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

Sunday 25 September 2016

A book’s purpose in the classroom – it’s unlimited!

Books - they form the central part of my teaching practice. I use them to model reading strategies during our daily read aloud session in class: inference, visualisation, questioning, prediction, activating prior knowledge, connections (self, text and world). I use books to introduce different genres as well as grab the opportunity to read classics, such as: The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, The Little Prince and Charlotte’s Web.

Our small group reading sessions enable students of similar reading levels to practice their pace, fluency and expression as they give constructive feedback to their peers. Books connect me to my non-independent readers through working with them in small groups to increase their confidence in hearing their voices as they read aloud.

I create a library of topical books to support our inquiry project unit, whether it is a science, history or geography topic. We have yearly class subscriptions to the excellent CSIRO magazine, ‘Double Helix’ and ‘Historicool’. These magazines always provide interesting topics for conversation during our recess and lunch eating times.

But, using books to inspire students to write through the visual use of writing seeds is one of my favourite ways to use books. These are two of my favourite picture books to inspire creativity.

‘If’ by Sarah Perry, is a surreal book of watercolours where fish morph into leaves, butterflies form clothes, dogs are mountains, caterpillars are toothpaste and whales live in outer space. It takes a matter of seconds before students are coming up with their own ‘if’s that are then used to brainstorm the first draft of a story. Students’ pictures also serve to be writing seeds for other students.

‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker, whose website describes this best as: ‘The adventures of a young girl who escapes the boredom of home to find a magical realm in which she can control her own destiny with her imagination.’ The book has no text, enabling readers to interpret each page without being led. Some pages are of a single image while others have several images conveying action. I let students choose a page to use as a writing seed and also copy pages for students to work in pairs to write their own text. This encourages them to think about the action before and after the illustration.

Helen Rothwell is a Year 6 teacher and the Tasmanian judge for the Eve Pownall category in the 2017/18 CBCA Book of the Year Awards.

Sunday 18 September 2016

We all have the stories inside

If we all have the stories inside – what happens to them for those of us who never let them out?

There’s an old saying that everyone has a book inside them just waiting to come out. If that is true, then the literature we encounter as a child must surely be deeply influential in the way we come to see ourselves as ‘authors’. I always love reading articles where authors speak of their favourite children’s books. I recall an article where Neil Gaiman spoke of his love of reading and re-reading the Narnia books and Wind in the Willows. Wendy Grieb says that Where the Wild Things Are has influenced “…every book idea that I have ever had.” http://mightymediapress.com/blog/feature-post-the-childrens-books-that-influence-our-authors-and-illustrators  But if we all have the stories inside – what happens to them for those of us who never let them out?

So many children (and adults) question the value of their stories and lack confidence in their ability to communicate them. It was a great pleasure to spend Book Week 2016 working with students at Glenorchy Primary School. We spent time exploring picture books – old favourites and new – working out how the author had constructed their stories, developed their characters and their settings. The students were then asked to produce their own stories in any medium they chose. And what fantastic stories emerged! Imaginations were unleashed and an incredible array of genres were created. One student produced a deeply moving piece of poetry that I now have hanging in my office. When I told him how special it was he responded that he hadn’t known anyone would want to hear that story.

As lovers of children’s literature, we all share the responsibility of ensuring children are exposed to stories in all their forms: stories that reflect a child’s reality, stories that open whole new worlds to them, stories to inspire, and stories to make them think. But more than that, I also think we owe it to children and the readers of the future to encourage those stories to come out. How many great works of literature have never escaped the mind of their creators because they lacked the confidence to tell their story or thought no one wanted to hear it? I would love to think some of the students we worked with in Book Week have had a little seed planted in their mind and that they may go on to be the next Mem Fox, Marcus Zusak or Emily Rodda.


Karen Macpherson is one of the current CBCA Picture Book judges and is an Executive Director of Outhouse Legends, a not-for-profit project working with Tasmanian schools to build literacy skills and confidence in students. She can be contacted through the Outhouse Legends Facebook page.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Mr Huff - a treasure for all ages

A few busy weeks ago Mr Huff, by Anna Walker, was announced as this year’s CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year.  It is certainly a deserving winner of this prestigious award, but it is also so much more than this award implies.

I first came across Mr Huff last year when it arrived in my hands, freshly published. I already had a soft spot for Anna’s beautiful illustrations and gentle stories, but this felt different to her other beautiful, often whimsical creations.  This was a picture book that dealt with personal emotions on a level that is rarely seen in books for this age group.

I was delighted but not at all surprised to see it short-listed for this year’s awards.  That said, I was a little unsure of how my Kinder students would receive it, and thought I would need to do quite a bit of talking to draw out the meaning across my other early childhood classes.  What a revelation it was to read this aloud to these young students.

Not only did they hit the nail on head when asked what they thought the main message of the story was; “I think it’s about finding the sunshine in your life, Mrs Marston,” but they also embraced the story and what it meant to them personally.  A grade 2 student quietly approached me during our Book of the Year voting session to explain that Mr Huff was her favourite book because when she got home the day I read it to her class, her mum told her that her uncle had passed away and Mr Huff had helped her to “not feel so sad.”  Wow!  Tears in my eyes! That moment will stay with me for a very long time!

Last week I read this amazing book to my Grade 3-6 classes, and shared Anna’s blog on creating Mr Huff.  Their responses were equally remarkable.  To have a story that deals with emotional issues in such a powerful yet relatable manner, across the full range of Primary School ages is just phenomenal.  My older students were able to see that Bill gradually took control of his own emotional state, without relying on anyone else to buoy him back up.  The conversations that came from this were inspiring and the sharing that went on about what each child does to put themselves back on track emotionally was so open and thoughtful.
I can see Mr Huff being just as valuable in a High School setting, and the recent CBCA Book of the Year Award provides a great reason to share it now.  I am sure the dialogue it opens up for your students will be as powerful and important as that which I have witnessed at my school.
If you haven’t yet read Mr Huff, please do.  It certainly is book that is a treasure for all ages. And if you know of other Australian children's books that deal with emotional issues why not share them with us?


Jessica Marston
K-6 Teacher-Librarian at Hagley Farm School, and parent
Twitter: @marston_jessica