Seeing as it’s the start of the school year and that 2012 is the National Year of Reading, I thought it would be a good time to talk about making the class novel a positive reading experience.

A couple of years ago I was visiting a school when an enthusiastic English teacher asked me if I could suggest new ways to engage students studying a class novel. Following on from this, I did a talk on New Ways To Present Class Texts at a 2010 VATE (Victorian Association of English Teacher’s) Conference.

At the time it struck me that the getting the most out of the class novel isn’t just about the teacher. It’s about collaboration between teacher, parent/caregiver and student.

As an author and parent, I want my kids to feel inspired by their class novel. I want them to learn about the book and how it was created; to help them gain an increased understanding of the way it was written and the themes and topics covered.

I think there’s a lot that parents/caregivers can do to help this process, and the first thing is to read the novel ourselves so that we model good reading, and that we’re in a position to have informed and insightful discussion about the book within the family.

Sarah Mayor Cox at the Great Escape Bookshop, Aireys Inlet

Sarah Mayor Cox, a Lecturer in Literacy Education Children’s and Young Adult Literature at La Trobe University, Bendigo believes this too.

Sarah recently spoke on Central Victorian Radio on this very topic and offered some great tips for parents and students, and she has kindly agreed to let me share here.


  1. Read the book too – lead by example.
  2. Don’t be negative about the book, even if it’s not to your personal taste – once again, lead by example. The student still has to study the book whether they/you like it or not.
  3. Make predictions about the book, ask questions about the book & the way it works.
  4. Offer to help your child if they are having trouble, reading, interpreting or understanding the book.
  5. Suggest books on similar themes that your child might like (teacher/librarians can help here).
  6. Watch the film/TV series or read graphic novel of the book if there is one, discuss the differences.
  7. Show your child where to find extra detail about the book and/or author: Publishing house websites (many books these days have free accompanying teachers’ notes, which will help you understand how the teacher is thinking & often where the assignments have come from).
  8. Visit author/illustrator websites.
  9. Join reviewing websites (eg. Inside a Dog – Centre for Youth Literature @ The State Library, Goodreads – Facebook for Book nerds).
  10. Be proactive as a parent and if you’ve read the book/s then you can contact the school with suggestions or questions about better or different texts to list.


1.    Be an enthusiastic & engaged student – it will help energise your teacher.
2.    Spend time getting to know your texts.
3.    Get hold of an audio version of the book & listen along (Louis Braille Audio, ABC Audio Books, Bolinda) in the car, while doing other jobs around the house, in the heat of the day.
4.    Chunk the book: Read one or two chapters (or 15 mins, whichever comes first) each day.
5.    Use an A4 lined piece of paper to use as a bookmark, fold it in half.
6.    Do a web of relations between the characters.

  • List main characters in circles of differing sizes/colours
  • Connect these circles showing the relationship between the characters

7.    Do a story map (include the main plot points, on a timeline or drawn as a story board, showing where and how themes and character development occur).


1.    If your child likes to draw, get them to draw a picture of the main character and discuss why they have drawn the person this way – what they know about the main character from reading the book?

2.    Recently, a 15yo reader wrote to me about my book Letters to Leonardo and said,

I really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of my own situations,

and while reading it I often thought about my family…

That’s what readers are looking for in a book – a shared experience. So as a parent, try to find someone or something in the book that you think your child can relate to. This could be where you start your discussions.

3.    Encourage siblings who have studied the book to join the discussions and talk about how their own responses to reading it.

4.    Read the book together aloud – read a chapter each. This works better with younger children. For older students, parent and child can read a chapter/s separately and then discuss what they have read before moving on to the next part.

5.    Bring the main character to your dinner table – discuss who they are and why this has happened to them. Perhaps there is someone the family knows personally who reminds them of the character in the book.

6.    Make book discussion part of your lifestyle.


Some tips from Miffy Farqhuarson (Head of Library at Mentone Grammar, former CBCA Book of the Year Judge, 1/3 of The Book Whisperers):

  • Speak to your child’s Teacher -Librarian.
  • Speak to teacher about online resources for the text being studied (there are lots of great teachers’ and student notes).
  • Do your own research about the text.
  • Use RSS feeds.
  • Use Scoop-It.

No student will love every class novel. But there is something to be learned inside the cover of every book, even if it’s about identifying your own reading tastes and why a particular novel is not for you.

Thanks to Sarah Mayor Cox and Miffy Farquarson for their fabulous tips.

If you have any other tips on encouraging students to have a positive encounter with their class novel, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.



Published by

Dee White

Dee White lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural country town which has more kangaroos than people. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist and has had numerous career changes because until recently, writing wasn’t considered to be a proper job. Letters to Leonardo, her first novel with Walker Books Australia, was published in 2009 to great critical acclaim.


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