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

Saturday, 24 May 2014

CBCA National Conference 2014

The 11th National Conference of the Children’s Book Council of Australia – Discovering National Treasures - was held in Canberra from 16 to 18 May.

Several of our members attended and will no doubt have lots to share about this wonderful celebration of children’s literature and its authors. But in the meantime, enjoy the words and photos in the following blogs, provided by CBCA in Canberra.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Maureen’s ‘finds’ in Canada

I’ve spent the last 3+ months in Canada as full-time carer of my 6 year old grandson, Gabriel, while his mother completes a residential training course. An important part of our routine is our weekly visit to the local public library. For Gabriel, the time there means some extra computer time, on activities which he doesn’t have on his tablet at home. I’ve given up trying to encourage him to choose his own books in the library, so I do so for the week ahead. We spend at least an hour a day reading together, a mix of titles from his extensive collection and those from the public library. Though his reading skills are well developed, he prefers to be read picture books.
My choice is influenced by titles which I think will read well aloud. Some have been flops: either one or both of us haven’t liked the story and/or illustrations. Others have been great successes. I have found many I really like and which I haven’t seen at home. That’s not to say they are not available in Australia; it’s just that I haven’t previously seen them. Here are some of our favourites (not in any special order), a list compiled by Gabriel and me together.
Dinosaurs on my Street by David West (2013). This is a great book for dinosaur fans, combining factual information about 30 dinosaurs but they are seen roaming the streets of a modern city. The dinosaurs are accurate in all senses, and in relative size to the environment. The computer-generated art work brings these giants creatures to life without being threatening.
Skink on the Brink by Lisa Dalrymple and Suzanne del Rizzo (2013). This Canadian book, combining fiction and factual pages, tells the story of the skink, endangered in Ontario, though the use of plasticine illustrations and well-written rhyming text. Though the skink is anthropomorphised, the whole book works well. As a juvenile his tail is bright blue but as he matures his colour changes.  This allows the reader to see that change is a normal part of growth.
Miss Smith and the Haunted Library by Michael Garland (2009). This one generated lots of talk. Miss Smith’s class visit the library where, during a reading of a magical book, by the wonderfully idiosyncratic librarian, scary literary characters come alive. There’s the Headless Horseman, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Captain Hook, and the Wicked Witch of the West. However the as the reading of the story is finished, the party ends and all the fearsome characters return to their own worlds.
Noodle’s Knitting by Sheryl Webster and Caroline Pedler (2010). Noodle the mouse took a ball of wool discarded by the farmer’s wife and knitted an extra-long scarf, using Hedgehog’s quills. Every page contains tactile illustrations and that was the great attraction. The story is simple, with themes of friendship and cooperation.
If I Ran the Zoo by Dr Seuss (2004 but originally published 1950). Dr Seuss has not lost his magic for this current young generation and I enjoyed revisiting this title which I had read to my younger sister as well as to my own children, and now grandchildren. We spent ages enjoying the rhyme and rhythm as well as the fantastical creatures throughout the book.
Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton (2005). This author is one of my favourites because all his illustrations bring a smile, if not a laugh, and his text also works well. Russell can’t sleep while all the other sheep do so and he resorts to the usual (and not so usual) ways of falling asleep. There’s a wealth of detail to look and laugh at.
Drat that Cat by Tony Ross (2013). Suzy the cat pees in dad’s golf bag, throws up on the floor (a common occurrence by the cat in this house!) and then she decides to teach her family that they really do love her. So she stops eating, getting food from the neighbour’s dog, until she is taken to the vet. During her absence the family realise how important she is. Gabriel enjoyed the recurring refrain and the classic Tony Ross illustrations.
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein (2009). It’s night as the book starts but the family awakens when the reader opens the pages and we see them around the table discussing their day and their roles in life. Everyone except the girl knows their story. So she sets off to find her own reason for being, meeting familiar characters on the way. She decides she is to be an author and write her own life. There is lots to discuss including the illustration perspectives and references.
And finally, Gabriel’s ‘most favourite’ (for today at least) of his own books. Shhh! by Sally Grindley and Peter Utton (2006, originally 1991). This has been a regular choice here for many years, and almost always 3 or 4 consecutive reads. It’s a retelling of a giant story where the reader tiptoes through the castle.  The first time we read it, when aged about 3, he was absolutely terrified as he expected the giant to come to life. Now he enjoys it for the remembered frisson of fear and the final double page: Quick! He’s coming! Shut the book!
Hope you manage to find some of these titles. Perhaps some of them are your favourites already.
Maureen Mann

Sunday, 4 May 2014

How come I remember .......?

Recently, as I browsed through a local book shop, my eye was caught by something that took me back to my childhood.  It was a quote, the title of a slim book piled on a tabled.  I read ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ and instantly I found myself reciting in my head several subsequent lines of this supposedly well known poem by William Wordsworth.  Since I was born in the very county where Wordsworth penned these famous lines, I expect it was natural for me to commit them to memory, but that I should actually remember them surprised me.

I picked up the book by Ana Sampson to see what it was about and was amazed to find that on every page to which I turned at random, I found a poem that I knew and considered to be one of my favourites.  The book was only $10 so naturally I bought it.   Now I am not an avid reader of poetry by any means, nor do I have a great capacity to memorise or remember words, titles, authors and the like, so I was intrigued that I was familiar with so much of what the book contained.  For several days I scanned randomly through the book reminiscing and wondering where I had acquired this familiarity with so many of the poems included in the book.

Let me describe the book a little more.  The rest of the title is ‘and other poems you half remember from school’.  The inclusions are arranged in chronological order according to the era of the poets.  It starts from Chaucer and travels right through history up to Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin, so it is fairly comprehensive but also very selective.  It is less than 200 pages in length, not a mighty tome like so many poetry books seem to have been during my years in education.

The more I delved, the more I realised that by way of my primary, secondary and university education I had been immersed fairly well in this aspect of literature.  And that as a teacher of primary, secondary and senior secondary English, I had, in turn, passed on to my students so much of what I learned about poetry.  That is without being fully aware that poetry was a part of my own literary identity and an important part at that.

Then I recalled something that happened recently just a couple of hours after the birth of my new granddaughter.  Her brother who is just 5 was sitting on the bed in the birthing suite holding his new little sister.  As we talked around the bed, Fry spontaneously began to sing.  What he sang to the new baby was Mozart’s lullaby, something my mother had sung to me, something I had sung to Fry’s mother and that she had obviously sung to him. A small musical poem passed down 4 generations.

 The fact that the human brain more easily remembers words arranged in a musical or rhythmic manner accounts for nursery rhymes and childish games like ‘Round and round the garden’ staying with us throughout life.  That’s why so many children’s picture books are written in rhyme, albeit often not very well.  We remember these poems and rhythms almost subconsciously.

My next musing took me to the current generation.  How many of the poems in my newly discovered treasure trove would today’s children recognise?  How many teachers and parents are passing on these gems?  I can recall using ‘modern’ hit parade songs as a source of poetry for my secondary students. Singers like Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins and groups such as The Beatles, the Moody Blues et al were that generation’s poetry and my daughter’s generation were well served by singers like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.  But what’s the poetic currency now?

Well, can I recommend Anna Sampson’s book to teachers, students, parents and anyone else who is familiar with oft spoken lines such as; ‘Captain, my Captain.’ (Dead Poets’ Society); ‘the darling buds of May’; ‘Laugh and the world laughs with you’; ‘Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink’; ‘T was the night before Christmas’ and so many more. 

This book gives a marvellously accurate collection of the best known poems in the English language as well as short informative notes about each poet included.  Sampson has also indexed and catalogued in several different ways so that locating particular poems is very easy.  The memories evoked by this little book, let alone the vast amount of information it provides, makes it well worth its tiny price.  Every home should have one.  And by the way it is one in a series.  Check it out.

Carol Fuller