Choices for Book Week

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Every year the Children’s Book Week announces not just a shortlist for Book Week Awards, but a notable books list of titles considered worthy of mention. What makes a book week book? It would be useful to explore the process that goes into this. From time to time, concern is expressed that choices have been inappropriate. Certainly, some of the Young Adult choices have lead to fascinating discussions about what constitutes a Young Adult novel. One that certainly promoted intense debate was Sleeping Dogs by Sonya Hartnett. A novel that has been compared with those of Tennessee Williams or John Steinbeck, it brings a gritty and confronting realism to the treatment of family relations. Well worth a read, but challenging. What other texts have been confronting or raised questions of crossing boundaries. Certainly some of the picture books have engendered a debate about what is a picture book, and who is the audience!

What makes a child want to read

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This is a question, not a solution. What do you think inspires the child that wants to read, and holds back the child that doesn’t? There are so many factors that you can argue contribute to it, and, in theory, I know them all, but what is the reality?

Children model their parents, or can rebel against them. They do what they see around them. Often though, what they see around them devalues reading. When was the last time you picked up a book to read just for relaxation?

We reward our sports people. They get ticker tap parades, and the keys to cities. Did Patrick White get a parade when he won Australia’s only Nobel prize for literature?

Picture books that push the boundaries

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What defines a picture book? This is an issue that had been a source of angst for many years. Does a picture book have to be for emergent readers? Clearly not, as a browse of the Curriculum shelves will indicate. Margaret Wild’s Woolvs in the Sitee, and Let the Celebrations Begin, along with Roberto Innocenti and Ian McEwan’s Rose Blanche challenge the definition of a picture book. They look at complex stories, and open a world which is not purely aimed at the early learner. Likewise, Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park introduces the reader to an entirely different way of reading.

These pictures are often a challenge to those who have not encountered the range and diversity of textual meaning which can be retrieved through a picture book. Increasingly, students in senior English classes are being asked to become involved in the analysis of a picture book, and are often surprised at the depth of meaning to be found through reading the visual.

Wordless picture books

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I’ve started creating a page on wordless picture books on the teacherwiki, and I have just discovered the wonderful world of David Wiesner. This creator of wordless picture books has a fabulously whimsical and quirky imagination that really comes through in his works.

The two titles I read today were “Sector 7” and “Flotsam”- two highly original and imaginative stories. “Sector 7” is about a boy who meets a cloud and gets transported to the mysterious Sector 7- a type of weather factory that “designs” the different types of clouds and designates their destinations in the world to set weather patterns!!! However, the clouds are unhappy with the seemingly repetitive types of clouds that are being manufactured, so they employ the boy to draw new blueprints of fantastical desgins.

It’s an original take on the revolution, similar to the ideas in Geroge Orwell’s “Animal Farm” or from a child’s point of view, “Farmer Duck” by Martin Waddell (which I always refer to as ‘Animal Farm for children’!) Here the revolution takes place to make the world a much more joyous and beautiful place with the newly designed clouds taking to the sky.

We did a bit of a brainstorm about the possible KLA links with “Sector 7” and we came up with a lot of ideas. Cross-curricular links could be made with: Science (formation of clouds, types of cloud, weather), CAPA (architecture of buildings, MC Escher, not to mention drama and dance activities such as machines, hotseating, dance a page) and maths (patterns and algebra, latitutdes and longitudes, time)

Also, I find the reading of wordless picture books fascinating- the cultural “milieu” required to read and understand wordless picture books is an extremely complex process. A reader of wordless picture books must activate their prior knowledge about how narratives work in order to make meaning from it. This has implications for children who are reluctant readers or writers. For the former: I think that all children will be able to read and understand the story of wordless books, because they are activating their knowledge of images and visual grammar. I conjure up images of children poring over the illustrations time and time again, and finding new meaning and new connections each time. For the latter: wordless picture books can be used in the classroom for creative writing- students can write the narrative behind the pictures, or even the speech bubbles in a comic strip style format.

Custard the Dragon and other identities

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Immersing yourself in poetry is such a great way to play with the language, and develop skills in speaking as well. In the workroom we have been playing with the poetry of Ogden Nash, whose “Custard the Dragon” is a particular favourite. It is a great read allowed and gives wonderful opportunities for dress ups and reader’s theatre

Verse novels

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One of the more enjoyable experiences I have had this year has been the discovery of Steven Herrick’s verse novels, capable of painting a visual imagery in the mind while offering a gentle understanding of his characters. This would be a great way to open up the concept of poetry to a reluctant reader.

 If you would like to learn more about Steven Herrick the poet and author, goes to his web page at http://www.acay.com.au/~sherrick/. If you want to read some of his verse novels, they are available in bookstores, and, for those close to Sydney Uni, in the Curriculum Resources Library.