What month is it again?

Does it feel like time is messing with us this year? Like January went for eight months, while February seems to have only gone for ten days? In theory, it’s the start of autumn, so hopefully the weather is starting to calm down a little for you, and your frantic start to the year has calmed into something more manageable.

This month on the blog, I look at three very different texts, one of which is not even a book (sacrilege, I know, but wait until you see it!). There’s also a review one of the finest books I’ve ever read.

On first reading, this beautiful book seems incredibly simple. However, for those of us who work with language, we know just how difficult that simplicity can be to pull off. Duck, Apple, Egg is full of beautiful illustrations that will help younger readers who are just beginning to read independently, and its language adds a depth and sophistication that mean this will be a wonderful text to use with older children. Martina Heiduczek’s illustrations also offer much to analyse, with her use of framing, colour and angles all contributing to the story. Teachers’ notes are available.

I first encountered this wonderful resource when I came upon a castle one of my colleagues had built on their shelves. I think my enthusiasm took them a bit by surprise, but I could imagine just how much fun a class would have with these. I was particularly thinking about how they would make a great introduction to Medieval history; how students could learn about castles and their architecture through constructing castles and naming their components; or, even, how they could be used in science to look at forces, thanks to features like arches and turrets. However you choose to use these slot-together cards, they will make a wonderfully interactive learning tool.

Many of your students will know Noelle Stevenson thanks to her webcomics, comic books and work with Marvel and Netflix. The Fire Never Goes Out is Stevenson’s memoir, which seems a little unusual for someone who is only 28, but the years from 19 to 27 were momentous ones for her. Her struggle to figure out where she fit in the world – including questions around sexual identity – turning her passion into a career, and mental health will be ones that both adults and older students will recognise. This memoir comprises comics, illustrations and written content that is engaging and often humorous. Teachers’ notes are available.

Read of the MonthBoy Swallows Universe

I had the great privilege of reading Boy Swallows Universe shortly before it came out in 2018, and well before I started working for HarperCollins. I was working in a bookshop at the time and wanted to know why my colleagues were speaking about this novel in such reverential tones. As soon as I was ten pages in I knew exactly why.

Sometimes when I fall deeply and passionately in love with a book and its characters, I find it difficult to talk about why the book means so much to me (chief amongst these is Tim Winton’s The Riders). However, that’s not true here, because it’s Eli Bell who makes you fall in love, both with him and with the story he tells.

Eli, the 13-year-old protagonist of Boy Swallows Universe, has what one might call a ‘complicated’ home life: his brother, August, doesn’t speak, although Eli understands him; his mother and step-father are heroin dealers and users; and his best friend and babysitter is one of Queensland’s most notorious criminals. And yet …

Eli is a good person, not just good under the circumstances, but good in the truest sense of the word. He cares deeply about those around him, and will do whatever it takes to make life the best it can be for them. But as he grows up he comes to realise that sometimes being good isn’t enough, or even possible. Eli endeavours to be a good man, but it’s not easy when all around him are men who are definitely not, by any definition, role models to aspire to.

There are so many things to love about this book that I can’t possibly outline them all here. But, if nothing else, read Boy Swallows Universe for Eli, who will make you look at the world and all the potential it has in an entirely new way. There are now teachers’ notes for Boy Swallows Universe, and – yippee – a new novel from Trent Dalton due out at the end of June: All Our Shimmering Stars.

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