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

Thursday 25 April 2013

From scientist to children’s book illustrator

Hobart artist Gay McKinnon recently launched her first book as illustrator, ‘The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land and other eco-tales’ by Anne Morgan.  Gay has a PhD in eucalypt genetics and worked for over twenty years as a biochemist, organic chemist and molecular geneticist before changing careers in 2009. She talks about the switch from science to children’s book illustration and the hurdles along the way.
From the age of six, I knew that I wanted to illustrate children’s books.  My grandmother had a large collection of classic illustrated books dating back to the early 20th century, and I learnt to draw by copying them and sketching the people around me.  Growing up in rural Queensland, I fantasised that one day my talent would be discovered and I’d become the modern day equivalent of Edmund Dulac. 
No magic carpet appeared to whisk me into my chosen career.  In those pre-internet days, I could find no information about such an obscure profession, and lacked even the chance to study art to matriculation level.  Women everywhere were being liberated, and entering male-dominated careers was the key to independence.  High school guidance officers snorted at the mention of a career in the arts.  I studied a rigid curriculum of maths, physics, and chemistry, with the strange addition of typing – arguably the most useful skill I ever mastered.  On finishing school I resisted taking a highly structured occupational degree and chose science, a qualification that allowed me to work with considerable freedom on a series of projects and write and publish papers.
My life as an artist went on in the background with study, exhibitions, a part-time glass studio and finally teaching.  By 2008, I was lecturing part-time in studio glass in Launceston while working as a research-only science academic in Hobart.  By the end of the year, I knew I would burst if I tried to combine art and science any longer.  I wound up my scientific research projects and began studying illustration online, practising, attending conferences, joining local support groups, and entering competitions – a few of which I won.
In 2011, knowing my background, author Anne Morgan asked me to provide some concept illustrations for her new climate change picture book manuscript.  I embraced this as an interesting challenge, completed two drawings, went on a six-week holiday, and promptly forgot about them.  On return, I discovered that Anne’s manuscript had blossomed into a collection of nine eco-tales!  Happily, publisher IPKidz said ‘yes’ to both Anne’s book (now titled ‘The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land and other eco-tales’) and my illustrations, and I had about nine months to complete over thirty black and white ink drawings and a colour cover.
Messylox and the three bears

Because the book ‘recycled’ traditional stories, both Anne and I thought it would be fun to use a retro illustration style.  I was already a fan of 1950’s and 60’s illustrators and cartoonists, including Hilary Knight (creator of Eloise), Charles M. Schulz (Snoopy), Jean-Jacques Sempe (Nicholas) and Ronald Searle (the girls of St Trinian’s).  These wonderful artists drew with spatter and flair, imbuing their characters with innocent lunacy.  In studying their work I became aware of my own limitations, but also learnt how to overcome many of them.  Family and friends became accustomed to seeing me with black stains on all the fingers of my right hand!
Juzzy's cow
Anne’s book offered wonderful scope for illustration, as all of the stories contained different types of characters – canny pigs, wolves, a scruffy prince, a clueless space cadet, an angry Scot – and all of them needed to be funny to match the imaginative text.  Many times I ripped up drawings, thinking that to be consistently funny was harder than securing a scientific research grant.  By the time I finished, I felt as if my brain had been completely overhauled.  It used to be an analytical instrument geared to detecting logical inconsistencies.  Now it’s a far more flexible system, more open to emotional nuance, better able to see patterns and links between different objects and ways to combine them into a satisfying whole.
I’m delighted to have published my first book as an illustrator.  As a result of this work I am now illustrating two picture books on traditional life in Sudan (When I was a boy in Sudan, by Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio).  I would say to new illustrators: ‘Take every opportunity to develop your abilities – you never know where it will lead.’  I find illustration completely satisfying on both an intellectual and emotional level.  It’s brought me challenges and dimensions that I would never have experienced had I stayed in scientific research.  I wonder, though, if I could ever have conquered the difficulties without first having a career in science.  Although this is my first children’s book, I think it’s my 35th publication!

