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

Sunday 28 September 2014

School Days

 Despite frequent comments from students that they don’t “like” school, many do like books set in schools and even more so if they are part of a series.

Some of my favourite school based reads include Looking for Alaska (John Green), Lev Grossman’s The Magician, Maureen Johnston’s The Name of the Star, and Maggie Stievfater's Ravens Cycle series. My recent reading includes these newer school based books.

Esme Kerr The Glass Bird Girl (Knight Haddon series) Chicken House

This eloquent book has an old fashioned feel to it which will appeal to girls aged 9+ who like stories where school girls are school girls and where adults can be mysterious and duplicitous.  Her blind grandmother can no longer look after the orphaned Edie.  Instead Edie is sent by her awful uncle to Knight's Haddon School to keep an eye on Anastasia. The Russian princess is the daughter of one of the uncle’s clients.  Mysterious things are happening and someone is trying to undermine Anastasia. 

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Iron Trial (Magisterium Series) Random House

This fantasy (as do many fantasies set in schools) bears similarities to the Harry Potter series but ignore those initial doubts as the twists and turns will leave readers anxious for the next instalment.  Alastair Hunt tells his son, twelve-year-old Callum, to fail the selection tests for the Magisterium, a training school for mages. But Master Rufus chooses Callum anyway; if he cannot learn to contain his magic within the first year, the magic will be bound.

Pip Harry Head of the River UQP
The story is told alternately by brother/sister twins - both in the school’s firsts rowing team. Pip Harry describes the anxiety caused by parental expectations very well. Someone is bankrolling the use of steroids to ensure the rowing team wins. Cris, the brother, takes the drugs and is therefore a cheat, but Cris is always there to support his sister. Leni, on the other hand, is not so likeable; she is determined to be the stroke and captain, yet has to learn how to be part of the team.

Any suggestions for recent school stories?

Nella Pickup

Sunday 21 September 2014

The Madi projects

Vervet monkeys

At the launch
In 2011 a Madi (South Sudanese) colleague, Sarafino Enadio, and I were sharing office space. I was aware he had been in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and had applied to come to Australia because it was too dangerous for him to return to Sudan.  In speaking of his childhood Sarafino explained that the children were responsible for guarding the crops in their families’ garden plots.  It was such a great story I suggested we write a bilingual picture book. I’d had some experience of creating bilingual texts when I was publishing manager of IAD Press in Alice Springs and was already committed to the idea of cultural maintenance and cross-cultural collaborative writing.  The aim of the book would be to show Madi children what life had been like for their parents in Sudan, to introduce some Ma’di language into texts Madi children could share with Australian children, and to send copies of a predominantly English-language book to school children in the Madi homelands.  English is now the language of education in the new republic but most of the extant educational material is in Arabic.

So the aims were cultural maintenance; celebrating Sudanese culture, giving Madi children here pride and visibility, helping to promote cultural interchange with their Australian classmates, and actively assisting Madi families in South Sudan to get an education.

When I Was a Boy in Sudan, based on Sarafino’s narratives, was the first book.  We quickly decided, on the basis of gender equity, that there should be a companion volume, When I Was a Girl in Sudan. The narrator of the girls’ book was Paskalina Eiyo, one of the few Madi elders in Hobart - a wonderful story teller, dancer and singer who told stories enthusiastically, in English at times but mostly in Ma’di.  Sarafino translated them for me. 

We received an initial grant from the Australia Council to create the ms of the first book.  Using the tape transcripts of Sarafino’s and Paskalina’s narratives, three Tasmanian writers, Julie Hunt, Anne Morgan and I, created the print texts. 

We decided to ask Madi children in Hobart to create the illustrations.  To that end we held a workshop with the Madi community.  They enjoyed the workshop immensely and Sarafino and I conducted a follow-up illustration workshop with Madi girls, at the conclusion of which we realised that the Madi children were unable to create authentic illustrations because most of them had never seen their homeland!  We then invited professional children’s illustrator Gay McKinnon to create the pictures.  At her request professional book designer Julie Hawkins donated her time and skills to design both books. 

I went to Melbourne to speak with Allen & Unwin editors, who assured me the picture books were not a commercial publishing prospect, and I also visited the Victorian Education Department’s multicultural materials resource centre in Carlton to look at similar books and to discuss publishing with them.  Chris Gallagher, Tasmanian Writers’ Centre (TWC) director, also researched publishing possibilities.  Finally we decided TWC would seek funding to publish the books, under the imprint Anzoa Books. (Anzoa in Ma’di means joy.)

The issue of creating authentic illustrations for the picture books, and ensuring the narrative in the novel is true to life, given that the writers and illustrators had never set foot in Sudan, became more pressing as we continued.  In the end I decided it was necessary for me to go to South Sudan, on a self-funded research trip.  Sarafino agreed to accompany me, despite his misgivings about returning to face traumatic memories.  On the positive side, it was a chance for him to see family from whom he had been separated more than twenty years earlier.  It was a challenging trip, and both financially and emotionally taxing, but it enabled us to complete the projects successfully and authentically.  For Sarafino it was particularly confronting and traumatic as we revisited war-torn places, but emotionally gratifying for him to be reunited with family.

TWC gained further grants for publication, printing and distribution of the picture book project in 2012 and 2013, from William Booth Foundation, Tas Regional Arts and the Tasmanian Community Fund.  Our projects, which were initiated by an interest in social justice and with the goal of creating educational tools and materials, have also, we feel, created books with strong artistic values and depth and value as Tasmanian literature.

Paskalina dancing

Fetching water in the morning

Terry Whitebeach

Saturday 13 September 2014

Books and a jigsaw

I recently completed a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for the first time in years. I'd been thinking about doing one for quite some time and was browsing the various jigsaws in a hobby shop when I came across this one.

It’s called The Bizarre Bookshop, a title which immediately drew me to it. And as you can see from the picture, it is a collection of shelves that holds books of all shapes, colours and sizes as well as plants, animals and various collectables.

But what make this bookshop really bizarre are the titles of the books. You see, each of the books 'has been inspired by a famous novel but has been given a curious twist'. And what fun it is!

From Lord of the Fries to Lady Chatterley's Plover and Anthony and Carbon Paper to 20,000 Leeks under the Sea and The Gloves of Navarone to The French Lieutenant's Legume I had so much fun putting it together that it has spurred me on to even bigger and more challenging jigsaws.

But it wasn't until I opened the box and took out the pieces of this jigsaw (which is manufactured overseas and sold in Europe, the UK and the USA) that I realised this incredible drawing was the work of our very own multi-talented children's book illustrator Colin Thompson. What an added bonus and what an imagination he has!

So, whilst I'm awaiting my next challenge I'll be attempting to think up some more alternative titles to well-known novels including those for children and young adults.

Why don't you try it too?

Penny Garnsworthy

Monday 8 September 2014

The Joy of Listening

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to hear Julie Hunt read aloud her award winning picture book The Coat, illustrated by fellow Tasmanian Ron Brooks, to a group of school children.  Julie introduced her story and the writing process by reflecting on her childhood and inspirations.  The reading of the story was accompanied by a talented performer embracing the role of the coat complete with piano accordion.  The children and I were enthralled and it reminded me of how much we all enjoy listening to a story read well aloud.

As part of the recent Book Week celebrations I read aloud to my students a variety of books:  shortlisted titles, new releases and old favourites.  Some of the following you may wish to seek out and share.

A beautifully illustrated picture book enjoyed by older children is Lindbergh: the Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlman.  Inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s solo transatlantic flight in his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis”, the story is of a mouse needing to escape from his current home in Hamburg to the refuge of America by means of a flying machine.

An old favourite that I found on my bookshelf that all children love is the classic A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer.

Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman is also a wonderful book to read aloud as children enjoy the rhythmic flow of the words and the bright illustrations of a young girl’s imaginative play and the mess it makes in her room.  Over repeated readings you will know the book off by heart! “Jillian, Jillian, Jillian Jiggs it looks like your room has been lived in by pigs.”


Tricia Scott

Monday 1 September 2014

Holding High The Readers’ Cup

This is, if I am counting correctly, my eighth year helping out with the Readers’ Cup. Every time I am reminded how much I love it. Of course there is a lot to admire about the competition – the way it fosters a healthy excitement in literature that turns it into a collaborative experience, or the way it encourages healthy competition between schools and a sense of respect for other competitors. I’ve been thinking a little bit more about this though, and I think these aren’t even the greatest strength of the competition. For those with only a passing familiarity with R.C., each team is given a reading list of Australian and International books that range from picture books to non-fiction to novels, and are expected to show up on the day of the competition with a comprehensive knowledge of the set texts, as well as a rehearsed performance or presentation as a creative response to them. Their final result is a combination of the scores they attain in these two sections. It’s a simple enough conceit, though a lot of work goes into it behind the scenes.

The real value of the competition however – as I see it, anyway – is this: to win, it is not enough to simply read the books. The questions are fiendishly difficult at times, such as “How many rabbits are in the landscape picture that forms the endpapers?” or “What’s the colour of the tennis racquet that Jordan hides behind the wardrobe?” I have read many of these books, but I could not for the life of me answer many of these questions. Similarly, the creative challenge requires students to carefully re-imagine or analyse their chosen texts, with many choosing to bring to life moments absent from the published narrative, or to collide the worlds of two stories together (a notable example from this year’s primary competition was the “Switch-Witch,” who gleefully cackled as she nabbed the characters from one story to put them in the world of another, just to see what would happen). It is always a delight to see just how astonishingly hard the students have worked at pulling these stories apart.

Which leads me to my point. The Reader’s Cup encourages deep reading. In a world where the printed word is fast becoming another disposable commodity that can be churned through and discarded, the contestants in R.C. must engage with their prescribed books in a way that perhaps seems alien to them in much of their reading outside of the competition: they have to study them, and go a bit beyond what would be expected for their English classes, too. They have to know the characters inside out—know what they would say, do, or be in different situations. They have to know the smaller details of the story, spotting the things that only the author would usually notice. They have to live within the novels, not just consume them. From my discussions with them it’s clear that most of these kids will remember the books that they worked on as favourites for years to come, and I think that the relationship that the competition fosters with the printed word is really special.

For a little while, books are more than books. As lovers of reading, isn’t that all we could hope for?

Lyndon Riggall