Fiction to support the IB Learner Profile in the Middle Years Programme 

We have been asked many times by teachers to compile a list of fiction that we would recommend that could be used to support the ‘characteristics’ of the Learner Profile for the Middle Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate. The characteristics are: inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk-takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, balanced and reflective.

We hope this list of literature will provide books which can be used to generate thought-provoking discussion of these attributes. The books chosen are not didactic nor are they therapeutic. They are certainly not intended as a formula to suggest that students should behave in a particular way. In many of the books chosen, there is a strong element of irony and many of them are amusing. We hope that all the books will be enjoyable to read and will give students and teachers greater understanding of varying aspects of the ‘characteristics’ of the Learner Profile. We are sure the list will be of value not just to teachers of the MYP but to any teachers interested in a wide range of good literature for discussion. After each review we have listed some of the most obvious characteristics which could be discussed with each book. However many of the books are complex and we are sure students will suggest further characteristics which can also be found in the books.

It is interesting that so many books fall into the category of risk-takers and that we have included so few in the category of balanced. There just don’t seem to be many books written about balanced young people! We have given an indication of reading levels to each of the titles.  Recommended by Kate Shepherd and Mandy Clarke

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie & Ellen Forney (illus)
pb 9780316013697 $27
This is an amazing story told through a narrator who speaks so clearly and vividly to us and also draws cartoons for us. He tells the story of his childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation with its massive problems of alcohol, and despair and where he was regularly beaten up because he was nerdy and wore glasses. The book grips our attention. Sherman Alexie does performance poetry and comedy and it shows in his writing. This story is very revealing of the complications of human relationships and of the incredible toll of alcohol abuse on the Reservations but for all that remains positive and is at times very funny. (13 – 16 years) KS
risk-takers, inquirers, caring, thinkers

Don’t call Me Ishmael! by Michael Gerard Bauer pb 9781862919327 $19.99
This book written with a flair and vigour and love of language which is invigorating and very, very funny. When Ishmael becomes involved in an attempt to set up a debating team, it looks disastrous but is hilarious as the team gradually learn to work together. (11 – 16 years) KS
inquirers, risk-takers,

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (Young Readers Edition) pb 9780143301646 $19.95
This is wonderful story about an eleven year old boy from rural China who was chosen to study ballets and Madame Mao’s dance Academy in Beijing. It is the very moving story of his struggle to overcome loneliness and hardship and how he became one of the top dancers in the USA and then in Australia. The adult edition (pb 9780670040247 $32.95) has been an immensely popular and has been made into a film. The adaptation by Li Cunxin emphasises his childhood. (11 – 15 years) KS
principled, reflective

Village by the Sea by Anita Desai pb 9780141312712 $18.95
A moving story by this well known author showing some of the problems facing families trying to escape from the poverty of village life in India. It shows some of the environmental problems facing villagers as the population increases and resources are threatened but there is a belief that people can adapt to changes in the same way that some birds and animals do. (12 years up) KS
risk-takers, caring, inquirers, thinkers

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly pb 9780747570639 $16.95
This is a beautifully written book which is fascinating in its portrait of a small community in the Adirondack region in the early 1900s. The story is based on the real murder of a young pregnant girl who is found drowned in a lake and her story is linked to that of Mattie, about the same age, who is torn between her sense of responsibility to look after her family, her first romance and her intense desire to write and to be independent. There are many wonderful insights into Mattie’s feelings and desires and the difficulties that beset so many women of that time who wanted an education and independence. (13 years up) KS
risk-takers, inquirers, thinkers

The London Eye Mystery by Siobahn Dowd pb 9780552572316 $16.99
Written in the first person by Ted who, as he says, has some sort of syndrome (perhaps Asperger’s) this is an absorbing book. Ted is very bright but is unable to understand why people behave in a particular way and is generally unable to read body language. He is a fascinating character and through his descriptions, we gain such an insight into his view of the world and also into his family and the way in which they behave. Moreover the plot involves a genuinely intriguing mystery about what happened to Ted’s cousin when he disappears while riding on the London Eye, the huge Ferris wheel in London. The mystery is doubly intriguing because of the way in which Ted puts his unique brain to work in trying to understand what could have happened. (11 years – 15 years) KS
inquirers, caring, knowledgeable, thinkers, reflective

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd pb 9781849920056 $17.99
Holly has had enough of her life as Holly, a foster child and so puts on a blonde wig and becomes two years older and bold and determined as she sets off to make her way to Ireland to find her Mam. This is a marvellous story – so convincing with characters who really come to life. Life is tough living in care but Holly does meet people who care about her. However there is so much that Holly has to work out about herself and her early life and about other people and this she does on this road trip. Holly is gritty and has a sense of humour and this shines through in this exceptional novel. (13 years up) KS
caring, risk-takers,

Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight by Nick Earls & Rebecca Sparrow pb 9780143006916 $19.99
Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow have had fun written this story in tandem, about a story writing assignment that Joel and Cat (who have developed a strong antipathy to each other) have to write together. It is fast moving, witty and enjoyable. (12 – 16 years) KS

Macbeth and Son by Jackie French pb 9780207200342 $15.95
This novel is about the truth in history and whether it really matters. Jackie French’s complaint is with Shakespeare who wrote about the Scottish King Macbeth who was by all accounts an honourable king but was turned into a villain in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. Jackie uses the dreams of a modern-day boy, Luke who is studying the play at school to show what really? or possibly happened to Lulach and his father Macbeth in eleventh century Scotland. The most fascinating aspect of the story is the theme of whether the truth really matters and whether Shakespeare was justified in making Macbeth a villain for the sake of the play. This would make a fascinating book for discussion. (11 – 14 years) KS
inquirers, thinkers, principled

The Goat Who Sailed the World by Jackie French pb 9780207200779 $14.99
This book has two narrators, a young twelve year old boy called Isaac Manley and a much travelled and superior Goat. This narrative device gives us two very different perspectives on Cooks’ amazing voyage around the world from 1768 to 1771, when Australia was discovered and the ship was almost wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef. Isaac is a caring and very sensible young boy who learns a huge amount on this voyage. Very entertaining and informative. (8 – 14 years) KS
inquirers, risk-takers, principled, caring

The 10 PM Question by Kate De Goldi pb 9781741757354 $15.99
Frankie is twelve going on an old man as he worries incessantly about everything. At 10 PM he wanders in to his mother to check on his latest list of anxieties. Are the smoke batteries flat? Will bird flu strike and ruin their lives? There is a very amusing eccentricity about his concerns and also about his whole family. I found Frankie an engaging character but I am unsure how 12 year old boys would find him. Perhaps they would find him and his catalogue of fears just too embarrassing? Or maybe the humour would be enough to sustain their interest. (11 – 15 years) KS
communicators, caring

Deadly Unna? by Phillip Gwynne pb 9780141300498 $19.95
This is a perceptive and highly entertaining book describing the growing friendship between Blacky, a white teenager and Dumby Red an Aboriginal young man from out of town and how it is affected by the narrowness and pervasive racism of a country town. In the sequel Nukkin Ya, pb 9780141309439 $19.95, Blacky falls for Dumby’s cousin but it seems that the whole town has objections to them going out together. Blacky does succeed in making a statement to the town on how he feels about racism.
(13 years up) KS

To the Boy in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt pb 9781741750041 $15.95
This is the story of an intriguing email correspondence between Henni who lives in Melbourne, Australia and Leo Schmidt in Berlin. The emails fly backwards and forwards providing much amusement and also glimpses of the difference and similarities between their lives. They both become involved in working on Henni’s school project which involves fascinating historical documentation about early German immigration to Australia and the treatment of Germans in Australia during the 2 World wars. We also learn incidentally about some of the problems of immigration in Germany and Australia today. I especially liked the humour, especially humour concerning the difficulties of translation and also some of the extraordinarily long German words that exist. This is an excellent book for discussion on a variety of topics. (10 – 14 years) KS
inquirers, thinkers, communicators, principled, caring, open-minded

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Li Jiang pb 9780064462082 $13
A deeply moving autobiography set during the Cultural Revolution in China. Ji Li Jiang describes her own experiences as a twelve year old girl puzzling to understand the strange and terrifying events that befell her family at that time. An excellent introduction to any study of the Cultural Revolution.
(11 years up) KS
risk-takers, principled, reflective

The First Third by Will Kostakis pb 9780143568179 $17.99
Just thinking about this book again makes me smile. It captures so beautifully the love a family of Greek background has for their Yiayia, their very expressive Greek grandmother. The family has their problems but it is their grandmother who provides the core. It is her love and vitality, not to mention her food, that keeps the family together. She has given Billy her bucket list of wishes before she dies and now it is his job to glue the family back together again. The book is at times very funny and also very sad but it has wonderful characters who shine and of course Yiayia shines the brightest of all.
(12 – 16 years) KS
communicators, caring

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta pb 9780140360462 $19.95
It has been a bestseller with adolescents and adults because of its vitality and exuberance. Josephine is an Australian, of Italian background and this is the story of her final school year. (13 years up) KS

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta pb 9780143000976 $19.95 The most enjoyable story of Francesca and the ups and downs of her year eleven at a Catholic Boys school which is accepting girls into Year eleven for the first time. It is fascinating look at the effect of girls on the culture of a boys’ school and also the way the girls (and some of the boys) are changed. (13 years up) KS
caring, communicators,

One Minute’s Silence by David Metzenthen & Michael Camilleri (illus) hb 9781743316245 $29.99
A class of Year 11 or 12 students is asked to imagine, in one minute’s silence, the ANZAC soldiers landing at Gallipoli and struggling to advance under very heavy fire. The students are also asked to imagine the Turkish soldiers, looking down on the invading soldiers, and to imagine the Turks’ determination to defend their villages and their country. To imagine both sides of this conflict is in itself very moving. However, Camilleri has added another dimension by taking the young students in the Year 11 or 12 class and embedding them in the scenes of fighting among both ANZAC and Turkish soldiers. It is very effective and gives the illustrations a relevance and immediacy while making us really imagine what it would have been like to be there. I found this an exceptional book, bringing vividly to mind as it does the horror of the loss of so many young men sacrificed, on both sides, in this devastating war. Text, illustrations and the design of the book are perfectly integrated to give the book its powerful narrative. The book ends with the extraordinary quotation from Ataturk when he says that “there is no difference between the johnnies and the mehmets” and that the fallen “having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”. (10 years upwards) KS

Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo pb 9781405221740 $14.95
When Michael is washed up on an island he struggles to survive on his own. He is about to give up when food appears. He is not alone. This is a wonderful story of survival and about Kensuke, an elderly Japanese man who lives on the island and has survived for many years using traditional Japanese skills and crafts. (9 – 15 years) KS
caring, thinkers

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson pb 9780141034263 $26.95
This is the remarkable story of a mountaineer who in 1993 after a disastrous attempt to climb K2 wandered exhausted and dehydrated into an impoverished village in Pakistan. There the villagers nursed Greg back to health and he was so moved by their kindness that he vowed to return and build a school for their children. That happened in 1993 and since then he has set up a fund and built over 60 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (13 years up) KS
Three Cups of Tea (Young Reader’s Edition) pb 9780143304630 $19.95
This Young Reader’s edition has many photographs of children from the villages and also of his own family who have also become very involved with this endeavour. There are also maps and a question and answer section with Greg’s daughter Amira and a Timeline and a Glossary. (9 – 14 years) KS
Stones into Schools pb 9780141047140 $26.95
Follows chronologically from where the first book ended and so it goes from 2003 to the end of 2009. It is perhaps even more fascinating because of the descriptions of the group of Pakistani men and one Afghani man who work with Greg in Pakistan and Afghanistan and how by the end of 2009 they had managed to build 131 schools. The logistics of getting schools built and then staffed in remote areas of Pakistan is difficult enough but in remote areas of Afghanistan, the challenges are mind-boggling! (13 years up) KS
principled, open-minded, knowledgeable, communicators

The Year It All Ended by Kirsty Murray pb 9781743319413 $16.99
Written from the point of view of the young girls and families left behind when their men folk went off to fight in World War 1, this book has added interest since the mother of Tiney Flynn, her three sisters and her brother who went off to fight, was born in Germany. Their cousin was in Germany studying when war was declared and was conscripted and so fought for Germany. The book is set in Adelaide where there was a considerable German population and many of whom were interned during the war. The additional trauma caused by this situation and the devastation of both families when both sons are killed is vividly described. Murray also brings to life the difficulties of many families coping with the return of so many soldiers damaged often in mind and body and also of the impact of the deadly influenza which killed so many. This is a well-written novel bringing to life its characters and also so many aspects of the period just after the end of the First World War. (13 – 17 years) KS
risk-takers, principled, caring,

The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam by Huynh Quang Nhuong pb 9780064401838 $11
These are marvellously evocative stories of Nhuong’s village childhood in the Highland of Vietnam before the wars and the biggest dangers were from wild tiger, hog or snakes. (8 years up) KS

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam by Huynh Quang Nhuong pb 9780064462112 $9.00 
These stories describe the exploits of the particular much loved and respected family water buffalo called Tank. (8 years up) KS
reflective, caring

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett pb 9780552552028 $19.99
This is a wonderfully entertaining and continually surprising story of Maurice, a streetwise tomcat who suddenly has acquired the gift of talking and thinking. He wants to put these skills to ever more inventive money-making scams with the assistance of his unlikely friends the educated rats who also acquired the skills of speaking and thinking at about the same time. However as a natural consequence of being able to think, some of the rats begin to struggle with the question of what is right and what is wrong (especially in relation to some of Maurice’s schemes) and also with the stirrings of a conscience. (10 – 16 years) KS
knowledgeable, thinkers, principled

Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung pb 9781863951586 $26.95
Alice Pung gives a wonderfully evocative and comic account of her family’s first responses as they arrived in Footscray in Melbourne as immigrants. They were of Chinese background who had lived first in Vietnam and then in Cambodia during very difficult times. This is the story of how her family adapts to their new life in Australia and the story of how their daughter Alice/Agheare grew up in both cultures, the old and the new. It is at times a hilarious account, richly comic in its descriptions but it also gives vivid and heartbreaking descriptions of the family’s previous life in Cambodia and also of the difficulties they encounter in adapting to their new life in Australia. (12 years up) KS
reflective, open-minded

Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke pb 9781862917637 $17.99
When Andy and his father make a trip to Vietnam to visit relatives, it is for Andy’s father his first trip back since he escaped from the country in a rusty fishing boat when he was just 15 years old. For Andy who is 11 years old and was born in Australia, it is his first visit to Hanoi and the first time he has met any of his many relatives in Vietnam. The book is written mainly from Andy’s point of view and at first much seems very strange to him. Gradually as Andy comes to understands more about this family, we also understand so much more about Vietnam, its recent history and its people. A marvellous book written with humour and insight. (9 – 12 years) KS
inquirers, communicators, risk-takers, caring

The Arrival by Shaun Tan hb 9780734406941 $29.99
This extraordinary picture book has amazed and delighted everyone I have shown it to. It is textless and depicts many strange things and a world that we do not understand and yet at the same time it is not difficult to understand. It shows the experience of an immigrant when he or she comes to a country where they know no one and understand very little. Shaun Tan wants us to understand the feelings of apprehension as a young man leaves his young wife and daughter and his country to travel a vast distance to a completely different country where he can’t speak the language or read any signs. A country where the landscape and the creatures and even the pets are very different and where he doesn’t understand how things work or what is the purpose of so many strange things. However on his arrival in this new land, he meets new friends who show him how to get to places and how things work and they also tell him the stories of how they too came to this new land. And so we get the very moving stories of a number of immigrant families. The illustrations are meticulously drawn in detailed panels of illustrations or sometimes full page illustrations in black and white or various shades of grey and sepia. It is a very evocative and moving book. It is especially helpful for discussion with any study concerning immigrants. (9 years to adult) KS
risk-takers, communicators, caring

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb pb 9781780226583 $19.99, Young Readers’ Edition pb 9781780622156 $19.99
This is the absorbing story of Malala, the courageous young girl who was shot by the Taliban. In this book she describes her own life and also gives us a very clear and fascinating account of the history of the beautiful Swat Valley where her family lived and which changed so dramatically when the Taliban increasingly gained control. She describes in detail her family and how her father felt so strongly about education, especially for girls, that he set up schools in the Swat Valley. This of course strongly influenced Malala’s own outspoken support for girls’ education which her family supported even in the face of growing threats by the Taliban. This is a well-written and fascinating story of a remarkable girl and her close and loving family and their fight for education, especially for girls. (12 – 17 years)
risk-takers, principled

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak pb 9781743515860 $19.99
Told mainly through the Narrator Death telling the story of a young girl left by her mother to live with foster parents in Munich and during the second world war. The book is also surprising in its quirkiness and sense of irony and at times humour while depicting a period in Europe of great suffering. (14 years up) KS
risk-takers, caring, reflective