Category Archives: Children’s books

Goodbye Fiction Focus blog – but why?

This morning I read a tweet that left me in shock:

New FF blog post So long and thanks for all the fish: This is the 798th post to the Fiction Focus blog sinc… http://bit.ly/9eNNmK #FFblog

Following the link I discovered the bad news – Judi Jagger would no longer be writing the Fiction Focus blog:

This is the 798th post to the Fiction Focus blog since it began in early 2008. We didn’t quite make the 800. Unfortunately funding is no longer available for me to continue in this role, so my involvement has ended.

Whether or not my colleagues will have the time to maintain the blog will decide its fate. It certainly cannot be at the rate of posts that there have been in the past as they have an enormous workload.

Thanks for all the positive comments that come this way over the past nearly-three years.  I have enjoyed every minute. No, make that lovedevery minute.

I know that I speak for many people, teacher librarians in particular, for whom the Fiction Focus blog has been the first port of call for best quality YA fiction reviews and current information about books and reading.

The blog has been a wonderful extension of the CMIS Fiction Focus journal published three times a year by CMIS, Department of Education and Training (WA).  Although we’ve relied on the hard copy journal for a long time, the blog has been a welcome development at a time when social media transforms static publications into writing which has a personal voice and invites commentary and discussion.

I’m completely baffled as to why such an initiative would be terminated.

If you’ve enjoyed the Fiction Focus blog, please join me in expressing your gratitude to Judi and the team, and leave a comment on this blog or, better still, on Fiction Focus’ last blog post here.

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Filed under blogging, Children's books, Teacher librarians, YA reviews

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Thanks, Fiction Focus, you are always ahead of the latest news in fiction; my first stop for reading news and well written YA reviews.

Sadly, due to funding issues, we will no longer have the pleasure of your blog posts. Thankyou and well done for 798 posts! Judi, you will be sorely missed!

Amplify’d from cmisevalff.edublogs.org

The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

pmla-headThe waiting will soon be over for the authors and illustrators shortlisted for the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. The word is that the announcement will be made next Monday, 8 November.

YA Fiction:

  • Stolen – Lucy Christopher
  • The Winds of Heaven – Judith Clarke
  • Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God – Bill Condon
  • The Museum of Mary Child – Cassandra Golds
  • Swerve – Phillip Gwynne
  • Jarvis 24 – David Metzenthen
  • Beatle meets Destiny – Gabrielle Williams

Read more at cmisevalff.edublogs.org

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Filed under blogging, Books, Children's books

Creating a community of readers

We all read, don’t we? If not books, then newspapers, if not hardcopy then online, if not novels, then graphic novels – does it really matter?

Having started my reading blog for school, I soon realised that it had to move from being limited to my own reading to including that of all the members of my school community. Of course, this is still an unrealised dream, but I was happy that so many teachers (and some students) offered their diverse reading reviews.

This year I’d like to expand the scope a little more to include anything and everything related to books, reading, film and whatever catches my eye and leads to a love of literature and ideas, as well as interaction and possibly a good laugh or at least a chuckle.

The variety of topics will hopefully mean that something will appeal at least some of the time. Ideally, interaction and collaboration with others is the goal.

Here are some examples of my recent posts:

The Age Resource Centre not only contains great resources you’d expect, but also a Reading and Writing page which includes extracts from great books (as described in this post):

Currently, Andy Griffiths has contributed a hilarious short story, Just commenting,  as part of a special series on the Summer Kids pages of The Sunday Age.

Here’s the first half of Andy’s story (you’ll love it):

WHEN I grow up I’m going to be a commentator. I’m getting really good at it, too, because I practise every chance I get. In fact, I’m practising right now.

I’m sitting at the dinner table using the pepper grinder as a microphone.

“It looks like we’re in for an exciting night’s eating,” I say in a hushed voice. “Anything can – and probably will – happen. The father is chewing on a chicken bone. The mother is pouring gravy over her potatoes. And the sister . . . well, the sister is looking directly at the commentator.”

“Can you pass the salt please, Andy?” says Jen.

“And the sister has opened play by making a direct request to the commentator to pass the salt,” I say. “The question is, will he give her the salt or is he too busy commentating?”

“Mum,” sighs Jen, “Andy’s commentating again.”

“Oh dear,” I exclaim. “The sister seems to have forgotten about the salt and has decided to tell on her little brother for commentating instead.”

“Just ignore him,” says Mum.

“I can’t,” says Jen. “I want him to pass the salt.”

“She’s getting impatient now,” I say. “She’s thrown away all pretence of politeness and good manners. Looks like she still really wants that salt. But her little brother is just shaking his head. Looks like we have a stand-off on our hands.”

Jen rolls her eyes. “Can you pass me the salt, please, Dad?”

“A brilliant change of tactics on the sister’s part,” I say. “Let’s see how it works out for her.”

Dad nods, picks up the salt and leans in front of me to pass it to Jen.

“What a pass!” I say into the pepper grinder.

“Straight from his hand to hers, no fumbling – and Jen is wasting no time in transferring the contents of the salt shaker to her dinner. Just look at her shaking that thing – she’s giving that shaker everything she’s got. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the salt-shakingest salt-shaker action we’ve seen around this dinner table in a long time.”

“Jen,” says Mum, “that’s quite enough salt.”

“Looks like the mother has stepped in to shut down the sister’s salt offensive.”

“Shut up, Andy,” says Jen.

“Jen!” says Mum. “Please don’t talk like that at the dinner table.”

“But, Mum . . .”

“I know your brother can be very annoying, but there’s no excuse for language like that.”

“Oh dear,” I say.

“Looks like Jen’s dinner has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Not only has she been cautioned for excessive salt use but now she’s getting into trouble for being rude at the dinner table.”

“All right, that will do now, Andy,” says Dad. “Just eat your dinner.”

“But who will do the commentating?”

“NOBODY will do the commentating!” says Mum. “We’ll all just eat our dinner in peace and quiet.”

“But that’s boring.

“And unfair.

“How can I be a professional commentator when I grow up if you don’t let me practise?”

“Just eat your dinner,” says Dad, “or else you’ll have to leave the table.”

When I found Nancie Atwell’s quote about reading and how it makes you smart, I knew I had to put that in.

There’s nothing better for you – not broccoli, not an apple a day, not aerobic exercise. In terms of the whole rest of your life, in terms of making you smart in all ways, there’s nothing better. Top-ranking scientists and mathematicians are people who read. Top-ranking historians and researchers are people who read. Reading is like money in the bank in terms of the rest of your life, but it also helps you escape from the rest of your life and live experiences you can only dream of. Most important, along with writing, reading is the best way I know to find out who you are, what you care about, and what kind of person you want to become.

When I found the homonymic (is that a word?) poem, Sum thyme’s I’m ache Thai pose (Sometimes I make typos), I thought I had to put that into a post. I love quirky stuff, and I think many students do too. Anything that has value but isn’t what they expect to be ‘academic’, classroomy (another made-up word).

Then I found out about an exhibition which included the biggest book in the world, and thought this would be perfect for the blog too.

I’m hoping that the diversity and quirkiness of the post content will work well with the reviews and trailers, so that members of the school community and readers outside the school will turn to the blog for enjoyment. It would give me deep satisfaction.

Your contribution is very welcome, wherever you are.

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Filed under Children's books, Literature, Teacher librarians

Have you learned to share?

parrotsharing

Photo courtesy of Eliselovesprada on Flickr

Marie Salinger just shared with me an excellent blog post written by Andrew Douch, No learning for unauthorised persons.   Andrew expresses his disappointment in the fact that many teachers are reluctant to share what they create for their students’ learning. I recommend that you read the entire post.

In my comment following Andrew’s post, I mention that my role as teacher librarian automatically puts me in the position of finding and sharing resources, and that I don’t see why I shouldn’t share outside my school, or even outside my country. Since forming a personal learning network on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Diigo and similar networking platforms, I’ve realised that what I share with others is a drop in the ocean compared with what I receive. If only all teachers would experience this.

My blogs and wikis are also a way of sharing ideas, resources and discussions which would otherwise only be shared with a couple of colleagues or not at all. It seems that blog authors find all manner of things useful and edifying, and write about these. I’ll often share resources this way, or even re-post from someone else’s blog if I think it’s worth passing on and giving my two cents worth.

More problematic is the sharing of material which I’ve read in a hard-copy publication. Currently, I’m reading the current edition of Fiction Focus: New titles for teenagers published by Curriculum Materials Information Services, WestOne Services, Department of Education and Training, Western Australia. It’s a teacher librarian’s treasured resource, providing excellent critical reviews of adolescent fiction, as well as reviews of resources of professional interest to teachers. I’m also reading the Centre for Youth Literature Newsletter published by the State Library of Victoria.

It’s frustrating for me to read these excellent resources and not share them online. What may normally occur is that we read them and take out ideas and resources for our own practice, or at best, email a few teachers if we think there is something of interest for them.

So what’s problematic? Well, it’s common practice to re-post online content written by someone else because you can give a synopsis and hyperlink to the actual resource; you don’t have to do more than give a quick summary of the original post since the reader can go directly to the source for more detailed information.

Not so in this instance. I would really like to feature some of the articles in these publications, but how much should I say? I don’t want to overload my readers, and I can’t presume they will obtain the hardcopy publications. I’m not sure if the publishers will consider my efforts a breach of copyright.

For example, there’s an excellent special feature in Fiction Focus, Wow websites – book inspired web wonders, which links to Young Adult fiction websites which

use high quality art and web design to create spaces and interfaces that reflect the character of the fiction that they represent,

providing

spaces for young readers to do what they have always done: play, discuss and imagine…

I applaud the promotion of such websites because I’ve realised that reading becomes an experience when adolescent readers become involved in the art, interactive activities and games, author blog and videos. Providing such websites increases the chances of hooking young people into reading fiction.

themortalinstruments

Here are the links to author websites provided by this article:

P.B.Kerr’s site, Quertyuiop

Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series

Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series

Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series

Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series

Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series

For Picture Book authors, there are links to the following websites:

Shaun Tan

Matt Ottley

Chris Priestley’s Tales of Terror   Gothic feel site

Darren Shan

The Bad Tuesdays

Scott Westerfeld’s new Steampunk-inspired website

The selected works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

The CMIS Fiction Focus blog include more extensive links to more blogs and websites of young adult authors and illustrators.

Fiction Focus also has an excellent article on Steampunk,

a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction. At the core of steampunk is the notion of altered history (often Victorian and London-Victorian at that) combined with technology that is historically impossible, and therefore all the more intriguing.

There are great links included, so you can see my dilemma – I’d like to share all these wonderful resources with people, but I really think they should subscribe to the magazine, or even, the magazine should go online. CMIS has also given us a taste of Steampunk in their blog which is worth adding to your RSS feed reader, but I can’t resist including all the Steampunk blog links given here as well.

Brass Goggles

The Steampunk Home

The Clockwork Century

Steampod (podcasts)

Antipodean Steampunk Adventures  with an Australian slant

The Antipodean League of Temporal Voyagers

Do read the Fiction Focus blog post about Steampunk.

And guess what? From May 2010, the Centre for Youth Literature Newsletter will be going online. Yes!

 

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Filed under 21st century learning, author, blogging, Children's books, Education, Literature, networking, Teacher librarians, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Have we understood picture books yet? What is YA literature?

shaun tan

Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, two of Australia’s favourite and most talented authors/illustrators, have received international acclaim by winning in two of the major categories at the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis, Germany’s most prestigious awards for children’s and YA books.

zusak

Shaun Tan received first prize for the Picture Book category for his Tales from outer suburbia and Markus Zusak won the Youth Jury prize for The Book Thief.

bookthief

According to Tim Coronel in Publishing Perspectives, the award jury commented on Tan’s book that

 ‘the way that pictures and words work together in this carefully designed book is perfect.’

The Youth Jury also commented on Zusak’s story that 

‘many individual stories of the experience of youth in the Second World War have been written, but none match up to the narrative of this book.’ That’s a serious recommendation, especially from a German judge, considering the enormous output of literature on this subject.

tales from outer suburbia

The whole problematic issue of picture books and their audience continues to generate debate. In our school library, the picture books shelf conceals many illustrated stories worth deeper analysis in the classroom, but few will remember this as they pass them by.

Shaun Tan describes his picture books on his website:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

red-tree

Understanding Shaun Tan’s thinking behind his picture books is a key to understanding just where Tan’s books belong. Michelle Pauli has written a very interesting article about Shaun Tan in The Guardian. Although Shaun’s books depict ‘a surreal world of bizarre animals, skew-whiff buildings, dreamlike landscapes and invented languages’, his books are far from fairy tales or pure fantasy, and that is because ‘Tan’s worlds, however fantastical they may appear on first glance, have their own internal logic. It is what he describes as “groundedness”, and he regards it as crucial to the success of the stories’.

“By itself, just to draw crazy creatures has limited appeal – if I had to give up one thing it would be the wild imagination. When the work becomes too detached from ordinary life it starts to fall apart. Fantasy needs to have some connection with reality or it becomes of its own interest only, insular. In The Lost Thing, to have creatures flying around is unsatisfactory without the context. It works because it exists in opposition to the world in the rest of the story.”

the-arrival

The fact that we still cling to narrow categories, such as ‘picture books’ and ‘Young Adult’ not only confuses readers but also pre-judges and precludes books from taking their place in the world of serious literature. Yes, many people understand and appreciate the complexity of Tan’s picture books and graphic novels (The arrival), but many more won’t give them a second chance when they see the children’s book award sticker or don’t even see them at all if they’re displayed in the children’s section of the book shop. As Tan says,

One bookseller in Australia took the children’s book award sticker off The Red Tree as he felt he could sell more that way, and sold an extra 30-40 copies a month. It’s about simple things like font size – people think they can judge the age a book is for by the font size and assume that it’s for little kids if it has a big font, but that’s silly. I don’t worry too much about those things as the creator because I figure that the books will find their own audience and sometimes I like the idea that they can give adults a surprise pleasure.

It’s interesting how readers feel there must be a definite meaning within the symbolism of Tan’s books. Tan himself avoids being pinned down to a single interpretation.

Tan is reluctant to delve too deeply into the “meanings” of his fables. Towards the end of The Lost Thing he writes, “Well, that’s it. That’s the story. Not especially profound, I know, but I never said it was. And don’t ask me what the moral is.”

If artworks cannot be pinned down to a clear and definitive interpretation, then picture books of Tan’s calibre are surely written and illustrated with the same infinite possibilities in mind. How could an artist have predicted, for example, all the interpretations that would come out of his or her painting? One thing is for sure – so-called children’s books, such as those by Shaun Tan and Markus Zusak, are fertile ground for rich discussion.

This has been cross-posted at Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

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Filed under art, Children's books, debate, reading

Pictures take me back to the story

Who doesn’t love illustrations? That’s a rhetorical question. I doubt that anybody would take offense to illustrations being interspersed amongst the text of a story.

The Guardian treats its readers to a taste of a new series of recently  illustrated children’s classics.

Walkers have put together some of the world’s greatest children’s literature with the best contemporary illustrators to create a beautiful and accessible collection of classics for a new generation. Here we gather together images from the first five titles in the Walker Illustrated Classics series.

Even if you’ve read these classics, the illustrations may entice you to have another look. For me, the fresh visual interpretation is even more enticing considering how well worn these stories are.  I’m curious as to how an illustator can create a new perspective when so many have done the same and so successfully. And of course, who can resist discovering the work of ‘the best contemporary illustrators’? The Guardian gives us a taste of the first 5 titles in the series accompanied by the illustrators’ reflections – a sure hook to wanting to see the rest.

Paul Howard illustrated Classic poetry and reveals his initial apprehension:

The idea of illustrating classic poetry terrified me at first – I can’t remember jokes let alone poems from my school days and consequently think of myself as a ‘poetus ignoramus’. To my great surprise this worked in my favour and I found myself embarking on a fantastic voyage of discovery.

Childrens-Illustration-poetry

Howard’s personal challenge to tackle poetry could be an inspiration for the current reading generation for whom poetry has become largely engimatic.

When I was battling to understand some of the poems, Michael Rosen would read them to me aloud. Listening to him was like clearing a misty window and letting the sun pour in.

Helen Oxenbury’s unmistakable style brings a contemporary realism to Alice in Wonderland.

I admire Tenniel’s original illustrations enormously, but I find his typically Victorian style rather stiff …

Childrens-Illustration-Alice

Inga Moore’s reflection provides a fascinating honesty:

The Secret Garden is one of the greatest books for children of all time and it took me a long while to pluck up the courage to illustrate it. What made me think I could do it justice? I knew a merely decorative approach wouldn’t do for a work with such depth of meaning so I decided to bring out as much of its meaning as I could in my pictures, carefully placing them next to the words they illustrated in the hope that the two together would make a more vivid whole …

I love the atmosphere of this picture, and the attention to detail (notice the tiny red bird high in the tree).

Childrens-Illustration-secretgarden

Nicola Bayley combines contemporary realism with the exotic in her interpretation of  Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle book.

For me, illustrating a classic is treading a fine line between authenticity and beauty.

Childrens-Illustration-Junglebook

Chris Riddell brings his own style to the classic Don Quixote:

Very early on I decided not to be daunted by the size of the book and to approach light-heartedly, in an attempt to reflect the satire and humour in the work. Don Quixote is a great big book that satires great big books, an epic romance that pokes fun at epic romances. I looked at the paintings of Velázquez, and used costumes and settings from his great Royal portraits to give the illustrations a 17th-century feel, but I also wanted a fantasy feel to the illustrations, so the giants and monsters came out of my imagination …

Childrens-Illustration-DonQuixote

In light of Anne Fine’s recent outspokenness about the grimness of contemporary Young Adult fiction, Walker’s collection of contemporary illustators’ re-envisioning of well loved classics, may be just what we need. As much as I love the honesty and power of modern fiction for young people, I don’t mind revisiting my old fantasy haunts, entering the rich, illustrated world which has always been such a tantalising, albeit temporary, escape from the everyday. If, as children, we fed our imagination and creativity with favourite illustations of fantastic tales,  why shouldn’t we revisit now and then to take nourishment?

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Filed under art, Children's books, creativity, Literature, poetry, reading

Alice in Wonderland trailer

This is cross-posted from my other blog, Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

Directed by Tim Burton (famous for Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare before Christmas, and Charlie and the chocolate factory) and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, due out early 2010 (March 5), has already sparked interest from film-goers who have enjoyed a recent spate of fantasy films, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, to mention a few.

Out of all these, Alice in Wonderland is arguably the strangest story, playing around with logic, celebrating nonsense and absurb characters, many of them animals. But how many people know that the original story, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, was written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the author better known as Lewis Carroll.

 Arthur Rackham’s illustration250px-Rackham_Alice

What child (or adult) can resist a story which allows the reader to escape the boredom of daily life by escaping down a rabbit hole, and enter into a world of crazy characters. Did you know that early Alice fans included Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde?

Proof of the popularity of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland  is the fact that it has never been out of print, with over a hundred editions, as well as different theatre and film versions.

The film versions of Alice often mix the original story of The adventures of Alice in Wonderland with the sequel Alice through the looking glass. Characters like Twiddledee and Twiddledum, Humpty Dumpty and Jabberwock are actually from the sequel, but are often included in the original story in films.

The setting, Wonderland, has inspired the imagination of many. One of the novels written after the TV series, Dr Who, was called Wonderland. There are many songs called Wonderland, including the one by Simply Red. There are numerous amusement parks called Wonderland, including the one in Sydney which my family used to enjoy, and which is now, unfortunately, closed (sob).

Did you know that Alice has also been used in the field of medicine? There is a neurological condition called Alice in Wonderland syndrome, also known as Todd’s syndrome, in which things seem larger or smaller than they really are.

Comics have also been influenced by Alice. The supervillain of the Batman comics, The Mad Hatter, for example. And on TV, the seventh season of The Simpsons included references to the Alice story.

There are many phrases from Alice that have been used in popular culture. How many times has the phrase ‘Off with her head!’ been repeated? And what about ‘we’re all mad here’ spoken by the Cheshire Cat? Another often repeated phrase is the one uttered by Alice when she started growing after trying the cake labelled ‘Eat me’ – ‘curiouser and curiouser’.

Not everybody liked the book. Fantasy writer, Terry Pratchett, didn’t like it at all. And in 1931, it was banned in Hunan, China, because it put animals and humans on the same level, and especially because animals used human language, which was apparently unacceptable!

And who hasn’t read and enjoyed the nonsense poem, Jabberwocky, found in Alice through the looking glass, considered by some to be the greatest nonsense poem in the English language?

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

If you’d like to read Alice’s adventures in Wonderland online, click here.

Have a look at the Disney website for Alice in Wonderland.

Or why don’t you just read the book?

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Melbourne Writers’ Festival

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2009 has something for everyone. Here is the line-up for under 18s.

Randa Abdel-Fattah | Tony Birch | Ezra Bix | John Boyne | Isobelle Carmody | Paul Collins | Kate De Goldi 

Briohny Doyle | Anthony Eaton | Elizabeth Fensham | Archie Fusillo | Raimond Gaita | Morris Gleitzman | Andy Griffiths

Jack Heath | Lia Hills | Simmone Howell | Michael Hyde | Danny Katz | Paul Kelly | Kon Karapanagiotidis | Chrissie Keighery

Joey Kurtschenko | Margo Lanagan | Justine Larbalestier | Julia Lawrinson | John Long | Geoff Lemon | Melina Marchetta

Andrew McDonald | Mischa Merz | David Metzenthen | China Mieville | Kirsty Murray | Joanna Murray-Smith

Richard Newsome | Mandy Ord | Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli | Bruce Pascoe | Alice Pung | Hannie Rayson | Gary Simmons

Alicia Sometimes | Shaun Tan | Penny Tangey | Tony Thompson | Urthboy | Scott Westerfeld | Chris Wheat | Gabrielle Wang

Read about more details here.

This is an excellent opportunity for schools and school librarians to engage and extend young readers.

We hope the program will assist to enrich your own reading experience, and promote the ways in which writing and reading are engaged in our schools.

  

Here is an opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors, as well as discover new talents:

We have an array of talent for your enjoyment and edification, and I hope you’ll spend some time with both our better-known authors, as well as with those who are on the rise. As in past years we’ve mixed the new with the established so that you can tell your friends and colleagues that you saw them here first!

Go to the website for more detailed information.

This is great timing for Book Week, August 22 – 28. There’s a good reason why Melbourne is the City of Literature. An excellent opportunity to take books and reading out of the library and amongst the people.

Just discovered that there is a Melbourne Writers’ Festival blog. You may be interested in the possibility of being among the first to see Neil Gaiman’s Coraline on film.

Join us for a very special Melbourne Writers Festival fundraising event, which will be –

  • Introduced by Shaun Tan (award-winning creator of The Arrival)
  • Screened at Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at 6.30pm sharp
  • Raising money for the MWF Schools’ Program  

Coraline is created by cult author Neil Gaiman, directed by famed stop-motion animation expert Henry Selick, and voiced by the talents of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.


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Filed under Children's books, Literature, reading, Teacher librarians

Dr Seuss on Google

googleseuss

Today is the 105th anniversary of the birth of  Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss. Google has a little tribute.

Random House has a Dr Seuss website for kids. Amongst the fun stuff, there is also a biography.

seusseville

Many children learn to read through Dr Seuss stories. I can’t say I did, although we did have a copy of The cat in the hat. Most children would have read some Dr Seuss, I think, and adults remember the stories fondly.

What is less known is the fact that Theodor Geisel’s early political cartoons demonstrate a passionate opposition to fascism, and that he urged Americans to oppose it, whereas his cartoons tended to regard the fear of communism as overstated. He also denounced discrimination in America against African Americans and Jews (Wikipedia).

Many of Geisel’s books are thought to express his views on a myriad of social and political issues: The Lorax (1971), about environmentalism and anti-consumerism; The Sneetches (1961), about racial equality; The Butter Battle Book (1984), about the arms race; Yertle the Turtle (1958), about anti-fascism and anti-authoritarianism; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), about anti-materialism; and Horton Hears a Who! (1954), about anti-isolationism and internationalism.

However, I don’t think that’s what Dr Seuss is remembered for. That would most likely be his rhythmic and catchy verse, and his quirky characters.

I’ll leave you with a video of Green eggs and ham to enjoy.

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Filed under Children's books, Literature, poetry

Teens reading critically

I often wonder if I’m suited to my role as teacher librarian. From the point of view of my own taste in particular. My library ‘superior’ (who will remain nameless in case what I’m about to say will incriminate her – I’m joking), has said in half  jest a few times that I’m a reading snob. And I am. My tastes are often on the edge of out there.  I mean, my undergraduate thesis was on Max Frisch’s Graf Oderland – a play about a lawyer who put an axe into his briefcase and joined the underground movement. My point is, my reading tastes do not often coincide with the general population of students. This bothers me since, obviously, I need to be able to inspire the students (in my school, boys) to read. I should be reading action and adventure, fantasy, sports fiction, and crime. But it ends up that the books I read and recommend sit neatly on the shelf and remain so.

This was the case when I read Looking for Alaska by John Green. I was convinced that teenage boys would love this book but it didn’t happen. Well, obviously, I knew that not too many would rush to read it, but I didn’t expect almost nobody. And so I’m often pondering my role in this situation. Should I give in and read and talk about the popular books, authors and series that have their due date slip stamped all over, or should I stay true to my conviction that teenagers’ fiction menu needs to be expanded  to include those books they would normally not touch. I don’t mean cater to the reading minority, I mean somehow inspire the majority to read outside of their comfort zone.

Reading John Green’s blog, I recently came across a post that gave me hope. In this post John talks about a comment he received from a (presumably) teenager who sees in Paper Towns references to Orpheus. Having read this comment, John questions whether we should presume that most teenagers are incapable of critical reading. In fact, he actually questions whether we should exclude more challenging writing from teenagers or presume that they haven’t read widely.  Here’s a little of what he says:

I would argue that when we think about teens as readers, we need to stop thinking about the teens we know. Like, around us, teens can be awkward and intellectually unimpressive. But they often aren’t showing us their best selves, precisely because they feel the intellectual distance between us and them. I’d argue that the ONLY way to bridge that distance is to deny its existence.

And here is an extract of the student’s comment where he sees connections between John Green’s novel and Orpheus.

I was so blown away by Paper Towns I reread it right away. And the second time, I was really struck by the scene where Margo gets bit by the snake. It reminded me of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which I especially love Rilke’s version of. I realized that the whole book could be loosely seen as within that framework. She is taken from him – not through fate but through her own will – just when they begin to redevelop some sort of a relationship. And she is, from his point of view, lost in the underworld; he actually thinks she is dead. She has gone to the world of the paper towns, and he is willing to follow her despite all the dangers and obstacles.

The comment is longer than that and I recommend you reading the rest of it.

So what’s my point? Well, the first point is that we shouldn’t assume that readers like this one don’t exist. They may be hiding. There may be more of them than you think.

My second and more important (for me) point is that if we don’t expand teenagers’ reading tastes we do them a disservice. Yes, they should read what they enjoy. Yes, most boys will still read Matthew Reilly – but in between I’m going to come out of left field and surprise them with something different. That’s how I functioned as an English teacher – not suppressing what I considered thought-provoking, not keeping silent if I thought that something was worth pointing out. Shock them a little, confuse them a lot, and they’ll gradually get used to it. Their world view will expand. They’ll surprise you.

As for me, I think I might consider staying true to myself in my role as teacher librarian.

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Filed under Children's books, debate