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.



Dee Watching

Those who have been keeping themselves up to date with our new blogs will already know the fabulous Dee White, she commands the good ship Kids’ Book Capers. Well, she’s going to be busy Festival-hopping in the coming few weeks, so new fans, it’s time to get better acquainted with Dee White, and here’s how:

On 29th May, she will be on a panel at the Emerging Writers’ Festival called ‘Never Surrender’ talking about the path to publication for her young adult novel, Letters to Leonardo. For more information, click here.

On 19th June, she will be at the CBCA Imagine This Imagine That Conference in Sydney, presenting with Samurai Kids author, Sandy Fussell about Authors & the Internet.

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS! August Book Giveaway

This month, Boomerang Books are giving you more chances to win! Alongside our regular monthly giveaway and our Facebook-exclusive giveaway, to celebrate August being the month of the Children’s Book Council Australia’s Book Week, we have a special children’s prize pack to giveaway.


This month’s prize pack is an eclectic mix set to capture your imagination, touch your heart and tickle your tastebuds. While Judith McNeil paints an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s, Angela Valamanesh’s art inspires, and Ben O’Donoghue and Mary Taylor Simeti share recipes that plot you on the path to becoming the Masterchef of your household. The pack includes:

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett SIGNED
Here is Plum Coyle, on the threshold of adolescence, striving to be new. Her fourteenth birthday is approaching: her old life and her old body will fall away, and she will become graceful, powerful, at ease. The strength in the objects she stores in a briefcase under her bed – a crystal lamb, a yoyo, an antique watch, a penny – will make sure of it.
Over the next couple of weeks, Plum’s life will change. Her beautiful neighbour Maureen will begin to show her how she might fly. The older brothers she adores – the charismatic Justin, the enigmatic Cydar – will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.
Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen?
Butterfly is a gripping, disquieting, beautifully observed novel that confirms Hartnett as one of Australia’s finest writers.

Outdoor by Ben O’Donoghue (Hardcover) SIGNED
In his first-ever cookbook, Ben brings the wide-sweeping world of barbecuing to your backyard via one of the most stunningly designed books around. No need to walk over hot coals to impress your BBQ guests, these divine recipes will leave a lasting taste in everyone’s mouth.
Try Grilled Lobsters from Norfolk, or Pork Loin With Bay And Balsamic from Italy or even a Thai-inspired dessert of Grilled Pineapple With Rum Ginger And Lemongrass Syrup. Yum! And while you grill, serve guests a Southern Cross Pimm’s barbecue-side. Fresh in every way, this cookbook is a summer staple.

Letters to Leonardo by Dee White
On his fifteenth birthday, Matt receives a card from his mother – the mother he grew up believing was deceased. Feeling betrayed by both his parents, Matt’s identity is in disarray and he begins writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci as a way to sort out the ‘mess’ in his head. Through the connections he makes between his own life and that of Leonardo, Matt unravels the mystery that his life has become and discovers his mother’s secrets and the reasons behind his abandonment.
A unique and powerful story about a fifteen year old boy who tries to deal with his mother’s mental illness by writing letters to Leonardo da Vinci. Ages 12+. 

A True History of the Hula Hoop by Judith Lanigan
A beguiling and utterly original debut novel about two women born centuries apart but joined by the spirit of adventure and a quest for true love.
Catherine is a hula-hooping performance artist, a talented and independent individual plying her trade on the international burlesque stage. Columbina meanwhile is a feisty female clown and a principal in a 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte troupe.
As Catherine and Columbina struggle to make sense of an increasingly nonsensical world – and to assert their rights as performers and women during times of profound change – their lives, as if by magic, seem to interact.

No One’s Child by Judith McNeil
Judith takes you on a journey back to her childhood – as a ‘railway brat’, growing up in small towns along the tracks while her father worked on the lines. Judith’s life was one of hardship and poverty. The eldest of six children, she soon took on the role of provider and carer, while desperately craving affection from a mother too tired to give it and a father who resented her because she wasn’t a son. Yet there was still joy to be found: in the vibrant Gypsy camp, full of laughter and love in the eyes of Tom, the engine driver who believed in her and fed her thirst for knowledge and in the friendship of Billy, the boy who could see into her soul. No One’s Child is an unforgettable portrait of Australian life in the 1950s. With a vivid cast of characters and set against the backdrop of the ever-changing outback landscape, it will leave you marvelling at the indomitable spirit of one little girl who was determined to forge her own destiny.

Angela Valamanesha: About Being Here by Cath Kenneally (Hardcover)

Sicilian Food: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle by Mary Taylor Simeti

Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule

To go into the draw to win these books, just complete the entry form here. Entries close August 31, 2009.


As always, we have a great prize pack to give away to one of our Facebook Group members, which includes: Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, Shakespeare: The Most Famous Man In London by Tony Thompson, Third Transmission by Jack Heath, A Tale of Two Women by Christina Slade, Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger by Sandy Fussell, Another Way To Love by Tim Costello and Rode Yule.

Shakespeare Third Transmission A Tale of Two Women Shaolin Tiger

Boomerang Books is fast becoming one of Australia’s biggest book groups on Facebook, so what are you waiting for? Join Now!


Entering this bonus giveaway is easy enough. All you have to do is email me a review of the last children’s book you read. You could’ve read it last night, last year, or even back when you were a kid. The catch? It has to be in 20 words or less. When entering, mention which prize pack you’d like to be in the running for – picture book or fiction for ages 10+. Entries close August 31, 2009.

Section A: ‘Book Safari’-Themed Picture Books: The Little One: The Story of a Red-Tailed Monkey by Kaitie Afrika Litchfield, The Gorilla Book: Born To Be Wild by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us by Dr Carla Litchfield, The Penguin Book: Birds In Suits by Dr Mark Norman, The Antarctica Book: Living In The Freezer by Dr Mark Norman, The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solar Powered by Dr Mark Norman, When No-one’s Looking: On The Farm by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo, When No-one’s Looking: At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon and Lucia Masciullo.

The Little One The Chimpanzee Book Penguin Book At The Zoo

Section B: Fiction 10+

Samurai Kids: White Crane (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger (SIGNED), Samurai Kids: Monkey Fist, Letters to Leonardo by Dee White, The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures by Sam Bowring.

White Crane Owl Ninja Letters to Leonardo The Zoo of Magical and Mythological Creatures

A big thanks to our friends at Acorn Press, Black Dog Books, Exisle Publishing, Hardie Grant Egmont, Pan Macmillan, Picador, Penguin, Wakefield Press and Walker Books for supporting our giveaways this month.