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

Monday, 30 May 2011

Nella Goes to Reading Matters (Lucky Duck)

Christmas and my January birthday usually find me receiving exciting gifts such as Coles’ vouchers or bed socks; so last year I asked for a contribution towards my registration for Reading Matters.  http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/reading-mattersTo make my celebrations last a little longer, I also registered for the students’ day and the keynote event – a panel discussion on "My Favourite children’s book".

I won’t try to compete with the excellent bloggers who have written detailed reports. Here are a couple:

But here are some (not all) of the highlights for me:

  • The performances – from Book Thief, City of Bones and When you reach me.
  • Authors such as Markus Zusak and Karen Healey reading their own works (especially the works that are as yet unpublished)
  • Authors giving fascinating talks to the students
  • Markus Zusak explaining that details make a story, that the most important party of storytelling is the unexpected (i.e. a slightly vulnerable Death telling the story is better than a powerful one).  Also, I will now listen for the supermarket conversations - sentences where every third word has a full stop and sentences end with a flourish (listen closely).
  • Hearing that there are as many ways to write a book as there are authors – from Jane Burke’s meticulous research into pig hunting and gutting, to Cassandra Clare’s "microplotting" with her friends over a 13 hour session, to Markus Zusak reworking the story yet keeping it simple to Ursula Dubosarky’s use of the titles of Charles Blackman’s 1950s school girl paintings to shape a story. Dubosarky describes  her writing process as “crystals gathering on a pear”.

Another highlight was My favourite children’s book - a panel where authors reminisced about their favourite books as children. The panellists were:
  • Rebecca Stead – award-winning US children’s author
  • Russel Howcroft – "adman" and Gruen Transfer regular
  • Roland Harvey – celebrated local author and illustrator
  • Miso (Stanislava Pinchuk) a Melbourne artist
  • Lawrence Leung – comedian, writer and star of ABC TV’s Choose Your Own Adventure
 Both Russel & Roland named nonfiction books; for Russel it was Ampol ‘s Australian Sporting Records which he shared with his father; for Roland The Eagle Annual – filled with stories and detailed projects for making boats and other marvels that fascinate the young (particularly boys).

Lawrence went home to his parents to find this favourite book The Bike Lesson by Stan & Jan Berenstain.  He knew exactly where it was, what it looked like, what colour it was ... will it be the same for the ebook generation?

Still more highlights included:
  • Paula Kelly’s 5 myths about young people, books & reading (let’s hope she turns that into a paper we can show the educational hierarchy)
  • Zoe Sadokierski’s session on covers and her "Gruen Transfer" style "design a cover for a new book"
  • Kate Burridge’s session on swearing. Interesting to hear about how Australians use "infixes", i.e. – abso-bloody –lutely? And did you know that the use of body parts as insults started in 1928
  • The wackiness of Richard Newsome & Oliver Phommavanh

So thanks Richard, Mum, Dad and Little Brother, for the Christmas/birthday present! 

PS: Need a hint for presents for 2011/2012? 

The CBCA conference will be in Adelaide next May ...

- by CBCA secretary Nella Pickup

Sunday, 22 May 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it!

No, no, not "The Rapture" (although I would have been very disgruntled if that had happened yesterday, as it would mean I'd never get to read the new Nick Earls book ... or finish the sublime new Lili Wilkinson). I'm talking about not the future of life on our planet, but the future of what makes life on this planet (for many of us), worth living:


At the CBCA conference a week ago, I was asked to be on a panel about e-books and the future of reading. I was a bit nervous about talking on the topic as a) I am always nervous about talking in public (this is why I am a writer: so I can write instead of talk) and b) I felt completely ill-equipped to talk on an issue I'm only just getting my head around.

I don't know much about different e-readers, the technology behind them, the minefield that is "DRM", or statistics on who is shunning paper for pixels. I waver between being a bit scared of what the advent of e-books might herald; excited about the possibility of a whole new generation of readers discovering reading in an entirely different way, on an entirely different form of technology from that which my generation and those before are familiar with; and nostalgic about that very same technology. I like paper books. I'm a book nerd. It's a cliché, but I like the way they smell. I like "cracking" a spine. I like turning down pages. I like the weight of a book; the way it feels in my hand.

I also like publishers. This may sound unfashionable to all of those writers out there who think that this new digital revolution will mean they can more easily convey their message to the masses, bypassing the traditional publishing house route. And, maybe, before I was published by a couple of wonderful publishing houses, I might have felt a bit the same ... or maybe not. I've always known (through my work in libraries and book shops), that there can sometimes be a gap between the quality of self-published works and those published by a reputable publishing house. I know that's a generalisation. I have read some fabulous self-published work, especially recently as I've met some self-published authors with great talent (some of it, I wish had the wider audience that comes with a publishing house's marketing department). But, I'm worried that if self-publishing becomes easier, this work will be in the minority, and will get lost amongst the less-wonderful stuff.

The reason some self-published work is of a much lower quality than that produced by traditional publishing methods is that publishing houses help a writer to craft a product. The incredibly talented editors who work for publishing houses take what is often a fairly raw material (it's not called a rough draft for nothing), and help a writer to make it into something polished and well-executed. I worry that, with the ease of self-publication that will come with e-books, this crucial step in the publishing process will be neglected, and what we will be left with is a million rough drafts.

That said, people are discerning. Just like they are able to ferret out precious little truffles of books in a bookshop and discard the mud that often surrounds them, I reckon they'll be able to pick out a great digital book amongst other lesser offerings.

My other worry about the e-book "revolution" (though, in Australia, at the moment, it's more like a small peaceful protest - but one that grows in size daily), is that we haven't quite worked out all the twists and turns of the law regarding the ownership of the books. When you buy an e-book, you don't actually own it; you're just licensed to read it. That, to me, is kind of sad. Pricing is another issue that will probably take awhile to settled in to a "good place".

So they're the negatives. The positives are many. For one thing, if it facilitates a whole new generation of passionate readers, bring it on! Gen Y and "Millennials" have grown up with, if not a silver spoon in their mouths, then an iPad in their hands. This is their reality. Technology is as integrated into their lives as paper and pens were in ours. It seems a natural extension that, as they can watch movies and listen to music on their "devices", so they should be able to read books. Reading is - for the most part - entertainment. It's fun. I worry that, if we say to kids that they can listen to music and watch movies and surf the internet on their iPads and smartphones, but they're not allowed to read books on them, we'll be sending a message that reading isn't as fun as those other activities. Plus, as the great Michael Pryor said, "It's the message, not the medium". It's the same book; the same words. One just has real pages. The other has a "page turn function".

It's not the end of the world as we know it. Just like "The Rapture" turned out to be just a great excuse for us to examine our lives, table our regrets, and make some positive plans for the future of our existence if we did survive the "earthquake, the advent of e-books gives us an opportunity to view the publishing industry with fresh eyes - see what's working and what isn't and, most importantly, convert a whole new generation of believers to the rapture that is reading.

- Kate Gordon

Sunday, 15 May 2011

CBCA Tas Conference!

CBCA Tassie president, the amazing Patsy Jones
Where were you last Friday and Saturday? At the footy? At the movies? At the pub? Really? Well, let me tell you, those were not the places to be this weekend!

Chris Morphew
On Friday and Saturday, the CBCA Tasmania branch ran its 2011 conference. I went to both the Launnie and Hobart gigs, and both days were wonderfully inspiring, thought-provoking and downright fantastic days. A big reason for this was the glorious Chris Morphew, who took time out from his busy life as a "Hip geek" celebrity to teen readers all over the country to give us his thoughts on YA trends and the "reluctant reader". Now, I am a huge fan of Chris (and had to stop myself from going all "fangirl" when I met him), but I can say, impartially, he had the rest of us delegates in the palm of his hand for his entire talk. What I loved most is how much he values his readers, never talks down to them, and rates their opinion over any other. He's an inspiration.

Tony Flowers
Also inspirational was Tassie illustrator Tony Flowers, who showed us his gobsmacking handmade popup book creations. He's a super talent (and most be unbelIEVably patient to boot). Andrea Potter also gave an eye-opening speech on the Visual Spatial learner. I think the teachers in the pack, in particular, found her thoughts incredibly useful.

Michelle O'Byrne
Carol Fuller gave a talk on the new publication she has produced with Nella Pickup - Books To Keep Kids Reading. It's a brochure full of great titles for parents to pick for their kids. Carol is available to do talks with community groups and parents and friends associations about this booklet. Drop us a line at our comments form if you'd like her to come and chat to your group, and we'll pass the message on. The (exceedingly) new Minister for Children, Michelle O'Byrne was kind enough to come along and launch the booklet. Michelle is a dedicated reader of kids' books, and passionate about reading to her own young-uns, so she was the perfect person for the job.
Carol Fuller
We also had some fun, feisty forums in the afternoon, on ebooks and the future of the book. The general consensus was "It's the message, not the medium" (Thanks to Michael Pryor for that quote), that it doesn't really matter how kids read as long as they're reading, that the paper book aint set for the grave just yet, and there are many kinks to be ironed out before ebooks can be an integrated part of school content delivery.

Jenni Connor
Last but not least, we had great presentations from some fabulous speech pathologists, and our Tassie CBCA Awards judge, Jenni Connor, who presented despite a super painful injury to her shoulder blade!

If you've been considering coming to a CBCA Tas conference but haven't got there yet ... well, you missed out big time this year, but there's always next year, so watch this space.

Michelle O'Byrne with Carol Fuller and Nella Pickup


Sunday, 8 May 2011

Death in teenage fiction - Kate Gordon

This week has seen me attend both a wedding and a funeral. I've been lucky in my life so far to attend many of the former and few of the latter. Many others aren't so fortunate, and many have to deal with death at a much younger age than I've had to. Whether it's expected or sudden, death is always devastating. I think, probably, the younger you are, the more it is so. 

Before I had any experience of death in my "real" life, I encountered it through fiction. I remember, vividly, bursting into loud, uncontrollable sobs in the middle of silent reading when coming up to "that scene" in The Horse Whisperer. I read Tess of the d'Urbervilles so many times I could have recited it with my eyes closed, but I still felt as though my soul was being ripped out whenever I reached the end. I guess, in some ways, death in fiction prepared me for death in real life, in some small way. I invested so much in these characters their loss felt like the loss of friends.

Lately, I have read some wonderful teen fiction that deals with death. The superlative Looking for Alaska is the one that springs to mind first. The death in this book is of the unexpected variety and, when it happened, I felt like the floor had fallen out beneath me. It was written so exquisitely by the incredibly talented Green, and it was set up with such skill that it was like a sucker punch. The way he dealt with the aftermath was similarly well executed. But that makes it sound clinical. There was nothing clinical about the death in this book. It was real and vivid and visceral and gut-wrenching.

In Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, the death is expected. In fact, it happens right at the beginning of the book. But then, in a young adult version of Groundhog Day, it happens again and again as the protagonist, Samantha is reborn each morning with another opportunity to live the last day of her life and right the wrongs she committed. It might seem like the concept has been "done" before, but the quality of Oliver's writing lifts this above cliche, and the character of Samantha is just so beautifully drawn, you can't help but become deeply involved in her journey. When the final "fall" occurred, I really did grieve for a character I had started out hating and ended up loving.

Death is heartbreaking no matter how it occurs. Nothing makes it easier. But these beautiful books - and many others - give us comfort in knowing it doesn't only happen to us; that others have gone through it and survived. For the young people, especially, who read them, they provide hope and solace, and a way to work through pain. Their value is immense.

If you've read any books that deal skilfully with this difficult topic, I'd love to hear your recommendations!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Nella's big weekend!

I asked the CBCA executive on Friday what book they had planned to read over the weekend.

Note, I asked for a book. Singular. Just one.

But, on Monday, our secretary - Nella Pickup - emailed me her weekend reads. Nella is a dedicated lover of children's literature and children's expert at a local bookshop. The reason she's an expert? Um, see below!

This is what Nella got up to at the weekend:

"Last weekend was great!" Nella told me. "I read ...

Emily Rodda Bungawitta Omnibus Books

The title caught my eye - my children had enjoyed their days at Bungawitta Child Care Centre.  A warm and humorous tale about Aussie spirit.  The town has 12 inhabitants because drought has driven everyone away.  How does the town survive – by bringing tourists for the Bungawitta Earth Sculpture Festival.  Craig Smith’s trademark illustrations add to the fun.  (Mid- upper primary school)

Bernard Beckett August Text Publishing

I had previously enjoyed Genesis – a science fiction book about Anaximander, a student who is facing Examiners, who will question her about The life and times of Adam Forde, 2058 - 2077. Adam had been born shortly after The Final War which engulfed the world in plague. An isolationist republic had been created where ships, aircraft and any approaching refugees were all destroyed on sight.  Adam became a popular hero by rebelling against the rigid rules and saving the life of a young refugee. In prison, Adam was forced to converse with a robot, Art, as part of its development.  Since Adam’s death, there have been changes, but it is only in the powerful and moving finale that the reader realises that the novel is also a thought experiment. (14+)

With August, Beckett has created a similar experiment. The book opens with Tristan and Grace trapped upside down in a car teetering on a cliff.  They are seriously injured and don’t know if the car can be seen from the road. Tristan and Grace don’t know each other but their lives have crossed many times.  As they tell each other about themselves, the book becomes a philosophical discussion about the Christian (Augustinian) perspective of free will.  And there was my disappointment.  The philosophy lesson was too close to the agonies I lived through at school but more importantly it slowed the plot and the horrific truth behind their situation. (Adult)

Brigid Lowry Triple Ripple Allen & Unwin

The book is a three layer experience.  The writer has to balance her life (including tea and cake), her concerns about the state of the world and her writing.  The Reader is Nova, a girl who is being bullied at school, whinges about her ever present mother and her constantly disappearing father.  The fairytale is about Glory - a girl from a poor family who is unaware she is the subject of a deadly curse until she arrives at a palace to work as maid to sulky Princess Mirabella.  Highly recommended. (12+)  Thanks to my friend Maureen for suggesting this.

Donna Leon Drawing Conclusions Heinemann

Another Guido Brunetti mystery for those who enjoy books set in Venice with a police inspector who loves his wife, his family, his city and his food.

Linda Olsson Astrid & Veronika Penguin

Story of two women who live next door to each other. The young one, a writer, is grieving over the death of her lover.  The old woman has isolated herself from other human beings.  As their relationship develops we learn about the two women, both motherless and childless.  A quiet novel with beautifully crafted passages."

Nella also told me I shouldn't read in the car (I did my weekend reading - a pale shadow of Nella's achievement), in the car on the way to Stewart's Bay). She said I should listen to audiobooks so my husband can "read along". From now on, I will take any piece of reading advice Nella provides. She truly is a reading superstar!