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

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A place to call home

Jenni Connor shares her thoughts on special places in children's literature and how this love of home is portrayed in Nan Chauncy's books. In October you can join us with a special visit to Chauncy Vale - information is at the end of the post.

I’ve been pondering the source of the appeal that drew me to my favourite childhood stories – Wind in the Willows, Famous Five and Secret Seven, The Secret Garden, Swallows and Amazons etc. It was of course, partly the fact that children escaped the clutches of the adults who aimed to thwart their instinct for adventure; and that, once released, the children ventured where I could not go and did what was forbidden or impossible for me – sailing , fishing, exploring, risk-taking. These lucky escapees combined adventure with camaraderie; an irresistible allure for an only, lonely child. And, thank heavens I could join them through my imagination and the power of the authors’ words.

Another strong emotional pull came from the fact that many of the stories also featured ‘home-making’, reflecting the human need for a place to call one’s own, to decorate to one’s taste, to cook, eat and relax in. Food, fire, friendship, warmth and safety from ‘the wild out there’; from picture book to adult novel, these qualities draw and reassure us.

In Wind in the Willows, my heart warmed at the description of the gipsy caravan: ‘It was indeed very compact and comfortable. Little sleeping bunks…a cooking stove, lockers, bookshelves and a bird-cage with a bird in it; and pots, pans, jugs and kettles of every size and variety’.

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit obviously shares my obsession with creature comforts as he describes his hobbit-hole: ‘It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle and carpeted, provided with polished chairs and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats – the hobbit was fond of visitors’.

Cave entrance © D Madden-Hallett
Nan Chauncy’s love of home and hearth comes through in the Horn Book article quoted in the CBCA Tas. brochure about Nan: ‘…I live in the little house I once watched being built. No electricity, only the soft light of the oil lamp and the dogs snoring on the skin mat, the iron kettle singing in praise of simple things – come to think of it, this is what my books for children are all about’.
Back wall of cave © D Madden-Hallett
We get another glimpse of Nan’s affection for both landscape and home-making as she describes Cherry looking around ‘at the now familiar line of open caves, the rugged rocks, and the hollow which held the reedy tarn, and away to the outline of far ranges’. Then, being a female of her times, Cherry goes inside to sweep the cave floor and create shelves for the goat’s milk dairy. (I hope those boys were hunting and gathering!)
Eve's bath © D Madden-Hallett

As a child, I used to ‘adventure’ in the sandstone caves at Howrah Beach. Danielle Madden-Hallett, ecologist, artist and member of the Chauncy Vale Committee, tells me that the caves made famous in the movie They Found a Cave are far more interesting. Danielle tells me that you can see a variety of native orchids in all seasons, Tasmanian Devils – or signs thereof – Wallabies and Pademelons, Eastern-barred Bandicoots, Spotted-tail Quolls, Grey Goshawk, Tasmanian Masked Owl and, if you’re lucky, a breeding pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles. You can watch wrens and robins and wander through interesting remnant eucalyptus vegetation in the amazing fresh air of this distinctive Tasmanian bushland setting.
Day Dawn, Chauncy Vale © D Madden-Hallett

To have these experiences with informed guides at your side and to see Nan’s famous Day Dawn Cottage, come to the Picnic in the Vale on Sunday 11 October, 11 am- 2 pm: www.cbcatas.org – events. It’s the finale of our Year of Celebration of Nan Chauncy, so don’t miss it! Book your place for friends and family - and your picnic hamper - here!

Jenni Connor
Editor’ note: Our thanks to Danielle Madden-Hallett, Senior Ecologist, Danato Environmental Services for the beautiful (copyrighted) images of Chauncy Vale.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

KidGlovz at Hadley’s

Julie Hunt, Tasmanian author, shares the magic of the launch of her latest publication KidGlovz, a graphic novel created in partnership with Dale Newman.

Sometimes a particular venue is made for a book launch. Last weekend the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival was held at Hadley’s Hotel in Hobart and Dale Newman and I launched our graphic novel, KidGlovz, as part of it. The Orient Lounge with its beaded lampshades, crystal chandelier, potted palms and most importantly – its baby grand – provided the perfect setting for a story about a child prodigy, a pianist called KidGlovz and his manager, the impresario, Dr Eronious Spin.

Fellow writer, Lian Tanner, used her theatrical skills to advantage as Mistress of Ceremonies, introducing the book with a dramatic rendition of the opening paragraph:

There’s a town in the mountains not far from here where people lock their pianos on the night of the full moon. It makes no difference – the keys move up and down and the air is filled with wild music...

While Lian spoke, a tiny barefoot boy in a tuxedo and white gloves hid amongst the crowd. The proceedings were interrupted when the double doors from the bar burst open and Dr Spin appeared – black moustache, centre part, a showman’s smile; he was searching for KidGlovz. There were boos and hisses from the audience when Spin forced the little prodigy to get back to work: ‘He has to prepare for a concert and he’s only practised fifteen hours today!’ Spin declared.

Young Hobart pianist, Meika Healey-Choroszy, played for the occasion and the book was launched by Terry Whitebeach. Reviewers who took the microphone included Grade 4 students from Windermere Primary and, although the story is aimed at 9–12 year olds, 16-year-old Ula Alderfox said she would have read it in one go if her father hadn’t stolen it from her.

It was a splendid and suitable celebration and throughout the launch Dale stood at her easel and drew. Dale describes the book as her ‘first ever epic graphic novel’ and she’s right about it being an epic. Her beautiful pencil drawings carry the reader along at a breathtaking pace for almost 300 pages as KidGlovz escapes his cruel manager and heads off on a perilous journey in search of freedom and self knowledge. Along the way he and his friend, Shoestring, meet shepherds and shapeshifters, bandits, thieves and a mad and visionary hermit. Dale’s pictures are full of drama, heart and humour and every day I find myself opening the book at random to admire them.

Many thanks to the Tasmanian Writers Centre, Hadley’s Hotel and everybody who helped create this wonderful event that marked the start of our book’s journey into the world.

Julie Hunt
Editor's note: The wonderful illustrations are, of course,
© Dale Newman.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Nostalgia for general knowledge

Many who watched the screenings of the film of Nan Chauncy’s They found a cave would, like me, have suffered a bit of nostalgia. I, like Nan Chauncy, left England as a child to live in Tasmania, in my case in Stanley where my father was the Anglican minister. It was a culture shock coming from a place which resembled a slightly middle class set of “Call the Mid Wife” to a rural out post.

None the less, we children survived and our life was unexpectedly intellectually rich. There was the Lady Clark Memorial Library. I was an avid borrower of the likes of
Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece (confusing homophonic) and Rosemary Sutcliffe. I also had subscriptions to the Lion  and Eagle . Friends avidly swapped their reading matter. Oddly enough this richness disappeared when I was sent away to boarding school in Launceston to “better” my education.

According to research, non-fiction reading is declining. Children, particularly boys, had a much better general knowledge.  When I asked Child Care students at TAFE, in the context of caesarean births, “Who was Julius Caesar”? None knew, and one asked “Who was she?” 
Why does this sort of knowledge matter to reading? The best exposition I have seen is E.D. Hirsh (2003) Reading comprehension requires knowledge.

Stories make no sense without knowledge. Parents tell the story of the boy who cried wolf to explain why consistent false alarms are bad. But without knowledge of wolves and their relationship to sheep the story has no meaning. As a child I had never seen a wolf, in fact even now I have not, but I knew the meaning of the story at a very young age.  As recently as this week, I heard about a high school student who when viewing a library display had to ask “what is a refugee”.   

But perhaps there can be too much general knowledge which might not help the story. In the film “They found a cave” there are numerous continuity problems. One of these is common to all films featuring horse drawn vehicles, which show two ruts on a road (made by cars). In Stanley, I used to help feed Mr MacGregor’s cows from a horse drawn cart; I have a vivid memory of staring at the horse’s bum and its hooves pounding a third rut in the middle of the road. 
Richard Pickup
CBCA Tas President, reader, runner & former librarian

Saturday, 5 September 2015


Lyndon Riggall reflects on his experiences during Book Week 2015.

Book Week was one of my busiest weeks of the year. I’m sure that many children’s writers agree that it seems to reset an excitement for literature that usually (and hopefully) carries over into the summer holidays. In the dead of winter, we are chained to our computers working on another draft of something, but at the end of August we emerge again from our cocoons and face the world. I ran workshops all week, racing in and out of rooms, losing my voice, and generally having a grand old time. 

I meant in this blog to offer my thoughts on the winners of this year’s awards, but if I may, I would like instead to talk about this year’s Book Week theme: Books light up our world. 

At Scotch Oakburn Junior School in Launceston, celebrations were in full swing. One of my favourites, of the many displays that were put together to celebrate the week, was a posterboard of light globes. Inside each globe, the students had written or drawn why they believed that books lit up their world. The descriptions were beautiful: Books transport me to other worlds. Books open my imagination. Books make me feel calm. Even in the wordless additions, there was a lovely sense of joy and brightness: “Look,” one of the teachers said. “In the drawings, they are always smiling.”

Children live for stories. Once, when I was babysitting, I was promised with absolute dewey-eyed sincerity, that when this particular child’s parents were home they usually had “at least ten books” before bedtime. At some point in our lives, however, “Ten books before bedtime” becomes, “I wish I had the time to read.” In the very worst case scenarios, it becomes, “Books are boring.”

I have always maintained that no-one hates books, they’ve just been reading the wrong ones. And what about the right ones? Books, when beautifully written, heartfully meant and received with openness, can connect two people in silent thought. The character Hector in the play The History Boys described moments in reading when “a person you’ve never met, maybe even long dead” describes something in your heart that you always felt was a part of you alone, and “it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” These are the moments we writers aspire to; they are the moments that turn us into lifelong readers.

Books remind us that every person on this planet has thoughts rushing around inside their head, right now. They make us feel less alone and they encourage us to understand others. Through books we can live lives that we would otherwise never understand. We can safely play at being good or being bad. We can be adults or children, other genders, other species. In books, anything is possible.

I encourage those of you who feel that you may have lost your enthusiasm for literature to use the themes of Book Week as an excuse to try and rekindle it. If possible, make time to read, even just for thirty minutes a day. If you don’t like something within fifty pages, discard it. Life is too short: you need to find stories that excite you. A really great book can keep the fire of reading burning for months.

Smile, like the children sitting in those light globes--for that is what books do: they allow us to shine. Hatred, confusion, despair--books can combat all these things. They are lights, bringing the beautiful glow of understanding to even the darkest corners. All we need do is let them shine.