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

Saturday 28 July 2018

Little People in Fur Coats

Join Lyndon as he considers the underlying inspiration in his current writing that is drawn from animals and the long-held tradition of applying human characteristics to our 'furry' friends. Meet Walter the wombat along with some other familiar characters.

My mother once gave my nan a fridge magnet that stated, “Animals are little people in fur coats.” I think about this as I fill the car with two weeks of food, then drive the winding, wet roads to Cradle Mountain. Thanks to the generosity and kindness of Arts Tasmania and the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, I am spending the two weeks of school holidays up here as an artist in residence inside the national park.

The project is a new book called Wombat Overland. It’s a novel about an old wombat who leaves his burrow one night to discover another of his kind has died in the snow, with a joey still inside her pouch. The only thing she carries is a map to Lake St Clair, with a big red circle at the end of the lake and the word ‘home’ written next to it. He decides to make the long journey to take the child back to its family—a book in which the chapters sequentially match the real-life locations of walkers who take on the track. Yet in writing a story like this, the obvious question arises: How human should my animals be?

Certainly, children’s literature has a long and well-loved history of personification. The boot of my car is filled with wonderful examples to accompany me on a sabbatical of two weeks without phone or internet. There are surprises, though. Who would have thought, given the recent backlash to the cinematic version of Peter Rabbit and his friends throwing blackberries at the allergic Tom McGregor (who even has to pull out his epi-pen in order to recover), that Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mr. Tod might include a badger throwing a hot pot of tea in a fox’s face? In Kenneth Graeme’s gorgeous The Wind in the Willows what is animal and what is human is incredibly murky: Mole has a bust of Queen Victoria in his garden—not a mole version, but the human one, at least according to the original illustrations—and Mr. Toad easily swaps clothes with a human washerwoman, drives a car, and rides a horse!

It is fascinating to watch writers make their various decisions. Ruth Park’s Muddle-Headed Wombat (far more affable and lovable than my own version) is identified by the pronoun he, and Tabby the cat as she, while poor old mouse is relegated to the land of it. Dorothy Wall was apparently quite happy to have good ol’ Blinky Bill join the army in an act of patriotism, even if her publisher encouraged her to rip up the first draft and include Blinky as a mascot, rather than an actual solider. Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a little truer to life in its portrayal of animals, yet has as much bloodshed and sadness as any epic tale. Wings of Fire. All effective, all wildly different. Looking at some more modern work, I had great fun with the ‘cheesy’ puns of the Geronimo Stilton series, and the reptilian action and
adventure of Tui T. Sutherland’s

My brother once told me that if you want to sell a children’s book it should be about fairies or food. I’d add that talking animals couldn’t be too far behind. This isn’t about selling a product, though, it’s about telling a story of love. I love animals acting like people. For my own part, Walter the wombat appears in my mind, in his burrow, in a form that cannot be contested: wrapped up tight in a green coat by the fire with round glasses, holding a photo album in the shape of a leaf and one paw, and a cup of tea in the other.

I can’t help it. After all, he’s not just a wombat. He’s a little person in a fur coat.

Go on, tell me your favourite books from childhood with personified animals in the comments below.

Lyndon Riggall

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher intern at Launceston College. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall or at http://lyndonriggall.com. Lyndon will be moderating a number of sessions at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival (https://www.tamarvalleywritersfestival.com.au/) from the 14th to the 16th of September 2018.

Editor's note: I did enjoy Lyndon's closing image of Walter and it instantly brought to mind sharing a cup of tea with Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe - does a faun count as a furry friend?

Saturday 21 July 2018

May Gibbs Creative Time Fellowship

This week, Tasmanian author, Julie Hunt, provides a window into her current projects to expand on the ideas presented in KidGlovz. She includes stunning first sketches from the illustrator, Dale Newman, as a foretaste of what is to come. While we wait for these tales to be completed and published, you might like to dip into her newly released title Shine Mountain and revisit the post celebrating the launch of KidGlovz.

I was lucky enough to spend the month of June in sunny Brisbane, courtesy of the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust. What a marvellous organisation that is! The trust has three residences, in Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide and each city hosts two children’s book creators for a month every year. The idea is to support writers and artists by allowing us to spend dedicated time on our projects.

I worked on two books during my Creative Time Fellowship, both adventure fantasy stories for 8–12 year olds and both companion books to my graphic novel KidGlovz, illustrated by Dale Newman. KidGlovz is the story of a musical prodigy, a young boy who learns that much of his talent comes from the pair of gloves he believes he was born wearing. The gloves have the power to amplify whatever qualities are in the person who puts them on. In the next book they appear on the hands of Kid’s best friend, a thief called Shoestring and they enable him to steal impossible things – hopes, dreams, and even somebody’s mind.

Shoestring – the Boy who Walks on Air was conceived as a hybrid novel, part graphic panels and part prose and during my fellowship I worked on a near final draft of the manuscript. My editor at Allen & Unwin had returned the text with suggestions for refining the plot and developing Shoestring’s character. I did this while looking at Dale’s fabulous roughs. Here’s Shoestring with the arch villain, Mistress Adamantine, better known ‘Marm’.

Collaborating with an artist has got to be one of the delights of writing for children! Whenever an email from Dale arrives I dive for the attachment. Here’s one of the settings for the book Mt Adamantine, the crater of an extinct volcano. No prizes for guessing who lives there.

Shoestring – the Boy who Walks on Air, will be published next year. I can’t wait to see the finished artwork.

I spent the second part of my fellowship exploring ideas for the third and final story in the series which has the working title of Sylvie and the House of Fabio Sham. Sylvie is a young girl with a prodigious memory and a quick and curious mind. When the gloves appear on her hands she finds there’s nothing she can’t learn. But sometimes a child can know too much. When Sylvie discovers the secret of life – how to conjure things into existence – she finds herself in trouble. If Sylvie can create life she can take it as well and for a seven-year-old girl this has disastrous consequences.

Many thanks to the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust for the hospitality and the generous gift of time. Visit the website for more information about the trust.

Julie Hunt
Tasmanian children’s author
Just released: Shine Mountain

Saturday 14 July 2018

Lift the flap and discover a magical staircase

Jennie has recently returned from her travels and some wonderful book and bookshop experiences. Join her adventures at La Alhambra in Granada and the Livrario Lello in Porto.

First up, the bookshop industry is alive and very healthy in southern Europe. A similar situation was reported on my last sojourn ('Spot'light on Italy) and we visited many bookshops on my recent trip to southern Spain and Portugal. Spanish tourist publications for children were of particular note - with books on major sites translated into different languages with highly engaging formats, illustrations and information for children (and elders :-) to buy as a memento to take home.

View of Sierra Nevada from La Alhanbra
A visit to the breathtakingly beautiful La Alhambra, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking Granada in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (snowcapped) mountains shaped our itinerary for Andalucia and we were very impressed with the range of books on this historic site, and couldn't resist a lift the flap version to
add to the oh-so-small suitcase. 📕
Double page spread of
La Alcazaba (the fortress)

A visit to the Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal, ranked as one of the top ten bookstores in the world, was an amazing experience in all ways. First up, you can't just walk in - there are too many people. Head next door to buy a ticket, leave your bag in a locker and then queue for entry. Fight your way through the crowds to look at books and.... climb the magical staircase. Famed for inspiring J. K. Rowling in her design of the moving staircase in
Hogwarts. But don't be fooled - this beautiful staircase is not wooden, but made of plaster and carefully hand coloured and painted to look like wood - I got the inside story during a visit to the Palacia da Bolsa where plaster is used to simulate wood, marble and stonework - very convincingly. This is an age-old Portuguese craft.

But I meander - a picture or two is worth a thousand words. Check out the staircase, stained glass ceiling and the people!

And in spite of the crowds, the service was superb. The Lello bookshop could not meet my search for a Portuguese edition of Spot, (stay tuned for that story later in the year) but they had many other translations of quality writers in the field - Australian, English and American. The sales assistant  morphed into a manager and we discussed the local trade and she shared a number of works from Portuguese writers and illustrators including some award winners from recent Bologna trade fairs. Her favourite was Ana Luisa Carapinheiro and there is an interesting interview to read to find out about this young and successful Portuguese author.

Every bookshop we entered had a children's section, some  extremely large and decked out as engaging reading spaces with sunken floors and bright colours. Most had the typical cheaper productions of fairy tales and classics and series fiction targeting primary age students, but there was always more - in English and Portuguese - displayed appealingly and begging to be read. The morbid, macabre and dangerous themes are just as popular with teen readers as they are in Australia.

One reason for the fairytales was the fact that Hans Christian Andersen frequented Andalucia and there is a very 'serious' bronze statue in Malaga - with a cheeky ugly duckling peeking out of his briefcase.

Jennie Bales
Dabbles in books, blogs and book depositories (AKA libraries)

Sunday 8 July 2018

Non Stereotypical Children’s Literature

This week Felicity delves into literature that explores differences, from behavioural and physical, to more topical issues around gender identity. There is certainly a book to fit every reader.

In the past, non-stereotypical children’s literature was most likely to be focused on behaviours or physical characteristics associated with males and females: think The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf/Robert Lawson), The Paper Bag Princess (Robert Munsch/Michael Martchenko) and Crusher is Coming (Bob Graham).

In recent times, the above focus remains, but books about gender stereotypes are becoming more mainstream. It’s hard to believe that it is ten years since And Tango Makes Three (Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell/Henry Cole) about two male penguins, in the New York City Central Park Zoo, who hatched and raised a chick, was published and created a media storm. Red: A crayon’s story (Michael Hall) is also about identity: a blue crayon with a red label that struggles to meet expectations, until being given the permission to be himself.

The Rainbow Book List has been published since 2008. A committee consisting of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) and the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) of the American Library Association (ALA) review titles published in the previous 18 months, and select “quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content, which are recommended for people from birth through to eighteen years of age.” (Rainbow Book List, 2018). This provides a good source of books to inform your reading journey.

Many books in this genre (assuming this is an inclusive word to use in this context) have been written by a person with a close association with a gender diverse family member. Alex Gino, one such author, wrote George, the book that as a child, she would like to have been able to read. Carolyn Mackler, a young-adult novelist who lives in Manhattan, gave a copy of George to her 10-year-old son to read. She told him that it was about a transgender child and explained what that meant. After he read it, she asked him what he thought. “I said, ‘If you met George, would you be friends with him?’ ” she recalled. “And he said, ‘Mom, it’s her, and I would be friends with her if she was nice’.”

In the same article, Sam Martin says; “I never saw people like me in movies or books.” (Alter, 2018) These sentiments are echoed by Hannah Gadsby in Nanette (Netflix) when she talks about the introduction to ‘her people’ being the Mardi Gras, and them being ‘busy’. Readers deserve a greater range of gender diverse characters to illustrate what it is to be non-cisgender in our 21st Century world.

You probably have titles on your bookshelves, with gender diverse characters, existing alongside cisgender characters: Captain Underpants (Dav Pilkey), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chobsky) and Better Nate than Ever (Tim Federle).
Australian titles you may wish to explore are The Gender Fairy and A House for Everyone by Jo Hirst, where pronouns such as he, she and they are used, dependent on how the child identifies.

Alter, A. (2018). Transgenderchildren’s books fill a void and break a taboo. NYtimes.com.
Rainbow Book List. (2018). Rainbow Book Lists

Feleicty Sly
Teacher Librarian at Don College, Devonport and Treasurer of CBCA Tasmania.

Editor's note: Similar to Rainbow book lists, Australian LGBTQYA covers Australian transgender publications for teenagers.