Do you find it difficult to share your love of reading with the kids? Perhaps you are frustrated that the kids love digital games more than reading. The link below is to an article that may provide some help in getting young non-readers into books and reading.
When he published “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926, Ernest Hemingway was well-known among the expatriate literati of Paris and to cosmopolitan literary circles in New York and Chicago. But it was “A Farewell to Arms,” published in October 1929, that made him a celebrity.
With this newfound fame, Hemingway learned, came fan mail. Lots of it. And he wasn’t really sure how to deal with the attention.
At the Hemingway Letters Project, I’ve had the privilege of working with Hemingway’s approximately 6,000 outgoing letters. The latest edition, “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 4 (1929-1931)” – edited by Sandra Spanier and Miriam B. Mandel – brings to light 430 annotated letters, 85 percent of which will be published for the first time. They offer a glimpse at how Hemingway handled his growing celebrity, shedding new light on the author’s influences and his relationships with other writers.
The success of “A Farewell to Arms” surprised even Hemingway’s own publisher. Robert W. Trogdon, a Hemingway scholar and member of the Letters Project’s editorial team, traces the author’s relationship with Scribner’s and notes that while it ordered an initial printing of over 31,000 copies – six times as many as the first printing of “The Sun Also Rises” – the publisher still underestimated the demand for the book.
Additional print runs brought the total edition to over 101,000 copies before the year was out – and that was after the devastating 1929 stock market crash.
In response to the many fan letters he received, Hemingway was typically gracious. Sometimes he offered writerly advice, and even went so far as to send – upon request and at his own expense – several of his books to a prisoner at St. Quentin.
At the same time, writing to novelist Hugh Walpole in December 1929, Hemingway lamented the amount of effort – and postage – required to answer all those letters:
“When ‘The Sun Also Rises’ came out there were only letters from a few old ladies who wanted to make a home for me and said my disability would be no drawback and drunks who claimed we had met places. ‘Men Without Women’ brought no letters at all. What are you supposed to do when you really start to get letters?”
Among the fan mail he received was a letter from David Garnett, an English novelist from a literary family with connections to the Bloomsbury Group, a network of writers, artists and intellectuals that included Virginia Woolf.
Though we don’t have Garnett’s letter to Hemingway, Garnett appears to have predicted, rightly, that “A Farewell to Arms” would be more than a fleeting success.
“I hope to god what you say about the book will be true,” Hemingway replies, “though how we are to know whether they last I don’t know – But anyway you were fine to say it would.”
He then goes on to praise Garnett’s 1925 novel, “The Sailor’s Return”:
“…all I did was to go around wishing to god I could have written it. It is still the only book I would like to have written of all the books since our father’s and mother’s times.” (Garnett was seven years older than Hemingway; Hemingway greatly admired the translations of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy by Constance Garnett, David’s mother.)
An overlooked influence
Hemingway’s response to Garnett – written the same day as his letter to Walpole – is notable for several reasons.
First, it complicates the popular portrait of Hemingway as an antagonist to other writers.
It’s a reputation that’s not entirely undeserved – after all, one of Hemingway’s earliest publications was a tribute to Joseph Conrad in which Hemingway expressed a desire to run T.S. Eliot through a sausage grinder. “The Torrents of Spring” (1926), his first published novel, was a parody of his own mentors, Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein and “all the rest of the pretensious [sic] faking bastards,” as he put it in a 1925 letter to Ezra Pound.
But in the letter to Garnett we see another side of Hemingway: an avid reader overcome with boyish excitement.
“You have meant very much to me as a writer,” he declares, “and now that you have written me that letter I should feel very fine – But instead all that happens is I don’t believe it.”
The letter also suggests that Garnett has been overlooked as one of Hemingway’s influences.
It’s easy to see why Hemingway liked “The Sailor’s Return” (so well, it appears, that he checked it out from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. lending library and never returned it).
A reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune praised Garnett’s “simple but extremely lucid English” and his “power of making fiction appear to be fact,” qualities that are the hallmark of Hemingway’s own distinctive style. The book also has a certain understated wit – as do “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms.”
Garnett’s book would have appealed to Hemingway on a personal level as well. Though it’s set entirely in England, the portrait of Africa that exists in the background is the same sort of exotic wilderness that captured the imagination of Hemingway the boy and that Hemingway the young man still longed explore.
But Hemingway’s praise of Garnett leads to other, unsettling questions.
From its frontispiece to its devastating conclusion, Garnett’s book relies on racial stereotypes of an exoticized, infantilized Other. Its main character, an African woman, brought to England by her white husband, is meant to command the reader’s sympathy – indeed, the choice she makes in the end, to send her mixed-race child back to his African family, hearkens to an earlier era of sentimental literature and decries the parochial prejudices of English society.
However, that message is drowned out by the narrator’s assumptions about inherent differences between the races. Garnett’s biographer Sarah Knights suggests that Garnett was “neither susceptible to casual racism nor prone to imperialist arrogance,” yet Garnett’s 1933 introduction to the Cape edition of Hemingway’s “The Torrents of Spring” claims “it is the privilege of civilized town-dwellers to sentimentalize primitive peoples.” In “The Torrents of Spring,” Hemingway mocked the primitivism of Sherwood Anderson (cringe-worthy even by 1925 standards), but as Garnett’s comment indicates, Hemingway imitated Anderson’s reliance on racial stereotypes as much as he criticized it.
What, then, can we glean about Hemingway’s views on race from his exuberant praise of “The Sailor’s Return”? Hemingway had a lifelong fascination with Africa, and his letters show that in 1929 he was already making plans for an African safari. He would take the trip in 1933 and publish his nonfiction memoir, “Green Hills of Africa,” in 1935. The work is experimental and modernistic, but the local people are secondary to Hemingway’s descriptions of “country.”
Late in life, however, Hemingway’s views on Africa would shift, and his second safari, in 1953-4, brought what scholar of American literature and African diaspora studies Nghana tamu Lewis describes as “a crisis of consciousness” that “engendered a new commitment to understanding African peoples’ struggles against oppression as part, rather than in isolation, of changing ecological conditions.”
But back in 1929, when Hemingway was wondering what to do with an ever-growing pile of mail, that trip – along with another world war, a Nobel Prize and the debilitating effects of his strenuous life – were part of an unknowable future.
In “The Letters 1929-1931” we see a younger Hemingway, his social conscience yet to mature, trying to figure out his new role as professional author and celebrity.
How can parents best help their children with their schooling without actually doing it for them? This article is part of our series on Parents’ Role in Education, focusing on how best to support learning from early childhood to Year 12.
Literacy involves meaning-making with materials that humans use to communicate – be they visual, written, spoken, sung, and/or drawn. Definitions vary according to culture, personal values and theories.
We look to a broad definition of literacy as guided by UNESCO to be inclusive for all families. Children learn to be literate in a variety of ways in their homes, communities and places of formal education.
What research tells us
New research in three-to-five-year-old children’s homes and communities in Fiji, has revealed that children’s regular engagement in literacy across many different media has supported good literacy outcomes.
There were ten main ways of engaging in literacy-building activities. These included print and information, communication and entertainment technologies, arts and crafts, making marks on paper, screens and other surfaces like sand and concrete, reading and creating images, and talking, telling and acting out stories that were real or imagined.
Children also engaged with reading, recording and talking about the environment, reading signs in the environment, engaging in music, dance, song and, lastly, with texts and icons of religions and cultures.
These activities were enjoyed and valued by children and their families as part of their everyday lives, and were further bolstered by creating books with children in their home languages and English.
This research can be used to add to our discussions on how parents can help develop their children’s early literacy.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found daily reading to young children improves schooling outcomes, regardless of family background and home environment.
The OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results also indicate a strong correlation between parents reading and storytelling with children in the early years and reading achievement at age 15, with those students performing one to two years above their peers.
However, it is not just being read to that matters. The adult-child interactions are also very important.
These interactions need to be lively and engage children with the text-in-hand. Alphabet toys and phonics programs alone offer little to develop literacy, as they focus on a code without contextual meaning. Words, and their letters and sounds, are best understood when seen and applied in everyday experiences, driven by children’s motivations.
How to be a talking, reading, writing, viewing, and listening family
There are several practical things parents can do to encourage broad literacy and learning in early childhood years.
Don’t wait. Read what you are reading aloud to your newborn. Children become attuned to the sound of your voice and the tones of the language you speak as their hearing develops.
Share stories at mealtime. Provide prompts like: “Tell us what your teddy did today”. Alternatively, randomly select from ideas for characters, problems, and settings, for example: “Tell us about an inquisitive mouse lost in a library”. Oral storytelling provides a bridge to written stories.
Record on your phone or write down your child’s stories. Turn them into a book, animation, or slide show (with an app). Children will see the transformation of their spoken words into written words. These stories can be revisited to reinforce learning of words, story structure and grammar.
Talk about their experiences. For example, prompt them to describe something they have done, seen, read or heard about. Research shows children’s oral language supports their literacy development, and vice-versa.
Guide literacy in your children’s play, following their lead. For example, help them follow instructions for making something, or use texts in pretend play, such as menus in play about a pizza place. Children will engage with various texts and the purposes they have in their lives.
Books, books, books. For babies and toddlers, start with durable board books of faces, animals and everyday things with few words that invite interactivity (e.g., “Where is baby?”). Progress to more complex picture books with rhyming language. Talk about personal links with the stories and ask questions (such as “I wonder what will happen next or where they went to”) as these will support comprehension. Look to the Children’s Book Council for awarded quality children’s literature.
Talk about words children notice. Be sure the words make sense to children. Talk about what words look like, what patterns, letters and sounds they make. This builds children’s word recognition and attack skills, and understanding of what words in context mean.
Involve your children in activities where you use literacy. For example, if you make shopping lists or send e-cards, your children could help create these with you. Explain what you are doing and invite children’s participation (e.g., “I’m looking at a map to see how to get to your friend’s house”). Children can meaningfully engage with and create texts and see the place these texts have in their lives.
Above all, be sure the experience is enjoyable, playful, and encourages children’s active involvement. Literacy should be engaging for your children, not a chore.
Earlier this year Michael Mohammed Ahmad was voted one of Australia’s Best Young Writers by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH). The 2015 list, which included Maxine Beneba Clarke, Omar Musa, Alice Pung, and Ellen Van Neervan, was described by the SMH’s Linda Morris as a group of “outsiders writing about what it is to be an outsider”.
It is, however, Ahmad’s insider account of what it means to be Arab-Australian in the 21st century that singles out and distinguishes his work. Melbourne University professor Ghassan Hage described Ahmad’s literary debut, The Tribe (2014), as “an astonishing novel”. Angelo Loukakis, writing in the Sydney Review of Books, lauded the book’s insistence upon a community that is immanently “worthy of art”.
In an interview on The Conversation in January, Ahmad said:
For the last two decades the representation of Arab-Australian Muslims has been coloured by media reports of terrorist conspiracy, sexual assault, drug-dealing and drive-by shootings. I wrote The Tribe in an attempt to step beyond these limited and simplistic images. I wanted to offer a complex and humanising portrayal of my community and culture which, as we have all learnt in recent months, is playing an increasingly important role in contemporary Australian society.
I wrote The Tribe for Australians.
Published by Giramondo Press in 2014, the novel presents the world through the eyes of a child called Bani. Through Bani, we are introduced the House of Adam, three generations of a Muslim family that fled the civil war in Lebanon and emigrated to Australia in the 1980s.
The book certainly offers a stunning counter-punch to what Ahmad has outlined regarding the mainstream media representations of Arab-Australian experience and the current obsession with stories of radicalisation and the threat of homegrown terrorism.
But how does it achieve this? And what does it tell us about the role of fiction as a tool for thinking about the most challenging social and political questions of our time?
At a base level, the sheer time and energy required to read a novel renders it uniquely capable of the kind of sustained and complex forms of attention such issues deserve. This is especially pertinent, given the increasing pressure placed upon our attention by the over-stimulating, hyper-technologised culture of the 21st century.
Ahmad deploys the child narrator to afford readers a privileged form of access to the community he wishes to write about. Throughout the book Bani hides under beds, peeps through keyholes and eavesdrops on adult conversation. All of which make him, and the reader, party to a secret and strange universe.
The child’s gaze renders Tayta, the grandmotherly matriarch of the family, a semi-sacred presence, a tangible connection to the ancient culture left behind in Lebanon. Through the child’s eyes we see the father Jibreel as a towering character, a terrifying authority figure and the rock upon which the family is built.
Of course, such child-focalised narratives have a rich and distinguished literary history. We might think about Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837) holding a mirror to Victorian age, or Jim Hawkins, the perilous protagonist in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), or Scout, who provides the moral compass in Harper Lee’s landmark novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
In her review of The Tribe, Maxine Beneba Clarke criticised Ahmad’s reliance on this device, highlighting the naivety of Bani and his inability to carry a family saga like The Tribe. In my view, Clarke missed the point.
Ahmad’s narrative deliberately shifts between the child’s perspective and that of the older Bani who, from the perspective of his twenties, looks back to the world of his childhood. Such versatility allows The Tribe to expose the casual sexism, internalised racism and occasional misogyny of the community in which Bani grows up.
It also allows the book to take a more adult perspective, philosophically weighing up the sense of rootedness and deep connection that characterises so much of this world. Arab-Australian identity, we learn, is not some singular, homogeneous label. Rather it exists as a spectrum and contains more complexity and diversity than the mainstream media allow.
In this sense, we might well think of Bani and Ahmad as radical young Muslims – they defy expectations, challenge stereotypes, and disrupt clichés. The Tribe acts as both a love letter to the Australian Lebanese community and an attempt to submit it to form of critical scrutiny, one that is as honest and forthright as it is meaningful and sympathetic.
In fashioning the novel around three episodes – a birth, a marriage and a death – Ahmad implicitly questions the shallow materialism and rampant individualism of contemporary Western culture. As The Tribes’ huge cast of characters wanders in and out of its pages, we come to realise the intimacy and richness of such extended communities and think afresh about what it means to live a rich and fulsome life.
Through his unassuming narrator, Bani, Ahmad asks us to reconsider who, in fact, are the insiders and who are the outsiders within modern Australia, this most multicultural of modern nations.
The link below is to an article that considers whether it is possible to start reading too young.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the value of reading experiences when young.
The link below is to an article reporting on young adult books being purchased and read more by those who are not young adults.
Treasure Island was the first major novel of Robert Louis Stevenson. It was first published in 1883 and has remained a much-loved book. First penned as a story for boys, it was as a young boy that I first came across Treasure Island. It was the first real book that I ever read – certainly of my own choice. If I remember correctly, the copy I had was a small book, not much bigger than my hand and illustrated throughout. The illustrations weren’t coloured as such, but I think I may have started to ‘colour them in’ as I read the story several times. The name of the ship, ‘Hispaniola,’ came back to me in one of my first compositions at school. In that early attempt at writing I wrote a story about piracy and a ship called the Hispaniola. I believe I was written into the story, along with several of my classmates, though the original composition has long since been lost and the
plot a thing of the past.
Not until the last couple of days however, did I take up the novel once again and begin to read the story of Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins, and the journey to Treasure Island. It has been a long time now, since that first book I read and my taking it up again. It must be at the very least thirty years and then some by my reckoning. Remembering this book as the first I had really read, was the reasoning behind my picking it up again for another read.It is an easy read. It is not a long read. But it is an enjoyable read. If it is that then the author has achieved his goal in fiction I believe. To be sure there are many things that can be learned in reading a novel and many lessons that can be taught through a novel, but without enjoyment all else is lost. This is a short novel that can be enjoyed greatly.
I read this book by way of a Kindle, which shows that the future of Treasure Island lies assured into the digital future and beyond. I also own Treasure Island in traditional form and as part of a set of works, being the entire works of Robert Louis Stevenson. One day I hope to read more, if not all of this man’s printed contrinution to English literature and I look forward to doing so.
Treasure Island is the classic pirate story, coming fully equiped with the pirate talk which is so popular even to this day and the vivid description of a pirate adventure. The story is a great one that may well bring younger generations to read and pull them away from the Xbox and other gaming devices. It is a short read, with short chapters, which may be a useful tool in getting a young one to start reading – but it is the adventure of a life time for Jim Hawkins that will really draw them in and the promise of buried treasure.
If you have not read Treasure Island, pick up a copy and have a read. It is free in the Kindle Shop at the time of posting this review and well worth spending a couple of hours a day reading this classic – by the end of the week the story of Treasure Island will be completed and you will be the richer for having read it.
Buy this book at Amazon:
Today’s suggestion for changing the world was to get involved in Foundations for change. The suggestion was to set up a foundation or to try and get involved in one, perhaps by becoming a trustee/board member.
Hmmm, there are of course many foundations that one could possibly get involved in. You have a very wide choice, from environmental causes, to health and medical foundations, educational foundations, etc.
I have a very personal reason to get involved in a foundation and that in relation to diabetes research. My most important friend has severe diabetes and died very young. I have a small online memorial set up for here at:
I have a strong desire to set up some sort of foundation to help raise funds for diabetes research. I have no idea if this desire will ever eventuate into a reality – but it is something I will never forget about wanting to do at the very least.
Some day – some how – some time. That is what I want to achieve here.
For another foundation type idea have a look at this site:
This seems like a good idea – doesn’t appear to be such a thing in Australia.
A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton