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

Friday 30 July 2021

Through the Eyes of Children: Publishing during a Pandemic

Since Covid 19 swept the globe young people have undergone change and uncertainty in their lives as well as building resilience and finding much to celebrate. Join Victoria Ryle as she explores the power of giving children the opportunity to voice their view of the world and provide inspiration and hope to us all.

© Diya, age 5. Smiling and Not Smiling
Our Boroondara Bubble Book,
Kids' Own Publishing, 2020

I just looked back at a blog post written for this space this time last year– about two new publications. All Emotions Allowed Here… a notebook for children in Tasmania in the time of Coronavirus and for young people, How can I find normal when I’m living in a social tragedy were created by a group of artists working within their bubbles to capture children and young people’s thoughts in the time of the Coronavirus. Little did I think I would be back on the same theme a year later. Now, I am thinking about the effects of lockdown on children – particularly at the moment in Sydney. Last year I recall an urgency to publish these quickly while still relevant, releasing the first in May 2020! Thankfully, in Tasmania we remain a Covid free Island for the time being, but I am reminded of the impact elsewhere by the recent arrival of a parcel from Melbourne. 

Kids’ Own Publishing sent me three topical books:  Our Boroondara Bubble Book: Stories of how we got through lockdown in 2020, a delightful and uplifting collection of the things that really matter in this strange time. This project with Boroondara Library Service was led by award winning author Trace Balla, who published her own bubble book, The Heart of the Bubble during lockdown. Kindergarten children shared their thoughts too. A group of young children worked with artist Nikita Hederics to create Through my window: Lockdown in Boroondara through kindergarten children’s eyes, observing that “Mum has a person on the screen and is having a meeting”. Something we are all too familiar with now. Meanwhile children at Mayone-bulluk Kindergarten created In 2020… noting alongside new pandemic related habits of hand sanitiser and masks, that “I learnt to brush my teeth”. Good to know that normal life prevails!

© Harry, age p. Piggybacking.
Our Boroondara Bubble Book,
Kids' Own Publishing, 2020

Back on the island, still awaiting a launch, Hobart Library’s forthcoming publication to celebrate their new Book Cubby space – for books by children, is Little Joys – An adventure to find your joy! A book by children from South Hobart and Campbell Street primary schools, Tasmania. About children finding small moments in life that bring joy as the world adapts to new realities arising from the pandemic, this will be available in libraries across Tasmania soon. Of the hundreds of small line drawings created for the book, one of my favourites is “sunrise with clouds”, something that gives me great joy through the depths of winter.

No doubt the next year will bring fresh insights into the creative minds of children and young people– including through a partnership to publish three more zines with young people on what matters to them most as they face a fast changing world.

Victoria Ryle is a PhD candidate researching co-publishing books with children at the University of Tasmania. She co-founded Kids’ Own Publishing Partnership in Ireland in 1997, and founded Kids’ Own Publishing in Melbourne.

Friday 23 July 2021

On Country in Alice Springs

Wintering in Alice Springs, Maureen Mann has been investigating Indigenous literature celebrated in the area. Join her as she explores stories about Country and living in outback Australia.

Having spent some time in Alice Springs recently, (what a great place it is in winter), I have enjoyed looking at the range of indigenous stories from across the country. Some of the titles I recognise but many don't seem to have been widely stocked in Tasmania, which is understandable. One of the things which came across strongly to me, and it's obvious once it has been verbalised, is that each area not only has its own language, traditions and food, but that knowledge doesn't automatically transfer to another area. 

Here are just a few of the titles which caught my eye, not in any priority order and not all very recent.

Mum's Elephant by Maureen O'Keefe and illustrated by Christina Booth. I'm sorry I missed this publication last year. Mum has a precious elephant which shares much of her life. Why is it so important? Booth's illustrations keep the reader guessing. 

Coming Home to Country by Bronwyn Bancroft. With Bancroft's signature illustrations depicting the joy of coming home, especially to the creek and being on country.

The books by Dion Beasley and Johanna Bell: Too Many Cheeky Dogs, Go Home Cheeky Animals (which I'm sure you remember from the 2017 Book of the Year awards), Cheeky Dogs to Lake Nash and Back (an illustrated memoir) have featured prominently in several shops I visited. They show the fascination Tennant Creek artist Bell has with dogs and other animals.

Emus Under the Bed by LeAnn J Edwards describes the fun had at Auntie Dollo's house, connecting family and culture, using feathers, making damper and playing with baby emus. I love the cover.

Tell 'Em by Katrina Germein, Rosemary Sullivan and the children of Manyallaluk School in the Roper River area. Starting with the cover, the reader is shown how much there is to do in their remote community

The Seven Sisters by Reggie Sultan. The seven sisters are the 7 stars of the Pleiades in the Milky Way and some of the traditional stories about their visit to earth. Sultan is from the Central Desert region near Barrow Creek and has created wonderful illustrations.

My Country by Ezekiel Kwaymullina and Sally Morgan has bright illustrations connecting a child to his place.

Main Abija My Grandad by Karen Rogers. This dual language book describes the relationship, love and teaching of culture and country by a grandfather to his granddaughter. A celebration of family.

The Oo in Uluru by Judith Barker. With Uluru having been one of our destinations I enjoyed this book playing on the sounds in the word.

Kunyi by Kunyi June Anne McInerney. This is Kunyi's own story and paintings of her life in Oodnadatta Children's Home in the 1950s. The illustrations are vibrant and alive and throughout the story is alive.

Thanks to Red Kangaroo Bookshop in Alice Springs for your help and conversations. It was a pleasure looking at these books and there are so many more I could have shared.

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader 

Friday 16 July 2021

The Words That Set Us Free

This week Lyndon Riggall reflects on the importance of writers adding their personal stories to enrich the lives of others.

When I was Tasmanian judge for the Children’s Book Council—a role which seems a lifetime ago now—I noticed an interesting pattern that I still think about to this day. It seemed to me that books followed a sequence in which trust and security were gradually eroded over the years of life… parents, doctors, teachers and friends were—in early childhood reading—almost universally kind, reliable and to be depended-upon implicitly, but by the time readers hit the senior-secondary years, contributions to literature seemed to feel it necessary that even the most outwardly-trustworthy figure was a contradiction of secrets, complications and dangers. The certainty and safety of younger years of reading was—in a manner that I’m sure is both thrilling and frightening—systematically torn away.

Life, of course, is a mixture of good and bad, but this configuration raises some interesting questions about the nature of writing itself. Many of us seek escapism and safety from our reading, and I know a number of adults (and I count myself as one of their number) who even crawl back to children’s literature throughout their lives to bring comfort, solace and hope to their hearts in times of hardship. Yet Richard Flanagan wrote in the Monthly recently that “what is at stake – what is always at stake – is finally not being free to write but being free to write the unsayable, the thing not allowed to be said, to tear aside the shrouds of power and wealth and their accompanying conventions and orthodoxies, to describe what is.” Ultimately, it seems to me, it is through the evolving stories that we explore and experience that we learn such truths. As a growing raft of children’s books points to the relevance of such topics as climate change, the refugee experience, racism and gender diversity, we must remember that, as Lemony Snicket puts it, “All of the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” Words set ideas free, but more importantly they set people free, and the moment when we recognise our world or our-selves in a narrative—a thought or truth that we had previously considered unknowable, or even unsayable—is the moment that writers and readers live for. Nevertheless, this takes courage in both the construction and the publishing… A courage, I hope, that we will continue to have, and to foster.

Everyone of us has a book inside us (or at least that’s what they tell us) and yet so many of us will take these unpublished tomes to our graves with us—another memento to line our coffin, another item on the bucket list that never gets scratched off. Imagine, now, all of those untold tales that pulse and rush under our skin like the blood in our veins; the letters flushing through us as if they are alphabet soup down a drainpipe, begging to be rescued and strung into words, into sentences, into stories.

Of course, they are our stories, and they deserve to be shared, and we should be proud of anyone brave enough to share them. And so, I send my love and gratitude and encouragement to all of our brave writers and storytellers—those who write for children, adults and everyone in-between—and I say thank you. Because you show us the way forward, the way that takes us from each new beginning to “The End,” simply by being brave enough to dare to set those stories free… and, in doing so, sometimes… 

... Even setting us free too.

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 9 July 2021

Introducing Geoff Parton, and characters Ugo and Jack.

Now residing in Huonville, Tasmania, Geoff Parton introduces himself and reflects on how his childhood experiences have informed his writing through the book series and the characters of Ugo and Jack.

Parton, G. (2021). Ugo and Jack"
Book 1
. Olympia.

I was born in 1948. In those days, Duffy's Forest, Nth of Sydney where we lived, was mostly untouched bush with just a few scattered houses. It bordered Ku-ring-gai Chase, a name taken from the Guringai aboriginal people. It’s a large area of almost 15000 hectares of bushland. Today it is National Park but in those days it was just natural bush for anybody to explore. Meandering right through the middle of the park is Cowan creek, a beautiful tributary of the Hawkesbury River.

Living on a farm that bordered this enormous bush land was fantastic, somehow it seemed as though it all belonged to me! In those days, as a kid, I felt like an explorer, as nobody else had penetrated deep into these areas for well over a hundred years – it was my world. A six hour walk from the farm to Cowan Creek brought me to a place called Duffy's Wharf. It had been derelict for over 100 years, with just part of a sign left, which read, ‘ring bell for ferry.’ On the farm in the late 40’s and early 50’s, there was virtually no communication, we didn't have electricity or a phone, television was unheard, but we did have a radio which was everything.

Because I was free to use my imagination, I became open to all possibilities, some people might say I have a big imagination, it’s true and it’s all because of my closeness to nature. This enabled me to handle death and tragedy in a realistic way. A lack of education turned out to be my greatest asset, as it helped to open my ‘special door’ to the spirit world. I am not religious, but I know there is more than just the physical world we are in at the moment.

With this back ground and 72 years of dare I say it, wisdom, I have been able to write a series of 5 children’s adventure books. In UGO and JACK, Jack has an unhappy home life on a remote farm. His alcoholic father and bullying older brother make life miserable for him and his younger brother Billy. His only moments of brightness are an occasional escape to the beautiful wooded valley near the farm.

On one such visit a freak accident leaves him unconscious. Drawn into a strange but wonderful encounter with the spirit world, he meets a new friend Ugo at his home in Fire Fly Valley. An unexpected opportunity arises to explore the valley further and Jack is taken into a world of completely new dimensions where he can see things previously hidden. Wherever there is life he discovers, there is also a spiritual force and he learns that he can even change the future for generations to come.

Parton, G. (2021). Ugo and Jack:
Book 2. 

Books 2, 3, 4 and 5 are all different stories, but are still very much seamed together. The first book, Ugo and Jack was released  February 2021 by Olympia Publishers and book two was released in June. The novels, targeting 8 to 14 year olds, are full of adventure and excitement, they are uplifting and give purpose to life, when sometimes there seems there isn’t any! In describing his works Geoff states: “I would describe the books as being very different to the usual children's books being published today – they are raw and real. Life isn’t a fairy tale and I am sure children know that. In real family life, there are many aspects that parents want to keep hidden, but the kids, they know. We all have a public face so to speak.”

Geoff Parton

Editor’s note: Ugo and Jack books are available in  some local bookstores in Hobart, through Libraries Tasmania and online.

Friday 2 July 2021

Graphic Novels: Not ‘just’ comics

Felicity Sly considers the value of graphic novels to support content based learning with some excellent examples that present scientific and historical information and language in a graphic format. 

Hosler, J. (2008).
Optical allusions
Available as free PDF

Caitlyn Forster, a Science PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney and retail sales assistant in a comic bookstore, wrote in The Conversation (April 19, 2021) that many characters in graphic novels are inspired by biology: Ant-Man, Spider-Man and Poison Ivy. When not being superheroes, Poison Ivy is a botanist and The Unstoppable Wasp is a teenage scientist. Animals have also been named after superheroes: a robber fly named Deadpool, and a fish named Wakanda after a fictional country in Black Panther. Optical Allusions by Jay Hosler, is just one of a number of graphic novels and comics that are created by scientists. 

So why offer a comic or graphic novel instead of a textbook? 

Whitley, J. (2017).
The Unstoppable Wasp

Forster writes that graphic novels and comics are engaging. Difficult concepts are developed through the course of the story, and whilst student’s knowledge acquisition was similar between reading a textbook and a graphic novel, the students who read the graphic novel showed greater interest in the course. Knowledge is ‘sprinkled’ as the story progresses, and readers can revisit panels, learning at their own pace. Hard to visualise and dangerous worlds can be explored in safety; such as plagues, cells and life cycles of plants and animals. At the end of each issue of The Unstoppable Wasp, Marvel comics include interviews with female scientists.

Spieglelman, A. Maus.

The website of common sense media lists some graphic novels that teach history. These include Maus (holocaust history), Slaughterhouse-Five (anti-war science fiction) and titles exploring the history of conflict in Poland, Syria and the USA. George Takei’s (Sulu in Star Trek) memoir, They Called us Enemy, recalls his internment in Japanese prisoner of war camps in World War II.

Tan, S. Los conejos
Find out more

CBCA 2021 Book of the Year artist, Shaun Tan, explores the problems faced by migrants in The Arrival. This book looks at the universal issues of being ‘other’ when all is unfamiliar and previous skills and status have no value. In The Rabbits colonisation is viewed from the perspective of those colonised. The Rabbits has been translated into Spanish; Los Conejos was donated by the Mexican government to schools, to help understand the concepts of colonisation and its effect on indigenous culture.

Greek, Roman and Norse Mythology, One Thousand and One Nights, Shakespeare and true crime have all found new readers in graphic novels. There are also a number of popular novels appearing as graphic novels: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series.


Common Sense Media (n.d.) Graphic novels that teach history. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/graphic-novels-that-teach-history

Forster, C. (2021, April 19). Heroes, villains … biology: 3 reasons comic books are great science teachers. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/heroes-villains-biology-3-reasons-comic-books-are-great-science-teachers-143251

Felicity Sly

Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport and CBCA Committee Member.

Editor’s note: A reminder to readers that graphic novels can be 'graphic' and may be written for a mature audience. Sites such as The Common Sense Media provide useful guidance.
If you know of other titles that support content learning please share in a comment.

FYI: Oakley provides an informative scientific review of Optical Allusions.