Wide reading suggestions
A wide reading study: action adventure novels with an Asian setting
There is a wonderful diversity of action adventure novels with Asian settings, perfect for a wide reading Unit for Years 7-8. You will find titles that will suit both girls and boys and readers of quite different ability levels. Most of these are high-interest titles and many come in series with multiple titles. If you provide a good range, you will find students reading voraciously.
Set an assignment that does not punish kids for reading. Have students, for example, work in groups to produce a rehearsed reading of the most exciting scene from a chosen novel, with sound effects and background music. You might also like to ask students to do some research to find out to what extent the book they have read is based on real conditions in the country and time in which it is set. A number of these titles involve fantasy elements, but many of them have an imagined world that is firmly based in a real historical world.
Titles to choose from (all of which are annotated above) include:
The Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford
A Ghost in My Suitcase and The Hidden Monastery by Gabrielle Wang
the Moonshadow series by Simon Higgins
Tales of the Otori trilogy by Lian Hearn
Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman
Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society and Chinese Cinderella: The Mystery of the Song Dynasty Painting by Adeline Yen Mah
the Vermonia series by Yo-Yo
the Dragonkeeper series by Carole Wilkinson.
Try to include in your selection all the titles from each of the series, to encourage students to read multiple texts. It might make sense to have several copies of the first book in each series, and then one copy of each of the sequels.
A wide reading study: children around the world
There are some wonderful novels for Years 7 and 8 about children in other countries - books that will help Australian students understand how privileged we are. You could confine your selection to books set in Asia or widen the selection to countries anywhere. You will find annotations on the titles set in Asia in the notes above, but the other titles listed are worth considering as well. Suitable texts to choose from - all of which are fairly contemporary - include the following:
Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley, about the conditions of child cocoa workers in Africa
Torn Pages by Sally Grindley, about AIDS orphans in Africa
Spilled Water by Sally Grindley, about child factory workers in China
Parvana and Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis, about conditions for girls in Afghanistan under the Taliban
Ellis’s companion story, Shauzia, about an Afghan girl refugee in Pakistan
Ellis’s novel, The Heaven Shop, about the children who have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa
Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan, about the plight of young widows in India
Trash by Andy Mulligan, about the lives of children scavenging in the rubbish tips of Manila
Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, set in Tunisia
The Wild by Matt Whyman, the grim story of two brothers growing up in the poisoned wilderness of Kazakhstan
Diego, run! and Diego’s Pride by Deborah Ellis, about a boy whose parents have been wrongly imprisoned in Bolivia for drug smuggling
No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis, the story of three adolescent asylum seekers from very different backgrounds who are at the mercy of people smugglers as they try to cross the English Channel (see annotation in the Extension Texts section)
Mahtab's Story by Deborah Ellis, about a girl and her family forced to flee Afghanistan.
An author study: Allan Baillie
Baillie has a background in journalism and he has travelled extensively, especially in South-East Asia, which he uses as the setting for some of his most successful writing. Unlike most other books for young people, his work often reflects the political situation: the unrest of separatist groups in Indonesia in Treasure Hunters, the bullying of the Burmese generals in Rebel!, the suppression of democratic movements in Tiananmen Square in The China Coin. Against these settings he writes engaging and exciting stories that work particularly well with students in Years 7 and 8.
Base an author study on the picture book Rebel! and the novels Little Brother, Treasure Hunters, The China Coin and Krakatoa Lighthouse. Two out-of-print novels are worth tracking down: Saving Abbie, about the destruction of the forests in Borneo and the subsequent threat to the survival of orangutans, and Songman, about the experiences of an Australian Aboriginal boy - pre-European settlement - who sails north with the Macassans who have for centuries visited his homeland. Try to find as well the excellent short story anthology, A Taste of Cockroach - also currently out-of-print. Almost all the stories, and they are a quite diverse collection, are set in South-East Asia.
A wide reading study: the fantasy genre
If you have students in Years 9 and 10 who love fantasy, make up a wide reading unit with Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori and Alison Goodman's Eon and Eona. Add to these titles the second volume of the wonderful Temeraire fantasy series, Throne of Jade, set in the political intrigues of Imperial China in the eighteenth-century.
A wide reading study: non-fiction titles set in China
This would work best with a mature Year 10 - especially with girls, as a majority of the titles have female protagonists. Begin with the very accessible - although very long - Mao's Last Dancer. Add Falling Leaves, Wild Swans and The Woman Warrior. Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club is relevant, as is the contemporary Beijing Confidential.
A wide reading study: the refugee experience
You could confine this to refugees from Asia or widen it to include refugee stories from anywhere in the world. There is an excellent range of titles for Years 7 and 8, including: Gleitzman's Boy Overboard and Girl Underground, Gleeson's Mahtab's Story, Evans' Walk in My Shoes and Hawke's Soraya the Storyteller. All of these are about asylum-seekers coming to Australia, as is the beautiful picture book, Ziba Came in a Boat. Other excellent titles about the refugee experience include Ellis's Shauzia and No Safe Place, and Michael Morpurgo's Shadow.
A wide reading study: friendships across cultures
Texts that are appropriate for Years 7 and 8 include Eoin Colfer's Benny and Omar, Crusade by Elizabeth Laird, Camel Rider by Prue Mason, Tamburlaine's Elephants by Geraldine McCaughrean, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis and The Girl with No Name by Pat Lowe.
These are texts that are not about Asia, but will enhance your teaching of texts that meet the specific Asian requirement of the curriculum.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Lothian Books, 2006. 9780734406941. 128 pp.
There are few schools not using this stunning wordless text. Although there are no specific Asian references, it is a magnificent exploration of migration and of culture shock and could be used as an extension text.
The Island by Amin Greder. Allen & Unwin 2007 (2002). 9781741752663.
Greder’s confronting picture book tells the story of a vulnerable human being on a fragile raft who is washed up on the shores of an island. The islanders don’t want him; he is ‘the other’, someone to be feared. While post-Tampa readers read this as the story of asylum seekers trying to find refuge in Australia, this was written before that incident. Greder was thinking of his native country of Switzerland. Again, there are no specific Asian references but the text is completely relevant to any attempt to help students understand cultural difference and diversity.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker. Walker Books, 2010. 9781406309140.
Baker’s amazing picture book tells, through her trademark collage, two parallel stories: one of a suburban Australian family and one of a Moroccan family in a small village in the desert. This is all about differences and similarities across cultures.
No Safe Place by Deborah Ellis. Allen & Unwin, 2011. 9781742374109. 192 pp.
Ellis is a Canadian writer whose activism has taken her to many parts of the world where children are in danger. She has written about children in countries like Afghanistan and Palestine. Her Diego books are about a boy whose parents are in prison in Bolivia and The Heaven Shop is about children orphaned by AIDS in Africa.
No Safe Place is about child refugees. The story begins with fifteen-year-old Abdul from Baghdad, who has finally made it to Calais and is attempting to make the dangerous crossing to England. His path crosses those of two very different and equally vulnerable children: Rosalia from the Roma people of Romania and Cheslav who, as an orphan, has been educated in a military institution in Russia. Each has different reasons for fleeing and each has been deeply scarred by their past. All of them have learned not to trust others.
This is an intriguing adventure story where the young people’s resourcefulness and persistence enable them to triumph against the odds. Because this is fiction, there is a ‘feel-good’ ending. The ending for the real-life young people on whose experiences this story is based is rarely so easy.
Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Pan, 2006. ISBN 9780330422741. 278 pp.
This follows the author’s successful first novel published the previous year - Does My Head Look Big in This? – which was almost a Lebanese Muslim Alibrandi. Important though that first book was, because of the insight it gives into the experience of being Muslim, Lebanese, female and Australian, this second book is much stronger and will allow all teenagers to identify with the main character, who suffers the usual teenage angst of feeling different from her peers. Jamilah has become Jamie, has dyed her hair blonde and wears blue contact lens in order to turn herself into someone she thinks is more acceptable to her peer group. The process of her journey to self-discovery is entertainingly told.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
ABC website - http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/education/default.htm
This website provides information about ABC programs on Indigenous topics. It’s worth keeping an eye on it to alert you to programs that may be useful for your classroom, but there are some helpful resources in the archives as well. Special topics dealt with are reconciliation, the stolen generations, the apology, and the NT intervention. There are also lots of useful links.
Antipodes: Poetic Responses edited by Margaret Bradstock. Phoenix Education, 2011. 9781921586392. 163 pp.
This very useful anthology focuses on poetry that is about the relationship between blacks and whites in Australia. There is an excellent introduction by Elizabeth Webby outlining the changing attitudes of white Australian writers and the eventual appearance of Australian Indigenous voices. Many of the poems published here, especially those of recent writers, are ones that you won’t find in other anthologies. There’s an exciting selection of contemporary works, as well as some classics.
Recommendation: You will draw on this regularly in your teaching, from Years 7-12. A class set would be a good investment.
The Binna Binna Man by Meme McDonald and Boori (Monty) Pryor. Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, 1999. 9781865080710. 96 pp.
This sequel to My Girragundji is an easy but engaging story of an Aboriginal teenage boy in danger of forgetting the ways of his people. Only by listening to the old people and respecting the old ways can he stay strong.
Black Chicks Talking by Leah Purcell. Hodder 2004 (2002). 9780733618697. 364 pp.
Leah Purcell is a multi-talented Australian from the Goa Gungurri Wakka Wakka tribe. She is a successful film, television and theatre actor, singer, director and playwright. She persuaded several Aboriginal women to have a frank and open conversation with her about their lives. Black Chicks Talking is the result, an exuberant exploration of the diverse lives of a group of Aboriginal women. The book delves into the lives of nine women from various backgrounds who've become leaders in the fields they've chosen to excel in. Among those interviewed are well-known women like Deborah Mailman, Frances Rings and Rachel Perkins. Others such as Cilla Malone, who grew up on a mission in Queensland and overcame her substance abuse, Liza Fraser-Gooda who began the Jinnali modelling company and Kathryn Hay who was crowned Miss Australia, demonstrate the depth and breadth of the communities they come from. And there's one common thread that unites them all; they're all black, strong women.
Recommendation: Use this fascinating text with Year 10 to explore Indigenous perspectives and gender issues. It's written in an interview style of question and answer, with Purcell's questions written in italics. She does make contributions and commentary as the interviews proceed. The candour of both interviewer and subjects makes it seem as if you are in the room with them as the conversations take place. A DVD of Black Chicks Talking is also available.
The Blue-eyed Aborigine by Rosemary Hayes. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2010. 9781847800787. 247 pp.
This is a further title in the gallery of books - for both young adult and adult audiences - about the wreck of the Batavia in 1629. Based on thorough research and the diaries of the Batavia's captain, this is an absorbing account of the wreck and the subsequent conflict, leading to the terrible deaths of so many. Hayes has chosen to tell the story mostly from the viewpoint of the eighteen-year-old cabin boy, Jan Pelgrom. Pelgrom and a young soldier, Wouter Looes, are eventually marooned on the coast of Western Australia. Hayes uses nineteenth-century accounts of Aborigines in the area having European characteristics to speculate on the fate of the two after they were marooned. Almost half the book is a very credible, fictional account of Jan and Wouter's attempt to survive after they are marooned and of their contact with the Indigenous people.
Recommendation: This is a well-written novel that could be considered for class set use for Year 8.
Born to Run by Cathy Freeman. Penguin, 2007. 9780143302384. 156 pp.
This accessible text focuses on Freeman's running career and is clearly aimed at inspiring others to emulate her hard work and success. Her identity as an Indigenous Australian is not particularly an issue, but she does record that moment at the Commonwealth Games in Canada when she chose to carry both the Aboriginal and the Australian flags - despite having been criticised by the Australian Commonwealth Games Federation President. She records her sense of pride in showing the Aboriginal flag, as an inspiration to Indigenous young people.
The book is illustrated with frequent black and white photographs, as well as having a colour-photo insert.
Recommendation: This short and simple autobiography could be used as a non-fiction text for Year 7.
Bran Nue Dae directed by Rachel Perkins. 2009. PG.
Bran Nue Dae deals with the dispossession of Aboriginal people and land and injustice and inequality, but it also finds new territory in which to explore Aboriginal identity. Bran Nue Dae is a musical which celebrates being Aboriginal in a wickedly humorous manner. It’s full of sight gags (the pointed bone incident), exaggerations (Geoffrey Rush’s caricature of the German priest), movement and colour. Perkins said she wanted the film to ‘uplift and move people and make them laugh.’ Jimmy Chi said that he ‘hoped Bran Nue Dae would bring about change.’
Bran Nue Dae is about a teenager called Willie (Rocky McKenzie), growing up in Broome, an old pearling port in Western Australia in the 1960s. Willie is keen on Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), but his pious mum wants him to become a priest and sends him away to a boarding school in Perth run by Father Benedcitus (Geoffrey Rush). Willie misses home and Rosie and decides to rebel. He runs away and begins the trip back home, aided by Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo). The two get a ride with a hippy couple (Missy Higgins and Tom Budge) and journey north.
Brown Skin Blue by Belinda Jeffrey. University of Queensland Press, 2009, 9780702237133. 211 pp.
Known as Barramundy, the first-person narrator of this story is living with trauma from his past. His white mother refuses to tell him the identity of his father and he does not know whether his brown skin means that his father was Indigenous. He and his mother have lived a nomadic and unsettled existence, and the job at the Top End Croc Jumping Cruises gives him a sense of belonging for the first time in his life. Jeffrey's characterisation is strong, with a gallery of unusual and credible people. The choice of setting Barramundy's story against the background of the crocodile cruises is inspired, with a wonderful climactic moment when the boy falls into the crocodile-infested waters.
Barramundy's present is haunted by memories of child abuse. These memories are quite explicit, as are his first positive sexual encounters with the girl who works in the cafe, Sally. Most schools will find the explicitness uncomfortable for classroom use. The novel has a great deal to offer readers, however. The narrative is compelling and the reader is absorbed by Barry's quest to understand his origins. The knowledge when it comes is horrifying, but Barry finds the strength to deal with it and the resolution of the novel is satisfying and credible.
Recommendation: Most schools will not be able to use this as a class set novel but try to find opportunities for recommending it to mature readers in Years 9 and 10, especially boys. Many readers will identify with Barry's inarticulateness. It would be good for them too to discover his ultimate resilience and maturity.
The Burnt Stick by Anthony Hill, illustrated by Mark Sofilas. Puffin, 1996. 9780140369298. 64 pp.
This wonderfully accessible story can be read at any age, but it was widely adopted for class sets for Years 7 and 8. It is an intensely moving story of a boy who was taken from his mother because he was light-skinned; she had tried unsuccessfully to trick the Welfare by darkening his skin with charcoal. This is stunningly simple and beautifully illustrated with charcoal drawings by Mark Sofilas. The image that has stayed in my mind is that of the feet of the men marching into the camp at dawn to take the children: an image that is loaded with the sense of threat.
Recommendation: In my opinion, this is one golden oldie that is worth topping up – because there are so few titles about Indigenous Australians that have such an impact on kids who have little knowledge of Indigenous Australia, and because there is always a dearth of titles that are both simple and emotionally powerful.
Bye, Beautiful by Julia Lawrence. Penguin Books 2006. 9780143003823. 265 pp.
Set in rural Western Australia in the 1960s, this is a reminder that the golden age of Australia’s past was rather tarnished. It is about the pervasive racism of country towns of the time. It begins with a stunningly moving prologue recording the brutal death of a young man. The young man has been the town heart throb, attracting both the innocent Sandy and her older, worldlier sister Marianne. Sandy and Marianne’s father is the local country cop and Billy, because of his Aboriginal heritage, is off limits. The tragedy that is foreshadowed in the prologue is inevitable.
Recommendation: Girls in Years 9 and 10 will find this moving and disturbing.
This could be used as a class set with a mixed-ability Year 9 class. Use it alongside other titles with Indigenous subject-matter, such as Moloney’s Dougy trilogy or Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna. Particularly for mature girls in Years 9 and 10, make up a selection of titles from around the world about the racist attitudes of the sixties: include Hesba Brinsmead’s Australian title Pastures of the Blue Crane (the only one of these that was written in the sixties) alongside titles from the American south such as Mary Ann Rodman’s Yankee Girl and L. M. Elliott’s Flying South, Linzi Glass’s South African novel The Year the Gypsies Came and Denise Gosliner Orenstein’s extraordinary Unseen Companion, set among the displaced Inuit young people in Alaska. Good readers could also try Kathryn Stockett’s adult novel The Help, set in Mississippi in the 60s.
Deadly Unna by Phillip Gwynne. Penguin, 1998. 9780141300498. 272 pp.
The novel is set in a coastal town in South Australia. It follows a year in the life of fourteen year-old Gary ‘Blacky’ Black (leading up to the football grand final and the summer after) and his friend Dumby Red, one of the local Aboriginal boys. Blacky tells the story in a humorous, laconic voice. His family of three sisters and three brothers, a heavy-drinking, hard-hitting father and an exhausted mother live in the ‘the Port’, where the whites, or Goonyas, live. Dumby lives out at ‘the Point’ with the Nungas. The divisions in the town are deep, but football brings them together. Dumby’s tragic death and the racism involved in it lead Gary away from his father and the prejudice and intolerance of the town.
Recommendation: Use this powerful and confronting novel with students in Years 9 or 10. Its depiction of rural youth, its easy dialogue (which includes some strong language) and important issues - which include racism, justice, death, courage, family and friendship - make it a valuable text for close study. It is especially successful with boys.
The Devil You Know by Leonie Norrington. Allen & Unwin, 2009. 9781741758665. 225 pp.
Set in Darwin, this is the story of a troubled teenage boy - Damien - and his relationship with the violent father '88', whom he hardly knows. Damien's Mum is Indigneous, and although '88' has returned to live with her again, his attitude is offensively racist, especially to some of the locals who have nurtured Damien and given him some knowledge of his Indigenous heritage.
Despite a rocky start to their relationship, there is finally some understanding between Damien and his father, as well as some growth on Damien's part to self-esteem.
Recommendation: The intended audience is boys in Years 9-10.
Dust echoes: website for Aboriginal myths at http://www.abc.net.au/dustechoes/default.htm
Dust echoes is a bewitching series of twelve animated dreamtime stories from Central Arnhem Land. The series tells us tales of love, loyalty, duty to country and Indigenous custom and law. The stories were originally recorded as audio and then interpreted as short animated movies.