Top Ten Kick-Ass Female Protagonists 2009

Everyone else seems to be making a list for the end of the year, if not the decade, so here's my top ten brave, resilient, strong and kick-ass female characters from my reading in 2009.

In no particular order:

1. Mia in If I Stay by Gayle Forman
2. Daisy in How I live Now by Meg Rosoff
3. Gemma in Stolen by Lucy Christopher
4. Kaitness in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
5. Miranda in Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pffefer
5. Micha in Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Deryn in Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
7.Flavia in the Sweetness at The Bottom Of The Pie by Alan Bradley
8. Lisbeth in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
9. Kate in What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
Precious in Tea Time For The Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith

So what do all these characters have in common? For me they have the ability to show female readers that girls can: survive, be active, find humour in adversity, show the boys a thing or two and importantly be strong and loving (often at the same time!)

I'm reading some adult stuff at the moment, Wolf Hall is keeping me pretty busy! And I'm off to beautiful Tasmania on Monday, but I'll be back soon with more reviews and hoots :)

All the best for all your reading in 2010,

Barking Owl

Hoot# 21 The Dead and the Gone

The Dead and the Gone (Moon Trilogy#2) by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the companion book to Life As We Knew It. It's not a sequel, because the events are concurrent; Pfeffer takes us back to the moon being struck by the asteroid, but this time the setting is New York.

Like Miranda in Moon#1, Alex is quite the self-centred teenager. He is vice-president of his class, has Georgetown college aspirations and dreams of being the first Puerto Rican President. The book deals a little with his feelings of being an outsider in his school . Alex has an older brother, Carlos, who is in the marines, and two sisters, Bri and Julie.

One theme which differs slightly from the first book is the approach to religion. While Miranda's family is not religious at all, Alex's family is Catholic. They rely on the church for their education and food, as well as for spiritual strength. That's not to say that there aren't crises of faith, but I think that is only natural when dealing with the end of the world.

The story is told in diary narration, and like the first novel has an unresolved ending- but apparently Alex and Miranda will reappear in the final of the trilogy, The World We Live In.

Some readers might find this depressing, or scary, or both. There is a particularly frightening food riot scene, and this being Manhattan, there are some nasty rat moments as well. For all of this, I think it might nudge some readers out of their complacency or greed- this can only be a good thing!

I only have one complaint about this series, they make me hungry! Not that I'm going to stockpile food or anything... but I have a better idea of what to do if there are prolonged power outages.

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book H00T #20 Leviathan

Scott Westerfield's Leviathan is the pacy and exciting first book in a trilogy. It is an example of steampunk which is a branch of science fiction. In this alternate history the Darwinists have taken the theory and applied it to manipulate DNA. They are in conflict with the "clankers" who have develped machinery such as the walker, a sort of tank on legs.

This dual narrative follows Alex, the heir to the Austrian throne and Deryn a would be pilot who has disguised herself as a boy to join the airforce. She is certainly a kick ass female protagonist, someone who would do anything to achieve her dreams. I'm a bit torn about the 'just kidding, I'm really *just* a girl' storyline. Surely in an alternate history we could have alternate gender roles?

Both characters are thrown together by accident on the Leviathan, a combination whale/ zepplin aircraft. Some of the most creative blending of science and machinery are in the descriptions of this craft.

The design of this book is particularly attractive. The symbolic inside cover map denotes the countries' political allies. There are also beautiful illustrations throughout.

The open ending is a little frustrating, and apparently the next installment is not due until October 2010. Westerfield has certainly turned me onto steampunk. I'm keen for further recommendations if you have any ideas.

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book Hoot #19 The Wild Things

This is Dave Eggers' novelisation of the film made from Maurice Sendak's much loved children's book.

There were a couple of reasons why I desperately wanted to read this one:
  • I LOVE the picture book
  • I can't wait for the Spike Jonze film (and have been tearing up just watching the trailer!)
  • it has a furry cover(!!)
  • I am a bit obsessed with Dave Eggers
Yes, I have a little crush on all things Eggers. I get the McSweeny non-required reading every year, I have read all his books, have little dreams about moving to America to stalk him .... you get the picture!

So given all that build up, how was the book?

The premise is the same as the picture book, Max leaves home to sail away to an island of beasts. There is a wild rumpus, they love him so much they want to eat him up, they make him king, there is a parade and then he sails home to find dinner waiting.

But of course Jonze and Eggers had to fill the bones of the story out, and in doing so they have made Max a much more destructive character. His parents have divorced and he is acting out of anger and loneliness. He trashes his sister's room in a manner that could have major consequences, (and gets away with this) he is hostile to his mother's boyfriend and he lashes out culminating in biting his mum.

Eggers explains:

We all really get along - Spike and Maurice and I always had the same goals for the movie, and the novelization, too, which was to sort of reinstitute the dangerous elements of that book. Because when it came out, it was pretty controversial and some librarians didn’t like it, and child psychologists thought it was, you know, unhelpful. And it was really morally ambiguous in a way. It showed a kid sort of disobeying his mother and acting crazy - which all kids do, but you still don’t see much of in children’s literature. It’s too often, I think, washed clean.

Spike and Maurice and I just decided we needed to make the book wild and dangerous again and really unexpected. So the movie is really unlike anything anyone will expect, I think. And the book is different from both of them, actually. It has Max and Max going to an island, but in the book I’m able to [develop] the storyline also - as a book can always do. You have a lot more room to play with. The book is 150 words, the movie is 90 minutes, the novel gets to be a whole different level.

Max's rage doesn't just go away in this fantasy world though. It takes quite a while for him to learn that his actions have consequences, that even beasts have feelings. There were a few uncomfortable moments for me, mainly when Max was acting violently towards the beasts (and I realise that sounds odd; it didn't upset me when he bit his mother!)

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely and wholeheartedly. It is meant for "all ages" and there are definitely moments in there for all readers.

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Tender Morsels for the win!

Margo Lanagan has won a World Fantasy Award with Tender Morsels

The Guardian has the story here and this is my favourite part:
A book, she believes, is "perhaps the safest, the least confronting form" in which to explore tough stories, as it is much easier to decide to put down or take up an uncomfortable tale in a book, than it is to reject one on television or in a cinema. "If a young person (or an adult) is not ready, or not 'in the mood', for a particular story, or they need to pause in the reading, or even stop altogether, with a book they can pause, or stop, and no one else need see, know or comment," she said.

How absolutely true.

This one's a sure winner

Well, if you're like me, another Melbourne Cup has been and gone leaving an empty place in the purse. I had the favourite in the office sweep, and I'd picked the Bart Cummings horses in my trifecta... it's a good thing I can pick good books!

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn is about the grief felt by Kate Meaney a young girl who goes missing in a shopping centre. The first third of the book is told from her point of view, she is a delightful character who is obsessed with the potential crime scene at Green Oaks mall. There is a shocking turn of events which is not revealed until the end of the novel. In part two the narrative moves towards 2004 where we meet Kurt and Lisa, both of whom are struggling with their own loss- of family, of romantic hopes and so on.

This is a novel that will stay with you, one to chew over and chat about with your friends.

Wonderful writing, the voices of Kate, Lisa and Kurt are so well wrought. And I had an out loud gasp at one turn of events towards the end! Highly recommended.

Happy tales,
Barking Owl


Sorry for abandoning you little blog... here's a list of the things I have been doing instead of blogging:
  • shepherding another group of talented and bright young things off into the world
  • reading the third and final in the Milennium series
  • watching A LOT of ordinary television, and one excellent series of Mad Men
but I am BACK SOON, with a review of...

Until then, happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book h00T #18

Well, seven days and nine books later, I'm back from a lovely holiday in Bali. We stayed at a beautiful resort in Ubud, and I read and read and read. My idea of a perfect break!

Top of the pile was Judith Lanagan's The True History of The Hula Hoop. This is a dual narrative is told from the perspective of Catherine, an Australian traveling performance artist and Colombia, a 16th century Italian clown. The prose is interesting and well plotted. I learned a lot about the hula hoop too! Lanagan is a hula hoop performer herself and this comes through in her passion about hooping. I also loved the West Australian connection. Highly recommended.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier is about Micah Wilkins, a self-confessed compulsive liar. Talk about an unreliable narrator! Much has been written about this novel, and I'm certainly not going to spoil the surprises for you, so I'll just add that it is an exciting, tightly written narrative that will keep you thinking long after you have closed it. Loved it. The tagline is: "Read it to believe it" and you certainly should.

The last of my YA pile was The Crossing by Mandy Hager. This is the first of the "Blood of the Lamb" trilogy, but to be honest, I don't think I'll be reading the next two. I'm not sure if it is an overdose of post-apocalyptic novels, or just that I didn't warm to any of the characters very much. The concept is interesting, but the manipulation of religion irked me a little; it was heavy-handed in my opinion. The love story just didn't fire either. It is pacy, and younger readers might enjoy it (but I'd point them to the Moon Trilogy, The Other Side of the Island or Hunger Games instead.)

So, back to work on Monday... I think I'll cheer myself up by chatting with my classes about the great books I read over the two week break. And maybe, actually I'm pretty sure they will have some new titles for me to check out too.

Happy tales,

Barking Owl


In about four hours I'm heading off for a week in Bali, volcanic activity, tsunamis, and potential super typhoons couldn't keep me away.

In the suitcase, along with the sunscreen and the bathers are these:

Along with some non YA choices, these should keep me busy by the pool :)

And great cover designs too dontcha think?

So, hooting these beauties when I return.

Until then, happy holidays and happy tales,

barking owl

Book H00t #17 The Loblolly Boy

Loblolly: a non-professional assistant to a ship's surgeon
Loblolly: a medicinal porridge sometimes containing meat

What do these definitions have to do with this book? Nothing, as far as I can make out. But what an odd word!

This loblolly boy is able to fly, doesn't need to eat and is invisible to others. Some people, the Sensitives and the frightening Collectors are able to see him and this drives the plot. Exchanges take place, bodies are swapped and children escape from one existence to another.

James Norcliffe's fantasy novel has a touch of the Peter Pans about it. It intrigued me! And I usually don't like fantasy.

There were also some beautiful passages of writing, like:
He did let me touch the wings once. The feathers were long and soft and glittered in the dapled sunlight with a speckle and an emerald shine. They were beautiful. When he flexed his shoulders they lifted and stretched and I gasped at the lovely symmetry of them.
The message is certainly not a clear one. The children want to exchange with the boy to escape their lot in life, but they quickly find out that jumping from the frying pan into the fire isn't all it's cracked up to be. Perhaps readers might sympathise with these kids, but shouldn't wanting to improve your lot in life be positive? And there's a theme about single parenting happening in there too which I have mixed feelings about.

All in all, this is an entertaining ride which will certainly raise questions!

Happy tales,
Barking Owl

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Meme

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

You can have a FAVOURITE snack? I am all-embracing in my snack choices.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of
writing in books horrify you?

HORRIFY! Books are precious!

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

see above.

Laying the book flat open?

I have a lavender scented book weight.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?


Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you
able to put a book down at any point?

Urgh. This annoys me so much. I can stop at any point and pick up again immediately. Someone *close* to me HAS to finish at the end of a chapter.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

this doesn't happen often, english teacher :)

What are you currently reading?

The Loblolly Boy by James Norcliffe

What is the last book you bought?

see above

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can
you read more than one at a time?

More than one, life's too short for only one!

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

nope, all the time.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

stand alone, although I have enjoyed the Hunger Games series and the Moon books too.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Sweetness At the Bottom Of the Pie by Alan Bradley

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

By colour! Really, quite anal about it ;)

Two excellent articles FYI

"Where The Popular Kids Are Sitting" by Karen Healey about YA readers, YA writers and the endurance of speculative fiction.


John Green's speech for the ALAN conference about the intelligence of teenage readers.

Weenie Hoot: Hunger Games II Catching Fire

WOW. Just wow.

Again I devoured this one. It picks up pretty much where the previous novel left off, and the tension is ramped up almost immediately.

If you haven't caught this series, I see Dymocks is offering Hunger Games at $9.00. Get into it!

Oh and this isn't the Australian cover, but I like this one better :)

Happy tales,

Barking Owl

Book Blogger Appreciation Week: Interview

As part of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I interviewed the lovely Jess from Barney's Book Blog

And it went a little something like this:

What’s the story of the title of your blog?

Have you ever seen the television show ‘How I Met Your Mother’? One of the characters (played by the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris) is named Barney and he has a blog where he writes about picking up chicks and being awesome. When I decided to start my blog, I didn’t like the name Jessica’s Book Blog, so instead I named it after the only person (although not real) I knew who had a blog.

What was the impetus to start blogging?

I read too much and needed an outlet to discuss my opinions on the books I read. My family and friends were at the point where they would roll their eyes every time I said, “I just read the most incredible book...”

When you started did you have an imagined reader in mind? Or were you writing for yourself primarily?

I didn’t really think about who would read my blog. It was more for me to vent my ideas and opinions about the books I was reading.

What lifted the number of subscribers and readers of your blog? Was it a particular post?

It wasn’t a particular post. It was embracing the blogger community and getting involved with weekly memes and commenting on other blogs. Commenting and engaging within the community made other bloggers search me out and become subscribers.

Do you blog all of the books you read?

No, I don’t usually review books that are a part of a series that I started reading before I started blogging. I do usually mention them in posts where I discuss what I am reading for the week.

Has your writing/ your ‘voice’ changed over the time you have been blogging?

My writing has changed. I have a very different reviewing format than I did in the beginning. I write more about the themes I see in books instead of just talking about what I liked. I also try very hard to be spoiler free.

Thanks Jess and happy Book Blogger Appreciation Week!

b0Ok h00t #16 The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian

This award winning novel is told from the viewpoint of Arnold Spirit (Junior) a teenage cartoonist who lives on the Spokane Reservation, the rez. Arnold has a couple of strikes against him: he was born with "water on the brain", has seizures and oversize hands and feet. Against the wishes of his best friend, and the Indian community, Arnold decides to leave the local high school and head to the rich white high school Reardan. His tale is illustrated with his cartoons.

Does this sound like a funny book? Well, Sherman Alexi's character is funny! The voice of the 14 year old is realistic and the content is spot on for this age group. But this is tempered with the racist prejudice that Arnold faces, and the very real problems of the rez- alcoholism, poverty, hunger, loss of cultural identity and so on. Overall though, this is a book with heart, and I can see both boys and girls enjoying reading about such an unfamiliar world. The friendship between Arnold and Randy is lovely and real.

Overall, I think this would be a great book for thirteen year olds. And in Australia, it could lead to discussion about our treatment of and attitudes towards our Aboriginal people.

Happy tales.

Barking Owl

It looks like a wild and windy night, perfect for cuddling up with a book :)

BooK Hoot #15 Tender Morsels

**spoiler alert**
Margo Lanagan's controversial fantasy has a very dark start. Liga is abused by her father, sexually and psychologically, but out of this horror comes a beautiful daughter, Branza. As if this isn't enough, she is then raped resulting in another daughter Urdda. The three live and heal in a place which is on the edge of what we would consider the 'real' world. Both of these worlds are nudging and tearing though, and there is movement between them from some minor characters. And a lot of bears!

This sort of text is not my usual cup of tea, but I found it strangely compelling. I wanted to know that life would be better for Liga and the girls. And I thought the writing was poetic and beautiful. Lanagan constructs a dialect which goes to making the world of the text fascinating. It is certainly an original fairytale, borrowing from Grimm's and like those shows just how cruel and unjust life can be. There are moments of tenderness, as the title suggests, and these are poignant and a relief.

Would I recommend this to teenagers? Well, yes. Older ones, who can cope with the darkness. Or those who like fantasy. It is an honest and brutal tale that has much to say.

And as for the controversy, fairy tales are not sweet nor Disneyesque. There are clear signs on the back that this is not a children's book. I hope most adults who are complaining about this text also stop their kids watching crime dramas, or playing violent games. If you don't want this stuff in your head, then you've every right to not read/ watch.

And what a beautiful cover! The artist's work can be seen here.

happy tales,
Barking Owl

Get with the program!

There's an article in the NY Times about a 'revolutionary' idea- letting kids pick their own reading materials for class.

So. not. new.

“What child is going to pick up ‘Moby-Dick’?” said Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University who was assistant education secretary under President George H. W. Bush. “Kids will pick things that are trendy and popular. But that’s what you should do in your free time.”


How can we NOT foster a love of reading? I think that's my primary role! (That and teaching possessive apostrophe rules...)

And Meg Cabot agrees.

b00k H00t #14 The Other Side OF The Island

Yes, another dystopian YA novel on the list for year nines. But this is my favourite yet! It is eighteen years after "enclosure", the world as we know it has been flooded, presumably due to global warming, and there is only a series of numbered islands left. "Earth Mother" who is in charge of the Corporation, has enclosed some islands to control their weather, and the people's minds!

Allegra Goodman's combines globalisation and global warming in her dark vision for our potential future. The writing is tight and pacy and there's certainly much to be discussed in terms of language choice and her extrapolation of current global events. For example, the punishment for not filling out forms correctly is 24 hours of "Persuasive Reasoning and Positive Reinforcement" and the potential loss of teeth. As in all the best dystopian texts, the price of freedom is pain.

Honor (all the children in her birth year have names beginning with 'h') and her parents move to island 365 where there is New Weather and all people are controlled down to their jobs, housing and reproductive rights. Sound familiar? This totalitarian scenario has been seen before in texts, and of course in our world. The complications come when Honor's family defy the rules- even her name isn't really complying, and they begin to fight back. Of course along the way Honor tries to fit in with this new order.

I can't recommend this one highly enough. Speculative fiction has an important place in the classroom and in our lives, it always has. There are subtleties that adults will enjoy. For example: the Corporation are in the process of 'ceiling' the world; there are hotels just visible beneath the ocean and there's one memorable scene with a lone polar bear which reminded me of the scene from An Inconvenient Truth.

I think teenagers will lap this one up- and Honor certainly kicks some corporation ass!

Happy reading,

Barking Owl

No Blyton-esque endings- but where's the hope?

There's an interesting article over at Guardian books blog about Anne Fine's comments at the Edinborough international book festival (how cool would that be?!)

It raises some of the issues that I'm interested in, namely the fine line between reality and despair.

Recently as a faculty we were discussing just this problem; we want students to read realistic texts, that are gritty and deal with issues worth discussion, BUT we also want them to retain a sense of hope. If you're being fed texts about the end of the earth in English, then moving to science to learn about global warming and then to social studies to learn about overpopulation, then you can see why some of them have such a bleak outlook.

And is it our place as English teachers to raise these issues?

I'm about to read Tender Morsels which has been so controversial in the UK this summer.

Watch this space :)

BooK H00t # 13 Life As We Knew It

I loves me a good disaster book and Life As We Knew It delivered in spades, BUT it also had a feisty female protagonist and that made the read all the better for me.

The disaster that initiates the apocalypse in this novel is that the moon has been hit by a meteor and has been knocked closer to earth. This causes all sorts of cataclysmic events such as tsunamis, volcanic activity and climate change. The family's response to this forms the bulk of the novel.

Miranda is 16 and is preoccupied with all the things readers and viewers of American texts will recognise: prom, grade point average, friendships and budding romance. Her father has remarried and is expecting a new baby, and Miranda's response to this modern, but common, family composition will be a point of recognition for many readers. Over the course of the text she moves from the typical self-centered, argumentative teenager to someone who will do anything to ensure that her younger brother (at least) will survive.

Susan Beth Pfeffer tells the story in diary entries from Miranda's perspective. She has captured an authentic teenage voice with all the complaining, angst and arguments that will certainly ring true with teenagers, and those who live or work with them! Her relationship with her mother is an example of this- she loves her, she hates her, they fight hammer and tongs. I'm just grateful that the mother character isn't killed off! So much of this relationship forms the heart of the novel, and I found it both realistic and moving.

If you were to compare this disaster novel to some of the adult versions of the genre, then it is probably closest to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I loved. BUT the humanity in this text is completely different: the doctor character remains working in the local hospital when most are fleeing; people volunteer in the post office; teachers try to keep the schools open and the community shares when they can afford to. There is also lovely relationship with an older woman.

My one gripe is with the representation of faith. The church and its representatives are certainly not shown positively, and the character who chooses to starve herself to be closer to God is one I could have done without. I think discussing this in a christian school might be tricky.

This is the first in a trilogy, and like The Hunger Games, I'm hooked.

If after reading this, teenagers can get an appreciation for the little things in life, like hot showers and electricity, then that can only be a good thing!

Happy tales, and don't forget to stock up on the canned beans, *just in case!*

Barking Owl

Book Week Dress Up Day

As promised, here's today's dress up efforts.

Can I tell you that suit was like wearing a doona and I BAKED most of the day, despite it being cold and rainy.

My year 12s found it hard to take me seriously when I was discussing Anti-American Imperialist discourse dressed as Tigger.

bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

Book Week!

Yes it's Book Week and that means lots of fun activities at school, culminating in a dress up day tomorrow.

The theme, as you can see is Book Safari and here you can dress to the theme OR come as your favourite character. I will be combining the two and dressing as Tigger (photos tomorrow.) Do you remember parading as your favourite character when you were a kid? And who would you choose now?

On Friday the winners of the CBC awards will be announced. Have you read any of these?

D.M. CORNISH Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two: Lamplighter (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia)

Anthony EATON Into White Silence (Woolshed Press, Random House Australia)

Jackie FRENCH A Rose for the Anzac Boys (Harper Collins Publishers)

Melina MARCHETTA Finnikin of the Rock (Viking Penguin Group Australia)

James MOLONEY Kill the Possum (Penguin Group Australia)

Shaun TAN Tales from Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin)

My guess, and it would be a complete guess, is Melina Marchetta. I haven't read it though... just going on her cred.

So, happy Book Week and happy tales,

Barking Owl

cheating at reading/ self imposed spoliers

There's a funny article over at the Guardian about cheating at choose your own adventure stories. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Cute, hey?

So this got me thinking about whether you're the sort of reader who will peek at the ending of the book, or do you prefer to let the tale take you there?

I can't look. In fact I'm never even tempted. There are times that I don't make the ending, but that's different; if I don't care enough about the characters or the narrative to finish, then what happens at the end really isn't of much concern either.

Then there are the books that you don't want to finish, because then you won't be reading them anymore!

Here's a list of books that would have been completely ruined if I had known the ending prior to reading: (don't worry, no spoilers here!)
  • There's A Monster At the End of This Book by Jon Stone
  • The Life Of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Storm Boy by Colin Theile
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Which ending has surprised you the most? Or satisfied you the most? Do you self-impose spoilers?

happy tales,
barking owl

The Dreaded Class Novel OR how to kill reading pleasure.

At my school, we are in the process of deciding which novels to teach next year, 2010, which sounds like a date from the FUTURE to me, something from a science fiction text!

We run a class novel in every year group, with varying degrees of success. It always breaks my heart when students are casually discussing how little of these books they actually read. Some of them get by on classroom discussion, reading the bare minimum and hoping for the best.

It is always a trying process to find novels that all the teachers want to teach, that have some literary merit, aren't too adult and (as you might have gathered from my blog tagline) have strong, feisty teenage girls as central protagonists. There are lots of other criteria too: like some issues to discuss, the writing needs to be tight and the narrative satisfying. You're probably thinking it's a miracle that we find anything at all.

We had a lovely lot of books on appro from Westbooks and have enjoyed reading some of the latest YA ficiton. BUT nothing has leaped out yet.

What is your most hated class text?

Mine was taught by the most fearful headmistress, you know the kind: aging but still intimidating, formidable stare, terrifying habit of calling on you when you were dozy or unprepared. The novel was Bel Ria (something about a dog and a monkey apparently!) and her lessons consisted of reading a chapter out loud then setting questions that we would do for homework for her next lesson the following week. ALMOST killed my love of English, only saved by my regular teacher (think Miss Honey from Roald Dahl's Matilda.)

As a result, I try really hard not to kill a book with endless comprehension questions, and I try REALLY hard not to let teen apathy kill a book for me. My tens are struggling through To Kill A Mocking Bird right now, and I'm thinking of fun ways to teach it.

Ok, let me know which books were crucified for you by a teacher. Have you gone back to read it later? Or will it always be dead to you?

happy tales :)

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Meme

Here goes:

1) What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?
I am such a newbie at this. I guess I've enjoyed the reflection on my reading, choosing the texts and thinking about what effect my comments might have on readers. I like the compliments on my writing too :)

2) What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?
My friend Sarah put me onto the joys of blogging in the first place, and gave me the confidence and kick in the pants that I needed to get started.

3) What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?
Which blogger inspired you the most?
Looking forward to the week!

Book Hoot #12 Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones tells the story of Charlie Bucktin and the insular mining town of Corrigin in the 1960s. Charlie and his friend Jeffery Lu are outsiders, but not to the same extent as Jasper Jones, a 'mixed race' boy who seems to be the town scapegoat for every misdemeanour. When Jasper knocks on Charlie's louvered windows one night, nothing will be the same for either of them again.

Craig Silvey's coming of age story makes many intertextual references that younger readers might not understand. The love interest, Eliza Wishart is obsessed with Breakfast At Tiffany's, Charlie voraciously consumes Twain, and Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird makes many appearances throughout the text. Sometimes this is a bit forced to be honest.

I was reading Jasper Jones with teaching in mind, and it would make an excellent bridge between Mockingbird and Atonement. I feel it is important for WA students to read a text published by a West Australian, set in their home state. We tried Sorry by Gail Jones for this reason, to an underwhelming response. JJ has a much more engaging plot and more accessible themes. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps... I do have a few content and language concerns.

Jeffery Lu is the standout character in this text. He is a witty, quirky boy who will make you laugh out loud. (Sometimes I wondered if his voice would ring true with adolescent readers; there is an early conversation about superheroes that I found far too 'adult'.) In any case, he is memorable for his questions, and the cricket game is one of the best underdog performances I've read for a long time.

Jeffery Lu's best question: would you rather wear a hat made of spiders, or have penises for fingers?

Well, what would you prefer? ( And yes the spiders are venomous.)

Happy reading :)

Fantastic Mr Fox

How very cool does this look?

Create Your YA Debut novel cover

Here's mine. Can you believe I got an owl? Spooky!
And yeah, I know there isn't a person in the picture, but the people ones were a bit disturbing... and I mean c'mon I wasn't going to let that owl go!

Via: Alien Onion.

Here's the instructions:

1 - Go to "Fake Name Generator" or click

The name that appears is your author name.

2 - Go to "Random Word Generator" or click

The word listed under "Random Verb" is your title.

3 - Go to "FlickrCC" or click

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 - Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 - Post it to your site along with this text.

Have a look at the gallery.

BooK H0oT #11 Hunger Games

This dystopian novel by Suzanne Collins is set in post apocalyptic USA where there are 12 districts left in Panem, all vying for whatever is left in natural resources, especially food. The Capitol demand a pair of sacrifices from each district every year as a reminder of their subservience. The Games are televised nationally and are fought to the death.

This book is the start of a trilogy and I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEXT ONE! On the cover, Stephen King comments on the suspense, and he is spot on.

Collins' novel features exactly the sort of kick-ass girl I think there should be more of in YA fiction.
From the opening scene I knew I would like Kaitness Everdeen; she's spunky, brave and loyal. She provides for her family by hunting illegally and she has developed skills which serve her well when she gets to the Hunger Games in the Capitol. She is a complex character though; she feels deeply and responds to the unnecessary deaths with sensitivity.

These killings might make some younger readers uncomfortable, but they are handled well and make sense in terms of character and narrative. Like all speculative fiction, the reality television of today is taken to its logical conclusion- and Collins asks the reader to consider the extent to which those in power go to keep others subjugated.

While the plotting was pacy and engaging, perhaps there could have been more in terms of the political in the novel. Although Kaitness and Peeta both question the society in the Capitol and their methods of controlling others, they can't do much to protest in their situation. Perhaps there will be more of this in the next couple of texts. There's much to discuss here with a class about society, inequality and protest.

One little gripe, there were two sentences that made me stop because they were missing words. C'mon editors! Young readers, perhaps more than adults, deserve better proof-reading.

There are hints of Margo Lanagan's short story Singing My Sister Down and the classic Shirley Jackson story The Lottery here. Both of them would be excellent companion texts when teaching this novel. And if you were teaching Lord of the Flies, then this might be an easier/ more enjoyable option for some readers.

Recommended for:
  • girls wanting a protagonist who can take care of herself without mooning around longing for lurve (but there is a love triangle here too.)
  • boys too would like the pacy, action packed adventure
  • readers ready to move into sci-fi, this could be a stepping stone to some classic reads
Teaching ideas:
  • How far would you go for self-preservation?
  • Plot out the next two books- predict what might happen to some of the characters
  • Invent your own dystopia- extrapolate a current issue to its logical conclusion.
Discussion notes here from Scholastic.

Happy reading :)

B00K H00T #10 Stolen

Wow this one was a ripper of a read! Lucy Christopher has an excellent debut novel in Stolen. Even though that was MY novel title! Have to come up with something else now...

Anyhoo, this is told from the point of view of Gemma a seventeen year old British girl who is en route to Vietnam when she is drugged and stolen from Bangkok airport. The style is second person point of view, written as a letter to her captor and this is effective in keeping the reader engaged in working out the mystery of where he has taken her and what his intentions are.

It reminded me a lot of John Fowles' The Collector, but the imprisoned Gemma is much more sympathetic than the (at times pathetically) self-obsessed Miranda, while Ty is more interesting but just as creepy as Clegg.

There is a touch of Stockholm syndrome in the resolution, and while teenage girls might like this romance, it wasn't the most interesting part of the story for me. I enjoyed the landscape descriptions of outback WA and that the premise was (mostly) believable.

One small quibble, and I know that the author has little say over these sorts of things, the snake on the inside cover and the back is a bit obvious and brighter readers will NOT appreciate the spoiler.

recommended for:
  • fourteen or fifteen year old girls
  • those who like a bit of mystery with their bit of romance
  • those who like to be creeped out a bit

teaching ideas:
  • the symbolism of the camel, and other caged things would provide discussion
  • writing from the second person pov, considering what situations this would suit
  • design a LESS obvious dust jacket!

happy reading :)

BOOk H00t #9 How Do You Spell G-e-e-k?

This is a quick read from Julie Ann Peters that will engage 11 or 12 year old girls who are going through the trials of friendships.

Friends aren't always easy to get along with are they? Especially if, like Kimberley, they are under pressure from their parents to win a national spelling bee. Or if they are the naive new kid in school, like Lurlene (yes really), who has awkward dress sense, a loud laugh and is traumatised by her parents' divorce. Sometimes you find yourself stuck in the middle, like Ann, forced to mentor Lurlene, at the expense of the cute boy who teases her and Kimberley's companionship.

So, this is a book about much more than spelling. But I do have a few issues with some of the representations. There is a lot of teasing of these girls with little in the way of comeuppance for the perpetrators. Lurlene cops a lot of it, and seems clueless to do anything about it. The branding of characters into narrow stereotypes might be convenient for young readers, but c'mon now authors! Can't we break these common assumptions once in a while? See Diamond In The Window for more on this.

Speaking as a geek, I'd like to think that such geekdom as the pursuit of excellence in spelling might one day be seen positivly.

The resolution was a little too neat, expected and twee, but at the same time left some of the bigger questions hanging. How will Kimberley's parents cope with her performance? And what about the whole divorce theme? Or is it just expected that these kids will get on with their fractured families?

Recommended for:
  • younger readers having friendship bust-ups
  • spellers? although there's a surprising lack of spelling in the story
  • if you liked the documentary Spellbound
  • If you like those makeover type scenes; Lurlene gets a new look for under twenty dollars

Happy tales :)

your reading autobiography

Today I used my year ten class for some blogger fodder (the 'mommy bloggers' can use their kids, so I figure this is only fair!)

I asked them to think about being read to as a child and what book they first remembered loving. ALL of them had something to write about there. They had such fun remembering the Spot series and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There were also many happy memories of the connection between reading and security. I know that this is not always the case. Another reason to count my blessings I guess.

Then they wrote about the first 'chapter book' they read. Titles like the Animorphs series and Deltora Quest came up. Also these are kids who have grown up with the Harry Potter series. They love them so much and for many these were the chapter books they held triumphantly above their heads crying: I did it! One girl wrote about how her mum would read her the series before bed, but had gone out one night and missed their ritual. So, instead of waiting for mum, she pulled the book from the shelf and read it herself! How amazing to recall that first moment.

Another wrote about how a teacher had singled her and a friend out for some extra reading in the library as a reward for being a good reader. The pride she felt in being picked especially for this treat helped make her the reader that she is today. What a great reminder for teachers, it's those little things that can make such a difference to a child's esteem.

Lastly they recommended a title for me to read.

What would be in your reading autobiography? how have you grown up with books?

Happy reading :)

Book Hoot # 8 How I Live Now

I was prepared to give this one a go given all the positive reviews, awards, and the fact it is rarely on the school library shelves, despite being five years old.

My first impressions were that Daisy is a nasty piece of work: obviously anorexic and manipulative to boot. I would have sent her to the other side of the Atlantic too! The instant attraction to her cousin is a bit sudden. AND what sort of self- absorption does it require to ignore terrorist attacks and invasion in the capital city of the country you're living in?

So, there I was disliking her when she crept up on me and all of a sudden I was on her side. The anorexia was an important motif; for Daisy and Piper have to struggle for food to survive and starving yourself when there's an abundance seems so ridiculous. If teenage girls only take that message away, then that's a GOOD THING.

The style of writing changes as the narrative moves along too. The run-on, overly long sentences were beginning to drive me berko, but I guess that this is the 'authentic teenage voice' that so many reviewers commented on. Anyway, by the end of the book, the sentences were shorter, thank goodness! And the last section is beautifully constructed.

Recommended for:
  • those who enjoyed the Tomorrow series by John Marsden
  • romantics
  • readers who enjoy a pacy, rip along read. (I did it in two hours.)
Teacher's notes available on the Penguin website:

Super new look!

Just a quick post to say how much I LOVE my new look and thank you to TDG. I love the retro owls, and the cuteness of them holding hands. If you have a blog, I would highly recommend Danielle.

I have nearly finished Playing With The Grownups by Sophie Dahl. I don't really have much of an opinion about it to be honest. Isn't that the worst thing you can say about a book? It is just kind of *meh*... This is her debut novel, and there's lots of description of clothing but little in the way of character motivation. As for the relationship between the mother and daughter, hardly credible.

Plenty more books to be read before I pick up another one of hers!

Oh, and Harry Potter was very enjoyable. Had a LONG conversation on the way home about what the purpose of the film was ... with someone who hasn't read the book! Of course there were changes. There is a particularly frightening scene in a corn field at The Burrow, and no battle scene as described in the novel. But even so, I LOVED it.

blog makeover

I'm very excited about my blog makeover stylishly handled by the talented design girl, happening soon!

Meanwhile, finished reading HP in preparation for the movie excursion on Friday. I wonder how true it will be to the book...

In other YA book news, Melina Marchetta has won the 2009 Printz Award for Jellicoe Road. It also won the WAYRB older readers book last year. So that's another one to add to the ever increasing to be read list. Along with other honourable mentions:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, The Kingdom on the Waves, by M.T. Anderson

(but I should read the first one first!) and

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks,
by E. Lockhart

Both of which sound excellent.

I do have a leaning tower of books next to my bed, 21 at the last count. But I don't feel right if I don't have a big pile there, and several waiting at the library. Greedy? Or just super prepared? I thought that I would get through more these school holidays, but the HP got in the way a little. And I guess I should be reading To Kill A Mockingbird to get ready for teaching.

Too many books, too little time.

Books and Film

I am re-reading Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in preparation for the film, which looks amazing. I got goosebumps just watching the preview! One of my favourite moments from the last HP was the flying through London scene, so vivid and realistic- that's the power of film.

Anyway, this got me thinking about books that are made into enjoyable films; ones that don't elicit the "the book was better" line. I feel a list coming on!

  1. Holes by Louis Sachar is a wonderful adaptation by Disney, just as good as the novel, probably because Sachar wrote the screenplay. Also, it is cast really well with Sigourney Weaver as the Warden at Camp Greenlake. That song: "If only, if only the woodpecker sighs..." is going to be in my head all day now.
  2. Looking For Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta is a favourite teen read, a coming of age, and coming to terms with identity tale. Again this is well cast with Pia Miranda and Greta Scacchi in the two lead roles. I think the film handles the suicide scene brilliantly, and Josie's response to her friend's death, probably *gasp* better than the book.
  3. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara tells the true story of the removal of Aboriginal children to Moore River native settlement. The award winning and controversial film, as you would expect, shows the distance and the beautiful, uncompromising landscape they travelled.
  4. The Princess Bride by William Goldman is a perennial favourite, which was beautifully filmed by Rob Reiner. Although made in 1987, it has not dated. The book is an altogether different experience with an extended commentary about Goldman's relationship with his wife and (fictitious) son.
  5. The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende is a fantasy which centers around a 'dangerous' book which allows Bastien Bux (yes really) to escape some bullies. Ah, books as escape. I loved the representation of Falkor the Luck Dragon. I fear that this film might have dated though, probably ripe for a remake.

What are your favourite book to film adaptations? And which books to films totally flopped? Leave a comment, please :)

yeah! what she said...

Excellent comment from this article about the categorisation of books:

Good YA is not dumbed-down adult fare; it’s literature that doesn’t waste a breath. It doesn’t linger over grandiloquent descriptions of clouds or fields, and it doesn’t introduce irrelevant minor characters in the hope (too often gratified) that the book will be called Dickensian. As Laurie Halse Anderson, author of many excellent YA books, said in an interview, “We write for people who are pressed for reading time. We try to craft our books so they’re not bloated or meandering.”

Book Hoot #7 Wesley The Story of a Remarkable Owl

So you might have worked out that I am a bit enamored with all things owl, so this memoir was right up my alley. The cover featuring Wesley as an owlet sold me, but I learnt a lot about what it means to keep an owl and what it means to be an owl. Stacey O'Brien writes with the devotion of a mother and the dedication of a scientist.

"The Way of the Owl" is a refrain that O'Brien uses to explain the behaviour of owls. For example, did you know that owls mate for life? And when an owl's partner dies, he might turn his head to the trunk of his tree and sink into such deep depression that he dies too. There's a lot to learn about owls, but equally about relationships in this book. O'Brien sacrifices a lot because she adopts Wesley, but she intimates that the sort of guy who couldn't accept her owl would not be right for her anyway. In the end, Wesley saves her, to return the favour if you like.

One aspect of this book which might put off some readers (squeamish teenage girls for example) is the amount of mice that are killed and consumed. O'Brien doesn't hold back on the gory details. And the graphic description of the coughed up pellet which contains a complete rodent skeleton might also be a bit much for some. Personally, I took great joy in reading these sections out loud to those in earshot!

The problem with animal based memoirs is that the end of the story is all too predictably sad. I really liked that O'Brien foregrounded this:
The one thing that I hate about animal stories is that after you have almost read the entire book and really care about the animal, they go and tell you how the animal died... so you should stop reading now if you don't want to hear about Wesley dying.
I am a big sookey-lala, so I had a little cry, certainly not as much as I did reading Marley and Me, but she is right about caring for the animal you're reading about. The talent of the writer is to get you to care.

Recommended for:
  • owl lovers! There's a memorable scene where Wesley stretches his wings to hug O'Brien
  • animal memoir fans
  • readers interested in wildlife science; there's a lot of science in this book
Teaching ideas:
  • pet memoir short stories are always popular
  • research ten things you don't know about an animal

Curl Up Under the Covers reads

There are a lot of northern hemisphere summer reading lists going around, so in the spirit of list making and because on a rainy, cold day like today there's nothing better than reading in bed, here's my: southern hemisphere 10 best to read in bed list. (Not a catchy title, but you get the drift!)

Not all of these are specifically YA, but who says teens can't break into some of these?

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy For a bleak, examination of the darkness of humankind after the apocalypse, for the freezing cold and wishing to escape it, but mostly for the spare and beautiful writing and the relationship between father and son.
  2. Any one of the Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Lady's Dectective Agency series will make you as feel warm inside as if you had a large cup of bush tea.
  3. The Boat Nam Lee will take you to many places, some of them uncomfortable, and will make you grateful for the warmth and security of your bed.
  4. Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam is another collections of stories, it follows a group of medical students and will show you what it means to be a doctor.
  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan will take you to the heat of Summer's day in England, through the horrors of WWII and back to England. Escapism at its most intellectual. SO much better than the film.
  6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery isn't an escape to a place as much as it is to the inside of the characters' minds.
  7. The Turning by Tim Winton will remind you that the heat is just around the corner with this series of interconnected stories set in Western Australia.
  8. Feed by MT Anderson is a smart and funny YA novel, a satire about the all pervasive internet, which Anderson has placed directly into his characters' heads. Snuggle under the doona and let him take you to the moon and back.
  9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte instead of trying to escape the wind and the rain, let Bronte take you to the stormy moors.
  10. Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. Pour yourself a hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake for this one and enjoy the magical realism, and the recipes!

What's your favourite book to curl up with? And does the season make for different choices?

B0oK H0oT #6 If I Stay

Seventeen year old Mia and her family take a spontaneous drive to visit family on a 'snow day' and get into an accident with a 40 tonne truck which 'eviscerates' the car and kills her parents instantly. Teddy, who is six, and Mia are thrown from the car. The rest of the narrative moves between Mia, outside of her body watching is happening to save her, and flashbacks of her life up until that point.

This was a compulsive read for me, I inhaled it in about three hours and enjoyed it thoroughly. While it might sound as though it breaks my (self-imposed) rules about no dead mothers and gloomy plots, the relationship that Mia has with her parents, brother and grandparents is one of the most affirming I have read recently.

There is also a lovely music theme running through the book, Mia is a talented cellist, her boyfriend Adam is a punk singer and both of her parents were musical too. As for the medical scenes, I found them convincing, if a little disturbing, but I think teenagers seem to be immune to this sort of stuff, blame CSI perhaps.

The premise suggested by the title and the cover is handled really well and would be an interesting point of discussion for teenagers. Do you think that the critically ill have the 'choice' to survive? I like to think so, but what a hard decision, especially if you can see how damaged your body is and know the fate of your loved ones. And, would you have recollection of the time spent outside yourself?

recommended for:
  • musical teens, some of the descriptions of playing are beautifully done
  • realistic romance readers
teaching ideas:
  • point of view is interesting here, students could write the accident from Teddy's point of view
  • the ending is crying out for a sequel, or at least a discussion about what might happen next
  • I see that it is planned for a film in 2011. Students could plan the casting, storyboard some shots, discuss what changes would have to be made etc.

B00k HooT #5 How to Ditch Your Fairy

There's so much to love about this snappy read. I was grabbed quickly by the vocabulary on page one: "My spoffs looked funny in the top, which is odd because my spoffs are tiny." Best opening line this year!

Charlie is cursed by her parking fairy. Her best friend has a clothes shopping fairy, her arch enemy Fiorenze has an all boys will like you fairy, even a finding loose change fairy would be better! So Charlie goes about trying to ditch her fairy, which proves to be more difficult than it sounds. She goes to an all sports high school and has a crush on the new boy, Steffie, who is unfortunately besotted with Fiorenze (Stupid-Name.)

So, funny writing, excellent concept and likable characters. But wait there's more! The thing I liked best about "How To Ditch Your Fairy" was the setting- neither America nor Australia as explained in a note to readers, and the resulting cute touches like Charlie loving cricket and basketball, and being able to own a quokka as a pet.

I would have loved to own a quokka when I was a kid. I did once swing one by the tail because my grandfather said its eyes would drop out. *shame* Of course that was back in the day when you could touch them and feed them. They are quite rightly protected now (probably from kids like me.)

This is a perfectly paced page turner.

Recommended for: those who believe in karma/ luck/ fairies. Personally, I think that my own parking fairy is pretty awesome :)

Teaching ideas:
  • the vocabulary: words like pulchritudinous, doos, doxhead all provided in a glossary at the back. Students could invent their own.
  • make a case for being awarded a fairy, or trading a fairy with a friend. Do fairies come to those who deserve them?

teen reading and sales of YA fiction

This is an interesting read (via Meanjin, via Alien Onions) about teenagers, reading and how sales are rocketing on the back of HP and Twilight.

'There are several reasons why so many teenagers are passionate readers. A book is a pathway inside another person’s head. When you are young, you have few deep relationships, maybe no real emotional connections with others at all. You connect in the text. At that age, it is a revelation to see an author has the same dreams and insecurities as you do. Plus, there is a confidence and conviction to a fiction narrative’s voice. You are eager for someone to look up to, but certainly not your parents, not your teachers. A novel is an opportunity to really listen to another human being.'

Absolutely! Except for the relationships part, I think the emotional connections that most teenagers feel are as intense as at any other age, perhaps there are just more of them. Think of those extended intense phone conversations when you were a teen. HOURS I spent on the phone to my best friend. Back in the day of landlines, when you had to secrete yourself away from snooping parents, as far as the cord would stretch anyway. And the all consuming intensity of first love; now there's a powerful emotional connection if ever there was one!

I love the idea of 'you connect in the text.' What a thrill it is to introduce a new reader to an old favourite and have them fall in love with it, just as you did. That spark of connection or engagement is so precious.

And: 'A book is an opportunity to get “off the grid.”' Well, yes, as much as I love the grid, reading is an escape, always has been. School is off-grid for most teens too, I guess, depending on the restrictions that are in place. It is lovely though when you offer teenagers a chance to silently read how many of them are excited and glad to escape into a book.

In fact, I might get off grid and go finish my fairy book now!

getting them to read

There's a story in the Guardian about a school in Wellington (NZ) where they are bribing the boys with Coke as a reward for some reading. The rewards get incrementally better with the number of books you can read.

Well. I'm a bit conflicted about this. On one hand, whatever it takes, eh bro? On the other, their little teeth! And the idealist in me wants to believe that there are better rewards, and that the desire to read should be intrinsically rewarding.

What reward programs have worked for you?

BOOK hOOt #4 Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful

This anthology, provided gratis (thank you!) by the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, is a collection of writing by Brigid Lowry and illustrations by Beci Orpin.

I went backwards and forwards about these stories and characters; some I loved and imagined reading aloud to my classes, and then there was the second last story "Petalheads."

I don't want to turn anyone who might be reading this (anyone?!) off reading the anthology, but this one was a doozie and exactly the sort of text I think teens don't need to read. I'd love to hear from you if you disagree! The main character Jaya Cloudburst is "let loose in a world of Emilys" and is depressed. She meets up with Ruby who is bipolar. They are in an institution, and are separated when they design posters for "Let's Kill Ourselves Day." Other patients include an anorexic, a romantic interest and Jaya's alcoholic parents. While the pacing is tight and interesting, there's just too much happening in there in terms of unnecessary pain.

Ok, so that one is not my favourite... "An Alphabet of Girls With Glorious Names" is cute and "There Are Two Sorts of People" is lovely too. I loved the structure of this one which used the repetition of the title adding the premise for the next section. For example: "There are two sorts of people, those who like beetroot and those who don't."

"The Wedding Poem" is just beautiful and made me tear up! Here's the first stanza:

Off you go, you two,off you go
Away with you into the dusky summer evening,
flying a light plane into the winds of possibility and chance,
into a sky abundant
with dreams and credit cards, daughters and dogs,
discussions about microwaves and fairy lights.

Everything in this universe
has led to just this moment.

Lowry has an excellent style and her quirky narratives would be cause for lots of discussion.

Recommended for: potential poets, girls who love to doodle and draw and from the back cover: "the girl with the dodgy sense of humour; for the girl who likes sad songs and blue marbles..."

Teaching points:
  • lots of ideas for modelling writing
  • illustrate your own writing a la this text

hoOt #3: So Yesterday

So Yesterday is a 2005 novel from Scott Westerfield. You might have read the Uglies series? It is narrated from the perspective of a 'cool hunter' called Hunter, but his side kick is the much more interesting. She is called Jen, and she's an 'innovator'. While Hunter is on the lookout for the latest trend, Jen is creating them. He first notices her because of her shoelaces and the rising sun pattern she has tied them in.
Again set in Manhattan, this tale is a race to find a disappearing boss, and solve the puzzle of an amazing pair of sneakers.

This is a pacey read that early teens would enjoy. Westerfield plays with the readers pop-cultural intelligence by not product placing any brand names in the text. For example: 'the client' is never named, but the reader can fill the gaps with the Greek goddess of victory ubiquitious shoe. His credit card is a four letter word! These little riddles are humourous and entertaining. But more than that there are informative sidebars into subjects like epidermiology to make points about consumerism and the spread of 'cool.'

I think this would appeal to teens who are consumer and advertsing aware, who might have been exposed to texts about coolhunting before, like the documentary The Merchants Of Cool, or web based organisations like Adbusters. Kids are culturejammers at heart; they hate the idea that they are a cog in the consumerist machine. And this entertaining read would touch that nerve.

Teaching ideas:
  • research an innovator (there's a list in the back of the novel)
  • invent some brand names
  • invent a cool new product and pitch it

Brigid Lowry

I had a lovely morning listening to Brigid Lowry discuss creative writing, and doing some writing myself.

I wrote a story about something I vividly remember from primary school, when a group of boys carved a series of dents in the dirt for a "marble alley" and all the kids gathered every recess and lunch to play. I embellished the edges, of course. Do kids still do that sort of thing? I remember the teachers eventually shut it down, probably because we were all coming back to class filthy or because the marble bartering and competitions got out of control.

Brigid is a Kiwi/ Aussi author of YA fiction books such as Guitar Highway Rose, and Follow the Blue, neither of which I have read- yet... I will now though!

She talked and demonstrated the ways to get some 'juicy writing' out of students. The first warm up task was to write a list of ten things. I started a "bucket list" and surprised myself at all the creative things I want to do. Like play the cello and paint a picture. AND have something published. Now there's a goal!