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

Saturday 30 April 2016

An Interesting and Fun Book for Teachers and Students

Helen Rothwell provides a glimpse into a classroom that is enriched through opportunities to engage with texts – in this case a wonderful visual spread of world history.

As an upper primary teacher, I’m always on the lookout for books that captivate students and grab my attention as well. Last year’s release by Dorling Kindersley, What Happened When in the World: History as You’ve Never Seen it Before! is one such book.

This book is an historical atlas detailing historical events that impacted upon the world and shaped it as we know it today. An intriguing blend of geography and history. There are 60 A3 coloured maps grouped into the Ancient World, Medieval World, Modern World and the 20th & 21st Centuries.
-  Ancient World maps: e.g., The Ice Age, Cave Art, The First Cities, The Origins of Writing, Pacific Settlers, Ancient Inventions and Wonders.
-  Medieval World maps: e.g., The Silk Road, Vikings, The Black Death, China’s Golden Age, Medieval Inventions.
-  Modern World maps: e.g., The Age of Exploration, Slavery, Revolutions, Gold Rushes, The Age of Steam, Europe’s Empires, Modern Inventions.
-  20th & 21st Century maps: The Race to the South Pole, The Story of Flight, The Space Age, The Internet, The Rise of China.

I have a reading zone in my classroom and have this book displayed on a table next to where I read my daily read aloud book to students. I’m currently reading the fabulous I Wonder by R. J. Palacio but we always end our sessions with a quick dive into our history atlas and invariably have a ten minute discussion on a varied range of topics.

I’ve seen students go to our caf√© laptops (they stand at the laptop bench to quickly look up something on the internet rather than sitting down for a lengthy session) to quickly check their thinking or I’ve heard students talking amongst themselves, sometimes completely random comments that have been ignited by seeing a map. For example, we were looking at the map The Age of Exploration and later that day I heard a student commenting to another that they thought it was interesting that so many explorers seemed to be Spanish and hadn’t it been the Dutch and the East India Company that had been the big explorers! Critical thinking at its best.

Another benefit is you can’t over expose students to the layout of the continents, migration and the never-ending curiosity and bravery of individuals and peoples. A pictorial stimulus has begun many a discussion on how many of the explorations started because of societal needs, politics, a monarch’s greed or one person asking ‘why not’ and then how the effects of those historical events have shaped our lives. You can 'look inside' the book to view some of these fascinating spreads of history.

Helen Rothwell
CBCA Eve Pownall Book of the Year Judge

Saturday 23 April 2016

The Challenges of Counting Sheep!

Christina Booth shares the long and convoluted processes of bringing the germ of an idea into fruition as she reflects on her latest project: Too Many Sheep.

The creation of the story for a picture book can start in many ways. The ideas often flash in front of you – sparked by a simple word or action, watching the play of children, hearing a news item, a dream, the list is endless. When the story comes, it comes in the form of an un-germinated seed, full of potential. You imagine how the story 'plant' will look. Is it the right seed to match the image in your head or will it be something different? Will it grow and bloom into something greater than you?

Often I have what I consider a great idea and I try to put it onto paper and it lets me down. Quite often, it is never revisited – I can't find the right voice or breathe life into the idea. It is put away, left alone, maybe to be revisited at a later stage. Often I find that if the idea starts with what I consider a strong title for a book, it is usually doomed to die or be filed away in the revisit drawer. I think it has something to do with creating a barrier, restricting yourself to a very specific vision of the story you are trying to grow and not allowing it to grow in the direction or the way it naturally wants to go. When a story doesn't have a title first, I find it much easier to let it go and develop into its own entity.

This is how my picture book, Too Many Sheep began, with a great title that popped into my head while I illustrated another book. With it came an image:  lots and lots of sheep filling up a house, sheep bums and heads, legs and arms bulging out of windows, doors and chimneys until everything explodes and sheep are floating through the air. As with all of my stories, the idea is accompanied with a question or problem to solve: what happens if you can't sleep and you count sheep but they don't disappear and fill up the house? The title of the story, yet unwritten was 'How to Count Sheep'.  This title was written down and pinned to my notice board for nearly two years. When it came time to write it, it didn't gain momentum and so the idea remained a good title without a story hanging in my studio.

