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

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Reading the Literacy Problem in Tasmania

Lyndon Riggall offers a thoughtful and challenging examination of literacy achievement (or the lack thereof) in Tasmania. Heed his call to all those engaged with children to work towards addressing the problems.

This year I am studying a Masters of Teaching at the University of Tasmania. As part of this course, I am engaged in a unit titled Foundations of Literacy: Processes and Practices, co-ordinated by Dr. Belinda Hopwood. Over the last week we have been discussing literacy in a Tasmanian context, and the implications, as always, startle. I’m sure many of you have heard the figure before, but the worst projections remain at 49% for functional illiteracy in Tasmania (that is, literacy at the level deemed necessary to carry out the day-to-day tasks of employment.) The outcome of the lecture and discussion we undertook was as harrowing as it was eye-opening: these issues are systemic, generational, and not going away.

Programs such as Launching Into Learning start children reading before they reach school, recognising that a major hurdle in our literacy landscape is that those who fall behind are easily left behind, and fail to ever catch up. LINC Tasmania offers courses in which adults can get support and learn to read, which lifts adult literacy levels and creates an environment in which adults need not be resistant and defensive about reading and writing, and will be able to share their skills with their own children and grandchildren. There are plenty of people doing remarkable work to help this problem, yet we cannot deny that the scope of it is frightening.

It has always struck me with some degree of horror when I see some of the figures related to literacy. A Roy Morgan poll taken in 2015 identified 60.9% of women as having read a book in the last 3 months, and only 41.3% of men. While I would certainly accept that my own rate of reading has been known to border on the classification of addiction, going twelve weeks without finishing a book of any kind strikes me as a huge blow to an individual’s personal development and understanding of the world. And yet it’s the norm. I know we read so much – in the papers, online, scrolling Facebook… but books are deep, contemplative, thoughtful things that make us better. And we’re just not using them enough.

So what can we do? We can support our libraries and organisations such as the CBCA whenever and however we can. We can remain thoughtfully open and contemplative about the content of books that we and our children read, but try whenever possible not to police as “valid” and “invalid” anyone’s reading choices that might be reduced to personal taste.

We can love books. Love them daily, love them publically, and love them openly. Because the problem of literacy isn’t solved in the classroom of “readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic” alone. It is solved on the library steps, where a young woman reads the new Tim Winton while she waits for the bus. It is solved in a child’s bedroom, where a father reads his son Where is the Green Sheep? before bed. It is solved in a lounge room, where a girl, her X-Box long abandoned, giggles in delight as she reads of a young Andy Griffiths siliconing himself inside a gradually filling shower.

I believe that we become an amalgam of the small group of people we spend the most time around. And if we want to be highly literate, if we want our friends, our children and society to be highly literate, we must model that literacy. It’s easily done, and if it’s done right it’s joyfully done, too. And it starts so simply. With the crinkling of a spine, and the words…

Chapter One. 

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and pre-service teacher in Launceston. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Flis’s Books of Influence

Flis (better known than Felicity) is a Teacher-Librarian (on the Tasmanian critically endangered list) who, for all but one year of her career (starting in 1981), has been employed as a Teacher-Librarian in Education Department schools, initially in primary schools and more recently at Don College (Year 11 & 12) in Devonport.

I recently came across the following in my Facebook feed: 30 of the Best Books to Teach Children Empathy.

Some of the titles were familiar, but others not (possibly because it’s heavily American weighted). It prompted me to think about the books that influenced me as a child, or as a former primary school teacher-librarian. I wanted to share these – and would like to read your responses listing your influential books.
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) was the first science fiction book I discovered in primary school. I found myself fighting ‘IT’ in my sleep until the book reached resolution. The power of the story teller to invade my unconscious mind, as I slept, stays with me today. Another in this genre, Grinny (Nicholas Fisk), also based upon mind control, was entertaining and thought provoking. As a young person, I loved that it was the children who were able to resist domination and save the day.
I love a book that hijacks my emotions, whether it be tears, anger at injustice, or laughter. Goodnight Mister Tom (Michelle Magorian) was the first time I had read a novel about child abuse and the injustice that William experienced. Unfortunately I find his story replicated, in some way, in the students I teach. The sassy Galadriel in the Great Gilly Hopkins (Katherine Paterson) epitomised a child who protects her emotions by attacking the world that has disappointed her – again a child I see in my teaching career. Love You Forever (Robert Munsch) is a picture book I struggle to read as an adult, but is probably just a ‘nice’ story for a young person. The inhabitants of the nursing home in Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox) tug at the heart strings.
Picture books I love to read aloud include Whistle up the Chimney (Nan Hunt) – Nan’s onomatopoeia ensures that the train sounds are articulated. The fun participatory read aloud, It’s a Perfect Day (Abigail Pizer), builds a cacophony of farmyard sounds as the story progresses. The minimal text story No ducks in our Bathtub (Martha G Alexander) relies on the pictures to tell the story of the battle between a heavily pregnant mother and her pre-school son, who desperately wants a pet. Stories from our Street and More Stories from our Street (Richard Tulloch) are six vignettes of family life, written in a most engaging manner and beautifully illustrated by Julie Vivas.
Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne) and Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) are stories I love to read, but usually not aloud. Pooh-isms are the vernacular of my childhood, and often caused confusion for visitors. The question: Would you like cream or ice-cream with that? was answered with: Can I do a Pooh? Sounds quite different to how it looks in writing! Winnie the Pooh was my deceased mother’s favourite story, and as she lay in a coma, we sat and read our favourite Pooh chapters to her – mine was an Eeyore story. My Grade 6 teacher read Wind in the Willows aloud as a class novel, and I have never been able to replicate her wonderful Ratty and Mole voices – but they are there whenever I read this book.
My two Christmas favourites are The Father Christmas Letters (J.R.R. Tolkien) and The Worst Kids in the World (Barbara Robinson). Tolkien’s letters to his children over twenty years, explaining the evil in the world (the Goblins) and present disasters (North Polar Bear), created the world inhabited 365 days of the year by Father Christmas. I too, wrote letters from Father Christmas to my children, once they started writing Christmas letters to Santa. The Worst Kids in the World is probably the best book to ever be included in a class reading library (Scholastic). The Herdmans take over the lead roles in the Nativity play and take the Christmas story to a whole new level.
Please add your favourite reads/read alouds that have influenced you in the comments section. The hardest part is signing in the first time – then it’s quite straight-forward. I’d really like to read your comments, and hopefully discover new titles.
Felicity Sly
Teacher librarian & CBCA Tasmania Treasurer

Saturday, 4 March 2017

A Learning Community: Devonport Council's Aspirations

Devonport Council sets a bedrock for a learning community through the Devonport Community Live & Learn Strategy. Mayor, Steve Martin, outlines  some key initiatives including innovative strategies to establish reading and literacy as a core expectation in the current Devonport Year of Literacy. It is not too late to register for the Building Brighter Stronger Families Conference next Saturday, 11 March.

In 2012, the City of Devonport Council (Council) consulted with the community to consider the concept of becoming a learning community; to recognise the importance of learning; and to task itself to promote learning wherever possible - especially reading. A Learning Communities Special Interest Group (Group) was formed with representatives from education, levels of government and the community. The purpose: to construct a strategy that reflected a holistic community approach to learning.  

The learning community strategy “Live and Learn” was launched by the Minister for Education, Jeremy Rockliff, in November 2015, highlighting Devonport’s vision to become well connected, vibrant, an innovative community and a place to lead, live and learn. The aim is to increase the quality of life and learning opportunities to improve and enrich Devonport’s social, cultural, economic and environmental well-being.

One of the first actions conducted by the Group was the Festival of Learning, a month-long event, September 2016, that celebrated lifelong learning, identified and promoted learning opportunities and event in the Devonport Community. Over 17 different organisations collaborated, conducting over 35 events ranging from a Young Writers Workshop, cooking for blokes to a storytime for pre-schoolers, trade challenges and a Living Lightly Expo.      

An opportunity to help children develop good reading and communication habits, gain self-confidence and foster a culture of saving ($) has recently commenced, “Reading Salons”. Ten local hairdressers are encouraging children to read a book out loud whilst having their hair cut and when finished, the children are rewarded with a monetary donation. Books were provided by Soroptimist International Devonport.

Devonport Council also boasts the Building Families Special Interest Group, which recently launched Devonport’s “Year of Literacy” which featured Mem Fox's national book launch of “Ducks Away”, the Building Brighter Stronger Families Conference 11th March 2017 for Tasmanian Early Childhood Educators and featuring Mem Fox, Steve Biddulph and Maggie Dent. 

There is much more to tell as Devonport heads towards becoming a true learning community. Watch out for Books for Babies and Supermarket Conversations. Devonport’s Year of Literacy has an extensive range of programs to interest the local and wider community.

Steve Martin
Mayor, City of Devonport 
Committee Member CBCA TAS