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

Friday, 3 July 2020

All emotions allowed here

This week, Victoria Ryle hones in on supporting young readers in difficult times to enrich their reading and writing endeavours and exemplifies the value of creative mentors to guide the process.

 

With sadness I read in The Guardian this week, that one of my early teaching mentors, Margaret Meek Spencer died in May . She was a champion of powerful texts in support of children becoming literate and the news sent me back to find my old dog-eared copy of How Texts Teach What Readers Learn. I particularly like its concluding sentence: "What we have to realise is that the young have powerful allies in a host of gifted artists and writers to help them subvert the world of their elders" (Meek, 1988, p. 40). Now more than ever do we need our young to subvert the world of their elders, given its current parlous state.

 

In this time of Covid-19, the book as a tangible object is an important counterweight to screen time when so much of our lives are conducted online. With this in mind, a group of artists as part of ArTELIER, a professional learning program for artists in Tasmania, were drawn to the idea of publishing a book that allowed children and young people to express some of their feelings. The first publication, by younger children, All Emotions Allowed Here is a snapshot of the thoughts and feelings of one group of children aged 5 to 12 in an extraordinary time. The book encourages families to talk about what matters at a time of change and uncertainty and builds resilience. It also provides space for other children to add their own thoughts and feelings. Visit the ArTELIER website and view Leanne McLean, the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children and Young People, read part of the book, find out more about the project and purchasing options.

 

 

The second project, in a zine format, offered a group of young people aged 14-24 a paid opportunity to attend a series of three professional development workshops with writer, Danielle Wood, graphic novelist Josh Santospirito and illustrator Liz Braid. The resulting publication All emotions allowed here: How can I find normal when I’m living in a social tragedy? is a mix of artworks and writings offering a direct glimpse into young peoples’ lives as changed by this pandemic.

 

Being forced into the online space by the Covid 19 lockdown, has offered a fortuitous opportunity to think about new models of reaching children. Kids’ Own Publishing  has recently launched Kids’ Home Publishing, a quirky series of animations, author mini-workshops, and read-alouds of books created by children and sent in for the delightful Brigid to read in the Kids’ Own Book Cubby each Friday over the next few weeks on their Youtube channel. They say they are yet to receive any Tasmanian books, so spread the word amongst the families you know…and grab this opportunity.

 

 Margaret Meek believed children should have access to the best writing, in the hands of skilled writers and artists who knew how to engage readers in powerful ways. But she also understood that “understanding authorship, audience, illustration and iconic interpretation” (Meek, p. 10) are a vital part of developing literary competencies. Children may not always be highly skilled; however, they are frequently engaging communicators.

 

Reference

Meek, M. (1988). How texts teach what readers learn. Thimble Press.

 

Victoria Ryle

PhD candidate, UTAS, Education

Find out – or contribute to – my research at https://www.publishingbookswithchildren.com/survey

Friday, 26 June 2020

Pearl and Dooley – Sally Odgers



I first met Sally as a visiting author to my school in Launceston some 30 years ago and she continues to write, inspire others to put pen to paper and hit the mark for her young and YA readers. This week Tasmanian author Sally Odgers introduces two of her favourite characters – Pearl and Dooley.



I gave a fair bit of thought to what I might write for the CBCA Tasmania blog. In the end, I decided to tell you about two of my characters. Pearl, the Magical Unicorn, trotted into being a few years ago and continues to forge her way along with her best friends Olive and Tweet. Pear is kind and friendly, with just enough vinegar in her nature to make her human…even though she’s actually a unicorn. When I set out to write about Pearl, I had to cover the fact that she doesn’t have hands. That sounds self-evident, but writers sometimes forget such details. Seriously, no matter who or what your protagonists are, always bear in mind their physical limitations and probabilities. Pearl isn’t especially big for a unicorn but she can’t go for a trip in her friend Olive’s ogre-boat. She just won’t fit. Neither could she turn the pages of a book.


Pearl stars in her own series, published by Scholastic.


The second character is Dooley. He’s especially dear to my heart because he lives on a farm at the foot of Dooleys Hill in Latrobe, where I grew up. There are sometimes limitations to publishing stories set in Tasmania, (is that somewhere in Africa?) but in this case I was invited to submit a Tasmanian story for the Aussie Kids series. To write Meet Dooley on the Farm, I hied back to my childhood, and to the things my children and grandchildren have enjoyed also. Dooley is a happy-go-lucky boy whose mainlander cousin, Sienna, is coming to stay. Sienna is older, but Dooley has the home ground advantage. A night camping in the barn brings an unexpected challenge, but capable Dooley has it in hand.

The icing on my cake is that Christina Booth did the illustrations!

Sally Odgers was born in NW Tasmania and still lives there with her husband and multiple dogs. She started writing in the 1970s and now has over 400 titles published. As well as children’s books, Sally writes YA, crossover, romance, photo verse and how-to books for writers, and holds workshops and author talks. Her manuscript assessment and editing service has been running for around twenty-five years.

Sally Odgers
W:
https://sallybyname.weebly.com
E: sallybyname@gmail.com
OR affatheeditor@gmail.com

Friday, 19 June 2020

Reading in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

A timely post from Lyndon Riggall reflecting on the power of literature to explore our own perspectives and views of the world. Read on to explore stories of celebration, history and hope.

 

Over the past few months on this blog there have been amazing and inspiring discussions of reading in the era of Covid-19, exploring challenges, opportunities and possibilities from the perspectives of families, schools, authors, artists, bookshops and publishers. It has reminded me that in turbulent moments that most maligned function of the printed word—“escapism”—can also be its most valuable.

 

Of course, escapism is only one function of writing. Sometimes, literature does the opposite, shining a light on something oh-so-real, be it celebration, history or hope. Coronavirus is one challenge that we face right now, but there are others, and I would like to give a signal boost in this post to a few children’s books that I have found offered me vital and valuable perspectives on the issues related to the #BlackLivesMatter, and internationally.

 

CELEBRATION:

 

Our Home, Our Heartbeat by Briggs, gorgeously illustrated by Kate Moon and Rachel Sarra, is a picture book adaptation of his song “The Children Came Back.” The book is, at its very core, a rich and joyous text that explores the power and brilliance of Australia’s Indigenous legends, providing a striking list of heroes for further research and contemplation. It is an inspiring piece of work, reminding us all of the important contributions these individuals have made to our society in a way that is both joyous and triumphant.

 

HISTORY:

 

Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu—the gorgeously minimalistic yet striking junior counterpart to his adult text Dark Emu—is an eye-opening, concise account of the past leading to Australia’s colonial occupation that argues for a change in the once-dominant narrative of this country that Aboriginal Australians were a hunter-gatherer society. It’s subtitle, A Truer History, beautifully sums up the book’s mission: to correct the assumptions of the past and reveal the reality of sophistication behind Australian culture before European occupation. By turns challenging, saddening and eye-opening, Young Dark Emu pulls the veil from the colonial narrative of our past while offering startling alternatives to the common misconceptions of life in Australia under the care of our First Nations people. 


HOPE:

 

In a similar vein that recognises the importance of these messages on a wider societal level, Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi is a manifesto by two stunningly insightful writers, cataloguing the realities of an American context while offering hope for the future. A “remix” of Kendi’s non-fiction text for adults, Stamped explicitly claims its status as “not a history book” on numerous occasions, and is instead a deeply practical, thoughtful and rousing call to arms. It is lyrically presented with lines of poetic phrasing that come at the reader with an almost physical force, and which can surely only be the recognised as the product of the deepest truth-telling. As a declaration for change, Stamped leaves a powerful mark.

 

* * *

 

We live in a time in which there are no simple answers and uncertainties around every corner. We turn to literature to hide, yes, but sometimes we also turn to literature to reveal, and to see ourselves. If you have any further suggestions for further reading that can inform and inspire us all around this topic I would love to hear from you below.

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall or on his website at
http://lyndonriggall.com. His latest picture book, Becoming Ellie, is available at http://www.becomingellie.com.au

 

Friday, 12 June 2020

2020 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City


This week guest author Verity Croker shares a prestigious writers’ event that fell before the pandemic closed international borders and cancelled conferences and events. Find out what happens when the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators gather together.

The SCBWI winter conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, 7-9 February 2020, was a truly inspirational professional development opportunity. 

Verity & Remy Lai

The first official event was the Golden Kite Awards Presentation Gala evening, where we were all encouraged to wear gold. The winners of the awards delivered very thoughtful and emotional speeches. The highlight was watching Remy Lai from Queensland win the Sid Fleischman Humour Award for Pie in the Sky, presented by Chris Grabenstein. It was a privilege to witness the atmosphere in the room when she was presented with this, and I felt very proud to be a fellow Australian. Congratulations Remy! After the Awards presentations, the attendees sipped bubbles and nibbled on chocolate-dipped strawberries, as we networked and perused the talented work in the Illustrators’ Portfolio Showcase.

On the Saturday, we had a full day, starting with the Welcome and Introduction by Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI, who told us there were 840 attendees from 17 different countries. Next was the opening keynote by author Kate Messner who describes herself as ‘passionately curious’. My main takeaway was to consider: What do you wonder about? Does any of that scare you? Get close to the thing that frightens you, and write about it.

Intensive breakout sessions were next. I attended ‘Marketing your book: What to do, what’s effective, and what’s not’ led by Chrissy Noh, senior marketing director at Simon & Schuster. She suggests asking your publishers to share their marketing plan with you, and discuss with them how you can best supplement what they are doing to promote your book. She also stressed that with school visits, always indicate how your book fits in with their curriculum.

'Adapting your work for film, television, and media’ led by Lin Oliver and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein (founder and CEO of The Gotham Group), was my chosen afternoon session. Ellen explained that you have to realise you are selling your work, and therefore in most cases you will not have meaningful creative input into the project, as distributors and producers want to make it their own. During this session we had the fabulous opportunity to present a one-minute elevator pitch with feedback from Ellen. Listening to her responses to everyone’s pitch proved a valuable insight into her world.

After the formal part of the day ended with a keynote from multi-award winning illustrator Jerry Pickney, we readied ourselves for the Networking Buffet Dinner, in which we were divided into regions so we could mingle with colleagues. Ours was an eclectic bunch with attendees from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada amongst others. Some connections made there continue.

The following day, the first event was an awards presentation for the Portfolio Showcase Awards, Narrative Art Award, Jane Yolen Midlist Author Award, Student Illustrator & Writer Scholarships, and the IPOC Women’s Scholarship. The first keynote was an agent and editor panel with Patrice Caldwell, Susan Dobinick, Connie Hsu, Kirby Kim, Alvina Ling, and Marietta Zacker, moderated by Lin Oliver. There was some agreement that graphic novels are wanted, as is non-fiction. It was recommended to read the last five years of published work, to follow your own compass, know your own ‘wheelhouse’, and don’t compare your journey with those of others.

My final intensive breakout session was ‘Voice, what is it?’ led by Nick Thomas, senior editor at Levine Querido, an independent children’s book publisher. Nick very generously offered us the opportunity to send him five pages of our works-in-progress before the conference, and provided us with very useful feedback. He also encouraged us to edit our work, keeping in mind his suggestions, and to submit to him over the next twelve months. What a fabulous opportunity! He said voice is what it’s like to be with you on the page, including the way you write, the way your character thinks and talks, how you show action, and how you describe setting and atmosphere. He said you must read widely, be authentic, and put in the work, always asking yourself ‘Why do I want to write this story?’.

The closing keynote was delivered by Derrick Barnes, whose book Crown is my favourite new discovery from the conference. This book and his other titles demonstrate the importance of authentic diverse books. His journey was encouraging, as at one point, even though he already had several books published, he entered a period of several years when he wrote twenty to thirty books that nobody wanted. Now, he is very successful. He asks himself, ‘What legacy do I want to leave?’, a key question for us all.


Verity Croker is the author of two young adult novels, Jilda’s Ark and May Day Mine, published by Harmony Ink Press, US, plus two middle grade chapter books, Cyclone Christmas and Block City published by Sunshine Books, NZ. Grammar Worksheet Workout, published by Knowledge Books and Software, is for school students, and Hot Pot is her debut novel for adults.


Verity Croker

Facebook: veritycrokerwriter
Twitter: @veritycrokerwriter
Instagram: veritycrokerwriter
Website: www.veritycroker.wordpress.com

Friday, 5 June 2020

Eve Pownall – The Person, the Prestigious Award & the Short List

Have you ever wondered who Eve Pownall was and why CBCA named an award for informational texts after her? Leanne provides background information on this special award that celebrates quality information writing and provides teasers on each of the six shortlisted titles for 2020.
Marjorie Evelyn Pownall was born on 12 January 1902 at Kings Cross, Sydney. Eve was a meticulous researcher, avid reader, and prolific writer. Her first major work was a social history for children, The Australia Book (1952), which was named by the Children’s Book Council as best book of the year.
She wrote Mary of Maranoa: Tales of Australian Pioneer Women (1959) and Australian Pioneer Women (1975). To research The Thirsty Land: Harnessing Australia’s Water Resources (1967) and The Singing Wire: The Story of the Overland Telegraph (1973), she drove to the outback. Eve organised ‘libraries in a box’ in New South Wales and presented educational programs on ABC radio.
Contribution to CBCA
A crusader for children’s literature, she was an early supporter of the New South Wales group that became the Children’s Book Council (of Australia). She helped to establish its journal Reading Time and the annual award for the children’s book of the year, and compiled a history, The Children’s Book Council in Australia: 1945-1980. In December 1977 Eve was appointed MBE and in 1981 she was the first recipient of the Lady Cutler award for distinguished service to children’s literature in New South Wales.
The importance of the Eve Pownall Award is presented in an article by Helen Adam (2015 Judge) in Reading Time:
 [The Award], “gives birth to a delightful challenge to authors and illustrators: to present information – educational material – in a way that brings to life this world of ours, times past, current matters, scientific and social understandings in a way that illuminates our world and leads readers to a deeper understanding of this world, and their own place and significance in it.”
2020 Eve Pownall Shortlist
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ugly AnimalsSami Bayly
The well-researched information highlights some unusual, highly adapted species that have evolved to have unique but rather unattractive features, many species of which are highly threatened. Each animal is featured with information sorted into logical areas of interest, including description, habitat, and diet.
Searching for Cicadas Lesley Gibbes & Judy Watson
A view into the world of the cicada, this stunning picture book engages and informs young readers through its unique melding of fact and storytelling. The story is about a child and a grandparent exploring the bush together, marvelling at the wonders of nature whilst listening for cicada calls and conducting their careful search.
A Hollow is a Home – Abbie Mitchell & Astred Hicks
An exploration of tree hollows and the creatures that call them home. Scientific information is presented in a simple and accessible way, with concepts and terminology well defined and explained. The book is a fun and informative peek into a hidden, yet vital part of nature.

Wilam: A Birrarung Story – Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly & Lisa Kennedy
Wilam, meaning ‘home’ tells the story of ‘Birrarung’, the Yarra River. Bunjil, the wedge-tailed eagle, creator spirit of the Wurundjeri people, oversees the journey of the Yarra River from the natural habitats at the start of the river down to the urbanised habitats of the bay.
Young Dark Emu: A Truer History – Bruce Pascoe
This book argues that for 80,000 years, Aboriginal people were living in established agricultural societies in managed landscapes, reliant on Aboriginal astronomy. Farming and food supplies were determined by Emu Dreaming, the spaces between the stars of the Milky Way, where the Spirit Emu resides. Pascoe shows how the decimation of Aboriginal people and culture ensured that after 1860 all evidence of any prior complex civilisation was eradicated.
Yahoo Creek: An Australian Mystery – Tohby Riddle
This book explores the mysterious yahoo through newspaper accounts of white settlers, farmers, and their children’s encounters with the 'yahoo', 'hairy man' or 'yowie' from 1847-1944 along the Great Dividing Range. Riddle depicts the yahoo as friendless, bewildered, and frightened, like a wild animal. But children seem to pose no threat to him.


References
Adam, H., 2015. Who was Eve Pownall? Reading Time. http://readingtime.com.au/who-was-eve-pownall/
Eve Pownall Award. Children’s Book Council of Australia.  https://www.cbca.org.au/shortlist-2020
Roberts, J. (2012).Pownall, Marjorie Evelyn (Eve) (1902–1982). Australian dictionary of biography.  National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pownall-marjorie-evelyn-eve-15495/text26710
Leanne RandsPresident CBCA Tasmania
Editor’s Note: What a stunning selection this year and very hard to choose a winner. Do you have a favourite? I have three! With just one still to read. In case you missed it, check this detailed coverage of Young Dark Emu in the blog from 2019.

Friday, 29 May 2020

ISO Stories: Favourite heroes and heroines who have been there before us

Isolation and the associated focus of survival are common, long standing and popular themes in children’s and young adult literature and are under the spotlight due to social distancing and enforced lock downs. The stories explored in this week’s post by Felicity Sly are sure to spark memories and resonate with readers.
Our COVID-19 life had me recalling books I’ve read about surviving in isolation. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe), The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss) and Lord of the Flies (William Golding) are all well-known classics. They present different perspectives on surviving in total or part isolation.
There are some survival/isolation stories that I remember fondly, and have stored themselves on my ‘mental favourites’ shelf. The first of these books was Ivan Southall’s Hills End. I believe it was read to me by a teacher (a nun) who no doubt would have made a career in entertainment as her back-up plan. Hill’s End tells the story of a group of students and one adult, who become isolated for a period of time by floodwaters. Ash Road (Ivan Southall) was read next, and as a child affected by the 1967 southern Tasmania bushfires, it didn’t take much imagination to picture their situation.
I am David (Anne Holm) and The Silver Sword (Ian Serraillier) were read about the same time, and tell the tale of young boys with a quest to reunite with families torn apart by war. These quests require them to travel great distances, decide who to trust, and then achieve some resolution of their plight. Morris Gleitzman’s Once series are a contemporary authors approach to these topics.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) and The Cay (Theodore Taylor) set these survival/isolation stories on islands, with the main characters having to also cope with the death of a companion…so from being in this together, to  having to do it solo.
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) and My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) set the survival in the wilderness. My Side of the Mountain is unusual in the isolation/survival stories mentioned here, in that Sam chooses isolation. He has the means to return to family/civilisation; he is prepared having studied survival techniques; and he is enjoying his lifestyle.


The book that had the greatest impact as a survival story was Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien). Perhaps because it was set in an alternative future, and one that had the potential to be our future. Ann must survival after a nuclear war impacts the area around her family’s valley. I believe that it was the first I had read to explicitly cover potential for sexual predation of a character.
The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy) also address survival in very different ways. My memory of reading The Road was more akin to reading a horror story than a survival/isolation story!
I was excited to discover that these books that I read between the 1960s and 1980s are all still in print.
Felicity Sly
Felicity is a teacher librarian at Don College & the CBCA Tasmania Treasurer
Editor’s Note: What a timely post – with so many titles that jogged memories of my own reading including the shortlisted Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble. Hatchet reminded me of the more recent I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall and Lord of the Flies resonated with Geraldine McCaughrean’s fabulous and heartbreaking historical tale Where the World Ends. If you have some further examples - from the past and/or recent - please share as a comment.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Run on Empty or Adapt: Part 2 Authors and Illustrators

Paul Collins continues his insightful discussions on the book industry during the COVID 19 pandemic to explore the issues and challenges facing authors and illustrators. This perspective compliments the contributions of a number of local authors and illustrators throughout this challenging year.

As for authors and illustrators . . . it might seem obvious that they will be getting a lot of work done in 2020 in time for a bumper 2021/2022. However, as one illustrator told me recently, she’s been struggling to meet her deadline as she currently has seven family members confined to the house. That would certainly take some getting used to. Without schools and libraries, many creatives are in financial trouble – in fact, actors, musicians – most people across the arts sector, have suddenly lost their income. Unless they can find other work, I wonder how many are going to survive. Although I did see in the paper that an airline pilot has scored a job as a delivery driver – anything is possible where there’s a will. And Alec Baldwin is to star in Orphans, a world-first livestream play

Speaking of which, Dannika Patterson, author of Scribbly Gum Secrets (illustrated by Megan Forward), had planned a massive launch for the book. (Over 300 people attended her launch of Jacaranda Magic.) The second launch was all set to go when Covid-19 arrived. So she adapted and livestreamed her event. I hadn’t expected it to attract as much attention as it did. Here are her findings after the launch.
  • The 'Live' video organically reached 2.4K viewers.
  • Of these, 980 clicked in to watch the Online Storytime (about 350 devices tuned in live and the balance watched on replay).
  • Dannika had a lot of friends/followers tell her they missed it on the night but tuned in withe their kids over breakfast the next morning.
  • There were 641 engagements with the launch video (which means that people either hit 'like' or some other reaction, or made a comment.
  • Dannika's author page gained an extra 51 likes/follower leading up to during the event.
  • Engagement and replays are still listing. People in the USA and Europe tuned in to watch the replat for days after the online event. 

Michael Hyde (remember the fabulous Footy Dreaming) and Gabrielle Gloury created a trailer on a mobile phone. Their book, Girls Change the Game, is a choose-your-own adventure. It would have gone gangbusters with the AFLW season in mid swing. Regardless, their trailer on Facebook was shared 37 times and the online sales have been quite good. It prompted me to revise Ford Street’s YouTube channel which I’d not touched for years:
Michael Hyde digitally launches Girls Change the Game.

A number of authors have taken up video recording as they read their works aloud and then post online. There has been a great uptake of sites to deliver these. Reading@Home (QLD Department of Education) is one of many examples. Tune in to view
Michelle Worthington reading Glitch followed by Dimity Powell reading Pippa
It is great to see our authors getting the attention they deserve and taking advantage of the technology to share their creations with young readers.
Michelle Worthington and Dimity Powell feature on Reading@Home

Obviously, some creatives are very good at adapting. Those who aren’t might lose ground. And let’s face it, not everyone is tech-savvy.

But aside from the creatives and the booksellers, major publishers are doing it hard, too. Redundancies are rampant. Lonely Planet has all but shut its doors in England and Australia. Hardie Grant and Scribe were among the first Australian publishers to announce redundancies while other publishers such as Allen & Unwin and Thames and Hudson are cutting back the hours staff are working to reduce costs.

I’ve also heard on the grapevine that some major publishers are moving away from publishing local talent. It makes sense from a pure units-profit sense. If they purchase ANZ rights to a book with an overseas track record they skip the design/editing/author/illustrator cost. They still have the book, and at a hugely reduced price. I predict that many creatives whose sales once made them A-listers will gradually be seeking publication with the smaller presses. If librarians or the public want to support local product, they won’t be wholly searching the major publishers’ catalogues for it. 

While I write this I have notified my distributor, NewSouth, that four titles I had planned for May through to August will now be September and October books. Those micro presses which are still around in 2021 will have a bumper year, albeit one with more competition due to many books being postponed from 2020.

To end on an upbeat note, according to Nielsen BookScan (the industry’s sales monitor), trade publishers’ revenue is actually up 15% compared to the same time last year, with book sales up 36% compared to the same period.

I imagine the online sales have contributed to this result as people in lockdown are looking for ways to beat boredom. Perhaps it’s no wonder that puzzles have seen a surge in sales.

Paul Collins
T: @fordstreet
FB: Paul Collins

Editor's note: Some of you may have followed the fairly recent announcement of the 2020 Indie award winners and shortlist that demonstrates the importance of independent publishers in the children's book trade. A number of Tasmanian authors have also been active in sharing their works online and these have been promoted on the CBCA Tasmania FaceBook page. For creators reading this post, if you have a live reading or site to share, please add as a comment to this post.

Friday, 15 May 2020

From the blog: The Importance of Being Productive

Daniel Gray-Barnett, last year’s winner of the CBCA Award for New Illustration, reflects on how the current pandemic creates expectations but also affects work flow and creativity. Join Daniel as he shares some exciting new projects arising from enforced stay-at-home requirements and also acknowledges the importance of some down-time.

One consequence of Covid-19 I’ve noticed has been the pressure to be productive. Many people (myself included) are using this time to learn new skills, work on personal projects or hobbies and cross things off their to-do lists.

Understandably, there has been an increasing demand for online content and lessons, and along with it also comes the opportunity to take a more active role in teaching that I otherwise would have. Teaching is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m excited to think about what skills and aspects of illustration and storytelling I would love to share with students.

One activity I’m working on is developing a workshop series where the students form picture book teams, each taking turns in the roles of author and illustrator. The aim would be to replicate the process of creating picture book stories together. It would be great for the students to see the differences in how people can interpret a text visually and also emphasise how the author and illustrators work on the book quite separately from each other. Fingers crossed, it could even lead to some future storytelling partnerships - maybe the next Mem Fox & Julie Vivas, or Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton?

Apart from the workshop planning, I’ve been working on a couple of picture book projects. Now that things are quieter during lockdown, I’ve had more time to focus on working on these books. I’m currently editing the text on my second picture book with Scribble, which has struggled a little from the pressure of ‘second book syndrome’, but I’m confident will reach a good place in the next few months. I’m also planning to start work on writing the sequel to Grandma Z this month.


A work in progress for a new project
- meet Alexander and his mother
Illustration-wise, I’ve been working on illustrations for a book for a small UK publisher about a young kangaroo family. The main character, Alexander, is a very neat and organised joey, who takes issue with his chaotic mother and her tendencies to hoard all manner of things inside her pouch. It’s a great story about family dynamics and finding independence. It’s also been a good chance for me to experiment with different mediums and techniques. I’ve been exploring with traditional mediums including coloured inks, pastels and pencils rather than relying on the computer to colour the pieces digitally as I have in the past. So far, the results have been pretty successful and I’m really pleased to have found another way to approach illustrations for my next picture books.

It sounds like I’ve been overly productive, but to be honest, there have been days when I can’t even bring myself to be creative with the thought of what’s going on. Other days, drawing and painting are the only things that help soothe and relax my mind. I think it’s equally valid to be as unproductive as you need to be - taking time out for yourself to catch up on sleep, video chat with loved ones, binge on a Netflix series.

Trying to work during lockdown is a reminder that for me, being unproductive is an important part of my capacity to be creative and productive. For every workshop or illustration project I’m working on, there’s also a day spent learning how to make pizza dough or finally getting through my pile of books next to the bed. There’s a lot more to our time than our work and getting things done. Being unproductive can be an important part of practising self-care and our work might be all the better for it.

Daniel Gray-Barnett

Author and Illustrator
T: @dgraybarnett