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

Sunday 22 December 2013

The Spoken Story

Some people say that listening to an audiobook doesn’t count as real reading. I disagree. In fact, we can learn so much from a performance that it seems a shame to restrict ourselves to only the voice in our head when experiencing a story. My absolute favourites that I have recently returned to include Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter series (or Oscar Wilde’s short stories, in fact, Stephen Fry reading anything) and Tim Curry’s performance of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I remember as a boy growing up on Stig Wemyss reading Andy Griffiths’ stories on tape, and admiring his voices and reveling in the silly sound effects.

Of course audiobooks count - they are the same journeys that we find in the printed word. I wouldn’t only listen to audiobooks any more than I would only do anything. But on car drives or long, slow runs, they are second to none for helping to tip a couple of titles off the To Read pile.

This Christmas, don’t forget that there are many ways in which stories can be enjoyed, and even given as gifts. In fact, there are more than just the written word and the recorded audiobook. There are also live performances, and I can’t think of anything better than snuggling down on the couch and doing your very best old man voice for that miser Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

Merry Christmas, and a glorious summer to all of you. I hope it is filled with a feast of both food and the imagination.

- Lyndon

Sunday 15 December 2013

My best books for 2013

Over the past few days, wondering what to write for my blog, I have been trying to create a list of my ten favourite children’s and young adult books of the year. I am sometimes one of those people for whom the most recent is the best. Thank goodness that every year I keep a record of all my reading. 

It’s been hard work as I have to reject some which have made a big impact. I have resisted the temptation to restrict myself to my favourite genre, picture books, because it would mean I couldn’t include some wonderful titles. It’s been a hard process and if I were to write this in another few days, my list may be different.  So here we are. Today’s ten (well, maybe eleven!) favourite books of 2013 but not in preference order – that would have been too challenging! 

Welcome Home by Christina Booth

The story of a boy and a whale and the need to preserve these wonderful creatures. Its wonderful language and evocative watercolour illustrations create a sense of place for those who know the Derwent River. 
The Wombats Go on Camp by Roland Harvey

A group of children and their teachers go on camp. Harvey’s inimitable style reflects the comic as well as serious nature of all the activities, and some of the kids’ names are superb. This is a fun picture book for primary age students, especially those who have experienced being on camp.   

Xander’s Panda Party by Linda Sue Park and Matt Phelan

To celebrate Xander’s birthday he wants to have a party. He knows there are no other pandas in the zoo, but  each time he decides on an animal group to invite, he realises there are some animals which don’t fit his parameters. By the end everyone has been included.  

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland

The story of a diplodocus longus from its life through to how its fossilised remains arrived at the Smithsonian Museum, and all the people who were involved in its display. Told in a similar format to The House that Jack Built, this book meets the need of those many youngsters obsessed with dinosaurs.  

Funny bums by Mark Norman

An introductory look at animals’ backsides, and why the animals themselves are shaped the way they are. The quirky humour draws in the young reader.  

Journey by Aaron Becker

A wordless picture book which takes the reader on an exciting adventure after the young girl draws a doorway on her bedroom wall and enters a new highly imaginative world, her magic red crayon in hand. It’s a wonderful opportunity for storytelling. 

Exclamation mark! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

This is a great introduction for young readers to the use of punctuation. It’s presented in a humorous but not didactic way. There are multiple levels to the narrative, showing readers that they can stand out from the crowd as well as fit in with everyone else. 

The Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt

Peat, a feisty young girl, is forced to undertake a quest but she discovers it is one without treasures and physical battles. She discovers herself and her powers on the way. Along the way she meets many wonderful characters, Stiltboy perhaps being the most unexpected.  

The Vanishing Moment by Margaret Wild

This is an interesting multi-voice novel. Three young people tell their stories of life in a small town and how tragedy has affected them. There are occasional overlaps of perspectives and interconnections between them. 

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Set in 1986, this is the story of the developing relationship between eccentric dresser Eleanor and Park with his Korean heritage. There are so many themes: school bullying, dysfunctional families, 1980s music and more, but it’s a great love story, a thought-provoking read and a fabulous description of first love. 

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

A humorous look at what happens when the crayons decided to complain that they are overworked (while some are underworked). Duncan, the narrator, works to solve the problem. Young readers may find that their use of colour changes after reading this book.   

Have you seen all these? What are your favourites?

Maureen Mann

Sunday 8 December 2013


Moral panic again hits Australia as PISA results show that in Australia, and particularly Tasmania, our literacy standards are slipping compared to the rest of the world. The newspapers all but scream “Our schools are failing our children”.
So it was with some interest that the first issue of New Scientist (16/11/2013) I received of my new subscription contained the article, Too much too young. In that article David Whitehead and Sue Bingham point out that, contrary to the received wisdom in the English speaking world, children who go to school at 5 perform worse than those who enter formal education at 7.
Research consistently shows that, in the long term, those children who undergo early formal literacy training compared to those who do not, gain no advantage.  Quite the contrary: 
“However those who started at 5 showed less positive attitude to reading and showed poorer text comprehension than those who started later”. p 29
We of the CBCA are not focused on literacy but are focused on children enjoying and reading quality literature that gives pleasure. It should, for them as it did for me, give them experience of real and imaginary worlds contained within that literature. For this enjoyment, literacy is a necessary condition but by no means sufficient. It seems a single minded pursuit of literacy is inimical to this aim.
We would be better investing in and promoting public library use and reinstating school libraries as the heart of the school.

Richard Pickup

Sunday 1 December 2013

Trends in writing for young people

It's always fascinating to read *practically* everything published in Australia for children in a single year, as it makes seeing the trends that much easier. In the past, we've seen multiple books come out on a single, somewhat esoteric, topic, and followed themes that crop up in abundance in a particular year, such as immigration, Australia's colonial history, various wars, rural life, runaways, fairytale retellings, mental health and so on (depending on the target audience). 

In 2013, some of the trends that have stood out for me so far include crime novels for teens, children's books featuring vets and pets, solid science fiction stories (as opposed to dystopian science fiction, Hunger Games style), narratives which deal with the death of a sibling, novels featuring a narrator who has a learning difficulty or behaviour issue, and parallel world tales. 

It's quite fun to read two books from different authors and different publishers that come out on identical topics at around the same time; for example, in 2011 I did a double take at the arrival of two novels that used as their focus the cameleers of South Australia who accompanied the explorers in their journeys, and two picture books that retold the story of Grace, a girl who helped rescue the passengers and crew of the SS Georgette when it was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1876 – quite a specific event to have two books focus on! 

While some trends have an obvious source (for example, stories set in World War I are always popular, but I foresee a huge increase in these leading up to the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli in 2015), others, like the example of the Grace books above, seem to have no apparent source – some sort of mystical vibration in the air that causes two authors to suddenly decide they want to write books about the exact same thing! 

So far this year, the consonance that has most tickled my fancy is to read two Australian books using Paris as the setting and the fashion design industry as the focus, in two quite different ways, and for two different audiences! Which goes to show that although it may seem that there is nothing new under the sun, that doesn't mean that authors won't continue to surprise and delight us with their new takes on stories and settings. 

What trends have you noticed in children's books recently?


Tehani Wessely


Monday 25 November 2013


With both adult children, a partner, and a toddler coming home for holidays, we can no longer rely on dumping books, computers, scanner, printers, etc from one room to another.  We have to reorganize and find more appropriate storage for books than the current stacks behind the door and even more difficult, we (OK, I really mean me) will have to stop buying so many books. 

Recent purchases include:
Don’t Look Now1   Paul Jennings & Andrew Weldon (Allen & Unwin)

Ricky is an ordinary boy with a quirky imagination who finds himself in tricky situations.  And he can fly.  But only if no-one is looking.  The first of a series with two amusing stories in each book; for readers from 7-11 years.

This Little Piggy Went Dancing Margaret Wild & Deborah Niland (Allen & Unwin)

A fun filled twist to the traditional tale and a wonderful read-aloud.  As each pig goes dancing, or swimming, or riding, or some other physical activity, the second pig always stays home, while the third enjoys a variety of delicious foods, the fourth has none, and the fifth gets back home, usually noisily.

I love Footy  Matt Zurbo (Windy Hollow) Tasmanian author

Football is not just about winning.  It’s about participating, having fun, friendship, and reveling in the game.  The inexhaustible unnamed boy, wearing a neutral footy jumper, loves playing; he can do anything when he touches a footy, even recovering from difficulties such as hitting a brick wall.  A delightful read.

Welcome Home  Christina Booth (Ford Street) Tasmanian author

A story about a boy and a whale, and about hope. A simple yet powerful text with stunning watercolour illustrations. Inspired by the birth of a whale in the Derwent River in 2010.

Nella Pickup

Monday 18 November 2013

Value adding enjoyment to reading

I recently completed the UTas reading groups survey which made me think about what it was, other than the book itself, that created that feeling of enjoyment when I read.

Sharing books with babies involves lots of physical contact with cuddles, activities like pointing and touching, and conversation about the pictures.  All this is mutually enjoyable for the small person and the reader.  At the monthly Reading in the Market Place at Prospect, I find myself sitting on a hard floor surrounded by a handful of little people.  Watching their faces as they hear the story and see the pictures is amazing.  How seriously they take the story, how solemnly they concentrate and then giggle or laugh at the pictures.  How eager they are to answer or ask questions or add information about what they see and hear. However there is one little girl who regularly attends these sessions but she has never shown any facial expression or volunteered responses.  But last time when finally it was just her and me on the mat she finally pointed to a picture, named a few objects and gave a smile.  I feel sure that she enjoys the experience and I know I certainly do.

As we become independent readers, a reading guide no longer necessary, how do we compensate for that interactive element so important to baby readers?   There are several ways perhaps.

Where and when we read becomes important.  The reader finds a comfortable place to ‘curl up with a good book’;  in a bean bag, on a lounge in the sun in summer, in front of a roaring fire in winter, snuggled in bed after a day of work or school.  Whatever the physical situation, the environment enhances the enjoyment of the intellectual activity of reading.

As independent readers at school, the system sometimes creates quite the opposite effect.  There are different types of group reading in schools.  At primary level teachers regularly read stories to the whole class allowing the children to find a comfortable position on the mat, lying on the floor with a cushion, head down on the desk.... The situation created is similar to that of reading to young children and many primary children really love to be read to. The secret here is to find a book that will appeal to a group of twenty five or more individuals.  Not easy but many primary teachers manage to preserve that feeling of added enjoyment by creating a comfortable physical environment.

At secondary level the opportunity to create that convivial atmosphere is more difficult. For a start sitting at a desk or table is a far cry from the comfortable reading environments a reader usually chooses at home and asking teenagers to ‘sit on the mat’ would be a disaster.  And who hasn’t experienced reading a book around the classroom, each student reading a few paragraphs in turn?  For the fast reader this is excruciating, for the hesitant reader, reading aloud is torture, for the one that reads ahead, like me, how embarrassing when your turn comes and you have lost the place!  But how else can a teacher be sure that every student reads the book?  One could question the validity of having set texts that everyone has to read but that is still the way the curriculum is designed in secondary and senior secondary schools.  So for many students the reading in the English curriculum becomes a turn off rather than an encouragement or a value added experience.  Some enterprising teachers have overcome these problems but some old habits die hard and some can’t be avoided.

So after school, how do mature readers seek to wring all that is possible from their reading?  Well perhaps some of the really dedicated readers join book groups.  Picture a convivial group sitting round a coffee table in comfortable chairs sipping coffee or perhaps a wine.  What better environment than that for adding to your reading experience. The opportunity to not only read a book, but then discuss it with fellow readers, is a fulfilling experience akin to watching the faces on those small children at the market place or cuddling your grandchild on your lap while reading a beautiful picture book.  When readers don’t agree about a book, the different perspectives that members bring to the discussion helps to broaden one’s appreciation and understanding of the book.  I have come to many a discussions not liking a book and left with a much more positive attitude and appreciation.  When readers do agree, the enjoyment of sharing relished events, characters, or insights makes the reading more valuable and agreement reinforces the validity of one’s own ideas and opinions. 

If adult readers gain significantly from discussion of books would younger readers find the same post- reading satisfaction?  Would informal book groups in schools at all levels provide added value for those students who love reading?  Would just reading the book, enjoying the contents and sharing the thoughts stimulated, without the onus of doing work on the book, encourage more young people to enjoy and voluntarily partake in reading?  I’d love to hear from young readers and teachers about this.

Carol Fuller

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Lian Tanner's new book

‘The day was so clear that she could see for miles.  There was pack ice everywhere, huge flat slabs of it that the Oyster swept aside with ease.  An albatross hung on the air, its wingspan twice as wide as Petrel’s height, and the wind fiddles sang in time with its swooping and rising.  In the distance a cloud of seabirds was gathering.  The beauty of it all snatched at Petrel’s heart and made her more determined than ever that neither she nor Fin would die today.’ (p. 199, Ice Breaker)

Lian Tanner
Lian Tanner’s new work, The Hidden Series, was initiated recently with the launch of the first in the series, Ice Breaker.  Anyone who had attended the launches of the books in her previous series for young readers, The Keepers, would have been expecting an entertaining hour or so of theatre – and we weren’t disappointed!

The stage is set
The venue this time was the Art Space in Salamanca, and Lian’s imaginative decoration of the space, in my opinion, outdid her earlier work in preparing for an event that would fire the imaginations of her young audience.  Many of these youngsters were dressed to fit the theme, and the d├ęcor echoed this.

MC and Reviewers discuss their responses 
Lian works very closely with groups of children in producing her material; this year it was Mt Nelson Primary School students who provided reviews of the book to be launched.  This close contact of author and audience is not only beneficial to Lian and her writing; it must be valuable indeed to the staff and students of the schools with which she works, and I congratulate her on her ability to form these links with local schools.

Petrel and Bratlings 
Members of a local group provided a short but lively dramatization of an early scene in the novel, where the Bratlings pursue and terrorise Petrel, the Nothing Girl.  Anyone who had not yet read the book was itching to get started, by this time!

All of us, on entry, were provided with a numbered ticket – mine indicated that I was an Officer and therefore belonged to Braid territory.  I might have been a Cook or an Engineer, of course, if I’d had a different ticket.  But my ticket, I was very happy to find, provided me with the second luck prize! But my pleasure soon faded when I found that the first prize winner and I were to be tied to the mast by an intimidating Engineer  –  “I’m too old for this!” I thought. ( I’m certainly pleased that no photos of my comeuppance have surfaced as yet!) 

The setting of the novel is grim, with two children who have grown up with hardly any experience of loving and supportive human interaction struggling to form an attachment and find a future for each other and their environment.  But the end is more optimistic, though the sequels no doubt will provide difficulties to be overcome.

Congratulations, Lian!


Saturday 2 November 2013

Remembering, not Celebrating

I cheered the day my son failed his Air Force medical.  So what if his engineering degree would have been fee-free? He would have been sent to fight and possibly die in a futile war.  I preferred him ill than dead.   

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire (Electric Monkey), a story about a young ATA pilot in World War 11.  For me, Wein’s Code Name Verity ranks with Markus Zusak’s Book Thief as one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.

With Remembrance Day looming, I thought readers might be interested in some books that refute the propaganda that war is glorious and honourable.  

In Kerry Greenwood’s Evan’s Gallipoli (Allen & Unwin) a 14 year old faces many dangers (and the ineptitude of the Allied military leaders) after following a mentally ill father behind enemy lines. On the journey to freedom, Evan finds ransacked villages, displaced people and learns that places such as Thrace, Bulgaria and Greece suffer because of the war. The Turks (and the reader) struggle to understand why Australians invaded their home to fight a German enemy.
Davide Cali and Serge Bloch’s The Enemy (Wilkins Farago) and Joy Cowley’s The Duck in the Gun (Rigby) are anti-war picture books with a simple yet powerful message.

In Flanders Field by Norman Jorgensen and Tasmanian based illustrator Brian Harrison-Lever (Simply Read Books) (sadly out of print), shows us a small act of humanity contrasting with the carnage and devastation of war.

Billy Mack’s War by James Roy (UQP) tells the trauma of a returned soldier, a victim of the Burma Railway. 

Suzanne Collins’ (of Hunger Games fame) Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front (Scholastic) is based on her own struggles as a young child when her father was fighting in Vietnam.

Of course, these books and many others such as Morris Gleitzman’s Once, Then, Now and After quartet (Penguin) and Ruta Sepetys’ Betweeen Shades of Gray show there is love and hope in the midst of despair. Maybe if our children and their children read books like these, we might be less likely to start another war.

Nella Pickup

Monday 28 October 2013


It takes a whole heap of self-esteem to be a really effective villain.

In the 1970s, a dreadful myth was perpetrated by the likes of Roy Baumeister*. He maintained the worst thing that parents can inflict on a child is low self-esteem. Luckily, authors have never been led astray. They, like me, have recognised that the true villains of the world have excessive self-esteem.

Sometimes it manifests itself as truly despicable villains in the mould of Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf. I include Lian Tanner’s Flugleman in this group. In fictitious schools, the villain is often the beautiful bullying queen bee or her male counterpart, the jock, who delight in making it hard for our sensitive/bookish/nerdy/lunch-in- the-library protagonists. Think of pushy manipulative Holly in Fiona Wood’s Wildlife. These villains never seem to suffer self-doubt.

Of course modern psychology has moved on. It is now known bullies do not have low self-esteem. It is now known that there is no relationship between the view that individuals hold of themselves and their peers’ evaluations. It also cannot be presumed that those with low literacy skills have low self-esteem but we do know those who enjoy reading understand themselves and the world better whether they aim to or not.

Our heroes are all the more heroic because they do show humility and our villains more hateful because they do not. And is not it much more enjoyable when villains get their comeuppance?

Richard Pickup

Sunday 20 October 2013


Browsing Italian bookshops for children’s books and, in particular, a book for my 13 month old grandson, was a huge disappointment.  In La Feltrinelli (Italy’s biggest bookshop chain with over 100 bookshops across the nation, http://www.lafeltrinelli.it/) the children’s area was overflowing with Peppa Pig books and toys. While Peppa contributes greatly to my salary, (Fullers Bookshop Launceston has just won the 2013 ABC Centre of the Year), I wanted something ‘authentically’ Italian for young Nicholas.

Books for 0-3 year olds were mainly didactic with themes such as sharing, being polite, taking turns etc. Many books were character based chunky board books.  Where is Commercial Free Childhood (http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/) when you need it?

Books for 3-6 year olds included many colouring and sticker books and some books in translation – mainly from Australia and UK with names changed to “protect the innocent”.  Freya Blackwood’s Ivy loves to give is available as a hardback. Ivy has been renamed Lulu.  The few paperbacks were reminiscent of the design style of the 1980’s.

Older readers had many books in translation with a strong emphasis on classic titles such as Treasure Island, The Little Prince, etc.  Thankfully there were also the books by Geronimo Stilton (one of the few Italian authors I could find) as well as Rick Riordan and other best selling US and UK authors.

Mandragora (http://mandragora.it/) in Florence and La Toletta Librerie in Venice were free of character based books but had nothing for a very young child.
So what will Nicholas be reading?  Not Italian authors.

Favole di Espopo illustrated by Fulvio Testa (Einaudi Ragazzi)
64 page book but only sadly 51 pages of introduction and fables.

Dante’s Journey, An Infernal Adventure (Mandragora) by Virgina Jewiss illustrated by Aline Cantono di Ceva.  Jewiss is a lecturer in the humanities at Yale University and director of the Yale Humanities in Rome program.   I’ve never seen a picture book version of Inferno

Guido’s Gondola by Renee Riva illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Waterbrook Press)
Another cautionary tale about consumerism and a young Italian gondolier rat named Guido.  Before anyone thinks I’m driven by moralistic aims, the real reason I bought the book – I liked the blue cover and Nicholas’s great grandfather is named Guido.

Nella Pickup

Friday 11 October 2013


Having read Penny’s August blog about, among other titles, Vinnie’s war by David McRobbie (published 2011), I was inspired to read it myself.  And yes, I found it very rewarding.
I was brought to consider, yet again, how fertile a source of inspiration human conflict has been for writers over the centuries.  It is an enormous irony that death, displacement, injury, can provide such inspiration for literature.

And that, and Vinnie’s story, reminded me of Michelle Magorian and her novels set in the Britain of World War II and immediately after.  So I looked for my copies of Goodnight Mister Tom and Back home (I had to borrow a library copy of one of them, as I couldn’t find mine….).

Goodnight Mister Tom is Michelle’s first publication (1981), and it won the Guardian Award and the International Reading Association Award; a good start for a writer!  Back home came out in 1985 and is rather more polished, with the occasional sentimentality of Goodnight Mister Tom having been weeded out.

Both books deal with child evacuees and the culture shock they experience through their removal from their families and their lives as evacuees.  Willie is a child from the London slums, with none of the family support and love which was able to ameliorate the deprived conditions in which such children lived.  His new home is in a country village, where physical conditions are just as bleak, but the care and affection he experiences in the community enable him to turn his life around.  So for him, separation from his mother through forced evacuation to the country is a life-changing opportunity and advantage.

Rusty, the heroine of Back home, was evacuated to the USA at the beginning of the war – her family is upper middle-class and well-to-do.  However, her five years in America in the consumer society there insulate her from the conditions which those who stayed behind in Britain endured during the war years.  The drama of her story stems not only from the shock she experiences in returning to an England which is still enduring rationing, but also from the differences between her relaxed and loving family life in the US and the  stiff and narrow requirements of her own family to which she returns.  The adjustments required of her as a returning evacuee potentially result in an uncertain future.

Any teacher exploring the history of World War II would find these books of interest to a class of upper primary/lower secondary students, providing opportunities for enthusiastic discussion in many areas.

Patsy Jones

Sunday 6 October 2013


I have long held the opinion that e-books are here to stay. There is plenty of time still for wistful sighing over the smell of the printed page, or the way that books furnish a room with their testament to our good taste and cataloguing skills. Yes, paper books can be lent to our friends, and discovered on coffee tables by visitors. Yes, they don’t run out of batteries. Ever. I’m first in line to announce that when the zombies arrive to devour us all you’ll find me tucked in the nearest corner beneath a good old-fashioned bookshelf. But e-books are here to stay, and many of us with an eye to the budget of our addictions, the portability of our travel selections, and the ever-diminishing space on our shelves, are listening to anyone who promises to make getting hold of stories easier.

