Australian kids books for 2023

6+1 of my top reads for kids for 2023

Dec 10, 2023

In my last blog, I highlighted my top 6(ish) favourite adult reads for 2023. (Click here to read that post). Today I’m highlighting 6 of my favourite kids' reads for the year plus giving you one tried-and-tested teaching recommendation to implement in your classroom this week.  

 

3 NOVELS

When I looked back over all the books I read this year, I was surprised to see that my list of children’s novels was much smaller than previous years (thanks to my focus on reading French themed books before my holiday, as well as my heavy focus on professional reads).

I’m sad to report that I didn’t enjoy all the books I read in this category this year and actually ended up with more on my NO list than my YES list. Here are three of the novels I did love:

 

Runt by Craig Silvey

Without a doubt, my top read for young people -and ‘young at heart’ people- is Craig Silvey’s adorable book, Runt.

At first, I was a bit confused about the intended audience for this book. It was only being sold in hardcover format and placed in different places by different bookshops- some had it in the children’s section while others had it nestled among the adult fiction. There was no blurb on the back and very little giveaway on the front cover. After reading the book, I can appreciate the challenge in placing this book in only one section in a bookshop- it’s really a book for all ages!

This heartwarming story is about a country girl and her adopted stray dog taking on a rich blow in threatening to take over their town. It’s a classic country kid vs rich city slicker story that has comforting Paul Jenning’s Round the Twist vibes.

This story feels like a classic that was written 20+ years ago. It reflects the world of my childhood- no smartphones beeping, online influencers or complex technology getting in the way of life. Rather, it’s a low tech, high adventure story that will warm everyone’s heart.

I have to add that as a dog lover, I couldn’t put this book down. Silvey perfectly understands the bond that’s possible between a girl and her dog and shows (not tells) this incredibly well throughout this book.

I loved this book so much I think it should be a compulsory class novel for students in years 2-5. (Time to boot an American text in favour of this home-grown Aussie beauty!)

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

This year Laurie (my husband) and I reread the Roald Dahl classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I know this book gets recommended on all the lists, but after being reminded of just how great it is, I can’t leave it off my top reads for kids list this year.

I hadn’t read this book since I was in primary school, and I think I loved it just as much reading it as a grown up as I did as a child. WOW! There’s no denying how incredibly talented Roald Dahl was as a writer. You just can’t beat his character descriptions and engaging storytelling. He really is the master craftsman.

How’s this for a descriptive piece of writing that creates a vivid image in your mind:

Mrs Salt bent further forward to get a closer look. She was now kneeling right on the edge of the hole with her head down and her enormous behind sticking up in the air like a giant mushroom. It was a dangerous position to be in. She needed only one tiny little push... one gentle nudge in the right place... And that is exactly what the squirrels gave her! Over she toppled, into the hole head first, screeching like a parrot.

 

Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks

This was my first Tristan Bancks book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Two Wolves is an engaging and fast paced story about two kids being involuntarily taken on the run with their parents. The kids aren’t sure why they have to hide from the police, but slowly work out that their parents have done something very wrong. This plot line was not what I was expecting at all! I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.

In the story, the kids have to make some tough decisions about who they believe and what they should do, which makes the whole thing a real page turner.

An old man tells his grandson one evening that there is a battle raging inside him, inside all of us. A terrible battle between two wolves. One wolf is bad – pride, jealousy, greed. The other wolf is good – kindness, hope, truth. The child asks, ‘Who will win?’ The grandfather answers simply, ‘The one you feed.’

This would be a great Lit Circles novel for students in years 5 and 6. (Yay for having another great Australian author in your Book Club pile!)

 

3 PICTURE BOOKS + 1 TEACHING SUGGESTION

We are so spoilt for quality texts in the Australian picture story book world that the idea of whittling my favourites list down to just 3 of them is COMPLETELY ridiculous!

I’ve read so many fabulous picture story books this year, but here are three I think I'll be returning to over and over again in the future:

 

Summer Blue by Trudie Trewin and Marjorie Crosby-Fairall

This book summarised my childhood experience of waiting for rain in the stinking hot Australian summers.

The writing in this book is so incredibly descriptive and poetic. I LOVE the transitions between days “Monday melted into Tuesday” and the strong verbs used throughout. The part where the author describes the noise of rain finally coming across the house roofs is the perfect description of the noise. “Rain gallops across the roofs.”

The writing in this book is so beautiful that I’d recommend it as a must-have mentor text in your toolbox. I have no idea why it wasn’t shortlisted in the CBCA awards this year! AHHHHH! (It was in the notables list, but not the shortlist.)

 

Stay For Dinner! By Sandhya Parappukkaran and Michelle Pereira

Sandyha is the author who previously brought us The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name. Stay for Dinner once again highlights Sandhya’s talented and creative use of strong words and beautiful sentence fluency, as well as her ability to write highly relatable stories.

This story is about the differences families have in their approach to eating their nightly dinner. It took me straight back to memories of eating at friends’ houses as a child, and then of experiencing my fist Chinese meal at Laurie’s parents’ house (complete with an embarrassing ginger-eating incident).

There are so many fabulous lines in this book- it could be brought out time and time again as a mentor text for effective writing. SURELY it will feature in the CBCA Shortlist next year!? (Let’s all cross our fingers).

 

Hope Is The Thing by Johanna Bell and Erica Wagner

This is a beautiful poem about hope and features some of Australia’s most beautiful and well-known birds.  

I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that keeps drawing me back to this stunning creation, but I absolutely love it.

Maybe it’s because I love birds and this book contains some of my favourites?

 Maybe it’s because of the absolutely stunning collages created by Erica Wagner?

(True story: I experienced love at first sight as soon as I laid eyes on these and immediately set about trying to get my hands on one of the originals. I was soooooo fortunate to meet Erica and tour her art studio and take home the original artwork used in the end papers for the book. This gorgeous image now takes pride of place on the wall behind the desk at Oz Lit HQ.)

Maybe it’s because of the fascinating backstory behind the book’s creation?

I absolutely love the idea that Johanna Bell read Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ and was inspired to write her own related poem.

In fact, I loved the thought of a poem inspiring another poem inspiring another poem so much, that I took the book to a year 5/6 planning meeting at Keilor Primary School and recommended it as a mentor text to spark beautiful poetry on the topic of ‘Happiness is…’ (rather than ‘Hope is…’).

The results didn’t let me down!

One of the teachers who taught the unit said she went from groaning at the thought of teaching poetry to enjoying it more than any other writing unit!

Check out one of the fabulous pieces of student writing that came out of the unit (it sure beats the normal football-focused student writing that you usually see!):

My favourite line is ‘Happiness is going home in the car with your scarf flapping around.’ I know that feeling: the absolute joy of winding down the window and hanging your winning team’s scarf out for all to see. Yes, that truly is happiness!

This is a poem inspired by a poem that was inspired by another poem. How cool is that!?

Hot tip if you’re inspired to use this book in your own poetry unit: the teacher in this unit focused on building students’ capacity to tap into what happiness really means to them (rather than having them write tired lines such as ‘happiness is watching sunsets’ or the like.

Get your students to think of all the tiny moments they’ve been truly happy. What were they doing?How were they feeling? Who were they with?

Of course, you should always model your own thinking to show your students how you think of what happiness is to you. Here’s a couple of examples from my own writer’s notebook:

  • Happiness is riding your bike in squiggly lines.
  • Happiness is every time the cat chooses you.
  • Happiness is the crunch of the trail under my hiking shoes.
  • Happiness is eating chocolate self-saucing pudding on a cold and wintery night.

 

There you have it: 6 fab book recommendations plus 1 excellent teaching ideas as well. 

P.S If you do happen to use my teaching idea, I'd love to hear about it. Email me at [email protected] to let me know how it goes. 

 

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