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

Friday 24 June 2022

Snapshot 1: The 2022 CBCA Conference

Readers who could not attend the CBCA Conference in person, or as a virtual participant are in for a treat with the first of several posts that bring great moments to life. This week, Lian Tanner, shares some perspectives as both an ‘on the ground’  presenter and a participant.

On the weekend of June 10/11, in the depths of a very cold Canberra winter, teachers, librarians, writers and illustrators gathered together for the 14th National Conference of the CBCA. The theme was ‘Dreaming with eyes open…’

There were many highlights, including the Saturday night dinner where Jackie French and Bruce Whatley spoke about the writing and illustrating of Diary of a Wombat (which is being honoured with an Australian Mint coin to mark its 20th anniversary), and Margaret Wild was presented with the third CBCA Lifetime Achievement Award. 

One of my personal highlights was the Friday night BookFest. A bit like speed dating, it showcased the work of 21 authors, who had three minutes each to present their latest book in a way that would excite and entertain the conference delegates. It was a great format, fast moving and fun, with a drum roll between each author.

Another favourite was listening to illustrators Dub Leffler, Bruce Whatley and Tania McCartney talking about their work, showing examples of how they work, and discussing the highs and lows of illustrator life.

And then there was the hilarity of Stephanie Owen Reeder, Sami Bayly, Claire Saxby, Gina Newton and Nicole Gill sharing stories about why they write and/or illustrate non-fiction books about animals, how they got into the field, and their unlikely adventures in the pursuit of their craft.

... The Great Debate: Fantasy vs Reality

But many would agree that THE highlight (or at least the funniest part of the weekend) was Sunday's Great Debate, a battle over which was better: fantasy or reality. The brief given to the debaters? To be entertaining. (And no bloodshed.)

© The Great Debaters - 2022 CBCA Conference

Moderator Deborah Abela introduced the debate with humour and razzmatazz. Then it was on.

I was up first, for Team Fantasy. I began with the complaint that Team Reality had been allowed to bring in as many props and visual aids as they wanted – chairs, tables, bits of paper. Even microphones! All we’d asked for was one measly orc, and it wasn't allowed. 

I pointed out – in between jokes – that fantasy teaches kids that they can change the world. And that it can illuminate and reflect real-world problems. Because the very best sort of fantasy is about the things we care about; friendship, struggle, love, courage, hope.

Sue Whiting was next, for Team Reality. She spoke with passion about the fact that realistic fiction shows us what humans are made of, and that there is some powerful magic right there. 

She also pointed out that it celebrates all kinds of backgrounds and races and families, a representation that is long overdue. To my dismay, I found myself nodding agreement as she spoke.

Then Kate Temple, for Team Fantasy, stripped the magic from well-known novels to show how hollow they would be without it. Her examples were all hilarious, but my favourites were probably Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Alice in Wonderland.

The former, with the magic removed, became 'an orphan boy in foster care goes to boarding school and finds he is quite good at hockey'. Alice became 'a girl falls asleep on a river bank. Later, she wakes up.'

The final speaker was Pip Harry, a last minute substitute who nevertheless did Team Reality proud as she pointed out the magic in everyday life: cicadas emerging from their shells, the moon, laughter, the ocean, music, art, the connection between friends.

There were two unexpected visitors at the end of the debate. Gandalf arrived to support Team Fantasy – a masterstroke, we thought. But then Oliver Twist came creeping up to the podium to ask for more, on behalf of Team Reality.

It was an hour of creativity and laughter, with a great reception from the audience. Their eventual vote was evenly split, at which Sue Whiting pointed out that books were the real winner!

Lian Tanner

Instagram: liantannerbooks

Editor’s note: I agree 100% - the debate was a winner - a riveted audience joining in the hilarity. And yes, books may have been the overall winners but personally, I think that fantasy won on the day!

Saturday 18 June 2022

Being Seen: Why Modern Picture Books Matter

Selecting and sharing books for children can be a challenging exercise as we try to ensure a balance of views and perspectives that is also shaped by own experiences and preferences. Lyndon Riggall provides food for thought as he raises some of these issues to consider the importance of incorporating contemporary children’s literature into the mix. 

While it is always exciting to see children’s books making national headlines, it can be concerning when it isn’t necessarily for all the right reasons. Consider David Koch, two weeks ago on Sunrise, announcing to a guest, “You’ve made me feel guilty… I give all of the grandkids a copy of Possum Magic on their first birthday—I’m now a bad grandfather!”

What Koch is responding to is a study conducted by Edith Cowan University’s Helen Adam and Laurie J. Harper, in which they visited Australian and American schools and looked at the most popular books being read to children. It will be of no surprise to readers of this blog that these collections of most-loved texts often included books like The Rainbow Fish, The Cat in the Hat, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Rosie’s Walk… beloved classics from the last century which have stood the test of time and whose popularity has endured for good reason. The researchers had two points of contention with the overall landscape of the books currently being shared in modern classrooms: firstly, that they very rarely represented humans at all, and secondly, when they did, it was often a limited portrait of society that lacked cultural diversity and which reinforced stereotypes of gender and failed to reflect a spectrum of abilities.

A few highlights from the data included that the books surveyed reinforced traditional gender constructs and roles 85% of the time, and that across the schools they visited there was never any expression of trans or non-binary characters. While schools in the United States were a little more successful in offering multicultural narratives, it was noted that most of these texts were in storage and brought out primarily for special occasions or to bring further attention to cultural festivals or events. According to Dr Adam, around 25% of Australian children would “very rarely see someone like them or their family represented in a book.” 

David Koch, of course, is not a bad grandfather for buying his loved ones a copy of Possum Magic, an indisputably masterful picture book. The classics are classics for a reason: they resonate with readers and they offer opportunities for connection across the generations. Teachers, parents—and for that matter most of us when given the opportunity—will reach for what we know, and, more importantly, what we know works. The reason that censorship of such beloved writers as Dr Seuss and Enid Blyton is so offensive to so many is not about the appropriateness of the text itself (which often, to be honest, could often use a little airbrushing), it is the fact that someone is tampering with an experience that has been so central to our own journey, and a journey that we feel has done us no harm. Teaching texts in context and questioning them is a key part of the solution to this, but the latest criticisms run deeper. These kinds of studies don’t merely challenge individual texts and writers, they question the wider morass of literature and what we have traditionally regarded as good reading for young people.

Let me state, categorically, that it is my feeling that we have a more important battle to prioritise here, which is not what books children read, but more crucially the question of whether or not they actually read at all. A child reading The Cat in the Hat or The Very Hungry Caterpillar should not be said to be making a mistake when the very act of reading itself is—I believe—an inherent good in almost every circumstance. Nostalgia is a potent and sometimes dangerous influence on our choices, but I also have to be careful of my own hypocrisy... I bought my goddaughter a copy of Possum Magic before she was even born, and I am not quite so foolish as to publish a blog claiming that we all need to move on to reading only diverse contemporary texts while my Goodreads page is quietly announcing that at the same time I'm halfway through a re-read of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The kinds of accusations made by this study are, of course, reflective of why the CBCA even exists in the first place. Looking at this year’s shortlist, it is obvious that a classroom with the wisdom to select these texts for sharing with its students would dodge many of the criticisms levelled by Adam and Harper in their study. Across their totality, both picture books and novels in this year’s awards—subtly and overtly—explore experiences of immigration, Australia’s First Nations community and living with a diverse gender and sexual identities. Put simply, if parents and teachers don’t know where to start when it comes to broadening their school’s selection of literature, this is one answer to how it might be easily done.

A few years ago I attended a panel on “intersectional” literature—that is, narratives that explore multiple angles of diversity. A panellist asked all of us, “When did you first see someone you recognised as being like you in a story?” For me, it was almost immediately upon being able to read. For others, it took much longer. For an even smaller group of people it has never happened. My latest children’s book is about a magpie and a kookaburra… animal characters abounding. I love the classics, and I certainly share them with the young people in my life, but I also agree completely with the findings of Adam and Harper’s study. Life, teaching and our book collections are all about balance, and offering children diverse stories has two wonderful outcomes: it shows the broader community of children the reality and value of these stories, and it allows those who will recognise their own lives in those narratives to feel seen.

Any child’s library should have a selection of books that the people who care about them love and want to share with them, a selection of books that are fun and foolish (with perhaps even a few non-humans thrown in), and a selection of modern stories that challenge their perception of understanding of the world around them and encourage them to grow in their recognition of others. We owe it our children to keep bringing these new stories into the limelight…

After all, that’s how we make the classics of tomorrow.


Adam, H., & Harper, L.J. (2021) Gender equity in early childhood picture books. A cross-cultural study of frequently read books in early childhood classrooms in Australian and the United States. The Australian Educational Researcher, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13384-021-00494-0

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher living in Launceston. Along with illustrator Graeme Whittle, he is the author of the picture book Becoming Ellie, and can be found at http://www.lyndonriggall.com. Lyndon’s latest book, Tamar the Thief, was written for the Tamar Valley Writers Festival and released for free on their website. It can be found at https://www.tamarvalleywritersfestival.com.au/storytelling/

Friday 3 June 2022

Michael Rosen

Prolific and popular author, Michael Rosen, became seriously ill with Covid early in the pandemic and has written of his experiences. Join Maureen as she talks about his two recent publications – one for adults and one for children - that provide a recount of his illness, recovery, resilience and support from others in overcoming his illness.

Two of my recent reads have been the books which tell the story of Michael Rosen’s hospitalisation, early in the pandemic, with Covid, and then his long on-going road to recovery. The first was Many Different Kinds of Love: A Story of Life, Death and the NHS. This powerful and moving account in prose poems written by Rosen during and after his recovery, combined with the diary kept by his nurses while caring for him and enhanced by Chris Riddell illustrations. The second was the picture book for children which focusses on Rosen’s gruelling recovery period as he learned to walk again after weeks in an induced coma : Michael Rosen’s Sticky McStickstick: The Friend who Helped me Walk Again illustrated by Tony Ross. 

Both books have many elements of humour, emotion, gratitude for the dedicated NHS staff (but as relevant for hospital staff all over the world), while also questioning the UK government’s response to the pandemic. They’re well worth a read.

Michael Rosen - Many Different Kinds of Love: A Story of Life, Death & The NHS

Sticky McStickstick by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Tony Ross | Book trailer

Michael Rosen has long been one of my favourite authors, with his quirky humour and insight. My journey with the recent books prompted me to explore his webpage --  https://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/ What a wonderful range of material to delve into. There’s lots to encourage kids to write poetry and stories. Why don’t you investigate the 21 pages of video links with Rosen telling stories. I got distracted so many times!!

His Books page -- https://www.michaelrosen.co.uk/books/ -- lists his published titles, many of which I had forgotten about, or hadn’t heard of. I’m off to put ‘holds’ at my library on some of them. Which do you most remember? Which is your favourite? Rosen’s complete bibliography will help jog your memory. My earliest is Mind Your Own Business, published in 1974, but met at many stages in the years in between. There are lots from the 1980s when he seems to have had a burst of publications.  

Michael Rosen was the UK Children’s Laureate 2007-2009.

Do yourself a favour and have a look. You’ll be amazed at what you might find – for your young readers, for your older readers, or just for yourself. And don’t forget his Covid journey ones.

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor's note: for those not familiar with Rosen's work, a great place to start and share with your kids is his video channel: