Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Wind in the Willows - Turns 100!

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame was first published in 1908. The first edition was illustrated by Ernest Shepard with work that is almost as perfect as Grahame's story. In this its 100th year, what better time is there for a review.

Grahame's classic novel is a fine example of how writing is more than just words. In fact, that it is more than just ‘the best words in the best possible order’ (a definition of poetry taught to me when I was at school).

This is rich narrative, with wonderful characters and word choice and sentence structure that is as close to perfect as you can get. But there is more. Here is language that is symphonic, with the rhythms of each sentence and the choice and ordering of words matching exquisitely the settings, situations and atmosphere that Grahame has created. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.

The book really came to prominence when the famous playwright, A. A. Milne adapted a part of the story for the stage in 1929 - Toad of Toad Hall. Milne loved the book so much that he wanted others to appreciate it. This first production led to many other versions over the decades (see below).

The story summary

The book opens in spring, when the weather is fine and animals along the river and in the wood are stirring from their winter slumber. We first meet the good-natured and uncomplicated Mole, who tired and bored of his spring-cleaning, senses restlessness within and leaves his underground home. He reaches the river, a thing he had never seen before and meets the wise and worldly Ratty (in reality it was a ‘water vole’ which is often confused for a rat and is now a rare mammal), who sees life as something that must be lived along the river. Grahame then slowly (at a springtime afternoon pace) introduces us to the main characters.

After meeting Otter and Badger along the river Ratty takes Mole to meet our main character Toad near Toad Hall. Toad is rich, jovial and friendly, worldly, conceited, vague and prone to becoming obsessed with new things that are quickly discarded. Having exhausted his love of boats his current craze is his horse-drawn caravan. Ratty and Mole head off with him on their first adventure and are with Toad as he discovers his next obsession, the motorcar. What follows is the story of Toad as he creates havoc with his new obsession, ends up in gaol, and has his home invaded by stoats and weasels. We are drawn along by the drama as Toad’s friends strive to protect him from himself and his latest craze and eject the impostors who have taken over Toad Hall.

Here's how the story begins, giving just a hint of the beauty of its language and the mood that Grahame creates with words:

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said `Bother!' and `O blow!' and also `Hang spring-cleaning!' and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air.

The movie version

If you think that your children will struggle with the richness of the language you might consider using a video first or one of the many illustrated versions of the story. I introduced my grandchildren to the story through the wonderful video/DVD depiction of the story first when they were less than 5 years. There are a number of versions, but the one we have is an animated production produced by Carlton UK and narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and with wonderful readers for the characters including Michael Palin who voices Ratty. It runs for 73 minutes and faithfully retells the story with perfect background music, faithful and accurate characterisation and precise use of the language of the novel.

Jacob (now 6) was just 3 when I first showed him the video and he loved it from the start. Within minutes of his first viewing we were acting out scenes from the video. We were to dramatise parts of the story on numerous occasions over the following two years (often in the back yard or under the Jacaranda tree at church after services). “Can we be Ratty and Mole?” he would implore me, and as a good grandad I would comply. I was almost always Ratty, he was mole, his Nanna and father (when roped in occasionally) would alternate as Badger, and his mother was typically Otter with little sister Rebecca becoming Portly (the baby otter). We hunted stoats and weasels, visited Badger in the Wild Wood, saved Toad and restored Toad Hall to Toad’s hands.

In time we began to read illustrated versions of the book (of which there are numerous versions) and later the novel.

You can also view a 6 minute video clip from the Terry Jones screenplay of the novel with a real life cast and an appearance from John Cleese as Toad's lawyer at his trial (click here).

Live productions

There have been a number of major live productions of The Wind in the Willows (in some form) since the A.A. Milne production of Toad of Toad Hall in 1929. These include:

Wind in the Willows, a 1985 Tony-nominated Broadway musical starring Nathan Lane
The Wind in the Willows, by Alan Bennett (who also appeared as Mole) in 1991
Mr Toad's Mad Adventures, by Vera Morris
Wind in the Willows, by Ian Billings

If you live in Sydney you can also take your children to a live production in the Royal Botanic Gardens from the 5-26 January 2008 (details here). This is an annual event that has been going for at least 20 years. Carmen and I took Jacob to see this production in 2006 and he loved it (as we did). The play is performed at several locations around the Gardens with the audience moving to the various locations where basic props have been set up. This is a wonderful way to appreciate this great book in another way with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House as the backdrop.

Sequels and adaptations

William Horwood created several sequels to 'The Wind in the Willows': The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas. The Willows in Winter appears on the same DVD as the TVC production of The Wind in the Willows.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

One year old today - a blogaversary!

I posted my first post on this blog exactly one year ago today. I've enjoyed developing the blog and writing the posts over this last year. I've also been pleased to see that it has attracted plenty of readers and that the readership keeps growing with a growing number of faithful readers who return regularly. I enjoy hearing from you via the comments section so please comment or ask questions. I'm also keen to have requests for topics that you'd like me to address. My writing and research covers early language development, literacy, children's literature and families so feel free to request posts in these broad fields and I'll do my best to address them.

I thought to note the anniversary I'd list some of the most popular posts over the last year:

Your baby can learn to read (click here)

The importance of play series (click here)

Basic literacy support series (click here)

Author focus series (click here)

Teaching and learning moments in everyday life (click here)

Key themes in children's literature series (click here)

Fathers and children's education (click here)

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) (click here)

Writing, communication and technology (click here)

Thanks again for reading this blog, please let me know if you have any requests - new topics, new authors for the author series, other key themes etc.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Key Themes in Children's Literature: Christmas

Christmas is a major celebration in most western countries and is arguably the largest religious celebration in the world. While for many, the celebration of Christmas has become disconnected from its traditional purpose of remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus some 2,000 years ago, the Christmas story is told and retold in varied forms in many Australian families and also in our schools. Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on the 25th December. Parents or teachers who want to share the traditional Christmas story can use one of the many wonderful children's Bibles available for children of varying ages in modern translations. For example, Lion Hudson publish a variety of versions that paraphrase the Bible accurately and with illustrations that children will find meaningful and enjoyable (more information here). You can also use an adult Bible with primary aged children and can simply read the appropriate section from the gospels of Matthew (here) or Luke (here).

Of course there are many wonderful works of literature that offer their own interpretation of the meaning of Christmas. Some of these are quite faithful to the traditional telling while others are based on elements of the Christmas story or themes from biblical teaching on Jesus life, typically love, devotion, kindness and sacrifice. I thought that as we approach Christmas that I'd share a few examples of good literature that are based on the theme of Christmas.

1. Books based closely on the biblical story of Jesus birth

A Baby Born in Bethlehem, Martha Whitmore Hickman's retelling is based on the gospels of Luke and Matthew. It begins with the revelation to Mary that she will have a child who will be the son of God and ends with the visit of the Wise Men. The text emphasizes the joy of Jesus' birth. Giulliano Ferri's pencil and watercolour illustrations contribute to making this a great book for four to eight year olds.

The Baby Who Changed the World by Sheryl Ann Crawford, Sonya Wilson (Illustrator). In this imaginative retelling of the Christmas story, the animals get together and discuss the approaching arrival of a new baby that some say will grow up to be a strong and powerful King. Then Mary and Joseph enter the picture and the events of the true Christmas story unfold!

The Christmas Story: According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke from the King James Version by Gennadii Spirin (Illustrator). This telling of the Christmas story begins with Mary's meeting with the angel Gabriel then proceeds to the birth of baby Jesus in a stable, the visit of the shepherds and the three wise men. Spirin's Orthodox Christian faith is reflected in the wonderful art that makes this a special retelling of the story of Jesus (although not all will find the images match their ideas of what Jesus was like).

Mary's Christmas Story, by Olive Teresa. There are a number of different retellings of the Christmas Story available in the Arch Books series. Most are told from the perspective of different witnesses to the birth of Jesus or draw more heavily on one of more of the gospel accounts. This one retells the Christmas story from Mary's point of view based on Luke 1:5-2:18.

2. Books that use the Christmas theme to offer moral lessons

This category of books is quite large. They typically use the Christmas celebration or season as the setting for a human story that teaches something about one of more fine human qualities that are consistent with Christian teaching. For example, love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness and sacrifice. Some examples:

How the Grinch stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. This is one of my favourites within this category. The Grinch lives on top of a mountain that overlooks Whoville. As he watches the villagers getting ready to celebrate Christmas he comes up with a plot to stop them. But instead of stealing Christmas he learns that Christmas means much more than the trappings such as gifts, decorations and food. You can also watch the video version of this story that has been popular with children for over 50 years (here).

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. This probably deserves to be in its own category. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is taught the true meaning of Christmas by a series of ghostly visitors. This is essentially a fable that stresses that Christmas should be a time of goodwill towards mankind. There have been many versions printed of this classic story first published in 1843 with wonderful illustrations by John Leech. This new edition has to be one of the best illustrated versions that I've seen, which isn't surprising as Robert Ingpen is arguably one of the finest illustrators we have seen in the last 50 years. The edition also contains Dickens story Christmas Tree which offers an insight into a Victorian Christmas of the 1850s.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This story focuses on Jonathan Toomey who is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he bears a secret sorrow, and never smiles or laughs. When the widow McDowell and her son ask him to carve a creche in time for Christmas, their quiet request leads to a joyful miracle, as they heal the woodcarver's heart and restore his faith.

Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. This wonderful story by Mem Fox tells of the quest of a wombat to find the perfect part to play in the annual Nativity play. He tries out for every part without success until he finds one that he carries off with distinction.

3. Stories based on Christmas traditions

For those who are more interested in Christmas traditions than the traditional Christmas story, there are masses of books that take the Christmas theme in all sorts of directions (some quite strange). However, there are some that have literary merit and are enjoyable stories to read at Christmas and suit the needs of families that are from non-Christian traditions. Some of the better examples follow.

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clarke Moore. There are many published editions of this classic poem, but one I like is the board version compiled by Harold Darling and Cooper for preschoolers.

Finding Christmas, by Helen Ward. This slightly mystical book was voted in the top 10 Christmas books in 2004. It tells the story of a little girl in a bright red coat and bright green boots who wanders at dusk from shop to shop looking for “the perfect present to give to someone special.” Things look hopeless until she is drawn to the bright window of a toy shop filled with colourful toys.

All I want for Christmas, by Deborah Zemke. What does a skunk want for Christmas? French perfume! What does a spider want? A spinning wheel! Deborah Zemke's wonderful art and great sense of humour makes this a hit. I wonder what the porcupine will want?

Emily and the big bad bunyip, by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whateley.
It′s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully. Can Emily Emu and her friends possibly make the Bunyip smile this Christmas? All the animals are in a good mood except the Bunyip. He proclaims, ′I′m mad and I′m mean! Bunyips don′t like Christmas!

Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Henry Cole (Illustrator). This one is a lot of fun.

The Nutcracker by Janet Schulman & E. T. A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Renee Graef. A version of the classic tale.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. A magical train ride on Christmas Eve takes a boy to the North Pole to receive a special gift from Santa Claus. This book won the 1986 Caldecott Medal and of course has been made into a movie.

The above are just a sample of the thousands of books that have used the theme of Christmas.

Every blessing at this special time to all the readers of this blog.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Juvenilia: The study of writing from youth

An interest in Juvenilia

As I have written already on this blog (here), children can begin to write from a very young age. While their earliest attempts at writing, even before the age of 12 months can be seen 'just' as scribble, many young children soon develop a desire to do more than simply make their marks on paper; they begin to play with language and words, often in combination with their early drawings.

Many great writers become aware very early in life that they have a great desire to write, sometimes for self, but often for others. The study of early writing (and art) has been termed Juvenilia, drawing from the Latin meaning "things from youth". I have the privilege of being on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Juvenilia Press at the University of New South Wales. The Juvenilia Press is currently one of the passions of Christine Alexander, Scientia Professor in English Literature at the University of New South Wales. Professor Alexander is a prominent Australian editor and writer on the Brontës, including their juvenilia

The Juvenilia Press was founded in 1994 by Juliet McMaster at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, but it moved to UNSW in 2001 when Christine Alexander became the General Editor. It promotes the study of literary juvenilia (writing up to 20 years of age) of recognised adult writers. It offers insights into the later work of successful writers. It has an international team of contributing editors from Britain, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the USA and Australia.

The Juvenilia Press, as its website suggests, is more than just a publishing project:

The Juvenilia Press was originally conceived as a university/classroom project. While it has grown well beyond those limits, pedagogy remains at the core of its mandate. Students are involved in every volume in some capacity, whether that be writing introductions, researching annotations, learning the importance of textual editing, drawing illustrations, or developing a book's layout and design. Working under the guidance of established international scholars, they gain invaluable experience, practical skills, and publication.
The works published to date

Juvenilia Press publishes the early writing
(up to the age of 20) of recognised authors who have had success later as adult writers. It has published 42 works since 1994. The authors who's early writing have already featured as Juvenilia Press publications include the following:

a) 18th Century

Jane Austen

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Anna Maria Porter

b) 19th Century

Louisa May Alcott

Branwell Brontë
Charlotte Brontë
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)
Richard Doyle
George Eliot
Iris Vaughan

c) 20th Century

Margaret Atwood
Marian Engel
Greg Hollingshead
Philip Larkin
Margaret Laurence
Malcolm Lowry
Carol Shields
Aritha van Herk
Rudy Wiebe
Alison White
Opal Whiteley

The most recent work - Lewis Carroll

The most recent publication from the Juvenilia Press is the text The Rectory Magazine written (largely) by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Dodgson wrote in the 19th century (1832-1898) and is perhaps best known for his works Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass and the poems The Hunting of the Snark and Jabberwocky. The publication was edited by Valerie Sanders and Elizabeth O'Reilly. Like other publications from JP the work contains an introductory essay by the editors of the volume. These essays, which are significant publications in their own right, provide an insight into the considerable research required to produce each publication as well as a theoretical overview of the work, the author and their early life.

'The Rectory Magazine' was written by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and other members of his family somewhere in the years 1847-1850 when he was aged 15-18 years. The original can be found in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin. As Valerie Sanders and Elizabeth O'Reilly point out in their introductory essay, 'The Rectory Magazine' was a collaborative family venture, though Charles wrote a lot of the magazine and was certainly the editor and driving force behind its production.

Like all Juvenilia, 'The Rectory Magazine' provides a fascinating insight into the early life and work of an author as well as the characteristics of their later adult work. The fascination for me in Juvenilia is that in the early work of the child author we see (at the very least) evidence of the later content and style of the adult writer. In fact, the child writing of the author often offers us a window into the development of the voice of the writer that we recognise in their later work. 'The Rectory Magazine' certainly offers such insight into the later work of Carroll. Sanders and O'Reilly comment in their essay that:

"Much of what he wrote prefigures his later characteristics as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published less than twenty years later. From the start he was proud of being an author: his style is both self-confident and self-mocking, and he sends up the classic Victorian periodical while also trying to sound like one of its most venerable editors. 'The Rectory Magazine' proves that Carroll's instinct for parody and comic verse was always strong, as was his love of word puzzles and nonsense games."

What JP publications also offer is an insight into the role that other authors and various literary forms play in the lives of any writer. They show evidence of the rich intertextual worlds that help to shape the work of any author. This publication on Carroll offers an interesting illustration of how the young writer often takes their lead in relation to form and genre from other contemporary works, as well as life of the times in general (including its morality), while at the same time drawing on the inspiration of great authors before - as children are want to do - giving it a 'twist'. Christine Alexander and Juliet McMaster in their book, 'The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf', the Dodgson family were not unique, many a Victorian family produced its own version of a collaborative magazine, that mirrored (and sometimes mocked as Carroll does) the periodicals of the day.

An added bonus with many Juvenilia Press publications is how we witness the young author's keen interest in illustration and integration of their own graphics with their written work, 'The Rectory Magazine' is no exception and includes some delightful illustrations including the cover and other colour and black and white plates inside this 132 page book.

'The Rectory Magazine' is a delightful publication containing a mixture of poetry and prose, which should be of interest to teachers, teenage readers and writers and in fact anyone interested in literature. The publications are available from a variety of sources including UNSW (via the JP website) at a very reasonable price of $12 or $15.

For some of the latest Juvenilia Press publications visit the website (here).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The impact of new media on children

I’ve written previously on this blog about the impact of television on children (here and here). However, a new meta-analysis study has analysed the more general effects of media across 173 studies with worrying findings. The study was conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Yale University. It considered studies across a period of 30 years that adressed the impact of television, music, movies and other media on the lives of children and adolescents. The findings are worrying. For example, many studies showed that there is a significant relationship between time devoted to new media and a variety of health or behavioural problems, for example:
  • 83% of studies found a relationship with obesity
  • 88% found a relationship to sexual behaviour
  • 75% found a relationship to drug use
  • 80% found a relationship to alcohol use
  • 88% found a relationship to tobacco use
  • 69% found a relationship to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

In releasing the report this week one of the researchers, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, of the NIH, commented that:
"The results clearly show that there is a strong correlation between media exposure and long-term negative health effects to children. This study provides an important jumping-off point for future research that should explore both the effects of traditional media content and that of digital media -- such as video games, the Internet, and cell phones -- which kids are using today with more frequency."

While there are many benefits of new media there are clearly disadvantages if children spend too much time with machines that generate images, and sound and not enough time with people, engaging in real relationships, exploring their physical world, playing, listening to stories and engaging in ways that stimulate them in other ways. I've written a great deal about the alternative benefits of things such as play (here), reading (here) and creative activities (here).

This latest research comes on top of an increasing number of studies that are demonstrating that excessive exposure to media like television, video games and computers, can actually change the activity and ‘shape’ of the brain as well as slowing down activity (I'll post on this later).

It’s important to keep stressing that new media has many benefits and that while excessive use can be a problem, it can also have benefits. For example, one interesting study at UCLA found that computer use for older people (aged 55-76) might even increase brain function for some (here). But the overwhelming message that we are receiving from research is that too much television, gaming or computer use can be harmful for children.

From my perspective, as a research interested in children’s early learning, my sense is that we haven’t even begun to consider the questions related to this topic. For example, what is the impact of the loss of play, book reading and human interaction on children? Evidence of a general nature and developmental research, shows that adult child interaction is critical to early emotional and intellectual development. This work alone would suggest that the loss of time spent playing, talking to others, listening to stories and so on, will be detrimental. There are other related questions. Readers of this blog will be ready to ask, how much time is too much? How little time with adults is too little? It’s difficult to answer such questions but here’s are a few suggestions based on what I know of research in learning, interaction, language and communication and emerging work on new media:

Children aged 0-2
  • Constant interaction with adults (preferably a parent) – singing, talking to, providing different experiences, reading to them etc.
  • No TV, videos etc - this is almost impossible if there are older siblings, but there are much more important things to do for the very young child.
Children aged 3-5
  • Shared mealtimes – most if not all.
  • Lots of interaction as part of everyday life – talking with them in the car, in the kitchen, in the bath, while watching TV together.
  • Planned experiences – exploring the garden, the house, the physical environment, creative play, craft, music, and introduction to computer sites for kids (together!), lots of stories read to them (at least 30 minutes a day in several blocks), ‘writing’ and drawing.
  • Deliberate efforts to cultivate shared interests with your children (special TV, favourite past-times or hobbies, music, sport etc).
  • Limited TV or computer use (no more than 60 minutes per day).
Children aged 6-12
  • Shared mealtimes – at least 10 meals a week together (with at least one parent, preferably two if there are two at home).
  • Lots of interaction as part of everyday life – debriefing after school, chatting at mealtime, planned talk (ask them questions) as part of other activities.
  • Planned experiences – provide varied experiences for your children including outings, the movies together, visit the library, shop together, visit people, do some outdoor physical activity together (the pool, some sport, the park etc), develop some shared interests and hobbies – build common ground!
  • Read with them and listen to their reading.
  • Spend some time exploring the Internet with them and not just as part of school activities, show them how to use the Internet as a tool.
  • Try to limit TV and video games to 60-90 minutes per day
Adolescents (aged 13+)
  • Shared mealtimes – at least 6 meals per week together (with at least one parent, preferably two if there are two at home).
  • Lots of interaction – make time to talk and be deliberate about it if they are reluctant. Make the effort, many teenagers find it easy to withdraw from adults, don’t let them!
  • Planned activities – still try to do things together; find common interests, watch some TV together, play some sport or follow their sport, engage yourself in at least one of their interests.
  • Talk about their schoolwork and have active involvement.
  • Encourage and demonstrate wise use of media – don’t give them a TV for their room; avoid providing a state-of-the-art sound system in their room; don’t have a computer in their room have one that they use in a more public space.
  • Open your house to their friends and get to know them as well; make your home welcoming to their friends with you as part of it.
  • Try to discourage large blocks of individual time on computers, playing video games, TV and Internet surfing (2-3 hours a day is more than enough).

While there are wonderful benefits from new media (I'm enjoying one right now!), research is showing us that over-use can be harmful for children. There is a real danger that as parents lives become more busy and complicated that we will allow new media to fill spaces that previously would have been filled by family interaction. We should not allow this to happen if we value the wellbeing of our children and the quality of the relationship that we have with them.

Other posts

Washington Post article, “Media Bombardment Is Linked To Ill Effects During Childhoodhere

Media Awareness Network article, “Television’s Impact on Kidshere

TV Numbs the brainhere

My posts previous posts that address the impact of TV here

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Lucky Country: How are the kids faring?

The Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY) has released a report card on the well being of Australia's young people. The report was based on an OECD study that has compared 27 member countries on a range of measures, including material well being, health and safety, education, training and employment, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, subjective well being, participation and environment.

While Australia does well on some measures, surprisingly it doesn't do as well as we might expect in others, and data for Indigenous children are well below what you would expect for a wealthy country like Australia. Here are some of the most notable findings from the report:
  • Australian children were 12 times as likely to live in a jobless household as those in Japan
  • Australia ranks 20th out of 27 nations for infant mortality.
  • The infant mortality rate for Indigenous Australians is more than double the non-Indigenous rate.
  • Teenage pregnancy rates for Indigenous young Australians are the highest in the OECD.
  • Youth road deaths are 12 times higher than Portugal.
  • Australia's Indigenous young people have a suicide rate second only to Finland.
  • Participation in community activities by Australia's young people is strong.

While Australia is a wealthy nation and its children are very fortunate in world terms, the report raises serious questions for us to address. There have been numerous reports that note our higher than expected youth suicide, others have noted the high teenage death rate on our roads, and many have focussed on many significant areas of Indigenous disadvantage in infant mortality (which I assume is the reason for Australia's 20th ranking), education and suicide (see my previous post here). The Rudd Labor government was elected based on a number of reform agendas. One of these was the promise of an "educational revolution" and a number of Indigenous health agendas. In a country with one of the best school systems in the world, and a health system that is the envy of other countries, it would seem to me that a key agenda for the government will be the extent to which it addresses areas of key disadvantage in education and health. This is one of the key ways that I will judge the success of the government in two years time.

Further reading

Download the OECD report here
Read in more detail the ARACY report card here
You can read my previous posts on Indigenous Issues here

Monday, November 24, 2008

Key Themes in Children's Literature - A Sense of Place

Hugh Mackay suggests what Geographers, writers, sociologists, urban planners, architects and anthropologists have been telling us for a long time, place is crucial to all people. “It is fundamental to the human sense of self, sense of community, sense of mortality and sense of destiny", argues Hugh Mackay (here). Perhaps claiming a link to a sense of destiny is taking things too far and is contestable, but in general terms, he makes a point that we all sense. Place is important to us. Mackay also suggests that it is wrong to suggest that a sense of place is only of significance to specific peoples, for example Indigenous Australians. He comments that “Different cultures obviously have different ways of expressing their sense of place; we revere our ‘tribal grounds’ in different ways.

Some of us find it hard to move house, and take months and even years to feel at home in a new house, street, community, city or country. I’m one of those people. I take at least three years before the urban streets that I travel each day, the shops, the buildings and the physical landscape, feel like my place. I know I’m not the only person like this, and I also know that not everyone finds it this difficult. My wife seems to adjust to any move we make within weeks; it’s as if, wherever her family is she is at home.

Someone who has written frequently about sense of place is Chinese Professor of Architecture Yi-Fu Tuan. In one of his earliest books, Space and place, he defines this sense of place. He suggests that place comes into existence when humans give meaning to a part of the larger, undifferentiated space. Simply giving a place a name separates a space from the rest of space that surrounds it. But of course some places attract stronger meanings or significance for individuals and groups. The great iconic rock near Alice Springs in Central Australia (Uluru) is one such place that has deep spiritual significance for Indigenous Australians. But almost every person has some place that is special – perhaps it is a spot with such beauty that it almost takes your breath away; perhaps it is associated with good (or bad) memories; perhaps it is a place that is so much a part of your daily life that it has special significance. My back yard has this significance for me. It’s where I garden, where I play with all my grandchildren, where I build stuff, where I sit and have a quiet cup of tea with my wife Carmen. As well, there are other places that I visit that are so rich with memories that I can feel immediate joy, melancholy, sadness and fear.

Above: Uluru, Central Australia

Place and the writer

Given the influence of place on our lives, memories, relationships and experiences, it is hardly surprising that much literature has a strong sense of place. Of course, in the case of narrative, you cannot easily have a story without a setting or place, but in some writing place has a special central role, almost as strong as the very characters that are interwoven in the plot. In some narratives, a sense of place is on centre stage, almost shaping the narrative and its characters. The relationship between place and people is most strong in such writing. In the rest of this post, I want to offer some examples of children’s literature for younger readers that have this strong sense of place, and comment on how each integrates place with story. It is difficult to lump all books that have a strong sense of place together, for all draw their inspiration and use place differently. So, I’ve chosen some sub-categories, with which not all readers or literature experts might agree, but it helps me to make sense of difference, and I hope it helps readers of this blog.

a) Books that had their genesis in a place and memories or legends linked to this place

The Little Island (1946), Golden MacDonald & Leonard Weisgard – winner of the Caldecott Medal 1947 is a fine example of a book that had its genesis in a place that formed part of the author’s life. Leonard Weisgard and Golden MacDonald (pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown) collaborated on over 20 books and hence both writer and illustrator helped shape this book in every way. But it was Weisgard’s wonderful illustrations that establish the strong sense of place that dominates this book. In his acceptance speech for the Caldecott in 1947 he said:

This is a real little island off the coast of Maine belonging to a group of other little islands called Vinalhaven. I saw this island grow tall and squat as the tides rose and fell. I've watched the mists blow in and hide the little island, sometimes leaving only the pine tree tops exposed, hanging in space. I rowed to and from the little island with the seals spawning below the surface of the water. I've seen the sun rise and make a golden island for just five seconds in an early morning sea.

The Rainbow Serpent (1975), Dick Roughsey (1940-1985) – This wonderful book is perhaps the best example of a collection of books that Dick Roughsey wrote and illustrated. This was his first published book and won the Picture Book of the Year award, from the Children’s Book Council Australia in 1976. Roughsey was later to collaborate with Percy Trezise to produce a number of wonderful picture books that faithfully retold Aboriginal Dreamtime legends. Many of them have a strong sense of place, which is not surprising given that Aboriginal Australians, like many indigenous people, have a strong connection with the land, and much of their history is tied to it. In this Dreamtime story Goorialla, the great Rainbow Serpent is awakened at a time when there were no animals and sets off to find his own tribe. As he travels right across Australia his huge body shapes the land into mountains, rivers, hills and lagoons. I intend to do a post on Roughsey and his work in the near future.

Other good examples of this type include The Biggest Bear, Lynd Ward (1952), Where the Forest Meets the Sea, Jeannie Baker (1978), Wheel on the Chimney, Margaret Wise Brown and Tigor Gergly (1954) and Farmer Schulz’s Ducks, Colin Thiele (1986).

b) Books for which the place is secondary to the primary message but which has shaped the story

There are numbers of books that have a strong sense of place but for which without the place that is the setting there would be no story. Such stories are often driven by an ideological challenge, a political message or a strong social comment. One fine example in this sub-category is “Let the Celebrations Begin!”, Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas (1991). This book was inspired by some simple toys made by Polish women held in the Nazi prison camp of Belsen. It tells of the life in Hut 18 and the planning of celebration as they anticipate their liberation from the camp towards the end of the Second World War. This is a narrative with a setting that is so specific that the narrator (Miriam) identifies her bed number (Hut 18, bed 22). This powerful story could not be told without the place, and yet, the place (or setting) is very much secondary to the story told.

A second example is “My Hiroshima”, by Junko Morimoto (1987). This is a true story of how one little girl survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. Junko Miromoto narrates the story of her family, her early life and memory of life in Japan during the second World War, and the day she was hit by a “thunderous flash and an explosion of sound” and the miracle of her survival. This moving simple retelling of that day in word, family photographic record and illustration, uses a place to recall her participation in an event at a place that changed her life and that of the world.

c) Books that demonstrate the relationship between people and place

There is overlap between this sub-category and the above for each shows a relationship between space and people, and each has a level of social commentary. But these books are typically in the form of a moral tale, and an underlying comment on how people’s lives can be so closely related to a physical place.

My Place” by Nadia Wheatley (writer) and Donna Rawlins (illustrator) (1987) was published in Australia’s bicentennial year and makes a strong statement about the fact that Indigenous Australians were here for thousands of years before white settlement (there isn't space to unpack this). It is a very clever book that takes one suburban block and tells the story of this place in reverse chronological sequence decade by decade from 1988 back to 1788 when the first British Fleet landed at Botany Bay. The overall meaning of the book is shaped by multiple narrative recounts of the families who have lived in this spot, 'my Place' and the changing nature of the physical landscape and built environment.

A dramatically different story is the 1964 Shel Silverstein classic “The giving tree” that tells the story of a single tree and it’s relationship to a boy who grows up to be a man. Silverstein’s simple line drawings and beautifully crafted text tracks the special ‘relationship’ between the tree and the boy/man. A tree that gives to the boy and later the man shelter, fruit, timber, transport and ultimately rest.

This multi-layered book has caused controversy. Some see it as suggesting that it shows the way that human greed can never be satisfied with environmental consequences, others see it as a commentary on childhood’s care-free nature, while others see the book as a tale of unconditional love and generosity. However, you see it, this book build on the sense that people feel a conncetion with specific spaces and the objects within them.

Other interesting examples include “In my Backyard” (2001) by Nette Hilton (author) and Anne Spudvilas (illustrator) and “Window” (1991) and "Belonging" (2004) by Jeannie Baker.

d) Books that celebrate place as part of national pride and cultural communication

Typically the books in this sub-category focus on celebrating the beauty of places, or the natural environment that gives shape to the beauty and interest of such places. “Possum Magic” (1983) by Mem Fox (author) and Julie Vivas (illustrator) is a celebration of Australia’s wildlife, its cities and some of its food. It is Australia’s best selling children’s book of all time with over three million copies sold.

Waddle Giggle Gargle!” (1996) by Pamela Allen tells the story of a difficult Australian Magpie that (for non-Australian readers) have the habit of dive-bombing people walking under their trees in Spring during nesting season. Many streets, parks and communities face this challenge each September and this book tells how Jonathan and his grandparents deal with the magpie in their street.

Other books in this sub-category include “My Grandma lived in Gooligulch” (1983) which was the first book that Graeme Base wrote. It is written in verse form and like Possum’s Magic celebrates Australia’s wildlife. “Sail Away” (1986) also written by Mem Fox is another example. It is a ballad about two dingoes that travel around Australia in their own homemade sailboat.

There are many other examples that fit the above categories and I'm sure some other sub-categories but hopefully the above gives an indication of the rich influence that sense of place has on childrens picture books.

Related Links

Other posts on Key Themes in Children’s Literature include:

The environment
Being different

Some of the authors of the above books are also featured in my Author Focus posts (here)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boys education: Balancing the differences

The Kings School (in Sydney) hosted an interesting conference in October, The National Boys’ Education Conference with the theme of “Balancing the Differences”.

The conference covered a variety of different topics and included talks from a number of key speakers. Many of the major addresses are available from school website. These include talks by:

Dr Adam Cox who dealt with the relationship between communication skills and social control in boys' emotional growth (MP3 here).

Mr Michael Furdyk who talked about the impact of technology on the changing world of boys (MP3 here).

Dr Tim Hawkes who talked about what we should be teaching boys in schools but probably are not (MP3 here).

Dr Andrew Martin who discussed the significant role of motivation in learning (MP3 here).

Some of the talks covered topics that challenged participants to consider the complexity of gender differences, as well as the relationship between the cognitive and social characteristics and skills of boys. For example, Dr Adam Cox (family psychologist from the USA) cited research that reveals a strong relationship between cognitive ability and emotional well-being. He suggested that the evidence shows that girls find it easier to understand and develop empathy and more complex social skills compared to boys. He suggested in his talk that parents and teachers need strategies to help boys develop empathy. He commented:

"We continually worry about boys' grades or whether they can get into a good university but what's really at stake is the moral and social development of boys: we're raising and teaching boys to live and work in a changed world where they'll no longer work the land, they'll work the phones."

He pointed out that boys are slower to realise that developing social skills isn’t just about becoming more popular, but rather, such skills are in his words “a bridge to the world at large, a world larger than yourself."

He suggested that research indicates that boys who can regulate their behaviour and become empathetic and considerate, were also more effective learners. He also argued that the best way for boys to learn empathy was through involvement in serving others, such as doing volunteer work with welfare organisations or other community-based groups.

I will review the work of some of the key speakers at the conference in more detail in a future post.

Related links

For all posts that deal with boys education on this blog click here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How to listen to your child read

Listening to your child reading is more complex than people think. While I've written previously on reading to your child (here), I want to focus on listening to them reading. It's easy to do it badly, but not so easy to do well. In this post I'll do three things:

Offer some general comments on the value of reading out loud
Suggest some DOs and DON'Ts for listeners
Outline a couple of specific read aloud strategies

1. Some general comments on the value of oral reading

As an instructional strategy oral reading has some clear advantages:
  • Anyone can do it
  • It ensures that the child reads a specific number of words each day
  • For the skilled listener (usually a trained teachers) it acts as a 'window on the reading process' allowing us to understand what strategies children are using, misusing, not using, what help they need, etc (more on this later)
  • It is an opportunity to build confidence and self esteem
But there are potential disadvantages:
  • It is slower than silent reading
  • The proficient reader does most reading silently, so this is the key reading skill we're working towards (with the exception that skilled audience reading does have a place and needs to be developed later) so it shouldn't be a total replacement for silent reading
  • It is teacher or parent intensive compared to silent reading (oral reading is mostly one-to-one or in small groups rather than individual)
  • It can be a source of frustration for the child and can lead to a loss of confidence and self esteem if the listener is unskilled

2. Some DOs and DON'Ts

Here is my outline of what to do and NOT to do.

Some DON'Ts
  • Don't make unfavourable comparisons between the child you're listening to and another child. Avoid statements like "How come Jason can read that word but you can't?"
  • Don't feel that you need to correct every error, or teach every sound that your child seems to struggle with. Listening to your child is not just an accuracy test. Besides, if your child struggles on more than 5 words on a page then the book is too hard for them (see below).
  • Don't ever ridicule your child as they read.
  • Don't make the sessions too long (10-15 minutes is ideal). It's better to have two short sessions than one that is too long.
Some DOs

First 4 basic DOs to keep in mind:

DO Relax - try to make it fun and enjoyable for you and the child. The experience should strengthen your relationship, not weaken it.
DO choose a good time & place - choose a good time when your child is fresh and you are feeling patient and perhaps less stressed. If it has to be after school give your child something to eat and drink and let them relax or play for a while first. And make sure you choose a quiet place without distractions.
DO select books carefully - choose the books well. Hopefully the book will be at the right level, and the child will enjoy it. If the books are boring speak to the child's teacher and try to substitute another book. For help on getting the level right see the "5 finger test" below.
DO encourage your child and praise them - the purpose of the session is to help, encourage and build confidence, not test, frustrate and shatter confidence.

Now 5 more specific DOs

DO talk about the book first - read the title, look at the book, ask if he or she has read it before, ask what they think it's about etc. Maybe even read the first page for your child.
DO let the child hold the book (it's more natural and gives them a sense of being in charge).
DO talk about the book after reading (not as a test, just as a chat).
DO show patience, progress can be slow.
DO help them as they read but don't labour any teaching moment. If they can't get the sound "oar" give them the word after a few attempts and read on. You can come back to this sound on another occasion. Remember that fluency is important for your child to gain meaning from what they are reading and for building confidence. Teachers can give more support as part of oral reading because they're trained to know what to look for and how to offer many different forms of support. For parents, if you're in doubt give them the word and read on.

3. Some associated strategies

(i) The 5 Finger Technique

This is a basic way to make sure the reading material is at the right level. This is how it is done:
  • Choose the book your child will read (or have them choose one from a range of books).
  • Choose a typical page towards the middle of the book (with lots of words and not too many pictures).
  • Begin to read and each time your child comes to a word that they don't know, hold up one finger.
  • If you end up with five fingers before the end of the page stop reading the book and choose another one.
  • If you have no fingers up by the end of the page then it’s probably too easy, if you have one or two then it’s probably the right level.

(ii) Pause-Prompt-Praise

This is a strategy I suggest for parents and untrained listeners (like older reading buddies). As a general rule, oral reading should privilege fluency, with errors only being corrected when they break down the meaning. If your child makes errors based on problems with lack of phonic skills or due to poor word recognition skills, it is best to note the problem and come back to them at the end of the story. You might also like to keep a record of such problems in an exercise book; not as a record of failure, but to note areas that need help, to plot your child's progress and as a means to offer encouragement when they overcome problems after practice.

With Pause-Prompt-Praise the only mistakes corrected during the reading are those that get in the way of meaning.

If your child makes a mistake use this simple technique:

PAUSE - after your child makes a mistake for about 3 seconds and say nothing, they may self-correct.

PROMPT - If you child doesn't self-correct either give them the word or offer a prompt (e.g. give them the sound that they are struggling with; help them to sound it out; get them to re-read the sentence)

PRAISE - Encourage your child by praising the fact that they have finished the page, had a go at a difficult word, had no or few errors, read fluently, and seemed to understand what it was about.

(iii) Miscue Analysis

Professor Ken Goodman at the University of Arizona developed Miscue Analysis. It was later refined with his wife Professor Yetta Goodman. Ken Goodman discovered that if you analyse reading errors (he prefers the term "miscue") that they provide a 'window' into the reading process. I share it here as a reminder for teachers and as an insight into the complexity of the reading process for parents. Goodman found that when you analyse miscues carefully you could come to understand what strategies children are using (in their heads) to read. These he found fall into three main categories:
  • word-based strategies (identifying the word by sight, using phonic strategies to sound out words);
  • syntax or grammar (predicting the next word based on the logical grammar or flow of the sentence);
  • semantics (meaning-based strategies; does the word make sense in this sentence or passage?).
He also noticed that at times readers over or under use specific strategies or fail to 'orchestrate' these key language strategies. For example, they might over-use prior words and not read ahead (so it makes sense or is grammatically correct with what precedes the word, but not what follows it), or they might over or under use one of the three key strategies. Here's a simple example of a bit of text and three miscues to illustrate.

Original Text - Bill ran across the road to get the ball
  • Reading 1 - Bill runned over the road to get the ball (a problem primarily of syntax showing itself in the addition of a suffix)
  • Reading 2 - Bill can over the road to get the ball (a problem with word recognition and a failure to use syntax)
  • Reading 3 - Bill ran across the toad to get the ball (a problem with under-use of semantics as well as a miscue on the initial consonant of road)
What the above examples would show if repeated by your child is the misuse of different reading strategies. Such miscues are only problems if there are recurrent patterns of this type. Some of these miscues will only become apparent when the child is put under pressure as a reader. If it's too much pressure you should first go back to some more suitable material before jumping to too many conclusions. I need to stress that Miscue Analysis is too complex for untrained listeners to use as a tool, even busy teachers find it hard to apply in the classroom. In fact it is a much more complex than I have described above (this is Prep 101 Miscue Analysis). However, there is a simpler technique - "Running Records" - that teachers find easier to use.

Above: A recent photo of Ken and Yetta Goodman who still live in Arizona

(iv) Running Records

Running records is a simpler technique developed by Dame Marie Clay who was a New Zealand educator who developed the Reading Recovery program. It is still primarily a tool for teachers to use to make sense of mistakes that readers make during reading. Because of its use as part of Reading Recovery the technique tends to have been used in three main ways: to assess an appropriate starting level for instruction; as a way to assess a child's strengths and weaknesses as a reader; as a tool integral to the teaching process. I may do a post on the technique later but I've provided a couple of useful links below that should help.

Final Comments

Oral reading can be a wonderful tool for encouraging reading development and a positive way for parents to help their children. It can also be a way to reinforce failure and frustration. Use it carefully. One final comment. Remember that oral reading should rarely be used as a test by teachers and virtually never should be used in this way by parents. It's a way to provide practice, feedback and encouragement. Make sure that you choose books wisely (the Five Finger Technique should help). Don't provide material that is too hard (this will breed failure and frustration) and don't use material that is too easy (this won't help them to learn new things).

Other resources

Teachers can find all of the above strategies and lots more in relation to parent support in my book Beyond Tokenism: Parents as partners in literacy. This book was written for teachers to offer advice on how they can help parents to support their children at home.

For a more detailed outline of ways to support the beginning reader beyond just listening to them you can consult my website here.

Teachers can find a good introduction to Running Records here and a more detailed teachers description of the technique here.

For a more detailed description of Miscue Analysis click here and Ken Goodman's work here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Key themes in children's books - Being different

1. The many purposes of literature

As I have argued in previous posts (
here, here and here), we learn from literature. Literature brings great pleasure but it also teaches us many things. For a start, it passes on aspects of our cultural traditions, it introduces us to other cultures and it teaches us about our world, its history, its people and what it is to be human. A piece of literature is more than just a good story. I wrote in one of my books (Pathways to Literacy, Cairney 1995, p.77-78) that literature can act as:
a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
a source of knowledge
a source of ideological challenge
a means to peer into the past, and the future
a vehicle to other places
a means to reflect on inner struggles
an introduction to the realities of life and death
a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues

2. Key themes in literature - Being different

One of the great struggles of childhood is coping with peer pressure. This commences from an early age. From as early as 4 years of age there is increasing pressure on children to dress the same, to like the same games, to watch the same television, to have the same toys, to talk the same and so on. By early adolescence there are significant issues facing teenagers, including pressure to seek an 'ideal' body shape, a specific 'look', consumer tastes, pressure to try alcohol, sex and drugs, and to align with peers rather than with parents or teachers.
There have been significant societal pressures that haven't helped us in this area, including the power of popular culture to set standards and shape values, the weakening of adult authority, a reduction in interaction with adults (especially parents), increased freedom, increased disposable income (Nicholas Zill & Christine W. Nord have written an interesting report on some of these factors - here). What can parents do to help children develop their own personalities and to avoid the constant pressure to conform that by the teenage years can have disastrous consequences? There are at least 7 basic things that parents can do to support their children in this area:
  • Acknowledge, support and celebrate the differences in your child.
  • Talk to them about the pressures they face to be like everyone else and why other children do this.
  • Love them and show them that you value them for who they are.
  • Spend time with them, including at least one meal each day and cultivate some common areas of interest; build common ground.
  • Bring issues into the open – encourage your children to talk, even when they don’t seem to want to (this is especially the problem in the teenage years).
  • Share your beliefs and values - make sure your children know what you believe. "In our family we don't do that because....".
  • Help your children to develop quiet confidence and respectful assertiveness.

3. Literature as a vehicle to address struggles

Literature doesn't offer the key to everything, but it can play a part in two main ways. First, it is a good way to establish the common gound I referred to above. Books help us to have a shared experience and history and can act as valuable shared knowledge that you can talk about. Second, literature deals with the issue of 'being different' and not conforming simply to group standards and peer pressure. In fact, the struggle the be different is a common theme in children's books from early picture books right through to adolescent novels. There are sub-themes; for example, some children's books portray the negative aspects of being different too and can stress the positive things about conforming and fitting in. But in this post I want to concentrate on books that focus on the child struggling with being different and how they learn to see that you don't need to conform to every group standard to be worthwhile.

What literature can do is to offer a vehicle for children to reflect upon their own struggles as they see in the situations and characters, the same struggles that they have to be themselves and not simply to be moulded to fit the expectations of others. Books are also a wonderful vehicle for parents and teachers to sensitively and naturally raise some of these issues. In the rest of this post I will offer some examples of books that deal with the theme "Being different" for younger readers.
(i) "The Ugly Duckling" (1843) Hans Christian Andersen - This isn't a new theme in children's books, in fact for centuries it has had a place in fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen addressed it in the classic tale of 'The Ugly Duckling'; in which the rejected outsider seen as unwanted and rejected eventually finds their place.

(ii) "The Race" (1990), Christobel Mattingley - In this beautiful picture book the story is told of Greg who is good at drawing, but not so good at lots of other things at school. "Greg was like a piece of jigsaw that did not quite fit in". A careless daydreamer at school till one day a teacher catches a glimpse of something that leads Greg to discover that he can run.

(iii) "Counting on Frank" (1995), Rod Clement - Frank is the stereotypical smart kid, complete with the horn rimmed glasses. He's smart, and he loves mathematics. But his Dad has a simple message for him, "If you've got a brain, then use it!" And he does, with is over-active imagination and a practical application at the end that has an equally practical outcome for Frank and his Dad. This book was an Honour Book in the Australian Children's Book Council (CBC) Awards in 1991.

(iv) "
The Story of Ferdinand" (1936), Munro Leaf - Ferdinand is a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight. While every young bull wants to end up in the bullring, not Ferdinand. But circumstances thrust him into the spotlight. Despite the urgings of the banderilleros, picadors and a very vain matador, Ferdinand chooses simply to resist the call to fight. Leaf's timeless story and Robert Lawson's wonderful pen-and-ink drawings, make this book a classic. One of the best American books not to win the Caldecott Medal.

(vi) "Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley" (2007) and "Sunday Chutney" (2008), Aaron Blabey - Blabey won the 2008 Children's Book Council with his first book (see my previous review here) and his second book has many of the same qualities. His first book tells the story of a boy and girl who while very different are great friends. "Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are friends. Really great friends. However, people often ask, 'Why are Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley friends? They are just so different!' His second book, 'Sunday Chutney', is a simple first person narrative about an unusual girl who leads an unusual life. Moving from school to school due to her Dad's work, she faces many challenges; especially with other kids. Sunday Chutney knows what she likes, and doesn't like, and has great inner strength and imagination that gets her through. In her words, "I'm Sunday Chutney....and I'm a bit unusual..."

(vii) "
Penny Pollard's Diary" (1983), Robin Klein (illustrated by Anne James) - This is really a short graphic novel written in diary form and is suitable for children aged 7-10. Penny Pollard is a feisty little girl who doesn't want to conform. The book tells how she is helped to see that you can be different without being obnoxious and diificult. After hating old people she is helped to cope with her non-conformist ways by an 83 year old lady Mrs Bettany with whom she seems to have lots in common.
After the initial success of this book Klein wrote a whole series of Penny Pollard books (here).

(viii) "The Great Gilly Hopkins" (1978), Katherine Patterson - Like Penny Pollard, Gilly at age 11 year is different and a non-conformist. She has spent much of her life moving from one set of foster parents to the next. She is bright and at times difficult. Her need to be self-reliant has led her to not only be different, but to be bitter, angry and cynical from years of abandonment and rejection. She gets pleasure from bullying other foster children, but when she meets Mrs Trotter, in the home, seven year old boy named William Ernest Teague and Mr Randolph, she is forced to confront her own rebelliousness and cynicism. I haven't attempted a full list of books here. There are many fine examples in adolescent fiction that could also be reviewed that typically address more directly one or another of the key areas where teenagers struggle with going against the flow of simple conformism and peer pressure to be the same.

You can find my other posts on Key Themes in Children's Books by using the following these links:

The Environment