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

Monday 27 June 2016

Taking the Creative Route

Johanna Baker-Dowdell shares a wonderful creative writing program currently running across four schools in the Launceston area. Creativity is abundant in not only the student's writing but also the program design and online delivery.

Albert Einstein says, “Creativity is contagious, pass it on!” and that is exactly what is currently happening at four West Tamar schools.

Almost 50 young writers from West Launceston, Trevallyn and Riverside primary schools and Riverside High School have embarked on The Write Road, a 10-week creative writing program. The program is run under the guidance of a teacher from each school and overseen by author, poet and Riverside High School teacher Cameron Hindrum.

The students are given a writing prompt at the beginning of each week and asked to respond in whichever way there are inspired: poem, short story, memory or something else. They then upload their piece to The Write Road blog for feedback, offering the same in return to their fellow writers.

 Kicking off the program, the first prompt was very open: entitled Daybreak, the writers were asked to write a piece based on the photo. To get their minds ticking, the students were prompted to think about the time of day the photo was taken, and who might have taken it. Where was the photographer going? Where had they been? Why?

The second week’s prompt centred around characters, with the writers asked to choose from one of five words and express who they are, considering what makes them interesting, engaging and unique. The words were:
  • Tree
  • Shark
  • The colour red
  • Basketball
  • A wild horse.

For this week - the third - another image prompts the writers. They have been asked what is this, and how did it get here?

My involvement in this program is as a writing mentor for the Trevallyn students, a role I am most excited to have. Even after only a few weeks already I can see the budding writers stretching their wordy muscles. Their questions about word length and writing guidelines shows they are not used to being given such freedom, however I am confident that soon their creativity will overtake doubts.

Some have chosen to hand write their pieces in a journal, others are typing into Word. I’ve encouraged these writers to find the best way to write for them, hoping the program will foster a writing habit that continues for their lifetime.

Anything that inspires children to explore their creativity, especially in a respectful space with their peers, is something I am thrilled to be part of. I can’t wait to see how these young writers develop their pieces over the next two months, and read what they choose to develop further.

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

Saturday 18 June 2016

Ranging Far and Wide

Inspired by her current geographic location, Maureen Mann connects with the Queen’s birthday celebrations and what's on the English bookshop shelf.

I have been mulling over what to write about for this blog and have wandered from idea to idea. The world seems to have lost many wonderful children’s authors and illustrators recently, including, in March, Peggy Fortnum, who illustrated Michael Bond’s Paddington series and in February Kim Gamble who brought the Tashi series so perfectly alive. But I discarded this idea as, sadly, there were too many to focus on. Or mention Roald Dahl’s centenary in 2016? Not enough time to do him justice.

Queen Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday in April, with official celebrations in England last weekend.  Disney has combined the 90th anniversary of Winnie the Pooh with that of the Queen to produce a story combining both characters, only available online. It’s called Winnie the Pooh and the Royal Birthday.

I love The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan. It was first published in 1995 but has not dated: the child narrator imagines all the kinds of knickers which the Queen might wear for different functions. It’s full of humour suited to both the child and adult reader. In The Queen’s Handbag (2015) by Steve Antony, a swan, dressed in a mask and stripy top, steals her handbag and the Queen pursues the swan across England to try to retrieve her bag. It’s fun, a good introduction to famous places in the UK and encourages the reader to search the page as well. Antony’s previous book was equally humorous: The Queen’s Hat which takes the reader on a chase across London after a strong gust of wind grabs the hat and she and her guards – soldiers, Beefeaters, etc – chase it till it falls on the head of the baby prince. 

And then I ventured into a local bookshop to see what was new in England in the world of children’s books. Lots of titles of course. Here are some which caught my eye.

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat by Katie Hartnett is the story of a cat, rather like Six Dinner Sid. He has differing names at all the houses on Blossom St but suddenly goes missing and as the reader learns, he befriends lonely Mrs Murray and in doing so, brings the community together.

Tidy by Emily Gravett. 
I have always enjoyed Gravett’s quirky view of life and in this book she maintains her skills, as one would expect from a double winner of the Kate Greenaway award. Tidy is about Pete, an OCD badger who wants to keep the woods tidy, to such an extent that he removes even the trees till he realises that by doing so, he has taken away all that is important. He and his friends combine to return it all to normal. It’s a wonderful story in itself, with a strong environmental message.

Nibbles: The Book Monster by Emma Yarlett. Nibbles loves eating books, entering the stories he finds inside them and causing mayhem. There are many, many flaps to explore as well as holes in the pages as though Nibbles had started work on this book. The reader (child and adult) will enjoy recognising the fractured stories and will have fun with the layout. The cover is really tactile with a lovely feel.

The world’s current refugee crisis is echoed in The Journey by Francesca Sanna. The reader follows a mother and her children as they are forced to flee conflict in their homeland. The reasons are clearly explained for and by the young narrator without losing the power of the story for any adult. The illustrations are a really important addition to the verbal text.

Lane Smith is another of my favourite authors and There is a Tribe of Kids doesn’t disappoint. A boy sets off and comes across a range of animals, including young goats. The language is rich and rhythmical: undulates in a smack of jellyfish, a constellation of stars and other unusual collective nouns. Along the way, the child realises that we all need to spend time and fit in with our own ‘tribe’. The illustrations have been created with a sponge-paint technique.

What’s your favourite book so far in 2016?

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Sunday 12 June 2016

Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Tales of Childhood

This week Patsy revisits an old and revitalised favourite - join her as she dips her toes in the prairie wilds of Dakota to explore Wilder's tales.

Some months ago I was poking about the young people’s section in our local bookshop, checking, as usual, to see if there was anything wonderful I’d missed, when my eye was drawn to an inviting set of books on a shelf. I recognised the Little house series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I had read years ago while my children were the age to read them with me. All paperbacks, same illustrations by Garth Williams, but in cheerful colour this time….

As the grandmother of a fast-aging group of young people, I am pleased to still have a nine-year-old who loves to dip into the suggestions I make for him, so I bought what I remembered as the first two of the series, Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. The publisher had labelled these as 1 and 3 in the set, which surprised me a bit – Farmer boy was now number 2. Still, I thought my selections would provide enough material to assess whether I still enjoyed these books, and whether Tom would or might.

No doubt about that – after I had read these two and thoroughly enjoyed them, I passed them on to him…. Five minutes later – a grunt of surprise, interest, and ‘Nanna, do people eat bears?’  He was hooked!  Not all the titles were available at the shop so we borrowed some from the LINC, which fortunately still has at least one copy of each of the 1930-40 publications (mostly housed in the Fiction Stack, so they have to be requested…)  But I now have the complete set in this new full colour edition, published in 2004.

Tom’s favourite titles, he told me, were Farmer Boy and The Long Winter. It’s not surprising he loved the story of Almanzo as a nine-year-old child on a farm in New York State in the 1860s. Almanzo was the youngest of a family of four children, and life on the farm was not easy. Every child had to be completely immersed in the seasonal demands of producing and preserving the food needed to see the family through a full year, with perhaps a little left over to convert to cash to buy the things the family could not produce. But there were compensations – if Almanzo was needed on the farm, that took precedence over going to school, of course. And he had the task of training a pair of calves to their future function as draught oxen working on the farm. Tom found the description of this process very interesting as he did the collection of great blocks of ice from the frozen pond and its careful storage in the ice-house for the summer.

The Long Winter was of great interest to me as well – for seven months the family was snowed in to their house in the little town! To Tom, the really memorable part of this book was the long and dangerous, but eventually successful, journey made by the teenagers Almanzo and Cap (at least forty miles there and back) across a roadless, snow-covered prairie in search of a store of wheat they had heard about – families were starving in the little town of De Smet, in Dakota Territory.

The series portrays life on the frontier in the Mid-West of what is now the USA and embodies many issues which I found worthy of consideration and which may be of interest in the classroom in twentieth-century Tasmania, with possible parallels between the Australian and American history of settlement.

During the long winter, even the careful settlers with their ethic of self-reliance were in danger of starving during an amazingly harsh and long blizzard period. All the families and communities were independent and had no-one to rely on but themselves. You want to move further west and need a wagon to undertake the journey with your family?  Build it yourself – and the child Laura was able as an adult to describe how her father did this.

Interactions between the natives and the encroaching settlers are described as Laura saw them; and the impact on local wildlife, even through a child’s eyes, might also be a discussion point in the classroom.

 You will understand from the above that I found the series very interesting and thought-provoking on this re-read, and it appears that the material has not become ‘old hat’ in the USA either. In 2014 Laura’s actual autobiography, not previously published, was made available, with annotations, by the South Dakota State Historical Society and editor Pamela Smith Hill, under the title Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

So dig out your old copies, at home or at school – or at the LINC! – and see how you feel about them. And try them in the classroom as well….

Patsy Jones
CBCA(Tas) Treasurer, retired librarian, retired teacher

Editor's note: If you ever happen to be travelling through Dakota you might like to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum or her birthplace in Wisconsin at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. If not, then at least make a virtual stop. :-)

Sunday 5 June 2016

Rollicking Regency Fun

Nella laughs her way through some Regency romps.

In my teens, I was a fan of Georgette Heyer and Baroness Orczy. Serendipity made me read Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald (Allen & Unwin) (CBCA Notable 2016) and Cindy Anstey’s Love, Lies and Spies (St Martins Press) consecutively. Both are throwbacks to Georgette Heyer – witty language, predictable plots, little character development yet thoroughly enjoyable.

On her eighteenth birthday, Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt,” inherits her family’s treasure, the Newington Emerald, which bestows its wearer with magical powers. The emerald is stolen; a disguised Truthful (with magical moustache) sets off to find the gem; on her journey she meets a handsome man, confounds an evil sorceress, has many adventures and falls in love. Garth Nix is a brilliant writer layering the story with many tongue-in-cheek moments including the obligatory elderly chaperone with swordstick. Join Garth Nix as he talks about his Newt’s Emerald and the background research and writing process.

Cindy Anstey’s Juliana is in London for the Season, but rather than find a match, her ambition is to publish her findings on ladybugs and then return home to nurse her ailing father. Meanwhile, Juliana has to cope with driving her buggy off a cliff, dealing with mean girls determined to ruin her and finding a friend in trainee spy, Spencer Northam. 

Both books are witty light-hearted romps, part comedy of manners, part adventure stories and for Nix, part fantasy. (PS much tamer than Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and with as much verbal sparring as the later Pink Carnation novels of Lauren Willig).

Nella Pickup
Avid reader