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

Friday 14 June 2024

Emotional Intelligence

This week Maureen Mann casts an alternative lens over a selection of CBCA Shortlisted titles to consider those that could spark conversations around empathy and resilience because of the emotional intelligence displayed in the characters. You are invited to add your own examples to this list.


The 2024 CBCA Shortlist contains books with a wealth of themes which can be explored in the classroom or at home. There are the regular themes of family relationships, friendship, historical settings, mental health issues and many others. I’d like to focus on Emotional Intelligence which I’ll define as the ability to empathise with others’ feelings, viewpoints, cultural backgrounds and diversity to develop resilience and coping skills. The ideal is that through experiencing Emotional Intelligence in story format that readers can then discuss and learn, at an appropriate level, from their reading.


Here are a few of my favourites from the 2024 Short List which I think will be excellent books to use with different age groups to focus on this concept.


Grace Notes by Karen Comer.  

Set during Victoria’s early lockdowns, Grace sets out to help her grandmother, now in a nursing home, cope with the absence of her husband, absence of music and contact with the outside world. Crux learns to understand others’ points of views through his interaction with other street artists. Positive family dynamics are very well portrayed, while allowing the reader to understand the everyday frictions.


Inkflower by Suzi Zail

This story has two timelines: the 1980s and the Holocaust years. The latter sections are harrowing, possibly making readers question their veracity over the hardships and cruelty but by using discussion readers should becoming more empathetic people. Lisa’s story in the 1980s shows her emotional adjustment to the earlier conditions as she learns more and more, and how to cope with the grief of her father’s encroaching illness. 


Scout and the Rescue Dogs by Dianne Wolfer and Tony Flowers.

Scout as a character is almost too good to be true as she responds to the plight of homeless dogs, of animals injured in the wildfires across Victoria and NSW, and her developing friendship from a school assignment. But Scout such an empathetic character and her actions centre on her emotional maturity, her generosity and her wonderful relationship with her truckie father. 


Being Jimmy Baxter by Fiona Lloyd

Jimmy is a carer and old beyond his years, while also being naïve. The reader has to come to terms with these variables to develop an understanding of his view of the world, and eventually realise that not everyone has the same opportunities or setbacks.


Grace and Mr Milligan by Caz Goodwin

Grace forms a strong friendship with her neighbour Mr Milligan as well as his pet goat Charlie and the three of them do everything together. When Charlie dies from old age, Mr Milligan in particular loses the will to live and Grace slowly encourages him to return to his old self. There are lots of discussion points which will help early childhood readers understand the sadness as well as the importance of friendship.


Bear and Duck are Friends by Sue deGennaro

Bear is scared of everything and Duck has to help him overcome his fears. It’s the small creature helping the bigger one until they both realise that, in fact, they are helping each other achieve their goals. Lots of discussion for early childhood readers on bullying and stereotypes and meeting new challenges. 


That Bird has Arms by Kate Temple & Jol Temple and Ronojoy Ghosh & Niharika Hukku.  

Roy is a bird who has arms but has to hide them from all the other birds because that’s an unheard-of condition. The other birds mock the basic concept, but all have to accept the differences when Roy demonstrates so clearly and uniquely that he can solve a problem. For the picture book reader, regardless of age, this understanding of diversity as well as the establishment of individual identity is a strength.


Every Night at Midnight by Peter Cheong

This is another book exploring identity and acceptance. Felix struggles to make and keep friends because he can’t join in normal activities: every night he turns into a wolf and fears being ostracised by his human buddies. On first reading, its suited to younger readers but older picture book readers will bring many more emotional experiences and maturity to all the events in this book. 


Do you agree with my selections? Which other 2024 short list titles would you like to add to this list of books exploring emotional intelligence? 

 

Maureen Mann

Retired teacher librarian and avid reader.

Saturday 8 June 2024

Will it be a good series or…?

With her finger on the pulse of what’s popular in children’s fiction our guest author from The Hobart Bookshop, Bronwyn Chalke, shares some popular series fiction for independent readers from primary through to secondary years. Find out what’s just hit the shelves or is soon to be released and pick up the next books in your favourite series.


Crafting a captivating children’s book series is akin to striking gold, though not every series achieves the legendary status of Harry Potter. Our yardstick for evaluating the right book often hinges on the resonance of past blockbusters; discerning whether a child leans towards Percy Jackson's adventures or prefers the allure of Wolf Girl can swiftly guide us.


Yet, for seasoned readers seeking fresh literary voyages, the quest becomes more nuanced. Hence, we've curated a collection of ongoing series, brimming with promise, conceived by authors who continue to pen new chapters, ensuring a treasure trove of tales awaits.


For younger chapter book readers, The Travelling Bookshop series by Katrina Nannestad is now up to Book 5, Mim and the Vicious Vendetta. This is a sweet series that roams through the world, including destinations like the Cotswolds, Venice and the Greek Islands, helping to broaden the minds of young readers while staying within the borders of the real world – particularly suitable for children who are not enamoured with fantasy and magic style books.


The series by Karen Foxlee, Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters, is now up to Book 3, with The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast. This series is within the ‘fantastic beasts’ genre but is not designed to be scary and is again suitable for the younger end of the chapter-book reading audience. Whilst it includes mythical beasts, it is again set in our real world, which can be preferred by some readers. 


M.G. Leonard has written lovely original children’s books with her Adventures on Trains series and has now released a mysterious collection for nature lovers with her Twitchers series – now up to Book 4 with Feather. Both the M.G. Leonard series provide good alternatives for readers who want mystery and adventure but are not keen on a book full of dragons and spells. Both series instil themes of environmental consciousness without evoking undue anxiety.


Moving to a slightly older age bracket, Samantha Ellen Bound series, The Seven Wherewithal Way, has been building a readership over the last few years, with Book 3, Over the Mountains and Through the Desert, now available (and Book 4 still being promised). This one is also in the fantasy genre but draws upon mythological creatures such as Pan who exist in ancient human cultures, so it suits readers who have an interest in the mythological lore of yore.


Described as the biggest fantasy series since Harry Potter (which made us a little nervous) and written for readers of both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series, the series by A.F. Steadman that began with Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is now up to Book 3: Skandar and the Chaos Trials. Due to the publisher’s high hopes for this series, it was originally released in HB format, a decision that likely made it less successful than it could have been. They have now decided to publish the new books in PB format first, following up with HB versions for serious collectors. Book 4 is scheduled for release in October 2024.


Ending with the YA reader end of the scheme, series for this age group seem to fall into either the murder mystery or romantasy genres, which are appealing for many but can become a little repetitive for those who are not specifically seeking them out. The Program series of 6 books by Suzanne Young was written between 2013 and 2018 but has been re-released in 2024 for a new set of YA readers to enjoy. This series appeals to readers of books like Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.





As we keep our eyes peeled for the next literary phenomenon that will enrapture hearts and minds, we cherish the diversity of tastes, acknowledging that no single book can satiate every reader's appetite. 

 

Bronwyn Chalke

The Hobart Bookshop

W: https://www.hobartbookshop.com.au/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/HobartBookshop/


Friday 31 May 2024

“Tell Me a Story”: Why Reading Aloud Still Matters

With National Simultaneous Storytime just behind us and CBCA Tasmania’s ‘read aloud to your child every day’ campaign in full swing, Lyndon’s post provides a perfect backdrop for the importance of reading from an oral perspective - hearing the words adds a further dimension.

Imagine, for a moment, that you don’t live right now—not in our time of Netflix and YouTube and Xbox and a hundred other things to distract and delight us—and that instead you find yourself, let's say, four-hundred years ago. What does fun look like to you? If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ve got your hands on a book of some kind. 

"First Lady Frances Wolf Attends a Read Aloud Event for Children at St. Paul’s
United Church of Christ in Dallastown, York County
"
by governortomwolf is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

But what about those shared moments of joy, the ones that are so easily created in the modern world with everyone around the couch watching some kind of event episode of a favourite TV series, or a movie?

"News Muse: Reading the newspaper aloud in a
boardinghouse room. Washington, D.C., January 1943
.
"
by polkbritton is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The chances are that your 1600s self would find these common experiences by reading your book aloud, similar to Mr Collins being invited to share a novel with the family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (characteristically, he opts for a sermon instead). What’s interesting is that you would probably still read aloud even if no-one else was around. As Alexandra Moe notes in a recent article in The Atlantic, the contemporary image of the silent reader would be a real oddity, even going into some parts of the 20th Century. Indeed, we have historical precedent for this, with Saint Augustine finding it peculiar that Saint Ambrose sits in a garden and reads without speaking in Confessions. Reading out loud, it turns out, is hardwired into us.  Although there are studies that dispute whether it is significant in terms of our comprehension, it is clear that there is a measurable impact on the amount that we will recall later, even as adults, if what we are reading moves from our eyes and our minds to our mouths. The gift of punctuation—the breath-in pause of the full-stop and the quick rest of the comma, as so many teachers have reminded their students over the years—provides us with visual cues that might indicate the same rhythm and flow of human speech that the author intended in their thoughts’ transcription. Somewhere along the line they replaced the very thing they were created to represent.

 

In a recent article in The Guardian, Sarah Manavis admits something that many of her readers will find heart-flutteringly romantic, and others eye-rollingly lame. Beginning with a once-off performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol one frosty December night, she and her partner created a tradition where they read aloud before bed… a custom that has continued across seven years and a vast canon of the classics. A study by the University of Liverpool analysed the outcomes of a number of people living with chronic pain who joined a “shared reading” group. Alongside a number of positive effects that emerged from the experience, such as increased self-reported feelings of positive mood and quality of life, even when their reported pain had also increased, the study found that “literature was a trigger to recall an expression of diverse life experiences—of work, childhood, family members, relationships—related to the entire life-span, not merely the time-period affected by pain.” Many of us have always recognised that reading is a noble thing, but I have always worried that we sold it as if it were Brussels sprouts—something “good for us” to be quickly choked down so that we can get on to everything else. On one level, yes, the reading undertaken by these groups is operating as its own kind of medicine, but on another level, the data seems to indicate that reading aloud with a group—once we get past the nerves—is valuable because it’s fun. It exists, at its best, at the intersection between performance, writing and audience, and it gives us a shared vocabulary of story.

 

There are some of us who have not forgotten the skill that is in our DNA. I’m talking, now, to those of us who cannot cook without reciting the recipe, who chant the day’s tasks as we wander throughout the day like it’s a daily prayer; those of us who wouldn’t dare read a poem without at least whispering it under our breath to find the cadence and flow, or who must recite an email back to check for tone before sending it. I think of the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett, in his struggle with Alzheimer’s, who woke up one day and accused his assistant Rob Wilkins of stealing the letters from his keyboard, but who found it possible to keep writing using dictation. There is nothing wrong with reading and working quietly, or even silently—especially in a busy world in which sometimes it is the only way to get things done in communal environments—but I wonder if overall the pendulum hasn’t swung too far… have we lost something in our calm insistence that the writer and the reader talk to each other only in their own minds?

 

Back in our modern world, we live in a landscape of inputs. Our TV screens and speakers, our headphones and handheld devices; all of them feed in far more than they ever feed out. The reader, in almost every instance, is the passive responder: a sponge, absorbing, absorbing, absorbing. Yet by the same token, how long have teachers been encouraging their students to read quietly to themselves when editing something, to catch the cadence of the phrasing, the flow of the sentences, and the little words that look right at first glance but reveal their lack of clarity or spelling the moment they are given breath? Reading aloud, of course, doesn’t have to be loud. It can be as soft as a whisper or a mutter, an almost-unnoticeable verbal acknowledgment of the true nature of the tale.

"SAKURAKO reads book aloud to a grandma." by MIKI Yoshihito.
(#mikiyoshihito)
is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It's what we’re hard-wired for. From the beginning, stories were always meant to not only be read, but heard.

 

Maybe it’s time for us to let them speak once more.

 

Lyndon Riggall is a writer, teacher, and co-president of the Tamar Valley Writers Festival. You can find him on social media @lyndonriggall and at http://www.lyndonriggall.com. 

Friday 24 May 2024

The Joy of Illustrating Dogs

Blue Mountain Dog
© Tony Flowers

It is delightful to have Tasmanian resident, Tony Flowers, as a guest blogger this week. Tony’s illustrations are true works of art that add layers of meaning to the stories that he so skillfully brings to life. And, of course, hunting for dogs across the many picture books that he has illustrated adds more fun to the reading experience.




One of my absolute favourite things to illustrate is dogs. I have 2 cats (Cleopatra and Miffy) and a Belgian Shepherd (Freya). I have always had cats and dogs. It is the special relationship that we build with our pets that has been the inspiration for many of the animal characters in my books. 

Freya features in a promotion for Scout and the Rescue Dogs
by Dianne Wolfer and Tony Flowers

One of my earliest memories is about the terror our family cat, Snowball, instilled in me. He was a total Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde cat, ready to draw blood without warning at any moment of the day or night. This kind of memory can help me build the tension in my illustrations between a cat and a character's reaction to it. While I do love drawing cats, there is something special about illustrating dog characters. I find drawing dogs with expressive body language, emotive faces and movement easy. It most likely has to do with my willingness to talk to my dogs and overlay complex two-way conversations.

Freya features in This Old Thing by Cassandra Webb & Tony Flower

During my discussions with my Freya, it is all about her response, generally in the form of a head tilt, tail wag, or a single eyebrow raise that always seems to imply the perfect answer to my comment or question. These body gestures are what I use to infuse life into my drawings; it doesn't matter if it is a dinosaur (Saurus Street), a dragon (Billy is a Dragon) or a dog, there is a little bit of Freya or one of my past dogs in there.

I love drawing dogs so much that I try to find ways to weave them into every book that I do. In my illustrated version of Advance Australia Fair, I placed a dog in every scene I drew for the books; I often refer to this book as Advance Australian Dogs.

Arctic dog featuring in Advance Australia Fair © Tony Flowers

The email asking if I was interested in illustrating Scout and the Rescue Dogs came at a time when I was looking to concentrate on picture books and graphic novels. While I love illustrating chapter books, I was working towards creating a new graphic novel series in which I am both the author and illustrator. But a project with 'dog' in the title is a bit of an Achilles heel for me. After a short conversation with Freya and Thor (my recently departed German Shepherd), I said 'yes'; not only was I delighted to have a project that allowed me to dive into the world of dogs again, but this charming story has worked its magic on readers around Australia and made its way onto the Young Reader's shortlist for the 2024 Book of the Year Awards.

Sample sketches of Dotty, Nellie, Freckles and Speckles
© Tony Flowers

Scout and the Rescue Dogs official book trailer by Eden Montgomery


Tony Flowers, dog-loving illustrator.

Web: https://tonyflowersillustrator.wordpress.com/  

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tony_flowers99/ 

 

Editor’s note: Take the time to check out Tony’s impressive website to explore the breadth of his talent and view him at work in the video clip.

Drawing stuff with Tony Flowers Cambodian Dog


Friday 17 May 2024

National Simultaneous Storytime 2024

This week’s timely post by teacher librarian, Anna Davidson, is full of inspiring ideas to tap into the fun and excitement of this annual event. 


It’s nearly time for the nation to pause and enjoy a shared reading experience as part of National Simultaneous Storytime (NSS). This year’s story, Bowerbird Blues by Aura Parker is a real delight. Bowerbird Blues is a gentle story, complemented by gorgeous illustrations. It has been the springboard for many ideas in our library and students have enjoyed engaging with the story in the first few weeks of term. In this post, I will share some of the accompanying experiences we are offering our students to connect with Bowerbird Blues and celebrate NSS.


Inquiry into Birds

In the lead up to NSS, our youngest students are engaging with an inquiry into birds. Currently, there appears to be an explosion of beautiful picture books and illustrated non-fiction books about birds and each week, it’s hard to choose which book to share. Each library lesson, we are exploring one picture book and one non-fiction book, which provides a gentle introduction to the features of non-fiction books in an informal way. It also provides some choice to the reading material; after an initial look at a non-fiction book, I’ll offer students a choice, ‘would you like to hear about bird beaks or what birds eat?’ and we read the page that most children vote for. 


The middle primary students are delving a little deeper into non-fiction titles about birds, conducting independent research to create a digital library display sharing their facts as well as creating a Kahoot quiz to share with the wider school community during NSS week.

TMAG Bird Specimens

Did you know you can become a member of TMAG, which allows you to loan animal specimens for display at your school?  This was a new discovery for me this term, but one well worth following up. For $54 for the term, we can borrow two specimens, swapping them over every two weeks. Currently we have a Pied Oystercatcher and four different honeyeaters in the library and they have provided a wonderful talking point for library visitors.


Bowerbird Collections

This idea has shamelessly been borrowed from Libraries Tasmania (they offer incredible ideas for engaging young people in the library). Students have been invited to take a jar and fill it with a collection of some kind. So far, we have collections of marbles, Lego, shells, socks, leaves, pegs and many other interesting items. This has been a really easy idea to implement, has been very popular and another great talking point in the library as students stop to admire the collections.


On the Day

On the actual day of NSS, we will take the opportunity to raise funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation through a ‘wear a touch of blue’ day as well as a ‘Count the Collection of M&Ms’ competition. At 12pm, classes are invited to the library to listen to the Principal read Bowerbird Blues aloud. We are grateful for the active support of the school leadership team who are always more than happy to participate in literary events around the school. 


Other Resources

NSS LibGuide

Book Creator book by the amazing Raff Grasso

Invitation to build a collection - template

Dress Up Day poster - template


Anna Davidson

Twitter - @davidsonteach

Junior School Teacher Librarian, avid reader (mad for Middle Grade Fiction), dog lover, yogi, nature lover, tea drinker


Editor's note: Are you set for NSS on May 22? Thanks Anna for great ideas and the very useful supporting resources you have provided.