Q&A: Allison Rushby

Allison RushbyWhat is your elevator pitch for The Turnkey?

 

The Turnkey is set in the middle of WWII in London and is about Flossie Birdwhistle—the eleven-year-old Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery. As Turnkey, Flossie is in charge of keeping the dead happily at rest. When Flossie spots a twilight Nazi spy on the streets of London, she knows he isn’t supposed to be there and sets out on a quest to find out what he’s up to.

 

Flossie’s adventures in London and her mystical journeys into other countries are vividly described in The Turnkey. What kind of research did you do into the cemeteries of London and the other locations in the book?

 

I lived in Cambridge for a year not too long ago and was lucky enough to take many weekend trips to London. This definitely helped in getting the right feel for the setting of The Turnkey. I was able to draw upon my visits to several of the cemeteries mentioned in the book, as well as the fact that I’d visited the Churchill War Rooms, St Paul’s and so on. I used a historical researcher for the finer research details (for example, were the cemeteries in question bombed during the Blitz? How badly?).

 

The world and lore of the ghosts in The Turnkey is richly imagined. Were you inspired or influenced by any other paranormal stories?9781925126921

 

This will probably sound very strange indeed, but I don’t see The Turnkey as a paranormal story. I know it falls squarely in this category, but to me it’s a story of a girl who happens to be dead who is living a whole new life in the twilight world. Her world is just as real and vivid to her as her previous life in the land of the living. I found I was influenced more by my favourite books from childhood than by particular paranormal books. These included: Rumer Godden’s The Doll’s House, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly-Molly-Mandy series and Noel Streatfeild’s “Shoes” series.

 

You have written for both younger readers and teens. When you begin writing a story, do you have an audience in mind, or does the story guide you?

 

This is an interesting question, as when I first started thinking about writing The Turnkey, I envisioned it as a Young Adult story. As I started piecing it together, however, I saw that there were several factors that made it more suitable for a Middle Grade audience. This included the fact that I was desperate to include a talking fox (there are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but you do tend to find more talking animals in books for the younger years than in Young Adult up). Also, the plot seemed straightforward and quite simple—Flossie had to find out what the Nazi officer of the twilight was up to in London. While it would be a trying task, it wasn’t a journey that would open her eyes to the adult world, or force her to grow up from child to adult. I knew then that The Turnkey needed to be a Middle Grade story.

 

What do you hope young readers will take away from reading The Turnkey?

 

I hope they see it as a tale of friendship and selflessness more than simply a ghost story. One lovely compliment I received from an early reader gave me hope that this might be the case for many young readers. She said that she was worried that the book would be scary because it was about ghosts. Instead, she found it reassuring to see that while Flossie missed her family, she was, essentially, happy in death. She’d made a new family and a home and a life for herself in the twilight.

 

 

 

 

Interview: Pamela Freeman

Pamela Freeman photoPrincess Betony first appeared over 20 years ago, can you tell us about her history? How has she changed since she first appeared?

The first time I wrote about Betony was in 1990, in a short story called Betony’s Sunflower. That became the last chapter in my first book, The Willow Tree’s Daughter, which started as a collection of short stories. Allen & Unwin asked me to turn it into a novel, as almost all of the stories were about Betony as she grew up. I did that, and went on to write two other books set in Floramonde, Windrider and The Centre of Magic.

In The Willow Tree’s Daughter, Betony doesn’t know that her mother is a willow tree dryad, and the story arc of that book involved her finding out about that – and that she, therefore, was partly magic.

The Floramonde books went out of print (although two other books set in the same universe, Victor’s Quest and Victor’s Challenge, are still available).   When I moved publishers to Walker Books, I gave them the Floramonde books in case they wanted to reprint them! Together, we decided to split the first book back into its original short stories, make them longer, and publish them as separate books.

However, as separate books, the long story arc about her mother didn’t work, so I changed it substantially. In this incarnation, Betony has always known about her mother’s background, and the stories involve her exploring this part of her heritage. Each of the stories is at least twice the length of the original short story. I think of it as ‘alternate universe Betony’ – two different versions of the same life, both ‘real’, each with their own flavour.

As for how she’s changed – well, the storytelling style in The Willow Tree’s Daughter was very fairy-tale-like. A kind of oral storytelling style. But times and writing fashions change (and I hope I’m a better writer now) so the style in the new books is much simpler and more active.

I think also, when I first wrote about Betony, the fashion in writing ‘adventure stories for girls’ was very much to denigrate ‘girlie’ things. I’ve grown a bit older and wiser and I think that you can have adventures and nice frocks, too! So one of the background themes of these Betony books is that you can go and have a great adventure in your overalls and boots, but when you come home, you can enjoy a nice frock and a delicious afternoon tea with your best friend in the second best afternoon tea room on the right of the palace entrance! In other words, you don’t have to turn yourself into a boy in order to be a strong girl. And I guess it’s also about a good relationship between a mother and a daughter, as Betony’s mother trusts her to go off on adventures and return safely.

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You have written for both children and adults. When you begin writing a story do you have an audience in mind, or does the story guide you?

There have been stories where I thought I was writing a book for kids or young adults and found out I was writing one for adults – like The Black Dress, which was published as a YA book but which is overwhelmingly read by adults. I’ve never had one go the other way, though – that is, I’ve never started a book for adults and realised it was really for kids.

I teach at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and I tell my students: write the story first, and then figure out which age group it’s for. I try to follow my own advice!

 

What books did you read as a child? Do you write books now that you think you would have liked as a child?

I certainly try to write books I would have liked as a child – but my tastes haven’t changed all that much, because as a kid I read everything I could lay my hands on, from fairy tales to non-fiction to Shakespeare. I had basically read everything in my school library and everything in the children’s section of my local library by the time I was in Year 5. So ‘What books did you read as a child?’ isn’t a question I can answer easily. This is one of the classic signs you might have a writer on your hands – almost all of the writers I know were obsessive readers as children.

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Interview: Dianne Bates

Di BatesIn Our Home is Dirt by Sea, Dianne Bates has complied a fabulous collection of poetry written by over thirty different Australian poets for Australian children. Topics include school, family, special events like birthdays and Christmas, animals and sports. Check out the classroom ideas.

 

What is your “elevator pitch’ for Our Home is Dirt by Sea?

An anthology of poetry, Our Home is Dirt by Sea comprises 45 poems by Australian poets for children aged 8+ years, divided into categories ranging from “Mostly Me” to “Special Times”. Some poems are light-hearted and some are more thoughtful; all, I hope you agree, are wonderful!

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What draws you to write and collect poetry?

I love poetry and have done so since I was a small child listening to my mother many times re-reading The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Later, as a ten year old, I had a marvelous teacher who introduced me to poems I can still recite. A teacher, I regularly taught verse-speaking and poetry writing to primary school students. I even married two poets – the late Max Williams and my current husband, Bill Condon. Poetry connects me to other minds, to other perspectives.  I often swap poems with friends – some I’ve discovered, others I’ve written. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t read or write poetry: it is a balm to my soul.

