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

Sunday 25 February 2018

Readers’ Cup in Tasmania

This week Patsy Jones gives us a detailed overview of this wonderfully stimulating and creative competition as it is run in Tasmania. The approximate dates for this year’s southern competitions have been set for June, and the books chosen for each level carefully selected. The CBCA Tasmanian Branch March newsletter contains a detailed report of the 2017 inaugural Devonport Reader’s Cup.

I have just this week attended a meeting of persons interested in the 2018 Readers’ Cup* competition in southern Tasmania – schools entering the competition must have Institutional CBCA membership. The dates have been set for the two competitions (Grades 5-6, and Grades 7-8) in June, and the six books (a mixture of fiction, picture-books, and non-fiction) to be used for each competition were identified after much careful discussion as to their suitability for the task.

Here in southern Tasmania, CBCA members have been organizing and managing these competitions** since 2009 – so this must be the tenth year for us! Northern Tasmania also provides an opportunity for such an annual competition, and has done so for even longer – the northern competition is managed by the Tasmanian branch of the Australian School Library Association (ASLA). Last year the Devonport City Council planned and managed a very successful competition in the north-west, with strong support from primary local schools, and we hope that they will be planning another for this year.

Who here in southern Tasmania is involved in the management and planning of Readers’ Cup? Representative staff from interested schools, of course, but not just them – various parents and grandparents who derive pleasure from reading the quality children’s literature available here in Australia are prepared to carry out the necessary tasks, as are various CBCA members; which comes first, the love of children’s literature, or the assistance with the competition?

The questions to be asked in the competition are written and prepared by volunteers or invited community members who have read and carefully considered the books. An MC is needed to ask the questions at each session (and there have been some great MCs over the years – think Jenni Connor and Lyndon Riggall, among others). Two or three judges are needed to mark the answers on the quiz sheets, and to evaluate the creative work which teams present as part of the competition. And it’s very helpful if there’s a person who can add the data to a spreadsheet as the judges’ responses come in, so that the winning teams in each section (quiz, creative, and total) can be identified before everyone has to head off back to school ready to go home.

Without a suitable venue the whole activity would be impossible, of course, and interested and supportive schools volunteer their libraries or their school halls for the occasion.
Patsy Jones
Retired Librarian and teacher

*The original Readers’ Cup competition was held in Colorado, USA, and it was transplanted to South Australia in 1987. Several Australian states have adopted it since then.

**If you want to know more about the Tasmanian CBCA competition, find it on www.cbcatas.org , on the Events page.  Find out when there might be such a competition in your local area, and come along and enjoy the day. Of course, if you have read the books beforehand, your enjoyment will be even greater!

Saturday 17 February 2018

Morris the Laureate

This week children’s author Morris Gleitzman was announced as the new Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018-1019 by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance. Join Lyndon Riggall as he shares his delight with their choice of appointment.

Gleitzman knows how to hook his readers. I believe my first novel of his, Water Wings, was purchased at about the age of ten, and I couldn’t resist the guinea pig on the front cover, floating with inflatable armbands. From there, who could go past such titles as Misery Guts, Bumface and Adults Only? His collaborations with Paul Jennings brought together two titans of Australian literature in a series of projects as frightening as they were inspired in their strangeness. When I was at school, having a copy of Wicked! or Deadly was compulsory—and not because it was on any teacher’s list of recommended reading, but instead because it was dark, exciting, and felt somehow forbidden. I still have a library copy of Once I had to replace because it slid from my pillow and onto a lamp while I was eating dinner. For those unfamiliar, on the melted plastic cover is the image of a pile of burning books, and on my own copy the last five pages similarly exhibit the brown tinge of a novel that nearly joined them.

I share my love of Morris Gleitzman with my mum. After my initial introduction to Doug the guardian angel, Mum and I would listen to Gleitzman audiobooks on long car trips. Our favourite is still Two Weeks with the Queen. Although the novel was published the year I was born, I believe strongly (and in some ways, sadly) that it still holds up beautifully thirty years on.

Gleitzman’s greatest gift as a writer seems to be that he can capture the naivety of an authentic child’s voice without resorting to inaction. His characters make delicious assumptions about the world around them, concoct theories and test hypotheses. In the words of Miss Frizzle, they “Take chance, make mistakes and get messy.” Whether it’s landmines in Boy Overboard, Nazis in Once, or cane toads in Toad Rage, he deftly handles harsh truths with an innocence and humour that is the true heart of a child. As a young boy reading Gleitzman, it struck me that you could stuff up and still be a hero.

Gleitzman talks on his own website about his new appointment, and his quest to understand what it means to “go into bat” for Australian children’s literature. “Do you mean” he asked ACLA chair Ron Gorman, “roam the land engaging young readers in a celebration of stories and all the precious things they get from them while at the same time encouraging adults to think more deeply and perceptively about the transformative qualities of good stories for young people and if possible read a few of them aloud?”
“Yes,” said Ron.

Gletizman could hardly refuse. After all, by my estimation he’s been doing exactly that for thirty years already.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Gleitzman’s new appointment. Which of his books is your favourite?

Lyndon Riggal

Editor's note: Two Weeks with the Queen certainly has a treasured place in my heart. I have always envied Morris' creativity when it comes to titles - they are so clever, pertinent and memorable!

Saturday 10 February 2018

Showcasing Tasmanian children’s book creators

This month, Kingston LINC celebrates Tasmanian children’s book illustrators with exhibits by four locally-based artists: Shiloh Longbottom, Gay McKinnon, Andrea Potter and Rachel Tribout. Interestingly, three of the four exhibits are based on author-illustrator collaborations between a parent and child, and all are by creators embracing the challenges of independent publishing. Tasmania appears to be fertile ground for indie children’s book creators, with the success of Jennifer Cossin’s 2017 CBCA Honours book, the self-published ‘A-Z of Endangered Animals’ (later acquired by Hachette) demonstrating the high standards being reached. As well as enriching the publishing landscape with local flavour, independently produced Tasmanian books allow new and diverse voices to be heard, bridging gaps in an industry that can afford to publish only a small number of new books per year.

Illustration by Shiloh Longbottom
Illustration by Shiloh Longbottom
Author Steve Isham and his daughter, illustrator and designer Shiloh Longbottom, collaborated to create the elegant Elephant and the Dog. This African-themed picture book, produced as a fundraiser for the Mafunzo Project, was crowd-funded and money raised from its sales helps to provide training for medical and nursing students at the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The artwork is stylized, with delicate colour harmonies and strongly geometric forms.

Shiloh explains: ‘I work digitally, but my process begins with research (e.g. animal forms and expressions), then hand sketches. I scan in these sketches and work in Illustrator to add colour and texture. When it fits (and it often does), I use dramatic contrast in colour and composition. I think this helps to draw the reader/viewer in and become part of the illustrated world. In children's books, the naive and geometric style I work in appeals because it allows children's imagination to fill in the gaps.’

Illustration by Gay McKinnon
Artist Gay McKinnon collaborated with her father, light verse writer Ray Kelley, to create Of Man and Beast, a display of illustrated humorous verse for children and adults. A number of the poems draw on the tradition of Harry Graham’s 1901 Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, including A Disproportionary Tale, the cautionary story of young Bess who plays with her yoyo to excess. Others, such as Pocket Pygmy Possum Poem, are based on actual events and animal qualities. The illustrations are delicate hand-painted ink and watercolour sketches, distilled down to a minimum of lines.

Illustration by Gay McKinnon
Gay explains: ‘The verses mostly follow strict forms, requiring discipline and economy of words, so I tried to make the pictures the same. They need to be light and understated to catch the spirit of the poems without distracting from the playfulness of the words. They’re somewhere between an illustration and a cartoon.’

Illustration by Andrea Faith Potter
Fine artist and illustrator Andrea Faith Potter works in schools as a teacher, and with gifted children, leading her to consider directly the needs of her audience in terms of text, artwork and publishing platform. Having already illustrated two books by Jackie French, Andrea is now working towards creating her own picture books for iPad and other digital readers. Her soft, glowing paintings are created using watercolour built up in layers with coloured pencil and incorporate fantasy, science fiction, humour and adventure.

Illustration by Andrea Faith Potter
Andrea says: ‘I love illustrating stories that encourage children to imagine.’ Her exhibit includes originals of images created for two iPad picture books in progress, one of which (To Planet Earth) is written by her daughter Lana Faith Young.

The fourth display by French-Tasmanian author-illustrator and graphic designer Rachel Tribout is a lively mix of maps, sketches, images and props from her two books from the Captain Blueberry series, The Monsters of Tasmania and The Journey of Admiral Bolognaise. Rachel's colourful, multi-layered digital illustrations bring the Tasmanian landscape to life in a fresh and exciting way. The Captain Blueberry series is a mix of inspirations from Rachel's childhood, her personal interest and living in Tasmania.
Illustration by Rachel Tribout

'I see faces in everything so it's natural for me to imagine the landscape alive with giant creatures. The landscape here is dramatic and the constantly changing light means it's always presenting itself anew - especially Tasmania's coastline. I grew up in a continental place, which means that as a kid I didn't see much of the sea. The ocean is a mysterious and powerful thing and I love to imagine what scary creatures inhabit the depths.'

Illustration by Rachel Tribout

Gay McKinnon
Illustrator and CBCA Tasmania Newsletter Editor.

Editor's note. Many thanks to Gay for sharing this inspiring exhibition with readers. Please share with friends and family and encourage them to visit Kingston LINC.
The exhibition can be seen at Kingston LINC  from now until 28th February.

Saturday 3 February 2018

Nothing to fear, but fear itself?

This week Felicity provides a thought provoking post about the place of fear in children’s literature.
An article from The Vintage News appeared in my Facebook feed. It was about Der Struwwelpeter (Shock-headed Peter), a story written by Heinrich Hoffman, a C19th German psychiatrist, as a Christmas present for his 3 year old son. I have no memory of having read this book, but it is a book in which the main characters are children who end up severely punished, or dead. Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands was developed from Scissorman, one of the characters who meted out punishment in the story. I started thinking about which scary stories we now offer to our young readers, and whether these have value or are just for the thrill seekers.
Paul Goat Allen, a children’s book reviewer, and father to girls aged 3 and 6, lists five reasons why horror in children’s books are a good thing, in a Barnes and Noble blog. Firstly, it gets kids interested in reading. Think Harry Potter, with plot lines that became darker and scarier as the series progresses. Secondly, by exploring the dark side of humanity and fear, children learn more about themselves; their strengths and weaknesses. Next, there are life lessons to be learned: to keep themselves safe in their dealings with the world and people in it. Fourthly, they learn more about the world, about literature, and have vicarious experiences. Lastly, reading about these experiences are reassuring: kids can be scared, travel with the protagonist, and then close those experiences up and resume their normal lives. I recall that one of my children used to have me take the book we had just read (and that scared her) out of the room. It could sit on the bookshelves in the hallway, but just not those in her room. As an aside, Santa and the Tooth Fairy never visited their rooms either.
Margaret Wild, Sonya Hartnett, Nick Falks (a psychologist and children’s author) and John Marsden acknowledge the power of fear as a fertile ground for writers. Marsden likes to “crank up” the fear to engage readers and make the book a page turner. I recall these feelings when reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, turning pages for sneak peeks, and with my heart beating wildly, wondering what horrors would come next. Perhaps because the premise of The Road was all too a believable reality.
Hilaire Belloc’s poem, Matilda is one of the first poems I learned to recite. Matilda’s lies, saw her die when she was not believed when telling the truth. I loved the fun of the rhyme and the richness of the vocabulary: words such as strict regard, infirmity, gallant and frenzied. I recall finding Harry Potter #2: The Chamber of Secrets to be exceedingly scary. Nick Falks was terrified by Roald Dahl’s The Witches, as an eight year old. Beatrix Potter’s The tale of Samuel Whiskers or the Roly Poly Pudding turned me off reading the rest of the Peter Rabbit books until reading them to my children.
My children then introduced me to the world of Tim Burton: The Nightmare before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Perhaps a different sort of scary, because the images of fear are provided, rather than created in one’s imagination, but a fear they seemed happy to experience and explore. I believe Neil Gaiman has created one of the scariest stories in recent times, with his tale of Coraline, a ‘be careful what you wish for’ and the ‘grass isn’t greener’ response to Coraline Jones wish for a more exciting family. 

What memories do you have of being scared by a book you have read?

The Corpse Bride movie trailer

Felicity Sly
Teacher librarian, CBCA Tas Treasurer