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

Saturday 30 September 2023

Saving species through story

Can stories save the world? Dr Sarah Pye thinks they can!

This week’s blog introduces a series of literary non fiction texts focusing on endangered animals in South East Asia, the conservation work of Dr Wong and the many projects of the author, Dr Sarah Pye in sharing her knowledge and experiences with young readers and students in schools.

It was a humid 2012 day in Borneo. The hotel receptionist had just found out I was a freelance writer gathering fodder for a feature story about wildlife tourism. “You need to talk to Dr Wong,” she said, scribbling a phone number onto her notepad and handing me the phone.

Little did I know that day would change my life.

Sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear
Conservation Centre ©
Seeing sun bears for the first time

Dr Wong invited me to visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, not yet open to the public. As I stood on the observation platform watching the world’s smallest bear swinging from a branch 50m in the air, I was hooked. “There are far fewer sun bears than orangutans,” Wong explained. “I have dedicated my life to saving the sun bear.”

I asked what I could do to help.

“Do what you do best,” came the reply.

Sarah Pye with Wong Siew Te ©
Do what you do best!

Those five powerful words have shaped my last decade. Yes, I wrote the article, but I also wrote Wong’s biography (for adults) as a Doctor of Creative Arts degree, exploring how narratives can engage non-scientists in conservation. However, when Saving Sun Bears was published in 2020, I realised my job had only just begun. I needed to reach the next generation. 

Making a mini rainforest | © Jessie Dee
Why are nonfiction conservation stories for children important?

Stories about iconic animals can evoke emotions like wonder, empathy and concern. They can foster a sense of environmental stewardship and inspire children to become change makers. So, back at the keyboard, I started writing middle-grade children’s books about Wong’s life. There are now six books in the Wildlife Wong series. Each one focuses on Wong’s adventures with a different species: sun bears, orangutans, pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, fig wasps and Sumatran rhinos, but they are innovative in their structure.

But what if kids don’t like reading?

As any teacher will tell you, children learn in different ways. To engage with differing preferences, I decided to include different touchpoints. Each Wildlife Wong books includes a nonfiction narrative (or story); informational text or cool animal facts; sketches and photographs which make it look like a field journal; and experiments which link back to the narrative and engage those reluctant readers. This innovative style led to them being shortlisted for an Australian Educational Publishing Award in 2022. 

Sumatran rhino sketch of baby Mina and her mother |
© Woon Bing Chang

Sarah Pye with Pongo | © Jessie Dee
Storytelling puppets

The next step was extending my reach by visiting schools, so I developed workshops around reading my stories and conducting the experiments. Most recently, I started incorporating the art of puppetry! I now visit schools together with my puppet sidekicks, Luna the sun bear and Pongo the orangutan. The response has been incredible. This August, for instance, we spent 12 full days in schools, directly interacting with over 1,200 students. With the help of technology, many of them even got to meet the real Wildlife Wong!

Tours to Borneo

I’m not done yet! I am excited to announce I have just launched a 10-day guided tour of Borneo for next August, during which Wong will take my guests on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre! 

When he said, “Do what you do best”, Wong had no idea it would spawn a doctorate, seven books and a lasting friendship. So, I now ask you the same question: what can YOU do best to help our endangered animals?

Dr Sarah Pye is an award-winning biography and children’s author, an environmentalist and avid traveller.

Web: https://sarahrpye.com/

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/author_sarahrpye/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorSarahPye

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahpye/

Editor's note: Sarah and I connected online via a shared passion for animal conservation issues conveyed through story. It was a pleasure to read and review her latest book in the series - Wildlife Wong and the Sumatran Rhino. Read my review!

Saturday 23 September 2023

Why Book Clubs Matter

This week Lyndon considers the power of sharing our reading experiences and how book clubs can add richness and deeper connections to the books we have engaged with.

We often think of reading and writing as solitary acts. These pastimes, we know, are the hobbies of the reclusive eccentric. As John Green states, writing is “a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don't want to make eye contact while telling it.” 

