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

Saturday 27 March 2021

Redefining Our Place: Thoughts from the Tasmanian Humanities’ Teachers Conference, 2021

Readers are privileged this week to engage with Lyndon Riggall’s snapshot of key content explored during a recent conference where literacy, literature and storytelling were key themes. I am particularly taken with the notion of the JEDI code - read on to discover more.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining statewide members of the Tasmanian Geography Teachers’ Association, the Tasmanian History Teachers’ Association, and the Tasmanian Association for the Teaching of English at their Humanities Teachers’ Conference held at St. Patrick’s College. This year’s conference was notable in two distinct respects: firstly, that it brought together an impressive array of teachers as well as University of Tasmania academics, and secondly that the tone of the conference was so positive. In the wake of the year that was, it felt like a rallying after battle, and the excitement and renewed positivity for the future was immensely uplifting.

Jonathan Wallis. (2021, March 24). Humanities Teachers' Conference. YouTube. https://youtu.be/yL0hUm9BT8Q 

The plenary address for the conference was delivered by UTas Professor of Human Geography and planning Jason Byrne, whose practical, inspiring proposed pathway for urban planning in Tasmania was beautifully stated, and reminded all of us that the gift of communication is an essential tool that can be used to make the world a better place. Professor Byrne adheres to what he describes as a “JEDI code,” focusing on Justice, Empathy, Diversity and Inclusion. As someone passionate about literature, it struck me that these four realms might also be valuable markers for considering how we write, publish, and stock the shelves of our libraries, classrooms and homes.

The sessions following Professor Byrne’s opening address centred around the power of innovative, personal storytelling, developing perspective, and the links between the cultures of the past and our lives in the present day. In one session I joined Dr Robert Clarke, Dr Naomi Milthorpe and Dr Robbie Moore in a discussion of the novel in the modern classroom, beginning with consideration of the books that had turned us into readers, and reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of teaching novels in the modern day. Certainly there were a number of concerns that will not be surprising to readers of this blog: changing attention spans, a lack of focus or enthusiasm, and diminished reading resilience. That said, it appeared evident—to me at least—that the value of the novel as something worthy of educational investment had only become more profoundly felt in the face of these challenges. It is, perhaps, harder than ever to “sell” reading as a pastime in the modern age, but our frontline soldiers in the war against illiteracy are as passionate as they have always been, and our little victories have only become more significant and worthy of celebration.

There was a lot of talk throughout the conference about the place of the Humanities in the modern day; the brutal changes to costs at university of various Humanities-related degrees, and the glamorous, almost science-fictional desirability of STEM that seems so constantly enticing and well-marketed. Still, there is no need for an interdisciplinary war or for resentment. Our world needs all of these knowledge bases—urgently—and it needs communication just as much. Humanities graduates are increasingly employable and indeed employed at similar rates to their STEM counterparts; praised for their JEDI skills and the kinds of proficiencies that make them adaptable to different roles across a lifetime of learning and work. We are allies in all of this, and it seems to me that the heart of our contribution is story: the story of our own past that we must learn from it, the story of who we are now that we must take notice of, and the story of who we hope to become.

As we emerged into the light of a Saturday afternoon I felt hopeful, and ready to take on the next chapter.  “Our place” is in good hands.

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. He can be found on his personal blog at http://www.lyndonriggall.com and on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

Friday 19 March 2021

Rachel Tribout – Drawing on the Landscape

© Rachel Tribout in her studio office 
Rachel Tribout explores her French roots and cultural and environmental experiences when moving to Tasmania in this expressive and personal window into an illustrator’s world. Her deep affinity to the environment is witnessed through a range of artistic endeavours – expressed through the science of the spotted hand-fish and the haunting presence of Wonder Quinn.

I have a long held fascination for nature, old tales and magic. Not the sparkly glittery unicorn-poop magic, but the deep kind, the one that speaks to the power behind all things, can create or destroy worlds and elevate me to the Queen of the Multiverses. As a child in rural France, I would spend my time exploring the surrounding nature, as though I was a mighty scientific explorer. It involved observing the ant colonies go to war in my backyard or feeding lettuce to the garden snails. Once it was too dark to be outside, I would devour books about mythology from around the world, or chew on any novels I could find that contained dragons or fantastical beasts.

A billion years later, when I first landed in Tasmania, I was awed by the raw power of its untouched wilderness. Although I had traveled around the globe, I was yet to experience what true, wild, untouched nature was. Even places that aren’t considered wild by Tasmanian standards, are beyond anything I could have imagined to explore as a child. I remember reading for the second time The Tales of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guinn while I was camping on Maria Island, and I saw dragons fly through the moody sky and rise above the clouds. 

Aside from the fact that Tasmania is wilder than I could ever have dreamt of, it is also surrounded by the ocean. I grew up hundreds of kilometers from the sea, and, although I loved the ocean as a kid, I would only get to experience it a couple of weeks per year, during the summer holidays, alongside the rest of France who was there too. In moving to Tasmania and having this new life by the water, my imagination ran wild with ideas and visions.

One of my first illustrated “Fastitocalon” (a big monster who pretends to be an island and eats people once they land on its back) was inspired by “The Book of Imaginary Beings” by Jorge Luis Borges. It was also inspired by my fear of the ocean when the sky was grey and the ocean a little too wild. One day I was startled by a stingray a couple of feet from me, while I had been claiming that “there could be any sea monsters under these dark waves, are you sure this is safe, I mean, we don’t know what lives underneath…”

Of course, it wasn’t all fear and running away from the water while cursing in French; the first time I saw a sea dragon at Kingston Beach I was delighted! These moments and memories are precious to me and have inspired me to keep looking to the ocean for ideas and creativity.

Fast forward a few years. After trying to teach myself visual storytelling and creating a couple of books inspired by the Tasmanian Wilderness (The Monsters of Tasmania and The Journey of Admiral Bolognaise), I then got to work on two books that connect my passion for nature and drawing. 

Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, by Gina M Newton & Rachel Tribout (2020) CSIRO

My recent book, Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, written by Gina Newton and published by CSIRO Publishing, is an educational book on, you guessed it, the spotted handfish. This strange little creature was so close to extinction that scientists had to work very hard and get pretty creative to keep it alive. I loved being involved in a project that aims to educate kids on the lesser known creatures that inhabit our world, and to illustrate how we can help undo the damage that humans inflict on our environment. It was also a whole lot of fun to draw so many underwater scenes, and, although there were no monsters, (I still got to draw dinosaurs and an angler fish, so that’s OK) it was great to rely less on my imagination and to create more scientifically accurate illustrations. This process took a lot more googling and looking at scientific photos than I had done previously. It also provided an interesting visual story-telling challenge; to lay out a lot of informative text while creating an easy flow through the book that worked well with the illustrations and the underwater feel.

The Heart Song of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon (2020) UQP

I have also recently been able to work on my first children’s novel cover and internal illustrations, for The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn, published by UQP and written by Tasmanian author Kate Gordon. A story of an undisclosed space and of a fantasy theme, I could still see and feel the Tasmanian landscape and moods in the manuscript, and I was drawn to it. This project allowed me to explore a new side of my work, one that is more lyrical and emotional, and I really enjoyed the process. 

Looking back at my creative journey, although the excitement of feeling inspired by a new project is priceless, I feel the sweetest reward will always be when a parent tells me that their child reads kunani’s mood (Hobart is nested at kunani’s feet) on a daily basis- “Mum, it’s very moody today, isn’t it!”, or when I am told that my books sit on the “favourite shelf” and have been read at bedtime countless times. It makes it all worth it, and inspires me to do more.

Rachel Tribout

Rachel is an illustrator, author and graphic designer originally from France, who now splits her time between Hobart and Brisbane. Find her on Instagram @captainblueberry and her website www.racheltribout.com

Editor’s note:

Both of Rachel’s recent works are on the CBCA Notables list for 2021. 

Hold On: Saving the Spotted Handfish, written by Gina M Newton, and The Heart Song of Wonder Quinn, authored by Kate Gordon in the Younger Readers category. 

Friday 12 March 2021

Dipping into the 2021 shortlist for the INDIE Book Awards

This week Jennie explores titles on the INDIEs 2021 shortlist and provides some snapshots and personal perspectives about the books. Climate change and sustainable living are recurring themes in the YA selection. As future bloggers explore the shortlist it will be interesting to see how opinions vary.

The INDIE Book Awards are presented by Australia’s Independent Booksellers who are key players in promoting the breadth of Australian publications, taking up lesser-known authors, unusual and less popular genres and formats and promoting breadth rather than mainly focusing in big ticket items. Independent booksellers need to know their stock, so reading is a key requirement to connect with and advise their customers. The focus is more about engagement and interest to provide tailored and targeted recommendations, rather than literary merit, and that can mean that some shortlisted titles might not be as well-known as some of the more popular mainstream books. 

The awards celebrate the best in Australian writing across six categories – mostly adult. The 2021 shortlisted titles for the children’s and young adults’ sections make interesting reading as a precursor to the CBCA Awards. The judging panel consists of independent booksellers. Potentially each category can include various formats – novels, picture books and non-fiction informed by the intended readership. Fishbach & McCrae (2012) present some strong arguments on the value of highlighting books that are not necessarily in the spotlight due to mass marketing by the bigger publishing houses and pushing big-name authors. They argue that an aim of INDIE awards is to “to reflect the independent judgments of an informed team who have read the nominated books closely and considered each book on its own merits, irrespective of sales history?” 

Let’s look at the two relevant shortlists for 2021 with some personal opinions scattered within. At the time of writing, the only title not read is The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor.

Children’s Shortlist

The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals by Sami Bayly (Lothian Children's Books)

Wow! I gave this 5 stars for its fabulous presentation, breadth of animals presented and the comprehensive, perfectly pitched language and illustrations to support young inquiring minds. The book presents 60 animals from across the globe, multiple habitats and different classifications and species to amaze and fascinate any reader interested in our natural world.

Also shortlisted in the CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

Sing Me the Summer by Jane Godwin, illustrated by Alison Lester (Affirm Press)

A picture book for the very young – and another 5 star title. A year in time passes with the changing seasons with the central focus of a young girl and her blended family and friends as they spend time outdoors undertaking a range of weather appropriate activities during the year and during the day and the night. A colourful and engaging book for early childhood with a host of discussion starters.
Also shortlisted in the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award, but I feel it is more appropriate as an Early Childhood contender.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor (Affirm Press)

Pearl and Vally Cole live in a very special bookshop - the Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne, established in 1893, that is brimming with every curiosity imaginable. The two children need to rescue Pa how has made a dangerous bargain in the bookshop. I am on a long waiting list to read this title, but reviews are certainly enticing for this illustrated novel. 

Also shortlisted in the CBCA Younger Readers Award.

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Lothian Children's Books)

5+ stars. I am a committed and enthusiastic reader of the adventures of Morrigan Crow and am saddened that this marvellous, imaginative and magical series has not achieved the critical acclaim so well deserved – Morrigan is, in my opinion, a stronger heroine than Harry Potter is a hero, and the series provides maximum entertainment for its target audience of middle school readers and stays within those boundaries. BTW – the audio performance provides excellent entertainment as well. Sadly, this did not make a CBCA shortlist, though in fairness, it is definitely the third book in a series and would be most enjoyed if read in sequence.

Young Adults Shortlist

Future Girl by Asphyxia (Allen & Unwin Children's)

5+ stars – this was the best book I read last year! And I read a lot. Engaging with this book is a sensory experience – a wonderful story packaged as a gloriously illustrated personal diary. Set in Melbourne in the near future and under the guise of a supposedly independent prime minister, natural resources are scarce, including fuel, power and food, as a mega bio food corporation dictates policy for profit. 

Written in the first person (narrative, not diary entries) Piper recounts a 6 month period of her life when she transforms from a needy and dependent deaf teenager to a strong, independent young woman and social and environmental activist.

Read my complete review to find out more. 

Also shortlisted in the CBCA Book of the Year Award.

Catch Me If I Fall by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin Children's)

I rated this with 5 stars – just. I found it a little slow to build momentum and was rather irritated with the egotistical Ashleigh, however, the momentum builds and the rather clever twist in the tail lifted the reading experience. Ashleigh and Aiden are 13 year old, identical twins and each promised to protect the other, although it is Aiden who takes this most seriously and is most dependent on his sister. Ashleigh is the risk taker, until she gets herself, and therefore her brother, into a dangerous situation. It is at this point that the very privileged and wealthy life of this family is contrasted against poverty and desperation. Strong social commentary and background of a Sydney, Australia and world ravaged by climate change presents challenging and topical themes.

Also shortlisted in the CBCA Book of the Year  Award.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin Children's)

Another 5 star rating, but for me this was an excellent tale for adults rather the YA audience that marketing, assumptions about Garth Nix’s readership and awards have allocated. 

18 year old Susan Arkshaw leaves her country home and rather strange and forgetful mother to live in London, to start at art school, and most significantly, to search of her father. Plunged into danger, Susan is rescued by the charming and outrageous Merlin, and is drawn into a secret society of booksellers who have magical powers and are responsible for policing the mythic Old World.

The action, complex story line, the London setting in the 1980s with its many cultural allusions, all create an engrossing and entertaining read for adults. There will be some mature teen readers who will appreciate this other worldly tale where the 'real' world overlays another mystic and ancient world with old gods and older magic artfully interwoven. It is a great read, but I think misdirected. The audio performance is superb.

And... shortlisted in the CBCA Book of the Year Award.

This One is Ours by Kate O'Donnell (University of Queensland Press)

5 stars again – and this one for originality, the compelling voice of the main character and the strong sense of place that firmly situates the action in contemporary Paris. The only discord for me was the very ‘immediate’ setting that did not accommodate a pandemic world However, that was a temporary hiccup as I was drawn into Paris, seen through the eyes of 16 year old exchange student, Sophie, as she explore and maps/illustrates many of the streets, galleries and haunts that will resonate with those who have visited. Sophie starts out as a dreamer, artist and a romantic but as she matures, she becomes socially and politically aware and starts to question herself, her values and her place in the world. Issues around poverty, refugees, sustainable living and climate change become major concerns. The occasional brief counterpoints, sent as texts between Sophie and her best friend and climate activist Crow, back home in Melbourne adds  further dimension to the story and maps Sophie’s growth, just as her own creations do.

The absence from the shortlist for this original story is a disappointment – The INDIE judges got this right, I think.


Fishbach, C. & McCrae, F. (2012). Judging the awards. Publisher’s Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/54795-judging-the-awards.html

Jennie Bales

Your CBCA Social Media Coordinator 

Friday 5 March 2021

Virtual Author Visits

Author visits in schools provide an exciting conduit to connect the reader, the book and the creator to create a synergy of excitement and enthusiasm. Jennie Bales provides a context for virtual authors visits and Lian Tanner and Julie Hunt, two of Tasmania’s successful and much-loved authors for young people, provide personal insights into the process. The piece ends with some tips to consider when planning your next virtual event – for authors and schools!

The power of students connecting with authors and illustrators should not be underestimated as a means to engage readers with favourite authors, expand their knowledge and interest in new writers and genres, contribute to their own creative spirits and expand and build an interest in reading for personal enjoyment. OECD (2011) research found that “Reading for enjoyment every day is associated with better performance in PISA.” And, “students who are highly engaged in a wide range of reading activities are more likely than other students to be effective learners and to perform well at school.” Teacher librarians and school libraries provide a vibrant literature collection to support a reading culture and have acknowledged the importance of author/illustrator visits for many years. 

As access to technology has increased authors, illustrators, teacher librarians and teachers have looked for ways to connect with their client base – children and teenagers! Chauncey (2017) provides some historical perspectives on the use of Skype in her school library. Virtual meeting software has continued to evolve so that, when COVID 19 closed schools around the world, there were a number of options to continue to inspire young readers by connecting with authors and illustrators. Tapping into visual and audio delivery modes that also supported chat and more relaxed conversations. The ability to share screens allows for images to viewed -  works being discussed and artefacts such as drafts and ideas books - demonstrating a process in action along with the more traditional visuals of the faces of the presenters. 

The CBCA Tasmanian Workshops in Schools Program (supported through a grant from the Department of Education Tasmania) is testimony to the value of connecting readers to the authors and illustrators that feed their imaginations and fuel their love of reading and creating. stalling in 2020 it was exciting to see some local talent step up to the technology challenge to fulfil presentation commitments in a virtual world. Lian Tanner and Julie Hunt provide insights into the process, the joys, and the challenges, of leading a virtual author visit.

Lian Tanner

Lian is a regular contributor to this blog and her action packed adventures are extremely popular.

