Tag Archives: young adult fiction

We need another Harry Potter.

It is nearly sixteen years since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel and few would argue the immense impact of J.K. Rowling’s series in every corner of the globe. Indeed, there are some young Muggles who cannot remember a world without the famous boy wizard. Whilst the success and cultural influence of the Harry Potter series is undeniable, of late there has been a noticeable shift in the place young Harry and his friends occupy in the hearts of the young.

Harry Potter

The first hint I had of a waning preoccupation with Harry surfaced upon the release of the final movie back in 2011. During a wide-reading lesson, my class of Year 7 boys were discussing the upcoming film release with much anticipation. During the ensuing discussion, I discovered the majority of boys had not read the final book in the series and furthermore, had no intention of ever doing so. They all reported quite cheerfully that they had been waiting for the film’s release to “see how it ended”. Thank you, Hollywood.

Apparently this reluctance to read the actual book is not restricted to boys. A recent change of school now sees me enjoying wide-reading lessons with girls and, much to my dismay, I have discovered a similar avoidance of Harry. The prevailing reason given for not bothering to read the books is “we’ve seen the movies; we don’t need to read the books”. Again, thank you, Hollywood.

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of the movie tie-in, as it frequently sparks eager interest in a book. A fortunate side-effect of the hoopla surrounding certain blockbuster films is often the rush of fans to the bookstore, impatient to read the book and/or series. The Hunger Games is a recent example of this movie-inspired hype.

Sadly, the rush to read Harry Potter appears to be at an end. The story has reached saturation point and as such has created a disturbing predicament for both educators and parents: like Neville Longbottom’s cauldron in potions class, Harry Potter has gone off the boil. The exhilarating whizz-banging blast of spells has faded away to a sad fizzle.

At the height of its popularity, the Harry Potter series was nothing short of a phenomenon. Rowling’s imagination, clever characterisation, warm wit and resounding themes captured the hearts of readers and non-readers around the world. Children ran around playgrounds shouting Expelliarmus! and Wingardium Leviosa! College students created their own Quidditch league, Hermione made going to the library cool, and the word Muggle entered our lexicon forever.

Indeed, there was a time back in the early part of the 21st century where it was hard to find anyone who hadn’t read some or all of the Harry Potter series, or at least expressed the desire to read it. In short, Harry got both kids and adults reading. And as my Reading Rules explain, often all it takes to trigger a lifelong reading habit is enjoyment of and engagement in one book – and Harry Potter was certainly the trigger for a generation of readers.

The majority of these Harry Potter readers are now in their twenties, members of the so-called Generation Y. They grew up reading the print editions of Harry Potter, eagerly anticipating the release of each subsequent book. Later, they were the first fans at the midnight screenings of the films, resplendent in their Gryffindor scarves and Death Eater masks.

Despite receiving bad press for various traits, Gen Y is an incredibly smart and articulate group. I am constantly blown away by the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of this generation – the Harry Potter generation. Of course Harry Potter didn’t create these smart kids – but maybe their habit of sustained, deep reading had a profound influence on the way they turned out.

The world of reading has undergone significant changes and challenges since these Gen Y readers were children. Today’s children often read from a screen and not from the printed page. Whilst I maintain that any reading is good reading studies are beginning to discern a difference between reading from a screen and the printed page, as this Scientific American article reports. Indeed the National Literacy Trust in the UK believes that children’s reading progress is hindered by Kindles and e-books.

Further studies into the long-term effects of reading from non-print sources are clearly needed. But it is irrefutable that a child reading an e-book from a connected tablet such as an I-pad or Kindle Wifi has to compete with many distractions whilst reading – checking social media sites, online chatting and gaming. The ability to become totally immersed and absorbed in a good book is lessened by constant distraction – and this must detract from the enjoyment of the reading experience. Does this lack of immersion and subsequent lesser enjoyment of the reading experience explain the decline in reading among our children? What will be the societal result? Will reading decline to such an extent that we become a post-literate society?

Since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007, the final book in the series, there has been a void in the reading world. Yes we’ve had the Twilight craze, but this was far more popular with girls than boys. John Green is arguably the most successful author for teens at the moment, in large part due to his clever marketing via social media (a big hello to any nerdfighters out there). Green is undoubtedly an exceptional writer. His novel The Fault in our Stars is being made into a movie, and there is a currently great deal of online hype about this. But few adults will have heard of either the author or the book. Perhaps the nearest rival we’ve had to the Harry Potter phenomenon in recent times is The Hunger Games. But with sales of 26 million against the 400 million of Harry Potter, the comparison is almost embarrassing.

It’s clear that nothing comes close to Harry. And that is a problem. Because anecdotally most educators will tell you that this generation is not reading as much as previous generations. And when they do bother to read, many of them are reading e-books. More studies need to be done on the effect of reading from screens and personal devices, but all teachers will tell you that nothing beats sustained reading and it is difficult to become immersed in an I-pad when Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds are beckoning.

We need another Harry Potter! We need a new series which will tap into the imagination of children (and adults) around the world. And we need a few years between the publication of the book and the release of the inevitable movie so that kids have to make an effort and read the damned book first! Will the next J.K Rowling please step forward?

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Top 10 Australian books.

Australian Books JellicoeLast year the First Tuesday Book club conducted a survey to discover Australia’s favourite all-time books. These were the top ten Aussie books to read before you die:

1. Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
2. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
3. A Fortunate Life – A.B. Facey
4. The Harp in the South – Ruth Park
5. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
6. Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey
7. The Magic Pudding – Norman Lindsay
8. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
9. The Secret River – Kate Grenville
10. Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

These books were vigorously debated by the panel on the show and like many readers I question a couple of the inclusions, but I am more astounded at some of the omissions: books by Peter Carey, Geraldine Brooks and Nobel Prize winning Patrick White.

Since the announcement of these top ten Australian books I have been pondering my own favourites and have come up with my Top 10 Australian books. My choices are based on the memories these books evoke (something I wrote about here) and the pure joy they have elicited. So, after much deliberation and angst, here are my Top 10 Australian books:

1. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute.
I have long been intrigued by all history regarding the Second World War. Perhaps this is because growing up I heard many stories from family members relating to that era. For me, the World War Two era is history within touching distance – only one or two generations removed from my reality. I remember reading A Town Like Alice as a teenager and I simply adored it. I loved the history, the scenery, the romance and most of all the characters. Joe Harman is the quintessential Aussie digger and Jean Paget remains one of my all-time heroes, featuring in my list of Top 10 heroes from literature, where I wrote “As a teenage girl I was mesmerised by Jean in A Town Like Alice. She spent three years as a POW being marched around Malaysia, surviving the brutalities of war. Later when she finds out Joe Harman is still alive, she travels half way around the world to a very foreign country to find him. She endures the harshness of outback Australia with dignity and humour, and shows entrepreneurial skill in an era when women garnered little co-operation or respect in doing so. She is one tough lady”.

2. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
This features in my Top 10 favourite books of all time, where I wrote: “Whilst she is better known for her other works such as Looking for Alibrandi, for me Jellicoe Road is Marchetta’s best work. The plot is original and the narrative structure is perfect. When I first read this book I was so moved and excited by it that I wanted to share it. I gave it to an English teacher at my school, who returned it unread. I promptly gave it back to her, insisting “you must read this book”.
She returned the book to me with tears in her eyes saying “thank you for making me read this book”. Years later she met Melina Marchetta and told her the story. Marchetta signed a copy of the book for me with the inscription “I’m glad you thought it was worth the journey”. It was and I treasure that signed copy”.

3. The Women in Black by Madeleine St John.
Published in 1993, I only discovered this book a couple of years ago. I love it for the magic and romance it evokes. Set in a Sydney department store in the 1950’s The Women in Black provides a snapshot of a more innocent city, with brilliant observations of the human spirit, underscored by St John’s superb wit.

4. Grand Days (The Edith Trilogy) by Frank Moorhouse.
I read this book within the last year (you can read why here). Set in the 1920’s amid the establishment of the League of Nations in Geneva, the story centres around an ambitious young Australian woman named Edith Campbell Berry. She is quite simply one of the most entertaining and engaging characters I’ve ever read.

5. For Love Alone by Christina Stead.
This was one of my English texts during my final year of school. As a teenager, I found the protagonist quite intriguing: Teresa Hawkins, a strong-willed young woman willing to defy societal norms to follow her heart to London. Though her passion may have been misguided, the book for me was about the ability of a woman to reject expectations in order to discover her own fulfilment. Way ahead of its time (first published in 1945), I probably didn’t fully appreciate the strength of Teresa as a young girl, but this book always brings back memories of my before school English classes with my brilliant English teacher Mrs Wade.

Australian Books Alice

6. A Fortunate Life by A. B Facey.
I read this book as a teenager and I believe it captured my imagination due to my own grandfather’s story. Whilst I have written about my grandfather’s rich reading history here, I failed to mention his days as a young man in the Depression traipsing around the countryside looking for work. Much of A Fortunate Life made me think of my own Pop and as a teenager living a comfortable life, reading about the hardships of others is a humbling experience (which is why I believe so many teens have embraced Ahn Do’s The Happiest Refugee). At one stage the sum total of my grandfather’s possessions was his bicycle and swag, and he had to rely on the generosity of strangers or the luck of his rabbit trap for a meal. Yet like Mr Facey, my grandfather believed he lived a fortunate life.

7. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville.
This is another inclusion in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Set in a small Australian town Harley and Douglas have some serious self-worth issues and both are full of their own inadequacies. I think I love this book because there is something really affirming about thoroughly decent yet less-than-perfect characters.

8. For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke.
Published in the 1870’s this is a remarkable story of convict life in early Australia. Following the life of wrongly convicted Rufus Dawes, the book provides a rich history of convict life in the early years of settlement which, as a teenager when I first read this book, I found utterly intriguing.

9. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
This was another hotly contested book by the panel of the First Tuesday Book Club, specifically as it has been referred to as Australia’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I believe this reference does not do justice to the richness of Silvey’s work. Yes the novel explores racism and bigotry, but there is so much more to Jasper Jones than the division of a town. One of the joys of Silvey’s work for me is the beautifully crafted friendship between Charlie and Jeffrey, and the wonderful humour injected by Silvey into this partnership. And I love protagonists who are well-read like Charlie.

10. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.
Published in 1901 and set during the same era, this book about the headstrong and entertaining heroine Sybylla Melvyn and her rural upbringing thoroughly captivated me as a young teenager. I was also intrigued that Miles Franklin was herself a teenager when she wrote this semi-autobiographical novel and that it was published with the help of Henry Lawson.

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An intelligent and entertaining read.

The Reluctant Hallelujah

by Gabrielle Williams

Penguin Australia, 2012.

 

There’s something quite irresistible about a road trip novel. The metaphorical journey is addictive, resplendent with road trip antics and thrilling adventures. The Reluctant Hallelujah ticks all these boxes and more. Equally as enjoyable as all other road trip novels, this book has a distinct trump card: one of the passengers on this road trip is none other than Jesus Christ.

Dodie  and Coco are sisters; two Melbourne teenagers living in a happy family with their thoroughly decent and down-to-earth parents. Things start to go awry and this seemingly perfect existence is threatened with the sudden disappearance of their parents. The girls are consequently befriended by Enron, the boy from across the road, who holds the answer to their predicament: a secret lies in the basement of the girls’ house. This secret is so big it has led to the disappearance of their parents and will forever change the lives of everyone: beneath a concealed trapdoor lies the perfectly preserved body of Jesus Christ.

It becomes the responsibility of the girls, Enron and two other boys called Jones and Taxi to safely deliver Jesus to Sydney. The road trip is resplendent with evil bad guys, unexpected miracles and enchanting teenage romance. And despite Jesus being the star passenger on this adventure-packed road trip, the tone is never irreverent. The characters are cleverly developed as authentic, typical teenagers whose reactions to their precious cargo and dire predicament are both believable and endearing.

This is an intelligent and entertaining read from the very talented author of Beatle Meets Destiny. Most of the novel’s value lies in its ability to entertain, however, there is scope for religion classes to ponder passages from this book and debate their own hypothetical reactions to the responsibility of transporting the Messiah’s body in a modern world.

Recommended for ages 15+

 

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Top 10 settings in children’s books.

When it comes to children’s books there are so many wonderful settings to choose from, but after careful deliberation, these are my Top 10.

1. Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. What’s not to love about this amazing setting? Hogwarts has it all in terms of mystery and magic. There is a Great Hall providing sumptuous feasts; a room of requirement which changes its properties just like its designation; common rooms requiring magical entry; secret passages; moving staircases; endless grounds and a Forbidden Forest.

Photo by nathanaels

2. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. The Enchanted Wood itself is a magical place but it is the majestic Faraway Tree with its different land at the topmost branches which has entertained generations of children for nearly seventy years . Enriched by such wonderful characters as Moonface, Silky, the Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot, I spent much of my childhood in the Faraway Tree, as did my own children and countless other generations.

3. Wonderland from Alice’s Adventures by Lewis Carroll. A true fantasy world with a talking rabbit, a smoking caterpillar, a grinning Cheshire cat, a Mad Hatter, a Mock Turtle and a Queen of Hearts whose tarts are stolen by the Knave of Hearts. Sheer nonsense in a perfectly mystical and fantastic setting.

4. Peter’s Rabbit Hole from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, because it is the biggest and best animal home ever. It has its own kitchen, furniture and even a shop. Mr McGregor’s Garden is a pretty fun setting too, because it is the scene of great battles between the cheeky Peter Rabbit and the curmudgeonly Mr McGregor.

5. Camp Half-Blood from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, because a training camp for the sons and daughters of ancient gods is pretty cool.

6. Treasure Island or Smuggler’s Cove or wherever else Enid Blyton’s Famous Five found themselves: exciting settings complete with a mystery to solve, devoid of pesky interfering parents, and all washed down by lashings of ginger ale.

7. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl created a luscious fantasy factory which satiated the appetite not only of Charlie but children everywhere. With rivers of chocolate and edible gardens tended by the curious Oompa Loompas, the factory provided a stark contrast to the poverty of Charlie’s home.

8. The Emerald City, capital of the Land of Oz. In the  Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Emerald City is built of green glass, emeralds and jewels,  and its residents wear green-tinted glasses to protect their eyes from the brightness. A magical place at the end of the yellow brick road, it offers hope to Dorothy and friends.

9. Neverland from J. M Barrie’s Peter Pan, the small island upon which the eternal boy spends his endless childhood. I like the fact that each child’s Neverland is unique, according to the whims of the individual imagination. Home to Tinkerbell, other fairies and the Lost Boys, Neverland really is a magical, mystical place.

10. The Underground Fairy City from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, because it is full of high-tech gadgetry and is the antithesis of any fairyland in other books.

Special mentions must go to: Narnia from the Chronicles by C.S. Lewis; Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; the Paris of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline and the London of P.L.Travers’ Mary Poppins.

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The brilliance of Artemis Fowl.

Artemis Fowl series

by Eoin Colfer,

Penguin Books, Australia.

 

Now it’s common knowledge among fans that the boy himself, the genius anti-hero Artemis, is brilliant. However the brilliance to which I am referring is that of Eoin Colfer’s series itself.

I was forced to read the first book in the Artemis Fowl series in 2002 when I was a teacher librarian at a boys’ school in Sydney. A group of Year 8 boys persistently nagged me to read me to read a book they had loved, which they described as ‘a fantasy book about fairies’. I politely declined, explaining that I hadn’t much enjoyed reading fairy books since my childhood Enid Blyton days. After deciphering the Blyton reference, the boys persevered (as they do), so I succumbed (as I do) and took Artemis Fowl home on a Friday. I spent that evening and weekend enjoying the most gratifying young adult reading experience I’d had since Harry Potter.

Artemis Fowl, the title character, turned out to be a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who has cunningly secured the fairies’ book of secrets, and the fairies led by Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit are out for revenge. These are not your common bottom-of- the-garden Blytonesque fairies. No, these fairies are of the weapon-toting ass-kicking variety and I loved them as much as I loved Artemis Fowl. Full of clever writing with a great plot, packed with suspense and plenty of dry humour, I knew this book would be a success.

And what a success it has been. In the ten years since my first reading, the brilliant Irish author Eoin Colfer has written another seven equally brilliant books in the series. I now work in a different school to the one where I was first introduced to my friend Artemis, but these books have been just as beloved in my current library as they were in the other. The graphic novels which are being gradually published are also hugely popular, and Colfer’s website for the series is a favourite among the boys.

And now we are at the end of the series which Colfer has referred to as “Die Hard with fairies”. The eighth and last book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, was released this week. This will be met with great sadness from my little Fowlites, but I have no doubt that like other beloved series, Artemis Fowl will be re-visited many times by its vast legion of fans.

Recommended for ages 11+

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The reality of a tragic world

The Shiny Guys

by Doug MacLeod

Penguin, Australia, 2012

This is the first Doug MacLeod novel I have read and Mr MacLeod is my new hero. I received a copy of The Shiny Guys last Friday at a professional development day hosted by Penguin and started reading it on the train on the way home. When I arrived home all chores were ignored and I devoured the rest.

Set in a mental health institution, The Shiny Guys is an intelligent and sophisticated young adult novel. It explores the complicated issues of teenage angst, depression and mental illness via beautifully crafted characters and a compelling narrative.

Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old. His family has suffered an appalling tragedy and Colin is now a patient in Ward 44, largely due to the so-called ‘shiny guys’: huge cockroach-like red men which terrorise Colin. Whilst undergoing treatment, Colin discovers a portal to a parallel world where the shiny guys actually exist. Colin shares this exciting discovery with fellow patients Mango, his trusted friend, and the newly arrived Anthea, who promisingly sees shadows which Colin senses may be his shiny guys.

The Shiny Guys will make you laugh and cry, but most of all it will break your heart. Colin is the most wonderful protagonist and reading his narrative from the comfort of one’s lounge chair, it is impossible not to feel sadness at the reality of his tragic world. Yet this novel is not a tragedy – far from it. It is a celebration of the spirit of a unique individual and an intelligent examination of the way in which the human psyche deals with grief and suffering.

The Shiny Guys would be an excellent set text for years 9 and 10. It is rich in character and plot, and the references to Kafka will generate excellent discussion and further reading.

Recommended for ages 14+

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The thrilling world of Erebos

Erebos

by Ursula Paznanski

Allen & Unwin, 2012

 

There have been many YA books written about computer games, and the merging of the real world with the cyber world. Despite this, Ursula Poznanski manages to bring something unique to Erebos by merging the cyber world of the game (and the lives of the teens who play it) with a real life thriller.

Sixteen year old Nick Dunmore is handed a DVD by a student at his school and told that the game on it is ‘amazing’. He soon discovers this is the modus operandi of the game distributors: to surreptitiously pass the game from student to student, under very strict guidelines.

Nick installs and launches the game, agreeing to stringent conditions before gaining full admittance to the world of ‘Erebos’. The game draws him into its very realistic world, communicates with him and eerily seems to know him.

Nick, like the other players, is soon addicted but in order to stay in the game he is required to carry out tasks in the real world. This is the curious and sinister aspect of the game: the way in which it compels its adolescent participants to carry out instructions in the real world, some of which are manipulative, others of which are cruel and some of which have dire consequences.

Erebos had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Originally written in German, the English translation by Judith Pattinson is clearly excellent as the text is both compelling and riveting. It is not hard to see why Erebos is an award winner and international bestseller.

Recommended for ages 13+

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