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Recommended Primary Reading: Colin Thiele, Ruth Park, Gordon Winch, Ivan Southall
The land of Australia has produced some whimsical and prolific authors. The country has extremes of climate, including flood, drought and hurricanes. While Australia is a young country in Western ideology, it has seen two world wars and a host of technological changes.
Many Australians retain the heritage and literary allusions of their ancestral country and mix this with their experiences as settlers or children of settlers. The imagination often reaches back into the mythology of the British Isles, but it is important to remember there are a mix of races, ranging from Indigenous peoples, to European, Asian, Mediterranean and African immigrants who now contribute to Australian culture.
Gordon Winch, Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele and Ruth Park are amongst some of the most recommended authors for primary and middle school reading. They are on the classical side, but I think that is needed in today's reading list as so many pulp books are available even for children.
Meet Gordon Winch
Gordon Winch has lectured at the University of Technology, Sydney, (formerly Kuringai Chase College of Advanced education) and has published several books on literacy. These books include Give them Wings: the experience of children’s literature and the influential educational treatise Teaching Reading: a language experience. He was also president of the Primary English Teacher’s Association of New South Wales for several years.
The Amazing Matilda Mudpuddle
In Matilda Mudpuddle, Winch has created a lovable character who has a variety of adventures. The series is just right for children eight to ten years of age, although the imprint claims the target audience is children six to eight years of age. The books are what young children refer to as “chapter books”, but each chapter is a stand alone story, so the stories could be read to a young child as a serial, or read in concentration sized instalments by a developing reader.
In The Amazing Matilda Mudpuddle, Matilda eats some special beans which grant her the ability to fly for the period of one month. During this month she shares her lunch with a kookaburra, retrieves a ball from the roof of the school, performs at a circus, saves the life of her friend Stephen Ko, floats to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge and helps the police capture some thieves. Matilda completes a performance in the school play just before the magic is due to wear off.
You may think I have told you all the story, but the charming narrative just has to be read for itself. Matilda’s family and friends accept the miraculous as if it were an every day occurrence – in fact we are told it might be – and Matilda is such a good girl, going to school and flying back to her parent’s side despite her burgeoning super powers. The character of Grandpa is a treat, and the story is told with an interesting touch of humour. The book is also thoroughly modern and multi-cultural as her new neighbour Stephen Ko is clearly an immigrant to Australia. The ‘Australianisms’ are also attractive making the story culturally appropriate for Australian children, or exotically unique for British or American children.
Remember Colin Thiele
Colin Thiele is an author whose works reflect the Australian countryside, whether inland or on the coast.
Colin Thiele's books include:
- Sun on the Stubble which formed the rather heavy fare for my year 8 class reading. Tells the story of Bruno Gunther, a German Australian boy growing up in the 1930s. It is set in rural South Australia and has a prosaic, autobiographical tone. I retained the impression that Germans really liked food and used as the preparations of small goods was a feature of some chapters.
- Storm Boy is the tragic tale of a boy and a pelican, which he loves very much. The pelican disappears one day and the child has to face the possibility that it may have been shot. The story has been filmed.
- Blue Fin which is the tale of a dolphin and has also been filmed.
- Jodie's Journey which is popular with teachers due to its sensitive treatment of disability.
Enjoy Ivan Southall
Ivan Southall wrote:
- Hills End which forms a bright spot in any recommended reading list.
Seven children and their teacher go for a walk into some caves looking for Aboriginal rock painting one child claimed to have found.
The claim was false to get them out of trouble, but as fate will have it, the children are under shelter when the town is devastated by a violent storm.
When they emerge, they have to survive until rescuer are sent from the outside world. Two of the eldest children enjoy a discrete romance.
- Ash Road is the frightening tale of a bush fire in a country where fire is a constant seasonal threat.
- Josh in which a city boy visits his relatives in the country.
Sit down with Ruth Park
Ruth Park wrote:
- the romantic time travel novel Playing Beaty Bow. Abigail runs into an odd children's game and is transported from the 1970s (as the book was first published in 1980) to the early 1870s. She is adopted by a family and falls in love with the young man of the household. Tragedy strikes, which she is unable to avert, but back in the 1970s, it might be all right...
- a series of Muddle-Headed Wombat books which were a spin off from an early radio drama.
- She is best known for adult works such as The Harp in the South and Poor Man's Orange.
Saxby, M. & Winch, G. 1991 Give them Wings: the experience of children’s literature (second edition), Macmillan Education Australia PTY, LTD., Melbourne
Winch, G. 2005 The Amazing Matilda Mudpuddle, New Frontier Publishing, Epping, N.S.W.
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