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

Friday 24 March 2023

Book Chat – Supporting Reading for Pleasure and Book Discussion

Welcome to Anna Davidson, teacher librarian at Hutchins Junior School, as a new contributor to our blog. Book Chats offer students an interesting and enjoyable opportunity to engage with and respond to fiction with their peers.

In 2022, our school introduced Book Chat, a book-club style program that increases student access to a variety of literature. Sets of quality novels from a variety of genres and with a range of accessibility options are curated and book-talked by the teacher librarian. Students self-select one of these novels, with guidance or recommendations by teachers as needed. 

Examples from the range of titles students select

Students commit to reading (or listening to) to the book and taking notes over a four-week period. The teacher librarian and classroom teachers informally monitor student progress and support students to develop positive reading habits and prepare for the discussion.

Book Chat titles can be accessed in a range of formats; some students
choose to use their Libraries Tasmania accounts for personal reading

After finishing the same book, students participate in student-led small group discussions that are supported by an adult. Adult (teachers, parents, carers) involvement helps students engage in discussions at a deeper level.

Book Chat supports students to:

  • Enjoy reading for pleasure
  • Build awareness of personal reading preferences
  • Develop skills to self-select appropriate and enjoyable reading materials
  • Build knowledge of different genres
  • Expand their reading repertoire
  • Establish independent reading habits
  • Use a common language to talk about books
  • Practise speaking and listening skills during informal rich literary discussion

Beyond the individual level, Book Chat:

  • Builds group discussion skills (listening, contributing, building on ideas, asking questions, taking turns, participating in a balanced group conversation, etc)
  • Connects with the library’s ‘Me as a Reader’ curriculum, which fosters development of strong reading identities, that is embedded in the Pre-K to Year 5 library curriculum. 
  • Fosters belonging to a school community of readers (individual reader – class community of readers – year level community of readers - whole school community of readers) 

The Book Chat program supports the school’s commitment to a values-driven education through the identification of examples of the school’s values, courage, kindness, respect and humility, within the Book Chat books. Empathy and compassion are integral values developed through the program as many of the books that are used offer windows into other people’s lives. The emphasis on discussion provides students with structure and guidance as they unpack increasingly complex themes and different perspectives in stories. 

Anna Davidson

Twitter - @davidsonteach

Junior School Teacher Librarian, avid reader (mad for Middle Grade Fiction), dog lover, yogi, nature lover, tea drinker

Sunday 19 March 2023

What’s on the 2023 Notables Picture Book List?

Have you been fine tuning your reading selections to target some of the great titles on the 2023 CBCA Notables list? This week Maureen shares her thoughts on titles in the Picture Book of the Year list.

I wonder….. I’ve never been very good at predicting the judges’ choices for the titles which are put onto the CBCA Short List. Though I often don’t agree with the choices, I am confident that the process has been thorough and the choices are those that the judges for that year have agreed on 

I’m going to focus only on the Picture Book category. I’ve read all but 2 of the titles on the PB Notables list and can no longer wait for the outstanding ones to come from the library. 

For me, the Picture Book list has a large number of books suited to the Early Childhood section. I wonder if this is an indication of what is being published? Are picture books viewed as being only for young readers? Are publishers not producing many picture books for more mature readers?  Or is the number of picture books included on the Notables list an indicator of the leanings of the judging panel? I don’t know the answer, and none of us do.

What have been my favourites? Remember too, there are 2 titles which I haven’t read so I haven’t been able to include or discount them. 

Be Careful Xiao Xin! by Alice Pung & Sher Rill Ng (2022), Working Title Press.

Xiao Xin thinks he is a red fire warrior but his family see the world as a dangerous place. A wonderful presentation of child and adult learning to conquer fear and developing trust. The book is bi-lingual, with visual and linguistic metaphors. Great for all ages.

Crumbs by Phil Cummings & Shane DeVries (2022), Scholastic Press. 

This is a book which shows a homeless man as a generous person and his actions have a strong impact on Ella and her father. The main theme is social inclusiveness. It reads well aloud and has some beautiful language. The illustrations portray the main characters clearly, but the backgrounds reflect the chill of the winter day. 

Dirt by Sea by Michael Wagner & Tom Jellett (20220, Penguin Random House. 

This large format book, with its comic-style illustrations, is a celebration of the Australian coastline, especially for a child raised in the dry red-centre. Daisy thinks our national anthem includes the words “dirt by sea” and Dad sets out to show her the sea and prove Australia is more than the landscape she has known.  Their road trip around the coast focuses on much that is stunning in our varied land. I’m not sure it’s shortlist quality, but I loved it. 

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall (2022), Lothian.

Superficially, this is the story of an old American farmhouse and the family of 12 children who had lived in it, depicting the prosperous as well as the less good times. The illustrations are multi-layered, literally, and figuratively. At the end of the book, the reader sees the house as if it were a doll’s house and ends with the sad news that the building was demolished but that its valuables had been salvage.  One criticism for me is that the text is one long sentence. I would have preferred it to have some breaks to allow the reader to reflect, rather like ‘white space’ in illustrations. 

My Strange Shrinking Parents by Zeno Sworder (2022), Thames and Hudson. 

We all think our parents are strange – at least when we are young, we do. This fable is about parents who, without the money to buy what they think their child should have, barter their height throughout his life, to give him the best they can. A wonderful celebration of the sacrifice made by parents, including immigrants who arrive with nothing. Wonderful illustrations which repay the reader for careful attention to detail. 

The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness by Matt Ottley (2022), Dirt Lane Press. 

This is not merely a book to read, but is accompanied by a 50 minute sound track, composed by the author, which complements the text. It’s the story of a boy whose mental illness gradually takes over his life until the last section when there is hope. Even without the musical support, the story and illustrations are confronting and challenging. Readers need to come to it with kindness to themselves.  For me, this complexity and demanding nature of the content stops it being shortlist material because I think there could be readers who could be damaged by reading it without support. 

When You’re Older by Sophie Laguna & Judy Watson (2022), Allen & Unwin. 

A celebration of the bond between an older brother and his very young sibling, and all the things which are planned for the future. Young readers will empathise with the hopes of the older child. More mature readers, including adults, will appreciate the rich language and reflect on the experiences presented.   

Where? by Jordan Collins & Phil Lesnie (2022), Allen & Unwin.

This book presents a challenge to all readers to accept those around us for who they are, regardless of colour, ethnic background and beliefs and accept that everyone might look different on the outside but are very similar.  It’s based on a heartfelt poem written by the author when a teenager, having grown up in the USA, wanting to be the same as everyone else, but his skin prevented it happening. 

Whisper on the Wind  by Claire Saxby & Jess Racklyeft (2022), Allen & Unwin. 

After a dream, Ren sends a wish across the sea and the cumulative text follows that wish around the world until it is granted. The reader sees the sea in all its moods and imaginings: the ‘real’ world below the surface as well as fantastical creatures and concepts. Young readers will be able to join in to the text once they become familiar with it.

I would have liked to see My Shadow is Purple (by Scott Stuart [2022], Larrikin House) on the Picture list, rather than Early Childhood, as I think it would be powerful for slightly older readers, and there’s many discussion points within it for more mature readers. It has failings – the stereotype of blue for boys and pink for girls – but redeeming features in the recognition that we all have own skills and perspectives.  

What do you hope to see on the Short List when it is published at noon AEDT 28 March 2023?

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor's note: It is hard to pick a favourite from this list! I am still reading, but so far my top two favourite titles are Farmhouse and Be Careful, Xiao Xin! Their accessibility and the many layers of story within the illustrations are particularly strong and resonated strongly in my reading.

Friday 10 March 2023

Middle Grade Books

Finding books to engage keen middle school readers can be a challenge. Nella Pickup provides some tempting titles that challenge young independent readers.

The following 2022 titles are some of the books I hoped would tempt my 10 year old grandson to widen his reading from his preferred re-reading of the entire Brain Jacques Redwall series.

Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe by Ashleigh Barton (2022), UQP

Vampire Solomon Macaroni is friendly, polite and makes a mean tofu bolognese. When his parents go on a one-hundred-year cruise without him, Solomon has to stay in creepy Transylvania with his six cousins, who are the rudest and naughtiest vampires in existence. (Well, apart from Lucy. He likes her.) Solomon must draw on all he knows – about old magic, wet wipes and the importance of a well-timed entrance – to save his catastrophic cousins and possibly the world.

August & Jones
by Pip Harry (2022), Lothian / Hachette Australia

Jones and August meet when Jones moves to Sydney. Jones misses her farm, loves climbing and fears she has cancer in her remaining eye. August prefers to knit or read than to play footy. His parents are fighting. To cheer themselves up, they create their Must-See Bucket List. N.B. August & Jones is a CBCA 2023 Notable book.

The Dangerous Business of Being Trilby Moffat by Kate Temple (2022), Lothian / Hachette Australia

Triby’s Mum succumbs to a strange disease affecting adults – one which makes them bake ancient cakes, speak dead languages and then fall asleep and never wake up. Trilby must find her only other surviving relative, a 300-year-old aunt who lives on the edge of time. Trilby is whisked to a world outside time by an odious official who is trying to kill her. Fast paced, full of quirky humour and told by a very special narrator.   

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill (2022), Piccadilly Press

Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the townsfolk of Stone-in-the Glen to lose their library, their school, their park, and all sense of what it means to be generous, and kind. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever orphans of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town's problems are. When one of the orphans goes missing from the Orphan House, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The orphans, though, know this can't be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen. But how can the orphans tell the story of the Ogress's goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbours see the real villain in their midst? 

Golden Swift by Lev Grossman (2022), Bloomsbury 

Sequel to The Silver Arrow. It's been a year since Kate and Tom became conductors on the Great Intercontinental Railway, delivering animal passengers to their rightful habitats using their very own secret steam train. Until one day a new and mysterious train The Golden Swift almost rams them off the track!  ate catches a glimpse of the conductors. They're children, like them, and they're dropping animals off at all the wrong stations!

Nella Pickup

Retired librarian, reader, member of IBBY Australia Inc, and Children's Book Council of Australia, Tasmanian Branch 

Friday 3 March 2023

A Story Shared

Having just had a birthday and received a book (or two ;-) as part of the celebration, I can relate to Emma’s post this week. The choosing of the book gift says as much about the giver as it does about the recipient - serendipity in action!

Connection comes from strong relationships and shared experiences. And what better shared experience than a story? I’ve been wondering lately about stories and about books, and specifically about what it is about stories that draws in different individuals, in different ways. I’ve written here before about how much I love going to my local bookstore in the lead up to Christmas. It’s my favourite bit about that crazy time of year, the choosing of the books. I get a similar buzz when birthdays are drawing near, choosing the ‘right book’ is something of a ritual. Matching the book to the reader, somehow testing your knowledge of the recipient. It’s something of a challenge - how well do you know their interests, their reading preferences and levels, even their beliefs and values to a degree? It really does help to know your reader well, in order to match them to the perfect story. And when you give that gift of a story, you are sending such a powerful message to the recipient. You’re saying: I know you. I care about you. I’ve thought about you. And, I hope that this story works for you.

Creative Commons Zero - CC0 Source: Hippopx

But what about a shared story experience? Recommending a story that you personally really enjoyed? That’s taking that concept to the next level. Then you’re saying: I know you. I care about you. I’ve thought about you. And…. I trust you with this story. 

George Hodan, Flower and Book @ PublicDomainPictures

I’ve gone through the Christmas and birthday gifting process for years now, painstakingly choosing books for family and friends. Identifying and predicting their respective reading preferences along the way. Carefully considering their different personalities to match to the stories. Probably inadvertently shaping my own children as readers, to a degree. But more recently, as they shift from Young Adult Fiction, into Adult Fiction, I’m considering my own stories with a different lens: would they enjoy this storyline too? Is this an opportunity for a shared experience? Are the themes too adult? Is the content accessible? It seems that as a family, we’ve reached a stage now where some of our preferences are re-aligning after something of a transitionary period! We once again enjoy some of the same stories, be it a novel, an audio book, a podcast, a movie.  Although, judging by the most highly featured genres, on the respective bedside tables (the universal holding zone for books to be read), the opportunities for shared book experiences may be somewhat limited…but I’ll definitely be making the most of the ones that are there!

Happy reading everyone. Because a story enjoyed, is a story worth sharing.

Emma Nuttall

Teacher, Avid Reader and Parent of readers