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

Saturday 25 February 2017

What’s Going on in Your Mind When You Read a Story?

This week, Amanda considers her personal reading strategy of visualisation – to picture and imagine the story's events – and her discovery that this is not a natural occurrence for many students. Read on to discover how visualisation contributes to understanding and engagement with the text?
For many years as a primary school teacher, a considerable amount of my time has been spent teaching children to read, and encouraging them to love stories. As an avid reader of children’s literature, this continues to bring me great joy. However, sometimes I face the interesting challenge of children who do not automatically warm to having a story read to them and don’t seem to care about the characters. There is nothing significantly different about these children, like most children they are usually well behaved, love talking, have great ideas, and work hard. They just struggle to sit for any period of time to listen to a story.

So, maybe I haven’t read them the right types of stories? I ask myself each year. But after reading Harry Potter, and books by Emily Rodda, Carole Wilkinson, David Walliams, Jackie French, John Marsden, Roald Dahl etc., I realised that there is nothing wrong with the stories, they are all wonderful. Most of the children in the class enjoyed them, and went on to read further stories by these authors independently. 

In discussion with a group of colleagues about this problem, the idea was proposed that maybe they can’t ‘visualise’ the story as it is being read. I was flabbergasted- really? Surely everybody is able to see the story unfolding in their mind like a picture or movie? ‘Visualising’ is also one of the first reading strategies that we introduce.  So, after the discussion, I was keen to find out, so I approached my class of grade five/six students. We had been reading ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’ by Michael Morpurgo, a wonderful survival story about a boy falling from his parents’ yacht in the middle of the night into the Pacific Ocean. After a little thought and discussion, only three quarters of the students said ‘yes,’ they did ‘see’ the story in pictures or ‘like a movie’. 

Interestingly, most of the students who did not ‘visualise’ were the students who seemed to find it difficult to sit still and focus while the story was being read.

When I asked my daughter, age seven, what she did when she was listening to a story, she told me that she didn’t just visualise, she pretended she was the characters as well. She felt like she was in the story all of the time and she wasn’t just one character, she was all of them – whenever it was their ‘turn’ in the book. Being able to identify with characters at a deeper level, to empathise has recently been heralded as one of the many benefits of children engaging in reading experiences as it allows children to experience and become more sensitive to the feelings of different characters, the difficulties they face and the thought processes and strategies they use to navigate themselves through the challenges. (McKearney, M. & Mears, S. 2015). 

So, now to the challenge of encouraging greater visualisation and empathy. As I embark on a new year of reading stories to my Year 2/3/4/ class, I will be exploring ways to expand my repertoire of teaching strategies and conversations  that encourage all students  to ‘visualise’ the story and ‘empathise’ with the characters. Encouraging them to draw or create scenes from the story, plus some role play, might be a good place to start. Anything that will provide children with opportunities to understand and engage with stories on a deeper level is worth a try.

Amanda O’SheaTeacher, reader, children’s Author.

McKearney, M. & Mears, S. 2015, May 13). Lost for words? How reading can teach children empathy [Blog post]. In The Guardian

Sunday 19 February 2017

The Test of a Good Prequel

Join Jackie as she shares her thoughts on a new adventure set before the start of Ranger’s Apprentice series. Does it add to the overall experience?

Spotting a new John Flanagan novel in the bookshop is always a positive and it was an easy decision to purchase the second prequel to the Ranger’s Apprentice Series, The Battle of Hackham Heath.
Regular readers of the series should enjoy the glimpses the book gives of the earlier lives of favourite characters. If Gillan’s apprenticeship to Halt didn’t happen exactly the way an earlier novel described it, the version in this tale resonates satisfactorily with our knowledge of both characters. There is also the story of Cassandra’s mother, which fills in a gap in the story, and adds to our understanding of the close relationship between Cassandra and her father King Duncan.
The usual ingredients of adventure, acts of bravery and the battle against the series’ arch villain Morgarath are all present together with a battlefield struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds – just what readers of John Flanagan have come to expect! The battle sequence should particularly appeal to teenage boys.
I found that this novel met the true test of a prequel – it closed by bringing the reader so perfectly back to the start of the original series that I was forced back to my bookcase to re-read the first four novels of the series again.
I imagine that this will be the last Ranger’s Apprentice book to be published – after two prequels, The Lost Stories and a next generation novel in The Royal Ranger, the story seems to have been completed. But hopefully there will be many more novels still to come in the spin off Brotherband series, where there is always the chance of meeting one of your favourite Ranger’s Apprentice characters.
Jackie Gagnell

Editor’s note:  Having caught up with the fascinating The Lost Stories over Summer, now I have another to add to my wish list. John Flanagan has an informative and engaging website, The World of John Flanagan, that is worth a visit to find out more about the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series – visit and be entertained.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

May Gibbs

Thank you Johanna for this delightful walk down memory lane beneath the gumtrees and their inhabitants.

It is less than 800m to walk my sons to their primary school, but at this time of year that walk becomes extra noisy as we wander underneath the majestic flowering eucalypts and the frenzied activity of bees in their colourful blooms.

The vibrant colours of deep red, orange, pink and apricot appeal to my love of colour, but there is another reason I love seeing these trees bloom: I know Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and their friends, the Gum Blossom Babies, live within. In Gibbs’ words from Gum-Nut Babies: “On all the big Gumtrees there are Gum-Nut Babies. Some people see them and some don’t; but they see everybody and everything”.

Passing gumnut babies down through generations
May Gibb’s stories about the cherubic Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and their fellow Gum-Nut Babies were firm favourites of mine from an early age. My librarian grandmother had passed her love for the stories to her daughter, my mum, who then shared them with me. Years later, when I was an adult, the three of us visited Nutcote and spent a delightful afternoon browsing Gibbs’ home on the northern side of Sydney Harbour.

Gibbs’ stories about the gumnut foster brothers who wanted to see a human, Mr Lizard, Mrs Kookaburra, Little Ragged Blossom, Bush Babies, Little Obelia and Lilly Pilly filled my young mind with incredible tales abut the bush I was so familiar with as a child.

To this day I still find peace when I smell the eucalyptus scent, hear kookaburras and cicadas and feel the crunch of dry gum leaves underfoot as I walk through Cataract Gorge. Gibbs’ books, while full of fantastic stories, also feature her beautiful illustrations, which also fostered my love of the Australian bush.

A creator from the beginning
Gibbs was an established artist from an early age, saying she could “draw before I could walk”. She won many awards for her drawings and worked as an illustrator for The Western Mail before trying her creative hand at writing.

The iconic image of the gumnut babies peeking out from gum leaves first appearing in Gibbs’ illustration for Ethel Turner’s serial The Magic Button, which was published in the Sydney Mail. The Mail later commissioned Gibbs to create 25 more bush-themed covers. Bookmarks, calendars and postcards with these familiar eucalyptus darlings followed, and many were sent in care packages to soldiers fighting in World War I.

Inspired by the popularity of her illustrations, Gibbs wrote stories to fit her images and introduced the Australian public to the characters that are now firmly entrenched in our cultural tradition. And it is this folklore that I draw on when I talk to my boys about the cute baby-like creatures who inhabit the trees that line the streets in which we live.

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

Saturday 4 February 2017

Digital Multisensory Stories – for want of a better name

This week, Jennie shares a collection of web-published visual stories that she has gathered over the past year – sit back, relax, view, listen and engage - in some multisensory reading.

As an avid fan of pop-up literature The Happy Duck is a favourite.

If you search the web for “digital stories” you will get an amazing number of results, and most will be for creating your own digital story. There are so many tools out there that support our creative talents, tap into our burgeoning photo libraries and reflect current, (dare I say narcissistic!) trends to share our personal lives. However, such a search will provide minimal results on stories told visually and shared on the web. What do you call them? Multi sensory books doesn’t work – think of ‘scratch and sniff’ and ‘touchy feely’ and you will realise why. But for want of a better name the following list reflects some examples of what I consider to be digital multisensory stories.

The Boat is an excellent example that may make you feel sea sick!

Stories that are told digitally (not the typical ebook and audio book) but are also interactive in some way – that engage the reader in more ways than just ‘reading or listening to the words’ – to embrace visual and auditory senses as well. Such stories are out there and in increasing numbers. Like all literature, they range in quality, purpose, audience and format. You may find:
  • Self-reflective personal stories
  • Documentary coverage
  • Personal recounts of current and historic events
  • Retellings of published works
    • And re-representations of those works that harness the technology
  • 3D virtual reality worlds to explore
  • Interactive stores to engage with
  • Games where the viewer adopts a persona and manipulates the story through their participation
  • Graphic novels

… the list will continue to grow as technology continues to advance.

ABC3D pop-up book
Catnap poetry reading and digital storytelling

For the story lover, it is worth searching out wondrous literary adventures on the web. However, for the busy person with little time to search for digital stories, or multisensory stories or ….???? why not visit my compilation on JB on NotJust Books: @WWW.
Fantastical flying books!
A note of caution: These are not sorted by genre or age group but by curriculum topic as the compilation was developed for a curriculum need. The range of stories suit a range of ages – don’t let the little ones loose without some supervision or previewing.

Engage your senses and enjoy.
Wilderquest adventure game

I invite you to share another ‘digital multisensory story’ or come up with an alternative term if you are linguistically inclined.

Jennie Bales
Editor, Reader, Viewer and Educator