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

Friday, 23 September 2022

The Benefits of Shadows: Thoughts on the SUN Shadow Judging Program

Lyndon Riggall, a Senior Secondary English teacher in Tasmania, was eager to facilitate a group of keen students in the Shadow Judging process and shares his insights into this new CBCA initiative.


I am sitting with a small group of students watching a live stream from John Marsden’s remarkable Candlebark School in Victoria. Jay Laga'aia is on the screen, and we are waiting patiently for him to announce the Older Readers Book of the Year. Things are a little different this time, though. Firstly, the Older Readers Book of the Year has already been announced. We learnt what it was a week ago. Secondly, my students are especially invested in the outcome… after all, in this case they have helped decide it.

I talk, of course, of the SUN Project’s Shadow Judging Program, which began this year. Alongside creative components and author visits, the goal of Shadow Judging was to create a separate set of “Shadowers’ Choice” awards, chosen by students of appropriate age groups from across the country. I am extremely excited about this concept. When I was in Grade 10 and was asked to design and undertake an independent project, I had a pretty radical idea (in hindsight, I’m lucky that my teacher didn’t take the whole thing as a personal insult). I went to the school library and collected a stack of novels covering different genres, authors and styles. Then, I showed these books to group of staff and students, asking them which they thought the children of the school would like the best. The lists I composed at the end of my project were almost direct opposites. It turned out that when it comes to deciding what to read, even adults looking for books that will appeal to children sometimes see things with vastly different eyes to the children themselves. It came as no surprise, then, that I also saw very diverse points of view expressed in the Shadow Judges’ final decision-making.


CBCA Sun Project: Shadow Judge Shadowers' Choice Awards Announcement 2022


I’m not suggesting, of course, that we throw away the traditional CBCA awards altogether and let young people entirely run the show. Award-winning books in these categories are selected based on their literary merit rather than simple appeal to readers, and that is as it should be when we consider the legacy that is being made by the council long-term. That said, when the shadow judging teams made vastly different decisions to the adults even when using quite similar criteria, it solidified in my mind an unshakeable belief that our children and adolescents see the world with different eyes… the only way to truly be sure what connects with them in the world of reading is to take notice and ask them.   

My group of shadow judges found How to Repaint a Life by Stephen Herrick to be the novel that most resonated with them from the Older Readers category. The Children’s Book Council found Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim to be the book with the highest level of literary merit. In general, the Shadow Judges from across the country selected Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn as the strongest title on the shortlist. It seems there is no hope of getting a clear answer. But should this significant discrepancy bother us? I don’t think so. The Shadow Judging Process does two wonderful things: it reminds us that readers are different (and that no single judging decision in an instance like this is by default the right one), and it promotes discussion, debate and further reading. These are—to me at least—objectively positive outcomes. 


When I asked the classes at the school where I work whether anyone might be interested in being involved in the Shadow Judging project, the response was enthusiastic. “I love judging people!” one student immediately declared. My judges have been learning—as I once did when I was a CBCA judge a decade ago—the joys and sorrows of the judging process. It is awful and frustrating to see books that you love fall to the wayside of group consensus, but it is wonderful to be part of the process of picking a winner: to see a text celebrated, shared and appreciated in a way that might otherwise never have been possible for it. The Shadow Judging program empowers young people to have autonomy in their decision-making and brings more attention to books. As I watched my students collaborate, share, consider, create, and get excited about individual novels, I saw a culture of reading grow. Many of them are still passionate about individual titles and are pushing these books onto their friends and classmates. Shadow Judging is creating something special.


I suspect that my students will be back next year, but in the meantime we’ve got even more wonderful books to read and celebrate than we have ever had before… 


That, for me, is the greatest win of all.





Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. With Graeme Whittle he created the picture book Becoming Ellie, and he has recently collaborated with Grace Roberts on Tamar the Thief, which is available to read for free on the Tamar Valley Writers Festival website. Lyndon can be found at http://lyndonriggall.com and on Twitter @lyndonriggall.


Editor’s note: Further details on the winning titles in the Shadow Judging and links to the creative responses to these books can be found on the CBCA website under Shadow Judging.

Friday, 16 September 2022

Inspiring Kids to Love Nature

This week we meet wildlife ecologist and author, Gary Luck, where his years of experience studying Australian native animals is evident in the story of Melody Finch – a magical adventure with a strong environmental message.


One of my favourite children’s books was The Lorax by Dr Suess. With its strong environmental message, The Lorax began my life-long love of nature, and a desire to protect it from harm. Eventually, this saw me become a Professor of Ecology. However, after 25 years in Academia, I began to feel I was living in an echo-chamber. Attending scientific conference after conference to present data on the [often] dismal state of our biodiversity, felt like preaching to the converted. I longed for another way to reach people about the beauty of nature and the need to protect it. A chance online meeting with another author – Ian Boyd from the CBCA-SA Branch – who turned out to be someone from my childhood hometown, started me on a new journey writing eco-fiction for children. 

Spirit of the Earth Books 2020

Our first effort – Melody Finch – tells the story of a young girl living in Charleville Qld who finds out her grandmother must sell her beloved riverboat in the Coorong because of the drought. After experiencing a magical storm, Melody turns into a Diamond Firetail Finch, and then meets two frog spies from the secretive group ‘Infrognito’ who tell her big rains are coming and will break the drought. Melody has to get word to her grandmother not to sell the boat, but how can she do this when she’s turned into a bird? 


So begins Melody’s journey from Charleville to the Coorong following some of Australia’s major rivers. The book covers environmental themes such as climate change, drought, species migration, pest animals and wildlife-fisher conflicts. We tried to do this in an informative, but entertaining way to engage with readers aged 8-12 years. The main focus was on telling a compelling story, and building the environmental themes into this, rather than the other way around. 

Our next effort – The Last Firedog – will take the same approach, highlighting the impacts of bushfires on humans and wildlife. Set here in Tasmania, it follows a Tassie devil and his quoll companion on an adventure through the Ben Lomond National Park.


Dr Gary Luck
Wildlife Ecologist, Author, Nature Steward
Discover more about Gary, co-author Ian Boyd, and this first book in the series at: Spirit of the Earth Books


Editor’s note: Gary also writes for adults under the pseudonym of G. W. Lucke. Look out for the Relevation Trilogy: When Darkness Descends, At the End of Everything, and She Will Rise (out mid 2023).




Monday, 12 September 2022

A Canadian Perspective

This week we have a global perspective as Maureen Mann  shares some special finds while exploring libraries and bookshops in Canada. There are some great authors and illustrators to discover!


I’m back in Canada visiting family and have some spent some enjoyable time browsing the local bookstore (Part of a large chain, with a large children’s section), chatting to the staff and coming up with some books to share with you. It’s always interesting to see how bookshops in different parts of the world create and organise their displays. 


Lizzy and the Cloud by The Fan Brothers (Terry and Eric).
Simon & Schuster (2022)

Lizzy buys a plain cloud complete with tethering string, as her pet, and Milo (as she names him) comes with an instruction manual, which she follows carefully. Even though he waters her collection of rare plants, and is useful inside, like all pets, Milo grows. And that’s what Lizzy does: releases him to the sky. From then on, she wonders if he returns to visit her, and hopes to see him again. Beautiful soft illustrations with bursts of colour, indicating mood. It’s a gentle book, with a message and sparks of humour. 


In the Clouds by Elly MacKay
Penguin Random House (2022)

Though this is essentially a book of fiction it is filled with curiosity about clouds. Where do they come from? Do they float? Where do they go when they disappear? There are other scientific and philosophical questions. The small child flies into the sky on the back of a bird, to be nearer the clouds. As she journeys the questions are posed, answered and reflected upon. It’s more than a bedtime story book and primary-aged children will enjoy the challenges of the questioning. Lovely sometimes ethereal illustrations. MacKay has included a bibliography and answers to some of her questions.


I’m Not Sydney by Marie-Louise Gay
Groundwood Books UTP Distribution (2022)

A group of children are playing outside, their imaginations take on the persona of animals and they venture into a huge spider’s web. Sydney becomes a sloth; Sami is a spider monkey. Others join them sharing the banter of a group playing together in this magical world. But when Edward becomes an elephant he fills his trunk with water, destroys the tenuous spider web and sends them all home “like a herd of small wet animals”. However, there’s always tomorrow … The illustrations are whimsical and fun. I wonder which animal I’d be.


The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers
Penguin Random House (2018)

This is inspired by Chris Hadfield’s own childhood when he was fascinated by the moon and the universe, and pretends to be an astronaut. At the same time, he was scared of the dark and possible aliens hiding under his bed; unable to sleep alone and returning to share his parents’ bed. This continues until he watches the landing of the first man on the moon. From then on, he realises that the darkness holds secrets and adventure. Chris Hadfield went on to become an astronaut, highly respected space photographer and NASA director. The illustrations reflect the darkness of the night but maintain the excitement that night-time can bring. 


The Worm by Elise Gravel
Penguin Random House (2016)

This is one of the Disgusting Critters series of books by Gravel which takes one of nature’s less likeable animals and presents information in easily readable formats for the early childhood age group. Each looks at the habitat (inside and/or outside the human body), its anatomy and role in the environment. Facts are presented with humour and accuracy, so readers find they are learning as well as being amused. Other critters are headlice, spider, rat, slug, toad and the fly.


Everybody
by Elise Gravel
Scholastic Canada (2022)

Gravel uses quirky monsters to show that we are all different but we all share the same things: fear and joy; sadness; making mistakes and we can learn from them; the need to be valued and feel safe. At first, I felt the book was too didactic, but the humour and the situations became very child-centred and empathetic.


The Most Magnificent Idea by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press (2022)

The girl loves to make things and spends her days creatively, until one day she runs out of ideas, and panic and depression set in. She tries to convince herself that the inspiration will return but it seems to have deserted her, despite her brainstorming, changing location, gathering new supplies. Not even her faithful pet can help her, until … Creativity and her mojo return just as she is beginning to think she will never be able to build again. Spires’ illustrations are great complements to the text, leaving plenty of white space for the reader to fill in some of the details.

 

I’s the B’y: The beloved folk song illustrated by Lauren Soloy
Greystone Books (2022)

This is a very Canadian song, from Newfoundland. The boy (b’y) comes in with his catch and takes it to guitar-playing Liza, and is accompanied by other creatures – violin-playing fish, dancing people, humpback whales, moose. All dance in circles. The sky and the sea suggest movement. Everything is full of energy. The illustrations are digitally produced but give an impression of being hand-created. I was impressed as a newcomer to the song, because there is an explanation at the end of the book of the relevance of the main items on each page and their place in society. The book also includes the music and all the words 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief look at some Canadian children’s books. I’ve certainly had fun finding them and look forward to discovering some more while here.  


Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Book Week – A time for joy

This week Emma Nuttall provides a glimpse into this magical celebration in her school.


"Book Week is a very special time in schools. It must be one of my most anticipated weeks of the year!"

That is how I started my Book Week blog last year, and this year the sentiment remains. 


Schools are busy. Schools are fun. Schools are colourful. And Book Week is all of them rolled in to one!


In our school, we are always on the lookout for opportunities to connect across classes, not just within them. COVID has made gathering more challenging, and indeed interacting more generally, with limitations put on numbers, venues, activities and so on. And gathering is such a key part of what schools are about, so for us to be able to host our annual Book Week Parade this year, was all the more exciting!


Every year, we look for ways to add to the excitement of Book Week. Once again, we ran our Quiz – as hotly contested as ever. My eldest son even asked to see the quiz, despite having left the school last year – who knew it would provide such a lasting memory? And all day long, children have been asking me about this question or that question – eager to know if they were correct (or not). Our annual Parade was as colourful as ever, and our daily reading roster has taken a new, but special format. 

Mem Fox, (1994 / 2019). Tough Boris. Penguin Books.

This year, against my better judgement, my wonderful colleague also suggested we dress up in our Parade costumes (Tough Boris, the pirate, if you’re wondering) a day early and visit the classes to read the Mem Fox classic, and to do a bit of Parade reminding and marketing. Now despite being a teacher, a career known for being in the spotlight, I despise the spotlight. I dread it. I get that funny feeling in my tummy - you know the one. But as we moved from class to class, in full pirate costume and personality, I came to enjoy it. I think I even loved it. And I loved it because of the looks on the faces of the children (and staff!) that we visited. And that is what Book Week is all about. That awe and wonder. That magic. That magic, only stories can provide.


So cheers to Book Week, and until next year, keep on Dreaming with your Eyes Wide Open, because you never know when Tough Boris, or any other magical story book character may appear!


Emma Nuttall

Teacher, reader and passionate advocate for children’s literature.


Editor's note: If you missed the announcements, visit the CBCA website for Book Week, the Award winners and the Shadow Judging results.

Friday, 12 August 2022

Where do we go for book recommendations?

This week’s post focuses on finding good books — Felicity Sly shares some strategies and sources to help you find the next best read — for children and yourself!


Image used with permission
© Hobart Bookshop

In the past the first stop for most readers looking for their next read was to make a visit to their school library staff, their local bookseller or their state library staff. But in the digital age this process seems to have migrated online.


I belong to a couple of facebook communities that focus on all things books…and when I say ‘all things books’ I’m referring to a diversity of topics: the personal library, the reading room/corner, the TBR (to be read) pile, the DNF (did not finish) titles, tools/apps for recording titles of the library/books read, the number of books owned, the number of books purchased for the least financial outlay. It’s a competitive world in the digital arena.  


There are frequent posts along the lines of: what’s all the hype about [insert title of popular book]; I’m ‘x’ way towards meeting my reading challenge of ‘y’ books this year; how do I increase the speed at which I read?; Why does anyone want to read fiction/genre/non fiction; How many books are too many to read concurrently?…and on it goes.


I am dismayed by the posts: asking for recommendations of books for children and tweens, when anyone in facebook land makes suggestions, many of which are wildly inappropriate for the age group mentioned; when the asker is compiling a ‘reading list’ for their child. How I would love to steer these information seekers to the safety of their school library, their local bookseller, their state library – but too many of these locations have either been shut down, have reduced staff number to unmanageable levels; and to suggest that a child should have autonomy over most of their reading list.


There seem to be an increasing number or creators asking for feedback: on their manuscripts; cover art; content to write.


So where do we go for book recommendations?

I work on the theory of three. If I see a title mentioned three times, I check it out, especially if I’ve seen it in a variety of sources.

If the person is enthusiastic about what they have read, then I’m interested to learn more.

I follow Booksellers on facebook or subscribe to their email lists. These reviews and recommendations are usually high quality.

 

Below are just some of the many websites devoted to great reads and popular vote books:

CBCA Notables; Reading Time; Better Reading; Yabba Awards; BILBY; APS Children’s Peace Literature Award

Children's Book Council of Australia.
CBCA Book Awards Notables List 2022

For adults: Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales recommendations in the Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast are usually great reads.


And tucked away on the Libraries Tasmania website under What’s New is  the New Lending Arrivals and Good Reads page, with links to Which Book, What Shall I Read Next, Literature-Map and Fantastic Fiction. I say ‘tucked away’ because you need to scroll down to find What’s New.


Don’t forget the 2022 CBCA Awards announcements:

Noon August 19 the CBCA Book of the Year Award winners will be announced.

Noon August 26th Shadow Judging Vote will be announced. This SUN Shadow Judging Project was detailed in the May 13 blog.


Please share in the Comments section where you go to find your next read.


Felicity Sly is a Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport.




Sunday, 7 August 2022

Finding the Balance – Can Books help Save the Planet?

With climate disasters at home and abroad and media reporting on global warming, children can’t help but be affected and concerned. This week, Jennie presents some recent, and some not quite so new, publications dealing with sustainable issues that can help parents and teachers navigate this challenging topic. 


Environmental problems permeate our daily lives – through political debate, news reporting and social media bombardment but also in the lived experiences of many of us as extreme weather and natural disasters affect our own lives and TV screens and computer monitors stream images of loss and destruction. Such exposure must impact young people – it can lead to despair and anxiety (ecophobia) or become a call for positive action. Arteaga (2020) states “Our students will be the ones to protect the future of our planet, so how do we give them hope and help them take action? How do we equip them with the tools they’ll need to take on this challenge while also maintaining optimism?” Children’s literature can provide the stimulus to not only inform young people about global issues to but to also inspire them to consider solutions. 


Haq (2018) argues that children’s books must do more than explain climate change and highlight issues of concern. “Stories not only develop children’s literacy but convey beliefs, attitudes and social norms which, in turn, shape children’s perceptions of reality. They allow children to move from a position of powerlessness to a position of possibility. Through fiction, children are able to explore different perspectives and actions beyond what they know by living in the story world of characters for whom they care. ”(Haq, 2018, para. 7).  


The following titles have been chosen because they provide stimulus for discussion and positive environmental action to different degrees. Their selection intends to counteract feelings of helplessness to nurture resilience and mindfulness to not only imagine, but contribute to, a better world (Ljanta, 2019, para. 4). All of them help readers build knowledge about the health of the planet and some go further to engender a sense of collective responsibility and purposefulness to make a change – at a personal level and also as activists and a starting point to make a stand for the good of the planet. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marine pollution is a connecting theme across most of these titles with the effects of plastic on marine life the major issue presented.


I Love You, Blue. (2022) by Barroux. Otter-Barry Books.

Barroux tells the story of young boy who loves the sea and sailing upon it, and in particular, the whale that inhabits the water. When the whale does not appear he searches the water and finds a very sick whale. He enters the whale and discovers a belly full of plastic bags which he removes, and the whale recovers. Although the story is implausible the message is cleverly illustrated with the boy’s diagram comparing a floating plastic bag with a jellyfish. Barroux provides factual information and practical advice to encourage children to protect whales and other sea life.


A Bag and a Bird (2017) by Pamela Allen. Penguin 

Allen vividly demonstrates the almost tragic effect of a plastic bag picked up by the wind and dropped in the sea where an ibis becomes entangled. The environmental messages are implied rather than stated providing a subtext to be explored between adult and child rather than make clear statements about the overuse of plastics. The boy’s careful placement of the offending bag in the bin provides a starting point for a discussion. Five years on, I would expect many youngsters to indicate that they should have packed the lunches in reusable containers rather than ones that need to be disposed.


Louie and Snippy Save the Sea (2019) by Collette Dinnigan and Grant Cowan. Berbay 

The creators present a strong message on the effects of pollution – particularly plastics – in the ocean, on sea life. Louie and his dog are on the beach, and the boy dreams of travelling underwater, but the dream is nightmarish as he meets many sea creatures in life threatening situations due to the many forms of plastic in the ocean. Once awake, Louie and Sniffy set out to educate others on the beach with an action plan to make a difference. The characters taking up the cause, rather than advice at the end by the author, presents a more powerful message of taking responsibility through positive actions. The book is gloriously illustrated by Grant Cowan in pencil to portray a series of distressed but relatable creatures. Although a little  didactic in tone, there a many teachable moments between its covers – on the ocean, sea creatures, pollution and looking after our Earth.


Walk of the Whales
(2021) by Nick Bland. Hardie Grant

Bland sends a very strong message about human responsibility for the state of our oceans when the whales leave the polluted ocean and move onto the land. At first a curiosity, this becomes a disaster as shopkeepers go out of business, farms are flooded with water and salt, and people shout horrible, anti-whale words. The message is saved to the final pages, and the reader is mesmerised by the various antics of an array of different whale species as the leave the ocean to inhabit the land. Tongue in cheek humour, wonderful perspectives to indicate scale and simple straightforward language recount the exodus from the sea, the impact on human lives and then puts forward a solution. 

It is interesting to note that it is only when human lives are seriously disrupted that they start to take some responsibility rather than just blaming the whales. Although marketed as a book for young readers Bland sends a powerful message that will stimulate debate with older readers.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On the theme of being responsible for our actions the following three recent publications are worth investigating.


The Tantrum that Saved the World (2022) by Megan Herbert and environmental scientist Michael E. Mann. Penguin


Targetting younger readers, Sophia is visited by and listens to the stories of misplaced animals that turn up on her doorstep. She learns that this is her fight, too…and discovers the power of collective action, the strength of her own voice, and how all of us are stronger together. The second part is particularly useful to adults sharing this book as it provides information on climate change and the final section introduces positive action for building a better world together.

Lynwood Music. (2019, December 7). The Tantrum that Saved the World.
https://youtu.be/eIK1HZZtsw8 


Flooded. (2022) by Mariajo Ilustrjo. Murdoch Books.

Ilustrjo has created a stunning allegorical tale that speaks to sophisticated readers and adults alike. Visualised through the perspective of a marmoset, and told from an outside observer stance, the city gradually floods. Ignoring the prompting of the marmoset seeking help, the animal inhabitants adjust to the worsening predicament. First with gumboots, then oxygen tanks and helmets as the waters rise and treasures are lost or destroyed. The giraffes, as the tallest animals, can’t see what the problem is until they too are immersed. As the numbers of affected animals increases, they finally start to band together to complain. It is the marmoset, who has been waiting for this moment, that finally gets the animals to cooperate and work together to solve the problem – evocatively portrayed via a fold out page to present all the animals across a triple page spread. The underlying message is a wake call to humanity – that we can’t ignore the suffering of others until it affects us – like the ostrich with his head in the sand – and the power of working together to find and enact solutions. The intriguing illustrations, in muted greys and watery blues, effectively extend the text to convey the intended message. Some examples of the art work can be viewed on Ilustrio’s website.  Older readers will be able to make many connections to current global issues in this allegorical tale. The Western world’s (as the superior giraffes) response to COVID, or dealing with climate change – the point is that it needs to be a united and cohesive response. A sophisticated book that


It’s Up to Us: A Children’s Terra Carta for Nature, People and Planet (2021) by Christopher Lloyd and lavishly illustrated by numerous illustrators from around the globe. What on Earth Books / Walker (AU)

Endorsed by HRH The Prince of Wales and designed in partnership with the Prince’s Foundation the book presents the road map to sustainability that has be created by the Prince and his Sustainable Markets initiative and included at the end of the book. The book aims to promote the importance of re-establishing harmony between Nature, the People and the Planet. The forward by HRH The Prince of Wales highlights the connection children have to Nature and his intent is for this literary non-fiction book to inspire young people to discover, celebrate, support and care for our Planet. The book is divided into four sections with the first three reflecting nature, people and the planet in both celebration and in concern showing how the balance between these elements has been lost. Part 4, the Terra Carta, presents ways we can bring Nature back into balance. As well as presenting the Terra Carta, the end pages also provide images and brief biographies and locations of the 33 illustrators, information on the Prince’s Foundation, a glossary, information on the carbon footprint of the book and an explanation of the Fibonacci spiral. Visit the What on Earth Books website for a downloadable poster to start mapping your action plan now.


The book sends a clear and pressing message for communities to work together to ensure a sustainable future and to bring Nature back into balance. This section explains and illustrates key elements in the Terra Carta road map. The final message, as a poster brandished by a diverse group of children states (p. 49):


We CAN do this.

We MUST do this.

And we have to do it NOW.

Because…

IT’S 

UP

TO US!


What on Earth Books. (2021, October 26). Book Trailer: It's Up to Us.
https://youtu.be/0RL5Eawqsos

References


Arteaga, A. (2020, February 28). Thinking bigger solutions. Climate Interpreter. https://climateinterpreter.org/content/thinking-bigger-solutions


Haq, G. (2018, June 4).  Children’s books can do more to inspire the new generation of Earth warriors. The Conversation.

https://theconversation.com/childrens-books-can-do-more-to-inspire-the-new-generation-of-earth-warriors-97580


Ljanta, A. (2019, July 1). Book list: Kids with climate change anxiety. The Sapling

https://www.thesapling.co.nz/single-post/2019/07/01/book-list-supporting-kids-climate-change-emotions


Jennie Bales

Adjunct Lecturer, Charles Sturt University

CBCA Tasmania Social Media Coordinator