westword

12 February 2009

Bush fires—resources and how to help

Filed under: authors,books,children's lit,community,western sydney — westword @ 6:47 pm

Like everyone, I’ve been equally transfixed and distressed by the news from Victoria. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald front page story about the teachers who lost students in the fires had me weeping before breakfast. I imagine there has been lots of discussions in classrooms and families across the country about what happened and what we can do to help.

It was actually a colleague in the United States who alerted me, via the child_lit listserve, about this page on the Victorian School Library Association’s blog, about how schools can help contribute to the bushfire appeal. There are links to the major fundraising sites, plus a number of posts in the comments section about the creative things schools around the country are doing to raise funds.

I think it’s really important that young people feel as if they can do something concrete to help, and these ideas for mufti days and so on are a great idea. If your school or library or community is doing something like this, do leave a comment and share your ideas.

Similarly, I guess people might be looking for resources to help young people understand what’s happened. I’m not a great fan of bibliotherapy—I suspect the last thing a kid suffering a trauma wants to do is read a book about a kid suffering a trauma—but I was interested to note the children’s book editors from Allen and Unwin blog about a book that helped one of them as a child when she had experienced the Ash Wednesday fires. So if you have found any books that you’ve used successfully to help young people explore the emotions that this week’s events have brought up, please use the comment section to tell us about it and how and why it worked.

Children’s/YA writer Penni Russon lives in one of the fire affected towns. She and her young family weren’t at home when the fires hit, and fortunately their home was not lost. Penni has been writing about the aftermath of the fires on her Eglantine’s Cake blog. Today’s post about her young daughter’s questions is very moving indeed. I recommend Penni’s blog to you in any case, but especially at this time.

Another wonderful blog post about the fires I came across is this one at the Barista blog. The author of this blog is a scriptwriter who worked on a documentary project about the 1939 Victorian bushfires. His post “We lived again but life was different” is not only a fantastic piece of writing, it’s a wonderful resource for older students. Highly recommended.

If you’ve come across any excellent writing about the fires or other useful resources, please share them here.

Updated to include: Perry Middlemiss at the wonderful Australian Literature blog Matilda posts an extract from Charles Darwin‘s The Voyage of the Beagle. It’s a description of the Australian countryside and you won’t want to miss it. It’s so timely, because of the fires, as we all think about our landscape, but also because it’s Darwin’s 200th birthday.

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10 February 2009

New year, new resolution!

Welcome back to westword and the second year of the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project.

I was a bad blogger last year, and I am determined to update westword far more regularly in 2009. I will be adding posts soon about some of the highlights of 2008, and will also start listing forthcoming events and plans for the project.

I also plan to use this blog as a bit of a resource hub. In the past few months I have finally got myself organised with google reader, and have now added more than one hundred blogs, most of which deal with children’s and youth literature, literacy, publishing and related topics. (Also I am also now on Twitter, using my personal blog name (misrule_au) and am using it to post links to articles I have read of interest (as well as other bits and pieces of sense and nonsense). But I will also be putting those links here, starting with this post.

First of all is this interesting article  from new Zealand about a new approach to literacy that is having enormous success, especially with Maori students:

In the first South Auckland study, involving seven schools, each child’s reading leapt ahead by an entire year. The technique also pushed far more children into the average or above categories – 40% made these top slots before the study started, and in three years that jumped to 70%. Maori children again did particularly well. The second group of seven different schools showed similar results.

The article doesn’t go into enormous detail about the program, but it’s been written up in Reading Research Quarterly, which I was able to access through ProQuest via Blacktown Library’s database.

Over in England, the battle is on to save the school library. Spearheaded by authors Philip Pullman, Alan Gibbons and the wonderful Michael Rosen, the campaign is against closures of school libraries as well as changing their name (and focus away from books) to “learning resource centre”. Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of the brilliant Millions, has also had his say on the matter:

Mr Cottrell Boyce said: “When I visit many schools, I see a big, fat, glaring, expensive anti-reading for pleasure signal.

“It stands where the library used to stand and it’s called the learning resource centre. To turn your library into a learning resource centre, you generally have to chuck out a bunch of valuable, durable assets – books – and replace them with sub-prime computers which will quickly date.”

From time to time I hear people say similar things are happening in Australian school libraries: can anyone comment? Are our school libraries in danger of refocusing away from books? Are we losing teacher-librarians from our schools? Please add your thoughts to the comment section. (Ditto public libraries, by the way—are we losing specialist children’s and youth services staff from our public libraries? We need to be really vigilant that we protect our libraries and the specialist support they offer young readers.)

Speaking of supporting young readers, and of the delightful Mr Rosen, read this article about Michael Rosen working in a school in Wales to encourage a love of reading. The BBC has made a TV show out of it (here’s the link, but we can’t watch the video outside of the UK), a la Jamie’s School Dinners. What do you reckon the chances are the ABC will screen it here? Should we start a campaign?

(And before I forget, I found this when I was looking for links to Frank Cottrell Boyce. Liverpool, where he lives, did one of those whole city reads the same book things with Millions. Isn’t this fantastic? If we did a Sydney Reads (or even a Western Sydney Reads), what book would you choose? And if you’re looking for resources to accompany Millions, don’t forget this official site from the publisher, which also happens to be very entertaining.)

Also from the UK is this rather scathing assessment of the way secondary school crush creativity, especially in boys. This is author Joe Craig speaking:

 

I’ve visited over 200 schools in the last couple of years, which means I must have run workshops for over 40,000 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 13. By the time the students reach Year 8, I can predict almost word for word what their story ideas will be, from any given starting point. Even if they think they’re being subversive, in fact especially when they think that, the older the student is, the more predictable the ideas.

The biggest change comes in Year 7, which statistically is also when there’s the biggest drop off in reading – especially in boys. Now, it perhaps seems obvious that the withering of originality is greatly caused by reading less. But I think it’s also the other way round: they read less because their creative spark is consistently doused. Their connection with stories, with ideas and imagination, is stifled by the school environment. If the fun has gone from stories, why read?

I imagine if I were still in the English classroom that I’d be a bit affronted by this article, but I actually suspect there be more than a grain of truth to it. We hear stories from time to time of boy students getting into trouble for things they have written—I think it’s partly teachers’ reasonable concerns about their legal responsibilities to report potential threats or child endangerment, but I do think that Craig is spot on when he suggests that boys’ “wacky ideas” need to be celebrated. Girls’ too, for that matter. (The stuff this article raises about gender as it pertains to reading, writing and classroom practice are, I think, fascinating.)

This is a very UK-centric post, for which I don’t apologise—I think it’s important we keep track of what’s happening with our colleagues, and with education and books and authors and so on around the world. Having said that, I popped over to the Sydney Morning Herald to see if there were any articles of interest in their Education section, and I got a “page not found” message. Humph.

More soon!

2 June 2008

Author links and other useful stuff

Filed under: authors,books,children's lit,illustration,libraries,schools,ya lit — westword @ 9:17 pm

As I mentioned in my report last week, the teacher-librarians at the network meeting I attended had some really practical suggestions about how they might find this blog useful, which I am starting to follow up on. One of the t-ls was after a convenient link to author sites—a one stop shop, if you will. Lots of authors and illustrator have their own sites, so it can be a simple matter of just googling whoever you’re interested in, but a more comprehensive site would be really useful.

And there is such a site! In fact, there may be several, but one I am familiar with is hosted by the fantastic team at Curriculum Materials Information Services (CMIS) team at the Department of Education and Training in Western Australia. The site is very user-friendly—there’s an alphabetical index, and the author/illustrator sites listed are coded to indicate if they’re Australian (or WA). There’s also a readership level guide for fiction titles.

Following a link to an individual (say, Morris Gleitzman) takes you to a potted summary of their work and major titles, and if they have their own website—voila!—the link is there as well.

The CMIS author/illustrator site also has sections that link to interviews and other useful information about booking authors into schools and so on. And CMIS’s “Focus on Fiction” site has all sorts of other links—to book awards, classroom resources, and links to review journals and so on.

Finally, the CMIS team keep up an excellent blog about children’s and youth literature. They are much more dedicated bloggers than me—they update pretty much every day. I’ve added the link to westword’s blogroll (eyes right→) and I recommend it highly as a hub of news and views of interest to all of us working with young people and their literature.

More links and resources to come, so pop back soon.

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