Introductory activities

The Book That Made Me builds on its editor Judith Ridge’s love of books, and assumes that this same love drives many writing endeavours. Ridge interviews 31 writers – mostly Australian – to find out which book is the one they remember as stimulating their love of writing.

Central to the book is a belief that reading and writing (including visual representations in graphic novels) are closely related acts. Each author confirms that their reading and memories of reading are linked to their own writing. But these responses also demonstrate the relationship between individual lives and the books we read, with particular moments or family occurrences connected to the reading event. In their responses, the authors illustrate how they read texts, and they discuss characters, setting, plot and ideas in ways that model the responses we want from our students.

This book can be used to support any close study of books, alongside a wide reading unit or as part of a Reading to Write unit. Links have been made to other Reading Australia resources on books by the contributing authors, providing insight into their stimulus for writing.

The title

The title The Book That Made Me immediately conjures assumptions about the relationship between the reader and the text. Ask students to consider what these assumptions are. Do they agree that a book can ‘make’ a person? Tally the responses.

Consider and discuss in small groups, and then as a class:

  • How does a book ‘make’ you?
  • What kind of person would write a book called The Book That Made Me?

Personal response

Students can now consider their own assumptions about books through the following activities.

Activity: your reading experiences

The following statements were made by contributors to The Book That Made Me. Tick the second column if the statements align with your own reading experience and attitude. In the third column, consider if these are positive (+) or negative (–) statements about reading.

Statements Agree? + or –
Growing up reading was my first and best thing (p. 9)
The stories I read filled me with a foolish desire to possess them (p. 18)
I learned to love reading early on (p. 29)
By the age of ten, I was addicted to books and reading (p. 59)
My world was books (p. 98)
We didn’t have many books at home (p. 183)
Books were as much a part of our lives as food, water and sunshine (p. 189)
What I read as a child troubled me (p. 205)
I battled through primary and secondary education unmoved by the written word (p. 211)
Class discussion

Are you surprised that some authors have had poor initial reading experiences? Explain why.

‘Let’s ask some random strangers’

Following the foreword, the first thing students encounter is Shaun Tan’s suggestion to ask strangers why they read.

Students can survey five different people outside the school environment to find out why they read, and report back to the class. This is important for raising awareness of reading’s breadth of uses.

Students should then keep a journal of their reading and writing practices over a week. They can include text messages, online content, posters, street names and directions, as well as print experiences. They can share their findings at the end of the week and class discussion can be guided to the importance of literacy in the community.

Outline of key elements of the text

This book contains:

  • a foreword by the editor explaining the stimulus for the book
  • cartoons by Shaun Tan introducing most of the chapters
  • childhood photos of most of the authors
  • 31 chapters by writers (including graphic novelists) about their early reading experiences, some using visual text to share their feelings
  • author biographies (‘About the authors’)
  • ‘About the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’ (authors have contributed all royalties to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation)
  • a list of books mentioned in the collection
  • a list of writers mentioned in the collection

Who do you know?

Give students the contents page, with the contributing authors listed, and ask them to tick which ones they know.

  • What kinds of books have these authors written?
  • Which of these books have students read?

Explore the authors’ work

Some of the authors in this book are featured in other teacher resources on Reading Australia: Markus ZusakShaun Tan, Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ursula Dubosarsky. Have students look at these authors’ works and see if they can make connections with the experiences related in The Book that Made Me.

Synthesising tasks

1. Sharing

Students are to:

  • sum up their beliefs about reading
  • write about their first memorable experience of reading
  • compile a list of authors they might interview for a book called The Book That Made Me

Year 11: (ACEEN009)

Year 10: (ACELY1752)

2. Writing about the book that ‘made’ them

Students should reflect on a book they could say ‘made’ them, including the following details:

  • a title for their piece
  • a childhood memory
  • a statement about the power of books
  • the name of a book or author
  • a school memory
  • discussion of the book in some detail

Year 11: (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELY1756)   (ACELT1641)

3. Reading

Students are to take the list of contributing authors (see the book’s table of contents) to the library. Working in pairs, students will search the shelves and collect books written by two authors assigned to them. They should read the blurb and perhaps a few pages, then report to the class about the authors’ work. Allow time for students to borrow a book by one of the contributing authors that they can read during this unit.

The writer’s craft

This is a nonfiction text that discusses fiction. It is written from the point of view of authors who are aware of their craft and that of other writers. This also includes graphic novelists, so there are several layers we can consider when deconstructing the text.

1. Structure

Introductory cartoons

Most of the chapters in the book are preceded by Shaun Tan cartoons. We can use these cartoons in a number of ways:

  • Give students copies of the images separated from their captions, and have them determine which goes with which (this can be limited to 5–10 images/captions). This is important visual literacy in action.
  • Ask students to identify the attitude to reading that each statement conveys. This may need scaffolding, taking one of the sayings and discussing it as a class first. For example, ‘I’m a bookworm’ is a very personal comment that identifies the speaker as an avid reader, while ‘I love beauty’ conveys that books have a beauty about them and reading allows us to access this beauty.
  • Students can then decide the statements with which they identify, or whether they need to add a new one to cover their own experience with reading.

The following words appear alongside each cartoon:

I’ll never know what I’ll find. p. 16
I’m a bookworm. What more do you need to know? p. 23
I like books about ponies. You got a problem with that? p. 27
I’m researching ancient Roman bloodsports! p. 33
I like urban paranormal Victorian steampunk speculative romance. A lot more than your dumb questions. p. 41
I love all your crazy Earthling antics! p. 50
I love beauty. p .66
I seek truth. p. 73
I can live many lives. p. 83
I want to experience emotion. p. 95
I like the words. I like the pictures. p. 103
I love language. p. 111
I enjoy seeing things from a different point of view. p. 132
I’m recharging my imagination. p. 143
I like short stories. p. 151
I like BIG stories. p. 159
I can take my time. p. 167
rarf! p. 173
It turns a boring commute into an ADVENTURE. p. 181
…mnrf … can’t talk … gnrr… p. 195
I’m growing my own wisdom. p. 203
I’m learning how to make my own books! p. 210
Nobody can tell me what to think. p. 232

Differentiate: Students who need support can be offered a ‘mix and match’ activity. One column can list the Tan cartoon statements (listed above), while the other column contains attitudes that need to be aligned to the correct statement.

This activity could be followed up by:

  • Reading Shaun Tan’s chapter (p. 51 ff) to see what inspired him, and then looking at his website to see how he presents himself and his work.
  • Speculating which contributors might match the attitudes conveyed by the cartoon comments.

Year 11: (ACEEN003)

Year 10: (ACELY1749)

Activity: design a cartoon about reading

Cartoons could be based on a metaphor such as: ‘Reading takes you along untrodden pathways.’ Students may need to research quotations about books and reading if they have trouble thinking of their own.

Year 11: (ACEEN011)

Year 10: (ACELY1776)


The book is structured into 31 distinct chapters by 31 authors. Each chapter, however, has its own internal structure unique to the author.

Given the book’s title and purpose to find ‘foundational’ books, most chapters start with childhood memories; the chapter may open with a direct response to the question implied by the book’s title, or it may answer indirectly. For example, Mal Peet’s title (‘It looks like a comic’) tells us that comics were his first real reading attachment, while Catherine Johnson’s title (‘Only white people lived in books’) suggests that her first reading experiences privileged ‘white people’.

Most chapters are written in prose paragraphs and may:

  • have a distinguishing title
  • start with a childhood memory
  • make a statement about the power of books
  • name a book or author
  • include a school memory
  • discuss the book in some detail

There are, however, chapters that are presented as a list, a graphic novel or a poem, or with subheadings.


Students can:

  • Look at the titles the authors have assigned to their chapters (see table of contents, pp. 6–7) and predict what will follow.
  • Read the first lines of every chapter and report back on the different openings and what they emphasise.
  • Determine the structure of an assigned chapter.
  • Discuss the impact of the form chosen for writing.
  • Confirm whether or not the chapter is written in first person.

Students should present their findings to the class and consider any other ways that a chapter could have been presented.

Year 11: (ACEEN018)

Year 10: (ACELT1774)

Close reading

Elements of novel study

Students have spent many years studying novels, so they should know that the elements of close reading (such as plot, character, setting, point of view and language) all lead the reader to the theme.

An interesting feature of this nonfiction text is that literary analysis is buried within the chapters, and is used as a way of exposing why a book stimulated such a strong response. Ask students to annotate the following passage from the Shaun Tan chapter. They need to annotate or highlight in different colours: title of text, genre, plot, character, effect, audience.

Ron Brooks is one of my favourite illustrators, and I’d recommend his book Fox with Margaret Wild, a terrific picture book writer not afraid to tackle big subjects. This very universal fable has a touch of Orwell about it: a half blind Dog rescues a crippled Magpie, and together they help each other survive in the bush – until lonely Fox comes along to lure Magpie away. Yet Fox doesn’t want to befriend or even eat her. He just wants her and Fox to know what loneliness is like. It’s gut-wrenching stuff, and could only achieve full impact as a short innocent-looking picture book. Children, of course, know all about this kind of social carnage, and no doubt enjoy seeing it presented honestly as much as adults do. (p. 55)

Then ask students what other features of texts they could include in an analysis. They might answer ‘language’ or ‘context’ as well as ‘theme’. Refer them to other pages to look closely at the analyses, and discuss what people do when talking about texts.

Students might want to look at:

  • how Fiona Wood has used subheadings for her analysis of Ann of Green Gables (pp. 59–65)
  • how Felicity Castagna discusses The House at Mango Street in her first paragraph (p. 76)
  • how Queenie Chan draws on literary analysis and the graphic novel genre to discuss her book choice (p. 88)
  • Kate Constable on Tom’s Midnight Garden (pp. 99–101)
  • Alison Croggan on Lord of the Rings (p. 135)
  • Jared Thomas on The Power of One (p. 127)
  • why The Odyssey was important for Catherine Mayo (p. 165)
  • Sue McPherson’s summaries of a few books (pp. 211–216)

…or any other text description they locate in the book.

Year 11: (ACEEN019)

Year 10: (ACELT1641)


Characters perform many roles and lie at the core of the relationship between the author and the reader:

[The books] might bring to life a person who is struggling with a situation I didn’t know existed, I can know how it feels for them (the window), or they might put the character up against some situation that reflects mine own in the world (the mirror) and, in the process, clarifies how I feel about it. (Mandy Hager, p. 48)

Readers identify with or against the characters they encounter, and this is what we find in the discussions in this book. Rachel Craw tells us, ‘I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it then but now I think I was looking for a protagonist I could identify with’ (p. 108). A sense of identity being excluded is seen in the comments of Indigenous writer Catherine Johnson, who realised that, ‘Much as I loved the books, I never imagined myself as one of those kids.’ (p. 163)

Along with being sources of identity, characters act as a model of the kind of behaviour we want to emulate. Fiona Wood found: ‘It was hugely liberating to see a character like Ann making large scale mistakes and recovering from the grief, injury or embarrassment that ensued’ (p. 64).

Year 11: (ACEEN008)   (ACEEN018)

Year 10: (ACELY1749)   (ACELT1639)


Students need to answer the question: ‘What do we learn from characters in books?’ They should read through the chapters to see which characters appeal to the different writers and why.

  • Students then return to their own reading and consider the character with whom they best identify (and why).
  • They can then write and invent their own characters: one they would identify with and one they would not.

Year 11: (ACEEN009)

Year 10: (ACELT1639)


Books and stories are conveyed through language, whether it be visual, aural, verbal or some combination of these modes. The impact of language choices is implicit in some chapters and explicit in others as the writers explain what they do. The authors remind students that language starts with words, which build sentences, which create the paragraphs that make up the story.

Brigid Lowry saw words as central to the study of English when she was at school: ‘In English words were considered important. They reigned supreme. Both of these are good words: reigned and supreme. I collected words in my notebook’ (p. 199). Catherine Johnson admits the influence of Dr Seuss in her early years, saying, ‘I owe him pretty much everything when it comes to words’ (p. 183).

Cath Crowley moves from words to sentences, explaining how the former come together in the latter: ‘the right words, in the right order and rhythm, mess with you exactly the right way. Sentences written well point at things with their shape – here, look at this sadness. Here, look at this light’ (p. 149).

It is James Roy, however, who explores the idea of language in depth, and shares his love of first encountering a sentence fragment and realising the importance of breaking rules:

Two words, ‘Josh drowning’. No green squiggly line, just one perfect, ‘incomplete’ sentence. Matter of fact. No embellishment. Direct. Terrifying. Yes, I clearly remember reading The Sentence and thinking, Aha! I knew it! Rules can be bent, even snapped in half! (p. 224)

  1. Students can explore words in their own reading. They can emulate Brigid Lowry and collect words they like in a notebook.
  2. They can extend this and collect sentences or place their words in sentences.
  3. Students can find or write the type of sentences that Cath Crowley describes: one that says ‘look at this sadness’ and another that says ‘look at this light’.
  4. They can then look for the sentence fragments that interest James Roy in the book they are reading, and discuss how these create an effect. Would full sentences have been as effective? They can rewrite their sentence fragments as full sentences and read these aloud to see how the ‘magic’ is broken. This is a good way of teaching how sentence structure can create rhythm and control tone, mood and effect.

Year 11: (ACEEN006)

Year 10: (ACELT1641)

Text and meaning

Audience and purpose

Audience and purpose are important for understanding the way texts work. Given that Judith Ridge created the book, we should return to her Foreword and ask students: who was the audience and what was the purpose of the book?

Ridge writes that:

Thinking about the writers I knew and loved, I wondered what was the book that ‘made’ them – the book that made them fall in love, or made them understand something for the first time? Made them think. Made them laugh. Made them angry. Made them safe. Made them feel challenged in ways they never knew they could be, emotionally, intellectually, politically. Made them readers, made them writers – made them the person they are today? (pp. 10–11)

  1. Read this passage to students and ask them to sum up the assumptions that are conveyed about reading, writing and writers. What is the purpose of books if we follow this train of thought?
  2. Then discuss: ‘Who is this book addressing?’

Exploring themes

Change the imagination and you can change the world. (Felicity Castagna, p. 77)

The message of this text centres on our relationship with books, with each author expressing this in their own way. But there is an additional message about the relationship between reading and writing. As we see in the quotation above, books are about the world we have – and want to have.


Firstly, students need to be clear on how to express a theme. A theme is not a single-word topic (creativity, reading, writing, inspiration). Rather, it is about the attitudes, beliefs and values that the text conveys (e.g. reading is a powerful way of tapping into other ways of being).

A theme is expressed as a general conceptual statement about how we live our lives or, in this case, engage with books. We could say that it is the philosophy that underpins the author’s beliefs and attitudes and reveals what they value.

Students can:

  • locate the philosophical (deep and meaningful) statements that indicate a theme in each writer’s chapter
  • express what they value about books as a statement of theme
  • write suitable themes suggested by the chapter titles (see table of contents, pp. 6–7)

Year 11: (ACEEN006)

Year 10: (ACELT1812)

Synthesising tasks

1. Writing on ‘reading and writing’

Give students some of the writers’ statements about books to use as a springboard for their own writing. Students can choose the form, or you may direct them to write an imaginative, reflective, discursive, informative, persuasive or other piece. You can specify the length.

You may ask students to start or end with the statement, or simply use the ideas in the statement as a stimulus for their writing. Statements to share with students could include:

  • Every story matters and we all have the power to influence the future. (Ambelin Kwaymullina, p. 82)
  • The story of who I am is formed by, and linked with, so many others. (Ambelin Kwaymullina, p. 80)
  • Fiction has always explained to me things outside my direct experience. (Fiona Wood, p. 61)
  • This is the magic of truly great fiction: it can either provide a mirror in which to reflect what is going on (in ourselves or our world) or it can become a window (to see into a life other than our own). (Mandy Hager, p. 47)
  • We need the magic of stories. (Cath Cassidy, p. 32)
  • You never stop learning from other writers. (Alison Croggan, p. 133)
  • So if nothing else speaks to you, then pick up a pen and speak for yourself. Yours may be the voice that someone else is looking for. (Will Kostakis, p. 40)

Year 11: (ACEEN001)   (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELY1749)

2. Writing about the book that ‘made’ them

As a progression from the Synthesising Task in the Initial Response section, students are to reflect further on which book(s) they could say ‘made’ them, including the original details plus some additional ones:

  • a cartoon (NEW)
  • a title for their piece
  • a childhood memory
  • a statement about the power of books
  • the name of a book or author
  • a school memory
  • discussion of the book in some detail
  • an explanation of how their reading has affected or fed into their own creative writing (NEW)

Students can decide the format in which they present their work: a diary, poem, report, etc.

Year 11: (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELT1641)   (ACELY1756)

Ways of reading the text

Personal or political?

As we encounter different authors’ responses, feelings and ideas throughout the book, we start to see different ways of reading a text in a new context.

