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

Sunday, 31 January 2016

“When I Grow Up”: A Review of Matilda: The Musical.

Have you seen Matilda: The Musical? Thank you Lyndon for sharing this wonderful experience with our readers.

Matilda is a pretty weird book. It’s also one of children’s literatures greatest classics, with a brilliant and bold young girl taking on the world as its main character, and written by one of the all-time finest and funniest writers of fiction, Roald Dahl. I love it. But that said, it is quite weird. There is hammer throwing, torture-by-cake and a box of horrors, as well as the very strange addition of telekinesis that on every re-read you almost forget is going to be there.

But of course Matilda isn’t about controlling objects with your mind - it’s about the power of stories. Although Matilda Wormwood is squashed down by almost every adult in her life, she rises through the gifts of reading and discovering. She is raised in a library, not in a house.

These same themes play out in the musical stage production of Matilda that I had the pleasure of 
seeing at the Sydney Lyric Theatre, with a book by Dennis Kelly and songs by our own lyrically-brain-bending Tim Minchin. The weirdness remains (as it should) and so does the enduring reminder that reading gives us power, as Matilda’s father’s song “Telly” tells the audience that television will provide you with “all you need to fill your muffin, without havin’ to really fink or nuffin” by “watching slightly famous people talkin’ to really famous people,” and Matilda realises in her sublime song “Naughty” that she will not become an “innocent victim” of her own story, and must stand up to the Trunchbull.

The set was an astonishing array of alphabet blocks, into which encroached libraries, loungerooms, and the dreaded “chokey” as the story played out. Everyone I saw left the theatre beaming and presumably feeling the way I did; like creativity, humour and the power of a great story would triumph over rigid discipline, and like the musical we had just seen was one of the best ever made. It adds a few features and plotlines to Dahl’s book, but all serve to enhance the story as a stage piece, and the classic Matilda is still very much in the foundations underneath. I only ever knew Roald Dahl through his work, but I can’t help but feel that he would have been immensely proud of the performance I saw. As I re-read the book to compare the two versions of the story, the songs slipped into my mind against my will, as easily and irresistibly as Bruce Bogtrotter’s first bite of forbidden chocolate cake. And upon entering my head, they sparked in me the best kind of joyful defiance: the desire to be clever in a world seemingly characterised by ignorance, and the willingness to hold on to the childish things that make me happy. The adults in Matilda have lost their wonder – but there is a simple solution offered: Never grow up.

Matilda: The Musical is in its last weeks in Sydney before it moves on to Melbourne. See it any way you can.

Lyndon Riggall is a  young writer and previous judge for the CBCA in Tasmania. You can find him at
http://lyndonriggall.com or on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

Editor's note: As a Matilda fan for many years I can't resist sharing a photo of a figurine from the Roald Dahl collection and the fact that I met the man himself at a book signing in Harrods, in London to promote the publication of the BFG - and yes, I have a signed copy :-)

Saturday, 23 January 2016

In Praise of Libraries

I recently visited LINC Launceston to borrow some books I had ordered online. As I begin each new writing project I first go to the LINC website and select appropriate research material. This day I picked up my books and a DVD and lined up to check them out.

Both check-out machines were being used by young mothers with small children in tow. I watched, fascinated, as the mum in front of me scanned book after book after book - with the assistance of her five year-old - all the time explaining the types of books they were borrowing.

A friend who loves to cook, frequently borrows audio books so that she can enjoy 'reading' whilst cooking. And for those of us who try to read a chapter or two in bed at night - and constantly nod off - this makes a lot of sense.

My elderly father who has finally exhausted his own DVD collection, borrows DVDs from LINC, the most economical form of movie entertainment for home. And of course libraries also allow us free use of magazines, music, the Internet, reference material, and the opportunity to attend events and exhibition for all ages, with of course - coffee.

Libraries date back to 2600BC. The Library of Alexandria provided an early organisation system and the first classification system was created for imperial libraries in the Han Dynasty in China. From there libraries just got bigger and better.

So where would we be without them? Kathy Dempsey on her blog 'Libraries Are Essential' says it all.

"Libraries are portals to all of the world's knowledge. And librarians make sure that knowledge continues to be recorded and saved for the future, even as information-storage devices and formats change."

I couldn't agree more. What do you think?
Penny Garnsworthy
Freelance Writer and Editor, Tas e-News

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The wonder of a character’s appearance

This week Tricia Scott ponders on how the reader construes the appearance of the character - words, imagery, film characterisation and even the role of the plush toy.

A well-written novel for any age group will enable readers to visualise the appearance of charactersand develop empathy for their adventures, struggles and relationships. Supporting illustrations may assist in character visualisation, however, they themselves are the illustrator’s own interpretation of what a character looks like based on the text. Books transformed into other mediums provide yet another interpretation of how characters look and this in itself can be controversial, as recently reported by the ABC News, in relation to the casting of Noma Dumezweni for the role of Hermione Granger for an upcoming production based on the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. 

Picture books, of course, more clearly provide a specific interpretation of a character’s appearance and many popular children’s books are now sold with a supporting plush toy for children to hug and play with to create further adventures.
In my own bag of tricks to use in sharing literature with very young children I have a number of book inspired toys. Favourites include: the green sheep from Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep?, Pig from Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey, and the very Australian Grug by Ted Prior.  The proliferation of marketing and merchandise in relation to books often does affect how a character is perceived, however, ultimately a reader’s imagination brings characters to life.

Tricia Scott
Teacher Librarian and 2016 CBCA Book of the Year Judge (Tasmania)

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Hero’s Journey Through Literature (and LEGO)

 Welcome to 2016 and our first post for the year by guest author Johanna Baker-Dowdell as she explores heroes, villains and the wonderful creations from LEGO blocks.

When Dorothy embarks on a quest along the Yellow Brick Road, vanquishes the Wicked Witch of the West with a bucket of water and taps her heels together to be transported home in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the reader, her family and friends all celebrate their heroine.

Dorothy’s mission, and the growth of her character as a result, followed the Hero’s Journey, a plot outline developed by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949. This structure appears as the plot in many of our beloved books from childhood onwards, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, with readers subconsciously following the cues throughout the protagonist’s journey.

There are 12 steps in Campbell’s Hero’s Journey outline:
  1.  The ordinary world – introduction of our hero and setting the scene
  2. The call to adventure – something forces the hero to face change
  3. Refusal of the call – the hero is scared and tries to avoid the adventure
  4. Meeting with the mentor – the hero meets someone wise and courageous who will train him or her or offer advice
  5. Crossing the threshold – the hero leaves their ordinary world and enters a new region or condition (special world) with different rules
  6. Tests, allies and enemies – the hero is tested and makes alliances in the special world
  7. Approach – the hero and allies prepare for a major challenge
  8. The ordeal – the hero confronts death or faces their biggest fear
  9. The reward – the hero is rewarded for facing death
  10. The road back – the hero leaves the special world to ensure the treasure is safe
  11. The resurrection – the point where the hero is tested once more (and the climax of the story) through sacrifice and facing death again, with their success ensuring resolution of the conflicting factors within the store
  12. Return with the elixir – the hero has been transformed by the experience and returns home with the treasure that has the power to transform the world.

The Hero’s Journey also features prominently in superhero comics, with the characters concurrently battling against a nemesis and struggling with the secrets of their alter egos. This battle is highlighted in LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick: DCComics exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. This exhibition was a huge hit with my two sons, as well as the big kids in my family (my husband and father), during our recent visit to Sydney. After all, who doesn’t love a good hero story?

Sawaya used thousands of LEGO bricks to recreate his favourite superheroes and supervillains to explore the themes of strength and weakness, transformation, reinvention and good versus evil. The characters Sawaya created were incredible, but my favourite part of the exhibition was when he drew on Campbell’s words to inspire the hero within us all. The quote, “The godly powers sought, and dangerously won, are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time,” resonated with me because we can always see bits of ourselves in the characters we love in books.

The final LEGO character was a boy wearing a cape and standing in a power pose opposite a LEGO-framed mirror in which exhibition visitors could view themselves. I asked my boys to look into the mirror and tell me which hero they saw, to which they both replied “me”.

There’s a hero in us all.

Johanna Baker-Dowdell is a freelance journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.