Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Is Recess a Human Right?

January 16, 2020

When I was a school kid, I didn’t merely think “play” was a human right, I thought “playing up” was a human right.

As a teacher, I certainly value the benefits of allowing my students to experience pleasurable periods of healthy play. However, I am also of the belief that kids who waste class time risk losing some of their own downtime. Actions must have consequences, and consequences must involve the loss of something important to the child.

Child author, Michael Rosen, would probably be quite disappointed in me:


Play is a fundamental human right, Michael Rosen has said.

The children’s author and poet said that play should not be seen as an “add on”, or an “extra” as he urged adults and children to “get out there and play”.

Rosen’s comments come in a video by the British Psychological Society (BPS), which has said it is concerned that break times are being eroded.

In the video, called Right To Play, Rosen, a former Children’s Laureate who is best known for books such as We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, says: “Play isn’t an extra, it isn’t an add on.

“Play is a fundamental human right.”

Dan O’Hare from the BPS division educational and child psychology said: “Children’s break time has been reduced by 45 minutes a week in recent years, and one of the results is that eight out of 10 children now do less than one hour of physical activity per day.

“We are grateful to Michael Rosen and the children in the video for helping us make the case that play is vital for schoolchildren. Because play isn’t just a means to an end: it’s fundamental to children’s development and wellbeing.”


Special Announcement:

I am donating 100% of the royalties of my hilarious new children’s book, My Favourite Comedian, during the month of January to those affected by the devastating bushfires in my country, Australia. This book is perfect for children aged 9 to 14 and the ideal class novel for Upper Primary students. Please leave a comment to indicate your purchase. You can buy a copy by clicking on this link.


Top 10 Female Characters in Kids Books

January 13, 2020


The following is a list adapted from an article by Allison McDonald. The criteria is that the character had to show girls how to be fierce and fearless:

#10) Beatrice Prior from The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth
Brave doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for Tris. She is more than brave — she seems propelled to do the right thing no matter what stands in her way.

#9) Pippi from Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi is the self-proclaimed strongest girl in the world…and she lives with a monkey named Mr. Nilsson! If that’s not reason enough for her inclusion on this list, you’ll have to re-read this classic to find a million more.

#8) Ramona Quimby from The Ramona Series by Beverly Cleary
Ramona is far from perfect but she has a huge heart, a creative mind, and never loses sight of who she is.

#7) Princess Truly from Princess Truly in I Am Truly by Kelly Greenawalt
Brimming with confidence, this diverse character has no problem loving herself. Princess Truly teaches your child about self-acceptance and self-love, showing that she can do whatever it is she sets her mind to. Talk about princess power!

#6) Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anne Shirley has to have puffed sleeves, bravely saves her best friend’s sister, and even walks along the rooftop to show she isn’t afraid. She stands up for herself, her friends, and for what is right many times over —showing her strength and confidence each and every time.

#5) Cleopatra from the Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack
Time traveling and saving the galaxy? What can’t this girl do? Cleopatra shows the universe who’s boss when her 15-year-old self travels into the future to save all of humanity. With a lot of drive, determination, bravery, and a little sass, this traveling queen knows who’s boss and plans to show the world just that.

#4) Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
When I read how Katniss volunteered to take her sister’s place as tribute, I cried. When I saw the scene on film, I cried. And now, years later, writing about it, I still have chills. Sure, she fights and shows strength in so many other ways, but that one act is central to her character, and why she is one of the best female characters you will find on this list.

#3) Matilda Wormwood from Matilda by Roald Dahl
There is something incredibly calm and self-assured about Matilda. She knows her family is filled with idiots, she knows she’s not an idiot, and at a very young age she goes about educating herself because no one else seems to care.

#2) Nancy Drew from the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
If there’s a mystery to solve, Nancy is on the job. With a magnifying glass and a keen sense of wonder, Nancy Drew can decipher any question and her bravery is no match for the cases thrown her way.

#1) Hermione Granger from The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I could wax poetic about Hermione Ganger for days. Her intellect is apparent from the start, as is her drive to succeed. She saves Ron and Harry countless times during the series, but her most heroic act is saving her parents. I don’t want to ruin this for anyone who hasn’t read the final book, but let me just warn you there will be tears. You will be awed not only by the depth of her strength but by the depth of the love that fuels it. Oh, one more reason Hermione is my #1 pick? For the time she punched Malfoy. (I know hitting is wrong, but I know you cheered while reading that too!)


Special Announcement:

I am donating 100% of the royalties of my hilarious new children’s book, My Favourite Comedian, during the month of January to those affected by the devastating bushfires in my country, Australia. This book is perfect for children aged 9 to 14 and the ideal class novel for Upper Primary students. Please leave a comment to indicate your purchase. You can buy a copy by clicking on this link.

The Telegraph’s Best Children’s Book of All Time

March 6, 2014




Some absolute classics among this very well compiled list:

Watership Down

Richard Adams (1972)

The full-scale novel about rabbits finding their promised land has the magic of prophecy, idyllic Hampshire locations and the structure of the Aeneid. Adams enjoys parading his scholarship, and this is a lively introduction to brainy books.

The Hobbit

J R R Tolkien (1937)

Here we meet the characters who will make The Lord of the Rings happen, and on a pre-Peter Jackson scale. If anything, Gollum is even more chilling here, because we see him through the eyes of a hobbit – seldom the calmest of travellers.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C S Lewis (1950)

Welcome to the magical land of Narnia, where the White Witch reigns over a snow-girt land peopled by fawns, talking beavers and people eager to put their trust in four kids from Finchley. The Christian allusions come later, but for now this is pure narrative magic.

Charlotte’s Web

E B White (1952)

The New Yorker writer cherished for his elegance of style gives us an altruistic spider with exquisite manners, and a pig to make her proud. There are intimations of mortality, but a plot of fame and legacy thumbs its nose at the inevitable.

The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)

The Little Prince falls to Earth to meet the author, who has crashed his plane. His quizzical, wise stories of other planets (most of which are inhabited by solitary monomaniacs) lead to the daftest of all – our own.

Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren (1945)

It’s quite something to live as an orphan with just a horse and a monkey for companions. The heroine has a chutzpah that makes her sound at her most adult when she’s flouting adult conventions, especially at teatime.

Emil and the Detectives

Erich Kästner (1929)

When Emil is robbed of his mother’s hard-earned savings (that were never likely to stretch far), he has help from a scratch squad of child detectives from Berlin. However much this sounds like the best child’s game ever, the real world is seldom far away.

James and the Giant Peach

Roald Dahl (1961)

One of Dahl’s earliest, best, and most fully developed tales. There is no attempt to make the giant insects or articulate clouds seem natural: this is a world of wonder, more marvellous than Wonka’s, even.

Winnie the Pooh

A A Milne (1926)

Characters begin days by visiting one another, and end up shifting houses, learning to fly or surviving floods.

A Little Princess

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)

Sara has a privileged background but is now living as a Cinderella figure; and she plays at being a princess. But her response shows that being a princess is less a social ranking than a state of mind.

The Just So Stories

Rudyard Kipling (1902)

How did the leopard get his spots? How was the alphabet made? Why are elephant’s trunks so long? Kipling is the model of the patient parent in the face of constant questions. And who cares about evolution? This is much more fun.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Jules Verne (1864)

Verne uses all the tricks that make Anthony Horowitz so successful – the action-packed chapters that end at just the right time and the sense of deepening mystery – but also a knack for convincing us that there really might be creatures down there.

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The idyllic, stylised account of life on the river, with anxious glimpses beyond it, is a masterclass in character-driven comedy – alongside the arriviste Toad is the petit bourgeois Mole, and Rat, the gentleman of leisure.

The Doll People

Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin (2000)

The dolls in your dolls’ house might look inanimate to you, but you clearly have no idea of what they get up to at night. They’re casing the joint, tracking lost relatives and dodging that cruel fate – PDS (Permanent Doll State).

The Child that Books Built

Francis Spufford (2002)

Although this book isn’t written for children, the more reflective might enjoy it as a guide on how to grow into reading; and it’s a wonderfully eloquent take on how growing up happens unexpectedly.



JK. Rowling in Body Image Controversy

October 2, 2012


JK Rowling deserves a bit of slack for this latest controversy. Whilst the reference to a ‘mustachioed’ girl is regrettable, Rowling has done amazing things for children with glasses and scars and has inspired orphans to rise above their situation:

Now it appears the book, called The Casual Vacancy, has also angered religious leaders in India because of its portrayal of a Sikh girl  as ‘mustachioed, yet large-mammaried.’

The book, about social tensions in a small village in South West England, features a Sikh family, including female student Sukhvinder.

One of the characters, Fats, describes Sukhvinder, his classmate, as ‘mustachioed, yet large-mammaried’, adding that ‘scientists remain baffled by the contradictions of the hairy man-woman’.

Sikh believers are forbidden from shaving or trimming their hair, and the passage was condemned by India’s Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which manages places of worship in India.

Sikh leaders are now closely scrutinising the novel with a view to having the offending passages removed from Indian editions.

SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar described Miss Rowling’s choice of words as ‘a slur on the Sikh community’, adding: ‘Even if the author had chosen to describe the female Sikh character’s physical traits, there was no need for her to use provocative language, questioning her gender. This is condemnable.’

He added: ‘If anything is written against the Sikh maryada (dignity), we will write to [India’s] prime minister Manmohan Singh and urge him to take up the matter with the government in the United Kingdom for action against Rowling.

Click on the link to read Charity Pays for Teen’s Plastic Surgery to Help Stop Bullying

Click on the link to read From 0 to 100 in 150 Seconds

Click on the link to read It’s Time to Get New Role Models

R.I.P Jan Berestain of Berenstain Bears Fame

February 29, 2012

As a child, I absolutely adored the Berenstain Bears books. I made my parents read them to me over and over again. I particularly loved “The Bike Lesson”, a father’s cautionary tale to his young son on how not to ride a bike. I have since started reading the books to my daughter and on occasion, to my students.

Jan Berenstain, one of the writers of the series of books died at 88:

Jan Berenstain, who with her husband, Stan, wrote and illustrated the Berenstain Bears books that have charmed children and their parents for 50 years, has died. She was 88.

Berenstain, a long-time resident of Solebury in south-eastern Pennsylvania, suffered a severe stroke on Thursday and died on Friday without regaining consciousness, her son Mike Berenstain said.

The gentle tales of Mama Bear, Papa Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear were inspired by the Berenstain children, and later their grandchildren. The stories address children’s common concerns and aim to offer guidance on subjects like dentist visits, peer pressure, a new sibling or summer camp.

Thank you Jan for contributing to my love of reading and literature. You have left a legacy that will continue to entertain children. May you rest in peace.

Education vs Self-Expression

September 21, 2011

Last week, my colleague and I taught the most wonderful creative writing lesson.  My colleague wrote the beggining of a sentence on the board  – “As the ball bounced higher and higher …” and we told the students that they had 10 minutes to write a story of their choosing starting with the words on the board.  We told them that we weren’t going to correct spelling, grammar, paragraphing etc.  We just wanted them to have a go and let their imaginations steer them in the right direction.

Everly child bar none wrote frantically.  Those that lack certainty, didn’t.  Those that struggle with composing letters and information reports lapped up the lack of protocols and structure that this activity offered.  Why was this simple lesson such a success?  Because it allowed the students to express themselves.

Curriculums and educational trends have made it harder for teachers to help students find themselves.  It has continued to downplay the importance of The Arts in favour of skills and concepts that many of our children will never use.  The Fibonacci Sequence might be fascinating, but who decides that this is more important than a clay modelling session?  Since when did single-celled organisms have a greater importance in a child’s life than the chance to perform to an audience?

Nowadays the emphasis is on memorising facts, studying for standardised tests and rote learning.  Even when the system purports to be encouraging self-expression it’s often a sham.  The system dictates what literature the students study, how they should think and what they should be feeling.

I remember telling my teacher when I was a student that I was bored by Robinson Crusoe.  You should have seen the look on his face!  He asked me how I could be bored with such a classic.  I told him that I wasn’t interested in reading page after page about details.  I wanted tangible feelings I could connect with.  My teacher was astounded.  He reminded me that Robinson Crusoe was one of the most popular books of all time.  I wanted to reply that Jurassic Park was one of the most popular films of all time, but thought better of it.

There are a multitude of kids who are simply not adjusting to the style of education offered.  So what do we do?  We tell them to smarten up and pull their finger out.  We remind them that if they don’t adjust their potential will be wasted and their career prospects will be hampered.  What if it isn’t the “spoilt” children’s fault they are not thriving at school?  What if it’s actually the narrow-mindedness of the system?

The fact that the writing session was 10 minutes and no longer was key to the success of the lesson.  According to my colleague when they are given more time their work suffers.  It reminded me of a great scene from the film Six Degrees of Separation.  Donald Sutherland recounts how whilst the Grade 1 and Grade 3 teachers at his childs’ school weren’t able to extract great artwork from the students, the Grade 2 teacher was responsible for a classroom of art geniuses.  He confronted the teacher to ask her what her secret is, and she replied that she knows when to take the brushes out of their hands.

The reason why we need to take the pencils out of their hands after only 10 minutes, is that up until that point they haven’t had the time to think beyond their natural instincts.  If we let them continue they would slowly stop writing out of instinct and start writing to please their teacher.  They would consider the structure that teachers have been duty bound to impart to their students (such as containing a problem, resolution and foci).  This very structure leads to boring, formulaic writing.

Our students are crying out for some structure and routine in their lives, but by the same token, they are also crying out for an opportunity to express themselves.  We are all different and sometimes society doesn’t give us the freedom to express it.

It’s time to take the brushes out of our students’ hands and let them show us what they’re really about!

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