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

Friday 21 December 2012

A Christmas List

As a teacher I have often been asked by parents and my students, “What books should/ ought/ must my child/I read?”  Usually I have answered this from a literacy point of view and replied, “What the individual finds interesting, since boredom or lack of interest is the biggest turn off for a beginning, developing, young, or even established reader”.  Alternatively my response has been to provide the latest list of CBCA shortlisted or notable titles, since keeping up with the latest trends is important.  Children especially dislike stories, characters and language that are outdated. Have you been watching the first James Bond films on TV?  How clichéd and outmoded in fashions of all types these relics seem.  The humour is wet, the clothes are most notably different, the action is tamer and dare I say it, Sean Connery doesn’t seem quite so suave. And talk about sexist!  Quite unobtrusively and without us noticing, our culture and society morph over the years, diminishing the vibrancy, relevance and appeal of many previously acclaimed books, stories, music and films.  This is of course one of the tests of a classic. If a work retains its application to current life and values, then it has that ‘je ne sais pas’ that makes it a literary work.  But even classic literature has its draw backs.  Usually one has to be a very dedicated reader to plow through some of the classics in their original form, hence the many adaptations and rehashes of these important reflection and representations of humanity, some good and some bad!  
As a child my first introduction to ‘the classics’ was through the monthly comic I was allowed. While my brother opted for ‘The Eagle’, a boys’ comic about spaceships and intergalactic adventure, I read my way through “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Jane Eyre”, “Macbeth”, and many more.  I wish I had kept them because only now in my mature years do I realize they probably formed the basis of my future as a reader and, I like to think, a person fairly well -versed in English literature.   Now such publications are called graphic novels and are easily accessible via the net but I must confess I’m not au fait with the quality of these more recent publications.
As I prepare my Christmas list for this year I have been thinking about how important it is for children to at least know but preferably read certain stories. Irrespective of any personal religious beliefs, how important is it for each of us to know the story behind Christmas or indeed many of the Bible stories?  How much does a person miss out on if they don’t understand about their Achilles’ heel or about ‘being a Scrooge’ or perhaps ‘ a Romeo’?  Reading is not just about sounding out the letters or knowing the meaning of each word. That is the literacy.  It’s also about access to that deeper understanding of the ideas, inferences, implications and allusions; in other words the literature.
So perhaps over the next few years, in my grandson’s Christmas stocking will be the best adaptation of Bible stories for children I can find; at least Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol”; definitely some myths and legends; some traditional nursery rhymes; some updated Peter Rabbit; “Wind in the Willows”; “House at Pooh Corner”; a series of graphic novels of the classics; Aesop’s’ Fables; Kipling’s “Just So Stories” and “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” at least, as well as the latest CBCA Book of the Year winners.  That should keep him well read and reasonably informed.  And what I have missed out, I’m sure others will add to my list.
Carol Fuller
PS  There is a little book called “Don’t Leave Childhood Without…” published by Specialist Children’s Booksellers that provides an excellent guide to the essential reading  to which I am alluding.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The truth about ‘Peggy’ (or: Choosing picture books for Christmas)

When talking with some early childhood teachers recently we began musing about what gives a book ‘kid appeal’ in this electronic age?
We used Peggy, by Anna Walker (Scholastic Books, 2012) as a test case. Now, Peggy is a black chook whom we first meet peering out the window of her ‘small house in a quiet street’. With gentle pastel tones and varied image framing, the author/illustrator engages us with Peggy’s daily routines – until, one blustery day, Peggy is swept up over the rooftops, into a bewildering city environment. She does ‘see things she’d never seen before’, but is greatly relieved to find her way back home – although, later, she ‘sometimes caught the train to the city’.
So, why does Peggy work so well with children and adults alike?
·         Peggy is an endearing character
·         She goes on adventures that engage readers and listeners emotionally in her journey
·         There is quirkiness in having a chook as the star of the story
·         The changing visual perspectives keep our eye curious and connected to the story
·         The picture text tells a tale way beyond the sparse word text, requiring viewers to unpack the humorous visual asides
·         &, it’s good fun!
I guess, the message is, when choosing picture books for children, whether for the classroom or under the tree, keep in mind the need for:
·         Humour and action
·         A story with enough tension to make us want to find out what happens
·         A word and picture story that’s worth re-visiting.
Works of great literary merit deserve accolades, but they won’t all necessarily win a chuckle of delight from a receiving child.
While every child is different and ‘age rules’ are somewhat risky, here is a rough guide:
Infants and toddlers tend to enjoy a book with one main character, a straightforward story and fairly literal illustrations, like Alison Lester’s Noni the Pony (Allen & Unwin, 2010).
As they turn 3 & 4, children are likely to expect books to entertain, so The Tall Man and the twelve babies, by Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland and Deborah Niland might hit the spot.
As they enter school, children are often ready for a ‘real story’ with many characters and more complex dialogue, such as Louie the pirate chef, (that’s ‘chef’, not ‘chief’)by Simon Mitchell & Ben Wood (Working Title Press, 2010).
Then, youngsters enjoy the zany and absurd such as Jackie French & Bruce Whatley’s Queen Victoria’s Underpants (Angus & Robertson, 2011) and Aaron Blabey’s ‘dark’ but intriguing titles, including The ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon (Viking, 2011).
What then, I hear you ask?
Well, I’m dedicated to getting children ‘hooked on books’, so I try to connect them with novelists I think they’ll like and titles that will make them want to read the series – starting with Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a pathway to the Lord of the Rings, the Our Australian Girls series (Puffin Books) and/or the fantasy novels of Isobelle Carmody, Lian Tanner and Emily Rodda.
And get ready to read to, read with and talk about good books to build that love of reading for life!

Jenni Connor


Friday 7 December 2012

Two holiday games for the book lover

At this time of year, I usually go out and buy a couple of summer videogames, but having recently watched the Wil Wheaton hosted web series TABLETOP about tabletop gaming, I  decided that 2012 was the year of the boardgame for me. I was surprised to find that actually a good boardgame is not that expensive, and if you shop around you can buy a good one for half the price of something new for the Playstation 3. On top of that, my collection is distinctly book-themed, including the Lovecraftian ARKHAM HORROR, and the backstabby boardgame iteration of GAME OF THRONES, pleasantly designed prior to the arrival of the TV show, and as such featuring all-original artwork.

As we approach the holiday season, many of you might be looking for unique gifts for the bookworms amongst your family and friends, or alternatively for something fun to bring out once you've pulled all the crackers and everyone is too full to leave the table. With that in mind I thought I'd take the liberty to recommend two storytelling boardgames that have popped up in my travels, and which can be enjoyed by adults, and many children too.

Dixit is a storytelling boardgame in the purest sense. Designed in France, it is noticeable because it is playable in any language. There is nothing to read--all the stories are made through the playing. The box DIXIT comes in contains a set of 84 gorgeously and enigmatically illustrated cards, with beautiful artwork by the artist Marie Cardouat (Google her, you'll soon discover what I mean). After all of the players are dealt a hand, one player takes the role of storyteller and chooses a card, describing it in one sentence. Each of the other players picks a card of their own that they feel might confuse the others at the table, given the storyteller's description, and the cards are shuffled, revealed, and each player votes on which one they think might be the storyteller's. If you trick the other players into voting for your card, you earn points. If you are the storyteller and people vote for your card, you earn points too.

Sounds simple, right? If you describe the card really bluntly, you'll win. There's the catch. The beauty and delight of DIXIT comes down to one simple rule: the storyteller gets NO points if everyone guesses their card correctly. So as storyteller, you ideally want every single person at the table to identify your card, except one. How do you do that? Subtlety, reference, metaphor... you decide. You're the storyteller, after all.

If DIXIT sounds a little bit too sweet for you, and you're a bit more of a Lemony Snicket family, there is always GLOOM. GLOOM is a card game heavily centred around the Victorian world of the penny dreadful novel, in which each of the players takes control of an unfortunately positioned family. As play progresses, cards are drawn, and the player's aim is to bring about as much misfortune to their own family as possible, hopefully ending in their untimely demise. As much as there are cards that say things like "bitten by a rabid dog" however, there are positive cards, signifying donations by surprise benefactors, or a trip to the circus, that you can use against the more distraught members of the other player's families, in an effort to bring them back up in their happiness.

The fun of GLOOM is not just in its whimsical cruelty and blessing, but also in the fact that as you play cards, you narrativise the game in progress. Through the strategic placement of events, a unique and hilarious story unfolds every time, as each player explains the sequence of actions that, for example, caused the twins in their family to become trapped on a train.

For a game so predicated on the miserable, it's actually a hilarious, creative, and extremely enjoyable experience to play GLOOM. For those with a sense of humour verging slightly more towards the macabre, it's bound to be a hit.

Keep me posted in the comments below about your thoughts on these games if you have played them before, intend to play them, or how they are received if you do decide to buy them. I'd also love to know if you have any book-themed or storytelling boardgames that you'd like to recommend yourself. I'm always on the lookout for more.

Other then that, it only remains for me to wish you all the joy that the next few weeks might bring, including, perhaps, one or two games, and more than a little reading.

Lyndon Riggall

Sunday 2 December 2012

Save the books!

Recently I read an article saying that 10,000 copies of the original version of Good night, Sleep tight by Mem Fox had been pulped. (Interestingly it has recently been republished with illustrations by Judy Horacek.) Then I read that 20 of the 55 books that have won the Miles Franklin Award are out of print. (Admittedly, some have dated badly.) I wonder how many wonderful books go out of print or are remaindered long before they should be – all for the want of enough “someones” to promote the book?

What can we do? The first and most obvious task is to keep these titles in print. Ensure you keep buying those special books and share the joy/wonder as you give them away as gifts. Read and follow up on the recommendations made by our bloggers and all the generous souls who review books in magazines, on websites and blogs. Thank the wonderful people who run activities such as Readers’ Cup which introduce readers (and judges) to books they may not have chosen for themselves. Spruik the books you love –your passion might be the encouragement needed for someone to open that book.

Last week, Maureen mentioned some wonderful newer books that deserve a place in everyone’s library. And here are some others...

Sue de Gennaro Pros and cons of being a frog (Scholastic)
Corrine Fenton Hey Baby! (Walker)
Anna Fienberg & Stephen Michael King Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Café (Allen & Unwin)
Rose Foster The Industry (HarperCollins)
Morris Gleitzman After (Viking)
Gus Gordon Herman and Rosie (Viking)
Christine Harris and Ann James It’s a miroocool (Little Hare)
Pip Harvey I’ll tell you mine (UQP)
James Moloney Tamlyn (HarperCollins)
Amanda Niland & Christina Booth I wish there were dinosaurs (Windy Hollow)
Sally Odgers & Lisa Stewart Bushland Lullaby (Scholastic)
Jan Ormerod & Carol Thomson Looking for Rex (Little Hare)
Emily Rodda The Third Door (Scholastic)
Karen Tayleur Love notes from Vinegar House (Black Dog)