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

Friday 29 November 2019

Accidental Author

It was a treat to meet Sharon Booth at a recent local school library meeting and to listen to her speak about her work as an author and illustrator publishing under her pen name, Sharon J Yaxley. The Tasmanian settings for her stories provide a strong sense of place and her love of the Tasmanian landscape shines through her work.
People dream about writing a book, some start, some procrastinate, some finish.
I procrastinated for years not knowing where to start or what to write.
On the death of a dear friend, I thought I would write a little story for her great grandchildren to remember her by.  Among many talents, she was a pilot, a maker of bears, a traveller and storyteller. Dunstan is the bear she made for me and Theodore the stuffed dog who viewed the world from the rear console of the car and then the loungeroom floor. He ended up on the conveyor belt at the tip.
My characters were born. The rhyming verse woke up with me one morning and I captured it on a piece of paper on the bedside table. It was edited and beats counted on fingers and drummed on the desk numerous times. Written from the heart. That was easy… the illustrations took another 6 months. I procrastinated. Where to start?
It was my brother that said, “Just start. Draw a line on the page, draw what you don’t want the characters to look like. Just draw.”
I found the perfect Theodore character in a soft toy and with the purchase of chalk pastels, I started drawing. Having never used chalk pastels before it was trial and error and loads of fun layering colour and texture onto the page. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Long into the night, chalk dusted fingers and table and clothes and cat’s paws. 
I intended on making a few photocopies when I had finished and binding them. By the time I had inundated my work colleagues at school with drawings and drafts the book had become popular and there was a demand for copies.
Through a family friend I was introduced to Warren Boyles who was the past owner of Forty South Publishing. He kindly offered to publish the book and introduced me to Cate Lowry to do the design work. I did a small print run of 200, sold out reprinted another 200, sold out and decided to do a big print run. By the time the reprint of Dunstan and Theodore was ready, I had written and illustrated Theodore Swims in the Sea. I wrote Hide and Seek next but had no confidence to illustrate it, so I put it aside. By the time Theodore Swims in the Sea was ready, I had finished Set Sail, an adventure with all the yachts I had sailed on from my childhood and recent past. It had been suggested that Forty South Publishing should take over the role of publishing as my enthusiasm for creating stories escalated. Lucinda Sharp and the team have also been wonderful.

Shelley Point, Scamander
There was no intention of another book but my love of photography and a surfing trip to Scamander one September found my imagination running wild with sea monsters and possibilities as I walked the windy, storm ravaged shore at Shelley Point. I loved the photos and put them aside. My subconscious must have been ticking away as I woke one morning in March with a verse in my head and when it was written down I saw the possibility of a book to inspire people to view the world differently, through shadows and shapes, turning the images upside down and around. Creating stories, drawing, using natural objects to create images…imagination and monsters. To look at the environment, explore and care for what is there. 

Hide and Seek in Launceston's City Park
I convinced myself to start the illustrations for Hide and Seek when I looked at all my past artwork which was architectural mixed media. Of course, I could draw the City Park gates and the conservatory and the rotunda, so I started, and I did. After a break from drawing the characters, maintaining the consistency was a priority, and my drawing hand kept going where it left off.
The literary journey is not for the faint hearted. It is costly, as a self-published author, but rewarding. After 3 years I have published 5 books!  Marketing the books and navigating through social media and retail outlets is time consuming, but there are many wonderful operators willing to take a chance on a local author with boundless enthusiasm and a product that has captured the hearts of many children’s bedtimes. My retail background in window dressing and visual merchandising management is helpful.
There is joy in hearing feedback from customers about how much the stories and illustrations are loved. Read and reread.
 I have discovered a new world of local talent and formed new friendships. Some are writing, some are procrastinating, some are published. All of them successful in having started.
The stack of cardboard boxes branded with book titles is slowly diminishing from my family room as my art desk, camera and imagination ponder the next literary adventure.
Sharon Booth
Tasmanian children’s book creator.
Discover Sharon’s books (published under Sharon J Yaxley) at https://www.sharonjyaxley.com/ where you will find teacher’s notes and activities for Sea Monsters and Dunstan and Theodore’s own website.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Welcoming a new addition to the CBCA Tasmania team

During the recent branch AGM it was a pleasure to meet and greet a new member of the CBCA Tasmania committee. Victoria brings a wealth of experiences revolving around children’s literature that will benefit everyone. Welcome on board Victoria Ryle.

I bring experience as a primary teacher and literacy advisory teacher many years ago in London, with a passion for the power of picture books to introduce children to the joys of literature and literacy in tandem. (I like to believe that around this time I may have contributed to introducing Michael Rosen to a certain traditional rhyme that I used to teach teachers on a language and literacy course, that was immortalised soon after in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – he uses a similar cadence and actions in this recording

In 1996, I set up Kids’ Own Publishing, first in Ireland (where we had a close association with Children’s Books Ireland, CBCA’s equivalent), and since 2003 in Melbourne, where the organisation continues to celebrate children as authors and artists and give them a voice through publishing within their communities. 
Kid's Own Publishing http://kidsownpublishing.com/ 

Since relocating to Tasmania four years ago, I have established a creative residency space outside Hobart (visit allthatweare) and am undertaking a PhD researching the pedagogies that educators draw upon to publish books with children as authors.

I am joining the board of CBCA Tasmania as vice president at a time of exciting possibilities for bridging Tasmanian literature for children with new opportunities for literacy initiatives in the State. So, in thinking about my new role, I am curious about the separation between the fields of literature and literacy and what opportunities we can seize for those who may feel currently excluded from the world of books. How can we leverage benefits for literacy from the rich world of children’s literature and at the same time give children a stake in it? I look forward to connecting with a new generation of Tasmanian authors and illustrators through this role. 

Victoria Ryle 
Vice President, CBCA Tasmania

Friday 15 November 2019

Fiction and Mindset

This week Tahnee McShane draws on her teaching and writing experiences to consider how fiction can model positive and problem solving attitudes in young readers through the representation of a growth mindset in the characters and the way they face challenges.

Last year, when I was in the early stages of publishing my first book and seeking feedback from people in the industry, a friend of mine alerted me to the fact that a theme of Annabel and Turtle was growth-mindset. Annabel and Turtle was always intended to be at least slightly moralistic. A children’s story with a simple message that sometimes, bad things happen, they make us sad, but we do feel happy again. This is symbolised when Annabel and Turtle’s beautifully crafted sandcastle is washed away with the tide.

Annabel, my friend observed, is a character with a wise soul who approaches life with a growth mindset. She sees problems as something that can be overcome with grit and determination. Turtle, however, contrasts Annabel’s approach by having a fixed mindset. When Turtle comes across a problem, his first response is to cry. And let’s face it – that’s still my go-to approach a lot of the time when the proverbial hits the fan.
© Tahnee McShane
Illustration from Annabel and Turtle

But a fixed mindset is not only about crying when things go bad. It comes down to a deeper belief that a person holds about him or herself. Working with young children, fixed-mindset can be common. One of the first cries you hear in the earlier grades is “I can’t draw,” which follows on to “I’m not good at…. maths/drawing/singing” - you fill in the gaps. Early on we teach our children to pigeon hole themselves. I clearly remember my friend in grade four being told to mime in the school choir because she “can’t sing.” But, the message we really want our children to know is that they may not be good at it yet. As a teacher, the child who simply will not try anything because they are not good can be extremely challenging (if not time-consuming).

We want our children to understand that when things are difficult, when they are being challenged –their brains are growing, and they are learning. More and more research is being published which suggests that if children have a good understanding of how their brains work, that will help them in the way they approach learning.

Recently, I was watching a documentary about Formula One racing drivers.  In this episode, the documentary was following Renault Driver, Nico Hulkenberg. During the show, when visiting America, Hulkenberg was chatting to a group of children. One asked, “do you think you can win? Do you have growth-mindset?” My husband looked over at me with raised eyebrows, (as the self-appointed growth-mindset expert in the house) and I groaned inwardly. Like many things, growth-mindset is open for misinterpretation. In our fast-paced world, changing your mindset can be misinterpreted as a quick fix to “believe in yourself”. In Nico Hulkenberg’s case, it was obvious this would not be enough. For Hulkenberg to win a race in a Renault powered formula one car in 2018, there would be need for serious misadventure from many other cars!

In addition to teaching children explicitly about how their brains function, I’m interested in how fiction can help foster growth-mindset, at a more subtle yet deeper level. I’m interested in characters and the values that they role-model to our little people. As educators and authors, it’s important in choosing or creating literature for our young people that we keep these values in mind. When a character struggles, talk about it with your child or your class. Highlight the times that the protagonist fails, as well as the time she succeeds. Discuss how the character has grown and changed when they failed.

And maybe next time a child is asked to do something that they previously decided they were “not good at,” they will remember the Koala Lou’s or the Digging-est Dogs – or indeed the Turtles, and remember that it’s OK to try, and try and try again. That we do not have to be perfect the first time – indeed we do not need to be perfect at all.
Tahnee McShane is the author of Annabel and Turtle a children’s book and podcast series, for children aged 2 to 8.
Tahnee is also a teacher and mother, and lives in Tasmania with her husband and three children. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram and find the podcast on Spotify and Soundcloud.