westword

5 March 2009

World Mathematics Day

Filed under: books,children's lit,western sydney — westword @ 10:23 am

Well, I missed it—no suprises there, maths being my least favourite subject, but the reoudtable Trevor Cairney, literacy expert, did not. He has a great blog post up at his “Literacy, Families and Learning” blog (which if you’re not subscribed to, you should be) linking great children’s books to World Mathematics Day. Read it here, and if you have any favourite maths-related children’s books, for any age, please send a comment with the details.

Me, I loved Jenny Pausacker‘s YA novel Getting Somewhere*, which features a female teenage protagonist who is a maths maven: not something we see a lot of in YA books. Maybe because like me, most writers weren’t so strong in the maths department (I understand Jenny enlisted the help of a maths whizz friend for the relevant passages in the book).

* Shortlisted in the 1996 CBCA Awards.

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.

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!

20 October 2008

(Light) Operatunity

Filed under: books,children's lit,community — westword @ 5:30 pm

I know, I pinched that name from the ABC. Nevertheless, I wanted to let people know about an opportunity that brings together children’s literature and theatre. The Kookaburra musical theatre company has set up an education program, along the lines of Bell Shakespeare‘s successful schools’ program, I guess you could say. Kookaburra were touring around the state with a couple of shows last termone for primary, one for secondary students—and by all accounts it was very successful.

The next thing they have on offer is an “enrichment experience” (clunky name, but we’ll forgive them that) with their forth-coming production of the musical version of Louisa May Alcott‘s classic novel Little Women. The event, to be held on Saturday 15 November, offers young audience members a backshow “sneak and peek” before a matinee performance, and then a Q&A session after the show. And they get to see the show, of course! Sounds like fun, and an excellent opportunity for young people interested in theatre, and for fans of the book.

Follow the link above on “enrichment experience” and it should take you to a pdf with all the details.

25 September 2008

Upcoming event and apologies!

Filed under: books,children's lit,libraries,western sydney — westword @ 3:42 pm

Gosh, I hope people added an RSS feed for westword, becuase I have been shockingly neglectful in keeping this blog up, and imagine you’ve all given up checking it!

Still, please do hang around because I’ve got some updating to do, beginning with notification of a fun school holiday event at Max Webber Library in Blacktown. It’s called Lunch in the Library and will feature two writers, Claire Craig (Harriet Bright in as Pickle) and Joss Hedley (The Wish Kin). The event is free, but the library needs to take bookings for catering purposes, so give them a call on 9838 6613. Suitable for all ages: the littlies(seven and up) will love Harriet Bright, while kids in upper primary will be thrilled by The Wish Kin.

Date & Time: Thursday 9 October @ 1pm

And here’s a poster you can download: 2authorevent

OK, I’ll be back shortly with an update of what I’ve been up to. It’s been a busy few months–some frustrations, some projects I haven’t been able to follow up on as I’d have liked, but some other fantastic things are in the works. Plus I have just today completed my Australia Council grant application for four exciting projects for next year–and it’s a week early! Yeeha! Fingers crossed they support the projects.

7 July 2008

Competitions

Filed under: books,children's lit,libraries,schools — westword @ 2:46 pm

Two competitions have been brought to my attention.

Free books!

Schools can win a complete library of Tashi books. To win, you need to write in 50 words or less why you like to recommend the Tashi books to your students. Easy! For entry information go here—but be quick, entries close July 15.

The hugely successful and popular Tashi books are written by Anna and Barbara Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble.

Writing competition

The “Queen of Crime” competition is open to young women under the age of 18 as of 1 January 2008. The competition is for a 2000 word story with a crime or mystery as its theme. First prize  $200, 2nd  $75, 3rd  $25.

Post competition entries to PO Box 819, Avalon, NSW 2107.Entry fee: $7. Entries close 15 September.

Email questions to: meg@steggall.com.au

The competition is sponsored by Del Mutton along with Partners in Crime Sydney and Abbey’s Bookshops.

1 July 2008

Planning in progress

I am busy at the moment putting together some programs that I want to pilot in the second half of this year—which, of course, is already upon us! How did that happen?

There is, I was pleased to discover, a decent amount of money in my program budget, which will allow me to run some substantial pilots at no cost to the sorganisations who may be involved. I have a few program ideas I am working on, involving writers and illustrators of books for young people—graphic novels and “make a book” programs are two potential programs—and designed to run one day/session per week over a number of weeks, rather than a one-off workshop. It’s engagement over time we’re aiming for with the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Program, for what the good folk at The Song Room call sustained outcomes.

Next step—well, one step of many to come—is to identify the schools, libraries, community groups, perhaps even TAFE courses (for a skills development component where relevant) to work with on these pilot projects. I have a few ideas about how to go about this: working with education department consultants, putting out for expressions of interest, taking enquiries through this blog…

Once we’ve worked on these pilot programs, the idea is to “package” them so that other groups across the region (and state) can take them up.

I’m also working with the curator and cultural advisor on the Penrith Regional Gallery‘s Strictly Samoan program. Depending on funding, we’re hoping to work with three schools in the Penrith area which have significant numbers of Samoan students on a storytelling and writing project. The schools for this project have already been identified, so stay tuned as to how this project will develop. (Similarly, I’m hoping to get up a writing project associated with two arts and historical exhibitions coming up in Parramatta later this year.)

So, busy days, and exciting prospects—and yet there’s lots more it’s still too early to report on!  So bookmark or subscribe to the blog, and I’ll keep you posted.

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.

7 May 2008

Recent events

Filed under: books,children's lit,illustration,libraries,western sydney,writing — westword @ 11:47 pm

Apologies for not updating the westword blog sooner, but I was in Melbourne for the Children’s Book Council of Australia conference last week, so very busy (and tired!).

I have two events in the Western Sydney Young People’s Literature project to report, both developed in partnership with the Blacktown City Library.

First of all was a visit by the Western Australian author-illustrator (and husband and wife) team, Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac. Mark and Frané have together created a beautiful new picture book, Simpson and His Donkey, published by Walker Books Australia, and we were lucky enough to host them on their only day in Sydney (Monday April 28).

Mark and Frané led two “Make a Picture Storybook” workshops for Year 5 and 6 students, demonstrating how they research, write and illustrate their books. We had more than 40 young people in the workshops, and they were all enthralled and inspired by Mark and Frané’s presentation—and the work they produced was stunning.

Frané demonstrates how to draw Simpson’s donkey.

Mark talks about researching and writing Simpson and His Donkey.

Some examples of the wonderful work produced by the young people at the picture book workshop.

The second event to report on was the presentation of the library’s Youth Week creative writing competition. YA author Melina Marchetta selected the competition winners, and she was guest speaker at the presentation on the evening of Monday 5 May. Melina spoke “writer to writer” to the audience, speaking about her books and her creative process—and she read a section from her forth-coming novel Finnikan of the Rock. It was a fantastic opportunity for the young writers to hear from one of our finest novelists for young people, and there were some really thoughtful and intelligent questions asked, particularly from parents interested in encouraging their children’s creativity.

Melina Marchetta speaks at the Youth Week Creative Writing competition.

It’s been wonderful to host events with such gifted creators of books for young readers so early in the western Sydney project. There’ll be more to come, so stay tuned!

12 February 2008

First report

Filed under: children's lit,community,libraries,western sydney,ya lit — westword @ 8:51 pm

Day two on the westword blog. I’ve sent emails out today to start letting people know this blog is here, and I’m hoping word will start to get out fairly quickly.

I thought I should give readers some background to the position and document my early investigations into how this new project may develop.

The position now known as Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer has been a long time coming. The Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria has been well established for some years now, ditto the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre, but Sydney/NSW has been without a dedicated position of this nature. There has been lobbying to establish such a position—and centre—for a long time, most notably in the last few years by author Libby Gleeson, and I think it’s fair to say that without Libby’s dedication, it may never have happened. Libby, along with representatives from the education department, Arts NSW, the Blacktown Arts and Cultural Development unit and Blacktown City Library make up the advisory board for the project.

Starting a new job, and project, from scratch has been an exciting and at times daunting prospect. Since starting in the position in early December, I’ve been undertaking an “audit” of existing arts and community projects in the greater western Sydney area, meeting key people and starting to get and understanding and formulate ideas about priority areas for the project.

One thing I needed to do early on was get a sense of the very diverse community of the region. Western Sydney is by no means foreign territory to me—I have lived and worked in the west and south west—but even so it’s been important to get past my own experience and assumptions. Community development officers from various local councils have been invaluable in this regard. They’ve helped me get an understanding of the demographics—the fact that, socio-economically, the region has some of the most disadvantaged communities in Sydney as well as a large number of young professional families. It’s also a young region—Blacktown local government area (LGA), for example, has the largest 0-4 population in Australia. And of course, there are scads of older children and teenagers, and not as many resources and activities for them as in more privileged parts of the city.

The region has many emerging communities, a good proportion of them from refugee backgrounds—Afghani and various African nationals. There are significant (and is some instances long-standing) south-east Asian and Pacific Islander communities. And there is a large Aboriginal community as well. (If I’ve left anyone out, apologies! I’m still learning.)

Western Sydney has a very lively and innovative arts scene, particularly in the areas of visual and performing arts, but little in the way of literary events outside of some library initiatives and satellite Sydney Writers’ Festival programs. So there’s an enormous amount of good will around this new project, and a genuine feel of excitement at the possibilities. The people I have met with—staff from cultural centres and galleries; children’s and youth services librarians; curators; program directors; community development workers from various western Sydney councils—have been uniformly enthusiastic and willing to offer whatever support they can. (We are just a week into the new school year, and I am beginning to contact the education community.)

Already I can see three ways my position will work.

1. Developing original programs. I’ll have my own ideas and initiatives that I want to work on, and I’m very fortunate to have access to a large range of venues across the regions and colleagues willing to support such initiatives. A couple of ideas I hope to work on sooner rather than later include a program of graphic novel workshops and establishing a creative writing group for teenagers. I am also looking to mounting a couple of “travelling” programs with children’s/YA writers and illustrators, with me developing the program and then offering it as a partnership deal to public libraries and possibly other arts centres. (And credit where it’s due—Mylee Joseph from the State Library of NSW suggested this as an efficient way of spreading the workload and resources around this enormous region.)

In the longer term, I want to raise gazillions of dollars to establish an on-going author in residence program for priority schools and establishing an annual writers’ camp for teenagers.

2. Responding to already identified areas of priority by working with (piggybacking on!) existing programs developed by other cultural centres and community development officers. For example, one of the regional galleries has planned an extensive cultural program with one of their Pacific Islander communities later this year—it will involve exhibitions and various public programs and events. The curator and I have discussed developing an inter-generational, bilingual writing project as part of the program. Another arts centre is interested in developing projects involving youth and technology, so I’m investigating how we might develop a project involving narrative/storytelling and technology.

A community development officer I’ve met with is looking at ways of involving literature, books and reading and creative writing in projects designed to support some of the most disadvantaged and disconnected communities in her LGA. We’re talking about involving some children’s writers/illustrators in a “Neighbourhood Stories” project, and developing an “Adopt a Community” project to get books into these needy communities (and publishers reading this?).

I’m keen on seeing how I can work with young parents, modelled on the Literature for All of Us program I saw in Chicago on my Churchill Fellowship.

I’ve already organised a zine workshop to run at Blacktown’s Youth Week festival “The Burbs”, which may develop into a longer-term zine program across the region, and I’m working with the library on its Sydney Writers’ Festival event.

3. I very much see the position as functioning as a resource and communication hub (thus this blog). I have extensive connections with the writing and publishing community, and I am hoping that people will start to think of me as someone they can come to for ideas, contacts and information about the wide and wonderful world of children’s and youth literature. Part of this will be developing professional development opportunities and resources; it will involve networking and hopefully, helping people with little or no access to the cultural and publishing communities bridge that very large divide.

There’s also the possibility of developing partnerships with academics in the areas of teacher training and literature. I’m particularly interested in seeing how I might work with already existing research projects into engagement with the arts, including author-in-schools programs.

So, big plans—and I am open to ideas and offers of partner projects. As Ben Lee sings, we’re all in this together!

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