This page has posts from Bee's Bookish Blog from 2013.
Sing-Along singer Emily Hunt
Emily Hunt and I will be presenting a new event of our own devising, dubbed the Sing-Along, on January 10 at 2PM, as part of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival. The Sing-Along aims to address the issue that faces one who is so wrapped up in reading a great picture book that they feel compelled to burst into song (a common, and pleasant, problem - I am certain). Tickets are going fast, with a typical prevalence of Adventure School children, many of whom Emily has taught. Emily is travelling internationally at present, but took time before take-off to chuckle over some light-hearted questions with me.
Let's start with a tough one: why sing?
Wrong question! Why wouldn't you sing?
What is your favourite song to sing when you are alone?
All sorts. But right now the tune I just can't get out of my head is 'Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer'! That's thanks to my eight-year-old, and she thinks its hilarious.
Where is your favourite place to sing it?
The car, the shower, the kitchen, with the kids at bedtime. Do I really have to give just one? Once you get an 'ear worm'...
What is your favourite group sing-along number?
Ooooh. It would have to be a Kodaly number - maybe 'Copy Me', because I love going around the circle and seeing what body movements the kids find to match the beat.
I know you have sung all around the world… can you give us a venue/place highlight?
This one deserves a serious answer... We did a performance of some early sacred choral music at a monastery deep in the Tuscan mountains. It was a closed order, and the monks had taken a vow of silence. The performance was done in complete silence - no seats shuffling, no people murmuring between sets, no applause. And the 'audience' was sat behind a screen - shadowy people shapes. Yet, in this apparent absence of audience, our listeners felt more present than at any other concert I've given or been to. It was the most surreal and profound experience.
Sounds literally divine... but I don't think you'd better bank on anything like that at our Sing-Along, Emily! Ticket-holders can look forward to patches of story-infused quiet time, punctuated by bursts of exuberant group singing and dancing. I, for one among many, can't wait.
Tickets to this and all A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival gigs available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org , or ask at the Junior desk, while stocks last.
Juliette MacIver: rhyme queen
Titahi Bay author and local hero Juliette MacIver is supremely qualified to present the Rhyme-Along workshop being held on January 7, for young writers age 7-12, as part of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival. Her latest book, Toucan Can, (Gecko Press, 2013) is a rollicking rhyme riot, in which Sarah Davis's gorgeous illustrations seem to march the action closer and closer to the reader as the exuberant narrative goes nuts. It's a deliriously infectious marriage of tight rhyme and rambunctious visuals that will be sure to turn up the volume of any story time.
I asked Juliette to name the key elements for scoring a memorable rhyme – the kind children will never let you forget, and loudly pick up every time you read the first few words to them...
Hmmm, that’s a hard question. If I could accurately sum up the elements into a neat prescription, then perhaps it would be easier to do! The story needs to have a very strong rhythm, ideally one that is easy to read and doesn’t have any possibility of alternative emphases that mean for some readers it won’t scan. That’s very important to me. I try to give my stories to at least a handful of readers to test how different people might read it aloud. All rhymes need to be natural, expressed in a natural-sounding phrase, with no contriving to force the rhyme. And rhymes should be perfect, no “near enough” sort of rhymes (with a very few specific exceptions!) And lastly, most importantly, all the elements of a good story must be present: strong characters, good story arc, flawless pacing, satisfying resolution. Oh - all that plus some undefinable zing of magic. Piece of cake. Hahahaha! No wonder it’s so hard to get anything accepted for publication!
Who do you consider the finest rhyme-smiths of our time, or those who might join you in the line?
Maraget Mahy, without doubt. The late Dr Seuss; he was patently a genius and hugely influential. Julia Donaldson has some exquisite stuff too.
What is your idea of the perfect writing - or rhyme germinating - environment?
Because writing is such an internal process, I don’t feel too much affected by my surroundings. When I am in the thrall of a story, I am happy! I wrote Toucan Can lying on the kitchen floor at night, and I have often worked on verses while walking to school, or cuddling children to sleep. Having said that, it is very pleasant to write at Titahi Bay beach, sitting on a picnic rug under two sarongs (for sun cover - blazing hot part of the world that it is), with a thermos full of coffee… For the moments that I come out of the story and notice the world, that is one place that can’t be beat.
Your work has been paired with some wonderful illustrators to date – is there anyone on your wish list, if you could control such things?
Ooooh! Well, Quentin Blake for one! And Freya Blackwood. And how about Oliver Jeffers, while we’re at it? But truly, I am still startled by the exquisite genius of the illustrators I have been paired with to date; their talent astounds me.
What does the phrase 'A-Long Hot Summer' conjure up for you?
A shimmering sea, scorching sunshine, glorious camping trips with large groups of friends and their families, lots of trail runs in the hills! We will be relaxing at home this summer, hooray! We plan to go on lots of local camping excursions, and take all the children tramping too, which I am very excited about. We have always had a little one which has made it a bit too much of a mission, but now our youngest is four and a pretty strong walker, so it’s all go!
Tickets to the Rhyme-Along are limited and going fast. Secure yours by emailing email@example.com. Don't forget, we have Juliette MacIver prize packs up for grabs. All you need to do is write a piece of rhyming verse featuring as many jungle animals as you can fit in it - for full details, see your A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival programme. Entries close January 17.
Shadow the Storyteller, enchanting
Our special guest at the branches during A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival 2013/14 is local dreamweaver Shadow the Storyteller. She has written and published a book on storytelling; is a member of the NZ Storytellers’ Guild, NZ Home Storytellers, the Wellington Storytellers’ Café, and the recently inaugurated Kapiti Storytellers Circle. She trained with Louise Coigley in the UK on story making for children with autism, and has also performed as a clown and trainer. At her Festival performances, she will draw from a repertoire including tales of rascals and dreamers, characters who survive on their wits, myth and mystery, original stories and traditional tales from the fabulous world of legend. I caught up with her to talk stories and summer...
What does the phrase A-long Hot Summer conjure up for you?
Burrowing into the long dry grass to find damp coolness underneath, feeling drowsy with the heat and sound of insects, looking up at the blue sky and marvelling at how the Earth turns, bringing each season in its turn to every part of the globe.
Can you tell us something about the therapeutic uses you put storytelling too?
Oh! That my storytelling might encourage children to recognise themselves in the legends and mythologies of others’ cultures to a point where they refuse to fear and mistrust them; that it might boost their natural confidence, curiosity and delight; build their belief in the triumph of kindness, daring and decency... and perhaps above all, offer positive alternatives to the unhappy make-believe of humans’ superiority over Life.
For those moving towards the end of their days, the human voice of the storyteller can speak what is in their own hearts; that human life is a gift mysteriously given and taken away, that human nature is unpredictable, immeasurable and infinitely various, and that for all our cleverness, at the end we may come to know nothing at all and yet be happy.
For those living in disabled bodies and minds, storytelling can simply be a human interaction that offers nothing more than pleasure and play, as full and interactive as possible. Any responses will be a bonus. What are you feelings on the idea that storytelling (or the opportunity to witness it) is endangered and essential in our modern culture?
