Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Childhood Writing of Dickens, Austen, Ruskin, Bruce & Others: What can we learn from it?

An interest in Juvenilia

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

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

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

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

The Juvenilia Press was originally conceived as a university/classroom project. While it has grown well beyond those limits, pedagogy remains at the core of its mandate. Students are involved in every volume in some capacity, whether that be writing introductions, researching annotations, learning the importance of textual editing, drawing illustrations, or developing a book's layout and design. Working under the guidance of established international scholars, they gain invaluable experience, practical skills, and publication.
The format of the publications is similar each time. A theoretical essay is included to introduce the work and is written by the editor of the work. This is then followed by the juvenilia that is published with original illustrations when available.

The works published to date

Juvenilia Press
has published 49 works since 1994, some of which I reviewed in previous posts (here & here). The writers whose early work has been published include Jane Austen, Charlotte & Branwell Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), George Eliot, Margaret Atwood, Greg Hollingshead, Margaret Laurence, Rudy Wiebe, Opal Whiteley, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens and many others.

The Most Recent Publications

a) Charles Dickens's 'The Bill of Fare', 'O'Thello' & Other Early Works (2012)
Dickens wrote of his childhood,"All these things have worked together to make me what I am". Among "these things" in his juvenilia are his genius for story telling, his creation of comic characters and his love of the theatre. Just like his later great work 'David Copperfield', they throw light on a young man in love, bursting with inventiveness and struggling to shape his ideas into the kind of public performance that would lead to fame.
Christine Alexander has edited this publication with Donna Couto and Kate Sumner. It was timed last year to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth. The critical essay that precedes Dickens juvenilia reminds us that Dickens's amazing talent for storytelling was evident from a very young age. He was a child who loved being centre stage to tell stories, sing and entertain others. It is clear that Dickens wrote a great deal as a child, but much of it doesn't seem to have survived. However, over time some works have emerged from his late teens, including some of his early poetry and fragments of his first comic drama that he titled 'O'Thello'. This is a fascinating look at some of the early work of this great writer.

b) John Ruskin, 'Poems From Seven to Seventeen' (2012)

The greatness of great creators, John Ruskin wrote, stems from "what they had seen and felt from early childhood". These are early poems of the man known as the leading art critic of the Victorian period. He was also an artist himself and a significant social commentator. They demonstrate the truth of his own words in fascinating ways. Ruskin's life spanned much of the 19th century (1819-1900) and his creative endeavours were extraordinary. He wrote some of the most significant essays of his time on topics as diverse as art, architecture, social justice, political economy, education and culture. But his writing extended to fields such as geology, literature, social class and more. 

This publication features the poetry of this home-schooled youth. Rob Breton who edited the work with Alayna Becker and Katrina Schurter, suggests that his poetry amongst many other things offer '...a fascinating look at the experience of growing up in an increasingly affluent home in the 1820s'. It offers us an opportunity to consider and enjoy the work of this amazing man.

c) Leigh Hunt's 'The Palace of Pleasure & Other Early Poems'
Young Leigh Hunt's poems, early recognized as “proofs of poetic genius”, offer landscapes populated by happy schoolboys and errant knights freed from magical enthrallment. Already vivid here is Hunt's lifelong commitment to the betterment of his fellow man through friendship and communion with nature.
The juvenilia of Hunt has been edited by Sylvia Hunt, with illustrations by Karl Denny

d) Hope Hook's 'Crossing Canada, 1907: The Diary of Hope Hook'
In her diary of 1907, young Hope Hook records an exciting journey across Canada to Vancouver Island and back, by ship, rail and boat. Born to a family of artists, she is eager to observe the new country that will soon be her home, and all its people, flora and fauna.
This work has been edited by Juliet McMaster.

e) Mary Grant Bruce, 'The Early Tales' (2011)

Pamela Nutt edited the work of Mary Grant Bruce with Year 11 students from Presbyterian Ladies' College in Sydney. This publication exemplifies the importance of pedagogy to the Juvenilia project. The illustrations are by Matilda Fay & Isabelle Ng.  Mary Grant Bruce’s nineteenth-century childhood was spent in rural Victoria and throughout her writing career this landscape provided the setting for many of her stories. These early tales, written for the newspaper 'The Leader', demonstrate an understanding of the challenges of the Australian outback and introduce many of the concerns she would later develop in her highly successful fiction for children.

f) Patrick Branwell Brontë, The History of the Young Men (2010)

William Baker and others have edited this early work of Patrick Branwell Brontë. This is a tale of exploration, bloody battles, colonization and supernatural ‘guardian demons’. Branwell at age 13 years chronicles the founding of imaginary African kingdoms and the exploits of the toy soldiers who inspired the Glass Town and Angrian saga. Here we observe the role of history and the power of childhood play in the early writing of the neglected but talented brother of the famous Brontë sisters.
A Useful Resource

Christine Alexander (2010). The Brontës: Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal, Selected Writings, London: Oxford University Press.

Friday, March 22, 2013

25 Great Short Story Anthologies for Children 5-15

There was a time when everyone read short stories. While school primers and reading resources still make good use of collections of stories, it seems that they are recommended less for general reading. This is a pity because short stories have a valuable place in the world of literature.

In many ways, the short story is a novel in miniature. Like the novel, they can draw on the full spectrum of writing. The short story is a written account of connected events, presented in such a way that they communicate significant meaning. They require well-developed sets of characters and like a novel, a series of subjects and objects. All this must be woven together in such a way that the author tells a story of significance to readers. Writers make short stories and we their readers are moved, challenged and shaped by them. They can be written in every available genre, including fable, parable, fairy tale, myth, mystery, science fiction, romance, humorous tale and so on.

There are at least 6 good reasons to include collections of short stories in children's reading:

1. They can be read and enjoyed at a single sitting. This can be motivating for the young or reluctant reader who may have a short attention span.
2. They offer young readers the chance to experience the complete narrative form many times over.
3. They can provide experience with varied genres and themes within the one book.
4. They offer the complete emotional experience of a story in one reading.
5. In a time-poor age, short stories avoid the frustrating breaks in narrative if reading is missed from one day to the next.
6. They provide an opportunity to read the work of many authors rather than just a few (particularly if they are anthologies).

Below are some examples of short stories for children aged 5-15 years. They are arranged in order of difficulty. Of course, all can be read to children as well as by them. Typically, we can read more difficult material to children than they will read themselves. 

'My Big Book of Nibbles' (Penguin, 2012)

If you've ever wanted to zoom into outer space like an astronaut, be brave enough to ride a roller-coaster, care for a lost dog, sail the seas on a pirate ship or dress up as a gorilla, then this is the book for you! This exciting collection of Nibbles from the much-loved series has been specially put together just for boys!

This is a wonderful collection of five stories that are drawn from the very successful 'Aussie Nibbles' series of books. To be honest they are probably a collection of short novels rather than short stories at 60-80 pages per story, but with authors like Victor Kelleher and some outstanding illustrators, they will delight readers 6-10 years.  It's available in paperback or a Kindle edition.

'Roald Dahl Treasury' by Roald Dahl (Penguin, 2003)

The Roald Dahl Treasury is a wonderful collection of 448 pages of fun from the master of storytelling. It has four themed sections – Animals, Magic, Family, Friends and Foes; and Matters of Importance. The collection brings together extracts and short stories from across Dahl's work. It introduces some of Dahl's best-loved characters, including Willy Wonka, the BFG, James and Matilda. It includes previously published complete stories, poems, memoirs and letters, as well as some unpublished poetry and letters.

The Roald Dahl Treasury is beautifully illustrated in full colour by Quentin Blake, as well as by other leading artists such as Raymond Briggs, Babette Cole, Posy Simmonds and Ralph Steadman.

As you'd guess, this isn't the only treasury or collection of Dahl's work. You will also find 'Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes', 'Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes' and more.

'Stories From Our Night Sky' by Drewery Melanie (Penguin, 2009)

A beautiful collection of stories and poems about our southern skies. From the legends of Matariki and Rona and the Moon through to how tuatara made the stars, Melanie Drewery weaves a special magic through all her stories that will ensure we never look up at the night sky in the same way again. Accompanied by Jenny Cooper's stunning illustrations this will be a book to treasure and read over and over again

Melanie Drewery is a writer, illustrator and artist who was born in Palmerston North (New Zealand), who now lives in Nelson. She is perhaps best-known for her 'Nanny Mihi' series (illustrated by Tracy Duncan) about two little children and their visits to their beloved grandmother’s house.

Melanie's concern as a writer is to introduce the Maori language and culture in a way that is both non-threatening and engaging. She believes that story offers children easy access to Maori language and culture, and leads them to want to learn more. Readers aged 6-10 will enjoy this collection of stories and poetry that offers a goods introduction to her work.

 'Tickled Onions: And other funny stories' by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, 2010)

Morris Gleitzman is one of my favourite Australian children's authors. He has written some wonderful novels for children and adolescents, including 'Once' and 'Two Weeks With the Queen'. This collection of short stories is ideal for reluctant readers and in particular boys who find reading a challenge. In this collection of nine very funny stories for readers aged 7+ we have the story of Draclia(!) in the kitchen, and the challenge of school lunches and Tickled Onions. These are like the pickled variety but with rose petals, chilli powder and fermented fish paste. We also meet a 'Good Dog' named Anthony who causes chaos at parties and many other funny characters and story scenarios.

'Just So Stories' by Rudyard Kipling (Penguin, 2008)

The Camel gets his Hump, the Whale his Throat and the Leopard his Spots in these bewitching stories which conjure up distant lands, the beautiful gardens of splendid palaces, the sea, the deserts, the jungle and its creatures. Inspired by Kipling's delight in human eccentricities and the animal world, and based on bedtime stories he told to his daughter, these strikingly imaginative fables explore the myths of creation, the nature of beasts and the origins of language and writing. They are linked by poems and scattered with Kipling's illustrations, which contain hidden jokes, symbols and puzzles. Among Kipling's most loved works, the Just So Stories have been continually in print since 1902.

Part of a series of new editions of Kipling's works in Penguin Classics, this volume contains a General Preface by Jan Montefiore and an introduction by Judith Plotz exploring the origins of the stories in Kipling's own life and in folklore, their place in classic children's literature and their extraordinary language.

'Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales' by Andersen Hans Christian as retold by Naomi Lewis (Penguin, 2010)

The work of Hans Christian Andersen is timeless. There have been many collections of his short stories. This book contains twelve of Andersen's most loved stories. It includes 'Thumbelina', 'The Emperor's New Clothes, 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Princess and the Pea', 'The Ugly Duckling' and 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier'. This is a wonderful collection that children aged 6-10 years will enjoy.

The Word Witch The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy By Mahy, Margaret (Harper Collins, 2009)

Margaret Mahy (1936-2012) is one of the greatest authors of children's literature that New Zealand has ever produced. She is one of thirty writers to win the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for her "lasting contribution to children's literature". As well she won the Carnegie Medal in 1982 for 'The Haunting' and in 1984 for 'The Changeover'. She wrote more than 100 picture books, 40 novels and 20 collections of short stories. Her collections of short stories are a wonderful way to introduce children to this special writer. It was my great privilege to meet with her and share speaking platforms on a number of occasions. She was inspiring.

The 'Word Witch' is of course Margaret Mahy herself, and this book contains 66 of her much-loved poems and stories in rhyme. They are drawn from school readers, other collections, picture books, anthologies, magazines and her private papers. They span 50 years of her writing.

There are many other excellent collections from Margaret Mahy for readers aged 6-10. These include:

Watch Me! by Margaret Mahy (Dolphin Books, 2004; originally published in 1973) 

Like its companion volumes 'Wonderful Me!' And 'Wait For Me!', these stories and poems are alive with the sort of magic and fun that children's dreams are made of. In these pages you will meet Aunt Nasty the witch, the boy who bounced, a few magicians, a ghostly girl, a princess who marries a clown and endless other surprises. Originally published as 'The Third Margaret Mahy Storybook', and newly illustrated by Peter Bailey, these tales remain as well-loved now as ever.

Wonderful Me: Stories and Poems! by Margaret Mahy (Orion Children's Books, 2004)

Witches, mermaids, dragons, a dog who plays the violin, a girl who finds a dinosaur egg and a boy who wanted the world to be flat - all these and more appear in this book of stories and poems by a born storyteller. Written with warmth and a gentle humour, they read aloud beautifully and are rich in surprises and imaginative twists. First published in l972 as 'The First Margaret Mahy Storybook', many of these stories have been loved so much that they have appeared in many anthologies - and in many countries - over the years. They are now freshly presented with charming line drawings by Peter Bailey.

Wait for Me! by Margaret Mahy (Orion Children's Books, 2003)

This is a wonderful collection of stories that feauture bird-children, kind wizards, kings in broom cupboards, butterflies, goats, kites, woodland creatures and more.  The previously published stories stories in this book are freshly presented with wonderful line drawings by Peter Bailey.

'Kids' Night In' Various authors (Penguin Australia)

There are already three books in this series of short stories. They consist of never before published bedtime stories, rainy-day jokes, holiday stories, funny cartoons, art, recipes, poems and illustrations. They are written by a diverse range of well-known children's authors and illustrators including Sally Rippin, Ursula Dubosarsky, Libby Gleeson, Leigh Hobbs, J.K. Rowling, Tohby Riddle and a number of other celebrities (see list here). Ideal reading for readers aged  7-10.

Some of the proceeds of the sale of the books go to the organisation 'War Child' that helps children all over the world, affected by war.

Visit for more details on the three books so far.

'The Happy Prince and Other Stories' by Oscar Wilde (Penguin, 2009)

In this haunting, magical fairy-tale collection, in which Oscar Wilde beautifully evokes (among others) The Happy Prince who was not so happy after all, The Selfish Giant who learned to love little children and The Star Child who did not love his parents as much as he should. Each of the stories shines with poetry and magic and will be enjoyed by children of every age.

This is a wonderful collection that introduces children aged 7-10 to the work of Oscar Wilde.

'The Puffin Book of Five Minute Stories' by Various Authors (Penguin, 2010)

This lively collection of 19 five-minute stories, is perfect for read aloud session for young children (aged 6-10), or for individual reading for slightly older children. The stories will be enjoyed many times by varied age groups. They include traditional and contemporary tales in the same collection. These include Dick King-Smith's 'Norty Boy' and the traditional tale of 'The Three Little Pigs'. The wonderful illustrations of Steve Cox are a perfect accompaniment to this wonderful collection of stories.

'The UN Collection' by Paul Jennings

This series of books includes 'Unreal!'  'Unmentionable!'  'Undone!' 'Uncanny!' 'Uncovered!'  'Unbelievable!' 'Unbearable'

No Australian boy aged 7-11 who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s would have missed the outrageous short stories of Paul Jennings. Sometimes gross, over the top and edgy, they are engaging stories that boys love. In 'Unreal!' we have a story about a ghost who haunts the outside dunny (i.e. the toilet), a pair of very embarrassing underpants, glue that will stick almost anything, a manure mix that will make hair fall out, some magic lipstick, and two musical ghosts who try to save a lighthouse.

More recently Jennings has complied some of the most popular stories from the 'UN' collections into a series of new books, including 'Weirdest Stories'  'Spookiest Stories', 'Trickiest Stories'. For more information on Paul Jenning's books visit his website HERE

'Kibitzers and Fools' by Taback Simms (Penguin, 2008)

[There is] a saying: It pays to have a little chutzpah (nerve).

With Old World charm, universal humour, and just a bit of chutzpah, Simms Taback offers this lively spin on thirteen playful tales – as only he could. Paired with his trademark vibrant and hilarious artwork, these stories illustrate ultimate universal truths and important life lessons, from the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel to the idea that just because you can talk doesn't mean you make sense. Taback delivers the perfect combination of wisdom and humour – just the way your zayda (grandpa) would.

This collection of funny stories with brilliant and quirky illustrations from the US will be enjoyed by children aged 6-10 years.

'A Dream of Stars' by Brian Caswell (University of Queensland Press, 1991)

From the surprising tale of a chocolate addict to the futuristic dreaming of the title piece, these stories are as varied and thought-provoking as the stars. Are a pair of the world's best boots worth a human life? Can romance survive between a fifteen-year-old boy and a very attractive "Tralfamadorean"? Humourous, suspenseful and above all entertaining, this collection of thirteen short stories by Brian Caswell poses questions to challenge and delight the imagination. A Dream of Stars was listed as a 1992 Notable Book by the Childrens Book Council of Australia.

Brian Caswell is one of my favourite Australian authors for tween and adolescent readers, his thoughtful work is challenging but always engaging. In this incredible collection of stories he challenges children to think about issues of significance in ways that will surprise you.

'Tales of the Greek Heroes' by Green Roger Lancelyn (Penguin, 2009)

The beautiful land of Greece is haunted by more than three thousand years of legend and history. In this gripping retelling of the Heroic Age, you'll meet the mighty Poseiden, God of the Sea; Zeus, the King of Heaven and Earth; Hades, Lord of the Dead; Artemis the Huntress; Aphrodite, Immortal Lady of Beauty and Love; and many more mortals and gods. Their adventures are some of the oldest and most famous stories in the world.

This collection of well-known Greek myths will be enjoyed by readers aged 11+

'A Tale of Troy' by Lancelyn Roger Green (Penguin, 2012)

This book is a companion to 'Tales of the Greek Heroes'.

Step back into the Heroic Age with the story of Helen and the judgement of Paris; of the gathering of the heroes and the siege of Troy; of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. And join Odysseus, the last of the heroes – famous for his wisdom and cunning – on his thrilling adventures as he makes the long journey home to Greece.

Once again, perfect reading for children aged 11+

'Tales of Ancient Egypt' by Lancelyn Green Roger (Penguin, 2011)

In this thrilling collection of the great myths, you'll encounter Amen-Ra, who created all the creatures in the world; Iris, searching the waters for her dead husband, Osiris; the Bennu bird and the Book of Thoth. But there are also tales told purely for pleasure, about treasure and adventure – and even the first ever story of Cinderella.

Ages 10+ will love this collection

'Boy: Tales of Childhood', by Roald Dahl & illustated by Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape,1984)

Roald Dahl has been described as the master storyteller, and there is little doubt that he is one of the best children's writers that we've seen in the last 50 years. His collection of stories from his childhood are so memorable. Who having read about his visit to the doctor, can forget the description of the removal of his adenoids in the local doctor's surgery, and his half-hour walk back home. Or Mrs Pratchett the owner of the sweet store dishing out gobstoppers with disgustingly dirty hands, followed by the great mouse plot.

Each of these short stories can be read in less than 20 minutes and will leave any child screaming for just one more.

'Leon Stumble's Book of Stupid Fairytales' by Doug MacLeod & Smith Craig (Working Title Press, 2007)

Read entirely ridiculous stories about Jack and the Branstalk, Snow White and the Seventy Dwarfs and the Gingerbread Mane. Once you've read this book, you'll agree that Leon Stumble's new fairytales have that magic ingredient - stupidity!

Make no mistake, literary silliness is not easy to write. Doug MacLeod has been doing it well for a long time. This is a wonderful collection that is jam-packed with loads of jokes. It will appeal (as his work often does) to boys.

Shock Forest and Other Stories by Margaret Mahy (A&C Black Children's Books, 2004)

In each of these five stories fantasy is at work in unusual and powerful ways. There's also a common theme of the pull that buildings have over people, whether they become houses in which characters find safety and comfort or prisons that can trap and oppress. 

These enchanting stories have been taken from some of Margaret Mahy's best collections that are sadly no longer available. Their return to print will be welcomed by parents and teachers and will also be an exciting introduction to the work of a master storyteller for children themselves.

These wonderful stories were previously published in volumes that are now out of print. But this collection is still available and will be well received by readers 12+.

'Loop' by Brian Caswell (Penguin, 2007)

'Loop' is a collection of 15 short stories written in Brian's unique style. The stories range from humorous to serious. The title story, 'Loop' follows Bernie through an inexplicable journey while he falls through 'the Black'. But how does he explain that every time he stops falling he's back where he started? Readers will hear echoes from 'The Matrix' and maybe even 'Groundhog Day' in this intriguing story. Another story, 'Jigsaw', is the story of a young woman who buys a dress from an op-shop. When she wears it, she experiences images and flashbacks of the life of someone else. Once again the collection is ideal for classroom study and discussion for children aged 12-15 years.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why make & do books matter, and what they teach

I've written before about the importance of books that encourage children to make and do things. This is a revised version of a post I wrote in 2012. I want to stress that there are four main reasons they matter.

First, they offer reluctant readers (especially boys) another way into reading.
Second, they require and teach literacy skills not generally used in narrative forms.
Third, they encourage creativity and problem solving.
Fourth, they get children doing things in an age when it's easy to be inactive.

The books I mention in this post don't just matter, they teach! They engage children by getting them to make, explore or manipulate things. The examples are generally just as appealing for girls as boys. Books of this type can also act as 'breakthrough' books for boys (and some girls) to get them reading. I've written previously about the role of non-fiction, cross section and diagrammatic books, science & technology, and generally how to make reading exciting for boys.

'Make and Do' books teach varied literacy skills. They require readers to:
Comprehend specific instructions
Learn subject specific vocabulary
Become familiar with the language of instruction
Use their body, not just their heads
Be creative and use problem solving
Here are a few good examples of the type of books I'm talking about. I'd welcome your suggestions for other good examples.

'The Lego Ideas Book' by Daniel Lipkowitz and published by DK Publishing 

If you have a box of Lego pieces resulting from your purchase of dozens of Lego sets, then you need this book. The book has 500 ideas for how you can make new things out of your box of Lego pieces. The book has six themed chapters—transportation, buildings, space, medieval history, adventure, and useful things to make. Each section has templates for models and ideas for how you might create your own. The book has 200 pages of tips and advice, illustrations and ideas.  It is well illustrated and beautifully designed. This book will keep children aged 7 to 70 years busy for hours.

'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.

This book is a unique interactive guide to understanding simple machines and mechanisms. It introduces basic physics both in words and through models that the reader manipulates. It has 9 double-page spreads that introduce the reader to a key mechanical principle that you then put into practice by building one or more working models. The text and illustrations offer an easy to understand description of the mechanical principle and how to make a model that demonstrates it. This hands-on approach makes it easy to understand how these principles work and how they can be applied to everyday objects, such as cars, bicycles cranes and seesaws. Everything that you need is within, or attached to the book. The concept is brilliant

'The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists' by Sean Connolly, published by Icon Books and distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin.

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it.  Well, as soon as I saw the title!  The book is all about igniting interest in science. Sean Connolly achieves this with lively, hands-on activities that suggest excitement and "danger". Simple experiments that pop, ooze, surprise and teach will delight boys and girls in upper primary. He also leads the reader through the history of science, and uses simple experiments to demonstrate key scientific principles.

The reader can rediscover the wheel and axle with the ancient Sumerians, or perform an astounding experiment demonstrating the theory of angular momentum. Children can build a simple telescope like Galileo's and find the four moons he discovered orbiting Jupiter.  They can experiment safely with electricity and avoid the more risky approach of Ben Franklin with his Lightning experiment. They will also learn how to re-create the Hadron Collider in a microwave with marshmallows, calculator, and a ruler to demonstrate the speed of light. Or they might simply crush a can using Stephenson's steam can experiment. This is a wonderful book for children aged 9-12 years.