The search for affirmation of identity is seen as not just a personal act, but a political one too. Jared Thomas, with an Aboriginal background, was ‘drawn into the characters and their experiences’ in The Power of One and found a ‘deeper understanding of the futility of racism’.

For Ambelin Kwaymullina, writing is an assertion of her connectedness to a rich Indigenous past: ‘The story of who I am is formed by, and linked with, so many others. The Dreaming Ancestors created a reality where everything lives and everything connects in an ever-moving network of relationships’ (p. 80).

Randa Abdel-Fattah expresses some frustration with her early reading encounters. She ‘wanted so badly to be part of these books – as their reader, as their writer’, but realises that the ‘absence of diversity in the popular fiction I grew up with was, I believe, symptomatic of a collective imagination that equates mainstream with Anglo, and which casts Indigenous people, minorities and migrants as exotic, fascinating deviations from the norm’ (pp. 18–19). Abdel-Fattah found herself in Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi: ‘I identified with her world, the pressures and challenges of straddling what I considered at that age to be identities in competition with one another’ (p. 21).

The writers often note that more life experience and insights from our modern context are necessary in order to perceive books’ underlying political implications, as illustrated by Ted Dawe’s comment: ‘Looking at the book now from a fifty years later vantage point, it seems incurably colonialist, racist, sexist, and any other number of “ists”’ (p. 171).

Refer students to the important comments above and discuss:

  • Which groups are often absent in texts?
  • How does this affect our view of the world?
  • How do the silent voices assert themselves?

Depending on your students’ abilities, you may wish to explore theoretical perspectives like post-structuralism, post-colonialismfeminism or humanism, and how they each provide a different lens (or perspective) for reading books.

Year 11: (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN018)

Year 10: (ACELA1565)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELY1749)

Genre as a framing device

A consideration of genre as a frame for conveying information is another approach to reading texts. Students can consider how many of the authors are drawn to a particular genre in their reading or writing, and what it is they identify as important in that genre, e.g. the graphic novel (Queenie Chan), the picture book (Shaun Tan), legends (Catherine May), comics (Mal Peet) or oral stories (Ted Dawe).

Students should read the different chapters and notice what they say about genre. What features of genre appealed to each author? How has this affected the author’s own writing? Often the authors have made unexpected detours through different genres: someone like Mal Peet may have started with comic strips, but his later novels are very different. Sue McPherson is a screenwriter, but she has found that poetry is profoundly influential.

Students can then trace their own adventures with genre:

  • What genres have they read?
  • What genres do they prefer to read? Why?
  • Do they know any authors who write in different genres?
  • In what genres have they had to write, draw or speak at school? Which was easiest and why?


Readers often want to know about writers and what inspired them. Many books respond to this need.

The anthology Cracking the Spine contains ten short stories by well-known Australian writers, who each discuss the inspiration for their piece. This is different to The Book That Made Me in that it is less about encounters with books and more about events, words, turns of phrase or people the authors have met. This extends the idea of inspiration: it comes from books, but also from other life encounters. Another book about writers and writing comes from the UK: Flights of Fancy: Stories, Pictures and Inspiration from Ten Children’s Laureates.

Ask students: ‘How different is each of the above books (Cracking the Spine and Flights of Fancy) to The Book That Made Me? Consider audience and purpose.’

Students can then work in pairs to read one of the books mentioned in The Book That Made Me (see pp. 246–252 for a list). They should form individual opinions of that book and consider what aspect may have influenced the writer before sharing their views with their partner. They can then read the author’s opinion and discuss if this is surprising or confirms what they thought.

Year 11: (ACEEN005)   (ACEEN009)

Year 10: (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1774)


Is The Book that Made Me significant in the world of texts?

Divide students into six groups and assign each group one of the Six Thinking Hats to build up a picture of the book. The ‘hats’ will include discussion of the following:

  • Information: what information does the book provide? What information do we get from the books the writers encounter?
  • Thinking about thinking: what thinking does the book share? Why is it important to think about our thinking about books?
  • Benefits: what are the good aspects of this book? What are the good aspects of reading?
  • Feelings: how do I feel about the ideas in the book and why? How do the authors in the book feel about books? Is this the same for all of them?
  • Judgement: is there anything ‘wrong’ with the book, its ideas or its structure? What might be ‘wrong’ with dependence on books?
  • Creativity: what new ideas have I encountered in this book? How can I use these ideas? How do the authors use the ideas they encounter in books?

Each group shares their information in an open discussion. Students listen to each other and take notes. They then write their own evaluation of The Book that Made Me.

Year 11: (ACEEN008)   (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN018)   (ACEEN019)   (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELT1774)   (ACELY1749)

Rich assessment task

Speaking task: debate

Is The Book that Made me representative of Australian culture?

In preparation for discussion and debate, students should read the biographies of various contributors to The Book That Made Me; they will see that while the editor and publisher are Australian, not all of the authors are (they could quickly note how many are not).

Students can then consider:

  • What is an Australian text?
    • Does an Australian text need to have all-Australian contributors to be regarded as Australian?
    • In a global world, how do we assert national literary boundaries?
    • Do these national boundaries actually exist in literature?
    • What does a book need to have to be an ‘Australian’ book?

Closer reading of each chapter also reveals that the writers were influenced by books from all over the English-speaking globe. They should reconsider the list of books (p. 246) and writers (p. 253) mentioned in the collection. How many of these are Australian? This raises the idea of literature’s universalising role in bringing people together: is literature a national or a global phenomenon that is able to cross borders?

Students can then explore how they might frame their findings as a debating question. This might include:

  • Nations have to have a literature to draw from
  • Literature is defined by the nation
  • Literature is a transnational act that brings nations together

Students can form two teams to argue each side of the chosen debate. They must work together to form an argument for their side and select a few speakers to represent their view and to rebut the other side’s claims.

Year 11: (ACEEN001)   (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN011)   (ACEEN013)   (ACEEN014)   (ACEEN019)   (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELA1565)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1774)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1751)   (ACELY1752)

Reading and writing

The main concept in this book is the assumption that reading and writing are connected. In this section we will look at the relationship between reading and writing, reader and writer, and the way this book builds on such a foundation.

Is reading connected to writing?

More and more texts acknowledge the importance of the reader/writer relationship. Start with these questions to open up discussion with students:

  • If I write well, do I read well?
  • If I read well, do I write well?

This may elicit responses such as:

  • It depends on what kind of texts you read.
  • It depends on how closely you read.
  • Can you write if you haven’t ever read? Is oracy enough?

Now that students have worked through the text, they might also consider:

  • What is reading? Why is it important? What kind of reading do we need to do?
  • What is writing? Why is it important? Want kind of writing do we need to do?

They can return to the table in the Initial Response section on their beliefs about reading and writing to see if they have changed their views.

Who is in charge: reader or writer?

Most of the chapters in this book acknowledge the reader: the author does not work in a vacuum, but thinks about their audience:

  • Who is the reader?
  • What will the reader like?
  • What will the reader need to know?

Technically the writer is in control – after all, they write the books – but a book has no meaning until it is read, so maybe readers have the power. These are important questions to raise with students as they enter senior school and start to become aware of the reader/writer relationship. We can also ask students: ‘Where is the text in this relationship?’

Introduce students to the concept of authority. Many contributors to this book acknowledge that authority over meaning in a text is a negotiation between the reader and writer, as we can see in this extract from Bernard Beckett’s chapter:

Who was it who said that ‘literature is the only art form in which the audience provides the score’? … when we read a story, or indeed listen to one, the only way to comprehend it is to fully engage with it. The words must become alive inside our heads … And it is the work being done by the reader, a process so oblique that any attempt to deconstruct it seems doomed to failure, that ensures the relationship between the work and the audience is closer and more committed than it is in any art. We own the story because we are, to a great extent, creating it. (pp. 69–70)

Students should consider:

  • Who are ‘we’ in this passage?
  • What does Beckett mean when he says the audience ‘provides the score’?
  • Is the music analogy relevant? What other analogy could be used (e.g. building a house, learning to swim)? Are these the same as ‘providing a score’?

Shaun Tan’s comment on the reader/writer relationship develops this theme further:

[The Mysteries of Harris Burdick] reminds us of what is so special about books – that the reader is co-creator of the world, not just a recipient; they are the principal director of an author’s screenplay and illustrator’s concept art. (p. 54)

Ask students if they agree, and to explain their reaction to this statement.

Introduce students to the phrase ‘the death of the author’. What might this mean in reading and writing? How does this idea fit into this book? Guide students to consider the fact that authors are being invited to write, suggesting that they have authority. Yet they are not writing about their own compositions, but rather about the writing of others and how it influenced them. In which role does the contributor hold authority: as a writer or as a reader?

We can apply this conundrum to The Book That Made Me and consider our own relationship to the text:

  • What is the role of a reader of a book on reading, written by writers about their reading experiences?
  • Who or what do we identify with?
  • What meaning do we take from the text?

In the following statement, what is the relationship between reader, writer and text? Can the text stand alone?

Not only does the story demand that we bring whole worlds into existence, but it forces us to imagine something much more specific: the existence, and motives, of other people. It is through story, be it a novel or a good gossip with a friend, that we refine our theory of mind. We go looking for the perspective that resides in another’s head. And, by trying on for a moment their fears, their desires, their habits and their constraints, we become more human, more empathetic. (Bernard Beckett, p. 71)


Having considered and discussed these views, students might draw a diagram of the relationship between the text, author and reader, using arrows and annotations to show the flow of meaning. Alternatively, they can search for these diagrams on Google and select the one that best correlates with their beliefs, or adapt one that they find appropriate.

Rich assessment tasks

1. Write a report on reading

Students will write and present a report on teen reading habits. They can use the interviews in the book to draw information about why and what people read and add their own findings. They should design a survey, include interviews and conduct some research. They need to state their purpose, method, findings, analysis and conclusion using subheadings. They will then design an infographic based on their findings. There are many infographics on teen reading that can be used as samples or as evidence for research, though students need to check the credibility of each source. The infographics might provide direction for some questions they can ask.

Before starting, you might like to share these infographics and discuss what they are conveying:

Year 11: (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN011)   (ACEEN012)   (ACEEN013)   (ACEEN014)   (ACEEN020)

Year 10: (ACELA1565)   (ACELA1567)   (ACELT1640)   (ACELY1751)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1776)

2. Prepare The Book that Made Me 2

For this activity, students need to become commissioning editors and organise a sequel to The Book that Made Me. They need to work as a publishing team. The class can be divided into several publishing teams depending on numbers.

Each publishing team should:

  • locate books they like with living authors
  • find out contact details for the authors
  • draft an appropriate letter inviting an author to submit a chapter about the book that ‘made’ them, with a photo
  • ‘respond’ to the author
  • edit the chapter(s) (with titles)
  • organise layout, font size, header, footer and visuals
  • design a book cover, blurb and table of contents
  • design a marketing flyer and social media strategy (they should consider how they themselves find out about books when designing their marketing strategy)

Year 11: (ACEEN009)   (ACEEN011)   (ACEEN012)   (ACEEN013)   (ACEEN016)

Year 10: (ACELA1567)   (ACELT1640)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1776)

3. Imaginative, persuasive or discursive writing

Shaun Tan alerts us to the fact that books are changing: ‘I guess we may see even more interesting things with the development of ebooks’ (p. 57).

For this task, students will position themselves in the world of ebooks and imagine what might happen in the future. They may write a persuasive piece about ebooks, or a story with ebooks as the focus. They may even choose to write a discursive piece, in the style of a comment column in a newspaper, considering the topic and offering personal thoughts.

Year 11: (ACEEN001)   (ACEEN002)   (ACEEN003)   (ACEEN011)

Year 10: (ACELA1566)   (ACELT1639)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1776)

4. Experimenting with different styles

Sue Lawson describes the impact of reading on her writing: ‘I began experimenting, trying different points of view, structure and style. I began writing about difficult emotions – death, anxiety, depression and belonging – from deep inside my characters’ (p. 193).

  1. Students will examine the work of one of the contributors to The Book that Made Me (or another author they enjoy) and identify the distinguishing features of their text, such as point of view, structure and style. ‘Style’ may include the use of a motif, repetition or sentence fragments. They will then write their own original story (not the same content) using these techniques.
  2. Students will reflect (in writing) on how they integrated the author’s techniques into their work, if it was effective, and what they learnt from trying this out.

Year 11: (ACEEN004)   (ACEEN005)   (ACEEN006)   (ACEEN011)   (ACEEN016)   (ACEEN018)   (ACEEN019)

Year 10: (ACELA1566)   (ACELT1644)   (ACELY1756)   (ACELY1776)