Yet if that’s the case, why is it that some of the best moments I’ve experienced in reading have not been those when I have been alone in the experience? When I think of the core memories I associate with my love of books, of course there are winter nights wrapped in a blanket by the fire with a hot chocolate and a great six-hundred-page-doorstop, but conversely, I also think of the books that become a shared cultural moment as everyone discussed them, the ones I lined up for outside shops, or the ones with a great twist that sparked a series of text messages with someone who I knew would share the agony of a secret shock with me. The rise of #BookTok, I think, indicative of our desire for this sense of community around reading, and ultimately, I believe, the existence of the book itself relies on the idea that it is part of a conversation between at least two people: the writer and the reader. Reading may be done alone, but stories are always something we make together.

It is interesting to consider how and why readers converge. I had long dreamed of joining a book club by the time I was invited to one by my friend Georgie. Her group of friends, known as the “We Drink and We Know Things Literary Circle” meets at a local bar or restaurant every four weeks, where each of us emerges from hiding for a big hearty meal and an even heartier discussion. A book club, I have discovered, is about several things. It is about friendship. It is about civilised disagreement, seeking clarity, and answering questions of interpretation. It is about the accountability involved that ensures that each of us at least finds the time to read one book a month, and it is about occasionally having your heart broken when no-one loves a book quite as much as you do. Mostly, however, the guiding principle of a book club is the same as that of the English classroom: it is founded on the fundamental belief that when we work together to unpack a story we gain more from it.

At Launceston College this year, we decided to attempt to bring some sense of this culture to the school as an extension of what we had seen in the Shadow Judging process. We started three new clubs centred on a love of story: a Launceston College Film Club, Writers’ Club, and Book Club. For the last of these each month, the library orders six copies of an individual book selected by the group, and students have a month to read them while they are shared around. We meet in a lunch break, and across our reading we explore different genres and ideas, with the students challenging each other to consider the varied perspectives they each bring to a work. This year, perhaps, the hot favourite has been V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but there have been wonderful and rich discussions for every text that we have engaged with. Whether the book is loved or hated (and usually it is both depending on who you talk to), there is always a lot to discuss. The only truly dangerous book is an average one.

One of our school club members, Zina, had her sister Aria
design these amazing badges!

I love being part of both my book clubs, and I feel sorry for anyone who does not have that experience as part of their lives. The good news is that wherever there are readers, there is hope. Everyone, no matter their age, should be able to share the experience of reading.

So… if you aren’t already part of a book club…

Why not start one?

Lyndon Riggall
Lyndon is a writer, teacher, and Co-President of the Tamar Valley Writers’ Festival. He can be found @lyndonriggall and at

Friday 15 September 2023

The Reading Journey

Booksellers play an important role in connecting children to great literature and I am always amazed at how widely read they are and their depth of knowledge on  new and classic publications. This week, Holly Cooper, from Petrach’s Book Shop, shares her experience in matching books to readers and suggests some personal and popular favourites.

A certain look appears on the faces of children as they enter a bookshop. It’s a look that will never stop bringing me joy, no matter how many years I spend behind the counter. It’s a look of awe, of anticipation, of elation. It never fails to make a bookseller smile, because we know that wherever they may be in their short yet full-to-the-brim lives, there will be a book just for them.

There are the babies, who, admittedly, care more about how the book tastes than the contents. Their parents look at us apologetically, but of course we don’t mind: ingestion of books still counts whether they’re being read or being eaten.

Then there’s the toddlers, whose wide little eyes light up at the sight of a book all about their latest obsession: ballerinas, tractors, dinosaurs, farts. This look is often followed up by one of desperation, claiming that this one book is all they’ve ever wanted in their entire lives. Yes, even more than that Lego set they saw earlier.

There are the kids who are new to reading independently, who may still hesitate over the tricky words, but are learning that their imagination is their most powerful tool. These children are discovering that books will always be among their most treasured friends.

There are the schoolkids who come in with their own savings, so excited to be able to buy a book all of their own with the money they earned mowing mum and dad’s lawn. They hand over their crumpled $20 note, and in that moment, that book becomes the first thing that’s properly theirs. 

Then there are the young adults, who have big futures and even bigger emotions. Don’t we all remember the feeling of being so utterly convinced that our favourite authors were the only ones to really understand us? Of course, we now take comfort knowing that every emotion we’ve ever felt has been felt and written about by someone before.

Some personal favourites:

All of the Factors Why I love Tractors
by Davina Bell, Harper Collins.

For younger children this is a fabulous rhyming story with glorious illustrations, an absolute go-to for reading aloud to kids.

Cat on the Run by Aaron Blabey, Scholastic Australia.

Perfect for lower primary from the author of the amazing Bad Guys series, the first in a brand new series that is just as funny as Bad Guys but with the Cat of Death as the central character.  What’s not to love?

Millie Mak the Maker by Alice Pung, Harper Collins.

Targeting upper primary readers, this is a beautiful story from one of Australia’s most loved authors.  Mille Mak has a superpower - she can turn everyday things into something new!

Tomorrow When the War Began
by John Marsden, Pan Macmillan.

For young adult readers this is an oldie but a goodie and one my personal favourites. A brilliant action-packed start to a series that has remained in print for over thirty years, and for good reason.

Perhaps, as children, we don’t understand how the trajectory of our lives will be mapped out by the books we read. They become our secrets, our confidantes, and our homes. These books will always fill us with a sense of nostalgia when we re-crack those spines and breathe in their glorious old book mustiness. 

So here’s to you, kids. May you always find wonder within the pages of books, and may you all continue to bring joy to those of us behind the counter. What a magical journey you have ahead of you.

Holly Cooper
Bookseller and lifelong bookworm.
Petrachs' Book Shop: 

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

Editor’s note: Love Your Bookshop Day is on the horizon, celebrated this year on Saturday October 7. Head to a bookshop near you and tap into the wealth of knowledge and experience booksellers have to help connect young readers to great books. Keep bookshops alive!

Saturday 2 September 2023

Picture Books for Older Readers : Insights into Endpapers

A previous post reviewed the exciting new database Picture Books for Older Readers produced by the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL). This week, Dr Belle Alderman AM, a Director at the Centre, hones in on the contribution of endpapers and how they contribute to the literary engagement and interpretation of sophisticated picture books. Read on to discover how endpapers play an integral role in the storytelling process and also witness the breadth of search possibilities in the database.

On the 30th of June 2023, the NCACL launched its adventurous new database, Picture Books for Older Readers (PBOR). The accompanying flyer, Champions Picture Books for Older Readers, describes these books’ characteristics, how they might be used and their potential audience. 

Some consider picture books are for pre-readers and developing readers. Not necessarily so! Fans of picture books know that the audience is much wider. Firstly, consider what these books are about. Here are a few of the over 300 PBOR searchable subjects in this database: anxiety, betrayal, death, detention centres, environmental destruction, grief, homelessness, refugees and war. These are not your usual fare for young readers. Secondly, the jacket covers, and particularly endpapers, frequently suggest sophisticated, multiple interpretations. It is possible to easily find such discussion.

One exceptional and often under-utilised feature of the PBOR is the long search bar at the top of each web page of jackets. It says, ‘Search by Title and Annotation’. This enables searching for particular words thus diving deeply into annotations for this collection. The annotations are typically 250-350 words in length. They astutely capture the essence of each book in content, intent, style, design and art, including endpapers. 

This targeted ‘free text’ search resembles lateral thinking. The search is capable of illuminating deeper meanings and drawing comparisons between seemingly different but possibly similar concepts. To illustrate this point, a search for the word ‘endpapers’ on the PBOR retrieves 77 books. 

What, for example, might we glean from reading about endpapers in just of few of these 77 books? Such endpapers might, for example:

  • hint at a story deeper than the words alone convey;
  • engage the reader in understanding the story in a certain way;
  • contradict the story and suggest a different meaning;
  • resolve, interpret or open a new way to understand the story; and
  • offer an alternate interpretation of the images. 

There is an additional consideration when working with PBORs. Adults will recognise that a young person’s ability to think laterally can offer different interpretations than those made by adults. Below are 10 books chosen from the 77 results from the ‘endpaper’ search, including a brief excerpt from each annotation. Such annotations lead readers to consider just some of the rich interpretations possible through studying endpapers. 

10 Titles Featuring a Brief Discussion of Endpapers


Abela, Deborah. Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero. Illustrated by Connah Brecon. Penguin Random House Australia, 2017.

The endpapers feature snippets of iconic images from well-known fairy tales encouraging readers to remember their favourites. Hunting for the many visual jokes in Brecon’s illustrations adds immensely to this fast-paced, humorous romp through familiar fairy tale worlds.’ From the annotation

Barbalet, Margaret. The Wolf.  Illustrated by Jane Tanner. Viking Penguin Books Australia, 1991.

‘The Wolf’ is a modern gothic tale about confronting fear. ‘The Wolf’ was one of the first picture books for older readers published in Australia. Its use of visual symbols and metaphors make it a valuable tool for demonstrating visual literacy and understanding literary techniques.’ (From the annotation)

Base, Graeme. The Worst Band in the Universe. Viking, 1999.

‘The front endpapers provide a three-dimensional style map of these worlds, and Base’s trademark intricate and eyepopping details fill out this invented universe.’ (From the annotation)

Clarke, Maxine Beneba. When we say Black Lives Matter. Lothian Children’s Books, 2020.

‘The message of this book is strong, but not too strident although it is necessarily political. The endpapers offer a montage of artwork reflecting protests.’ (From the annotation)

Hathorn, Libby. Way Home. Illustrated by Gregory Rogers. Random House, 1994. 

‘The endpapers appear as crumpled grey paper followed by pages of charcoal and pastel drawings in muted grey, dark green and terra cotta. These crumpled paper endpapers foreshadows both the theme of the story and the way in which street people are ‘thrown away’ by society.’ (From the annotation and Lawrence Sipe and Caroline E McGuire, 2006)

Huxley, Dee, Oliver Huxley & Tiffany Huxley. My Brother. Illustrated by Dee Huxley. Working Title Press, 2016.

‘The endpapers guide the reader’s emotional response from beginning to end. Initial endpapers are light yellow with a bird flying in the bottom right corner, perhaps searching. The back endpapers are a brilliant yellow with orange paint splotches giving warmth and serenity’. (From the annotation)

Rawlins, Donna. Waves: For Those Who Come Across the Sea. Illustrated by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter, Black Dog Books, 2018.

‘The book’s design, particularly the use of the endpapers, gives a clear dateline of the various stories and is a clever and original lead into the book.’ (From the annotation)

Sworder, Zeno. My Strange Shrinking Parents. Thames & Hudson Australia, 2022.

‘The endpapers are exquisite, filled with drawings of a large variety of teapots giving a sense of hearth and home as a place of love and comfort.’ (From the annotation)

Watkins, Ross. One Photo. Illustrated by Liz Anelli. Penguin/Viking, 2016.

‘The endpapers are particularly significant. The front pages are filled with family photographs from earlier times while the back endpapers’ photographs refer to their life after the loss.’ (From the annotation)

Wild, Margaret. Woolvs in the Sitee. Illustrated by Anne Spudvillas. Penguin 2006.

‘The cover and endpapers of ‘Woolvs in the Sitee’ are arresting and immediately engage the viewer. There is the title to ponder, a haunting jacket cover one liner — ‘they spare no won’ — plus endpapers that feature a scribbled animal in grey on glossy black. Prepare to wonder and question what this story is about as no answers are given and many interpretations are possible’. (From the annotation)

This small sample of titles in the PBOR database reveals that endpapers offer additional interpretations of stories. Endpapers tell their own stories just as people of all ages will have their own interpretations of these. This overview of one aspect of the PBOR—endpapers—is designed to provoke all ages to see, read and interpret picture books for older readers in perhaps new and unanticipated ways. 


CBC New England Northwest Sub-branch. (2020, April 20). Booked in! 2020: Endpapers in children’s books, a selection.


Lamond, M. (2018, April 17). Endpapers: Gateways rather than pathways into picture books.


Sipe, L. & McGuire, C.E. (2007, November 7). Picturebook endpapers: Resources for literary and aesthetic interpretation. University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education 


(highly recommended reading)

Staake, B. & Held, K. (n.d.). The art of the end: A visual celebration of the book endpaper.


Parsons, G. (200, August 3). Under the covers: The unique story of the endpaper in picture books. Picture Book Den: Passionate about Picture Books.


By Dr Belle Alderman AM

Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc