Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Guide to Children's Book Series

Why book series work

Book series have been around for a long time and play an important role in early reading.  I wrote about their benefits as part of a previous post 'Why Children Re-read Books'. It seems that each generation has book series that appeal to lots of children. When I was a child The Famous Five, The Bobbsey Twins, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Secret Seven, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and the adventures of the British fighter pilot Biggles were devoured by lots of children. These series are still available and read by many children. When my daughters were growing up in the 1980s The Babysitters Club, Choose Your Own Adventure and the Narnia Chronicles were amongst the most popular series. It was a difficult day when the family collection of (many!) Babysitter Club books was sold at the local second hand bookshop in their late teens (they got to keep the money).

In the last ten years there have been many new series with the most remarkable being 'Harry Potter'. The attraction of reading a complete series of books is linked to the pleasure and familiarity of having read a book within the series, and the prospect of reading another similar one to see where the book might take us.  Any book series allows the reader to carry considerable background knowledge from book to book, including knowledge of the characters, familiarity with plot structure, consistency of language and vocabulary. Like an old sweater (we call them jumpers in Australia) that feels familiar and 'just right' when you put it on, the next title in the book series is 'comfortable', predictable and enjoyable.

My grandson recently commented on why he liked Emily Rodda's wonderful 'Rowan of Rin' and 'Deltora Quest' series.  Here is part of what he said in a post my daughter did on her blog 168 Hours:

"....I like the series because they make my heart beat a bit faster and scare me a bit.  I also like some of the pictures on the covers. I like the Deltora series even better so far, because of how the story flows between the books."

Surprisingly, book series are seen as suspect by some parents, teachers and librarians, who worry that the reading of series books (which are in some cases simple and repetitive) might lead to a diet of "narrow" reading (as series books are sometimes called), rather than "broad" and deep reading. If we needed anything to convince us that this is rubbish, then Harry Potter certainly put paid to the idea that series books are all easy. Interestingly, research by Stephen Krashen shows us that narrow reading can be a good way to lead children to more difficult reading.  My own work also suggests that series books help to consolidate the reading skills and interests of children and sustain their passion for reading.  This is vital if our children are going to tackle difficult books. 

It seems that there is a book series for every child, with limitless options for children of all ages. I have listed a number of popular series below, but there are many more.

2. Series for Younger readers

'Berenstain Bear' by Stan and Jan Berenstain - a family of bears and their many adventures (very young readers).
Frog and Toad’ by Arnold Lobel - the simple adventures of a frog and a toad (for very young readers).
'Flat Stanley' by Jeff Brown - the outrageous stories of Flat Stanley and the Lambchop family (very young readers). 
Paddington Bear’ by Michael Bond - a very polite bear who loves marmalade sandwiches and cocoa and is always getting into trouble (for very young readers).
'Milly Molly Mandy' by Joyce Lankester Brisley - stories of a thoughtful and resourceful little girl, her family and friends.
'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton - the adventures of a group of children, an enchanted wood and a magic tree. 
Mrs Pepperpot' by Alf Prøysen - the adventures of an elderly woman who can make herself small and get up to all sorts of things.
Pippi Longstocking’ by Astrid Lindgren - the adventures of a strong, independent and querky young girl.
'Dr Dolittle' by Hugh Lofting - the stories of a doctor who shuns humans in favour of animals, with whom he can speak in their own languages.
'Anastasia Krupnik' by Lois Lowry - stories about a girl who deals with everyday problems.
'Rowan of Rin' by Emily Rodda - a series of five fantasy novels for younger readers that tell of the adventures of a shy village boy called Rowan.
'Encyclopedia Brown' by Donald Sobol - stories about a boy detective and his many adventures.
'Ingalls family' Laura Ingalls Wilder - the stories of a young girl growing up in the midwestern frontier of the USA in the 1870s and 1880s.
'Trixie Belden' by Julie Campbell - a series of girl detective mysteries.
'Amelia Bedelia' by Peggy Parish - the stories of a lovable and amusing maid who tends to take things rather literally.'Katie Morag' by  Mairi Hedderwick - the stories centre around the adventures of the main character, Katie, who lives on the fictional island of Struay (which is based on the Scottish island of Coll). 
'The Dragon Slayers' Academy' by Kate McMullan (illustrated by Bill Basso) - Wiglaf is the youngest brother decides to go to the Dragon Slayer Academy, kill some dragons and get money to help his family.
'The Spiderwick Chronicles' by Holly Black - a series about a young boy who moves into an old house with his mother, brother and sister after his father dies, and the amazing discovery of secret rooms, an invisible world and a war waged among the realms of Fairies.

3. More mature readers

'Greene Knowe' by Lucy Boston - series of six books that feature a very old house (Green Knowe) inhabited by the spirits of children from the past.
'The Black Stallion' by Walter Farley - the story of a boy and wild horse and the many adventures that flow from this first tale.
'The Stone Book' by Allan Garner - this classic series of 4 books has its beginnings in the story of how Garner's great grandfather (a stonemason) initiates his daughter into the secrets of his craft.
'Wizard of Earthsea' by Ursula Le Guin - a trilogy set in the fantasy world of Earthsea and the adventures of a young wizard named Ged.  
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis - series of 7 fantasy novels about the adventures of children stumble into a world and their part in a battle between good and evil.
'Deltora Quest' by Emily Rodda - the adventures of three companions who travel across the magical land of Deltora seeking to recover magical artefacts and defeat the allies of the evil Shadow Lord.
'Harry Potter' by J.K Rowling - a series of 7 fantasy novels that tell of the adventures of the young wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger who live at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

'Song of Wirrun' by Patricia Wrightson - a fantasy trilogy that tells of a young Aboriginal boy who must save his people and battle an evil spirit.
'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien - the quest to gain the ring created by Dark Lord Sauron in another age; the secret to controlling Middle-earth.
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Coifer - series of graphic fantasy novels (check out Coifer's 'Artemis Fowl' website HERE)
'Inkheart' by Cornelia Caroline Funke - this German trilogy tells the story of a 12-year-old girl (Meggie Folchart) who discovers that her father has the ability when he reads to bring story book characters into the real world.
'The Chronicles of Prydain' by Lloyd Alexander - A five book fantasy series (Volume 2 'The Black Cauldron' won the Newberry Medal)
'The Once and Future King' by T.H. White - Arthurian Fantasy (usually purchased as one book) that takes place on the isle of Gramarye and chronicles the raising and education of King Arthur, his rule and the romance between Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.
'Goosebumps' by R.L. Stine  - horror novels for kids, loved by many boys but criticised by others for their violence.
'The Belgariad' by David Eddings - a five book fantasy series about an orphaned farm boy Garion's quest to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will decide the fate of the universe (readers 13+)
'Crispin' by Edwin Irving Wortis (pen name is Avi) - just two books in this 'series', the first 'The Cross of Lead' won the Newberry Medal in 2003 and 'Crispin at the Edge of the World'.  A 13-year-old boy, living in 14th century Feudal England under the feudal system in 1377 has his world turned upside-down when his mother dies.
'The Edge Chronicles' by Paul Stewart - this is a series about 'air pirates' in which a boy shows bravery and heroism on great quests that draw him closer to the Edge of the World and beyond.
'His Dark Materials Trilogy' by Phillip Pullman - two children (Lyra and Will) come of age as they experience epic quests and pass through a series of parallel universes. Made up of three books 'The Golden Compass', 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass'.

I could list dozens more but for an even more comprehensive list that you can consult online, go to the website of one of my favourite libraries (where I used to take my children when living in Indiana), the Monroe County Library in Indiana (here).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rethinking Language and Learning

Please note: This post has been prepared for the 'The Learning Network' sponsored by Richard C. Owen Publishers to promote professional development. I will lead a discussion based on the post with TLN on the 29th June to 1st July. You can find out more about it and register HERE. Regular readers of the blog can also comment in the normal way.

Language and learning were frequently spoken of together in the 1970s, but today if you read many publications on language and literacy and consider major programs at literacy conferences, it is rare. Instead, you are more likely to hear literacy experts talk about multiliteracies, digital literacy or digital literacy across the curriculum.  I find this worrying. Why? Because the shift in terms reflects a loss of understanding that what schools do ultimately is to provide students with the necessary tools for learning and offer them varied opportunities to use them.  It also seriously underestimates the role of language in learning. The following quote from the report 'Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum' (published by Futurelab) will help to illustrate what I mean:
Digital literacy is the skills, knowledge and understanding that enables critical, creative, discerning and safe practices when engaging with digital technologies in all areas of life. Some people associate digital literacy simply with the functional skills of being able to use a computer or particular software package effectively.  But digital literacy is about much more than having access to or being able to use a computer. It’s about collaborating, staying safe and communicating effectively. It’s about cultural and social awareness and understanding, and it’s about being creative... (it's) about knowing when and why digital technologies are appropriate and helpful to the task at hand and when they are not.
While the sentiments expressed in relation to digital literacy are worthwhile, 'learning' isn't mentioned once. While learning is implied in the statement, technology is central, not learning and the quest for knowledge. The report speaks of "engaging with digital technologies" not learning. As well, when knowledge and understanding are mentioned, it is in relation to technology, not learning. And while the use of digital literacy for "tasks" and "communication" is noted, learning about the world is not the focus.

The same document represents 'digital literacy' diagrammatically as depicted below. Note that it is digital literacy that is represented centrally with all else supporting or related to it. Once again, 'learning' isn't mentioned, and while 'information' and 'communication' do appear, 'knowledge' does not.

The way the report positions digital literacy is even more surprising when you consider that one of the aims of 'Futurelab' is to transform teaching and learning, "...making it more relevant and engaging to 21st century learners through the use of innovative practice and technology."

We need to reposition learning at the centre of the curriculum, not as something that is peripheral, or a by product of skills instruction in any area (including digital literacy), but the very focus of our teaching.

Three Elders whose work can help us shift the focus

The above report should offer a warning of the need to avoid the 'tool' becoming the end or focus of learning. Instead, we need to keep in mind that keyboards and the Internet are simply the means for wider learning and the acquisition of, or construction of knowledge. While the UK report offers much insight into the use of the Internet and digital forms of literacy, it offers little about learning and how language and literacy in all their forms are essential for learning. It seems that many today have forgotten the wisdom of our elders. In the 1970s as a Curriculum Consultant I drew on the classic James Moffet work Teaching the Universe of Discourse (1968) that helpfully defined English as:
  • language (knowledge and manipulation of usage, vocabulary, structure, style),
  • in use (skill in reading, writing, listening, speaking),
  • in context (of literature, media, personal expression and everyday communication).
What Moffet's work did was to stress that language always has purpose, audience and modality and that it is always situated. There are skills to be learned but they serve something else - learning! 

In the 1970s Michael Halliday's timeless work Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language (1975) stressed that a quest for meaning is central as we:
  • learn language (we learn language as we interact with others and encounter our world),
  • learn through language (we use language to build up a picture of the world in which we live), and
  • learn about language (we understand the nature and functions of language).
One of the many useful insights from Halliday's work was his reminder that the meanings we express in and through language (“content”), cannot be separated from the words used to encode them. The artificial curriculum separation into English where language is taught, and subjects like science and maths where 'content' is taught, is unhelpful (even if practical and perhaps necessary up to a point). Halliday's work supported the instincts of many good teachers that integrated approaches and frequent varied opportunities for interaction are critical pathways to learning.

But it was Douglas Barnes in From Communication to Curriculum (1976) who pulled together language, learning and pedagogy. He stressed that it is learning that must always be at the centre of the curriculum.  He also reminded us that if language (including of course literacy) was defined narrowly as a means to transmit knowledge or information, then learning would become simply the replication of other people's knowledge and information.  Instead, he argued for what he called an 'Interpretation' model as opposed to a 'Transmission' model of teaching and learning. Each broad category (which he was quick to point out are somewhat idealised and never applied in pure forms), could be differentiated based on how the teacher viewed knowledge, what the teacher valued in the students, the way they viewed their role, and how student participation was evaluated.  An 'Interpretation' teacher:
  • believes that knowledge exists in the knower's ability to organise thought and action,
  • values the learner's commitment to interpreting reality,
  • perceives the teacher's task as setting up dialogue in which learners can reshape knowledge through interaction with others, and
  • perceives the learner as already possessing systematic and relevant knowledge and the means to reshape it.
Hence, Barnes argued for the establishment of classroom contexts that offered students opportunities to learn as they looked always for the relationship between new and existing knowledge. Language for Barnes was a vehicle for learning that required teachers to think carefully about how classrooms and teaching and learning activities were structured.

There isn't time to consider Vygotsky, Bruner, Briton, Rosen, Freire, Cazden, Bernstein, Cook-Gumperz, Harste, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Cambourne, Margaret Meek and others, but all have wisdom to offer on the relationship of learning to language and curriculum; perhaps in another post. Or perhaps via the TLN discussion.

Reflecting on the above

My recent post on handwriting (HERE) and this current post, both in their own way, pose a similar question: how can we maintain a right relationship between language and learning?  Crayons like keyboards are examples of technology (remember that technology can be defined as the use and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or products) that can be used to learn and deepen our understanding and knowledge of many things. In my handwriting post I argued that we have neglected the use of a simple form of technology, failing to see its role as a tool for learning.  In this post, I warn against the dangers of a blindly embracing technology. It is important to understand the potential, limitations and dangers of all forms of technology.  Technology is good if used well; servants to learning and useful for life.

Some questions to ponder:
  • What does a curriculum look like that manages to locate learning at the centre of the literacy curriculum in elementary or primary schools?
  • What might a secondary school curriculum look like that doesn't artificially separate learning language, learning through language and learning about language?
  • How do we harness the richness of new media and digital literacy without shifting the focus from meaning and learning to simply the celebration and use of the tool?
  • What place do textual forms like narrative play in this age of new communication technology, media and digital literacy?
I look forward to hearing from members of the TLN network or from other regular readers of this blog. 

Related posts and references

The following posts are some of those on this blog that have some relevance to the topic of the current post.

'Handwriting: The servant of language, learning and development' (HERE)
'A search for meaning: The heart of literacy' (HERE)
'Children as bloggers' (HERE)
'Improving Comprehension: Sketch to Stretch' (HERE)
'Firsthand experience and literacy learning' (HERE)
'Making history come alive with literature' (HERE)
'Reading to learn: Using text sets' (HERE)
'Improving comprehension series' (HERE)
'The power of literature series' (HERE)
'Online reading is different' (HERE)

References cited above

Barnes, D. (1976). From communication to curriculum. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Halliday, M.A.K. (1975) Learning how to mean: Explorations in the development of language. London: Edward Arnold.
Moffett, J. (1968). Teaching the universe of discourse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

About the Author: Patricia Wrightson

Patricia Wrightson (19th June 1921 – 15th March 2010) was without doubt one of Australia's most accomplished writers of children's literature. Her first book won the Children's Book Council prize for Best Novel in 1956; this was an award she was to win three more times. She also won the coveted Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1986, won Great Britain's Carnegie Medal for a 'Little Fear' in 1983, and was awarded the Dromkeen Medal in 1984. There were many other awards spread over a period of 44 years. In her role as Editor of the NSW School Magazine she also helped many other young writers. Her integration of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories with her contemporary stories was ground breaking.

Mark McLeod in his valedictory comments said of her:

"Few Australian writers for young people have equalled and none have surpassed her achievements."

In his tribute in 'Magpies' (May, 2010) Maurice Saxby said of her:

"...she was more than a 'good writer'; she was a superb writer, able to craft her style according to the mood and emotional tone of her subject matter."

Patricia Wrightson was born in Lismore on 19 June 1921. Her early education was through the State Correspondence School for Isolated Children and later she attended St Catherine's College. She was married in 1943 and became a nurse serving in Lismore (1946-1960) and later in Sydney (1960-1964). She served as Assistant Editor of the NSW School Magazine from 1964 to 1970.

Her Work

Patricia Wrightson wrote about 30 children's books (at my count) mostly for children aged 7-14 years. Her work appealed to readers of all ages including adults. I can remember discovering her books as a young primary school teacher and reading devouring them and then recommending them to the children I taught. 'The Rocks of Honey' (1960), 'I Own the Racecourse' (1968), 'The Nargun and the Stars' (1973), and 'A Little Fear' (1983) stand out in my memories as wonderful and memorable stories, that were beautifully written.

Her stories always had a wonderful sense of authenticity. Her first novel 'The Crooked Snake' (1955) was a tale about some country kids who were battling with a gang that called themselves the 'Crooked Snakers'. Ordinary Australian kids doing ordinary things, but told in a memorable way with complexity of characters and beautiful language use. 'I Own the Racecourse' is a story focused on Andy who in spite of disability manages to teach others about life and the human condition.

'The Nargun and the Stars' was a groundbreaking novel for older readers in which she drew on Dreamtime mythology woven into a contemporary context. The Nargun is a large rock-like creature that can move whole mountains. I can recall reading this book for the first time and being challenged by it at many levels - the complexity of the plot, the use of the Dreamtime, the contemplation of the unknown and the question 'what-if?' Some criticised her use of Dreamtime stories as a non-Indigenous person, but her use of these stories was based on genuine interest in and respect for Indigenous Australians, not exploitation of their stories. For me, the pinnacle of her craft is shown in 'A Little Fear', a slim novel for younger readers that is enjoyable and challenging for all ages. The feisty Mrs Tucker is not prepared to simply give in to old age and lose her independence, and instead heads to a lonely place where she decides to live alone. Here she confronts the Njimbin, a spirit and symbol of the the way Indigenous Australian's see the enduring power of the land. Mrs Tucker not only conquers fears and regains her independence but also learns of things she has previously not understood and which she still senses are a wisdom from beyond her physical existence.

Patricia Wrightson's work is characterised by the power of her stories, the brilliance of her language use, the novelty of her stories set in the ordinariness of life in country and urban Australia. She was without a doubt one of the most influential writers and along with Ivan Southall and Colin Thiele helped to raise the profile of Australian writers around the world. Her stories, and her influence on other writers will endure.  Not many of her books are still in print but I've added links for those that are below. As well, most are available from Amazon as used titles and many are in public libraries. Australians will find most of her books in libraries and international readers will find most of her most famous books from Amazon in used editions.

'The Crooked Snake' (1955). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1956.
'The Bunyip Hole' (1958). Commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1959.
'The Rocks of Honey' (1960)
'The Feather Star' (1962). Commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1963.
'Down to Earth' (1965)
'A Racecourse for Andy' (1968)
'I Own the Racecourse!' (1968). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1969; IBBY Honour Diploma, 1970
'Beneath the Sun: an Australian collection for children' (1972)
'An Older Kind of Magic' (1972). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1973.
'The Nargun and The Stars' (1973). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1974; IBBY Honour Diploma, Writing, 1976
'Emu Stew: an illustrated collection of stories and poems for children' (1976)
'The Ice is Coming' (1977). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1978.
'The Dark Bright Water' (1978)
'Night Outside' (1979)
'Behind the Wind' (1981). Highly commended Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 1982; Ditmar Award. Best Long Australian Science Fiction or Fantasy, 1982.
'Journey Behind the Wind' (1981)
'A Little Fear' (1983). Winner Children's Book Council of Australia, Book of the Year 1984; Carnegie Medal, 1983.
'The Haunted Rivers' (1983)
'Moon-dark' (1987)
'The Song of Wirrun' (1987)
'Manmorker' (1989)
'Balyet' (1989). Shortlist Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Older Readers 1990.
'The Old, Old Ngarang' (1989)
'The Sugar-gum Tree' (1991). Shortlist Children's Book Council of Australia Book Year, Younger Readers 1992; Family Therapists' Award for Children's Literature, 1992.
'Shadows of Time' (1994)
'Rattler's Place' (1997). Honour Book Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year, Younger Readers 1998
'The Water Dragons' (1999). Illustrated by David Cox

Other awards

The Order of the British Empire, Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for Services to Literature, 1978
Dromkeen Medal, 1984
Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Services to Children's Literature in New South Wales, 1986. 
New South Wales Premier's Literary Award for writing for a primary school audience was named the Patricia Wrightson Prize, 1999.

Photo Credit
Photo of Patricia Wrightson, National Library of Australia

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Handwriting: The Servant of Language, Learning & Development

In this age of SMS messaging, social networking, blogging and cell phones with email and web browser access in your pocket, is there any role for handwriting with crayon, pencil or pen? Adults might rarely have the need to use a pen or pencil these days, but what about children? Are we doing children a disservice by not giving them access to keyboards almost from birth? Is the next step for parents interested in immersing their children in literacy to provide our toddlers access to keyboards rather than paper, crayons and pencils? I want to suggest that this would not be a good idea for at least the following three reasons:
  • There is a complex and interdependent relationship between scribble, drawing, fine motor skills and learning.
  • Research has shown that speed and fluency of handwriting has a direct impact on later writing development and learning.
  • There are many pragmatic and interpersonal reasons why the ability to write with pen and ink is still important.
1. There is a relationship between scribble, drawing, fine motor skills and learning

It is obvious that for the young child writing has its genesis in scribble. Those first attempts to make marks on paper, the walls or in the dirt, are a child's first attempt to experiment with the representation of meaning. While the first strokes of the 9 month-old child may be more about play and experimentation with objects, eventually the child will attempt to represent something. They will look up at whoever is nearby and smile as if to say "Look at me, I made this!" At this point, children have begun to work out how language and meaning can be symbolically represented.

But this early use of crayons or pencils to make marks or signs is not simply a random motor task; it involves a complex blend of cognitive, kinaesthetic, and perceptual-motor abilities. Furthermore, decades of research shows that it isn't just that handwriting requires these things, it has been shown to affect cognitive abilities. For over 50 years researchers have been trying to untangle the complex links between handedness (i.e. the tendency to he left-handed or right handed), gross motor skills and fine motor skills like handwriting. Brain research has also shown us that Binocular vision (the focussing of eyes as they work together) requires the child to use two hemispheres of the brain and that fine motor tasks have a relationship to this emerging ability. Handwriting's demands for complex hand-eye coordination are related to a variety of other forms of sensory integration.  

As well, as the child moves from marks on paper to controlled 'scribble' (see my previous post on early writing HERE) the fine motor demands of handwriting helps the child to:
  • Memorise letter shapes
  • Develop complex concepts of print like left to right movement, the differences between letters and words and sound-symbol correspondence. This is one of the reasons that kinaesthetic approaches have been used for children with early literacy problems for decades
  • Experiment with language as a representational form along with drawing - children's earliest 'writing' will usually combined marks, letters, drawing, colour and pattern.
While there are technology applications that might allow children to do some of this as they get older, their earliest steps towards written language will occur best with crayon, chalk, pencil or a finger dipped in paint or even the dirt as they try to make marks and symbolise something.

2. Handwriting speed and fluency has an impact on writing and learning

The second reason is the relationship between the speed and fluency of handwriting and the ability to write and think. Speed and fluency are important for all aspects of language - listening, speaking, reading and writing. The faster the brain processes the data, the more effective the language user. This is true of early reading and writing. There is strong evidence to show that if children are slow as they form letters then language processing may be affected at higher levels (e.g. forming words, expressing ideas, sentence patterns etc).

Researchers like Professor Stephen Peverly at Teachers' College, Columbia University have found that for children (and adults), speed and fluency of handwriting is very important if they are to express themselves well through writing.  Others like Occupational Therapist Emily Knapton have developed complete programs to help children develop the handwriting fluency and help to overcome a variety of learning difficulties.

Professor Steven Graham expresses the importance of speed and fluency in a recent article for American Educator:
"As handwriting skills become more automatic and less cognitively demanding, attention and resources for carrying out other writing processes, including those involving more reflection and careful composing, become available."
While we don't need a return to the days of daily handwriting lessons for 20-30 minutes, there is a need to give some priority to handwriting support. This might be as basic as helping a 1 year-old how to hold a crayon and pencils to reduce physical discomfort and aid fluency, but it may well extend later to help with letter formation, pattern formation exercises, line cards systematic introduction to the faster cursive forms of writing in primary school and so on. In this way, children's early literacy will be supported and the groundwork will be established for later writing on keyboards and other electronic devices.

3.  Pragmatic and interpersonal reasons

While the most significant argument for why handwriting is still how it relates to later writing, spelling, reading and find motor development, there are also strong practical and interpersonal reasons for some attention to handwriting.

Pragmatically, the majority of writing and note making at school still occurs on paper.  While this may change, until it does, children will learn more effectively if they can write fluently and neatly.  As well, it would seem highly likely that the humble note pad, diary, post-it sticker, magic sketcher or notice board still has a place in communication (at least for a while).

In terms of interpersonal writing, it is also difficult to see us losing completely the handwritten birthday card, gift tag, special letter and so on. There is still something very special about receiving a letter or card that combines careful choice of paper, design, words, images and sometimes personally drawn graphics. This is also a legitimate reason to offer some support for handwriting.

4. Summing up

As we head even further down the digital path we need to be careful that in ignoring handwriting that we do not deprive children of vital cognitive, kinaesthetic and perceptual-motor abilities and skills.

Other resources

Steven Graham (2009). Want to Improve Children's Writing? American Educator, Winter 2009-2010.
'The Writing on the Wall' (2007), Newsweek.
'Your Child's Handwriting', Kids Health.
'Handwriting Instruction: What Do we Know?' (1986), ERIC Digest

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 Children's Book Council Awards Shortlist

The Children's Book Council Australia Awards shortlist has been announced, as has the list of 'Notable' books. The awards will be announced in Children's Book Week on the 20th August. This year the theme for Book Week is ‘Across the Story Bridge' with artwork created by Australian illustrator and author Kylie Dunstan. As usual, there are many wonderful books. I will review the winners and honour books in Book Week but I have listed all the books shortlisted and will review a few of those that I have been able to read already.

The shortlist is a valuable guide to book purchases but there many other wonderful books published each year. As a result the CBCA also publishes a Notable Book List that this year has 121 titles listed. To indicate the quality of the longer list of notable books let me list just two of the books that are on the longer list.

'Harry & Hopper' is written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. It is one of 30 books on the list of Notable Picture Books. While it hasn't made the 2010 shortlist in Australia it is one of 8 books shortlisted for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for picture books in the United Kingdom. While this award places a priority on illustration, it is a wonderful book that tells the believable tale of a boy and his dog.

Harry and his dog Hopper do everything together, and have ever since Hopper was a puppy. One day when Harry comes home, Hopper isn't there to meet him. Margaret Wild sensitively explores how Harry has to deal with Hopper never coming home. At first there is denial and his nights are filled with dreams of Hopper. Eventually even these fade, and as they do Harry learns to deal with his loss. Freya Blackwood's 'soft' and delicate illustrations are perfect for this sensitive and moving story.

'A Certain Music' written by Celeste Walters and illustrated by Anne Spudvilas is one of 28 books on the notable list for Younger Readers. It 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. Well-known and highly awarded illustrator Anne Spudvilas has illustrated the book.

The shortlisted titles are outlined below. I have chosen to comment on just 1 or 2 in each category.  I will review the winners and honours books when announced in August.

1. Older Readers (Mature readers, aged 12 plus)

'Liar' is an adolescent novel written by Justine Larbalestier.

As the publishers Allen & Unwin suggest, this is a tale of "secrets, lies, murder and betrayal". The author Justine Larbalestier explores lies and the life of a liar, Micah Wilkins. Can Micah be believed?  When her boyfriend, Zach dies in brutal circumstances, her lies and the brutal reality clash. Where does truth start and lies end? Lying comes so naturally to her. But what actually happened?  Did she see him the night he died? What family secret is she hiding? 'Liar' is a page-turner that will keep you guessing until the final page. 

'Stolen' by Lucy Christopher
'The Winds of Heaven', by Judith Clarke
'Jarvis 24', David Metzenthen
'A Small Free Kiss in the Dark', by Glenda Millard
'Loving Richard Feynman', by Tangey Penny

2. Younger Readers (Independent readers, 7-11 years)

'Pearl Verses the World', written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Heather Potter

Pearl is a girl of (perhaps) 6-8 years who is alone and left out of the many groups that she observes around her and which don't seem to see her. She laments, "wherever I am no one sees me".

A bright and creative child she struggles to write the verse that her teacher requests; verse that must rhyme. Why does a poem have to rhyme she muses? She lives at home with her mother and Granny. That's been her household for as long as she can remember. But Granny who has always been there for her is aging. As she reaches her last days Pearl finally finds inspiration to write a special poem, from the heart, 'taught' to her by her Granny that defies her teacher's ideas on poetry and opens her eyes to see Pearl at last. This is a beautiful story for young readers aged 6-8. Essentially a short novel it also has Heather Potter's delightful illustrations 'sprinkled' throughout. I love this book!

'Matty Forever', by Elizabeth Fensham

'Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool', by Odo Hirsch

'Running with the Horses', by Alison Lester

'The Whisperer', by Fiona McIntosh

'Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children', by Jen Storer

3. Early Childhood (Pre-reading to early reading stage)

'Kip' was written and illustrated by Christina Booth. Right from the time he emerged from the egg, Kip was going to be a special chick. When he grew to be a rooster, with a crow that could wake the dead, there was bound to be trouble. First Mr James was disturbed from his sleep - "Keep him quite Mrs Bea"! Then Kip disturbs little Lucy Cooper's cup of tea in the garden. One by one the neighbours complain until Mrs Bea has to do it; she heads for the farm. You'll need to read the book to find out what happens to the neighbourhood in its life after Kip.  A wonderfully simple predictable text that is delightfully illustrated in a bright cartoon style. It will delight readers from preschool to 6 years of age. 

'Clancy & Millie and the Very Fine House' is written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood.  Clancy has just moved and is missing his old cosy and familiar home. He finds his new house much too big, different and lonely. It seems like he will never be able to feel like it is his home? And then one day Clancy hears a small voice from over the fence and soon, with the help of his new friend Millie, they are building box towers to the sky. Together Clancy and Millie build a friendship and a new 'home' that Clancy thought he had lost forever. Libby Gleeson is better known for her novels, but this is a an excellent story illustrated by a brilliant artist who looks set to be awarded one way or another in 2010.

'The Wrong Book', by Nick Bland
'The Terrible Plop', written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner
'Bear & Chook by the Sea', written by Lisa Shanahan and illustrated by Emma Quay
'Fearless', written by Colin Thompson and illustrated by Sarah Davis

4. Picture Book of the Year (Birth to 18 years)

'Schumann the Shoeman', written by John Danalis and illustrated by Stella Danalis. Schumann is a modern fable that tells the story of a cobbler who loves his work and turns out unique works of art for feet! No two pairs are ever the same. He is determined to make original shoes in a world where increasingly everyone wants to wear the same cheap shoes churned out from the factory down the road. But he wants to makes shoes that will last a lifetime, rather than those that last just a year. But as tastes change, and factory shoes get cheaper, he shuts his shop and moves to the factory. This is short lived and he quickly leaves it and the town forever. In a forgotten forest he finds, once again, some who will value shoes that are different and that are made to last.  A tale rich in metaphor and complexity of language, this is a picture book where text and illustrations work together in harmony, just like Schumann and his materials. The simply collage illustrations help to tell this tale with added richness. This could well win Picture Book of the year.

'The Hero of Little Street' by Gregory Rogers is book three in the 'Boy Bear' series and follows the two previously highly acclaimed wordless picture books 'The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, the Bard' and 'Midsummer Knight'. The Boy escapes a gang of bullies by running into the perfect hiding place - a gallery filled with mystery and treasures. The Boy befriends a mischievous dog and is enchanted by the magic of painting. He finds himself venturing into the world of a Vermeer painting and is transported to Delft in seventeenth century. But there are many dangers on these old streets and he needs to use his wits to rescue his new friend from the butcher's chopping block. All three 'Boy' books are brilliant wordless tales in the same league as Raymond Brigg's 'When the Wind Blows'.  Readers of the first two Boy books will enjoy looking for the characters from the previous books as they follow this new time slip adventure.
'To the Top End: Our Trip Across Australia', by Roland Harvey
'Mr Chicken Goes to Paris', by Leigh Hobbs
'Isabella's Garden', written by Glenda Millard and illustrated Rebecca Cool
'Fox and Fine Feathers', by Narelle Oliver

5. Eve Pownall Award for Information Book of the Year 2009 (Birth to 18 years)

'Maralinga', by the Yalata & Oak communities with Christobel Mattingley. In the words of the Indigenous people who are the traditional owners of Maralinga (a region used for atomic testing in the 1950s),  "The Anangu Story is our story. We have told it for our children, our grandchildren and their children. We have told it for you."  In words and pictures Yalata and Oak Valley community members, with author Christobel Mattingley, 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.

'Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia', by Danielle Clode
'M is for Mates', produced by the Department of Veterans' Affairs in association with the Australian War Memorial.
'Australian Backyard Explorer', by Peter Macinnis
'Polar Eyes: A Journey to Antarctica', written by Tanya Patrick and illustrated by Nicholas Hutcheson
'Lost! A True Tale from the Bush', by Stephanie Owen Reeder

Related Posts

All previous posts on awards (HERE)

CBCA Notables and 2010 Shortlists (HERE)