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Alice Pung visits our school

Alice Pung at WFC

I was fortunate to be able to listen to Alice Pung again today. She was the visiting author for our year 11 students and spoke on the theme of Identity and Conflict: Challenges of life and writing about being Asian in Australia.

Alice was an excellent speaker. She captured the attention of our boys immediately by telling them some stories about her experiences speaking to some other groups. It was  from the perspective of  the first Asian person to have talked to these groups. She spoke very understandingly of their behaviours. As she spoke her, wit and humour took command of her audience. Alice is softly spoken and kind to her audiences. She may challenge their ideas and thoughts about identity and what it is to be “Australian” but her manner is such that they listen and take on board her comments.

Growing up Asian in Australia-sml

Alice has written two books so far and, in between writing them, she edited an anthology, containing the stories of other Australians with an Asian background, entitled Growing Up Asian in Australia. It is from this book that she took her first story.

All our year 11 English and English as an Additional Language (formerly ESL) students are studying Growing Up Asian in Australia in English this year. It is not common for these two groups to study the same book and I think that this one offers a lot of options for the two groups to share experiences.

There is the editor’s original introduction to the book, an interesting review by Jay B. Panicker, a Singapore born Creative Writing student, QUT  and an Insight article by Rosemary O’Shea.

Unfortunately I did not get to hear the last 20 minutes of Alice’s talk. I had a previous engagement with a class of year 7 students who were going to tell me about their reading so far this year but I am sure the boys gave Alice a hearty thanks for her insights.

This is the third time I have heard Alice talk about her writing and identity.

The first time was in 2006 at the Penguin Publishers launch of her first book, Unpolished Gem. This is a novel about growing up in a first generation Asian Australian (Chinese-Cambodian) family in Braybrook, a western suburb in Melbourne. It is a very affectionate look back at her childhood and her immigrant family life. It was not all light and she, and her family, had a fair share of difficulties. She is able to rise above these to produce a story that showed a keen sense of humour, a sharp wit and a good understanding of satire as she records her family’s integration into Australian life. This is a novel that some of our International students have studied at my school in the years since it was written. Many of our students are Chinese and they can identify with some of the things she writes about. There are teacher notes written by Pam Macintyre to assist with studying the book.

The second time I had the opportunity to hear Alice was in 2011 at a School Library Association of Victoria conference. She had just written her second book, Her Father’s Daughter. There are some more links here. This is again biographical, but it takes the reader beyond the comfortable life she has experienced in Australia with her parents to the life her father lead to survive the killing fields of Cambodia. There is a good video interview conducted in 2011 giving the background to writing this book on BlipTv .

You can listen to a 2011 interview with Alice in an ABC Radio National Book Show program orread a 2011 interview with Alice on the Black Inc. blog discussing Her Father’s Daughter. There is also an Age article, Memories of relative unease Aug 20th 2011.  

Writers Talk video:

CBCA Young readers shortlist 2013 – with links

The discussions have just begun about the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year shortlisted books.

Here is my post about the shortlisted books for the younger readers. We have 3 of the 6 in our secondary school library. It is interesting to see that Pennies for Hitler was on both the Older and Younger Readers lists but made it to the Younger Readers’ shortlist. Of the three books we have in our library, two are about young people surviving the Holocaust and the third is about refugees as well. The runaway winner in our library is After by Morris Gleitzman. His books are very popular but the series of books about the plight of Felix has captured the imaginations of many of our boys.

