Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday 27 October 2018

When kids read about a challenging situation

Join Tania this week as she shares experiences when students have been challenged by the content in the books they have been reading and the opportunities for thoughtful conversations that arise. 
I recently had a couple of books bought back to me from students with the comments along the lines of “I don’t think this is suitable for primary school kids to read”. I inquired as to why the readers felt that way and thus began an interesting journey.
The first book concerned Lockie Leonard Human Torpedo by Tim Winton. The student told me it “wasn’t appropriate” but just blushed when I asked for more information. So I took it home for the evening and read it. It has some mildly sexual content which the characters resolved in a mature and respectful way. Talking to the student again, I understood that this was the content that has unsettled her and we discussed her good choice in recognising that fact and stopping reading the book.
The second incident concerned the book Being Bindy by Alyssa Brugman. The student was reading the book as part of a Middle Years literacy program and bought the book to me saying it wasn’t appropriate. Her main objection was that she had read a “bad word”. She showed me the word, on page 12 and it’s certainly not a word used in polite society. Again I was curious as to what exactly the context was so read the novel in my lunchtimes.

One of my library leaders was interested as to why I was reading the book. I explained the circumstances and talked about the bad language and nasty situations presented in the book. Bindy is bullied and ostracised by her best friend Janey and Janey’s new popular friend, Hannah. To make things more problematic for Bindy, her father and Janey’s mother begin a relationship, which forces the girls together and creates opportunities for Janey to do some pretty awful things to Bindy. In one scene Janey and Hannah trick Bindy into going to the movies and present her with a boy, whose she’s supposed to make out with. Classic peer pressure situation, which Bindy resolves really well, keeping her dignity and staying true to herself.

After I’d read the book, the library leader asked to read it. We talked about the issues the book might have for her, including the swearing. She told me there were situations that made her “feel bad in the tummy” but that the way Bindy reacted and resolved them showed her a way to cope with such situations. She agreed that books that make kids feel uncomfortable have value because it’s a safe way to explore situations that are likely to occur in their lives and gives them a demonstration as to how to handle such times.
All of this reminded me of comments made by Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman about books that frighten or challenge kids.  He says that stories are a safe way of exploring difficult situations or challenging events. Readers can then discover hidden strengths or reaffirm and reinforce existing strategies. Gleitzman also notes that these tools are needed more than ever today.
To have a look at Gleitzman's thoughts on Going in to Bat for Stories.
Tania Cooper
Library Technician
Ulverstone Primary School


  1. Thanks Tania for presenting such an interesting perspective on the role of challenging content in books. As you suggest how will students learn to deal with the challenges of growing up in today's world without the insights and wisdom gained from books that demonstrate how characters successfully navigate common situational difficulties.

  2. I miss those opportunities to talk books with students...it happens so rarely at Year 11 and 12, as many students lose their reading for pleasure time, due to heavy workloads and structured reading commitments. I recall a lovely chat with a student about the Dodie Smith book, I capture the castle. A book we both loved, but if you share the story line, it sounds quite dull!