Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 8, 2014

Sensational Snippets: The Simple Gift (2000), by Steven Herrick

The Simple Gift I read very little YA fiction but every now and again a book comes my way that takes my interest.  The reissue of award-winning The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick interested me because I’d read Do-Wrong Ron by the same author to my Year 5 & 6 students.  They loved it, and I admired the free verse form, perfect for reading aloud.

Well, The Simple Gift isn’t going to be okay for primary school students because it’s the coming-of-age story of homeless 16-year-old Billy who runs away to avoid an abusive father, and it’s got some language that we don’t use at school, not to mention some … um … adolescent activity that we prefer to keep …um … theoretical for primary aged students – but I thought I’d share here an example of the power of Herrick’s style:


I was ten years old
in the backyard
kicking a soccer ball
against the bedroom wall,
practising for the weekend.
My first season of sport
and I’d already scored a goal
so I kept practising, alone.
And I guess I tried too hard,
I kicked it too high,
stupid of me I know,
and I broke the bedroom window.
I stood in the yard
holding the ball
looking at the crack in the pane.
Dad came thundering out.
He didn’t look at the damage.
He’d heard it.
He came over, grabbed the ball,
kicked it over the back fence
into the bushes,
gave me one hard backhander
across the face,
so hard I fell down
as much in shock as anything,
and I felt the blood
from my nose,
I could taste it dribbling it out
as Dad stood over me
and said
no more sport
no more forever.
He walked back inside
and slammed the door
on my sporting childhood
that disappeared into the bushes
with my soccer ball.

I was ten years old.
I didn’t go inside for hours.
I looked through the back window
watching him
reading the paper
in front of the television
as if nothing
had happened.

Billy takes refuge in a library, and picks up Lord of the Flies:

Lord of the lounge

It’s a good library.
Lots of books, sure,
and lounges soft and comfortable
for real reading,
and I choose one
in the corner
and I settle down
with a book about these kids stranded on a desert island
and some try to live right
but the others go feral
and it’s s good book
and I’m there, on the island,
gorging on tropical fruit,
trying to decide
whose side I’m on.
And then it hits me.
I’m on neither.
I’d go off alone,
because you can’t trust
those who want to break the rules
and you certainly can’t trust
those who make the rules,
so you do the only thing possible,
you avoid the rules.
That’s me,
on the deserted island
of a soft lounge
in Bendarat Library.

from The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick, UQP (University of Queensland Press), 2000, reissued 2014, ISBN 9780702231339, p. 15-16, and p23-24.

To read an excellent review of this novel, visit the blog of my friend Louise at A Strong Belief in Wicker.


Fishpond: The Simple Gift: A Novel
Or direct from UQP

Cross-posted at LisaHillSchoolStuff


  1. […] Cross-posted at ANZ LitLovers […]


  2. I recently read my first Steven Herrick book- Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend, which is about a year 6 class, and may be more suited to your school needs. It was fantastic. I was rather blown away.

    I’ve got The Simple Gift sitting in the house waiting to be read, possibly this week as I’ve got a bit of time off. I do know that it’s used as a HSC text in NSW.


    • Ah, I didn’t know it was an HSC text, that makes sense! I think it would be brilliant in the hands of a good teacher – I wonder what they pair it with, and what themes they are exploring. (There’s quite a few in the book). Pookie Aleera has won heaps of awards, it’s in my pile of books for processing at school. (Yes, LOL I have a mountain of TBR books there too, I try to read one each week so that I can match the right book with the right kid and I think I’ve read all the picture books now, but I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve read the whole fiction collection).


  3. Like Louise, my first Herrick was Pookie. It’s wonderful and I now give it to every Yr 6 child I know!
    I believe the main theme is belonging for The Simple Gift, but as of 2015, the HSC texts change – the theme becomes discovery. My eldest stepson will be in that group, so Mr Books & I plan to read his texts too. His teachers seem very excited about a change (after 5-6 yrs) in texts, theme and lesson plans!


    • LOL There’s always controversy when the new lists come out, I wonder what the fuss will be over in 2015?
      However, FWIW, I think The Simple Gift is a terrific book, but, it only takes an hour to read and there’s not much complexity to it . Of course with 90% of students doing Year 12, lists have to include books for all abilities, but I do hope that at HSC level there are other, much more demanding texts as well … I was a very well-read young student, but the books I read for HSC such as Language and the Pursuit of Truth, Authority and the Individual, The Power and the Glory, The Go-Between etc introduced me to a style of writing and to ideas that were new to me, and that’s what I think HSC should do.


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