For me, the lack of connection is the hardest thing about online visits. The inability to make eye contact, or to read the room’s energy. The lack of kids coming up to me afterwards for a signature, or to tell me about their favourite book, or to whisper that they really want to be an author, too.

The screen certainly diminishes distance; over the last few months I’ve spoken to children in Western Australia, regional Tasmania, Melbourne and Indonesia without leaving my house. But by its nature it also creates distance, and I’ve been struggling to find ways around that. I have found that I have to work harder to hold students' attention online – it seems to take more energy than an in-person visit. At the same time, given the close-up nature of the screen, I also have to perform a little smaller. (Think acting for TV rather than acting for stage; a conversation rather than grand gestures.) 

When students are logging on from home, the chat box is invaluable. I can acknowledge individual comments and use children’s names, which helps with the connection issue. We can brainstorm a topic without too much chaos. And I sense that some of the quieter students might actually find it easier than using their voices.

When students are gathered in a group, however, they look so far away that individual attention is almost impossible. I find that it helps to have someone close to the camera acting as a go-between, to repeat questions from the audience, and hold the group together.

As with in-person visits, the most important thing for a successful online visit seems to be an engaged teacher/coordinator – someone who has prepared the children for the session beforehand, knows the technology, and is present and active during the visit. I have had very engaged teachers and barely-there teachers, and the difference is enormous.

Finally, on a purely technical level, I find that the hotspot on my phone is more reliable than my wifi. And that a test of the technology a day or so beforehand, using the same account that we are going to be using for the presentation, is crucial. 

You can find out more about Lian’s virtual visits on her website.

Julie Hunt

Julie has also featured regularly on the blog and writes for a range of audiences and in different formats.

In adapting our face-to-face workshops, illustrator Dale Newman and I began with a sharescreen PowerPoint based around two questions: ‘How do you write a graphic novel?’ and ‘How do you illustrate a graphic novel?’  We introduced the characters in our books, answered questions from the students and, using their suggestions, created a character on the spot, just as we would if we were there in person. 

The teacher-facilitator was the earth wire, holding everything together. She chose who would speak, making sure each student came to the front (it’s hard to see individual faces when a whole group is on one camera and easier to hear if the student is close). Some of the kids drew along with Dale and showed their work at the end of the session.

As far as live drawing goes, the document camera is almost better than the ‘real thing’. The picture is larger than life on the big screen in the classroom and the students can see every mark as the character comes into being. 

© Dale Newman (2020) drawing from home with the document camera


There is no doubt that virtual author visits provide an important alternative with the potential for more regular occurrences to facilitate access to those in remote locations or smaller schools where face to face costs can be prohibitive. All author visits need careful planning and preparation before the event. 

Tips for authors: Maughan (2020) and the Society of Authors (2019) provide suggestions for authors and illustrators and also consider some of the advantages of a virtual, rather than face-to-face visit.

Tips for schools: Planning ahead is vital and should include effective communication with the guest presenter, preparing students and staff, planning for an introduction and conclusion, a structure for involving students in chat or use of audio and a person to manage the chat and questions arising. To get maximum value there should also be a follow up planned in the classroom or library and opportunities to borrow associated books. BookTrust (2019) and Platt (2017) provide suggestions and guidance to ensure that the virtual visit will be highly successful.

Jennie Bales - CBCA Tas social media coordinator, Adjunct Lecturer, School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University

Lian Tanner – Tasmanian children’s author https://liantanner.com.au/  

Julie Hunt - Tasmanian children’s author http://www.juliehunt.com.au/


BookTrust. (2019). Arrange an author or illustrator visit. https://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/tips-and-advice/reading-in-schools/how-to-arrange-an-author-visit/   

Chauncey, S. (2017). Virtual author visits in your library or classroom. Skype an Author Network. http://skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com/   

Maughan (2020, December 11). The virtual author school visit evolves. Publisher Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/85114-the-virtual-author-school-visit-evolves.html 

OECD. (2011). PISA in focus: 8. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/do-students-today-read-for-pleasure_5k9h362lhw32-en 

Platt, R. (2017, July 26). Bringing authors into your classroom. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/bringing-authors-classroom-rita-platt 

Society of Authors. (2019). Guide to virtual author visits. https://www.societyofauthors.org/getattachment/Advice/Guides/Guide-to-Virtual-Author-Visits.pdf.aspx