In 2014, Tania McCartney, co-creator of This is Captain Cook (and author of many other wonderful books) started the on-line 52 Week Illustration Challenge . Initially envisioned as a challenge to help her develop her skills as an illustrator, Tania invited a few friends to join her. Today, in 2016, the challenge has over 4000 participants and has members contributing, including children, from across the globe.  I was tempted but first thought it might not be fair if a professional illustrator joined in, would it seem like showing off? But my teacher instincts kicked in and I decided to have a go, to encourage others but also to set myself the challenge of creating all of my art (one a week to a set theme) digitally. I had the gear, the software, but had had no time to learn how to use it beyond the basics.

One of the weeks was Book Cover. I have designed a few over the years so I looked for a new challenge: a book without a story. I chose 'How to Count Sheep'.  I still loved the title, too much it seemed, and didn't want to 'give it away', so I changed the title and created a cover for a book called 'Too Many Sheep'. It was a hit, floating animated sheep looking out at the audience. The response was quite interesting. Along with the positive comments about the art were requests to read the story. They had been  'invited' into the book, but I didn't have a story to share. Time to write it, again.

The story was written and edited, just as all stories are. When it was what I considered ready, I read it out loud to my husband who found it hilarious which worried me because he wasn't laughing where I thought it was meant to be funny. He told me I couldn't write a book like that for children, he said it would never be published. He was right and I was shocked. It is a book for young children, about counting sheep to go to sleep, so, I had entered my naive and innocent five year old self to write the story. You can't reference sleeping with sheep in a children's book (or probably any book for that matter). It was a disaster (but very funny for all the wrong reasons). After another edit, it was ready. I wanted to put a note on the top: All references to sleeping with sheep now removed!

This time, without the restrictions of images and a definitive title, I wrote the story. It came naturally and it was exciting. It looked nothing like the idea I had in my head. The seed shot up and out, it grew strong and it became a plant I had never imagined, it was, as it always is, very exciting to experience.
I was attending the Society of Children's Book writers and Illustrators conference in Sydney and so created a dummy of the book, all digitally drawn, to display in my portfolio. Upon showing it to the publisher from Scholastic, she insisted it was hers and Too Many Sheep was underway as a book.

Too Many Sheep, published by Scholastic and available for viewing by the public on May the 1st, 2016, is my first completely digitally illustrated book. It was a long and curvy learning experience but I have learnt so much creating this book. I hope you get a chance to read it and laugh in all the right places, perhaps you will smile when you try to work out where the sleeping references used to be. You can view the trailer on my website, http://www.christinabooth.com/, and you are most welcome to join us at celebrations of its release in Launceston on the 1st of May at Petrarch's Bookstore, or in Hobart at Fullers Bookstore on the 15th of May, and (TBC) in Ulverstone on May 28th.

There will also be some Melbourne events so watch out on my web page and Face Book page for those as well.

And if you can't sleep, don't count sheep!!

Christina Booth
Children's author and illustrator.

Editor’s note: Make sure you visit Christina’s website and watch the booktrailer for Too Many Sheep – it is a work of art and creativity in its own right!

Saturday 16 April 2016

Writing Ice Age

Ever wonder where the inspiration behind the Ice Age movies came from? Penny shares some behind the scenes insights that celebrates the ingenuity of children!

Last year I was asked to submit ideas for an article on the theme Prehistoric Times. I had just seen a fabulous documentary on Ice Age Mammals so I chose that subject and after some initial research decided to write about the Woolly Mammoth, the Sabre-toothed Tiger and the Sloth. My editor was thrilled as the 5th Ice Age movie was due out mid 2016. And I was embarrassed to admit I had never seen the movies. So I borrowed them all and watched them in quick succession. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the three mammals I had chosen to write about were, in fact, the stars of the movies!

