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

Friday 25 September 2020

Now and Then … and Then Again

Fiona Levings reflects on the inspiration and historical perspectives inspired by her own home and captured so evocatively in her recent picture book, Now and Then. A fascinating examination of the history of a home, set in Margate, Tasmania.

I never expected to write a picture book about my house. 

Cover of Now and Then by Fiona Levings.

We moved to Margate about ten years ago. The little house, sitting in the bush by a creek, had won us over instantly. We knew from the construction that it was built in the early 20th century but that was about it. Its history was a mystery - and with a new baby and busy lives, it was fixing to stay that way.

But the house had other ideas. 

Four years ago a car parked in our drive and an older gentleman came to the door. A stranger; he introduced himself as Doug and told me that he used to live in my house. He had dropped by to visit the place where he grew up. Could he take a look around?

Doug grew up in the 1940’s and he had many memories of life at that time. Standing on the front verandah of the house he pointed at the window to the right of the front door, smiled, and said “that was my room.”  Turning to look I spied my son Jem’s room through the window to the left and in that instant I saw the spread of a picture book: a room occupied by a modern child on the left and one belonging to a child eighty years ago, on the right. It was now and it was then.

The page spread that started it all.

I think most creative people would be familiar with that particular species of idea that won’t go away. Now and Then insisted on existence. With Doug’s permission, and having picked his mind further, the parallels and contrasts between his Margate life eighty years ago and that of Jem’s modern world had to be captured. Two boys, who live in the same house, go to the same school and play in the same creek in a little town near the end of the earth. It is one the smallest pieces of history I can imagine and yet, it works. Taking it into the classroom has been a joy as kids explore the illustrations to discover for themselves the ways our world has changed over time – and the ways that people have stayed the same.

Generations of kids have lived in our house and played in its creek. The world may have changed a lot over that time
but some things can still be relied on.

And, you know, a few weeks after the book came out another car appeared in my driveway and another stranger, this time a lady, got out. Her name was Lynne and it turns out that she, too, grew up in this house, about fifty years ago. And what did she ask about first?  

“Is the creek still there?”

Doug and Jem at the launch of Now and Then at Petrarch's, Launceston (December, 2019).


Fiona Levings is a Tasmanian-based author and illustrator of children’s picture books. Now and Then, published by Forty South Publishing, was listed as a notable book in the 2020 CBCA Book Awards. Copies are available in bookstores or online at www.fortysouth.com.au.

Web:  http://fionalevings.blogspot.com/ 

FB:  https://www.facebook.com/themoonbowmaker 

IG:  https://www.instagram.com/themoonbowmaker/ 

Friday 18 September 2020

The Little Treehouse That Could

The weekly grocery shop provides access to books – this week Lyndon Riggall considers the merits of a recent commercial promotion.

It’s a fascinating thing, the use of children’s merchandise as a means of encouraging commercial loyalty. Newspapers have been trying it for years to boost circulation (with there being no more sure sign of a struggling rag than a “one-a-day” DVD collecting promotion), and now it seems as if a trip to the supermarket without some kind of Ooshie, Little Shop or Discovery Garden product is a trip wasted—though where many of these objects end up for the long haul can only be a topic for grim speculation. You can imagine my surprise, then, when Coles announced that their latest venture was to hand out Little Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton with every purchase.

The works of Griffiths and Denton are, in my mind, a curious example of the disparity between the CBCA’s consistent judgment and the nature of children’s reading on the ground level. Kids go to the Just… series and the Treehouse books in droves, but questions of their literary merit mean that they typically miss out on recognition of the kind offered by the Children’s Book of the Year awards. The concerns that might be directed towards Griffiths and Denton in times past continue with this mass-market publication, including the usual accusations that they produce texts that are “potty humour,” “promote violence” or are “disgusting” (the claims of which, I have no doubt, serve often to increase rather than diminish their readership). Griffiths has always said that his work is a subversive riff on such old-fashioned improvement literature as Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, but whether the books are harmless fun in a world with no boundaries or encouragement of reckless misbehaviour is nevertheless up for debate. My weighing in on the issue: are the Little Treehouse books really inappropriate for children’s reading? No. Do kids love them? You bet they do.

Andy Griffiths with display of the Little Treehouse Books
Coles. (2020, July 27). Coles new collectables to inspire 
little readers
Research conducted by Coles itself found that 88% of parents said that they encouraged their children to read. What percentage of parents regularly purchased books for their children? 22%. We know that access to books make a huge difference in the literacy of children, and even if the Little Treehouse campaign was not supplemented with links to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and a creative writing competition, it would be hard to argue that the charming, mischievous Treehouse books aren’t a huge step in the right direction from a company whose previous best efforts included mass production of inedible miniature plastic versions of groceries. 

As educators, parents, and members of the community, we know that the solution to illiteracy is found in a number of places… it is found in libraries, in schools, in bookshops and in the corners of every loungeroom and bedroom in the country. Nevertheless, we need gateways. We need books that enchant, inspire, and give children a rush of glee and dissident delight. We need books that fall into hands unbidden; that bring reading into everyday life, dragging it kicking and screaming into places we never saw it before; challenging the notions of who readers are, and what being a reader is. 

Should we need a major supermarket chain to shell out free books just to get kids reading? I wish we didn’t. Nevertheless, somewhere in Australia, a child is holding a tiny book from one of the most successful teams in our country’s legacy of children’s literature, and they only have it because they got it for free at a supermarket. They are reading and laughing. Tomorrow, they are going to want more. 

I hope that we will, eventually, have a plan for tomorrow. Today, I’m just glad that they can find Andy and Terry in the treehouse. 

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. You can find him at http://lyndonriggall.com and @lyndonriggall on Twitter.

Friday 11 September 2020

Representations of War in Australian and Ukrainian Picturebooks

 This week’s post presents a snapshot of doctoral research undertaken by Halyna Pavlyshyn. Her insights and discussion have a strong focus on visual literacy as Halyna compares and contrasts the techniques employed by illustrators in these selected titles.

The comparison of Australian and Ukrainian picturebooks representing war reveals a number of tendencies. While the war is condemned in both cultures - it is represented as a gory, horrific and destructive experience - the message is conveyed differently. In Australia, war narratives usually focus on the First World War, the legend of Anzacs and the lives of ordinary people who either went to war or who stayed in Australia hoping that their family members would return home safe. The war mostly takes place in Europe. The Australian picturebooks representing war often explore such themes as death, orphanhood, separation, military service, national identity, mateship, and the impact of war on its survivors (e.g. My Mother’s Eyes; Ride, Ricardo, Ride; Dreaming Soldiers).

                                          Ride Ricardo, Ride!                                    Dreaming Soldiers
                                    Phil Cummings & Shane Devries                Catherine Bauer & Shane McGrath


In contrast, the Ukrainian contemporary picturebooks about war are mostly written as tales with animal-like characters. Even though they refer to the current events in Ukraine, the war takes place in the imaginary land. The books show the horrors and the devastating consequences of war; however, they do it in a careful manner. It seems that despite condemning war, the authors attempt to give hope to their young readers and to protect them from the harsh reality (e.g. The War that Changed the Rondo, Adamantine Ants).

                             The War that Changed Rondo                                    Adamantine Ants
                       Andriy Lesiv & Romana Romanyshyn                               Larysa Nicov

In My Mother's Eyes
Mark Wilson

In addition, the Australian and Ukrainian war narratives employ distinct colour palettes to represent war. The sand-like yellow, earthy umbra, brownish sepia and clay orange, less often deep blue, as well as black and white are prevailing colours used to represent war in the Australian picturebooks. The distinction is drawn between Europe (the land of war) and Australia (beautiful homeland). This can be seen prominently in My Mother’s Eyes by Mark Wilson, where the colours used for depicting war are black, red, orange and yellow; and the colours to represent Australia are green and blue colours of the peaceful sky and the bushland.


Whereas, the Ukrainian picturebooks representing war show the contrast not so much in space, but in time: before the war and after war. The vibrant poppy red, bright orange, lemon-like yellow, spring-grass-green, light blue and white are used to depict life before the war. They are contrasted with pitch-dark black, fern-like-green, dark brown, bloody red, deep violet and dark blue for the illustrations representing the wartime and the time after the war. The colours, therefore, emphasise the difference between the peaceful time and the wartime in a war zone. The prominent example is the book The War that Changed Rondo by Andriy Lesiv and Romana Romanyshyn. At the end of the Ukrainian picturebooks, the colours are changed: they are not as vivid and bright as they used to be; however, not as gloomy as during the war. This technique might be used by the authors to give hope to the young Ukrainian readers witnessing the Russo-Ukrainian war which started in 2014.

Adamantine Ants retold in Ukrainian.

Halyna Pavlyshyn
PhD Candidate

This publication is a part of Halyna Pavlyshyn’s PhD research supervised by Dr Angela Thomas, Dr Damon Thomas and Prof Mike Corbett


You can find out more about these titles online.

Links for the Ukrainian picturebooks:


Links for the Australian picturebooks:


Friday 4 September 2020

Father's Day - It's Reading Time!

Mum’s are invited to put their feet up this Father’s Day and let the Dads share in some of the bedtime rituals – such as reading the bedtime story! This week’s blogger is Felicity Sly, a Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport and CBCA Tas Committee Member.


As Father’s Day looms, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a look at some titles that feature dads, and to consider the role of dads in reading to children and the effect this has on the future literacy and reading.


“… Research shows that fathers are particularly influential for children’s language and literacy development, which means they are a promising point of intervention for efforts to improve children’s language and literacy” (Fatherhood Research and Practice Network, 2019, para 1). Not only do children benefit from being read to by their fathers, but fathers have also reported that they feel closer to their children through sharing this bedtime activity. It has also been noted that fathers interact differently during the reading session, than do mothers, with conversations generally ranging far beyond the content in the book being read (Schwanenflugel & Knapp, 2019).


Frank Woodley’s video provides 5 tips for reading aloud to children; especially targeting dads in his suggestions.

Tip 1: Be playful

Tip 2: Add sound effects

Tip 3: Add actions

Tip 4: Give life to the pictures

Tip 5: Get into character

Penguin Books Australia. (2020, August 23).
Frank Woodley 5 tips for reading aloud to children.


After watching the Fran Woodley video view other men reading picture books in this video compilation by Penguin (2020).


Dads don’t feature prominently in picture books, so here are some Australian titles to get you started.


The Man Who Loved Boxes (Stephen Michael King):
Dad isn’t great at expressing love in words, but is great at doing things with his son.


I Spy Dad!  (Janeen Brian & Chantal Stewart):
There are lots of dads, but finally the narrator spies her dad.


Harry and Hopper (Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood):
Dad has to break the news that the beloved dog, Hopper has died, and help his son to cope with loss.


Cheeky Monkey (Andrew Daddo & Emma Quay):

Dad is doing the hands on activities with his son, with mum as the incidental adult in the story.

Grandma's Storytime. (2020, August 25).
Cheeky Monkey read by Grandma's Storytime.

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny (Katrina Germein and Tom Jellett):
Full of dad jokes!

Story Station. (2017, July 10). My dad thinks he's funny.

Kisses for Daddy (Frances Watts & David Legge):

In the only anthropomorphic book in this list Baby Bear doesn’t want to kiss his parents goodnight…but Daddy Bear whilst performing the bath/bedtime routine, manages to give lots of kisses, and finally receives a kiss and a hug.


Chrysalis Montessori. (2019, December 2). Kisses for daddy.

Molly and Her Dad (Jan Ormerod & Carol Thompson):
The only title in this list that is overtly ethnically diverse starts with memories of her Dad, before he arrives from overseas to entertain her friends.

Sydney Kate. (2019, June 10). Molly and her dad.

I can’t create a list without including Bob Graham’s dads. They are kind and involved in their family: Queenie the Bantam, Let’s Get a Pup! and The Trouble with Dogs! are great places to start.


So…Dads, if you’re not already sharing the story reading in your home, it’s a great time to start.


Happy Father’s Day



Fatherhood Research and Practice Network. (2016). The benefits of fathers reading to their children: Tips for fatherhood programs and dads. National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. https://www.frpn.org/asset/the-benefits-fathers-reading-their-children-tips-fatherhood-programs-and-dads>

Penguin Books Australia. (2020, August 5). Read aloud videos by dads. https://www.penguin.com.au/articles/2790-read-aloud-videos-by-dads

Quinn, S. (2009). The depictions of fathers and children in best-selling picture books in the United States: A hybrid semiotic analysis. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice About Men as Fathers, 7(2), 144-158. https://doi.org/10.3149/fth.0702.140

Schwanenflugel, P. J. & Knapp, N. F. (2019, June 16). A father's role(s) in reading. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/reading-minds/201906/fathers-roles-in-reading