 

You have included a number of well-known poets in this anthology; how did you pick whose poems were included?

Yes, some poets are well-known, such as Elizabeth Honey, Steven Herrick and Max Fatchen, but some are lesser known such as Jenny Erlanger, Anna Jacobson and Jenny Blackford. I chose poems based on their content and their ability to say something powerful, whether poignant or humorous. I love every poem in the book, especially “The Tree” by Chris Mansell; it should be posted in every school, every government house in the world, and in the United Nations! [click to continue…]

Interview: Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

RS2_2059Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg is a self confessed book nerd, a debut author, a mother of two and a librarian. I sat down with Rebecka to discuss her first book, Reflection. Check out the comprehensive teacher notes and activities at classroom.walkerbooks.com.au/reflection.

 

Reflection is a moving tribute to soldiers past and present, it grounds the reader with a family paying their respects at a dawn service, while also opening the reader’s eyes to the small moments experienced in wars. What inspired you to tell the story in Reflection?

A conversation with my brother while we were walking an Anzac day ceremony planted the seed for this story. He was wondering how to approach the subject with his young daughter, how to explain why we attend the ceremony and answer the questions that might be raised.

This stayed with me throughout the ceremony and allowed me to take it all in from a new perspective, however the original story I wrote sat untouched for a number of years after its original draft, before the final idea of the dual interpretation came to me.

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There are many books about Anzacs around at the moment. What makes Reflection special?

Generally I’ve found that most Anzac books focus either on the experience of war or on the experience of Anzac day. I think Reflection brings both of these experiences to focus in equal measure. The dual interpretation of each line of text draws parallels between the Anzac day ceremony and the events that the ceremony commemorates, hopefully enabling readers to link the rituals and emotions experienced at an Anzac day ceremony to the experiences of those who have been to war.

Often Anzac stories focus on the first World War, and particularly on Gallipoli. Reflection spans over 100 years, depicting situations of conflict as well as peace keeping efforts, demonstrating Australia and New Zealand’s participation in conflicts that have occurred all around the world and allowing for a more thorough understanding of Australia and New Zealand’s military history.

 

How important do you think it is for young children to be exposed to the idea of war? [click to continue…]

Interview: Lee Battersby

Lee Battersby

Lee Battersby is the author of the stunning junior fiction Magrit. Check out the teacher notes.

 

What is your elevator pitch for Magrit?

10 year old Magrit has lived her whole life in a cemetery with no entrance and no exit. When the stork accidentally drops a baby into the cemetery grounds, Magrit decides to raise him as her own, despite the warnings of her skeletal best friend and adviser Master Puppet, and the ghostly voice that starts to taunt her from the area of the graveyard where Magrit never dares to go.
You’ve written science fiction, fantasy and horror for adults. Was it a conscious decision to write for children? Or did this story just call for it?

I had the central idea for the novel kicking around for quite a while, but9781925081343 it simply didn’t work as an adult story. Thematically, the novel is about the loss of innocence, and the acceptance of that loss. As a narrative, that resonates so much better as a children’s story: once I had the character of Magrit in place, everything else fell together really nicely. Ultimately, it’s about what works best for the story.

How did you find the experience of writing for children different to writing for adults?

It’s much more freeing, particularly in the early drafts. Kids are fearless, and much less constrained by emotional and cultural taboos than adults. You can push a scenario a little further with kids and maintain their sense of intrigue longer, because they have no preconceived value system when it comes to new ideas. Where an adult will say “That’s silly/stupid/nonsensical/off-putting,” a kid will say “Okay, let’s see where this goes.”

And kids have a much more accepting sense of the absurd: they’re far less interested than adults in the perceptions of others. So if a fart’s funny, it’s just funny. If a talking, invisible skeleton falls of a chapel and gets angry at you because he’s all broken and needs to be put back together again with sticks and tin cans, well, that’s just how the story is rolling. So while I was writing the first draft I could lay out the narrative and simply enjoy it from moment to moment without worrying about the internal construction. Of course, drafts two-to-infinity were some seriously hard work, because it’s one thing to create these wonderful, spiralling updrafts of absurdity and profundity, but you still have to go back and underpin them with something logical and meaningful.

But that sense of play, and of touching upon inner meanings and emotions in an unfettered, raw way: that’s quite wonderful.

Magrit’s memory of her mother is vague but unpleasant and Master Puppet for the most part is quick to scold Magrit. Why did you decide to give Magrit such cold and unkind parental figures?
 
I’m sure there’s some deep, dark psychological reason based around hidden childhood traumas that will resurface as part of a hidden-camera investigation one night when there’s no fad diet for the current affairs programs to shill.

The rather simple reason, I’m afraid, is that I needed forces for Magrit to react against, and apart from a tiny baby that doesn’t talk, there were no other characters in the book. Your protagonist has to be in conflict with the environment (got that), herself (definitely got that), and external stimulus, usually in the form of another character – she needed someone to bounce off. And that separation of personality from those who shelter you is an important milestone in the assumption of adult responsibilities, which is a big part of the narrative. I certainly don’t think of Master Puppet as cold and unkind, particularly as it turns out he’s redacted. It’s part of Magrit’s growth, and acceptance of otherness.

Do you think it’s important for young readers to be exposed to issues such as abandonment, loneliness and death?

Kids love to experience a wide range of emotions: there’s no value judgement in ‘sad’ or ‘scared’ or happy’, so much as it’s the appropriateness of that emotional response. I don’t think we should force children to be sad, or scared, but if they choose to do so, and you’re there with your arm out, providing that safety, then they can do so in the best possible way. Not everything has to be painted with a Disney three-colour palette to be good for you: if it was, kids would never climb trees. Art should be a stalking horse for the wider culture.
Magrit is also quite humorous, beautiful and ultimately hopeful. Was it difficult to strike a balance between the darker and lighter aspects while writing the novel?

I always had the final image of the novel in mind, so knowing that it was going to end on what I thought was quite a beautiful, positive moment made it easier to write some of the sadder sections along the way. Like any entertainment, if the novel was unremittingly bleak and dark, there’d be no pleasure in reading it. Magrit has to have moment of success, and of happiness, to keep us travelling with her. Hopefully, the kids who read Magrit will identify with her, and want her to come out of it all okay. I’m hoping that ending will give them a moment of great uplift.
What do you hope young readers will take away from reading Magrit?

I hope they come away having walked side by side with Magrit as she goes through her journey; that they come to identify with her and share her sadness, and happiness, and losses and victories. And I hope that the book resonates with them, and becomes something they want to experience again and again, and each time come away with some new understanding, or sense of light and shade within the world. Most of all, I hope the book’s fun: it’s creepy, and funny, and sad, and icky, and profound and engaging and unusual and strange and sometimes all of them at once. Because that’s what turned me on as a kid, and as an adult, and I hope it changes the shape of someone’s brain.

Also, I want one of them to design a Master Puppet action figure. Seriously, that would be the coolest.

Interview: Bob Graham

Bob GrahamThe clever girls of St Aiden’s Anglican Girl’s School in Queensland had the chance to ask Bob Graham a few questions about his new book How the Sun Got to Coco’s House, his writing/illustration process and dogs! Thanks to Teacher-Librarian/Blogger extraordinaire Megan Daley for organising the questions for Bob. Check out her blog Children’s Books Daily.

Check out the teacher notes and more info for How the Sun Got to Coco’s House.

Are there always dogs in your stories?
Well, there are certainly a lot of dogs sprinkled through my books aren’t there? But there have been many dogs also sprinkled through my life too, and as my stories are written from my desk and as I look around me often the first thing I see is a dog. Well what better place to start?  And that kind of leads in to your next question….

Where do you find inspiration?
I don’t really go looking for inspiration. I just like playing around with stuff, just putting a few words together with an image or two and sometimes I’m encouraged to keep adding to my words and pictures to see where it all leads. The ingredients for the words and pictures come from just living my life, looking around me, my memory, my observations and my imagination. There is no formula. I have learnt to put trust in my intuition.

Do you have a dog breed preference?Untitled-1
I like dogs that wait for you at the front door the moment you go out and greet you like a long lost friend when you return. that covers most dogs I guess. [click to continue…]

Interview: Claire Saxby

Claire SaxbyTell us about your new book, My Name is Lizzie Flynn.
My Name is Lizzie Flynn is a story of a young convict girl en route to Hobart, Van Dieman’s Land in 1841 aboard a ship called the ‘Rajah’. It’s also an imagining of the creation of one of Australia’s most important textiles, the Rajah quilt. My Name is Lizzie Flynn tracks Lizzie’s journey from hopelessness to hope.

What did the research for My Name is Lizzie Flynn involve?
What didn’t it involve! I discovered the quilt almost accidentally, and was immediately intrigued. I found books and on line resources which showed the quilt and talked a little about it’s provenance. So, I followed the trail of the quilt first. (lost for 146 years before reappearing in Scotland). I visited the National Gallery in Canberra and viewed the quilt in the special collections room and was fortunate enough to meet one of its conservators. The quilt led me to discover the ship – a challenging task since there are no images of it. So I climbed aboard the replica Endeavour (too old except for the modern internals, but similar shape), another ship (too young but the right dimensions) to paintings of three-masted barques. I needed to imagine the space the women occupied. From the ship, I chased down information about the convict women, their crimes and their sentences (three separate data bases). The on-board matron, Kezia Hayter led me to the work of Elizabeth Fry in improving prison conditions for women both in England, aboard ship and in Australia. Incidentally, it led all the way to the suburb next door to where I live.9781922179913 Kezia married the Captain and came to live in Williamstown. One of the main streets is named for Cpt Ferguson. Then all of that sat on my shoulder as I wrote about the fictional Lizzie. [click to continue…]

Interview: Alice Zaslavsky

140718_Alice_74Why did you choose to write a fact based book for children, rather than adults?
I’m a teacher by trade, so it was never a question of whether it was going to be for kids or grown-ups… The question was which facts to keep in and which got the boot! The original manuscript was about 10,000 words longer. I’m most sad that “G for Gerbil (not a food)” didn’t make the cut.

Why did you choose those specific recipes to be featured in the book?
This book is more about the love of food and knowledge rather than a straight recipe book – I’d love for it to be used as a reference book for kids who are starting to pull other recipe books off the shelf, and used in tandem. The recipes that I did include are opportunities to build integral skills, as well as classic “kid-friendly” dishes that tend to be bought in. I’d love to be able to show that something like chicken nuggets are much simpler to make than you think – and are so much TASTIER when you MYO (not to mention better for you… But kids don’t particularly care about that yet). [click to continue…]

Interview: Juliette MacIver

 

Juliette-MacIver-photo-sqTell us about your new book, Yak and Gnu.

Yak and Gnu is a tale of two friends who set out joyfully on a river-sailing trip, “Yak in a yakak, blackberry black; Gnu in a blueberry blue canoe.” They believe themselves to be the only creatures who can sail on the river, but lo and behold! They meet a “goat in a boat!” And then a snazzy snail, setting sail ” and a whole swag of other unlikely sailing beasts! What will happen to their treasured idea of themselves as the ONLY sailing creatures?!

This is the third book I have had published with Walker Books, all three being illustrated by the wonderful Cat Chapman. The first two were Little Witch, an early reader, and The Frog Who Lost His Underpants.

Yak and Gnu and The Frog Who Lost His Underpants both have a joyous rhythm that begs to read aloud to a room full of kids. What draws you to this writing style?

I love music and song, and rhythm is a very strong part of that. I find that creating a strong rhythm with the words in a picture book is a delightful and satisfying challenge. When I am working on a new story, I sometimes draw little circles of different sizes above the syllables of each line to indicate where the stress lies, to make sure that I keep the pattern clear in my mind. It really helps me to have a visual aid! [click to continue…]

Interview: Frané Lessac

Frané LessacWhat was your selection process for choosing which locations were included in A is for Australia?

My challenge was to represent all the states and to highlight Australia’s diverse and unique landscape. Some destinations were so incredibly iconic: Sydney Harbour, Uluru, and Bondi Beach, which made the decision easy. Some locations were difficult to choose because there were many amazing alternatives!


Each spread shows the unique features, activities and colours of the locations. How did you research each location?

I travelled to many of the places in A is for Australia so I could portray the scenes with accuracy, visiting interpretive centres, museums, and national parks. Back in my studio, I sorted through the enormous range of facts, photographs, travel brochures, stacks of research books and many online sources of information.By mixing authentic facts with personal experience and artistic licence, I endeavoured to create a vibrant portrait of our country that would appeal to children and readers of all ages. [click to continue…]

New Resources January 2015

 

New-resourcesWe’ve just added fantastic resources for our latest and greatest books. Check them out below and on the resources page!

 

Home by Carson Ellis
Funny Families by Dr Mark Norman
Celebrating Australia by Lorraine Marwood
Soon by Timothy Knapman and Patrick Benson (illus)
I Am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz (illus)
A is For Australia by Frane Lessac
The Bloodhound Boys by Andrew Cranna
Yak and Gnu by Juliette MacIver and Cat Chapman (illus)

Interview: Sally Murphy

Sally MurphySally Murphy is the author of the verse novels Roses are Blue, Pearl Verses the World and Toppling and the picture book Do Not Forget Australia.

Comprehensive teacher notes are available for Roses are Blue.

 

Why are you drawn to writing verse novels?

I love the apparent simplicity of the form, which conceals a wonderful depth. From the time I read my first verse novel I knew I wanted to write them – but it took me a while to find a story which demanded to be told that way (this was Pearl Verses the World). Not every story needs to be told in this form, and not every story is suited to the form, but when it works, a verse novel can be really powerful, and accessible to readers of all abilities. A reluctant reader will find a verse novel attractive because of the white space, the relative shortness and the fact that a verse novel doesn’t beat around the bush. An advanced reader will love the layers of meaning and the space given to delve deeper.

 

Your verse novels gently deal with a variety of sensitive issues such as a disabled parent, loss of a loved one and terminal illness. Why you think it is important to introduce young readers to these issues?

The world is a tough place. For some children, these situations are very real, and it’s nice for them to be able to connect with child characters going through tough situations. For all children, having the chance to experience vicariously a whole range of situations through literature is affirming, meaning that if in future they do come across tough situations they know that there can be hope. And children like to read about real life stuff that evokes sympathy and empathy. [click to continue…]

Interview: Simon French

Simon FrenchOne of the aspects of your books that seems to resonate most with readers is that tension between belonging and not belonging. I was really struck by the fact that you have these characters that are outsiders, yet most of them seem quite comfortable in this – like Bon [from Other Brother]. He’s excluded and outside the group, but he doesn’t seem to have this great desire to fit in or change himself; it’s not the usual type of conflict that we’ve come to expect in novels.

No, well I think that in part he’s a little oblivious to it. The clues are there that he’s had – well, not a dysfunctional background exclusively, but he’s a bit enigmatic. Even by the end of the book, Kieran is only just on the cusp of finding out where Bon has been and what he was doing when he wasn’t going to school. And the book sort of tracks Bon’s entry, or re-entry, into a social environment because at the outset, as Kieran says, it’s like he’s not used to talking to other kids. He’s got his own way of talking and it’s very precise…

Yes, it’s very courtly almost…

Yeah, yeah, so in a way Bon’s a little bit oblivious perhaps. And he just stays true to himself and he wins Kieran over really; Kieran just winds up realising that they’re more alike that he might have ever admitted, and also that Bon is not unlike the friend that Kieran has been missing, the friends that’s moved away. And in real life it’s a hard thing to do, to be different and yet be able to connect with other kids, other adults, and stay true to yourself. It’s much easier to… become part of the backdrop, try and be like everybody else. [click to continue…]

Interview: Glenn Wood

Glenn WoodWhat do you think kids will love about The Brain Sucker?

I hope they will find the book fast paced and fun. I think the characters of Calllum, Sophie and Jinx are entertaining and likeable and Lester and his henchmen are suitably villainous. Lester also has a great evil plan that requires some serious thwarting. The book contains interesting inventions and strong action sequences. I think kids will also enjoy the book’s humour, particularly when applied to the character of Jinx.

What led to the decision to have the main character in a wheelchair?

When I had the idea for an evil character sucking the goodness out of kids I knew I needed a hero who was used to experiencing adversity and would be able to credibly challenge my villain. I thought a child confined to a wheelchair would immediately be underestimated by the villain and would be the sort of gutsy character that kids would enjoy getting behind. When I was writing Callum I was very careful to portray him as a typical teenage boy who didn’t dwell on his disability. I wanted the readers to see the boy instead of the wheelchair. I worked closely with the managing director of Trekinetic wheelchairs to make sure that Callum’s actions and attitude were believable.The Brain Sucker [click to continue…]

Interview: Dianne Wolfer

Dianne WolferAnnie’s Snails is all about a young girl finding pleasure in the little things in life. Do you think it’s important for children to be adventurous and discover interesting things (like snails) on their own?

Yes, adventurous play is so important, and sadly not something many children are allowed to do. No one wants a child to have a serious accident, but I believe (loosely) unsupervised play fosters creativity and imagination. Children need space to test their bravery and learn to set personal limits. I loved making cubbies as a child; in long grass in the neighbouring paddock, in backyard trees, under sheets drying between chairs. Part of the attraction was that I was in a private space of my own, where I could make up the rules and daydream. As adults I think we need to respect that. Children who aren’t allowed to take risks have no opportunity to learn resilience and this is such an important life skill. During school visits when I show early drafts of stories, I always tell students that technology is great, but that my “ideas” arrive when I’m away from screens, usually when I’m out in nature, often walking our dog in the bush or at the beach. I’m fortunate to live in a regional town, but small micro systems with great creatures can be found in small parks, alongside footpaths, even in the back of some kitchen cupboards!

What books did you read as a child? Do you think about the books you liked as a child when you are writing now?

I enjoyed a wide range of books as a child, but I particularly loved animal stories; Dot and the Kangaroo, Bottersnikes and Gumbles, The Muddle-Headed Wombat and Charlotte’s Web. Then in middle primary I read stories like; Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Call of the Wild.

Normally I don’t often think about those stories, but I’m currently researching “Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature” for my PhD on a scholarship from UWA, so I’m re-reading many of those oAnnie's Snailsld favourites and discovering many wonderful new animal stories. [click to continue…]

Interview: Andrew Cranna

Andrew-Cranna

The Bloodhound Boys books are full of crazy characters and awesome adventures. Where do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from many things, particularly from my own experiences as a child growing up in the country with a very vivid imagination. I also find inspiration from my children (three boys!), dreams, my students and my past travel adventures. But I’d have to admit that I’m most inspired after a tummy full of icy cold chocolate milk!

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring young graphic novelist?

My number one tip for budding graphic novelists is to draw whenever you have the chance. Carry a notepad everywhere you go and whenever you’re bored, draw. If you’re stuck on a bus or a train, draw. Some of my best drawings and ideas have been jotted down in waiting rooms, staff meetings (don’t tell my headmaster!) or on public transport.

Another piece of advice would be to never ever give up wanting to be an author/illustrator/graphic novelist. No matter how hard things might seem, how many rejection letters you may receive or how difficult something looks to sketch, if you love drawing then keep drawing, and all those obstacles WILL be overcome. The more you practise the better you’ll become and the more likely you’ll be noticed … So get drawing! [click to continue…]

Interview: Choechoe Brereton

ChoeChoe BreretonWhere did the idea for A House for Donfinkle come from?

The story came about when I sat at home one afternoon thinking about life as a kid. I was never cool or popular and was bullied – often. I had no confidence so rarely stuck up for myself, even when I knew others were wrong. That became the very loose premise for the story.

What books did you read as a child?

I used to really enjoy reading fairy tales. I had a massive book full of make-believe worlds and characters. I couldn’t tell you who the authors were but I did enjoy them a lot.

Do you think about the books you liked as a child when you are writing now?

Interestingly, I don’t. I think I connect more with the books I enjoyed as a teenager and now as an adult, probably because story time was not a big thing in our house when we were growing up. I A House for Donfinkleloved imagining as a child though and conjured up wonderful worlds to help me sleep. As a teenager, I read A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame and Caroline Keene. As an adult, I have a list of favourite authors. These are the books I think about most when I write.

Wayne Harris has created some fabulous illustrations to accompany your words. Are his illustrations similar to what you pictured your characters looking like when you wrote the book?

In all honesty I had no idea what I thought my characters would look like. I was waiting for the illustrator to bring them to life. I guess the only character I really had an idea about was the Wooble and even then it was a vague one. I knew I wanted it to be a big, hairy animal with a wise and friendly face, but that was about all. Wayne absolutely perfected the Wooble and all the other characters. Donfinkle and Doggle are more adorable than I could possibly have ever imagined them. [click to continue…]

Interview: Carole Wilkinson

Carole WilkinsonWe’re so excited about the next entry in the Dragonkeeper series. What can you tell us about it?

It’s called Shadow Sister. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is the continuing story of Kai and Tao (a teenage dragon and a teenage boy) as they develop their relationship and try to avoid their responsibilities. It may or may not involve ghosts, spiders and a murderous beast.

It is obvious that you have done extensive research on China and dragon myths before writing each book in this series. What is involved in your research?

A lot of reading, and tracking down obscure books and then more reading. The era that Blood Brothers and Shadow Sister are both set in, known as the Sixteen Kingdoms, has been particularly challenging as it was a time of chaos with no central government. I always look for images wherever I can. I like to see images of paintings and artefacts from the era; it helps make the era easier to imagine. Fortunately there is an excellent collection of books on China in the Melbourne Uni library.Shadow Sister, by Carole Wilkinson

For the first Dragonkeeper book I hardly used the internet at all as there was very little about ancient China. Now I use it much more, but unless it’s an article by someone who is an expert in the field (e.g. ancient Chinese cities, Chinese herbal medicine), I still like to confirm it in a book.

As for dragon myths, there is one book that pretty much has the lot: The Dragon in China and Japan, written in 1913. I have my own copy of that! [click to continue…]

Interview: Brian Falkner

Brian FalknerHow would you describe your books to kids who have never heard of them before?

Well things like Maddy West and the Tongue Taker and Northwood are books for younger readers. I like to write books that have a main character that has something special about them, something they can do that’s hopefully a little unusual or just not you know your normal kind of super hero super traits. Like with Maddy West for example she can speak every language in the world. I think that would be a fascinating thing to be able to do and to have a character that can immediately talk any language as soon as she hears it spoken is a really interesting, well I think it is a really interesting power. A character that has a special power like that and then put them in a situation where that special power at some point is going to be essential in order to get them out of a sticky situation. So the books are a little bit fantastical in that sense but I also like to write them in a way that seems quite real so that the environment that they live in seems like a real environment that kids can identify with and might have some relationship with their own environment. Also talking about books like Super Freak and The Real Thing which were written around my environment at school so it’s the area where I grew up and the schools that I knew even if they got renamed slightly, so I made it real by writing about things that I remembered from being that age.

What do you think kids respond to best in your books?

A really good strong character like Maddy is the initial thing that kids respond to. There has to be some kind of danger I do think that’s what keeps kids reading is that the main character is in some kind of trouble and they’re working and not always succeeding very well at getting themselves out of it and it creates suspense in the story and gives the opportunity for some action sequences that can be quite exciting. I do like to have my books as being adventures where as (umm you know) they’re not dramas. They are adventure stories in a slightly fantastical world. [click to continue…]

Interview: Aleesah Darlison

Aleesah DarlisonIn your experience visiting schools all over Australia, what reaction or feedback do you get from students about the Unicorn Riders series?

I’m always delighted at the reaction I receive from students about the Unicorn Riders series – it’s so incredibly positive. Young readers simply love the stories and will often have a character they identify with and follow throughout the series. As an author, there’s nothing more rewarding than having children tell you that they love the stories you’ve written. That’s why we do what we do.

What do you hope readers will learn from the Unicorn Riders?

First of all, plain and simple, I want readers to enjoy my stories and love the characters I’ve created. In terms of learning something from the books, I’d like readers to understand that the stories are all about believing in yourself. I really hope that, just like the courageous Riders in the books, young readers will strive to find their inner strength, appreciate their own unique skills and be proud of who they are. [click to continue…]

Interview: Ananda Braxton-Smith on “Plenty”

Ananda Braxton-Smith
Plenty is your first book for younger readers. Did you set out to write for a younger audience or did it happen naturally?
 
When I came to the end of the Carrick series my publisher suggested I write something for younger readers. I don’t usually have stories harrowing me to be written; I have life themes that are relieved by writing. I also don’t have an idea of myself as a writer for any group in particular. I write for people. All readers are people and I’m a person so that’s enough for me. I wrote a book that I think I would have liked as an eleven year old. Funnily enough, although Plenty was technically a smaller book, it took longer to get in shape than the Carrick books. That was very interesting.
 
Plenty features a number of characters that are refugees from a variety of places. What inspired you to explore the idea of displacement?
 
I was a migrant child myself. My family left England in the 60s. England suffered from the effects of WWII for decades. We came to Australia for better life – which meant access to work, access to money. We were “economic migrants”.

 

Although I was only three when we left, I missed England. The English weren’t expected to suffer homesickness here; Oz was just supposed to be England with sun. And it was the dying days of colonialism, with us as the colonials! We were expected to be grateful and overall I think our war generation parents were. But because of the proscription against homesickness, as the years passed it became only something I carried inside. And actually that’s when I became a “displaced” person. Not when I was removed from home. Not when I had to learn how to live in Australia – but when I had to lie about how I felt; who I was.

 

I think that’s why I enjoyed Maddy Frank’s upfront anger and homesickness so much. The thing is, like all children, I did not have a choice about leaving England; I had to go where my parentsPlenty, by Ananda Braxton-Smith took me. And, like everyone else, I sit in my warm dry house and see the refugee children on the TV. My mind does not know what the answer is but they break my heart every time. But, at this time in history at least, the heart is not the organ most used when considering the problem of mass “displacement”. I wanted to write a story in which the heart has not been removed (like the stories that come through our politicians) or manipulated into sales (like most of our media).

 

An intelligent child’s POV is my favourite POV to write about hard things. I find this child consciousness tends to ask the right questions. However, there are no answers to the problems in Plenty. Just people surviving and making themselves at home where they may, where they can. Where they’re allowed.

 

How closely does the Upper Plenty and Whittlesea of the novel resemble the actual towns in rural Victoria? Are any of the characters based on real people?
 
Great question! I wanted to write a contemporary story with a strong sense of physical place. I wanted Melbourne children to know some of the places, and for children from outside Melbourne to sense their realness. I wanted to emblem-atise the Fairies’ Tree in Fitzroy, the way the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park is emblem-atised in English children’s literature. So I wanted it to be real, but I didn’t want to write actual houses or streets in detail because I was bound to get it wrong for the residents. So Fitzroy is real, the trams and the park, the evening light on a hot day – but Jermyn Street is fictitious.

 

To research the Franks’ tree change I went out to the Plenty Valley overnight. I drove up through Whittlesea and out over Mt Disappointment, which was recovering from fire and was a remarkable sight that ended up in the book just as it was. Whittlesea is as I saw it. For Maddy’s new home I took notes and photos in various towns around the valley, and used them to make-up Wilam. Wilam does not exist though. It is a fictitious town in a real area. Wilam Community School is also fictitious. But I did use the land around Humevale extensively as a model.

 

As for the characters, there are bits of actual people in them but those bits are so distorted, you couldn’t call them portraits. Character-making is a strange and wonderful thing. An author may begin a story modelling definable bits of actual people but – for me anyhow – that soon dissolves. If the story is going well, by which I mean going deep, every character turns into a part of myself. I don’t really see how my fictional characters could be anything else but me. There’s only me in the writing room. But when it’s going well – there’s a crowd.
 
What do you hope readers will take away from Plenty?

 

I hope people will find it a beautiful patchwork quilt. Each traveller’s story is the same, but unique. I include Maddy Frank as one of the travellers. Her journey from Fitzroy to Plenty differs only in degree from Grace Wek’s journey from Kakuma to Plenty.
 

I hope they will enjoy Maddy Frank, as I did. She is a very forthright young woman and a very human one too. Maddy and her nana are inspired by, but not modelled on, a real girl called Rune and her 70-year-old friend Jenny. I interviewed them a few years ago for a local community magazine in Upper Ferntree Gully. Rune and Jenny were removing weeds from a part of Sherbrooke forest. Between them they had rescued a small glade of original bushland. It’s now called “Rune’s Glade”. There’s a little sign.

 

I hope readers will take away a new feeling for their home. And maybe they will feel a little bit lucky, which is the start of compassion, which is the start of generosity.

 

Mostly though, I just hope people will enjoy.

 

Learn more about Plenty with our Classroom Ideas or read more about Plenty on the Walker Books Australia page.

Reading Role Models

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an online consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever-and-ever favourite children’s books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls and Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

Clearly, we’re fans of Reading Heroes: we love hearing your stories and reading your thank you notes. Heroes of Reading, though, can be divided into a few categories, like the Inspiring Reader, the Encouraging Reader, the Reading List Guru and, perhaps my personal favourite, the Reading Role Model.

 

Reading Role Models can be anyone, but are particularly helpful if they’re in the family home: older siblings, parents, grandparents. Because children are very much in tune with their environment – and famously all about the monkey see, monkey do mentality – modelling good reading habits can make a difference to how a child reads and perceives reading. (Especially in the case of some reluctant readers.) But what exactly are good reading habits?

 

Demonstrate reading: Turn off the television, computers, or other devices and show kids what reading actually looks like. Leave books in obvious places; tote a read-in-progress or favourite volume around with you. If you’re simply not a book-book person, try magazines and newspapers – anything that demonstrates respect for and interest in reading.

 

Show kids what bookish discussions look like: One of the joys of reading a good book is talking about it. Show kids that great books inspire impassioned debate – tell them about something you’ve read and loved, and let them see adults talking about what they’ve read. In a school setting, it can be fun to try a “sales pitch” for a book – give would-be readers three or four reasons why they absolutely have to read your (age-appropriate) favourite novel.

 

Read aloud: Find a cosy reading nook and read together. Choose books that appeal to both of you – children can sense when an adult is phoning it in. Where possible, take turns reading – and discuss those books!

 

Looking for a stunning read to get started? Try the mesmerizing, lyrical Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton–read more here.

Reluctant Readers: The Hidden Reader

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever-and-ever favourite children’s books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls and Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

Hidden readers are perhaps the most frustrating of reluctant readers – they are often skilled, imaginative and engaged. They’re comfortable with reading, often at a high level, but feel pressured to keep their reading secret. The pressure can be real or imagined.

 

The majority of reluctant readers are boys – some of whom are particularly sensitive to societal pressure. Reading isn’t “cool”; so-called “girl” books aren’t cool; time spent reading is time spent away from more popular pursuits, such as video games, movies and television. Geeks and nerds are often associated with reading (as are glasses); it’s possible your reluctant reader is responding to the fear of being branded as one or the other.

 

It’s difficult to deal with a hidden reader. They may not engage with class work, again because of actual or perceived pressure. Some may take not engaging further, deliberately refusing to participate in set activities. And overcoming this attitude can seem impossible.

 

Generally speaking, working with hidden readers requires us to acknowledge two key things:

 

1. Most students will think we, as adults, are neither “cool” nor understanding of their predicament;
2. It will be difficult – potentially impossible – to gauge success.

(Note: because hidden readers are reacting to something, emphasising the idea of the individual and not giving in to peer pressure are key.)

 

There are, at heart, two main camps in handling hidden readers:

 

1. Introducing texts where appeal outweighs the dreaded “cool” factor;
2. Introducing texts that the class in general – but particularly those students who see reading as boring, etc. – will consider exciting.

 

It’s quite possible that what appeals to your hidden reader may surprise you. As these students often read at a high level, regular classroom fare may be less interesting. When I was in Year Eight (ever so long ago), I did not connect with our reading lists and flat out refused to read the assigned books. Instead of forcing me, my English teacher, Mrs Vickers, loaned me her copy of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. After that, she helped me choose most books of my own reading (the majority of which were adult books and/or classics). It had a profound effect: I felt as if I had discovered something akin to home.

 

So when considering suggested reading for your hidden readers, aim high. Think about books like Elizabeth Pulford’s Broken, or crossover reads like Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls.

 

Choosing exciting books as a way of increasing “read” appeal is a common technique in handling reluctant readers. Swift pacing and adventure helps (think the Lightning Strikes series), or works that tie into something students can read more on, especially if the history is also fascinating and fast-paced (such as Carole Wilkinson’s Dragonkeeper series.)

 

Which books do you recommend to hidden readers?

 

Reluctant Readers: The Unmotivated Reader

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever-and-ever favourite children’s books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls and Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

You’ve probably encountered a few unmotivated readers in the classroom. They’re the kids who are quite capable of reading, sometimes at a high level, but are completely uninterested in any outside-the-classroom activities.

 

The unmotivated reader can be a hard nut to crack: it’s difficult to tell if they are unmotivated because they are not engaged or unchallenged, if they are more “active” as learners, or if reading-type activities simply do not fit with their personalities. (As difficult as it can be for the bookish of us to accept, not all people – children and adults alike – are readers. They are cut from different, though perfectly wonderful, cloth.)

 

As an avid reader in a class full of unmotivated readers, I often found myself falling back into the unmotivated category, too. In retrospect, I realise this is because my interests were different to those of my classmates – my teachers tried to accommodate the greatest number of interests per class. Fortunately for me, one of my school’s lovely librarians was happy to recommend and encourage my natural love of reading (and introduce me to a few classics I still adore).

 

In deciding how to motivate the unmotivated, it can be helpful to try and identify reasons your particular reluctant reader is not responding within the classroom environment.

 

• Could he or she be bored? Is classroom reading challenging?
• Do the students’ friends read? Or do they also resist classroom reads?
• How engaged is he or she with other class material?
• What is the student interested in? Cricket? Craft?

 

Are they active individuals? When your reluctant reader speaks, what’s the ratio of verbs to other parts of speech? When they describe something, which adverbs and adjectives do they use?

 

When you ask the student about a classroom text, how thorough is his or her understanding? Did he or she pick up on themes or subplots? Or did they have only a cursory sense of the story?

 

How does the student write? If asked to complete a creative assignment, is there a difference in approach? Or do they treat all classroom work in the same manner?

 

Consider the answers to the above questions. Then, based on these, perhaps one of these ideas below will be helpful in the classroom.

 

1. Try high-energy, swiftly paced reads like the Lightning Strikes series, which emphasise action and humour.

2. If the student has a particular interest, look for books that play to it – Maxx Rumble for cricket or footy, for example, or Sneaky Art for the more artistically inclined.

3. Ask the student to write a story or two, then think of related reads. Highlight the creativity involved in the writing process, and how students can be involved in it.

 

How have you encouraged unmotivated readers? What have your successes been?

What Is A Reluctant Reader?

It’s difficult to characterise a reluctant reader. It’s a rather catch-all term, often applied to any child who does not embrace reading. But the rejection of a book is not the same as the rejection of reading – or is it?

 

Most reluctant readers fall into three categories:

1. Has a reading disability;
2. Can read, but doesn’t want to (unmotivated);
3. Loves to read, but feels the need to hide it.
 

Two and three are surprisingly common, especially in the digital age. (Not that we can heap blame upon televisions and computers, as easy as that might be.) For some of us, especially those of us who depend on reading, writing and books to earn a living, they’re especially hard to understand. Perhaps more confusing is the gender split: the majority of reluctant readers are boys. Why?
 

The Unmotivated Reader: Unmotivated readers are a fixture in most classrooms. They read whatever is presented within class or as homework, often under protest.
 

The Hidden Reader: Hidden readers often feel some kind of pressure to not read. Perhaps it’s a love of books not deemed appropriate by their peers (so-called “girl” books are a good example). Perhaps it’s that reading is considered uncool, or some other societal pressure – after all, the pop culture depiction of nerds and geeks could easily be conflated with “reader”.
 

How to work with reluctant readers largely depends on how we think of them and our ultimate goals. It might seem like these are all one and the same, but there are a number of things to consider.
 

Do we want these kids to engage with classwork more? Do we want them to read texts more fluidly or at least with less grumbling? Are we trying to set up the tools they’ll need for higher education? Are we trying to encourage out-of-class reading? Or are we trying to create lifelong readers?
 

Depending on who you speak to, the most laudable is probably the last; the most realistic, the first. Still, good books encourage us to shoot for the moon. If that’s helping kids come to appreciate the power of reading long-term, then we think it’s certainly worth a shot.

 

Can Creative Writing Lead to Increased Reading?

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever-and-ever favourite children’s books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls and Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

Reading is often a solitary thing: we sit with a book and experience it alone. Most children are assigned reading homework, sometimes from books on the curriculum, sometimes from books of their choice. It’s easy to forget that reading isn’t an either/or thing, but rather part of a quite extensive process.

 
Everything that is read is written first. But what goes into the writing?
 

The process through which a book becomes a book can seem like magic to a child. Years ago, when I ran a couple of writing workshops for primary schoolers at a public library in Boston, I asked them to write about something that had happened in the past week, then take turns reading aloud. The first half of the group would read as normal. The second half would read to an audience with closed eyes.
 

Two things happened:
 

1. The kids tackled the writing as an assignment, and there was a significant amount of grumbling about more homework;
2. When the second group began reading, the exercise shifted from “boring assignment” to “really kinda fun”.
 

Reading around the table with their eyes open, the kids felt as if they were simply listening to one another’s homework. It was the stuff of any old English class, especially in the small library with its standard-issue white laminate tables and metal chairs. When we removed the setting and more general stimulus – with the simple act of closing one’s eyes – the kids were more able to focus on the words.
 

As we went around the table afterwards, one common theme emerged: “that really sounded like a book”. Each kid said it a little differently – “it made me think of a book”, “it sounded like this thing we’re reading at school, you know that bit in that thing we had to read in Miss’s class, it’s kind of like that”.
 

When we touched on workshopping, the comparisons continued; most kids had a book or an author they had liked a bit, and were curious about where stories came from, and how to make “their stuff” more interesting. Some of them offered feedback like “can you maybe talk more about…” and “that bit’s boring, go back some”. Unplanned, I handed out a few chapter books and asked the kids to read a bit.
 

This time, there was no grumbling about schoolwork.
 

These particular kids may not be the norm – I was at a small library with a range of ages providing “educational after-school entertainment”. The kids had signed up for the workshop, though the library was small enough that even if they hadn’t, they’d probably have been drawn in anyway – there were our tables, two computers and a few beanbags scattered about the main floor space. Two adults sat in the corner reading, and one of the girls’ three-year-old brother played on the floor.
 

When we finished reading, the majority wanted to talk about ways to make their stories sound more like “real books”; some had ideas about why things worked and why things didn’t. We talked about cliffhangers and suspense, we wrote lists of small details from the readings and our own writing. It wasn’t until I was packing up, though, that I really thought about the connection between reading and writing, when one of the kids said to me: “I never really thought about how we got a book before”.
 

I can’t say if the girl – if any of the kids – went home and wrote stories and read books and lived happily ever. The next time I went to the library, it was an entirely different group – older – and we talked about books and themes. I like to think, though, that the excitement the first kids showed, when they realised they could sound like authors, and how authors have to start somewhere, made them a little less likely to grumble when their English teacher gave them homework.

Heroes of Reading, Dad Edition

It’s almost Father’s Day: the perfect opportunity to celebrate a few die-hard Heroes of Reading. Here are just a few thank you notes from around our office.

 

“My Dad would always make time to read my sister and I a story, even when he was busy working three jobs. We loved hearing Dad perform the stories for us, especially when he did the voices. He’d also take us on regular trips to local libraries so we were always surrounded by books. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”  - Steve
 

“I’ve always loved books, always.
 

“When I was a little girl, my Father would take me down to the local bookstore and help me select our next story. I remember the excitement of going home carrying a brand new book: there was a new adventure to explore, new characters to meet.
 

“I have fond memories of my five-year-old self sitting in my father’s lap, listening intently and waiting patiently until I could turn the page.” - Daniela
 

“My Dad is a teacher and was always encouraging me to read books. As a teacher he is always reading books to his class, and loves to pick classics like The Famous Five and My Place, creating a new generation of book lovers. As I’ve grown up our conversations about books have grown up too, and he now loves to be able to recommend books that he thinks I will enjoy.
 

“Thanks Dad for the recommendations and the constant encouragement to increase my ever-expanding library!” - Claire
 

“Words have always been extraordinary to me. The way a few scratches are conjoined to make a word—a word! with meaning and power, and so often, beauty—is a thing I still find exciting. And I learned that from my father.
 

“When I was small, and he let me play with his encyclopaedias and legal dictionaries, he would sound out even the most ginormous pieces of jargon. And then he would attempt to explain them. It wasn’t always tidy. The meanings didn’t always make sense. But he kept at it, until eventually, I could read and interpret for myself. Now it’s how I make a living. So thanks, Dad. You taught me to appreciate words and reading, and you helped me find the know-how to use them each and every day. It was—is—the most marvellous gift.” - Peta

 

A Life Comprised of Heroes

Peta Jinnath Andersen is an Online Consultant for Walker Books Australia. Her absolute, forever-and-ever-and-ever favourite children’s books are Guess How Much I Love You, A Bit Lost, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Wrinkle in Time, A Monster Calls and Winnie-the-Pooh.

 

It is difficult for me to pin down an exact moment, or an exact Hero of Reading, that has affected me as a person. For me, most of the greater moments in my life have been centred around words: their greatness, their flexibility, and, of course, the inherent emotionality of them. (Emotionality – isn’t that a lovely word to say?)

 

The first true memory I have of reading is sitting in my father’s study, on his lap, paging through the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I recall two things: the thinness of the pages, and the number of very large words. The second memory is of playing reading games with my mother; the third, reading a book in its entirety for the first time. (It was Green Eggs and Ham, and although I am not much for Dr Seuss, I love shouting out “I do not want them, Sam I Am! I do not want green eggs and ham!” at random intervals with my son. Try this in a shopping centre some time. It’s almost as good as pie.)

 

After these, though, reading and words and events, like birthdays and school, weddings, and my son, all become entangled. I know I was given books and I bought books for every birthday; I know I read with my grandparents and wrote book reports; I sorted through vast quantities of poetry when I was married, and all of my favourite works when looking for a name for my son (sadly, I found nothing that clicked with me, because it would be cruel to name a small child Fitzwilliam in the 21st century). There were librarians who put Hugo in my hands; teachers who encouraged me to move beyond the safe zone of the class reading lists; MS Readathons (I have been disqualified from a few of those, because the supervisors did not believe a primary school student could read that much); and booksellers who have recommended and discussed and saved signed copies of books I have had to have. And this, I think, is the heart of it: if I had to choose a single Hero of Reading, I could not do it. If I had to choose two, they would be my parents, who taught me to speak and read and argue, which has formed the basis of all that I do, as both an adult and a parent. But there are so many people – so many heroes – who contribute to a reading life, that it truly is difficult for me to choose only two overall.

 

Much as I like the thought of my son seeing me as his Hero of Reading (actually, he already calls me his Superhero Mummy), I think what I would actually like for him is to have the same good fortune I have had: a life full of people who love books, reading, and words.

The 50 and 30 Book Challenge at Perth Modern

Rosemary Burton, Teacher-Librarian at Perth Modern School talks about the activities her school runs to encourage their students to continually challenge themselves through reading. Perth Modern School is Western Australia’s only academic selective school.

 

50 and 30 Book Challenge at Perth Modern School
 

The Joseph Parsons Memorial Library has run 2 Book Challenges over the last two years. We began with a 50 Book Challenge where students were tasked with reading at least 50 fiction books over 1 semester and writing a review of each book. Books had to be borrowed from the school library to count for the Challenge. Students were not limited to 50 books and indeed the top readers totalled well over a hundred books read. During the course of the challenge students also gained house points for each book read and submitted up to the Challenge total of 50 books. The winners received gift vouchers donated by local companies. We also awarded a book prize to the student who read the most books in each year level. The three overall winners were from the lower school (year 8 and 9).
 

As this was a whole school initiative, teachers were invited to complete their own 20 Book Challenge. Teachers kept a log of their personal reading and sent this to us at the end of the semester. Those teachers who completed the Challenge received book prizes.
 

The best student reviews were displayed along with the books reviewed and photos of the students. We also used the electronic noticeboards throughout the school to feature a ‘Reader of the Week’ starting with the Principal, admin and teachers in the first term and then a student ‘Reader of the Week’ in the second term. The reader had their photo displayed along with the information about the book they were currently reading.
 

This was a very popular initiative across all school years and we saw a large increase in students coming to the library and in the number of fiction books borrowed.
 

Last year we ran a shortened version of the Challenge as we had many more events associated with the National Year of Reading filling the school calendar. The 2012 30 Book Challenge lasted one term, with more detailed reviews required of students in order to receive a house point. The reviews were again displayed and used as the basis for a suggested reading list of favourite books. As before the winning students were from the lower school and the winners again read over a hundred books. This time first prize was a Kindle with gift vouchers for the two runners up.
 

This year we are starting term 2 with a ‘Read around the World’ Challenge for one term using a reader passport format.

Reading the Way to a Dream

Anastasia Gonis is a freelance writer, interviewer and reviewer for children’s books. She has reviewed countless books for publishers, magazines and newspapers during the past twenty years. She has published two educational books, and has two nonfiction books awaiting discovery. Her home is filled with books and words and dreams come true.

 

When I was a child there was no money to spare for books. It was at my Uncle Andrew’s house that I learned to love books with a passion. He had five children, all of them always with their heads buried in one of the countless books that nested in the giant bookcases along the hallway and in the bedrooms that the children shared. He was a carpenter and throwing together another shelf was nothing for him. He enforced a love of reading in his children that won every one of them a scholarship to university and a fulfilling life in their chosen field later on. In my memory, he is my Hero for bringing me to books and reading.

 

It was between the covers of these books that dreams and possibilities wound me in their cocoon. I became the main character by stepping into another dimension through the story. I could be anyone, do anything, as long as I continued reading and learning new words. I never received the formal education my father promised me; instead I found myself married very young which was common in the sixties in large migrant families. I joined a library and read and read. I looked for things I didn’t know about, and taught myself through reading. I dreamed that one day I would become a writer, believing that all the words that I collected in my brain would flow out of my fingers on to a page through my pen when the time came to write.

 

I continued reading books and learning, expanding my verbal skills with the help of my trusty dictionary, always dreaming that these words would one day become the tools I would use to create characters and stories like the ones I read. I kept journals and wrote poems.

 

I travelled a hero’s journey towards my goal of becoming a writer. I slew dragons, cut my way through thorns, crossed mountains and forged rivers to return to school and get my Leaving Certificate later in life. It was the greatest achievement of my life. This was followed by a Writing Diploma which took me five years to complete as I juggled work and studies, followed by another two years of additional writing courses. I was encouraged by my teachers to submit articles to newspapers and magazines, while I worked on a book which was my nonfiction project. Words poured from me. All the words that I had accumulated in my cerebral matter sped through my mind, out of my fingers and on to my computer. Then one day, I saw my name beneath my first article in a magazine. I was a Hero. It was a long journey, but reading brought me to my dreams.

 

All Teacher Librarians Are Reading Heroes

Susan Stephenson is a writer, editor, teacher and reviewer. Read more about her at www.thebookchook.com.

 

All Teacher Librarians in Australia are reading heroes. They are the glue that holds schools together. A Teacher Librarian has an overview of all the educational programs in a school, so she can transmit the big picture. She also knows the title of the book Kenny Jinks borrowed last week, and can suggest new reading delights to him. Small picture stuff is her forte too, and that’s so important for the Kennys of our world. When Kenny needs a safe haven from the playground, he knows he can set up a chessboard or have a chat to his friend, Ms Library.
 

Teacher Librarians have the expertise to teach information skills, and to tie that to every subject and grade. They have a passion for children’s literature which they transmit to generations of kids. Above all, they have the desire and commitment to teach kids to love reading. When kids really love to read, that spills over to become a love of learning, too.