New “Cats and Dogs” theme on the PaperTigers website

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Head on over to the PaperTigers website, where you will find hundreds of Cats and Dogs waiting to greet you.  I exaggerate only slightly for one of our new features is a Gallery of Korean artist Chinlun Lee‘s work, including illustrations from her delightful picture book The Very Kind Rich Lady and Her One Hundred Dogs.

Japanese illustrator Kae Nishimura also features in our Gallery; and we have new interviews with illustrator Meilo So from her home in the Scottish Shetland Islands and Australian Aboriginal elder and storyteller Gladys Milroy, co-author with her daughter Jill Milroy of our Book of the Month, Dingo’s Tree (Magabala Books, 2012).

Also from Australia, Susanne Gervay has written a Personal View about “The Images of Dogs in Ships in the Field” – Ships in the Field is her latest book and was a project close to her heart since it relates part of her childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.

Our featured authors and illustrators all share stories and photographs of the dogs and cats in their lives.  In the early days of the PaperTigers Blog, Janet wrote a post about reading to her family’s huskies when she was a child.  In my own family, you will often find the dog curled up next to (or on top of) whoever is reading – and over the next couple of months we invite you to send us your photos and/or stories of reading time shared with a pet to be featured here on the Blog – please do email them to me, marjorieATpapertigersDOTorg – we’d love to hear from you.

Week-end Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro,
Ships in the Field
Ford Street Publishing, 2012.

Ages: 8+

“Every night Brownie and I wait for Papa to come home.” – and when he arrives, “Round and round we whirl.”  This joyous ritual provides the opening sequence of Ships in the Field, a story whose essence is perhaps distilled into the notion of the transcendental power of love.  Acclaimed Australian author Susanne Gervay (I Am Jack, That’s Why I Wrote This Song) has based the story on her own childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.  Told through the eyes, perception and narrative voice of a likeable, effervescent little girl, we learn that her beloved, funny Papa works in a car factory but used to be a farmer “in the old country, before it was broken”; and quiet, withdrawn Ma, who seems to have forgotten how to smile, was a teacher and now “sews dresses all day long”.  The girl’s confidante is her soft toy dog Brownie but she also longs for a real dog.

Every Sunday the family goes into the countryside and Papa says, “Look at the ships in the field.”  This makes the little girl giggle, for it conjures up a funny image, but it makes her sad too, because other people laugh at the way her father speaks – and so she staunchly joins him in his pronunciation of the word “sheep”.  One Sunday, near the “woolly ships”, she finds something very precious that signals a new chapter for all the family.

The undercurrents in the story are felt in the girl’s awareness of aspects of her family’s past.  It is never mentioned in her presence but it weighs on her nevertheless, and she confides in Brownie, “I don’t like war.”  Anna Pignataro’s beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the emotions – love, pain, joy – that emanate from the story.  As well as the ever-faithful Brownie, vignettes of a real dog appear throughout the story; and two notable sequences merge events from the past, depicting war and flight through the second-hand filter of the little girl’s knowledge and imagination.  The rough pencil outlines underlying the watercolours imbue the illustrations with energy and a sense of movement that is further emphasised in the variety of page layouts: the use of continuous narrative is particularly effective.

Ships in the Field is itself a multi-layered term, from straightforward mispronunciation to providing scope for metaphorical and poetic interpretation – or simply delight in its nonsense.  While offering a warm reading experience for young children, the book also poses questions for older readers and adults about how much young children can or should know about painful elements in a family’s past; and about the damage that can be caused by not bringing the past into the open, when children have already absorbed more than adults give them credit for.  Each rereading of this perfect synthesis between spoken and visual narrative offers something new, through the nuance of the writing or a dawning awareness of a visual motif.  Above all, Ships in the Field is a very special picture book of extraordinary depth, that carries a message of hope and reassurance that time does and will heal.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012

Some photographs from the IBBY Congress, London 2012

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

 

I’m still gathering my thoughts from the wonderful experience that was the IBBY Congress in London Thursday to Sunday 23-26 August.  Four days of inspirational speakers and meeting kindred spirits from all over the world.  I’ve now added a selection of photographs to our Flickr – you can see them here.  I haven’t quite finished tagging and describing yet, but I’m getting there… and here is a smaller selection for you to enjoy on the blog – again, I’ve numbered them so that I can come back and label them!

