Saturday, July 16, 2016

Australian Indigenous Literature: A review of 8 wonderful books

Magabala Books is Australia's leading Indigenous publisher. Based in the pearling town of Broome in the far north of Western Australia, it is one of the most remote publishing houses in the world. Since its incorporation in 1990, Magabala has been recognised as a producer of quality Indigenous Australian literature. Its books can be found on its own website or through other online stores and search engines. You can also find teaching resources for most of their books on the site HERE. This will be very helpful for teachers.

Magabala is a not-for-profit organisation that preserves, develops and promotes Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and cultures. It has released more than one hundred and fifty titles from a range of genres, many of which are still in print.

While I've enjoyed Magabala's books for some time, recently I had the chance to visit the publisher and consider all of their titles. As well, I was able to buy some for myself and as gifts for children in my family. In this post I want to review just some of the wonderful material that they publish.



1. 'Tjarany Roughtail' by Gracie Greene and Joe Tramacchi and illustrated by Lucille Gill

Tjarany Roughtail contains eight dreamtime stories from the Kukatja people of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley Region. Each story is complemented by beautiful artworks painted by Aboriginal artist Lucille Gill that visually explain each story using traditional dot paintings. Told in English and Kukatja.

This wonderful book offers mysteries of the Dreamtime centred on the cultural history of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Told in English and Kukatja, the book includes magnificent paintings, maps, kinship diagrams, exercises and language notes. Children aged 7-12 will love this book and gain a greater appreciation of the richness of Aboriginal culture and story.

The book was the winner of the Australian Children's Book Council (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (1993), and was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

2. 'Two Mates' by Melanie Prewett and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

The true story of the special mateship between two boys who have grown up together in Broome; Jack is Indigenous and Raf is non-Indigenous. The boys share their daily life as they search for hermit crabs, go hunting for barni, fish for salmon, explore the markets, eat satays and dress up as superheros. At the end of the book it is revealed that Raf is in a wheelchair due to spina bifida. The book offers some additional information on this condition at the end of the book. 

This is a lovely story that shows that true friendship sees no barriers in race or disability.  This would be a wonderful book to share with children aged 5-8 years. There are also some teaching notes on the Magabala site HERE.


3. 'Joshua and the Two Crabs' by Joshua Button


Joshua Button is a young Indigenous author with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in. His observations of his family’s fishing trip to Crab Creek give us a unique opportunity to see this adventure through his eyes. Joshua’s illustrations evoke the beauty of Crab Creek—a tidal creek that lies in the mangroves of Roebuck Bay near Broome in Australia’s north west.

I had the pleasure of spending some time at Roebuck Bay just last week. This is an exquisite place where I spent hours looking at the sheer beauty and the rich marine life. Some of the stars of the wildlife are definitely the crabs. Watching them scurry (at great speed), eating, digging and leaving their intriguing marks on the red sand was a great joy. My photos below show a little of this beauty.



4. 'Our World Bardi Jaawi, Life at Ardiyooloon' written and illustrated by the students of One Arm Point Remote Community School 

Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This vibrant book is bursting with life and activity and takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community.

This wonderful book is inspired by the stories of the elders and the beautiful beauty of the land and culture of Ardiyooloon. The many chapters in the richly illustrated book consider the history, language, food and cultural practices of the Bardi Jaawi people. The children's illustrations enrich the many factual texts that consider fishing, bush food, special events, language and the wildlife of this wonderful place. For example, on one double page the children describe and draw 23 different saltwater creatures that are found in their world. The authenticity of the waters and the richness and colour of the illustrations, make you want to dip again and again into this beautiful book.


The book was the winner of the Speech Pathology Australia's Indigenous Book of the Year 2011 and was also shortlisted in the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards in the same year.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here

5. 'The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper', by Terrizita Corpus and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

This amusing tale takes place on a stormy wet-season night at the Broome lighthouse. Meet Cassius the hermit crab, Jacob the jellyfish, Bruce the bluebone and more sea creatures as they head down the beach and race up the lighthouse staircase to escape a wild storm — all while the lighthouse keeper is out checking the lamp for passing ships. When he discovers his bed has been taken over by slimy sea creatures, he is very grumpy.

This is a more contemporary work of fiction situated in the lighthouse at Cable Beach in Broome. The lighthouse keeper's house and the ruins of the lighthouse remain, plus a new less visually attractive unmanned lighthouse (see below). The beautiful watercolour illustrations complement the funny text. My final recommendation is that any book that has a crab named 'Trev' would have to be good! It will be well received by children aged 4-7 years.

Above: The modern lighthouse
'
The Grumpy Lighthouse Keeper' is inspired by the iconic Broome lighthouse and the remains of the old lighthouse keeper’s house that sits on the edge of the world-renowned Cable Beach. This is a beautiful place with great wild beauty and the rich colours of the earth so synonymous with the remote north west.









6. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' by Daisy Utemorrah and illustrated by Pat Torres

This remarkable book weaves together the story of Daisy Utemorrah’s life with a collection of playful parables and poems. It explores themes such as Creation, tradition, memories, family and most importantly, country. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' imbues a simple autobiographical story with humour and depth, and will appeal to adults and children alike. Retold with love and honour, be transported to a place where time stands still...

Daisy Utemorrah was an elder of the Wunambal people from the Mitchell Plateau area in the far north Kimberley. She was born in 1922 at Kunmunya Mission and her family background gave her fluency in three Aboriginal languages. Daisy was recognised for her work as a poet and a teacher. This was her first book and of course was published by Magabala in 1991. It won the Australian Multicultural Children’'s Book Award the following year, and was also shortlisted for the Children’'s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) award for Younger Readers. As well, Pat Torres won the prestigious international IBBY award for illustration for her work on this book in 1994.

It is a remarkable book for various reasons. It integrates Daisy's unique autobiographical story with a variety of traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime themes, focussing on memories, family, creation and country, the important relationship between a people and their land. It is beautifully told with simplicity and economy of words, and it weaves Daisy's traditional languages with her stories and the wonderful illustrations of Broome-based Djugan artist Pat Torres. Here is a sample:

I am the native cat, I dance everywhere.
I hop, skip and jump.
I jump on the flat stone
and dance and wobble my bum and hold my hips
And then I dance again.


