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

Friday 17 December 2021

A Top 5 Reading List for Christmas

Our wrap up post for 2021 is from Loretta, who shares the joy of Christmas and the wondrous tales that celebrate the season with a short list of her favourites to read and share.

I love Christmas time! I just love decorating for Christmas at the Burnie Library, but I also love to read the Christmas picture books to the school groups that come in leading up to Christmas. In this blog I’m going to review my top 5 Christmas picture books that I recommend reading! With the help from my dog Cliffy (who did fall asleep on the job!). 

An Odd Dog Christmas by Rob Biddulph

When I first read this story, I thought to myself this is a book that 90% of people would relate to! We have all been there - It’s Christmas, and the Odd Dog is running out of time to find the perfect present for her friend!
Along the way she meets a new friend who needs help, she realises that gifts might not be the most important thing about Christmas after all. The illustrations themselves could tell the story they are bright and colourful, and the children love to point out the different little details on each page of the story.
This is the perfect story for children aged 4+, dog-lovers everywhere and anyone who loves Christmas! 

The Snowflake by Benji Davies

The Snowflake tells the tale of one snowflake and one little girl – both longing for something and looking for their own special place in the world. 

The illustrations are beautiful, and it really does show the power of fate. Everyone should read this book; I guarantee it will warm your heart and make you smile.

A House for Christmas Mouse by Rebecca Harry

I absolutely loved reading this story out loud to the school children who visited in the last month. The story follows the little adventure of a mouse who finds herself helping her friends in their homes for Christmas when she needs to find a home for herself.  Mouse gets very worried along her travel but there is a very happy surprise ending in the story that shows the true meaning of friendship.

Cat and Dog Eat Christmas by Jonathan Bentley

Children absolutely love this funny story of a teeny tiny dog and a grumpy old cat who get up to mischief all on Christmas Eve. This is another great story to read aloud to children and the illustrations will have the children laughing and I must say it does get you wondering if our own pets at home think like this at Christmas time. Very comical and I would highly recommend reading this story. 

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

A true classic that could not be left off my top 5. The Night Before Christmas is one of my most treasured Christmas books. I remember my Mum reading this story to me when I was little in the lead up to Christmas and love to share this story with children at the library and every time you announce to the children that you are going to read this story today you can hear the teachers or parents in the background going “Awwww! That’s one of my favourite Christmas stories”. 

I hope you enjoyed my top 5 Christmas stories and hopefully inspired you to read one of them or I have brought back memories for yourself about your favourite Christmas book. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy safe new year. 

Loretta Brazendale

Information Services Coordinator
Burnie Library | Libraries Tasmania 

From the editor: Thank you to all the contributors to our blog throughout the year and to the many readers who have enjoyed and shared great stories on and about children’s literature. Our best wishes over Christmas and New Year, and with special thoughts to our North West community. We look forward to your company in 2022.

Friday 10 December 2021

Thoughts on a Year of Creative Writing

Lyndon Riggall, fresh from assessing Creative Writing papers, celebrates the up and coming young writers who are inspired and able to contribute to the wealth of Tasmanian storytelling that we all celebrate and continues to make a mark on the Australian publishing scene. 

In 2019, a review of VCE English recommended a significant overhaul of its program when it was discovered that the essential skill of creative writing was not being taught with enough depth. In Tasmania, we are lucky that we have the dedicated TASC course of English Writing to fill this need, which is double-blind marked at the end of the year through an external folio of work. Students who choose the subject are typically passionate storytellers who wish to develop how they express their ideas—an ambition evidently fulfilled by data that indicates a high level of university success for those who have graduated from the subject, and arguably a demonstration of the power of developing the specific skills of editing and expression that the course provides.

Having taught the subject again this year and marked folios over the last few weeks, I thought it might be valuable to offer some general reflections on the progress of our up-and-coming writers. Certainly—as in years past—our top wordsmiths continue to demand to be noticed, and marking for the subject often leads to an assessor wishing that they knew the identity of the student simply so that they could track their ongoing success and career. It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Tasmanian Year 11 and 12 students push their writing into areas that offer depth, relevance and originality, with many pieces featuring diverse protagonists, updating traditional narratives so that their meanings are more relevant in a modern sense, or crafting visions of dystopian futures that highlight the challenges of the way that we live now. Another particularly exciting development is that young writers appear to be increasingly experimental in their use of form. Several stories that I read this year featured a kind of multi-modal design, using text messages presented throughout as characters conversed, or including in their pieces found documents to build a world in a similar manner to writers like Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff in The Illuminae Files.

When students were asked at the beginning of their folio to nominate works that had inspired them, there were some excellent examples, including iconic Tasmanian writers such as Robbie Arnott, Richard Flanagan and Danielle Wood, all of whom capture a sense of voice from this island in a way that students clearly strive to emulate. That said, many of the cohort found that they struggled to name any literary influences at all, or offer anything deeper in terms of inspiration than a list of what they had recently watched on Netflix. I have always maintained that a writer who does not read is like a chef who refuses to eat: they will succeed, occasionally, but it will be more as a result of good luck than good management. The struggle of encouraging our young people to engage with the written word recreationally continues to be an English teacher’s toughest challenge, but the best student work this year clearly demonstrated that amongst all of the competing demands for our time (and theirs) there is still, always, a place for literature. 

Over the next couple of years, English Writing is being reinvented. This is an exciting opportunity, but it also comes with a level of danger. I have listened to the young writers of this island and heard their stories, and many of them express that it was in this subject that they found the self-assurance to tell the tales that have been bubbling away inside them. Perhaps a teacher shouldn’t admit to having a favourite class to teach, but the truth is that mine is this one: for the diversity and originality of the work produced by its students, for the confidence they build in their ideas and their own sense of self, and for its simple shared love of story. Having reflected on the power of the pieces that I have had the fortune to read this year, I sincerely hope that fundamental to any new course is one simple philosophical underpinning: that this classroom is a place where students feel safe to find their own authentic voice.

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.

Editor's note: I have just finished listening to an interview with Robbie Arnott, winner of the Sydney Morning Herald Book of the Year Award, where the quality of Tasmanian writing is acknowledged. From Lyndon's observations, this looks set to continue.

Friday 3 December 2021

An anthem for all

Watch out for this forthcoming publication that celebrates our national anthem and is due for release at the start of the New Year. Tony Flowers shares the research and investigations undertaken to craft a broad and encompassing portrayal of Australia.

Two years ago, I was relaxing after a day of presenting to school groups at the Byron Bay Writers Festival when I received a call from my publisher with a new opportunity for me to consider.

Book cover [insert] - the Nomad on safari. Image © Tony Flowers

I was asked, 'How would you feel about illustrating the national anthem?'. After my initial hesitation, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see if it was even possible to make the anthem into an engaging narrative. After all, this is a song that is girt by controversy.

After a few hours of scribbling away at my sketch pad, I became quite excited by the idea. One of the challenges was that the Australian Government holds the copyright for the anthem. I created a rough layout and submitted it to the prime minister and Cabinet to get approval to use the text. The biggest challenge lay ahead once this hurdle was passed: illustrating the national anthem without making it look like a cliché, a travel pamphlet or flag-waving festival to everything Aussie - green and gold.

Arctic sketch [insert] and finished version. Image @ Tony Flowers

My approach was simple; the book would celebrate the diversity of the Australian landscape and the diversity of people and lifestyles that make up our country. I would also have to include locations from each state. I wanted the images to feel more like a scrapbook of memories rather than a collection of picture-perfect iconic scenes. As a result, the finished book includes:
Images of the red centre.
The frozen ice of Antarctica.
Urban cityscapes.
Rural landscapes
Boats on the high seas.
And much more.

As I set about drawing up the illustrations for the National Anthem, I found myself weaving in friends, family, my motorcycle and my dogs into quite a few pages. There are so many dogs in this book; I jokingly think of it as having the alternative title of 'Advance Australia dogs' as there is a dog (at least one) on every page.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Permit 554. Image © Tony Flowers

The one image that I desperately wanted to do a site visit on was for the Uluru page. I had never been there, and I knew if I didn't go, my illustration would have been based on a bunch of cliché giant red rock style images. A window of opportunity opened up between rolling Covid lockdowns, and my wife and I flew off to Uluru.

Uluru trip Ceri and Tony. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Permit 554.
Image © Tony Flowers
Many of the wildflowers and reptiles that we encountered on this trip made their way into the illustrations, as did the purple colour tones of Uluru is itself. This was certainly a colour pallet that I wouldn't have used with having been there. On this trip, I also discovered that Uluru is the only place I have ever been so hot and dry that the flies drink the water from your drying watercolour painting!
Uluru trip drawing. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Permit 554.
Image © Tony Flowers

My hope for my version of Advance Australia Fair is that people are surprised by the fantastic and diverse landscape. We are more than a country of harbour bridges and red sand. Hopefully, younger readers will gain a clearer understanding of what the words of the anthem are about. I also hope people feel inspired to get out and see more of our country and its people.

Tony Flowers – Illustrator
Instagram: tony_flowers99

Editor’s note: Read a summary of the book and some historical background on the choosing of Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem. The book will be released on the 1st of January.