Whereas individuals once travelled to collect stories from different countries, oral storytellers now have an unprecedented sense of global community through the World Wide Web. Ease of travel has helped international storytelling festivals around the world to flourish in recent decades. People evidently enjoy getting together to tell tales, rather than rely on the flickering shadow-box in the corner. It seems we’re all still storytellers in one way or another.
Shadow the Storyteller will bring her magic to Cannons Creek Library on January 8 at 1.30PM, and to Whitby Library the same day at 3PM. Everyone is welcome - no tickets required. For the full programme of A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival events, visit the What's On page.
A-Long Hot Summer Story Festival kicks off on December 17 - with goodie bags and full programme details available to all Porirua resident (and household subscriber) children age 3-13 from that date. The programme is jam-packed with so many fabulous free events that I am loathe to single any one out, and unable to resist talking them all up enthusiastically. I'll be featuring interviews with many of the performers on this blog for the duration of the Festival, so watch this space for the stories behind the stories. Our first special event sees internationally seasoned story teller Emily Duizend presenting a Christmas story time, on December 19, at 5.30PM. It promises to be a lovely way to end the school year, and start to the Festival. In the new year, Emily will return to the Festival to join Book Island founder Greet Paulweijn for the Grand-along - a ticketed event, utilising Emily's experience uniting children and grandparents through the magical medium of story.
Storyteller Emily Duizend
What does the phrase A-Long Hot Summer conjure up for you?
"Well, the longest and hottest summer I experienced was actually this one just gone, where I found myself living in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast for seven weeks while undertaking the Storyteller in the Community course. The seven weeks were sandwiched between two days of torrential rain – one at the beginning and one at the end - but in between it was simply, stunningly, glorious! I lived in a world of story, walked every day to ‘school’ (Saint Peter's Hall) along the shoreline in bare feet looking out at the shimmering ocean where I knew at some point that day I would be swimming. My classmates practiced our stories to the sea at break times (a wonderful listener). After class and a dip in the ocean, I would slowly wonder back along the beach to my cousin’s house, lie in the garden with a book or my ukulele, have fun with my cousin’s step-sons, and wait to eat the fresh fish her partner caught for dinner most evenings. Is it any wonder I returned to Paekakariki to live?"
Your journey toward and through storytelling has towed you all around the world… can you give us an itinerant history of the trip so far?
"Storytelling only came into my sphere of awareness when I by chance met Ashley Ramsden, founder of the International School of Storytelling, on the street in Bali where I was volunteering at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in 2009. I had been living in Melbourne for a decade (having grown up in the UK with Australian parents). For the next few years in Melbourne I would see Ashley when he was touring there, and be completely entranced and enchanted by his performances, discovering the sense of wonder and connection you get when you listen to a really good storyteller. When I found out that he and Clare Coburn (a wonderful Melbourne based storyteller) were offering a three week storytelling course in Melbourne in June 2012. I knew I had to do it, though I didn’t know why. I took three weeks off work and experienced most incredible connecting and creative time that I had for many years.
"Afterwards I started tentatively putting on storytelling shows for older people which, it turned out, made me very very happy. In December 2012 I left Melbourne, feeling the need for change and to re-establish my connection with my family and friends in England. Discovering that there was a storytelling course in Paekakariki (where my beloved cousin, then pregnant, happened to live) was the spark I needed to finally make the break, book the tickets and pack up my Melbourne life. The course was in February. After that I returned to London and had a wonderful three months where I put myself through my own university of storytelling – seeing as much as I could, telling as much as I could, learning from other storytellers. I then returned to Paekakariki answering a call of the heart, and here I am today – working as a storyteller and facilitator of storytelling workshops".
Where is the loveliest location you have ever performed?
"I love telling outside. When I was in London I was invited to tell in a wild and lovely community garden by the Transition Town Tooting people. The community garden has a little secret log circle got to via an overgrown weedy path. That was very nice, telling stories in the log circle to bring the summer along. I later held my own show there – telling Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales with music from my brother on sitar, and a friend on guitar. We set up the performance area by the swings, served cake and lemonade, and people lay on rugs and chairs as the sun shone down. But actually I’m happy to tell everywhere as long as there is colourful bunting. Bunting is absolutely essential!"
What are you feelings on the idea that storytelling (or the opportunity to witness it) is endangered and essential in our modern culture?
"This was true of me! Despite, or perhaps because of, being an English literature graduate, I used to assume that stories belonged to books and films. Stories were the domain of authors who wrote stories to be read… perhaps read aloud, but still read, or shown to us via film or television. I had forgotten how I used to love making up stories with my friends and the adventure games we played in the playground or at the park where there was no writing involved.
"I notice when I say I’m going to a storytelling performance or doing a storytelling course people often assume I mean creative writing. Part of the reason oral storytelling could be seen as endangered is the domination of books, films, cartoons and computer games, and the reliance of parents on using these to bring story into their child’s world rather than telling their own versions of traditional tales, or their own made up stories.
"It also could be to do with the erosion of storytelling traditions within some cultures. But there are many reasons why oral storytelling is essential to our modern culture. These may be to do with the hidden gifts within stories that resonate with us and can help to guide us, or simply to do with the connection to the world of the imagination when you listen to a tale well told. As a teller, it’s the connection between myself, my audience and the collective experience of the world we are all imagining together that brings the magic. That is the unique experience that I believe only oral storytelling provides".
Can you tell us something about the creation of the Grand-Along?
"The Grand-Along workshop was inspired by the new Book Island title Maia and What Matters, by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire. Maia tells the story of a little girl and her grandmother who share the same dynamic spirit (and love of cake) that transcends illness and aging. The Grand-Along will be for grandparents and their grandchildren, who will have an opportunity to connect to each other, potentially in a new way, through the process of making up imaginative stories together using the illustrations from Maia and What Matters as inspiration. There will also be crafting and, I believe, cake! I’ll be facilitating it along with Greet Pauwelijn, the owner of Book Island. It should be lots of fun!
"I’m currently doing something similar in an inter-generational project called the Story Bridge that is working with a class of primary school children and a group of elders in a high care rest home. We are about half way through at the moment and looking forward to the elders and the children coming together to share their stories and celebrate their own and each other’s imaginative capacities."
To find out more about Story Bridge, visit Emily's website @ www.storyisland.net. The Grand-Along happens on January 9 at 2PM, with limited free tickets available to sets of grandparents and grandchildren age seven and up from December 17. All-comers are welcome at the Christmas story time, which will be held in the story alcove at the Main Library, December 19, 5.30PM.
Having fallen in love with Maia and What Matters (Book Island, 2013) from the moment I glimpsed its cover, I am delighted to be one stop on the Meet Maia Blog Tour, celebrating the launch of this exquisite new picture book.
