I have been reading stage 3 fiction in my spare time, as I am trying to get a good grasp of literature across all the primary stages. I wanted to keep a running list of the books here, outlining their themes, for later reference.
Synopsis: The Iron Man is a science fiction story that tells the story of a mysterious giant made of iron whose destructive quest for food (tractors, cars and barbed wire fences) alarms the local farming community. But when a huge space monster the size of Australia arrives, the Iron Man turns from villain to hero, facing the monster to become ‘champion of the world’. The story is seen through the eyes of a young boy, Hogarth, who forms a friendship with the Iron Man.
Themes: environmental destruction, war and human conflict, bravery and resourcefulness, forgiveness
This book is good for: length – it can be read chapter to chapter (there are only five) with deep literacy activities following each chapter. The language is patterned and descriptive allowing for varied activities across English, HSIE, maths and the creative arts. There are some great literacy and cross-curriculum ideas here.
Onion Tears by Diana Kidd (1988)
Synopsis: Nam-Huong, is a little Vietnamese girl whose parents were taken away by soldiers. She now lives in Australia with a woman she calls Auntie, who owns a Vietnamese restaurant. Nam-Huong helps in the kitchen and cries a lot of onion tears, but is unable to cry real tears as she tries to come to terms with her memories of war and loss.
Themes: refugee experiences, cultural difference, loss, grief, integration, change, prejudice, bullying
This book is good for: Learning about refugee experiences, talking about loss and grief, creating understanding of bullying. This book could be read relatively quickly with modelled reading, but Stage 3 students could also read this independently (with supported discussion about the issues it raises).
Hitler’s Daughter by Jackie French (1999)
Synopsis: Mark and his friends often play “The Game” – making up stories while waiting for the bus before school. As they wait one rainy morning Anna begins to tell the tale of Heidi, daughter of the most hated man in history.The story switches between 1940’s Nazi Germany and contemporary Australia. As Mark learns about Heidi’s life, her strange relationship with her father, and her growing awareness of her father’s plans, he becomes interested in learning more about Hitler and World War II.
Themes: Right and wrong, love and family, racism and prejudice, nature vs. nurture, inherent good and evil Mark explores the ethics of right and wrong behaviour through his own lens – analysing what he would do and feel if Hitler was his own father, or if he himself did something terrible. “Would you still love me? No matter what I did? Even if I killed hundreds and hundreds of people?”
This book is good for: discussing the process of narrative development, story-telling, voice, teaching ethics, introducing history and hard questions. Teacher’s Resource can be found here.
Remote Man by Elizabeth Honey (2000)
Synopsis: Ned is a computer pro, and he adores animals, especially snakes and lizards. When Ned is sent to stay with his aunty, uncle and crazy cousin in the Northern Territory so begins his journey – involving an endangered Australian python, an international animal poacher, and five kids on three continents, connected via the internet.
Themes: Protection of animals, environmental preservation, mental health and wellbeing, technology and globalism
This book is good for: looking at voice, language and literacy of today’s young people, a sense of justice and activism Allen and Unwin have published a teaching resource which I thought included some great ideas for activities.
Tom Appleby Convict Boy by Jackie French (2004)
Synopsis: This book tells the story of Tom Appleby, chimney sweep and convict, grazier and magistrate. The story shifts between young Tom’s experiences in London, through his First Fleet journey to the colony at New South Wales, and his dwindling days as the elderly family patriarch on his property in Murruroo.
Themes: Life in London in the 1700s, right and wrong (in the context of poverty), conditions aboard First Fleet ships, life in the early colony, loyalty, courage, perseverance, the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal Australians
This book is good for: Modelled reading with a class. This is a good ‘Friday afternoon’ book for the teacher to read in chapters to the class. Its length probably restricts its use for independent reading unless as a set task for Grade 6. It is particularly good at expelling some popular myths about the colony, such as the new land being barren and unforgiving. Chapters could be used to describe:
- Life in London (pgs. 1-61)
- The English justice system in the 1700s (pgs. 68-84)
- The convict journey to Australia (pgs. 85-132)
- Life in the new colony (pgs. 135-277).
More info and ideas of unit’s of work by Harper Collins here.
Synopsis: This novel follows Sadie’s story, as she moves with her mum from Melbourne’s suburbs to the rural Victorian town of Boort. Sadie starts to making connections in Boort – to the locals, the country and to her family history. The story journeys across three generations of families living in the town, and their different responses to racism. When Sadie is taken back in time to view a terrible crime, she is pulled into a strange mystery, guided by crows.
Themes: injustice and karma, racism, atonement, Aboriginal mythology, right and wrong, karma
This book is good for: Looking at Aboriginal stories and mythology and thinking about the impact historical events have on the present. It is a long book, so it could either be given to advanced readers or read in chapters by the teacher as modelled reading.
Synopsis: Alastair and Eleanor Brocket are ‘normal’ people. They live a ‘normal’ life in Sydney, doing ‘normal’ things. Until the birth of their third son Barnaby, who denies the law of gravity. Barnaby is considered anything but ‘normal’ to his parents. Drawing shame every time he is taken out in public, one day Alastair and Eleanor decide they have had enough. Betrayed by his mother, Barnaby is ‘let go of’ one day from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, and floats high into the sky. The story follows his adventures as he tries to make his way home, through Brazil, America, Canada, Ireland, Africa and into space. Along the way he meets eccentric individuals, challenging concepts of normality and acceptance along the way.
Themes: normality, difference, success, acceptance, heroism, friendship
This book is good for: Its eccentric style of writing which evokes Roald Dahl’s work. It has strong themes of acceptance and difference, although it is quite literal, where other books in this list are richer in metaphor and meaning. It probably doesn’t have strong enough themes for a whole-class reading, but could be read individually or used as an example of creative writing.