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

Monday 28 May 2012

Diana Wynne Jones - by Patsy Jones

Many years ago, when my daughter would have been nine or so, she came home from the Hobart Library with a copy of a book entitled Dogsbody. She enjoyed this, and so did I, so we looked for books by the same author. I don’t know how she came to pick it up as a possible read – did a staff member suggest it (in which case we can be for ever grateful to that staff member), or was it just a serendipitous choice? As this book was initially published in 1975, it must have been quite new to the library at the time, anyway.

It was written by Diana Wynne Jones, and my children and I have been reading her works ever since. I was very selfishly sad to hear last year that she had died, so we no longer have new books of hers to look forward to. But very recently my copy of her latest (and last, I think) book, Reflections: on the magic of writing arrived at my house and I have been enjoying dipping into it. It consists of a wide range of material produced by Diana over the years since 1975 – critical reviews, autobiographical material, explanations of the origins of some of her books, advice to young writers, and so on. Very interesting are the texts of three talks she gave on what must have been her only visit to Australia – in 1992. Why oh why wasn’t I there to see and hear her in person?

While dipping into this wonderful book, I have been driven as a result to reread The Homeward Bounders (a profoundly sad story) and Enchanted glass (quite the opposite – witty, warm, totally golden) and have taken others of her works off my shelves for re-reading. AND I find there are two I’ve never read – but I have ordered them and look forward to their arrival!

Reflections is very well produced (the ISBN is 978 0 385 65403 6 and it is published by David Fickling Books); as well as Diana’s collected material, it contains a foreword by Neil Gaiman, a bibliography of her works, a preface, and a very helpful index.

If you enjoy fantasy with a very wide scope and range, you should embark on reading her works. There are some novels for adults (though I think any literate teenager would find them very approachable), some for the Upper Primary and YA cohort, and some for the younger reader. There are various series and some short story anthologies, and Miyazaki based his animated movie Howl’s moving castle on the book of the same name.

If you are already a fan, do post the names of your favourite Diana Wynne Jones books on this blog for me to see!

Monday 7 May 2012

Give Them The Choice - Helping Your Child Become a Reader by Lyndon Riggall

You probably can't get your child to read because you haven't given them access to books.

It's a risky statement, I know. And you might be thinking: Hold on, but they have heaps of books! And you may well be right.  But my guess is that nine times out of ten, if a child won't read for pleasure, it's because they haven't got their hands on books. And I don't mean any books, I mean the right ones.

Because you don't get to decide what your child likes. In fact, I can remember all the books my mum told me I shouldn't read, and I remember them especially because I made a concerted effort to read them all. I loved most of them, too. Just as you don't like the books your parents do, so will your children choose different books to your tastes, and it's imperative that they have access to them. A home library will get you so far, and a school library a bit further. But if you want to turn your child into a real reader, get them a State Library card and let them run free.

Looking back on my own reading history, I can recognise the significance of my dad working opposite a library. I trained myself to master the holds system, and to request books from other collections in the state, to be shipped to the Launceston library free of charge. I'd send my dad in with my card, and one night a week I would wait patiently at the door for him to come home with a heavy bag full of books. Even at age nine or ten my tastes were beyond what even the local library's extensive collection had to offer. I'm just really lucky that fate managed to conspire a way to deliver the books I really wanted right into my hands for nothing.

There are books I don't like, and books I would try to steer my children away from because I think they are stupid, badly written, or ideologically dangerous. In the end though, all you can do is question the value of those books with your child, because you can't train them to hate what they love. We need to acknowledge that while not every medium of entertainment is perpetually valuable as an educational tool, every book is at least a lesson in literacy. A reading child is always engaged in a valuable learning experience, even if you might find it hard to accept that as you watch them laugh on the couch with The Bugalugs Bum Thief.

Some kids just naturally love reading, and some kids don't. I accept that. But if you're having trouble sending your child across the great divide, take them to the local library and give them plenty of time to sit, browse and choose. Tell them they can take out any books they like; from the adult section, children's section, or from the baby section, no limits and no judgment. If you're really worried about a particular choice, warn them, but try not to say no. Let them call the shots.

We do 'reading' because we have to. 'Reading' is what we do when we fill in our taxes, write assignments and check our work emails. Kids learn 'reading' in school.

Being 'a reader' is what we do because we love it. It's being tucked under the blankets at night, refusing to go to sleep even though we can barely keep our eyes open. It's being in the hammock on a hot summer day with a cold lemonade or a beer, and a fresh favourite with a still uncrinkled spine. It's reading what we want, when we want it. We don't choose to read, but we choose to be a reader. 

And if you give your child the choice, they might just choose to be a reader too.