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

Friday 29 May 2020

ISO Stories: Favourite heroes and heroines who have been there before us

Isolation and the associated focus of survival are common, long standing and popular themes in children’s and young adult literature and are under the spotlight due to social distancing and enforced lock downs. The stories explored in this week’s post by Felicity Sly are sure to spark memories and resonate with readers.
Our COVID-19 life had me recalling books I’ve read about surviving in isolation. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe), The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss) and Lord of the Flies (William Golding) are all well-known classics. They present different perspectives on surviving in total or part isolation.
There are some survival/isolation stories that I remember fondly, and have stored themselves on my ‘mental favourites’ shelf. The first of these books was Ivan Southall’s Hills End. I believe it was read to me by a teacher (a nun) who no doubt would have made a career in entertainment as her back-up plan. Hill’s End tells the story of a group of students and one adult, who become isolated for a period of time by floodwaters. Ash Road (Ivan Southall) was read next, and as a child affected by the 1967 southern Tasmania bushfires, it didn’t take much imagination to picture their situation.
I am David (Anne Holm) and The Silver Sword (Ian Serraillier) were read about the same time, and tell the tale of young boys with a quest to reunite with families torn apart by war. These quests require them to travel great distances, decide who to trust, and then achieve some resolution of their plight. Morris Gleitzman’s Once series are a contemporary authors approach to these topics.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) and The Cay (Theodore Taylor) set these survival/isolation stories on islands, with the main characters having to also cope with the death of a companion…so from being in this together, to  having to do it solo.
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) and My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) set the survival in the wilderness. My Side of the Mountain is unusual in the isolation/survival stories mentioned here, in that Sam chooses isolation. He has the means to return to family/civilisation; he is prepared having studied survival techniques; and he is enjoying his lifestyle.

The book that had the greatest impact as a survival story was Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien). Perhaps because it was set in an alternative future, and one that had the potential to be our future. Ann must survival after a nuclear war impacts the area around her family’s valley. I believe that it was the first I had read to explicitly cover potential for sexual predation of a character.
The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy) also address survival in very different ways. My memory of reading The Road was more akin to reading a horror story than a survival/isolation story!
I was excited to discover that these books that I read between the 1960s and 1980s are all still in print.
Felicity Sly
Felicity is a teacher librarian at Don College & the CBCA Tasmania Treasurer
Editor’s Note: What a timely post – with so many titles that jogged memories of my own reading including the shortlisted Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble. Hatchet reminded me of the more recent I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall and Lord of the Flies resonated with Geraldine McCaughrean’s fabulous and heartbreaking historical tale Where the World Ends. If you have some further examples - from the past and/or recent - please share as a comment.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Run on Empty or Adapt: Part 2 Authors and Illustrators

Paul Collins continues his insightful discussions on the book industry during the COVID 19 pandemic to explore the issues and challenges facing authors and illustrators. This perspective compliments the contributions of a number of local authors and illustrators throughout this challenging year.

As for authors and illustrators . . . it might seem obvious that they will be getting a lot of work done in 2020 in time for a bumper 2021/2022. However, as one illustrator told me recently, she’s been struggling to meet her deadline as she currently has seven family members confined to the house. That would certainly take some getting used to. Without schools and libraries, many creatives are in financial trouble – in fact, actors, musicians – most people across the arts sector, have suddenly lost their income. Unless they can find other work, I wonder how many are going to survive. Although I did see in the paper that an airline pilot has scored a job as a delivery driver – anything is possible where there’s a will. And Alec Baldwin is to star in Orphans, a world-first livestream play

Speaking of which, Dannika Patterson, author of Scribbly Gum Secrets (illustrated by Megan Forward), had planned a massive launch for the book. (Over 300 people attended her launch of Jacaranda Magic.) The second launch was all set to go when Covid-19 arrived. So she adapted and livestreamed her event. I hadn’t expected it to attract as much attention as it did. Here are her findings after the launch.
  • The 'Live' video organically reached 2.4K viewers.
  • Of these, 980 clicked in to watch the Online Storytime (about 350 devices tuned in live and the balance watched on replay).
  • Dannika had a lot of friends/followers tell her they missed it on the night but tuned in withe their kids over breakfast the next morning.
  • There were 641 engagements with the launch video (which means that people either hit 'like' or some other reaction, or made a comment.
  • Dannika's author page gained an extra 51 likes/follower leading up to during the event.
  • Engagement and replays are still listing. People in the USA and Europe tuned in to watch the replat for days after the online event. 

Michael Hyde (remember the fabulous Footy Dreaming) and Gabrielle Gloury created a trailer on a mobile phone. Their book, Girls Change the Game, is a choose-your-own adventure. It would have gone gangbusters with the AFLW season in mid swing. Regardless, their trailer on Facebook was shared 37 times and the online sales have been quite good. It prompted me to revise Ford Street’s YouTube channel which I’d not touched for years:
Michael Hyde digitally launches Girls Change the Game.

A number of authors have taken up video recording as they read their works aloud and then post online. There has been a great uptake of sites to deliver these. Reading@Home (QLD Department of Education) is one of many examples. Tune in to view
Michelle Worthington reading Glitch followed by Dimity Powell reading Pippa
It is great to see our authors getting the attention they deserve and taking advantage of the technology to share their creations with young readers.
Michelle Worthington and Dimity Powell feature on Reading@Home

Obviously, some creatives are very good at adapting. Those who aren’t might lose ground. And let’s face it, not everyone is tech-savvy.

But aside from the creatives and the booksellers, major publishers are doing it hard, too. Redundancies are rampant. Lonely Planet has all but shut its doors in England and Australia. Hardie Grant and Scribe were among the first Australian publishers to announce redundancies while other publishers such as Allen & Unwin and Thames and Hudson are cutting back the hours staff are working to reduce costs.

I’ve also heard on the grapevine that some major publishers are moving away from publishing local talent. It makes sense from a pure units-profit sense. If they purchase ANZ rights to a book with an overseas track record they skip the design/editing/author/illustrator cost. They still have the book, and at a hugely reduced price. I predict that many creatives whose sales once made them A-listers will gradually be seeking publication with the smaller presses. If librarians or the public want to support local product, they won’t be wholly searching the major publishers’ catalogues for it. 

While I write this I have notified my distributor, NewSouth, that four titles I had planned for May through to August will now be September and October books. Those micro presses which are still around in 2021 will have a bumper year, albeit one with more competition due to many books being postponed from 2020.

To end on an upbeat note, according to Nielsen BookScan (the industry’s sales monitor), trade publishers’ revenue is actually up 15% compared to the same time last year, with book sales up 36% compared to the same period.

I imagine the online sales have contributed to this result as people in lockdown are looking for ways to beat boredom. Perhaps it’s no wonder that puzzles have seen a surge in sales.

Paul Collins
T: @fordstreet
FB: Paul Collins

Editor's note: Some of you may have followed the fairly recent announcement of the 2020 Indie award winners and shortlist that demonstrates the importance of independent publishers in the children's book trade. A number of Tasmanian authors have also been active in sharing their works online and these have been promoted on the CBCA Tasmania FaceBook page. For creators reading this post, if you have a live reading or site to share, please add as a comment to this post.

Friday 15 May 2020

From the blog: The Importance of Being Productive

Daniel Gray-Barnett, last year’s winner of the CBCA Award for New Illustration, reflects on how the current pandemic creates expectations but also affects work flow and creativity. Join Daniel as he shares some exciting new projects arising from enforced stay-at-home requirements and also acknowledges the importance of some down-time.

One consequence of Covid-19 I’ve noticed has been the pressure to be productive. Many people (myself included) are using this time to learn new skills, work on personal projects or hobbies and cross things off their to-do lists.

Understandably, there has been an increasing demand for online content and lessons, and along with it also comes the opportunity to take a more active role in teaching that I otherwise would have. Teaching is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m excited to think about what skills and aspects of illustration and storytelling I would love to share with students.

One activity I’m working on is developing a workshop series where the students form picture book teams, each taking turns in the roles of author and illustrator. The aim would be to replicate the process of creating picture book stories together. It would be great for the students to see the differences in how people can interpret a text visually and also emphasise how the author and illustrators work on the book quite separately from each other. Fingers crossed, it could even lead to some future storytelling partnerships - maybe the next Mem Fox & Julie Vivas, or Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton?

Apart from the workshop planning, I’ve been working on a couple of picture book projects. Now that things are quieter during lockdown, I’ve had more time to focus on working on these books. I’m currently editing the text on my second picture book with Scribble, which has struggled a little from the pressure of ‘second book syndrome’, but I’m confident will reach a good place in the next few months. I’m also planning to start work on writing the sequel to Grandma Z this month.

A work in progress for a new project
- meet Alexander and his mother
Illustration-wise, I’ve been working on illustrations for a book for a small UK publisher about a young kangaroo family. The main character, Alexander, is a very neat and organised joey, who takes issue with his chaotic mother and her tendencies to hoard all manner of things inside her pouch. It’s a great story about family dynamics and finding independence. It’s also been a good chance for me to experiment with different mediums and techniques. I’ve been exploring with traditional mediums including coloured inks, pastels and pencils rather than relying on the computer to colour the pieces digitally as I have in the past. So far, the results have been pretty successful and I’m really pleased to have found another way to approach illustrations for my next picture books.

It sounds like I’ve been overly productive, but to be honest, there have been days when I can’t even bring myself to be creative with the thought of what’s going on. Other days, drawing and painting are the only things that help soothe and relax my mind. I think it’s equally valid to be as unproductive as you need to be - taking time out for yourself to catch up on sleep, video chat with loved ones, binge on a Netflix series.

Trying to work during lockdown is a reminder that for me, being unproductive is an important part of my capacity to be creative and productive. For every workshop or illustration project I’m working on, there’s also a day spent learning how to make pizza dough or finally getting through my pile of books next to the bed. There’s a lot more to our time than our work and getting things done. Being unproductive can be an important part of practising self-care and our work might be all the better for it.

Daniel Gray-Barnett

Author and Illustrator
T: @dgraybarnett

Sunday 10 May 2020

Run on Empty or Adapt: Part 1 Publisher and Book Seller

This is the first of two posts that provide insights into the impact of COVID 19 on some of the stakeholders in the publishing industry. Living in the moment as an independent publisher, bookseller and author – Paul Collins returns to share insights and windows into the children’s book trade.

Paul Collins is the publisher at Ford Street Publishing. 
He also runs Creative Net Speakers’ Agency. He has written over 140 books, mostly for Australia’s leading publishers including Penguin, HarperCollins and Hachette. His current book, James Gong – The Big Hit, came out in May 2020 from Hybrid Publishers and this interview with the author, by Narelle Harris, provides a great introduction to this awesome tale for primary aged boys.

These are interesting times for many businesses. Some might say adaptation is the key to weathering them. We’re seeing former caf├ęs/bars selling groceries, booksellers delivering books (some by bicycle!) and florists selling vegetables alongside their flowers.

Some businesses can’t adapt. Part of what I do, for example, is running a Speakers’ Agency. I had four literary festivals planned for this year and some fifty presenters booked for Voices on the Coast and other big name festivals around the country, and in schools and libraries. Everything has been cancelled. There is no coming back from that when your client base has shut down. I was to present at both KidLit and the CYA Conference. The latter will go digital later in the year and KidLit has at least shifted its conference to November. However, the good news is that a number of my speakers have stepped up to the mark and virtual workshops are now available. 

Luckily for me, my business model is quite diverse. I publish books as Ford Street Publishing and have managed to keep up a writing career, putting out three books in the past three years – two with Scholastic and one with Hybrid Publishing.   

However, most businesses encounter cash flow problems somewhere along the line. With Ford Street, every picture book I currently accept comes with an upfront cost. The author and illustrator receive an on-signing advance, the editor and designer also get paid when the book is complete. And there it will sit till the following year before release – so no income from that book for at least twelve months. There is no point in putting out books right now as bookshops are closing daily. My distributor also informed me that many of those who are staying open are holding off purchasing new releases and relying on the stock they already have. It’s no wonder that many major publishers are postponing their lead titles until 2021.

With so many books in the pipeline, I have taken the plunge and committed some of the books I have to publication in September and October. Again, it’s a cash flow decision. If I don’t schedule books for 2020, there will be no income for quite some time.

Good news for Ford Street is that Chris McKimmie’s I NEED a Parrot was shortlisted for the CBCA’s Picture Book of the Year. It seems some people still have budgets as it has back orders of around 800 copies – well below what that figure might have been had it not been for the pandemic. Regardless, it will help Ford Street weather these difficult times. Megan Daley gives it a great rap on her weekly reviews - it's the second of her 5 Fave Books this Week!

And there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It appears that many schools are sending their library books to students at home. Most schools, apparently, aren’t expecting those books back once school resumes. As the schools still have budgets, it makes sense that sales will boom once we’re back to normal.

Another bonus is that online book sales have rocketed. During one recent week I had fourteen books ordered online. At best, Ford Street would normally get around five online sales in a week. Some booksellers are saying their sales have gone through the roof. Whether this trend will continue beyond the pandemic is anyone’s guess. But as a micro press, I hope it does. Having a smaller distributor means many of Ford Street’s new releases don’t make it into the stores. This means no spontaneous sales – if the book isn’t on a shelf, it’s certainly not going to sell. But all of Ford Street’s books are online, so it’s certainly levelled out the playing field to a degree.

What’s important for all in the book trade is for the public to keep reading and buying books. Take the time to explore your favourite Australian bookshops online and be prepared to spend your dollars locally to keep the industry alive.

Paul Collins
T: @fordstreet
FB: Paul Collins

Editor’s note: Why not take the time checkout the offerings of Ford St and source some new reading material to entice children at home or as they return to school and the…library! Yay!

Saturday 2 May 2020

A Quiz - Past Book of the Year Shortlists

How well do you know past Book of the Year Shortlists? This week is a challenge that will jog memories, prompt some in-house banter and discussion, hone search skills and provide the stimulus to remember – great titles and amazing stories from the distant and not so long ago past. Thanks, Maureen, for providing such an interesting and entertaining post.
While thinking about the changed date for this year’s Book Week, I wondered about past short lists. I found when I looked that there were many titles which have gone from people’s memory – or at least from mine – but I enjoyed looking at the lists and recalling many other favourites. I hope you have already discovered this link to past lists from 1946 onward. You will probably need it!

So here’s a quiz, based only on books included here: You’ll also possibly need to look at this year’s Short List
Answers are not included but they are all to be found at the above, apart from the ones which are personal choices. Hope you enjoy it.
1.     Which authors have titles in this year’s Short List as well as being on 2019’s?
2.     Who has had a title on the past 3 year’s Short Lists?
3.     When was the first Eve Pownall Award for Information Books granted?
4.     When did Nan Chauncey first win? For which book?
5.     How many times has Emily Rodda been listed for the awards? When was the first?
6.     When did Simon French first have a listed title?
7.     Bob Graham was first mentioned in 1986 and the last time in 2017. What are the titles?
8.     When was Colin Thiele’s Sun on the Stubble a Commended book?
9.     Who won the Older Readers category in 2015 and 2017?
10.  Who, and with what, won the first Younger Readers category (not Junior Book of the Year)? When?
11.  Christobel Mattingley was a well-loved author. Did she ever win a Book of the Year category?
12.  With which title did Ruth Park win a Book of the Year category? Which category?
13.  How many times did Pamela Allen have a category winner? How many times Highly Commended, Commended or Honour Book?
14.  Ron Brooks is Tasmanian. How many times is he listed? Which is your favourite?
15.  Which is the oldest title you remember?
16.  What title won the first Book of the Year in 1946?
17.  How many more times did that author feature?
18.  David Metzenthen is on this year’s Short List. Which of his titles first came to prominence in the Book of the Year awards?
19.  Shaun Tan won last year’s Picture Book of the Year. When did he win his first award? With which title?
20.  What title would you choose as winner in each 2020 Book of the Year category?

Maureen Mann
Past CBCA Awards Judge and avid reader and reviewer.
Editor’s Note: Wow, that list brought back memories – so many good books! For me it was from the 80’s onwards when I first moved into school libraries that I got hooked on Book Week and the awards. I have added one of my all-time most memorable books from that era – such a brave book in a time of political denial and it still stands out today.
1986 Highly Commended – Little Brother by Allan Baillie

Don’t forget to add your predictions for the 2020 awards (I am still reading them).