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

Monday, 25 March 2013

Kids' books in China - what are the challenges?

When the grandchildren of Tasmanian CBCA member Kim Boyer went (with their parents!) to live in Beijing 2 years  ago, access to quality children’s books was one of Kim’s key concerns.
She needn’t have worried! Lucy (now 6) and Jack (4) have remained avid readers and listeners, strongly supported by parents Daniel and Amy and their international school.
The family is two-thirds of the way into a three-year posting, based at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, and is enjoying, to the utmost, living in this vibrant and exciting city.
Books and language opportunities are plentiful. Amy is now capable in Mandarin, and Lucy is already displaying some of her mother’s aptitude for languages.
Lucy and Jack both attend the international British School at Beijing, where Lucy in now reading fluently in English, with her favourites including the Billie B Brown books and the Go Girl books. Jack’s reading is accelerating fast, and he is seriously into any books relating to Ninjas, the Gruffalo, Uno’s Garden, Pinkalicious, Dr Seuss books, and The Beach. Stories at bedtime at this stage (read by parents) are the Roald Dahl classics, which both the kids and parents are enjoying! As well, their Chinese babysitter reads Chinese stories in Mandarin as an extra challenge!

While school texts and the school library focus on English texts, the Australian Embassy also has an honours-system library, which is well stocked with favourite Aussie titles. There is a good bookshop in nearby Sanlitun called the Bookworm, which is actually running a literary festival next month featuring a number of Australian children’s writers and illustrators, including Alison Lester, Anna Spudvilas (a CBCA Picture Book of the Year winner), Meredith Badger, Robert Newton, Ann James  and Ambelin Kwaymullina.
When special titles are needed there is always the online Book Depository or fond grandparents in Tasmania!
Interestingly, where the gap really exists is access to good children’s DVDs and TV. DVDs are nearly all Disney-related, and TV is much the same.  Chinese-language DVDs are much better, and also great at helping the kids with their Mandarin speaking and reading. So ABC Children’s DVDs like the Octonauts, Angelina Ballerina and the various Playschool series have also made their way from Hobart into this multicultural melting pot.

Kim Boyer

Monday, 18 March 2013

Crossing the Divide ... or, Writing for young people and adults

The release of J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy marks a dramatic change from young people's fantasy to adult fiction and it started me thinking about just how many authors have managed to cross the divide between young people's and adult books, and vice versa.

Most of us would know that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. A A Milne, famous for Winnie-the-Pooh also wrote detective novels and short stories for adults as well as war poetry. And Ian Fleming, who of course immortalised James Bond on paper, also wrote the children's classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Adult authors who write/wrote for young people include Salman Rushdie (Haroun and the Sea of Stories), Oscar Wilde (The Happy Prince and Other Tales), T S Eliot (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats), Margaret Atwood (Up in a Tree) and James Patterson (the Maximum Ride series).

And young people's authors who write/wrote for adults include Anthony Horowitz (the thriller William S, a string of screen plays for television and a series of graphic novel horror stories called Edge), Roald Dahl (My Uncle Oswald in addition to short stories, one of the more successful being The Man from the South), Dr. Seuss (The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History's Barest Family), R L Stine (the horror novel Red Rain) and C S Lewis (The Discarded Image, and a revision of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress called The Pilgrim's Regress).
David Galef, a writer and English Professor in the US, researched this topic. And in Crossing Over: Authors Who Write Both Children's and Adults' Fiction, which he wrote for the Children's Literature Association Quarterly, he placed such authors into three main categories.

1. Writers of adult fiction who 'take up children's literature in mid-career’. Galef says that some even manage the transition with grace, Roald Dahl for example;
2. Those who start out writing for children and then only later write for adults. He says, 'those who achieve sufficient fame in children's literature ... will attract adult readers for anything they have written'. Maurice Sendak is an example; and
3. Those authors 'who can balance an array of diverse projects and have done so since the start of their careers.' Louisa May Alcott and C S Lewis.

I guess this tells us that some authors can/could be flexible in their thinking, their imagination and their writing. But the real question is - did they cross the divide successfully?

What do you think?

Penny Garnsworthy

Monday, 11 March 2013


There was a time when publishing a book was all about agents, contracts and the negotiation of advances. Then, as now, publishing was an expensive enterprise that required an investment, and that investment was found at a publisher. Of course now the shifting emphasis from paper to electronic publishing has opened up a new way of thinking about how a book might be made, but there is another equally interesting form of publishing underway, that often brings us traditional ink-and-paper books, but through new-world means: crowd funding.

Anyone interested in modern art should be keeping an eye on websites like Kickstarter, Pozible and Indiegogo. In the last few years these websites have become absolutely central to a new kind of creation model in which the artist is king, and as such artists from all tiers of fame have been giving it a try. I have been delighted by the results of the projects I have crowd funded. Although I've given my money across multiple mediums, the publishing offerings have been notably beautiful - on the shelf they are indistinguishable from books I've been sent by mainstream publishers.

So how does it work? Crowd funding has a very simple premise: the creator makes an argument for the product that they wish to create, explaining the time-frame that they plan to make it in, and offering a comprehensive levelling system through which patrons might "opt-in." These start at the very simple, such as a small-change contribution getting you a tweet of thanks, through to copies of the product signed, and then at a much higher tier, dinner with the author when they next visit your area. If a minimum amount of "pledges" are gained, the product is created, and many offer "stretch goals," so that as the product makes more money, its quality increases. One of the nice aspects of this system is that the artist is more connected to his/her audience. Many projects I have funded have offered the patrons the opportunity to comment upon designs and aspects of the finished product, with regular email updates explaining how things are going.

Eventually, the product is sent out to all of the people who have supported it, and then it often enters the traditional market as well. The advantage of attaching yourself to it early is that you get opportunities the general public won't have; signed copies or additional trinkets that are sent out with the product. Occasionally I have pledged at a level that allowed me to be listed in the acknowledgements section of a book; you can imagine what this might mean as a gift… though you do need to be careful and make sure you know how far away the product is. It will likely take months to make.

I don't necessarily recommend that writers approach crowd funding in preference to traditional publishing houses. In many cases, to allow funding to reach its goal, a level of public support is required prior to beginning a project. That said, as a book collector and a person who enjoys supporting artists (and being more involved in the process of them creating their art), I think crowd funding represents a remarkable opportunity to engage with writers, illustrators and creators of all kinds.

In fact, it may not even be that new. Mozart, after all, was visiting subscribers in the 18th Century and offering them services in exchange for an outlay of funds: concert tickets and copies of concertos now replaced by ebooks and dedicated YouTube videos. An old art has been digitised and globalised. The world is calling out with great ideas. If we listen, we can be a part of them.

Where to start:

Lyndon Riggall

Monday, 4 March 2013

BINGO! I have found another great book for older teens and young adults

‘The Convent’ by Maureen McCarthy
When I hit upon a book that :
a)      Is a good story that keeps you interested and eagerly awaiting developments
b)      deals with social issues relevant and close to your own heart
c)       is set in a familiar location where you have spent time and is therefore recognizable
d)       has an historical bent
then as far as I’m concerned I am onto a winner.
I was handed such a book just last week.  ‘The Convent’ by Maureen McCarthy is a young adult novel published last year by Allen and Unwin.
Recently I have come to the conclusion that some of the best writing is actually produced for younger people.  For some reason in YA novels the issues are clearer and more realistic or perhaps I have become lazy and need my literature to be easily accessible. On the other hand perhaps I haven’t yet left teen age.  But seriously, I would strongly recommend adult readers to browse through the YA section in your library; it’s not all about vampires and werewolves.  Or better still go to the CBCA website (www.cbca.org ) and look up the past few years of notables and shortlisted books for older readers. This is a fail-safe guide and you won’t be disappointed.  Take ‘Kill the Possum’ by James Maloney or ‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey to name just two.
But back to ‘The Convent’.  The action and the several stories intertwined in ‘The Convent’ take place at the Abbotsford Convent which is situated next door to the Collingswood Children’s Garden in Melbourne. I know this place, having visited the garden one afternoon on a family outing ending with afternoon tea at a very trendy coffee shop, probably the actual one described in the book.  Today the elegant but still  faintly daunting buildings are a far cry from the sad and tortured past enclosed within its wall and for many visitors completely unknown or just forgotten.
Based to a degree on McCarthy’s own family history and involving the issues which led to the recent political apologies to women whose illegitimate or ‘fatherless’ children were forcibly removed from them, the stories of Sadie, Ellen, Cecelia and Peach emerge stark and poignant.
Issues of women’s rights are prominent but the patronizing, sometimes inhumane, attitudes adopted by society and especially the Catholic Church come into play as well, as do the intriguing issues of faith, belief in a God and religious dedication. 
McCarthy deftly maneuvers between her central characters, the different eras in which they live and the vastly differing social climates in which each lives, but she still manages to keep all the different components related and connected.
This is definitely a book for girls, but in 2013 when statistics are showing that women’s rights and equality are actually declining this is a book which is a timely and important reminder of what went on before and startlingly not so long ago.
And since I happen to be in Melbourne as I write this, I will be revisiting Abbotsford convent again at the weekend but this time with a lot more understanding and a more profound appreciation of, and more appropriate anguish about, the history of the building and its former occupants.
Carol Fuller