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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Archive for September, 2008

Lisa Hill: My Career, and Dipity

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 21, 2008

I’ve been fooling around with Dipity today, to make an online timeline of my career, complete with pictures. It’s a bit of self-indulgence that will probably only interest my family, but I’ve posted it to my About Lisa Hill page anyway. Lisa Hill: My Career

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Dipity is a brilliant tool for teaching history…

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Children’s literature v Young Adult Fiction

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 20, 2008

I was pleased to see that the vexed issue of classifying Young Adult fiction as Children’s Literature was addressed by Rosemary Neill in today’s Australian. (20.8.08, Review, p15). In her article ‘Analysing their Dark Materials’ she asks if graphic sex and violence, and distressing moral issues, are too prevalent in children’s fiction, and whether or not the CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) should consider overhauling the current awards to create a separate category for Young Adult fiction.

The issue arises because of two books in the 2008 shortlist, one of which went on to win. The Island by Armin Greder is a thoroughly unpleasant and nihilistic work which depicts a naked man arriving on an island. He is grossly maltreated and ultimately cast out onto the sea. It’s supposed to be an analogy of the way Australians have treated refugees, and it’s obviously designed for use in schools since no one would buy it for any other reason than to explore this issue. It is crude and unsubtle, and teachers using it would have to spend considerable time explaining the background to its theme, including presenting both sides of the political argument that surrounds it. Under no circumstances is it suitable for use in a primary school because the topic is too complex and politically fraught to be dealt with in a way that even the most intelligent and sensitive of children under 12 would understand.

Requiem for a Beast, by Matt Ottley, won the Picture Book of the Year Award. I haven’t read it: I picked it up when browsing in the local library and it didn’t appeal. Neill describes this book – with a suggested image of a suicide, cruelty to animals, a possible murder and the now almost obligatory swearing – as ‘a sophisticated if often desolate multimedia work intended for teenagers’. Ottley himself agrees that the book – ‘a meditation on depression, racism and the Stolen Generations’ is ‘very dark’.

Well, ok, authors can write about anything they like, and publishers can choose whatever they think will sell, but I’m curious about the buyers. Picture books are expensive to publish and sales need to be adequate to make their publication profitable. Are the bulk of these sales to young people? Parents? Schools? Why is there thought to be such a profitable market for dreary and depressing books about tormenting social issues like these? Does the CBCA Award bear any responsibility for promoting the sales of such books? Adolescent depression is said to be widespread, and books of this type, and all the other bleak young adult fiction that crowds the bookshop shelves can’t be helping. It’s not that I want Pollyanna back on the reading list, but an unremitting diet of grim and gritty realism breeds despair and cynicism in young people.

Anyway, it’s high time the CBCA responded to the criticism that their award categories are confusing and inapt. It is absurd to include books for mature teenagers in the same category as for very young children, and fair to neither. Parents, teachers and booksellers need guidance to choose quality literature that is suitable for the developmental needs of children, and we ought to be able to rely on the CBCA award categories as having integrity and due care for the under 12s. It’s not just a matter of the issues covered and the use of graphic images, it’s also the language used. I’m not a prude about swearing, but all primary schools prohibit swearing for obvious reasons, and IMO it is not ok to normalise it by including four-letter-words in books for under 12s. If the CBCA took a firm stand on this, Australian publishers would respect it and edit out such inappropriate language because it is not necessary.

I resigned my membership of the CBCA this year because I just don’t like their emphasis on confronting and depressing books, and I didn’t want to support it any more. I no longer trust the shortlists as any sort of guide to buying for the school library, and am hesitant about making a big deal of the Book of the Year with my students. That’s a pity, it really is….

Posted in Book Reviews, Opinion, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Victoria Top of the Class in NAPLAN results

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 17, 2008

Oh Bronwyn Pike, what a disappointment you are to us all!
I’ve just read your press release about the excellent results that Victoria achieved in this years NAPLAN tests, and there is not one word of thanks or congratulations to the people who made happen – the teachers.
Far from any acknowledgement of the hard work, dedication and skill of the teaching profession, instead we get a glowing endorsement of the government’s efforts.
“Victoria has received a glowing report card in Australia’s first national testing of students, ranked among the highest performing states and territories and confirming the Brumby Government’s initiatives to improve literacy and numeracy are showing real results”.
When even our Minister for Education fails to honour our successes, why would anyone want to join the profession?

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Book Review: Dragon Dawn (Black Dog Books)

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 14, 2008

It was in 2004 when DragonKeeper was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, that I discovered the very talented author Carole Wilkinson.  It was my first year as teacher-librarian at Mossgiel Park PS and I was keen to reassert the primacy of literature in the library program.  I bought all the books on the shortlist, devoured DragonKeeper  over the weekend – and began reading it to my students the following Monday.   

The book went on to win Book of the Year and took out a host of other awards, and my students and I went on to become keen fans of this wonderful Melbourne author.  The sequel, Garden of the Purple Dragon,  was shortlisted everywhere in 2006, Dragon Moon won the CBCA Award in 2008, and now we have the prequel – Dragon Dawn – which shows us Danzi as a young dragon, a mere 1000 years old…

I had thought, because it’s a prequel, that the book might suffer because I thought I already knew how it would end, but I hadn’t reckoned on Wilkinson’s ingenuity as a writer of plot-driven narrative.  The story begins as Danzi, unable to hibernate in Winter as all dragons should, decides to return the last effects of his former dragonkeeper Chen-Mo to his family. En route he meets a wily trickster called Bingwen who has more than a little knowledge about dragons.  Danzi, however, dismisses him as a potential replacement for Chen-Mo because (with all the arrogance of an adolescent dragon) he thinks he doesn’t need one, and because Bingwen doesn’t meet the job-selection criteria.  He is right, not left-handed, and he’s dishonest, ripping off the poor with his sleight-of-hand trickery.  Danzi is suspicious of Bingwen, but as he wearies on his journey he comes to depend on him for food, fire, encouragement and strategies to overcome danger.

And danger there is, aplenty.  Wilkinson doesn’t mince the cruelty and barbarity of life in Ancient China.  People are miserably poor, and invading armies stop at nothing to achieve their goals.  The author doesn’t labour the details of a gruesome massacre but it’s quite clear that Evil is omnipresent. 

Despite his shape-shifting powers and ability to fly out of trouble, Danzi is always at risk.  A dragon would make a fine gift for an Emperor to display in his Imperial Palace, and his body parts can be harvested for necromancy.  This adds to the tension in the plot and the interest lies in whether or not Bingwen will betray Danzi to the Emperor’s soldiers and whether or how Danzi can elude the capture that eventually lands him in Master Lan’s clutches. 

Like all others in this compelling series, Dragon Dawn is highly recommended.  It’s a slim book, intended to lure young readers into the series, and it’s easy reading. 

Danzi is only a young dragon in this episode, so there may yet be more prequels to come!

PS Black Dog Books have an excellent children’s list, and they regularly offer free PD (with champagne and nibbles!) to accompany the launch of new titles.  I went to the launch of The Octopus’s Garden by Dr Michael Norman last week and was entranced by this book that comes complete with a DVD that shows footage of underwater creatures doing the most amazing things. My science week activity will be a breeze this year!

If you haven’t signed up for the Black Dog Books email newsletter click here.

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