Kate Gordon has a story to tell and a host of Tasmanian authors and illustrators to celebrate. Won’t you join her?
We live on a small island, separated from the big island by a ferocious sea. We are island people – some of us new immigrants to this place, some of us living on land (always borrowed) lived on by generations of ancestors. Some of us own this land, and have ancestry that stretches back generations.
We live on an island of story. We have words in our blood, poetry tying our muscles to our bones. We breathe in images and breathe out black smudges on white pages. We are this way from the time we are born.
Parents give the stories to children. Children grow up and do the same.
We are an island who love to read. We are an island whose children love books but who, because of circumstance, because of history, sometimes have trouble turning those smudges back into images.
Our literacy rates our low. Our love of story is as big as the blue sky above us.
We live on an island where writers and illustrators for children bloom like ferns and fagus.
These are some of the best of them – my heroes and my inspirations.
Anne Morgan, whose beautiful books – often on environmental themes – are pure poetry, and who works tirelessly for her children’s writing community, here and on the mainland.
Christina Booth, who is all heart – this is reflected in her astonishing books, which almost always feel like a big warm hug, no matter how sad or serious or sombre the subject matter. She is a writer and an artist, and the two knit perfectly together. Quite possibly our state’s finest illustrating talent.
Kathryn Lomer, whose gentle, heartfelt, poetic works for young adults have seen her become our most lauded and admired writer for this age range.
Jennifer Cossins, whose amazing illustrated books about animals have found international fame – featured on the Ellen show!
Carole Ann Martin, who has had recent success with her picture books, securing a deal with Scholastic. They are completely delightful.
“Angelica Banks” (Danielle Wood and Heather Rose), whose writing partnership – born of a deep friendship – had produced some deliciously quirky and inventive works.
Julie Hunt, who is a Jack of all trades and a master of them, too – she has written picture books, junior fiction, middle grade and graphic novels, and moves seamlessly from one to the other. In my opinion she is a hugely underrated literary icon of our state.
Lian Tanner, who is such a skilful writer she makes a book written from the perspective of a chicken one hundred percent believable, and who has a dedicated tribe of fans, waiting not-so-patiently for each new story she produces.
Ron Brooks, a literary legend, whose books have been delighting young audiences since before I was born!
Peter Gouldthorpe, whose first book came out the year after I was born, and who has worked with some of my forever loves in fiction. His illustrations on Hist! were seared into my brain as a kid, and his work just gets better and better.
Sally Odgers was a staple of my childhood reading life and I have been privileged to get to know her as a peer (what a strange world this is!).
Lindsey Little is another writer I’ve come to know. Her books are perfect, funny delights.
Jodi McAlister is a hugely popular writer of inventive books for teens, taking the world by storm with her fierce intelligence and captivating characters.
Tansy Rayner Roberts has written for young adults, as well as her award-winning work for adults and is an internationally-recognised stalwart of speculative fiction.
Rachel Tribout illustrated two of my daughter’s favourite books, and the absolute highlight of my career has been having her bring the characters of my Direleafe Hall books to life with her masterful renderings – her beautiful covers are my favourites ever.
Look at that list! And that is only a handful of trees in our forest of writers – some saplings, some beautiful, venerable elders (who must be preserved at all costs!). Some of them have moved to our state and joined our community; others have moved away but will always be counted as one of us.
These are the writers who inspire me, who have made me. Many are internationally famous.
And yet …
And yet …
Our small island – like the states on the Big Island – has a “Premier’s Prize” for literature.
Our island, unlike most mainland sectors, has no separate award for children’s literature.
No award for illustration.
Look at that list.
Look at our island – an island of stories whose children have literacy rates below the national average. An island where writers – even those as lauded as the ones above – will struggle to make a living wage from their craft.
Look at the year we’ve survived. See how it has burned us, bent our wills, broken some of us.
It’s been rough.
And yet, these creators continue to grow, to produce, to make our state proud.
We fight – rightly so – for our native forests. We need to fight for our culture, too.
And it can be argued – should be argued – that culture for children is the most important of all. Traditionally, the work of the children’s author has been diminished – perceived as lesser than that produced by “serious” writers.
But look at the year our children have survived. Look at the world we are giving them.
They will need to fight for that world. They will need stories to carry them through, as stories have carried us through.
A tree can’t grow without sunlight, good soil, good rain.
We need to treat our writers like we treat our plants. They need to be given sustenance, to grow.
We live on a small island, separated from the big island by a ferocious sea.
There is no reason a small island should resign itself to being small in other ways.
We should be proud of the creators who live here. We should do all we can to help them to continue to grow, up and up to the stars.
Tasmanian YA and children’s author
Shortlisted for the 2021 CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Readers award with Aster’s Good, Right Things.