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

Monday 31 March 2014

Literary Festivals- the new spiritual experience?

If you were lucky enough to get to the Festival of Golden Words, you would know it was a wonderful weekend of inspirational and intellectual engagement. Leading authors and commentators, witty and thought provoking debates and conversations, and, especially relevant to CBCA members, a strong concurrent children's and young adults programme.  Find out more at

In one of the sessions a panellist was bemoaning the loss of a shared community culture that existed when people, for example, all watched the same TV programmes and all attended church together.  The response from another panellist was to point out that on a cool, windy Sunday morning in Beaconsfield there were close to 300 people joined together celebrating books and their creators- surely literary festivals provide the modern opportunity to commune with ideas and moral debate that once was the role of the church.  What’s your reaction to this idea?

As far as festivals go, CBCA members can hold their heads high- Children’s Book Week is the longest running children’s literary festival in Australia, existing since 1945.  Perhaps though we fail to market it for what it is, an Australia wide Festival celebrating the best Australian children’s books published in the previous year, by the best Australian writers and illustrators.  Let’s capitalise on the popularity of literary festivals by linking all our diverse efforts across Australia, so every child who participates in a Book Week parade in every tiny school across every state and territory realises they are part of an Australia wide celebration.
Should Children’s Book Week be renamed “The Festival of the Australian Children’s Book”? 

And close to home the Book an Adventure: Bruny Island Children’s Literature Festival is coming- 15-18 January 2015.   4 days of seaside fun and adventure for all the family; writing and illustration workshops, meet the authors sessions, an exhibition of picture book illustrations, children's films, a book fair, sand sculptures, storytelling, Viking workshops and a Viking Community Event, the launch of two longboats in Adventure Bay and much, much more!
Jessie Mahjouri

Sunday 23 March 2014

‘Naughty’ shared reading experiences

Whether we like it or not young children love toilet humour.  A book that mentions or includes illustrations of underwear, nakedness, bottoms, and bodily functions will usually elicit stifled giggles, guffaws of laughter, and squeals of delight.   

Pamela Allen’s Mr McGee and the Biting Flea is an example of nakedness in its full glory and children love it.   It will be interesting to see if the theatre production of this book (to be performed at Theatre Royal, Hobart and Burnie Arts & Function Centre in June) also generates the same response.

You might like to share some of the following ‘naughty’ books that I have found capture the delight of young children: 

Poo bum by Stephanie Blake

A young rabbit doesn’t want to do anything his parents request - ultimately his cheeky retort “Poo Bum” will save his life!

 The dreadful fluff by Aaron Blabey

When Serenity Strainer finds belly-button fluff her life is thrown into disarray.

The Giant’s loo roll by Nicholas Allan

What would you do if a giant’s toilet roll ran away through your town?  What could you create with an extra large piece of paper? 

In fact many books by Nicholas Allan have some type of toilet humour and are great fun to share (Cinderella’s bum, Father Christmas wants a wee, The Royal nappy, The Queen’s knickers).

Queen Victoria’s underpants by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Not a rip-roaring read but more the evolution of underwear and the many options perhaps considered for the royal bottom.  Children love the idea of pants made of different things and the final reveal of the Queen’s underwear.


Tricia Scott

Saturday 15 March 2014

Cranky Ladies in Australia

From Tehani Wessely

I sometimes feel as if I’m living multiple lives, as I have many roles to play. I’m a mum, a teacher librarian, a reader, a literary judge, a Doctor Who fan, a friend, and, at some times more than others, a publisher too. Right now, being a publisher is taking up lots of my life, as we’re on a steamroll month during March, crowdfunding for the Cranky Ladies of History anthology [http://www.pozible.com/crankyladies]. It’s Women’s History Month, and we’ve been receiving  attention on social media and in the mainstream news [http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-07/women-raise-funds-for-cranky-ladies-of-history-anthology/5305846] as well, which is fantastic for the project! We’re lucky enough to have amazing authors connected with the anthology, such as Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Carol Ann Martin (writing as Ann Martin), Lauren Beukes, Pat Cadigan and many more. Tasmanian writer and historian Dr Tansy Rayner Roberts [https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/599287.Tansy_Rayner_Roberts] is on board as my co-editor, and we’ve been having an absolute ball learning about some astonishing “cranky” ladies of history for the project. While the crowdfunding in March is an important thing for us, so too is our Cranky Ladies blog tour [http://fablecroft.com.au/about/publications/cranky-ladies-of-history/cranky-ladies-of-history-blog-tour], to which any fan of a cranky lady of history can contribute. And today, CBCA has kindly let me post about some brilliant Australian cranky ladies* who you may have heard of: our children’s book authors!

Australia has a rich heritage of fabulous female writers, and although some may not have been born here, and some may have gone elsewhere during their lives, they are all beloved in our literary history. And some of them led the most astonishing lives!

Perhaps it is appropriate to start with someone whose name will be well known to CBCA members. EVE POWNALL, born in Sydney in 1902 as Marjorie Evelyn Sheridan, started writing early, and worked for Fox Films and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Ltd before marrying Leslie Pownall at age 27. I particularly like this paragraph from Jan Roberts’ biography of Eve [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pownall-marjorie-evelyn-eve-15495]:

Encouraged by Leslie, Eve became a meticulous researcher and prolific writer. The range of her publications was remarkable: risqué comics and short stories written during the war years, a ghost-written sex manual, books about pioneer women, histories of Australian exploration, settlement and development for adults and children, stories in the State Department of Education’s School Magazine, reviews and editorial works. Her first major work was a social history for children, The Australia Book (1952), which was illustrated by her friend Margaret Senior and was named by the Children’s Book Council as best book of the year.

Just imagine – risqué comics and a sex manual, in the first half of the 20th Century! Eve was very involved in the formation of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and was strongly interested in the role of women and children in remote areas, travelling to the outback and writing about this many times, including a book called Australian Pioneer Women, which is of particular interest to us at Cranky Ladies!

Another fascinating writer of history is CHARLOTTE BARTON, credited with being the author of Australia’s first published children’s book, A Mother's Offering to Her Children, in 1846. Barton was a feminist who worked as a governess for several years, choosing to emigrate from England for a position in Australia at 30 years of age. While she did commence employment, she soon left to marry James Atkinson shortly after, with whom she had four children, before he died in 1834, “leaving her to manage a large holding, run far-flung outstations, control convict labour in a district beset by bushranging gangs and care for her children.” [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barton-charlotte-12787] Her remarriage in 1836 to George Bruce Barton opened a plethora of legal issues for Charlotte, leading to many years of trouble, especially after she eventually fled the family home due to the drunken and violent nature of her second husband.  

Throughout this, Charlotte educated her children, fostered their own artistic talents, and maintained a close-knit family unit. I like this final quote from Patricia Clarke’s biography [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barton-charlotte-12787]: “Fiercely independent, though an abused wife and sole parent she succeeded in challenging the male-dominated legal system.” Her status as Australia’s first known children’s book author may be unknown by many, but was recently brought out of the shadows in Belinda Murrell’s novel The River Charm, which tells some of the story. [https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16087466-the-river-charm]

The recent film, Saving Mr Banks, might have perhaps gone a bit too far in portraying the crankiness of PL TRAVERS, but she certainly deserves a place on our list! Born Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899, she who became P.L. Travers and author of one of the best known children’s stories of modern times came from Maryborough in Queensland. Although already writing from an early age, at 17 Travers took herself to Sydney to pursue a career on the stage. She experienced some success, but supplemented her income by working as a journalist. However, she decided that Australia was not the place for her, and moved to England in her late 20s, where while recuperating from a long illness, she wrote Mary Poppins, which was published in 1934. Most readers will know the journey of the book to the screen, where it still holds a special place in the hearts of successive generations.

She later wrote extensively on mysticism and the occult, as well as examining myth and fairy tales. Much of Travers’ reputation for crankiness stems from the process of the Mary Poppins film being produced, but regardless of how much truth there is in that, she was a formidable type who achieved exactly what she set out to.

HESBA FAY BRINSMEAD is relevant to CBCA and Tasmania, as she won the 1965 and 1972 Book of the Year award, and both lived and wrote about the state at various times. With a late start to education, and a somewhat dysfunctional family life, Brinsmead’s work explored many issues still relevant today, including the environment, indigenous areas and the need for their conservation, the effect of ecological damage, the plight of refugees and societies disaffected, and the human cost of resource development, as well as family issues. As with many female writers, Brinsmead found time to write around everyday life, husband and children, and did so splendidly.

Other cranky ladies you might like to look into include:

& MAY GIBBS, who spent her childhood exploring the bush on her family’s Western Australian property, then studied art in England for several years, before returning to Australia and working as an illustrator. Her iconic gumnut babies and anthropomorphised bush stories are still beloved (and sometimes imitated) today.

& RUTH PARK, who worked as a journalist for a time before becoming a freelance writer for radio and print, a bold move that took her a long way!

& First published at age 14 (there’s certainly a trend of these writers starting young!), MAVIS THORPE CLARK became a prolific author for children and later adults, and held the enviable position of never receiving a rejection for her work! The Min Min was the CBCA Book of the Year in 1967, but is just one of many novels she published.

& Perhaps one of Australia’s most classic children’s books, Seven Little Australians, was written by ETHEL TURNER, who started out publishing with her sister at school. She wrote and edited extensively while raising a family but during World War I, also organized ambulance and first aid courses, and campaigned for conscription. Refusing to sugar-coat the Australian lifestyle in her writing, Turner continued to shine a light on the diversity of Australian culture through her work.

* Important note: we define “cranky” as someone who bucked the trends of their time and took on cultural norms to challenge society's rules and ideas about how women should behave.

Find out more:


Sunday 9 March 2014

Why picturebooks?

I recently purchased a new bookcase for my study and now, finally, I can fit in all the large picture books I have held in storage for many years.

Old Ridley : Gary Crew and Marc McBride
As I pulled them all out, I couldn’t help but read through a couple. And the two I picked were Old Ridley by Gary Crew and Marc McBride and The Violin Man by Colin Thompson. I enjoyed them both again of course, each very different from the other; the first is quite a melancholy tale and the second is mysterious, intriguing and a little offbeat.

The violin man : Colin Thompson
When I finished reading them I tried to remember under what circumstances I had purchased them in the first place. Both books have, I think, more of an adult focus, so I had obviously bought them for myself. But that wasn’t the main reason, was it. No, the truth is, I bought them because I loved the illustrations.

Both books are brilliantly illustrated using strikingly lifelike images and strong, vibrant colours. And the illustrations literally force the reader to look beyond the page to the story and sub-plots. My imagination soared as I leafed through the pages, again and again.

What a bargain! Not only did I get a great story but a visual feast as well.

I wonder though, when you buy or borrow picture books either for yourself or a child, do you look first for the story, or the illustrations… or both? Is one more important than the other or are they of equal value in your reading experience?

Penny Garnsworthy

Sunday 2 March 2014

Avoid illiteracy – read daily

I had just finished reading Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, when my attention was drawn to Late Line 19/02/2014.  Burial rites is set in Iceland in the early 1800’s, dark just like the Icelandic winter;  it may not be apparent why the two events are linked but bear with me.

The Evangelical Lutheran church of Iceland, like all protestant churches of the time, made reading and interpreting the Bible paramount. Our patron, Mrs Underwood, related to me that the Finnish Ambassador claimed to her the high literacy rate in Finland is less to do with the schools there but more to do with the long tradition of having to be able to read the Bible before marriage.  The protestant reformation in England had the same effect in Shakespearean England. This high incidence of literacy occurred before anything like our universal education systems were established.

The research constantly reminds us that differences between schools or teachers make very little difference to literacy outcomes, whereas what happens at home does. If children miss out on early language and symbols it makes the higher cognitive functions such as reading difficult. It is very hard to regain the ground lost. This is illustrated by this graph from New Scientist. The article talked about why oldies like me have trouble learning some things but not others.

We know that the proportion of children using the public library in Tasmania is low, and yet whether or not a child is a user of a library is a better indicator of literacy that any school factors. This is totally ignored by Lateline and many previous articles and programs on “Tasmania’s Literacy Problem”.

We can continue the high risk strategy of relying on classrooms to make the difference, or we can use a strategy known to work - increase reading for pleasure. If CBCA could raise the consciousness of parents to the importance of early children’s literature then education might be more efficacious and more children could enjoy themselves reading.

Richard Pickup

Other References:
Anyone who is interested in literacy should become familiar with the seminal work by Betty Hart and Todd Riseley  Summary of literature ; even Shorter summary

An Australian perspective on “school readiness”

Another way is to compare identical twins with the same teacher compared to identical twins with different teachers. Summary at SMH and a fuller account Fuller account.

In New Zealand, several key investigations compared children who started formal literacy lessons at age 5 with those who started age 7. They showed that early formal learning doesn't improve reading development, and may even be damaging. By the age of 11, there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. However, those who started aged 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading and showed poorer text comprehension than those who had started later.

If you randomly allocate large numbers of students to “good” schools by lottery as happened in Chicago NBER Chicago, there is no evidence that the students who change do any better than those who do not.