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

Sunday 26 April 2015

The Benefits of Reading Aloud to Children

I have cherished memories of being a child, snuggling up to a parent and sitting there, staring at a book as it was read aloud to me. The magic of seeing squiggles on a page, pictures changing and every time the page was turned it was different! It was the start of my reading journey and I’m sure those early positive experiences of being read aloud to, were largely responsible for my life-long love of reading. I still read voraciously and my level of contentment correlates to the size of the ‘must read’ stack on my coffee table.

Fast forward, too many years to acknowledge, and reading aloud features again but this time I am reading to a group of twenty-six students in my Grade 5/6 class. I read every day for ten to twenty minutes, as they have their fruit and story break. It is an opportunity for the class to come together and share a reflective moment between blocks of core curriculum activity. I used to read to my Grade 3/4 students and never questioned whether or not it was something they would like to participate in but I was slightly sceptical that older students would view it as a pleasurable experience. I thought they would feel it was babyish to be read to, or that they would have grown out of the habit of being patient as a story was read aloud. My fears dissipated the first time I read aloud from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I looked up and every student was intently watching me and their engagement has continued on a daily basis.

Why do children of all ages enjoy being read aloud to? I believe it takes them back to that safe place from their early childhood. I think they get caught up in the reader’s enthusiasm for the book and it creates a space where everyone is sharing the same experience, as it is revealed paragraph by paragraph.
I believe the benefits of reading aloud to children of all ages are that, as an adult, you are able to model how you make meaning from the text, how you deal with words you are unfamiliar with, how to reread a passage in order to understand the context in which a word is used. An adult can encourage children to use the reading strategies of questioning, making connections, visualising, predicting, inferring and use these to discuss the themes and messages in a book. Being read to also develops a child’s ability to actively listen.

Adults have a responsibility, to a young audience, to lead by example. I demonstrate to my students the importance of reading by showing them the books that I read at home, even if it is to show them the size of James Joyce’s Ulysses to see their jaws drop. I confessed that I had to attend an evening reading group in order to understand it!  I’ll mention when I’m going to my monthly book club. There is a display next to me of other books written by the author of the book I’m currently reading to them. We also complete an Alphabox, where each box in a table is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet and we fill it in with the names of characters, settings, events and highlights, which can later be used as a writing seed. Reading aloud also enables you to discuss character and story development and have the fun of going off on many different topic tangents from your discussions.

Other books I have used as a read aloud are Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind In The Willows; Kate DiCamillo’s, Because of Winn-Dixie; the children’s version of Homer’s, The Odyssey and they loved the gruesome endings to the original folklore by the Brothers Grimm.

The CBCA has wonderful Guides for Parents on how to choose books and read with your child. If you are not always in a position to read aloud at home, then the following websites have videos of book readings: Just Book Read Aloud and Storyline Online [created by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation]. The CBCA also features ReadingTime, which is an excellent website for book reviews, book suggestions, author interviews and other areas of interest to child and adult readers. 

Happy reading and please feel free to share your read aloud book suggestions in our comments section.

Helen Rothwell
Grade 5/6 teacher and Vice President of the CBCA Tasmania

Saturday 18 April 2015

A Time for Reflection and Acceptance

With the focus on the forthcoming ANZAC Day commemorations and the great surge of books being published on Gallipoli and other modern day conflicts I thought I would take a slightly different approach and highlight children’s books that celebrate the differences of the world, the acceptance of diversity and the courage of those who stand up for what is right.

Foremost in this present time, a person that children know about and can relate to, is Malala Yousafzai. Malala’s story is well known and she is an inspiration for standing up for what is right.  The photographic book Every Day is Malala Day, by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, beautifully presents images of girls from around the world expressing their admiration for Malala and their dreams of overcoming barriers to girls’ education. This book also includes the transcript of Malala’s speech in 2013 to the United Nations’ Youth Assembly.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948 to protect the rights of all people from all countries, has been made accessible to children in the book  We Are All Born Free: The Universal Declaration of Rights in Pictures, published in association with Amnesty International. Illustrations are by renowned children’s book illustrators including John Burningham, Polly Dunbar, Deb Gliori and Axel Scheffler. Examples are available to view online at the Guardian. 

For very young children, the classic book Elmer, by David McKee, celebrates diversity and uniqueness with the story of a patchwork elephant finding his place in a grey elephant world. Black Skin, White Cow by Pablo Bernascon, again with an animal theme, is a story of self-acceptance.  From a human perspective the book Same, but Little Bit Diff’rent  by Kylie Dunstan compares the lives and interests of a city child to that of a child living in the top end of Australia.

Readers may be aware of a recent speech by the actress Angelina Jolie at a children’s award ceremony that is making the rounds on social media. Her comments are apt at this time of year when we reflect on past and present conflicts, the need to be advocates for peace and to be accepting of differences.

“Different is good. So don’t fit in, don’t sit still, don’t ever try to be less than what you are. And when someone tells you that you are different, smile, and hold your head up high and be proud.” Angelina Jolie, at Kid's Choice Awards, March 28, 2015, California
Tricia Scott
Teacher Librarian and CBCA Book of the Year Judge for Tasmania

Sunday 12 April 2015

Just for kids

Once, walking home, I saw a boy strolling in the opposite direction while simultaneously reading a copy of the latest novel by Ian McEwan. Thinking it pretty unusual to see someone that engrossed in a book, I stopped the young man and said: “It’s really good then, is it?” The poor guy looked at me like I’d just threatened his life and quickly ran away. Readers can be skittish things, but in the age of digital devices I miss passing people and spying on the words that they are falling into. Just as we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, we probably shouldn’t judge a reader by their reading material--but has it ever stopped us, in either case?

