The Legends of Literature

Fraser Bolton |  Head of English Faculty

While reading the newspaper last month, I was delighted to see a small article which announced the release by Australia Post of a new series of stamps honouring five “Legends” of Australian children’s literature. The stamps, to be released early this year, feature the faces of these five legendary authors, as well as the covers of some of their most famous books: Mem Fox (Where is the Green Sheep?), Alison Lester (Magic Beach), Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing), Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken goes to Paris), and the current Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman (Once). How pleasing it is to see these individuals being recognised for their valuable contribution to the Australian literary canon.

As a parent of young children, many of these authors are on high rotation in our house – and I urge all our College families to seek out stories by these authors if you are not already doing so! All five of these authors are undeniably clever wordsmiths, and also brilliantly adept at incorporating visual images – whether these are attention-grabbing covers, subtle sketches or full-blown coloured illustrations – in their vast catalogue of work. Anyone who dismisses “picture books” as unsophisticated or purely the domain of the very young would be surprised to explore the nuances of meaning in Shaun Tan’s books, for example.

I mention this because currently, in English classes across all year levels, students continue to explore the ways in which visual images enhance and add meaning to the literary aspects of the texts we encounter in all aspects of our everyday lives. I see this happening as our youngest students, as emergent readers, use the cues in illustrations to help them decode written text. Explicit discussion about the ways that images provide clues about the texts they inhabit also provides our learners with a toolkit which assists them in self-select engaging reading material from the College library. These skills are also evident as our Year 6 students, while exploring myths and fables from around the world, note the ways in which accompanying illustrations add layers of cultural meaning to these narratives. In Year 9, as students explore the theme of “Breaking Down Barriers”, they will discover the ways in which contemporaneous art and music help us to inhabit the world in which a text (whether poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction) was created. Our Year 11 English students are deep in the Jazz Age as they analyse the representations of characters, settings, themes and motifs in The Great Gatsby by comparing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic text with a graphic novel transformation by Australian Nicki Greenberg. This kind of rich, deep and meaningful learning is what we are striving for in our English classrooms. I encourage you to talk to your children about what they are learning and doing in their English lessons, and to speak to your child’s teacher if you would like to know more about the aims and objectives of the English programme.