The Simple Things
By Bill Condon
Pictures by Beth Norling
2015 The Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlisted book.
Spoiler Alert. This review is an Educational Review and therefore discusses issues raised in the book. It provides parents and teachers educational activities with links to the Australian Curriculum.
Educational Review by Jenny Graham
The Simple Things is a great title for this novel. While the main character, Stephen does learn to enjoy the ‘simple things’ in life as the blurb on the back cover states, it also covers many ‘complex things’. There are not many social issues that Bill Condon the author does not cover. Looking after the elderly, alcoholism, adoption, unwed pregnant teenagers, animal rights, death, cancer and divorce. If you have not read the book and are reading this list you would assume that the book is filled with dark passages. However, the author has such a delightful way of telling the story and only touching on the issues above, often from the perspective of two children (ten year old Stephen and the much older and wiser 11 year old Allie) that each issue is careful not to delve too deeply and distract from the overall plot of Great Aunt Lola and Stephen’s relationship.
This Simple Things is a perfect teaching opportunity for parents or teachers to raise an issue in a non-confronting way. By doing a character study or just general discussion, topics can be raised and a chance given to students to talk about their thoughts on the topic and maybe increase their level of understanding.
The main character, Stephen, although not stated could be placed on the Autism Spectrum. His understanding of the world, questioning style and difficulty with learning leads a reader to believe he may have Asperger’s. Although there is a delightful connection between Stephen and his Great Aunt Lola, that Stephen’s mannerism could also be assumed genetic.
I love the image of the key throughout the book. Whether the authors intention is to draw the reader into the suspense of what is in the box, in Great Aunty Lola’s secret room with the symbol of the key or on purpose to break up longer passages in the chapters, it suits both needs perfectly.
The illustrations by Beth Norling, provide so much detail in a small amount of space. These illustrations give children a chance to focus on the main topic in the chapter and help create images in a child’s mind when reading.
The language in the book is simple with challenging words such as confiscated given both an explanation and an example to ensure thorough understanding by the reader. Chapters are short with 35 chapters spread throughout the 160 pages. This therefore creates an easy read for children with the task of reading a couple of chapters a night, achievable. Or, as a class book the teacher is able to read chapters in short time frames throughout the day.
Year 4 – 6 Australian Curriculum – Activities
Civics and Citizenship
* Research one of the issues raised in the book and list the community organisations who help people dealing with those issues.
Health and Physical Education
* Not everyone can be good at everything like Stephen feels Allie is. Ask students to write down the strengths of the members of the class. Students may be surprised at other people’s perception of themselves.
Great Aunty Lola’s family history scrap book would inspire anyone to begin their own scrap book. This could be a simple activity for students to do, either as a traditional family tree or as a unique scrap book to suit each child’s individual family.
The Simple Things gives a glimpse of how times were when Great Aunty Lola was younger. With the outside toilet incident, it is a chance for students to investigate either their grandparents or a certain era in time and how day to day life has changed.
One word only is needed for the Maths outcome and that is BINGO.
The joys of Bingo is that depending on the maths ability of the students would depend on how Bingo is played. You could use times table, addition, number facts or any maths equations you are currently studying in class.
Economics and Business
The difference between needs and wants and how one persons wants is another persons needs. For example the heater. Great Aunty Lola was perfectly happy with her heater. Make a list of needs and wants whether at home, in the classroom or in the wider community. Then take a look at them from another person’s perspective.
Any book could create an array of learning experiences based on the English Curriculum. A few specific to The Simple Things are listed below.
* Create new rhyming words for the BINGO numbers.
* Create a character profile – include their likes, dislikes, character traits, interview and draw a picture of what you think they would look like.
* Procedural Text – How to fish. How to make a chocolate cake.
* Re-write the ending.
* Persuasive Writing – animal rights
I would highly recommend this book to be read in school, as a small group class setting, whole class setting or take-home reader. This book also leads itself to home-schooling settings or reading for pleasure.
If you are a published author and would like an Educational Review of your book, please contact abcJennyG@hotmail.com for details on where to send your book. Authors are not charged for reviews.
If you are a published author and would like a Educational Review of your book, plus detailed activities linked to specific Australian Curriculum Outcomes based on your book. Please contact abcJennyG@hotmail.com for costs involved in creating the activities.
An example of a Teacher Resource Booklet I have created is in the link below. (Teacher Resource activity based on Imagine by Emma Mactaggart)
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