A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

This is such an important book. Through the eyes and experiences of six-year-old Scout Finch, the reader comes to understand key lessons about prejudice, equality, and personal integrity that profoundly influence the way they see and interact with other people. 

The story is told in a very matter-of-fact manner, yet it is laden with irony and quite intricately constructed layers of meaning that give it depth and enable it to have a powerful effect on the reader. The simplicity of Scout’s questions contrasts with the significance of the behaviour and beliefs challenged by her perplexity, while the wisdom of the adults to whom she turns for answers inspires the reader, too. 

I have numerous favourite scenes and quotations from this book, but the one I love most is the tender scene between father and daughter at the close of the book, which really emphasises the message of the book as a whole: 

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A Favourite Classic Book: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell

This novella is a genius piece of political satire based on the events leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the rule of the dictators who followed. 

The allegorical use of animals on a farm enables the author to be critical and insightful without making direct accusations. Indeed, the most effective use of insinuations and suggestions is a trait that Orwell shares with Snowball and Napoleon, the two most prominent characters in the book. 

As the plot moves from incitement to revolution and then tyranny, each phase of influence and control is cleverly and powerfully exposed as those in charge exert their will over the rest of the characters.

Although it was published seventy years ago, this brilliant work retains a great deal of relevance today because, in all honesty, politics and politicians haven’t really changed that much. 

A Favourite Classic Series: The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis

I may be cheating by covering a whole series instead of just one of the novels, but how does one choose a single favourite among such an incredible set of books?

Supposedly written for children, The Narnia Chronicles fill me with as much joy and wonder now as they ever did. They are stories that never, ever get old.

I collected a mismatched set of the books over several years as a child, and then as a teenager I indulged my slightly OCD book-neediness and bought a boxed set with matching covers. I can’t find any of the first lot, and only one of the boxed set remains on my shelf. I’ve lost a few in different classrooms over the years and others courtesy of unreturned loans, so several years ago I bought the complete set in one volume so I could read them all again.

While each book in the series is a unique and brilliant story in its own right, as a collection they are remarkably cohesive and unified.

The Narnia Chronicles really are the works of a master storyteller. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Vanity Fair’ by William Makepeace Thackeray

‘Vanity Fair’ is the story of Becky Sharp, a woman who starts out with very little and demonstrates that with ingenuity and determination, one could work one’s way up the ranks of society, despite the upper classes pretensions that this could never be so. 

Written with considerable wit and thoughtful insight, it’s a really entertaining story, but it also delivers a fascinating study of human nature and quite biting commentary on social status and those who possess it.

Although our society has changed significantly since this book was published in 1848, human nature hasn’t, so ‘Vanity Fair’ remains quite a relevant commentary on people and how they see and treat one another. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Many people assume that this is a book all about love and courtship. That comes into it, of course, but really only the sense that Jane Austen is blowing an enormous raspberry to the way society did those things.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is full of delicious snark and subversive humour, parody and caricature, that make its observations far more rapier than romantic. 

Of course, Mr Darcy is smolderingly handsome and, as an introvert, I totally get that he was regretting being dragged along to that party long before he even got there, and by the time he was offending all the locals, was busy trying to think of ways to leave without anyone noticing. Further evidence of that is found in the fact that he falls for the one brainy chick who is happy in her own company and reading a book without needing someone affirming her delicate sense of self every three minutes.

Elizabeth is smart and sassy enough to stand up for herself, and to not settle for the first nincompoop who tried to marry her, nor does she agree to marry Darcy just because he’s loaded. No, she is a woman of substance.

Those things are enough to make us love them both more than the rest of the characters, most of whom are either quite socially acceptably bland or rather horrid.

If you’re not sure where to find the sarcasm,  it all starts with the very first line. Let’s be honest: what rich man, living the dream and enjoying his wealth, is desperate to find a wife to keep him at home and spend his money for him? 

Yeah. I don’t think so, either. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

I have always enjoyed Dickens’ knack for transporting the reader to the grimy streets of London, or to the interior of a neat little Victorian house, and have them understand exactly why they had been taken there. His imagery and characterisation are vivid and his wit is razor sharp. 

I have several favourites among his novels, but ‘A Christmas Carol’ would have to be at the top of that list. In addition to its searing social criticism and powerful message about what actually matters in life, it is infused with some really well written macabre and Gothic horror scenes that have a profound effect on both Scrooge and the reader. It’s a short read with a huge impact. 

Poem: ‘Going to School’ by C.J. Dennis

I learned this poem when I was in 5th grade. My teacher loved poetry sand set us all a poem to memorise and recite. ‘Going to School’ was mine. 

Published in ‘A Book for Kids’ in 1938 with a collection of similarly excellent poems, this is a fun poem with a very musical rhythm and rhyme pattern that are instantly engaging. It conjures images of a time when kids in Australian country schools might ride a horse to school if they loved too far away to walk and didn’t own a bicycle or three. 

Dennis was a man of many talents: in addition to working as a journalist and poet, he also illustrated his own books with delightful pictures that were almost as much fun as the poetry. 

Image: C.J. Dennis working at his desk c.1938 . Public Domain via The State Library of Victoria 

Going to School

Did you see them pass to-day, Billy, Kate and Robin,
All astride upon the back of old grey Dobbin?
Jigging, jogging off to school, down the dusty track-
What must Dobbin think of it – three upon his back?
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Billy holding on behind, his legs out straight.


Now they’re coming back from school, jig, jog, jig.
See them at the corner where the gums grow big;
Dobbin flicking off the flies and blinking at the sun-
Having three upon his back he thinks is splendid fun:
Robin at the bridle-rein, in the middle Kate,
Little Billy up behind, his legs out straight.

Dennis’ images for ‘Going to School’ from ‘A Book for Kids’
Public Domain via Project Gutenberg

If you’d like a copy of A Book for Kids, Project Gutenberg has it available in a variety of formats, including for Kindle and other eReaders, free of charge. This is a legal download as the copyright on both the work and the illustrations included has expired. 

For Those who Prefer Bookish Treats for Easter

If you’d like a bookish Easter treat for Easter,
you’re welcome to join in the

Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt

All you have to do is start here, find the egg hidden on each blog or website, arrange the letters, and follow the instructions to claim an ebook of your choice from the organisers.

The hunt officially begins on Good Friday.

One winner will receive a lovely Easter gift which includes chocolate and a copy of each book on offer.

For more information, see the Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt page on Facebook.

Women in History: Nancy Wake

Nancy Wake was born in New Zealand in 1912, and just a few months before her second birthday, her family moved to Sydney, Australia, where she grew up.

When she was sixteen years old, Nancy left home and got a job as a nurse until she lleft the country for New York, then London where she trained in journalism, before moving to Paris where she worked as a journalist in the 1930s, writing a great deal about the rise of fascism and the horrors of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. She married and moved to Marseilles in 1939. 

When France surrendered to Germany in 1940, Nancy worked as an ambulance driver in the war. She and her husband joined the French Resistance, for whom she worked as a courier before working to help both Jewish people and Allied servicemen to escape. She made several attempts of her own to escape, having fled Marseilles and even being imprisoned for attempting to leave the country unlawfully.

By the time Nancy did manage to escape to Spain via the Pyrenees Mountains, she was one of the Nazi’s “most wanted” secret agents. It was the Germans who gave her the name ‘The White Mouse’ in reference to her ability to evade capture. 

Once out of France, Nancy made her way to England where she received training in Special Operations. Nancy returned to France in 1944, tasked with helping the French Resistance organise and prepare for D-Day. She organised parachute drops of arms and supplies, and actually experienced combat against German troops. 

It wasn’t until after the liberation of France that Nancy learned that the Gestapo had killed her husband in 1943. His death was something she never got over, as she held herself responsible because he would not betray her. She finished her time with the Resistance in 1944, and returned to Special Operations in Paris and then London. 

After the war she received medals and, in later years, honours from Britain, France and the USA for her service and bravery. 

On her return to Australia she tried to enter politics more than once, but her attempts to win a seat in Parliament were unsuccessful. Restless and unfulfilled, Nancy travelled to England in 1957 and married again, returning to Australia with her husband. 

Nancy Wake published her autobiography, ‘The White Mouse’ in 1985. 

After her husband’s death in 1997, Nancy sold her medals to provide for herself. She went back to England in 2001 and spent the rest of her life there. She died in August, 2011, and her ashes were scattered near Verneix in central France. 

I admire Nancy Wake for her gutsy attitude, her opposition to injustice and her total commitment to a cause. She is a woman in history whom others can rightly consider a most inspiring role model.

A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

This is a wonderful collection of children’s books that celebrate significant women in history.

I’m also very encouraged to see that the women featured in these stories are from different countries and cultures.

What a brilliant way to celebrate Women’s History Month in a way that inspires and educates our kids!

Pernille Ripp

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

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