Morris Gleitzman is a bestselling Australian children’s author. His books explore serious and sometimes confronting subjects in humourous and unexpected ways. His titles include Two Weeks With The Queen, Grace, Doubting Thomas, Bumface, Give Peas a Chance, Extra Time, Loyal Creatures, Snot Chocolate and the series Once, Then, Now, After, Soon and Maybe. Morris lives in Sydney and Brisbane, and his books are published in more than twenty countries.
The transformative power of stories
Talking to ABC News, newly appointed Children’s Laureate Morris Gleitzman says: “Australian children need stories and books more than ever to help them deal with a ‘daunting and unsettling world'”.
Stories are particularly important for young people, having the transformative power to help them make sense of the world. “I like to think of them as a bit like vitamins,” he said. Through stories, young people are often exposed to protagonists who form empathetic capacity and resilience, and follow them on their journey as they grapple with problems, Morris explains. Young readers who share the journey with characters “need to continue that process of grappling and not give up and not be crushed or daunted as they make their way to the conclusion of the story”. It is through this shared journey that we absorb the qualities of the characters. “There’s an absolute connection between reading good stories and all of the developments that ideally take place through childhood into adolescence,” he says.
“I think one of the daunting things that occurs when young people reach around eight, nine or ten years old — the age I specifically write for — is when they no longer allow their world to be wholly defined by the ideas, opinions and information that they get from others. When we reach middle to upper primary, we’re starting to think for ourselves, look at the world in a more independent way and make our own decisions about what strikes us as good or bad, or right or wrong. We’re laying the foundation for our own personal, moral landscape, and it’s a very exciting and important time of our life”.
“I think stories have the opportunity and therefore the responsibility to show all sides of human experience. “[They] equip young readers to embrace an often dark and uncertain world with optimism, resolve and creativity.
“They are not a substitute for lived experience, but because they are so good for young people at developing empathy and insight and resilience and understanding of how problem solving strategies work and how we learn from failure, they allow that lived experience to be that much more fulfilling and satisfying.”
“Stories have a really important role to play here because, in many ways, that’s exactly what many of the central characters of kids’ stories are doing: developing the capacity for critical thinking and problem solving. There are a few years for each of us where this process has started, but the biological imperative hasn’t hit us yet. It’s wonderful that we have those few years to do some important thinking and broadening of our awareness. I find it a great privilege to contribute my stories to that particular time in my young readers’ lives,” Morris says.
The urgency for stories remains
The need for students to connect with reading material is becoming increasingly important in our current climate. Morris recognises two aspects that make this so: competing with the distraction of screen culture, and the need to help young people make sense of the fragmented world that is presented to them through channels such as the news media. The role of the author is, in a way, to collect those pieces and assemble them into a more cohesive form.
“In one sense,” Morris says, “young people today have the world at their fingertips; there is very little that they can’t get a glimpse of. Stories have the opportunity, and therefore the responsibility, to portray a more fully formed view of the world than a lot of those glimpses will give”.
“The news media, for example, has an important responsibility to let us know what is going on in the world. Traditionally, they tend to let us know about the not-so-good things; they reflect, in countless decontextualised little fragments, examples of the worst that we humans are capable of”. “But,” he continues, “there is another side to human existence that is equally, perhaps more important, and the two sides shouldn’t be separated from each other. And what stories can do, and what I’ve always tried to do in my work, is to look honestly at the worst we humans are capable of, but also to have a part of each story where characters show the best that we are capable of, starting with the love and friendship that, if we’re lucky, is at the centre of most of our lives, through to responsibility, generosity and compassion”.
Morris doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics in his writing. His Felix series, for example, tells the story of a Jewish boy living through the Holocaust — but at the centre of the story is resilience and survival, imagination and friendship. In the series’ first book, Once, Felix comforts his friends with stories from his imagination; and, while bearing witness to the atrocities portrayed in the story, we too allow ourselves to be comforted by the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity.
Morris paints a picture of a world that is at the fingertips of young people, just waiting to be discovered, and this naturally comes with the potential to be misused or misunderstood. We know that library professionals play a significant role here; while stories help children understand the world, library professionals teach the digital literacy skills required to navigate it. According to Morris, “most students, at least in a developed world, have some sort of online access; with judicious guidance, there is good reading to be found online as well”.
Of course, our unfiltered access to the world is made possible by screen culture, which the new laureate also emphasises as a hurdle in helping young people develop a love of reading. We often rely on technology to speed up the way we do things, and “in this world where time efficiency is such a dominant thing, reading is not really something that you can speed up without losing much of what it gives us,” Morris explains. “One of the challenges for us all is to find or make the time for our own reading, and for the reading of young people”.
Fostering a reading culture through conversation
“I hear from upper primary kids, and even secondary kids, who are perfectly capable of happily reading to themselves, how wonderful it is when a member of the family wants to take the time to sit down and share the process”. And while that focuses on familial relationships, Morris highlights another way for adults in general to share the experience with young people: “to be available for those conversations that all of us, at any age, want to have once we’ve read a story that has had an impact on us and expanded our world view”.
He says, “Books can take us into the emotional circumstances inside a character that perhaps we haven’t quite experienced ourselves so, as soon as we come across something that affects us and creates important shifts in our thinking of the world, we have to talk about this with people we care about, and young readers are no different. I see this as an extension of the reading process itself — in fact, the reading process isn’t wholly complete unless these conversations are available. So many of the life skills and attributes that reading good stories can develop in young people are further cemented and made applicable to everyday life through these conversations”.
Ever since I first picked up a Jackie French picture book, I’ve been a fan of her writing and over the years enjoyed the latest Jackie French release.
Years later at a school library conference I heard her speak and was in awe of this amazing writer.
My favourite at the moments is her Shakespeare series. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of words. Her ability to take Shakespeare’s plays, and expand with what might also have happened behind the scenes is thought provoking. And these stories has a happy endings.
I am Juliet
This is the well-known story of Juliet Capulet and her love for Romeo. It also the story about the increasing helplessness Juliet feels as she realises that unlike young men her age, her life will effectively be determined and controlled by others, who see her having an arranged marriage of alliance and becoming a breeder of sons. I am Juliet closely follows the well-known and loved plot of the play, but we also see the point of view of Rob, the thirteen-year-old boy who is the first to play the role of Juliet on the Elizabethan stage. Like many young people today, he too is overwhelmed by ‘all those words’ that Shakespeare wrote. But Rob realises that the story of love and tragedy is a somewhat simple one and the words are there for their extraordinary beauty and meaning. He will be Juliet and let the power of the words sing – as they still do today.
Ophelia Queen of Denmark
She is the girl who will be queen: Ophelia, daughter of Denmark’s Lord Chancellor and loved by Prince Hamlet. But while Hamlets family stab, poison or haunt one another, Ophelia plans a sensible rule, one filled with justice and the making of delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing, not even howling ghosts, stand in her way.
The Third Witch
Annie is not a witch, but when her mistress Lady Macbeth calls for a potion to ‘stiffen Macbeth’s sinews’, Annie is caught up in plots that lead to murder, kingship and betrayal. Annie must choose between Rab the Blacksmith and Murdoch, Thane of Greymouth, ultimately discovering where her loyalty lies. A searing story of passion, betrayal, battles and love, this is Shakespeare’s Macbeth stripped of superstition, and its power and beauty refined into fewer words where good balances the evil and there is a happy ending – for some.
The Diary of William Shakespeare – Gentleman
Part comedy, part love story, the threads of Shakespeare’s life drawn from his plays. Could the world’s greatest writer truly put down his pen forever to become a gentleman? He was a boy who escaped small town life to be the most acclaimed playwright of the land. A lover whose sonnets still sing 400 years later; a glover’s apprentice who became a gentleman. But was he happy with his new riches? Who was the woman he truly loved? The world knows the name of William Shakespeare. This book reveals the man – lover, son and poet. Based on new documentary evidence, as well as textual examination of his plays, this fascinating book gives a tantalising glimpse at what might have been: the other hands that helped craft those plays, the secrets that must ever be hidden but – just possibly – may now be told.
Jackie French Shakespeare series http://www.jackiefrench.com/shakespeare-series retrieved 1/09/2017
When inspiration does strike, some famous novelists have proven that a work of fictional brilliance can be produced in a matter of days.
Have a look at the interesting infographic on popular books, it compares the length of time and word count of some of the world’s most popular books.
From the 2.5 days it took John Boyle to write The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, to the 16 years it took for Tolkien to write the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
There’s no mention in these statistics of how many drafts were created in this time, or how long it took the editor’s to polish the story after the author had finished their initial work.
This only gives us a glimpse into the creation of some of the worlds favourite stories.
What is a romance novel? Most people know them as the trashy books with seductive images on the cover often found in back corners of bookstores. The Serious Definition is a novel with a plot that centers around two individuals falling in love with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
Greg Herren points out that what really makes a romance novel might not be what we expect — and guys might be reading them already!
“The great irony is men already read books with romance in them — they just aren’t called romance novels. If you take Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, flip it and tell it from the woman’s point of view, it would have been published as a romantic suspense novel and would have had a completely different cover, a different marketing plan… but really, Jason Bourne meets a woman, she goes along on his big spy adventure, and they wind up together, with a happily ever after on a Caribbean beach at the end…”
“When I was a kid, I did have to hide that I read books my father considered ‘girl’s books,’” says Herren. These days he’s not hiding and has adopted the point of view of a friend who believes we “we shouldn’t feel guilty about anything we truly enjoy.”
Romance novels are often dismissed as guilty pleasures and something to be ashamed of by both men and women. In fact, as a woman, I often notice people are surprised to learn that I, with my two English literature degrees, write romance novels. While guys reading “girls books” confounds our gender expectations and may lead to an extra element of surprise and snark, it seems that attitude often just comes with the genre — no matter who is reading it.
What do guys love about romance novels? Herron says, “The same thing I love about any novel — good writing, strong characters, a good story.” But are there ways to make these books more appealing to guys? But the matter of who reads romance may be about more than pink or sports. “I think the only way men are going to start reading romance novels in greater numbers is if the genre itself is destigmatized,”says Herren.
Rodale, Maya (2014) Real men who read romance novels http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maya-rodale/the-real-men-who-read-rom_b_4713546.html?slideshow=true#gallery/335715/6
Have you decided that this is your year for reading more Classic Literature? Great!
Have you always wanted to read the classics but have been intimidated by the sheer number of them? Maybe you’ve heard of classic writers like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, but you aren’t sure who else qualifies?
First we have to determine what does it mean to call something “classic”? The definition of a “classic” can be a hotly debated topic. Depending on what you read, or the experience of the person you question on the topic, you may receive a wide range of answers.
At once, the term implies age or antiquity, but the word also implies the material is somehow valuable. It somehow shapes what comes in later time periods. When traditional literary scholars refer to classical literature, they usually mean that this literature is widely acknowledged as having outstanding or enduring qualities. Often, Shakespeare’s King Lear is considered a classic of English literature and The Scarlet Letter in American literature.
- A classic usually expresses some artistic quality – an expression of life, truth, and beauty.
- A classic stands the test of time. The work is usually considered to be a representation of the period in which it was written; and the work merits lasting recognition. In other words, if the book was published in the recent past, the work is not a classic.
- A classic has a certain universal appeal. Great works of literature touch us to our very core beings–partly because they integrate themes that are understood by readers from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of experience. Themes of love, hate, death, life, and faith touch upon some of our most basic emotional responses.
- A classic makes connections. You can study a classic and discover influences from other writers and other great works of literature. Of course, this is partly related to the universal appeal of a classic. But, the classic also is informed by the history of ideas and literature–whether unconsciously or specifically worked into the plot of the text.
When scholars are speaking more specifically, however, the term classic is usually applied to the literature of the ancient world (Greek and Rome), especially between 1000 BC and 410 CE. Literature written during this same interval in other cultures might be referred to as “Classical Hebrew” or “Classical Chinese” literature as well. You can find a PDF handout listing all the major periods of literary history in Western culture here, to see where the classical period fits in.
Find a list of 100 Classics which provides a wealth of options across all genres, modes, and literary periods. There are many lists available representing the wealth of classics available.
You could also take the 100-classic-books-challenge
Lombardi, E 2011, About education: classiclit.about.com retrieved 16/08/2016
Dictionary.com: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/classic retrieved 16/08/2016
Early periods Literature: http://www.siff.us.es/fil/publicaciones/apuntes/jfmartin/Periods_Lit_History.pdf retrieved 16/08/2016
What is it?
There are a number of general characteristics that can help classify a story as dystopian. These include:
Dystopias are often part of a fictional universe, therefore a back story of how this world came to be or how it evolved (or de-volved) from our current world is necessary. The back story explains how the shift in control came to occur, with the end result being changed societal norms or a government now run by corporations, totalitarian dictatorships or bureaucracies.
There are a few different types of hero/protagonist that can occur in dystopian stories. One is the protagonist who intuitively feels something is wrong with society and sets out to change it, believing that it is possible to overthrow the dictatorship, or merely escape from the misery. Often the protagonist’s opinion varies significantly from those around him, leading to clashes and linking back to the question asked earlier regarding perception of dystopias.
Another common form of protagonist is the high-standing, accepted hero, who is part of the Utopian perception of the dystopia, but eventually discovers or comes to understand how wrong society has become and either attempts to change it or destroy it.
Often, the hero meets a person who represents the dystopia, possibly the leader of the society. In the conflict, the hero meets and is sometimes helped by a group of people who are also trying to escape or destroy the dystopia. Sometimes they are people who were once part of the dystopia, but were exiled or have escaped, or they have created their own society within the dystopia.
In dystopian literature, the story is often unresolved. Often the dystopia is not brought down. The hero may make their individual stand (or with the group discussed above) and often fails, but gives hope to others in the dystopia. Sometimes this climax is the hero’s escape from the dystopia (Think of The Giver). Other times the hero fails to achieve anything and the dystopia continues as before.
Common Elements of Dystopian Fiction
Excessive measures to police society; unjust laws
Pressure to conform
Media manipulation and propaganda
Measures to cover up flaws and lies within society
Attempts to erase or revise society’s history
Suppression of the arts
Limited or complete lack of individual freedom
Division of people into privileged and unprivileged groups
Little hope for change
Human lives that are rote, meaningless, or inhuman
Flawed, misunderstood, or abused advances (science, technology)
Suppression of emotions
Why is it so popular?
There are a number of opinions, but the main drift seems to be that books set in either chaotic or strictly controlled societies mirror a teenager’s life; at school, at home, with their peers and in the wider world. Let’s call it the “my own private dystopia” theory.
I’m going to offer a much simpler explanation. Teenagers like to read dystopian fiction because it’s exciting. It all comes down to the story. The story comes first, and the setting – extraordinary though it may be – is of secondary importance (Young, 2011).
Unless otherwise cited, this information comes from a Wikipedia article on characteristics of dystopian fiction (see the article here).
25 books to read this year!
- A book you own but haven’t read
- A book that was made into a movie
- A book you picked solely because of the cover
- A book your friend loves
- A book published this year
- A book by an author you’ve never read before
- A book by an author you love
- A book at the bottom of your ‘to read’ pile
- A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit
- A book you started but never finished
- A book with a lion, a witch or a wardrobe
- A book with a female heroine
- A book set in summer
- A book of poems
- A book you learned about because of this challenge
- A book that will make you smarter
- A book with a blue cover
- A book you were suppose to read in school, but didn’t
- A book ‘everyone’ has read but you
- A book with a great first line
- A book with pictures
- A book from the library
- A book you loved…read it again!
- A book that is more than 10 years old
- A book based on a true story
100 Years of ANZAC
The Anzac Centenary will be one of the most significant commemorations to take place in our lifetime. It’s a time to honour and reflect upon the service and sacrifice of all those who have worn our nation’s uniform – past and present. Australian authors and illustrators are determined to ensure that the Anzac Centenary is marked in a way that captures the spirit and reverence it so deserves and that the baton of remembrance is passed on to this and future generations. The following is a list of great books which deal specifically with ANZAC day. I’ve also included some powerful books that tackle the nature of war, both picture books and chapter books, allowing a more broader discussion to take place.
ANZAC Biscuits is wonderful way to remember ANZAC Day,
it offers many discussion points both relating to the subject of war and the use of language.
The over riding theme in this book is respect and thoughts for
those who have fought. It does not glorify war, but stresses
the personal element throughout.
Margaret Wild’s thought provoking narrative follows Peter and his
father as they escape the city. Peter is challenged to fulfil the promise
he has made to his father to keep their treasure safe.
Pennies for Hitler challenges perceptions and prejudice looking at the
events of WW2 from the perspective of Georg, part Jewish with
English heritage, living in Germany and being swept up by the impact of the Fuhrer.
More memorable war stories:
- Angels of Kokoda – Bunn, T. Davis
- Carries War – Bawden, Nina
- Dear Papa – Ylvisaker, Anne
- Soldier on the Hill – French, Jackie
- The Donkey who carried the wounded – French, Jackie
- A rose for the Anzac Boys – French, Jackie
- To Brave the Seas – McRobbie, David
- The Children of the King – Hartnett, Sonya
- The silver donkey – Hartnett, Sonya
- The Bomber Dog – Rix, Megan
- Meet Pearlie – Wang, Gabrielle / Masciullo, Lucia
- The Great Escape – Rix, Megan
- Goodnight Mister Tom – Magorian, Michelle
- Lone Pine – Brown, Suzie / Warner, Margaret
- ANZAC Day Parade – Kane, Glenda / Allen, Lisa
- What was the war like Grandma? – Tonkin, Rachel
- Light Horse Boy – Wolfner, Dianne / Simmonds, Brian
- A Horse called Hero – Angus, Sam
- My grandad marches on Anzac Day – Hoy, Catriona / Johnson, Benjamin
- Only a Donkey – Walters, Celeste / Mullins, Patricia
- Caesar the Anzac Dog – Stroud, Patricia
- Gallipoli – Tucker, Alan
- An Anzac Tale – Starke, Ruth / Holfeld, Greg
- One minute Silence – Metzenthen, David / Camillerie, Michael
Graphic stories have been told for a very long time. From the 17,000-year old cave paintings of Lascaux, the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt, the tapestry panels of the Middle Ages, and the invention of the printing press; all had a graphic story to tell.
Today, manga, comics, comic books, graphic literature, graphic stories, and graphic novels are analogous to the same form of text. However, an enduring prejudice towards these texts as sub-standard literature has been a difficult issue to overcome.
William Eisner’s (1978) Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories was seen as a turning point. An attitude change was further cemented when the 1991 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Art Spiegelman for Maus, which tells of his family’s experiences in the Holocaust. Graphic novels now tell richer and more extended stories that deal with serious topics (Cromer and Clark, 2007). They are also a bridge to their text based counterparts (Lee, 2007). For high school students manga interpretations of Shakespearian works such as Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet provide such a bridge.
The graphic novel format has also been a platform for the popular trend of fusion texts. These books merge the features of comics, graphic novels and prose. Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and Pichon’s (2011) Tom Gates series are examples of this hybrid text.
Students of the 21st century are inundated with visual images accessible on a range of devices and formats. With a prolific online world, Kunkle (2004) identifies similarities between reading a graphic novel, the interactivity contained in websites, and the importance of visual literacy skills in being able to navigate both. Graphic novels are considered multimodal texts that tap into the way students already learn.
Often confused with comic books, graphic novels are unique in that they have many elements of a picture book but also take on the form of a chapter book or novel with lengthy and multifaceted storylines. While they are very similar, comics are identified by their size, 28-page length, stapled spine, and magazine-like publication. The graphic novel is physically more like a book with storylines that have a beginning, middle, and end and can often stand alone (Mooney, 2002; Ward and Young, 2011). Similar to a picture book, graphic novels may contain adequate, little, or no amount of text, giving great power to the illustrations in portraying the story.
The Australian Curriculum: English has a strong focus on visual literacy. Students are required to read and view a wide range of texts as a key outcome. Becoming visually literate means students read and interpret the purpose and intended meaning, as well as analyse, synthesise and evaluate the form, structure and features of visual texts. This implies the use of higher order thinking skills. For the first time recommended texts include graphic novels. The Tale of Desperaux, has been adapted into a graphic novel and film. This differentiates the curriculum and enables exploration of the text through various formats. Given this mandate it would be an expectation that a school library include graphic novels in its collection to support visual literacy.
Graphic novels support the varying learning needs of all students, which is another reason for their inclusion in the library. Students who are hearing impaired or diagnosed with autism use pictures as a way to understand and derive meaning (Kluth, 2008, p170). They also support students who experience difficulty visualising pictures in their head and motivate reluctant readers. Further comparisons have been drawn between graphic novels and Gardiner’s Multiple Intelligences. Graphic novels provide a creative outlet for students with linguistic intelligence. Using graphic formats allows students to respond and express their knowledge and ideas in a creative way. Because of their layout there is an obvious connection for students with spatial intelligence. The visual elements of facial expressions, settings, lines, and shadings appeal to students whose strength is interpersonal intelligence, as they identify and empathise with the characters (Lyga, 2006).
The reading of any text involves interpretation. Sabeti (2012) conducted research into critical reading practices of an extra-curricular Graphic Novel Reading Group with Shaun Tan’s (2007) novel, The Arrival. The aim was to determine the strategies applied when interpreting texts in English classrooms. Contrary to her assumptions she found that students used a wider range of strategies to interpret the graphic novel that went beyond their classroom experience. Sabeti saw that traditional teaching methods imposed limitations on students. Through both studies, students developed greater understanding of the political and social contexts conveyed through the novels and were able to empathise with the characters’ experiences. Graphic novels enriched student learning.
Graphic novels can be used across the curriculum to address artistic style and technique or complex issues of bullying, prejudice, coming of age, social justice and injustice, and triumph over adversity (Schwarz, 2006; Patrick, 2010). Social, economic and cultural contexts of different historic periods are visually reinforced through graphic novels that can be a tool to aid learning across the curriculum (Boerman-Cornell, 2013).
Boerman-Cornell, B. (2013). ‘More than comic books’. Educational Leadership, [online] 70(6), pp.73-77. Available at: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar13/vol70/num06/More-Than-Comic-Books.aspx
Carter, J.B. (2009). ‘Going Graphic’. Educational Leadership, 66 (6), 68-73.
Cromer, M., & Clark, P. (2007). ‘Getting graphic with the past: Graphic novels and the teaching of history’. Theory & Research in Social Education, 35(4), 574-591.
Evans, J. (2013). ‘From comics, graphic novels and picture books to fusion texts: a new kid on the block!’. Education 3-13, [online] 41(2), pp.233-248. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03004279.2012.747788
Kluth, P (2008). ‘It was always with the pictures’. In N. Frey and D.Fisher, ed., Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills. USA: Corwin Press.
Kunkle, J. (2005). ‘Standing in the Shadows of History’. Theory & Research in Social Education, 33(4), 548-552.
Laycock, D. (2007). ‘Going Graphic: Using graphic novels to engage boy’s in school reading’. Access, 21(1), 13-17.
Lee, A. (2007). ‘Graphic Attraction–Graphic novels in libraries’. Connections, 62, 1-3.
Lyga, A. (2006). ‘Graphic Novels for (Really) Young Readers’ School Library Journal. [online] Available at: http://www.slj.com/2006/03/collection-development/graphic-novels-for-really-young-readers/#_
Patrick, K. (2010). ‘The invisible medium: comic studies in Australia’. Refractory, [online] 17. Available at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2010/07/18/the-invisible-medium-comics-studies-in-australia-kevin-patrick/
Sabeti , S. (2012) ‘Reading graphic novels in school: texts, contexts and the interpretive work of critical reading’. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 20(2), 191-210.
Schwarz, G. (2006). ‘Expanding literacies through graphic novels’. English Journal, 95. 58-64.
First, let me be clear that it’s not a Christian allegory. Don’t spend your time looking for the Christ figure or waiting for a Gospel presentation. Other books and movies do that quite well. Instead, there is a powerful Christian theme that runs throughout.
1. It has a strong theme of life.
No, not “life” in the simple, legalistic sense of opposing abortion or euthanasia (though that’s certainly present), but rather in the scriptural context of what life truly means.
As his death approached, Moses gathered the people of Israel together and delivered words that have echoed through millennia:
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
When Christ came he also talked of life, drawing the contrast between the life he offered versus the destruction of the enemy:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
“Life . . . to the full.” That’s the key phrase, and that’s “life” at stake in The Giver. We Christians speak often of the problem of pain as we struggle to reconcile life on this earth, with all of its heartbreak, with the life as described in scripture, the life we are to choose now, the life in full.
In the world of The Giver, the leaders chose to deal with the problem of pain by removing pain, even the pain of death (calling it a “release” that an uncomprehending public celebrated). This was not life in full, but instead a shadow of a life (portrayed literally in blacks, whites, and grays) – one that could only be defeated by life in full.
Yes, including the pain.
One of the most powerful scenes in the book/movie comes when Jonas, the hero who is one of only two members of the community who can feel the full range of human emotions, happens upon his first experience with war – through the memories of others.
The pain devastates him, as it has so many others. Yet it is part of the life in full, the life that has been stolen from him – and everyone – allegedly for his own good. Yet that pain doesn’t destroy him. Why?
2. It demonstrates the necessity of faith.
The only way we can live “life . . . to the full,” the life that Christ provides is through faith.
After all, if life were nothing but the scenes of joy and love that Jonas first experiences when glimpsing the truth about life, faith would seem superfluous. But scenes of constant joy are no more real than the black and white world that Jonas ultimately escapes.
Simply put, the life in full requires faith.
And so it must be for us. The life in full that Christ promises can take us terrifying places. I think of Kent Brantley, the American doctor who battled Ebola after treating Africa’s sick and dying. Even if we don’t venture far from home, we still can’t escape pain and loss. Only through faith can we understand this key reality:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
All things. Even the terrifying, the devastating, the shattering things. All things.
3. It points towards Christ in a powerful way.
(Warning: spoiler alert.) During the climax of the book/movie, the wave of emotions and memories that sweeps away the grays of the false life aren’t just the happy memories and uplifting emotions. Mixed amid the scenes of joy are scenes of despair and loss. What washes over the community isn’t just a slightly more uplifting version of the life their leaders had chosen but instead a vision of life in full.
And as they struggle to grasp the reality that washes over them, what is the final scene of the book/movie, the scene that leaves us hopeful for their future?
It’s a celebration of Christ’s birth.
As the movie ends, a community experiences life in full as a baby – Gabriel – (yes, the same name as the angelic herald of Christ’s birth) is rescued from death through a long and winding journey that leads – in its own subtle way – to the message of the nativity.
When Gabriel is finally safe, and when the community is finally free, he hears music for the first time.
He hears that classic Christian hymn, Silent Night.
Read or see The Giver because it will remind you of the “life in full,” the life that Moses tells us to choose and the life that Christ promises to provide… a life that can only be truly lived through and by faith.
Using Picture Books to promote effective thinking
Any book that pairs a narrative format with pictures can be categorized as a picture book; as Kiefer states: “In the best picture books, the illustrations are as much a part of the experience with the book as the written text. The images in picture books use a range of media such as oil paints, acrylics, watercolour, and pencil, among others. One of the earliest books with something like the format picture books still retain now is Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit from 1902. Some of the best-known picture books are Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are.
Picture books are often multi layered with rich visual text. Children are able to engage with the ideas, the words and the images created within the pictured world. The following resources suggest some selected picture books, to promote effective thinking, but are also invaluable resources to encourage deeper thinking.
Children of all ages are challenged to reflect and explore the rich concepts of these picture books. Concepts to discover include freedom, friendship, love, feelings, values, leadership and more.
So what are thinking questions?
A thinking question cannot be answered by looking in the book, asking an expert, undertaking a survey, measurement or observation. Instead, a thinking question looks like it has an answer, needs answers, not easy to answer and the only way to find the answer is by thinking about it. The benefits of engaging student minds with these picture books are it improves comprehension, enjoyment, knowledge transfer and it can be integrated in all areas of life to develop independent thought.
Some rich concept picture books are listed below:
• The Missing Piece and the Big O – Shel Silverstein
• The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
• The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Kate DiCamillo
• Stellaluna – Jannell Cannon
• The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
• The Lion and the Mouse – Aesop Fable
• Bunyips Don’t – Sally Odgers
• Imagine a Place – Sarah L. Thomson
• Sarah’s Heavy Heart – Peter Carnavas
• How to Heal a Broken Wing – Bob Graham (Activities for early childhood set)
• Blossom Possom – Gina Newton
• Fox – Margaret Wild
• The Waterhole – Graeme Base
• The Island – John Heffernan
• Enigma – Graeme Base
• Alexander and the Terrible Horrible Not Very Good Day – Judith Viorst
• Heart of the Tiger – Glenda Millard
• So few of Me – Peter H. Reynolds
• The tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
• The Bunyip of Berkley’s Creek – Ron Brooks & Jenny Wagner
• The Ugly Duckling – Hans Christian Anderson
• Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
Kiefer, Barbara Z. (2010). Charlotte Huck’s Children’s Literature.New York, McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-337856-5
It seems to be a rule that to write about Divergent, you have to mention Hunger Games, so let’s just get this out of the way: Divergent is no Hunger Games. It’s what gets made to capitalize on the wild success of Hunger Games, and it will do well partly because of Hunger Games (which I think is an excellent, well-made film).
But Divergent remains good on its own. I was hooked from the first scene. It doesn’t feel derivative, though it has a lot in common with its cousin. Both are based on bestselling YA novels that take place in a dystopian future. Both feature strong, intelligent teenage heroines, and both have love stories that take a back seat to the business of overthrowing oppressive regimes. Both also offer biting (if incomplete) critiques of various sorts of political and social problems that confront us today. By my lights, these are all positive things, especially for teenagers, who are plenty smart enough to get it if they’re led well.
But while pretty much everyone besides the few wealthy citizens of Panem’s Capitol know that the whole spectacle where they make teenagers fight to the death is a bad thing—a sort of fascist-socialist hybrid in which some are very wealthy and others are very, very poor and everyone is under the government’s thumb—Divergent’s post-apocalyptic Chicago walled-in enclave seems at first to be a happy place, though it’s just straight-ahead fascist.
In this society, the “founders” segregated citizens into five “factions,” a word that seems to have been stripped of its negative connotations. Factions are a sort of enlightened caste system, with all factions supposedly equal and membership based on what business types would call your “core competency.” Your faction defines what you do with your life: service (Abnegation, the public servants), intelligence (Erudite, the scholars), peacefulness (Amity, the farmers), honesty (Candor, the lawyers and judges), and fearlessness (Dauntless, the protectors). Those who belong to no faction are the factionless—poor, hungry, homeless, dirty, to be pitied and feared.
Teenagers take aptitude tests that tell them which faction they’re best suited for, and then they’re allowed to choose which to join. Many end up in the faction their parents raised them in. Others choose based on their aptitude, or on the one that interests them most. Once the teenager chooses—in a ceremony witnessed by the entire community—they’re not allowed to reverse their decision. They’ve chosen for life.
(A brief aside here: these tests rather clearly correlate with the career tests, and personality tests, and even those “which season/sandwich/celebrity/Disney Princess are you” Buzzfeed quizzes that we youngsters seem to endlessly take which seek to categorize us so we can “find our place” in the world. No accident that this occurs in a story written for teenagers.)
Our heroine, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley), was raised in Abnegation by her loving and competent mother (Ashley Judd) and father (Tony Goldwyn), who is second in command to the leader of the society. But her test results are inconclusive, a point that freaks her tester out enough to make her usher Beatrice out the back door and warn her to tell no one, not even her family. Beatrice has always admired Dauntless, she tells us, but she’s as surprised as anyone.
On choosing day, then, Beatrice isn’t quite sure what to do. Her parents assure her and her brother—who is choosing as well—that they will love them no matter what they pick. Beatrice picks Dauntless and is whisked away to her initation, where she discovers that not everyone who chooses Dauntless gets to be Dauntless. There are a series of training exercises and rankings to tackle, both physical and mental. Those ranked “below the line” will be kicked out and factionless.
Beatrice—who renames herself Tris—initially ranks quite low, especially after a disastrous first fistfight. But she works tirelessly and slowly climbs the ranks, prompted and mentored by Four, a handsome Dauntless with an awesome tattoo. Four seems different than the others, and he and Tris grow closer, especially after the second stage of training begins, in which initiates must overcome their greatest fears in a mental simulation while their trainers watch them do so on screens.
The thing is that Tris overcomes her fears (birds and fire and drowning and such) in a way wholly unlike Dauntless: she beats the simulation by recognizing it isn’t real, something a Dauntless would never do. Four realizes Tris isn’t ordinary Dauntless at all. She’s Divergent—someone whose competency is in multiple areas, someone who can’t be neatly categorized and boxed up.
This is a problem because (for mostly vague reasons, though we can guess), Divergents are a threat to the society’s leaders and are getting systematically picked off. And as they catch wind that the Erudite are planning to overthrow Abnegation as leaders, led by Jeanine (Kate Winslet), it seems Divergents are in a particularly precarious place.
I should say that I didn’t wind up reading the novel before I saw the movie, so I’m not sure whether the film hews closely to its source material. What I can say is that Divergent is a solid movie, far better than most fare for its demographic, and one that most parents and teens could see together and discuss afterwards profitably. But it’s not a great film. I can’t say for sure whether fans will be pleased. I suspect they will.
That faithfulness to the novel may be what keeps Divergent from being as good as the Other Movie. It focuses so closely on plot (and there is a ton of plot here), and on Tris’s transformation into a kickbutt fighting machine, and the romance, that it ignores some of the political and emotional weight it could have had as proper dystopian scifi. (For starters, it’s a bit tricky to sympathize with a teenager who apparently does love her parents, but doesn’t suffer angst about leaving them behind, apparently forever.)
And this is not a very interesting screenplay, nor a very good one. It feels, at times, perfunctory: hitting all the plot points just fine, but without a ton of imagination, especially as it concerns dialogue. (The moment when Tris delivers the line “I’m not Dauntless, I’m Divergent” had to have been written expressly for the trailer, right?)
Yet, one big reason the movie largely succeeds is its heroine, Shailene Woodley, with whom I’ve been enamored since her stunning turn in The Spectacular Now last summer. (Her co-star in that film, the very talented Miles Teller, has a sizeable role in this movie too, and it was great fun watching them, especially in a scene where they have to take swings at each other in the boxing ring.) Theo James as Four is a worthy leading man, and any supporting cast involving Kate Winslet and Ashley Judd is always going to be good.
(By the way, one sign that YA dystopia has graduated completely beyond the “genre fiction” category is the quality of its adaptations’ supporting casts; add Divergent’s to Hunger Games’, which includes Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz—his daughter Zoe is in Divergent—Stanley Tucci, and the great, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.)
But Divergent left me wishing it more carefully dealt with its political and social implications—teenagers know keenly the feeling of fighting to find one’s identity against categories, sure, but the story’s answer seems to be “just face your fears and you’ll be okay.” Okay. Bravery is important. But what about a sense of the danger of social engineering based on “science”?
One political fear the story touches is also worth mentioning. The trouble really begins when one faction—Erudite, the learned, who essentially stand in for the intelligentsia—plot to overthrow the selfless faction in charge of public service, a task they would accomplish by subjugating the strong soldier faction.
This is where we first catch a whiff of something truly sinister. It’s effective largely because it taps into a widespread fear in our age of populist movements on the right (Tea Party) and left (Occupy): that our political systems are being overtaken by people who are groomed for that spot their whole lives, and who are not in it to serve the population, but rather to exert a Nietzschean will to power.
That fear is strongly reflected—and reflected upon—in our many, many political television shows, like House of Cards, Scandal, Homeland, The Newsroom, and more (I’ve written more about this here). I don’t know where Divergent is headed, but it seems the factionless may have something to say about all this. (If they don’t, it’s a failure of the books.)
That said, seems relentlessly positive for teenagers to imagine themselves into a role where their intelligence and empathy and courage and honesty and peacefulness might bring about justice for the oppressed.
One other plot point seems worth mentioning here: those raised in Abnegation are expected to always think of others, rather than themselves. And so they also are raised to avoid mirrors, to not think about themselves, to not think about their own talents and skills and strengths.
The movie uses this to develop Tris’s character, as she looks at herself more and more as she comes into her own. As I watched, I thought this may especially ring true to many Christian teenage (or formerly teenage) girls who, like me, were raised in a culture that encouraged them to ignore their looks—and, to a large extent, their gifts, if they didn’t fit a mold.
Of course, caring for others is at the heart of Christianity. But so is standing up for the truth, being wise, exercising courage, and fostering peace. There’s something to Four’s idea that he’d like to be all of those things—and something dangerous and even sinister when, in our zeal to help people discover their “unique” gifts and talents and personalities, we ignore the fact that it’s just those things we’re not naturally good at that we ought to work at.
But back to the movie: Divergent is worth watching, if only to see our next Hollywood princess in action, and because it taps into something we’re feeling these days. It’s worth watching as another warning against social engineering and fascism. And it’s worth watching because, on the whole, teenagers (and former teenagers) need stories that call them to bravery and intelligence and peace and honesty and service to others, and we can be glad this is yet another.
One thing that Divergent may have over Hunger Games for many audiences, particularly CT readers, is that it’s simply not as dark. It is apparently far less violent thant its source material, and there’s no equivalent of the Panem arena. The teenagers do have to confront their fears, which are fairly conventional—birds, drowning, heights, wolves, even having to shoot an innocent person—but two fears may be triggers for some viewers: rape and/or objectified sex (we see nothing graphic, but clearly know what the fear is) and physical parental abuse.
Tris tells Four that she “doesn’t want to take things too fast” when they first kiss, and he readily assents, agreeing to sleep on the floor while she sleeps in his bed. There is of course violence, and people get shot, including some key adult characters. A character gets stabbed through the hand with a knife. Many people get beat up in hand-to-hand combat. There are intimations of genocide. Profanity is kept to an almost unnoticeable minimum. Teenage boys and girls live in the same dormitory, but that’s all we see or know.
My only real fear is that teenagers may miss the overall menacing nature of the kind of controlling society that Divergent faces us with, which is up to parents and wise teens to discern and discuss.
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today’s chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College. She tweets at @alissamarie.
Do the Faction Quiz: http://www.divergentfans.com/page/faction-quiz
The thrilling end to the questions raised in Starters is here. Someone is after Starters like Callie and Michael-teens with chips in their brains. They want to experiment on anyone left over from Prime Destinations-Starters who can be controlled and manipulated. With the body bank destroyed, Callie no longer has to rent herself out to creepy Enders. But Enders can still get inside her mind and make her do things she doesn’t want to do, like hurt someone she loves. Having the chip removed could save her life-but it could also silence the voice in her head that might belong to her father. Callie has flashes of her ex-renter Helena’s memories, too . . . and the Old Man is back, filling her with fear. Who is real and who is masquerading in a teen body? No one is ever who they appear to be. Determined to find the Old Man to stop him, and grasping at the hope of a normal life for herself and her younger brother, Callie is ready to fight for the truth. Even if it kills her.
Some books help us remember what we have in common, books where young protagonists make us part of their journey for survival. These books are examples of vivid storytelling with a visceral sense of place, loss, courage, distrust, and hope.
The Breadwinner series – Deborah Ellis
In 1996, when Debrah read about the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, and about their brutal treatment of girls and women, she decided that she had to get involved. She visited refugee camps in Pakistan, met Afghan women and heard about their experiences. She was particularly struck by the story of a young girl who cut off her hair and disguised herself as a boy so she could earn money to support her family. Deborah knew she had to turn that story into a book. The result was the Breadwinner novels, about young Parvana and her best friend, Shauzia.
Through my eyes Shahana – Rosanne Hawke
Orphans Shahana and her little brother, Tanveer live in the shadow of the Line of Control which divides Kashmir in two. When they save a young fugitive from the wild dogs their lives are made even more complicated. Shahana is the first of a series of books which show how war affects young people
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
An illiterate Afghan boy with an uncanny instinct for predicting exactly where a downed kite will land. Growing up in the city of Kabul in the early 1970s, Hassan was narrator Amir’s closest friend even though the loyal 11-year-old with “a face like a Chinese doll” was the son of Amir’s father’s servant and a member of Afghanistan’s despised Hazara minority. But in 1975, on the day of Kabul’s annual kite-fighting tournament, something unspeakable happened between the two boys.
A Beautiful Lie – Irfan Master
Bilal’s father is already dying, but Bilal at least wants to spare him a broken heart. So begins a memorable and enchanting tale of a young boy and his friends determined to stop the truth about the Partition of India reaching a terminally ill man.
Bedridden with cancer, Bilal’s bapuji, or father, doesn’t realise how far the plan for the Partition of India has progressed. Bilal has kept the news from him as he was worried that it would kill him – but when he accepts that death is imminent, Bilal swears to at least save him the pain of having his heart broken before he passes away. Along with his friends Chota, Manjeet and Saleem, Bilal swears to stop him from ever finding out. 1947 India, though, is a dangerous place for everyone, and there are people in their town who don’t think that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus should be doing anything together.
Heather Vogel Frederik started her contemporary Mother Book Club series in 2009, since then it continues to grow in popularity.
The series delights daughters of all ages in a novels about the fabulousness of fiction, family, and friendship.
This is not your average Mother and Daughter Book Club, the Book Club is about to get a makeover. . . .
But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate the drama of middle school. From stolen journals, to secret crushes, to a fashion-fiasco first dance, these sixth-graders are up to their Wellie boots in drama. They can’t help but wonder: What would Jo March do? Even if Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma’s already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care, the new book club is scheduled to meet every month.
Much Ado About Anne, Mother-Daughter Book Club #2
Drama is required reading in this spirited sequel to The Mother-Daughter Book Club, as the mothers have a big surprise in store for Emma, Jess, Cassidy, and Megan: they’ve invited snooty Becca Chadwick and her mother to join the book club! But there are bigger problems when Jess finds out that her family may have to give up Half Moon Farm. In a seventh-grade year filled with Anne of Green Gables, skating parties, a mother-daughter camping trip, and a high-stakes fashion show, the girls realize that it’s only through working together—Becca included—that they can save Half Moon Farm.
Dear Pen Pal, Mother-Daughter Book Club #3
Could the book club break up? When Jess is offered an anonymous scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, she’s not sure that leaving home—and her friends—is what she wants to do. Meanwhile Megan’s grandmother comes for a long visit and turns everything in the Wong household upside down; Emma crusades against her middle school’s new uniforms; and Cassidy finds out there’s a big change ahead for her family.
Inspired by Jess’s unexpected opportunity, the book club decides to read Jean Webster’s classic Daddy-Long-legs, and there’s an added twist this year when they become pen pals with the girls in a book club in Wyoming. There’s plenty to write to their new friends about, from a prank-filled slumber party to a not-so-secret puppy—and even a surprise first kiss.
In this third book in the beloved Mother-Daughter Book Club series, the girls learn that as long as they have one another—and a good book—they’re ready for whatever eighth grade has in store!
Pies & Prejudice, Mother-Daughter Book Club #4
Right before the start of their freshman year, the mother-daughter book club faces yet another challenge when Emma’s family unexpectedly moves to England. Leave it to the resourceful girls, however, to find a way to continue meeting and discuss a particularly fitting choice, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
In England, Emma encounters a new queen bee, Annabelle, who sets out to make her life miserable. Back in Massachusetts, meanwhile, Annabelle’s cousins swap homes with Emma’s family and are causing some major distractions. Cassidy clashes with moody Tristan, a modern day Mr. Darcy, while her friends swoon over Tristan’s younger brother Simon. As the year progresses, the girls each discover new talents, and when they cook up a plan to bring Emma home for a visit by holding a bake sale, it grows into a thriving business, Pies & Prejudice. After their sweet scheme looks like it’s going to fall short, though, they’re left wondering if the club will ever all be together again.
Home for the Holidays, Mother-Daughter Book Club #5
This holiday season, join the mother-daughter book club as they dive into the Betsy-Tacy series and turn the page to a whole new chapter of adventures!
Unfortunately, nothing goes quite as planned for any of the girls. On a Christmas cruise with their families, Megan and Becca fight over the dashing son of the ship’s captain. Cassidy and her family fly back to California to visit Cassidy’s sister Courtney and stay with old friends in Laguna Beach during Hanukkah. Meanwhile, they’re wrestling with a big question: which state should they call home? And back in Concord, a disastrous sledding accident means both Emma and Jess have to completely change their winter vacation plans.
Between squabbles, injuries, and blizzards, everything seems to be going wrong. Will the girls be able to find their holiday spirit in time for a rollicking New Year’s Eve party?
Wish You Were Eyre, Mother-Daughter Book Club #6
The book club says bon voyage to Concord and bonjour to France!
It’s a dream come true for Megan, who’s jet-setting to Paris for Fashion Week with Gigi. Meanwhile, back in Concord, Mrs. Wong decides to run for mayor, so Emma and Stewart team up to make her campaign a success. Jess and Cassidy are also hoping for victories, Jess in the a cappella finals with the MadriGals and Cassidy in the national hockey championships with her teammates. In the midst of it all, the girls—along with their Wyoming pen pals, who drop in for a visit over Spring Break—dive into Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre. Some real life romance follows, as Becca may have found a Mr. Rochester of her own.
And then there’s the matter of a certain wedding. The book club girls, their families, the British Berkeley brothers, and even Stinkerbelle will be attending the ceremony, which means there might be some bumps before the bride waltzes down the aisle . . . .