"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

Philosophy is Greek for "love of wisdom."

Reading books automatically enables us to gain greater wisdom - or does it?

As a teacher for many years, I believe we under-utilize books. Sure, we throw lots of questions at our students to check their comprehension of the text (more often requiring written answers) but is this enough?

Does the barrage of comprehension questions help our students ask how they might better themselves and the world around them?

Does it open up new worlds to explore that they might never have known existed otherwise?

Does it get them to question 'why'?

Quite often it's the way we phrase our question. For example: 'Was it fair that _____ missed out?' should really be preceded or followed up with 'What is fairness?'

In these uncertain times we need to get children talking about topics and things that matter to them. 

Almost all books have some profound questions in them. I hope the book titles and questions I feature over time spark meaningful conversations and, hopefully, even arguments in classrooms.

To give you an idea of how I will structure this section, I'll start with a simple, popular picture book available in every library -

'The Rainbow Fish' by Marcus Pfister.

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The Rainbow Fish

by Marcus Pfister

Plot Summary: Described as "the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean," the fish in the story has rainbow coloured, iridescent scales. The other fish call him "Rainbow Fish" and invite him to play with them, but he remains uninterested and aloof. A small blue fish follows him one day, asking for one of his scales, and is rebuffed. The rainbow fish ends up ostracized by all the other fish, and his scales begin to mean less to him with "no one to admire them." Taking the advice of an octopus whose suggestions he seeks, the rainbow fish gives all his scales away, one by one, until he is left with only one. Surrounded by many fish, each with one iridescent scale, the rainbow fish no longer looked different, and he "at last felt at home among the fish."

Questions to Think and Talk about:

Is it better to be different or to fit in with the community?

Should everyone be the same?

What is beauty?  Can we have different ideas about what beauty is?

What does something have to have to be beautiful? Anything?

               Picture Book

‘Go Away Worry Monster’ by Brooke Graham &  illustrated by Robin Tatlow-Lord

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Worry Monster loves ‘helping’ Archie worry, especially the night before he starts his new school. Archie feels so anxious that his head hurts, his tummy flutters and his heart pounds. He soon realizes that the only way to feel better is to make Worry Monster go away. He does his belly breaths and challenges his inner fears by facing facts.

https://www.brookegrahamauthor.com

Middle Grade Book

‘Worry Warts’ by Morris Gleitzman

Worry Warts is the sequel to ‘Misery Guts’  and tells the story of 11 year old Keith Shipley and his attempts to cheer up his "misery guts" parents. Keith paints his parents’ car "hot sunflower and tropical parrot" to cheer them up. Then he discovers what's really making his parents miserable - their lack of money. So Keith decides to take matters into his own hands.

https://www.morrisgleitzman.com/

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Questions to Think and Talk About

You've probably guessed already - all of these books deal

with the human condition that torments us at times: Worry

In these troubling times, people are worrying more than ever, children included. Getting children to talk about this feeling is really important before it turns into anxiety.

* What does it mean to 'worry'?

* Is worrying a bad thing? Why? Why not?

* Does a baby worry? What age do humans begin to worry about things?

* Should kids be relieved of all their worries?

* What can you do to combat your worries?

Young Adult Book

   ‘This is How We Change the Ending’

                       by Vikki Wakefield

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    I have questions I’ve never asked.

    Worries I’ve never shared. Thoughts

    that circle and collide and die

    screaming because they never make

    it outside my head. Stuff like that,

    if you let it go—it’s a survival risk.

 

    Sixteen-year-old Nate McKee is doing his 

    best to be invisible. He’s worried about a lot 

    of things—how his dad treats Nance and his

    twin half-brothers; the hydro crop in his

    bedroom; his reckless friend, Merrick.

    Nate hangs out at the local youth centre and

    fills his notebooks with things he can’t say.

    But when some of his pages are stolen, and

    his words are graffitied at the centre, Nate

    realises he has allies. He might be able to

    make a difference, change his life, and claim

    his future. Or can he?

    This is How We Change the Ending is raw and

    real, funny and heartbreaking—a story about

    what it takes to fight back when you’re not a

    hero.

              https://www.vikkiwakefield.com

Picture Book

‘Some Days’ by Ash Bisdee & illustrated by Annette Appleby

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Some Days is a book that touches the heart.

It is a book about friendship, kindness and well-being that helps young children understand the importance of being a kind friend.

It also helps children understand that it's okay to not be okay.

Not every day is a perfect day.

https://www.ashbisdee.com.au/

 

https://www.instagram.com/abaproductionsart/

Middle Grade Book

        ‘Paws’ by Kate Foster

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At home, Alex’s best friend is Kevin the cockapoo, although what he wants most of all is a friend at school. But that is harder than he ever expected. A touching story about learning that friendship isn’t one size fits all and is often found where you least expect it.

Everything is changing for 11-year-old Alex and, as an autistic person, change can be terrifying. With the first day of high school only a couple of months away, Alex is sure that having a friend by his side will help. So, he’s devised a plan – impress the kids at school by winning a trophy at the PAWS Dog Show with his trusty sidekick, Kevin. This should be a walk in the park . . . right?

http://www.kfosterbooks.com/

Questions to Think and Talk About

‘Some Days’ by Ash Bisdee & illustrated by Annette Appleby

Young Adult Book

Nona and Me' by Clare Atkins

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Rosie and Nona are sisters. Yapas.

They are also best friends. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life.


 

The girls are inseparable until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they’re in Year 10 and things have changed. Rosie prefers to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena and her gorgeous older brother, Nick.

When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she have to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?

https://clareatkins.com.au/

Friendship is everything to children, no matter what their age. Making and keeping friends can be extremely difficult for some children. All of the books in this post act as a springboard for students to explore what friendship is and give them some clarity about how to navigate this often confusing social skill. 

What is friendship?

 

*  What’s the most important thing you want from a friend?

 

*  Is there such a thing as a ‘bad’ friendship? How do you know if someone is a true friend or a fake friend?

 

*  Can you be friends with someone who is completely different to you? Someone who has different beliefs & values that you dislike, even hate? If yes, how do you keep this friendship going?

 

*  How do you lose a friend?

 

*  Can you call someone a friend who you’ve never met in person but accept them on social media as a ‘friend’?

Picture Book

‘Claire Malone Changes the World'  by Nadia L. King & illustrated by Alisa Knatko

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Picture Book

Claire Malone Changes the World is an inspiring book for a new generation of children ... They are not afraid of taking responsibility anymore, but they are rather keen on addressing problems. Claire is one of them. The moment she sees the broken swing and the cracked slide in the children's park in her neighbourhood, she decides to take action. Not surprisingly, her way of reaching a solution is an interesting and innovative one. You will love the journey of Claire, a strong and ambitious girl, so much that you will want to read this book over and over again.

https://www.nadialking.com/

https://aknatko.wordpress.com/

Middle Grade Book

‘Amelia Trott & The Earth Watchers' by Moyra Irving

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   When would-be author,

   Amelie Trott meets a

   ten-foot-tall stranger on the

   stairs she is faced

   with an impossible challenge: to

   rescue her family home from the

   clutches of the devious

   Bottomley-Slighs. However, she

   is soon to discover that this is

   simply a rehearsal for averting a

   more sinister danger still - the

   End of the World... This is the extraordinary story of how

   one small girl stopped a planetary catastrophe. It's a

   very timely book, written for the child in us all, with a 

   forceful message about the power of young people to

   transform the world - a theme currently demonstrated by 

   brave young heroes like Greta Thunberg.

   https://amelietrott.com/

Questions to Think and Talk About

Young Adult Book

‘Realm of the Hare' by Micheal Lovett

Boudicca Moriarty never thought

she would become a child warrior

or that she would have to fight to

save her mother's life. Yet leaving

behind the quiet world of her

young life after her mother's

strange disappearance, she finds

all of this will come to pass.

Boudicca moves in with her Irish

grandparents in the small cottage

farm and there finds a mysterious

locket containing a tiny book. This

leads her to join forces with a wild hare called 'Finn', they travel to the ancient world of the Ullauns, in the nearby Killarney National Park.

Here she joins a group called the Ullaunites, a band of child warriors, who are the last defenders of Nature from the Regnum, a dark army led by Mustela, who craves Nature and the power of its secrets. Both sides in this war seek the Child of Bears, a collection of seven books that hold the secrets of the Universe. One of these seven books is in Boudicca's silver locket, and thus joins a war that has been raging for numberless eternities, crowded with treachery, intrigue, and magic.

 

To survive this war and to find her mother, Boudicca must leave behind her childhood, become an Ullaunite warrior and do her utmost to protect Nature, before all is lost to the Regnum.

                 https://micheallovett.com

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 In these uncertain times for humans and our planet, children need

hopeful stories. The three featured books are from fellow Dixi Book

authors. (https://dixibooks.com/product-category/childrens-books/)

In these books, children step up in challenging times, using their

initiative, and persevering to make a difference. As one reviewer for

the Amelia Trott novel said - 'The book showed just how smart children

really are and how it is the child in all of us that is being called forward

in times of great challenge.'

*  Are humans superior to other species? Why? Why not?

*  Do plants and animals have any rights in this world they share with us?

 

*  Should humans be allowed to change the world to benefit themselves if it causes problems for other species?

*  How could you help if a different species was threatened in your neighbourhood?

 

 

Picture Book

'I'm Australian Too' by Mem Fox & illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh

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I'm Australian Too shares some of the many and varied stories of Australia and the places that Australians, their parents and their grandparents have come from. It recognises the importance of knowing one's origins and validates the fact that regardless of where our ancestors have come from, we are all equally Australian.

https://memfox.com/

https://ronojoyghosh.com.au/

Middle Grade Book

‘A Glasshouse of Stars' by Shirley Marr

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Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing's entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

A Glasshouse of Stars is based on the real childhood experiences of the author, brushed with a light touch of magic realism.

https://www.shirleymarr.net/

Questions to Think and Talk About

Young Adult Book

‘The Honeyman & the Hunted' by Neil Grant

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Rudra is an Indian-Australian boy at a crossroads, poised to step into the world of adulthood and to discover his cultural heritage and how that might truly define him. A wonderful exploration of dual heritage, cultural identity, family and the power of storytelling.

In the long and drifting summer, Rudra begins to mark time from the appearance of his grandmother, as if his life has pivoted on this point and will never be the same.

When sixteen-year-old Rudra Solace's grandmother arrives from India and a long-hidden secret is dredged from the bay, life in his sleepy fishing village of Patonga shifts dramatically. It is not long before Rudra and his mother are bound for Bengal on a journey of discovery and danger.

A wonderfully compelling tale of belonging and loss, of saltwater and mangroves, of migration and accepting change; a story of decisions that, once made, break through family histories like a cyclone swell.

https://www.neilgrant.com.au/

Humans are social beings who long to belong and be accepted by others. Belonging is a strong and inevitable feeling that exists in human nature. It is such a fundamental human motivation that we feel severe consequences for not belonging. 

Belonging is a topic children should think and talk about to raise their awareness of how children who exist on the fringes of their social group feel. Hopefully, this elicits greater empathy and acceptance.

*   What does it mean 'to belong'?

*   How does it make you feel?

*   Have you ever been excluded from belonging to a group? Why?

*   Do humans have more commonalities than differences? List them. Do our differences outweigh our similarities?

*  Should we be defined by our differences?

*  Why do migrants struggle to belong in a new country?

Picture Book

'My Two Blankets' by Irena Kobald & illustrated by Freya Blackwood

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‘My Two Blankets’ tells the story of a young girl who is trying to transition between her old and new world. Cartwheel, as her auntie used to call her, has immigrated to a new country and her blanket is a metaphor for the culture she knows and feels safe in.

Cartwheel then creates a new blanket with what she learns about her new culture, as she starts to feel more comfortable in her new world.

This is a beautiful story exploring the need to belong and the power of language.

https://bingalum.com/

https://www.freyablackwood.com.au/

Middle Grade Book

The Boy at the Back of the Class
        by Onjali Q Raúf

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Told with humor and heart,

'The Boy at the Back of the Class' offers

a child's perspective on the refugee

crisis, highlighting the importance of

friendship and kindness in a world that

doesn't always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the

back of my class, but now a new boy

called Ahmet is sitting in it.

He's eight years old (just like me), but he's very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn't like sweets - not even lemon sherbets, which are my favorite!

But the truth is, Ahmet really isn't very strange at all. He's a refugee who's run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to be his friend.

That's where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we've come up with a plan.

https://www.hachette.com.au/onjali-q-rauf/

Questions to Think and Talk About

'When Michael Meet Mina' by Randa Abdel-Fattah

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Before Mina, my life was like a completed jigsaw puzzle but Mina has pushed the puzzle onto the floor. I have to start all over again, figuring out where the pieces go.

 

When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.

 

Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, leaky boat and a detention centre.

 

Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values.

 

They want to stop the boats.

Mina wants to stop the hate.

 

When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly.

 

A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.

https://www.panmacmillan.com.au/author/randa-abdel-fattah/

Young Adult Book

This post is a deeper dive into helping children understand empathy and its importance to humanity.

Quite often, prejudices are born from a fear of the unknown. To overcome this fear, humans have to step outside their comfort zone and ‘walk in the shoes’ of those they’re wary of.

Literature is fantastic for helping children to metaphorically gain a deeper understanding of those who are different to them through their stories.

*  What is empathy?

*  Why is it important for humans to feel empathy for one another?

*  How can you ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ in order to understand their point of view?

*  ‘We fear what we don’t understand’.  Whose responsibility is it to break down the fear that separates humans because of their culture, beliefs, religion etc?

Picture Book

'Pig the Fibber' by Aaron Blabey

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Pig the pug is a bit of a fibber and tells lies so that he can get his own way. Pig blames his friend Trevor, the sausage dog, for all his own naughty behaviour! Poor Trevor gets blamed for messing up the house, breaking the vase and ripping a lovely old dress. Until one day, Pig’s sneakiest (and stinkiest) plan backfires big time! Will Pig learn his lesson?

https://www.penguin.com.au/authors/aaron-blabey

Middle Grade Book

'The Secrets We Keep' by Nova Weetman

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                             I don't know if you've

                             ever seen a house burn,

                             but it's not like anything

                             else …
 

                             Clem Timmins has lost

                             everything – her clothes,

                             her possessions, her

                             house and her mum.

 

Now living in a tiny flat with her dad, Clem has to start a new school and make new friends. On her first day, Clem tells Ellie that her mum died in a house fire and immediately regrets it when Ellie latches on and confides that her own mother is dying of cancer. When Clem receives a letter she doesn't want to read, it becomes clear she can't run from her past forever, especially when the truth appears right in front of her face.

http://www.novaweetman.com.au/

Questions to Think and Talk About

Young Adult Book

'The Protected' by Claire Zorn

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I have three months left to call

Katie my older sister. Then the

gap will close and I will pass her.

I will get older. But Katie will

always be fifteen, eleven months

and twenty-one days old.

Hannah's world is in pieces and

she doesn't need the school

counsellor to tell her she has

deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn't have problems?

Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn't afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?

In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl's struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.

https://clairezorn.com/

Regret is a terrible feeling that eats away at you. You can regret something you said or did OR regret what you DIDN'T do. Either way, it has a powerful effect on your life.

Children are spontaneous; they blurt out hurtful things to family and friends but then don't know how to rectify the problem. Helping children understand what regret is, including that deflating feeling they experience after not seizing an opportunity due to their lack of confidence, is important.

*  What is regret?

*  Is regret a bad emotion for humans to experience? Why?

*  What is worse - regretting something you've said or done?

                                              OR

                                regretting something that you didn't do in the past?

*  Is 'regret' and 'guilt' the same thing?

*  How do you fix your regrets?