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

Monday, 29 June 2015

Literary Travels

Penny Garnsworthy, the CBCA Tas newsletter editor, takes us to some of the places in the United Kingdom that are linked with children’s books.

I recently spent some time in the UK and included on my list of things to see and do were attractions of a literary nature.

In Edinburgh I visited the statue of Sherlock Holmes, located near the birthplace of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Then I lunched at The Conan Doyle, a fabulous pub decorated in the style you would expect from Holmes himself. In London I visited the 221B Baker Street premises of Sherlock Holmes, now a museum full of Holmes memorabilia. It has the famously furnished upstairs room where Holmes and Watson spent their days mulling over mysteries and next door there is even a café called Mrs Hudson’s Restaurant.

In northern England, I spent a day at Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was filmed. Evidence of this is all around in the plethora of Harry Potter souvenirs available in the castle’s shops together with the daily broomstick-riding lessons where children and adults alike cavort on the castle green led by an appropriately dressed witch and wizard.

But it wasn’t just the fun and frivolity of fiction I was interested in. As a lover of ancient history, there was one very important piece of literature I just had to see; The Rosetta Stone, which is now housed in the British Museum.

The Rosetta Stone features two translations of the same decree in the three scripts that were common in ancient Egypt at the time; hieroglyphic, Greek and Demotic. It dates back to 196BC and was discovered in 1799. Nobody had ever been able to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs but in 1822 Frenchman Jean Francois Champollion, who could read both Greek and Coptic, finally did it and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cheers, Penny

Monday, 22 June 2015

Catching Your Eye – What to Read Next?

                                                           Warning: phrase overload!

Many would be familiar with the phrase ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’ and be able to think of books to which it relates. The phrase is appealing to readers to not be judgemental as to the content and quality of a book by looking at the cover alone. 

To take the time to read and linger on the story before casting it aside based on external factors. I, however, often find this difficult to do and in working in school libraries note that many children and young adults pick up a possible book to read solely on the cover design followed by a quick turnover to the blurb on the back. Even though we know that ‘All that glitters is not gold’, the overall look, presentation and feel of a book is a high determinant in attracting readers to it in the first place. 

Children and young adults are very visual and it is important to encourage them to remember: ‘If you judge a book by its cover, you might miss out on an amazing story.’ However, with the limited resources of families, schools and libraries, books that are initially unappealing, regardless of what lies within, may not be purchased or presented in the first place. 

A poorly designed book sitting on a shelf, without promotion or recommendation, is likely to stay that way - unread. In sourcing and recommending literature for children the whole package must be considered: a quality, literary work encased in a well bound, appealing cover. 

NB:  Cover images used in this article are of books that ‘caught my eye’ and I subsequently enjoyed.

Tricia Scott
Teacher Librarian and current Tasmanian Judge for Children’s Book of the Year Awards

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Imagining the Unimaginable

Lyndon Riggall discusses the qualities of good writing that enable us to put ourselves as close as possible to the daunting theatre of war.

Reading Carol Fuller’s recent blog, brought to us from the stunning and heart-wrenching Gallipoli Peninsula (link: http://cbcatas.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/anzac-day-at-gallipoli-peninsula_26.html), I was struck by her examination of the difference between “commemoration” and “celebration” and particularly her request that those who still believe that Anzac day is a cause for celebration read from the Mud and Blood and Tears list available from CBCA Tasmania. The reason the comments struck me was that I, like many of my generation and the ones that have come after, no longer have living relatives from either of the World Wars, and as such have accessed experiences of it primarily through the written word: first-hand accounts; poetry and, of course, fiction. When I lower my head in remembrance it is the relatives long gone who I think of first, but in imagining what they went through, my mind, for better or worse, also conjures images from stories: Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Morris Gleitzman’s Once… novels, Jackie French’s Pennies for Hitler, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse or Michelle Magorian’s incomparably upsetting Goodnight, Mister Tom. And who could forget, once read, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a novel that says so much in so few pages about who we are as people, and how we must treat each other?

It would be a rare year that the CBCA didn’t recognise at a high level a work of fiction that dealt intensely with the causes, consequences and conflict of one of the major world wars. It has sometimes been a criticism of book prizes that the theme of war might dazzle a reader into an emotional response as a form of misdirection--hiding clichés and poor writing behind heavy themes and emotionally traumatic events. I would argue that although writing poorly about war is a terrible crime against history, the writers who write about war successfully are largely thoroughly deserving of the accolades that they receive. Writing about conflict--particularly for a young audience, who often know even less of the realities of death and war than adults--in a way that inspires empathy and understanding--that feels true--is a herculean task. Whether it is a particular author’s “right” or “place” to discuss these topics is not something that I want to debate here, but I think perhaps that we can agree that attempting to do so, when successful, is vital to the way that many of us understand the past, engage with the potential conflicts of the future, and remember the great sacrifices made by real families on both sides of conflict. 

Writers who have the gift of being able to present ideas of war with integrity allow us to try and imagine the unimaginable. Although we may never succeed in fully appreciating the sacrifices that have been made in the past, I believe it is our duty to try. In language; in words and images and stories, we come perhaps as close as we are going to get to truly understanding what happened. On Anzac Day here in Australia we stand and say “Lest We Forget,” but perhaps we need to do more than that. We need to imagine. Doing so--even when we cannot possibly hope to touch the truth of the horror and tragedy and sadness of what happened--is to see that this is not a cause for celebration. In placing ourselves in one of humanity’s darkest hours through the skills of great writers, perhaps we leave with resolve. Perhaps we make a promise, in our own hearts, and perhaps that promise enters the world through our actions. And that promise is this:

Never again.
Lyndon Riggall
Author and former Tasmanian Book of the Year Judge

Sunday, 7 June 2015

In Praise of Libraries

Maureen Mann presents this week’s Blog. Maureen was the recipient of the 2006 Tasmanian Teacher Librarian of the Year Award and in 2008 was awarded an Honorary Lifetime Membership of the Tasmanian Branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA), for her tireless work with children’s literature.

While reflecting on what to write, now that my blog responsibility has come around again and thinking that I would do something other than my usual commentary on what I have read, I visited my grandson’s local library. He lives in an ethnically diverse part of greater Toronto in Canada.

It’s part of a vibrant forward-thinking library organisation with several branches. Walk into a bright, welcoming environment where the stock is up-to-date and appropriate for the cultural needs of the community, across all ages. I picked up a 24-page booklet full of ideas for everyone – kids, teens, adults, newcomers as well as long-term residents. The summer reading program for children, just about to get under way, includes prizes for the school with the most enrolments. For teens, the challenge of collectively reading two million pages together and then creating a book trailer for the preferred book(s). Of course, these can be e-books not just paper versions. There’s an invitation to go on a blind date with a book; a brown-paper-wrapped title with no clue apart from a genre suggestion. Magazines are available for free download and there is access for music downloads. The central branch has a professional 3D printer, apparently the only one so far available in a public institution in Canada. 

So after a very positive visit I started thinking about the inappropriate stereotypes still promulgated about libraries. Let’s look at a few:

·      Staff, who are old women with buns going: “Shhhhhhh!” No. Staff are often young and hate the idea of silence around them.

·      Dark and musty spaces. No. well-patronised and successful libraries are bright, airy, warm environments where all members of the community are welcomed.

·      Old, out-of-date stock. No. Modern readers expect the best of the most recent publications, whether in electronic or traditional formats.

·      Only readers need to visit. No. Everyone is welcomed in an environment where all information needs are catered for using all kinds of technologies, whether traditional paper or the most advanced developments, such as 3D printers.

·      Libraries are superseded by Google and the like. No. Libraries support this technology especially for those who don’t have the skills to access and assess the wealth of information now available.

·      Libraries don’t need support. No. Many members of the community see the library as an essential for their environment but forget that to maintain them the funding bodies need to be given that message. The best way to do this is to visit and use your local library very regularly. 

I happened upon a great article from The Rotarian magazine – and, no, not because I am a Rotarian. http://therotarianmagazine.com/in-praise-of-libraries. The article and the resultant comments make for thoughtful reading.

For fun support of libraries have a look at this online poem from Scroobius Pip, a spoken word poet and hip hop artist. http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/scroobius-pip-crafts-poem-in-praise-of-libraries/95423

What do libraries mean to you? How can we get rid of the unacceptable stereotypes? We’d love to hear your views.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Nan Chauncy - A children's author ahead of her time

Jenni Connor writes about the impact of Nan Chauncy on children's literature, through her connection with the Tasmanian landscape and indigenous peoples. Jenni has been pivotal in organising the Nan Chauncy events for 2015. John Marsden's, Nan Chauncy Oration is one of the highlight events.

Nan Chauncy was a ‘woman of her times and ahead of her time’ in relation to Tasmania’s Aboriginal people. In Mathinna’s People (1967), she has implicit faith in the record of events provided by George Arthur Robinson (whom she believes to be a ‘sincere and deeply religious man’) saying ‘the events are true and tragic; there is no happy ending’. She believes, as people did at the time, that ‘Mathinna’s People have vanished from the earth’. On the other hand, she strongly condemns the treatment of Aborigines by white people: ‘Their game was shot ruthlessly, the ground cleared for farms, and they were forced away…their women were captured by sealers…their children snatched by settlers…to work for them as little better than slaves’.

Her empathy for Tasmanian Aboriginal people is especially strong in Tangara (1961). This is a complex time-slip novel with great literary sophistication. It’s an adventure – of course – but the bush context is soundly established and the female protagonist emerges with impressive strength, resilience and depth of empathy for her ‘Aboriginal (ghost) friend’. Nan’s respect for the lore, loyalties, technologies and social structure of Aboriginal life is quite unusual for the times. Hugo McCann, retired lecturer from the University of Tasmania in his talk at the Launch of the Touring Exhibition at LINC in Hobart on 28th May, describes Tangara as ‘a deeply moving classic by one of our great children’s writers – part fantasy, part history and one hundred percent masterpiece’. (Photo: Nan meeting excited children)

In Tiger in the Bush (1957), Nan’s love of the Australian/Tasmanian bush – its flora and fauna – shines through palpably. Badge shows ‘reverence’ when viewing the fern gully, with its secret female platypus making her nest and later, on Tarn Mountain, catches a glimpse of a ‘wolfish creature with dark chocolate stripes’. Badge vows to ‘protect it from exploitation’ (the Thylacine was deemed extinct in 1936). The Lorenny Family trilogy – Tiger in the Bush, Devils’ Hill (1958) and The Roaring 40 (1963) – best represents Nan’s deep yearning for a ‘hidden valley in which a child can be free and capable, unspoiled by The Outside’. In her passion for this new country, Nan idealises ‘the simple bushman as an individualist and visionary who is spiritually connected to a place that is free from the taint of man’ (Brenda Niall, Australia Through the Looking Glass, 1985).  It is no wonder that Nan, Anton and later the family bequeathed the property at Bagdad (north of Hobart), known as Chauncy Vale, to the local council as a wildlife sanctuary.

They Found a Cave (1947), Tiger in the Bush and Tangara remain Nan’s most accessible and enjoyable novels. Nan Chauncy gave Australian Literature for Children an authentic voice and her legacy lives on in today’s stunning writers and illustrators, who are still celebrated by the CBCA!

This year, the Tasmanian branch of the CBCA is organising an number of events to celebrate Nan Chauncy. Visit www.cbcatas.org for more details. The events
are as follows:

1. Travelling Suitcase Exhibition – commences at Hobart LINC for three weeks from 1 June and then tours through the state library system – check www.cbcatas.org/events/. Launceston and Devonport libraries will also co-host launches and Kingston, Rosny and Oatlands have expressed interest. The exhibition is free and we hope many, many families check it out.

2. Nan Chauncy Oration by John Marsden, Hodgkin Hall, the Friends’ School, Saturday 20th June. High Tea with wonderful music, elegant afternoon tea and a stunning Oration. Tickets @ $30 through www.cbcatas.org/events/ or book direct at http://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-nan-chauncy-oration-presented-by-john-marsden-tickets-16310423917?aff=es

3. They Found a Cave – Cinema quality screening with an introduction by John Honey and Q & A by Michael Woolford who played Nippy in the film. Screenings: The State Cinema, Hobart on Sunday 16th August and CMax Cinema Devonport on Sunday 30th August.

4. Picnic in the Vale at Chauncy Vale (Date TBA for early October) in collaboration with Southern Midlands Council and the Chauncy Vale Committee. People wishing to attend can purchase a ticket for $20 which provides a picnic pack, with juice or water and guiding through the cottage and up to the cave. People wishing to bring their own lunch will donate $5 towards the upkeep of Chauncy Vale.

(The Nan Chauncy Award recipient will be added to the Honour Roll held at Day Dawn Cottage.)

Jenni Connor

CBCA Tasmania’s Board Member for the National CBCA