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Cover by Solomon Karmel-Shann

AVAILABLE NOW ON AMAZON

 
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THE STORY

For the eleven years since the death of her parents, fifteen-year old Harriet Henderson and her grandfather Max have made their home into something of a haven. But Harriet is no longer a little girl. There are changes, inevitable changes, changes that her grandfather finds himself resisting.
Harriet – thoughtful and free-spirited – is restless. School, up until now, has been dull. But there’s a new English teacher, Molly McInness, and Ms McInness’s English classroom immediately resonates with Harriet. And for Molly herself, there's nothing more satisfying than having a student like Harriet Henderson. This promises to be a special relationship for both of them.
But not everyone shares their excitement.
Zeph, the boy who in the dark of night paints on vacant walls, is untouched; nothing penetrates the barriers he has erected around his solitary self. Tran, son of an influential politician, is confused and incensed.
There are murmurings in the staffroom, too, and the school’s Principal, glib Eliott Sullivan, sees potential threats to the smooth operation of his systems.
Tensions build at home and at school.
And then, in a single impulsive moment, Harriet makes a decision that changes everything.

READERS’ RESPONSES

An exquisite and engaging book which I loved. It’s a beautifully written work about the power of story, teachers and perseverance.
— Cris Tovani, US author and teacher
A novel that will appeal to English teachers because of the sophistication of the shifts in point of view and the beauty of the prose. A wonderful book.
— Emeritus Professor Brenton Doecke, Deakin University
I can’t imagine having anything to read that would be more life-affirming or more in tune with the values that inform our work as educators.
— Dr John Yandell, UCL Institute of Education, London, author & journal editor)
A story about a teacher, two students and a grandfather looking for the places where the openness can live, at least a little while, in an adult world of closures. A must for English teachers as they consider their commitments in these difficult teaching times.
— Dr Kim McCollum-Clark, Assoc Professor of English/English Education, Amazon review
It’s a warm, whimsical and cleverly constructed tale about inclusion and the power of story telling. It is fun to read, unfolding itself like an Escher drawing, and carries a touching message about the capacity for all children to learn, not just the so-called ‘good’ kids.
— Emily Yarra, organic farmer
A beautifully written and sensitive novel that should be shared with every teacher, student, parent and principal you know.
— Rebecca Palethorpe, ACT teacher, Amazon review
I absolutely loved this book! I related to it on so many levels. The characters are wonderful; each with their own complexities and a realness that drew me in. Honestly, once I started reading, I could not put the book down. I read this when I was needing some inspiration – it gave me that. Thank you, Harriet!
— Rosie Grimm, teacher
I enjoyed this novel very much. It describes the inside of a world of English teaching, of a distinctive and now arguably threatened kind, which I recognise and recall.
— Emeritus Professor Bill Green
I finished the book at 2am - read in two straight settings with a meal and meeting in-between!! I haven’t done that for years. The story was complex and mostly subtle. I was moved by Molly’s passion for her subject and students, and by her struggle to be with people and systems who seemed to have lost (or not yet discovered) the soul of their vocation, as well as her struggle to be with herself. I’d definitely offer this as a text for reflection if I were working with teachers and educational administrators (as well as encouraging them into practitioner-learning circle, of course!!)
— - Dr Neil Millar, Center for Courage & Renewal, Canberra
I have just finished ‘Harriet’ and enjoyed it very much. It’s obvious how much the written word means to the author, and what potential words have to change lives. It is frustrating to think that teaching ‘system’ can stymie progress in both teachers and students although as this novel suggests it is not so much the system itself but the individuals who implement it in its narrowest vision. I enjoyed the characters and their relationships and thought they were very well drawn and sympathetic, particularly Harriet, Zeph and Molly.
— - Michael Bourchier
This is a wonderful piece of work, a sophisticated novel beautifully penned. Much of it is set in an English teacher’s classroom, and although I am a science teacher and teaching science is different to teaching English, yet I found this a great book to read. In fact it made me wonder what it would be like to be an English teacher encouraging students to talk about their dreams, fears, imagination and possibilities. This sophisticated novel is a reminder to us teachers about how influential our beliefs and attitudes are in shaping pupils lives, especially those students lost in their quest to discover themselves. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly.
— Anila Komal
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and diving into a world that at first seemed so familiar but soon became twisted with elements of fantasy.
I appreciated that the story was told from multiple perspectives and as a teacher, I often found myself connecting to experiences of characters or wondering if the thoughts of Molly and Zeph were similar to those of some of the students that I teach. “I wonder if she’s a good writer, or whether she’s one of those teachers who talks a lot about reading and writing but never seems to write anything herself except school reports. Or read anything but kids’ essays...” I often find it hard to find time to read something for enjoyment but I am so very glad that I made time for The Worlds of Harriet Henderson.
Captivating, thought-provoking, magical.
— Brooke Brown, teacher, Goodreads review
A novel worth reading because deeply rooted in real-life experience and because radiating genuine love for the ‘art of teaching’ in all of its forms, not just the mere academic. Moreover, Dr Shann has a way with words…a way that goes through to the heart!
— Fede Maggioni, teacher, Amazon review
I stayed up after my three-month-old son’s 2am feed to finish this novel... not a choice a sleep-deprived mother would make for a lesser book! It spoke to me as both a reader and (English) teacher.
One of the advantages of reading on the Kindle is the ease of highlighting the text. I have 51 annotations of things that made me say, “This happens in my classroom!” or “I wish this happened in my classroom!”, or that I want to reflect on at greater length. I’ve also annotated some especially elegant phrases, because the writing is good, too.
‘The Worlds of Harriet Henderson’ sparked my imagination and will continue to enlighten my teaching practice.Thank you for your novel
— Ashleigh Gilbertson, teacher
Right from the beginning there was something about each of the characters I wanted to know more about, moods I wanted to dive deeper into.
I was immediately engaged by Max and I love that he is the character that opens the story. I felt the ache when he stands at his granddaughter’s room, remembering how he used to make her bed for her, the bitter-sweetness of her outgrowing that ritual.
And as a teacher I related so much to Molly from the very beginning, the anxiety dreams before a new class, the excitement alongside the apprehension, the circular thoughts and inconsequential tangents as she winds down after a hard day in the classroom.
The further I got into the novel, the more intrigued I became. Where was it going? I was continually surprised, thrown off scent. And I got shivers reading that very first paragraph of part C, realising what it was Steve Shann was doing. I loved it.
This is a subtle and beautiful book that doesn’t shout at people, so much as lead them by the hand and let go of them in the middle of a labyrinth.
I wholeheartedly recommend ‘The Worlds of Harriet Henderson’. Every time you expect it to zig, it zags.
It reminded me what I love about teaching and English and stories. Especially stories.
— - CeCe Edwards, English teacher & author
 I really connected with the characters and issues in this novel. (Two teenagers, a teacher and a grandad.) There is a sense of wonder about the world and a core belief that everyone has creative potential to be unlocked - just different pathways to unlock that potential. Everyone develops and changes; change and the acceptance of change is a strong theme throughout. This novel is a welcome critique of modern education. Everyone who has taught in recent times will have felt the systemic pressures on the curriculum, assessment, and most importantly, on students. Creativity and spontaneity have been squeezed hard. Ms McInness rebels against this as a natural teacher who enjoys her students and can orchestrate their responses in an inspiring and inclusive way. She can feel the buzz of sharing exciting and extraordinary lessons. I think this novel will appeal to young adults and anyone close to the world of education. The ideas about learning and teaching are expansive, inspiring, inclusive. Not least, it is full of excellent advice about how to write well
— Jane Shipley, Amazon review
This is a marvellous book which I found hard to put down, even when I was reading it late at night and had determined I must go to sleep immediately.
It centres on two characters and the worlds they open to one another through a shared love of writing.
For me, as an ex-English teacher, I found myself feeling much like Alice through the looking glass as I followed the adventures into the worlds of Harriet Henderson, so many of which were unexpected in their unfolding. The teacher protagonist - Molly McInnes - reminds me of the best English teachers and the imaginary worlds such a teacher can open up for students. The young woman at the centre of the adventure - Harriet Henderson - offers a complementary perspective on writing. But all the characters are carefully observed and reveal so much of the joys and trials of contemporary schooling and what it can do to those who teach and those in the business of learning.
The book is full of twists and turns as the young characters pursue the creative paths that give them life and those responsible for nurturing them attempt (and sometimes fail) to nurture these.
It is a book that should be read by any English teacher keen to remember why he or she got into the business of subject English as well as those who have a vision for what the world of imagination means for young learners. A must read!
I love the way the author has built up the complication at the heart of Molly’s approach to teaching English and the difficulty of institutional pressures to perform and demonstrate achievement that beset all who want to go for depth of understanding rather than tick the box demonstrations of ‘easy knowledge’. Molly the English teacher is a luminous figure for me. Her story would be one pre-service teachers can read and talk and even write about. Through a narrative like this they could find points of reference for discussion about the impulse to teach ‘rousing minds to life’ as Tharp & Gallimore put it and the realities of pressures from ‘above’ for greater and greater accountability about less and less.
— Dr. Mary Macken-Horarik, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University, Amazon review
I found the book engaging, compelling with many strong voices.
The book has twists and turns. There is a story within a story that at first might surprise you, but in reading on it becomes clear and is a very creative way to move the story forward.
The character development in the book is excellent and believable. The author’s knowledge and references are impressive. The conflicts in the book are relatable especially to anyone involved in education or working with youth. People who are interested in the craft of writing will also appreciate this book. Teachers would appreciate this book, I am sure the situation would resonate. This book would appeal to young readers. Some of the strongest voices in the book are from teen characters.
It’s a great story and an overall great read. I enjoyed the book.
— Jim Mactier, Canadian reader, Goodreads review
I have recently had the pleasure of reading a first novel by the author of several non-fiction books, Steve Shann. The title is The Worlds of Harriet Henderson and it is a very engaging read. There are several threads that contribute to the overall plot, which of course, centres on Harriet and the challenging circumstances of her teenage life. The book blends fantasy and realism and the reader feels teased at times because it is by no means clear how things will resolve - until the last few pages. The characters are realistically presented, people whom we might meet each day. But all isn’t as it seems and a great deal of learning occurs particularly for Harriet, Zeph and their teacher, Molly. Most of the action happens outside the school, but is impacted profoundly by it. This is Shann’s first foray into fiction - hopefully the next novel is underway.
— Chris Melican, educational consultant
My strongest impression was of a fractal. In other words, a structural design where each part echoes the character of the whole, with a similar pattern recurring at progressively smaller scales. But not like Russian dolls because each of those doesn’t intertwine with the others. Here, in contrast, the elements interlace, as well as reflect.
It’s a story that has all sorts of stories inside it. There are the stories of different characters: Max, Harriet, Zeph, Molly. In the early chapters, their lives touch. Zeph turns up in Harriet’s English class. Harriet and Zeph have both lost their mothers. Max is entranced by Zeph’s painting in the underpass. Molly and Max meet at the parents’ night and, of course, she begins to connect with both Harriet and Zeph in quite different ways in her class.
Then within the story, there are more stories - and the concept of stories surfaces and resurfaces. Max and Harriet telling each other stories about her mother. Molly introducing folktales to the class. People here have inner story worlds too, as dreams press in. Max is disturbed by the dystopian story vividly created on the television screen that intrudes painfully, uncomfortably at least, into the utopian other Eden he’s tried so hard to create for his bereaved granddaughter.
Another fractal layer is writing. We watch Harriet begin her writer’s apprenticeship, having claimed ‘writer’ as a life goal. In Molly’s classroom, there are all kinds of writers, including reluctant and disengaged ones.
Right from the first chapters, I enjoyed the sense of things incubating and going to happen, always a lovely sensation as a reader at the start of a book! Max has created a cocoon for Harriet, as an understandable way of supporting her when she first came to him. She’s stretching towards independence. But it’s also his own cocoon we learn. He’s made a cocoon, a retreat, an Eden, we are told. For many of the characters, “something that’s been dormant is stirring” now. Of course, the implications are clear. An insect needs its cocoon. Then it breaks free, discarding it and leaving it behind, shredded and empty. Retreats are for review, regrouping, re-energising and then re-emerging. And Eden, despite its loveliness, proved an impossible place to live. Adam and Eve left when the snake brought reality to them.
Another interleaving element concerns the imagery. This is a book that opens painted in light and dark. There are storms outside and cosy warmth inside. Every era has its shadow side, Max reminds us. Sometimes this darkness manages to penetrate from the outside into the world where our characters live. The gloom of moods descends on Harriet, on Zeph and on Max too. Dreams and stories carry dark shadows. The forest feels emblematic - a place where shadowy monsters, danger and even death lurk. The forest is encountered in Molly’s living room and in Harriet’s favourite stories. Zeph’s chilly warehouse is a similar world of fog, shadows, darkness, snakes and skulls. I think we’re going to need the talisman of Grandma Metcalfe’s red Ruby brooch, as we venture onwards! Because venture these people will. There is no doubt of that. They will go out into that forest and tackle what they find there because “you look for what’s in the dark. That’s what writers do”. It’s also what all of us do, writers or not, when we go forward towards that dark edge of the map to those unknown territories marked ‘there be dragons’ — because we are inexorably drawn towards, in Molly’s words, “the mystery of things”.
The challenges and tussles of teaching English to a large group of adolescents felt incredibly familiar and took me right back to when I stood, much like Molly, at the front of the class, with the sense of being poised on the edge of something that could be exciting or a total disaster! Even the fact that she’s practised beginnings since her fraught first year reminded me of having done exactly the same. The other challenges too felt real and familiar. Here I mean the never ending abrasion where the imaginative and creative work of an English teacher comes up against the assessment system and its requirements.
The contrast between logical thought and all that cannot be approached in rational or scientific ways is situated here. Books are windows, we learn, through which our characters can see and know and experience more about the world, as we readers are doing with this.
As I read into Part A, I felt I was coming to know more deeply now the various worlds hinted at in the title of the book. I found myself mapping these along two lines, the horizontal and the vertical. Across the horizontal axis, I began to note all the different worlds that the characters belong to and are even trapped within, like Zeph. Molly herself is aware of this. Her students leave her and go to another lesson and then another. “And then out into the world, vastly different worlds, some of them more captivating than anything she can generate, or more demanding, or more distressing”. Harriet has begun to see that, through her relationship with Molly, she is being pushed into the forest, not really sure what she’s going to encounter in this new and darker world.
On the vertical axis we have all the things sketched in that are within our conscious realm of attention, but then below that there is everything that is working on us unconsciously. “ …beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves. They’re not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide.” The contrast between logical thought and all that cannot be approached in rational or scientific ways is situated here. Books are windows, we learn, through which our characters can see and know and experience more about the world, as we readers are doing with this.
Then there is the contested question of the real world and what that means. Much of this is summed up by Max in the truly wonderful piece of faux Spinoza that he sends off through the ether to Molly.
This is a book about the very many interdependencies and ways that the worlds of our imaginations and of our unconscious and of our yearnings and aspirations collide with the world of facts and verifiable rationalities. Yet the book is full of hope that one can find a synthesis – a still point in the turning world where ‘life feels good’ and that’s enough.
— Margaret Byrne, author & film maker, Amazon review