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.

27 April 2008

Meet Melina Marchetta—Free Event

Filed under: libraries,western sydney,writing,ya lit,young writers — westword @ 10:23 pm

Melina Marchetta, award-winning author of Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road, will be at the Blacktown City Library on the evening of Monday May 5. Download the information flyer here and the schools’ booking form here.

Melina will be in Blacktown for the presentation of the Blacktown City Library’s Youth Week Creative Competition. Melina is selecting the winners of the competition, and will be guest speaker at the presentation.

This free all-ages author event is open to everyone, not just people involved with the creative writing competition. Melina will be speaking about her books and the craft of writing. There will be time for a question and answer session and a book signing, and Melina’s books will be on sale courtesy of Readers Bookshop, Westpoint Blacktown.

A reminder: the event is free but bookings are required: call the library on 9839 6677. Schools are welcome to book in multiple students to attend: download the booking form here.

2 April 2008

Recent developments in the western Sydney young people’s literature project

Filed under: teaching,western sydney,writing,ya lit — westword @ 12:16 am

As has been (not so) gently pointed out to me by my colleague, Mike Shuttleworth, at the Centre for Youth Literature in Victoria, I’ve been a bit slack about my blogging lately. So here is a much-needed catch-up on what I’ve been up to with the Western Sydney young people’s literature program in the past few weeks.

I’m pleased to report that I have a number of projects pencilled- and penned-in on the calendar. Coming up in April is a zine workshop at Blacktown Council‘s Youth WeekThe ‘Burbs” festival—April 12 at Blacktown Olympic Park.

Also attached to Youth Week is a creative writing competition for 12-18 year olds, coordinated by Blacktown City Libraries. There’s 700 word limit on entries, which should somehow connect to the Youth Week theme Shout! Share! Live! Unite! I’m thrilled that Melina Marchetta has agreed to judge the finalists in the competition and will speak at the competition’s presentation evening at Blacktown’s Max Webber Library on May 5. I’ll upload the poster tomorrow.

I’m really pleased that we will be hosting the only Sydney appearance of the creators of a new picture book Simpson and His Donkey (one of the first local titles to be released by Walker Books Australia). Illustrator Frané Lessac and writer Mark Greenwood (see their website here) will present 2 “Make Your Own Storybook” workshops for Years 5 and 6 students, and will also be talking about the book to an all-ages audience at a public event at Max Webber Library. Monday April 28—contact the library for booking information in a week or so.

Then on May 20 I will chair a session on fantasy/speculative fiction at the Max Webber Library as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Panellists are D.M. Cornish (Monster Blood Tattoo), David Kowalski (The Company of the Dead) and Stuart Mayne, editor of Aurealis magazine.

I’ve also been busy with the following:

I was guest speaker at the University of Western Sydney, speaking to post-graduate Secondary English Method students about the western Sydney youth lit project, about engaging their soon-to-be students (they’ll be in the classroom next year) with fiction and about teaching creative writing. A lot to touch on in a two-hour session!

Attended the Australian School Library Assocation‘s NSW conference, which was excellent. I imagine many of the librarians there were challenged and inspired by the keynote speech by Dr Ross Todd, who spoke about the importance of meeting young people at their level in terms of their engagement with technology, social networking and so on. I also attended some terrific workshop sessions looking at Indigenous writing and engaging “reluctant” writers by using the internet to develop creative writing skills. I believe the keynotes and workshops will be available on the ASLA NSW website at some point soon.

I also launched a book at the conference; Samurai Kids: White Crane by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James and published by Walker Books Australia. It’s a terrific book, full of adventure and action and some serious philosophical ideas based on the principals of Bushido—the Samurai code. Recommended for “middle school” readers, it’s the first in a planned series of books about the young warriors-in-training of the Cockroach Ryu (school), all of whom have particular personal challenges to face along with the more general challenges involved in their training. (A few more details and comments are available at my personal Misrule blog.)

And the western Sydney young people’s literature project was featured in an article in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald. It’s a lovely article, written by young journalist Josephine Tovey, accompanied in the print version by an equally lovely photo of me with some kids from Tregear Public School in Mount Druitt. Also check out Jo’s opinion piece in today’s Herald about her experience attending a selective high school. It’s a very well argued piece which could well be used as a model for student writing.

That’s it for now. More soon—I promise!

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!

11 February 2008

Welcome to westword


This blog is attached to a new project supported by the NSW Department of Education and Training and Arts NSW. The purpose of the project is to develop programs to engage the children and youth of the greater western Sydney region with literature, both as audience and as creators.

Your (primary) blogger is me, Judith Ridge. I was appointed to direct this new project late last year—my title is Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Officer. I work three days a week (Mon-Wed) out of the arts and cultural development unit at Blacktown City Council. I will be working with community and arts organisations, schools and libraries and anyone else with bright ideas, energy and a commitment to bringing innovative children’s/young adult literature-based programs to the region. You might like to read my report from my 2001 Churchill Fellowship, which gave me the opportunity to study community-based literature programs for young people, and which has provided an enormous amount of inspiration for this position.

My brief is wide—from early childhood to school leavers and, perhaps, beyond. I also plan to develop professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians, information sessions and resources for parents and carers, and support for adults wanting to write for children and young adults.

My definition of literature, for the purposes of the position, is broad—I’ll be working with traditional and contemporary forms of the book (including graphic novels and manga), and also with technology, Web 2.0, zines, writing for performance and so on.

I’ve set this blog up for a few reasons. First of all, there are a lot of people interested in how the project develops, and this will be a way of documenting and communicating progress. I will also be listing opportunities and events for young writers and readers, and other arts- and literature-related news. I’m also going to leave it open for my colleagues in arts and community projects in western Sydney to become fellow wordwest bloggers and add their own entries.

I hope that westword will become a communication and resource hub for the project, and that lots of people will get involved. In time, the plan is for a website with many opportunities for interaction, especially by children and young adults. westword is not exactly an interim measure, as I hope it will take on a life of its own, but there will be plenty more to come.

So, join me! (And bear with me as I explore the Word Press blogware.)

Finally, thanks to Jennie K for suggesting the name of the blog.

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