2013 Younger Readers Shortlist

  • French, Jackie Pennies for Hitler (Angus & Robertson, HarperCollins)
    • This is  a companion novel to Hitler’s Daughter but is not a sequel. The two books easily work as stand alone stories but each offer different perspectives on WWII. In Pennies for Hitler, set in 1939 Germany it is dangerous for anyone to have any Jewish ancestry. Life for 11-year old Georg is good, offering a lot of promise under the Führer. Everything changes when Georg’s father, an English university professor, is killed by a group of pro-Nazi students. His crime is that he is suspected to have a Jewish heritage. Georg’s German mother, fearing for her son’s safety, arranges for him to be smuggled into England. After an uncomfortable and frightening journey Georg reaches England and stays with his father’s sister, his Aunt Miriam. Her wartime work means that Georg spends a lot of time alone. He spends his time listening to the radio, reading newspapers and trying to improve his English accent. When the London bombing becomes too prolific Aunt Miriam, like many others at that time, decides to send Georg to safety in Australia. He is put into foster care and is taken by a kindly elderly couple living in country NSW. When things go wrong here as well Georg has an important decision to make.  This is a well written book with  a lot of historical accuracy. It is about war, and peace, and seeing things from different perspectives, developing empathy for others and tolerance.
    • Read a review from ReadPlus,  one from SMH and another from Children’s Books Daily. There are also teachers’ notes in PDF form from HarperCollins.
  • French, Simon Other Brother (Walker Books Australia) Not in our library
  • Gleitzman, Morris After (Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia))
    • I enjoy reading Morris Gleitzman’s books. His stories for young people involve many important human foibles and experiences but he maintains such a good balance and is never too intellectual or patronising to his readers. The third book in the series, Now, portrayed Felix as a grown man. In this novel Morris Gleitzman returns to the 1945 and the Gabriek’s farm where Felix is hiding in a whole after the brutal death of Zelda. He is not there for long. Soon Felix is facing some of his greatest challenges as the war draws to a close. The invading Nazis become an even greater danger and then he encounters the Polish partisans who appear to be just as dangerous to him as the Germans. Although he still has maintained some of his natural naivety he is determined to survive.  Felix is now a teenager and has developed skills that make him useful.  He has some medical skills the partisans can use, and as in the earlier books he still has compassion for others and a courage that wins him friends. Some of the final chapters are very sad especially when, as the war in Europe coming to an end, Felix goes looking for his parents in the death camps. What he finds is terrible.

      Morris Gleitzman also doesn’t shy away from the grey areas of war. Most people are not simply good or evil or clever or stupid. He does however explain what happened during this time very honestly and realistically. The violence, the damage and anger are all portrayed on the pages but throughout the story there is also courage, compassion and hope. It was a fitting way to finish the story of Felix.

    • You can read a review from ReadPlus or a student review from the Penguin blog.
  • Hartnett, Sonya Children of the King (Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia))
    • Sonya Hartnett is a consummate writer, whose stories often leave me feeling uncomfortable, but are always well told. In this book she combines stories from two eras. The first is set in wartime Britain, the second stems from the time of Richard III and the mystery of the missing “Princes in the Tower”. Two children, Cecily and Jeremy, are sent away from the London bombings to live in the country, with their mother and Uncle Peregrine. Whilst there Cecily and another evacuee, May discover two little boys hiding in a nearby derelict castle. Who they are and why are they there? The characters of all the children are well written and they all have interesting and different parts to play in the story. The themes of class, growth/emotional development are woven into the story that is not simply a wartime story nor a ghost story nor just a mystery story or a coming-of-age story. Sonya Hartnett has woven many strands into her latest book.
    • You can read the transcript of a Q&A about this book on the interviews page on Sonya Hartnett’s site.
    • Read a review from ReadAlert (SLV) and another from ReadPlus
  • Herrick, Steven Pookie Aleera is Not my Boyfriend (University of Queensland Press) Not in our library.
    • The latest verse novel from Steven Herrick.
    • Read a review on the AussieReviews site and another by Joy Lawn for The Australian
    • Download the teachers’ notes PDF from the publishers site.
  • Millard, Glenda & illustrated by Stephen Michael King The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (HarperCollins)
    • Not in our library. Part of the Kingdom of Silk series: #6.
    • You can read more about the book here from the Children’s Books Daily.
    • Download the teachers’ notes PDF from the publishers site.

Cyberbullying infographic

I have been an advocate for teaching about internet safety and good digital citizenship at school for a long time. As we all know cyber bullying often occurs long after the students have left the school grounds.

It is always interesting to talk to students about this topic; asking them about what they think cyberbullying is, how it happens, what ideas do they have for helping others who are being cyber bullied and how might everyone try to put  stop or at least limit cyber bullying.

This infographic might be a good place to start the conversation.

Please include attribution to CollegeStats.org with this graphic.

Cyberbullying: Hazard or Hype?

CBCA shortlist 2013 and the older readers list links

Congratulations to everyone who was connected to the short list this year, writers, publishers and of course the judges. The judges have such a difficult job to whittle down the long list to the short list. As always, there will be discussion with my colleagues about what was left out and their personal favourites. We have many of the titles on this years shortlist but a few did not make it to our shelves as we try to cater for our clientele and not break our budget. This year we had only one of the picture books,  A Day to Remember by  Mark Wilson and text by Jackie French, and none of the Eve Pownell shortlisted books.

Older Readers Short List 2013 (These books are for mature readers)

  • Grant, Neil The Ink Bridge (Allen & Unwin)
    • Neil Grant has written a YA novel that tackles the very divisive political issue of asylum seekers whilst still delivering a story with enough action and suspense for our boys to enjoy the tale without losing poignancy
    • Teacher reviews  here and teaching notes also available from Allen & Unwin site.
  • Lanagan, Margo Sea Hearts (Allen & Unwin)
    • This is the one book in this part of the list I have not read and we do not have in our library.
    • Reading groups guide, notes for teachers PDF and reviews by teachers PDF are also available from Allen and Unwin site.. Interestingly it is called The Brides of Rollrock Island for the US market
  • MacLeod, Doug The Shiny Guys (Penguin Group)
    • An engrossing and affecting story on another serious subject, depression. Colin is a 15-year-old boy who, after a very traumatic event, is hospitalised. He exists in a world where fantasy and reality merge in his mind. Some of the other patients offer him friendship and are part of the lighter aspects in the story. Although not a comedic novel there are many touches of dark humour.
    • You can read more about this book on the Goodreads reviews page, the ReadAlert (SLV) site and a page on The Wheeler Center also discusses the novel.
  • Touchell, Dianne Creepy & Maud (Fremantle Press) I have yet to read this and it must now be on my to-read list.
    • Teaching notes PDF is available and there are quite a few reviews on Goodreads
  • Wakefield, Vikki Friday Brown (Text Publishing)
    • This story has many fascinating characters and very tangled relationships. Having lost her mother, seventeen-year-old Friday goes on the run and falls in with a band of street children who are led by an unpredictable but charismatic young woman called Arden. She running to escape her memories but throughout the book, Friday remains haunted by the ghost of her recently dead mother, and also the  family curse; a history of drowning.  Things don’t go well and Friday is lost, alone and afraid.
    • Teaching notes PDF is available. There is also an article you can read on the Readings site where Vikki Wakefield talks about the process of writing Friday Brown.
  • Zail, Suzy The Wrong Boy (Black Dog Books, Walker Books Australia)
    • Suzy Zail is an Australian-born author and daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She writes this her first fictional story in the first person. Hanna Mendel, is a 15-year-old girl living with her older sister Erika and her parents in the Debrecen Jewish ghetto in Hungary.  She is a good student and talented pianist who has always behaved appropriately. Her world changes when the Nazis arrive to announce that the ghetto is closing and the family will be “resettled”. After a long train journey in a cattle car they end up in the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There are examples of many survival strategies throughout the story and it quickly becomes evident that there are no longer any simple solutions or simple judgements in Hanna’s life. The characters are flawed and changeable, not simply good or evil but often a mixture of both. There is also a romance that blossoms between Hanna and the camp Captain’s son, Karl.  He does not seem to be like his Father and sees more to Hana than her Jewish heritage. Her mother and sister do not fare well but this is the story of Hanna. She may be a naïve teenager  but she is determined to survive. The end of the book leaves an opening for a further story.
    • Classroom Ideas PDF is available from the publishers sites and there are Reviews on the Insideadog site and Goodreads

Younger Readers Short List 2013 (Intended for independent younger readers.)

  • French, Jackie Pennies for Hitler (Angus & Robertson, HarperCollins)
  • French, Simon Other Brother (Walker Books Australia)
  • Gleitzman, Morris After (Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia))
  • Hartnett, Sonya Children of the King (Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia))
  • Herrick, Steven Pookie Aleera is Not my Boyfriend (University of Queensland Press
  • Millard, Glenda & Stephen Michael King The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (HarperCollins)

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