Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why I Love Book Parades

'Jasmine' (Deltora Quest)
It's Children's Book Week in Australia. This is a time when the Children's Book Council announces its prize winning books (here) and all schools place special importance on books. As well, community libraries and book shops celebrate literature. This is usually the biggest week of the year for Teacher Librarians. It is the culmination of weeks of preparation and increased attention given to literature and in fact, all books.

The recipe is similar. Librarians display books in the library, children are introduced to the shortlist from the CBCA awards, books are read and reviewed, various forms of reader response are encouraged including craft, art, drama, movement, writing and so on. And, if the students are lucky enough, their teachers join with the Teacher Librarian to put on displays, set up a book sale for parents to donate to the school and give to their children, and they plan a parade usually attended by parents and other guests.

'Harry Potter'
The parade is a big event where children and teachers dress in costume to represent a favourite book character, an assembly is held to which parents are invited and there is a general celebration of books.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a school in Sydney (North Ryde) to see some of my grandchildren take part in a parade, visit the library to buy some books and support the cake stall. It was a wonderful event. The children were all dressed in costume, including our youngest grandchild just 9 weeks old.

There were so many highlights, here are a few:
  • My grandchildren chose their favourite characters and dressed like them.
  • The teachers at North Ryde school were all in costume and looked fantastic.
  • The Teacher Librarian was the wonderful host of the event (and was hilarious). She was clearly well loved by the children and showed her love for the kids and for books.
  • The whole school engaged in the Librarian's creation (and my grandchildren's favourite activity lately),  'What's that shortlister'?  The purpose is for the children to guess the name of one of the shortlisted books based on some simple clues. It was a lot of fun.
The whole school playing 'What's that shortlister'?
All in all, this was a wonderful celebration of Book Week and a wonderful reminder of the importance of Teacher Librarians. It was also a positive demonstration of the quality of public education in this country.

I'd love to hear your stories about book week.

Why are Book Week celebrations important?

There are lots of reasons why the work of teachers, students and parents is worth it, here are just two:

1. It reminds everyone that books offer more than just a good story. Literature can act as
a mirror to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances
a source of knowledge
a source of ideological challenge
a means to peer into the past, and the future
a vehicle to other places
a means to reflect on inner struggles
an introduction to the realities of life and death
a vehicle for the raising and discussion of social issues
2. Celebrations of books in this way reminds everyone that books are an important part of multiple communities, including families, classes, schools and the neighbourhood. Books can help to build common ground, and give us stories and language to share. Books are a form of 'glue' that binds people together.

Star of the show, the Teacher Librarian
We must never underestimate the importance of literature in families and schools. Congratulations to all teacher librarians, principals, teachers, parents and children who took part in book week this year.

Other readings and resources
I say much more about the importance of literature in my book Pathways to Literacy.

There are lots of practical posts on Children's literature HERE

Saturday, August 20, 2011

CBCA Announces 2011 Children's Literature Awards

The Children's Book Council Australia yesterday announced the winners of its 2011 book of the year awards. This coincides with the start of Children's Book Week in Australia (20-26 August). The theme for Book Week in 2011 is 'One World, Many Stories'. As usual there are some stunning books recognised and perhaps some surprises. Once again, I stress that all shortlisted books and, in fact the longer list of over 100 books on the 2011 Notable Book List, should be considered (here). We have a wealth of wonderful writers in this country.

Book of the Year for Older Readers 

WINNER - 'The Midnight Zoo' by Sonya Hartnett (Viking) Winner
HONOUR Books - 'Graffiti Moon' by Cath Crowley (Pan Macmillan)
'The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher' by Doug MacLeod (Penguin)

Book of the Year for Younger Readers

WINNER - 'The Red Wind' by Isobelle Carmody (Viking)
HONOUR Books - 'Just a Dog' by Michael Gerard Bauer (Omnibus, Scholastic)
'Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot' by Anna Branford (Walker Books)

Early Childhood Book of the Year

WINNER - 'Maudie and Bear' by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books)
HONOUR Books -'The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies' by Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland & Deborah Niland (Allen & Unwin)
'Look See, Look at Me' by Leonie Norrington, illustrated by Dee Huxley (Allen & Unwin)

Picture Book of the Year

JOINT WINNERS - 'Mirror' by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books)
'Hamlet' by Nicki Greenberg (Allen & Unwin)
HONOUR Books - 'Why I Love Australia' by Bronwyn Bancroft (Little Hare Books)
'My Uncle's Donkey' by Tohby Riddle (Viking)

Eve Pownall award for Best Information Book 

WINNER - 'The Return of Word Spy' by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Tohby Riddle (Viking)
HONOUR Books -  'Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir' by Ron Brooks (Allen & Unwin)
'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon' by One Arm Point Remote Community School (Magabala Books)

There are so many wonderful authors and illustrators in this list and some remarkable books.

Older Readers Book of the Year

a) Winner

'The Midnight Zoo' by Sonya Hartnett

It is World War II in Eastern Europe and Tomas and his younger brother, Andrej, have escaped Romany that has been overrun by the Germans. They carry Wilma, their baby sister, in a sack and reach an abandoned town where they discover a zoo. In it they find a wolf, monkey, bear, eagle, lioness, seal, chamois and llama with some surprising events as they contemplate what next.

This is a brilliantly crafted story with an unlikely plot that her skill makes work. A wartime fable where animals are abandoned and a group of children lose their freedom, hope and place. War has turned the world of these children and creatures upside down. How will it end? Hartnett's stories are usually full of the unexpected, what will be the fate of the abandoned? Sonya Hartnett is a wonderful writer. Winner of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2008 for children's literature, she is a deserving winner of this award for a memorable book.

b) Honour Books

'Graffiti Moon' by Cath Crowley

Lucy has never met him, but she is sure she is in love with Shadow a mysterious graffiti artist whose work is scattered throughout the city. It is the last night of Year 12 and she goes looking for him. Instead she meets the last guy she would ever hook up with, Ed.  After a disaster of a first date Ed says he knows how to find Shadow. They spend the night tracking down Shadow’s art and learning a lot about herself and Ed as well.

'The Life Of A Teenage Body-Snatcher' by Doug MacLeod

Why is sixteen-year-old Thomas Timewell in a graveyard in the dead of night, with shovel in hand? 'The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher' is set in England in the 1820s and takes the reader into the engrossing world of resurrectionists, people who liberate corpses from the grave for the purpose of medical research. Thomas' grandfather had a final wish, to donate his body to research, but his family denies this after death. Thomas decides to do something about it. He has a chance meeting with a resurrectionist, Plenitude. Thomas is drawn further into the strange and gruesome world of body-snatching.

This is a clever story from Doug Macleod which rather than being a bland horror story is a complex tale filled with suspense, humour, action and even some romance. A great book!

Younger Readers Book of the Year

a) Winner - 'The Red Wind: The Kingdom Of The Lost Book One' by Isobelle Carmody

This is the first book in a new book series for younger readers.  Brothers Zluty and Bily live happily in their little house in the desert. They have created their own little world centred on their stone house, but a storm is in the offing. Every year Zluty journeys to the great forest while Bily stays to tend their desert home. Each year Zluty returns with exciting tales of his adventures. But this year a red wind sweeps through their land, changing everything and each boy must fight for their survival.
b) Honour Books

'Just A Dog' by Michael Gerard Bauer

A family is given runt of a dalmatian from a pedigree litter, but it obviously had a non-pedigree father. As a pup it whines until it is taken upstairs to sleep, and as it grows so does its impact on the family. The book shares many stories of the dog through Corey's eyes. Behind each story we see the loyalty of the dog to the family, the background being the disintegration of Corey's family. The dog is always there, and its death has an added impact on everyone. Any reader 9-12 years will enjoy this lovely book.

'Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot' by Anna Branford -

Violet Mackerel is a girl with lots of theories, ideas and interests, a family full of love and difficulties, and a longing for a blue china bird she saw at the market, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand.

Violet Mackerel spots a blue china bird at the Saturday markets where her Mum has a stall to sell knitting and she wants to own it. But this will set her back $10 and she doesn't have the money. Violet knows she will have to come up with 'a plot', a brilliant plot! She gives the matter much thought and settles on archaeology as part of the answer to her problem, with a surprising outcome.

This is a delightful short novel for children aged 7-10 years, and will be loved especially by girls. Anna Branford has created a wonderful character in Violet who should sustain interest in the series of books to follow. Sarah Davis has provided excellent watercolour illustrations that appear on monochrome (or greyscale) throughout the book and add to the story, especially the development of Violet's character. The second book in the series - 'Violet Mackerel's Remarkable Recovery' - is out. You can read my previous review of Anna's work here.

Early Childhood Book of the Year

'Maudie And Bear' by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Freya Greenwood - Jan Ormerod has given us five separate stories in this delicious picture book.  Perhaps Maudie is a bit spoilt, at the very least, she is self-focussed as small children can be, but she tests this to the limit and Bear passes the test every time. Maudie's world revolves around Maudie and Bear's world revolves around her too!  But like any good friend he is patient and reliable and loves her unconditionally. Maudie is so confident of Bear's love that she makes demands, throws the odd tantrum, lays down all the rules and lets Bear do all the work, knowing he will love her unconditionally. And he does right to the end.

Jan Ormerod is an illustrator herself, so it is an unusual collaboration to 'let go' to another creator. She has chosen well in Freya Blackwood, who won the prestigious 2010 Kate Greenaway medal for her book (written by Margaret Wild) 'Harry and Hopper'.

This is a wonderful book. Ideal to be read to children from as young as you like, or perfect for the young reader who is beginning to read alone. Perfect early reading material for first encounters. This book will be read again and again. A worthy winner! 

'The Tall Man And The Twelve Babies' by Tom Niland Champion, Kilmeny Niland & illustrated by Deborah Niland

This is an amusing picture book about babies and silliness. This crazy story is about six baby boys all named Alistair, six girls all called Charlene and a 'Tall Man'. They all live together in a city apartment. The tall man with his six boy babies and six girl babies strikes a problem when he is trapped outside the apartment.  Some quick thinking by the Tall Man eventually saves the day with the help of the babies.

This book is a family affair for Ruth Park's twin daughters and her grandson Tom. Sadly Tom's mother Kilmeny (1950-2009) and Ruth Park (1917-2010) died before the book was published.

With simple text, short sentences and many textual devices like bold, enlarged and capitalised letters the early reader is given some leads. Deborah Niland's delightful illustrations capture the mood perfectly. Ideal for children aged 3-7 years.

'Look See, Look At Me' by Leonie Norrington and Dee Huxley

Leonie Norrington and illustrator Dee Huxley visited three northern communities and tested the ideas for the text and illustrations before completing their book. The picture book that resulted is a wonderful insight into childhood within an Aboriginal community. It is a delightful and positive celebration of outback family life in an Aboriginal community.

Leonie and Dee visited three northern communities, Wugularr, Barunga and Manyalalluk, to workshop words and drawings for this book. It has an exuberant style with rhyming text supported by Dee Huxley's superb illustrations that locate the events in a remote community with rich ochre landscapes that add greatly to the narrative.  'Look See, Look at Me' perfectly captures a child's everyday life and will be wonderful for sharing with young children again and again. Love it!

Picture Book of the Year

a) Joint Winners

'Mirror' (2010) by Jeannie Baker  - This is one of the most significant picture books to be published for some time. Just when you thought there was no room to innovate further with the picture book (without 'cheating, by using an iPad!), Jeannie Baker manages to surprise us all with her latest book. The concept is brilliant, the quality of the collage images once again stunning and the book design groundbreaking. She has produced another wordless picture book that is challenging at many levels. But it is the concept and design that will first catch your attention.

This picture book comprises two stories that are designed to be read simultaneously – one from the left to right, the other from right to left (see below). As you pick up the book you try to open it from right to left only to have the book open at the middle to reveal two books, one that conforms to English concepts of print and books, and the other that matches expectations for Arabic speakers. Page by page, we experience a day in the lives of two boys and their families - one from inner city Sydney, Australia and the other from a small, remote village in Morocco, North Africa

While the two worlds portrayed couldn’t be further apart, she shows through the parallel images of the lives of the two families a simple and profound truth. While people live in vastly different places, and have different lives, we share much. The families have different food, clothing and family practices, and they travel in different ways to different shops and workplaces, but there is much that is the same. Family members love one another and depend on each other. A mother, father and children do different things each day than in Sydney, but they are more like us than we might imagine. And there is an additional truth - we are connected to them.  Jeannie's message is that in many ways we are mirrors of one another even though different. This is a stunning book that will win many awards.  You can read my more detailed review of Jeannie's work including this book HERE.

'Hamlet' by Nicki Greenberg -

Since Shakespeare wrote 'Hamlet' over 400 years ago, there have been many interpretations of the story of its tragic hero, a Danish prince torn apart by the murder of his father and the infidelity of his mother.

Nicki Greenberg offers us one of the most ambitious interpretations as she presents the story in graphic novel form. This is a mammoth effort of 427 pages with vibrant colour and silhouettes in inkblot form. But this isn't a simple comic book of predictable simple images. In the simplicity of its form there is great complexity as she uses every device she can to stage this play without sound and physical movement. She embeds images with great symbolism that add to the text and characters, with image used to add depth and interpretation; another layer of meaning to plumb.

There is a playfulness about her work, and yet, it is a veritable block buster! Hamlet fills the stage as a charismatic inkblot. A 'chameleon' whose black form changes shape according to his circumstances and mood. This is another innovative and ambitious work from Nicki Greenberg. It is an imaginative and epic graphic novel. This is not a kid's picture book! Suitable for readers 13+.
b) Honour Books

'Why I Love Australia' by Bronwyn Bancroft - This is a beautiful book in which Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft explores both her country and the way she feels about it. From the coast to the outback, from cities to plains, from dramatic gorges to rugged alpine peaks, from deserts to rainforests she describes its beauty. Australia is a continent of varied landscapes that Bronwyn Bancroft manages to present in an inspiring way.

'My Uncle's Donkey' by Tohby Riddle - A donkey is allowed into the house and once inside, it gets up to all sorts of things. He talks to his friends on the phone, does hoof stands in the kitchen, cartwheels in the living room, takes long baths and stays up late. This is a funny little book to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Another wonderful book from Tohby Riddle.

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

a) Winner

'The Return Of The Word Spy' by Ursula Dubosarsky and Tohby Riddle

The 'Word Spy' is back! In her first book, 'The Word Spy', she shared the secrets of the English language, from the first alphabet to modern texting. In 'The Return of the Word Spy' she continues the story with chapters on language families, how we learn to speak, grammar and written communication. Once again it has an accessible and engaging style with wonderful illustrations by master illustrator Tohby Riddle. It is filled with cartoons, games, facts and puzzles. What can we say about Tohby Riddle, this is one of two awards this year. Greed? No, just extremely good! His involvement has ensured that this book works and will flow off the shelves. A great team and a great fun book.

b) Honour Books 

'Drawn From The Heart' by Ron Brooks

Ron Brooks is well known for his award-winning children's books; classics like 'The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek'.  In this wonderful memoir he recreates his life as artist, husband and father. He shares the twists and turns, and the highs and lows. In doing so, he offers some wonderful insights into his 'secret' process of picture making and story-shaping. It is illustrated with roughs and finished art from his best-loved books. Fantastic stuff from a wonderful illustrator. I'm so glad he did this book.

'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life At Ardiyooloon' by One Arm Point Remote Community School

Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi-Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the north west of Western Australia. 'Our World: Bardi-Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon' takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community; lives that are very different to those experienced by most Australians.

Other posts

My previous review of the entire shortlist HERE
All my previous 'Award' posts HERE

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Indigenous Tales of The Dreamtime

Emily Gap N.T.
An Introduction for non-Australians

Indigenous Australians were the original inhabitants of the continent we know today as Australia. They include Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. Together they make up 2.5% of Australia's population today.  It is believed that they are amongst the oldest races on earth with estimates suggesting that they first arrived on this continent between 40,000 and 125,000 years ago. They are an ancient people with a rich and unique culture. There is enormous diversity across the many nations and clans, with an estimated 250-300 spoken languages with 600 dialects. Sadly fewer than 200 of these languages remain and most are in danger of being lost.  Like many non-Indigenous Australians I see the preservation of Indigenous languages and their stories as of critical importance. Recently, while travelling in Central Australia this was brought into sharp focus for me.

An encounter with the 'The Three Caterpillars'

Mparntwe or Alice Springs is home to the Arrernte people, Indigenous Australians who have called this beautiful place home for at least 45,000 years.  It is at the geographical centre of Australia. The photo opposite is of a place called 'Emily Gap' that I visited in July while exploring Central Australia. At this place you will find Indigenous rock art that tells the story of how three caterpillars named Yeperenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye created the MacDonnell Ranges.

 The Arrernte people, believe the ranges were formed by giant caterpillars that entered this world through one of the gaps in the escarpment of the area. In traditional stories the caterpillar ancestors, Yeperenye, Utnerrengatye and Ntyarlke are the major creation forces of the Alice Springs area. These stories tell how they arrived from all directions, first stopping at Mparntwe, a particularly sacred site in Alice Springs, where they battled with the Irlperenye (green stink bug).

'Three Caterpillars' - Emily Gap
The Caterpillars fled when the Irlperenye (stink bug) started to kill them. The ranges around Alice Springs are the seen as the remains of the many caterpillars. The gaps in the ranges like Emily Gap indicate where the stink bugs tore the heads from the bodies of the caterpillars. The rock formations around the area are and the few surviving Yeperenye went on to sculpt the rivers and trees along the tops of the ranges.

'The Three Caterpillars' were painted on the cliff face at some point in time. The dark red and light orange stripes were created by red ochre and white lime blended with animals fats and applied to the rock surface.

Indigenous Dreamtime stories are associated with specific Indigenous clans and nations and their lands and these stories are passed on to younger generations by elders and storytellers. They have survived for thousands of years but the loss of traditional languages and the separation of many Indigenous people from their traditional land is a threat to their survival. While some of these stories are secret, or are seen as of such a sacred nature that they are only told by specific people to certain people (e.g. told by men to men, or by women to women), in the last 40 years many Indigenous Dreamtime stories have been shared through children's books.

As a non-Indigenous Australian I love these stories and would like to see more of them written down by the people who own these stories so that others can enjoy them. Thankfully, many are being recorded but just as many aren't. For example, to date I haven't come across a written version of 'The Three Caterpillars' that I learned of when exploring Alice Springs.

Some of my favourite Indigenous Stories

Some of my favourite Indigenous Dreamtime stories have been passed down to all Australian children through the storytelling and wonderful art of Dick Roughsey (1924-1985) or Goobalathaldin to use his tribal name. He was from the island of Langu-narnji in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. His first picture book 'The Giant Devil Dingo' received wide acclaim for the richness of the storytelling, the distinctiveness of his painted illustrations, with their vibrant colours, fascinating detail, and the integration of art and word. It tells of Old Eelgin, the grasshopper woman who was evil and had taught her giant dingo Gaiya to kill men for food. But one day Gaiya meets his match in the Chooku-Chooku (butcher-bird) brothers.

Another of my favourite works by Roughsey is 'The Rainbow Serpent' first published in 1975 and still available. It won the Children's Book Council of Australia award for best picture book in 1976. Goorialla (the Rainbow Serpent) travelled across Australia to find his tribe. As he travelled his tracks formed the mountains, the creeks, lagoons and rivers. The Bil-bil brothers plot to kill him. When Goorialla's anger is spent and he disappears into the sea the world is changed.

Dick Roughsey and Percy Trezise (1923-2005) formed a strong partnership to produce many wonderful books together. While Trezise was not Indigenous he became Roughsey's brother in a traditional Aboriginal ceremony and was given the name 'Warrenby'. Roughsey lived with his wife and their six children on Mornington Island, but often spent half the year on the North Queensland mainland. He and Percy Trezise discovered and studied the art of Aboriginal cave galleries in the Laura region of Cape York. The Quinkin gallery inspired the award-winning books 'The Quinkins' and 'Turramulli' the 'Giant Quinkin'.
'The Quinkins' is a wonderful story that tells of the Yalanji tribe of Cape York and their encounters with the Quinkins, spirit people of the land with two tribes: Imjim and the Timara. Imjim were small fat-bellied fellows who stole children while Timara were funny and whimsical spirits who like to play tricks. They were tall and very thin and lived in the cracks of the rocks, and they didn't like the Imjim. This is the story of two children, Boonbalbee and Leealin.  This book was an IBBY Honour book in 1980, and was the Children's Book Council Book of Australia Picture Book of the Year in 1979.  As I travelled through northern Australia and looked at the crevices in the rocks the echoes of this story made me think, "could these be Quinkin rocks?"

There are so many of their titles that I love and have enjoyed sharing with children. These include 'The Cave Painters' by Percy Trezise (1988) which tells of the experiences of two Bullanji children Nonda and Mayli as they travel to visit their mother's people, the Yalanji who live in 'Quinkin Country'. 'The Magic Firesticks' (Trezise & Roughsey) is another story of the Yalanji people in Cape York and tells how the people discovered the way to light fires, not simply sustain fires once they were alight. After monsoonal fires quenched all their fires two young men (Bandicoot and Curlew) travel to a far off Fire Mountain where it was said Didmunja (a wise man) had magic sticks which could produce fire when you wanted it.

'Banana Bird and the Snake Man' (Trezise & Roughsey) tells of a time when people who were later to become birds, animals, plants and reptiles were still in human form. The snake men of Cape York were cannibals who would kill people and hang them in trees to be collected later when they were hungry. This story tells of the triumph of Coucal the brother of Banana Bird man who avenges his brother's death and destroys the Snake men. 

Another wonderfully simple book is 'When the snake bites the sun' told by David (Bungal) Mowaljarlai, which was retold and illustrated by Pamela Lofts. This delightful story of the Ngarinyin tribe of Western Australia, tells the story of the sun and why it is as it is today. This was one of a series of simple picture books for preschool children produced in the 1980s some of which are still available. Other books in the series included 'Dunbi the owl', 'Echidna and the shade tree' and 'How the birds got their colours'. We owe Pamela Lofts (who lives in Alice Springs) a great debt for recording and illustrating many Indigenous stories. You can find a full list here.

Tiddalik Rock (Wollombi NSW)
'What made Tiddalik Laugh' has been produced in various versions of varied authenticity. It is based on the 'Cylorana platycephala' (or Water-holding Frog) that swells as it swallows water. It is sometimes referred to as 'Molok' as well as 'Tiddalik'. The version I first read was Joanna Troughton's beautifully (and amusingly) illustrated version, although this might not be the most authentic traditional version of the story. Tiddalik woke up one morning with an unquenchable thirst. He began to drink all the fresh water he could find till he was satisfied and every creek and billabong was dry. All the creatures and plant life began to die, so the other animals decided to do something about it. But how could they get the water back? Wombat had the answer, make him laugh? But how? The amusing solution involved Platypus in Troughton's version of the story. The story is said to have originated in South Gippsland Victoria but is common along the Eastern seaboard of Australia, so this is unclear. The photo of this rock (opposite) known as Tiddalik rock is located near Wollombi in NSW.

'Enora and the Black Crane', by Arone Raymond Meeks is another fine example of a traditional story being turned into a picture book. Arone Meeks is a member of the Kokoimudji tribe from the Laura area of far North Queensland. This story tells of Enora and how his killing of a crane led to birds acquiring their colours and him becoming the black crane. Winner of Australian IBBY Award for Children's Literature (1994), CBCA picture book of the year (1992) and UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats International Award Silver medal (1992). Arone Meeks also illustrated Catherine Berndt's wonderful book 'Pheasant and Kingfisher' (1987) that was shortlisted by the CBCA in 1988 and won the Crichton Award for Meeks in the same year.

A more recent book which I love is the 'Papunya School Book of Country and History' (2001). This isn't really a Dreamtime story, it is the story of the Anagu people of Central Australia. It offers a balanced telling of the people, their place, their culture and history. It does a good job in speaking of some of the difficult issues arising from the impact of white settlers. It is a wonderful collaboration between well-known non-Indigenous advocate Nadia Wheatley and Indigenous writers, storytellers and artists from the staff and students of Papunya School.

Another more recent community collaboration is 'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life At Ardiyooloon' (2011) by One Arm Point Remote Community School.  Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi-Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the north-west of Western Australia. 'Our World: Bardi-Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon' takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community; lives that are very different to those experienced by most Australians. Worthy Honour book in the CBCA awards for 2011 in the 'Eve Pownall Award' for Information Books.

Yet another wonderful collaborative book is 'Playground' (2011) compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle, has been short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Indigenous Australian Elders, 20 Indigenous secondary students and with Indigenous Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present.

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Indigenous children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Indigenous life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Indigenous children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Indigenous children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Indigenous people not simply read their stories.

Some other great resources

Based on an Aboriginal Dreamtime story of Waatji Pulyeri (the Blue Wren)

Lovely example of Indigenous Storytelling, 'How the Kangaroo Got its Pouch' A Wirrajuri tale

Some brief further notes on Indigenous Australians

In Central Australia the Indigenous people are called the Anangu. Within this group there are many different language groups including the Pintupi, Warlpiri, Anmatyerre, Pitjantjatjara and Arrente. All Indigenous Australians come from different 'Ngurra' (homelands or traditional countries) and within their rich cultural traditions have stories, drawings, dances other cultural practices that have been passed down through the generations for millennia.  There has been a wonderful balance and 'bond' between people and their land. They see their ancestors as their teachers and for thousands of years they have taught their children the knowledge of ancestors and a history seen within the very rocks, water courses, hills, fauna and flora of their place. This has been passed down often (but not exclusively) through story. Often these stories are told in the context of place and have been oral, but in the last century some of these stories have been written down so that they can enrich all people, even if perhaps not understanding their full significance.

There is a deep sadness that many non-Indigenous Australians feel that there has been some loss of language and stories of these unique people. It was with a mixture of joy and sadness that I caught glimpses of the rich connection between Indigenous people and their land while I travelled across Central Australia.  The joy comes from the richness I could see in this connection, but the sadness is that for many Indigenous Australians this connection is made more difficult by their dislocation from traditional lands. My hope is that more Indigenous stories will be captured in written and spoken forms.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Place, Folklore and Play

The tree where I played as a child
Can you recall a special place where you played as a child? An object, structure or piece of equipment that always seemed to be a point at which children would congregate? As a child I can remember many such spaces. There was a narrow strip of ground between the southern side of our house and a low fence. It was a place to hide, and the site of numerous 'lean-to' cubbies. And it was a place of imaginary play alone, and sometimes a place to share secrets and stories with others in our 'clubhouse'. I can recall a tree over-hanging the creek near my house as a child where we spent hours climbing it, jumping off it and talking under it. The photo opposite taken in recent times show that it still has the same use 50 years later. I can also recall a line of seats around a large gum tree on our school playground which we'd jump, use as balance beams, and use as the walls of a great imaginary fort holding out the enemy forces closing in as part of lunchtime battles.

What games did this site once host?
Have you ever noticed that some spaces attract children and others seem to repel them? Some park playgrounds seem to work and others leave children disinterested? There is a special relationship between space, objects and children's play. 

A school Principal and a researcher on play made an interesting discovery at a Melbourne school recently. As part of the development of a new masterplan for the school playground the researcher discovered that an unusual structure near the front gate of Princes Hill Primary School had special significance. It is made of steel and timber, and looks like a long disused bike stand.  But while the structure was inconsequential (and probably ready to be removed), at lunchtime it would be the site of an unusual game. A group of pupils would gather around it to begin a ritual that it would seem has been going on in this school, at this place, using this object, for generations.

They call the game 'Cat and Mouse'. The researchers found that while it has similarities to other games of chasey, there are unique elements.  The children form a circle and one child chants the traditional counting rhyme "Dip, dip" to see who will be "it". But the game is only ever played around the unusual structure. The structure is well worn, with metal railings polished to a shiny brilliance by generations of children. And yet, the exact purpose originally is now unclear. But for 'Cat and Mouse' the rules are clear. Grade 6 students have been teaching them to the Prep (Grade 1) children for generations.

As I said in a post on the imagination some months ago, imagination and creativity are fundamental to human advancement and are qualities to be valued and nurtured. It is important not to constantly constrain and conform our children with a resultant loss of originality, innovation and discovery. The example at Princes Hill Primary School is a good reminder of why we need to remember this.  

I have quoted John Holt before, but I want to do it again, because he expresses this point so well: 

What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guidebooks, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out. (John Holt, 1981)

Other links and posts

You can read the newspaper report on Princes Hill Primary HERE
'Stimulating Children's Imaginations' HERE
Story on June Factor and the Australian Children's Folklore Collection HERE
'Australian Children's Folklore Collection' HERE

Dr Ken Ginsburg & Dr Marilyn Benoit Speaking on Play

Monday, August 8, 2011

Meet the Author: Sandy Fussell

Sandy Fussell lives south of Sydney (Wollongong) with her husband and two sons. She studied mathematics at university. But it has been history that has been a major inspiration for her writing. She shares in the interview below that she has been interested in history from a very young age. She now works in IT.   She is something of an "accidental writer".  In her words, "when my eldest son stopped reading in Year 4, I panicked. How could a child of mine not love books?"

Her efforts to work with her son on his reading and writing led her to write for herself. She proceeded to write manuscripts for practice. She wrote nine in quick succession. She showed her eighth effort to a number of people and received good feedback. Her ninth manuscript was 'Samurai Kids' which was accepted for publication in 2006 and was published as her first novel in 2008.

 The Samurai Kids series has gone on to be very successful. Book 3, 'Shaolin Tiger' was named as a Notable Book by the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) for Younger Readers in 2010.   It was also short-listed in the Speech Pathology Awards in 2010 (Upper Primary Category). 'Polar Boy', was her first stand-alone novel and was short-listed in 2009 for the CBCA awards for Younger Readers. Her second stand-alone novel, 'Jaguar Warrior' was published in 2010 and has received good reviews. 

Interview with Sandy Fussell

1. TC: Could you tell the readers of this blog why you wanted to be a writer of children’s books? Was there a special motivation or someone who inspired you to do it?

I am an accidental writer. When my eldest son stopped reading in Year 4, I panicked. How could a child of mine not love books? After failing to find anything he would read, I asked him to write a story to show me what sort he would like. To my surprise he said yes, as long as I transcribed. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I kept interfering. In the end he became so exasperated with me; I was sent packing to write my own story. I haven’t stopped writing since.

2. TC: Do you find the writing process difficult? Which aspects of your writing are most challenging?

It is hard to juggle writing with family and work. If the words are flowing, I have to force myself to put the manuscript aside to attend to other things – like feeding the troops and paying the bills. For me, the most challenging part of writing is chapter 5. That is the point at which I know what happens right through to the end, and I get a little bored with the process of continuing to put words to paper. I’m always tempted to start something new. But in the end I want to share the story so I keep going. From chapter 6 onwards it’s a downhill ride!

3. TC: You write historical fiction, could you tell us why this genre is important to you? What about the characters, from where do they ‘spring’?

I have been fascinated by early history ever since I was a child. I would imagine what it was like to live in a different place at a different time and in particular, what it was like to a kid then. Children had very different lives, responsibilities and adventures hundreds of years ago. A fourteen-year-old boy was a fully fledged samurai fighting for his lord. Most readers think of Ananasanq (Nana) from Polar Boy as very old. When I visit schools I often ask students to guess her age. They hover around 100 years old! But the life expectancy in the polar north was much less than that and Nana was more likely to be about 32.

4. TC:  What is the research process like for the writing of one of your novels?

I love research and spend the first month doing nothing else. Then I continue researching as I write. Most of the information doesn’t make it into the book but it creates a sense of time and place which is absorbed almost osmotically into the story.

I pay close attention to the everyday life of my characters - how they lived, what they wore and what they ate. In terms of context, often my readers find these small details more interesting than the big historical events.

For me it is always thrilling when history validates my storyline. I can’t claim it is deliberate but it just keeps happening. For instance in Samurai Kids book 7 which is set in Cambodia, I did not think there were any Japanese people there at the time. That didn’t mean I couldn’t write them in. But then I discovered there is an inscription on the walls of the Temple of Angkor Wat in Japanese dated to exactly the time period I am writing in!

When I was writing Polar Boy it initially began as the story of a boy facing his greatest fear – the polar bear. I also wanted a cultural confrontation. As I researched I discovered the Vikings were coming down from Greenland at the same time and they were called ‘berserkers’ or ‘the bears’. So the bear in Nana’s prophecy about Iluak was really a person all along! Writing historical fiction is about connecting the research dots to form a story.

5. TC: How do you choose the historical periods and the places that you do?

I choose places I’m interested in. I studied Ancient History in high school and at university so sometimes I have a lot of general knowledge about the period such as Samurai Japan or Aztec Mexico. Alternatively it might be a period that has a magical almost exotic appeal for me – even though I may not know many details. I also like to choose periods that are on the edge of well-known times and have drafted a story set in Nubia. Nubia was a black African civilisation that preceded pharaohonic Egypt so while it is not itself well-known; it has a certain geographic and cultural familiarity for young readers who know a lot about Ancient Egypt.

 I like to write about a period that is close to a well researched period because it gives me a solid historical base but also allows room for a wider imagining. Samurai Kids  is set in the mid 17th century which in Cambodia (the setting for book 7) is the Dark Ages. Not a lot of information is known so I can draw imaginative inferences as long as they are plausible. 

6. TC: Of your 8 books, which one was most satisfying for you and why?

That question is so hard. I am always pleased with each novel I finish although I don’t necessarily think my latest is always the best. What will be my most satisfying book is probably unfinished at this point. I have been working on it since 2007 and it has been evolving with me as I (hopefully) develop into a better writer.

7. TC: What has been the most memorable experience in your writing career?

In 2008 I was asked to be the Guest of Honour at the Henry Lawson Festival of the Arts, the longest running arts festival in Australia. Guests are usually high profile members of the arts community but when the chosen guest had to withdraw due to family illness, they couldn’t find anyone to come to Grenfell at short notice. My family live there so my sister suggested me!

I crowned the queen, presented prizes, opened the festival and spoke at the reception. But by far the best part, and my favourite writing memory, was when a local school joined the street parade as Samurai Kids. They stopped in front of the official dais, bowed and yelled ‘Sense’i. I cried. I still do when I think of it. The full account and pictures can be found HERE.

The children of Grenfell dressed as Samurai Kids

8. TC: Are there any children's authors that you particularly admire? Adult writers?

There are many, many authors I admire. The children’s book community is incredibly generous and encouraging to new writers. I am hesitant to list names as I would hate to leave anyone out, but I’ll make one exception. When I first began to write I was invited to a writer’s meeting at author Di Bates’ house. She became my writing mentor, guide and good friend. She still is.

9. TC: Were you taught creative writing in school? Did it help?

I don’t recall anything specific although I am incredibly indebted to the teachers and librarians who fostered my love of reading. I had a strict and often unhappy childhood but these ‘angels of the book’ provided me with somewhere wonderful to hide out.

10. TC: What advice would you impart to aspiring writers?

I used to say ‘Write, write, write. Read, read, read.’ And while I still think that is valuable advice, I would now say: Scribbling every idea into a notebook, be continually looking at the world with an imaginative and slightly askew eye. Honing writing skills is extremely important but perhaps even more important is finding unique story ideas.

11. TC: What has been your favourite response to any of your books?

I get a lot of emails from young readers. Their enthusiasm for the Samurai Kids series is inspiring. They often write to me with story ideas for the next book.

A partially blind girl emailed me (via her mum) to say Taji (who is completely blind) was her hero. One mother wrote to say her child was due to have a serious operation which included a skin graft and he would be on crutches for a while. Part of his preparation was practising to be Niya! Another parent wrote to me to say their China travel plans had changed because after reading Samurai Kids, their young son wanted to visit a Shaolin Temple.

12. TC:  Do you have a book that you are working on right now?

I am currently working on three separate books but my priority is the seventh book in the Samurai Kids series. It doesn’t have a title. I have always wanted to visit the Temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia but that doesn’t look likely in the near future – so I am going there in my book instead.

Sandy Fussell's Books 

a) Samurai Kids Series (Walker Books)

This is a series about the experiences of a group of samurai children in feudal Japan. Like other stories about Japanese warriors, the narrative is interwoven with the philosophy that is the foundation of their life and training.  The diverse samurai kids learn to fight, but always with the noble desire to prevent war.  The stories and their characters seek to build just and ethical societies. The books offer a range of characters that represent both genders and children of varied qualities, characteristics and challenges. In the video below you view Sandy talking about her exciting series.

'White Crane' (2008) Walker Books
'Owl Ninja' (2008) Walker Books
'Shaolin Tiger' (2009) Walker Books
'Monkey Fist' (2009) Walker Books
'Fire Lizard' (2010) Walker Books
'Golden Bat'(2010) Walker Books

b) Other Novels 

'Polar Boy' (2008) Walker Books

This was Sandy Fussell's first stand alone novel for younger readers (9-12+ years).  It is set in a 13th century polar community, a young boy's destiny transforms him from a frightened child into a courageous hero. Iluak, a Too-lee boy, has been told by his grandmother that it is his fate to save his people from a bear. But the mere thought of a polar bear makes Iluak’s stomach churn and he lives in fear of this destined encounter. When Illuak summons the courage to rescue a Northman (Viking) child from a polar bear he realises there is a far greater challenge involved in the prophecy. Two very different cultures are about to collide head-on in this excellent historical .

'Jaguar Warrior' (2010) Walker Books

This is the story of Atl, a young Purepechan slave. It is set in the age of the Aztec empire and a place we know today as northern Mexico. Atl is imprisoned in a box and has been there seven days and awaits death as part of an Aztec ceremony of sacrifice to the Mexican gods. He is not afraid as the anger rises within him and significant twist occurs in his story. A war-party of conquistadors attacks the head temple and Atl’s reputation as the fastest runner in Technotitlan leads the High Priest to set him free to send a message to get help for the Purepechan people. He escapes through hidden tunnels of the temple and heads into the jungles of South America, encountering dangers and collecting companions on the way. It is a fast moving adventure story that 9-14 year old boys will enjoy.  It is a well-researched historical narrative that many young readers will find a great read.

Teaching resources

Samurai Kids Website (HERE)
Sandy Fussell's personal site has varied resources and ideas for her books (HERE)

Sandy Fussell's Awards

2009 Short Listed CBCA Children's Book of the Year, 'Polar Boy'
2009 Honour Book CBCA Junior Judges Project, 'Polar Boy'
2009 Short Listed Sakura Medal Chapter Book (Japan), Samurai Kids Book 1 - 'White Crane'
2009 Panda Book Award Middle Readers (China), 'Polar Boy'
2010 CBCA Notable, Samurai Kids Book 3 - 'Shaolin Tiger'
2010 Shortlist Speech Pathology Book of the Year, Samurai Kids Book 3 - 'Shaolin Tiger'
2011 CBCA Notable, Samurai Kids Book 5 - 'Fire Lizard'
2011 CBCA Notable, 'Jaguar Warrior'
2011 IBBY Outstanding Books for Young People With Disabilities, Samurai Kids Book 1 - White Crane

Monday, August 1, 2011

Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals Awarded for 2011

In Great Britain there are two major awards for children's books - the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal (here). The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) runs both awards. The winners of both 2011 medals have been announced.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded to an outstanding book for children and young adult readers. Nominated books must be written in English and should have been published first in the UK in the year before the awards. The Carnegie judging panel consists of 13 children's librarians from the Youth Libraries Group of CLIP. Nominated books are also read by students from many schools who send feedback to the judging panel.

The Kate Greenaway Medal is awarded for excellence in illustration. The award was established in 1955 for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It was named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her wonderful children's illustrations and designs. As if to set the standards very high no award was made in the inaugural year as no book was seen as worthy enough. 

The 2011 Carnegie Medal

'Monsters of Men' by Patrick Ness (Walker Books)

This is the third and final instalment written by Patrick Ness in the 'Chaos Walking' trilogy. The two previous books in the trilogy, 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' and 'The Ask and the Answer' were both shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal (2009 & 2010 respectively). It is the first time that all books in a series have been shortlisted. 

'Monsters of Men' tells of the power struggles of a world where all thoughts are audible. It is a fast-paced action novel centred on three characters, all with different points of view. The stage for this story is set with the opening line:
"War," says Mayor Prentiss, his eyes glinting. "At last."
Three armies are marching on New Prentisstown. Todd and Viola are right in the middle of the action, with no obvious way to escape.  As they face this predicament together, the relationship between them develops. And then another character '1017' enters focussed on revenge, a further complication. This novel will engage readers 14+ as it deals with varied themes including life, death and love. 

This fast-paced action is narrated by three individual characters Todd, Viola, and 1017, all with very different points of view, and all on different sides, but all fighting in the same war, a war for power.

Ferelith Hordon, chair of the 2011 judging panel commented at the awards ceremony:

"By any stretch of the imagination – and this is a book which profoundly stretches exactly that – Monsters of Men is an extraordinary achievement. Within its pages, Patrick Ness creates a complex other world, giving himself and the reader great scope to consider big questions about life, love and how we communicate, as well as the horrors of war, and the good and evil that mankind is capable of. It's also an enthralling read that is well nigh impossible to put down...this is a novel that both stands alone, and stands out".

Patrick Ness is an American but has lived in the UK since 1999. The son of a drill sergeant in the US Army, he spent his early years in Hawaii, before moving with his family to the state of Washington when he was six.

The full 2011 Carnegie Medal shortlist (here)

The Kate Greenaway Medal

'FArTHER' by Grahame Baker-Smith (Templar)

Grahame Baker-Smith has won the 2011 Kate Greenaway Medal. A father who had always dreamed of flying went off to war and didn't return. His son decides to make his father's dreams come true. The book tells the moving story of how the boy tries to fulfil his father's unfulfilled dream of flying. The story demonstrates the power of love and ambition when faced with seemingly impossible goals.

The story was inspired both by the author's own father, and by being the father of a son himself.  In an interview for 'Kids Book Review' he comments:

"FArTHER is the first book I’ve done that I feel has some real truth in it about the way I think about life and some of the complex relationships we all seem to insist on developing!"

Baker-Smith uses traditional media like watercolour, acrylic, pastel and ink, but he also uses fimo and other materials to create images. He then uses photography and Photoshop to create the unique images that make up this book. His unique style will excite young readers.

Like a number of recent books for children, 'FArTHER' has a metaphysical dimension to it which will also stimulate the imagination of readers. As the Chair of the judging panel, Ferelith Hordon, indicated:

"FArTHER is a beautifully conceived picture book with a dream-like quality that captures the imagination of readers of all ages. Its wealth of detail conveys both dark emotions: the storms of war and weather, and a powerful sense of loss and bereavement; but also a great sense of hope, particularly as vested in future generations".

Grahame Baker-Smith lives in Bath and has worked as an illustrator for over 30 years. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he made a living as an illustrator of other people's work, doing book jackets, covers, and even advertising. He then wrote 'Jo-Jo's Journey' (a comic-style story), a version of 'The Velveteen Rabbit' and later, 'Little Pilot.' None of these sold in any great quantities.  He thought his career as an illustrator and author was over before it truly started, but then just five years ago, he evolved a new style. The first book in this style was 'Leon and the Place Between' and it was immediately shortlisted for the 2010 Kate Greenaway Medal. 'FArTHER' is the second book in this wonderful new style. This wonderful new book will stimulate the imaginations of children aged 7+.

Full 2011 Kate Greenaway Shortlist (here)

Related links
Other posts on children's literature awards (here)