One of the first places we used to turn to for this sort of convenience was the library. Now our libraries are like us: navigating a new way of reading. This month I read an article in Locus by Cory Doctorow, (http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2013/09/cory-doctorow-libraries-and-e-books/), which discussed the difficult situation that libraries find themselves in. Doctorow reveals that libraries are paying premium prices for frontlist titles as e-books, and using expensive software such as Overdrive (used by our own state libraries here in Tasmania), in order to preserve restrictions from the publishers and prevent copyright infringement. This makes it even more difficult and sometimes impossible for libraries to do many of the things they have always done so well—interlibrary loaning, re-selling old stock as second-hands. Bizarrely, hold-waiting still remains, and books that could theoretically exist in almost infinite numbers are reduced to a single copy for which patrons find themselves in a queue. Most shockingly, Doctorow reveals that HarperCollins insists that libraries delete their e-books after they have been circulated 26 times – a projected parallel to how long a book might be expected to remain intact as a physical edition.

The concept of a “library in the cloud,” and a world of reading that can be accessed by any reader with an Internet connection, delights and fascinates me. But before that idea becomes a reality we first need to embrace the way that e-books can give new life to the landscape of reading—not ham-fistedly try to push the digital revolution into the world that already exists. There is great evidence to suggest that publishers would love us to embrace the e-volution of literature. But to convince us, they’ll need to start us off, and that means giving a better deal to libraries. After all, that’s where the readers are.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Ebook promotion

We’re moving into a world where ebooks are a common (and for some, preferred) format for reading. They’re convenient, portable, useful for those with vision problems, and often cheaper than their paper counterparts. I’m not going to go near the arguments over paper versus ebooks – there are positives and negatives for both, and personally I am happy to read either, although I do prefer one over the other in various contexts (ie: I prefer paper for children’s books and anthologies, happy to read novels on my reader or phone, etc). But whether we love them or loathe them, as a format ebooks are becoming a major force for readers. Libraries are grappling with how to deal with ebooks on a technical level, but we also need to think about not just how we get the into the “hands” of readers, but also how we even bring them to our patrons’ attention in the first place!

In a traditional library, staff showcase books, rotate them through face-out sections of shelves, create themed displays and use a myriad of other techniques to draw attention to books. We don’t have all of the same options with ebooks. There is no physical product to display, to thrust at patrons and gush over. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give ebooks the same push we do print.

So what are some ways we can promote our ebook collections? To start with, we can use some of the old methods, with just a little tweaking. Print off ebook cover art and blurbs in good-sized font and mix them into print book displays, with a logo that indicates the book can be borrowed from the ebook collection. Or showcase ebooks in a display of their own, to draw attention to the collection as a whole.

Moving on from the physical, use the library’s webpage, Facebook page or Twitter account to let followers know as new ebooks are added to the collection. Link to Goodreads reviews or have staff and patrons review them, on the digital library interfaces or in newsletters and other library publications. Make sure you select ebooks as well as print for your book clubs and reading groups. It could be worth creating genre-folders with covers and blurbs of ebooks, to raise interest and awareness in new ebook users – this will give you something to thrust at the eager readers and talk about with them.

Those are just a few ideas – would love to hear how others are promoting ebooks in their libraries!

Tehani Wessely 

Monday 23 September 2013

A look at Icelandic sagas

It’s obviously the time for overseas travels. Penny’s blog last week told of her learning French and her use of children’s books to improve her fluency. I am focussing on Iceland.

I am in Canada, on our annual visit to our daughter and grandson, Gabriel, and it’s great to be sharing books in person with him, rather than doing it via Skype. Sharing via Skype is OK but there’s nothing like the close contact brought by snuggling together on the couch with a book.  He loves books and being read to. So much so, that now he’s started kindergarten (Canada’s equivalent to Prep) he says he doesn’t want to learn to read because that will mean people stop reading to him. Nothing we say is yet making him change his mind; we will continue to read aloud with him. It’s just the stories will become more complex and won’t be finished in a sitting. That is a hard concept for a five year old to grasp. Gabriel’s current obsession is with dinosaurs so those are the books, both fiction and non-fiction, we have to read and reread. Harry and the Dinosaurs at the Museum by Ian Whybrow is the one which he wants from all three of his adult readers – 8 to 10 times a day!

Most of my comments this time are about literature for adults which can be read by younger readers too. We travelled to Canada via Iceland and I spent some time re-reading English versions of the Icelandic sagas before we left home. However, they had far more meaning for me once I had an understanding of the landscape they were set in.  I am not a proponent of all young people having to reading myths and legends because I believe it’s only a certain kind of reader who will enjoy them. By and large I don’t enjoy them.  They are complex and fanciful, often with hard-to-remember names, though full of positive outcomes for the thoughtful reader.  But I would encourage people to have a go at the Icelandic sagas because they are such great family stories.

It’s thought that Iceland was settled by Vikings somewhere around the middle of the 9th century AD. The new settlers came to a really harsh land with even shorter summers and longer winters than their original homeland, volcanoes and lava flows and geothermal activity. The sagas are family histories in prose format, describing events from the 10th and 11th centuries but written about two centuries later. They are wonderfully evocative and well-written stories, still very readable and relevant to our modern eyes.  One can imagine that most of the events happened as families struggled and fought to establish their new lives, with death and vengeance prominent themes. Unlike the Greek and Roman myths which can rarely be read literally, the Icelandic sagas show elements of truth and hardship. And most surprisingly many of the Middle Age manuscripts are still in existence.

There are many English language versions of the sagas. There’s a great website (which I used for my reading) devoted to the digital publication of the sagas: http://sagadb.org . This contains all the major extant sagas, many of which are translated into more than one language.  The Saganet website -- http://handrit.is  -- includes images of the original manuscripts.  Fascinating!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/sagas/icelandic/index.html  has several of the more famous sagas available for free download.  If you would prefer to read the sagas in book form, there are many choices, translated over the past several hundreds of years. One of them, which I saw in Icelandic bookshops, was The Sagas of Icelanders. There are also smaller versions containing just one of the sagas, such as the one about Eric the Red or about Grettir the Strong.

Iceland has a very successful publishing industry. Have a look at these two articles if you want to know more about it. Baldur Bjarnason’s (an Icelandic expatriate blogger who lives in UK) opinion in 2011 can be found at www.thebookseller.com/feature/depth-icelands-book-market.html  and a 2013 interview with Alda Sigmundsdottir ( a writer and translator) at http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/investigating-icelandic-book-flood-qa-alda-sigmundsdottir#

Let me know what you think of the sagas.

Maureen Mann

Sunday 15 September 2013

Preparing for a holiday in France.....

We are about to embark upon the holiday of a lifetime which includes four weeks travelling around France. To this end, I have attended French classes for the past couple of years and although my French is still, at best, basic I am confident I can at least find my way around a menu or even a map.

My tutor uses a high school text in class but her advice was to find some French reading material; novels, newspapers, magazines, etc. which she said would help us with our translation and promote our knowledge of nouns. So, I acquired several books that I have gradually worked through over the months - but they're probably not quite what she had in mind...

I began with several beautifully illustrated children's picture books including the classic Blanche-Neige (Snow White). I then picked up a number of French fairytales including roule galette, a fabulous story about a rolling pie! Fortuitously and for me well-timed, our own Anne Morgan produced a French language version of her book The Sky Dreamer. The French title is Le bateau de reves, or The Boat of Dreams, and I have enjoyed reading Anne's wonderful picture book all over again, this time in a different language. And then finally I graduated to a novel - one we are all familiar with: Le magicien d'Oz (The Wizard of Oz).

I don't know why I thought it would be easier to read children's books, because it isn't. And I'm still struggling through the novel. But, I am learning so many new words and also discovering bits and pieces of the story I had long forgotten. Perhaps one day I'll graduate to adult novels in French, but for now, I'm just thrilled I have the excuse to read beloved children's stories once again.

Penny Garnsworthy

P.S.There are a couple of bookshops in Australia that sell French children's books (as well as adult books).

Also, www.amazon.fr has a good collection of French children's books, particularly picture books