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

Saturday 25 July 2015

Creating Stories with Preps

Tasmanian author Johanna Baker-Dowdell visits her son's classroom and inspires and leads the students into creating a wonderful story about a tiger and a puppet.

As a child, do you remember how thrilling it was to meet an adult whose job was something really special, like a singer, an artist or TV star?

When my youngest son, Ethan, started Prep this year he excitedly told me his class would focus on a specific author every few weeks. Everything excites him about school (which is great), but the idea of finding out more about an author really delighted him. I chuckled to myself and said, “I’m an author too.” He said, “I know mum. Why don’t you come to my class and talk to us?”

I wasn’t sure whether the classroom of five- and six-year-olds would be interested in hearing about how I wrote a business book, but I did think they would like to hear about how a story comes together. And so did their teacher.

Not quite sure how I was going to talk about storytelling with this group of 25-odd kids, I fell back on a trusted activity both my sons have enjoyed over the years and one I’ve started using myself when writing creatively – writing prompts.

I enlisted Ethan’s help and together we collected a box full of interesting prompts to kick-start even the most stubborn creative streak. Our box of goodies included: a flower, an autumn leaf, an Indian tiger puppet, a small wooden spoon, a ribbon, a pair of blue sunglasses, a gum nut, a round stone and a jigsaw puzzle piece.

Armed with my prompts, some butcher’s paper and coloured pens I shared the items with the class and we talked about how we could use what was in the box to create a story. Before long we had a central character (Rosie the tiger) and had filled three pages of paper with her story. I hadn’t planned on using all the items as prompts, but the kids were so excited and their ideas flowed so freely that we just kept going until every item had played a role in Rosie’s story.

The class was so enthusiastic that we extended the storytelling session. I placed a few items from the box on each group of desks and every child wrote their own story using these as prompts. Some used the characters we had created together and others started fresh with new characters, but every child created an individual story. A class full of engaged children all scribbling with their pencils on blank paper to create something unique was an honour to witness.

Their enthusiasm was contagious and I came back to my office to type up their class story, laying it out so each page could be accompanied with a picture. Within days Ethan proudly showed me the illustrated and bound story displayed in his classroom. You can read the text of the story online. 

Since then I’ve spoken with several of Ethan’s classmates at school pick up about the stories they have written. And one wants to be a Star Wars author when he grows up! Parents also told me how excited their children were to write a story together, so I’m chalking that up as an inspiring experience – for all of us.

Johanna Baker-Dowdell
Freelance journalist and author of the book Business & Baby on Board.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Using Magazines to Engage Reluctant Readers

This week, Helen Rothwell discusses her journey to engage the reluctant readers in her class.

My upper primary class has 20 minutes of daily designated reading time. We mix it up with individual reading time, reading to and with a buddy, pairing with an early childhood class and reading in small groups from a set text. Now my students are engaged in their reading, for most of the time, but it did not happen instantly. It took time for me to work on engaging my small number of reluctant readers.

My reluctant readers were students who, for a variety of reasons, did not find reading an activity that was enjoyable or had value for them. This may be because they do not have an atmosphere at home where they see adults reading, are not exposed to a variety of reading material outside school or they have the irresistible lure of computer games and other activities to keep them occupied. Some students think that reading happens at school and once they are outside school their time is their own and reading is an activity that is intrinsically linked to working at school.

A child can be a reluctant reader regardless of their proficiency as a reader. I have had students who are assessed as an independent reader, a goal many have from a young age. It is like the Holy Grail of reading ability – to be an independent reader; someone who is at level 30+. Of course, a reading level is just a ‘marker’. The important information gleaned from testing is the fluency, inferential and summarising skills, understanding of vocabulary and self-awareness they have stopped making meaning from the text. The problem with students knowing their reading level is that once they reach the classification of being independent they feel the reading journey has finished.

Reluctant readers can also be the students who are behind their peers in reading ability and keenly feel they are separate; that they are lacking and this affects their confidence to try to read books that will extend their skills. They develop a mindset of not being good enough: “What’s the point in trying when I can’t read a chapter book?” It is difficult to change this mindset.

To address this issue, my class has guided reading time where I work with small groups on the features of non-fiction texts. I explain that a non-fiction text is about five levels higher than its fiction equivalent because of the specific vocabulary that is used. One of the guided reading rotations is buddy reading a science, geography or history book.

Having a variety of texts is important but so is the way the material is presented. Some students prefer reading from an iPad or on the computer. Picture books are wonderful for all ages, not just the younger readers. The Children’s Book Council has helped to demystify the picture book as being aimed at young readers, making the genre accessible and attractive to older readers too. So trying all of the above my number of reluctant readers diminished to only two students. Hmm, so what to do now?

MAGAZINES! I bought issues of ‘HistoriCool’ and the CSIRO magazine ‘Scientriffic’. I sat with my reluctant readers and we flicked through the magazines, pointing out interesting pictures or funny captions, familiar diagrams and our own text-to-self experiences from our connection with snippets in the magazines. Sometimes the text was too difficult, sometimes too technical but both magazines have cartoons, puzzles, games and quizzes to balance the more serious articles. Reluctant reader count = zero!

So, please give serious consideration to having a magazine subscription for your library or classroom and if you already have these to hand, an occasional reminder to students that they are available. As well as engaging the reluctant reader through their curiosity, it is rewarding for all parties when they willingly go to pick up a text and read.

Helen Rothwell is a grade 5/6 teacher in a government school. 

Monday 13 July 2015

Busman’s Holiday Reading

Attending conference/literary events (in this case Reading Matters) is one of the best incentives to reduce my TBR pile. 

Sally Garner is prolific yet each book is in a different style or genre. Her newest YA book since the dystopian Maggot Moon; The Door That Led to Where, is a blend of mystery, historical fiction, time travel and modern gritty contemporary life. AJ is a lost, aimless yet intelligent, school leaver whose friendship with his mates Slim and Leon sustain him when his mother rejects him.
Jared Thomas’s Calypso Summer had sat on my shelf for so long, it’s sun damaged. The novel starts slowly. Calypso is a cricket loving young Nukunu man masquerading as a Rastafarian who gradually comes to terms with his identity and his culture.

In Erin Gough’s Flywheel, 17 year old Delilah runs her father’s cafĂ© while he is overseas. She loves the flamenco dancer in the restaurant across the road, has a wonderful platonic relationship with the wealthy romantic Charlie and has a misunderstanding with her best friend Lauren.

In Sara Farizan’s
If You Could Be Mine, we meet Sahar, an intelligent and ambitious teenager in love with her best friend Nasrin. Being gay is illegal in Iran. The Iranian government sees transgender people as a mistake made by God and so government sponsored gender reassignment surgery is common. I found the two girls totally unlikeable yet somehow Farizan made me want to read more of her work.

Other Reading Matters highlights include hearing about the interactive making of the wonderful TV series Nowhere Boys (watch the series trailer) and talking to Claire Saxby, whose new book My Name is Lizzie Flynn: A Story of the Rajah Quilt should be in every Tasmanian library. 

Evocatively illustrated by Lizzy Newcomb, the Rajah Quilt was made by some of the women convicts aboard the convict ship Rajah which arrived in Hobart on 19 July 1841. The quilt was presented to Lady Franklin the governor's wife. The quilt was lost for many years and is now housed at the National Gallery of Australia. This wonderful book recounts an important story in Tasmania's history. More importantly we see a glimpse into the lives of women and children convicts.

On another leg of my holiday I visited the Colin Thiele exhibition at the Lu Rees Archives and accompanying lecture 'Colin Thiele: His Work and Legacy'. A video recording can be accessed and viewed on the Lu Rees website.

Nella Pickup
Reader and former librarian

(Editor's note: Apologies for inconsistent layout - no solution can be found!)

Sunday 5 July 2015

Children’s books: Bridges for peace

It was Jella Lepman who first used the phrase a bridge of children’s books. She was working with children in war-destroyed Germany, and appealed to other countries to send donations of their best books. The German children needed these imported books in the 1940s, because recently they had been fed only Nazi propaganda. Jella Lepman realised the books from other countries were forming bridges that linked their lives with those in other lands. Lepman’s work resulted in the foundation of IBBY (the International Board on Books for the Young), which flourishes today in more than seventy countries.

How do these book-bridges build foundations for peace? Readers who experience a wide and deep range of stories develop empathy – the ability to live for a while in another’s skin. One of the most valuable and practical ways to help a child become empathetic is through hearing and reading stories about diverse lives.

Babies and toddlers need books in which they recognise children similar to themselves, preferably in the child’s mother tongue. Then, gradually, books can expand the lives of their readers. Adults with influence—parents, teachers, librarians – can and should introduce books set in varied societies, in other places and times. It may be a matter of meeting Indigenous Australian lives in books, such as the outstanding picture books When I Was Little Like You by Mary Malbunka, and Remembering Lionsville by Bronwyn Bancroft; or in novels such as Crow Country by Kate Constable and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins. And books transport us to places as diverse as Morocco in Jeannie Baker’s beautiful Mirror; or Ghana in the easy-to-read adventure Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu.

There are some excellent books about the now too-common predicament of people forced to become refugees. Australian picture books too good to miss on this topic include Ziba Came on a Boat by Lofthouse and Ingpen; Shaun Tan’s now-classic The Arrival; and the breathtaking newly-published Flight by Wheatley and Greder. My Two Blankets by Kobald and Blackwood depicts the life of a girl who has reached a country like Australia and must learn a new language, a new way of living. And no child should miss Bob Graham’s masterpiece about multicultural community-building, A Bus Called Heaven.

Another kind of ‘otherness’ that is represented sensitively in children’s books today is that of disability. Examples are Two Mates by Melanie Prewett and Maggie Prewett; and Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy (for primary age), and Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth (Young Adult).

And here in our Anglophone nation we can neglect the importance of translated books, ranging from the imaginative Finnish world of the Moomins to Lindelauf’s Nine Open Arms, a warm, eccentric family story from the Netherlands.

Books can make a difference in dispelling prejudice and building community: not with role models and literal recipes, not with noble messages about the human family, but with enthralling stories that make us imagine the lives of others. A good story lets you know people as individuals in all their particularity and conflict; and once you see someone as a person—flawed, complex, striving —then you've reached beyond stereotype (Rochman, 1993, p. 19).
There are many other wonderful books for all ages that help us ‘imagine the lives of others.’ If we work at introducing the best books to young people, we are working to build bridges for peace.

Rochman, H. 1993.
Against borders: Promoting books for a multicultural world American Library Association.

Dr Robin Morrow AM
National President of IBBY Australia, Robin recently delivered the inaugural 'Book Links Lecture' in the Queensland State Library, entitled Reading the wider world: Books as bridges for young readers. Here she argues that book-bridges can help build peace. A fitting springboard to engage with the Community Festival for Peace this week in northern Tasmania.