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

Tuesday 27 September 2011

How my heroes are changing - by CBCA judge, Jenni Connor

I grew up on Detective fiction really, devouring every Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham in my youth and becoming addicted to the pantheon of Elizabeth George, PD James and Ruth Rendell as they came on the scene. The very early ‘lady writers’ invariably created an elegant, dignified gentleman as their brilliant crime solver. Lord Peter Wimsey, Inspector Alleyn and Albert Campion (not to mention Christie’s indubitable Poirot) used their incisive wit and extraordinary minds to seek out and destroy the most cunning villain and restore polite society to its rightful balance.

Have you read any of these recently? I have a friend in London who re-reads them all, regularly. I don’t know how she can bear to; the style now seems infuriatingly archaic, posturing and lacking in reality.
The same cannot be said for contemporary masters of the genre!

For 20 years, Ian Rankin took his tough, hard drinking cop, Detective Inspector Rebus, into Edinburg’s grimy underbelly – where he felt perfectly at home. Rankin describes his influences as Robert Louis Stevenson and the Gothic tradition which leads him to explore the Jekyll and Hyde qualities of a contemporary urban environment. I imagine I wasn’t the only devotee to mourn Rebus’ departure in Exit Music.

All of this grimness, of course, paled into insignificance when Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy burst on the scene, with Lisbeth Salander possibly the most oppressed and indomitable heroine of contemporary fiction.

Having relished the trilogy, like many fellow addicts, I turned to Jo Nesbo for another take on the Nordic landscape and culture. The Snowman (2010) made Nesbo’s name when it won the prestigious Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel – joining Larsson and Henning Mankell in the illustrious list of recipients.

Recently, I tackled The Redbreast (2006), an ambitious and complex novel that spans from the Second World War to the present day. It delves deep into an unpalatable past, when Norwegian troops collaborated with Nazi Germany and fought for Hitler on the Eastern front. In the novel, surviving soldiers are being murdered one by one, and Harry Hole, a good, but troubled cop in the Olso Crime Squad has to stay off the grog long enough to bring matters to a close. There’s a rich palette of characters and the constant switching between the two time zones means it’s wise to keep a list of Dramatis Personae handy. Dedicated readers of the genre will find much to enjoy as well as much to mull over about old wounds, old debts and the grey areas of morality.

Then, a knowledgeable bookseller where I was travelling (don’t you love them?) recommended another Nordic writer – Camilla Lakberg –‘The hottest female writer in Sweden at the moment’ as the cover screams. Interestingly, the novel, The Hidden Child, also deals with a terrible secret from the darkest days of WW11. While the plot is intriguing, the characterisation is slightly stereotyped; the novel may have suffered in translation. There is almost a surfeit of ‘detectives’, including a young policewoman who is in a gay relationship whose partner is having a child through IVF, and a male detective who is on Paternity Leave.

We’ve certainly come a long way from an entertaining effete little man twirling his moustache!

* Who are your literary heroes? Have they changed over time?

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Imagination Takes Flight!

Before our newsletter officer, Penny Garnsworthy, flew away to the other side of the world, she filled us in on a couple of books that made her mind travel to new and wondrous places!

I’m still on the adventure of catching up on my reading books for young people, and I've just finished two amazing books for young adults.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile was written by American author Eloise Jarvis McGraw in 1963. It is the story of a slave girl in ancient Egypt who gets herself involved in both sides of the political argument surrounding Hatshepsut and her brother Thutmose. The novel was brilliantly researched (I learned more about life in Egypt reading it than much of the non-fiction I have read over the years) and beautifully written with just the right amounts of romance, intrigue, adventure and suspense. And it has a typical happy ending. I guess you’d say it’s an old fashioned type of book.

By comparison, Triple Ripple was written by Australian author Brigid Lowry in 2011. It is three stories in one: the fairytale set in a typical fairytale setting; the reader’s story as she reads the fairytale; and the writer’s story as she writes it. The premise has been well thought out and this results in a story that’s quirky and fun and at times, very, very different. And it doesn’t have a 'typical' happy ending.

I guess you’d say it’s a modern, contemporary tale.

I just can’t imagine two books for the same age group being such poles apart (and 48 years). And yet I loved them both. I loved the descriptions of the settings, the characters and their respective issues, and I learned a lot about people and places I didn’t previously know.

Just goes to show that books are an enduring medium. And whether they’re a hardcover, a paperback or an electronic file I’ll still be reading them for many years to come!

Have a great trip, Penny! We'll miss you but we know you'll come back with lots of wonderful stories!

What have you been reading lately that's made your imagination take a journey?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Want to be the Tasmanian judge for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards?

Applications are invited for the Tasmanian representative on the interstate judging panel for the 2013 and 2014 CBCA Book of the Year Awards.
The Children’s Book Council of Australia (Tasmanian Branch) Inc. invites applications for the honorary position of CBCA Book of the Year Awards Judge representing Tasmania on the National Awards Judging Panel for the 2012 and 2013 CBCA Book of the Year Awards. Reading commences in May 2012.
Selection Criteria:
· Recognised standing and qualifications in the field of children’s literature
· Wide and recent knowledge of children’s literature, especially Australian children’s literature
· Awareness of illustration techniques, design, editing, printing and production processes
· Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
Eligibility for serving as a judge:
Those seeking the position as Tasmanian judge must be current financial members of The Children’s Book Council of Australia (Tasmanian Branch) Inc.
A person with a current vested interest in the Awards may not be a judge. Examples include authors, illustrators, book editors and publishers.
Judges are appointed for a two-year term.
The reading period extends from approximately May till February. Reports on each book are compiled and circulated and discussed via email and teleconferences with other members of the panel during this time.
Between the end of February and the Short List announcement, judges prepare for the five-day Judges’ Conference in late March/early April, by rereading and refining potential shortlists. All judges attend the Judges’ Conference at which short lists, honour books and winners of the Awards are decided.
The Tasmanian judge is also expected to promote the Awards in the Tasmanian community, to write brief reports for the newsletter, and to contribute to the compilation of Notable Australian Children’s Books.
Detailed information of the process, role and responsibility can be found in the wards handbook section on the CBCA websitehttp://cbca.org.au/publisherinfo.htm - go to - Judges role and responsibilities
If you wish to apply for this position, please send a letter outlining your interest and addressing the selection criteria to The President, CBCA (Tas Inc.), PO Box 113, MOONAH 7009.
If you wish to send an application in electronic form, or require any further information, please contact the Secretary through the CBCA (TAS) website to be provided with an email address.
Applications close on 30 September.

Sunday 11 September 2011

To PD nor not to PD by CBCA Tas secretary and bookshop worker, Nella Pickup

The last few weeks I’ve had some interesting PD opportunities.

Recently Carol Fuller & I attended a lecture by Professor Len Unsworth “The literacies of image and languages and the new national English curriculum”.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – education speak and great long ugly words – yes, they were there in abundance but also an explanation/exploration of the visual choices authors make.

As with all PD, you must practise what you’ve learned. I’ve unsuccessfully tried to read graphic novels in the past. So I read an illustrated book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick (Scholastic 2007).  When first published, this was a ground breaking book - a unique work of art, of spare text, and of sheer imagination.  The illustrations are essential to the story.  Four years later, it’s still an exceptionally good read.

Next PD was to attend Ellen Forsyth’s Connecting with people: Twitter reading groups, scenarios for the future of public libraries and games.  I’d heard Ellen speak at other sessions.  She’s entertaining and energetic.  Luddite that I am, I just don’t get why people would waste good reading time to twitter about the books they’ve read.  ***

Then some professional reading.  An article about what’s on your bedside table made me reflect about the books I’ve just been reading.  Then I read one of Will Manley’s discussions about weeding.  “When you are weeding your collection, forget the printout that the head of circulation gives you. Circulation statistics do not tell the whole story.... Why don’t you start by looking for food stains? Books with food stains are so good their readers could not put them down even while eating.”

So here are my bedside table’s recent highlights and their food stain ratings.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Macmillan October 2011 ...

... is a toast burner i.e. you become so engrossed in the well crafted, sometimes blood chilling story, you forget about everything around you.

This is a page turning science fiction adventure thriller – first of the Sky Chasers series. Told through the alternating narratives of the kidnapped Waverley and Kieran, the victim of a Lord of the Flies style mutiny, it examines many important issues - survival, religion, politics, right versus might, the inviolability of the individual versus the needs of the whole community, the role of the charismatic leader and mob mentality.

The characterisation is brilliant – the villainous Anne Mather - grandmotherly, disarmingly sweet, until someone crosses her; Waverley - strong and steely character; Kiernan starts out as a cardboard cut-out hero (all dull and superior) but develops into a complex and broken young man; underdog and seemingly villainous Seth Ardvale is caught in a love triangle.

Pod  by Stephen Wallenfels Allen & Unwin July 2011

Food stains of great variety until you get to the Bathtub Man scene.

Another dystopian thriller. For 28 days giant spinning balls fill the sky.  They kill anyone who goes outside.  Josh (16 years old) and his obsessive compulsive dad are at home in suburban Washington; Megs, a 12 year old who lives in the back of a car with her mother, is trapped inside a multi storey car park. Food and water are running out – how will they survive?

Shift by Em Bailey Hardie Grant September 2011

Sorry – no food rating – too much of a roller coaster ride to eat.

Olive is a self imposed outsider with one friend: Ami. Olive watches the new girl, Miranda develop an unhealthy obsession with Olive’s former best friend Katie.  As Miranda begins to resemble Katie, Olive becomes suspicious and believes Miranda is a shape-shifter – sucking the life from people and then moving on.  But is Olive a reliable narrator? She fears the ocean, blames herself for her parents’ divorce, and talks cryptically about her past.

A mystery within a mystery shifting between psychological and paranormal, sinister and supernatural, horror and romance.

Straight Line to my Heart by Bill Condon. Allen & Unwin August 2011

Coffee, chocolate and (happy) tear stains.

A wonderful story about growing up and going with the flow.  Tiff has just finished school.  Work experience at the local newspaper is not what she expected.  Her life is filled with iconic Aussie characters, tough Reggie and his policeman son Bull, best friend Kayla, interview candidate Clarence  a 98 year old centenarian (read the book) and the awkward goofy yet lovable Davey.

And last but not least – a picture book.

The Carrum Sailing Club by Claire Saxby & Christina Booth. Windy Hollow September 2011

No food stains on my picture books!  But if there were, they’d be melted icy pole drips and sandy sandwich crumbs. A glorious celebration of summer at the beach.

*** As an avid Twitterer who sees reading as a sharing, communal experience as much as a personal one, and Twitter as a wonderful medium for connecting with other avid booky tweeps, website officer Kate Gordon wonders what other CBCA members think about the sharing of booky love via social media. And don't forget you can follow the Tasmanian CBCA branch on www.twitter.com/CBCATas!

Sunday 4 September 2011

Squeezing in some reading - Carol Fuller blogs on books she's read and enjoyed

In between travelling from Smithton to Dover, talking to parents about how to choose good books for children I have managed to read some books, both children’s and adults.  Thought you might like to hear about some.

‘Trouble Twisters’, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams published by Allen & Unwin is a fairly new one. If you have read Sean William’s ‘The Changeling’, the voices in this joint writing effort will probably ring bells and resonate with you.  Sean Williams seems to like voices that speak inside the protagonist’s head and the device worked really well in ‘The Changeling’ series.

'Trouble Twisters' seems set for a younger audience more in keeping with the audience of Nix’s previous series which used the days of the week as its guiding and naming gambit.  Personally I preferred William’s series for older readers but the partnership has not gone to waste.

The Trouble Twisters, Jack and Jaide will appeal to that horde of youngsters who love magic, fantasy, a quest and the traditional good versus evil theme. But I can’t help thinking, “I’ve read all this before.”  There is a slightly new approach when the twins start to think that in fact their grandmother is the evil they must defeat and this as it happens is almost their undoing.  The twins and the reader are kept in the dark about the real facts about the Family until a good way into the story, hereby creating a niggling desire to keep reading just to find out.  One almost reaches the point of exasperation!  Just what is going on?

Even at the end of the book, obviously the first in the series, there are many questions still to be answered.

Coincidently the next two books I read were for older readers, Sonya Hartnett’s ‘The Midnight Zoo’ and Cath Crawley’s, ‘Graffiti Moon’.  That’s right, both featured very highly in the Book of the Year awards.  Was this a spooky premonition on my part that I choose these?  Don’t know, but I can certainly see why they were up there.  I loved ‘The Midnight Zoo’ with its post-apocalyptic setting and the unusual part reality, part fantasy characters of the animals. The video of the story that ran through my head as I read was very dark and shadowy and it was impossible to predict what was going to happen. I think 'gripping' might be an appropriate adjective.  ‘Graffiti Moon’ is also a dark book in that it is set at night, but this time the reader knows more than the characters about what might happen, it’s just a matter of when and if and how.  Having observed graffiti art all over the world; on train carriages and railway walls all through Europe and our own local contributions in Royal Park, I’ve always wondered if this stuff is art or trash.  After this novel I believe I gained an extra insight into and an appreciation of this aspect of youth culture.

Squeezing in a couple of adult books; I read Jodi Picoult’s ‘Nineteen Minutes’ and Steve Conte’s ‘The Zoo Keeper’s War’.   There seems to have been a thread there with war and zoos and young people and relationships.   These are all quite different books but I enjoyed them all and gained new information about the effects of bullying and what happens to animals in war time amongst other things.  That’s a good eclectic mix for you.

Sally Sara’s, ‘Gogo, Mama’, is another book I would recommend to older readers and adults.  I can’t say it is an enjoyable book in that it describes the incredible abuse and injustices perpetrated on females in African cultures even as I write. The book, published in about 2007, features Sally’s interviews with 12 women from different African countries. We are given a fascinating insight into their lives, their courage, and their incredible capacity to survive and flourish despite suffering such enormities as female circumcision, slavery, HIV and the Rwandan and other wars that seem to plague that continent.  How lucky we are to live in Australia!   And how lucky are we to have so many diverse books to read and enjoy.

What have you been reading and enjoying lately?