Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Muse on Childhood Reading Experiences and Books of the Past

This week Gina reflects on the books she enjoyed as a child and considers there relevance today – can they ignite a passion for reading?

A year or so ago I read an article about whether young adults are still reading pre 20th century titles, an idea I have recently been pondering again. This, along with some of the titles featured in Flis’ recent blog, invited me to drift back to the stories I read and listened to as a child and contemplate some of the books my own children are reading today. Are there wonderful stories they are missing out on because have drifted into the past? Or are they all just outdated? (I like to think not.)

My earliest book memories are the classic Little Golden Books. I had a bedhead bookshelf full of them, which I used to learn to write by copying all the words underneath in the books. Oops, naughty me! I remember the magical delights of these and so many other colourful picture books, eagerly turning the page to see what was to be revealed next. So many of us will no doubt remember the mischief of Naughty Amelia Jane, the wonder of The Magic Faraway Tree and so many other Enid Blyton stories of adventure and magic.   

I particularly remember in primary school when a favourite teacher of mine would read aloud in class. I was utterly captivated by James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte’s Web, my imagination ignited by wonderful characters and the rich details of the worlds they inhabited, the thrill of being carried along with them on their journeys as page after page was read aloud. This is still one of my most vivid and profound memories of school. I remember the joys of stories being read aloud in my own children’s kindergarten class – all that fun of wiggling on the mat and calling out reactions.

I also recall being given books in my primary years as ‘Pupil of the Week’ awards. I still have my dear old copy of good old Pollyanna! Are we still giving children books as prizes these days? My children’s primary school does have a day a year, as part of Book Week, where they can bring in books they have outgrown and swap them for something new – this is such a great

idea! It gives children access to new pre-loved books, and I think it is access that is vital in encouraging children to develop a lifelong enjoyment of reading. It certainly worked for me!

I love that my own children still huddle under the doona with a torch at night to devour Tolkien, Rowling and all manner of stories when they should be asleep. But I feel that I am a lucky parent that my children love to read, and read widely. Perhaps they are lucky that both parents are avid readers, that I am an English and Writing teacher, and that they have ready access to a wide range of books both at home and at school. But sometimes they need a bit of a nudge, a suggestion to read something that was written a long time ago. 

What can we do to encourage our children – and others – to explore the magic of stories past? I like the idea of finding old books being an adventure in itself. Second hand bookstores, markets, garage sales and charity shops, along with the local library (including the old book giveaways!) can make the discovery of books, both new and old, a treasure hunt.

I’m also a big believer in reading aloud, and treasure memories of snuggling up in my bed with two little people either side of me to read hundreds of bedtime stories including We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, The Wide Mouthed Frog, The Rattletrap Car, the entire collection of Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl books and the Tuesday McGillycuddy adventures. Even my big kids in Year 10, 11 and 12 enjoy being read to. I am thrilled this year that a few of them, at least, are lovers of those dear to my own heart - Dickens, Hardy, Austen and Bronte, among others – but again, perhaps we have a role in making them aware of these and other authors, giving them a taste and hoping that a few more of them might follow a narrative trail into a whole other realm of books.

I am certain there is still a very important place for the novels and picture books of generations, even centuries, past – even if it is just to have a giggle with them at Dick and Fanny. If we can encourage our young people to read widely, particularly in this age of digital distraction, they can access so many more worlds of reading adventure!

Gina Slevec
Teacher, CBCA Tas Newsletter Editor

Saturday, 8 April 2017

On Representation in Children’s Literature

Guest blogger, Kate Gordon, is well known for her YA stories that present interesting and diverse characters in various Tasmanian settings – past and present. Kate is fascinated by identity and the importance of readers and characters being able to connect within the pages of the books and their stories.
When I was a kid, I never read books about me. Books about my experience. Books about people who were like the people I knew.
I know I was lucky. It wasn’t so long before my childhood that all children had to read was Enid Blyton with her lashings of ginger beer – a reflection of childhood that must have seemed bizarre to young people growing up a million miles away. And once you became a teenager? Well, YA books didn’t exist. Kids moved straight from The Faraway Tree to Far From the Madding Crowd.
I grew up in a time of great books for kids – I devoured Tamora Pierce, Judy Blume and, yes, Ann M Martin, too. And there were fabulous Australian books as well – Robin Klein, John Marsden, James Moloney, Isobelle Carmody …
But they weren’t about me.
I was a kid growing up in rural Tasmania. Not the outback. Not a mainland city. Wynyard. I couldn’t see kids like me anywhere in the books I read.
I was a quiet, shy, bookish, queer kid with severe anxiety and terrible dress sense. I was a bullied kid. I was a kid with an undiagnosed chronic illness that made me feel like a freak.
Where were the books about me?
Representation in literature is so important to forming a child’s sense of identity and belonging. If you never see yourself in the media you consume, how will you ever know that you are normal? That everyone is normal? Everyone belongs somewhere. The queer kids, the disabled kids, the trans kids, the fat kids, the kids with illness, mental or physical, the dark-skinned kids, the kids who wore hijab, the kids whose faces don’t look like the norm. It matters if a kid doesn’t see themselves anywhere.
It matters enormously when they do.

In my writing career I have striven to represent kids like I was. I’ve set all my books in Tasmania. I want Tasmanian kids to see themselves in literature. As I move into the next phase of my career it’s becoming increasingly important to me to foster writers to tell their “own voices” stories to show every kid that they belong and matter.
I’m working with Twelfth Planet Press, an award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) publisher, to start a new children’s imprint called Titania. 
We aim to publish books that have diversity and inclusiveness at their heart, but aren’t defined by it. We aim to reflect diversity of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity and religion within larger stories that could take us to the ends of the universe and back. These are not “message” books. These are books with rollicking adventures and strong, three-dimensional characters. These are books where the girls can save the boys and then go home to dinner with their two mothers. We aim to publish the work of people who speak from their lives and their hearts and have the talent and creativity to weave fantastic stories around their lived experience.

We aim to capture readers from their earliest forays into the marvels of books, and take them through to their teenage years. We aim to create readers.

Twelfth Planet Press is an award-winning publishing house that has always had a focus on thought-provoking work. Their Kaleidoscope anthology was a collection of
fun, edgy, meditative, and hopeful YA with diverse leads. I’m proud to be working with them on this new venture.
I hope that there are some Tassie kids out there who have experienced comfort and a sense of belonging reading my books. I hope that Titania will take this further and help kids everywhere to understand how important they are; how normal and how magical.

Kate Gordon
YA author www.kategordon.com.au

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Reading in the secondary school library

This week, Pennii provides a window into the reading life of the library technician in a large secondary school library. Such a rich reading background is harnessed to inspire teen readers and bring literature into classrooms. 
Like most school library personnel, choosing what to read and how many books to take home is always a challenge. So, what am I reading at the moment? I always have few books on the go and several teachers and I have a running competition of the total number of books we can read in the year. I try to fit as many books in as I can. My total so far this year is just over 250 – of course this includes picture books, graphic novels and quick (easy) reads.
Currently I am going through a ‘Graphic Novel’ (not manga) phase. Our collection of graphic novels was nearly non-existent until last year, when I decided to spend some time researching, surveying the students and spending money.  So far, I am really enjoying reading graphic novels. 

Picture books are a constant on my reading list. The last several years have seen an increase in the purchase of many picture books for my high school. 
All grades are using picture books as part of the Curriculum (Year 7 – writing picture books for young children and how the pictures relate to the text; Year 9 – voice (characters and authors), speech used, humour and image; Year 10 – belonging and literacy groups). These are the last four, recently read, titles that support these year level areas. They are also shortlisted for the CBCA 2017 Picture Book Award.

As for novels, well, from the school library I have just finished reading ‘And I Darken’.
This is the first book in The Conquerors Saga. IT is a reimagined historical story that includes the exploration of perspectives of both Christianity and Islam, how women were used as pawns for men’s political power, where men were expected to be both masculine and brutal.
Lada Dragwlya and her gentle younger brother, Radu, are wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts. Lada knows that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, for the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. When they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion. But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. 
Although I occasionally struggled with this novel I also couldn’t put it down. At times, I found it predictable but I really wanted to see how it would finish. Now I can’t wait for the sequel ‘Now I Rise’ - release date 27th June 2017.
In the pile to read for the next few weeks:
  • Freeks by Amanda Hocking
  • Fight for Survival: the Story of the Holocaust by Jessica Freeburg
  • First Person Shooter by Cameron Raynes, and ...
as many of the CBCA Notables books as possible from all of the categories.
NOTE: I write blurbs for all the books I read from the school’s iCentre collection. These are added to our book lists and students are asked to add their own thoughts once they have read the book.
Pennii Purton
Library Technician and iCentre Manager, Reece High School; Literacy Assistant and CBCA Tasmania Committee Member.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

2017 Reading Challenge - A personal list

This week Nella applies earlier posts with challenges to develop her own. A bingo template of ideas is added at the end to inspire our readers.

There are so many great challenges around but I decided to create my own.
Fairy Tale Retelling
Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Macmillan
Lady Catherine, whose delectable creations can alter a person's emotions, simply wants to open a bakery. Unfortunately, the King of Hearts wants her for his bride. A mysterious court jester, the Mad Hatter and a rook become involved.  Heartbreakingly sad.

Toilet Humour
Busting!  By Aaron Blabley, Omnibus
Lou is BUSTING for the loo. But the loo has quite a queue. Need I say more?

Post Apocalypse
The Road to Winter by Mark Smith, Text Publishing
Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company. His isolation is shattered when a Siley – an asylum seeker- runs onto the beach. Interesting view of the breakdown in a society and the treatment of Sileys -very close to our present reality.

People who love words
The Moonlight Dreamers by Siobhan Curham, Walker
Amber craves excitement and adventure. Inspired by Oscar Wilde, she looks for other moonlight dreamers. A inspirational, heart-warming book about four very different girls trying to find their place in the world.

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson, Macmillan
Coming of age story of a 13-year-old who, as winter approaches, uncovers her dormant power, finds her elemental father - Jack Frost, and learns about the need for balance in nature and in her human world. Younger readers.

Set in a Cult
The Special Ones by Em Bailey, Hardie Grant Egmont
Esther is one of the Special Ones – four teens who live under his “protection” in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, and they must impart wisdom to their online followers. Or they will be renewed.

Reading Time Online recommendation
Black by Fleur Ferris, Random House
Ebony Marshall, known as Black, is in her final year of high school. She can’t wait to leave the town and the curse that follows her.

Social commentary
I'm Australian Too by Mem Fox, Scholastic
Every Australian child should have this read to them - contents up until the last two pages are true. Now you know why Mem was detained trying to enter USA.

Road Trip

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, Penguin
Alice is an outcast, colourless and lacking magical talent. Whimsical and yet deep - growing up is difficult if you're different. For younger readers.Top of Form

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Fairy Tale Retelling 
Toilet Humour
Post apocalypse
People who love words
First book in a series
Set in a cult
Historical character
Aussie outback
Verse Novel
YA with no romance
Reading Time Online recommendation
Social commentary
Green cover
Road Trip
Set in Tasmania
Mental Health
On your TBR pile
Recommended by ReadingTimeOnline
Recommended by an Indie store
Award winner
Should have been an award winner
Truly frightening
400 + pages
Would make a great movie
“We need diverse books”

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Nella Pickup
Editor's note: What a great bingo list - I have just added several of Nella's picks to my 'must reads' for 2017. I think I might start with The Road to Winter. Thanks Nella!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Reading the Literacy Problem in Tasmania

Lyndon Riggall offers a thoughtful and challenging examination of literacy achievement (or the lack thereof) in Tasmania. Heed his call to all those engaged with children to work towards addressing the problems.

This year I am studying a Masters of Teaching at the University of Tasmania. As part of this course, I am engaged in a unit titled Foundations of Literacy: Processes and Practices, co-ordinated by Dr. Belinda Hopwood. Over the last week we have been discussing literacy in a Tasmanian context, and the implications, as always, startle. I’m sure many of you have heard the figure before, but the worst projections remain at 49% for functional illiteracy in Tasmania (that is, literacy at the level deemed necessary to carry out the day-to-day tasks of employment.) The outcome of the lecture and discussion we undertook was as harrowing as it was eye-opening: these issues are systemic, generational, and not going away.

Programs such as Launching Into Learning start children reading before they reach school, recognising that a major hurdle in our literacy landscape is that those who fall behind are easily left behind, and fail to ever catch up. LINC Tasmania offers courses in which adults can get support and learn to read, which lifts adult literacy levels and creates an environment in which adults need not be resistant and defensive about reading and writing, and will be able to share their skills with their own children and grandchildren. There are plenty of people doing remarkable work to help this problem, yet we cannot deny that the scope of it is frightening.

It has always struck me with some degree of horror when I see some of the figures related to literacy. A Roy Morgan poll taken in 2015 identified 60.9% of women as having read a book in the last 3 months, and only 41.3% of men. While I would certainly accept that my own rate of reading has been known to border on the classification of addiction, going twelve weeks without finishing a book of any kind strikes me as a huge blow to an individual’s personal development and understanding of the world. And yet it’s the norm. I know we read so much – in the papers, online, scrolling Facebook… but books are deep, contemplative, thoughtful things that make us better. And we’re just not using them enough.

So what can we do? We can support our libraries and organisations such as the CBCA whenever and however we can. We can remain thoughtfully open and contemplative about the content of books that we and our children read, but try whenever possible not to police as “valid” and “invalid” anyone’s reading choices that might be reduced to personal taste.

We can love books. Love them daily, love them publically, and love them openly. Because the problem of literacy isn’t solved in the classroom of “readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic” alone. It is solved on the library steps, where a young woman reads the new Tim Winton while she waits for the bus. It is solved in a child’s bedroom, where a father reads his son Where is the Green Sheep? before bed. It is solved in a lounge room, where a girl, her X-Box long abandoned, giggles in delight as she reads of a young Andy Griffiths siliconing himself inside a gradually filling shower.

I believe that we become an amalgam of the small group of people we spend the most time around. And if we want to be highly literate, if we want our friends, our children and society to be highly literate, we must model that literacy. It’s easily done, and if it’s done right it’s joyfully done, too. And it starts so simply. With the crinkling of a spine, and the words…

Chapter One. 

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and pre-service teacher in Launceston. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall.