Our favourite children’s books

To celebrate International Children’s Book Day on April 2, we asked the OUP Australia staff to name their favourite children’s books.

There were books that made us laugh and made us cry, but can you guess the only book that was mentioned by two staff members?


My favourite book as a child was Elizabeth Honey’s 45 + 47 Stella Street and everything that happened. The characters’ adventures taking place in Australian suburbia made me feel like I could see myself in the book, and as if everyday life had a lot more mystery!


I’ll go for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s about a boy who has the worst day ever – nothing seems to go right. And at the end of the day, when he’s feeling very dejected, his mum just tells him, ‘Some days are like that.’ It’s a good thing to remember, even when you’re an adult!


I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea – this story it used to make me laugh so much that a tiger was sitting down to eat tea and cake! And I loved the illustrations, I can remember my year 1 teacher reading me this in quiet time and I loved it so much I went home and asked for it for my birthday! I read it to my children now and they love it to and laugh at the same parts that I did.


I remember loving Unbelievable by Paul Jennings. I’m pretty sure I borrowed it from the school library many times. I also loved the books by June Factor (Unreal Banana Peel, Far Out, Brussel Sprout!, All Right, Vegemite! And Real Keen Baked Bean) because I found the poems funny and cheeky. I read and re-read these books many times. I also enjoyed the spooky Goosebumps books.


My daughter and I loved The Tiger Who Came to Tea, a quirky English classic I think, you never really do find out just why the tiger came or where it went afterwards. At a recent ‘Book Day Dress-up’ parade at my daughter’s school, one of the preppies arrived in a tiger suit holding a teapot. I think my daughter and I were the only other people there who knew who that character was!


I loved (well, still do love) Magic Beach by Alison Lester. My family has a beach house, and this book always reminds me of spending holidays there with all of my cousins. Sometimes we would read it while there, and we would all choose a different character from the book to be.


I was part of the generation who got to grow up alongside the Harry Potter kids, and I treasured every one of those books. Of course, part of the joy is in the fantastical adventures. But, I also loved how important it was that the characters learned new things along the way – about magic, but also about each other, and about themselves.

When in doubt, go to the library.


One of my favourite books to have read aloud to me as a child was The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover from ‘The Little Golden Books’ series. It’s a great interactive book that breaks the fourth wall by having Grover (from Sesame Street) try to prevent the reader from turning the pages of the book for fear of a monster at the end. Spoiler, the monster is him.


My favourite books were: Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss and Water Wings by Morris Gleitzman.


I only just discovered The Giving Tree when my daughter received it for her birthday. I can’t decide whether it warms my heart or makes me feel sad – let’s just say that it is bittersweet. It is about the relationship between a tree and a child, and how that changes as the child grows up. I also loved The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton and Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go – another book that is hopeful and heartbreaking at the same time. As I got older, I loved Bridge to Terabithia and Came Back to Show You I Could Fly.


My favourite children’s book is Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. This is a magnificent piece of Australian storytelling describing the turbulent life of a family with seven children who live in early outback Australia. The seven children are an entertaining cast of characters and at times prove to be sources of frustration for their father, the very strict, Captain Woolcot, and his new young wife, not much older than his oldest daughter. My favourite character was the lively Judy who always found herself displeasing her father by finding herself at the centre of some sort of mischievous and troublesome activity. In the book we are introduced to (or reminded of) the growing pains children and young adults are confronted with, many of which are relevant and resonate with modern readers.


I remember The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters by Allan Ahlberg being the most coveted book in the school library – the reserve list was insane! The reason it was so popular was because it was interactive (letters in envelopes) – a new feat in the early 90s. Very much worth the wait time.

One year for my birthday my Godparents bought me the audio book (in cassette-form) of Josie Smith by Magdalen Nabb. It was read by George Layton whose voice was so charismatic and diverse that it was incredibly easy to imagine Josie’s world in a small British town.

The series that made me fall in love with reading was Baby-sitters Little Sister by Ann M. Martin. It was a spinoff of The Baby-sitters Club for a slightly younger audience. The protagonist Karen Brewer was imaginative, assertive, sassy and my first literary role model.


When my kids were little, we loved reading a book called Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein and Ann James. The story perfectly captures domestic life with small kids and animals. There are four words in the book: cat, dog, in, out; but the detail in the pictures makes it fun to read over and over.


As a tiny tot I was obsessed with the illustrations of different types of families in The Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. In kindergarten I moved on to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, even though it spooked me a bit. In Primary School I loved anything by Roald Dahl, but particularly Boy and Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Answer: The Tiger Who Came to Tea was Amanda and Emma’s favourite.

The rise of ‘plogging’

For a moment, I thought that my style of running had been given its own name. Halfway between a plod and a jog, the word ‘plogging’ seemed to perfectly describe my slow, awkward gait.

But, while ‘plogging’ does refer to the act of jogging, its meaning is quite different to the one I imagined.

According to OxfordDictionaries.com, ‘plogging’ is a Swedish portmanteau of either plocka upp (pick up) or plocka skräp (pick up litter) and jogga (jog) and refers to an eco-friendly trend that has seen runners in Scandinavia, France, and even Thailand, burning calories and cleaning up their communities at the same time. Instead of running past any litter they encounter on their routes, ‘ploggers’ go out of their way to pick it up, often stuffing it into a bag they’ve toted along for that purpose.

The term ‘plogging’ arose in Sweden in 2016 and is still very new to the English-speaking world. However, there are three reasons which might mean that ‘plogging’ becomes more widely adopted.

  • A growing interest in Scandi lifestyle trends

IKEA aside, the ‘untranslatable’ (and Word of the Year 2016-shortlisted) hygge phenomenon comes to mind, with The Little Book of Hygge, The Book of Hygge and Hygge all distributed in Australia since 2016. Hygge refers to ‘A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. Similarly, the increasingly popular, lagom, meaning something like ‘neither too much nor too little’ is another Swedish lifestyle word OxfordDictionaries is currently tracking.

The tiny house movement, for example, has enjoyed increased attention over the last decade, offering a solution to the lack of affordable and eco-friendly housing one tiny (less than 500 square feet) package at a time. In Australia, there has been a marked increase in people who want their own tiny house, according to The Conversation. Tiny house groups on Facebook have been appearing since 2013, with original Facebook pages such as Tiny Houses Australia attracting nearly 50,000 followers. Other increasingly popular lifestyle trends include urban farming and solar paneling, to name but a few.

  • A growing interest in running for exercise

Running for exercise, as we know it today, hit the ground running in the 1960s and has been a fairly consistent fitness favourite ever since, with enthusiasm for the sport currently on the rise – particularly in the number of people taking part in marathons worldwide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Australians running or jogging as a sport or recreation almost doubled from 2005-06 until 2012.

Plogging’ combines all of these trends neatly, so while it’s not guaranteed a place in Oxford dictionaries yet, a close eye is being kept on the word to see if it takes off, hygge-like, in English.

And in the meantime, perhaps I will attempt to combine my plodding gait with the more sophisticated act of ‘plogging’.

Oxford University Press Australia has a wide range of dictionaries, from the Oxford First Dictionary to the best-selling Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.


How dictionaries can help children become independent readers

The first time a child reads a chapter book on their own is an exciting milestone in their literacy journey. Suddenly, they can explore the world of books at their own pace, without always relying on having an adult beside them. But is there a way of encouraging and supporting children in their early years of independent reading to ensure their love of books continues?

In my household, one of the signs of my seven-year-old son’s emerging ability to read independently was a new fascination with words, such as tremendous and astonished, which are rarely heard outside of Enid Blyton books. Similarly, we could all tell that my niece had also been reading Blyton’s books when she started calling her brother’s behaviour ‘horrid’.

However, it is not just quaint words from old English that have emerged as new words for my son since he started reading independently. I have also been surprised by his use of unusual and sophisticated language found in David Walliams’  bestselling books.

In Mr Stink, there is an item which the titular character has purloined and a cloud which is malevolent. The tramp is described as not just smelly, but malodorous, and Christmas songs play incongruously in the background.

In his books, Walliams does not talk down to children and uses words that might challenge the most literate of parents. And I think this is a good thing. It is extremely valuable for children to build their vocabulary, especially when reading unfamiliar words in the context of a sentence within a book they are enjoying.

But while I was happy my son was building his vocabulary, I worried that his need to keep getting out of bed to ask the meanings of words might frustrate him and stifle his enjoyment of reading.

