Monday, May 30, 2011

Stimulating Children's Imaginations: Creating Time, Freedom and Space

Boys in the 1950s (Courtesy 'Chapel Hill Memories')
When I was a child my weekly timetable involved little more than 5 elements: chores morning and evening for 15-20 minutes (e.g. feeding my pets, collecting the eggs, washing my own dishes), food, school and play for the post school hours (except for dinner and a little television or radio). Weekends were even less complex - rise, eat, disappear with friends, return at dark, eat, go to bed. The only punctuation to my weekends was Saturday morning sport (after I'd reached the age of 10) and sometimes a matinee movie on Saturday and Sunday School the next day if my uncle could find me. Large periods of time were available for me to play outside, explore the world, and do things with friends.

The contrast between my childhood life in the 1950s and 60s and that of the average child in a middle-class western family is dramatically different. To some extent the difference is partly due to my working class roots and a degree of parental neglect, but most children's lives had more similarities to mine than differences. Childhood was very different and while there was a downside there were some advantages. One key difference worth noting is that children had a greater degree of freedom, time and 'space' to do many self-directed things.

Anthony Esolen in his book 'Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child' suggests that one of the ways we kill children's imaginations is by never leaving them to plan their own time and work to their own agendas. We rarely allow space for them to dream up great schemes and projects, undertake 'great' adventures, and to plan and create things with other children or even adults. He suggests that if children are left to their own devices and spend time with other children they will create cultures of their own. By now every modern parent will be a little defensive and will list all the dangers of allowing children out on their own and the problems of kids forming gangs and so on. I'm aware of the dangers. I'm not for a minute suggesting that it's realistic for children to have the freedom I had as a child, nor do I suggest that we remove all planned activities from children's lives. But what I am suggesting is that we need balance and if we do provide space and time children's imaginations will be allowed to roam more freely.

Brush Creek Today
As a child, I concocted many plans and 'big' ideas with my friends and acted on many of them. The pinnacle of our efforts was perhaps the 'Brush Creek Soccer Club'. This was conceived after a fight with another boy on the bus on the way home from school. He was from Glendale, while I was from Young Wallsend. He tripped me as I entered the bus. I responded as boys do and a friendship was born out of mutual respect. We found out that we both liked soccer; a friendly match was set up between a team made up of my 'Hill Street' mates and his 'Glendale Crew'. We visited them and they beat us soundly. The worst part was that they had a girl on their team and she was better than most of our players.

We began planning immediately for a re-match. But first there was the matter of a suitable home ground. There was no oval near Hill Street, but there was a paddock at the bottom of the street, near the creek. Could we build our own ground? The Brush Creek Football Club was born and its home ground conceived! We spent a whole weekend clearing and levelling the rough paddock, another building some goals (from tea tree trunks) and fitting nets made out of chicken wire. To top it off, I spent every afternoon after school for two weeks building a grandstand against a giant gum tree near the sideline. We never beat the 'Glendale Crew' in one of our grudge matches, but our soccer ground was the envy of our opponents and lived on for a number of years.

How can we encourage children's imaginative play today?

I quoted the great educational psychologist Jean Piaget in a previous post on 'Creativity' (here), who said:

“The principal goal of education is to create [people] who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – [people] who are creative, inventive and discoverers."

Above: Rebecca & Elsie create a beach boat to take them on a journey
Imagination and creativity is fundamental to human advancement and are qualities to be valued and nurtured. And yet, it is so easy to constrain and conform our children with a resultant loss of originality, innovation and discovery. The devaluing of these things can lead to a loss of enjoyment, motivation, creativity and a stifling of children's imaginations. As John Holt expressed it:

What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out. (John Holt, 1981)

What are some simple ways we can foster this?
  • Provide time for children to explore their world within the confines of a safe space that has supervised boundaries.
  • Offer opportunities for both structured and unstructured play.
  • Give fantasy an important place through books, film and inventive play situations.
  • Create an environment that encourages the child to do things with other people where a non-school goal is shared.
  • Try to enhance opportunities for children to explore their environment.
  • Encourage deep learning of things that interest the child that will be the seedbed of 'great' projects (hobbies and special interests are a good start).
  • Offer new experiences and situations that challenge children to find out, seek solutions and solve problems.
  • Encourage learning, expression and exploration in situations that emphasize the generation of ideas, solutions and forms of expression that are divergent as well as convergent (see previous post for more detail).
While we cannot allow children in this age the same freedom that I had as a child, we can restore some balance in children's use of time and the opportunities that we give them to dream dreams, make plans and act on these ideas. Time and space to think, talk, read and explore are vital to the development of the imagination of any child.
"Alice laughed. There's no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ('Through the Looking Glass', Lewis Carroll)

Some posts on this blog that offer practical ideas to stimulate creativity

Two great books that will help:

'The Dangerous Book for Boys' (HERE)
'The Daring Book for Girls' (HERE)

Other posts and resources:

'The Role of Adults in Children's Play' (HERE)
'Understanding and Developing Creativity' (HERE)
'Stifling Creativity: The School as Factory' (HERE)
'The Power of Simple Play' (HERE)
'Nurturing Creativity in Children' (HERE)
'Stories in a Box: Stimulating language, writing & imagination' (HERE)
'Firsthand Experience, Literacy & Learning' (HERE)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Supporting Boys as Readers: A review of 'Best Books for Boys'

I have written a number of posts on this blog dealing with 'Boys and Reading' because I am often asked by parents and teachers for advice on the topic. How can we encourage boys to read? Is there a problem with too much time on computers? Should I let him read so many graphic novels? What's the key to getting my son to read anything? When should I stop reading to him? What's my viewpoint on gross books like 'Captain Underpants'? Do I have list of great books for boys?  Like me, US reading advocate, teacher and writer Pam Allyn has been asked these and many more questions and has recently written a book that tries to answer some of them. As well, she has prepared a wonderful annotated list of books suitable for boys.

'Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys'

The book has a simple format. It introduces the 'R-E-A-D model' for supporting children's reading and follows this with a section in which common questions about boys and reading are answered. This is then followed by Pam Allyn's annotated list that runs for 130 pages and takes up the majority of the book's 176 pages.

The R-E-A-D model offers a simple way to remember four key elements that will help to create a 'reading life' for boys:

R - Ritual - Boys need rituals around reading. This reminds us to set some patterns in boys' lives so that books and reading in all its forms have a place.
E - Environment - To encourage boys to read we need to create spaces that invite reading, with comfort and appeal.
A - Access - You need to immerse boys in books and reading; provide them with lots of different books and reading material with variety and interest.
D - Dialogue - It is important to talk to boys about the things they read, this makes the experience of reading a more socially satisfying one and offer boys a way to share something of their own lives. 

The annotated list is wonderful.  It offers a rich list of books described in reasonable detail and categorized by topic. The categories include 'action and adventure', 'Biographies and Memoirs', 'Fantasy & Imagination', 'Comics & Graphic Novels', 'Humour', 'Mystery & Horror', 'Math & Numbers', 'Poetry', 'Science & Space', 'Nature & the Animal World', 'Mechanics & Technology' and many more. 

Within each topic category Pam Allyn organizes the books into three difficulty levels, 'Emerging', 'Developing' and 'Maturing'. While the categories are very broad they offer a simple way for parents and teachers to make choices. At times she differentiates further if the book is borderline by using a combined rating, for example, D>M suggesting between 'Developing' and 'Maturing'.

There are many other helpful touches. Within some book descriptions (typically 50-100 words) Allyn at times suggests other books which readers will like if they've enjoyed the book reviewed. For other books she simply offers suggestions for discussion and response.

In short, this is an excellent book which parents and teachers will find very helpful as a resource to encourage boys to be avid and successful readers.

About Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn is the Executive Director and founder of LitWorld, a global organization advocating for children’s rights as readers, writers and learners. She is also the Executive Director and founder of LitLife, a national organization dedicated to school improvement. She is the author of 'What To Read When: The Books and Stories To Read With Your Child–And All The Best Times To Read Them' (Penguin Avery). Her most recent book is 'Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys: How To Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives' (Scholastic). Her forthcoming book 'Your Child’s Writing Life' (Penguin Avery) will be released on 2 August 2011. Pam Allyn is the author of What to Read When which is a book for parents, teachers, and caregivers, published by Penguin. She published a successful professional book, 'The Complete 4: How to Teach Reading and Writing Through Daily Lessons, Monthly Units and Yearlong Calendars' with Scholastic in 2007. She followed this with a series of grade level books written with colleagues, The Complete Year in 2008.

Other Posts on Boys and Books

'Boys, Gross Topics & Books' HERE
All posts on 'Boys and Reading' on this blog HERE

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meet the Author: Anna Branford

About Anna

Anna Branford was born on the Isle of Man in 1975 and spent some of her childhood there as well as in Sudan, Papua New Guinea and Australia. She shares on her website that she "...did lots of.. daydreaming in planes, trains and boats...".   She had a pet mouse for a time and loved her piano which she says was the best present her mum and dad ever gave her "...apart from my sister".

She now lives in Melbourne. As well as writing books for children she has a PhD in sociology and teaches this subject at Victoria University. As well as loving writing books for children, her creativity extends making dolls and nests using needle felted wool, fimo and other materials. She has written three books (two have been published) the first of which has been shortlisted in the 'Younger Readers' category of the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards for 2011.

Her Books

'Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot'

Violet Mackerel is a girl with lots of theories, ideas and interests. She has a family full of love and difficulties, and a longing for a blue china bird. Violet spots a blue china bird at the Saturday markets that is small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Her Mum has a stall there to sell knitting. Violet wants the bird, but this will cost her $10 and she doesn't have the money. She knows she will have to come up with 'a plot', a brilliant plot! She gives the matter much thought and settles on archaeology as part of the answer to her problem, with a surprising outcome.

This is a delightful short novel for children aged 6-10 years, and will be loved especially by girls. Anna Branford has created a wonderful character in Violet who should sustain interest in the series of books to follow. Sarah Davis has provided excellent watercolour illustrations that appear on monochrome (or greyscale) throughout the book and add to the story, especially the development of Violet's character.

I asked my granddaughter Rebecca (aged 6) to read the book. She devoured it quickly and met me when next I visited with the words "I loved the book. And look, I've made a 'Box of Small Things' just like in the book." This was inspired by Anna's suggestion at the end of the book that her young readers might take a box, label and decorate it and use it to store precious 'small things' just like Violet.

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Recovery

After visiting Dr Singh to have a sore throat checked Violet discovers that she will need to have her tonsils out. She has lots of questions. What are tonsils? Will it hurt? What will it be like to have no tonsils? If her voice changes, will she become an opera star? Perhaps if she makes 'remarkable recovery'... But will she? Once again, Sarah Davis has provided wonderful illustrations that support the story.

I read the first chapter of the book to Rebecca, her younger sister (4 years) and her brother (8 years). All three children enjoyed the book and Rebecca couldn't wait to get it off us to finish it herself. She finished the book in bed before lights out and loved it.

Neville No-Phone

Anna's third book will be out in August and tells the story of Neville and his best friend and next-door-neighbour Enzo who desperately want mobile phones. But their parents are not being helpful.  Neville and Enzo make a solemn promise to each other that some way, somehow, they will get a mobile phone.
When two friends put their heads together it’s surprising what they can achieve. But of course, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for…

An Interview with Anna

1. I can see from your website that you had a number of favourite book series as a child and also loved one of my favourite books, 'Wind in the Willows'. How much of the inspiration for your writing comes from your childhood reading experiences? Are there other inspirations for your writing?

I did read a lot as a child and I’m certain that the excitement and comfort and magic and pleasure I found in books has made me long to write my own books for children. But there are definitely other inspirations too. I have worked with children for most of my life and I am always interested in hearing about the things that they love, fear, long for, find resonant, and think hilarious. Looking after children is also a wonderful excuse to go on reading lots of children’s literature even when you’re grown up!

2. Do you see book series as having a special role for children? What do you see as their great value?

I think there is something special about having a series rather than just a stand-alone title, for some sorts of books. A series gives you a chance to build a sort of relationship with a character, to really understand their world and their life and to see them in all different sorts of situations. When I’m especially enjoying reading a series, I love knowing I don’t have to force myself to read slowly or ration out the last few chapters to make the experience last, since there’s plenty more to look forward to.

3. Judging from your writing and your interest in doll making and music, you are obviously a creative person. To what do you attribute your creativity?

I grew up in a home where creating things was very much a part of everyday life. My father made lots of our furniture. My mother sewed, painted and drew. One Christmas in the Sudan, when I was very small and my sister was just a baby, they made absolutely everything, out of necessity. We had a fully decorated Christmas tree, cloth dolls, a wooden dolls house, a wooden farm, new dresses. Wherever we were, our home was always full of books and there was always something on the record player. So it was a very easy place for my sister and me to be creative too. I also had an aunt who was a truly wonderful children’s writer, Henrietta Branford. As well as being a very inspiring person, knowing her made it possible for me to think of writing books as something that real people, not just faraway and hard-to-imagine people, actually did.

4. Are there any children's authors that you particularly admire? What is it that you admire about their work?

I think there will always be a place in my heart for the authors whose books I grew up with, like Kenneth Graham, Philippa Pearce, Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary. I think these were writers who taught me to find pleasure in places I might not have thought to look for it myself. Each one, in all different ways, has contributed to making my ordinary world an enchanted place.

But there are plenty of children’s authors I’ve discovered in my adult life who I admire immensely too. When I worked in childcare, that provided me with a wonderful excuse to read contemporary children’s literature. Now that I am writing my own, I can pretend it is ‘research’. But actually I just really, really enjoy it. A few of my great favourites at the moment are Lauren Child, Sally Murphy, Glenda Millard and Sonia Hartnett. Even now, these are the authors who have a knack, for me, of turning the everyday world into a place that can beautiful, interesting and slightly magic.

5. What has been your favourite response to Violet Mackerel so far?

I had a lovely email from a mother who told me that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was the first book her seven-year-old had read herself from cover-to-cover. To me that is an amazing honour. I remember the first book I read from cover-to-cover (it was Enid Blyton’s 'The Birthday Kitten') and the tremendous feeling of accomplishment, independence and possibility it represented. It blows me away to think that a child could have had that experience with Violet.

6. Sarah Davis has done a wonderful job illustrating your Violet Mackerel books.  How important do you see the illustrations in your books and how do you judge their success?

I love Sarah’s work and feel incredibly lucky to be working with an illustrator and co-creator who has such a beautiful, resonant vision for these characters I am so fond of. I think illustrations are incredibly important. Good illustrations support and further a reader’s own mental imagery, while less successful pictures can distract and even disrupt what is going on in a child’s imagination. I think Sarah has a knack of supplying just enough details to enrich children’s reading experiences, without crowding out their own ideas of how a character or a place or a thing should be.

7. Congratulations on being short-listed for the Children's Book Council Awards. Is it important to have your work recognised in this way?

Thank you! To be honest, I have no real idea how important it is. My daydream, which felt very far-fetched while I was having it, was really just to have one book published. I can still hardly believe even that has really, truly happened. My understanding, though, is that shortlisted books are more likely to be read in primary schools and I find that a wonderfully exciting thought. At my primary school during book week we read Hating Alison Ashley one year and Playing Beattie Bow another. I absolutely loved both and it is a complete joy to imagine Violet being read and discussed in classrooms.

8. What is your current writing project? What has inspired it?

At the moment I am working on a sequel to 'Neville No-Phone', another book being published by Walker Books Australia, due out in August. Neville No-Phone is about a boy who absolutely longs for a mobile phone but whose parents won’t allow him to have one. Neville, his family and his best friend Enzo are a lovely characters to write about and I have great fun with them.  They are all inspired by people and situations I know.
Other resources

You can visit the Violet Mackerel website where you will find games, competitions, activities and downloads HERE

You can visit Anna Branford's personal site HERE

Other Meet the Author posts HERE

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

'Mr Men' Turns 40

Is there any child in the English-speaking world who hasn’t read, or been read, a 'Mr Men' book?  I read them to my children and still read them to my grandchildren. While they aren’t what you would call brilliant literature, nor would the illustrations win too many major awards, they work! And they have been well-loved for 40 years! Children love them and will go back time and time again to read them.

The Mr. Men series consists of 48 books written by British author Charles Roger Hargreaves (1935-1988). His first book was ‘Mr Tickle’ which was published in 1971. The series features characters like Mr Tickle, Mr Sneezy, Mr Bump, and Mr Clumsy. Each story introduces a new character; all have a distinctive human feature relating to physical appearance or personality. The books typically have a single moral lesson to be taught.
Beginning in 1981 a related series of 42 Little Miss books was created with female characters. When Hargreaves died in 1988, his son Adam Hargreaves began writing and illustrating new stories. Four of these were for characters that Roger Hargreaves had commenced before he died.

The first six Mr Men books were published in United Kingdom in 1971 and cost just 20 pence each. Each book in the original Mr Men and Little Miss series introduced a different title character and his/her single dominant personality to convey a simple moral lesson. The Mr Men and Little Miss characters often pop up in the stories of other characters. The secret to the success of the books seems to be:
The very simple stories.
The brightly-coloured simple illustrations (there is little clutter).
The pictures and story tend to tell the same story, while this isn’t usually the mark of great picture books; it means very young children can ‘read’ the stories themselves once they have heard them once or twice.
The moral lessons appeal to parents and are accessible to children.
The books are small like the children themselves.
They have simple literal humour; some would say slapstick.
I can recall that when my children had grown up and we were downsizing our possessions that no-one wanted to get rid of the Mr Men and Little Miss books. So we still have them and I'm reading them to their children.

The books have sold over 100 million worldwide, have been translated into over 20 languages and the images have been used in many places as part of other merchandise and promotion. Many children have also grown up enjoying the TV series.

Other posts

Hopefully many readers enjoyed Google's 16 different 'doodles' as a tribute to the 'Mr Men' books in their 40th year, that coincided with Hargreaves' birth date (9th May 1935) with .

Friday, May 6, 2011

eBooks, not what they're cracked up to be?

Enjoying the iPad
My Scottish father used to say of many things, "Son, it's not what it's cracked up to be". By which, of course he meant that in spite of the promise and hype surrounding the thing in question, that the reality is that it falls short of the promise.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have an interest in eBooks and an open mind about their potential. I have blogged on the topic here, here and here. I continue to do my own research on the topic that includes analysing many new apps as they become available and observing children using eBooks. At this stage I would conclude that:

  • There is as yet unrealised promise in the eBook.
  • No, it's not likely they will kill the paper book with the virtual book, or even 3D viewing of books on screen (see my post on 'Can the Book Survive?').
  • eBooks seem to be going the way of educational games when they first met computers.That is, taking the path of speedy entry to the market, low cost and high returns with little consideration of best practice in education.
  • At this stage, they have failed to capitalise on the opportunities that electronic delivery offers for new forms of literature and new ways to deliver traditional literature.
  • Even the best examples (e.g. 'Alice for the iPad') fall short in many areas (see my post here) and while great fun, don't offer any more than most traditional books in terms of literacy and learning and in many cases don't even match traditional books.
It seems that at least one other writer agrees with me. Read the interesting article 'New York's New School Takes on the Topic of E-Books' by Kathleen Sweeney HERE

Bec reading the 3D version of 'Violet and the Mysterious Black Dog' on the iPad

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Children's Book Council (Australia) 2011 Shorlist

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) recently announced the shortlist for the 2011 awards, with the winners to be announced during Book Week in August. The theme for Book Week in 2011 is 'One World, Many Stories'. As usual, there is a wealth of wonderful books to choose from. As well, there are about 100 other excellent books that didn't make the short list and have been added to the 2011 Notable Books list (here).

There are so many wonderful authors and illustrators in this list and some remarkable books. I will focus on one from each category in detail and mention briefly all others shortlisted.

Picture Book of the Year

'Mirror' (2010) by Jeannie Baker  - This is one of the most significant picture books to be published for some time. Just when you thought there was no room to innovate further with the picture book (without 'cheating, by using an iPad!), Jeannie Baker manages to surprise us all with her latest book. The concept is brilliant, the quality of the collage images once again stunning and the book design groundbreaking. She has produced another wordless picture book that is challenging at many levels. But it is the concept and design that will first catch your attention.

This picture book comprises two stories that are designed to be read simultaneously – one from the left to right, the other from right to left (see below). As you pick up the book you try to open it from right to left only to have the book open at the middle to reveal two books, one that conforms to English concepts of print and books, and the other that matches expectations for Arabic speakers. Page by page, we experience a day in the lives of two boys and their families - one from inner city Sydney, Australia and the other from a small, remote village in Morocco, North Africa

While the two worlds portrayed couldn’t be further apart, she shows through the parallel images of the lives of the two families a simple and profound truth. While people live in vastly different places, and have different lives, we share much. The families have different food, clothing and family practices, and they travel in different ways to different shops and workplaces, but there is much that is the same. Family members love one another and depend on each other. A mother, father and children do different things each day than in Sydney, but they are more like us than we might imagine. And there is an additional truth - we are connected to them.  Jeannie's message is that in many ways we are mirrors of one another even though different. This is a stunning book that will win many awards.  You can read my more detailed review of Jeannie's work including this book HERE.

'Family Forest' by Kim Kane and Lucia Masciullo - This is a book about a young girl with a rich and varied family that includes half sisters, step-parents and big brothers. It is the story of a 'family forest' rather than just a family tree.

'My Uncle's Donkey' by Tohby Riddle - A donkey is allowed into the house and once inside, it gets up to all sorts of things. He talks to his friends on the phone, does hoofstands in the kitchen, cartwheels in the living room, takes long baths and stays up late. This is a funny little book to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Another wonderful book from Tohby Riddle.

'Two Peas In A Pod' by Chris McKimmie - Marvin and Violet have been friends since they were babies. They are like two peas in a pod, but Violet moves away and things change. A lovely story about a special friendship.
'Hamlet' by Nicki Greenberg - This is another innovative and ambitious work from Nicki Greenberg. It is an imaginative and epic 415-page graphic novel. Hamlet has become a 'chameleon' whose black form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is not a kid's picture book! Suitable for readers 13+.

'Why I Love Australia' by Bronwyn Bancroft - This is a beautiful book in which Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft explores both her country and the way she feels about it. From the coast to the outback, from cities to plains, from dramatic gorges to rugged alpine peaks, from deserts to rainforests she describes its beauty. Australia is a continent of varied landscapes that Bronwyn Bancroft manages to present in an inspiring way.

Early Childhood Book of the Year

'Maudie And Bear' by Jan Ormerod - Maudie tests love to its limits, and Bear passes the test every time. Maudie's world revolves around Maudie. Bear's world revolves around Maudie; he is as patient and solid as a rock. Maudie is so confident of Bear's love that she makes demands, throws tantrums, lays down rules and lets Bear do all the work, knowing he will love her unconditionally. And he does right to the end.

'Look See, Look At Me' by Leonie Norrington and Dee Huxley -
Leonie Norrington and illustrator Dee Huxley visited three northern communities and tested ideas for the text and illustrations. The picture book that resulted is a wonderful insight into childhood within an Aboriginal community. Dee Huxley's illustrations locate the events in a remote community with exciting and rich ochre landscapes that add greatly to the narrative.

'It's Bedtime, William!' by Deborah Niland - William doesn't want to go to bed. He finds lots of ways to stay up late. But one night he comes up with a cracker of a reason; he has a furry visitor. A delightful book.

'Noni The Pony' by Alison Lester - Classic Alison Lester, simple engaging text and illustrations. A rhyming poem about a special pony that has similar likes, dislikes and fears to most children.

'The Tall Man And The Twelve Babies' by Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland & Deborah Niland

This is an amusing picture book about babies and silliness. The tall man with his six boy babies and six girl babies strike a problem when the Tall Man is trapped outside the apartment. Some quick thinking by the Tall Man eventually saves the day with the help o the babies. This book is a family affair for Ruth Park's twin daughters and her grandson Tom. Sadly Tom's mother Kilmeny (1950-2009) and Ruth Park (1917-2010) died before the book was published.

'The Deep End' by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Mitch Vane - This is a very Aussie type of story. Any child who has had summer swimming lessons will relate easily to the story. Becky reaches the point in the lessons where she is ready to move from the 'Frog' group to the 'Platypuses'. But this means a trip to the deep end, and she's not sure if she's ready for it.

Younger Readers Book of the Year

'Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot' by Anna Branford -

Violet Mackerel is a girl with lots of theories, ideas and interests, a family full of love and difficulties, and a longing for a blue china bird she saw at the market, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand.

Violet Mackerel spots a blue china bird at the Saturday markets where her Mum has a stall to sell knitting and she wants to own it. But this will set her back $10 and she doesn't have the money. Violet knows she will have to come up with 'a plot', a brilliant plot! She gives the matter much thought and settles on archaeology as part of the answer to her problem, with a surprising outcome.

This is a delightful short novel for children aged 7-10 years, and will be loved especially by girls. Anna Branford has created a wonderful character in Violet who should sustain interest in the series of books to follow. Sarah Davis has provided excellent watercolour illustrations that appear on monochrome (or greyscale) throughout the book and add to the story, especially the development of Violet's character. The second book in the series - 'Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery' - is out. I will be reviewing Anna Branford's work and interviewing her soon on this blog.

'Toppling' by Sally Murphy and Rhian Nest James - A special book of verse from Sally Murphy who was shortlisted last year for her first book 'Pearl Verses the World'. It tells of a boy named John who is obsessed with toppling dominoes and his friend Dom who has cancer. It seems that the world of these two boys is toppling, not the dominoes. A great book from an exciting new author. Sally's first book 'Pearl Verses the World' was named as an Honour Book in the 2010 CBCA Awards.

'Duck For A Day' by Meg McKinlay - Mrs Melvino has a new class pet, Max the duck. Every student looks forward to having their turn to take Max home for the night. There are strict rules, but Abby thinks she is ready.

'The Red Wind: The Kingdom Of The Lost Book One' by Isobelle Carmody

This is the first book in a new book series for younger readers.  Brothers Zluty and Bily live happily in their little house in the desert. Every year Zluty journeys to the great forest while Bily stays to tend their desert home. And every year Zluty returns with exciting tales of his adventures. But then, a red wind sweeps through their land...
'Henry Hoey Hobson' by Christine Bongers - This book sits at the upper end of books for 'Younger Readers' and would suit 10-12 year olds. Twelve-and-a-half-year-old Henry Hoey Hobson is struggling in Year Seven (that's the last year of primary in Queensland). He arrives at his sixth school in as many years and is the only boy in the grade. The small school in inner-city Brisbane has lost most of its older boys to bigger Catholic schools.  This leaves only three male misfits who are a year below him. Henry is surrounded by an intimidating all-female class. Upper Primary boys and girls will enjoy the book.

'Just A Dog' by Michael Gerard Bauer

A family is given runt of a dalmatian from a pedigree litter, but it obviously had a non-pedigree father. As a pup it whines until it is taken upstairs to sleep, and as it grows so does its impact on the family. The book shares many stories of the dog through Corey's eyes. Behind each story we see the loyalty of the dog to the family; the background being the disintegration of Corey's family. The dog is always there, and its death has an added impact on everyone. Any reader 10-12 years will enjoy this lovely book.

Older Readers Book of the Year

'The Piper's Son' by Melina Marchetta

"Melina Marchetta's brilliant, heart-wrenching new novel takes up the story of the group of friends from her best-selling, much-loved book Saving Francesca - only this time it's five years later and Thomas Mackee is the one who needs saving.

Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.

But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends and ends up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle's death. And in a year when everything's broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them."

'The Life Of A Teenage Body-Snatcher' by Doug MacLeod

"Thomas Timewell is sixteen and a gentleman. When he meets a body-snatcher called Plenitude, his whole life changes. He is pursued by cutthroats, a gypsy with a meat cleaver, and even the Grim Reaper. More disturbing still, Thomas has to spend an evening with the worst novelist in the world.
A very black comedy set in England in 1828, 'The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher' shows what terrible events can occur when you try to do the right thing. 'Never a good idea,' as Thomas's mother would say."

'The Midnight Zoo' by Sonya Hartnett

It is World War II in Eastern Europe and Tomas and his younger brother, Andrej, have escaped Romany that has been overrun by the Germans. They carry Wilma, their baby sister, in a sack and reach an abandoned town where they discover a zoo. In it they find a wolf, monkey, bear, eagle, lioness, seal, chamois and llama with some surprising events as they contemplate what next.

'About A Girl' by Joanne Horniman

Anna is afraid that she must be unlovable and then, she meets Flynn. The girls swim, eat banana cake, laugh and the love they have for each other. At times Flynn is unreachable but on other days she's always there. But Anna discovers Flynn's secret and wonders if she has ever known her at all.

'Graffiti Moon' by Cath Crowley

Lucy has never met him, but she is sure she is in love with Shadow a mysterious graffiti artist whose work is scattered throughout the city. It is the last night of Year 12 she goes looking for him. Instead meets the last guy she would ever hook up with, Ed.  After a disaster of a first date Ed says he knows how to find Shadow. They spend the night tracking down Shadow’s art and learning a lot about herself and Ed as they do so.

'Six Impossible Things' by Fiona Wood - "Fourteen-year-old nerd-boy Dan Cereill is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, moving house, new school hell, a mother with a failing wedding cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on the girl next door. His life is a mess, but for now he's narrowed it down to just six impossible things..."

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

'The Return Of The Word Spy' by Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle

The 'Word Spy' is back! In her first book, The Word Spy, she shared the secrets of the English language, from the first alphabet to modern texting. In The Return of the Word Spy she continues the story with chapters on language families, how we learn to speak, grammar and written communication. Once again it has an accessible and engaging style with wonderful illustrations by master illustrator Tohby Riddle. It is filled with cartoons, games, facts and puzzles. 

'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life At Ardiyooloon' by 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 north-west of Western Australia. 'Our World: Bardi-Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon' takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community; lives that are very different to those experienced by most Australians.

'Wicked Warriors And Evil Emperors' by Alison Lloyd and Terry Denton

"Imagine you're made king at the age of twelve. You have plenty of enemies. You have a million soldiers armed with all kinds of awesome weapons, you have tons of gold and a network of spies. What would you do with all that power?

It happened to a real boy, who made himself China's first emperor. He was brilliant and brutal. His legend, and the stories of his wicked warriors, have lived on for thousands of years. You might call him evil, but when empires are at stake, people do incredible things."

'Zero Hour: The Anzacs On The Western Front' by Leon Davidson

When the Australians and New Zealanders arrived at the Western Front in 1916, the fighting had been going for a year and a half and there was no end in sight.  The men took their place in a line of trenches that spread through Belgium and France from the North Sea to the Swiss Alps.  Beyond the trenches was no-man's land, an eerie wasteland where rats lived in the ribs of the dead and the wounded cried for help; beyond that was the German Army. This is the third book by Leon Davidson on key wartime battles. Previous titles were 'Scarecrow Army: the Anzacs at Gallipoli' and 'Red Haze: Australians & New Zealanders in Vietnam'.

'Drawn From The Heart' by Ron Brooks

Ron Brooks is well known for his award winning children's books; classics like 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek'.  In this wonderful memoir he recreates his life as artist, husband and father. He shares the twists and turns, and the highs and lows. In doing so, he offers some wonderful insights into his 'secret' process of picture-making and story-shaping. It is illustrated with roughs and finished art from his best-loved books

'Science Behind: Theme Parks, Playgrounds And Toys' by Nicolas Brasch

This book poses and answers a series of science questions that most upper primary students love. It focuses on theme parks, playgrounds and toys and presents the questions and information using 13 engaging questions and answers on double page spreads. The pages are detailed and help children to understand some complex concepts and processes. Each double-page spread offers a variety of visual information including maps, charts, graphs, diagrams, annotated photos and illustrations and timelines. A great book!

Other posts

All my previous 'Award' posts HERE