2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Older Readers: ‘Ballad for a Mad Girl’ & ‘Mallee Boys’

The fact that all of this year’s CBCA shortlisted Older Reader novels are written by women reflects who is currently writing Australian YA. As a consequence, many of the novels have female protagonists, including Vikki Wakefield’s Ballad for a Mad Girl. However, debut novelist Charlie Archbold (who is female) has written Mallee Boys, a novel that epitomises masculinity.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

 Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)

Ballad for a Mad Girl has been longlisted for a Gold Inky Award—(Australian titles) and shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature: Young Adult category and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature in 2018.

I reviewed it for the Weekend Australian.

It is Vikki Wakefield’s fourth novel, a gothic Australian thriller, a murder ballad and lament in prose. It explores the effect of grief and loss on Grace, who is trying to mask her vulnerability.  

It walks a tightrope – literally and psychologically as it balances the genres of contemporary realism with elements from the supernatural ghost tale.

Grace is the “mad girl” of the title but her madness springs perhaps from her struggle with anger and grief rather than mental illness; although the barriers may be permeable.

At times the writing is crystalline to show the shattered mirror-pricks of Grace’s rage; as well as sharp images of birds: living swallows butted against tiny bird sketches. Grace’s elusive childhood “dandelion” dreams as well as echoes from a past generation are sculpted into an aching ballad of melancholy and terror. The past and present also ultimately lay the path to a “bright and unbreakable” future with some signs of hope and grace. 

Film An early scene where extreme prankster, Grace Foley, freezes at the pipe challenge crossing over the quarry at night is a pivotal scene in Ballad of a Mad Girl. It sets the confronting, haunting tone.

In small groups, students film a re-enactment of Noah, private school poster boy, breaking Grace’s record as he crosses the pipe over the quarry and then Grace crossing after him and freezing when she is distracted by thoughts of Hannah Holt – rumoured to have been killed by William Dean and buried in the gully below. Headlights are dimmed and stones are thrown.

Film Grace’s friends and the onlookers in their private and public-school factions.

Use different camera angles, particularly to give the illusion of the pipe over a height. NB don’t use a pipe high above the ground.

Film an establishing shot; the camera can scan characters and show close-ups of their facial expressions.

Use filters to create a night-time setting and lights to emulate the headlights. Show them dimming when Grace crosses. Include sound effects.

Ballad Students could write a ballad or murder ballad (lyrics that tell the story of a murder).

Read other novels by Vikki Wakefield.

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold (Wakefield Press)

Not many readers seemed to be aware of this book until it was CBCA shortlisted. Feedback has since been very favourable.

It is set in the Murray Mallee area of South Australia and told by two brothers. Sandy is fifteen and a good student although dreamy. In an early scene, slapstick and terror merge when he’s almost drowned by a swollen dead cow. His older brother Red has left school and seems suited to life on the farm with his dog, Ringer. He is suffering from guilt, believing he contributed to the death of their mother.

Masculinity is explored with sensitivity and credibility, particularly relationships between father and sons. The author writes with warmth and humour and shows that rural men can be gentle and compassionate.

Mallee men/Mallee wood Mallee men are described as mallee wood. They are ‘men from any time … like stumpy mallee trees: nuggetty and resilient. A heritage of hard work’ (page 100)

Rhopalic Verse After reading about Mallee males, students write rhopalic verse to explore their characteristics of strength and endurance with mallee wood. In rhopalic verse, each word in a line has 1 more syllable than in the prior word e.g. ‘to avert dangerous situations’. The poem could be quite short, perhaps 5 lines, each with 4 words per line. (This is guide only.)

Country & City podcast Differences between life in the country and city are mentioned in the novel: e.g. in the country old and young mix. In the city ‘people stick to their age bracket’, page 119; in the country – people make inventions, page 124.

Students could use a microphone and smart phone to make a 1-episode podcast about the differences between country and city.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger & Older Readers by Bren MacDibble/Cally Black

Bren MacDibble/Cally Black has blasted onto the Australian literary scene for youth with How to Bee for younger readers and In the Dark Spaces for YA. She is a fresh, authoritative talent; writing outside the mould.

-about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

by Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

How to Bee won the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards & was shortlisted for the Griffith University Children’s Book Award (Qld) and Children’s Literature Award – Adelaide Festival Awards. Read a synopsis and the NSWPLA judges’ report here.

The novel circles around the importance of bees, children and community. The title is a pun with a double meaning. Some of the characters’ names reflect the almost-idyllic country setting where the story begins: Peony, Magnolia, Applejoy, Pomegranate …

The writing is sensory where it describes white cockatoos, fruit, a ‘face puckered like a burr on a tree trunk’ and Peony’s flawed Ma as a lemon, ‘You think it’s gotta be good coz it’s so big and has perfect skin but when you cut it in half you find out its skin is so thick there’s just a tiny bit of pulp inside and that it just ain’t got enough juice to go around’.

Students could write about other characters or people in their own families, describing them as fruit in lyrical style.

Themes & Issues

  • Domestic violence, making this novel most appropriate for mature, older children.
  • Wealth, deriving not from money but from loving people and family and living in community – a concern also of In the Dark Spaces
  • Hive/bees/pollination – another concern of In the Dark Spaces

Pollination/Bees/Honey is a potent theme.

Students could view the Behind the News (ABC TV) episode about the threat to bees in Australia http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s4291976.htm

There are also related teacher notes about bees http://www.abc.net.au/btn/resources/teacher/episode/20140729-beeproblems.pdf

Families or schools could investigate setting up a bee hive, particularly with native stingless bees. Compare the taste of commercially and local, unrefined and unheated honey.

Cycles There are a range of cycles within the tale: ‘the farm’s full of circles. Bees, flowers, fruit … all overlapping circles.’; seasons, places (from which characters leave and return); and a death is replaced by a new baby.

Concrete Poetry: Circle Shape Poem Children could write a Circle Shape poem about one of these or another cycle, where each line has an extra word, then decreases to make a circle shape.

In the Dark Spaces by Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

In the Dark Spaces has been longlisted for the Inkies award, highly commended by the Victorian Premiers Literary Prize, won an Aurealis Award, has been shortlisted for the Ditmars and shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize in the NSW Premiers Awards,

It is a sci-fi thriller/ hostage drama set in future space. Tamara lives in hiding on one of the intergalactic freighters. These are named after songs e.g. Lucy in the Sky, Jolene, My Sharona and Delilah. Her freighter is attacked by Crowpeople/Garuwa and she is kidnapped after witnessing mass murder because she is able to communicate with the Crowpeople. Through Tamara, we learn to understand the Crowpeople, who only take the resources they need to nurture the hives in their ships, which in return feed the inhabitants. Unlike humans who sell excess for profit.

Cally Black’s voice here is original  – raw, strong and captivating.

Dinkus When I interviewed eminent Australia author Isobelle Carmody recently, I was excited to learn about the ‘dinkus’.

The simplest way to indicate a section break within a chapter is to leave a blank space between paragraphs, but designers often prefer to use a symbol or glyph. These are often three horizontally placed asterisks but asterisks can be replaced with other symbols.

Crowpeople in In the Dark Spaces have three ‘shiny talons’ (page 41) sticking out from their boots. This symbol is used as a dinkus in the novel e.g. on pages 183,270.

Students find the talon dinkus in In the Dark Spaces, and then look for symbols or glyphs in other novels.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/eight-uncommon-typography-and-punctuation-marks/

http://books.google.co.uk/books?…

Lightgraff Art (or lightgraffiti) is drawing or writing with light. It combines photography and calligraphy. It can be a live performance or recorded on video or time-lapse photographic stills. It is often used to embellish settings by highlighting or enhancing elements of the scene with colour, line, shape or script (using light).

Examples can be seen by searching online for ‘lightgraff images’.

An example of lightgraff art in Australia is by Karim Jabbari. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/art-initiative-form-nurtures-culture-and-creativity-in-wa/news-story/db06452f0d39222bd246062a9c22e0f1

In small groups, students create lightgraff art based on a scene or setting in the novel, In the Dark Spaces. These could include

‘weapon-fire snaps and sizzles the ceiling and walls’, page 44; ‘a blast cracks the air’, page 46; bolts of light’, page 295- (rockets); and other battle scenes.

The following suggestions could stimulate or scaffold students’ ideas:

  • Light sources (such as a torch, lamp, lantern or spotlight) can be used to highlight features against a dark setting.
  • Silhouettes of characters could be juxtaposed against light-embellished settings.
  • Gunfire could be represented as light in lines or flashes (if appropriate).
  • Words could be drawn with light (possibly using sparklers or a torch). These words could represent themes from the novel such as ‘space battles’, ‘hive’, ‘protection’, ‘greed’ and ‘Crowpeople’.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger Readers: ‘The Elephant’ & ‘The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler’

Peter Carnavas and Lisa Shanahan have been shortlisted for The Elephant and The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler in the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers category.

 –about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas (UQP)

The Elephant has also been shortlisted for the Patricia Wrightson Prize – NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Read a synopsis and the judge’s report here. It is Peter Carnavas’s first novel, after an impressive output of picture books, and he has illustrated it with black and white line drawings.

Tree & Paper Planes Like Martine Murray’s two shortlisted books, a tree is a symbol here. It is Olive’s ‘thinking spot’. Her grandfather cares for her since her mother has died and her father become incapacitated by grief. Grandad makes and flies paper planes with her. Children could make coloured paper planes, write positive messages onto them e.g. ‘You have a wonderful laugh’ and tie them to a jacaranda (or other) tree to emulate some of the events in the story (see pages 125,142).

Other Symbols in the novel are the elephant, tortoise and the dog. 

Elephant The elephant is the major symbol. Olive’s mother had made a clay elephant which is now broken.

Soap carving Children could make a soap carving of an elephant: Materials coloured and/or patterned rectangular soaps (note descriptions on page 138), scrapers & peelers can be safe for child use e.g. plastic knife, potato peeler, paper clip, teaspoon, pencil, paper. Method Trace around the soap onto paper. Draw and cut out the elephant on paper. Trace around the shape onto the soap. Cut away excess soap with plastic knife. Cut away more with paperclip. Etch details and texture with pencil. ‘MetKids’ have a useful video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y17RweezGi8

Typewriter (page 38) Grandad typed poems for Olive’s mother. Students choose or write poems and type them using a typewriter.

School Olive’s school is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, so the students are studying old things. Children could show and talk about old things that are important to them

Side by Side song. Grandad and Olive love this song. Children could also listen to it and sing along.

Read Also read the Kingdom of Silk series by Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King picture books and Peter Carnavas’s own picture books.

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen & Unwin)

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award (Qld). I interviewed Lisa Shanahan about the novel for the bog here. Read the QLA judges’ report here.

Drawing Worry Henry is a worrier and describes worry as a ‘big round grey tumbleweed of dust, with skinny black-and-white-striped legs poking out of and red boots’, pages 10-11. Children could draw their own visual interpretation of worry.

The Beach using Green Screen Technology

The beach is the setting of many Australian holidays and is integral to this story.

Children could create freeze frames of characters superimposed over a green screen beach setting.

Freeze Frames

Students select a character e.g. Henry, his two siblings or his new friend, Cassie. Choose three scenes where they appear in the book.

Make a freeze frame to show their action or mood in each scene. A useful resource is ‘Drama resource’ https://dramaresource.com/freeze-frames/

Green Screen Superimpose students in their freeze frame poses onto virtual backgrounds or animated digital backdrops of the beach.

Equipment: iPad (a 1-stop movie-making device), green screen (could be made of green fabric or paper), lighting, tripod (opt), Veescope, Green Screen Pro or other apps for background videos, iMovie or equivalent. A useful resource is

https://lovetoteach87.com/2016/11/13/using-green-screen-in-the-classroom/

Parents are important in the novel. Henry’s parents have different personalities. His mother is an introvert – understanding with some anxiety. His father is an extrovert – exuberant (page 47), with a big, wild love (page 141).

If completing the activity about the beach (above) at school, include the children’s parents by giving them the opportunity to upload the beach film using the ‘Seesaw’ app or equivalent.

2018 CBCA Shortlisted Books for Younger Readers by Martine Murray

Martine Murray has been shortlisted for two of her books in the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers category.

– about the books and some ideas on sharing them with young readers –

Henrietta & the Perfect Night

by Martine Murray(A&U)

Henrietta is a big thinker. She’s a great go-getter, determined, adventurous, endearing and exuberant. She has a strong young voice. Yet she’s shy.

The book is well designed and is illustrated by the author.

It contains short stories – which are quite sequential but stand alone.

In the stories Henrietta’s mother is pregnant; she starts school; has a sleep over; stars in the school play; and awaits the birth of her new sibling. Henrietta pretends to be a spy; does ‘rescues’ e.g. a bee and the other new girl, Olive; and she stands up for ‘small things’.

She is patient; truthful; a good friend; and kind like Joey in Marsh & Me

A tree features here, also in Marsh & Me and in the companion novel Molly & Pim & the Millions of Stars.

Henrietta and Olive peg Olive’s brother’s pyjamas in the tree. Children could cut and decorate paper pyjamas, perhaps using a template provided by a teacher or parent, and peg these onto a tree branch standing in a pot.

Seasons are addressed as Henrietta waits for the baby and the tree shows how the seasons change.

The class play is about Noah’s Ark. Read about Noah’s ark from a children’s Bible or other book. The children could then perform a play – a number of scripts are available online if you search for plays, puppet plays or skits about Noah’s Ark. If possible, include a bat in the performance because Henrietta had a role as bat – ‘special and mysterious and different from regular animals. Which is a bit like me.’ (page 66)

Previous Henrietta stories are being republished in a 3 in 1 volume.

Marsh and Me by Martine Murray (Text Publishing)

I’ve not long finished reading Marsh and Me (Text Publishing), and couldn’t wait to write about it. It is a beautifully written, dense and imaginative work brimming with thoughtful and important ideas.

Joey believes that he is a nice, ordinary boy who wants to skip puberty. He doesn’t like the word ‘puberty’, thinking it ‘slightly pushy’ but he does like the word ‘luminous’. He’s shy and sensitive, a ‘noticer of feelings’ and has one friend, Digby, who likes science.

When Joey climbs the hill one day he finds someone occupying the treehouse. Marsh is a ‘wild girl’ and the ‘Queen of Small Things’. She has secrets and tells the story of the Plains of Khazar which may be history, fairy tale or folklore. She sings to Joey and the first note ‘rings like a golden bell’.

Even though Joey doesn’t always like Marsh, he is intrigued and concerned for her and realises that he must reveal more of himself in order to make friends and deepen relationships. The novel soars when they create music together using voice and guitar. Both characters are profoundly drawn.

Poems Joey’s mother sticks poems on the fridge. One is by Rumi.

Children could take excerpts from other Rumi poems or poems by other poets that they like or remind them of Marsh and Me and display them.

An example is from Rumi’s I Am Wind, You are Fire:

Oh, if a tree could wander
and move with foot and wings!
It would not suffer the axe blows
and not the pain of saws!

Nature Play Both Joey and Marsh love spending time in nature, particularly in the treehouse in the peppercorn tree. They listen to bird calls and other sounds and plant an acorn.

It seems that many children today don’t have the time or opportunity to play in natural environments, especially where there are trees. Parents or teachers could provide unstructured (or structured) opportunities for children (including primary aged children for whom this book is written) to improve their emotional, mental and physical health by spending time in the natural world. They could build treehouses, climb trees, watch the clouds and shadows, record natural sounds or plant a seed found in the local habitat.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-07/sharman-free-range-kids-could-become-healthier,-happier-adults/7306740

Reading Both Marsh and Me and Martine Murray’s companion book Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars feature a tree. Another lovely link between the two novels is the character of Pim Wilder. (I reviewed Molly and Pim here.)

After reading Marsh and Me, it could be worth reading or re-reading Glenda Millard’s ‘Kingdom of Silk’ series, another thought-provoking yet tender and sensory exploration of childhood. All these literary works bring magic into the real world.