Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Lucky Country: How are the kids faring?

The Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY) has released a report card on the well being of Australia's young people. The report was based on an OECD study that has compared 27 member countries on a range of measures, including material well being, health and safety, education, training and employment, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, subjective well being, participation and environment.

While Australia does well on some measures, surprisingly it doesn't do as well as we might expect in others, and data for Indigenous children are well below what you would expect for a wealthy country like Australia. Here are some of the most notable findings from the report:
  • Australian children were 12 times as likely to live in a jobless household as those in Japan
  • Australia ranks 20th out of 27 nations for infant mortality.
  • The infant mortality rate for Indigenous Australians is more than double the non-Indigenous rate.
  • Teenage pregnancy rates for Indigenous young Australians are the highest in the OECD.
  • Youth road deaths are 12 times higher than Portugal.
  • Australia's Indigenous young people have a suicide rate second only to Finland.
  • Participation in community activities by Australia's young people is strong.

While Australia is a wealthy nation and its children are very fortunate in world terms, the report raises serious questions for us to address. There have been numerous reports that note our higher than expected youth suicide, others have noted the high teenage death rate on our roads, and many have focussed on many significant areas of Indigenous disadvantage in infant mortality (which I assume is the reason for Australia's 20th ranking), education and suicide (see my previous post here). The Rudd Labor government was elected based on a number of reform agendas. One of these was the promise of an "educational revolution" and a number of Indigenous health agendas. In a country with one of the best school systems in the world, and a health system that is the envy of other countries, it would seem to me that a key agenda for the government will be the extent to which it addresses areas of key disadvantage in education and health. This is one of the key ways that I will judge the success of the government in two years time.

Further reading

Download the OECD report here
Read in more detail the ARACY report card here
You can read my previous posts on Indigenous Issues here

Monday, November 24, 2008

Key Themes in Children's Literature - A Sense of Place

Hugh Mackay suggests what Geographers, writers, sociologists, urban planners, architects and anthropologists have been telling us for a long time, place is crucial to all people. “It is fundamental to the human sense of self, sense of community, sense of mortality and sense of destiny", argues Hugh Mackay (here). Perhaps claiming a link to a sense of destiny is taking things too far and is contestable, but in general terms, he makes a point that we all sense. Place is important to us. Mackay also suggests that it is wrong to suggest that a sense of place is only of significance to specific peoples, for example Indigenous Australians. He comments that “Different cultures obviously have different ways of expressing their sense of place; we revere our ‘tribal grounds’ in different ways.

Some of us find it hard to move house, and take months and even years to feel at home in a new house, street, community, city or country. I’m one of those people. I take at least three years before the urban streets that I travel each day, the shops, the buildings and the physical landscape, feel like my place. I know I’m not the only person like this, and I also know that not everyone finds it this difficult. My wife seems to adjust to any move we make within weeks; it’s as if, wherever her family is she is at home.

Someone who has written frequently about sense of place is Chinese Professor of Architecture Yi-Fu Tuan. In one of his earliest books, Space and place, he defines this sense of place. He suggests that place comes into existence when humans give meaning to a part of the larger, undifferentiated space. Simply giving a place a name separates a space from the rest of space that surrounds it. But of course some places attract stronger meanings or significance for individuals and groups. The great iconic rock near Alice Springs in Central Australia (Uluru) is one such place that has deep spiritual significance for Indigenous Australians. But almost every person has some place that is special – perhaps it is a spot with such beauty that it almost takes your breath away; perhaps it is associated with good (or bad) memories; perhaps it is a place that is so much a part of your daily life that it has special significance. My back yard has this significance for me. It’s where I garden, where I play with all my grandchildren, where I build stuff, where I sit and have a quiet cup of tea with my wife Carmen. As well, there are other places that I visit that are so rich with memories that I can feel immediate joy, melancholy, sadness and fear.

Above: Uluru, Central Australia

Place and the writer

Given the influence of place on our lives, memories, relationships and experiences, it is hardly surprising that much literature has a strong sense of place. Of course, in the case of narrative, you cannot easily have a story without a setting or place, but in some writing place has a special central role, almost as strong as the very characters that are interwoven in the plot. In some narratives, a sense of place is on centre stage, almost shaping the narrative and its characters. The relationship between place and people is most strong in such writing. In the rest of this post, I want to offer some examples of children’s literature for younger readers that have this strong sense of place, and comment on how each integrates place with story. It is difficult to lump all books that have a strong sense of place together, for all draw their inspiration and use place differently. So, I’ve chosen some sub-categories, with which not all readers or literature experts might agree, but it helps me to make sense of difference, and I hope it helps readers of this blog.

a) Books that had their genesis in a place and memories or legends linked to this place

The Little Island (1946), Golden MacDonald & Leonard Weisgard – winner of the Caldecott Medal 1947 is a fine example of a book that had its genesis in a place that formed part of the author’s life. Leonard Weisgard and Golden MacDonald (pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown) collaborated on over 20 books and hence both writer and illustrator helped shape this book in every way. But it was Weisgard’s wonderful illustrations that establish the strong sense of place that dominates this book. In his acceptance speech for the Caldecott in 1947 he said:

This is a real little island off the coast of Maine belonging to a group of other little islands called Vinalhaven. I saw this island grow tall and squat as the tides rose and fell. I've watched the mists blow in and hide the little island, sometimes leaving only the pine tree tops exposed, hanging in space. I rowed to and from the little island with the seals spawning below the surface of the water. I've seen the sun rise and make a golden island for just five seconds in an early morning sea.

The Rainbow Serpent (1975), Dick Roughsey (1940-1985) – This wonderful book is perhaps the best example of a collection of books that Dick Roughsey wrote and illustrated. This was his first published book and won the Picture Book of the Year award, from the Children’s Book Council Australia in 1976. Roughsey was later to collaborate with Percy Trezise to produce a number of wonderful picture books that faithfully retold Aboriginal Dreamtime legends. Many of them have a strong sense of place, which is not surprising given that Aboriginal Australians, like many indigenous people, have a strong connection with the land, and much of their history is tied to it. In this Dreamtime story Goorialla, the great Rainbow Serpent is awakened at a time when there were no animals and sets off to find his own tribe. As he travels right across Australia his huge body shapes the land into mountains, rivers, hills and lagoons. I intend to do a post on Roughsey and his work in the near future.

Other good examples of this type include The Biggest Bear, Lynd Ward (1952), Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Jeannie Baker (1978), Wheel on the Chimney, Margaret Wise Brown and Tigor Gergly (1954) and Farmer Schulz’s Ducks, Colin Thiele (1986).

b) Books for which the place is secondary to the primary message but which has shaped the story

There are numbers of books that have a strong sense of place but for which without the place that is the setting there would be no story. Such stories are often driven by an ideological challenge, a political message or a strong social comment. One fine example in this sub-category is “Let the Celebrations Begin!”, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas (1991). This book was inspired by some simple toys made by Polish women held in the Nazi prison camp of Belsen. It tells of the life in Hut 18 and the planning of celebration as they anticipate their liberation from the camp towards the end of the Second World War. This is a narrative with a setting that is so specific that the narrator (Miriam) identifies her bed number (Hut 18, bed 22). This powerful story could not be told without the place, and yet, the place (or setting) is very much secondary to the story told.

A second example is “My Hiroshima”, by Junko Morimoto (1987). This is a true story of how one little girl survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Junko Miromoto narrates the story of her family, her early life and memory of life in Japan during the second World War, and the day she was hit by a “thunderous flash and an explosion of sound” and the miracle of her survival. This moving simple retelling of that day in word, family photographic record and illustration, uses a place to recall her participation in an event at a place that changed her life and that of the world.

c) Books that demonstrate the relationship between people and place

There is overlap between this sub-category and the above for each shows a relationship between space and people, and each has a level of social commentary. But these books are typically in the form of a moral tale, and an underlying comment on how people’s lives can be so closely related to a physical place.

My Place” by Nadia Wheatley (writer) and Donna Rawlins (illustrator) (1987) was published in Australia’s bicentennial year 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 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.

A dramatically different story is the 1964 Shel Silverstein classic “The giving tree” that tells the story of a single tree and it’s relationship to a boy who grows up to be a man. Silverstein’s simple line drawings and beautifully crafted text tracks the special ‘relationship’ between the tree and the boy/man. A tree that gives to the boy and later the man shelter, fruit, timber, transport and ultimately rest.

This multi-layered book has caused controversy. Some see it as suggesting that it shows the way that human greed can never be satisfied with environmental consequences, others see it as a commentary on childhood’s care-free nature, while others see the book as a tale of unconditional love and generosity. However, you see it, this book build on the sense that people feel a conncetion with specific spaces and the objects within them.

Other interesting examples include “In my Backyard” (2001) by Nette Hilton (author) and Anne Spudvilas (illustrator) and “Window” (1991) and "Belonging" (2004) by Jeannie Baker.

d) Books that celebrate place as part of national pride and cultural communication

Typically the books in this sub-category focus on celebrating the beauty of places, or the natural environment that gives shape to the beauty and interest of such places. “Possum Magic” (1983) by Mem Fox (author) and Julie Vivas (illustrator) is a celebration of Australia’s wildlife, its cities and some of its food. It is Australia’s best selling children’s book of all time with over three million copies sold.

Waddle Giggle Gargle!” (1996) by Pamela Allen tells the story of a difficult Australian Magpie that (for non-Australian readers) have the habit of dive-bombing people walking under their trees in Spring during nesting season. Many streets, parks and communities face this challenge each September and this book tells how Jonathan and his grandparents deal with the magpie in their street.

Other books in this sub-category include “My Grandma lived in Gooligulch” (1983) which was the first book that Graeme Base wrote. It is written in verse form and like Possum’s Magic celebrates Australia’s wildlife. “Sail Away” (1986) also written by Mem Fox is another example. It is a ballad about two dingoes that travel around Australia in their own homemade sailboat.

There are many other examples that fit the above categories and I'm sure some other sub-categories but hopefully the above gives an indication of the rich influence that sense of place has on childrens picture books.

Related Links

Other posts on Key Themes in Children’s Literature include:

The environment
Being different

Some of the authors of the above books are also featured in my Author Focus posts (here)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boys education: Balancing the differences

The Kings School (in Sydney) hosted an interesting conference in October, The National Boys’ Education Conference with the theme of “Balancing the Differences”.

The conference covered a variety of different topics and included talks from a number of key speakers. Many of the major addresses are available from school website. These include talks by:

Dr Adam Cox who dealt with the relationship between communication skills and social control in boys' emotional growth (MP3 here).

Mr Michael Furdyk who talked about the impact of technology on the changing world of boys (MP3 here).

Dr Tim Hawkes who talked about what we should be teaching boys in schools but probably are not (MP3 here).

Dr Andrew Martin who discussed the significant role of motivation in learning (MP3 here).

Some of the talks covered topics that challenged participants to consider the complexity of gender differences, as well as the relationship between the cognitive and social characteristics and skills of boys. For example, Dr Adam Cox (family psychologist from the USA) cited research that reveals a strong relationship between cognitive ability and emotional well-being. He suggested that the evidence shows that girls find it easier to understand and develop empathy and more complex social skills compared to boys. He suggested in his talk that parents and teachers need strategies to help boys develop empathy. He commented:

"We continually worry about boys' grades or whether they can get into a good university but what's really at stake is the moral and social development of boys: we're raising and teaching boys to live and work in a changed world where they'll no longer work the land, they'll work the phones."

He pointed out that boys are slower to realise that developing social skills isn’t just about becoming more popular, but rather, such skills are in his words “a bridge to the world at large, a world larger than yourself."

He suggested that research indicates that boys who can regulate their behaviour and become empathetic and considerate, were also more effective learners. He also argued that the best way for boys to learn empathy was through involvement in serving others, such as doing volunteer work with welfare organisations or other community-based groups.

I will review the work of some of the key speakers at the conference in more detail in a future post.

Related links

For all posts that deal with boys education on this blog click here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How to listen to your child read

Listening to your child reading is more complex than people think. While I've written previously on reading to your child (here), I want to focus on listening to them reading. It's easy to do it badly, but not so easy to do well. In this post I'll do three things:

Offer some general comments on the value of reading out loud
Suggest some DOs and DON'Ts for listeners
Outline a couple of specific read aloud strategies

1. Some general comments on the value of oral reading

As an instructional strategy oral reading has some clear advantages:
  • Anyone can do it
  • It ensures that the child reads a specific number of words each day
  • For the skilled listener (usually a trained teachers) it acts as a 'window on the reading process' allowing us to understand what strategies children are using, misusing, not using, what help they need, etc (more on this later)
  • It is an opportunity to build confidence and self esteem
But there are potential disadvantages:
  • It is slower than silent reading
  • The proficient reader does most reading silently, so this is the key reading skill we're working towards (with the exception that skilled audience reading does have a place and needs to be developed later) so it shouldn't be a total replacement for silent reading
  • It is teacher or parent intensive compared to silent reading (oral reading is mostly one-to-one or in small groups rather than individual)
  • It can be a source of frustration for the child and can lead to a loss of confidence and self esteem if the listener is unskilled

2. Some DOs and DON'Ts

Here is my outline of what to do and NOT to do.

