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

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

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