As in books, movies start with an idea and usually a writer, or group of writers, pitches that initial idea. Ice Age was no different. For the first movie, 20th Century Fox asked writers to pitch on just the two words: Ice Age and American writer Michael J Wilson came up with the winning idea. But he had help and it wasn't from a group of other writers either.

Wilson's three year old daughter Flora came up with a character that was a combination of a squirrel and a rat - called Scrat.

Wilson: 'What does Scrat want?'
Flora: 'Dad. Hello? Scrat wants the acorn.'
Wilson: 'Wow! So simple. I have been forever in Flora's debt and creative shadow...'

But the help didn't stop there. At the time Wilson was telling stories in Flora's class each week, so as he was writing the Ice Age script he pitched his ideas and characters and the class helped him write them.

Wilson: 'One day I was stumped. 'What does Diego want?' I asked the class. (Diego is the saber-tooth tiger).
One kid named Willie raised his hand. 'Diego wants to EAT the baby!' he proclaimed loudly.
Thus began the thread behind the story of Diego, and how he had a secret agenda, and was leading Manfred (the mammoth) and Sid (the sloth) and Roshan (the baby) into a trap!'

Wilson even admits he used to follow Willie to his mother's car after school asking him question after question about his script. 'I thought he was a genius,' says Wilson.

At one point Wilson had a fight with the studio over the demise of Roshan's mother. He wanted her to die in Act 1 and the studio didn't. However, he eventually won.

Wilson: I am so glad I won this fight! Studios are so afraid of scaring little kids. When I was four, I saw The Wizard of Oz. It was terrifying! I loved it! Can you imagine The Wizard of Oz without those flying monkeys? Or without the Wicked Witch trying to kill Dorothy?'

And just like L Frank Baum's masterpiece, Ice Age will be forever loved... and not just by kids.


Penny Garnsworthy
Freelance Writer

Editor's note: Check out the website to support the Ice Age movies with a short for the new release and some fun games for the young at heart.

Sunday 10 April 2016

James Moloney: An Appreciation

A further treat for those who did not make it to the 2016 Tamar Valley Writers' Festival as Lyndon Riggall shares some wonderful experiences and reflects on the role of literature and authors throughout our lives.

Following on from Johanna's post to this blog a few weeks ago about her session with Justin D'Ath, I also wanted to offer some thoughts on a writer I encountered at the wonderful Tamar Valley Writers' Festival. The particular panel I was attending at the time was on the subject of Young Adult literature and included Erin Gough (The Flywheel) and Alice Pung (Laurinda), as well as James Moloney. Erin and Alice were wonderful speakers who are making some fantastic contributions to our literary landscape (go get their books!), but there is a reason I would like to talk about James Moloney as my focus.

Even after years surrounding myself with the industry in a number of different ways, moments still take me by surprise. It wasn't until James Moloney was there, in front of me, in person, that I realised what a constant figure he has been in my childhood. It starts in Grade 3 with Swashbuckler, and Buzzard Breath and Brains. Then in high school we move through most of his work across the grades – Dougy, Gracey, A Bridge to Wiseman's Cove, The Book of Lies and Touch Me. I can remember in Grade 10 when Lost Property won the Book of the Year for Older Readers. It was a matter of some debate across the school; everyone, after all, has their favourites. But there was no question for me. Of course it won, I remember thinking, it was the best.

What startled me most about James in person, however, was his very evident energy. After a long and varied career writing for all ages he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. He is as excited about his published work as he could ever have been expected to be when it first came out years ago, and he appears to have plenty more stories in him. This is why we need festivals like the Tamar Valley's. They remind us that authors are people too – wonderful people that we join in the act of storytelling with if only we have enough grit about us. I left thoroughly appreciative of the single man that links a chain of literature through my years of schooling, and fired up to get writing. Here's hoping I have a lifetime of stories in me – and, for that matter, that James Moloney has plenty left in him, too.

Lyndon Riggall

Saturday 2 April 2016

Books from Canada

I am going to follow on from Karen McPherson’s blog of several weeks ago – For the Love of Picture Books – as my favourite genre is also picture books. But I am coming from a slightly different perspective. As we head towards the announcement of the CBCA 2016 Notables Books (April 18), and then the Short List (May 20), for this blog I am going to focus on books published in Canada and some of them short-listed for various Canadian children’s book awards.
Yes. I am back in Canada with my grandson. We have always enjoyed sharing picture books, and though he is nearly 8, this is still a delight for us both, whether I am actually in the room with him (as now) or communicating via Skype. We are now reading chapter books together too, but they are not going to come into this blog’s discussion. I have found all these books through the local library where the picture book collection is current and wide-ranging with an unexpectedly good number of Australian authors too. We’ve had fun sharing and discussing these books and others which I borrowed before choosing the ones to write about.
The following are some of the ones that I have enjoyed.

Nancy Knows by CybeleYoung. Winner of the Marilyn Baillie picture book award in 2015
 Nancy knows that she has forgotten something, but what can it be? As the reader turns the pages, all sorts of possibilities are offered: things all the same colour or shape; things she remembers with her stomach, ears or heart; organised or jumbled things. And so it goes on until Nancy stops thinking and finally remembers. The illustrations are great: lots of white space, objects made from intricate paper folding or plastic. As an adult reader I love the fact that Nancy is an elephant, drawn with a minimum of lines, and what has she forgotten? Meeting Oscar in the park.

From There to Here by Lauren Croza and Matt James. Finalist for Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award Several years ago I reviewed I Know Here, a child’s story of her Saskatchewan home before she has to move. This is the sequel: the child’s perceptions after the move. There are comparisons of two vastly differing locations expressing the challenges of change and adapting to the new but also the excitement of finding the differences while also reminiscing on the former home. A great way to help children adapt to moving house. Lots of colour and movement in the illustrations and no two pages look alike.

Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino and illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant. Finalist for Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
Morris loves dressing up, especially in the tangerine dress, which reminds him of his family’s hair colour. But other kids in the class don’t agree with his clothes choice and exclude him from activities. Morris perseveres until his behaviour persuades everyone that he is the important one, not what he’s wearing. A gentle way of starting discussions about identity and acceptance.

L’Autobus by Marianne Dubuc. Finalist for the TD de litt√©rature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse
Though this book is in French, it is the delightful story of a child taking her first solo bus ride. She knows how many stops before she has to get off, but there is so much happening on board that she loses track. But it doesn’t matter because she recognises the locality when she gets near her grandmother’s house. The book format is landscape: perfect for portraying the length of the bus and the many passengers, all of whom are animals. I loved it.

I have just discovered the author/illustrator Ashley Spires. I have found her illustrations to be clear, spaced beautifully on the page, with details but not overwhelming. My favourite of all the ones I have read this trip is Over-Scheduled Andrew. Andrew loves drama and being in plays and joins in to many different groups at school, and after-school activities that he doesn’t have time for anything: neither his friends, no down-time, and he becomes exhausted. So he drops many things and achieves a balanced life. It is not didactic though many adults could learn from Andrew’s situation. Though the animals in the story are anthropomorphic, which normally I don’t like, it works. I like the fact that it is a picture book with a message for primary and secondary aged readers as well as adults, and it is a subtle message which may be absorbed by younger readers. Small Saul, the book where the main character is an unconventional pirate who proves that life needs all sorts of personalities in it, has been chosen as the one to be given to all Grade 1 students in Canada. A wonderful idea. This is a program organised by the Canadian Book Centre and supported by TD bank.

Lastly. Any questions? by Marie-Louise Gay.
Gay has started with many of the questions she is asked when visiting schools and answered many of them, creating a multi-layered, open-ended story written in beautiful prose, about a gentle giant and a fierce purple beast. She talks about her art work and has used many examples in this book: watercolour, gouache, pen and ink, pencil, collage. What happens if the starting page is not white? How does the story develop from the blank page? It’s longer than a standard picture book, a great read for sharing but also a wonderful stimulus for children to write.
I do hope you can find some of these to enjoy.
Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader