Thursday, December 16, 2021

Do we listen to children but never really 'hear' them? The lost art of understanding our students.

I've had a paper on my study floor for several years in my pile of papers loosely categorized as those ‘I must read some day’. Many times, I've picked up a photocopied extract from a book titled ‘The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination’. The book was written by psychiatrist Dr Robert Coles. Each time I would skim a few paragraphs and think, "now why did I place this paper from a psychiatrist here to read"? I was flipping through the pile again this week when I saw the Coles' extract once more. I read a few pages and finally realized why I’d kept it. I wrote a post on the topic for another blog I write for parents and teachers who want a faith-basis to school education. But after posting it, I thought that what I'd seen in Coles' book was just as relevant for non-religious schools.


I strongly believe that Coles' work needs to be read by teachers, parents, doctors, psychiatrists and even politicians. After reading his work one key aspect resonated strongly with many of my own instincts about nurturing and understanding our students at school. We often fail to truly listen to the stories our children want to tell us. Essentially, their stories about what matters most to them. Instead, we more often observe and draw conclusions based on their behavior, the things we’ve listened for, and responses to our questions.


Coles unpacks the lessons he was to learn about knowing and understanding his troubled patients. One of the simplest, yet most profound lessons, was simply that patients - and I would add students at school - want to tell their stories. The question for this post to parents and teachers is do we often we fail to truly listen, and instead begin to ask questions about the things WE want to know, not what they are trying to share.


With the mentorship of good teacher and senior colleague, Coles realized his patients were telling him the stories they thought he wanted to hear, and refraining from those things that mattered most to them. They at times did try to share their stories, but more often than not, he failed to listen to many of these things. Instead, he pursued his own narrow questions and they would stop sharing the things that mattered most to them. These became the 'hidden' things of their lives. If we reflect on this in relation to our students, what might these things be? Often, they are their special challenges, hidden pain, life frustrations, hidden hopes and fears. As teachers, I suspect we often miss the stories that offer an insight into who our students really are.




As I read Coles' work, I could see special significance for teachers who try to understand their students. I suspect our school students often carry around stories to which we barely listen. If they do attempt to share them in the 'cracks' of school life, they tend to interrupt the flow of our plans for the day and we fail to listen. Most students arrive at school full of life and keen to tell others the stories that matter to them; stories about the things that matter to them. But do we listen? If we don’t, we lose so much. In the comments they make, and the stories they might share, we would gain a richer insight into the things that matter most to them, not to mention their fears and hopes.


In my book ‘Pedagogy and Education for Life’ I say much about story, but Coles’ work has reminded me that we need to amplify the importance of storytelling in our classrooms even more. Children are born to be story tellers. If given opportunities they will share stories in class, walking into school in lines, at group tables with other students, at sport, while waiting in assemblies, or simply waiting at the school gate to go home. Some teachers might see the buzz of such conversations and stories as unimportant chatter. But if only we would listen I suspect sometimes we might just hear children speaking of the fears, phobias, hopes and aspirations that impact on their lives.



Robert Coles was taught by his mentor Dr Ludwig something critical about not missing opportunities to listen well as a psychiatrist.


The people who come to see us bring their stories. They hope they tell them well enough so that we understand the truth of their lives. They hope we know how to interpret their stories correctly.


While we might be teachers, not psychiatrists, I wonder how often we miss such stories and opportunities? Whether our students' comments and stories are happy, sad, important or just great memories, do we give them opportunities to share them? And if they do, do we actually listen?


I share a number of stories in my book about teaching moments when I have gained great insights into my students in the cracks of classroom and school life. One of them concerns a ‘non-talker’ I met in a Kindergarten classroom where I was teaching part-time in a NSW country school.


As a researcher, I visited classrooms regularly in the town to explore using writing as a means to encourage young writers to express themselves. I would visit the same Kindergarten classroom each week and run an immersive writing workshop. I started in the first visit by handing out blank books and asked them to: “tell me a story in the writing books.” This might seem ridiculous to the average Kindergarten teacher, but it caused no problems for the children, for if you asked many why they go to school they might just say "to read and write". I stressed that they were to choose anything that was important or special to them. No-one refused to participate.


One little girl finished her work and shared her story with me. She simply left her seat and came to me quite excited and keen to read what she had written, much of it was invented spelling. She read her work with great enthusiasm and pride. When the School Principal dropped in on this particular morning (no doubt to check on the visiting researcher), I asked the little girl to share the story with her. She did so and returned to her desk. The Principal was aghast and when she spoke to me later, she shared that the little girl “didn’t speak”, and had said nothing to her teacher in the first 8 weeks of school. In fact, she had been tagged to join a “non-speakers” group so they could monitor her progress.

In my pedagogy book I share a number of stories, that give some insight into the surprises we often receive as teachers when we observe our students closely and listen to them. One story is of an experience I had with an African American student I taught in an Indianapolis Elementary school in the 1980s while a visiting Professor at Indiana University. Chanda (a year 5 student) was not my most cooperative student. She rarely completed tasks, and often didn’t even start. One morning as she dropped her bag on the desk, the contents fell out, including a bundle of paper with writing on the many sheets. I asked her what she was writing? To which she replied:


“Nothing, sir.”


I gently prodded a little more and said, "what are you writing about". She responded, "not much Sir". I had the good sense to say, “I’d love to see your writing”. She reluctantly pushed a sheet across the table and said, “It’s just music, sir, just bin writin music. 


I began to read her quite poetic and rhythmical writing, and discovered that there was a dozen or more examples like the first that I picked up. Yes, it was music! Some wonderful music (and poetry) that offered a window into her challenging life in a 'Trailer Court'. Chanda went on to share that she had been writing music at home for some time and it was one of her passions.


I could go on to share many other stories of students who would wander into my classroom in the morning before classes for a chat. I always tried to listen, and if I did, they often shared many things. Some seemingly banal, others profound, some disturbing, but all offering insights into aspects of their lives and a sense of who they were as people.



One of Robert Coles’ great insights while working with adult traumatized psychiatric patients, was that all people deep down are story tellers and want to tell their stories to someone who will listen. Sadly, he found that if people do share something of our lives, but they sense others aren't interested, then they stop and withdraw into telling us what they think we wish to hear.                                                            

As an elementary school teacher and later as a university lecturer, I found that our students do want to share some of their life story if they have a relationship of trust with you. Their sharing of personal stories often happens within the classroom in the ‘cracks’ of the school day. But it also happens as we walk in lines to school sport, as they unpacked their bags at the start of the school day, or as they prepare to go home. I always loved playground duty as a young teacher (I know, teachers will think I'm mad), because this was another less formal place where children would come up and talk about the things important to them.

Assisting the formation of our students as people who will take their place in the world is a foundational part of education. To have any right or opportunity as a teacher to do this, we must create contexts where our students are willing to tell their stories. And when they do, we must listen carefully so that we might just come to a deeper understanding of who they really are, and what their hopes for the future might just be.


Monday, November 29, 2021

25 Children's Books to Share at Christmas

I often do a post in Nov-Dec about books that are appropriate to share at Christmas. In this post, I feature 25 books that are varied and suitable for different ages. They include books that share the traditional Christmas story (Section 1), others that are based on elements of the Christmas story or themes from biblical teaching on Jesus' life (Section 2) and a few others that are just about Christmas as a secular season of giving (Section 3). The books focus on love, devotion, kindness, forgiveness and sacrifice. The following are examples that you might enjoy with your children. Most can be used with children aged 4-12 years.

At the heart of the Christmas story is the birth of Jesus, which Christians celebrate on the 25th December. While for many, the celebration of Christmas has become disconnected from its traditional purpose of remembering and celebrating Jesus' birth some 2,000 years ago, it is told and retold in varied forms each year at this time.

1. Books based closely on the biblical story of Jesus birth

'The Christmas Promise' by Alison Mitchell and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

This wonderful retelling of the Christmas story is brought to us by the highly successful team that also brought us a whole series of children's stories based on the Bible. It tells of how God kept His promise to send a new King.

A long, long time ago so long that it's hard to imagine God promised a new King. He wasn't any ordinary king, like the ones we see on TV or in books. He would be different. He would be a new King; a rescuing King; a forever King! 

I love the books in this series titled "Tell the Truth". Like all of the books in the series, it tells the Christmas story in a simple way that children can grasp, while remaining true to the Bible's narrative. The book will help preschool children discover how the Bible explains how God kept His Christmas Promise.

The wonderful illustrations by Catalina Echeverri are also faithful and consistent with the Bible-centered story-telling of Alison Mitchell. Together, they make this a book that both parents and children will love.

 'The Christmas Rose' by Wendy Blaxland & illustrated by Lucy Hennessy

This is a beautifully told story that traces elements of the story of the birth of Jesus.

The fields near Bethlehem are filled with great joy when angels appear telling of the birth of a very special baby. Madelon’s uncle, his men, and the magnificent kings riding on camels all have gifts for the Saviour. But Madelon has nothing. What could she possibly give him? This version of the Christmas story uses the efforts of a small child to follow others to see the Christ Child. A beautiful illustration of those who would spend great effort to come and adore Him.

The rich and evocative oil paintings by fine artist Lucy Hennessy are stunning and in their muted softness leaves the reader to imagine the scene in all of its mystery and richness. 

The Baby Who Changed the World by Sheryl Ann Crawford, Sonya Wilson (Illustrator). In this imaginative retelling of the Christmas story, the animals get together and discuss the approaching arrival of a new baby that some say will grow up to be a strong and powerful King. When Mary and Joseph enter the picture and the events of the true Christmas story unfold!

The Christmas Story: According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke from the King James Version by Gennadii Spirin (Illustrator). This telling of the Christmas story begins with Mary's meeting with the angel Gabriel then proceeds to the birth of baby Jesus in a stable, the visit of the shepherds and the three wise men. Spirin's Orthodox Christian faith is reflected in the wonderful art that makes this a special retelling of the story of Jesus (although not all will find the images match their idea of what Jesus might have looked like).

Mary's Christmas Story, by Olive Teresa. There are a number of different retellings of the Christmas Story available in the Arch Books series. Most are told from the perspective of different witnesses to the birth of Jesus or draw more heavily on one of more of the gospel accounts. This one retells the Christmas story from Mary's point of view based on Luke 1:5-2:18.

 'The Nativity' by Julie Vivas

The Nativity is a wonderful book. The story is close to the Bible narrative and the illustrations as you'd expect from Julie Vivas are superb. It's a story that centres on faith, love and a miracle! The illustrations are a delightful representation of this special event that is at the centre of Christmas traditions and faith. What Julie Vivas does so well, is she reveals the human side of the story. While Mary was to give birth to the Son of God in human form, she was like any woman expecting a child. Vivas captures the sense of Mary's common humanity. So too, the impact on others as the Angel Gabriel delivers the big news. 

There is a whimsical style to the portrayal which while not evident in the biblical story, children will find fun without losing the sense of this special story.  Mary makes her exhausting journey with Joseph to Bethlehem, and finally delivers of the baby Jesus, who is the Son of God! The image of Mary, Joseph & the baby Jesus in the stable on the hay with the hens, captures the sense of humanity of Jesus who was indeed that, but also much more.

 2. Books that use the Christmas theme to offer moral lessons

This category of books is quite large. They typically use the Christmas celebration or season as the setting for a human story that teaches something about one or more fine human qualities that are consistent with Christian teaching; for example, love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and sacrifice.

The Christmas Eve Ghost, by Shirley Hughes (2010)

'The Christmas Eve Ghost' is written and illustrated by one of my favourite English author/illustrators, Shirley Hughes. It is a classic example of books in this category. It doesn't really mention the Christmas story at all but uses Christmas as one of its themes to highlight kindness against the background of sectarian differences between Catholic and Protestant residents of Liverpool in the 1930s (the place and time of her childhood). Without saying it, Hughes offers the message that Christmas is a time when people should connect with one another in love, kindness and service.

The book tells the story of a mother and her two children, living in poverty. The mother cares for the children and earns just enough to survive by washing other people's clothing. On Christmas Eve 'Mam' has to leave the children in bed while she goes off to deliver a batch of washing. The children awake to strange noises (as it turns out they are 'natural' noises) and flee the house in fear straight into the arms of Mrs O'Riley from next door, a person their mother doesn't speak to for reasons not clear until the end. It's a wonderful book with a touching resolution. As the son of Scottish/Irish immigrants the story resonates well with my story.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (2008). This book probably deserves to be in a category of its own. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is taught the true meaning of Christmas by a series of ghostly visitors. This is essentially a fable that stresses that Christmas should be a time of goodwill towards mankind. There have been many versions printed of this classic story first published in 1843 with wonderful illustrations by John Leech. Published in 2008 this new edition has to be one of the best illustrated versions that I've seen, which isn't surprising as Robert Ingpen is one of the finest illustrators we have seen in the last 50 years. The edition also contains Dickens story Christmas Tree that offers an insight into a Victorian Christmas of the 1850s.

Used by permission of Walker Books

How the Grinch stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. This is one of my favourites within this category. The Grinch lives on top of a mountain that overlooks Whoville. As he watches the villagers getting ready to celebrate Christmas he comes up with a plot to stop them. But instead of stealing Christmas he learns that Christmas means much more than the trappings such as gifts, decorations and food. I used to read this to my children at Christmas time and in time they read it to their children as part of their Christmas traditions (my daughter did a post on this here). You can also watch the video version of this story that has been popular with children for over 50 years (here).

Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This story focuses on Jonathan Toomey who is the best woodcarver in the valley. But he bears a secret sorrow, and never smiles or laughs. When the widow McDowell and her son ask him to carve a creche in time for Christmas, their quiet request leads to a joyful miracle, as they heal the woodcarver's heart and restore his faith.

Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. This wonderful story tells of the quest of a wombat to find the perfect part to play in the annual Nativity play. He tries out every part without success until he finds one that he carries off with distinction.

The Nativity Play, by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. This is the story of a group of children who put on their own nativity play. There is a much creativity that is needed to get the show on the road.

3. Stories based on Christmas traditions

For those who are more interested in Christmas traditions than the traditional Christmas story, there are masses of books that take the Christmas theme in all sorts of directions (some quite strange). However, there are some that have literary merit and are enjoyable stories to read at Christmas and that suit the needs of families that are from non-Christian traditions. Some of the better examples follow.

Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida

This wonderful Christmas tale from Mexico was written in 1959 and won Marie Hall Ets the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1960. It is the story of 5 year-old Ceci, who ready for her first Posada. This is a fourteen day festival (ending on Christmas Eve) in which entire towns participate. There are great things to eat, music, ritual and traditional dress to wear. But for Ceci, she is most excited that she will have her own piƱata to fill with special things that all the village children can share. As well as being about Christmas, this is a wonderful insight into Mexican culture. Marie Hal Ets collaborator was Aurora Labastida who grew up in Mexico and this is her story and her memories of Christmas.

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Baillie Tolkien)

This book is a collection of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children over a period of 23 years. Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful coloured drawing or painting. The letters were from Father Christmas.

Tolkien shares wonderful tales of life at the North Pole. A reindeer gets loose and scatters presents all over the place, an accident-prone North Polar Bear climbs the North Pole and falls through the roof, Santa accidentally breaks the moon into four pieces and the Man (in the moon!) falls into the back garden and many more. This is Tolkien at his creative best, but what's special is that they are personal communications between him and his children. His last letter is a beautiful farewell from Father Christmas with an underlying message of hope and continuity. If you love Tolkien you will like this collection. It's available in an enhanced eBook format as well, which has a number of other features (see video below). These include audio recordings of many of the letters read by Sir Derek Jacobi and the ability to expand each of the images of the original letters and envelopes
(some never published before).

The Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Robert Ingpen (2010). This is a wonderful new release from Walker Books. Just the mention of Robert Ingpen's name will get me excited, because surely he is one of Australia's greatest illustrators. This is the best illustrated version of the classic Clement Moore poem that I know of. Moore wrote the poem for his children and first read it to them on Christmas Eve 1822.  A friend sent it anonymously to a New York newspaper in 1823 and once published it quickly became well known. Only in 1844 did Moore claim authorship. Many attribute much of our contemporary portrayal of Santa Claus to this poem. Who can forget the start?

'Twas the night before Christmas
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
not even a mouse...

Ingpen's depiction of Santa as a mischievous and happy old man sits well with the traditional myth. His usual immaculate line drawings are in evidence, but this time they are softened by a gentle wash that gives an ethereal feel to the drawings. The 'soft' lines also sit well with the traditional northern white Christmas.

Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star, by Petr Horacek (2010).  This is another new release from Walker Books. It is a perfect book for preschoolers or young children up to 6 or 7 years. Suzy and her farmyard friends are gathered on Christmas Eve around their Christmas tree and she notices that something is missing - a star on top of the tree! She cries to her friends, "It needs a star on top....Just like the one in the sky. I'll get it." So she sets off to 'get it' with some amusing episodes along the way before the surprising solution. Young kids will love this book. It is well written and beautifully illustrated by Petr Horacek. Again, it barely mentions Christmas, but parents and teachers could speak more about Christmas using this story as the springboard.

Finding Christmas, by Helen Ward. This slightly mystical book was voted in the top 10 Christmas books in 2004. It tells the story of a little girl in a bright red coat and bright green boots who wanders at dusk from shop to shop looking for “the perfect present to give to someone special.” Things look hopeless until she is drawn to the bright window of a toy shop filled with colourful toys.

All I want for Christmas by Deborah Zemke. What does a skunk want for Christmas? French perfume! What does a spider want? A spinning wheel! Deborah Zemke's wonderful art and great sense of humour makes this a hit. I wonder what they will want?
This delightful book is from the  wonderful team of writer Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whateley. It′s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully. Can Emily Emu and her friends possibly make the Bunyip smile this Christmas? All the animals are in a good mood except the Bunyip. He proclaims, ′I′m mad and I′m mean! Bunyips don′t like Christmas!

 Twinkle, Twinkle Christmas Star by Christine Harder Tangvald.

This delightful story is based on the familiar children's rhyme but re-words it to parallel the Christmas story.

'Bear Stays Up' by Karma Wilson & illustrated by Jane Chapman (McElderry Book)

This poor bear has never seen a Christmas because he hibernates each year. This year, his forest friends vow to wake him up and keep him up for their Christmas celebration. This is a delightful story told in rhyme. Bear's friends give him a wonderful Christmas. They decorate his den, find a Christmas tree, make some decorations and sing Christmas carols. Does Bear stay up?
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Henry Cole (Illustrator). This one is simply a lot of fun.

The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman & E. T. A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Renee Graef. A version of the classic tale.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. A magical train ride on Christmas Eve takes a boy to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa Claus. This book won the 1986 Caldecott Medal and of course has been made into a movie.
It's Christmas Eve and Bluey, Bingo and Muffin decide to play a game called Verandah Santa! What will Santa bring them? A gorgeous hardback book for kids of all ages.

Bluey has been a phenomenal success since airing on ABC KIDS in October 2018, amassing legions of dedicated fans and hugely popular ranges of books, toys, clothes, games and more. It holds the coveted position of being the most watched program ever on ABC iView, with over 260 million plays for Series One, and is the winner of an International Emmy for Most Outstanding Children’s Programme.

About Bluey - Bluey is a six-year-old blue heeler pup who loves to play. Along with her friends and family, he enjoys exploring the world and using her imagination to turn everyday life into an amazing adventure. This is an Australian children’s television program by the Emmy® award-winning Ludo Studio for ABC KIDS and is co-commissioned by ABC Children’s and BBC Studios.
Summing Up

There are endless books that have written about Christmas. When choosing a suitable book to read to your children try to find one that is faithful to the Christmas story and which is appropriate for your children's age. Even those books that mention only tangentially the real Christmas story can be a good springboard for the discussion of the central meaning of Christmas. 

Parents or teachers who want to share the traditional Christmas story can use one of the many wonderful children's Bibles available for children of varying ages in modern translations. For example, Lion Hudson has published a variety of versions that paraphrase the Bible accurately and with illustrations that children will find meaningful and enjoyable (more information here). You can also use an adult Bible with primary aged children and can simply read the appropriate section from the gospels of Matthew (here) or Luke (here).

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Helping children to access and use stories to understand and represent their world

I was asked recently to send one of my followers a conference paper on literacy that I presented in 1986! While looking for that paper it led me to sort through many of my older publications from the 1980s and 1990s. I stumbled across one piece I’d written for an international journal in 1990 on “Intertextuality”. This was a buzz word in the 1980s and early 1990s. My interest in the topic arose as part of classroom-based research I had done with children aged 5-12 years. The work was published in a number of journals. As I read the old article, I was pleased that I still agreed with it!


One of the papers was from research titled ‘Intertextuality: Infectious echoes from the past’. It was published in ‘The Reading Teacher’ (March, 1990). I opened the article with a quote from J.R. Tolkien, who had claimed there are no new stories, only a “cauldron of stories” into which we dip as we write. Of course, Tolkien wasn’t the first person to observe that writing always occurs against a backdrop of our prior literary experiences. And there will always be a level of reciprocity between reading and writing. In fact, the reading of one text will always prime and connect with the memory of other stories. So too, writing can be inspired by books (or other media).


Margaret Mahy (1936-2012), the great New Zealand author of children’s books and a dear colleague to many of us writing about literacy, expressed this point well when reflecting on her childhood experiences that helped to shape her:


“I wrote because I was a reader, and wanted to relive certain experiences more intimately by bringing them back out of myself”. (Margaret Mahy)


She suggested that stories “infected her” and she engaged in dialogue with them in a type of “reciprocating discussion”. Books offered her (and us) a “cauldron of stories” from which to draw inspiration, and even ideas.


When I suggested this in conversation with a very well-known Australian author she was indignant, feeling that I was suggesting writers plagiarise from other writers. But of course, this was not what I meant. Our ideas are formed as original ideas against a backdrop of others stories. This in essence is what “intertextuality” means, it is the interconnection between texts written and read. Such connections might affirm ideas, offer us new insights, or help us to grasp the depth of meaning of something in those “aha” moments, when another text challenges, inspires, or perhaps even creates dissension.  


The details of my work and the many scholars who inspired my research on Intertextuality can be found in my original articles. The many scholars included colleagues like Professor Jerry Harste (Indiana University), Margaret Meek, Umberto Eco and many more. Those who are more interested should source my original article and others on the topic. But for parents and teachers there are a few basic points worth stressing here:


1.   From birth, fill your children’s lives with expository, descriptive (including poetry, journals/diaries, novels, & plays) and persuasive texts (e.g. letters, advertisements etc).

2.   Parents, read to your children from birth. And teachers, always make time to share literature in the elementary years of schooling.

3.   Preschool, primary and Secondary teachers, never lose your own passion for literature, so that you might ‘infect’ your students with this same passion.

4.   Help children to celebrate each other’s writing, and acknowledge the inspiration for their writing and ideas.

5.   Encourage experimentation with writing, in form, at the ideas level and in purpose.

6.   Classroom teachers and parents, try to create an environment where stories are shared, talked about and celebrated.

7.   Make sure you use the school, and local library if you have one nearby, to consider books and borrow them.


Never forget that one of the most significant things we can do for our children is to provide access to a “cauldron of stories” into which we they can ‘dip’ as they grow as writers and readers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Review of Children's Book Council of Australia Awards 2021


It's always a joy to review the Australian Children's Book Council Awards each year. This year my review is a little later than usual, but 2021 has been quite a year. In this post I review the winners and honour books for the following categories 'Younger Readers' (7-12 years of age), 'Early Childhood', 'Picture Book of the Year', and the 'Eve Pownall Award' (Factual material children 0-18 years).

1.     1. Younger readers (7-12 years)

Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers from the middle to upper primary years. 7-12 years.



Aster’s Good, Right Things', by Kate Gordon, Riveted Press 

Aster attends a school for gifted kids, but she doesn't think she's special at all. If she was, her mother wouldn't have left. And if she isn’t careful, everyone else will leave her too. Each day Aster must do a good, right thing – a challenge she sets herself, to make someone else’s life better. Nobody can know about her ‘things’, because then they won’t count. And if she doesn’t do them, she knows everything will go wrong. Then she meets Xavier. He wears princess pajamas and has his own kind of special missions to make life better. When they do these missions together, Aster feels free…but if she stops doing her good, right things will everything fall apart?


This multi-layered novel for 10-13 year olds addresses the all too common issue of family breakups and its impact on children. As children deal with this friendships can make a difference. Aster isn't the type of child who everyone is drawn towards. She's anxious and lives each day with rituals. Her Dad and an Aunt understand her and her anxiety, insecurity and fears. School is a great struggle, and is made much worse by Indigo, an angry girl who has her own inner struggles that trigger anger, hatred and frustration, which she projects onto the hapless Aster.


Aster tries to deal with her challenges by doing a good, and right thing each day. She sets herself these challenges to make someone else’s life better. But she does them secretly, because she figures that if they know about her ‘things’, then they won’t count.  This is a complex novel for younger readers (aged 10-12) which any teacher or parent should read before giving it to a ten year old.

Kate Gordon grew up in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Previous titles include ‘The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn(UQP, in 2020), ‘The Juno Jones, Word Ninja’ series (Yellow Brick Books), Rhiza Edge, ‘Three Things About Daisy Blue’ (Allen & Unwin) and ‘Writing Clementine’ with Allen and Unwin.



1. ‘The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst’ by Jaclyn Moriarty (illus. by Kelly Canby), Allen & Unwin

Long ago, the little Prince of Cloudburst was stolen from the seashore by a Water Sprite. Now, ten years later, the prince has found his way home. The King and Queen are planning the biggest party in their Kingdom's history to welcome him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Kingdoms and Empires, Esther Mettlestone-Staranise is looking forward to another year at Katherine Valley Boarding School. But she arrives to find a number of strange and unsettling changes...

Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of a number of excellent novels for children, young adults and adults. These have included the international bestsellers 'Feeling Sorry for Celia' and 'Finding Cassie Crazy', as well as the 'Colours of Madeleine' trilogy. 


2. ‘Worse Things’, by Sally Murphy (illus. by Sarah Davis), Walker Books Australia

By Sally Murphy
Illustrated by Sarah Davis

This is a story of connections (and disconnections). 

When you’re part of the team, the sideline is a place of refuge, of rest, of reprieve. 

But when you’re out of the team, the sideline changes.

Suddenly it’s the loneliest place of them all.

Worse Things is a story about connections. How they are made, and what happens when they are lost or just plain illusive. Most children will experience these emotions from a very young age for a variety of reasons. 

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all. As well as being a great author Sally Murphy is a university academic who "teaches teachers how to teach". 

Sally Murphy grew up loving books, babies and beaches, and nothing much has changed. Now she is grown up (though she tries hard not to be), she thinks a perfect day is one which involves reading, writing, walking or swimming at the beach, time with her six (also grown up) children, her grandchildren, and long-suffering husband. When she isn’t doing these things, Sally is a university academic, teaching teachers how to teach.

Sarah Davis is a multiple award-winning illustrator, and associate art director for Walker Books Australia. You'll see her work in many well-known books like the popular 'Violet Mackerell' series from Walker Books. She won the CBCA Crichton Illustration Award for her first picture book, Mending Lucille, in 2009, and since then has gone on to illustrate more than 40 titles, in a range of styles and genres.

2. Book of the Year: Early Childhood


Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-6 years.



‘No! Never!’ by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman (illus. by Mel Pearce), Hachette Australia. 

This is such an easy book to love! Co-written by the legendary Libby Hathorn and Lisa Hathorn-Jarmon, it is a story that every parent will understand immediately, and I guess, every child (from a different perspective of course)! Every parent will remember how quickly children can stamp their feet and perhaps show the flat palm and shout "No never" or words to that effect. It is bound to get attention, but it's also an opportunity for parents to learn how to deal with it, and for children to learn just when these words are appropriate, and when they might not help one's cause.


Honour Books


1. ‘Anemone is not the Enemy’ by Anna McGregor, Scribble Kids

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

All Anemone wants is a friend, but friends are hard to make when you accidentally sting everyone who comes near you.

Perhaps Clownfish has a solution to the problem ...

This delightful picture book might look like another amusing picture book with minimal text, but it is a quirky and funny book that teaches us about the wonder of rock-pool life. Any child who can recall the first time they looked into a rock pool how wondrous it was. And for those children who haven't, they might just pester their parents to take them to the seashore to explore one.

The colourful and digitally produced illustrations and simple text will delight all young readers.





2. ‘We Love You, Magoo', by Briony Stewart, Penguin Random House Australia

Magoo is a dog who has his very own ideas about a dog's life. What he can and should do in the kitchen, the car, dinnertime and bedtime! But there are so many annoying rules! Why are there Sooo many things a dog can't do? This is a book especially for Magoo (and those who love dogs like Magoo). 

This is a wonderful read-aloud picture book that will be read many times. Perhaps we'll recognise some of the Magoo in our own dogs?

The author and illustrator Briony Stewart is known internationally as an author and illustrator, including several award-winning books for children. Briony completed a double degree in Fine Art and Creative Writing at Curtin University. After graduating she won a Queensland based writing prize. The story soon became her first published book, Kumiko and the Dragon, which won the Aurealis award for Children’s short fiction in 2008.

In 2012, Briony completed a nine-month creative development fellowship in the UK after being selected by the British Council as one of five young Australian artists excelling in their creative field. Since then, Briony has published numerous successful titles. Most notably, her book Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers won the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize for Children's Fiction.












3. Picture Book of the Year




'How to Make a Bird' written by Meg McKinlay & Illustrated by Matt Ottley

When you have Matt Ottley and Meg McKinlay working together you should expect great things to result, and 'How to Make a Bird' does NOT disappoint. What a stunning book! How on earth can you take the idea of a child making a bird, and then turn it into a moving and uplifting tale of beauty and wonder at creatures in our world? First you need a writer who can craft words with minimalism and power, and second you need an artist who can turn words into images that create a work that is greater than the sum of its two parts. That's what we have in this extraordinary work. One of the most stunning picture books that I've seen for quite some time. 

We shadow the protagonist as she contemplates the blue print of an idea, collects the things that inspire from the natural world to shape a bird. And breathes life into it before letting it fly free. It shows how small things, combined with a little imagination and a steady heart, can transform into works of magic.

The story commences “To make a bird you will need a lot of very tiny bones …” But only when you have cast your bird into the air and you have watched it "stretch out just a little and ... tremble as it fills, inside its tiny, racing heart, with the dreams only a bird can dream of open sky and soaring flight" will you know that you have actually created a bird.

Children will return again and again to this wonderful book.

 Suitable for readers 5 to 100 years!

Honour Books

1. 'Not Cute', Philip Bunting, Scholastic Australia

'Not Cute' from author and illustrator, Philip Bunting is a worthy Honour Book in the CBCA awards for 2021. The illustrations are delightful with a Quokka (as you'd expect from the title) is, well, very cute! As much as tries to convince others that he is actually VERY dangerous, Dingo, Redback, and Crocodile are not buying it!

Once there was a quokka.
Quokka was very cute.
But Quokka did not like being cute.
Not one bit …

Not Cute is a simple story about self-acceptance, listening to others, and not succumbing to your own delusions. This is a story about being yourself. The end pages include a quote from fable teller Aesop, “The stubborn listen to nobody’s advice and become a victim of their own delusions”. A great story that will help children to understand that they need to beware of the unintended consequences of their actions. Readers from 2-5 years will love this book.

Philip Bunting's previous books, which he both wrote and illustrated include MopokeKoalas Eat Gum Leaves and Kookaburras Love to Laugh

2. 'Your Birthday Was the Best!' Written by Maggie Hutchings & illustrated by Felicita Sala

Hutchings and Sala work in perfect union to introduce the reader to the amusing antics of these cockroach anti-heroes. The result is a series of witty situations which encourages the reader to consider that bugs might revel in all things gross such as hairy cheese and toenails. The minimal and powerful text gives room for the illustrations to carry much of the story.

Maggie Hutchings is a counsellor, family-dispute mediator, writer and artist who spends her weekends covered in paint and scribbling lists that are never completed. In this simple story, a feisty young cockroach gate-crashes a birthday party  – with hilarious results. Funny, silly and surprisingly cute, Your Birthday Was the BEST! is the perfect blend of downright gross and delightfully entertaining.

Felicitas Sala is an incredible illustrator and author who is gaining a big reputation internationally. She is the author/illustrator for the best-selling 'Mermaid!' and 'Unicorn!' Felicitas was born in Rome in 1981. She grew up in Perth, where she graduated in Philosophy from the University of Western Australia. She now lives and works in Italy. She has illustrated many picture books for American, Canadian, Italian and French publishers. Her Book 'She Made a Monster' (written by Lynn Fulton) was selected among the 10 best illustrated books of 2018 by the New York Times.