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

Posts Tagged ‘Australian Children’s Literature’

Children’s Books and how to choose them

Posted by Lisa Hill on July 27, 2010

Serendipity works in amazing ways.  Last night I discovered via Twitter that Dublin has been designated a UNESCO City of Literature, just as Melbourne is.  I blogged about my excitement about this on my ANZ LitLovers blog because I am travelling to Dublin later this year when I’m on Long Service Leave. 

This morning a reader of my blog from Dublin shared a link to the Children’s Books Ireland presence on Facebook, an initiative designed to promote books and reading to children.  And there I found a terrific series about how to choose children’s books, of interest not only to children’s librarians but to parents as well.

Here are the links:

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 2 – Subjective Appeal

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 3 – Themes

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 4 – Illustrations

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 5 – Stories

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 6 – Humor

Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 7 – Developmental Value

You can subscribe to Aaron Mead’s blog by RSS if you want to follow up with further articles.  Please note that Children’s Books and Reviews is an American online bookstore.  LisaHillSchoolStuff does not endorse their products nor their association with Amazon; LisaHillSchoolStuff supports Australian books and writing and recommends independent bookshops such as Readings and Boomerang Books.  

Posted in Australian Children's Literature, Authors & Illustrators, Learning and teaching, News, School Library stuff | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

SLAV Conference: Tohby Riddle

Posted by Lisa Hill on November 16, 2008

This keynote address was brilliant. tohby-riddleTohby Riddle is a wonderful author-illustrator of quirky picture books that never fail to engage children’s interest.   He uses literature and art to break out of habitual thinking and enter the world of imagination – with humour, enchantment and surprise.

Fiction, he says, is a word that can be used perjoratively.  The world created must not seem false – it must feel authentic and real.  To create his worlds, he starts out with a real situation, then mixes in the imaginative elements in small steps.  While his animals are metaphors for humans, he says it’s important when anthromorphising animals not to overdo it – he tries to keep his animals as close to reality as possible, and he retains their essential natures: in The Great Escape from the City Zoo, for example, they don’t talk and their undoing happens because they are true to their natures.  (The elephant can’t resist playing in the fountain). 

irving-the-magicianTohby recognises that sometimes the ’emotional feel’ of a book is what stays with us, not the facts, and he gave the example of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I think this is certainly true of Irving the Magician. I read this just recently to Years 3 and 4, and what stays with me from the brilliant images and simple text is the powerful idea that a child who believes in himself can wreak magic on lonely, empty lives around him, but what is heart-achingly real is the sadness of their lives before Irving achieves his little miracle.

great-escapeTohby’s art work owes some of its technical brilliance to his studies in architecture. He pointed out that in architecture, every line that’s drawn is something to be built, in 3D. So there’s a discipline to his drawings and even when a situation is quite zany, the pictures seem very realistic. He talked at length about the influences on his art, and in the Great Escape from the City Zoo in particular. I loved the way he references 1930s New York architecture with the Empire State Building and the anteater, but he’s also included ideas from the Steve McQueen film, stills from B/W film noir, and the Beatles Abbey Rd image. There are Nighthawks and Homer Simpson memes, and when his animals set off in the truck there’s even a reference to the John Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath film scene .

There are other titles by this brilliant author that I must buy for our library when I have some more money next year: The Tip at the End of Our Street; The Singing Hat; and The Royal Guest.

Books, says Tohby, are old technology you can hold in your hand to go to another world, and return to this one better for it.

This was the best session of the conference.

Posted in Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Conferences Attended, Opinion, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Children’s literature v Young Adult Fiction

Posted by Lisa Hill on September 20, 2008

I was pleased to see that the vexed issue of classifying Young Adult fiction as Children’s Literature was addressed by Rosemary Neill in today’s Australian. (20.8.08, Review, p15). In her article ‘Analysing their Dark Materials’ she asks if graphic sex and violence, and distressing moral issues, are too prevalent in children’s fiction, and whether or not the CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) should consider overhauling the current awards to create a separate category for Young Adult fiction.

The issue arises because of two books in the 2008 shortlist, one of which went on to win. The Island by Armin Greder is a thoroughly unpleasant and nihilistic work which depicts a naked man arriving on an island. He is grossly maltreated and ultimately cast out onto the sea. It’s supposed to be an analogy of the way Australians have treated refugees, and it’s obviously designed for use in schools since no one would buy it for any other reason than to explore this issue. It is crude and unsubtle, and teachers using it would have to spend considerable time explaining the background to its theme, including presenting both sides of the political argument that surrounds it. Under no circumstances is it suitable for use in a primary school because the topic is too complex and politically fraught to be dealt with in a way that even the most intelligent and sensitive of children under 12 would understand.

Requiem for a Beast, by Matt Ottley, won the Picture Book of the Year Award. I haven’t read it: I picked it up when browsing in the local library and it didn’t appeal. Neill describes this book – with a suggested image of a suicide, cruelty to animals, a possible murder and the now almost obligatory swearing – as ‘a sophisticated if often desolate multimedia work intended for teenagers’. Ottley himself agrees that the book – ‘a meditation on depression, racism and the Stolen Generations’ is ‘very dark’.

Well, ok, authors can write about anything they like, and publishers can choose whatever they think will sell, but I’m curious about the buyers. Picture books are expensive to publish and sales need to be adequate to make their publication profitable. Are the bulk of these sales to young people? Parents? Schools? Why is there thought to be such a profitable market for dreary and depressing books about tormenting social issues like these? Does the CBCA Award bear any responsibility for promoting the sales of such books? Adolescent depression is said to be widespread, and books of this type, and all the other bleak young adult fiction that crowds the bookshop shelves can’t be helping. It’s not that I want Pollyanna back on the reading list, but an unremitting diet of grim and gritty realism breeds despair and cynicism in young people.

Anyway, it’s high time the CBCA responded to the criticism that their award categories are confusing and inapt. It is absurd to include books for mature teenagers in the same category as for very young children, and fair to neither. Parents, teachers and booksellers need guidance to choose quality literature that is suitable for the developmental needs of children, and we ought to be able to rely on the CBCA award categories as having integrity and due care for the under 12s. It’s not just a matter of the issues covered and the use of graphic images, it’s also the language used. I’m not a prude about swearing, but all primary schools prohibit swearing for obvious reasons, and IMO it is not ok to normalise it by including four-letter-words in books for under 12s. If the CBCA took a firm stand on this, Australian publishers would respect it and edit out such inappropriate language because it is not necessary.

I resigned my membership of the CBCA this year because I just don’t like their emphasis on confronting and depressing books, and I didn’t want to support it any more. I no longer trust the shortlists as any sort of guide to buying for the school library, and am hesitant about making a big deal of the Book of the Year with my students. That’s a pity, it really is….

Posted in Book Reviews, Opinion, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »