Book Review – Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

Book of the Day

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally was a very dry read.  It was drier than the cheapest plonk at the pub during happy hour.  Now before anyone starts collecting rocks to stone me, I would challenge them to read the book too and then comment.  

I am not denying that the material in the book is powerful.  I definitely acknowledge that the book is filled with names, places and intense facts.  But it is not prose. Upon thinking this further, I recollect the subject of the book and wonder if there is a reason for that.  If the author, in this case Thomas Keneally was aiming for an emotive piece, it would be a character lie. By all accounts, Oskar Schindler was a hard drinking and reckless businessman who cheated on his wife with regularity (Hurvitz & Karesh, 2016).  He destroyed his family business, sought to cheat, lie and swindle his way back into a life of comfort. Quite frankly, by all tokens, this man was an immoral and wasteful character. Then Schindler went on to save almost 1300 Jews from the concentration camps during those dark days in Eastern Europe.  This man, who by the standards of his time, and now; unworthy of attention; put his own life at risk to save others. His actions have been immortalised in a book, a major Spielberg movie production and the term Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews, which is still used to refer to the descendents of those that were saved.   

So when you consider all these facts, the dryness of Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark” makes sense.  It would be a lie if the book was anything other than prosaic. Instead, its matter of fact manner of describing the main character’s traits ensures that the reader does not view him with rose framed lenses.  The reader is made fully aware of Oskar’s failings as a man and a husband. It is in viewing these failings that Schindler’s true heroism is seen. The plain language allows the reader to envision the fear hiding between the stalwart words.  Conversely, the plain language also allows readers with little imagination to read the book without being overwhelmed.  

“Schindler’s Ark” was a very dry read for someone who is a lover of prose.  As an avid reader of fiction, I found this novel to be more informative than anything else.  I also found it heartbreaking, just like the sadness I feel when the happy hour wine is just awful.  But whilst this book was a struggle for me, it would be ideal for reluctant teens who struggle with engaging with fictitious stories.  The language, style and format of the book resemble information books and thus may satisfy their need for ‘facts’.  But whilst the Guardian review suggests this book as appropriate for 8-12 year old children, I would probably restrict it to students over 14-15 years old.  This would then correlate well with the year 10 HASS’s World War 2 and Holocaust unit especially the ACDSEH025 elaboration.  It would also work well in the Biographies and memoirs unit in Year 10 English.  


Alannahbee, (2013). Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – review. The Guardian. Retrieved 16th March, 2020 from

Axelrod, A. (2013). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of World War II, vol. 2. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

Hurvitz, M. M., & Karesh, S. E. (2016). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of Judaism, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

The good, the bad and the ugly of Roald Dahl

Authors are magicians. 

pendleburyannette / Pixabay  – Magician or Author


They capture your imagination with words and imagery. 

Similar to a siren singing her tune, an author draws the reader in with stories of heroes, villains, mysteries and magic.  There are several writers that come to mind when one thinks about  perspicacity at understanding a developing mind. Enid Blyton comes to my thoughts immediately, as it was her books of Faraway trees, Wishing Chairs, Mallory Towers and the adventurous children that beguiled and transformed me into a certifiable bookworm.  Other authors with these same mystical powers include Emily Rodda, A A Milne, Dr Seuss, C. S Lewis, Beatrix Potter, E.B White, Lewis Carrol, Eric Carle, Rick Riordan, J K Rowling and of course, Roald Dahl.

Dahl’s popularity has enthralled generations of children with his fantastical tales.  Even 30 years after the publication of perspicacious Matilda, the lure is still strong according to Kelly (2019) who recently published an article in the Sunday Times just short of the author’s birthdate.  Dahl’s books have inspired generations of children to read.  His stories of redemption and resilience appeal to both children and adults.  I found it particularly interesting that the books often seem to be narrated by the child protagonist.  By doing so, Dahl places the reader in the central position and thus immediately engages their interest.  The books often place the child in the role of an underdog and their eventual vanquishment of the bigger and older (usually an adult) enemy gives great satisfaction.  Darby (2016) believes that this narrative style is appealing to children as it makes them feel like “someone is in their court”.  

Studiolarsen / Pixabay – Victory at last


Some people assert that Dahl’s books are macabre and filled with violence, racial slurs, misogyny and vindictive behaviour.  Anderson (2016) argues that the books caused great disturbance among adult readers when they first started being published in the late 60’s. Stories where witches turn children into mice, people are fed worms and or eaten by giants, and let us not forget principals that swing cute girls by their hair like a discus and push children into nail studded cupboards.  

In fact, “James and the Giant Peach has been lambasted for its racism, profanity and sexual innuendo” Anderson (2016) states.  

punch_ra / Pixabay – Just Peachy


It appears Dahl was provoking everyone, as he offended numerous demographics in equal measure.  But I am starting to believe that the provocation is what lured children to read and re-read his books.  It was just that little bit naughty and disgusting. Just enough to make children feel superior and more wise than the character, but not too much as to disengage the reader.  Arguably this is probably what explains Dahl’s longevity as an author. Nice clean stories such as Wilder’s Little House series has its staunch clientele but it does lacks the Dahl’s drawcard in that the majority of children do not identify with these characters.  Kole (2018) suggests that it is when the reader can draw upon their own experience with the subject matter that engagement with the text occurs. This could be contended similar for L M Montgomery’s Anne or White’s Charlotte’s Web. All extremely well written and received books, but not as far reaching as Dahl.  Whilst their stories do have points of personal travail, they simply are not dark enough.  

KELLEPICS / Pixabay – Looking for the Bogeyman


This need for darkness is important for children’s literature

as Anderson (2016) and Kole (2018) further elucidate.  One can only think of the popularity of the Grimm fairy tales, Rowling’s Harry Potter, Collins ’Hunger Games and Meyer’s Twilight to realise that the desire for grim has not changed in centuries. The adage about literature reflecting life is the underlying support for this need for fear and fright in children’s books.  Stories of children overcoming great difficulty has the ability to build great resilience and empathy in the reader.  

johnhain / Pixabay – Empathy on your mind?


We are all aware of how reading builds empathy.  Readers identify with the characters in the story and thus the feelings from one are juxtaposition-ed on the other .  But reading fictitious stories of giants, witches and wizards, whilst unrealistic, also gives children an important cathartic release according to Bettelheim (2010).  Rochelle (1977) whilst dated, firmly believes that adults and children both require fantastical literature to interweave the complex strains of good and evil in humanity.  Fantastical tales give children innate strength to overcome hurdles life throws at them, no matter how bizarre it is (Kole, 2018).  Children are aware that these stories are unreal in the fantastical sense but the situation that the characters are facing are very real indeed (Rochelle, 1977). Wakefield (2014) agrees and points out that fairy tales are there to protect rather than terrify, as the protagonist is forced to seek inner strength to overcome the villain.  The stories illustrate that these situations can be overcome, and in that, give hope and possibly a way out. 

Fantastical tales are more than just entertainment.  In their own way, they give children (and adults) the ability to fight demons in both the real world and in their dreams. After all, the lives of children are not always filled with rainbows and unicorns.  Many children live in shadows. Reading stories such as Dahl’s encourage children (and adults) to go past their grim quagmire and find their inner strength.  

So this Roald Dahl day on September 13, read a fantastical story… and at the same time, gain some humanity.


Anderson, H. (2016) The dark side of Roald Dahl. BBC Culture. Retrieved from

Bettelheim, B (2010) The uses of enchantment; the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Vintage Books. Vintage Edition. 

Darby, S. (2016). 15 Must read children’s authors. BNKIDS blog. [blog]. Retrieved from

Kelly, L. (2019). Roald Dahl clan to share £6m dividend from licensing rights. Sunday Times. Retrived from

Grinstead, R. (2016) Happy Roald Dahl day. [blog]. Retrieved from

Kole, K. (2018). The role of fairy tales in affective learning: Enhancing adult literacy and learning in FE and community settings. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 58(3), 365-389. Retrieved from

Rochelle, L. (1977). The search for meaning through fantasy. The English Journal.  Vol. 66, No. 7, pp 54-55.  Retrieved from

Wakefield, M. (2014). Why scary fairy stories are the best. The Spectator.  

Reluctant Readers – Would facts be better than fiction?

Reluctant readers.  I didnt even realise this was a phrase.  As an avid reader myself, and from a family of bibliophiles, the concept of people who choose not to read was astounding.  Teaching and the education profession is my second career.  I spent many years as a practicing scientist and reading both professionally and for recreation was common.  We had many water cooler conversations about recent academic publications along with Oprah’s uncanny knack of turning an average book into a best seller.  So my foray into the world of reluctant readers has been recent and startling.


Reluctant readers as people that “may struggle with reading, not show any interest in reading or simply refuse to read independently” ( These students in a classroom tasked with silent reading either pretend to read to avoid censure, get easily distracted or flat out refuse to read citing boredom, disinterest or illiteracy (  Some children and young teens chose negative behaviour even if it leads to disciplinary actions just to avoid reading a book.  Such machinations are just a student’s way to avoid doing something they don’t like. When questioned, most of these readers describe reading as a chore and that there is nothing that interests them.    

My school has just implemented a silent reading program for the year 7 and 8 students to improve literacy levels and promote reading for recreational purposes.  The program is still in its infancy and we have noticed that out of the 470 students within these two year levels the majority of the students are complying. We do however, have about 50 students who have on multiple occasions been noted for failing to bring a book to class as well as others being identified as ‘fake reading’.  Fake reading, as I have casually defined it, is pretending to read to avoid censure by having a book in front of them but not actually looking at it. Stereotypically, a vast majority of our reluctant readers are boy as many of them are disinterested in books as they view them as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unnecessary’ as well as ‘unconnected’ to the real world (  

To combat this trend of disinterest, my fellow TLs and I have been searching our collection for various resources to help them find that connection to a book.  The strategies we have implemented to combat the various hurdles are the following:

Short attention span: these kids are not likely to wish to read big compendiums so we have sourced shorter books that are usually completed in 10-15minutes.  This means that students are more likely to read another book as they feel they have accomplished something in a short amount of time. The Libraries of Doom series have been excellent for this.

Low literacy: our school is an inclusive school and we have a wide range of literacy levels.  Many of our reluctant readers have low literacy and are unable to read the plethora of young adult fiction we have.  But they are also loathe to read the simpler books as they feel they are ‘not cool’ enough and self esteem is important during those teenage years.  Hi-lo books have been useful in this setting.  These books purchased jointly with our Inclusive education team have helped with implementation of our reading program.  Hi-Lo books are intriguing to the students because their topics resonate with our students but the language used is at an appropriate level.  They have been particularly popular with our male cohort of reluctant readers. We also have subscribed to Wheelers elibrary for those that have vision disabilities.  These students can elect books with larger print and or use the audiobook function to participate with the reading program.  In most circumstances we can also provide the print copy to help them follow the words.

Disinterested readers:  these are are most challenging students.  They usually rank highly on their literacy results for NAPLAN but show complete disinterest in reading recreationally as they do not find a purpose for it. Fiction books just hold no interest to them. Harper (2016) very truthfully points out “that fiction isn’t for everyone. Some readers just don’t connect with made up characters and imagined scenarios”.  It was surprising though the unwillingness of the English department to support the reading of non fiction texts in the silent reading program. Granted that non fiction is not literature and will not placate the soul, but non fiction texts do lead to life long passions and career choices (National library of NZ 2014).

The addition of non fiction texts and audiobooks have assisted with most of our disinterested reluctant readers.  Whilst their enthusiasm to read is still low, they are slowly coming around to the idea. The recent purchases of print texts on Formula 1 racing and sporting biographies have helped engage some of them.  Others are still fighting the concept but perseverance from my fellow colleagues is making headway. We discovered with a small cohort of year 8 boys that non fiction was just not ‘cutting it’ and a suggestion from their technology teacher about sourcing dirt bike magazines has been a boon.  These magazines with their glossy pictures and simple language style have had some appeal. Whilst we are unable to currently procure an online subscription to this series, we have a print copy on order. These six young men come to the library each time for silent reading and get a current or back issue and read on the very comfy beanbags in our reading area.  It seems obvious that choice matters for recreational reading.  Its only been a week and there have been hiccups but the future is suddenly full of hope

Sharrock (2009)


Australian Government – DET (2018) Reluctant readers, how to help. Learning Potential. Retrieved from

Harper, H. (2016) Books for reluctant readers. [Blog post] Readings. Retrieved from

K12 reader(2018) Strategies to help engage reluctant readers in reading. Retrieved from

National Library of NZ. (2014). Non-fiction. National Library of New Zealand Services to Schools. Retrieved from

Mosle, S. (2012, November 22). What should children read? [Blog post]. Opinionator: The New York Times. Retrieved from

Sharrock, J (2009) Interview with Dave Eggers. Mother Jones Magazine. Retrieved from