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

Monday 29 October 2012

Imagination is alive and well - by Penny Garnsworthy

Recently I was approached to judge a short story competition for one of the region's festivals. 

As part of this competition, grade 5 and 6 students at two local schools were asked to write, and illustrate, what they thought the region would 'look' like in 20 years' time. How hard could it be, I thought to myself as I enthusiastically said yes to the suggestion. Within a few weeks I was presented with a huge pile of entries. And what I quickly came to realise was that when the competition was announced, no parameters had been set ... for anything.

One of the teachers had been kind enough to shortlist entries for their class which should have made choosing a winner, and runners-up quite easy. But because there were no parameters, one story comprised two paragraphs, another two pages. That was fine, and I simply ignored my usually strong desire to correct grammar and spelling, and read the stories as entertainment.

Another teacher hadn't shortlisted at all so I waded through those entries only to discover that half the entries were about the requested topic, and half were about entirely unrelated topics. However, as I had for the first group, I finally chose a winner and runners-up.

Then I received another surprise. Unbeknown to the organisers (and me too of course) a number of younger children had decided to participate in the competition. These were grade 1 students who illustrated their ideas in a range of formats and the spread them across anywhere from two to eight pages! Some of them had even added text and their teacher had kindly translated any words this poor judge may not undertstand.

Reading the stories was certainly a challenge, but also a delight and I had great fun! And there was one thing all the entries had in common. Imagination.

In 20 years' time, according to the entries, adults will have flying cars, kids will ride hoverboards to school, every person will have a personal robot, mobile phones will be holograms and trips to the moon will be commonplace (some on flying horses).

iPods and iPads will be the norm in every classroom and ... there won't be any books in school. Scary thought, isn't it?

Sunday 21 October 2012

Confessions of a Bookophile - Carol Fuller

I have loved books since I can’t remember. Suffice is to say that I still remember the Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer book I was tearfully forced to leave behind in England as a small child when my family immigrated to Tasmania. A book read is a book to be owned, held onto, caressed and kept on display on a shelf, hence my small Victorian cottage is bulging at the seams with just about every book I have ever read.

But recently I have begun to question my obsession. After receiving over 800 books during the two years I was CBCA reading judge, and also being in two adult reading groups, involving therefore two books every month, plus the extra ten the focus books lead me onto, I really have had to rationalize not only the storage space but also, since retirement, the cost of this mania.

Firstly I have begun to use the library more. Next, secondhand bookshops have become the first port of call when looking for a particular book. Then finally if this fails and friends also can’t help, I will indulge myself and buy. The problem with the library is that for some reason the very book I want to borrow is NOT located at Launceston LINC, or everyone else in Launceston needs the same book and I have to wait at least three months before my turn comes. There is usually a date associated with my book group reading so timing really is important.

Last year I was travelling through Europe and when planning to be away for two months I knew I would need at least ten books to while away the long flights and rest times on the trip. The majority of my travelling was to be through foreign countries where finding books in English might prove time consuming. So here was another bookish problem. How could I possibly pack this number of books; sufficient clothes and shoes; allow for the odd purchase along the way and still come in under the thirty two kilo weight restriction imposed by airline companies?

Being a self confessed bookophile who just loves to hold a book in my hands, or admire them lined up on the wall to wall bookshelves in my study, I now have to confess that my thoughts and book acquisition habits are changing. I bought an ipad!!! This solved the travelling problem. At the touch of a button I downloaded all the books I wanted to read on my travels. Amazingly I realized that I could solve the library waiting list as well. This of course doesn’t eliminate the costs of reading but in many cases I can buy the book I want on line for less. I must confess this makes me feel very disloyal to my bookseller friends and I haven’t come to terms with that aspect of my new bookishness yet although the ipad option has not diminished that feeling that I must buy a book when I walk into a book store and that mysterious need still has me impulse buying ‘the real thing’.

And on the subject of a device not being conducive to reading in bed; I find the ipad much easier and lighter to hold in the prone position, especially with very long tomes.

After all this change of attitude, there was one book domain that I could not see altering for me and that was picture books. I am a very doting Grandmother of a child who just loves books and who has inherited all the beautiful books from my judging years plus more. His favourite book is ‘The Very Cranky Bear,’ by Nick Bland. In our eyes nothing could replace the hard copy held between us as we read for the hundredth time about ‘the jingle, jangle jungle on a cold and rainy day’. But wait, there’s more.

At the CBCA conference earlier this year, a colleague from my judging days asked had I seen the new ‘Very Cranky Bear’ app. Well two minutes later I was hooked. Our treasured book in all its exact pictorial and verbal splendour, on my ipad with even more exciting embellishments, like having it read to the pre-independent reader by someone other than grandma, Mum or Dad; music to enhance the mood, characters that move and shake to suit the situation, cards to collect for a surprise activity at the end and a microphone option that allows the small reader to read and record the story in his/her own voice. (He knows it off by heart but also knows which words go with which pages; good start to becoming an independent reader.)

Well that was a major change of attitude! Yes, there can be an electronic version of a picture book as equally appealing as ‘the real thing’, but I must say I prefer that the hard and electronic copy be used in tandem much like I would advise a teenager to read ‘The Hunger Games’ before seeing the film. Consequently the grandson now has ‘The Very Ichy Bear’, The Very Hungry Bear’ and ‘The Wrong Book’, (all by Nick Bland) in both hard and electronic versions.

I still haven’t reached the stage of believing that electronic books will fully replace hard copy books and I will continue to gaze at my bookshelves with love and satisfaction, but I am also beginning to appreciate the new dimension of pleasurable reading that technology affords us.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

World of Chickens - by Maureen Mann

While reading Penny’s editorial in the last newsletter about building her chook run, I thought it would be good to focus on some books about chickens. There are lots to choose from, so of course I am only going to include a selection.

Peggy by Anna Walker (2012)
I love this story and have done since my first reading. Peggy is blown away from home by a big gust of wind and finds herself on an adventure in the big city but also wants to find her way home.

Shutting the chooks in by Libby Gleeson and Ann James (2003)
The story of the trip, through the farmyard as it gradually becomes dark, to shut the chooks in for the night. Wonderful illustrations.

Chicken Licken (various editions)
This is an old favourite, also known as Henny Penny or Chicken Little. It’s a moral tale about a chicken who believes in the disaster that the sky is about to fall in.

Bear and Chook by Lisa Shanahan and Emma Quay (2002)
The lovely story of the friendship between Bear and Chook: the supportive things that friends do for each other.

Queenie the Bantam by Bob Graham (1997)
Created in Bob Graham’s cartoon style, this tells the story how Queenie is rescued from a lake by Caitlyn and her family, how Queenie is absorbed into the family life but is eventually returned to the farm.

Hattie and the fox by Mem Fox and Patricia Mullins (1986)
A hen sees a nose in the bushes but all the other animals aren’t interested. This book is a good example of Mem Fox’s signature use of repetition.

Mr Chicken goes to Paris by Leigh Hobbs (2009)
Leigh Hobbs’ quirky vision of Mr Chicken visiting all the wonderful sights of Paris, when in fact he himself is one of the main attractions.

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins (first published 1971)
Rosie sets out on her walk, unaware of the fox following her and hoping to eat her for his dinner. She unintentionally takes him on an obstacle course before she returns home safely.

I wonder if your favourite is included here. Please tell us all about it if it’s not.

Saturday 6 October 2012

"Not so different from Harry" - Lyndon reviews A Casual Vacancy

What Fats wanted to recover was a kind of innocence, and the route he had chosen back to it was through all the things that were supposed to be bad for you, but which, paradoxically, seemed to Fats to be the one true way to authenticity; a kind of purity. It was curious how often everything was back to front, the inverse of what they told you; Fats was starting to think that if you flipped every bit of received wisdom on its head you would have the truth.
J.K. Rowling was right when she said in her Australian interview with Jennifer Byrne that she had promised us seven Harry Potter books, and she didn’t owe her readers anything. She might be wrong, however, if she thinks that what she writes after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will not be read through cracked and sticky-taped Harry Potter lenses, and that the now-adult readers of her original series can ever hope to conquer the insatiable desire to search for traces of the childhood friend they’ve now lost in everything that bears her name. Hogwarts casts a long shadow.
Rowling has certainly tried with The Casual Vacancy however, to make sure this quest is soon proven fruitless. There is no touch of Harry here, as all the wide-eyed wonder of her children’s series is quickly abandoned for bleak and bitter realism. Those who, like myself, had come to read the heavily guarded details of the novel’s release as an indication of a kind of an Agatha Christie or Downton Abbey-eqsue idyllic cottage drama, will soon see that there is more bubbling under the surface than simple political competition in Pagford. In fact, there’s everything; my friends Bill and Isobel have contrived a game - what crime doesn’t occur in The Casual Vacancy? (Hint: There aren’t many. Yes, probably not even that one.)
There is swearing too; lots of it. By page fifteen I had to put it down for a moment and take a breather. Was this really J.K. Rowling? It took a good while for me to de-tune my interior monologue, which was always calling back to Potter and trying to reconcile the two versions of Rowling as a writer. In the end trying to tie my portrait of Rowling together was fruitless - as hard as it might be, the only way to fully get to The Casual Vacancy is to push it away from Potter.
Once you grapple with the world that you’ve entered - so much more like our own, so much less like Rowling’s other England - after a gradual warm-up The Casual Vacancy is an incredible novel. Dark and tragic, by the three quarter mark it grips with the hardened intensity and oblivious midnight page-turning that only Rowling can. It’s the kind of book that could, and perhaps should, win awards bigger than the Smarties prize. There will be an inevitable backlash from people who were hoping for a more gentle novel of course, and expect many abandoned copies to show up in second-hand bins and opportunity shops, as popular readers realise that they were tricked into buying a literary text, but I think that what Rowling has done here is more important than pleasing her old fans - she’s proved that there’s an extremely serious heart beating beneath the smoke and mirrors of the Potter series. Some of us have been arguing it for years, but The Casual Vacancy proves it: Rowling is a serious writer. I’d like to see some of her contemporary hit-machines, like E.L. James (who recently outsold Potter with her Fifty Shades series), write a novel as intellectually engaging as this.
My biggest fear about The Casual Vacancy though, is that it will be hard to keep it out of the hands of kids. As a 22 year-old I can rightly insist upon reading it, having (arguably) grown up from my own Harry odyssey, but it’s difficult to imagine that a 12 year-old version of me that had just finished The Deathly Hallows wouldn’t attempt the same. School libraries, I hope, will be wise enough not to purchase it for their shelves, and parents are encouraged to be vigilant: The Casual Vacancy has lashings of sex, drugs, domestic violence and hip-hop. There is an ugly side to this sleepy village.
For mum and dad though, I think Rowling’s done it again. She’s a writer at the top of her game, and once the initial shock wears off, she’s proven she can make that adult leap that many British children’s writers - A. A. Milne and Roald Dahl as two examples - haven’t successfully been able to. This is not a novel that everyone will latch on to, but for those who do love it, it will be an all-encompassing love; the novel defines and explores the problems of an entire generation. For some, The Casual Vacancy will ring a truly resounding note, and hold a special place in their shelves and hearts. 
In that respect, perhaps it’s not so different from Harry, after all.