Some DON'Ts
  • Don't make unfavourable comparisons between the child you're listening to and another child. Avoid statements like "How come Jason can read that word but you can't?"
  • Don't feel that you need to correct every error, or teach every sound that your child seems to struggle with. Listening to your child is not just an accuracy test. Besides, if your child struggles on more than 5 words on a page then the book is too hard for them (see below).
  • Don't ever ridicule your child as they read.
  • Don't make the sessions too long (10-15 minutes is ideal). It's better to have two short sessions than one that is too long.
Some DOs

First 4 basic DOs to keep in mind:

DO Relax - try to make it fun and enjoyable for you and the child. The experience should strengthen your relationship, not weaken it.
DO choose a good time & place - choose a good time when your child is fresh and you are feeling patient and perhaps less stressed. If it has to be after school give your child something to eat and drink and let them relax or play for a while first. And make sure you choose a quiet place without distractions.
DO select books carefully - choose the books well. Hopefully the book will be at the right level, and the child will enjoy it. If the books are boring speak to the child's teacher and try to substitute another book. For help on getting the level right see the "5 finger test" below.
DO encourage your child and praise them - the purpose of the session is to help, encourage and build confidence, not test, frustrate and shatter confidence.

Now 5 more specific DOs

DO talk about the book first - read the title, look at the book, ask if he or she has read it before, ask what they think it's about etc. Maybe even read the first page for your child.
DO let the child hold the book (it's more natural and gives them a sense of being in charge).
DO talk about the book after reading (not as a test, just as a chat).
DO show patience, progress can be slow.
DO help them as they read but don't labour any teaching moment. If they can't get the sound "oar" give them the word after a few attempts and read on. You can come back to this sound on another occasion. Remember that fluency is important for your child to gain meaning from what they are reading and for building confidence. Teachers can give more support as part of oral reading because they're trained to know what to look for and how to offer many different forms of support. For parents, if you're in doubt give them the word and read on.

3. Some associated strategies

(i) The 5 Finger Technique

This is a basic way to make sure the reading material is at the right level. This is how it is done:
  • Choose the book your child will read (or have them choose one from a range of books).
  • Choose a typical page towards the middle of the book (with lots of words and not too many pictures).
  • Begin to read and each time your child comes to a word that they don't know, hold up one finger.
  • If you end up with five fingers before the end of the page stop reading the book and choose another one.
  • If you have no fingers up by the end of the page then it’s probably too easy, if you have one or two then it’s probably the right level.

(ii) Pause-Prompt-Praise

This is a strategy I suggest for parents and untrained listeners (like older reading buddies). As a general rule, oral reading should privilege fluency, with errors only being corrected when they break down the meaning. If your child makes errors based on problems with lack of phonic skills or due to poor word recognition skills, it is best to note the problem and come back to them at the end of the story. You might also like to keep a record of such problems in an exercise book; not as a record of failure, but to note areas that need help, to plot your child's progress and as a means to offer encouragement when they overcome problems after practice.

With Pause-Prompt-Praise the only mistakes corrected during the reading are those that get in the way of meaning.

If your child makes a mistake use this simple technique:

PAUSE - after your child makes a mistake for about 3 seconds and say nothing, they may self-correct.

PROMPT - If you child doesn't self-correct either give them the word or offer a prompt (e.g. give them the sound that they are struggling with; help them to sound it out; get them to re-read the sentence)

PRAISE - Encourage your child by praising the fact that they have finished the page, had a go at a difficult word, had no or few errors, read fluently, and seemed to understand what it was about.

(iii) Miscue Analysis

Professor Ken Goodman at the University of Arizona developed Miscue Analysis. It was later refined with his wife Professor Yetta Goodman. Ken Goodman discovered that if you analyse reading errors (he prefers the term "miscue") that they provide a 'window' into the reading process. I share it here as a reminder for teachers and as an insight into the complexity of the reading process for parents. Goodman found that when you analyse miscues carefully you could come to understand what strategies children are using (in their heads) to read. These he found fall into three main categories:
  • word-based strategies (identifying the word by sight, using phonic strategies to sound out words);
  • syntax or grammar (predicting the next word based on the logical grammar or flow of the sentence);
  • semantics (meaning-based strategies; does the word make sense in this sentence or passage?).
He also noticed that at times readers over or under use specific strategies or fail to 'orchestrate' these key language strategies. For example, they might over-use prior words and not read ahead (so it makes sense or is grammatically correct with what precedes the word, but not what follows it), or they might over or under use one of the three key strategies. Here's a simple example of a bit of text and three miscues to illustrate.

Original Text - Bill ran across the road to get the ball
  • Reading 1 - Bill runned over the road to get the ball (a problem primarily of syntax showing itself in the addition of a suffix)
  • Reading 2 - Bill can over the road to get the ball (a problem with word recognition and a failure to use syntax)
  • Reading 3 - Bill ran across the toad to get the ball (a problem with under-use of semantics as well as a miscue on the initial consonant of road)
What the above examples would show if repeated by your child is the misuse of different reading strategies. Such miscues are only problems if there are recurrent patterns of this type. Some of these miscues will only become apparent when the child is put under pressure as a reader. If it's too much pressure you should first go back to some more suitable material before jumping to too many conclusions. I need to stress that Miscue Analysis is too complex for untrained listeners to use as a tool, even busy teachers find it hard to apply in the classroom. In fact it is a much more complex than I have described above (this is Prep 101 Miscue Analysis). However, there is a simpler technique - "Running Records" - that teachers find easier to use.

Above: A recent photo of Ken and Yetta Goodman who still live in Arizona

(iv) Running Records

Running records is a simpler technique developed by Dame Marie Clay who was a New Zealand educator who developed the Reading Recovery program. It is still primarily a tool for teachers to use to make sense of mistakes that readers make during reading. Because of its use as part of Reading Recovery the technique tends to have been used in three main ways: to assess an appropriate starting level for instruction; as a way to assess a child's strengths and weaknesses as a reader; as a tool integral to the teaching process. I may do a post on the technique later but I've provided a couple of useful links below that should help.

Final Comments

Oral reading can be a wonderful tool for encouraging reading development and a positive way for parents to help their children. It can also be a way to reinforce failure and frustration. Use it carefully. One final comment. Remember that oral reading should rarely be used as a test by teachers and virtually never should be used in this way by parents. It's a way to provide practice, feedback and encouragement. Make sure that you choose books wisely (the Five Finger Technique should help). Don't provide material that is too hard (this will breed failure and frustration) and don't use material that is too easy (this won't help them to learn new things).

Other resources

Teachers can find all of the above strategies and lots more in relation to parent support in my book Beyond Tokenism: Parents as partners in literacy. This book was written for teachers to offer advice on how they can help parents to support their children at home.

For a more detailed outline of ways to support the beginning reader beyond just listening to them you can consult my website here.

Teachers can find a good introduction to Running Records here and a more detailed teachers description of the technique here.

For a more detailed description of Miscue Analysis click here and Ken Goodman's work here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Key themes in children's books - Being different

1. The many purposes of literature

As I have argued in previous posts (
here, here and here), we learn from literature. Literature brings great pleasure but it also teaches us many things. For a start, 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

2. Key themes in literature - Being different

One of the great struggles of childhood is coping with peer pressure. This commences from an early age. From as early as 4 years of age there is increasing pressure on children to dress the same, to like the same games, to watch the same television, to have the same toys, to talk the same and so on. By early adolescence there are significant issues facing teenagers, including pressure to seek an 'ideal' body shape, a specific 'look', consumer tastes, pressure to try alcohol, sex and drugs, and to align with peers rather than with parents or teachers.
There have been significant societal pressures that haven't helped us in this area, including the power of popular culture to set standards and shape values, the weakening of adult authority, a reduction in interaction with adults (especially parents), increased freedom, increased disposable income (Nicholas Zill & Christine W. Nord have written an interesting report on some of these factors - here). What can parents do to help children develop their own personalities and to avoid the constant pressure to conform that by the teenage years can have disastrous consequences? There are at least 7 basic things that parents can do to support their children in this area:
  • Acknowledge, support and celebrate the differences in your child.
  • Talk to them about the pressures they face to be like everyone else and why other children do this.
  • Love them and show them that you value them for who they are.
  • Spend time with them, including at least one meal each day and cultivate some common areas of interest; build common ground.
  • Bring issues into the open – encourage your children to talk, even when they don’t seem to want to (this is especially the problem in the teenage years).
  • Share your beliefs and values - make sure your children know what you believe. "In our family we don't do that because....".
  • Help your children to develop quiet confidence and respectful assertiveness.

3. Literature as a vehicle to address struggles

Literature doesn't offer the key to everything, but it can play a part in two main ways. First, it is a good way to establish the common gound I referred to above. Books help us to have a shared experience and history and can act as valuable shared knowledge that you can talk about. Second, literature deals with the issue of 'being different' and not conforming simply to group standards and peer pressure. In fact, the struggle the be different is a common theme in children's books from early picture books right through to adolescent novels. There are sub-themes; for example, some children's books portray the negative aspects of being different too and can stress the positive things about conforming and fitting in. But in this post I want to concentrate on books that focus on the child struggling with being different and how they learn to see that you don't need to conform to every group standard to be worthwhile.

What literature can do is to offer a vehicle for children to reflect upon their own struggles as they see in the situations and characters, the same struggles that they have to be themselves and not simply to be moulded to fit the expectations of others. Books are also a wonderful vehicle for parents and teachers to sensitively and naturally raise some of these issues. In the rest of this post I will offer some examples of books that deal with the theme "Being different" for younger readers.
(i) "The Ugly Duckling" (1843) Hans Christian Andersen - This isn't a new theme in children's books, in fact for centuries it has had a place in fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen addressed it in the classic tale of 'The Ugly Duckling'; in which the rejected outsider seen as unwanted and rejected eventually finds their place.

(ii) "The Race" (1990), Christobel Mattingley - In this beautiful picture book the story is told of Greg who is good at drawing, but not so good at lots of other things at school. "Greg was like a piece of jigsaw that did not quite fit in". A careless daydreamer at school till one day a teacher catches a glimpse of something that leads Greg to discover that he can run.

(iii) "Counting on Frank" (1995), Rod Clement - Frank is the stereotypical smart kid, complete with the horn rimmed glasses. He's smart, and he loves mathematics. But his Dad has a simple message for him, "If you've got a brain, then use it!" And he does, with is over-active imagination and a practical application at the end that has an equally practical outcome for Frank and his Dad. This book was an Honour Book in the Australian Children's Book Council (CBC) Awards in 1991.

(iv) "
The Story of Ferdinand" (1936), Munro Leaf - Ferdinand is a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight. While every young bull wants to end up in the bullring, not Ferdinand. But circumstances thrust him into the spotlight. Despite the urgings of the banderilleros, picadors and a very vain matador, Ferdinand chooses simply to resist the call to fight. Leaf's timeless story and Robert Lawson's wonderful pen-and-ink drawings, make this book a classic. One of the best American books not to win the Caldecott Medal.

(vi) "Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley" (2007) and "Sunday Chutney" (2008), Aaron Blabey - Blabey won the 2008 Children's Book Council with his first book (see my previous review here) and his second book has many of the same qualities. His first book tells the story of a boy and girl who while very different are great friends. "Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are friends. Really great friends. However, people often ask, 'Why are Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley friends? They are just so different!' His second book, 'Sunday Chutney', is a simple first person narrative about an unusual girl who leads an unusual life. Moving from school to school due to her Dad's work, she faces many challenges; especially with other kids. Sunday Chutney knows what she likes, and doesn't like, and has great inner strength and imagination that gets her through. In her words, "I'm Sunday Chutney....and I'm a bit unusual..."

(vii) "
Penny Pollard's Diary" (1983), Robin Klein (illustrated by Anne James) - This is really a short graphic novel written in diary form and is suitable for children aged 7-10. Penny Pollard is a feisty little girl who doesn't want to conform. The book tells how she is helped to see that you can be different without being obnoxious and diificult. After hating old people she is helped to cope with her non-conformist ways by an 83 year old lady Mrs Bettany with whom she seems to have lots in common.
After the initial success of this book Klein wrote a whole series of Penny Pollard books (here).

(viii) "The Great Gilly Hopkins" (1978), Katherine Patterson - Like Penny Pollard, Gilly at age 11 year is different and a non-conformist. She has spent much of her life moving from one set of foster parents to the next. She is bright and at times difficult. Her need to be self-reliant has led her to not only be different, but to be bitter, angry and cynical from years of abandonment and rejection. She gets pleasure from bullying other foster children, but when she meets Mrs Trotter, in the home, seven year old boy named William Ernest Teague and Mr Randolph, she is forced to confront her own rebelliousness and cynicism. I haven't attempted a full list of books here. There are many fine examples in adolescent fiction that could also be reviewed that typically address more directly one or another of the key areas where teenagers struggle with going against the flow of simple conformism and peer pressure to be the same.

You can find my other posts on Key Themes in Children's Books by using the following these links:

The Environment