7. 'The Mark of the Wagarl' by Lorna Little and illustrated by Janice Lyndon

Maadjit Walken is the Sacred Rainbow Serpent. She is the mother spirit and creator of Nyoongar Country in the south west of Western Australia. She formed the landscape and the waterways, and made her first child Maadjit Wagarl, the Sacred Water Snake, the guardian spirit of all the rivers and fresh waters. The Mark of the Wagarl is the story of how a little boy dared to question the wisdom of his elders and why he received the Sacred Water Snake for his totem. Janice Lyndon’s pastel illustrations resonate with the cultural power of the Maadjit Wagarl and the landscape of the south west. This is a revised edition.

This is a traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime story featuring a well-known character - the Rainbow Serpent - who appears in other books for children, most notably 'The Rainbow Serpent' by Dick Roughsey. The slightly more contemporary illustrations are designed to appeal to a new generation who should love this book.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here from the Magabala website.


8. 'Ngay janijirr ngank. This is my word', by Magdalene Williams, illustrated by Pat Torres and with photos by Maria Mann.

A beautifully illustrated account of the life of Magdalene Williams of the Nyulnyul people. Raised in the confines of Beagle Bay mission in the Kimberley, she was nevertheless exposed to her traditional culture through her Elders. Magdalene's account of the coming of the missionaries, and the destruction of law and culture is interwoven with the richness and diversity of her Nyulnyul stories.

I love this book for the beauty of the language and the power of the stories that Magdalene Williams tells. The work is also well illustrated by Pat Torres and has wonderful photos from Maria Mann. The opening line gives a sense of what is to come as she tells the story of the Nyulnyul people of Beagle Bay:

"A long time ago in Ngarlan, the place where Beagle Bay now stands, a very strange and frightening thing happened."

The book also contains several wordlists. Helpfully, these include Nyulnyul to English and English to Nyulnyul, selected phrases, traditional names of the family members mentioned, and also a pronunciation guide. This is a book that works at many levels, it has an engaging story, it raises cultural awareness, offers language study and more.  Children aged 7-12 will enjoy this excellent book.


Further reading

Other previous posts on Indigenous literature HERE.
Other reviews on children's literature HERE.




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Literature that Deals with Human Diversity: Helping to overcome fear of the 'other'

People have a tendency to fear the unknown, and this includes people who are different to us. I have argued in previous posts (here & here) that literature can teach us a great deal about life, including giving us greater understanding of people of other races, personalities, genders, faiths and so on.  Literature brings great pleasure but it also teaches us and can impact on us emotionally. It passes on aspects of our cultural traditions, it introduces us to other cultures and it teaches us about our world, its history, its people and what it is to be human. A piece of literature is more than just a good story. I wrote in one of my books (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature can act as:

  • A mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
  • A source of knowledge
  • A source of ideological challenge
  • A means to peer into the past, and the future
  • A vehicle to other places
  • A means to reflect on inner struggles
  • An introduction to the realities of life and death
  • A vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues
In this post I revisit (essentially re-publish a previous older post) to look at a group of books that I would loosely term books that help children to become aware of the 'other'. The concept of 'otherness' has its roots in continental philosophy. The German philosopher Hegel was one of the first to use the concept. The notion of the 'Other' is important in defining our sense of self.  In the social sciences it is also used to help us understand the way we exclude groups within our society or across broad cultural boundaries.  The emergence of a sense of the ‘other’ is one of the ways that children first become aware of those who are different and to differentiate between that which can create fear, and that which is familiar and certain. Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas helped to popularise the term in modern times and suggested that a sense of the other comes before our need to respond by ignoring, rejecting, helping and so on.


Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale 'The Ugly Duckling' first published in 1843 is a fairytale that speaks directly to this theme.  As the young ducks grew older they could see that the last 'duck' was not like them: 'He's too big!" "You're appallingly ugly!" "I wish you were miles away". They struggle to work out how to deal with his difference, "But why should we care so long as you don't marry into our family?"  While the 'Ugly Duckling' and other stories often speak of many things, some have the wonderful quality of shifting children's focus beyond themselves, to become aware of the other, to understand their difference, and to re-shape their sense of self as they see themselves in relation to those who are 'other' than themselves.

The books that follow are just a 'light' sample of the many books available for young readers. I have mainly chosen picture books but there are many children's novels that include this theme. I may re-visit this theme for older readers later. I have also used some sub-headings to offer a sense of just some of the senses of 'difference' that are brought into focus.

1. The Aged

'Remember Me' by Margaret Wild & Dee Huxley (illustrator)

Margaret Wild's delightful book centres on the first person narrative of a grandmother who talks about her life and how frustrating it is when she forgets things. Her granddaughter is her little helper, enabling her to survive the day. While Wild's intent is to look specifically at memory loss and how it impacts on the aged, it also offers an insight into how this is read and responded to by others. In time the woman even forgets her granddaughter; but by mentally reliving her experience of the little girl (from birth to the present) she remembers her and the little girl promises that she'll be around to help her remember.  The older person with failing memory is not a problem, but someone to be loved, supported and learned from. And of course, in the process, our lives are enriched.

Other examples in this category include 'Wilfrid, Gordon McDonald Partridge' by Mem Fox & Julie Vivas (illustrator). This is probably my favourite Mem Fox book.  Another example is 'Waiting for May' by Thyrza Davey. In this wonderful story a social worker wants an old man 'Old Alec' living on a houseboat in Queensland with his dog to move to a retirement home. He 'escapes' to avoid this fate but in escaping his fate, a fierce storm and a little young boy change everything.

2. The person of different race or ethnicity

'The Burnt Stick' (1995) by Anthony Hill & Mark Sofilas (illustrator)

This novel for younger readers (8-10 years) is set in Australia prior to the 1960s.  It is the story of a young Australian aboriginal boy named John Jagamarra, who had been taken (like thousands of other Indigenous children) from his family. John was taken from his mother by the Welfare Department of the day, and sent to live with his white Father at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children. He grew up in this beautiful place, but he knew it was not like being home with his mother and his people.  He remembers how the 'Big Man from Welfare' had come and taken him away. His story illustrates how well intentioned government policy at the time failed to deal with the problems of Indigenous communities and failed to understand the full needs of people 'other' than themselves. While the story positions us as reader to see the tragedy of the 'Stolen Generation' through John's eyes, at the same time it offers child and adult readers the chance to consider the issues of racial difference and how we understand, live with and when necessary, reach out to people other than ourselves.

Mark Sofilas' wonderful charcoal images add a haunting and powerful additional dimension to the story. The Children's Book Council of Australia named it Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1995.

Another more recent exploration of this theme is Matt Ottley's epic picture book 'Requiem for a Beast' (which I have reviewed HERE), that uses story (in picture book form), image and music to explore the painful experiences of the 'Stolen Generation' and in the process helps us to learn much about ourselves and how the non-Indigenous are positioned relative to Indigenous Australians. This book is a picture book for secondary aged readers, not young children.

Yet another wonderful book that offers a greater understanding of Indigenous Australians is 'Playground' (2011) that was compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle. It was short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Indigenous Australian Elders, 20 Indigenous secondary students and with Indigenous Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present.

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Indigenous children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Indigenous life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Indigenous children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Indigenous children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Indigenous people not simply read their stories.

I have written more about Indigenous literature here.

From the difficult, to the simpler rendering of this theme, Dr Seuss has also written a number of examples that touch on 'otherness'.  'The Sneetches' is an obvious one that tells of two types of creatures (Sneetches) one with a Star on their bellies and the other without. Needless to say one felt superior and the other inferior. One day a man arrives with the perfect solution, a machine that can add a star to the belly. But without the stars how could the 'superior' group differentiate itself? The man had the solution, his machine could take the stars off (!) the Sneetches who were the original 'Star Belly' kind.

But perhaps an example even closer to the theme is 'What was I scared of?' a funny story about a small creature who while walking at night is confronted by a pair of pale green pants that are out walking by themselves. He is terrified when on each walk he sees them. But of course it turns out that the pants were just as scared of him and finally all is resolved:

And, now we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble.
We both smile
And, we say
"Hi!"




3. The person in different social circumstances

'Way Home' by Libby Hathorn & Gregory Rogers(illustrator)

This is the story of Shane, a young street kid (which isn't revealed until the end of the story), who finds a lost kitten. The story takes us through the city streets to Shane’s ‘house’; which the kitten will share with him. The illustrations by Gregory Rogers portray Sydney at night. They show the constant shift (which is part of Shane's life) from busy streets ablaze with lights to dark and sometimes threatening back alleyways. There are hazards and dangers for Shane and the tiny kitten at every turn. The story offers an insight into the life of the homeless and is a poignant story of two survivors. Suitable for 7-10 years olds.

4. Understanding the 'other' gender 

There have been many books that look at differences of gender. A recent author who has focused on this theme is Aaron Blabey. His first book 'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley' is about friendship and relationships. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are the best of friends, but they are different in almost every way. Pearl likes solving mysteries and moves rather fast in the world; Charlie likes taking baths and watching his garden grow. So how can Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley be such good friends? Because that which is in the 'other' can complement that which is in him or her.  The book won the Children's Book Council Award for Picture Book of the year in 2009.

Blabey continues tangentially with a variation on theme in his second and third books 'Sunday Chutney' and 'Stanley Paste'.  In these, his first person narratives are more focused on how the child copes with their difference rather than us coping with the other. The rather unusual girl Sunday Chutney is always moving from school to school due to her Dad's jobs, coping with difference and awkwardness all the time. 

In 'Stanley Paste' we learn of the very small boy (Stanley Paste), who hates his size, until one day a new girl arrives at school who is very tall. Like Stanley, she hates the way she is. They become good friends and see different things in each other than many of the other kids at school who have made their lives miserable.

Summing Up

Each of the books above does much more than just present the theme that I have pointed to. In high schools teachers might also include books that deal with sexual orientation as part of the English curriculum for older students. The concept of 'otherness' is important and books such as the above offer children the opportunity to consider how do they situate themselves relative to the 'other'.

Other posts

All previous 'Key Themes' posts HERE

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ten Great New Books for Readers Aged 4-16 Years

1. 'Yak & Gnu' by Juliette MacIver & illustrated by Cat Chapman

This delightful example of rhyming prose is a lot of fun. Yak & Gnu love to row down the river, one in their kayak, and the other in their canoe. Of course, a simple paddle on the river turns into a grand tour with others joining them along the way. A goat in a boat (can that be true?), and a laughing raft, on a raft. You should now get it. All is as expected until the "hippopotamus would have gotten us" without a quick turn. Eventually they survive and reach the sea.

Yak and Gnu conclude that there is no other beast quite like either of them. Climb aboard for a nonsensical voyage featuring an eclectic collection of animals, awash in rhyme and tongue twisters perfect for reading aloud.



2. 'Something About a Bear' by Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris is a wonderful illustrator and writer. This beautiful picture book is a factual picture book about bears. She uses a narrative form and her rich illustrations to introduce us to some of the world's most wonderful creatures. It has pretty much all of my favourites - Brown bears, Spectacled bears, Moon bears, Polar bears, Sun bears and more. The book begins with a large brown bear staring at a child's toy bear, and then launches into wonderful double page spreads showing nine bears. The first is the Brown bear:
 
'Where the water churns with salmon, thick and rich with leaping fishes, there the brown bear stands and catches the wild king of the river. On the shore the young bears watch him; still others swim the waters, but they are careful not to challenge, for he is the strongest of them all.'

With stunning watercolour paintings, this lyrical picture book describes eight bears from all over the world, all shown in their natural habitats: Black Bear, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear, Spectacle Bear, Sun Bear, Panda, Moon Bear, and Brown Bear.

But which is the best bear of all? Your own teddy bear of course!

3. 'Footpath Flowers' by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith (Walker Books)

This wordless picture book is a visual delight. The ink and watercolour illustrations of Sydney Smith are incredible. The 'story' told by the illustrations is subtle and multi layered. Your journey through the full page and comic-sized multi-framed pages is through the eyes of a small girl with red hooded top who sees a world of flowers in a dense urban landscape. She collects them on her walk with her Dad (largely unnoticed by him), and distributes them in the most delightful way.

