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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

SLAV Conference: Concurrent sessions & Featured Address

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2008

chipper-cover-newThe first of the concurrent sessions I went to was a presentation by Jan Letta.  Jan is a wildlife photographer who has made it her life’s work to photograph endangered animals in their natural habitat and bring their stories to life for children.  She has produced some very fine little books about lions, cheetahs, tigers and so on, in a series called True to Life Books – each with simple text that makes them perfect for beginner readers.  The ABC persuaded her to document her adventures in Africa, India and China in a magnificent hardcover book, Diary of a Wildlife Photographer but what I found interesting was Jan’s explanation about the economics of publishing books like hers.  The cost of including full-colour photographs is prohibitive for the educational publishing market, but she is able to produce them at a reasonable price because she designs and publishes them herself, selling them at school visits and on the internet.  Another example of cottage industry thriving on the web!

garden-of-empressAfter lunch there was a most interesting presentation by Gabrielle Wang, author of The Garden of Empress Cassia, The Pearl of Tiger Bay, and the forthcoming A Ghost in My Suitcase.  Gabrielle is of Chinese descent, and her fiction explores belonging and shared cultures.  I liked what she had to say about imagination – our culture tends to disparage it, but everything man-made that we see was once imagination.  Reading is an act of imagination that should be cherished.

jane-godwinIn the second concurrent session, I heard Jane Godwin’s talk:  Publishing and Writing: How These Worlds Connect. There were lots of auditory distractions in the Function Space – the clinking of crockery in the cafe, and very noisy contruction work outside.  It seems odd that a space like this in an award winning design like Federation Square couldn’t be closed off properly to reduce the noise. Did the architects and designers really think that curtains would achieve this?

Anyway, Jane soldiered on, and I liked what she had to say.  She’s not a fan of what she called ‘heavy-handed social issue picture books’ and I certainly agree.  She says that even though they are well-intentioned,  such books are cruel to little children, because they’re a lesson not a story.  Good literature is not didactic.  If we want to explore these issues we should use fairy tales because they are removed from the child’s real world.  She believes that young people don’t understand hindsight, and therefore although horrors can be examined, they should usually be righted.  Happy endings are psychologically important for children – and why not?

little-catJane’s work includes Little Cat and the Big Red Bus; The True Story of Mary Who Wanted to Stand on her Head, Millie Starts School, and the young adult novel Falling From Grace.  There’s also the non-fiction title When Elephants Lived in the Sea which looks as if it could be useful for the Life on Earth unit that I am currently doing with Year 5 & 6 because it explores evolution.

Little Cat and the Big Red Bus is an interesting story, because it features a male bus driver caring for a little one who falls asleep on the school bus.  Jane told us that she was asked to change the gender of the driver, but she refused: she wanted to depict the kindness of strangers who care for us when we need it as children, and she wanted to show that men can be good and kind.  I think it is a beautiful book, and I think it is very sad that marketers are so paranoid about child abuse that they are spooked by an image of a man carrying a little child to safety.

Jane finished up by reminding us of something that Ian McEwan wrote after 9/11: Imagining yourself into the lives of another is the beginning of compassion and morality.  It was a most engaging session.

After that, I did something really foolish: I went to the wrong session.  Instead of going to E-Readers and E-texts which I was really looking forward to, I went by mistake to ACMI 2 and not ACMI 1.  It was all about changing the reading culture at a very challenging school in the northern suburbs, but it was not what I wanted to go to! By the time I realised what I’d done, it was too late to barge into the right session so I slithered out of my seat and took an early train home.

4 Responses to “SLAV Conference: Concurrent sessions & Featured Address”

  1. tsheko said

    I can just imagine myself doing the same. Which school in the Northern suburbs was it?

  2. Lisa Hill said

    They did tell us, and it was on the handout, but now I’ve forgotten!

  3. Judith said

    It was Preston Girls’ SC.

  4. Lisa Hill said

    Thanks, Judith!

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