Gay McKinnon

Monday 15 April 2013

Ailsa's comments on the Older Readers' shortlist

The Book of the Year: Older Readers category has certainly caught me by surprise this year. Although we had copies of all the books in the list at Rose Bay High, I had only read one of these and I have been desperately trying to catch up on my reading since the Shortlist was announced. 

I have nothing but praise for Neil Grant's The Ink Bridge, which is both illuminating and confronting in its portrayal of life in Afghanistan through the eyes of Omed, fleeing from his home in Bamiyan after falling foul of the Taliban and risking certain death. The story of Omed's perilous journey to Australia and the friendship that ensues with a boy called Hec, who is suffering his own private torment, is set out in three distinct parts.

First there is Omed's story, followed by Hec's story, which intersects with Omed's when Omed goes to work at a candle factory belonging to Hec's father. Lastly, there is 'Across the Bridge' which follows Hec's journey to Afghanistan as a young man of twenty two, searching for his friend Omed who was deported back to Afghanistan after a relatively short time in Australia.

This part highlights many of the problems facing Afghanis as Hec travels through a war-ravaged Afghanistan in search of Omed, trying to piece together what happened to him after leaving Australia and enabling Hec to tell his story.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me if this was the winning book in the Older Reader's category considering the quality of the writing and the storyline, so I'll be keen to hear what the judges think come August.

Maureen :
I wonder how accurate Ailsa is. Do you agree with her? Which book do you think should be the winner?

Saturday 6 April 2013

How many have we got right? Guessing the Short List Part 2 by Nella and Maureen

Just before the Caldecott short list was announced in January – and sadly we in Australia often miss celebrating these wonderful books – Phil and Erin Stead (authors & illustrators themselves) created a list of their own favourites, much as Nella and Maureen are doing for the CBCA shortlists. Their blog is often thoughtful and thought-provoking so you might like to have a browse. In the same way as it was last week, you’ll find the link at the bottom of this current blog.
To paraphrase part of Phil’s blog, Nella and Maureen are trying to share some of the 2012 Australian books for children and young adults which had an impact on them. Not all of them will appeal to all people, and so we expect some disagreement from our readers. In the same way, we are likely to disagree with the CBCA judges’ decisions. But it won’t take away our confidence in the process the judges go through. It won’t diminish the power of the books we have included or the ones the judges choose.

So now to our choices this week, starting with Younger Readers. This is the category which always has the largest number of entries – 170 YR entries for books published in 2012 – so there was lots of competition.
Younger Readers
Anna Branford & Sarah Davis
Violet Mackerel’s Personal Space (Walker)
This is the 4th in the series about Violet Mackerel. The story and themes are a little more complex than previous titles, in that they deal with the emotions of other people. There’s also the unsettling feelings brought on by Mum’s new marriage and moving house. Violet’s voice will appeal to young girls as will her quirky and enthusiastic character.
Elizabeth Fensham
Matty and Bill for Keeps (UQP)
The adventures of Matty and Bill continue – helping a visiting English boy escape Isabelle Farquay-Jones, ensuring Bill’s dad Troy isn’t caught up in illegal activities and learning secret cultural practices. A warm story about friendship and growing up.
Anna Fienberg & Stephen King
Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe (Allen & Unwin)
A fun picture book in six chapters. Figaro the dog, prone to hypochondria & dramatics, and Rumba, the dancing singing cat from Cuba, become caught up in a cat-napping adventure when they ride the Very Fast Train.
Anna Fienberg
Louis beside himself (Allen & Unwin)
13 year old Louis and his sister Rosie are being brought up by their loving Dad. Mum has died.  Louis’s sports mad dad is not sympathetic to his son’s love of reading and his passionate interest in words.  Louis supports his friends who are having difficulties. Fast paced and humorous.
Jackie French
Pennies for Hitler (Harper Collins)
Georg(e) is smuggled out from Nazi Germany via England, and eventually reaches Australia. On the way he has to cope with enormous changes in his speech, location and family. French’s story is slow paced but well-researched.
Morris Gleitzman
After (Penguin)
Continues Felix's adventures in World War Two, where he faces perhaps his greatest challenge - to reconcile hatred and healing and to find hope when he's lost almost everything.

Sonya Hartnett
The Children of the King (Penguin)
Hartnett, with her trademark beautiful writing, combines children evacuated from World War 2 London with the history of Richard III and the princes in the tower.  There are great insights into the psychology of young people and strong characterisation. Readers may need to be encouraged to see beyond the hardback presentation and bland cover.
Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King
Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (HarperCollins)
I know many people find the Silk family saccharine sweet but I wished I’d had this when my child first started experiencing migraines.


Emily Rodda

The Silver Door & The Third Door (Omnibus)
Further adventures of Rye and Sonia in the world beyond the Wall of Weld.

Lian Tanner
The Keepers : Book 3 : Path of the Beasts (Allen & Unwin)
A stunning finish to this wonderful trilogy.

Things a Map Won’t Show You
edited by Susan la Marca and Pam Macintyre. (Penguin)
It’s good to see a great collection of diverse poems and short stories from old and new authors who were given free range in choosing their subject matter. We’ve wondered whether it should be put into Older Readers but it’s one of those titles where some parts fit into either category.
Our Notables:
Catherine Bateson Star (Omnibus)
Pamela Freeman & Tamsin Ainslie Princess Betony and the Unicorn (Walker)
Roland Harvey On the Farm (Allen & Unwin)
Petra James & Roy Chen Arkie Sparkle series (Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Dando-Collins Caesar the war dog (Random House)
Sofie Laguna and Anna Pignataro The Forever House (Penguin)
Steven Lochran Vanguard Prime (Penguin)
Fiona McIntosh Rumpelgeist (Penguin)
Marianne Musgrove Beginners’ Guide to Revenge (Woolshed)
Katrina Nannestad Red Dirt Diary 2 : Blue about Love (Harper Collins)
Jan Ormerod & Carol Thompson Looking for Rex (Little Hare)

Picture Book:
This is Maureen’s favourite category so she found it hard to choose just a few titles, and because of that has probably whittled it down further than it needs to be! There is a change of rules this year for the BOTY Awards. No title can be listed in more than one fiction category, so there are books here which the judges may consider in Early Childhood.
Suzanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Ships in the Field (Ford Street)
This is a deceptively multi-layered book which deserves repeated readings. The family is making a new home after the devastation of escaping from the war, though the memories continue to haunt them all. Their hope for the future are the fields where the ‘ships’ graze, and the place that brings them new life.

Gus Gordon
Herman & Rosie (Penguin)
A lonely alligator and a deer are brought together by music. Inside the enticing cover are detailed illustrations, wonderfully quirky characters, and imaginative use of the broad range of different media used. A celebration of music and friendship.

Julie Hunt & Ron Brooks
The Coat (Allen & Unwin)
A magic coat transforms a downtrodden man.  At first, there is no colour, reflecting the dejection of both man and coat; colour seeps in, becoming a deep rich wash of colour as the man finds friendship and self assuredness. 
Meg McKinlay & Kyle Hughes-Odgers
Ten Tiny Things
As two children are forced to walk to school, they become aware of the wonder of the world.  The stylised and other-worldly illustrations are earthy tones of browns, greens and blues –cool despite the hot weather the children are experiencing. 

Madeleine Meyer
Carpet (Windy Hollow)
Meyer presents a biography of a carpet from its creation, through its life stages to its eventual recycling.  A beautiful book about the cycles of life.
Tohby Riddle
Unforgotten (Allen & Unwin)
The illustrations, on black paper, are a mixture of full page photographic collages and comic strips reminiscent of film stills.  The location is anywhere and everywhere. The people, some with statue heads, others hand drawn, are from differing times and places.  New buildings reflect older ones. This is a picture book for the older reader, dark and gritty yet haunting and thought-provoking.
Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie
A Year With Marmalade (Five Mile Press)
When Maddy has to go away for a year, she leaves her cat with Ella. The progress of the year is shown through the changing seasons, in the pen, ink and watercolour drawings but the reader also sees old and new friendships and comes to understand that change can be a good thing.
 Anna Walker
Peggy (Scholastic)
A brave hen sets off from her snug roost on an unexpected big adventure into the big city.  The muted illustrations, in a variety of media, make great use of the page though often allow for a light-hearted giggle.
Oscar Wilde & Ritva Voutila
The Selfish Giant (Allen & Unwin)
The rules allow for a retelling, so long as the changes are obvious. This richly illustrated book should be on everyone’s long list. The stunning double-page oil paintings are richly detailed –perfect for this allegorical story. The text reflects the style and punctuation of the original.
Sean E Avery All Monkeys Love Bananas  (Fremantle Press)
Nick Bland and Stephen Michael King The Magnificent Tree (Scholastic)
Gary Crew & Ross Watkins The Boy Who Grew into a Tree  (Penguin)
Libby Hathorn & Bruce Whatley A Boy Like Me  (HarperCollins)
Andrew King and Benjamin Johnston Engibear’s Dream (Little Steps)
Stephen Michael King A Bear and a Tree  (Penguin)
Danny Parker & Matt Ottley Tree: A little Story About Big Things (Hardie Grant)
Judy Paulson Baby Tawnies  (Random House)
Judith Rossell Oliver (Harper Collin)
Colin Thompson and Sarah Davis Fearless in Love (Harper Collin)

So, what did you think of our lists? Which of your favourites have we missed? And I wonder what the judges will have chosen. We now only have to wait till tomorrow, April 9th, to find out. The Short Lists will be announced in Canberra at midday. The lists will be available online from www.cbca.org.au but don’t be too precipitate, so that the site doesn’t crash from overuse.  

Phil and Erin Stead’s blog about their Caldecott choices can be found at http://philipstead.com/2013/01/22/announcing-the-4th-annual-phildecott-and-steadbery-awards/
It’s interesting to compare their list with the official result.

Monday 1 April 2013

Maureen and Nella Try to Predict the Short List Part 1.

Yay! It’s nearly time for our CBCA Short Lists to be announced. That will happen Tuesday 9th April and it’s always a day lots of people look forward to. The announcement will be made in Canberra and the results will be posted on the CBCA website – www.cbca.org.au -- at midday. Don’t be too impatient though otherwise the site might crash because of demand. It’s always an exciting time – to see what has been included or what hasn’t captured the judges’ minds.
There have been a couple of recent articles reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of creating a short list, as many book Awards do. We all think about what has been included or not – and celebrate inclusions or mourn omissions.   Michael Cart says that this is one of the strengths of the short list system, whether it is created behind closed doors (as we do with CBCA short list) or more openly. If you’d like to read his most interesting article the link is at the bottom of this blog.
Many CBCA branches hold a Clayton’s short list night or similar event where prominent community members or avid readers predict what this year’s judges might choose. These contributors don’t have the advantage of having read every entry. And though this makes for an enormous work load for each judge, it is one of the great strengths of our CBCA system. It also makes it hard to find committed judges.
But, over the next 2 blogs, Nella and Maureen are going to suggest what the short lists might contain. Sadly, we haven’t always been able to reduce our lists to just 6 titles! At least, we have the freedom to do this. The judges don’t!
The Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Christopher Cheng & Lindsay Knight Australia’s Greatest Inventions & Innovations Random House
Each invention from the Powerhouse Museum shows the original problem e.g. how to replace a body part lost through an accident or to attach a new one if it is missing at birth.  The reader learns who was involved as well as easy to read information about the invention/innovation.  
Martin Flanagan & Ainsley Walters Archie’s letter One Hill Publisher

This is the story of an ordinary man, his experience during World War II and his life afterwards.   It includes his memories of mates who didn’t return. We all need stories like this to remind us what is important. A major drawback is the density of text on the page.

Jackie French & Mark Wilson A Day to remember Angus & Robertson
Through a mixture of fact and story this book traces the Anzac legend and the development of the day which now serves to remember all the men and women who served in war, and all who have been affected by war.
Maggie Hamilton Secret Girls’ Business Viking
Craft, stories, fashion tips, recipes and helpful advice about being happy with yourself, and finding your 'style'.  It includes stories about women who volunteer or have interesting jobs.  An antidote to the rampant commercialism young women face daily.
Catriona Hoy & Andrew Plant The Little Dinosaur Working Title Press
Recreates a truthful and poignant story of a dinosaur that lived and died millions of years ago in Gondwanaland and explains how the resulting fossil has helped scientists learn more about the dinosaur.
Jackie Kerin & Peter Gouldthorpe Lyrebird Museum Victoria
Set in the 1930s, this retells a story of the friendship between a gardener and an unusual bird in its native habitat, and explains the fascinating characteristics of the lyrebird.
Kristin Weidenbach & Timothy Ide Tom The Outback Mailman Lothian
Tom Kruse drove a seven-day one-way journey from Marree to Birdsville each fortnight to deliver the mail from 1936 until 1957. It’s a fascinating story which needs more editorial input. The book includes a map, and biographical information. 
Early Childhood. These are books written for children aged 2-6, who are at the pre-reading stage, or the early stage of reading. 
Emma Allen & Freya Blackwood The Terrible Suitcase Omnibus
A delightful story about starting school, friendship and the power of imagination beautifully illustrated in typical Freya Blackwood mode. The reader learns that sometimes we can benefit from not getting exactly what we want.
Ursula Dubosarsky & Andrew Joyner Too Many Elephants in This House Puffin

Eric just loves elephants and his mum finally tires of them all cluttering up each room in the house, even though they help to entertain her son. They have to go! Eric’s solution is a joy.  My 5 year old grandson loves sharing this one on Skype. 

Jane Godwin & Anna Walker Today We Have No Plans Puffin

Showcasing days of the week and the many activities that families have over the working week, this book will have meaning for many readers. But unlike most, this family manages to have a recovery day on Sundays when they can slow down and notice the small things. Words and pictures complement each other beautifully. Great endpapers.

Christine Harris & Ann James It’s a Mirocool Little Hare
When she has to leave home for a short time, a young girl worries whether the tooth fairy can find her and creates a path to help. Ann James’ muted illustrations perfectly portray the Australian bush.
Doug McLeod & Craig Smith Heather Fell into the Water Allen & Unwin
Heather is attracted to water even when she is not supposed to be swimming. She even wears water wings to bed! She develops a fear of water but her worry (and the reader’s) is reduced through McLeod’s subtle turn of phrase and Smith’s ability to show humour in pictures.

Amanda Niland & Christina Booth I Wish There Were Dinosaurs Windy Hollow

A young boy wants the zoo to replace its current animals with dinosaurs but then has second thoughts.  The story’s drama and humour are enriched by Christina Booth’s illustrations – just look at the suitcase animals.
Sally Odgers & Lisa Stewart Bushland Lullaby Scholastic
A well-crafted story written in rhyming couplets about familiar and less common Australian animals exquisitely supported with delicate pastel illustrations. The animals are preparing to sleep, but are not anthropomorphised. 
Briony Stewart The Red Wheelbarrow UQP
This wordless picture book has two alternating stories - the right-hand pages depict two little girls’ discovery of a red wheelbarrow (and the rivalry over a bag of lollies) while on the left-hand pages, big chicken and little chicken fight it out over a worm.
Our Notables.  Don’t miss these either – they are some great books for sharing, but they are just not our very most favourite!
Karen Blair Baby Animal Farm Walker Books
Tania Cox & David Miller Millie’s Special Something Working Title Press
Sue De Gennaro The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog Scholastic
Corinne Fenton Hey Baby Black Dog Books
Jackie French & Bruce Whatley Queen Victoria’s Christmas HarperCollins
Phillip Gwynne & Bruce Whatley The Queen with the Wobbly Bottom Hardie Grant
Catriona Hoy & Annie White Isla Lu Where Are You?  Windy Hollow
Kim Kane & Sara Acton The Unexpected Crocodile Allen & Unwin
Penny Matthews & Martin McKenna The Gift Omnibus
Penny Matthews & Andrew McLean Show Day Scholastic
Jane Tanner Lily and the Fairy House Penguin
Michelle Worthington and Sophie Norsa Yellow Dress Day New Frontier

Older Readers. These books are for mature readers, up to 18 years old, and may contain confronting themes and language. Some of the titles we have chosen are for the upper limits of the age range.
Isobelle Carmody Metro Winds Allen & Unwin
6 short stories that redefine the meaning of fairy tale for young adult and adult readers. However some of the writing is variable which may make it Notable rather than Short list.

Pip Harry I’ll tell you mine UQP
Fifteen-year-old Kate Elliot has done something so terrible that her family has banished her to the local boarding school so they don't have to deal with her. Realistic contemporary multi-layered Australian teenagers. A brilliant debut.

Margo Lanagan Sea Hearts Allen & Unwin

This atmospheric selkie tale is a story of human weakness, rejection, revenge, love and courage which may challenge some readers’ conceptions.  Excellent crossover literary fiction for those looking for a dark yet captivating read.

Julia Lawrinson Losing It Penguin
Four girls in Year 12 make a bet: to lose it before schoolies week – and preferably in a romantic, sober way that they won't regret. Graphic, embarrassing and hilarious, it’s a serious story about choices and relationships.
Neil Grant Ink Bridge Allen & Unwin
Omed and Hec are two people on the edges of society for very different reasons, and their turbulent lives collide briefly but with impact. This multi-themed novel has three structural sections, one devoted to each of the boys with the final part showing Hec’s search, as an adult, for closure of his boyhood traumas.
James Roy City UQP
These are linked short stories, with a few characters reappearing with new friendships and incidents. It’s a companion book to his prize-winning Town, but doesn’t maintain consistency throughout.
Jaclyn Moriarty A Corner of white Pan Macmillan
Two separate worlds and stories come together, via the rare event of a crack, through the correspondence between Madeleine in Cambridge, England and Elliot in the Kingdom of Cello. There are mysteries to solve, science to understand and colours to absorb, combined with lots of world history. The cover, with its lightning-like crack, is great.
Vikki Wakefield Friday Brown Text
Friday Brown tries to escape the death of her mother and the family curse but life on the streets makes her quickly discovers her own strengths and weakness through her interactions with a broad range of (often troubled) characters and some nail-bitingly scary situations.
Myke Bartlett Fire in the Sea Text --The ending is a little weak, but this is an author to watch.
Judith Clarke Three Summers Allen & Unwin
Rose Foster Industry HarperCollins (1st in series)
Jackie French Girl from Snowy River HarperCollins
Maureen McCarthy Convent Allen & Unwin
Shirley Marr Preloved Black Dog Books
James Moloney Silvermay HarperCollins (2nd in series)
Garth Nix Confusion of Princes Allen & Unwin
Karen Tayleur Love Notes from Vinegar House Black Dog Books
Kirsty Eagar Night Beach Penguin -- scary Australian Gothic romance
Andrew McGahan Voyage of the Unquiet Ice Allen & Unwin

So what would be on your list? What have we missed? Please let us know. And come back next week to see what we choose for the last two categories: Younger Readers and Picture Books.