Lemony Snicket once said that we should never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them. While judging for the council and travelling around the state, I certainly had more than one book with me—I’d be falling behind if I left home with anything less than a boxful. But even as someone who publicly loves children’s books—writes his own, for crying out loud—
I found myself very self conscious when I took some of my books out into public. What would people think when I was reading the latest Our Australian Girl at uni on my lunch break? Was it okay to sit in a coffee shop as a twenty-three old man, poring over the pictures of Fearless in Love?

The Guardian published an article recently titled 1Children’s Books Are Never Just For Children.' The article spoke of the care and brilliance of children’s books, wondering why they are never considered for major literary awards like the Man Booker or the Costa (one might also reasonably argue the Miles Franklin or Vogel), even when they have such longevity on our shelves, being visited and re-visited long after their passage from one generation to the next. In my experience, the Children’s Book Council of Australia takes children’s literature unerringly seriously. (Without risking too unsavoury a glimpse behind the curtain, let’s just say that the level of passion in the arguments that take place in the process of the Children’s Book of the Year Awards fall only fractionally short of trial by combat.) We love our children’s books. We live them. But can we get the rest of the world to take them seriously? Or are they just for kids?

Writers like Sonya Hartnett jump with wild abandon in and out of the realms of children and adult literature, sometimes even balancing precariously on the ledge between the two. But is Children of the King really a lesser work of craftsmanship when compared to Golden Boys, merely because of its audience? Does the value of Thursday’s Child change depending upon the design of its cover and the shelf upon which it sits in the library? Children’s books have an innocence and a simplicity to them, but so do many works of art. In many cases they are—regardless of their lack of widespread acknowledgment as such—every bit as deserving of major critical and literary attention as adult books—
sometimes even more so. Graphic novels, Y.A., picture books: all have lived too long in the shadow of the things that we feel are ‘appropriate’ adult reading. Children’s books and their ghettoised kin should be considered thoughtfully by the main panel on ABC’s The Book Club. They should be garnering major adult literary awards. They should be read in coffee shops and in universities—both outside and inside the classroom. If we want to stroll down the street reading them, we shouldn’t feel self-conscious about doing so. (Watch for traffic, please.) Why? Because children’s books matter. They’ve always mattered.

Now it’s time to acknowledge them.

Lyndon Riggall
(& from the editor [drumroll])
Category winner of The Coffee Club Arts and Fashion Award in the Southern Cross Young Achiever of the Year 2015. Read about these prestigious awards in the Tasmanian Premier's announcement.

Sunday 5 April 2015

CBCA Reading Time

Are you are great reader of blogs and book reviews? Do you use these tools to help choose the books you want to read?
I certainly do and one of my favourites is Reading Time. For the past 12 months or so, Reading Time has been freely available online, replacing the long-running print version which was so widely respected as a review tool for (mainly) Australian books. The online version is no different, so if you haven’t already subscribed, do yourself a favour and do it today. All you need is your email address and you will receive regular postings.  If you want to check what’s been recently reviewed there are several paths which can be followed to find your favourite category.

Here are a few of my recent readings, not all of them Australian. I have chosen ones which were not reviewed in Reading Time – there’s no point in duplicating such a great resource. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julia Berry
Set in the Victorian period, the seven students at St Ethelreda’s School for Girls find themselves in a race against time when their headmistress and her brother are poisoned at the lunch table. None of the girls wants to return home, so with deception, farcical situations and amazing coincidences, they manage to conceal the event from the village before identifying the killer. Good characterisation and lots of laughs, both out loud and internal smirks. I enjoyed this book, though I think perhaps it is a book for adults rather than its target audience of middle school.

The three bears … sort of
by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Another story about the three bears? Well, yes. But not quite as traditionally told. This time there is an extra voice: a questioning one who keeps asking how and why things happened. And on the way, the reader learns a lot more about the habits of bears as well as developing visual perception both within the book itself and in the world at large. It was great and I look forward to finding more titles by this New Zealand combination. 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
This is a dual narrative: one thread is Vivian’s and the other is Molly’s. Vivian’s story is based on factual events. She, like lots of other children at the time, was an orphan sent from New York by train to be adopted by a family in the mid-west of the USA.  Molly is a modern recalcitrant teenager, doing community service rather than detention, helping clean up Vivian’s attic and the two find that they have more in common than their age differences would suggest. The novel is at times over-written, which does it a disservice, but the subject matter keeps the book on track.

Nona and Me by Clare Atkins
Rosie and Nona are ‘sisters’ because of their long-standing family connections despite their ethnic differences. They are inseparable till Nona moves away when the girls are 9. When she returns, years later, life is no longer the same.  Rosie is focussed on the town, her boyfriend and peer pressures intrude. She sees all the faults of her home environment in Yirrkala and has to make a choice between her ties to her community and her love for Nick. Why can’t she have both? This is a great discussion book with strong themes of racism, friendship, peer pressure and family/kinship/community.

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader