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

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.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Flis’s Books of Influence

Flis (better known than Felicity) is a Teacher-Librarian (on the Tasmanian critically endangered list) who, for all but one year of her career (starting in 1981), has been employed as a Teacher-Librarian in Education Department schools, initially in primary schools and more recently at Don College (Year 11 & 12) in Devonport.

I recently came across the following in my Facebook feed: 30 of the Best Books to Teach Children Empathy.

Some of the titles were familiar, but others not (possibly because it’s heavily American weighted). It prompted me to think about the books that influenced me as a child, or as a former primary school teacher-librarian. I wanted to share these – and would like to read your responses listing your influential books.
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) was the first science fiction book I discovered in primary school. I found myself fighting ‘IT’ in my sleep until the book reached resolution. The power of the story teller to invade my unconscious mind, as I slept, stays with me today. Another in this genre, Grinny (Nicholas Fisk), also based upon mind control, was entertaining and thought provoking. As a young person, I loved that it was the children who were able to resist domination and save the day.
I love a book that hijacks my emotions, whether it be tears, anger at injustice, or laughter. Goodnight Mister Tom (Michelle Magorian) was the first time I had read a novel about child abuse and the injustice that William experienced. Unfortunately I find his story replicated, in some way, in the students I teach. The sassy Galadriel in the Great Gilly Hopkins (Katherine Paterson) epitomised a child who protects her emotions by attacking the world that has disappointed her – again a child I see in my teaching career. Love You Forever (Robert Munsch) is a picture book I struggle to read as an adult, but is probably just a ‘nice’ story for a young person. The inhabitants of the nursing home in Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox) tug at the heart strings.
Picture books I love to read aloud include Whistle up the Chimney (Nan Hunt) – Nan’s onomatopoeia ensures that the train sounds are articulated. The fun participatory read aloud, It’s a Perfect Day (Abigail Pizer), builds a cacophony of farmyard sounds as the story progresses. The minimal text story No ducks in our Bathtub (Martha G Alexander) relies on the pictures to tell the story of the battle between a heavily pregnant mother and her pre-school son, who desperately wants a pet. Stories from our Street and More Stories from our Street (Richard Tulloch) are six vignettes of family life, written in a most engaging manner and beautifully illustrated by Julie Vivas.
Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne) and Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) are stories I love to read, but usually not aloud. Pooh-isms are the vernacular of my childhood, and often caused confusion for visitors. The question: Would you like cream or ice-cream with that? was answered with: Can I do a Pooh? Sounds quite different to how it looks in writing! Winnie the Pooh was my deceased mother’s favourite story, and as she lay in a coma, we sat and read our favourite Pooh chapters to her – mine was an Eeyore story. My Grade 6 teacher read Wind in the Willows aloud as a class novel, and I have never been able to replicate her wonderful Ratty and Mole voices – but they are there whenever I read this book.
My two Christmas favourites are The Father Christmas Letters (J.R.R. Tolkien) and The Worst Kids in the World (Barbara Robinson). Tolkien’s letters to his children over twenty years, explaining the evil in the world (the Goblins) and present disasters (North Polar Bear), created the world inhabited 365 days of the year by Father Christmas. I too, wrote letters from Father Christmas to my children, once they started writing Christmas letters to Santa. The Worst Kids in the World is probably the best book to ever be included in a class reading library (Scholastic). The Herdmans take over the lead roles in the Nativity play and take the Christmas story to a whole new level.
Please add your favourite reads/read alouds that have influenced you in the comments section. The hardest part is signing in the first time – then it’s quite straight-forward. I’d really like to read your comments, and hopefully discover new titles.
Felicity Sly
Teacher librarian & CBCA Tasmania Treasurer

Saturday, 4 March 2017

A Learning Community: Devonport Council's Aspirations

Devonport Council sets a bedrock for a learning community through the Devonport Community Live & Learn Strategy. Mayor, Steve Martin, outlines  some key initiatives including innovative strategies to establish reading and literacy as a core expectation in the current Devonport Year of Literacy. It is not too late to register for the Building Brighter Stronger Families Conference next Saturday, 11 March.

In 2012, the City of Devonport Council (Council) consulted with the community to consider the concept of becoming a learning community; to recognise the importance of learning; and to task itself to promote learning wherever possible - especially reading. A Learning Communities Special Interest Group (Group) was formed with representatives from education, levels of government and the community. The purpose: to construct a strategy that reflected a holistic community approach to learning.  

The learning community strategy “Live and Learn” was launched by the Minister for Education, Jeremy Rockliff, in November 2015, highlighting Devonport’s vision to become well connected, vibrant, an innovative community and a place to lead, live and learn. The aim is to increase the quality of life and learning opportunities to improve and enrich Devonport’s social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being.

One of the first actions conducted by the Group was the Festival of Learning, a month-long event, September 2016, that celebrated lifelong learning, identified and promoted learning opportunities and event in the Devonport Community. Over 17 different organisations collaborated, conducting over 35 events ranging from a Young Writers Workshop, cooking for blokes to a storytime for pre-schoolers, trade challenges and a Living Lightly Expo.      

An opportunity to help children develop good reading and communication habits, gain self-confidence and foster a culture of saving ($) has recently commenced, “Reading Salons”. Ten local hairdressers are encouraging children to read a book out loud whilst having their hair cut and when finished, the children are rewarded with a monetary donation. Books were provided by Soroptimist International Devonport.

Devonport Council also boasts the Building Families Special Interest Group, which recently launched Devonport’s “Year of Literacy” which featured Mem Fox's national book launch of “Ducks Away”, the Building Brighter Stronger Families Conference 11th March 2017 for Tasmanian Early Childhood Educators and featuring Mem Fox, Steve Biddulph and Maggie Dent. 

There is much more to tell as Devonport heads towards becoming a true learning community. Watch out for Books for Babies and Supermarket Conversations. Devonport’s Year of Literacy has an extensive range of programs to interest the local and wider community.

Steve Martin
Mayor, City of Devonport 
Committee Member CBCA TAS 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

What’s Going on in Your Mind When You Read a Story?

This week, Amanda considers her personal reading strategy of visualisation – to picture and imagine the story's events – and her discovery that this is not a natural occurrence for many students. Read on to discover how visualisation contributes to understanding and engagement with the text?
For many years as a primary school teacher, a considerable amount of my time has been spent teaching children to read, and encouraging them to love stories. As an avid reader of children’s literature, this continues to bring me great joy. However, sometimes I face the interesting challenge of children who do not automatically warm to having a story read to them and don’t seem to care about the characters. There is nothing significantly different about these children, like most children they are usually well behaved, love talking, have great ideas, and work hard. They just struggle to sit for any period of time to listen to a story.

So, maybe I haven’t read them the right types of stories? I ask myself each year. But after reading Harry Potter, and books by Emily Rodda, Carole Wilkinson, David Walliams, Jackie French, John Marsden, Roald Dahl etc., I realised that there is nothing wrong with the stories, they are all wonderful. Most of the children in the class enjoyed them, and went on to read further stories by these authors independently. 

In discussion with a group of colleagues about this problem, the idea was proposed that maybe they can’t ‘visualise’ the story as it is being read. I was flabbergasted- really? Surely everybody is able to see the story unfolding in their mind like a picture or movie? ‘Visualising’ is also one of the first reading strategies that we introduce.  So, after the discussion, I was keen to find out, so I approached my class of grade five/six students. We had been reading ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’ by Michael Morpurgo, a wonderful survival story about a boy falling from his parents’ yacht in the middle of the night into the Pacific Ocean. After a little thought and discussion, only three quarters of the students said ‘yes,’ they did ‘see’ the story in pictures or ‘like a movie’. 

Interestingly, most of the students who did not ‘visualise’ were the students who seemed to find it difficult to sit still and focus while the story was being read.

When I asked my daughter, age seven, what she did when she was listening to a story, she told me that she didn’t just visualise, she pretended she was the characters as well. She felt like she was in the story all of the time and she wasn’t just one character, she was all of them – whenever it was their ‘turn’ in the book. Being able to identify with characters at a deeper level, to empathise has recently been heralded as one of the many benefits of children engaging in reading experiences as it allows children to experience and become more sensitive to the feelings of different characters, the difficulties they face and the thought processes and strategies they use to navigate themselves through the challenges. (McKearney, M. & Mears, S. 2015). 

So, now to the challenge of encouraging greater visualisation and empathy. As I embark on a new year of reading stories to my Year 2/3/4/ class, I will be exploring ways to expand my repertoire of teaching strategies and conversations  that encourage all students  to ‘visualise’ the story and ‘empathise’ with the characters. Encouraging them to draw or create scenes from the story, plus some role play, might be a good place to start. Anything that will provide children with opportunities to understand and engage with stories on a deeper level is worth a try.

Amanda O’SheaTeacher, reader, children’s Author.

McKearney, M. & Mears, S. 2015, May 13). Lost for words? How reading can teach children empathy [Blog post]. In The Guardian

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Test of a Good Prequel

Join Jackie as she shares her thoughts on a new adventure set before the start of Ranger’s Apprentice series. Does it add to the overall experience?

Spotting a new John Flanagan novel in the bookshop is always a positive and it was an easy decision to purchase the second prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Battle of Hackham Heath.
Regular readers of the series should enjoy the glimpses the book gives of the earlier lives of favourite characters. If Gillan’s apprenticeship to Halt didn’t happen exactly the way an earlier novel described it, the version in this tale resonates satisfactorily with our knowledge of both characters. There is also the story of Cassandra’s mother, which fills in a gap in the story, and adds to our understanding of the close relationship between Cassandra and her father King Duncan.
The usual ingredients of adventure, acts of bravery and the battle against the series’ arch villain Morgarath are all present together with a battlefield struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds – just what readers of John Flanagan have come to expect! The battle sequence should particularly appeal to teenage boys.
I found that this novel met the true test of a prequel – it closed by bringing the reader so perfectly back to the start of the original series that I was forced back to my bookcase to re-read the first four novels of the series again.
I imagine that this will be the last Ranger’s Apprentice book to be published – after two prequels, The Lost Stories and a next generation novel in The Royal Ranger, the story seems to have been completed. But hopefully there will be many more novels still to come in the spin off Brotherband series, where there is always the chance of meeting one of your favourite Ranger’s Apprentice characters.
Jackie Gagnell

Editor’s note:  Having caught up with the fascinating The Lost Stories over Summer, now I have another to add to my wish list. John Flanagan has an informative and engaging website, The World of John Flanagan, that is worth a visit to find out more about the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series – visit and be entertained.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

May Gibbs

Thank you Johanna for this delightful walk down memory lane beneath the gumtrees and their inhabitants.

It is less than 800m to walk my sons to their primary school, but at this time of year that walk becomes extra noisy as we wander underneath the majestic flowering eucalypts and the frenzied activity of bees in their colourful blooms.

The vibrant colours of deep red, orange, pink and apricot appeal to my love of colour, but there is another reason I love seeing these trees bloom: I know Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and their friends, the Gum Blossom Babies, live within. In Gibbs’ words from Gum-Nut Babies: “On all the big Gumtrees there are Gum-Nut Babies. Some people see them and some don’t; but they see everybody and everything”.

Passing gumnut babies down through generations
May Gibb’s stories about the cherubic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and their fellow Gum-Nut Babies were firm favourites of mine from an early age. My librarian grandmother had passed her love for the stories to her daughter, my mum, who then shared them with me. Years later, when I was an adult, the three of us visited Nutcote and spent a delightful afternoon browsing Gibbs’ home on the northern side of Sydney Harbour.

Gibbs’ stories about the gumnut foster brothers who wanted to see a human, Mr Lizard, Mrs Kookaburra, Little Ragged Blossom, Bush Babies, Little Obelia and Lilly Pilly filled my young mind with incredible tales abut the bush I was so familiar with as a child.

To this day I still find peace when I smell the eucalyptus scent, hear kookaburras and cicadas and feel the crunch of dry gum leaves underfoot as I walk through Cataract Gorge. Gibbs’ books, while full of fantastic stories, also feature her beautiful illustrations, which also fostered my love of the Australian bush.

A creator from the beginning
Gibbs was an established artist from an early age, saying she could “draw before I could walk”. She won many awards for her drawings and worked as an illustrator for The Western Mail before trying her creative hand at writing.

The iconic image of the gumnut babies peeking out from gum leaves first appearing in Gibbs’ illustration for Ethel Turner’s serial The Magic Button, which was published in the Sydney Mail. The Mail later commissioned Gibbs to create 25 more bush-themed covers. Bookmarks, calendars and postcards with these familiar eucalyptus darlings followed, and many were sent in care packages to soldiers fighting in World War I.

Inspired by the popularity of her illustrations, Gibbs wrote stories to fit her images and introduced the Australian public to the characters that are now firmly entrenched in our cultural tradition. And it is this folklore that I draw on when I talk to my boys about the cute baby-like creatures who inhabit the trees that line the streets in which we live.

Johanna Baker-Dowdell
Freelance journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Digital Multisensory Stories – for want of a better name

This week, Jennie shares a collection of web-published visual stories that she has gathered over the past year – sit back, relax, view, listen and engage - in some multisensory reading.

As an avid fan of pop-up literature The Happy Duck is a favourite.

If you search the web for “digital stories” you will get an amazing number of results, and most will be for creating your own digital story. There are so many tools out there that support our creative talents, tap into our burgeoning photo libraries and reflect current, (dare I say narcissistic!) trends to share our personal lives. However, such a search will provide minimal results on stories told visually and shared on the web. What do you call them? Multi sensory books doesn’t work – think of ‘scratch and sniff’ and ‘touchy feely’ and you will realise why. But for want of a better name the following list reflects some examples of what I consider to be digital multisensory stories.

The Boat is an excellent example that may make you feel sea sick!

Stories that are told digitally (not the typical ebook and audio book) but are also interactive in some way – that engage the reader in more ways than just ‘reading or listening to the words’ – to embrace visual and auditory senses as well. Such stories are out there and in increasing numbers. Like all literature, they range in quality, purpose, audience and format. You may find:
  • Self-reflective personal stories
  • Documentary coverage
  • Personal recounts of current and historic events
  • Retellings of published works
    • And re-representations of those works that harness the technology
  • 3D virtual reality worlds to explore
  • Interactive stores to engage with
  • Games where the viewer adopts a persona and manipulates the story through their participation
  • Graphic novels

… the list will continue to grow as technology continues to advance.

ABC3D pop-up book
Catnap poetry reading and digital storytelling

For the story lover, it is worth searching out wondrous literary adventures on the web. However, for the busy person with little time to search for digital stories, or multisensory stories or ….???? why not visit my compilation on JB on NotJust Books: @WWW.
Fantastical flying books!
A note of caution: These are not sorted by genre or age group but by curriculum topic as the compilation was developed for a curriculum need. The range of stories suit a range of ages – don’t let the little ones loose without some supervision or previewing.

Engage your senses and enjoy.
Wilderquest adventure game

I invite you to share another ‘digital multisensory story’ or come up with an alternative term if you are linguistically inclined.

Jennie Bales
Editor, Reader, Viewer and Educator