Wow! Today Beverly Cleary is 95! She is a real hero to me. When I first started teaching I had huge success serialising her novels with my classes. We laughed together at Ramona, Beezus and Henry's antics and then the children were hooked and kept reading any book written by Beverly Cleary that I added to the classroom library. Then later when I was an English consultant, one of my jobs was to help schools instigate Drop Everything and Read programs in their schools. This was such a success that in the end I was doing it by remote control with a written package and phone calls to interstate and even secondary schools. So when I found out that America celebrates Drop Everything and Read Day on Beverly Cleary's birthday I think that is a very fitting tribute to a deserving author. Even later still when my daughter was learning to read, one of the first books she read independently and subsequently loved was a copy of Socks that we had bought at a jumble sale. So began her love affair with cats and babies!
On a less happy note. Today the shortlists for the Australian Children's Book of the Year awards were announced. The Early Childhood list is such a disappointment! Every year I make my own short list and every year I am disappointed. I spend my whole working week with children aged between 3 and 8 who are supposed to be the intended audience of this category - under the list the blurb says these books are 'intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages' and I think the judges sell them very short. Two of my picks would have been Jane Godwin and Anna Walker's All Through the Year and Bob Graham's April Underhill, Tooth Fairy, but they aren't there. How can Bob Graham's book make the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist, but not the Australian list? Is this going to be Harry and Hopper all over again? The Transition class (ie 4 year olds) have had All Through the Year in their room and one of the Kindergarten classes (ie 5 year olds) have had Jeannie Baker's Mirror in their classroom all term and when I suggested they go to other rooms the children were very quick to say 'we haven't finished with it yet!' Too often this category is won by a 'baby' book that has rhyme and rhythm and not much else. The books most borrowed from the library have humour, outstanding illustrations and a story that demands multiple readings. When school goes back I will have my chance to read all of the shortlist with children and gauge their responses. I hope I am wrong and get to write a retraction.