Category Archives: Literature

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

Melbourne – Centre for books, writing and ideas

Did you know that UNESCO bestowed on the city of Melbourne the title of City of Literature as part of its Creative Cities Network?

Maybe you did, but did you also know that the Arts Minister, Lynne Kosky, announced two days ago the creation of The Wheeler Centre: Books, Writing, Ideas. It has been named after the founders of the Melbourne-based Lonely Planet travel guides.

From 2010, Melbourne will have a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre. A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation.

The city of Melbourne is home to an impressive collection of literary organisations, including the Victorian Writers’ Centre, Express Media, the Australian Poetry Centre, the Melbourne Writers Festival, Emerging Writers’ Festival and the Centre for Youth Literature.

These organisations will reside at 176 Little Lonsdale Street, a newly renovating wing of the State Libray of Victoria. I still remember the Melbourne Public Library housing the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Melbourne and the Planetarium.

Now it is the home of the Wheeler Centre for Books Writing and Ideas.

Browsing the Wheeler Centre’s website, I discovered a remarkable short animated film for the New Zealand Book Council.

No doubt some wonderful initiatives will be coming from these literary organisations, like the Summer School Novel Writing workshop in January 2010 organised by the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

 And if you ever doubted the connection between reading and writing (as if you would), you’d be advised to read what the Victorian Writers’ Centre writing tips state at the top of the list:

A few good tips to develop your writing.

Every experienced writer reads widely. Professional writers always recommend reading as a way for the writer to learn their craft. Reading widely can enhance your writing technique, broaden your scope, multiply your ideas and deepen your understanding of literary form in all its variety.

And if you’ve ever been confused by punctuation rules, think about following the great French author, Gustav Flaubert, in his ‘musical’ rules for punctuation:

Flaubert’s rule was that a pause of:

one beat equals a comma

two beats equals a semi-colon

three beats a colon

four beats a full stop

That’s what I call simple rules of punctuation.

Thanks to CMIS Fiction Focus for the alert.

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Filed under Literature, poetry, reading, writing

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

How far will an author go?

How far will an author go to fuel a readership?

Will he go as far as to don a soft-toy unicorn head to get people to read his book?

Well, John Green will and has. He and his brother, Hank, have created an internet video gameshow which he explains here:

Okay, so here’s how this works. First, play the video. Then, click on the answer you think is right, and it will lead you to a series of more questions and answers about my books. (That is, unless you have somehow turned off youtube annotations, in which case it won’t work at all. But it should work.)

And in case you’re thinking this is just a cheap trick, a quick trick to boost book sales, think again, and look first at the many, many hours John invests developing a relationship with fans. Writing his blog, for one.

Updated every single day except for Saturdays and Sundays and some other days, John’s blog frequently explores the following issues: Conjoined Twins, place in literature; Dental surgery, discomfort of; Suveys, benefit of as procrastination tool; Tennis, getting beaten by wife in; Young adult literature, purpose and definition of; Books, enjoyment of; and Writing, perks and drawbacks of.

Creating one Vlogbrothers video after another with his brother, Hank. How’s that for devotion. And it works. As I’ve previously mentioned in another post, John has a phenomenal readership and fan base. But apart from that, he writes well. Really, really well. And apart from his unashamed nerdiness and quirky sense of humour, John has a way with honesty. Here’s a recent blog post which gives you an idea of what I mean. The post is called ‘A book reader’s apologies’. John says he’s written hundreds of book reviews in Booklist Magazine, but after reading a blog post by Shannon Hale – book evaluation vs self-evaluation – which asserts

that contemporary reviewers often place way too much emphasis on whether they “like” a book–as if the only thing a book can do is be likable

made him rethink his convictions in a couple of his book reviews. This is what I like about John; he’s not afraid to be up front with his readers. This is, as far as I’m aware, a relatively new phenomenon (if you can call it a phenomenon). Firstly, authors ‘showing their face’ to readers outside of their books (and book signings or public appearances) – online, and using blogs, videos and the such. I’m really enjoying this. Take, for instance, James Roy’s blog, or Scott Westerfeld’s blog, or that of Justine Larbalestier. These are not people just talking books, these are just people -who write books – talking!

Yes, strange and wonderful things are happening in the name of fiction. What about the Digi-novel? The  Digi-novel combines book, movie and website.

Anthony Zuiker, creator of the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” U.S. television series, is releasing what he calls a “digi-novel” combining all three media — and giving a jolt to traditional book publishing.

“Just doing one thing great is not going to sustain business,” he said. “The future of business in terms of entertainment will have to be the convergence of different mediums. So we did that — publishing, movies and a website”.

 Is convergence of different media the way of the future? What do you think? Is the relationship between authors and their readers changing for good?

This post also appears at Fiction is like a box of chocolates.

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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

What would happen if maths and language arts teachers swapped jobs?

bobrobertasmith

Art21 blog has given me an interesting idea in their latest post:

Last year the Guardian asked its sports and art writers to swap pieces for a day. Tennis correspondent Steve Bierley reviewed a Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) exhibition, which Bob and Roberta Smith fell in love with and subsequently made into a text-based painting.

Hmmm…

But how can we translate that into the school environment? I mean, the idea is something I’ve been playing with for a while – wouldn’t it be good if school didn’t separate learning into subjects?

Life isn’t like that, so why….?

In my job as teacher librarian I write a blog to encourage reading – I’ve mentioned it before – well, it’s not only about reading but all that goes with it. Thinking, discussing, idea-broadening, understanding – you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d love for the blog to create a reading (thinking, etc.) community, one that links people within the school through interests and discussion, but also links the school community with the wider community. I’ve also spoken about this before. Yes, I have so far included a couple of book recommendations/reviews by teachers who aren’t librarians. This is good, this gives the students the idea that people outside of the library read and enjoy reading. But …. they’re English teachers.

What I would really love is if sports teachers wrote about their reading. Yes, sports teachers. Maths teachers. Legal studies teachers.

So what kind of swap could I do? Do you think it would be easier for the maths/science teachers to talk books than the other way around? At first I thought yes. What’s left of my own maths/science knowledge, the little I gained in secondary school? I wouldn’t really like to go there. But then I remembered Sean Nash. He blends Science with the Arts. I was overwhelmed by his approach when I first discovered Sean’s blog, and I continue to be overwhelmed because it’s so inspiring, and I don’t see many educators do it.

Sean’s wife, Erin, shares his way of looking at a blended curriculum. Have a read of Erin’s profile on Sean’s biology ning where she says:

The best thing about the study of biology is:
The opportunity it provides for invoking curiosity and questioning in students and instructors alike. There are so many interesting topics in Biology that, ultimately, bring about questions that just aren’t currently answerable, and this provides so many awesome possibilities for critical thought and analysis. I could have taught English or Biology, and I was drawn to science because of that one big question, “WHY?”

 Isn’t this also the point of literature? The WHY and WHAT IF?  What if a character lived in a particular time/situation? How would that character live out his/her life? And WHAT IF this complication arose? WHY would he/she act in that way/make those choices? Personal choices, ethical choices, any choices.

I frequently reflect on what I’m trying to achieve in writing the fiction blog. Why is it important to stretch students’ – and for that matter, teachers’ – concept of what a reader is like, why we read, why books grab our attention, how books and films get our reactions and lead us into discussion or debate. It’s not a library thing, it’s not an English thing – and yet, it is literacy. The kind of literacy that is important for all of us across disciplines and beyond school. Sean Nash sums it up excellently when he talks about the connection between science and literacy in his comment to my post:

Science and literacy had certainly better go together. We are in a heap of trouble as a species as it is. We can’t afford to continue to create a scientifically-illiterate populace. Where science and literacy are separate, science is but mystery and mythology to even our brightest.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, creativity, Education, learning, Literature, reading, teachers, teaching

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