One way that I found to solve this problem was to offer him a children’s dictionary so he could look up words he hadn’t seen before on his own. My seven-year-old son has started grabbing his Early Years Dictionary to find the meanings of unfamiliar words, and the very act of looking up and reading the correct definitions has become part of the fun of reading. The dictionary has proved to be a useful tool to encourage and support his independent reading and build his vocabulary.

In a paper titled Vocabulary, written as a Closing the Gap Initiative, Anne Bayetto wrote of the importance of the  increased vocabulary children gain through reading widely.

“The link between vocabulary and comprehension is strong and significantly influences academic success,” she wrote.

“Vocabulary knowledge is fundamental to being an independent and successful reader and writer and is comprised of the words that are understood when heard or read.”

As mentioned before, building one’s vocabulary does not have to be boring, and discovering new words is often part of the fun of reading.  In an article published in The Chronicle, Alberto Manguel remembers the experience of asking a teacher what a word meant and being directed to the dictionary.

“We never thought of this as a punishment. On the contrary: With this command we were given the keys to a magic cavern in which one word would lead without rhyme or reason (except an arbitrary alphabetical reason) to the next.”

And so, with the help of some good books and a dictionary, I am enjoying watching my son discover new words and broaden his vocabulary – even if it might involve describing his sister as ‘horrid’.

Definitions according to Oxforddictionaries.com

Tremendous, adjective

1             Very great in amount, scale, or intensity.

‘Penny put in a tremendous amount of time’

‘there was a tremendous explosion’

Astonished, adjective

1             Greatly surprised or impressed; amazed.

‘he was astonished at the change in him’
‘we were astonished to hear of this decision’

Horrid, adjective

1             Causing horror.

‘a horrid nightmare’

Malodorous, adjective

1             Smelling very unpleasant.

‘leaking taps and malodorous drains’

Purloin, verb

1             Steal (something)

‘he must have managed to purloin a copy of the key’

Malevolent, adjective

1             Having or showing a wish to do evil to others.

‘the glint of dark, malevolent eyes’

Incongruous, adjective

1             Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.

‘the duffel coat looked incongruous with the black dress she wore underneath’


The Oxford children’s dictionaries are available from Oxford Australia.


Oxford First Dictionary

How teachers can bring digital technology into the literacy classroom

Teachers know that change is a constant in the classroom, and this has  never been truer than in today’s digital world. New technologies are not only changing the way children live, but also how they are taught, and teachers are embracing these opportunities.

According to Australian Literacy Educators’ Association President Beryl Exley, a shift towards digital literacy is one of the main changes teachers are seeing in the classroom; other changes include the teaching of visual literacy, media literacy, critical literacy and  functional grammar, rather than just traditional grammar.

She described these changes not as trends, but as substantial parts of the curriculum. According to Ms Exley, digital technologies  offer great opportunities for literacy educators when used alongside more traditional methods.

“The digital world is the reality, and it brings certain challenges, not to replace existing curriculum but to extend it,” she said.

The digital environment can make an impact on the way grammar itself is taught, due to the new platforms on which language is used.

Traditional versus functional grammar

Changes in literacy teaching are evident in the increased emphasis on functional grammar alongside traditional grammar.

The difference between the two is that while traditional grammar is based on normative rules and the standards of edited English, and is mainly limited to describing the linguistic elements of written or spoken texts, functional grammar considers how language varies within the context of culture – whether  in visual, audio, spatial or gestural modes.

It is not hard to see that this shift towards teaching functional grammar is, in part, due to the changing landscape in which text and language is available.

The new emphasis on functional grammar was highlighted in the release of the Australian Curriculum English (ACE) by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which drew upon the complementary methods of traditional Latin-based grammar and systemic functional linguistics (Parsing the Australian Curriculum English: Grammar, multimodality and cross-cultural texts by Beryl Exley and Kathy A Mills). The best of the past and the present, you could say.

A practical approach to bringing technology into the classroom

One way in which teachers have combined traditional and digital learning has been in developing a class blog about a certain subject. Ms Exley illustrated the role of  blogging in the modern classroom by citing a case study of primary school students using an online interactive blog to document their learning in science (The potentials of student initiated netspeak in a middle primary science-inspired multiliteracies project by Jay Ridgewell and Beryl Exley).

The study revealed that the blog extended the time and space available for student reflection outside the teacher-led class discussion. However, the project was not without its pitfalls:  Exley and her fellow researcher found that school-based blogs, “engaged students in ongoing dialogue about scientific content in different ways to programmed learning and real face-to-face class discussions”, but “…failed to develop important forms of scientific literacy, most notably evaluation”.

Crucially, traditional teaching and evaluation should underpin digital activities to ensure that other important elements of learning were not neglected in the contemporary classroom.

In another study, an eight-year-old boy engaged in travel blogging, an activity found to provide a pleasurable experience as well as pedagogic benefits (Children’s pedagogic rights in the web 2.0 era: A case study of a child’s open access interactive travel blog by Beryl Exley and Linda-Dianne Willis).

As students, even in their earliest years of education, become more comfortable in the digital sphere, literacy teachers have the opportunity to embrace newer technologies, while using existing methods to extend their learning experiences.

Literary New Year’s resolutions from the OUP Team

As the end of 2017 draws near and we look towards a new year with varying degrees of optimism, it’s time to consider our New Year’s resolutions.

In the OUP office, we have eschewed the usual resolutions involving eating and drinking less and exercising more, in the hope of having a higher level of success (and continue to indulge in regular sugar-laden morning and afternoon teas) with our literary New Year’s resolutions.

Below is the list of novels that we resolve to read in 2018, and some books that we think are perfect beach reads for the summer break. No scales or Fitbits involved!

Angela Glindemann, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

This year I want to read:

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien – This insightful author spoke at the Adelaide Writers’ Week this year, and I’ve been keen to read this book ever since. From what I’ve read, it combines a story of familial roots with the broader history of China in the twentieth century, and sounds like a fascinating read.

My favourite holiday read is:

The Town by Shaun Prescott – This is a delightful book for those who count existential thoughts as a holiday activity. It will make you question who we are and where we’re going, in an unsettling and uniquely Australian way. It’s not really a beach read, although there is a beach in The Town.

Marta, Marketing Coordinator, Schools Division

This year I want to read:

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson – the story sounds really interesting, about an older man needing to choose between his life-long possessions and his family.

The Sea by John Banville – this book won the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

The Silent Companions: A ghost story by Laura Purcell – I’ve always loved a bit of a ghost story and this one sounded interesting.

Sugar Money by Jane Harris – a story set in 1765 about slaves and their mission to smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – I stumbled on this book while searching for another Jennifer Egan book. The reviews were very positive and I discovered that this book was the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan – the newest release by Jennifer Egan. Once I knew Jennifer Egan was a Pulitzer Prize winner, I didn’t hesitate to add this to my wish list.

Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley – the story is based around a family farm and the hard choices that need to be made by the family.

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott – written by a National Book Award-winning author and the book was shortlisted for the 2017 Kirkus Prize. This novel is about three generations of an Irish immigrant family in 1940s and 1950s Brooklyn.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – this book won the 2017 Man Booker Prize. It’s about Abraham Lincoln dealing with the death of his 11-year-old son.

My favourite beach reads are:

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Fleur, Marketing and Communications Advisor

This year I want to read:

The Dry by Jane Harper – this book has attracted so much positive attention, and I love the way that Harper was so honest when she was asked about how the book came about, saying that she approached it like any project: educating herself, planning and finally, writing the book. It was a practical approach to the reality of writing.

The Choke by Sophie Laguna – this is another book that has been raved about on social media, so I’d like to see what the fuss is about. I’m steeling myself for a confronting read, but I enjoy it when a book makes a big impact.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris – I’ve always wanted to read a book by Sedaris, and I picked this one up second hand, so this is my chance.

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – A colleague mentioned they were enjoying this memoir detailing O’Farrell’s numerous brushes with death, and I think it sounds like an interesting concepts. I don’t usually choose memoirs, but this one seems to be a bit different.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – I read Strout’s Olive Kitteridge this year and loved how it was so grim, but also insightful and touching, and Anything is Possible one has attracted equally positive reviews.

My  favourite beach reads are:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – it allows the reader to enter a different world, and become part of an Indian family, with all of the complexities that involves. It’s an easy but immersive read, perfect for the beach.

Commonwealth by Anne Patchett – this is another story about family, but a different one. Commonwealth details the life of a complicated family that is broken apart, then put together in a different way. It regularly takes the reader to sunny days at the beach, that echo a childhood and sense of long summer days familiar to many Australians.

Nami Thompson, Sales and Administration Support

This year I want to read:

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – For 2018 I would like to read George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series to fill the void left by Games of Thrones as the final season won’t premiere until 2019.

My favourite beach read is:

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris –  t’s a hilarious collection of illustrated fables for adults.

Emma Magill, Publishing and Editorial Manager

My favourite beach read is:

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue – I have recommended this book to everyone and anyone who will listen! It is warm, funny and full of heart. It cleverly manages to be an easy, absorbing read while exploring complex social issues such as immigration and the global financial crisis.

Alex Chambers, Editorial Coordinator, Higher Education

This year I want to read:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (which everyone keeps raving about)

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (before the film comes out)

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (which I hope can make me smarter)

My favourite beach read is:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read this for my book club this year and it’s a winner.

Valerie Stoelen, Editor: Secondary

This year I want to read:

Mythos by Steven Fry – because … Greek myths + Steven Fry

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – because … the beautiful special edition hardcover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – because … it is still in the bestseller list and I have almost bought it so many times

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard – because … (the next book in the Red Queen series) teenagers with superpowers + monarchy

Jordan Irving, Editorial Coordinator

This year I want to read:

These are all the books I have on reserve at the library which aren’t expect to arrive until 2018!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

My favourite holiday read is:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

The Ripley series by Patricia Highsmith

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Frances O’Brien, editor

This year I want to read:

Zanzibar Wife by Deborah Rodriguez – I want to read the Zanzibar Wife by Deborah Rodriguez. I read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul  a few years ago and really enjoyed it so I am looking forward to seeing what her new book is like.

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich – I am also looking forward to reading Janet Evanovich’s new book Hardcore Twenty-Four, I absolutely love the Stephanie Plum novels and always devour them.

What are you planning to read during the summer break and in 2018?

The lighter side of the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

The word ‘equality’ might have been the Oxford Word of the Year, but not all entries tackled the big issues of our time.

Many of the entries from primary school students across Australia were funny and imaginative, bringing a smile to our faces as we read through the stories to put together our shortlist of words for the judges.

‘Slime’ featured in more than one entry (“it was brown and ugly. It felt watery and sticky.”), while alongside ‘freedom’, ‘refugee’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘bullying’, there were stories about ‘sausages’, a ‘rooster’ and a talking ant.

Unsurprisingly, fidget spinners were mentioned, but more unexpected was the fact that they were the theme of just one story.

In the spirit of Roald Dahl, made-up words included ‘mungry’, defined as ‘more than hungry’ and ‘hoodash’, which was a collection of letters two boys found in their adventures around Australia.

Here are excerpts from some of the entries that tickled our fancy, including a story about an ant who talked too much:


Food was also a hot topic, from macaroni to chicken nuggets:

CWOTY chicken

We loved reading the quirky rhyme submitted by one of the students:


Thank you to all of the schools who entered the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year competition. We look forward to hearing from you in 2018!

Find out more about the winners of the Oxford University Press Children’s Word of the Year primary school writing competition.


‘Equality’ named the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

After countless hours reviewing hundreds of entries, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand has announced its 2017 Children’s Word of the Year: equality.

The word is a result of an Australia-wide writing competition in which students from Grade Prep to Grade 6 submitted a piece of free writing up to 500 words based on a chosen word. The writing could be creative or factual, funny or serious.

A judging panel, consisting of academics and experts in children’s English language, evaluated competition entries based on a word’s popularity, use of the word in context, and frequency, to determine the Australian Children’s Word of the Year.

Equality was used in the entries to refer to a wide range of issues, including racial, gender, marriage, sporting, pay, disability rights and even sibling equality. It was included in both fictional and non-fiction writing.


OUP ANZ director of Schools Publishing, Lee Walker, saysequality’ is a topical example of how Australian primary school children are tuned in to the social conversations happening today.

“The prevalence of the word ‘equality’ seems a fitting reflection of the current social landscape, with children incorporating the word in their stories across topics of gender, pay, culture, marriage, disability, religion, race and sport.

“It warmed our hearts to see the diverse range of issues that were top-of-mind amongst Australian children, and further confirmed how observant children are of the conversations that make up the daily news and social discussions around them,” Walker said.

Other words to appear in the children’s entries were traditional favourites including family, friends and sport, alongside words that previously have not been as prevalent, including soccer (as well as AFL football), bullying and war.


