Module 2 – Diversity in Children’s Literature (Continued)

Indigenous Literature

Foster (2005) points out that even though it may appear that we have more indigenous literature available (based on the CBCA awards for 1998), very little of this is written by indigenous authors, which is ironic given that this chapter on indigenous literature is written by what appears to be white male (I spent way to long trying to find an author bio).  I also find it ironic that he has leaned heavily on Dr Anita Heiss’s work Dhuuluu-yala – to straight talk (2003)I suggest that although Heiss’ work is an older one than Foster’s, it may have been a better reading for this topic.  Even a cursory reading gives evidence for the importance of aboriginal people writing about aboriginal culture, and having aboriginal voices at every level of publishing.

As I am not currently working in a library, I cannot comment on the state of an indigenous literature collection.  I would definitely recommend Dr Heiss’ children’s books to be included in a collection, on the basis that Aboriginal/Indigenous works do not need to conform to the stereotype of Dreamtime stories – Indigenous authors have other things to offer as well!

As a little aside, I would like to point everyone to the excellent work of Alissa McCulloch, better known by her Twitter handle of Lissertations on cataloging and subject headings when it comes to Aboriginal people.  Her post Indigenous names in authority records: the case of Jandamarra (McCulloch, 2018) is a testament to the power of our language and also the power of one person’s voice, as through this blog post being shared with the “right” people, the authority record for Jandamarra was changed.

In the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, n.d.) Organising Idea 9 is particularly pertinent. It requires that “The significant contributions of Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the present and past are acknowledged locally, nationally and globally.” (ACARA, n.d., para 10).  What is often missing in classrooms is the idea of aboriginal people as anything other than a half naked, dark skinned, painted man, holding a didgeridoo or a spear.  There are many notable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have made important contributions to society and we are remiss to not include them in our classrooms via the lessons and materials we present to our students.

Shipp’s (2013) article was immensely helpful and practical, and I appreciated the opportunity to hear an Aboriginal voice on the subject.  I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about the Dharug nation, which covers the area where I live, but I am not sure where to start.  I haven’t been able find anything at our local library about the Dharug nation (which I will attempt to rectify if I ever get a job there!). I am shocked by the attitude of some people (Delaney, 2014) towards Aboriginal Australians, and would do whatever I could to work against such notions that suggest we have too much Aboriginal content in our classrooms.

One thing that struck me regarding culturally responsive teaching was the need to “Mak(e) learning meaningful and learning goals clear;” (Krakouer, 2015, pg 10).  I sometimes wonder if our teaching and assessing (or at least past practices) resemble a scene out of Nevermoor (Townsend, 2017) where Morrigan is submitted to a “Book Test” and when she gives the answers she has learned from her history books, she is told she is wrong, and it takes some time for her to work out what answers are required to pass the test.  Do our classroom lessons clearly outline the desired outcome, in a way that all of our students understand?

As another aside, I did find it odd that one of our readings just linked to the home page of a journal – and the reading was listed as the journal.  I don’t think we are being expected to read every article in every issue of the Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal?

Graphic Novels

Before I start this sub-section, I wanted to add my own experience with graphic novels. Which is to say that I had never read a graphic novel, nor owned one, until earlier this year.  In March I began reading the Peter Grant series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch, and the series has four graphic novels as well as six novels and one novella.  I love the series and so now own all of the books, including the four graphic novels.  I must confess I prefer the novels to the graphic novels but that’s a personal preference, including preferring longer works over short stories, rather than any sort of bias that graphic novels aren’t “real books”.  Since this sub-section also includes manga and comics, I do own one other comic book, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal.

I found the Scottish Book Trust (2018) videos interesting, but a little disjointed as they obviously represented small portions of a longer workshop.  It did make me more aware of comic/graphic novel techniques that I will use to review the graphic novels I own.

Graphic novels are a format and not a genre (Karp, 2012) and I was surprised to note that graphic novels can actually be a series of short stories or comic strips (Drexal University, 2009-2012), whereas previously I would have said that this was the key distinction between a graphic novel and a comic.  Karp (2012) differs to our module content in saying that graphic novel is simply an effective attempt to rebrand the comic, and make it seem more sophisticated.

I probably spent far too long reading Graphic novels in your school library (Karp, 2012) although technically the entire book is one reading.  I find I disagree with Karp, in saying I think that comics are the series fiction of the sequential art form, and graphic novels are it’s literature form.  There is still a place for the comic book, but I believe the differences run deeper than Karp (2012) suggests.

Manga and Anime

I’m reasonably familiar with key manga genres, titles and characters as my younger brothers were the right age for Pokemon when it first hit Australian shores, and one of them in particular continued his love for manga into adulthood.  Karp (2012) discusses perceived differences in the American comic book culture and the Japanese Manga culture, noting that the American comic book favours superheroes, action and results, while Manga favours progress, process and often incorporates spiritual elements.  Eisenbies (2014) provides a good list of manga genres with a guide to their suitability for different age groups.

Horror

I avidly read R.L. Stine books for a while as a teen, and one Dean Koontz book, but it’s never really appealed to me as an adult.  I read Perfume by Patrick Suskind (which I quite enjoyed) but I would have said I hadn’t read any other horror books.  Except now this module is telling me that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is horror?  That’s surprising!

Monsters are not new.  Krampus dates back to Norse mythology and Indigenous Australians have their own monster mythologies, varying according to location.  Monster mythology helps teach our children that the world is a dangerous place, and equips them to fight the evil they encounter by exposing them to the dangers from the safe confines of a story (Bodart, 2012).  Students learn the different options of how to respond to a monster, what is necessary to preserve our own safety and what is honourable, helping them to learn about themselves by reflecting on their own reactions to the story and the actions of the characters (Bodart, 2012).

Picture Books for Older Readers

Picture books are a valuable resource to use with older students (Marsh, 2010).  The can provide the impact of a longer work, in a shorter timeframe, with content that is more accessible to all students, regardless of literacy level (National Library of New Zealand, n.d.). The place of picture books is often misunderstood by the general community, and relegated to the business of young children by many people (Hateley, 2014), however from the information I have read I think Requiem for a bull would be better classified as a graphic novel than a picture book.

Picture books for older readers is definitely an area I am interested in investigating more for my first assignment, and as such I will come back and read more of the further readings for this topic at a later date.

The lists we are asked to examine are really long (over 1000 books on the Goodreads list) and therefore it would possibly be easier to search for picture books and then see if they are on the list.

Animalia by Graeme Base appears on the Wheelers list of Sophisticated Picture Books, and while it is definitely sophisticated, I would not put it (and his other titles such as Jungle Drums) on a list of picture books for older readers.  Although, it may depend on what is defined as “older”.  When picture books are often considered the domain of pre-readers (Marsh, 2010) a picture book for 8-10 year olds may be seen as an “older reader”.  Animalia can be enjoyed by students before they can read, but the fine details in the book would be better appreciated by older readers.

The Mostly True Story of Matthew and Trim by Cassandra Golds and Stephen Axel is a graphic novel about Matthew Flinders and his cat, Trim and would be a perfect, engaging book for independent reading for students from Stage 3 (years 5-6, or ages 9-12) and older, especially when learning about European exploration of Australia.

Cicada by Shaun Tan is a picture book with sparse text, which highlights issues of work ethic, bullying and discrimination.  The use of a restrained colour palette throughout most of the book highlights the transformative ending.  It would be useful for discussing bullying from age 8 and onwards, but would be more greatly appreciated and engaged with by older students and adults.

Mark L. Wilson is an Australian author who tackles tough issues in picture book format, particularly war, and I was surprised that his titles did not appear on the Wheelers list, although they may have been on the Goodreads list (at 20+ pages I did not have the chance to look through it all).

Memorial by Gary Crew and illustrated by Shaun Tan tells the moving story of a Moreton Bay Fig tree planted in memory of fallen soldiers after the first world war, through the eyes of a young boy listening to the stories of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.  It is based on a true story, and could form part of a history unit on any war of the 20th Century, or part of a broader discussion on war, memories of war, the memorialisation of war and ANZACery.

The City by Armin Greder tells the tale of a woman who escapes the war and the city, and finds an isolated place to raise her son.  It would be a valuable book to use when contrasting the story traditions of other cultures and the minimal use of colour in the illustrations is also of note.

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman is an enjoyable story but I cannot, for the life of me, work out why it’s in the Premier’s Reading Challenge for years 5-6 and 7-9.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is a simple tale of a girl who is curious about everything, until sadness comes to her life and she locks her heart away.  This would be a good book to use when talking to older students about grief, or when studying metaphors.

Home and Away by John Marsden, illustrated by Matt Ottley is a moving and harrowing story about a normal family whose country is ravaged by war.  They sell all they have to escape to a new country, by boat, only to be kept in detention.  Suitable for high school students.

LGBTQIA Literature

As a first impression, I am curious as to why the official heading in the subject for this is “LGBTQ” when I haven’t seen that acronym used in a very long time, and instead see the more inclusive LGBTQIA referred to in literature and popular culture.

The biggest thing that I struggle with is, why are we still having these discussions?  I can understand that faith-based schools are still struggling with the best way to tackle this issue, but I cannot understand why a public school would ever question the need, especially in secondary school, for LGBTQIA literature (Whelan, 2006) although one can hope that the situation has changed in the past twelve years.  There is a great need for students to see themselves in books (as covered in the diversity section) and this includes diversity in sexual orientation (Barack, 2014), and must go beyond just “coming out” stories to include normal stories where key characters just happen to be LGBTQIA.  Unfortunately many librarians are not getting the message and professional journals are not helping in this regard (Koehler, 2011) and so librarians must to do more to promote this necessary literature to other librarians as well as to their students.

For those looking for up to date recommendations for LGBTQIA literature, the School Library Journal published recommendations in July.

Steampunk

While I can’t say I have a huge interest in Steampunk, I have read some of the original steampunk authors – H.G. Well’s The Time Machine and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – and I have read some modern novels set in the Victorian era (The Paper Magician and sequels by Charlie N. Holmberg, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs) that may count?  I don’t know a lot about YA Steampunk although my teenage daughter has read The Finishing School series (Ettiquette and Espionage etc) by Gail Carriger and The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare.

I have done some of the readings on this topic but it doesn’t impress me as important or urgent.  It’s not the sort of thing that’s excessively censored like paranormal/horror fiction, nor necessary like Indigenous and LGBTQIA literature, it’s just a current fashion.

Dystopia

Before I even start reading, I must confess that dystopia is one of my two favourite genres (the other being magical realism).  So I have read a reasonable amount of dystopia, both for adults and young adults.  My introduction to the genre was probably John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy although it was around the same time we studied The Chrysalids.  I started this post thinking Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was my introduction to the genre but keep thinking of earlier examples.  The works of Australian authors Victor Kelleher and Brian Caswell are often dystopian and I read them throughout my uni years.  Brave New World would have been the first I read as a fully-fledged adult, followed a little while later by George Orwell’s 1984, John Christopher’s The Death of Grass and John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids.  I stopped reading fiction for a few years but the spark was reignited by reading Hugh Howey’s Silo trilogy.  Since then I’ve read Scott Orson Card’s Ender’s Game and the follow up Speaker for the Dead, P.D. James’ Children of Men, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner series, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One and Armada, Stephen and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties, John Wyndam’s The Kraken Wakes, Nathan Larson’s The Dewey Decimal System, and, most recently, Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451.  I’m sure there’s more.  What surprises me most is that every time I think “well I really didn’t read dystopia then”, I realise that I did.  The NCTE & IRA (2006) list of characteristics is a good start but I feel like there is something missing in the criteria, although I can’t put my finger on it.

Dystopia explores fictional scenarios that are “almost-real”, in a way that fantasy genres can’t.  They are a gritty recreation of the world as we know it, or how it might look if we hold a magnifying glass to this one particular aspect.  Rebellion against an oppressive authority is a common theme, and one that resonates with young adults (Campbell, 2014).  There are plenty of high quality YA dystopias to explore and I was surprised that I hadn’t read any on the list of 16 studied titles (Scholes & Ostenson, 2013).  I found the comparison between Australian and US YA dystopias interesting (Hodge, 2015), and to be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve read the Australian examples given (of the ones I’ve read) that I really can’t compare although my instinct is that this is a very small, selective example that may not be indicative of the whole of Australian YA dystopia – especially if they consider John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began series to be dystopia.

I was disappointed by one of the the YouTube videos given in this section; this one that seems like a high school assignment.  It doesn’t add anything to the discussion and isn’t in the least bit scholarly or considered (when we are talking about post-graduate study).

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (n.d.) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. Retrieved from https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/f-10-curriculum/cross-curriculum-priorities/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-histories-and-cultures/

Barack, L (2014). LGBTQ & You School Library Journal; New York Vol. 60, Iss. 5,  (May 2014): n/a.

Bodart J.R. (2012). The value and uses of supernatural monsters in YA fiction. SJSU School of Information. [Video file].

Campbell, A. (2014). Why is dystopian fiction still so popular? The Guardian.

Delaney, B. (2014). Five must-read books by indigenous authors. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/culture/australia-culture-blog/2014/oct/23/five-must-read-books-by-indigenous-authors

Drexal University. (2009-2012). Graphic novels. ipl2 for Teens. Retrieved from http://www.ipl.org/div/graphicnovels/

Eisenbeis, R. (2014). How to identify manga and anime genres. In Kotaku.

Foster, J. E. (2005). White voices/black voices: Indigenous children’s literature. In J. Foster, E. Finnis & M. Nimon (Eds.), Bush, city, cyberspace: The development of Australian childrens literature into the twenty-first century (pp. 37-50). Wagga Wagga, NSW : Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

Hateley, E. (2014). Requiem for a beast: A case study in controversy. Proceedings of the Asian Conference on Literature & Librarianship, Osaka, Japan.

Heiss, D. A. (2003). Dhuuluu-yala – to straight talk : publishing indigenous literature. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au

Hodge, D. (2015). How Australian dystopian young adult fiction differs from its US counterparts. In The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/how-australian-dystopian-young-adult-fiction-differs-from-its-us-counterparts-44518

Karp, J. (2012). Graphic novels in your school library. [ebook].  Chicago: ALA.

Koehler, E. (2011). The silent message: Professional journals’ failure to address LBGTQ issues. Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, 1(4).

Krakouer, J. (2015).  Indigenous cultural awareness in the teaching space: Critical pedagogies and improving Indigenous learning outcomes through cultural responsiveness. Australian Council for Educational Research.

Marsh, D. (2010). The case for picture books in secondary schools. Lianza, 51(4), 27.

McCulloch, A. (2018, June 4) Indigenous names in authority records: the case of Jandamarra Retreived from https://lissertations.net/post/829

National Library of New Zealand (n.d.) Sophisticated picture books. Retrieved from https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/reading-engagement/childrens-and-youth-literature/sophisticated-picture-books

NCTE & IRA. (2006). Dystopias: Definition and characteristics. Read Write Think.

Scholes, J. & Ostenson, J. (2013). Understanding the appeal of dystopian young adult fiction. The ALAN Review, 40(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.21061/alan.v40i2.a.2

Scottish Book Trust. (2018). Using graphic novels in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/learning/cpd/toolkits/graphic-novels

Shipp, C. (2013). Bringing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into the classroom. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 21(3).

Townsend, J. (2017) Nevermoor: The trials of Morrigan Crow. Australia: Hatchette.

Whelan, D. (2006). OUT and ignored. School Library Journal,  52(1), 46.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar