Until one of his friends and resistance fighter Raymond Leblance helped clear his name and set up a magazine dedicated to Tintin.
In 1950 Herge created Studios Herge. He had a number of staff to help him go back to rework and colour some of his original work and produce new work, although all work was alway created to Herge.
Twenty three Tintin books were published in Herge’s lifetime and a twenty fourth book of unfinished drawings was published after Herge’s death in 1983.
The Tintin books had been translated into more than 50 languages.
On 22 May 2007, which was also the centenary of Herge’s birth, The Herge Museum was officially opened in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
There is so much written about the world of Middle Earth especially at the moment with the movie of The Hobbit being released, but we thought we'd share a bit more about the man himself. We love those kind of literary tid-bits like: Tolkien's great great grandfather on his mother's side; William Suffield, ran a bookshop in Birmingham, or that his aunt Jane's farm was called Bag End, or that he was friends with C.S. Lewis. So here are some more background into one of the 20th centuries most loved authors.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was born on January the 3rd 1892 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. His father was a bank clerk and moved the family from England to South Africa to gain a promotion. His father died when Tolkien was three years old while the rest of the family was on holiday in England. His mother Mabel relocated her two young boys; Ronald and Hilary (yes, really) to Birmingham to live with her family. Sadly, Mabel died of diabetes in 1904 when he was just 12 years old, leaving him and his brother in the care of her priest.
Although Tolkien is best known for his fantasy books The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, he spent much of his working life as an Oxford Professor and expert on Mythology with a particular focus on Beowulf; his lecture Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics is widely acknowledged as having changed the way scholars understood and interpreted Beowulf's themes. In his early working life he spent time working on the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien was first published in 1937. It is considered a modern classic in the fantasy genre. The publishing house Allen & Unwin agreed to publish The Hobbit after Stanley Unwin's 10 year old son Rayner read the book and wrote a review for his father. Part of the review read: "This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9."
When Tolkien was 16 he met Edith Bratt (19), the two became close friends and friendship soon blossomed into romance. The early romance was somewhat turbulent however, as there were a number of barriers to the young couple, including religious differences and the objection of Tolkien's gardian, who forbade him to speak to Edith for 3 years which almost led to Edith marrying another man. Despite these problems however, Tolkien and Edith were undeniably in love and extremely well matched in personality and intellect. He later said of his feelings about leaving his new wife to go to the First World War; "Parting from my wife then ... it was like a death". During the War they developed a code that they could use to write private letters to each other without them being read by the English censors. Edith was then able to follow his movements on the map and know where he was fighting. Tolkien later said that Edith was also the inspiration for Lúthien; the most beautiful of all the elves and asked that the name be written on her grave after she passed away. Tolkien himself died less than two years later, they are buried in the same grave with Tolkien giving himself the name Beren; Lúthien's flawed and mortal lover.