Thinking and talking about age, guided by books
We collected suggestions based on some of our favourite books. With each book we give a brief overview of the content, indicate why it is an interesting book to talk about age, and make some suggestions for activities to accompany the book.
Joke van Leeuwen, 1996, 9+, translated from Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke
Suggested by Leander Duthoy
Warren and Tina live together in a small house. One day, Warren finds a little bird girl under a bush. Together, Warren and Tina decide to give the bird girl the name Beedy. For a while, Warren, Tina and Beedy have a lot of fun together. Beedy soon begins to say a few words, and learns to fly and walk. But then things go wrong. During a visit to the big city, Beedy flies away.
Some books tell you exactly how old a character is. Eep! does not do this, leaving it up to you to guess how old the characters are. For example, we find out all sorts of things about Warren and Tina: what they say, what they think, what they look like, and how they treat other characters. However, whether they are in their twenties, fifties or eighties the book does not say. Beedy is interesting too: is she a person or is she a bird, and how old is she?
Start to Think
- We meet a lot of characters in Eep! besides Warren, Tina and Beedy. While reading, try to rank them by age. What do you look for when ranking them? What makes Warren older than Tina? Or what makes Tina older than Warren?
- In the book, we meet a boy who makes an artwork called “thoughts” out of clay. Make your version of “thoughts” together with someone of a different age (it does not have to be made out of clay. Maybe you find that your thoughts cannot be expressed in clay at all, maybe your thoughts are made of paper, wood or scraps of rubbish.) When you have finished, compare your different thoughts. Do you think your age has anything to do with the shape of the artwork?
The Book of Everything
Guus Kuijer, 2004, 9+, translated from Dutch by John Nieuwenhuizen
Suggested byVanessa Joosen
Thomas grows up after World War II. He regularly clashes with his father, who is a strict religious man. Sometimes the father beats Thomas and his mother. Thomas himself has conversations with Jesus, who also felt pressured by God the Father, so he understands him well. Thomas also gets along with his neighbour. She is not a witch, as he first thought, but she loves children’s books and helps Thomas resist his father. Gradually, Thomas gathers more courage and even dares to send a letter to a girl he likes.
The Book of Everything shows that prejudices around older people are wrong. Thomas befriends his older neighbour and she makes sure the abusive situation in his family stops.
Start to Think
- The Book of Everything is based on the author’s memories. He added imaginative parts, such as the conversations with Jesus. Do you have a memory you could use for a story? How would you make an imaginative story out of it?
- In The Book of Everything, Mrs. van Amersfoort, Thomas’s neighbour, turns into a little girl when Thomas reads to her. Ask an older person close to you (your grandmother, grandfather, or someone else) if you can read a poem to them and try to secretly watch how they react to it.
- As an older woman, Mrs. van Amersfoort has many children’s books on her bookshelf. Which children’s books do you think adults should read? Make a reading list for them or go to the library with them to choose books for them together.
A Hundred Hours of Night
Anna Woltz, 2014, 12+, translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson
Suggested by Kato Borgmans
Emilia, a fourteen-year-old girl, flees to New York to start a new life after a horrible discovery about of her father. Once in New York, she finds shelter with Seth (a fifteen-year-old boy) and Abby (a nine-year-old girl). Together with them and Jim, a seventeen-year-old high-school dropout, they stay together to weather Hurricane Sandy. In the aftermath of that hurricane, they have no electricity or water, so they venture back into New York in search of drinking water and wifi.
Young Adult, Coming of Age
A Hundred Hours of Night is an adventurous coming-of-age story about Emilia. At the beginning of the book, she faces the terrible reality that her father sent inappropriate messages to a seventeen-year-old girl, and then as she flees to New York, she learns more about herself through the friends she makes there (Seth, Jim and Abby) and through the situation she finds herself in, Hurricane Sandy.
Start to Think
- In A Hundred Hours of Night, we learn that Emilia’s father is sending inappropriate messages with a seventeen-year-old girl named Juno. Emilia flees to New York because of this story and all the hateful messages she gets about it. Do you agree that the messages are inappropriate? Why? Do you think Emilia’s reaction is justified? Do you think it is a childish reaction or is she at an age where she can make that decision to go to New York? Why do you think so?
- A Hundred Hours of Night is mainly a coming-of-age story about Emilia, but she is not the only one who changes, who becomes slightly more mature. Jim and Seth are also two characters who go through changes. What are moments in the book that indicate the coming of age of Seth, Jim and Emilia? Are there any of these moments you can relate to and why?
Chasing the Stars
Malorie Blackman, 2022, 14+
Suggested by Vanessa Joosen
Two teenagers, a girl called Vee and her brother Aidan, have been living by themselves on their spaceship ever since a virus killed their parents and the rest of the crew. As they try to make their way back to planet Earth, they battle attacks from their enemies, the Mazons. When they save a group of humans from a massacre on a deserted planet, the adults in the group immediately try to take control of the ship. Vee resists, but is also fascinated by the new visitors, who are known as “drones” – human outcasts who have been forced to labour under dire conditions. Vee falls in love with a teenage boy called Nathan. Their romance faces various hurdles, however, especially when several people on board start dying under mysterious circumstances and Vee’s leadership of the aircraft is contested.
Science Fiction, Romance
Eighteen-year-old Vee and her brother have managed to survive for years without parents. Vee has become a skilled captain of her ship, but is not taken seriously when older adults get on board. Moreover, she has missed out on various aspects of teenage life and now feels she finally has a chance to catch up. Does that make her extra vulnerable?
Start to Think
- Would you say that Aidan, Vee and Nathan are more like children, or more like adults? What criteria do you rely on to make that assessment? Do you understand why Catherine wants to take control of Vee’s ship? How is Vee able to change her mind?
- The group of drones that boards Vee’s spaceship also holds two children. We never learn what they do or how they feel. Imagine that they would be writing a diary about the events described in Vee and Nathan’s story, e.g. life on the spaceship, finding out about the first murders, their memories of growing up as drones. What would their diaries look like?
- What aspects of teenage life would you miss most when living on a spaceship like Vee’s? Would there be ways of making up for those?
This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn
Aidan Chambers, 2005, 15+
Suggested by Rosemarie Knobloch
When Cordelia is nineteen, she starts to put together a book about her own teenage years for her soon-to-be-born daughter, with the intention to give it to her when she turns sixteen, so they can share their youth together. She pours her whole heart into the book, sharing the most important events in her life between the ages of fifteen and twenty, interspersed with fragments from her ‘pillow book’: thoughts, ideas, insecurities, lists, dreams and aspirations she wrote down and assembled during these years. The result is an honest portrait of this remarkable girl, who writes about her and William Blacklin’s love story, her relationship with her father and aunt Doris, her friendship with her English teacher Julie, her first sexual experiences, her love for poetry and Shakespeare, and so much more.
Young Adult, Romance, Coming of Age
This Is All tells the story of a teenage girl who consciously reflects on her own youth. The story is told from the perspective of Cordelia, who writes frankly about periods, sex, falling in love, masturbating, and heartbreak. Throughout the novel, Cordelia is on a quest for self-knowledge, figuring out what she wants from life. She makes mistakes, learns from her mistakes, and matures.
Start to Think
- The form of This Is All is quite experimental. It is based on the ancient Japanese ‘pillow book’ tradition. A pillow book is comparable to the modern notion of a diary, and consists of a collection of notebooks that the writer keeps in a private place and in which they write down personal ideas, anecdotes, impressions, poems, stories, events, etc. Do you or have you ever tried keeping a diary or do you have any anecdotes, ideas or stories you would like to write down some day? Do you think that you can learn or gain new insights from reading things you wrote when you were younger?
- Cordelia is an avid reader, and her favourite author is William Shakespeare. Think of a book that has made an impression on you and explain why. Next, ask yourself if you believe taste (in books) can change as you age.
- The author of This Is All is Aidan Chambers, who was born in 1934. Do you think a seventy-year-old man is capable of writing a credible story from a teenage girl’s point of view? How can he bridge that age and gender gap?