Reading children’s literature

One of the units of study I have lectured in at university this year has been Children’s Literature, with a particular focus on using children’s literature in the classroom. All of my students for this unit are teachers in training, all of them eager to gather ideas for incorporating literature in their future classrooms.

It has been a rewarding time for me as it has renewed my enthusiasm for reading children’s literature. When I was a classroom teacher, and earlier in my career when I was a teacher/librarian, I would regard the reading of children’s books as a professional requirement. I am a voracious reader, so this was no hardship. After one little forgettable incident, I resolved never to read a book to a class without having read it privately first. I still believe this to be a wise policy for any classroom teacher or children’s librarian.

In recent months I have read a wide variety of picture books, chapter books for emerging readers, novels for older readers and non-fiction for various year levels. Sadly, I haven’t had time to review any of them here. In time I hope to regularly get back to reviewing the books I read. In the meantime, if it has been some time since reading a children’s book, why not borrow a few from your local library? Many of the titles published in the last decade are fine examples of excellent writing; some are just as challenging to read as adult books. And often far more interesting and captivating.

If you read a good book that you’d like to recommend – children’s or other – write about it in the comments section. I’d like to know, and so would my readers, I’m sure.

Good reading – and writing.

Culling my library

I am a confessed book lover.

Most writers are, I’ve found. If you want to be a good writer you are also a reader. That’s a given.

I am also slightly addicted to buying and collecting books. When I married – that was over 40 years ago – combining my library with my wife’s library created a big problem. She is also a bookaholic, and a hoarder of books like me. In our first year of marriage I built two large bookcases. Problem solved – for the time being. Then came along the children and they soon had their books too and their own bookcases. When they left home the problem was slightly improved; part of my library is now in my daughter’s home in Clare and a few are in my son’s home in Sydney. It’s alright; I’ve read most of those books.

About 5 years ago I bought another 4 bookshelves from a well known furniture chain from Scandinavia. I had fun assembling them and stocking them with books. You see, the problem had grown to a critical stage: there were large piles of books everywhere. Problem solved – or so I thought. Over recent months the situation has reached another crisis point: not enough room on the shelves for new and recently acquired books.

My office has been in need of a drastic makeover for several years. The situation would make any bomb site look tidy in comparison. Time for action, so over several hot days recently – it was too unpleasant working in the garden – I attacked ground zero.

My technique is simple: sort and chuck. (Some unkind people might have suggested ‘slash and burn’ would have been more effective.) I progressively sorted through every item on the shelves. Some items didn’t belong – like dozens of computer disks. It’s a BOOK shelf – not a storage cupboard. Some books were obsolete and went straight into our recycling bin. I don’t need a copy of a guide to Microsoft Windows 95 or Word for Windows 6 for Dummies or even a 1998 Melbourne street directory. I have a more current version of the directory and don’t need another, and the computer books are now many years obsolete.

The trouble was that I have trouble throwing away books. I can give them away, I can let people borrow semi-permanently, I can even sell to a second hand book dealer – but throw away! Never!

I’ve changed.

I have to be ruthless and dispose of any book I will no longer read. Some I want to read again – maybe, so I might keep a few. Over the next year the culling will continue until I have enough room on the shelves for the books I want to read again, or I need to use as reference tools.

Now… what about that huge pile of magazines?

Good reading, and good writing.

I have just read my 4000th book

Asterix & Obelix's Birthday

I have just read my 4000th book.

It was Asterix & Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book.

Yes, I know there are derogatory names for people like me. I don’t care. I’ve kept a complete list of books and magazines that I have read since 1st September, 1966 when I was still in high school. For the first few years I only recorded the names and authors of books I had finished reading. In more recent years I have also recorded the issue number of magazines that I have read cover to cover. I read most of the magazines I buy in their entirety. I figure that I’ve paid good money for those magazines, so I’m going to get good value for my expenditure. Quirky, yes. Odd, maybe. That’s just me; no apologies will be forthcoming.

Significantly the 4000th book was the latest in one of my favourite series of books – the Asterix comics. I started buying this series in the early 1970s and my children grew up knowing them thoroughly. Every time a new title was published there was severe competition in our family to read it first. They claim that their general knowledge of the history and times of the Roman Empire was largely formed by reading the Asterix books. It is quite a possibility that they also learned to read using these books. I was a teacher librarian at the time so I made sure the school had a good supply of the titles, my family often reading them first.

One of the saddest days of my teaching career was when my entire collection of Asterix books was damaged due to fire in an adjacent classroom. It brought me to tears. The books were rescued, cleaned of soot and are in reasonable condition despite the fire. But even today I still get slightly sooty hands reading them. It was a delight to recently find a title I didn’t have in my library.

Good reading, good writing.

Writing your family history

To many people history is boring.

I can understand that. Some history turns me off, while other aspects of history fascinate me. I guess it sometimes depends on the mood I’m in, or the particular aspect of history being discussed, read or shown on television. To many people family history is deadly boring – with and emphasis on the “dead” part.

I disagree.

Some writers complain that they have trouble coming up with ideas for stories and novels. My suggestion is to get hold of a family history book. If your family hasn’t had a family history book published, borrow someone else’s history. I have two family books; one based on my father’s side, the other on my mother’s family. Both are filled with family genealogical diagrams illustrating relationships in the broader family. They also include many interesting but rather stiff upper lip type photos which can be a little amusing today.

But I digress.

Both books contain hundreds of short accounts of the lives of people in my family. Many of these people are now dead. The accounts range from the familiar, mundane and ordinary, through to the unbelievable, adventurous and plain tragic. Take for example the account of my ancestors on my father’s side as they escaped religious persecution in their home land and migrated half way around the world to settle here in South Australia. Several members died on the boat journey out here. The story of the survivors shows great courage and drama. It’s ready made for retelling, possibly best written as fiction.

Any family history book, if it contains accounts of the lives of ordinary people, will be a fertile field ready for harvesting by a creative and imaginative writer. Troll through the book looking for that one story that captures your imagination. Then let that imagination have full rein. Let the story run its course. Don’t necessarily worry about sticking to the facts; you are writing fiction. Writers of historical fiction do this all the time; their stories are fiction based on a true story or actual event.

I hope you find a little gem of a story.

Good writing.

Demise of our local bookshop

I love bookshops.

They are my favourite type of shop. I probably spend more time in bookshops than any other type though I should add that I rarely do our grocery shopping. So it was with great sadness yesterday that I visited our local bookshop knowing that it was closing down ths week. As part of a large chain which has been in trouble across the country recently, it was another victim of poor management at the top. The local shop was excellently run but the staff have suffered at the hands of those who should know better.

I guess that this is not an uncommon occurance in the bookshop world these days. Poor management aided by the growth of online shops has seen many shops close. Yes – I’m guilty of buying online too, but usually only books with which I am familiar. Nothing online can replace actually handling the physical object before deciding to buy. Sadly I guess I will have to gradually forego this simple pleasure as more and more bookshops close in the coming years.

What did I buy, I hear you ask? At 50% off I couldn’t resist Geraldine Brooks’ novel People of the book. Strangely, sadly ironic that that was the book I most wanted to buy (read a review here). Are our bookshops in danger of disappearing?