OUP ANZ managing director Peter van Noorden said the competition provided valuable insights into what Australian primary school students are thinking and talking about.

“The competition was important in furthering our understanding of the language used in the modern Australian school yard. We also wanted to see how we differed from our global counterparts.

“In the UK, the 2016 Children’s Word of the Year was ‘refugee’, and this year was ‘trump’, so it was fascinating to see how Australian primary school students absorb similar social and political news that make up the daily news cycle.”

To read some of the winning entries and for more information about the competition visit the Children’s Word of the Year website, or join the conversation on social media with #cwoty.

Celebrating World Teachers’ Day with the best and worst teachers in literature

More than a few famous writers started their professional lives as teachers, or taught at schools or universities between books.

Before Dan Brown wrote his bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, he taught English and Spanish, while William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies might have been inspired by his experience teaching high school English and philosophy. Frank McCourt, Joanne Harris and Philip Pullman were among the other best-selling writers to have spent some time as teachers.

So, there is little wonder that teachers have frequently appeared in books, often inspiring or protecting their young students. But, not all fictional teachers are presented in such a favourable light.

To mark World Teachers’ Day, here are some of the most memorable teachers in literature.

Miss Honey (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda was surrounded by horrible adults, from her self-absorbed parents to her terrifying headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. But Miss Honey provided a ray of light for Matilda, protecting her from the worst of her parents and the cruel headmaster. Every child dreams of a kind and gentle teacher like Miss Honey taking them under their wing.

Miss Temple (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

What is it about teachers standing in for absent or neglectful parents? In Jane Eyre, Miss Temple gives Jane one of her first tastes of kindness and love, doing her best to shield her from the cruelty of the headmaster and showing her small kindnesses that Jane has rarely experienced before.

Miss Harris (The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson)

Like the best teachers in real life, Miss Harris is kind and patient, and identifies Gilly’s intelligence. While Gilly, like Matilda, had few solid and reliable sources of support at home, Miss Harris provided a sense of benevolent stability.


These teachers were respected and adored by their students. However, not all depictions of teachers in literature are quite so positive.

Sheba and Barbara (Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller)

Both Sheba and Barbara have their own flaws in Notes on a Scandal. While Sheba embarks on an affair with her student, Barbara also displays worrying behaviours, from her obsession with her colleague to her vindictiveness on finding out about the affair and satisfaction on reporting it. Sheba might be unstable, but Barbara is cruel. They are two teachers that most parents would prefer not to have in front of their children’s classroom.

Julian Marrow (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)

In some ways the perfect teacher – passionate, inventive and knowledgeable, in other ways, Julian Marrow is one of the worst. He draws his students in, ultimately betraying them. Was he the mastermind behind the book’s central crime? Or was he merely a narcissist? Either way, he is far from the ideal teacher he might seem to be.

Agatha Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda might have eventually come under the protection of the lovely Miss Honey, but before that, she fell victim to Agatha Trunchbull. With her heaving chest and her huge presence, she despises children and dolls out cruel punishments including making a student eat an entire birthday cake on his own, in front of the class, and spinning a girl around by her pigtails. Miss Trunchbull is the stuff of children’s nightmares.

Who do you think are the best and worst teachers in fiction?

How schools can prepare for the Phonics Screening Check – a practical guide

Oxford University Press White Paper: Phonics is Knowledge by Ruth Miskin Training consultant Hayley Goldsworthy

The Federal Government last week announced its commitment to introducing literacy and numeracy checks for Year 1 students. The literacy component would include a Phonics Screening Check.

Oxford University Press has developed a white paper titled ‘Phonics is Knowledge’ to help guide schools as they prepare for the checks. The white paper is available on the Oxford University Press Australia’s phonics information page, but below is a summary of the key points.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The Phonics Screening Check is a five to seven minute reading check for Year 1 students. The purpose of the check is to provide early identification of students who are struggling with the essential foundation reading skill and require appropriate intervention. The check will provide feedback for teachers and schools about their instructional approaches and supply impetus to make improvements.

In the UK, the check was introduced in 2012. A report published in 2015 found that since its introduction, schools have made improvements to the teaching of phonics, with the proportion of students achieving the expected standard on the Phonics Screening Check in Year 1 increasing each year.

How can your school prepare for the Phonics Screening Check?

Using the check alone won’t improve reading in your school – it’s what you do with the information that matters. The following questions provide a starting point that school leaders can use to review how they teach reading and monitor reading progress and whether you are teaching phonics effectively.

  • What is your understanding of ‘phonics instruction’?
  • If you asked your teaching staff: ‘How do you teach phonics?’ would there be consistency in responses?
  • Do you have a shared understanding of the different types of phonics instruction, such as synthetic, analytic, embedded and incidental? See the phonics white paper for details of each.
  • Which approach do you employ? Is it consistent, or is it a mixture of more than one approach?
  • How do you know if your current reading instruction is effective?

How you can improve your school’s phonic teaching

The white paper suggests a range of ways in which you can ensure your school is teaching phonics effectively, including:

Teach phonics regularly – It is not an uncommon practice for some schools to focus on teaching a ‘letter of the week’, but schools that have achieved the best reading results teach a sound a day. Every day a new sound is explicitly taught, and previously taught sounds are reviewed and consolidated.

Use decodable texts that match the students’ phonic knowledge – Lessons should provide frequent and regular opportunities for children to apply their phonic skills by reading carefully matched, phonically regular texts. Children should only be presented with texts that are entirely decodable for them, so they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. As their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences increases, so do the texts to practise reading.

Teach children to decode high-frequency words – Send home lists of sight words that can easily be decoded once a child knows a few sounds and can blend. Almost every word in the English language can be decoded; some are just trickier than others. Take the word ‘said’, for example, Children should be taught to identify the ‘tricky’ bit in the word – ai. The grapheme ‘ai’ in ‘said’ represents the /e/ sound. This way of representing the sound is irregular and is therefore the ‘tricky’ bit of the word. Understanding this will not only help a child to read the word ‘said’, but also to spell it accurately.

Carry out regular assessments – Ensure your assessments are used to inform teaching and learning. Assess children’s knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, their enunciation of sounds, their blending ability, and their reading of words and non-words. Identify children with additional needs to address this and close the gap early.

Ensure teachers have the required level of knowledge and understanding to teach phonics effectively – The teaching of reading is complex and requires specialised knowledge and skills. Adequate preparation needs to be given to teachers, not only through their pre-service teacher education, but also through ongoing professional development.

Adopt a whole-school approach – A high-quality phonics program should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research and a consistent, comprehensive whole-school approach should be adopted. All teaching staff should acknowledge that the teaching of reading is the shared responsibility of the whole school, under the direction of the principal and senior staff.

More detailed advice, including details of analytic, incidental/embedded and synthetic phonics, are available in the phonics white paper.



Helping teachers make sense of the Year 1 phonics screening check

The Australian Government today announced its commitment to implementing a nationally consistent literacy and numeracy check for all Year 1 students across Australia.

At Oxford University Press we believe effective literacy teaching, and specifically the teaching of reading, should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research.

In order to provide teachers with the tools to effectively teach phonics, we have developed a phonics webpage introducing teachers to the phonics test and information on why phonics teaching is so important.

Here is a short video introduction to phonics, featured on the webpage.

According to Dr Jennifer Buckingham, phonics plays an important role in teaching reading.

“There is an abundance of extensive and rigorous evidence-based research from all over the world about how children learn to read and the most effective ways to teach them.  Since 2000, there have been major national inquiries into the teaching of reading in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These reviews, along with copious amounts of other research, all agree and identify five essential skills for reading competency:

Phonemic awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound, in spoken words.
Phonics: The ability to decode words using knowledge of the relationship between sounds (phonemes) of spoken language and the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds in written language.
Fluency: The ability to read effortlessly with speed and accuracy.
Vocabulary: Knowing the meaning of a wide variety of words and the structure of written language.
Comprehension: Understanding the meaning and purpose of the text.”

The phonics webpage provides details about the phonics check and what it means for schools and teachers, and offers teachers assistance in choosing the right program for their school and details of phonics-based professional development events across Australia.

OUP’s phonics test information page aims to provide teachers with an understanding of the newly announced test, the role of phonics, and the implementation of phonics education to help them provide the best possible learning outcomes for their students.

For more on phonics and literacy, visit:

The Importance of Comprehension

Literacy tools to help parents ensure their children are school-ready

Phonics is Not a Dirty Word