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

Monday 23 June 2014

Books Seen Through Glass

Most people assume that when we talk about books on television, what we are really talking about are adaptations. But these are not the only ways that we encounter books on the screen. I was very sad to hear of the death of Eric Hill this week--creator of the simple and simply lovely Spot series--but while it was the ABC Television where I first encountered Spot, it was not as a cartoon.

I was read Spot books by the presenters of Play School, and many other books besides. Better than that, there was a whole program dedicated to reading children's books to kids watching through their television sets, called The Book Place. Yes, it had a few gimmicky trimmings -- songs and a strange-looking but endearing "Bookworm" who always wore a collar and tie. But it was the stories from the reading chair that had us all hooked. My favourite children's book as a kid (don't ask me why, I suspect the sense of fun and subject matter of food) was A Sausage Went for a Walk, and it was on The Book Place that I discovered it. I still know parts of it off by heart.

This week a Kickstarter campaign for a revival of LeVar Burton's similarly themed television program in the U.S. Reading Rainbow is sitting at almost four million dollars in pledges from the public. I think it's wonderful. People clearly have fond memories of discovering the joys of reading through the televisions in their lounge rooms, and shows like Reading Rainbow, The Book Place and even Play School exhibit an appreciation of the book itself that celebrates rather than translates.

I would love to think that all parents read to their kids, but even if they do, books being read on screen clearly have a positive influence on the literacy of many young people. In the U.S. Reading Rainbow looks like it's coming back bigger than ever. But what about us? What, I wonder, happened to shows like The Book Place? And don't we need them now, more than ever?

Lyndon Riggall

Sunday 15 June 2014

Reading Greenlit and more....

 No doubt inspired by the movie, The Fault in our Stars, several articles about GreenLit have crossed my screen recently. A.J.Jacobs seems to be the person who coined the term for “realistic stories told by a funny, self-aware teenage narrator”. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/books/review/winger-by-andrew-smith.html?_r=2&

Most of the more recent articles were highly critical of the term, one declaring it “so damn reductive in how we talk about YA books”. http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/05/the-reductive-approach-to-ya.html 

The following may or may not be Greenlit but all are contemporary, set in the real world, have humorous moments, and are worth reading. 

Rainbow Rowell Fangirl (Pan MacMillan) 

Eleanor and Park was one of the best books I read last year. Fangirl is different and, for me, much less poignant but still a very readable coming of age story.  Cath, a fanfiction writer with a very large following, and her identical twin Wren have moved away to college.  Wren has moved into a room with another person, become a party goer and is living life to the fullest.  Cath is lost and so shy that she lives on protein bars rather than risk moving outside her room to find the canteen.  Eventually she becomes ready to try new experiences, meet new people and learn about love. 

Kate Gordon Writing Clementine (Allen & Unwin) (to be released July 2014).

This is another coming of age, struggle for identity story about a young wannabe writer.  Through a series of letters to her teacher, 14 year old Clementine reveals her confusion at the changes in her friends (who’ve become boy crazy), the changes in her family which she feels she should “fix”, and an introduction to new people and new experiences in the form of a Steampunk Society. Writing Clementine is set in a public high school in north western Tasmania. It is a heart-warming story which should inspire young people to live their own lives and not be clones of their friends. 

Bill Condon The Simple Things (Allen & Unwin)

This doesn’t qualify as Greenlit as it is for Younger Readers rather than Young Adults but nevertheless it’s a delightful story.  Eight year old Stephen has to spend his holidays with his mother and father and his grumpy old great aunt Lola. His only communication with her has been brief “thank you” notes for birthday and Christmas presents. After a rocky start, they develop a firm friendship.  Meanwhile, with the help of next door neighbour, Norm Smith and his grand daughter Allie, Stephen learns the simple things – fishing, climbing trees, cricket and family. 

Erin Jade Lange Dead Ends (Faber)

This story is gritty realism with many surprising twists.  It centres on the relationship between two outcasts, Dane, a 16 year old with anger management issues, and Billy D., a highly-functioning boy with Down's Syndrome. Billy D. believes that he can find his father by solving riddles and Dane is forced to help.  

Gabrielle Zevin The Collected Works of A.J.Fikry (Little Brown)

This is marketed as Adult in Australia and Crossover in USA.  AJ is a widowed bookseller compiling a list of short stories for Maya, his adopted daughter.  This story is an affirmation of the love of reading and of books. 

While not really interested in discussing the furore around the term “Greenlit” and very much acknowledging that there are countless better authors (many of whom are Australian), I’d like to hear your suggestions about more recent contemporary and funny YA titles.


Sunday 8 June 2014

The lure of history

I love history. I love reading about it, I love watching Discovery programs about it and I love wandering through ancient temples and medieval chateaux, when the opportunity presents itself.

We learn from history; both from the discoveries and the mistakes of the pioneers who went before us. But just reading about history can be pretty boring at times, especially if there are lots of dates to remember and place names we can't even begin to pronounce.

So, how can we learn about and teach our history in a way that makes it fun and meaningful? Well, I have recently found two sources that just might meet this need.

Word Hunters by Nick Earls & Terry Whidborne is a novel about Lexi and Al who travel backwards in time, in huge jumps from the early 19th Century way back to the 5th Century. Along the way they experience some incredible periods in the history of the world.

I couldn't wait to find out where Lexi and Al would 'land' next and what era they would encounter. And of course, for me, the story was only enhanced by the premise being to hunt down words that are in danger of disappearing from our language.

HistoriCool is a new full-colour Australian children's magazine that features articles, games, quizzes and activities all about historic events through the ages. The Magazine says it 'aims to spark an interest, even love, of history in all Australian children'. I for one hope they reach their goal. (www.historicool.com.au).

History doesn't have to be boring; it just needs to be presented in a way that captures our imaginations. Then we'll want to learn, and keep learning.

Penny Garnsworthy

Sunday 1 June 2014

The Lure of a Library

In hindsight a camping trip during the recent school holidays probably wasn’t the best idea.  Autumn weather in Tasmania is unpredictable and unfortunately for my family our tenting experience was extremely cold and miserably wet.  Having exhausted all entertainment opportunities on one particular dreary day we headed back to the cold confines of the tent.  With several hours of daylight left until we could snuggle in sleeping bags we decided to visit the local library. 
Rugged up with coats, hats and scarves we entered the warm, welcoming library Other families like ours had also sought refuge from the weather: children sprawled on the floor reading; puzzles and games were being played whilst parents read; and, much to my children’s relief, Internet access.  My chance find was a wonderful fantasy book by Marissa Burt, Storybound

Twelve year old Una Fairchild discovers an old book in the basement of the school library, curiously the first page is titled: “The Tale of Una Fairchild”. Una is suddenly transported into the Land of Story, a world of villains, heroes and fairytale characters.  In her quest to find her place in the story Una uncovers dark secrets of Story’s past and with her new found companions searches for a way to save it.

Locating a library whilst on holiday or travelling is an opportunity to browse the collection, explore local history and access the Internet.  It also provides a free, safe haven for everyone, locals and visitors alike – a service that I very much appreciate.

Tricia Scott