Monday, 7 October 2013

The Boy on the Page

Not one to shy away from the big issues in life, Peter Carnavas has written about fitting in, grief, the environment, deep sadness and simple living. And now his latest book The Boy on the Page (New Frontier) deals with arguably one of the biggest questions of all - Why am I here?

Once again Peter's trade mark illustrations and simple text take us on a seamless journey through the boy's life from the moment he lands on the first blank page. His life starts to take both unexpected and conventional directions - all while balancing his personal joys and aspirations with caring for others. And when the boy (now a man) again wonders why he is here, he is rewarded with the realisation that he's actually in the perfect place to love and be loved.

If you've ever wondered why you've landed on the page, then this is the book for you.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Christmas Press: Two Trickster Tales from Russia

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the fact that there didn't seem to be any 'good and proper' fairy tale books anymore. Where were the traditional retellings? The beautiful illustrations? As it turns out, award winning author Sophie Masson, artist David Allan and artist and designer Fiona McDonald were all thinking the same thing and decided to do something about it. Enter Christmas Press.

Christmas Press was formed early this year and their first book Two Trickster Tales from Russia has just been launched. Sophie Masson has (unsurprisingly) done a beautiful job retelling Masha and the Bear and The Rooster with the Golden Crest. The illustrations by David Allan are rich and detailed, with a touch of humour, being influenced by the great Ivan Bilibin and Arthur Rackham. It's everything a fairy tale book should be.

Sophie said these two tales were chosen for several reasons - they are fun and pertinent tales about unwitting those who wish to do us harm and are ideal for retelling. They can easily be read aloud to younger children, or enjoyed by independent readers. And it's expected these tales may also be a new discovery for some readers as while they're popular in Russia, they are not so well known in the West. I I certainly found this to be the case as I hadn't heard The Rooster with the Golden Crest and enjoyed reading this to my kids while not knowing what was going to happen myself.

From the positive response and support Two Trickster Tales from Russia has received, it's obviously filling a much longed for gap in the market and with plans to continue publishing traditional tales. It's wonderful to think that a new generation of children will have their very own 'new' fairy tale books to treasure.

So pop on over to Christmas Press and order a copy or two and let's support this trio in their quest to bring solid fairy tale books back to life in Australia.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Story Arts Festival Ipswich

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Story Arts Festival Ipswich. The adults program ran over three days and consisted of talks, panel sessions and workshops by leading children's authors and illustrators. It was a great opportunity to learn from the pros and meet with other aspiring authors and illustrators.

Sam Sochacka has written wonderfully detailed posts on all the sessions here, so this is just a brief run down of the highlights for me.

Alison Lester gave a fascinating talk on the development of her latest book about Antarctica, Sophie Scott Goes South and then ran a workshop on making art fun for kids, focusing on stenciling and wax resist. Most of us were relieved to find that Alison's words were true: No-one can make a bad stencil. Here's my rooster:

I attended sessions on topics that I didn't know too much about - like illustration. I'm certainly no illustrator but loved listening to Gus Gordon and Leila Rudge speak about their illustrative process. Gus spoke about the importance of kids' art - being that it's loose and imaginative (and I had quite the pang of guilt over the number of drawings from my kids that have ended up in the bin). He spoke about the many preliminary trial drawings and his technique of incorporating collage in to his work. Collage is his favourite medium but he cautioned against letting it dominate and distract from the story. There was the philosophical questions of: Is it more important doing technically proficient drawing, or conveying a story? And he quoted Herve Tullet: A book for a child is a book for a child. Not a book to show how good you are at drawing. 
Gus is a big fan of end papers, as being a way to bring another layer of narrative to the story and immersing the child in the story from the moment he/she opens the book. Incidentally, I was the first oboe player that Gus had met and we had a fun chat about the psyche of oboists.
Leila's workshop was fun - we pored over her visual diaries (wow!) and by the end of the workshop I was quite chuffed to discover I could indeed draw dogs - several of them in fact, all with different characteristics.

Meg McKinlay gave an insightful talk on her writing journey and process. A large part of her session focused on drawing inspiration from real life events but she made it clear that these are only the seeds of the story - life events usually don't have the shape that you need for a narrative. Narratives from our own life need to be transformed as often real life character's motivations are not interesting enough for a fictitious story.
Other words of wisdom from Meg included: An idea is not a story - a story comes as the voice of the character is revealed, and you can't really know who a character is until you know their motivation.

Mark Carthew and Mike Spoor gave a lively presentation on their author-illustrator relationship. Mark had us all engaged from the start with the call and response: There was a little turtle, and again at the end when he read The Gobbling Tree. They spoke about their influences - Mike's being Lakes District in England where he grew up. A lot of these landscapes, textures and shapes make their way into his work. And Mark, with his back ground in primary school teaching and music, spoke about rhyme, rhythm and music and how literacy devices also evident in his text. Mike shared a lovely insight he had about his role as an illustrator: The illustrator in a craftsman, in service to the text.

Leonie Norrington's session was thought-provoking. Growing up south of Katherine, she has a real affinity with Indigenous Australian's from this area and the aim of her work is to be relevant to these communities - in context so it makes sense to them. She spoke about the work she does with engaging Indigenous students in reading and writing, helping them to lose their fear through a series of games. Leonie has obviously found her calling and has first hand experience of the challenges of reading and writing given she did a remedial course in English at the age of thirty.

Sue Whiting, children's author and publisher at Walker Books and Helen Chamberlain, editor at Windy Hollow Books spoke about the perfect pitch - the do's and don'ts. They had everyone's attention over breakfast as we all hoped to hear the magic piece of information that might get our work over the line. The three P's were driven home: patience, perseverance and polish.  And what exactly are they looking for? They'll know it when they see it...!

If I had to pick one highlight, it would be listening to professional story teller Tanya Batt. Tanya travels the world telling stories and her story telling is something you really have to see to fully appreciate. It's akin to having a religious experience I believe! She was utterly captivating and I'm so thankful I had the chance to see her perform.

The next Story Arts Festival will be in 2015 and I can't wait!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Musings on the recent spate of fairytale phobia

Once upon a time, parents used to read their children fairytales, but a study conducted last year by the US television channel Watch, caught the headlines reporting a trend that fairytale reading is on the decline.

Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Gingerbread Man, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk are apparently out of favour with parents. Why? Well, the somewhat nonsensical reasons ranged from bad examples about house work, condoning stealing, child abandonment, the awkward endings ie. the Gingerbread Man getting eaten by the fox and because they are unrealistic.

Then in May this year, a UK Booktrust study released findings that were more hopeful citing 70% of parents read their children fairytales with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk actually among the favourites. Interestingly favourite characters were Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and Rumpelstiltskin. Have a look at, because it insightfully breaks the stories down according to gender (mums and dads and boys and girls), the fairytales themselves and the individual fairytale characters.

But if it's true that parents have a fairytale phobia, then I find it sad, ironic and fascinating. Sad because I think children are really missing out on some great stories that will stay with them for the rest of their life - who can ever un-forget a fairytale? They're missing the valuable cultural knowledge that comes with being well versed in fairytales along with the ability to develop their understanding of abstract concepts such as heroism, wisdom, arrogance, recklessness, deceit, jealousy, loyalty, sacrifice and love.

Ironic because from my readings of blogs posts on the subject, it was interesting to note that while great concern and analysis was given over reading fairytales, a lot of commentators more than happy to read their children Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree and lamented (or were downright outraged), that politically correct versions of these stories had been released.

And fascinating because it had never occurred to me to not read my kids fairytales (I'm not sure what this says about me as a parent though!). My children have heard many fairytales, many versions, many times over (we would read about two most days) and I can honestly say they have never been unduly frightened or upset by the stories. Their emotional responses to the fairytales have been appropriate - sure, when reading The Little Mermaid they squirmed when they heard that walking for her felt like walking on broken glass and they expressed their sadness when she died in the end, but they were accepting that that's what had to happen. Fingers crossed the lesson of the little mermaid stays with them for a long time... Equally, they've laughed at the silliness of the emperor in The Emperor's New Clothes and of course have delighted in the happily ever afters of princess and princes.

So, what do the experts say?
Jack Zipes, a leading authority on fairytales was once famously told by Albert Einstein that if he wanted to do well in life, study fairytales - and that's exactly what he did. Now retired, he was professor in German and Comparative Literature studies and has great things to say in his article Are fairytales still useful to children?  Zipes points to the moral components of the tales, helping children deal with conflict, and confronting anxiety and psychological problems that can be provoked in a safe way, with the child/reader separated from the restrictions from reality.
"Fairytales are uncanny because they tell us what we need and they unsettle us by showing what we lack and how we might compensate for lack."
Author Philip Pullman is a big proponent of reading fairy tales, advocating for parents and teachers to continue reading and performing these to their children. He doesn't shy away from reading kids the scarier bits either "The bloodthirstier the better. Little scoundrels, give them something good."
I recall in Mem Fox's Reading Magic a connection between juvenile delinquency and lack of fairytale knowledge, and for a view on the place of fairytales today and the shock of some of them, AS Byatt has some interesting things to say in her article Happy ever after.

Lots of food for thought!

Of course, it's every parent's right to have the final call on what their children read, and that's the way it should be. That said, I think it would be a great shame if a significant part of literature was ignored purely because of rumour and innuendo, rather than a considered discussion about the facts.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Birthday blunder

It's my husband's birthday on Friday and Father's Day on Sunday. I've bought all his presents online from overseas. I thought I was being highly organised but now fear I left my run about a week too late.

Could be a mad dash to the shops for chocolate coated peanuts and socks tomorrow morning...

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A good fairytale book seems hard to find...

Lately, I feel like I've been living in the parallel worlds of raising kids and retelling fairytales. In time, I'll do a series of posts on fairytales, but for now, I'd like to express my frustration at not being able to find a particularly great compilation of tales. By this, I mean a beautifully illustrated text of fairytales that is still in print. I still have my numerous fairytale books from when I was little, and my beloved Story Time/Story Teller collections by Marshall Cavendish but I haven't been able to find anything comparable., published in recent years.

Maybe I've missed something...?

Though out of print, one of my favourites is My big book of fairytales: a treasury of favourite stories for children, printed in the mid 80's. It's a 'best of' the Story Teller series, consisting of 73 fairytales illustrated by various illustrators. The fairytales themselves are beautifully retold - not too scary but not too glossy either. Second hand (online) booksellers have plenty of copies for only a few dollars.

If anyone can recommend a compilation of fairytales they love, please let me know!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The way to this woman's heart is through a book voucher

Last weekend my husband and I flew down to Sydney for a very belated 10 year wedding anniversary getaway. A weekend away with no kids and no responsibilities was unreal but then my husband handed me a book voucher from Berkelouw Books and let me loose.

Luckily Berkelouw Books in Paddington has a cafe and wine bar which came in rather handy as I was there for 4.5 hours! I ended up with quite the collection and would no longer be able to get away with carry on luggage for the trip home. My prized purchase was a beautiful 3rd edition of Winnie the Pooh. I've told Husband he has to inscribe it with something incredibly romantic which has got him a little nervous (and he's not usually one to be lost for words - written or spoken) so we shall see what he comes up with ;)

Monday, 15 July 2013

Teary Tales

When it comes to movies and books, it takes quite a bit to make me cry. The last time I remember crying in a movie was Return to Oz when I was seven (no, I didn't even cry during The Notebook), and I honestly can't remember the last time I cried reading a book - probably in high school. But this week, I've read two books that made me cry. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness and the picture book The Important Things, by Peter Carnavas. It's interesting I read these in the same week - very different books for different audiences but both deal with the pain of grief and healing, mothers and son and absent fathers.

I'd been looking forward to reading A Monster Calls even though I knew it wouldn't be a happy read. Its story of creation is even a sad one. Author Siobhan Dowd had the original ideal, but died of cancer before being able to write the novel, so her idea was gifted to Patrick Ness. A wonderful fantasy element of a monster yew tree coupled with raw and real family dynamics, dealing with a horrible situation make this a compelling read indeed.

The Important Things was the only book by Peter Carnavas that I hadn't read yet. I've admired his work for years now and even though I knew it would deal with an 'important' topic, this simple book left me deeply touched. The sensitive and honest way his text and illustrations approach a tough issue is beautiful - his stories always open up interesting conversations with my children, and this one was no different.

A Monster Calls make take a few days to read, The Important Things a few minutes, but through both we are reminded that life is tough and healing is painful - but there is always hope.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Jasper Fforde

I've been following author Jasper Fforde for many years now but I'm only just getting around to reading his second latest Thursday Next novel - One of Our Thursdays is Missing. If you're a bookish nerd and haven't read any of Fforde's books, then you really should make haste and get your hands on one.

He's a British writer with several series of books on the speculative end of fantasy - and there's something for everyone - comedy, tragedy, romance, humour and with multitudes of references to the classics, you're in for quite the crash course. Aspiring authors will take heart in the face that his novels were rejected 70 times before his first novel The Eyre Affair was finally published.

A quick Google search will associate his name with 'creative genius', 'creative genius', 'creative genius' and 'cult following'. I would add to that clever; very, very clever. Not having picked up one of his books for a couple of years, I can say that once again I have been blown away by the sheer inventiveness of his writing and the attention to detail he's given to the alternate worlds he's created. Put simply, his work is a wonderful read - pure escapism - and as an aspiring writer, is a huge inspiration also.

Reading Time

An interesting little article caught my attention the other day showing a breakdown of 30 countries and the average hours they spend reading each week. Australia was right in the middle at 6.3hrs, while India took the lead at 10.7, followed by Thailand at 9.24 and China at 8.

The data was from 2004/2005 (so it'd be interesting to see an updated survey), but nevertheless, it seemed quite timely with the school holidays now on as Facebook friends' statuses have been full of trips to the library to stock up on reading material over the break - even with a few photos of the piles of books they've purchased.

Reading is something we like to talk about and it's often a way we establish rapport and strike up a conversation with people by asking 'What do you like to read?' When visiting old friends and new, I find myself gravitating to their bookshelf to see what they're into and what I could possibly borrow. We value reading, we love learning about people through what they're reading and we love sharing our latest great (or terrible) finds. But most of all, I'm sure all of us would love much more time to read. So fellow Aussies, let's catch up to India, who's with me to add another 3 odd hours of reading to our week?