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

Sunday 25 November 2012

Grandparents get up to date! - by Maureen Mann

This term I have been teaching a course on modern children’s literature (especially Australian), at the Launceston School for Seniors. It’s been extremely successful and I have decided to repeat it next year, though the content will change. The students are all enthusiastic readers but, until recently, haven’t read any of the wonderful books available at the moment. We really do have a fantastic selection of titles published around the world for young people of all ages.

The course has been planned to introduce the participants to a wide range of recent publications. Some of the activities have included looking at past books entered in the CBCA Awards, visiting a bookshop, reading new-to-student titles from the library and over the last 3 weeks browsing through some of the 2012 entries lent to us by Tasmania’s current Book of the Year judge. These last few weeks has given each of us the chance to read the most current books. Here are some of the picture books (which I have enjoyed) from the entries so far.

The Gift by Penny Matthews and Martin McKenna.

The small, plain brown bear sits in a toy shop, surrounded by special Christmas toys. One by one the other toys are bought but bear remains until late Christmas Eve when a small child falls in love with him. McKenna’s digitally created illustrations use a lot of white space and show the bear with all his emotions. It’s a wonderful heart-tugging book, and will especially appeal to those who collect Christmas stories.

Alex and the Watermelon Boat by Chris McKimmie

This story grew from McKimmie’s experiences during the 2011 floods in Brisbane. Alex has to go outside, though forbidden to, when his favourite stuffed toy hopped out the window. Using his watermelon boat to search, he sees the calamities of the flood. McKimmie’s easily recognisable illustrative style uses a wide range of techniques and materials which he lists at the back of the book. I love it.

The Terrible Suitcase by Emma Allen and Freya Blackwood

The young girl is so mad not to receive her requested bright red backpack as her first school bag. Instead it was a terrible suitcase but the narrator discovers that her bag has many adaptations that she didn’t expect, leading to a wide range of adventures. A multi-layered story.

Show Day by Penny Matthews and Andrew McLean

Matthews and McLean have again collaborated to produce a great book, appropriate for any part of Australia where agricultural shows are held. Many child readers will resonate with the story.

Bush Bash by Sally Morgan and Ambellin Kwaymullina

This is a counting book, combined with a song-like refrain and an I-spy element, using Australian animals. Kwaymullina’s brightly coloured illustrations reflect her Aboriginal heritage.

Pooka by Carol Chataway and Nin Rycroft

The family loves the stray dog that turned up on their doorstep, though Grandad keeps reminding everyone not to become attached. The narrator becomes depressed when Pooka’s owner collects her but bounces back when Pooka and her pups visit. Great use of white space and vibrant illustrations.

The Queen With the Wobbly Bottom by Philip Gwynne and Bruce Whatley

The queen doesn’t like her wobbly bottom and unsuccessfully offers rewards to change it. The poet comes along and teaches her that she is loved. A fun story which shows that praise can go a long way. It’s a great example of verbal and visual texts complementing each other. Whatley’s illustrations are not what we might expect.

Tom the Outback Mailman by Kristin Weidenbach and Timothy Ide

This is a fictionalised account of Tom Kruse, mailman along the Birdsville track from 1936 to 1963. A great way of showing city kids what life along the Track can be like. Lots of scope for further investigations.

Owl Know How by Cat Rabbit and Isobel Knowles

Cloud Town has begun to sink into the branches of a tree, so the friends make a machine to produce owls who life the town back up into the air. This book will be a great addition to school libraries with its illustrations created from 3-dimensional felt, cardboard and recycled materials.

Good Night Sleep Tight by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek

Skinny Doug is babysitting Bonnie and Ben who do all in their power not to have to go to sleep. Fox has combined her signature repetitive refrain with traditional nursery rhymes to create an excellent bedtime book.

Sunday 18 November 2012

The Books We Took On Holiday - by Rachele Carnevale

On the train to Osaka!

In March this year our little family embarked on a three month trip of Japan and Europe.  Although we needed to pack as lightly as possible it was essential that we included a selection of picture books for our 16 month old son, Roman.  The prerequisites were that the books be light (therefore paperback) they must be tried and tested favourites (we had no room for duds) and there must be a couple of specific goodnight ones.

We put all of the possibilities on the floor, came up with a long list and then whittled it down to about ten titles.  These included golden oldies such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Meg and Mog, Harry the Dirty Dog, Hop on Pop, Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack and Mister Magnolia - as well as more recent titles such as Penguin by Polly Dunbar, When the World is Ready for Bed by Gillian Shields and Maisy's Bedtime.

We also purchased an iPad for our travels on which we carried our Lonely Planet guides, a few e-books for Roman (Green Eggs and Ham and Moo by Matthew Van Fleet) and some animated adaptations of the Hairy Maclary and Maisy stories.

Osaka Ryokan

The decision to take physical books, despite the additional weight to our luggage was one of the best decisions we made.  Although we sometimes got quite bored with the small selection, we always managed to keep up our regular bedtime story time routine - no matter where we were.  We had stories while on long flights, train trips, ferry voyages and in tiny hotel rooms.  This regular routine not only comforted Roman and helped him go to sleep every night in the ever changing locations, but gave us a feeling of normalcy too.

The iPad was used in different situations, when Roman would get bored or grizzly on long trips by plane, train, bus or ferry.  However, rather than the e-books he much preferred watching the animations of familiar stories and the couple of episodes of Playschool we had put on the iPad.  We were so grateful to Maisy and Hairy Maclary on some of these trips.

Shinkansen to Kyoto

We had a couple of interesting book experiences on trains - one in Finland and one in Japan.  While travelling from snowy Helsinki to snowier Tampere in Finland, we were booked onto a carriage specially designed for families with small children.  This is the best idea ever! Not only were there lots of small kids, a mini train in the carriage for them to play on and a slide, but a whole bookshelf full of picture books too!  Despite the books being in the Finnish language, we had a lovely time looking at all of the pictures and making up the stories.  It was such a novelty for us to be looking at new books rather than our own scruffy selection. 

While travelling on a local train in Osaka in March, Roman, tired and grumpy (having been on the rails for hours since leaving Nagasaki), was in urgent need of entertainment.  Luckily, I had had the foresight to pack a couple of books in our bag and whipped out The Tiger Who Came to Tea.  It worked like magic!  As I was reading it to him I noticed that he wasn’t my only audience - the other passengers on the train were also listening.  I felt like a twit but tried to focus on Roman. Afterwards, a smartly dressed Japanese businessman came and chatted to us.  He said that he and his family had lived in Scotland a number of years ago and that he had read the same book to his children and they had loved it too.  It was such a lovely connection to have made.

As we travelled we picked up some more books to spice up our story time collection and weigh down our luggage.  We found a good English language selection of children's books in the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya.  We bought some Curious George and Clifford titles there, amongst others.  We also bought books in other languages, including Japanese, Finnish, French and Italian.  Luckily, we already knew many of these stories word for word, such as Goodnight Moon (or Bonsoir Lune in French), otherwise we just made the stories up!  We always left the price stickers on the backs of the books we purchased overseas so we will always remember where we bought them.

Coming home to Roman's book collection was so exciting, there were so many choices, it felt like such a treat, and then visiting the library again and borrowing more was fantastic.  We were in book heaven after having such a small selection for such a long time. We still read our well travelled treasures regularly and they always remind us of the fun we had reading them on Roman’s great big overseas holiday.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Open Spaces spark wondrous Imaginings! by Christina Booth

Bruce Whatley

Australian Society of Authors Open Spaces Retreat for Picture Book Creators, Sydney, 2012.

When we think of a retreat the word quiet springs to mind: personal, solitary time to work, reflect and consolidate. You might even have time to be guided by another, take long strolls to clear and sort your mind.

So what happens when a group of picture book creators meet in Sydney for a retreat? Plenty, but a lot of what we traditionally consider retreat essentials are reinvented and not a lot of quiet is had!

Picture book authors and illustrators (not unlike most authors and artisans) are cave dwelling creatures that work mostly in isolation and solitude. The ticking deadlines are our constant companions and the niggling domestic routine often oversteps its boundaries into the creative caves we have established, so when a retreat for picture book creators is offered then we must expect the unexpected, rules to be broken or adapted and noise and mess to be created.

What a treat. The ASA (Australian society of Author) invited us to move into the wonderful Hughenden Hotel in Woollahra, Sydney (near Paddington) to join them for a four day retreat of treats and experiences we could never achieve by ourselves.

We started on Thursday at lunch time. We were an awkward gathering of some strangers and old friends rabbiting around portfolios and samples and making small talk, nervously wondering what the next few days would bring and how much of our creative souls we were going to have to share. 

Twelve of us poured over the work of others, ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’, recognising pieces from books old and new and putting faces to the names of those who have them on covers.

We began the sessions by introducing ourselves, our work and what we wanted to achieve from the weekend. What inspiration and wonder, it was hard not to feel a bit overwhelmed by the talent before us.

Then the work began. Hard work? We were thrown into the creative pit of art supplies, provided by Micador and told to PLAY! All afternoon, with someone sitting beside us to talk to, and talk we did. We drew with textas, crayons, painted, rubbed and coloured and experimented with goodies we had only admired on the art shop shelves, what joy.

After a quick freshen up and the removal of crayon from under fingernails we braved the heat (it was over thirty degrees for this Tasmanian who had left Tassie trembling in her jumper and coat) and we headed to the piano lounge for a gathering of Sydney ASA members and guests for pre-dinner nibbles drinks and a book launch. How spoilt was I? Part of the program was the launch of my new book with Amanda Niland, ‘I Wish There Were Dinosaurs.’ The launch was wonderful, the honours done by the talented Libby Gleeson. Very apt as she has been a great encourager on my journey as an author and had also tutored Amanda.

Off for a lovely dinner followed by guest speaker Tohby Riddle who shared the process and journey of creating his book ‘Unforgotten.’ The only negative was a visit from a very large huntsman who decided to walk across the wall behind Tohby during the talk making it hard for those of us arachnophobes in the audience to look up at the power point presentation).

Friday was an early start. Early breakfast (6.30 am)put on by the hotel to accommodate our busy schedule and then we were off to catch a bus. Laurine acted as Miss Clavel and had us all safely travelling to Bondi to walk the shoreline and experience the Sculptures by the Sea exhibition. We went early to avoid the crowds which were shoulder to shoulder by midday. We now understood the early start. For someone unfamiliar with most parts of Sydney I felt like a wild schoolgirl let off her leash. What beautiful beaches and scenery (including one or two life guards) and amazing sculptures, something I recommend you all to see.

Fish and chips by the beach then a bus trip back to the hotel ready for a drawing lesson from Bruce Whatley (or should I say Dr. Bruce). Bruce studied the effects of right brained drawing for his PHD and we were treated to a session of drawing with our other hand. Seeing as not all retreaters were illustrators this threw up a decent challenge but fun was had by all and much was learned about how much better our wobbly hands are compared to our preferred hand. If fun is measured by mess then the fact that a lot of us looked like chimney sweeps by the end was a good indication of a great afternoon.
Collaboration times were scheduled throughout the progam and they went from quiet, reserved discussions and the nervous handing over of ideas and manuscripts to a full group show and tell session by the end of the weekend. As we grew to know and trust each other with our ‘babies’ we entered into great discussions of hope and potential for our work. Brainstorming characters, solving lumps and bumps in texts and generally encouraging each other in our journeys we solved niggling problems, started our new story ideas and boosted each other’s creativity. Whilst every activity we did was wonderful, this aspect of the weekend was perhaps the most rewarding.

Saturday saw a few of us up early for a stroll to the Paddington markets. Then back to the hotel to catch a ferry of taxi’s to visit the Brett Whitely studio. Palpitations. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he’s one of my favourite artists and it was almost too surreal to find myself viewing an exhibition of his works in his personal space, sitting and watching a DVD about his life and work in his sitting room and reading his rants, raves and quotes scribbled in-between magazine cuttings and personal photos adorning his studio walls. When I first heard we were going, I turned very Victorian and felt quite faint. (I am still curious as to whether the set of false teeth adhered to his painting belong to the owner of the brain, also attached to the same painting).

Another taxi ride to Kirribilli Park overlooking the harbour for a gourmet picnic lunch (Miss Clavel still had us safely together) and a time to explore the wonderful rescue work of Wendy Whitely. The gardens are spectacular and are full of wonderful birdlife and curiosities, all created out of an old railway yard that was/is disused. Wendy is preparing for the inevitable battle that they will one day want it back but it has become a favourite place for Sydneysiders to enjoy, relax in and as happened on the day we visited, get married in. Wendy was there, busy working with her volunteers and stopped to chat with us as we ate lunch. Some more collaboration work in the dappled shade at the bottom of the garden and then a walk to the ferry for a ride from Luna Park to the Circular Quay added to our journey.

We then caught a bus home to the hotel and a revisit of the markets before a very special visit to the second Dr Seuss Gallery in the world. We were surrounded by the very wonderful and colourful world of Dr Seuss prints and were all tempted to make a purchase but alas, they were a little out of our reach. 

We can dream however.

Back to the hotel, freshened up and in our colourful gear we headed back to the piano bar for Tapas, Spanish spiced wine and our last night of sharing and collaboration. We were treated (again, as she played for us on Friday also) to the beautiful violin renditions of Fiona Stewart (illustrator of Sally Odger’s Bush Lullaby), such a talented lady, professional musician, sculptor and illustrator extraordinaire. We were also joined by the passionate and lovely Susanne Gervay (hotel owner and author) for a number of the get-togethers.

Sadly, such gatherings must come to an end and after packing and a last collaboration time over breakfast on Sunday, we said our farewells and headed home.

Quiet we were not, in solitude we did not find ourselves but filled to the brim, inspired, motivated, engaged and raring to go we are.

Thanks to the ASA, especially Miss Clavel (Laurine Croasdale) and to Ann James for organising a most memorable and fantastic four days. Something that will help light up our lonely little caves and keep us inspired.

Strangers no more.

Until next year....

Christina at her book launch

Monday 5 November 2012

Storytime at the Supermarket!

I have this morning presented the final Storytime at the Supermarket at Kingston, in the south of the state – a charming nearly-five-year-old and I read Kip by Christine Booth, I’m the best by Lucy Cousins, and a Big Book version of The little red hen. We enjoyed cock-a-doodle-doodling with gusto in all the right places; we noted that dogs who think they are the best can hurt their friends’ feelings; and we discussed where the Big Book version I had was not as good as our favourite versions of The little red hen.

One child wasn’t a very big audience, but it was enjoyable to share these stories while his mother and a friend looked on. Here in the south our audiences have been wildly variable in size, but there’s always been someone. I understand that experience in the north (at Prospect Plaza) has been much the same. We have been fortunate to have the support of the Kingborough Council at Kingston – Melissa has sent out digital copies of our flyers each month, and posted an A3 version in a few places. And we have been able to share a children’s activity space provided by the Council.

Storytime at the Supermarket was the brainchild of CBCA (Tas.) Inc. committee members in Launceston, to mark the National Year of Reading, and it has been successful in raising community awareness of CBCA activities. It’s taken time, of course, preparing a flyer to promote each session (on the first Monday of each month since March 2012), preparing a running sheet with lists of books chosen to illustrate a theme, songs and rhymes each month, and fronting up at the venue each session.

But all volunteers have enjoyed the process, and now the big question is, will we do it again next year? Melissa did ask me this morning, as I said good bye, if we planned to be available in the New Year. I had to say I wasn’t sure, but she knows how to get in touch if she needs some stories read!