Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein

Hating Alison Ashley was first published in 1984 and that is the year I read it.  We have packed up our school library for new carpet and at the same time culled some of our older books.  Our copy of Hating Alison Ashley is in bad shape and it has the unappealing movie cover so before adding a new copy to my shopping cart I thought I should re-read this classic story.  This book was so famous in the 1980s that it became a movie (it received a great deal of criticism) and a play.

Hating Alison Ashley is 32 years old and if you need to find evidence of the way our lives have changed this book can provide so many examples - here are few :

  • At the camp rain forces them inside for "an evening of projected colour slides."
  • The school secretary uses a golf-ball typewriter
  • Valjoy, Erica's sister, works at a milkbar
  • School worksheets are made using a spirit copying machine
  • Clag Glue, Quick Eze, Letraset
  • Library borrowing using cards
  • Prisoner on TV
  • Mums with rollers in their hair and smoking
  • Film cameras and a school dark room
  • Record albums "I can't play any for you right now, ... the stereo needs a new needle. I'm terribly fussy about scratching my records."
  • Making a phone call from a public phone costs 20 cents

There are some moments in this book where the writing just sparkles.  Teachers who read this book will smile when they read :

Four teachers take the Year six kids to camp.  "(Miss Lattimore) hadn't wanted to come along to the camp.  From the sick bay I had heard her having a fight with Mr Nicholson ... She'd threatened to quit the Education Department and earn a living making macrame flowerpot hangers ... But since none of the other teachers on the staff, except Mrs Wentworth, wanted to come to the camp, Miss Lattimore had to give in. Mr Kennard didn't have any choice. He was straight out of teachers' college."

Erica shows Alison around Barringa East Primary School and takes her to the library. "Mrs Cheale took a real shine to her straight away. She showed Alison the new books that hadn't been processed yet.  Usually if someone dared lay a finger on any uncovered books, she changed from a patient teacher into a monster with fangs and a black velvet cloak. ... Alison ... was telling Mrs Cheale that her aunt was a librarian. Librarians always seem fascinated if you know someone else who is a librarian."

"It was funny none of the teachers' kids were enrolled at our school.  You'd have thought it would be more convenient for them."

Also Robin Klein creates such masterful contrasts between the glamour of Alison and the grungy, messy chaos of Erica (Yuk, Erk or Gherkin),

"She was wearing this soft blue skirt, and a shirt the colour of cream, with not a crease nor a wrinkle nor a loose thread anywhere ... Long, pale-gold hair caught back with a filigree clasp, and tiny gold roses, the size of shirt buttons, in her ears."

ALISON "... she had a chicken drumstick wrapped in foil ... a stick of celery with the tips curled, a tiny perfect tomato like a ruby ... and a smart white drink bottle with a gold lid filled with orange juice.  She also had a straw in a cellophane wrap."
ERICA "I'd ordered a meat pie, an ice jam donut, and this lovely yellow banana, just begging to be unzipped and eaten."

"The coat hangers she'd bought along weren't the old wire ones from dry cleaning; hers were all padded and crocheted."

Even though the story feels dated I still really enjoyed reading this book again.  Erica is such a funny character but she is also real girl who needs a true friend.  Listen to this little audio sample.   Here is an assignment to use with this book.

Sadly Robin Klein became ill in 2005 and is no longer able to write.  Her final books were fabulous.  I especially loved Came back to show you I could fly, People might Hear you and Games.

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