How school libraries can support student literacy rates

Looking for evidence in how school libraries can support student literacy rates?



The WA School Library Association (WASLA) has created an easy to navigate website that is a repository of many referenced articles about literacy, including:


  *   reports from Australia and other countries

  *   articles on reading, digital literacy and reading from the screen

  *   national and international literacy initiatives

  *   infographics on literacy

  *   how libraries are tackling literacy around the world


You can visit the site here:

New books

My best books for 2016

For me there was no big book such as The Goldfinch; The luminaries; The signature of all things or A little life this year.  In 2016 I seem to have read mainly Australian and Women writers.

I loved Family Skeleton by Carmel Bird. I found this story of matriarch Margaret O’Day trying to protect her families name from a prying Family Historian sweet and darkly funny.  Narrated by the skeleton in the closet, Bird uses many voices to tell this intriguing story.  Blink and you may miss the stunning

Barbed wire and cherry blossoms by Anita Heiss is a love story set against the background of the Cowra incident in the Second World War.  An Indigenous family decides to hide one of the escaped Japanese soldiers and tries to keep it secret from the authorities and their friends and family.  Mary who feeds Hiroshi in his hiding place every day slowly falls in love with him.  There are many complex themes in this slow burn story.

My feel-good catch up read this year was When Rosa came home by Karen Wyld first published in 2013. Mute Angelita wakes up one day to the first of many quirky and eccentric characters who come to her family house.  They are all connected with Rosa who left home many years ago.  Angelita learns why Rosa left home and why she needed to come back in this delightful example of Australian magic realism.

In contrast I walked away from reading The natural way of things by Charlotte Woods feeling as though I had been hit by a truck.  The story of a group of disparate women kidnapped because of their ability to embarrass men was uncomfortable but the writing was compelling.  I could smell the rawness of the characters and the countryside in which they find themselves imprisoned.

An isolated incident by Emily Maguire looked at the media storm which descends on the fictional country town of Strathdee, when a young woman is brutally murdered.  Narrated by the victim’s sister, this story is not so much a who-dunnit as it is an exploration of everyday violence and misogyny

The Dry by Jane Harper is a debut novel that won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.  A tragic death forces police officer Aaron Falk to return to the small town from which he fled as a teenager.  Naturally he has to face up the past in this enjoyable Australian Gothic which again shines a spotlight on misogyny and male violence.

I follow Clementine Ford on Twitter and was intrigued to read Fight like a girl.  I considered myself schooled by this passionate, raw and funny book.

Talking to my Country by Stan Grant also got me thinking.  This is about race and identity but it is a book which seeks to speak to all Australians.  I emphasised with Grant’s upbringing in rural Australia and his family’s constant movement

A Murder Without Motive: The killing of Rebecca Ryle by Martin McKenzie-Murray. This was the best Australian true crime story that I have read since The shark net.  There were many facets to this book but I was intrigued by its portrait of the northern Perth suburbs and teenage angst and boredom.

I loved The Road to winter by Mark Smith.  This YA novel is a very fresh Australian take on the dystopian novel.  Finn and his dog Rowdy live alone on the coast until he comes across a runaway who has some very nasty men after her.  Mad Max by the beach!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd is a few years old but about to be released as a film.  This is a beautiful fable for young readers about a young boy struggling with life.  I highly recommend it to adult readers.


This year I also caught up with Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast a memorial to her ageing parents.  This is sad and funny, and although confined to her family, there is much here for anyone who has watched their own parent’s decline.

Badass librarians of Timbuktu was an exciting read and a fascinating look at Illuminated Manuscripts’ and their role in the history of sub-Saharan Africa


Morrissey Autobiography

Morrissey presents his case with palpable bitterness in a book that offers validation in the end.

Bitterness and revenge inform this eponymous autobiography, or at least large chunks of it. Morrissey disses his bandmates, his record label, the press and the judges of the High Court, and he does it with incisive and bombastic logic. So much so that by the end the reader feels obliged to skim any more detail regarding the court case over the royalty splits among the Smiths:

Yes, time can heal.  But it can also disfigure … If the Smiths’ split was designed to kill me off, then it failed. If the Smiths’ court case was a second attempt to kill me off, it too must fail.

I was a Smiths fan but I came to them with the release of The Queen is Dead, which, fittingly, Morrissey believes to be the first complete album from the band. I have also enjoyed Morrissey’s solo output over the years. Reading this book took me back to listening to the Smiths and to Morrissey and, for the first time, to conceding that his solo back catalogue is equal to his recordings with the Smiths.

I wanted to read the book because of Morrissey’s gift as a lyricist, and the wonderful three-minute vignettes that he creates. His prose writing does not fail in this regard. He is sharp-tongued and funny – and every page gives a great quote.

However, the book opens in a very impressionistic, exhausting voice, which, if it had been sustained, would have made it unreadable. I felt that I needed to come back to each paragraph and stare until I could see the meaning hidden within the words:

Fields are places in books, and books are placed in libraries. We, though, are out here in the now, unchecked and ungoverned.

Finally, however, paragraphs made sense and stories started to unfold and I found the tales of the early Steven Morrissey the strongest and most interesting part of the autobiography, particularly when he writes about his schooling. His descriptions of his primary and secondary education will resonate with those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s:

No schoolteacher at St Wilfrid’s will smile, and there is no joy to be found between the volcano of resentment offered by Mother Peter, a bearded nun who beats children from dawn to dusk, or Mr Callaghan, the youngest of the crew, eaten up by a resentment that he couldn’t control.

Once he launches into the story of the rise of the Smiths, Morrissey presents his case and we are invited to judge. He is somewhat guarded but his sense of bitterness is palpable and he shows his disdain for his ex-bandmates by never agreeing to a Smiths reunion.

Morrissey famously had many run-ins with the press, who equated his art to his life. The story of him being branded a racist by the NME is well covered. Clearly Morrissey has chosen to write his own story and protect his legacy, and it is understandable that he would wish to put his case, but perhaps a more detached point of view might have been more convincing.

Merely being published by Penguin Classics has exposed him (and Penguin) to mockery in the UK press, but you have to admire the certainty that he shows regarding his own importance in the pop and cultural pantheon.

This is a book of parts and segments. There are a few placid anecdotes about Siouxsie and David Bowie and we get a sense of the difficulties for young pop bands starting out and getting ripped off by the adults supposedly positioned to protect the interests of the talent – an old story and wearing in the end. The book becomes more interesting when, after having spent his venom on his court case, Morrissey begins to describe the turnaround in his career. Do we not enjoy a redemption story as Morrissey CD singles releases reach the Number One spot in the charts denied to the Smiths? Morrissey’s excitement touring in Scandinavia is palpable: the size and youth of the audience provide validation and relevance to a middle-aged pop star. Readers can share his joy as he feels more secure in his artistic legacy:

Peace came at last with Vauxhall and I, streaming out in a lavish flow and leaving me stupid with smiles. A last sun warms, as if it had always been awaiting its chance.

For this reader and fan, the section detailing Morrissey’s solo career and recordings served to remind me that he is a significant popular music figure, who survived the break-up of his band and went on to greater achievements. I came away from this book with a few films and recordings I wish to track down, a renewed sense of the depth of the Smiths’ and Morrissey’s back catalogue and the poetry of the three-minute stories he told to music. The Smiths and Morrissey are constant earworms and Morrissey has convinced me in Autobiography that the law is an ass, and that he was the Smiths.morrissey

Student Reader of the Month for April

Ellie . . . . . .yr 11

How often do you like to read?

“I like to read as often as I can. I typically finish a book every month but sometimes when I have free time I can finish a book in one sitting. In between reading new books off my extensive list I go back to my favourites and re-read them. ”    

What do you like to read?

“ I like all types of books, especially tearjerkers, but the ones that stand out to me are ones that include a strong or controversial theme, including crime and racism. Books that I can’t put down are my favourites, the kind that keep you guessing and make you want to read ahead to find out what happens,so you have to cover the next page with a piece of paper to stop yourself.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“At the moment I am reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn which has already become one of the best I’ve read (even though I’m only half way through), but the one I have to mention is “Forget Me Not” by Anne Cassidy. I picked it up in a public library when I was around 12, and I have read it again and again since. It tells the story of a teenager named Stella Parfitt who must look after her alcoholic mother while she tries to hide from the Media who are hunting her down as they believe she is guilty in a case concerning their neighbour’s lost little girl. The book takes many twists and turns and every time I read it I get surprised. It is a young adult fiction, but I don’t think I will ever get tired of it. A must read for crime and mystery lovers.”







Staff Reader of the Month for April

Lynne Smith . . . . . . .English, Literature and History teacher

How often do you like to read?

“I am reading all the time! Whether it is novels for work, books of my own choice, the Economist, the Financial Times . . . . . I like catching the train to work so it is a great chance to read.”


What do you like to read?

“I love reading novels, whether the classics or something new; I have been reading more non-fiction books lately which has been really interesting. After going back to Sweden and Germany over the summer I have been trying to include more German Literature and Scandinavian fiction to keep working on my Swedish! I also enjoy a variety of newspapers/magazines: The Financial Times, The Economist etc. Of course I also enjoy reading my student essays?!


List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

Just one? That is such a hard question. One of my favourite novels is One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I studied this at uni and it was quite different to anything I had read before. One of my favourite non-fiction texts is “German Genius” – a really interesting book on Germany’s influence on science, philosophy, music, art ,economics etc




The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt

The two Hotel FrancfortsThe Two Hotel Francforts is an elegant novel of individual concerns set against a background of desperate times.

In Lisbon in 1940, two American couples meet up in the chaotic city as they join other exiles desperate to flee to the United States. The story is narrated by Pete Winters, one half of a middle-class expatriate couple fleeing their comfortable life in Paris:

The reader might have observed that to the conversation recorded above, my wife contributed not a word. I can assure you, however, that she was listening. I could tell by the way she ran her pearls through her fingers, like worry beads

Of all the ironclad arguments I had made against her staying in Europe, the one she had the hardest time refuting was that she was Jewish.

The Winters meet the Frelengs, Iris and Edward, bohemian sophisticates and independently wealthy, and their schnauzer, Daisy. Edward’s interest in him intoxicates Pete, who quickly adapts to a new and tantalising lifestyle while his wife languishes in their Lisbon accommodation. Iris Freleng befriends Julia, seemingly to protect her frailties but in reality covering up for much more.

As Pete becomes entangled in Edward’s fantasies and expectations, he looks at his own history and the story of his marriage. Behind her torpor Julia remains an enigmatic figure, much discussed in the novel, but barely through her own words or actions.

Edward circles around Pete and inveigles him into his world and the two begin a relationship. The time that they can have together is determined by Irene, who seeks to shelter Julia from the implications of the closeness of the two men. Pete gradually realises however that Irene and Edward have been down this path before, that he is one in a line of many, and that the Frelengs need him in order for their own relationship to thrive.

Pete is smitten and becomes quickly dependent on Edward, at which point the power switches in the relationship. Iris tries to gently advise Pete about how he should behave and to whom he owes his loyalties, but Pete is too obsessed to listen. He tells us the story of Julia and their courtship and their life together in Paris, but is too wrapped up in himself and his own obsessions to consider the impact of his own behaviour upon his wife.

Pete’s and Edward’s assignations, accompanied by Daisy, distract us from the real story, which explodes in the last chapters of the book, when Julia encounters her aunt Georgina, an important figure from her past, another exile, and seemingly the family black sheep. Julia flees the hotel lobby and runs to her room, rather than speak to Georgina.

From Georgina’s memoirs:

Much as I might wish the best for Alice, [Julia] I could not tolerate her … My mistake, I see now, was to think that she had the goods to lead the life I longed for her to lead – that exciting life of the aviatrix, the brave lady lawyer, the saloniste – when really, like her mother, she was mediocre through and through. In my own eagerness to nurture a young version of myself, I had given Alice more credit than she deserved.

Her aunt’s arrival in Lisbon finally spurs Julia out of her lethargy, and the consequences are shocking for both Pete and the reader. How can we have ignored Julia and her situation? Would this have happened if Pete had been paying more attention, rather than him being dismissive of his wife?

Julia’s actions now offer Pete redemption, an offer he seizes, and Leavitt ties the pieces up nicely in this well thought out and crafted novel of constraints, morals and behaviours, secrets and restraint. In this elegant and mannered novel Leavitt pushes forward themes of individual gratification and concerns against a backdrop of desperate times as thousands of refugees with Jewish background clamour to get on the ship that will take the Winters and the Frelengs back to the USA and to safety. I will not be the first person to think that Leavitt is the successor to E M Forster in style and themes; this could almost be Forster’s lost World War II novel.

David Leavitt The Two Hotel Francforts Bloomsbury 2013 PB 272pp $29.99

Student Reader of the Month for March

Georgia. . . . .yr 11

How often do you like to read?

“I like to read as often as possible; reading for me is an escape and helps me relax.”  

What do you like to read?

“ I love any kind of fiction books that are either wildly different to my life or quite similar,     which gives me new perspectives on my own life.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“ Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss is an amazing book, if you are looking for an escape from your boring life.       



“The Harry Potter” series by J.K.Rowling is an amazing series and is the reason why I’m             addicted to reading. Even though the series is quite long, I would highly recommend it to anyone!

“I am Malala” isn’t a fiction book but a biography about an amazing ,inspiring woman who is my age, fighting for her and all girls’ rights to education and feeling safe in their own country. Makes you feel her emotion and how lucky you are to be able live in such a peaceful country.”



Staff Reader of the Month for March

Michael Jongen. . . . Library Manager @ SSC 2016-

How often do you like to read?

“I read every day and generally am reading three books at a time. Working in libraries I get to see what people are reading and new books every day.”

What do you like to read?

“I am very eclectic in my reading. As a librarian I think my job is to read widely to reflect the broad taste of what Library users are reading. I need to ‘know my product’ in order to help people with their choices. I love a good story.”

List one book that has left a lasting impression on you and explain why it’s memorable . . . . .

“Emma by Jane Austen is my favourite book by my  favourite author. I was introduced to Jane Austen by a great teacher when I studied literature. Jane Austen wrote her novels in the early 19th century and her books were once dismissed as ‘women’s interest’ because she wrote about domestic life and marriage. However we now know that history should reflect everyday lives as well as great events and famous people. Emma was adapted into a wonderful film called ‘Clueless’ and transposed to a modern day LA. It is essentially about the battle of the sexes and I find it very funny.”