Maia and What Matters (originally published in Dutch as Mare en de Dingen, 2010), written by Belgian author Tine Mortier, fills a gap in the things people hide from children. In a society addicted to youth, noise, and the pursuit of happiness, aging, being at a loss for words, and sadness are often cast as the skeletons in the closet. Being a book about what happens when a beloved grandmother "stumbles", and a grandfather stops living, Maia is a book that affords such skeletons the dignity of our attention. It is a book about how these occurrences are beautifully handled by their loving, intelligent and energetic grand-daughter. These themes combine to make a profoundly moving work of high art.
The text is direct, earthy, stimulating and engaging, introducing Maia as a girl who couldn't wait to be born. Kaatje Vermeire's layered collage/print/sketch/ink illustrations splash her in cheery, cherry red relief against a world that is shades of china, ranging from butter to bone to blue. Only in her very darkest hour, when Grandma can do nothing but stare at the TV all day long, do we see Maia in shades of black on black and grey.
The illustrations clearly emanate from the feelings evoked by the text. A broken flower stem notes the loss of Grandma's memory. Pieces of a broken teacup scattered on the carpet - 'that beautiful carpet!' - speak of a punctuating loss of functionality, the unspeakable coming to pass. A hospital bed that has imprisoned Grandma becomes the boat she sails through her newly widowed tears upon. When the crying finishes, Maia executes a procedure required to reunite Grandma with Grandpa for her last goodbye - bypassing disapproving medical staff to do things the way they should be done.
Maia joins an international canon of great picture books on things that go missing: memories, the freedom to move or express oneself, the physical presence of loved ones. These are books that are great because of their ability to move us, to teach us, and to give words to the things we wish we didn't have to face.
The Bear and the Wildcat, by Kazumi Yumoto, Komako Sakai (Gecko Press, 2011 - translated from the Japanese) shows a little bear mourning the loss of his best friend, a bird. A troubadour wild cat encourages him to reminisce and move on.
Missing Mummy, by Rebecca Cobb (Macmillan Children's Books, 2011) is a title that shows exactly what it says - heart breaking, but spot on, and saying many of the things a child might find isolatingly unmentionable. Rebecca Cobb also illustrates a great work that sails serious loss under the radar of living and carrying on, The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson (Macmillan Children's Books, 2012) - a great work for when the loss is sudden. The Paper Dolls joins Rabbityness, by Jo Empson (Child's Play, 2012), in reminding us we can find solace in the traditions we shared with our loved ones, and the gifts they gave us.
Looking at that unexplicable season when memory fails, The Old Shepherd, by Geraldine Elschner and Jonas Lastroer (Minedition, 2011) sends a boy into a rest home, where he devises a crazy scheme to trigger the title character's memories. Grandpa Green, by Lane Smith (Roaring Book Press, 2011) finds memory stored in a fantasic topiary garden.
Circle of life books can be a comforting way to introduce the concept of death as a natural part of the spectrum of life. One of my favourite books on this theme is City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems and Jon J Muth (Hyperion Books, 2010), where a playful relationship mimics the seasons. Mayfly Day (Andersen, 2006), the most delicate work ever by renowned husband and wife team Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis, compacts the arc of a single life into just one glorious day, the greatest and only day of a mayfly's life.
Two fine New Zealand examples include Haere: Farewell, Jack, Farewell, by Tim Tipene and Huhana Smith (Huia, 2005), and Rahui, by Chris Szekely and Malcolm Ross (Huia, 2011). Although their deaths could not be more different, both books incorporate the behaviours of mourning, and show how this fits into the wider rhythms of living. Both these titles are also available in Te Reo Maori editions (click the title to reserve: Haere, and Rahui).
Waiting until the 'time is right' to share books like these erroneously assumes an omnipotent power over an uncontrollable world. Avoiding certain subjects erases the opportunity discussing them offers to ease a child's passage (and your own) through the spiralling circles of life, which can be broken by a bolt from the blue at any time. Loss is not a punishment you can avoid by looking the other way or being the right kind of family. It touches everyone. To deny difficult topics while our friends/family/neighbours and fellow humans cannot, is to miss the chance to practise empathy, to feel one's feelings, and prepare for what is inevitably a lifetime of goodbyes, softened by the cotton wool-delicate clouds of memory.
Maia and What Matters closes with a tableau of Maia and Grandma smiling at Grandpa, who is also smiling, in his eternal slumber. I could not describe the scene any more aptly than Maia does... "How pretty," she thinks. "How incredibly beautiful." It really is - a lovely book about the times we wish would never come, but know, inevitably, must.
There are a number of ways you can continue this journey with Maia. Book Island are running a fabulous competition, exploring the link between children, grandparents, and Maia and Grandma's favourite thing (in fact, the word that comes to symbolise so much for them) - "cake". Lastly, and among the first of our A-long Hot Summer Story Festival 2013/14 announcements, Book Island's Greet Pauwelijn and Story Island storyteller Emily Duizend present a unique event aimed at grandparent and grandchild sets, the Grand-Along, further exploring the themes and illustrations of the book. Limited tickets for this January 9 event will be available when the festival launches on December 17, so book your grandparents accordingly!
Parenting proves challenging in Jeffrey Brown's Star Wars homages
I would like to tell you the most commonly uttered pair of words heard in the Children's Library is 'stamp please'... but as many of our smaller customers are still grappling with the finer points of courtesy and etiquette, I have to pick another pair. I don't know if I should be ashamed or amazed to confess that the actual most commonly heard pair of words in the children's library is 'Star Wars'. (OK, it's actually 'toilet key', but there are two great new Star Wars books out, and I thought they would make a better blog topic.)
Common questions with complicated answers employing this pair of words include:
Where are the Star Wars books shelved?
The influence of Star Wars upon our library, as upon our society, is such that - as Star Wars has been known to infiltrate almost every corner of society, from cereal boxes to telephones - it is also represented in almost every collection of the library. In the Children's Library, there are Star Wars books in the Emergent Readers, the High Interest Quick Reads, the Non-Fiction, Younger Fiction, and Older Fiction collections. Now - with the release of two books as hard to categorise as they are to keep on the shelf, Jeffrey Brown's Vader's Little Princess and Darth Vader and Son - the picture book section also has its own Star Wars titles. They could probably have gone into the Junior Graphic collection... but there's just something so sweet, so small, so deceptively simple, and - dare I apply it in the realm of Vader - daddy-like about them, that I felt they might miss an entire potential audience of small people who don't read at the graphic novel level but love Star Wars regardless. What kind of irony is it that as I write this, a request comes in from someone who has just discovered there are actually Star Wars board books too? Watch this space on that front.
Why aren't the Star Wars books all shelved together?
Star Wars fans run the gamut from original series fans, to Clone Wars followers, and those anticipation the next cinematic chapters... that's a 40-year span of film/television releases that has vacuumed up a couple of generations in its wake. While your two-year-old might not be ready for the truth about Luke and Leia'a paternity, your husband/wife/teenager might consider it as often as they brush their teeth (I said 'might', I can only speak from personal experience with the husband at my house, where a picture of Yoda long adorned the bathroom mirror).They may want to share their interests with smaller people in the house, people who aren't ready to read instalments of such an epic saga, such as those taking up several feet of shelf space in the Adult Fiction section.
Why are there never any Star Wars books available in the Children's Library?
While every effort is made to purchase every single copy of Star Wars related books that pass beneath my nose, I have come to the conclusion that if we dedicated a single Death Star-shaped room to the copious quantities of Star Wars books we hold - and wouldn't that be neat? - it would be a wasted effort because we simply cannot keep the books on the shelves. This is called facing the facts about demand outstripping possible supply, and a library budget being a finite amount of money. That money meets similar popular challenges in the form of DC Superheroes books, Rainbow Magic books, and any books to do with LEGO. I often like to spend it on other forms of literature too, such as classics and works of modern excellence. Something to do with my training I guess.
Another Star Wars book by Jeffrey Brown, Jedi Academy is working its way towards on-order status at Porirua Library, or can be reserved from the SMART Library network.There are currently 10 copies of it held by Hutt City Libraries... a quantity so amazing I can't find a suitable pun to comment upon it. So, there's really no excuse for the Force not to be with you, no matter what your reading age or stage.
Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss
In the course of celebrating our Freedom to Read, reading banned and challenged authors of the past two weeks, I have heard one phrase repeatedly.
"Not Dr. Seuss?," people wail incredulously, and it's not because they don't want us to read him.
In fact, I doubt there is a single Dr. Seuss title left in the library at the time I am writing this. The banned and challenged authors display table in the Children's Library has been emptied many times over these holidays, often more than once a day, and the Dr. Seuss books are the first to go, the minute they hit it. The real question people are asking is, why would anyone try to prevent us from reading Dr. Seuss? They act like it's a fundamental human right (actually, it is), but they also seem a little oblivious to the morals of the stories - a fact the man sometimes known as Theodor Geisel would have been proud of. Geisel made a point not to begin writing his stories with a particular moral in mind, stating that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off”. That said, he was not opposed to fearlessly tackling issues that grieved him, and described himself as “subversive as hell”.
Although he had no children of his own, he became a best friend to children (their adults, and the adults they would become) the world over via the sales of some 73-million copies of his books that taught us how to dream big, be ourselves, love one another in spite of our differences, and care for our environment. The job was far from child's play, and the life and career were not always easy. The creative process always has a percentage of failure, and if you measure the potential for such against his massive success, the math is brutal. He weathered many failed artistic endeavours. His first children's book - And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street - was rejected 27 times, and he almost burned it.
He nursed his first wife (Helen) through cancer, before she committed suicide upon learning he had already fallen in love with the person he would marry after she died. Someone close to the couple described this as Helen's 'final gift to Ted' - a hard earned freedom.
His works were frequently targeted by censors from all quarters - seen as too political, too green, too scary. How the Grinch Stole Christmas derided the materialism of the Christmas season; Yertle the Turtle was an allegory about Hitler and authoritarianism; The Sneetches looked at racial equality; The Lorax took a hardline environmentalist and anti-consumerist stance, and seriously enraged the logging industry.
His words were also, confusingly, adopted by causes they never meant to speak for, in the case of the anti-abortionists vs. Horton Hears a Who! - or rather, 'for' if the pro-lifers had had their way. When the line 'A person’s a person, no matter how small' began being used by pro-lifers, Geisel demanded a retraction. He received one because, in its original context, the line is unrelated to the abortion issue. The fact he did this says less about his personal stance on the issue than it does about our right to have our words taken in the context in which they are intended - an important lesson in a cut-and-paste society.
In 1984, while the daily news was teaching me to worry about how life would be affected in West Auckland if a nuclear missile were to land in the central city, possibly Dr Seuss's most controversial work, The Butter Battle Book, was released to further fuel my budding pacifism. In it, the Yooks and Zooks declared war on each other because they disagreed on whether to butter their bread butter-side up or butter-side down. Each side has a bomb that will destroy everything; and the book ends with a cliffhanger- a single blank page. When the Rainbow Warrior was bombed a year later in a harbour not so far from my home, I was already well primed for peaceful, if age-appropriately symbolic, retaliation.
The good Dr. died of cancer himself in 1991, but not before penning a book I have seen jokingly retitled as Last Minute Graduation Gift - Oh, the Places You'll Go! Often associated with our wishes for a bright future for our kids, there is a darkness too, when we read, 'You are on your own now. You know what you know.' But so much of what I know is because the Dr. told me so.
Anyone interested in reading more about the life of one of the twentieth century's most influential writers would be well advised to check out Judith Morgan's excellent biography, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel, available for reserve from the SMART Libraries catalogue.
While the World Wide Web risks crashing under the weight the top entertainment story last week, and I face the question of whether it is neccessary to move the complete merchandise of good-girl-turned-20 Miley Cyrus from the Junior to the Adult collection, I have to admit to feeling the dimming of the frisson of excitement which annually accompanies my preparation for the Banned Books holiday programmes I feel compelled to run every October.
Call me an upsetter, but I've always enjoyed making like we're about to do something very shocking by reading banned and challenged books and authors to little kids and their keepers. It's a sure way to grab people's attention, even if those whose attention I have grabbed this way in the past will be well aware of the fact that this Bee packs not so much a sting, but a dose of good old-fashioned cautionary sense in her tale. The shock factor reels 'em in, to a place of substance, and often - at least in the case of many of my favourite banned and challenged books - downright sweetness.
Admitedly, life and time are confusing - how else to explain my entire wardrobe, circa 1984, or the fact it seems to have been regularly recycled in the shop windows in a decade-by-decade rotation ever since? What was seen as shocking yesterday, will be about as shocking as sliced brown bread today. But one thing hasn't changed, and that is the old adage about diff'rent strokes. (I learned it from my favourite 1980s television show theme, back in a golden time when TV theme songs could occasional teach you something apart from how to buy a product the show they precede has been built around).
People see things in a way which is neccessarily wholly dependant upon where they are standing. That is called 'perspective'. Take for example, Shel Silverstein's beloved classic The Giving Tree. It tells the tale of a tree who loves a boy so much that it gives him everything it has - and, at the risk of ruining the plot for anyone who has yet to discover it, I mean everything. I recently quizzed three different people, all of whom adore the book, on what they see as its meaning.
"The tree is the parent and the boy is the child," said one.
"The boy and the tree are like two lovers," said another.
"Oh, for goodness sake," said the third person, appalled at my apparent stupidity. "The tree is a tree!"
Explored at enough depth, any of these reasons could explain why the book struck a chord sensitive enough to have landed The Giving Tree in banned and challenged hot water. Particularly, in the case of the third response, if the logging industry - or at least those schools proposing to speak for Big Forestry - have anything to say about it. (Dr. Seuss's timless environmental classic The Lorax has also been challenged due to complaints from the same quarter. If you rememember your Seuss, you'll recall the Lorax professing to 'speak for the trees because the trees have no tongues' - perhaps the best reason to speak for someone else there is.)
The big question here is really, who should speak on behalf of whom? Who should judge what is right or wrong for any other person they do not know. Miley Cyrus's idea of a good time is certainly not mine. However, nor am I thrilled at the behaviours exhibited by those who are demonising her (while ignoring her male dance partner and co-medley scribe, Robin Thicke). It makes no more sense for the Miley Cyrus - or 'Hannah Montana' - of the past to be judged by her present antics than it does for Shel Siverstein's work to be judged in the light of his position as a 'former Playboy cartoonist' (probably half the reason a light was shone in his attic in the first place). The way I see it, Cyrus has exectued a manuovere very similar to that which Uncle Shel exhibited, only in (her own age-appropriate) reverse. She has moved out of the junior arena and into the adult realm - far, far from my jurisdiction (and given the lyrics of Thicke's 'Blurred Lines', this is a fact for which I remain grateful).
She has also made luring kiddies in with the promise of celebrating their freedom to read look like about as racy as teaching them to eat raw vegetables. It's a dirty, often thankless job, but I'm happy to do it, so...
This post has been brought to you by your freedom to read. We'll be helping you exercise a lot more of that these school holidays, from October 2-11. There will be no actual exercise - twerking or otherwise - involved. Click here for full details.
Whitby author Gemma Lovewell (age 7)
Whitby author Gemma Lovewell launched her first book, Our Big Box, at Porirua Library on August 1. The story of how this seven-year-old author has managed to publish a book she wrote when she was five, during the Library's inaugural A-long Hot Summer Story Festival, is a story in itself. You might already know some of it, as the local media have been hot on Gemma's trail for a few weeks now.
Since appearing in the Dominion Post last week, interest in the book and its inspiring young author has reached fever pitch. She will be appearing on TV One's Breakfast TV round-up on Tuesday, August 13, at 8.25AM. I would not be surprised to hear a collective cheer ring out across Porirua - particuarly in the vicinity of Adventure School - when the slot airs.
Here at the Library, the phone has been ringing off the hook with enquiries... which is half the reason I sit here on a Saturday night hastily penning this entry. People want to know where they can buy the book, how much it costs, if it is true that the author is really only seven, how she was discovered by no less than kids-lit superhero Joy Cowley, and how they can get their own little piece of this writerly wunderkind. So, here are the short answers to some of those questions...
Email enquiries regarding sales can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org. Retail price is $20. Two dollars from the sale of every book goes to the Wellington Children's Hospital, for whom Gemma has been a patron for a couple of years now. (Yes, not only is she a talented writer, she is also a lovely human being.)
Storylines is 20 years old this year! The Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children's Writers and Illustrators has been a highlight of literature loving family calendars since 1993. The festival – particularly the Free Family Days around the country – gives children (and adults) a chance to meet their normally bookbound heroes - authors, illustrators, storytellers, and even characters. A gold coin koha just cannot buy this much family fun anywhere else I know of.
The closest Free Family Day for Porirua families will be held at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre, on August 17 from 10AM-3PM.This year's line-up of performers is very exciting, including: illustrator Philip Webb, graphic novel creator Ant Sang (Shaolin Burning), illustrator David Elliot (The Moon and Farmer McPhee), illustrator/author/queen of craft Fifi Colston, illustrator/author Ruth Paul (Stomp!: a dinosaur follow-the-leader story), author Philippa Werry (Enemy at the Gate), and storytellers Mona Williams and (Porirua Library favourite friend) Moira Wairama.
Children can get involved before the event by entering the 'Are We There Yet? Writing and Drawing Competition', which invites them to create a piece of work describing where the kids in the vibrant new Storylines logo are flying to (entries can be dropped off on the day). There is also an associated book giveaway competition, which you can enter by following the link below:
Kid performers can also get involved at a presentation level. There are a couple of busking areas in the venue this year for youth to showcase their talents, be they singing, dancing, juggling, contorting, or even a combination of those things! Get in touch with the lovely and tireless Wellington co-ordinator Sarina Hutton at sarina.hutton.wcc.govt.nz if you have a talent you want to bust out on a very public platform.
A great way for adults to get involved is to become a Storylines volunteer. Volunteers are considered a precious resource by the festival's organisers, and there is a wide variety of ways to help out. You might be an experienced fairy who loves to get out and about amongst her people, a talented face painter, or someone who is happy to help keep the troops fed, coffee-d and tea-d. Whatever your talent, it can help make you a part of this awesome event, and get up close and personal with some lovely literary superstars. The atmosphere is always incredibly stimulating, so you are sure to get as much as you give for your time. For volunteer details, follow the link below:
Among my fondest memories of last year is one of being invited up onto the stage of the Michael Fowler Centre (no, not individually!) to get closer to the incredibly energetic PERFORM theatre troupe, who had me and my kids enthralled. I sat on my bottom - as one often must when children's storytelling is involved - on boards I've seen trodden by the likes of Shirley Bassey and Engelbert Humperdinck, and thought... only Storylines could put me this close to the legends. Catch you there!
Mr Whistler, coloured by Layne from Adventure School
The New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards have been announced, putting a prestigious seal of approval on seven new New Zealand titles.The newly named New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award went to Ted Dawe's young adult novel, Into the River - a prequel to Thunder Road (2003), which won both the Young Adult and Best First Book awards in the 2004 NZ Post Children's Book Awards. Reserves are mounting on it as I write.
Now, I'm in a hurry to my desk most mornings - great job, what can I say? - but never quite so keenly as on the morning after these awards are judged. I did not, however, make it that far this morning before being handed a pile of very stern looking 'Parental Advisory - Explicit Content' stickers, with a letter announcing Dawes' win, and the intention that these stickers make their way promptly onto our copies of Into the River. The letter warns that the book 'explores themes including sex and drug-taking', and features some coarse language. You have been parentally advised.That said, the judges praised the book for 'captur[ing] the essence of who we are and the problems we face in a way that perhaps only a novel can'. They went on to say, 'It is work like this that ensures the written form remains relevant.'
David Hill's My Brother's War won the Junior Fiction award - although we have classified that as a young adult novel here at Porirua Library. Best First Book also went to a young adult finalist, Paekakariki author Hugh Brown, for his truly refreshing Reach, which I cannot recommend highly enough for its intended age group, low level coarse language considered.
More safely, not to mention clearly, in my own department - ie. children's - I know it will delight many of the kids to whom I've read Kyle Mewburn's Melu that it was awarded the Children's Choice Award. The tale of a mule who stubbornly goes his own way has struck a resonant chord with many primary schoolers I've talked to. The Non-Fiction award went to Simon Morton and Riria Hotere's fascinating 100 Amazing Tales From Aotearoa - which takes readers behind the scenes of the Te Papa collection. It's no surprise to see the late Margaret Mahy herself represented for what is likely to be the final time as a winning finalist, for her very handsome collaboration with Gavin Bishop, Mister Whistler. The colouring page at the head of this entry is just one of the love letters I have received regarding this typically fine Gecko Press release this year.
'Vintage Beeb': Remember you're a Womble!
When I was a child, a significant portion of my reading life was faciliated by the gentle jingle of the fairy Tinkerbell's wand, inviting me to turn the page, and follow the story emitting from a seven-inch circle of vinyl stacked on the spindle of the family stereogram. When I wasn't turning the pages, I was remembering I was a Womble, or dancing to Swan Lake while the story was told over the highly emotive score. These days, the medium may have changed, but books for your child's ears are still big business.
Amidst a slew of new audio books and CDs making its way towards the junior audio collection, the library has just added a bunch of Margaret Mahy titles. This keeps her profile as high in people's heads and hearts as it ever seems to have been in the months since her death, and provides yet another great enticement towards the sound of reading. The majority of the new Mahy books are read by Richard Mitchley, providing the enticing continuity of a familiar voice across the more mature titles that could easily become addictive.
The library provides audio books and experiences for every age... beginning with collections of soothing sounds and songs for babies, crazy songs by homegrown talents like Levity Beet and Peter Charlton-Jones, moving further afield through the excellent Puttamayo world music collection, and taking in book/CD sets where the child is assisted in learning to read their favourite books by the appropriate soundtrack, accompanying text copy, and accomplished professional storytellers.
Children go through a number of years (at several stages) when their reading ability is lower than their intellectual capacity. That's when it's particularly important to read aloud to them, catch live storytelling performances when you can, and keep a supply of audio books on hand. A dedicated listening station, complete with an old portable stereo the child can operate themselves will make the call to story even more enticing if you can swing it. Add a few cushions and you've got an irresistible chill zone. My son has his drawing materials set up in the same area... and often likes to draw while he is listening as well, with some quite fantastic results. I find there is nothing quite like the peace of seeing the kids self-contained in their own worlds of story - its a great way to buy some guilt-free (screen-free) time for their busy parents too. Introduce regular audio breaks at times when there is not enough of you to go around, and see how much more smoothly your day can run.
I really do stress the 'old stereo' factor too. My daughter innocently broke a couple of 'toy' stereos before we picked up a hulking retro double-tape boom box that is still going the distance ten years later. Now I insist on an old (if not new!) stereo for every room.
Some of the benefits of listening to audio books include: improving listening and comprehension skills, increasing vocabulary, learning the correct pronunciation of words, learning to 'see' a story by using imagination instead of illustrations (live storytelling performances are also great in this respect), and discovering new authors via the often wellknown actors who peform their work. David Tennant (aka Doctor Who), to name one, has attracted a lot of fans to Cressida Cowell's 'Dragon's' series through his readings of the audio book treatments.
As I've alternated between cataloguing the new audio books at the children's desk while writing this post, I have been pleased to watch the new titles flying off the shelves almost as soon as they hit them. A couple of the titles - from the excellent Vintage Beeb series - have caused particular excitement amongst the staff, resurrecting memories of old favourites The Wombles and The Magic Roundabout. These CDs, originally released on vinyl in the early 70s, even look like miniature 33 1/3 RPM singles. And I should know... because there was a time when I bought (or had bought for me) everything the Wombles ever released, including tickets to their live show. But that's another story...
Here in the children's department, we are counting the minutes until the April/May School Holiday rush starts... or rather, we would be, if we weren't so busy ensuring we have plenty of activities to meet the happy hordes with. We have a great holiday programme lined up, Read New Zealand Made, focussing on the works of New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards 2013 finalists.
We are very excited about a new kind of 'immersive storytime' workshop we have devised for those intermediate aged and older. The Focus on Lindy Fisher workshop will work with the New Zealand Post Children's Book Award Children's Choice Award 2006 winning title, Nobody's Dog, by frequent collaborators Jennifer Beck and Lindy Fisher.
This moving story is told by a grandfather, explaining to his young grandson why he has portrait of a dog hanging on his wall. When he was a young farm boy, he discovered a stray dog and wanted to keep him for a pet. His father will not let him, as he only allowed working dogs on the farm. Consequently, the boy is lead to believe his father has shot the dog he knew could be his friend.
Based on fact, this is a lavishly illustrated, deeply poignant tale, that clearly touches the hearts of all who encounter it. We will be creating an atmopshere reminiscent of the grandfather's childhood days, and interspersing our reading with the opportunity to work on a large scale artwork interpreting one of the most heartrending spreads from the book. There are limited free tickets available to this event. Enquire at the children's desk or email email@example.com.
Workshop attendees and library visitors alike will also be given the opportunity to create a 'patch' for a second artwork we are making in the library, inspired by Beck and Fisher's A Present From the Past. This book appeared on the Storylines Notable Books Picture Book List in 2007 - following Nobody's Dog, which had been there the year before. Yet another of their collaborations has been nominated for Picture Book of the Year at the 2013 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. Remember That November juxtaposes the tale of Guy Fawkes' Gunpowder Plot with that of historically significant events occurring on another November 5, on the other side of the world, at Parihaka. It is another deeply moving collaboration from this award winning team. It is much sought after right now, and I highly recommend you join the reserves list for it.
NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2013 judge Bernard Beckett
The New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards Finalists 2013 have been announced, and teachers and librarians everywhere are indulging in dangerously lateral thinking in a collective effort to get behind the year's biggest children's literature promotion. The challenge, as ever, is - how to make this neccessarily limited number of books (not to mention the limited amount of copies any single institution can get their hands on) meaningful to an unlimited amount of children. The bonus is - when dealing with the cream of the crop, it should be entirely possible to produce exciting, not to mention New Zealand relevant, programming. (Check out our Read New Zealand Made holiday programme to see how Porirua Library have got this covered.)
NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2013 judge Lynn Freeman
The finalists were chosen from hundreds of entries read by the panel of three judges - children’s literature expert and author Eirlys Hunter, presenter of Radio New Zealand’s Arts on Sunday programme, Lynn Freeman, and author Bernard Beckett. The judges said it was a privilege to read and assess New Zealand’s best books for children and young adults this year. They did, however, raise concerns over the many entries that had great potential, but didn’t meet the standard required to become a finalist. They commented on their perception that a large number of books were crying out for a more considered editing or design process: 'books with clear potential that needed only another careful draft; delightful children’s stories let down by the illustrations or design layout. To see such possibilities unrealised was a clear frustration for us.' The judges only picked four finalists in the non-fiction category, which allows (as all categories do) for five, feeing the books selected represented 'the best on offer'.
Judges also expressed concern at how few strong female characters they met in the process of finding finalists. They worried, 'Young girls are in danger of seeing themselves once again as serving only decorative roles in stories, and we hope this is more a blip than the beginning of a retrograde trend.'
Could it be that there's room for more great work at the thin end of the wedge? Are there as yet unmet female characters just wating to bust out of the closets of their creators' imaginations and set the world of New Zealand literature alight with their brilliance? Could this speak for a brighter future not quite glimpsed yet? One thing I know for certain is that continuing to inspire young audiences with great work is what seeds the brillinat works they might delight us tomorrow.
Of course, none of this musing takes the shine off the fine selection of 2013 finalists. This includes books that have been immediately popular in the library such as Kate DeGoldi and Gregory O'Brien's The ACB With Honora Lee, Rachael King's Red Rocks, Barbara Else's The Queen and the Nobody Boy, and Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop's Mister Whistler.
Incidentally, the latter two titles are both Gecko Press publications, continuing a great year of awards-related news for the greatest little publisher we know. Gecko recently received the Bologna Prize for the Best Children's Publisher of the Year in Oceania, at a ceremony in the famous Bologna Opera House. The awards were initiated this year as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Bologna Children's Book Fair. We hear founding publisher Julia Marshall (see below entry at January 8, 2013) danced the night away in celebration, and reverberations from the excitement that broke out at their Wellington HQ were discernible at least one city away.
NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2013 judge Eirlys Hunter
(Judges' images via Booksellers NZ)
With the death of Jan Ormerod (January 23, aged 66) the world of children’s literature lost a voice that spoke volumes (more than 50 books), sometimes using no words at all. Her wordless picture books Sunshine (1981) and Moonlight (1982) reflected back to families the gentle drama of getting up to face the day, and going to bed (in some order) at its end. Sunshine won Britain's Mother Goose Award, which was, for 20 years, presented to 'the most exciting newcomer to British children's book illustration.'(Award winners received £1,000 and a gilded goose egg.) Her work was noted for its ability to remove clutter to tell a simple story that young children could enjoy, employing flat colours and clean lines.
Ormerod was born in Australia, where she attended art school and taught at both teacher's college and secondary school. Her literary career kicked off when she moved to the UK in 1980. She returned to themes connected to her home country with Lizzie Nonsense (2004), Water Witcher (2008), and Shake a Leg (2011) for Aboriginal writer Boori Monty Pryor (later to become Australia's first Children's Laureate). This latter collaboration won the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Award for Children's Fiction.
Her experience as a mother contributed greatly to her vision. She relished the interaction between child and parent when reading a book, and incorporated this intimacy into her work.“The most important thing, I believe, about books for babies and very young children is that they are shared between the child and a caring adult," Ormerod said. "It is time for physical closeness and comfort, of quiet and harmony, of sharing ideas and emotions, laughing and learning together. The learning and benefit that take place are not only enjoyed by the child. Any adult who takes time to share books with small children will be rewarded, enriched, and revitalized by it, every time.”
Test this very valid theory with one of her books, and cherish what a sizable contribution she has made towards facilitating the learning moment.The library has just received new copies of her 1994 book 101 Things to Do With Baby, which is as fine and touching an example as any of them.
One of the best things about my addiction to stories in any medium is it gives me the excuse to listen to lots of CDs and travel to great festivals in search of acts to either purchase work from, or invite to come and show Porirua Library people what they are made of. I recently crossed paths with South Island troubador and storyteller Levity Beet. We have just added his entire back catalogue to the children's library collection, so it is exciting to have the chance now to see him performing at this weekend's In the Belly of the Whale festival, on the Kapiti Coast (March 9, 11AM until late). I have a good feeling about this guy, but I thought I'd test how friendly he was to show him how we like to roll around here. He made this particularly easy for me by allowing me to ask the majority of questions in song lyrics and album titles of his own devising. I'll let you work out which words they were.
You are a travelling musical storyteller. I am a children's librarian from Porirua. 'Will you be my friend?'
"Nice to talk to you from my home in Takaka where I am just about to embark on a journey all the way to the North Island to share some of my musical stories and curiosities in The Belly of the Whale Storytelling festival on the Kapiti Coast."
The song 'What’s a Niglo?' (see recipe for cooking up a 'strange little creature with a prickly hide' on Levity's third CD Contains Traces of Nuts) may not tickle everybody's tastebuds. What's the attraction to singing about something that needs 'rolling in clay' to get just right?
"Fans will probably realise I am very interested in music, musicians and good food, and so my musical style is greatly influenced by musicians who are/were also well known gourmands like Django Reinhardt-French Gyspy/Jazz guitarist and the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show."
How much is that piranha in your gumboot – and does it cost a lot to feed?
"I hope my music, as well as being fun and entertaining, brings people's attention to more of the natural world that we are a part of and share with all the other creatures. I like to take a new musical perspective and see traditionally feared or reviled organisms in a different light where each may be appreciated for the miracle that they are. On the other hand I also like to point out that saints and faeries and children's musicians have their difficult moments too!"
What do you think happens when one travels In[to] the Belly of the Whale [Festival at Te Ra School, Raumati South on March 9]?
"If you come and see me at In the Belly of the Whale Storytelling Festival you'll find several newly invented musical instruments and the stories of how they came to be from unexpected but very common objects. I'll also be sharing stories in song of the trials and tribulations of everyday beings on planet Earth."
What is your favourite part about being on the road in New Zealand in Summer?
"Its great to meet new and old friends as I travel for my musical work in New Zealand. I also like to find the best local swimming holes do a bit of snorkeling."
We only have four of your albums… when will there be another?
"I'm currently working on completing three albums. One for early childhood, one for older kid's and one a compilation that has a songbook as an optional extra for people who want to play my music on guitar, ukulele, piano and as singers. They'll be ready this year I hope. I don't know exactly when since it involves a lot of work. I am the songwriter, performer, sound engineer, producer and make cups of tea too!"
Well, if he can make his own cups of tea, I say there is no end to his talent. As for friendly...
"Lovely to talk to you today!," he says before signing off. I think Porirua Library just made a new friend!
You can explore Levity Beet's catalogue and reserve CDs by following this link. For more information about In the Belly of the Whale Storytelling Festival, click here.
Titahi Bay author Holly Gooch’s book of short stories, Hometime, was launched amidst much excitement and pancake flipping at Pataka late last year, and subsequently made its way under many family Christmas trees around New Zealand. It is doing swift business in the Library, so I thought it was high time I pried between the lines to find out some more about its author.
Your website features a section called When I Was a Kid, detailing your formative experiences in the world of story… What is the earliest experience of putting pen to page you can remember?
“I wasn't a big writer when I was young because I couldn't sit still long enough. But I was always making things and coming up with ideas and inventions. But the first story I remember writing was when I was 12 and it was called 'One Man and His Dog'. I wrote it after my Dad came back from being out on the farm and I remember he was looking very sad. And when I asked him why he explained that he'd just had to put down his favourite dog because he was sick. I felt really sad for my Dad so I wrote a story about it.”
In one of your stories, a Mum gets her bum stuck in a slide. It makes me laugh and cry at the same time, and is a great example of the bittersweet nature of your stories. Can you explain why you so often marry these two polarities?
“Because that's how I see the world - I see the sad and the beautiful both equally clear. And I guess I write about it to make sense of it - to make it less confusing for me.”
You are well known for your storytelling – is there any relationship between that and these stories?
“My stories are always written well before being performed. I performed the story about ‘Mum's Bum’ long before the book was published though. I adapted it for telling so the live version is a little different from the one in the book. I don't think any of the other stories from the book would suit live storytelling. I like them better in words.”
You self-published Hometime, working with friends on the design. What are the advantages, and do you see any disadvantages to be wary of working this way?
“I felt confident that my book was going to be professional because Michael from Shearwater Books had been involved in publishing and editing for years, and Emily who did the book design is also very experienced. And Alice who did the illustrations - well, she's just amazing. I wouldn't have done it myself without having that confidence. The advantage is that you get to manage everything from woe to go - the proofing, the marketing, the selling. The disadvantage is that you have to manage everything from woe to go!”
What are you writing at the moment, and how are you finding the time around parenting your two young sons?
“I haven't been writing seriously for a while now. I've come off a long stint of creating lots and lots all the time, and I think I'm done for a while. I've had a big out breath, so time to take an in breath. I'm enjoying the rest while I can because I know another wave will hit again and I'll be frantically writing again. As for finding the time - when I'm in writing mode, the things that work well for me are getting up super early and writing before everyone else in the house gets up, writing for a set amount of time a day, doing writing exercises (object writing is my favourite, writing morning pages is another good one) every day, and desperate writing - ie.: writing on the tiny bits of white space on a supermarket docket while my kids are at the skate park, or on my hand while waiting at the doctors’, for example!”
Hometime owes its gorgeous look to visual animator and illustrator Alice Moore, who lives in Karehana Bay, and has delivered two popular and inspiring workshops on animation at Porirua Library’s A-long Hot Summer Story Festivals. She and Holly have been friends since meeting at the Cannons Creek Library.
Happy New Year! And it's kicking off to A-long Hot start with A-long Hot Summer Story Festival. Wellington publishing house Gecko Press are one of the major sponsors of the Festival, responsible for providing the lion's share of the books we give away in the initial goodie bags kids collect. Gecko's founder, Julia Marshall, is as keen a correspondant as she is hard to pin down, often travelling internationally in the name of 'curiously good books'. Although "pretty unfocussed", she took some time out from her own programme of summer reading to talk books, decisive moments, and sunshine with Bee's Bookish Blog.
Gecko Press founding Publisher, Julia Marshall
A lot of people talk their dreams up, yet you made your's come true… what is your best advice for bridging the gap so many people fall into?
"For me it was a question of timing and deciding there was nothing to lose, and I had the terrible feeling of, ‘If not now, when?’ My father quotes, I am not sure who: 'It is very hard to achieve the things you never start.'
"I can look back to a particular moment when I visited the Bologna Book Fair to try to make sense of it, when I decided not to go with my friend to buy shoes. Instead I walked once more round the halls - and I met a kind publisher who told me he would answer all my questions because someone had done the same for him 25 years before. We don’t normally know which particular moments are decisive in our lives, but that was one for me."
You have sown the seeds for dreaming with a stunning catalogue of children’s books. What attracted you to the children’s market, as opposed to the adults’?
"There has never been any question for me – I like children’s books and always did."
A Gecko book can often be spotted before the little lizard is seen – can you quantify the very apparent taste that makes this so?
"I am not really sure what it is, but I can see that it is there. We try to choose books that are not predictable, but even then a pile of Gecko Press books always seems to make quite a nice pile. Sometimes I see books where I think: 'That would be a good Gecko Press book!'"
Do you have a favourite among the Gecko books catalogue?
"I have quite a few favourites, and definitely there are some key books, which have led to change, and I am especially fond of those. I am very fond of Donkeys because it was the first, and Snake and Lizard, because it gave us such a boost, and once I get to there I can’t stop, so I will. But... Who’s Hiding is a favourite because I have never met a child who doesn’t like it. I have some other favourites that are favourites because they are more specific to a particular type of child. I will be friends with anyone who likes My Friend Percy's Magical Gym Shoes, for example.
What is the best single experience being Gecko has given you?
"It is the feeling that Gecko Press has now become greater than the sum of its parts, and that, somehow, if it was to cease now, it would leave a hole."
New Zealand was the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year… for those of us who couldn’t make it to the Fair, can you give us a taste of how New Zealand was presented and received?
"What I really loved about New Zealand being Guest of Honour at Frankfurt was the way the people organising it – led by Kevin Chapman, Sarah Ropata and hosted by Tania Heke - allowed the understated, gentle and hospitable side of New Zealand to shine through – the opposite to what people generally tell us we should be when we are overseas. I was very proud of being a New Zealander, and of our writers and everyone who was representing New Zealand in all the different ways."
Is it possible to sum up the New Zealand juvenile market sensibility in contrast with any strain of the European one?
"I don't think so. In general I think the Anglo Saxon tradition is a little sweeter than the European one, but a good story is a good story, and there are fewer of them around than we think."
Does the phrase 'summer reading' conjure up any personal images for you, from child- or adulthood?
"I am right in the middle of 'summer reading' at the moment, on the veranda. 'Summer reading', to me, really means the total luxury of being able to read lots; in bed, on the beach, under trees, in cars, on the veranda, in the bath. There will be tea, cake and flies. Water, ideally, and food too. Summer!
"When I grew up we all read our books at lunch after we had been working in the orchard, and at breakfast, and sometimes at dinner, which I understand is not technically being very well brought up."
Which means I am technically not bringing my kids up very well either. It shocks many people to find out that there are librarians who are incapable of eating without reading... but not Julia, who confesses she can't think how "anyone can eat without reading..." unless the food is exceptionally attention grabbing. "But is it still OK to read before and after?," she asks. Of course it is!
I know Gecko books will have found their way under many Christmas trees these holidays - Santa knows quality when he sees it. Book gifting has a long tradition in Julia's life.
"We often give each other books for Christmas, and that’s a good thing because it provides a home library for the summer and the rest of the year too. Summer is pretty much the only time of the year that I read any adult books – I’ve just read the Edith Wharton my sister gave me, but now Im going to read Unhooking the Moon, by Gregory Hughes, which I actually bought for my niece for Christmas, but I started reading it and couldn’t get it finished in time... (My grandmother always read the books she gave us first, and I think that is a great thing. Although she used to still give them even if she didn’t like them herself. I don’t, even though I like that she did, as she implied that I might think otherwise and that would be fine too!)"
Julia declares this "enough!" talk for now. Her own summer reading is waiting and she is keen to get back to it. As I type this up, I can't help but wonder, how many kids' summer reading she has been ultimately responsible for kickstarting these holidays. I can count over 200 without really starting. And it is a rare thing for me not to be touting some latest Gecko release, whatever time of the year it is. My own current favourite Gecko among favourites is My Happy Life, by Rose Lagercrantz, with illustrations by Eva Eriksson (whose work is well represented in the Gecko catalogue). It's what I call a 'one sitting novel'; and you'd have to be made of stone not to be moved by it. One thing is for certain, when I am counting the happy things about being a Porirua Library (staff) member, I count Julia Marshall and Gecko Press amongst the top of the list.
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