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