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

Friday 5 July 2024

Neurodivergence in Children’s Literature: To identify, or not to identify a character?

Contemporary children’s fiction increasingly represents neuro diverse characters and this week’s post considers whether this should be identified in the blurb or not.

A recent post in a book chat group complained about book blurbs that fail to identify the neurodivergence of the characters in the story; and it made me ponder what the need or benefit would be to have this information, both for the reader and for the character.

My readings confirmed my thoughts, that the main benefit to the individual of a diagnosis are to create some self-understanding and help explain to themselves why they may respond in certain ways to situations (that this response is normal for them), and enable them to advocate for themselves with authority. Diagnosis can also help others to make workplace and social accommodations to support the neurodiverse person. There may also be a negative to diagnosis, as it may affect the person’s options to move countries or see increases in travel insurance as it will identified as a pre-existing condition.

Small studies have shown that when a reader has high transportation engagement with the fiction, they experience affective sympathy (the ability to share feelings and emotions) and this can transfer to their responses to situations in their environment. Readers can also develop cognitive empathy (the ability to understand events from another’s viewpoint), although this may have little impact on their responses to situations.  

As a reader, I select books based around the storyline, rather than the character. The character development is an adjunct to the story, so to be told too much about the character in the blurb, would detract from the joy of the story. The wonder is in the discovery and development of the person. Whether the character is neurodiverse, culturally diverse, cis gender or not, is all part of the story development. 

So, to answer my own question in the title of this blog: No, I do not believe identification of neurodiversity is required in the blurb.

The Little Bookroom has a good list of neurodivergence stories (though not many current titles are listed); many by authors who have self-identified as neurodivergent creators. Some examples from this list, Children’s Books with Neurodiverse Characters for Kids, Parents, Teachers and Therapists · The Little Bookroom, are included below.

Picture Book: Colour of Music by Lisa Tiffin and Matt Ottley; Midnight Sun Publishing, 2020. 

A story where colour and sound are inseparable in the character’s experience of the world.

Junior Fiction: Polly and Buster series by Sally Rippin; Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017. 

A 2018 CBCA Notable title; the characters have dyslexia and anxiety and a friendship which doesn’t fit the societal norm, for either of them.

Middle Grade Fiction: Paws by Kate Foster;  Walker Books, 2021. 

The main character has autism and needs to use learned skills to approach friendship.

Young Adult: Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley; Allen & Unwin, 2020. 

A CBCA 2021 Shortlist title which covers a full range of neurodivergent topics in a natural, honest and times both humorous and poignant story.

Interesting sites I visited in my research

Noetic Health

Big Think

National Library of Medicine


Felicity Sly 

Felicity is a recently retired Teacher Librarian and a CBCA Tasmania committee member.

Editor's note: For further primary school examples check out Tasmanian author Kate Gordon and her Aster series of books.

Saturday 29 June 2024

Engaging middle school students with recreational reading through Library book clubs

 Engaging students in recreational reading is crucial to build literacy capabilities. This week, Michelle Davies outlines a book club that is based on free choice and student driven discussions to explore personal and group interests.

The initial aim of the book club program was not only to encourage recreational reading, to share reading experiences, and support each other as readers but also to drive library user engagement. It is evident that library usage declines in this age group, especially in the absence of regular library classes.

Each book club is scheduled to run over four weeks, my role during this time is to supervise discussions, manage activities, and deliver “book talks” at each session. The first session focuses on strategies for selecting books to inform book choice. Students then agree on a book to read independently over the following four weeks, with discussions taking place in the final week. Sessions in-between focus on complimentary literacy and library-based activities that intend to foster relationships, and connections and expose students to varying formats and genres. 

Last term students especially enjoyed reading books with an environmental message and making connections with place and community.

Books selected for Term One 2024


This term the focus of student selection highlighted non-fiction titles, and thus became the over-arching concept of the subsequent four weeks. For the book club book, the students chose to read You Don’t Know What War Is by Yeva Skalietska. A diarised account of a 12-year-old Ukrainian girl who, along with her grandmother, suffers the ravages of war due to the invasion of Russia. The story unfolds as they flee their hometown of Kharkiv to seek refuge in Europe and then find safety in Ireland. 

Themes initiated from the shared discussion centred around the effects of war, the impact that has on daily lives, and the eventual displacement of people. 

Students reflected on their connection to the author with regard to their corresponding ages, and the recognition of the development of Yevs’s emotional strength as she faced new challenges each day.

They also liked the structure of the book. The integration of Yeva’s compelling personal narrative with photographs and extracts of text messages between herself and her school friends added authenticity and enhanced understanding.


To align with the non-fiction concept, a student recommended that each reader select and borrow a non-fiction title from the library based on themes chosen by the group. The objective was to read and explore the book during the week, and then share an intriguing fact at the following book club session. 


Themes: World War Two and Economics

During the subsequent session, each student shared their information of interest and was then tasked with creating a statement that would connect the two different themes of World War Two and economics. Their final premise was that the global economy is significantly affected by war due to fuel and food shortages.


Engaging in poetry by using technology

For this session, a variety of poetry books were spread out on the table for the group to discover. Each student selected a title to borrow and returned the following week with a poem that resonated with them. They were encouraged to think about the most important line, what words stood out to them, and how the poem made them think or feel. The students utilised the Book Creator application to make a book snap of their poem and then highlighted their favourite line or stanza, thus creating a personalised image to share with their peers.

As the book clubs have grown, so has the engagement with reading and the development of relationships between students and library staff. In addition, they have provided much more by supporting students as they build their reader identities and allowing them the opportunity to form social connections with their peers, at the same time offering a safe and inclusive space to experiment with alternate ideas, thinking in their discussions, and develop their autonomy.

Michelle Davies

The Hutchins School

Friday 14 June 2024

Emotional Intelligence

This week Maureen Mann casts an alternative lens over a selection of CBCA Shortlisted titles to consider those that could spark conversations around empathy and resilience because of the emotional intelligence displayed in the characters. You are invited to add your own examples to this list.

The 2024 CBCA Shortlist contains books with a wealth of themes which can be explored in the classroom or at home. There are the regular themes of family relationships, friendship, historical settings, mental health issues and many others. I’d like to focus on Emotional Intelligence which I’ll define as the ability to empathise with others’ feelings, viewpoints, cultural backgrounds and diversity to develop resilience and coping skills. The ideal is that through experiencing Emotional Intelligence in story format that readers can then discuss and learn, at an appropriate level, from their reading.

Here are a few of my favourites from the 2024 Short List which I think will be excellent books to use with different age groups to focus on this concept.

Grace Notes by Karen Comer.  

Set during Victoria’s early lockdowns, Grace sets out to help her grandmother, now in a nursing home, cope with the absence of her husband, absence of music and contact with the outside world. Crux learns to understand others’ points of views through his interaction with other street artists. Positive family dynamics are very well portrayed, while allowing the reader to understand the everyday frictions.

Inkflower by Suzi Zail

This story has two timelines: the 1980s and the Holocaust years. The latter sections are harrowing, possibly making readers question their veracity over the hardships and cruelty but by using discussion readers should becoming more empathetic people. Lisa’s story in the 1980s shows her emotional adjustment to the earlier conditions as she learns more and more, and how to cope with the grief of her father’s encroaching illness. 

Scout and the Rescue Dogs by Dianne Wolfer and Tony Flowers.

Scout as a character is almost too good to be true as she responds to the plight of homeless dogs, of animals injured in the wildfires across Victoria and NSW, and her developing friendship from a school assignment. But Scout such an empathetic character and her actions centre on her emotional maturity, her generosity and her wonderful relationship with her truckie father. 

Being Jimmy Baxter by Fiona Lloyd

Jimmy is a carer and old beyond his years, while also being naïve. The reader has to come to terms with these variables to develop an understanding of his view of the world, and eventually realise that not everyone has the same opportunities or setbacks.

Grace and Mr Milligan by Caz Goodwin

Grace forms a strong friendship with her neighbour Mr Milligan as well as his pet goat Charlie and the three of them do everything together. When Charlie dies from old age, Mr Milligan in particular loses the will to live and Grace slowly encourages him to return to his old self. There are lots of discussion points which will help early childhood readers understand the sadness as well as the importance of friendship.

Bear and Duck are Friends by Sue deGennaro

Bear is scared of everything and Duck has to help him overcome his fears. It’s the small creature helping the bigger one until they both realise that, in fact, they are helping each other achieve their goals. Lots of discussion for early childhood readers on bullying and stereotypes and meeting new challenges. 

That Bird has Arms by Kate Temple & Jol Temple and Ronojoy Ghosh & Niharika Hukku.  

Roy is a bird who has arms but has to hide them from all the other birds because that’s an unheard-of condition. The other birds mock the basic concept, but all have to accept the differences when Roy demonstrates so clearly and uniquely that he can solve a problem. For the picture book reader, regardless of age, this understanding of diversity as well as the establishment of individual identity is a strength.

Every Night at Midnight by Peter Cheong

This is another book exploring identity and acceptance. Felix struggles to make and keep friends because he can’t join in normal activities: every night he turns into a wolf and fears being ostracised by his human buddies. On first reading, its suited to younger readers but older picture book readers will bring many more emotional experiences and maturity to all the events in this book. 

Do you agree with my selections? Which other 2024 short list titles would you like to add to this list of books exploring emotional intelligence? 


Maureen Mann

Retired teacher librarian and avid reader.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Will it be a good series or…?

With her finger on the pulse of what’s popular in children’s fiction our guest author from The Hobart Bookshop, Bronwyn Chalke, shares some popular series fiction for independent readers from primary through to secondary years. Find out what’s just hit the shelves or is soon to be released and pick up the next books in your favourite series.

Crafting a captivating children’s book series is akin to striking gold, though not every series achieves the legendary status of Harry Potter. Our yardstick for evaluating the right book often hinges on the resonance of past blockbusters; discerning whether a child leans towards Percy Jackson's adventures or prefers the allure of Wolf Girl can swiftly guide us.

Yet, for seasoned readers seeking fresh literary voyages, the quest becomes more nuanced. Hence, we've curated a collection of ongoing series, brimming with promise, conceived by authors who continue to pen new chapters, ensuring a treasure trove of tales awaits.

For younger chapter book readers, The Travelling Bookshop series by Katrina Nannestad is now up to Book 5, Mim and the Vicious Vendetta. This is a sweet series that roams through the world, including destinations like the Cotswolds, Venice and the Greek Islands, helping to broaden the minds of young readers while staying within the borders of the real world – particularly suitable for children who are not enamoured with fantasy and magic style books.

The series by Karen Foxlee, Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters, is now up to Book 3, with The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast. This series is within the ‘fantastic beasts’ genre but is not designed to be scary and is again suitable for the younger end of the chapter-book reading audience. Whilst it includes mythical beasts, it is again set in our real world, which can be preferred by some readers. 

M.G. Leonard has written lovely original children’s books with her Adventures on Trains series and has now released a mysterious collection for nature lovers with her Twitchers series – now up to Book 4 with Feather. Both the M.G. Leonard series provide good alternatives for readers who want mystery and adventure but are not keen on a book full of dragons and spells. Both series instil themes of environmental consciousness without evoking undue anxiety.

Moving to a slightly older age bracket, Samantha Ellen Bound series, The Seven Wherewithal Way, has been building a readership over the last few years, with Book 3, Over the Mountains and Through the Desert, now available (and Book 4 still being promised). This one is also in the fantasy genre but draws upon mythological creatures such as Pan who exist in ancient human cultures, so it suits readers who have an interest in the mythological lore of yore.

Described as the biggest fantasy series since Harry Potter (which made us a little nervous) and written for readers of both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, the series by A.F. Steadman that began with Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is now up to Book 3: Skandar and the Chaos Trials. Due to the publisher’s high hopes for this series, it was originally released in HB format, a decision that likely made it less successful than it could have been. They have now decided to publish the new books in PB format first, following up with HB versions for serious collectors. Book 4 is scheduled for release in October 2024.

Ending with the YA reader end of the scheme, series for this age group seem to fall into either the murder mystery or romantasy genres, which are appealing for many but can become a little repetitive for those who are not specifically seeking them out. The Program series of 6 books by Suzanne Young was written between 2013 and 2018 but has been re-released in 2024 for a new set of YA readers to enjoy. This series appeals to readers of books like Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

As we keep our eyes peeled for the next literary phenomenon that will enrapture hearts and minds, we cherish the diversity of tastes, acknowledging that no single book can satiate every reader's appetite. 


Bronwyn Chalke

The Hobart Bookshop

W: https://www.hobartbookshop.com.au/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/HobartBookshop/

Friday 31 May 2024

“Tell Me a Story”: Why Reading Aloud Still Matters

With National Simultaneous Storytime just behind us and CBCA Tasmania’s ‘read aloud to your child every day’ campaign in full swing, Lyndon’s post provides a perfect backdrop for the importance of reading from an oral perspective - hearing the words adds a further dimension.

Imagine, for a moment, that you don’t live right now—not in our time of Netflix and YouTube and Xbox and a hundred other things to distract and delight us—and that instead you find yourself, let's say, four-hundred years ago. What does fun look like to you? If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ve got your hands on a book of some kind. 

"First Lady Frances Wolf Attends a Read Aloud Event for Children at St. Paul’s
United Church of Christ in Dallastown, York County
by governortomwolf is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

But what about those shared moments of joy, the ones that are so easily created in the modern world with everyone around the couch watching some kind of event episode of a favourite TV series, or a movie?

"News Muse: Reading the newspaper aloud in a
boardinghouse room. Washington, D.C., January 1943
by polkbritton is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The chances are that your 1600s self would find these common experiences by reading your book aloud, similar to Mr Collins being invited to share a novel with the family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (characteristically, he opts for a sermon instead). What’s interesting is that you would probably still read aloud even if no-one else was around. As Alexandra Moe notes in a recent article in The Atlantic, the contemporary image of the silent reader would be a real oddity, even going into some parts of the 20th Century. Indeed, we have historical precedent for this, with Saint Augustine finding it peculiar that Saint Ambrose sits in a garden and reads without speaking in Confessions. Reading out loud, it turns out, is hardwired into us.  Although there are studies that dispute whether it is significant in terms of our comprehension, it is clear that there is a measurable impact on the amount that we will recall later, even as adults, if what we are reading moves from our eyes and our minds to our mouths. The gift of punctuation—the breath-in pause of the full-stop and the quick rest of the comma, as so many teachers have reminded their students over the years—provides us with visual cues that might indicate the same rhythm and flow of human speech that the author intended in their thoughts’ transcription. Somewhere along the line they replaced the very thing they were created to represent.


In a recent article in The Guardian, Sarah Manavis admits something that many of her readers will find heart-flutteringly romantic, and others eye-rollingly lame. Beginning with a once-off performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol one frosty December night, she and her partner created a tradition where they read aloud before bed… a custom that has continued across seven years and a vast canon of the classics. A study by the University of Liverpool analysed the outcomes of a number of people living with chronic pain who joined a “shared reading” group. Alongside a number of positive effects that emerged from the experience, such as increased self-reported feelings of positive mood and quality of life, even when their reported pain had also increased, the study found that “literature was a trigger to recall an expression of diverse life experiences—of work, childhood, family members, relationships—related to the entire life-span, not merely the time-period affected by pain.” Many of us have always recognised that reading is a noble thing, but I have always worried that we sold it as if it were Brussels sprouts—something “good for us” to be quickly choked down so that we can get on to everything else. On one level, yes, the reading undertaken by these groups is operating as its own kind of medicine, but on another level, the data seems to indicate that reading aloud with a group—once we get past the nerves—is valuable because it’s fun. It exists, at its best, at the intersection between performance, writing and audience, and it gives us a shared vocabulary of story.


There are some of us who have not forgotten the skill that is in our DNA. I’m talking, now, to those of us who cannot cook without reciting the recipe, who chant the day’s tasks as we wander throughout the day like it’s a daily prayer; those of us who wouldn’t dare read a poem without at least whispering it under our breath to find the cadence and flow, or who must recite an email back to check for tone before sending it. I think of the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett, in his struggle with Alzheimer’s, who woke up one day and accused his assistant Rob Wilkins of stealing the letters from his keyboard, but who found it possible to keep writing using dictation. There is nothing wrong with reading and working quietly, or even silently—especially in a busy world in which sometimes it is the only way to get things done in communal environments—but I wonder if overall the pendulum hasn’t swung too far… have we lost something in our calm insistence that the writer and the reader talk to each other only in their own minds?


Back in our modern world, we live in a landscape of inputs. Our TV screens and speakers, our headphones and handheld devices; all of them feed in far more than they ever feed out. The reader, in almost every instance, is the passive responder: a sponge, absorbing, absorbing, absorbing. Yet by the same token, how long have teachers been encouraging their students to read quietly to themselves when editing something, to catch the cadence of the phrasing, the flow of the sentences, and the little words that look right at first glance but reveal their lack of clarity or spelling the moment they are given breath? Reading aloud, of course, doesn’t have to be loud. It can be as soft as a whisper or a mutter, an almost-unnoticeable verbal acknowledgment of the true nature of the tale.

"SAKURAKO reads book aloud to a grandma." by MIKI Yoshihito.
is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It's what we’re hard-wired for. From the beginning, stories were always meant to not only be read, but heard.


Maybe it’s time for us to let them speak once more.


Lyndon Riggall is a writer, teacher, and co-president of the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. You can find him on social media @lyndonriggall and at http://www.lyndonriggall.com.