Monday, April 29, 2013

An exciting new author & illustrator: Charlotte Lance

Charlotte Lance is the author and illustrator of a delightful new picture book call 'A Really Super Hero' published by Allen & Unwin (2013).  

 Charlotte is from Melbourne. She freelanced as an illustrator and graphic designer after she graduated from Melbourne's NMIT in 2004. She has been working as an illustrator for the last five years. This has been mainly in book publishing, but she also has an illustrated children's T-shirt label 'BOY GIRL'. She sells selected work as prints, and occasionally exhibits her work.

'A Really Super Hero' is her first author/illustrated work and is a wonderful first book in that sense. This is a book that connects with the experiences of virtually every child and of course their parents. In the words of Charlotte in my interview with her below, this story is "purely and simply about the way children can make the everyday and the ordinary feel extraordinary." With the inevitable response of their parents being " stare, one eyebrow up, with their ‘get-real’ eyes". It might just be that I love this book because as a grandparent I get to put the capes on as well! No eyebrow raising in my house when super heroes appear.

The language of Charlotte's text has a narrative verse form that catches your attention from the first stanza:
'I want to be a hero
and a REALLY SUPER one,
so my mum sewed my undies
with an S upon the bum'
The illustrations are detailed line drawings with wash used sparingly so that as 'reader' you are drawn to the characters, and in particular, their actions, manner and personality. The characters are so believable and so appealing. Children who read this book will be able to see themselves and the adults who love them. This is a wonderful book from a talented illustrator and writer.
On the strength of this wonderful first book I was quick to seek an opportunity to do a blog interview with Charlotte. The quality of this her first authored (as well as illustrated) book, and the answers to my questions, suggest that we can expect many more fine books from this author/illustrator that children will love.

1. TC: "What contributed most to your love of story in your childhood years?"

It’s probably a boring answer but stories and more specifically storytelling can take you to places that are not your here and now. As little ones we dream of all sorts of things that can’t come to life in our real worlds, from very simple things to big crazy dreams. For me it was simple things and the details. The colour of the walls in my imaginary house, the blankets on my imaginary bed. It’s a way of making what is in your head come true. And so now I still write stories for myself.

2. TC: "Could you tell me a little about the inspiration for ‘A Really Super Hero’?"

A Really Super Hero is purely and simply about the way children can make the everyday and the ordinary feel extraordinary. And then, the dreary old parents have to stare, one eyebrow up, with their ‘get-real’ eyes. Luckily this means absolutely nothing to the beautiful mind! ‘A Really Super Hero’ is just a bit of fun and silliness.

3. TC: "As a relatively new illustrator of children’s books and an even more recent author, could I ask do you see yourself primarily as an illustrator or do you want to do more writing?"

I see myself continuing to do both. Illustration, which is what I trained to do, has always been about storytelling. It makes sense to me that I do both. Whether or not that is just my view we’ll have to see!

4. TC: "Your ‘super hero’ in your new book ‘A Really Super Hero’ is a quirky and feisty young woman. Is there an inspiration for this wonderful character?"

Well yes, I’d like to say that it’s me, ‘quirky and feisty’, but in fact it’s me, clumsy and slightly ridiculous. As well as lots of our little ones who blindly storm through the obvious (to others) chaos created by their robust imaginations. To be the person who just continues on regardless of suspected hopelessness is something to be proud of yes?

5. TC:  " Poetry seems to have become more popular of late to offer a narrative account in picture books. Is there a particular reason why you have used it?"

There’s no particular reason. I did grow up loving the rhythm of Roald Dahl’s books. Actually whether they were in rhyme or not they were almost musical. Maybe that has something to do with it. ‘A Really Super Hero’ just seemed to come out that way. My next book is not in rhyme though.

6. TC: "What is the best response you've ever had to your illustrative and creative work?"

It was just recently, somebody said that one of my illustrations made her feel as though she had seen it in her childhood, that it felt familiar. Unless I unknowingly ripped somebody off, this is about as good a compliment as I could receive because it’s how I feel when I draw them.

7. TC: "Do you have other book projects on the drawing board?"

I am working on my next book with Allen and Unwin, ‘An Inconvenient Dog.' I also have a few projects that I want to do just for fun, I’m animating my own stories and illustrations. Why not?

8. TC: "Do you enjoy reading and poetry? On a long haul flight to London, which two books would you take?"

I love it, but haven’t done enough of it lately. I have two little kids so my long haul to London may well be a rotation of Batman and Spiderman…. and once they were asleep I think I’d go for Jane Austen. Beautiful, so easy to read and a little bit magical.

9. TC: "Who or what has been the most significant influence on your creative work?"

That’s a hard one, I definitely have my favourite illustrators, Quentin Blake, Janet Ahlberg, John Birmingham (these have not changed from childhood) and Roald Dahl I think for the magic of storytelling. And my mum for having a sort of creativeness that comes from heaven. She’s a genius. If she makes ‘that face’ when she looks at my work, then it must be crap. Truly, not joking, it goes in the bin. I try to avoid showing her anything, ever. Ever. 

Charlotte's responses above should be enough to make you hunt for her book but when you see the book you'll be glad that you did. Watch out for this young illustrator and author her next work,  'An Inconvenient Dog' to be published by Allen & Unwin.

Other relevant posts

Have a look at my other 'Author and Illustrator Focus' posts HERE

Friday, April 19, 2013

Developing Craft & Stamina in Young Writers

There are many good reasons to implement daily writing workshops classrooms. Probably most important amongst these is that they offer the opportunity for children to experience writing as process not just as product. That is, to understand that writing is something that has to be worked on if it is to communicate with and engage readers. Young writers need to experience writing as craft, something that requires hard work, revision, research, planning, careful use of language and a sense of purpose and audience. But Katie Wood Ray reminds us in this short video that there is something even more basic that writing workshops offer - the chance to develop stamina.

