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

Saturday 30 March 2019

Behind the scenes – Research informs fiction writing

Join Emily Conolan as she celebrates a personal writing milestone – 1 year as a published author – and provides behind the scene insights into research and investigation to underpin her next work in The Freedom Finders series.

I’m now coming up for my one-year anniversary of being a published author: my first two books, Break Your Chains and Touch the Sun, were published by Allen & Unwin in April 2018. Releasing these two books simultaneously was a huge milestone for me, personally and professionally. But now there’s a third book in The FreedomFinders series on the way – due for release in August this year. It’s called Move the Mountains and, like the first two, it’s an immigration story with an interactive structure, where readers can make choices that direct the plot as they go along.

This book opens in the final months of WW2, when our protagonist – simply known as ‘you’, because the books are written in the second person – lives in the small Italian town of Lenola. You are only eight years old, and one night you wake to see a plane shot right above your village. You glimpse a person parachuting out of the flaming wreck. What you choose to do next will determine the course of the rest of your life.

Researching this book has been unexpectedly rewarding. World War Two is, of course, a fascinating and well-documented time in history, but my new book mostly takes place in the decade that follows it, when Australia began to accept new migrants en masse from war-ravaged Europe.

I was very fortunate to receive a grant from Snowy Hydro to travel to Canberra, Cooma, and the Snowy Mountains to interview some of the first migrant workers to contribute to this extraordinary project. Most of them were barely out of their teens when they left Europe behind: now they are in their nineties. They had very little idea of what to expect from their new lives, yet they met their challenges with an incredible level of tenacity and enthusiasm. The theme that kept coming back was how happy they were to be able to bury the hatchet of WW2, and throw themselves into a nation-building project on which former enemies could work side-by-side. The Snowy Hydro Scheme itself is an engineering wonder.

I was also able to connect with my extended Italian family through writing this book. My Auntie Rosella has been a wonderful proof-reader and cultural consultant, and I’ve gained so much pleasure from getting to know her better and working with her. She was actually the one who told me of the plane that was shot down over Lenola, and of my distant relative Dan Quinto, who saw the parachutist falling and, along with his family, saved three airmen’s lives by keeping them hidden in the caves nearby until the area was liberated some months later. In Rosella’s version of the story, the airmen were Australian and, when the war was over, they wrote to Dan’s family and invited any fit young men to come and work on their farms.

Once I spoke to Dan’s son, Joe, I found out that the airmen were American, and after the war they never heard from them again – the offer to come and work in Australia came from an entirely different quarter. But by that time, the die was cast, the story was too good to let go, and so it became the genesis of Move the Mountains.

Immigration stories are all around us – and they are rich and delightful to uncover and share. That’s what I’ve learned from writing The Freedom Finders, and it’s something I hope will be passed onto readers, too.

Emily Conolan

Sunday 24 March 2019

mapali: Dawn Gathering (Ten Days on the Island)

Felicity Sly was privileged to be part of the choir involved in mapali: Dawn Gathering, the launch of 2019 Ten Days on the Island. mapali was led by Dave mangenner Gough, a Tasmanian Aboriginal descended from Dalrymple Johnson.[1]

Watch some of the ceremony: 

In Dave’s introduction to Welcome to Country, he told a story, similar to this:

The kangaroo is a metaphor for Palawa identity in Tasmania. Aboriginal people knew the animal as Tarner, a creation spirit and ancestor of Parlevar, the 'first man'. Through kinship obligations, the kangaroo bound Aboriginal people to the land and gave us a mythical identity as descendants of a creation spirit. The notable Aboriginal 'clever-man' Woorady told how the kangaroo was an ancestor, transformed into Parlevar (Palawa) by the creation spirit Moinee. Before this transformation, Palawa had no knee joints and could not sit down. The spirit Droemerdeener broke his legs and cut off his tail, giving him a place to stay and live. As well as creating Parlevar, Moinee 'cut the ground and made the rivers, cut the land and made the islands'.[2]

Dave worked tirelessly in the lead up to mapali, working with local school children to create the dogwood huts and shells that featured in the ceremony.

Dave’s presentation reminded me of the amazing resources available in Tasmania to explore Aboriginal heritage. One program offered via the Department of Education is the ASK[3] (Aboriginal Sharers of Knowledge) program, where Aboriginal Cultural Educators work with teachers to deliver culturally responsive programs. The Aboriginal Education Services Library has over 9000 items to support teachers and cultural educators to deliver classroom content.
mapali did more than welcome the dawn, or launch Ten Days on the Island, it reminded the hundreds of performers, participants and those who attended, that we have a rich cultural heritage at our fingertips – all we need to do is be open to embrace and explore the possibilities.

Welcome to Country (CBCA Notable 2017) by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy concentrates on the Wurundjeri People (the book's capitalisation - not mine), but acts as a starting point for discussion of the palawa people of Tasmania.

Sorry Day (CBCA Notable 2019) by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler can be used as an introduction to understanding about the stolen generations.

Our birds: Nilimurrungu Wayin Malanynha (CBCA Notable 2019) by Siena Stubbs, as well as exploring the bird life of Arnhem Land provides a good introduction to the Aboriginal languages – this one being the Yolngu language.

As an aside: if you have not seen the documentary The Making of the Rabbit Proof Fence, especially the abduction scene, I highly recommend it (available on Youtube).

Also Maybe Tomorrow (CBCA Shortlist 1999) by Boori Pryor helps to provide some insight into how different an Aboriginal persons experience of life can be, to our norm.

Photo credits
2.       Felicity Sly

Felicity Sly is Treasurer and Merchandise Officer of CBCA Tasmania, and is a Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport. Felicity loves to sing as part of a choir and experience the wealth of artistic and cultural offerings that Tasmania now has on offer!

[1] Home, U. and Gough, C. (2019). Community Bio - David Gough. [online] Community - University of Tasmania, Australia. Available at: http://www.utas.edu.au/community/naidoc/community-bio-david-gough [Accessed 19 Mar. 2019].

[2] Utas.edu.au. (2019). The Palawa Voice - Cultural Artefact - Companion to Tasmanian History. [online] Available at: http://www.utas.edu.au/tasmanian-companion/biogs/E000737b.htm [Accessed 19 Mar. 2019].
[3]Documentcentre.education.tas.gov.au. (2019). [online] Available at: https://documentcentre.education.tas.gov.au/Documents/ASK%20Program%20-%202019%20Guidelines.pdf [Accessed 19 Mar. 2019].

Saturday 16 March 2019

And furthermore: Part 2 of A Consequence of Censorship & Positive Action

Join Paul Collins as he continues his post from last week to raise concerns about students' access to great books and library services to encourage a love of reading and literature.

Is it any wonder that children are finding that reading is no longer relevant to them or easily accessible?

Kids love to read when shown a book that suits their interests. A librarian directs kids to the books they love and encourages reading for pleasure. The education system has a high emphasis on testing, but libraries are a testing free zone where they can just choose what they want to read and relax and enjoy the story without question. Although teachers have certain books they read to the class for pleasure (and parents need to be seen reading for pleasure at home, as well) it is the librarians who are subversive. They push the boundaries and encourage kids to do the same with their reading and thinking.

Finally, I’d give weight to the above by pointing to the sales and popularity of the Tree House books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, and authors such as Roald Dahl and David Walliams. They break all the rules – there is violence and the children get into fights with bullies. They are gross and naughty and the kids ignore adults. But kids can’t get enough of them.

Kids can distinguish between fantasy and reality; they want to escape the confines of the endless rules and regulations. So we need to give them more variety of these kinds of books, rather than less. Give them books that explore these elements on an even deeper level; they are up for it. Forget the sweet stories that don’t challenge them.

And stop censoring reality!
Paul Collins

Do your children have access to a school library staffed by qualified professionals? Paul's post highlights a growing downturn in library services. Read on to hear from Holly Godfree and find out about a current campaign to highlight this issue. Consider how you can add to the momentum to bring school library services to the forefront. 

Join the new national Students Need School Libraries campaign in a coordinated push to reinvigorate school libraries to become what students need them to be. In a strategic change of tactics, we’re targeting the general public. We’ll show them why strong school libraries are so important for students in the digital age, alert them to the fact that many school library services have been quietly decimated and give them the tools and support to raise this issue with principals and politicians. Our vision is that every student has access to a dynamic, well-resourced school library run by qualified library staff. 

This year, the campaign is focusing on developing state/territory-specific goals because each place has a slightly different situation. Many state-level school library associations will be leading the charge around Australia, but Tasmania, NT and the ACT do not currently have state-level organisations. This means that we’re looking for a few pass
ionate individuals to put their hands up to coordinate the campaign in those locations. We’ve got a committed team in Canberra and a local leader in Darwin. Might you be the person to step up for Tassie? Please use the ‘contact us’ page on our website to express your interest. The students of Tasmania need you!

Tune into our Students Need School Libraries YouTube channel, explore the full playlist and watch some of the short films we’ve created to support local community action.

Find out more about School Library Campaign: This is our moment at studentsneedschoollibraries.org.au including direct links to follow us on Twitter, FaceBook and Instagram.  
Holly Godfree

Paul Collins is the publisher at Ford Street Publishing, an independent Melbourne publisher. He also runs Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and is the author of over 140 books for children and young adults.
W: fordstreetpublishing.com
W: creativenetspeakers.com
W: paulcollins.com.au
T: @fordstreet
FB: https://www.facebook.com/fordstreet

Holly Godfree is a teacher librarian in Canberra, the campaign coordinator for Students Needs School Libraries
E: snslcampaign@gmail.com
W: https://studentsneedschoollibraries.org.au/
T: @NeedSchoolLibs
FB: https://www.facebook.com/StudentsNeedSchoolLibraries/
I: https://www.instagram.com/studentsneedschoollibraries/

Monday 11 March 2019

A Concerning Consequence of Censorship - Part 1

Paul Collins, successful publisher and author, draws on over 40 years in the industry to share his thoughts on some recent trends in publishing that have consequences on children's access to books. This is the first of a two part discussion that demonstrates Paul's passion and commitment to bring a breadth of reading experiences into the hands of young readers. It also prompts us to pause and think about how outside influences are controlling choice and access to books.

When children lose interest in reading, we need to look for reasons why.

I believe the Internet is the main contributor to this problem. Social Justice Warriors were once dim voices, which 99.9% of the world ignored. Now, alas, due to social media, they have a voice that is growing exponentially louder. Those of us who I like to think of as being the level-headed ones have become so browbeaten that we are losing our voice to combat the censorious pressure groups.

A book can now be whipped off the shelf because of a solitary complaint, as was Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow at a Tasmanian school I visited. Mind you, we can also blame the downfall of libraries and librarians in schools for this. Parents used to see the librarian about such things, not the principal. They would be directed to the school council approved policy on library acquisitions. With regards to Scarecrow – it’s an adult book and not YA – so it would depend on the school council’s policy on stocking those kinds of books. Secondary schools usually have a committee that deals with these sorts of complaints and a set procedure for withdrawing a book, whereas these days most primary schools don’t even have a librarian, let alone a committee.

Australia’s censorship ‘rules’ are nowhere near as oppressive as those in the US, but when Australian educational publishers have a co-pub deal with a US publisher, they must adhere to their rules, rather than ours.

Take a look at some examples of political correctness and ‘inclusiveness’ that are turning many children’s books into dreary pap.

When I submitted The Vampire Kids to an educational publisher, it was rejected outright. The publisher obviously hadn’t read the book because she didn’t realise it wasn’t about vampires at all, rather it was about kids dressing up as vampires. But never mind that, it was about Halloween and in the US education school system that’s not on. (As an aside, I changed the title to Tricking, but in the US that’s prostitution so when it was finally published it was called Tricksters.) In another book I had children around a campfire, holding their hands out to warm themselves as I had done as a scout. The illustrator had to redraw the picture because the editor felt the kids were too close to the fire.

Meredith Costain wrote four Barbie books and one character was suntanned as she was an outdoor community worker. The US editor crossed that out and wrote in the margin ‘sun abuse’. In Errol the Peril she was told the kids could only set up their tent within sight of their grandparents’ farmhouse on their camping ‘adventure’ for safety reasons, and they weren’t allowed to light a campfire because they might burn themselves. In yet another book she was told that an adult male wasn’t allowed in a scene with kids unless they were related (despite statistics indicating that children are more at risk of sexual abuse from relatives than they are from strangers).

Two well known Australian illustrators were required to alter their work: one was asked to draw a nappy on the bare bottom of a toddler dancing under a sprinkler, while the other had to remove the udder from a cow. One has to wonder what the absurd reasoning is here. Perhaps nudity!

Try writing about dinosaurs and some publishers will point out that this evolutionary theory is controversial. Another no-no is challenging a teacher’s authority in the classroom. This also applies to bullies (definitely no fist fights in educational books!), or anger in general, as these are not positive traits. Some cultures associate owls with death, so stay well clear of our nocturnal friends, and forget Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas because not all children celebrate them.

Gone are all the good things in life such as lollies, popular soft drinks, fatty stuff like chips and hamburgers. No, they’re to be replaced with nutritional foodstuffs like yoghurt, kale and fish.

Whereas censorship was once confined to educational publishing, it’s now moved into the realm of trade publishing. Recently, Amélie Wen Zhao’s YA fantasy novel, Blood Heir, received great pre-publication reviews. But now the Twitterverse trolls (and to a lesser extent some Goodreads reviewers) have started in on her on grounds of racial insensitivity, forcing her to postpone publication of the book. There’s no room to go into this here, but you might like to read a critique by AJA Hoggatt, which basically debunks a lot of the criticism levelled at this book.

And all of this is happening in a world where kids can type ‘porn’ into a browser and watch the worst there is to offer. Where large numbers of computer games are all about mayhem and killing and where music from rappers exhorting the values of being anti-social and downright murderous can easily be streamed for free.

Censoring books to the point where children are not interested in reading them is only harming them more, as reading gives kids the skills to determine fake news, be thoughtful, empathetic, and to become more aware of the issues of the world. Without these skills kids are way more vulnerable on the Internet.

It's time to stop censoring reality! Next week discover a powerful force for championing kids' rights to read.

Paul Collins is the publisher at Ford Street Publishing, an independent Melbourne publisher. He also runs Creative Net Speakers’ Agency and is the author of over 140 books for children and young adults.

W: fordstreetpublishing.com
W: creativenetspeakers.com
W: paulcollins.com.au
T: @fordstreet
FB: https://www.facebook.com/fordstreet

Sunday 3 March 2019

One Careless Night

This week’s blog describes a prelaunch of Christina Booth’s new book on the thylacine, One Careless Night, which was held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in the Main Gallery on Sunday February 17 at 1 pm
This was a free event, pre-booking was required through trybooking, presented by TMAG and Black Dog books and a limited print run of pre-release copies of the book was only available on this occasion, prior to the actual publication date of June 1. This was a part of the museum’s Discovery Day event. https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/One-Careless-Night-9781925381856

The title refers to the journey of the last thylacine in captivity. The author’s note at the end of the story explains:
The last thylacine in captivity ‘…died one freezing night at the Hobart Zoo because her keeper left her out of her shelter.’ This occurred on ‘… 7 September 1936. This is now the date of National Threatened Species Day in Australia.’

A slideshow of the picture book with images and music, composed by Thieron Booth, Christina’s son, ran for about 20 minutes before the event actually started, which allowed the diverse audience to settle into the serious mood that Christina’s wonderful story brought with it. She was ably assisted throughout the proceedings by husband Michael.
Maryann Ballantyne of Black Dog books (Walker imprint) introduced Donna Rawlins, Christina’s art director on this project, who officially pre-launched the book. They celebrate 15 years association with Christina Booth from the first showing of her portfolio to them. Donna Rawlins is a very experienced illustrator and author, who greatly admires this book, which Christina has been writing and illustrating since 2006, wanting to show the world not just the thylacine but also other native animals.
Donna stated: “This is a story bigger than any of us can afford to ignore”.
One of the saddest facts behind this true story is that between 1901 and 1936 there were activists who sought to protect the thylacine. Zoos worldwide wanted specimens for their collections. Permission for this to happen was given on July 10th 1936, 39 days before the death of the last thylacine in captivity.
Christina presented One Careless Night, reading the whole story aloud from the screen so that we could all share illustrations and words better together, and the atmosphere of loss created by the soundtrack. She acknowledged the great assistance she has received from TMAG in her research into this amazing native creature
This was followed by a drawing activity, where Christina demonstrated how to draw the thylacine, providing sheets with instructions and blank sheets on a clipboard with 6B pencils in order for members of the audience to draw their own. During this hands-on demonstration she discussed the mystery of the thylacine, how as a child she was told that if she ever met a thylacine, she should hold onto its tail - it can’t turn around then as it has a partially fused spine so the spine doesn’t break when it bites down on its prey. The thylacine also hunts in early morning and late evening and so falls into the category of animals that are called ‘crepuscular’. Her illustrations are drawn on the computer, but she uses the same techniques as when drawing on paper. 

To see more examples of her work see: https://www.christinabooth.com/books.html
About her ideas see link to CBCA blog post from October 2018

Image from Newsletter Volume 5 Issue 5 (December 2018) (NCACL)

Christine Donnelly
Assistant Social Media Coordinator, CBCA Tasmania.