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

Friday 24 November 2023

Pick a Book for Summer Reading

This week, we have the expertise of Bronwyn from Hobart Bookshop, to share an exciting and fascinating selection of new titles for all ages from the very young through to young adults, with some Tasmanian titles also in the mix. Don't forget to shop local for your Christmas purchases!

As we approach the end of the year, encompassing Christmas and summer holidays, it is an excellent opportunity for embarking on adventures and relishing the outdoors. Numerous new releases during this time foster imagination and social interaction with friends, animals, and nature, serving as ideal reading companions to spark inspiration throughout the holiday season. The curated books listed below each promote active involvement in seeking adventures and appreciating the natural world.

Have you Seen a Monotreme (Coates & Neyland, 2023, Forty South)
The beautifully written and illustrated picture book Have you Seen a Monotreme by Tasmanian author Hannah Coates and Illustrator Claire Neyland is a lovely book for anyone who has ever walked along a river or creek hoping to see a platypus.  With an underlying theme of belonging, it is a delightful story to share with younger readers.

Dragon Girls and Dragon Games series by Maddy Mara (Scholastic)
For younger readers there are two magical series written by Maddy Mara Dragon Girls and Dragon Games which provide an exciting and accessible introduction into chapter book reading, perfect for children who have the interest but are not yet ready for older series such as ‘Wings of Fire’.  These books have been very popular with the younger readers.  The Dragon Girls series releases book 12 this December with Sofie the Lagoon Dragon while Dragon Games saw the release of book 3, The Battle for Imperia in November.

Finding Wonder (St John, 2023, Allen & Unwin)
The much-loved author Lauren St John has a new middle fiction title Finding Wonder.  An uplifting and beautiful story combing adventure, mystery and horses which are favourite themes for many readers.  This new story will not disappoint any reader who has enjoyed previous Lauren St John titles or classic stories such as Black Beauty.

Keeper of the Lost Cities (Messenger, 2023, Simon & Schuster)
The very popular children’s book series Keeper of the Lost Cities #1 has been given another life in graphic novel format.  With engaging colourful graphic illustrations, the new version will allow children to reengage with the series and is also a way to introduce more reluctant readers to the stories.  The transition from graphic novel to chapter book sometimes being easier once interest in a book has already been established.

The Diemen Alexander (Heitz, 2023, Clan Destine Press)
Written by Tasmanian author Marie Heitz (also a Doctor, ultra marathon runner and Tuba player) for the YA age range, this selection can also be enjoyed by adults.  The story is in the sci-fi genre and is set in Hobart, it involves the rescue of a lizard on kunanyi which may turn out to be a lost Tasmanian dinosaur.  Featuring zoology, comparative anatomy and venture capitalism it has been expertly researched by Marie with assistance from TMAG and is a blend of science and ethics which combine to make a truly original story.  

The Trees (Steffensen, 2023, Hardie Grant)
For children with an interest in building their knowledge of Indigenous knowledge and practices The Trees by Victor Steffensen, is due to be released at the end of November.  The theme of the book is the understanding of the balance required between giving and taking from the land, and details how First Nations People have cared for the trees on Country and in return have been rewarded with the gifts that trees provide.

Against the Odds (Humphreys, 2023)
The holidays can be a time for adventure and Against the Odds; The Incredible Struggles of 20 Great Adventurers by Alastair Humphreys details how 20 different adventurers overcame adversity and failure to ultimately succeed in their extraordinary journeys in space, oceans, deserts and jungles.  The aim of the book is to inspire adventure and confidence that all people despite our many differences are capable of great things.

Bronwyn Chalke

The Hobart Bookshop

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Friday 17 November 2023

Have you seen these?

This week Maureen Mann shares some of her recent reading delights to provide some inspiration for the summer reading ahead.

I have had a lovely time, since returning from a long overseas trip, catching up on some of the books I missed while away. Below, (but not all I have read), are some of the better ones which have come my way – dominantly picture books as that is my great love. I found many of the titles through CBCA’s Reading Time, book news and reviews. If you haven’t discovered this resource, check it out: https://readingtime.com.au. I get the digest version which appears intermittently in my inbox. 

Bush Tucker Counting by Maureen Glover and Gabrielle Fry. Magabala Books, 2023.

This is a lovely board book about bush fruits. The watercolour illustrations are clear, muted primary colours, but the fruits are usually found in northern Australia. There are concepts of number, adjectives and alliteration. 

In My Garden by Kate Mayes and Tamsin Ainslie. Harper Collins, 2023.

The reader learns about gardens around the world, some of the plants which grow in them, as well as the environment in which they leave. Much of this learning is through the illustrations rather than the written text, giving the reader plenty to explore. Japan, Malawi, Iceland and Australia are some of the locations.  There is an affirmative sentence within each double page spread that the child is happy within their world. I really like that the front and back endpages are different and detailed, showing animals and plants from around the world.

Mr Clownfish, Miss Anemone and the Hermit Crab by Sean E Avery. Walker Books, 2023.

Avery, using cartoon-like graphics, shows the interdependent relationship between a clownfish and an anemone. The fish helps find food for the anemone as well as protecting it from predators and helping to keep tentacles clean while the anemone’s sting keeps the fish safe. There’s a third relationship which develops when the anemone fixes onto the back of a hermit crab and is therefore able to move around, something which is usually impossible. I am not a great fan of anthropomorphic animals, but they work in this book, with their expressive faces. Readers will absorb much information about life in the sea which having fun with the story. 

Timeless by Kelly Canby. Freemantle Press, 2023.

The back of the book says it all: It’s about time. Emit and his family never have enough of it, so Emit sets off to catch it, to find it, to buy it but he finally realises that you have to make. Canby’s unusual illustration style combined with wonderful word puns make this a book to be savoured by all readers, no matter their age. Don’t forget to spend time reading the end pages!

Mr Impoppable by Trent Jamieson and Brent Wilson. Larrikin House, 2023.

Gerald is not convinced that he can’t Mr Impoppable, and fun stems from all his attempts. From the expected pins, needles and lightning bolts to the improbable. The cartoon-style cartoons are full of action and humour and Gerald and Mr Impoppable form a strong bond and unexpected friendship. Lots of discussion about who is in control.

Meet Me at the Moon Tree by Shivaun Plozza. University of Queensland Press, 2023.

Carina and her family move house after the death of their father and husband, during the period when none of them is really coping with his absence, and at the same time adjusting to new friends and a new environment. Grandfather seems to be the one grounded person. Carina grasps onto past discussions with her father about moon seeds which had been taken into space and then sown around the world to see how they had mutated. Carina believes they are magic and that she will be able to communicate with her father that way. It’s a very sensitive look at the different impacts of grief, and how one family copes. A book for middle-school readers.

Godfather Death by Sally Nicholls and Julia Sarda. Walker Books, 2023.

Based on a Brothers Grimm story, we learn about the poor, desperate fisherman who has to find a godfather for his newborn son. He rejects God because he doesn’t treat all people fairly. He rejects the Devil because he tricks people. HE finally chooses Death who can’t be tricked or bargained with. But the fisherman doesn’t realise how he is duped. Sarda’s woodcut style illustrations, red, yellow, green, black and white, are beautiful and deserve to be studied rather than passed over quickly. Suited to middle school readers.

Eat My Dust by Neridah McMullin and Lucia Masciullo. Walker Books, 2023.

This is the fictionalised account of the 1928 drive made by Jean Robertson and Kathleen Howell, with Barney the dog, in their open-topped car from Perth to Adelaide, smashing the land speed record (only stopping for fuel and running repairs) and helping map Australia on the way. The story shows how the women broke stereotypes, despite the criticism that women shouldn’t do such things. Masciullo’s illustrations bring the journey to life and show modern readers a small but important achievement from “the olden days”. 

Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell. Bloomsbury, 2023.

What a stunning fantasy story for middle school (and older) readers. When Christopher visits his grandfather, he is warned not to climb to the top of the hill, but Christopher does it anyway and “falls” into the Archipelago, a world populated by wonderful mythical (for us as readers) creatures who are introduced at the beginning of the book, in the Guardian’s Bestiary. He meets Mal with her pet griffin and her magical flying coat. Mal is fleeing from the man who wants to kill her (why?), and their adventure is fast-paced and perilous. Rundell is an excellent wordsmith, and she has created multi-dimensional characters in an excellent story. Themes of environment degradation and protection, friendship, love, loyalty.

Have a look for any of these which you haven’t seen before. All are available through Libraries Tasmania. 

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor’s note: What an interesting and varied selection. I have read a number of these too, but will look out for the remainder - Godfather Death has certainly peaked my curiosity. I am (not so) patiently waiting for my turn for the audio version of Impossible Creatures!

Friday 10 November 2023

Writing As Play

This week, Tasmanian author, Claire van Ryn shares the joy and freedom she has found in writing fiction and the open invitation the form offers to play with ideas and language.

I’m not a children’s book author. 

Yet, here I am writing for the CBCA Tasmania blog. And feeling rather chuffed about it, because it’s given me cause to look at my writing practice and scrutinise why I love it so very much.

This is where I landed: writing fiction is childsplay.

My writing forays began in journalism, meeting the daily demands of a newspaper: a certain number of articles each day, a certain number of words each article, a compelling angle to be found in each. I loved it. I grew exponentially in my craft. The people around me gave feedback so that my writing grew tighter, punchier, more accurate. 

Later, when I became a mum and wanted a career that fit with my children (and not the other way around), I produced copy for business clients. I learnt to write in their brand voice, to weave words that aligned with their unique personality. I met with them, interviewed them and teased out what their unique proposition was. That was fun too.

It wasn’t until I started writing my first work of fiction, The Secrets of the Huon Wren, published this year with Penguin Random House, that I realised the exquisite difference of writing fiction. Suddenly, I wrote whatever I wanted to write. Plots and characters unravelled from my brain, and I didn’t have to check the veracity in case of defamation. But more than that, all the childlike mannerisms that are often squashed as we progress to adulthood were invited back. ‘I need you!’ I called to my youth, and those whimsies came running back with glee, bringing with them my imagination like a great, whale-shaped helium balloon. I’m not sure why I wrote whale-shaped just now. It came to mind and I wrote it down. And that’s the beauty of working with the imagination as your writing buddy. The inexplicable happens and you tag along.

As I write the first draft of my second novel, there’s a tension between the pressure of producing a new work as good (as publishable!) as the first, while still enjoying the journey. I’m a pantser. That is, I don’t do a lot of plotting, preferring to ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ and see where inspiration carries me. It’s probably a lot more stressful! But it also frees me up to listen to the here and now and see what happens (I’ll save the ‘adulting’ for the editing process!).

Isn’t that the joy of childhood? To play, to be fully present in this moment, to relish the details? That’s certainly what I’ve marvelled at in my own children.

Writing fiction is childsplay… not because it’s easy, but because of the invitation to listen to our imagination once more.

Claire van Ryn

Claire is an awarded writer based in Launceston, currently working on her second novel. Her debut fiction The Secrets of the Huon Wren was published by Penguin Random House in June this year and heroes the Tasmanian landscape. It is available at all good bookshops, or online here.

Follow Claire’s writing forays:

On Instagram @clairevanryn 

On Facebook @clairevanryn.writer

On her website www.clairevanryn.com

Saturday 4 November 2023

A Magical Visit to the NCACL - Children’s Literature Treasure Trove

Recently, whilst visiting Canberra, Jennie Bales had the opportunity for a tour of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL). What a treat this was – a highlight of the holiday and a breathtaking and enchanting experience under the expert and informed guidance of Dr Belle Alderman AM, the Director of the NCACL

This visit was long overdue – originally planned as an excursion during the ASLA conference in 2019 – unfortunately the trip to Canberra was cancelled for personal reasons. However, ongoing communications with Belle over the years has ensured we have established a firm long distance friendship inspired by a shared passion for children’s literature. Belle is a stalwart in writing about the NCACL’s many initiatives far and wide and regularly for this very blog! When I let Belle now that I was heading to the ACT in September an invitation to visit was quickly forthcoming and just as quickly accepted.

An easy bus trip out the University of Canberra, clear signage led us to the library where Belle arrived to escort us down to the lower level. The NCACL sits below  the library and faces onto a pleasant courtyard and adjacent café so sees lots of traffic. On entering, it was lovely to meet some of the volunteer staff where coffee and home-made cake were consumed along with some interesting personal tales of favourite books, authors, aspects of the collection and insights into the various forays we had each made exploring this fascinating world of children’s literature.

The public space is divided between a working area for the maintenance of the collection and a small open area with some framed illustrations, tables, ephemera, books on display and a table area used to showcase a particular creator or work for visitors. During the visit this table was laden with just a tiny sample of the treasures that are housed around the lower levels – space being of a premium and in short supply. Spread out on a display table during my visit was the stunning artwork for Desert Lake. The story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (2016) written by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli. This was accompanied by a fascinating array of accompanying material including Anelli’s notes on the manuscript, drafts, dummy book and so much more. To get a taste of the scope of material collected by the NCACL it is worth watching a video produced by Liz Anelli – a fascinating and informative behind the scenes sharing of the work and material generated for the more recently published Dry to Dry: The Seasons of the Kakadu (Freeman & Anelli, 2020). 

Photograph of original artwork by Liz Anellie for
Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thankda-Lake Eyre (Freeman & Anelli, 2016)

As we traversed the corridors Belle opened door after door filled with filing cabinets, archival boxes, filing drawers and so much more! Each section carefully labelled to assist in finding requested material and to ensure incoming material is stored safely and in the right place! And of course there are the practical Resources – the databases, curated lists, catalogue, bibliographies and so much more to assist teacher librarians, librarians, educators and book lovers to help them find ‘just the right book’!

But the ‘pièce de résistance’ was opening the door to the book collection – Wow!

Dr Belle Alderman with the NCACL book collection

As a proud owner of a signature bear, decorated by Marc McBride as part of a fund raising auction run be CBCA in 2003, it was also a treat to see that some other bears have found their way to the Canberra and been added to the collection of ephemera that is just as fascinating to behold. 

I could write endlessly about this memorable and special visit and the warm welcome I received. It was so inspirational that I asked Belle if we could offer a presentation to interested  children’s literature fans – there may well be something that you have stored away that could add to the collection or something that you could take on board in a volunteer capacity as the NCACL relies on volunteers and donations to maintain and continue this vital work. If this post has piqued your interest, consider joining Belle and Jennie on the 15 November, 2023 when we are Lifting the Lid on a Literary Treasure. Or catch the recording at a later date at Eduwebinar, which is kindly donating a percentage of the proceeds to the NCACL.

Jennie Bales

Retired teacher librarian and adjunct lecturer

CBCA Tasmania Social Media Coordinator