 

A London children’s theatre company Theatre Peckham helped the Opening Ceremony go with a swing with their delightful performance of an extract from the theatre adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  Then fuelled with a piece of Wally’s delicious 25th birthday cake (but where was he?  Answer: everywhere, in the guise of the very game Imperial College staff!), we headed back to the auditorium for our first plenary session – and what a line up!  Three UK Children’s Laureates – the current reigning Julia Donaldson and two of her predeceesors, Michael Morpurgo and Anthony Browne.

Each spoke about what particular passions they had brought to their role as laureate: Michael  described how he and poet Ted Hughes had first come up with the idea, and how Hughes had been instrumental in making it all happen; Anthony played the ‘shape game’ and showed how it appears everywhere in his work and outside it; and Julia talked of the three areas close to her heart: enhancing children’s experience of reading through drama; keeping libraries open (a big issue in the UK); and promoting stories for and about deaf children.

Julia and her husband Malcolm, on guitar, then showcased some examples of what theatre can do to enhance literacy, from the chorus of a very fast Italian pasta song written while on holiday in Siena, Italy, to a virtuoso performance of The Gruffalo in French, German and (its most recent language) Scots.  In between, we were treated to the song that inspired Julia’s book A Squash and a Squeeze with audience participation… and I say treated, well, it was a real treat for me as I got to be the hen!  Thanks to Australian author Susanne Gervay (yes, that was one of my top thrills of IBBY, meeting Susanne in person…), you will shortly be able to see it on Flickr too – don’t laugh too much!!

Well, that was just the first few hours of the Congress – I will certainly be writing more about it over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, hello to all those PaperTigers friends I got to meet for the first time in real life – Shirin Adl, Candy Gourlay, Dashdondog Jamba; and to old friends and new.  I’ll now be dreaming of IBBY Mexico 2014…  In the meantime, head on over to Flickr and enjoy my photos – and much better ones on the official IBBY Congress 2012′s photostream.

Reading the World Challenge 2011 – Update 4, wrapping it up

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

So, 2012 is now rolling and it’s time to wrap up our Reading the World Challenge for 2011

So did we complete it – yes, by the skin of our teeth! Older Brother spent a couple of hours on Saturday finishing off Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (The Young Reader’s Edition adapted by Sarah Thomson, Puffin Books, 2009). It was clear that it had a profound effect on him by the way, all the way through reading it, he would tell us about different parts of the book at mealtimes; and he was much struck by the interview with Mortenson’s daughter Amira and her involvement in the project.

The other two books he read to complete the Challenge were Secret Heart by David Almond; and Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Lee & Low Books, 2008). He was moved by both of them. Secret Heart was ultimately uplifting but Bird made him “really sad”. When I asked what it made him think about drugs, he said, “I don’t know how to explain or describe it, but NO!” A fairly incoherent but nevertheless eloquent response.

Younger Brother combined his local and non-fiction criteria into one book, The Dinosaur Coast by Roger Osborne and Alistair Bowden, and published by the North York Moors National Park Authority (2000). For his poetry book, we have read together Where the Steps Were by Andrea Cheng (Wordsong, 2008). I have blogged about this wonderful book before – suffice to say here that Little Brother was captivated. In general, he is very much drawn to the conciseness of poetry, and he became very caught up in the narrative here – the blend of history, the relevance of that history to the children, and the children’s individual concerns. He managed to keep tabs on each child’s voice much better than I did!

Our last two books for reading all together were Children of the World by Anthony Asael and Stéphanie Rabemiafara (Art in All of Us / Universe Publishing, 2011) and the third of Susanne Gervay’s Jack Books, Always Jack (HarperCollins Australia, 2010).

We have so enjoyed dipping into Children of the World, which was PaperTigers’ Book of the Month in November. We have looked up countries at random, picked countries out of the air, looked through for places we’ve never heard of – and in all cases, the boys have found the pictures and poetry written mostly by children around their age to be inspirational. We’ve also had some interesting discussions about making generalisations, particularly arising from the last two of the three sentences under the title banner – “We eat…”, and “We play…”, and particularly with reference to the UK pages!

Always Jack was another great read. We loved the previous two books in the series, especially I Am Jack, so our expectations were high and we were not disappointed. Jack himself is, as ever, a well-rounded blend of confidence and insecurity, determined to get the last word with one of his (usually) funny jokes. Several highly charged themes run through the book, including cancer (Jack’s mother), dementia (his Nan), and the Vietnam War (through Jack and his best friend Christopher’s joint school project into their family histories). The book made us laugh; it made us sad (and me cry); and it made us think. Both my boys empathised with Jack every step of the way and were delighted when his Mum’s wedding to Rob went ahead – not only because it meant she had won that particular battle against cancer, but also becasue it signified an end to all that mum, sister and best-friend Anna stuff of taking months to decide what to wear etc! Always Jack is an enjoyable, easy read and the book will be a very useful tool to give to children who may be going through similar experiences in their families. It also highlights the importance of keeping the channels of communication open, in the case of illness in a family, or indeed of creating those channels between generations in the first place. In Always Jack, Christopher’s parents had never before spoken to him about their journey from Vietnam for a new home in Australia; for his mother especially it had been too traumatic. Jack himself did not know the story behind his grandfather’s medals. By entrusting these stories to the younger generation, family ties were tightened and wounds had a chance to heal. So yes, Susanne has done it again. All three of us wholeheartedly recommend Always Jack and just wish there could be more.

And what about other participants in the Challenge? Sandhya over at My Handful of the Sky has completed it, both on her own account and with her daughter. You can follow links to her posts on all the books they read in her round-up post here – definitely worth delving into.

If you took part in the Challenge, do let us know how you got on, if you haven’t already – and look out for the post (imminent) for the PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge 2012.

Anti-Bullying Week is Just the Beginning…

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Last week was Anti-Bullying Week in Canada and in the UK, where there is currently a move to make the focus on this important issue last for the whole of November.   But of course, the issues highlighted don’t disappear when you’re not looking at them – in fact, bullies are usually very clever at keeping their actions hidden.  The message still needs to be got across at all times that bullying is not acceptable.  We adults have a responibility for teaching respect for others and ourselves, both through formal education and in the example we set in our own behavior.

I have recently been reading two books in which young people tell of their experiences of bullying in their own words, accompanied with photographs and names in most cases.

The first, We Want You to Know: Kids Talk About Bullying is by Deborah Ellis (Coteau Books, 2010), who is well-known for drawing attention to the plight of children around the world caught up in mess caused by adults, both in her fiction (The Breadwinner Trilogy, set in Afghanistan; and the Cocalero novels, set in Bolivia), and in her non-fiction (Off To War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children; Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees).  We Want You to Know brings together the stories of young people aged 9-19 who have been bullied, who have bullied others, and who “have found strength within themselves to rise above their situations and to endure.”  They are all from Ellis’ “little corner of Southern Ontario” in Canada, following her involvement in a local Name It 2 Change It Community Campaign Against Bullying (and, indeed, royalties from the sale of this book go to the organization).  At the same time, interspersed with the longer accounts from the Canadian children are shorter highlighted statements from children across the world – Angola, Japan, Madagascar, South Korea, Uganda, the US.  Yes, bullying happens everywhere.

The book is divided into five main sections, You’re Not Good Enough, You’re Too Different, You’re It—Just Because, We Want to Crush You, and Redemption.  Each account has a couple of follow-up questions, asking “What Do You Think?”, and then there are discussion questions at the end of the sections.

The other book is Bullying and Me: Schoolyard Stories by Ouisie Shapiro with photographs by Steven Vote (Albert Whitman, 2010).  Again, it features first-hand accounts of young people who the introduction reminds us, “had a hard time reliving their experiences”, while recognising the importance of not remaining silent, to remind others who are bullied that “you’re not alone.  And it’s not your fault.”  Each account is followed by useful summarising statements from Dr Dorothy Espelage, a psychologist specializing in adolescent bullying.

Both these titles are aimed at young readers – but make no mistake, they are hard-hitting books that deliver a punch at any adult complacent enough to think that bullying is not a relevant issue in their community.  Where it’s not happening, it’s because an effective anti-bullying policy is in place AND adhered to.  What comes through time and time again in these accounts is the ineffectiveness of schools to put a stop to bullying – either the problems are trivialized or too much onus is put back on the victims to work through the situation, rather than dealing with the bullying that is the actual source of any problems.  Ellis says in her introduction:

Many kids talked about how teachers in their school seem to do nothing to stop their tormentors.  I know that teachers do a lot, but rules of confidentiality prevent them from sharing information about all their efforts.  But somehow we must find a way to show the victims of bullying that they are being heard.

As an adult reading these books, here are a few of the quotations from We Want You to Know that made my blood run cold:

Sometimes the teachers tell me, “If you don’t want to get beat up, stay inside for recess. [..] My mom tries to help.  She calls the school and she calls the principal, but the principal doesn’t believe her, even!  The principal will say, “You can’t prove Adam was hurt on school property, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

They started calling me names again.  I told the teacher and the principal, and the teacher said, “Well, if you stop bugging them, they’ll stop bugging you,” but I’m not the one who is bothering anyone.

The principal said she’s not going to do anything more because I’ve had so many problems with this before, she’s starting to think it’s me that’s the problem.  She says I’m old enough now [12] to walk away and ignore it.

My mom and dad went to the school a few times to talk to the vice principal and the principal.  They were sort of supportive, but they never called it bullying.  They have a zero tolerance for bullying, but it happens.  And when it happens, they don’t call it bullying so they can say that bullying doesn’t happen.

Of course, the main focus of these accounts is what actually happened to the children, how they coped, and how it has affected them and their aspirations for the future.  For children who find themselves the victims of bullying, these books will be an invaluable tool – reading about someone’s similar experience will help them not to feel so alone, and they will hopefully also pick up some useful pointers for how to deal with their own situations.  In schools and youth groups, individual stories can be used as the focal point of a forum/assembly on bullying in general or in response to a specific incident.  (And I also recommend Suzanne Gervay’s I Am Jack as a class fiction readaloud – as well as every teacher’s and parent’s bedtime reading).

Bullying and its effects must be taken seriously.  It’s not about putting out the fire when an incident occurs.  The whole ethos of a school and the way it deals with the unhappiness, fears and inadequacies of bullies and bystanders as well as victims needs to be a high priority across the board.  Schools aim for excellence in learning, but if the safety and welfare of their students are not taken seriously, not only do those students fail to thrive, but effective learning is impossible.  Bullying is a whole-school issue: every adult who works in a school should be signed up to and implementing a school’s anti-bullying policy – and so should the children.  Anti-bullying week is a start, but the work doesn’t finish there…

Guest Post: Susanne Gervay on “Peace Story Connecting Youth Across the World”

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Australian author Susanne Gervay (visit her website and blog) has had a very busy year this year and social justice has been high on her agenda. She is one of the contributors to Fear Factor: Terror Incognito, an anthology of short stories featuring ten Australian and ten Indian writers, edited by Meenakshi Bharat and Sharon Rundle (Macmillan Australia/ Picador India, 2010). She has been writing about her travels to India and Kiribati, a “Pacific atoll nation drowning under climate change”. She has just launched Always Jack, the third book about Jack, following on from her wonderful I Am Jack and Super Jack. Most recently, Susanne was in South Korea for the Nambook-010 Fesival, the 5th Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival. She was there because she was taking part in Peace Story, a very special project. We are very grateful to Susanne for telling us all about it here. For those of us who couldn’t be there in person, Susanne’s description and photographs are definitely the next best thing!

In these troubled times with North Korea’s military attack on South Korea, the international publication of Peace Story is poignant and important. Twenty-two children’s authors and twenty-two illustrators from twenty-two countries engaged in an international cooperative to create a unique anthology, Peace Story, for young people. Respected academic author on Irish children’s literature Valerie Coghlan and Irish Laureate for children’s literature Siobhán Parkinson were the co-editors of Peace Story.

‘Peace Story’ was part of the Nami Island International Children’s Book Festival, South Korea which was first held in 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen. It is a six-week bi-annual festival of children’s books, the environment and peace, featuring outstanding exhibitions of children’s books and illustrations from all over the world. Much loved Korean illustrator Kang Woo-hyon, President of the Nambook-010 International Committee headed the ‘Peace Story’ project with the support of the Nami Island Minn family who published and translated some of the stories, and hosted the authors and illustrators on Nami Island. It was supported by National YMCA Korea, UNICEF and UNESCO Korea, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, and Nami Island the official sponsor of the IBBY Hans Christian Anderson Awards.

My Australian story ‘To East Timor with Love Australia’, illustrated by the award-winning Frané Lessac, opens the anthology Peace Story. Frané Lessac’s vibrant colours of bright pink bougainvillea and yellow-centred frangipanis create a visual representation of loss of homeland through war, but also hope for the future. (more…)

Chris Cheng's commitment to literacy: during the holidays and beyond

Friday, December 18th, 2009

IMG_3047Australian author and literacy ambassador Chris Cheng was recently awarded the 2009 Lady Cutler Award, given by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, for his services to children’s literature. One of the ways in which Chris has gone/goes above and beyond his call is by bringing literature to children himself, both through scheduled school visits and more informal, spontaneous connections. His commitment and enthusiasm can be gleaned from the following notes, sent per my request, about reading Christmas stories to children these past few weeks:

One of the joys of being a children’s book author (and a teacher by profession) with a wife who is a teacher librarian, is that I am able to drop in to her school on a regular basis to read to the children. One of my favourite classes to read to is Kindergarten. Reading to little ones daily is one of the things I miss about not being a fulltime classroom teacher.

This year I have visited them quite a few times, simply to have the thrill of reading aloud and getting their reactions to the books. I love the fun of making the characters’ voices (if the text says ”he screams”, I will scream!), of making the sounds to accompany the text, of “reading” the pictures with the children… In the past few weeks I have spent a few afternoons there, reading Christmas stories. Since it’s a Catholic school, it is very easy and appropriate to share the religious significance of Christmas with the children through books. Some books focus on the traditional story of the birth of Jesus; some are told from the viewpoint of the animals in the manger; others celebrate the more secular Christmas images—the reindeer, the present laden sack; Santa Claus; snow…

In some Australian Christmas books Santa Claus appears not in a red thickly lined suit, but in board shorts and sun hats (there is definitely no snow Downunder at Christmas time!). He drives a car, instead of a sleigh, pulled not by reindeer but by kangaroos. I like to expose children to both traditional and non-traditional Christmas books.

In addition to reading the stories aloud, I talked to the students. I asked for their impressions, opinions, perceptions, interpretations. We talked about the illustrations and the words used in the books. This year they talked much about presents. Not just receiving presents, but giving mums and dads presents. I really loved it when, inspired by the books we read, the children started talking about their own experiences and plans:

“We go to church the night before Santa comes.”
“I’m giving a present to my mum.”
“We light candles.”
“I’m getting my dad a present.”
“I’m making my own present and it’s a secret, but I can tell you.” (It’s a wonderful privilege to be let in on their secrets!)

Now the school year has ended in Australia. The classrooms are all packed, along with the Christmas decorations. The children are home on holidays—and busy, I imagine, making those secret presents. And it’s a nice, comforting thought to know that, through books, they will continue to learn about the joys of Christmas in all its widely different interpretations—and when it comes to helping spread the joy of reading these and other books, they know they can count on me!

For more on Chris’ work and his reaction to receiving the award, check out his website, and Susanne Gervay‘s (winner of the award in 2007) post about this year’s award dinner, which Chris “attended” via skype from Hong Kong.

60 Australian Poems, edited by him, came out this year by Random House Australia.

Reading the World Challenge 2009 – The End!

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

I realise that the last update I gave of our progress in the PaperTigers Reading the World Challenge 2009 was just beyond the half-way point – however, the deadline was over a month ago now, at the end of July, so I thought I’d better round it off!

For our last three books we read together:

Toad Away by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, 2004). All about a brave cane toad wanting to make friends with the human race and traveling with two cousins to the Amazon to find out the secret of their ancestors as to how to achieve this… My two loved this and laughed uproariously at the rather revolting antics that cane toads are wont to get up to. I have to admit that I would probably have encouraged them to read this one on their own if I’d realised at the outset what it was going to be like – but actually, it was good to be a part of something that so appealed to their typical-boy sense of humor…

Super Jack by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox (Angus & Robertson, 2003). The sequel to I Am Jack, this story focuses on Jack’s relationship with his family, especially the newly-introduced son of Rob, his Mum’s boy-friend. A family holiday intended to help everyone get to know each other is certainly eventful before the desired outcome is achieved… This is to be recommended to older children who may be trying to make sense of complex family relationships in their own lives.

Tom Crean’s Rabbit: A True Story from Scott’s Last Voyage by Meredith Hooper, illustrated by Bert Kitchen (Frances Lincoln, 2005). A very special, true story which is a great way to introduce early Antarctic exploration to young children – you can read a review from Create Readers here. This had the added kudos for my children of being a story which their grandad, who spent a year in the Antarctic quite a long time ago now, did not know…

Older Brother rounded off his Book Challenge with (more…)

Books at Bedtime: Reading Challenge (Update 1!)

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

In case you didn’t catch it in January, check out here what the PaperTigers reading Challenge 2008 entails: there’s still plenty of time to join in!

We are running three in parallel in our household as my boys decided they wanted to complete it on their own, as well as do one as a bed-time readaloud… so here are our comments about Book Number One!

Back in October, I wrote a post about I Am Jack by Susanne Gervay - the time to iamjack.jpgread it came at the end of January when Older Brother had a few issues with bullying (now, I’m glad to say, resolved). As usual, I turned to stories as a springboard for discussion and we read it all together as our first Reading Challenge readaloud. Older Brother’s situation had been squashed very early on and certainly never got anywhere near what poor Jack has to endure but reading the book opened up comparisons and empathy. It brought home the importance of talking – and being available to listen. A couple of bedtimes were prolonged to read an extra chapter; and we had a very late night as we arrived at the end – we couldn’t possibly have left it hanging. Once again, I really recommend this book…

Meanwhile, Older Brother* (aged 9) chose Mga Kuwentong Bayan: Folk Stories from The Philippines edited by Alice Lucas and illustrated by Carl Angel. It is published by Many Cultures Publishing, a division of the nonprofit San Francisco Study Center. The book contains three stories: A Creation Story, The Monkey and the Turtle and Aponitolou and the Star Maiden. Here’s what Big Brother has to say about it:

mgakuwentongbayan.jpgI thought it was brilliant – especially the story where all the stars came onto the ground. It was about a star woman and a human man who fell in love with each other and the husband already had a wife on earth so he had to spend half a year in the sky and half a year down on the ground. I thought it was quite fun to have a different kind of book to read, with almost black and white pictures. I tried reading the Tagalog version but I didn’t get very far!

Little Brother (aged 6) had chosen The Birdman by Veronika Martenova Charles and illustrated by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko and Stéphan Daigle. It is the poignant true story of a Calcutta tailor who buys and sets thebirdman.jpgfree the sickly birds that are left at the end of a day’s trading at the market. You can read PaperTigers’ review of the book here, and here are Little Brother’s comments:

I really liked the pictures because they looked very artistic with lots of bright colours and dots on them. I really liked Noor Nobi’s idea of making a flock of poor birds. He set them free and they didn’t go far away because they loved him. I liked that it was a true story because something like that is very good and kind.

We will keep you posted on Number 2 of our Reading Challenge selections. In the meantime, do let us know how you’re getting on, if you’re already on board; or let us know your book choices, if you’re just starting.

* I have Here and There Japan to thank for helping me finally to come up with what to call my children in my blog postings: other possibilities had been commented upon and others were too much of a mouthful… I think this now works?!? So thank you, Annie!

Australian Innovators

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

The 1970’s marked the coming of age for Australian children’s literature, says YA writer Susanne Gervay. “There was a new breed of children’s authors and illustrators reflecting a confidence in an Australian identity and its landscape in all its diversity.” Contributing to the subsequent explosion of “best selling wickedly irreverent kids’ books” was the writers’ use of quirky Australian humor.

Among the writers of those “innovative, brazenly Australian” early books for children, Gervay cites Di Bates, a prolific writer who is still a bundle of energy. Bates produces a fortnightly online newsletter, Buzz Words, with industry news for writers, editors, illustrators and librarians. Subscribers also receive Books Buzz, a monthly compendium of reviews of new books by Australian children’s writers. Alliteration-loving Bates’ latest books are Big Bad Bruce and The Hold-Up Heroes.

Gervay’s own recent innovations in children’s literature are cross-media and inter-generational collaborations. After publishing frank and open YA books treating disability (Butterflies) and bullying (I Am Jack), her most recent book, That’s Why I Wrote This Song, was inspired by her rock musician daughter Tory’s lyrics and tune. Tory and Susanne now do speaking gigs together, and Susanne’s website features links to MySpace and YouTube. Her expertise on Cutting Edge YA Literature was featured in the July PaperTigers update. And here’s Aline’s recent blog post, with more details on Gervay’s cross-media innovations.