Award winning poet JonArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith have produced a gem!



4. 'Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War' by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & illustrated by Robin Cowcher

This is a very simple but powerful picture book that encourages us to remember those who serve in war. Each double page has but one or two sentences. It parallels images of war with images of adults and children observing commemorative services and ANZAC Day marches. We see images of legs marching; some soldiers in battle, others ordinary families. It begins:

'Left! Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.'

Next we see soldiers on the battle field huddled writing to loved ones, while on the next page we see families battling terrible weather conditions as they head of for commemorative services.

The delightful water colour drawings and text work beautifully together to offer a wonderful tribute to our service men and women and at the same time, an encouragement to remember them.


The book ends with an author's note that gives short descriptions of different theatres of war that Australians have participated in.

5. 'Willy's Stories' by Anthony Browne

This isn't a new title (published 2014), but I hadn't seen a copy until recently. Any new Anthony Browne title is always an exciting discovery.  Browne is one of the most celebrated author-illustrators in the world.

This book, like many before it, is a wonderful celebration of Browne's ability as a storyteller who stimulates the imagination. Once a week, Willy walks through an ordinary-looking set of doors and straight into an adventure with echoes of other great imaginative tales like 'Alice in Wonderland'. Each day we wonder where the doors will take him - a mysterious desert island with footprints in the sand; an adventure with Friar Tuck in Sherwood Forest; an encounter with Peter Pan and Captain Hook; falling down a deep, dark rabbit hole full of curious objects; or being swept away like Dorothy on the head of a tornado. Each page a new adventure, and an echo of another tale. Willy is unmistakable as we are drawn into the book and the memory of our favourite tales. A great example of Browne's genius!

6. 'The Cat with the Coloured Tail' by Gillian Mears & illustrated by Dinalie Dabarera

Mr. Hooper and The Cat with the Coloured Tail travel through the countryside in their ice-cream van. They enjoy looking for heart shapes (their favourite game) and making people happy with their delicious moon-creams. But a dark feeling is following the cat. Something is wrong. When the ice-cream van enters the forest, Mr Hooper and the cat realise the heart of the world is in danger. Will they be able to save it? A lyrical fable about love and healing.

This is a wonderful tale of two companions. But this cat with a face shaped like a heart is no ordinary cat! This is a special book about kindness and hope. The work of Danalie Dabarera as illustrator adds greatly to this 74 page book for readers aged 7-9 years.

7. 'The Rest of us Just Live Here' by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has twice won the Carnegie Medal the UK's premier children's literature award to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people.

Mikey is the main character. He is an anxious 17-year-old who worries about the same things that other young adults worry about: relationships, sex, popularity, love, parents, their future and so on. Does life make sense?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

This new offering from Ness reminds readers aged 14+ that there are many different ways to live your life, and many ways to be remarkable in the 'unremarkable' in it.
A delightful book filled with empathy and hope for adolescents!

8. 'A single stone' by Meg McKinlay

Every girl dreams of being part of the line—the chosen seven who tunnel deep into the mountain to find the harvest. No work is more important.

Jena is the leader of the line—strong, respected, reliable. And—as all girls must be—she is small; years of training have seen to that. It is not always easy but it is the way of things. And so a girl must wrap her limbs, lie still, deny herself a second bowl of stew. Or a first.

But what happens when one tiny discovery makes Jena question the world she knows? What happens when moving a single stone changes everything?

This is a delightful tale set in a dystopian world where Jenna's village has been cut off from the outside world. They have no way out so the villagers need to adapt their lives to this existence. Girls of fine bones are desirable and special, but boys have little value. Jenna begins to question the work that she was born to do. This is a shocking tale in its own way, but there is also hope.

9. 'I'll Give You the Sun' by Jandy Nelson

This is another book from the acclaimed author of 'The Sky Is Everywhere'.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close - until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don't realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

This is a novel that will pull the reader's emotions in all directions. The reader will move from laughter to tears as they enter the story of two inseparable twins who are torn apart of a tragedy. 

10. 'The Cardturner' by Louis Sacher

This is the latest young adult novel from Louis Sachar, the New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Newbery Medal in 1999 for 'Holes'. 'The Cardturner' is an exploration of the human condition. "How are we supposed to be partners? He can’t see the cards and I don’t know the rules!"

The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him, he has no money and no job, and his parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester, who is old, blind, very sick, and very rich, to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner.

But Alton's parents aren't the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp's good graces. There is Trapp's longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family.

 Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda, as he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.
In this excellent novel Sachar explores the disparity between what we know and what we think we might know. What is the difference between perception and reality?

All My Posts on Children's Literature HERE




Monday, May 30, 2016

Imaginative Recreation, Storytelling & Creativity

Above: Relaxing in her cardboard cubby (Lydia age 4)
From a very early age, children begin in varied play situations to experiment with story using the springboard of literature, song, film or even real-life accounts. My youngest granddaughter Lydia has been fascinated by story since her first year of life. Last time I wrote how as a three year old she would use objects of every kind to create stories. Two lettuce leaves became two butterflies, the central characters in her mealtime story. She still uses dolls, plastic animals, Thomas trains, toys and objects of all kinds (like her knife & fork!) to tell stories. Not all of her stories are retellings of known stories, in fact many are original innovative stories that she crafts using stimuli in her environment. Story for Lydia can also be stimulated by television (e.g. 'Everything's Rosie', 'Charlie and Lola', 'In the Night Garden'), books and all of life's everyday experiences.

The cardboard cubby was created to her specifications from a box that our new washing machine came in. "I'll have the door here", "the window there". "Can I have a chimney please", and a "one on the roof". "A skylight I asked?". "Yes, of course!"

Imaginative play and storytelling are essential parts of learning. In previous posts I've called this re-creation (i.e. the reconstruction, presentation or retelling of a story in new ways), but it takes many forms.

Above: The fully furnished cubby


Story in its own right is critical to learning, communication and well-being. This is something that I've written about many times (for example HERE & HERE). For children, the re-creation or reliving of a story is a critical part of their growing knowledge of narrative as well as a way to gain knowledge.

Young children often quite naturally use imaginative storytelling to support and play with known stories or varied life situations and experiences:



Above: Beans become tusks for the walrus!
  • Changing rhymes and songs, e.g. 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' to 'Baa Baa White Sheep' as Lydia does often.
    Acting out 'Little Red Riding Hood' with the resources of the dress-up box and some friends.
  • Dramatizing a well-known children's song from television or CD or a children's picture book.
  • Using art or drawing to imagine a story character, mythical creature or story setting. 
  • Using Lego (or other toys, props and objects) to re-imagine story alone or with others.
  • Creating something new that grows out of an experience of story.

Storytelling and imaginative re-creation are powerful learning strategies for children that stretches them as language users and learners. Below are a few examples of how this can be encouraged ate varied ages.

Examples of Imaginative Re-creation by Age Group

a) Toddlers (1-3 years)


  • Being encouraged to be a wild thing as the story 'Where the Wild Things Are' reaches the critical moment when Max declares 'Let the wild rumpus start'.
  • Finger Plays and rhymes ('This Little Piggy', 'Incy Wincy', 'Round and Round the Garden')
  • Retelling Thomas the Tank Engine stories using the various engines that feature in the story.
  • Using dolls or soft toys to act out domestic scenarios.
    Using dress-up clothes in association with well-known stories.
  • Creating a story using toy soldiers, Polly Pocket toys, magnetic boards with characters, fuzzy felt and so on.
  • Joining in the television dramatization of a well-known story on a program like 'Playschool'.

b) Early years (4-6 years)

  • Many of the better story apps for iPad or android devices are an innovative way for multiple re-created experiences of stories (see my recent post on this HERE).
  • Drawing maps, key characters (dragons, people) or scenes.
  • Acting out stories with a group of children or with adult family members.
  • Creating an adapted text to re-create part of a story (e.g. poetry, a character interview, telling the story from a different point of view).
  • Using puppets to re-create a story.
  • Using modelling clay or craft materials to create characters to re-create and retell a story.
Creating knights for storytelling

c) Later childhood (7-12 years)
  • More elaborate dramatization, with involvement in making props and costumes.
  • Simple animations using one of the programs readily available (see my previous post on animation HERE).
  • Using materials like Lego to re-imagine a well-known story.
  • Creating a board game that recreates the plot or a specific part of a story (as Sam did).
  • Creating a complex map or plot summary as a device for others to use.
  • Create a script to be acted for a specific part of a story.
  • Write a newspaper report based on an event within a story.
  • Use a variety of written genres to create a new text ('The Jolly Postman' and 'The Jolly Pocket Postman' are published examples of this).
These are just some of the ways that storytelling and imaginative re-creation can stimulate learning and language.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

50 Great Historical Fiction Books for Readers 7-14 Years


Historical fiction sits within the broad category of historical narrative. It is essentially a story situated within a specific historical time centred around an historical event, people or culture. The people and the places may be true, but it is written in story form and fact and fiction can both be present. Biographies and autobiographies seek to be factual interpretation and also forms of historical narratives.  But much of what we introduce to children fits into the sub-category of historical fiction.
Historical fiction often focuses on a specific event in a time period and presents some of the actual events at the time through the presumed voices of people (using diary, journal, illustrative and secondary resource material) and offering a particular point of view of people living in the period.

Many forms of artistic licence can be taken in this genre including inventing new characters, using new or altered names and places and creating new events. Depending on how far these accounts vary from historical accounts, they may be classified as alternate history or historical fantasy.

Why is it important?

a) Historical narrative can illuminate history  and increase children's interest in it
b) It can enrich our understanding of the human condition and culture

c) It can highlight and make sense of the details of history often missed in textbook reading
d) In presenting multiple perspectives it can present complex issues in multi-dimensional ways, helping us to see things for the first time
e) It can connect children's learning right across the curriculum

In this post I offer 50 examples of excellent historical fiction from many places, peoples and times. I list some picture books first then novels for older readers (7-14 years). The novels are roughly in order of difficulty.

Picture Book Forms of Historical Narrative

The following picture books can be read to and by children 5-10 years.

'The Afghanistan Pup' by Mark Wilson (Lothian Children's Books)

'The Afghanistan Pup' is book 4 in the Children in War Quartet by fabulous author and illustrator Mark Wilson. It is the story of an abandoned pup, a young girl in Afghanistan who just wants to go to school, and an Australian Soldier. It is a story of unexpected friendship, sacrifice, and finding hope in the strangest places.

The puppy is found abandoned by a little girl, Kinah. The backdrop and setting is the war in Afghanistan. When Kinah's school is bombed the dog is alone again until an Australian soldier rescues it. You'll need to read the book to find out how these stories are woven together.

Mark Wilson uses his wonderful art and well-chosen words to tell a great story with power. His illustrative work includes newspaper clippings, and varied beautiful images that are stunning. This is a special book that children aged 7-10 will enjoy.

'My Hiroshima' by Junko Morimoto - a picture book that offers a real life account of the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima through the eyes of a child who stayed home that day sick rather than going to school. The illustrations complement the authentic personal story of Morimoto's memory of the day the atomic bomb was dropped on her city.

'The Wedding Ghost' (1985) and 'Fair's Fair' (1981) by LeonGarfield

Garfield is one of the greatest exponents of historical fiction for children. As well as many wonderful novels for older children he has also written a number of picture books. Two of my favourites are 'The Wedding Ghost' (1985) illustrated by the great illustrator Charles Keeping and  'Fair's Fair' (1981) illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain and in a newer edition with Brian Hoskin as the illustrator (2001).


 'My Place' (Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins) - was published in 1987 for distribution in Australia’s bicentennial year (1988) and makes a strong statement about the fact that Indigenous Australians were here for thousands of years before white settlement (there isn't space to unpack this). It is a very clever book that takes one suburban block (and the surrounding area) and tells the story of this place in reverse chronological sequence, decade by decade, from 1988 back to 1788 when the first British Fleet landed at Botany Bay. The overall meaning of the book is shaped by multiple narrative recounts of the families who have lived in this spot, 'my Place' and the changing nature of the physical landscape and built environment. See me previous post on visiting the 'real' My Place (here).