I had the chance to see such 'stamina' demonstrated as part of a research project when team teaching on a Grade 1 class with an outstanding teacher, Inta Gollasch. I spent most of the year in Inta's class observing the literacy behaviour of her children (I have written about this in detail on my book 'Pathways to Literacy'). The language story that follows illustrates a number of other good reasons for having daily writing workshops in classrooms. Inta's approach to writing workshop was simple, she provided:

  • Time each day when children were encouraged to write about topics of their choosing.
  • Folders in which they kept their draft materials and lots of writing materials.
  • Opportunities for the children to share their writing with others when the need arose.
  • Individual teacher conferences for children when needed (but at least weekly).
  • Varied opportunities for the children to publish and share their writing with larger audiences.
  • Help with publishing when the young writers wanted to pit their work into some more permanent form.
On the first day in the classroom I observed a boy named Brock eagerly writing in a "magic cave" constructed as a retreat area.  I stopped to ask how he came up with this idea for his story.  He replied:

"Well, it was like Chlorissa. (She wrote about) that book (The Enchanted Wood) that had children who moved to the country.  I changed it around."

Brock's piece based on the The Enchanted Wood (Blyton, 1939) was primed (at least in part) by the fact that Chlorissa had done this earlier. 

I observed a preoccupation with Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books in Inta’s class.  The teacher had read two of these books ('The Enchanted Wood' & 'The Magic Faraway Tree') in the first 4 weeks of school.  The third ('The Wishing Chair') was read over a two-week period some two months later. 

The teacher's reading of these books had a strong influence upon the writing of children in the classroom.  This showed itself in the students' narrative writing, in playground games, in letter writing and even at home.  In all, ten 'Blyton type' stories were written in this classroom during the year.

Chlorissa's writing that had inspired Brock and others to write their own Faraway Tree stories was begun in June (mid school year in Australia). She was still writing it at the end of the school year (December).  By this time the story was 20 pages long and Chlorissa had stuck each of the pages together to form a scroll, that could stretch almost across the width of the classroom (something she liked to demonstrate at the end of every writing session).

Chlorissa's writing demonstrates what Katie Wood Ray was talking about; daily writing workshops can help children to develop stamina. This is stamina of two kinds, first, the ability just to stick at a task for a long period of time (30 minutes each day). Second, the ability to keep coming back to the same task day after day. This is one of the key skills of the writer, sticking with the writing task - stamina!

But I think the language story also demonstrates a few other things as well:
1. Writing workshop can encourage children to learn about the craft of writing.
2. It offers opportunities for young writers to write for 'real' audiences.
3. The sharing of writing can inspire other young writers.
4. Books are an important source of inspiration for young writers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

CBCA Children's Literature Shortlist Announced

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) shortlist has been announced, as has the list of 'Notable' books. The awards will be announced in Children's Book Week on the 17th August. The theme this year is 'Read across the universe'. As usual, there are many wonderful books. I will review the winners and honour books in Book Week, but below you will find all the books shortlisted and links to help you find them. Please don't be put off by the fact that some sites list the books as unavailable. This is common just after the shortlist is announced as major books shops quickly buy up the first print run. New stock typically comes in quite soon.

The shortlist is a valuable guide to book purchases but there many other wonderful books published each year. As a result the CBCA also publishes a Notable Book List that has over 100 titles listed. Standards are high so these are always wonderful books as well.

Shortlist for 'Older Readers' category (Young Adult Readers)

'The Ink Bridge' by Neil Grant (Allen & Unwin)
'Sea Hearts' by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
'The Shiny Guys' by Doug MacLeod (Penguin)
'Creepy & Maud' by Dianne Touchell (Fremantle Press)
'Friday Brown' by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)
'The Wrong Boy' by Suzy Zail (Walker Books)

Shortlist for 'Younger Readers' category (Independent Younger Readers, )

'Pennies for Hitler' by Jackie French (Lamont Books)
'Other Brother' by Simon French (Walker Books)
'After' by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin)
'Children of the King' by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin)
'Pookie Aleera is Not my Boyfriend' by Steven Herrick (UQP)
'The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk' by Glenda Millard (ABC Books)

Shortlist for 'Early Childhood' category (Preschool and beginning readers)
'The Terrible Suitcase' by Emma Allen and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Omnibus)
'With Nan' by Tania Cox and illustrated by Karen Blair (Windy Hollow Books)
'The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog' by Sue DeGennaro (Scholastic)
'Too Many Elephants in This House' by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Penguin)
'It's a Miroocool!' by Christine Harris and illustrated by Ann James (Little Hare)
'Peggy' by Anna Walker (Scholastic)

Shortlist for 'Picture Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)

'The Coat' illustrated by Ron Brooks and written by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
'Tanglewood' illustrated by Vivienne Goodman and written by Margaret Wild (Omnibus)
'Herman and Rosie' by Gus Gordon (Viking)
'Sophie Scott Goes South' by Alison Lester (Viking)
'Lightning Jack' illustrated by Patricia Mullins and written by Glenda Millard (Scholastic)
'A Day to Remember' illustrated by Mark Wilson and written by Jackie French (Angus & Robertson).

Short list for 'Eve Pownall Award for Information Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)

'Python' by Christopher Cheng and illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
'Lyrebird! A True Story' by Jackie Kerin and illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Museum of Victoria)
'Topsy-turvey World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers' by Kirsty Murray (National Library of Australia)
'Portrait of Spain for Kids' by Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (Queensland Art Gallery)
'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)

Related links

Previous posts on children's book awards (HERE)