Book Bento – Angela’s Ashes

Book bentos are a creative and innovative multimodal response to literature. They can be used at the beginning of a novel study to predict the events, in the middle to explain critical features or themes, or at the end of a unit of work to show understanding and comprehension. Readers collate objects that relate to the book characters and themes. For more information of their pedagogical value – Click HERE

Book Review – A bad boy stole my bra by Lauren Price

Title: A Bad Boy stole my Bra

Author: Lauren Price

Published: Ink Road, 2018.


Ok I am probably being melodramatic here!  Price’s book is funny and quirky and everything a tween or younger teen would like.

Reasons being:

  1. The title catches the eye.
  2. The language is witty and funny.
  3. The storyline is very popular with teenage girls.
  4. It is a classic YA novel.

I, on the other hand, am about a score of years too old for a book like this!!

Reasons being:

  1. The vision of waking up to a random male holding up my wired underwear is rather frightening.
  2. After being in a stable relationship for nearly fifteen years, the idea of dating is also frightening.
  3. And the only one I want holding my bra up is the person who is hanging up my washing!

I am too old to be reading books like this.



Book Review – Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons

THE BOOK: Kokoda (Teen Edition) by Peter Fitzsimons. 

Published by Hachette Australia in 2016

Cover reproduced with permission from Kokoda: Teen edition by Peter FitzSimons, Hachette Australia, 2016.

The Summary:    Kokoda is a well written narrative non fiction book by an acclaimed Australian writer Peter Fitzsimons.  The story is about a group of young Australian men, most still teenagers, trying to make a stand against the much stronger Imperial Japanese Army in the treacherous terrain of Papua New Guinea.   The story of the Kokoda trail is eerily similar to Gallipoli, and for many people this historical event builds upon the ANZAC legend.  Aimed at readers over 12 years old, this book is ideal for teenagers to read for recreational and academic purposes.  

The Good: Fitzsimons captures the essence of the young Australian men magnificently.  His use of colloquial language and casual references to Sydney strests gives the reader confidence in the author’s authenticity and veracity.  Kokoda is a well written text that describes the events of 1942 in superb detail.  Battle scenes and forced marches are brought to life vividly.  His use of language was subtle, allowing the reader to become engaged with the story but at the same time not overwhelming them with military jargon and complex sentences.  This book’s storyline and prosaic style would suit teenage boys very well.  

The Bad: The format of the book was consistent with other expository texts with the inclusion of a contents page, maps, photographs, reference list and index. But unlike many other information texts, this book did not have any other additional resources, such as links to further reading or websites such as the Australian War Memorial Kokoda Collection.

The Interesting: It was interesting reading Fitzsimons’ perspective on the Kokoda campaign as his stance differs from the viewpoints of other war writers and journalists.  Unlike the official war reports, Fitzsimons is quite scathing of the military hierarchy’s competency.  He is very blunt in the way he points out that Australians died in New Guinea because of mismanagement.  He also points out the conflict between the celebrated MacArthur’s battle plan and Pott’s frontline perspective.  Fitzsimons is just short of scathing in the way he refers to MacArthurs’s speaking of battle tactics whilst safely ensconced in his office over 2000 km away from the jungles of New Guinea.  He also discusses the Battle of Milne and points out the manner in which MacArthur claimed the victory as part of his plan rather than the effort of Australian boots on the ground.  

The Verdict: Kokoda meets content standards within the Year 10 History Curriculum – Experiences of Australians during World War 2.  It is an excellent resource for teenagers as it contains both facts and figures, yet written in a narrative style.  This style allows the reader to become engaged with the text and have an increased recall of the information within.  Intermixing prose and factual information requires the reader to become more analytical and thus improves critical thinking skills.  The conflicting views that Fitzsimons offers about MacArther gives the reader a chance to question bias in texts.  The book also allows the reader to connect their prior knowledge of the Gallipolli digger to the story of the Kokoda trekker and build their knowledge of Australian history.  Additionally, as the book is classified as a non fiction resource, more classroom teachers are comfortable using them as resources for teaching and learning. This is because some educators have an unconscious bias towards the implementation of literature outside the language arts curriculum.  Kokoda would be an asset for high school library collections and a useful literacy resource.  

Book Review – “After Auschwitz” by Eva Schloss

After Auschwitz by Eva Schloss (2013).

One girl lived.  The other died.  Eva Schloss survived the Holocaust. She survived Auschwitz.  Her step-sister Anne Frank did not.  

Eva’s autobiography, “After Auschwitz” is an excellent example of narrative non fiction.  Beautifully written, this book encapsulated the heartache, loss and survivor’s guilt that Eva felt in the years after the war.  The inclusion of narrative techniques such as theme, plot and character development, allows the reader to engage deeply with the text and the author.  The story beautifully interweaves factual information with prose, causing the reader to undergo a cognitive and emotional shift towards self actualisation of themselves, their community and greater society.   

After Auschwitz” uses storytelling as a method of affecting the cognitive and emotional development of the reader.  From an anthropological perspective, human beings are ingrained to respond to stories as a method of conveying folklore, information and heritage.  Literary nonfiction, also known as narrative nonfiction, is a sub genre of literary work that uses fictitious elements to convey important data.  Many educators advocate the implementation of literature within the curriculum as a method to  engage and inform students.  Most commonly seen in art, history and science disciplines, literary nonfiction is often used by educators to impart pertinent information in a captivating format across all levels of schooling.  Schloss’ autobiography fulfills Year 10 English and History curriculum  as well as the General capabilities in Literacy and Ethical Considerations (ACARA, 2014a; ACARA, 2014b; ACARA, 2014c; ACARA, 2014d).  Therefore, from a secondary school perspective, this piece of narrative nonfiction addresses the needs of the students and the curriculum.  

Literary nonfiction (NF) is an eminent method of introducing facts to students of all ages as the use of storytelling to convey information is an ancient one.  From the time of oral traditions, narratives have been used to instruct and inform (Gill, 2009).   Storytelling has the ability to convey social values, improve recognition of self, and increase tolerance and empathy (Comer-Kidd & Castano, 2013).  According to Cornett (2014), narrative non fiction allows readers to engage with the narrative overtly and covertly comprehend and understand the facts (p.161). Most commonly seen in the fields of arts, science and history, literary nonfiction has subgenres of exposition, argument and functional (Morris, 2013). Non fiction picture books, biographies such as “After Auschwitz”, autobiographies and memoirs are excellent examples of narrative non fiction texts commonly found in secondary school libraries.  

Good narrative NF is designed to give the same pleasure and enlightenment as fiction, using techniques of theme, character and plot development to impart factual information (Kiefer & Wilson, 2010; Morris, 2013). This storytelling execution connects carefully researched factual elements into a structure that is appealing and memorable to the student (Morris, 2013; Cornett, 2014, p.151).  Schloss’ heartfelt retelling of her time in Auschwitz is remarkably vivid.   Her memories and descriptions of the death camps are carefully crafted together to create a literary work that increase self awareness in the reader, leading to a change in cognition, self awareness and actualisation about the way the reader thinks about themselves, their society and the world in general (Morris, 2013; Kiefer & Wilson, 2010).  

Literary NF such as biographies are easier for students to engage with as their structure is familiar and raises less resistance from reluctant readers and students with low literacy (Gill, 2009).  Schloss’ text increases vocabulary with subject specific language such as ‘concentration camp’ and ‘Gestapo’ in a non threatening manner (Gill, 2009).  Additionally Cornett (2014) found recall of information is higher from narrative non fiction than information texts (p.151).  This is shown by the way  the reader engages with Eva.  This personal engagement with the character increases their cognitive and developmental change and therefore improves their recall of pertinent information.  

Narrative NF increases critical thinking skills because the factual information within the text is woven into the storyline (Morris, 2013).  This means the reader has to critically analyse the text to infer, evaluate and make their own conclusions.   Eva’s survivor guilt manifested by the time and effort she poured into the Anne Frank Centre with her step-father Otto Frank.  But this guilt is not explicit in the text.  It is implicit and needs to be deduced from the language used within the text and from prior knowledge of other survivors.  Students who engage with narrative NF on a regular basis improve their critical thinking skills, which in turn translates to increased ability to comprehend information texts in other disciplines.  Literary nonfiction is also an excellent resource for stimulating class discussions, inquiry and other collaborative learning groups (Morris, 2013).  

An unlikely benefit of increasing literary non fiction into secondary school collections is meeting the literacy needs of reluctant readers.  Many students prefer non fiction texts to fiction, specifically young adolescent males preferring factual texts to fiction as they view fiction as  ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unnecessary’ as well as ‘unconnected’ to the real world (Harper, 2016;   This disinclination is often visible when students are required to read prescribed texts as part of their teaching and learning.  The inclusion of narrative NF means that students who are disinclined to read fictitious texts can be offered a suitable narrative NF as an alternative and thus are able to meet the learning outcomes.  It is also important to point out that biographies, autobiographies and memoirs are excellent examples of narrative nonfiction.  These texts have all the literary features to placate the soul as well as provide opportunities for students to envision any life long passions and career choices (National library of NZ, 2014).

One of major issues with using literary NF in classrooms is that some students struggle to see the difference between narrative NF and fiction (Kiefer & Wilson, 2010).  It is possible that students confuse fictitious texts such as Boyne’s ‘the boy in the striped pajamas’, Zusak’s ‘Book Thief’ and Zail’s ‘The wrong boy’ with Schloss’ biography.  But is this not due to a lack of critical literacy?  By encouraging the use of narrative NF in classrooms, teachers and teacher librarians are able to explicitly teach students how to analyse the text, make inferences and draw conclusions.  It is only by practicing these skills at regularly can students practice their critical thinking skills. 

From a collection and curriculum perspective, there is a strong push from curriculum leaders to implement the use of informational texts such as textbooks, with their facts, figures and images rather than narrative NF (McNeil, 2015).  This is under the false assumption that texts with clear curriculum links have more value than resources that are aesthetically pleasing and address emotional development (Barone, 2011, p.18).  Teacher librarians and educators need to combat this misinformation by using evidence based practice to integrating literature across the curriculum.  

Narrative nonfiction is an excellent source of literary text in secondary school classrooms.  Their dual functionality of information and prose are able to engage students, provide them with relevant and pertinent information, as well as increasing their cognitive and emotional development.  Any fan of Anne Frank’s diary would engage deeply with this biography.  “After Auschwitz” addresses the curriculum appropriately, engages deeply with the reader and addresses the emotional, cognitive and behavioural development of adolescents.  It would make an excellent resource in high school library collections.   



Australian Government – DET (2018) Reluctant readers, how to help. Learning Potential. Retrieved from

ACARA. (2014a). F-10 English Curriculum. Educational Services Australia.  Retrieved from

ACARA. (2014b). F-10 History Curriculum. Educational Services Australia. Retrieved from

ACARA. (2014c). F-10 General Capabilities – Critical and creative thinking . Educational Services Australia. Retrieved from

ACARA. (2014d). F-10 General Capabilities – Ethical understanding . Educational Services Australia. Retrieved from

Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: Engaging lifelong readers. New York. Guilford Press.

Comer Kidd, D. & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156), 377-380. This article reports experimental evidence that reading passages of literary fiction, in comparison to nonfiction or popular fiction, enhances the reader’s performance on theory of mind tasks. 

Cornet, C. E. (2014). Integrating the literary arts throughout the curriculum. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts: arts integration for Classroom teachers (5th ed,) (pp144-193) USA

Gill, S. R. (2009). What teachers need to know about the “New” nonfiction. Reading Teacher, 63(4), 260-267.

Harper, H. (2016) Books for reluctant readers. [Blog post] Readings. Retrieved from

Keifer, B. & Wilson, M. I. (2010). Nonfiction literature for children: Old Assumptions and new directions. In S. Wolf, , K. Coats, , P. A. Enciso & C. Jenkins (Eds). In Handbook of research on children’s and young adult literature (pp. 290-301). Retrieved from Proquest Ebook Central.

K12 reader(2018) Strategies to help engage reluctant readers in reading. Retrieved from

McNeill, S. (2015, October). Moment of truth: Trends in nonfiction for young readers. Retrieved from

Morgan, N. (2012). What is the future of publishing? Forbes. Retrieved from

Morris, R. (2013). Linking learning and literary nonfiction. School Library Monthly, 29(7), 39-40. Retrieved from

National Library of NZ. (2014). Non-fiction. National Library of New Zealand Services to Schools. Retrieved from


Book Review – Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

Book of the Day

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally was a very dry read.  It was drier than the cheapest plonk at the pub during happy hour.  Now before anyone starts collecting rocks to stone me, I would challenge them to read the book too and then comment.  

I am not denying that the material in the book is powerful.  I definitely acknowledge that the book is filled with names, places and intense facts.  But it is not prose. Upon thinking this further, I recollect the subject of the book and wonder if there is a reason for that.  If the author, in this case Thomas Keneally was aiming for an emotive piece, it would be a character lie. By all accounts, Oskar Schindler was a hard drinking and reckless businessman who cheated on his wife with regularity (Hurvitz & Karesh, 2016).  He destroyed his family business, sought to cheat, lie and swindle his way back into a life of comfort. Quite frankly, by all tokens, this man was an immoral and wasteful character. Then Schindler went on to save almost 1300 Jews from the concentration camps during those dark days in Eastern Europe.  This man, who by the standards of his time, and now; unworthy of attention; put his own life at risk to save others. His actions have been immortalised in a book, a major Spielberg movie production and the term Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews, which is still used to refer to the descendents of those that were saved.   

So when you consider all these facts, the dryness of Keneally’s “Schindler’s Ark” makes sense.  It would be a lie if the book was anything other than prosaic. Instead, its matter of fact manner of describing the main character’s traits ensures that the reader does not view him with rose framed lenses.  The reader is made fully aware of Oskar’s failings as a man and a husband. It is in viewing these failings that Schindler’s true heroism is seen. The plain language allows the reader to envision the fear hiding between the stalwart words.  Conversely, the plain language also allows readers with little imagination to read the book without being overwhelmed.  

“Schindler’s Ark” was a very dry read for someone who is a lover of prose.  As an avid reader of fiction, I found this novel to be more informative than anything else.  I also found it heartbreaking, just like the sadness I feel when the happy hour wine is just awful.  But whilst this book was a struggle for me, it would be ideal for reluctant teens who struggle with engaging with fictitious stories.  The language, style and format of the book resemble information books and thus may satisfy their need for ‘facts’.  But whilst the Guardian review suggests this book as appropriate for 8-12 year old children, I would probably restrict it to students over 14-15 years old.  This would then correlate well with the year 10 HASS’s World War 2 and Holocaust unit especially the ACDSEH025 elaboration.  It would also work well in the Biographies and memoirs unit in Year 10 English.  


Alannahbee, (2013). Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally – review. The Guardian. Retrieved 16th March, 2020 from

Axelrod, A. (2013). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of World War II, vol. 2. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from

Hurvitz, M. M., & Karesh, S. E. (2016). Schindler, Oskar. In Encyclopedia of Judaism, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved March 16, 2020, from