'Sweethearts of Rhythm' by Marilyn Nelson - This is the story of significant piece of cultural history. It tells through poetry of the first integrated all women's band in the USA.  It played swing music and was formed in the late 1930s. The singers all attended the Piney Woods Country Life School in Mississippi, which was for poor and orphaned African Americans. It was formed to raise money for the school, but it was so good that it eventually toured the whole country and played to massive crowds.

The story is told through a set of rhythmic poems that are written in the varied voices of the instruments. Jerry Pinkney's illustrations add further richness with brilliant collages.

Jeannie Baker also offers some interesting examples of children's picture books that tell the story of specific places through brilliant collage illustrations.  Here themes include the impact of people on their world and the connection between people and place over time.  She rarely uses words except as explanatory words except as a foreword or afterword. The books enrich understanding of local history as well as environmental issues. 'Window' (1991) shows the changing physical and man-made landscape viewed through a single window.  A mother and her baby look through a window at wilderness. But with each turn of the page time marches on. As we look from the same window, the world changes under the impact of people. This wordless book won the Australian Children's Book Council (Australia) picture book of the year in 1992. In 'Belonging' (2004) Baker returns to the theme of 'Window', man changes the world. Once again, the story unfolds through a single window of a house in a typical urban neighbourhood. The book is sold in the USA under the title of 'Home'.


'The Story of Rosy Dock' (1995) by Jeannie Baker

In this wonderful book Baker tells the story of how early settlers who move to a remote central Australia build a garden in the wilderness that is beautiful, but which ends up having an unexpected flowering. A single plant (that we now known as the weed 'Rosy Dock') can change the landscape and push many plants and animals to extinction. This simple book shows how a hundred years ago European settlers in the desert planted seeds from the other side of the world that changed the landscape.

The book has been produced as a 10-minute short animated film by Film Australia (here).

'Maralinga', was written and illustrated by the Yalata and Oak communities of South Australia with Christobel Mattingley. This is the story of the British atomic testing of the 1950s in Central Australia. It is told by Indigenous Australians who are the traditional owners of Maralinga (a region used for atomic testing in the 1950s?).  In words and pictures community members, describe what happened in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands of South Australia before the bombs and after. This is an important and tragic account of human folly and its consequence for a people who were there first, but whose needs counted for little.

'A Certain Music' written by Celeste Walters and illustrated by Anne Spudvilas is a fairytale in the tradition of Hans Christian Andersen. The story offers an account of Beethoven's creation of two of his most famous works, 'Fur Elise' and 'Ode to Joy'. It is set in 1821 and is the story of a young girl who is drawn to the sound of music coming from a house in the woods near Vienna. She visits the composer regularly to hear him play. Eventually the girl and her mother are invited to a concert in Vienna to see Beethoven perform ‘Für Elise’. The author Celeste Walters has previously written playscripts for children and adults, as well as novels and picture storybooks for younger readers. 



Novels for Children Aged 10-14 years

The following are roughly in order of difficulty and age appropriateness, although this judgement will vary from child to child.

'Little House on the Prairie', Laura Ingalls Wilder

This series of eight books tells of the life of a family that travels from the big woods of Wisconsin to a new home on the prairie, where they build a house, meet neighboring Indians, build a well, and fight a fire. This classic story was first published in 1935 and has never lost its popularity. Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder it is based on her childhood in the northern midwest of the USA during the 1870s and 1880s. Eight books were completed from 1932 to 1943.



'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery

This 1908 novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley an 11-year-old orphan girl, mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. This middle-aged brother and sister had wanted to adopt a boy to help on the farm in Prince Edward Island. The novel tells the tale of how Anne builds her life with the Cuthberts, as well as he experience of school and the town. Due to the popularity of the books Montgomery wrote a series of eight further sequels and referenced Anne in two other collections.

'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit', by Judith Kerr

Anna was only 9 years old in 1933 when Adolf Hitler emerged in the Germany of her youth. But as a Jewish girl she was soon to find that her world had changed when her father went missing. With a leader filled with hatred for an entire race of people, and determined to see them eliminated Germany is transformed.  Anna's father is a well-known Jewish writer, and someone warns him, just in time that he might soon lose his passport. Her father leaves by night for Switzerland and Anna, her brother and mother are left behind in Berlin. He sends for his family to meet him in Switzerland and they escape just a day before the German elections. Hitler sweeps to power all Jewish property is seized in Berlin and they are now refugees in Switzerland, with no way back. This wonderful story tells the story of the horror of Germany in the reign of Hitler through the eyes of a little girl.


Somme Mud, by Private Edward Lynch, Editor Will Davies

This is a fascinating true story, which follows the war experience of a group of young men who set out from Sydney in 1916 to fight in the 'Great War' in France. The main character and the other enlisted troops at the centre of the narrative are fictionalised, but all other elements portray their real life experiences. Edward Lynch who returned from the War and became a teacher tried to publish the manuscript in the 1930s but was unsuccessful. After his death family members succeeded and it was published for adults in 2006. This new book is edited by Will Davies and is an abridged version for teenagers.  It offers a graphic insight into the horrors of the Western Front. It incorporates archival photographs as well as photographs of the sites today.  It will interest boys aged 11+.

'Samurai Kids Series' (Walker Books)


This is a series about the experiences of a group of samurai children in feudal Japan. Like other stories about Japanese warriors, the narrative is interwoven with the philosophy that is the foundation of their life and training.  The diverse samurai kids learn to fight, but always with the noble desire to prevent war.  The stories and their characters seek to build just and ethical societies. The books offer a range of characters that represent both genders and children of varied qualities, characteristics and challenges.

'White Crane' (2008) Walker Books
'Owl Ninja' (2008) Walker Books
'Shaolin Tiger' (2009) Walker Books
'Monkey Fist' (2009) Walker Books
'Fire Lizard' (2010) Walker Books
'Golden Bat'(2010) Walker Books
'Red Fox' (2012) Walker Books

Number the Stars (1989) by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars is set in Denmark during World War II. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is the central character, who is living in Denmark under German occupation in 1943. Her family becomes a target for the German forces as they help a Jewish family to attempt a daring escape. Annemarie and her family risk their lives to help Annemarie's best friend, Ellen Rosen, by pretending that Ellen is Annemarie's older sister. The title is taken from Psalm 147 in the Bible that speaks of God's power as the one who knows and has numbered every star. It is also probably a reference to the fact that God had promised Abraham the father of the Jewish nation that he would have as many offspring as there are stars in the sky. The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990 as the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children".

This is a moving and compelling book that engages the reader from the start and in the process offers an insight into the lives of many innocent Jewish families in World War II and the lengths that some went to in order to survive. Suitable for children 11+.

Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O'Dell

Off the coast of California is a rugged rock known as the Island of San Nicholas. The seas around it are filled with dolphins, otters, sea elephants, cormorants and marine life all kinds. It was here in the early 1800's that an Indian girl spent 18 years alone. Karana has to maintain her food supply and avoid Aleutian sea-otter hunters and the perils of a pack of wild dogs that killed the brother she jumped ship to save. The spirit of this young woman and her ability to survive against all the odds offers an interesting insight into the challenges of life in another age.

This wonderful novel was O'Dell's first book and won the Newbery Medal in 1961. It is an excellent book for 10-14 year olds.





Strange Objects’ by Gary Crew (1990) - The story commences in 1986 with a teenager Steven Messenger who lives with his family in a roadside truck stop in the middle of nowhere along the highway that weaves its way up the western coast of Australia. Messenger discovers some gruesome relics in a cave while on a school excursion. This begins a mysterious tale where his life is interwoven with the lives of two of the survivors of the 'Batavia' shipwrecked in 1629 off the coast of Western Australia. Like many works of historical fiction, Crew uses the metaphysical encounters of one of his characters to transport us back to another time.

Crew won the 1991 Children’s Book Council Australia award for Older Readers for the book. Suitable for readers aged 12+ years.

'Slave Girl: The Diary of Clotee, Virginia, USA 1859' by Patricia McKissack - This book was originally published as "A Picture of Freedom" tells the story of a young slave girl who longs for freedom just before the Civil War. The year is 1859 and Clotee and has only known life as a slave mostly as an orphan) on the Belmont Plantation in Virginia. But she has learnt how to read and write in secret. She keeps a diary and hides it in a hollowed tree.

When a tutor comes to the plantation to teach the son of her master she discovers that he is an abolitionist and he offers her the chance for her inner longing, freedom.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice written by Phillip Hoose

This book is based on extensive interviews with Claudette Colvin and many others. It tells the story of a teenager who on March 2nd 1955 was sick of the daily injustices of Jim Crow segregation and refused to give her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. The protest led to further injustice for the young women who is eventually brave and determined enough to challenge segregation as a key plaintiff in a legal case that became known as Browder v. GayleSuitable for readers 12+.

The Machine-Gunners (1975) by Robert Westall

Living in World War II Britain, Chas McGill has the second best collection of war souvenirs in Garmouth and he wants to have the best. He is determined to outdo his rival Boddser Brown in obtaining the ultimate war souvenir. An opportunity comes when he finds a crashed German bomber in the woods complete with machine gun, he knows he can not only beat Boddser hands down, but can also play a role in the war. All he has to do is to remove the machine gun from the plane.

This has to be one of the best books for boys that I've read. Not surprisingly it won the highest British honour for children's literature, the Carnegie Medal in 1975. Any boy aged 10-16 will love this book.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is a wonderful work of historical fiction written by Christopher Paul Curtis in 1995. It was republished in 1997. It tells the story of an African-American family living in the town of Flint, Michigan that goes to their grandmother’s home in Birmingham, Alabama. This middle-class black family move to Grandma's because she's strict and they hope she will sort him out over summer. But they happen to be in Birmingham when Grandma’s church is blown up, the 16th Street Baptist Church.

The book was Curtis’ first novel, and was named as a Newbery Honour book and won the Coretta Scott King Award. Curtis is also the author of the Newbery Award winner Bud, Not Buddy. 

It was released as a film in 2013 HERE

'Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry' (1976) by Mildred Taylor

This book won the 1977 Newbery Medal Award, tells the story of a poor African American family living in Mississippi during the Great Depression. This novel is set in the Depression-era in Mississippi and centres on the lives of the Logans, an African-American family Logan family. The Logans are fortunate compared to many African-Americans and own their own land when many black and white Americans are working as sharecroppers on plantations owned by others. It is a time when racially-motivated crimes are common. The 'Berry Burnings' mentioned the first chapter and the act of tarring and feathering Mr Tatum were incidents that were sadly not uncommon as 'nightmen' took the law into their own hands at the expense of African-Americans. It is a novel that traces the life of young Cassie Logan as she learns the hard realities of life for African-Americans.  This is a moving and confronting novel.

The book has a sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, which was released in 1981. It also has a prequel written in 1975, Song of the Trees and a related prior book The Land that tells the story of the Logan grandfather who purchased the land that is central to this novel. It is suitable for readers aged 11-14 years.

'The Children of the Wind Series' by Kirsty Murray

The 'Children of the Wind' series is a sweeping Irish-Australian saga made up of Bridie's story, Patrick's story, Colm's story and Maeve's story. These four inter-linked novels, begin with the 1850s and move right up to the present. 

 'Bridie's Fire' is a heart-warming story of courage and resilience and is the first book in the series. The series starts in the 1840s and ends in present-day Australia. The quartet tells the stories of four young people brave children, Bridie, Billy, Colm and Maeve, who are born fifty years apart. The central character in each book becomes a mentor to the child in the next.

We enter Bridie's world in the 1840s. Her world is torn apart when her parents and baby brother die in in the potato famine, the 'Great Hunger'. She leaves Ireland, for a life in goldrush Australia on the other side of the ocean.

As Bridie looks up at the swirling stars, it seems that the whole world is opening up to her.  She didn't feel like just an orphan girl at sea. She had money in her pocket, a swag full of food and a good companion. She was to be a new Bridie and nothing could stop her now.

The book was named as a 'Children's Book Council' Notable Book in 2004. The four inter-linked novels are suitable for children aged 10-14 years.

To Brave the Seas: A Boy at War' by David McRobbie (Allen & Unwin)

This is another gripping tale from one of my favourite authors of historical fiction.  It is the story of a teenager who ends up as a deck boy on navy ships, learning the ropes, fitting in with the crew, and facing wartime action in World War II.

The boys had been trained for emergencies. They had to know how to launch a lifeboat and to know where the life jackets were stored. But they were hardly prepared for the horrors before them. What an exploding torpedo do? And how will the ship and its crew behave when it sinks under you. No-one was able to prepare them for the blackness of night, or the horror of battle.

It is 1940, war rages and there is nothing to keep Adam Chisholm aged 15 years at home. So he joins Britain's Merchant Navy. His first ship takes him on a stormy Atlantic convoy where he faces seasickness, submarines, and shipwreck. In his remarkable sea journeys, Adam meets enemies face to face, and makes friends—some for a lifetime. The book includes a seven-page glossary of nautical terms and features WWII memorabilia throughout.

This is a very readable book that will keep readers aged 12+ engaged. It is beautifully written as with all of McRobbie's books.  It tells the story of war time battles that shows how men of honour and courage experience war. The book describes life at sea with great detail. This feature of McRobbie's books invites the reader to 'become' part of the action and adventure. A great read.

Playing Beatie Bow (1982) by Ruth Park

When Abigail Kirk joins in a traditional chanting game of 'Beatie Bow' in modern day Sydney she sees a mysterious urchin girl in the background and follows her. Unwittingly she stumbles into the past as she follows her up stairs and down alleys in the Rocks area of Sydney. She encounters a strange and different Sydney and finds herself walking the streets of the colony of New South Wales in 1873. Abigail is taken in by the Bow Family who believes that she is a mysterious 'Stranger' who is said in tradition to arrive to save 'The Gift' for future generations of Bows. Abigail remains in this past world to fill her role and in the process falls in love for the first time.

This is a book faithful to its time and setting but is best classified as historical fantasy. It won the Children's Book Council Australia Award for Book of Year in 1981. Suitable for readers 12-16 year olds.

The book has been adapted for film (details here).

'Chocolate Cake with Mr Hitler' by Emma Craigie

This is a gripping fictional retelling of the short life of Helga Goebbels, the 12-year-old daughter of the Nazi Party’s head of propaganda. Her childhood as a member of Germany’s First Family was a privileged and protected one. She accompanies her parents to parties and rallies, moving between the city and their country estate. But the war changes everything, and as defeat draws near she must move into a bunker in the heart of Berlin with her family and other key members of the Nazi leadership to be near the beloved Hitler.

In this strange world, there is chocolate cake for tea every day with Uncle Leader, but Helga eventually notices that all is not as it once was. As the days pass and the rumbling storms that bring no rain draw closer, her underground world becomes increasingly tense. She hears tears and shouting behind closed doors. There is a slow realisation, perhaps her perfect childhood is not all that it seemed.

'To Kill a Mocking Bird' by Harper Lee

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
 

This is a compassionate and moving story that explored the roots of human behaviour. It is based loosely on Lee's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

The narrator's father lawyer Atticus Fiunch serves as a moral hero for many readers.
The main themes of the book concern racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. It deals with the themes of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South. 

'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak


Set during World War II in Germany, the novel tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is a wonderfully crafted story of great power that shows how books can transform us and 'feed the soul'.




'I Am David' by Anne Holm

The book tells the story of a young boy who, with the help of a prison guard, escapes from a concentration camp in an unnamed Eastern European country (many suggest it was Bulgaria). He escapes to Denmark and along the way meets many people who teach him about life outside the camp. His first twelve years of life have been spent in the horror of war time incarceration. He escapes to a world he knows nothing about and struggles to cope in his strange new world. His basic resources include a compass, some bread and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. This is a wonderful story that addresses the themes of freedom and the power of hope.

'Emilio' by Sophie Masson (Allen & Unwin)

This is the fourth book in the popular 'Through My Eyes' series of adolescent fiction. It is a moving novel about one child's life in the middle of the drug war in Mexico. This of course is a different kind of war. Not a war fought over territory in the traditional sense but one that centres on control of places and the trafficking of drugs.

The central character, Emilio Garcia Lopez, starts out on an ordinary school day. That evening a knock on the door changes everything. The arrival of his police-officer cousin Juanita, flanked by a tall man in the uniform of the Federal Police, turns his normal day into the beginning of a long nightmare. Unidentified criminals, who appear to know a great deal about her and have mistaken her for a wealthy businesswoman, have kidnapped Emilio's mother in broad daylight from a hotel carpark. This is a dark novel that is engaging and challenging. Suitable for mature readers aged 13+.

'The Thieves of Ostia' by Caroline Lawrence - I visited the ruins of Ostia about 15 years ago (it's incredible!) and wish that I'd read this mystery about Flavia and her friends in the ancient Roman port in the 1st century AD before or just after the trip. Flavia is fantastic at finding things, and becomes good at solving mysteries. She is the daughter of a ship's captain living in Ostia, which was the port of Rome, in AD79. With her three friends she sets out to solve the mystery of who severed the heads of the watchdogs that guard people's homes. This is an excellent mystery that offers an insight into the life of an ancient Roman city.  The story is brilliantly told.
'The Slave Dancer' by Paula Fox

This book tells the story of a boy called Jessie Bollier who witnessed first-hand the savagery of the African slave trade. The book not only includes an historical account, but it also touches upon the emotional conflicts felt by those involved in transporting the slaves from Africa to other parts of the world. The book received the Newbery Medal in 1974.

And there are lots more....

There are many other stories about war and persecution like 'The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia' by Esther Hautzig.'Good Night, Mr. Tom' by Michelle Magorian


Leon Garfield has written many fine examples mostly set in late 18th century England including 'Devil in the Fog' (1966), 'Black Jack' (1968) and 'Smith' (1967).

Allan Garner has also written a number of fine examples set in Cheshire and often stimulated by local history and legend, including 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (1960), 'The Owl Service' (1967) and 'The Stone Book Quartet' (1978).

Stories set at key times in special places, like 'Emil and the Detectives' set in Berlin in the year 1929 by or Rosemary Sutcliff's brilliant novel 'The Eagle of the Ninth' set in Roman Britain a book that has sold over one million copies.

'Best Children's Historical Fiction' - Then of course, you can consult good lists. This list published on the 'Good Reads' site in 2008 but is still a great one. As the books reflect the votes of readers, they might not match your own top list but it contains 562 books so is a comprehensive list.