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

Monday 27 May 2013

Have you seen these?

I have had a lovely time recently re-reading, something I don’t usually do. But there have also been new things to enjoy. Here are some of them.
Seadog by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Tom Jellet, published by Random House
Seadog captures all the joy that having a scruffy lovable dog can bring to a family. Jellet’s illustrations capture the adventurous and mischievous nature of the dog in many different environments. We learn exactly what the dog isn’t and the simple refrain tells us that he’s a seadog. Just great for reading aloud or sharing with a 3-5 year old.

Funny Bums by Mark Norman, published by Black Dog Books     
Have you ever really thought about animal bottoms? This is an information book full of great photographic images combined with weird and wonderful facts, introducing children to a part of the animal which we rarely focus on. Indirectly, through text and images, children develop early concepts of evolution, adaptation, ecology and survival. The animals range in size from the elephant on the cover through to small beetles which have an exploding backside and many in between.

Sidney, Stella and the Moon by Emma Yarlett. Templar Publishing
Sidney and Stella constantly bicker and, after one fight, bounce their ball so high that it smashes the moon out of the sky. Of course, they have to find a replacement and the book recounts the adventure they go on to achieve this. Right from the start it is obviously fantasy and the reader joins in with the wacky ideas they try. Great illustrations include a double fold-out page. The subtle lesson from the book, the need to share and reach a common goal, is well-executed.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, published by Chronicle Books
This is a wordless picture book which will appeal to readers of all ages, but especially young budding dancers. Flora, dressed in flippers, swimsuit and bathing hat, meets a flamingo and imitates its movements. When she mucks up, the flamingo mocks, eventually relents and together they perform. The great strengths of the book are the many flaps which change the reader’s perception of what is actually happening. This is a gently humorous story about friendship. It’s a pity that its pinkness may put off parents of boys, who are sure to enjoy the humour as much as girls will.

The Frank Show by David Macintosh. Harper Collins
David Macintosh is one of my favourites. When the boy has to give a one-minute talk at school about a family member, he discounts everyone till he is only left with his grandfather Frank. But he is so boring! He’s not as interesting as other class mates’ family members. He doesn’t like anything the boy does, doesn't like noise, or today's music, or gadgets and gizmos. But the boy discovers his grandfather is much more than he knew or expected. A good humorous story, with wonderfully detailed but off-key illustrations to explore, about generational differences and acceptance of others, aimed at lower primary students.

And now for books aimed at older readers. Echoing Carol’s blog last week, the following can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, not only the ones for whom they have originally been aimed.
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, published by Indigo.
This was the YA and overall the winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, which I learned about through the last CBCA Tas newsletter. (Thanks Penny). It’s a great cover which is sure to attract readers. Zoe writes to Stuart Harris, a man on death row in Texas, and through her letters unburdens her terrible secret, slowly allowing Harris, and the reader, to learn more about her crime. Zoe’s voice is believable – ranging from the worldly wise to the naïve and immature. There are lots of themes which will appeal especially to teenage readers.

Boundless by Cynthia Hand. HarperCollins
This is the final book in the Unearthly trilogy. Fans of the series are sure to be pleased by it, but for me, coming to it without knowledge of the previous books, I found it uncompelling. This may have to do with my age but also my personal preference is not for paranormal romance, despite it being well-written. Clara has learned to live a normal life along with her Angelblood heritage, but now she is torn between her love for both Tucker and Christian. There are themes of parental and romantic love, along with the place of religion in modern life.

Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin
This is a great fantasy, peopled by some unexpected characters, without the typical royal intrigues, treasure seeking and fighting. Peat is blamed after the stranger’s visit brings death and disease and therefore she is forced from her farm home. Her journey takes her through an interesting landscape. There she meets some wonderful people, including Eadie, Mother Moss, and Siltboy, the 900 year-old child with quaint language and outlook. I hope there’s a sequel with more of Peat’s adventures but Julie may decide that her readers are better left with their own imagination creating Peat’s future life. (Thanks to Allen & Unwin for my review copy).

What have been your favourites recently? Please let us all know.
Maureen Mann

Sunday 19 May 2013


Once upon a time there were no computer games, movies, televisions or printed books. In those days only voices told stories. Stories swirled around in the smoke of campfires and stone hearths and chimneys, changing shape according to the imagination, narrative skill and world view of every teller. Stories were told to pass the time. To make sense of birth, death and everything in between. To amuse children and to caution them about the dangers of certain behaviours.

The archaic tales were often set in dream-like, magical lands which were populated not only by humans, but by talking animals and objects, as well as witches, wizards, fairies, elves, trolls, giants, ogres, pookas, mermaids, selkies, undines, leprechauns and other ethereal, creepy or downright evil characters. Over generations, favourite stories passed into folk lore. And with the advent of the publishing industry, ‘fairy tales’ began to be written down and published.

As early as 1697, Charles Perrault saw the publication of his delightful French fairy tales (Histoires ou contes du temps passé). Soon afterwards, his countryman, Antoine Galland, translated a collection of Middle Eastern tales known as the Thousand and One Nights (Les Mille et Une Nuits, contes arabes traduit en français, 1704-1712). In 1812 the German academics, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, brought out Kinder-und Hausmärchen (commonly translated as Tales from the Brothers Grimm). Hans Christian Andersen, a prolific inventor of Danish fairy tales, had his ‘Eventyr’ published between 1835 and 1872. In 1887 ‘Speranza’, also known as Lady Jane Wilde (mother of Oscar Wilde), recorded the fairy tales of Ireland in Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland while more recently, Iona and Peter Opie collected and edited The Classic Fairy Tales, 1974.

The study and interpretation of fairy and folk tales is now an academic discipline as dense, surprising and foreboding as a medieval forest. Theoreticians including Sir James George Frazer (The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religions, 1890), Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949) and Bruno Bettelheim (The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Interpretation of Fairy Tales, 1976) have all recognised that deep mythical, psychic, sexual, and political meanings lie below the surface of fairy tales.

The following well-known fairy tales, for example, can be seen to embed messages about gender, patriarchy, class, and/or colonialism which may be regarded as somewhat less palatable today than they were in ages past:
The Frog Prince and Beauty & the Beast:   
Girls, don’t kick up a fuss if your father marries you off to a toad or a beast because your new husband may turn out to be a handsome prince in disguise.

Just grin and bear it, girls, even when forced into domestic slavery; because if you do, your fairy godmother may one day appear and help to arrange a fairy tale wedding for you.

Little Red Riding Hood:
Always stick to the straight and narrow, girls, because if you don’t you could be led astray by a Big Bad Wolf who may fool you into thinking he is as sweet and innocent as your granny.

Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldilocks:
There is no need to despair if you are poor, dim-witted, or prone to walking into other people’s houses and helping yourself to whatever takes your fancy. There are other lands which are ripe for the plundering. But flesh-eating bears and ogres live there, so you had better be nimble and quick when you steal their food or treasures and break whatever they hold dear.

When Samuel Johnson completed his Dictionary of the English Language he fixed the previously fluid spelling of the English language to an England of 1755. Yet his, and all other the other subsequent dictionaries, need to be constantly updated because the meanings of words shift around; new words and phrases enter the common vocabulary, while others become obsolete. Similarly, fairy tales are constantly being told and retold for sheer pleasure, or because writers, publishers, parents, educators, or guardians of public morality want to change the messages encoded within them.

Nihilism of any sort, along with references to sexual acts or pregnancy, or to overt violence and death, has been expurgated from the texts of most earlier fairy tales. Over time, the protagonists of fairy tales have been granted happy-ever-after endings, which are seen as more suitable for children than some of the more gruesome endings of some earlier texts. In the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, fairy tales have been further exposed to a smiley-faced homogenisation by the ever-popular Walt Disney film studios.

Yet there is no denying the childish, yet universal, appeal of the archetypal plots of fairy tales and the attraction of their naïve, astute, funny, and downright wicked characters. This is why fairy tales, with their imaginative qualities, their psychological significance, and ability to convey encoded messages, have always sparked the interests of writers, educators, parents, and guardians of public morality.

Perhaps as a reaction to the progressive bowdlerisation of fairy tales, Roald Dahl, the foremost writer of children’s stories of his day, applied his funny, wicked, and subversive wit to fairy tales. When he brought out his Revolting Rhymes in 1982 he became a forerunner of what is now a recognised sub-genre of children’s literature, the ‘fractured fairy tale.’

During a heated exchange on climate change at a dinner party I hosted a couple of years ago I received a call from my muse to fracture a fairy tale. Instead of an acorn falling on Chicken Licken’s head, a wave could splash over him, and he could sound the alarm that the sea level is rising. All the stock characters in the climate change debate can be found in that fairy tale. There is the curious chicken who wants to know why the sea level is rising and how to stop it from rising any further. Turkey Lurkey could bury her head in the sand. The geese and ducks could thoughtlessly quack out Chicken Licken’s alarm. Foxie Loxie could be the climate denier who tries to lure the birds into a boat and eat them up. Jowly Owly could be the climate change expert who explains the carbon cycle to them. And Farmer King and his fine feathered friends could work out how to minimise carbon pollution on their farm by the sea. Thank you, Muse!

Inspired by the cosmologists’ ‘Goldilocks Theory’ (life evolved on Earth because the conditions were JUST RIGHT!), I then wrote Messy Lox Goes to the Planet of the Bears, a futuristic ecotale about a young space cadet who sails her space bug around the Ursa Minor (Little Bear) galaxy, visiting a large planet which is too hot, a medium-sized planet which is too cold, and a baby planet which is JUST RIGHT! She
starts to pollute the environment of the baby planet until three bears let her know exactly what they think of humans and their pollution.

The tide of inspiration kept flooding in. Because ‘Cindy’ is kept locked up by her wicked step-family, she must have the smallest carbon footprint in the land. Why not give her diamond slippers, since diamond is the hardest form of carbon? She could be kitted out for the ball by a fairy godmother who works in an op shop and she could marry a prince who is potty about organic gardening.

Bling could be the genie of Consumerism. The fisherman who discovers him and benefits from his bounty could later learn that the fish and birds of the ocean will only survive if he puts the genie back inside the bottle.

Little Emerald Ryding-Hoode and her granny could try to save an endangered wolf.

Prince Pobblebonk could warn a prissy princess about the dangers of poisoning the waterways.

Juzzy could steal a golden egg-laying goose from a very tall man who lives at the top of a beanstalk, and be put to work in an organic garden for the next three years.

Three Little Porkies could find out about renewable energy sources from the Big Bad Wolf.

And Cool Girl (Snow White) could have a sensational time singing, gardening, cooking, and preserving garden produce with seven short, but very talented, brothers.

After their many trials and tribulations, all my protagonists could do their best to live sustainably ever after (most of the time anyway).

The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land (IPKidz, 2013) provides limitless opportunities for teachers from K-12 to design classroom activities around Sustainability, which is an underlying strand to the National Curriculum.
Students could be asked to discuss, research, and write about:
·         What is meant by a carbon footprint, the greenhouse effect and climate change?
·         How can we reduce carbon and other forms of pollution in our everyday lives?
·         What are the benefits of organic gardening?
·         Why should we conserve native habitats and preserve endangered species?
·         What is meant by renewable energy?
·         How is the marine food chain affected by consumerism and globalisation?

Anne Morgan

The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land can be ordered through bookstores or from the publishers’ website, www.ipoz.biz/Titles/SCF.htm.

Anne Morgan has a PhD in Writing and a Master of Education Degree. Her books include the Captain Clawbeak series of junior novels (Random House Australia) and The Sky Dreamer (IP Kidz). Her latest book is The Smallest Carbon Footprint in the Land & Other Ecotales, illustrated by Gay McKinnon. She lives on Bruny Island, where she has an adventure a day at Adventure Bay. Her website is www.annemorgan.com.au

Friday 10 May 2013

Is Young Adult material only for teenagers ?

I am a member of two adult book groups and also, as a member of CBCA, I read widely from so called ‘children’s’ literature and most specifically a lot of young adult and older reader fiction, perhaps a hangover from my years as a senior secondary teacher.
As a CBCA judge I experienced the conundrums of trying to separate young adult literature from teenage literature (older reader as outlined in the CBCA guidelines) and YA (young adult) from adult literature. Just where does the line come and does it really exist?  And should it exist? After reading several really good YA books and some really boring ‘adult’ books, I’m wondering how the publishers distinguish between the two.  I also wondered how many really outstanding young adult books are neglected by adult readers just because they are marketed as young adult material. Cases in point include Craig Silvey’s  Jasper Jones, Stephanie Myer’s The Host, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.  I must admit that this last one did get shifted from YA to adult once the publishers and book sellers discovered its wider potential.

However the point is that some adults appear to dismiss YA literature out of hand just because it is labelled YA.  I have managed to persuade one of my adult book groups and some mature friends to read Jasper Jones and Kill the Possum by James Maloney and these books have been greatly enjoyed, but one of my YA favourites, The Host, suffers from its connection to The Twilight series.  It is a real pity in my opinion that this imaginary line between YA and adult fiction is guiding adult readers away from some of the best literature being published.
Yes, the line is an artificial conceit dreamed up to ‘protect’ children from reading unsuitable material and to avoid irate parents objecting to materials set as texts in schools but as CBCA is an organisation to whom parents refer for guidance about suitable books, we need to know what we are talking about.  As far as early readers, babies and toddlers, and younger readers from five up to 12 are concerned, the lines of suitability are quite easily drawn, although Morris Gleitzman has pushed this boundary with his series Then, Now, After and Once. But at the other end of the scale things are far more problematic.
Obviously by the time readers reach 18, they are mature readers in terms of vocabulary and intellectual capacity and perhaps only life experience separates young adult from adults.   However even this is a great generalisation when one thinks about the young people in war zones with the army, or those students who spend their holidays building schools and clinics in Cambodia or, even more pertinent, those refugee teenagers who have fled from war torn countries and witnessed and lived events most Australian adults only understand through explicit news bulletins.
So what are the differences?  Well, sex and violence is generally less explicit, more subdued and less gratuitous in YA but that probably adds to the literary quality of YA rather than detract from it.  The text is usually more succinct in YA but that is also a positive for me.  My last several ‘adult’ books have taken almost a third of the book before really grabbing my attention.  ‘More grown up’ doesn’t necessarily mean the writing has to be verbose and as for lyrical prose, that is certainly present in YA literature.  Try Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley.  So if I contend that the quality of writing is at least equal if not better in YA literature, what does set these categories apart?
It comes down to themes, plots and genre.  Apart from the perpetual murder mysteries, forensic investigations, historical, travelogues and biographical varieties, the imagination and scope of adult literature seems to pale into insignificance next to YA - or is that just a product of my choices?  Granted, real life and politics feature highly and successfully in the adult category.  You can’t get more relevant than Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes (about a high school massacre) or Anna Funder’s All that I Am (about Nazi activities outside of Germany before and during World War II).  Why was this not part of my history lessons?

But by choosing YA I can not only read about real life as in The Convent by Maureen McCarthy but I also have access to the far more interesting and gripping post apocalyptic, dystopian, steam punk, fantasy and hybrids of all of the above that are being published now.  Try Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan Trilogy (steam punk) or S.D Crockett’s After the Snow, set in a world where climate change has not only changed the environment but the whole social order, or, I say it again, Susan Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy, (dystopian) which has quite deep and sobering allegories of current western civilization where the rich and powerful rule and the under classes are pushed to revolution.  I must say that the best reading I have done in the past year has been produced by YA writers.

So what is my point in writing this blog?  I want to establish that a true reader must not become enmeshed in those artificial descriptions employed by publishers, which segregate books into age categories; that there is a huge amount of wonderful literature out there under the heading of YA that adults should be reading; and that for rewarding reading one needs to keep an eye on material published for all age groups.    

 Carol Fuller

Sunday 5 May 2013

Glenora District High School students’ trip to Fullers bookstore

On Wednesday the 20th March, students from Grade 3/4 at Glenora District High School travelled to Fullers bookstore in Collins Street, Hobart. The purpose of the excursion was to expose students to a range of texts in a different environment, listen to a story, participate in a reading activity, and receive a general overview of how a bookstore operates. Also, many students had never been to a bookstore and they wanted to see the place where their teacher buys armloads of books.
Jen kindly spent an hour with the students showing them some of the latest children’s book releases, reading them excerpts from several books and questioning the students about the books they are reading. The students were given forms to become members of Fullers Ferrets, a free children’s book group.
While the students at Glenora have access to a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction texts in our school library, seeing Fullers’ 10,000 titles arranged for different audiences and genres has motivated many students to read a greater range of texts.  The outing had the desired effect of encouraging students’ engagement in their reading through increased participation in our Home Reader program. Five students have attained their certificates for twenty-five nights of reading since the excursion.
The students really enjoyed the excursion. They browsed the titles and merchandise with nearly half the students making purchases. They also enjoyed a chocolate milkshake from the Fullers Café. The student visits, organised by Fullers, are a wonderful activity. Thank you very much Jen and the other staff at Fullers.
Helen Thomsett