'Sewing School: Hand-Sewing Projects Kids Will Love' by Amie Plumley & Andria Lisle and published by Storey Publishing.

Photo courtesy
If you'd like some simple designs for sewing projects that don't require a machine, then this might just be the right book for you.  This beautifully designed book has 21 projects suitable for children aged 7 and up.  All of the ideas have been tested with kids and most only require basic hand stitches. The book has numerous illustrations and clear instructions as well as quotes from children who were part of the author's sewing camps where the ideas were developed and tested. 

The 150-page book has 12 chapters that cover basic instructions and foundational sewing skills. It then has a variety of projects arranged in categories. These include items to hug (e.g. blanket, pillow, doll), things to hold (e.g. wallet, tote, apron, pouch), gifts (e.g. coasters, pot holder, toy mouse), things to wear (e.g. hat, dolls dress), repairing clothes (e.g. patches, fixing rips, hems) and repairing soft toys (e.g. sewing eyes back on). Each project has step-by-step instructions at a reading level of about 7 years, photos of every step, and also a photo of the final project. The book also has some full-size patterns and instructions for how grownups can help.

'Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas' by Fiona Watt and published by Usborne

The Usborne Art book has almost 300 pages of original ideas for painting, drawing and making collage. This fantastic book is ideal for children of varied (and minimal) artistic ability. It is also suitable for just about any age (but it's ideal for 7-12 year olds). The book will help children to explore varied artistic forms and materials, including chalk, pencil, paint and watercolour. It offers ideas that require the use of a wide variety of artistic techniques, including painting, drawing, sticking, ink, ripping, rubbing, smudging and colouring. Each of the many ideas is illustrated with very easy to follow step-by-step instructions. The book also offers tips on brushwork, mixing colours, thinning and thickening paint, how to shade and add patterns, using oil pastels, acrylics and more. 

'Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook' by Angela Wilkes and published by DK Publishing.  

The Children's Quick and Easy Cookbook has 60 simple recipes that children will enjoy. The recipes are easy enough for most children to use, and are mostly suitable for the whole family. It contains a mix of healthy snacks, full meals, and delicious treats and sweets. The meal recipes include pita pockets, falafel, pizzas, Turkish meatballs, tacos, Thai satay kebabs, lemon fish sticks, filled crepes, chicken curry and rice. There are also many wonderful sweets including simple baked bomb Alaska, Tiramisu, parfaits, carrot cake, cookies and many more.  

The book also outlines cooking techniques, good food hygiene, kitchen safety, and step-by-step instructions. Full colour photographs are used throughout the book 

The Dangerous Book for Boys. by Conn Iggulden & Hal Iggulden and published by Harper Collins

This book offers a range of ideas for making and doing things. For example, how to make the greatest paper plane in the world, building a tree house, all about dinosaurs, making a G0-cart, how to go fishing, juggling, all about Australian snakes, skimming stones and so on. This isn't a simple book (about grade 4-5 standard) but the content will help boys to 'stretch' themselves. It is also a great book for boys to read and 'do' with an adult. I've reviewed it in more detail here.

'The Daring Book for Girls' by Andrea J. Buchanan & Miriam Peskowitz and published by Harper Collins is a companion volume to 'The Dangerous Book for Boys'.

Like its predecessor, it is designed for children aged 7-12 years. It includes a mix of things to make and do, information about things that girls might like to know, biographical material, poetry etc. It has been produced again by Harper Collins and has a similar layout, size and range of contents. Even the cover is similar in design, to build on the success of the previous book. Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz have written the book. The Australian edition was released in 2008 and mirrors the US edition released by Harper Collins in 2007, but it includes some different Australian content.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Getting Primary School Children Into Shakespeare

As a child I grew up in a home where books weren't read to or with me, so reading was not a pleasurable pursuit at home. It did hold challenges and pleasures at primary school, but the material that we read was limited. At High School I found English boring and seemingly unrelated to my life.  I can recall being bored by Shakespeare's work. And yet later in life I began to appreciate it and love it.

I was unprepared for Shakespeare as a child, and suspect that there are many children sitting in high school classrooms right now just as bored as I once was. This is a problem. Not because there isn't a world of other literature. There is. My point isn't to argue for a return to an age where a small number of great (mostly male) authors made up a canon of books that all needed to read (mind you we do need to read great books). Instead, I want the children in our schools to have such a love of words, language, and narrative in all its forms, that they will find Shakespeare exciting, challenging and enriching. 

Photo courtesy of the Guardian
In Sydney, a well-known theatre company, Bell Shakespeare has set itself the task of introducing primary aged children to Shakespeare's plays. They plan to teach Shakespeare's plays to children as young as six. Bell Shakespeare will take the plays into the state's primary schools to inspire a new generation to love this great literature. The company sees the program as a form or 'early intervention' where children will be helped to appreciate the complex and rich language of the great epic stories that are the foundation of Shakespeare's work. They hope to overcome the negative reactions of high school by developing an appreciation early. The education head of the theatre company suggests:

''We want to meet them while they're young, so that by the time they reach high school, they aren't disillusioned.''

The company will tour with the primary school program that will have adaptations of well-known plays like 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'. Both have been well received and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has been a favourite with test audiences. Teacher who have viewed the plays were not difficult for children as young as 6 and 7 to understand.

Shakespeare in Adapted Prose Forms

But you don't need a theatre company to help you to introduce Shakespeare to young children. One of the easiest ways to get children interested in Shakespeare's work is to read some of his plays in adapted prose form. While there are some pretty awful attempts to do this, the collections written by Leon Garfield are superb. His first collection 'Shakespeare Stories' was illustrated by Michael Foreman and published by Gollancz in 1984. It features 12 of Shakespeare's best-known works, including 'Twelfth Night', 'The Taming of the Shrew', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'. Garfield is a brilliant writer of children's fiction and so if anyone was to tackle this project, he would surely be the most likely to succeed in presenting the plays with as much complete dialogue as possible but with adaptations that make the works more accessible without detracting from the language, plots and characterisation of each play. This is how Garfield begins 'A Midsummer Night's Dream':
Hermia, who was small, dark and perfect, loved Lysander; and Lysander loved Hermia. What could have been better than that? At the same time, Helena, who was tall, fair and tearful, loved Demetrius.
But Demetrius did not love Helena. Instead he, too, loved Hermia...who did not love him. What could have been worse than that? 
Garfield's adaptations are engaging and faithful to the plays and if read well to children as young as 7 or 8 will capture their attention. I have used them with children or varied ages and they love to hear Garfield's versions of Shakespeare's work and they want to pick them up and read them. My daughter has also found the Garfield collections wonderful to use with her children aged 6-10.  She has written about this on her own blog (HERE).

A shorter collection, 'Six Shakespeare Stories' was published by Heinemann in 1994 and 'Six More Shakespeare Stories' in 1996.

Other resources

There are a number of other helpful resources and sites for teachers who want to try Shakespeare with children aged 6-12 years.

'Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare' was written by Edith Nesbit in 1907 and is still available in more recent editions (HERE)

A good BBC resource that offers children a simple introduction to Shakespeare and his work (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare 4 Kidz' site is worth a look. Their tag is "Bringing the world of Shakespeare to the young people of the world" (HERE)

'Shakespeare is Elementary' is a great little site developed by an elementary school (Crighton Park) in Novia Scotia Canada. It has some great ideas for getting started (HERE)

You can buy some scripts adapted for young children but I haven't personally tested them (HERE)

The 'Shakespeare for Kids' site also has some helpful advice for teachers using Shakespeare with primary/elementary school children (HERE)

Read more about the Bell Shakespeare work in Sydney HERE