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

Sunday 27 July 2014

Green books for kids?

I commented on a recent blog (Reading Greenlit and more…) ‘at last, a feature on books for children on Green issues!’ though I soon discovered that Greenlit and green issues are not necessarily the same.   So I decided to check for myself.

The first topic that came to mind under this heading was of course environmental issues, so I checked the LINC catalogue.  I found sixteen titles matching this topic, published from 1995 to 2009.  All were classified as non-fiction, with subject headings such as global warming, environmental policy, conservation of natural resources, and environmental responsibility.  Judging from the size of this collection and its average age, there’s not much demand for this type of book at the LINC.  But I would assume/hope that school libraries would have a much greater range of titles and topics on their shelves. 

I called in at the Green Shop in Hobart, hoping to find some tiles that would encompass a broader range of green issues than just the environmental.  Here I found an attractive book, aimed at pre-schoolers and early readers, My green day, by Melanie Walsh, published in 2010 by Walker Books.  This has subtle and progressive messages for young children and their carers – the breakfast egg is free-range, Father helps cook the muffins; and there are messages in small type for adults.  Also there I found a copy of the Australian edition of The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, published in 2008 by Scholastic.  This is an inviting book, and covers lots of issues that would be of interest to primary school children. 

At a commercial bookshop I was offered a good range of activity books and non-fiction books about environmental issues, which I was pleased to see included titles from the Eve Pownall Award shortlist from various years.  I was also able to find the recent publications from the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, When I was a boy in Sudan and When I was a girl in Sudan which to my mind qualify as green through their social concern for refugees and for deprived children in Africa – for every copy sold in Australia, I understand that a copy is sent to a school in South Sudan as well. 

I still had not been offered any fiction which might qualify as green, but when I asked if any was available, I was offered Those eco-pirate kids by Jon Tucker, published by Storm Bay Books in 2014.  This is part of a series, so any child who enjoys it will seek out others in the series, and it claims to be inspired by the Arthur Ransome series set in England.  Not only does the story itself raise environmental issues such as the netting of undersized fish, but it encourages an active lifestyle for children.

A quick look at an Amazon website indicated that I could search by ‘green issues for children’ – that was encouraging!  I was interested to see that the RJ Palacio book, Wonder, was in this group, but there were some rather surprising inclusions as well. 

However, it seems that there are green books out there if we are prepared to look for them – but don’t just rely on your local library…. 

Patsy Jones

Monday 21 July 2014

A statistical look at some fiction for children and young adults

As I grow older my interest in statistics has increased - often boringly so. I have been intrigued recently by the recent discussions about under-represented minorities in stories.  I think that maybe current stories over-represent minorities.

Heroes and heroines frequently have green eyes : Harry Potter, Alaska in John Green’s Looking for Alaska, etc. Apparently, genuinely green eyes are actually very rare, representing 1-2% of the population. 
Heroes are rarely less than average height which is a true anomaly. As I am of less than average height, this is distinctly heightism and is statistically unbalanced. Average height is the best height in survival terms. If it was not, we would evolve a new average height. Then again, heroic tallness is dangerous and suffers under Darwinian selection.
With the centenary of the beginning of the First World War there is an explosion of books about soldiers.  An extraordinary proportion of the eligible males in Australia volunteered, but it was probably less than half the population. What proportion of stories will be about these stay at home men?  And don’t forget the ‘tall bronzed Anzac”.  Possibly bronzed due to their infamous stay in Egypt but history shows Anzacs were no taller than any other soldiers. Armies had height restrictions so the soldiers’ heights were not necessarily representative of the population.
Saga Noren, the female lead detective in the Danish-Swedish thriller The Bridge is widely perceived as having a form of autism. Apparently Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock has too.  Something like 1.4% of males and 0.5% of females are diagnosed with autism.  I can cope with this trend if it produces more characters like the delightful Candice in My life as an Alphabet (Barry Jonsberg).
Orphans are over-represented. As nowadays maternal death rates are vanishingly small, and characters who have lost their mothers this way are exceptionally unlucky. A quick look at Magpies’ The Source shows 180 books on orphans.
Would you guess, from fiction of all forms, that there are actually more Hispanic people than Afro-Americans in the United States of America?
Perhaps the “average” does not make a striking story or character.  Have you noticed other “minority” trends?

PS For truly statistical anomalies, think green sheep or talking dragons.

Richard Pickup

Monday 14 July 2014

CBCA (Tas Branch) Inc.: A selected Early Childhood book list, 2014

The lists below relate to children from birth to around five years of age. In fact, it is not really possible to ‘level a book’; it all depends what you do with it. A simple picture book can lend itself to personal closeness and comfort with a baby; the same book can lead to literary analysis and visual literacy with an older child. So, the titles are grouped purely to reflect the age ranges I have successfully used these books with, where the illustrative palette and style appealed and the young listeners engaged with the story. The list includes some CBCA shortlisted titles, but I’m assuming that parents, educators and adult buyers go to the CBCA lists as a first resource. Hence, this list also includes titles that happen to be my favourites that are reasonably current and therefore should still be available. CBCA’s annual publication of Notable Australian Children’s Books provides annotated descriptions of many of the titles.

From Jenni Connor

Books for Babies
·        Let’s Go to Sleep, Margaret Wild & Michelle Dawson (Working Title Press, 2013)
·        Kissed by the Moon, Alison Lester (Viking, 2013)
·        Hello Baby, Mem Fox & Steve Jenkins (Atheneum, 2009)
·        Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury (Penguin, 2008)
·        Bushland Lullaby, Sally Odgers & Lisa Stewart (Scholastic, 2012)
·        Let’s Go Baby-O! Janet & Andrew McLean (Allen & Unwin, 2011)
·        Hushabye, John Burningham (Red Fox, 2000)
·        My Baby Love, Meredith Costain & Beatriz Martin Vidal (Lothian, 2009)
·        Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? Martin Waddell & Barbara Firth (Little Mammoth Australia, 1990)
·        Squish Rabbit, Katherine Battersby (UQP, 2011)
·        Baby Bedtime, Mem Fox & Emma Quay (Viking, 2013)
·        How I love you, Anna Pignataro (Scholastic, 2014)
·        On the Day You Were Born, Ron Brooks & Margaret Wild (A & U, 2013)

Books for Toddlers
·        Where is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox & Judy Horacek (Penguin, 2004)
·        The Runaway Hug, Nick Bland & Freya Blackwood (Scholastic Press, 2011)
·        Rudie Nudie, Emma Quay (ABC Books, 2011)
·        Noni the Pony, Alison Lester (A & U, 2011)
·        B is for Bedtime, Margaret Hamilton & Anna Pignataro (Little Hare, 2014)
·        A Feast for Wombat, Sally Morgan & Tania Erzinger (Scholastic, 2014)
·        Esther’s Rainbow, Kim Kane & Sarah Acton (A & U, 2013)
·        Tell me about your day today, Mem Fox & Lauren Stringer (Scholastic, 2012)
·        The Bear in the Cave, Michael Rosen & Adrian Reynolds (Bloomsbury, 2007)
·        This Little Piggy Went Dancing, Margaret Wild & Deborah Niland (A & U, 2013)
·        I Love You Too, Stephen Michael King (Scholastic, 2013)
·        Too Many Elephants in This House, Ursula Dubosarsky & Andrew Joiner (Penguin/Viking, 2012)
·        I Have a Dog, Charlotte Lance (A & U, 2014)
·        Today we have No Plans, Jane Godwin & Anna Walker (Penguin/Viking, 2012)
·        Good Night, Sleep Tight, Mem Fox & Judy Horacek (Scholastic, 2012)
·        The ABC Book of Seasons, Helen Martin, Judith Simpson & Cheryl Orsini (ABC Books, 2014)
·        Concept books by Graeme Base – Cows say Moo etc (Viking, 2014)

Books for moving on
One Sunday, Pamela Allen (Penguin, 2014)
Silver Buttons, Bob Graham (Walker Books, 2013)
Octopuppy, Martin McKenna (Scholastic, 2013)
Max, Marc Martin (Penguin/Viking, 2014)
King Pig, Nick Bland (Scholastic, 2013)
Don’t Wake the Troll! Ben Kitchen & Ben Redlich (Scholastic, 2013)
The pros and cons of being a frog, Sue de Gennaro (Scholastic, 2012)
How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth, Michelle Robinson & Kate Hindley (Koala Books, 2013)
Wombat Goes to School, Jackie French & Bruce Whatley (Harper Collins, 2013)
The Hairy-Nosed Wombats Find a New Home, Jackie French & Sue de Gennaro (A & R, 2014)
Davy and the Duckling, Julie Vivas & Margaret Wild (Penguin, 2013)
Pig the Pug, Aaron Blabey (Scholastic, 2014)
Peggy, Anna Walker (Scholastic, 2012)
Ten Blue Wrens and what a lot of wattle! Elizabeth Honey (A & U 2011)
Henry the Goat, Ella Watkins (Hardie Grant Egmont, 2011)

Monday 7 July 2014

'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways....'

From Christina Booth

Being a children's author and illustrator is, as I tell students when I visit schools, the best job in the world. In very simple terms, I get to colour in for a living, tell stories with twisted truths and occasionally spy on people as 'research'. I don't have to grow up, much, and I can work in my pyjamas.

'Are you in your pyjamas now?' asked a young student a few weeks ago. 'I wish', I said, 'my pyjamas are very warm and comfortable.'

One other part of being an author I love is visiting schools. As a trained teacher I do, on occasion, miss working with children rather than producing for them. I enjoy sharing my passion and encouraging them to have a desire to learn about their world (this lasts until I think of reports, staff meetings and parent teacher interviews, then I'm VERY content with what I do now) and to be invited to a school to present to an assembly, a classroom, run a writing or illustrating workshop makes my world complete. 

It sounds quite perfect. Swanning in and out of schools between days in the studio sounds like bliss, but it does, like all jobs, have its down sides.

Presenting is exhausting. I've been a classroom teacher (K-12's) so I know the hard yakka of days with children. But this, this is like running a marathon in your Ugg boots! And the number of visits, the invitations.....not as often as you might expect. It is a bit like fruit picking and invitations can be far and few between. Sometimes people expect that you must be so booked up they don't bother to ask and Book Week can be feast or complete famine (children's authors rely on Book Week bookings to help boost their usually meagre incomes to survive the year).

Sadly, many potential bookings fall through. Many are offended at what we charge for a school visit or that we would charge at all. I am frequently asked if I could drop in for half an hour to chat to a class, or 'would you please come and work with our budding writers?' or could I do a presentation or judge a competition, 'could I do it for free because there is no money left or allowed in the budget?' Or, 'we can pay your travel fees, just not your author fees.' Sadly, I have to decline. It breaks my heart. My reasons and those of other authors are simple. It is our job, if we do it for free we can't keep doing our job. We have mortgages to pay, groceries to buy, cars to run, debts to pay. Our work often has more overheads than income. If we say yes to one, then how do we say no to others?

When the plumbing breaks down or the computers crash, do we ask the plumber or IT man to come for nothing because it isn't in our budget? Do teachers go to work each day because their passion for teaching and children's learning is pay enough, or do people need to be paid for their skills and talents? Authors are the same, if our skills are valued enough to use to teach and motivate students, it needs to be paid for.
Another fabulous thing about school visits are the letters and responses I receive. When I work in a school I am often inundated with letters from students and teachers alike. When a teacher in tears tells me that a disabled student who wouldn't hold a pencil on their own has just spent the whole day independently drawing pigs after a 'little piggy' workshop, that is priceless. When a non reading student decides it's time to go to the library and find 'their just-right book', what value can we even put on that? What I love about what I do isn't the pay cheque at the end of the day but knowing I have made an impact on children, their desire to read, be creative and learn. If I did it for money, I would have quit a very long time ago. But I still need to be paid, or else I will have no choice in the matter.

Most authors love to visit schools. We are cave dwellers yet we have a huge desire to 'share our world', it is what makes us writers. It is a delight to come out and meet our readers. We love what we do, most of the time, and to encourage others to find their passion and follow their dreams is a joy. 

One of my most amazing memories: visiting a school in Canberra for Book Week. I was facing a sea of bored faces, just in from a cold, muddy lunch hour. Two schools sharing the one community library. They didn't know who I was, why should they, I was just another boring adult who was going to talk on about something boring. When I was introduced as the author who had written Kip, they began to scream, not at me but at Kip, they were so excited, I was amazed. Kip had just won his award and it was my first time out and about reading him to schools. One hundred and fifty screaming fans, Kip was a rock star and I didn't even know it. He was just my pet rooster that inspired me to write a story. In my cave, on my own, he was Kip, in the big wide world, he was Elvis!!

You should hear one hundred and fifty primary school children scream 'Cock-a-doodle-doo! Priceless. I love my job.

How authors feel at the end of book week!!